The Author and the Hierosolimitanus: Reading the Gesta Francorum as a Pilgrim Narrative

The Author and the Hierosolimitanus: Reading the Gesta Francorum as a Pilgrim Narrative

The Author and the Hierosolimitanus: Reading the Gesta Francorum as a Pilgrim Narrative

By Andrew Cuff

Paper presented at the 6th Annual Graduate Student Conference on Medieval Studies: Cross-Cultural Encounters in the Middle Ages (2012)


In November of 1095, as the eleventh century was coming to a close, Pope Urban II set the tone for the twelfth century by evoking the image of Jerusalem and the Holy Sepulchre in the hands of the occupying Muslims as he preached the First Crusade. He moved the hearts of thousands upon thousands of Christian men and women from all social strata and locations across Europe to undertake this journey to liberate the holy land. Because Alexios I Komnenos, emperor of Constantinople, appealed to Rome for help in defending Christendom from the invasions of the Seljuk Turks, Urban took the opportunity in a sermon preached at the Council of Clermont to declare an all-out crusade to defend Byzantium and even recapture Jerusalem. He intended the major leaders of Europe to band together for a common goal and make their way to Jerusalem, and he certainly succeeded: the two most significant figures in Southern Frankish leadership, Bishop Adhemar Le Puy and Count Raymond of Tolouse, were among the first to take the crusading vow.

These were followed by such nobles as Godfrey of Bouillon, Philip I of France, Stephen of Blois, Robert of Flanders, Bohemond of Taranto, and several others. Each of these was accompanied by a substantial force of knights and would eventually converge at Constantinople to plan the reconquest of the holy land with Emperor Alexios. However, even the prompt action of Europe’s nobility to mobilize after Clermont was outdone by the hasty assemblage of untrained, poorly organized commoners led by Peter the Hermit. In an effort historians call the “pauper’s crusade” or “people’s crusade,” they left Cologne and made their way across the Bosphorus, only to be slaughtered in the thousands by the Turks. The so-called “prince’s crusade” which followed this event is the official First Crusade, and more than fulfilled Urban’s hopes, making its way to Nicea and Antioch and eventually within the coveted walls of Jerusalem.

Often cited as the only crusade which succeeded in its purpose, this groundswell of fervor throughout all ranks of Christendom’s population, and the subsequent military campaign which placed the holy city in Christian hands and established the Latin Crusader States in the Levant, has raised quite a few historiographical and even ethical questions for historians. This study will make a philological and thematic evaluation of the anonymous Gesta Francorum to discover the impulse and motivation of a pilgrim warrior actually involved in the First Crusade, based on the genre and style with which he writes. In particular, it will analyze the meaning of peregrinus in a martial context, and the Gesta’s principal character, Bohemond, in light of the qualities the author ascribes to him; it will also analyze how the author views the mission of the Hierosolimitani after the death of the main protagonist. This analysis will provide an important perspective on the motivations of a writer who personally participated in the capture of Jerusalem.