Adhemar of Le Puy, Papal Legate on the First Crusade

Chapter 19
Adhemar of Le Puy, Papal Legate on the First Crusade


Robert Somerville


“My Lord, there was never one single lord there, but they trust more in the bishop.” Thus, according to Raymond of Aguilers, the priest Stephen of Valence responded to Christ’s inquiry, “Who is lord in the army?”1 The bishop in question was the papal legate Adhemar of Le Puy, and Stephen’s vision was one of the charismatic episodes at Antioch in 1098 surrounding the discovery of the Holy Lance. Raymond was chaplain to Count Raymond of St. Gilles and an eye-witness on the Crusade, but he also described himself as a canon of Le Puy, and could thus be a partisan witness about Adhemar, whom he valued as a leader.2 Modern historians have not always agreed with Raymond’s assessment, and several decades ago a debate in which James Brundage took a significant part erupted over the question of Adhemar’s reputation and significance. That exchange revealed the problems involved in describing what Adhemar actually did while on the Crusade, and also showed how what is known of his activities can be evaluated in very different ways.3


Only one known letter of Pope Urban II mentions Adhemar, and only one indication has been found regarding how the bishop thought of himself or was thought of by someone close to him. Adhemar the crusader must be discovered elsewhere, and much of the relevant information was presented in the articles cited above. The bishop also had an active posthumous career in late 1098– 1099, reappearing several times after his death including during the assault on Jerusalem. Those visions attest to Adhemar’s general importance while he was alive, but they are not of great help in judging his accomplishments.4


Assembling all of the known evidence and preparing a fresh study of all facets of Adhemar’s career would be a worthwhile endeavor, but the focus here is more limited.5 How was the role of Adhemar in the Crusade defined by the initiator of the enterprise, that is by Urban II, and what can be said about relations between the bishop and the pope once the Crusading armies were on the march? The evidence is sparse. No correspondence between the two men survives, although as will be noted below letters may have been exchanged, and no documents or manuscripts are at hand with new texts bearing on these questions. Yet despite the controversy surrounding his reputation, little doubt seems possible on Adhemar’s preeminent role in the papal conception of the Crusade, and it also will be suggested that the tie between Urban and Adhemar remained significant up to the time of the legate’s death in August of 1098. Furthermore, a possible link appears, seemingly hitherto unnoticed, between Adhemar’s legatine commission and Pope Gregory VII’s plans for an armed expedition to the East in 1074. It is a pleasure to present this set of comments in honor of an eminent historian of the Crusades who, in one of his early articles, helped establish a framework for treating Bishop Adhemar of Le Puy’s importance.


Pope Urban II’s chancery register is lost, and the surviving acts from the Council of Clermont where the Crusade was first presented are exceedingly fragmented. The expedition is touched on in that mélange, e.g., in statements about the indulgence, and about protection under the Peace of God for the property of those going, but Adhemar is not mentioned.6 He is prominent, however, in a letter which Urban wrote at an undetermined date after Clermont to all the faithful in Flanders.7 Following remarks on the need for the Crusade, its proclamation at Clermont, and the indulgence, Urban wrote:8


We constituted our most beloved son Adhemar, Bishop of Le Puy, as leader in our place of this journey and labor, so that whoever perchance wishes to embark on this path should obey his orders as if they were ours, and should submit totally to his loosings or bindings, as far as it will be seen to pertain to this business.9


The authenticity of this letter, known only from early-modern copies, surviving as an excerpt without a final closing and blessing, and also lacking a datum, has been challenged. But the text adheres to the rules of the cursus used in Urban’s chancery, and probably is a genuine statement from soon after Clermont of papal views about the recently proclaimed Crusade.10 It is one of a small handful of texts from Urban II which treat the expedition, and the only place where he mentioned Adhemar.


The bishop is designated as the expedition’s leader (ducem) in lieu of Pope Urban (uice nostra). Urban appears to have put Adhemar fully in charge, notwithstanding Stephen of Valence’s nuanced reply to Christ with which this chapter opened.11 Yet it is hard to know what being the leader of this venture entailed in Urban’s mind. The terms dux and vice nostra are used at other points in his correspondence, but the occurrences which have been seen provide little if any context for a better understanding of Adhemar’s appointment.12 Dux has not been found other than as a designation or title for specific dukes. When choosing someone to carry out a task in his stead, Urban could speak of that assignment as performed vice nostra, which is congruent with but adds little insight into the letter to Flanders.13


Urban offered the Flemings other bits of information about Adhemar’s commission. The bishop’s orders are to be obeyed as if they were papal commands, and he possessed full binding and loosing authority over matters pertaining to the Crusade. But how Urban conceived this and how Adhemar was to carry out his responsibilities are imponderables. The power to bind and to loose derives, of course, from Christ’s grant to Peter in Matthew 16:18–19, and these Matthean texts occur throughout Urban’s correspondence. Formulaic passages in the arenga of privileges, for example, link those verses with Luke 22:32 to place a general obligation on the successors of Peter “to correct wrong, to support right, and in all the Church thus to arrange what needs to be arranged according to the will of the judge who sees within.”14 That does not help fill in details of Adhemar’s charge but it suggests considerable authority, and fits with a description in the Gesta Francorum which, after noting Adhemar’s death, commented on the bishop’s efforts to correct wrong and support right:15


… he used to keep the clergy in order and preach to the knights, warning them and saying, “None of you can be saved if he does not respect the poor and succor them; you cannot be saved without them, and they cannot survive without you. They ought every day to pray that God will show mercy towards your sins by which you daily offend him in many ways, and therefore I beseech you, for the love of God, to be kind to them, and to help them as much as you can.”16


How far that encomium is based on Adhemar’s words is uncertain, but his concern with the Crusaders’ sinful conduct is also recorded elsewhere. Before the battle of Dorylaeum the bishop and other clerics in the army led some type of penitential liturgy at which many Crusaders, fearing death, confessed their sins; and later, during the siege of Antioch, he organized a public penitential service.17 In September of 1096 Urban II wrote to the clergy and people of Bologna stating that those who went on the Crusade for the salvation of their souls and the liberation of the church in Jerusalem received full remission of all penance for sins for which true and full confession was made.18 How this process fit with penitential rituals performed on the march is unclear, but whatever judgments were needed on such issues must have been within the powers of binding and loosing granted to Adhemar.


A search for information defining Adhemar’s legatine commission beyond Pope Urban’s letter to Flanders involves turning to the contemporary historians of the First Crusade. Most of them wrote after 1099, probably in the first decade of the twelfth century, and using their work for answers to particular questions is not a simple process.19 The remarks to follow will concentrate on the writers who might have attended the Council of Clermont, including two who claim that they did.


The most intriguing account is from Robert of St.-Rémi in Reims (known often as “Robert the Monk” or “Robert of Reims”). Robert was urged to write his Historia Iherosolimitana, which achieved considerable popularity, in order to give the Council of Clermont due prominence in Crusading history. Clermont was neglected in the earlier Gesta Francorum, but Robert had been at the council and his work provides unique details about its organization.20 In a special session called on the day after his famous sermon announcing the expedition, Pope Urban took counsel among the bishops on hand about whom to appoint as leader.21 The Bishop of Le Puy was chosen unanimously, and with the blessing of the pope and the entire council “undertook, as another Moses, the leadership and direction of the Lord’s people.”22 Robert’s use of ducatum echoes Urban II’s ducem to describe Adhemar.23 The image of Moses calls to mind a great leader selected by God to bring a chosen people to a Promised Land. How the pope’s and the council’s role in selecting and approving Adhemar fit that Mosaic equation Robert did not say, nor did he qualify Adhemar’s ducatum et regimen in any specific way.


One other historian of the First Crusade also claimed attendance at Clermont. Baudric of Bourgueil revealed his presence at the very point where he recounted Adhemar coming forward at the end of Pope Urban’s rousing sermon of recruitment to seek permission to join the expedition. Baudric spoke of Adhemar’s leadership of the proposed venture. The bishop had a papal “mandate” (mandatum) that all should obey him, and pro officio suo he would look after the army (patrocinaretur) in all things.24 Fulcher of Chartres’ presence at Clermont often is assumed, although there is no evidence about it one way or another.25 Whether he attended or not, Fulcher was well informed about the synod, and his comments on Adhemar are parallel to those of Baudric.26 The bishop was prominent among those who responded to the papal appeal, and afterward, vice fungens apostolica, he wisely ruled (rexit) the entire army and vividly inspired it for the appointed task.27


These scattered bits of information from Robert, Baudric, and Fulcher were composed after Adhemar’s death and after the capture of Jerusalem in 1099. But they derive from writers who emphasized Clermont’s seminal place in the history of the Crusade and who could have been eye-witnesses to the events in the synod. Adhemar was the leader appointed by Pope Urban, whom all should obey. The bishop was to exercise his duties, as Fulcher wrote, “acting as pope.” Baudric chose the verb patrocinaretur to describe Adhemar’s function, a word which has the connotation of defending and being responsible for something. The resulting picture is sketchy if not formulaic, but is, nonetheless, consistent with Urban’s letter to Flanders, although none of the chroniclers mention anything about the bishop’s powers of binding and loosing.


The First Crusade has been connected with similar plans formulated in the early days of Pope Gregory VII’s reign.28 The tradition which sees this continuity is as old as the twelfth century, for Urban II’s biography in the Liber pontificalis made the connection emphatically.29 That short “vita” of Pope Urban begins with a somewhat garbled discussion of the Crusade within the context of Gregory VII’s unfulfilled plans—plans which were developed in a long letter dated December 7, 1074, to King Henry IV of Germany.30 If he personally would be their leader, Gregory reported to the king, a great host of the faithful was ready to embark to the East and to proceed on to Jerusalem. The notice in the Liber pontificalis claimed that Urban’s original plan was to lead the First Crusade, but the needs of the full Church did not permit him to accompany the armies. Adhemar is not mentioned in the “vita.” The Crusaders, having received a papal blessing and forgiveness of sins, were said to be led by St. Peter.


Did Urban II hope to lead the First Crusade in person? No evidence beyond the summary in the Liber pontificalis, as far as this author knows, indicates such a papal hope, and the historical value of that information is questionable.31 There are hints that the pope considered going East in 1098 after receiving word of Adhemar’s death; but the Bishop of Le Puy’s distinctive place in the expedition, functioning in lieu of Urban, seems to have been woven into the earliest known plans for the Crusade, as the evidence assembled above shows.32


Was Urban’s Crusade inspired by Gregory VII? Despite some differences— e.g., Gregory did not mention an indulgence—it is hard to argue against connecting in some manner what was pondered in 1074 and what happened in 1095. One feature of Gregory’s plan points directly to Adhemar, and that link seems to have escaped attention. Gregory informed Henry IV that 50,000 men, both Italians and northerners, were prepared for this armed campaign “if they can have me as leader and pontiff on the expedition” (si me possunt in expeditione pro duce et pontifice habere).33 Dux is the very same word that Urban II used 21 years later to designate Adhemar of Le Puy’s role in the First Crusade, and is also implied in Robert of Reims’ description of Adhemar at Clermont taking up the ducatum et regimen of the expedition.


Urban’s chancery knew Gregory VII’s papal Register, and Urban himself knew much more about Gregory’s activities than the registered texts indicated since he served as Cardinal bishop of Ostia from 1080 onward.34 Two other passages in the letter of December, 1074 echo themes which in the first case were and in the second may have been reflected in Urban’s thought, and it is easy to imagine that a Gregorian letter so pregnant with appealing ideas was carefully studied by Pope Urban and his advisers.


Alfons Becker has shown that Urban believed that in his time—the phrase nostris temporibus is repeatedly used—God’s mercy was manifest toward the Latin Church through the victories over Muslim forces occurring around the Mediterranean.35 A similar, albeit less overtly bellicose idea appears in Gregory’s letter when the pope wrote that nostro tempore Christ was imparting special grace to the apostolic see so that the promise made to Peter from Christ—Ego pro te, Petre, ut non deficiat fides tua; et tu aliquando conversus confirma fratres tuos (Luke 22:32)—could be fulfilled.36


After Gregory’s declaration that a great company of knights was prepared for an expedition to the East if he himself would lead them, the pope told King Henry that the campaign would go all the way ad sepulchrum Domini ipso ducente. Furthermore, Gregory wrote that because earlier popes often (sepe) travelled East for the purpose of strengthening the catholic faith (pro fide catholica confirmanda), he was prepared to do the same if the way was open with Christ as leader (si Christo duce via patuerit).37 This vision of shared leadership, papal and divine, is not duplicated in the letter to Flanders where Adhemar alone is presented as the leader of the Crusade. Yet in his recruiting sermon at the Council of Clermont Urban may have spoken of Christ as the proposed expedition’s leader.38


Gregory’s letter to Henry IV cannot be proven to have influenced Pope Urban directly, and dux