The High Middle Ages: The Barons’ Crusade to Jerusalem


By Philip Daileader, Ph.D., The College of William and Mary

The Barons’ Crusade was the second wave of crusades to depart Europe. This wave was different in many ways from the first Popular Crusade. For one, it departed in much better order. There were other differences.

Painting showing the defeat of the first wave of the crusades.
After the Popular Crusade was destroyed, the Barons’ Crusade was constituted. (Image: Jean Colombe/Public domain)

The Organization of the Barons’ Crusade

The Barons’ Crusade, like the Popular Crusade, consisted of semi- independent bands, each of which had its own leader, and the first of these bands arrived at Constantinople in December 1096, approximately two months after the Popular Crusade had been annihilated by the Turks in Asia Minor.

The bands that comprised the Barons’ Crusade tended to be organized geographically, more than anything else. The Italian knights formed their own bands, and the southern French knights had their own bands. The northern French knights, too, tended to hang together, and the leaders of these various bands often were very different in terms of their temperament, their experience, and their motives for going on the Crusade.

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The Leaders of the Barons’ Crusade

There was one nominal leader of the Barons’ Crusade, a bishop by the name of Adhemar of Le Puy. Adhemar was supposed to be the Pope’s personal representative, and would direct the Barons’ Crusade, but in practice, Adhemar’s job was largely reduced to negotiating among the heads of the various bands, and indeed, Adhemar died before the end of the First Crusade.

19th century painting showing Adhemar of Puy and Raymond of Saint-Gilles surrounded by an army of potential crusaders.
The Count of Toulouse and Bishop Adhemar Le Puy were the supposed military and religious heads of the Barons’ Crusade. (Image: Unknown artist/Public domain)

Of the various leaders in the Barons’ Crusade, two were especially important for determining its outcome. One of these leaders was Raymond of Saint-Gilles. Raymond of Saint-Gilles was Count of Toulouse, and he was a leader of southern French knights. Raymond of Saint-Gilles was one of the most powerful barons in Europe during his lifetime. As Count of Toulouse, he had enormous landholdings in the south of France. He was also rather old at the time of the First Crusade.

Another important individual was Bohemond. He was Italian, and a leader of Italian knights. His background was rather complicated. He and his father, Robert Guiscard, were both of Norman descent, which is to say that their family had originally come from Normandy in northern France, and then settled in southern Italy. Bohemond’s younger brothers had stolen his inheritance from him, and left more or less penniless, he had decided to join the Crusade in order to seek his fortune there.

Raymond of Saint-Gilles and Bohemond were hardly the only two important leaders and nobles on the Barons’ Crusade, however. Indeed, a veritable “Who’s Who” of nobility took part in the First Crusade, including the brother of the king of France, whose name was Hugh, Count of Vermandois, and a brother of the king of England, Robert, Duke of Normandy.

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Alexius I Comnenus and the Crusaders

One by one, the individual bands that comprised the Barons’ Crusade arrived at Constantinople by various routes. They were disappointed in how they were received by Alexius I Comnenus. Alexius I, the Byzantine Empire, and Constantinople especially, had already suffered at the hands of the Popular Crusade. The Crusaders had robbed continuously while they were there. He was determined to exercise better control over the Barons’ Crusade.

Alexius I demanded of each baron, as the baron arrived at Constantinople, that the baron swear an oath of loyalty to Alexius I, and to the Byzantine Empire. Under the terms of this oath, the crusading baron was supposed to promise that the Crusaders would return all formerly Byzantine property to the Byzantine Empire as they captured that property on their way down to Jerusalem.

The terms of the oath were somewhat vague, because Alexius never specified just how long property had to have been within the Byzantines’ possession. It would appear that Jerusalem, for example, never entered his thinking, even though Jerusalem was a city that had once been Byzantine. He only wanted the return of property that had been captured more recently.

The Oath of Loyalty

Nonetheless, the Crusaders did not want to swear this oath of loyalty to Alexius I. They regarded it as demeaning, and they feared that it would lead to further subjection to Byzantine authority, and so, for the most part, the barons refused to swear this oath of loyalty.

Medieval miniature of Alexius I.
Alexius I required the crusaders to swear and oath of fealty. (Image: Unknown/Public domain)

The one exception, the one baron who swore the oath immediately, without any protests was Bohemond. Bohemond swore the oath, most likely, because he had no intention of ever keeping such an oath, and so, he was willing to swear to anything that Alexius I might have asked. Raymond of Saint-Gilles, on the other hand, was especially adamant in trying to hold out against this oath.

Alexius I put a certain amount of pressure on the Crusaders, to convince them that they really should swear this oath of loyalty to him. He cut off their food supply. Since they were in Constantinople, far from home, they had the choice of either swearing, or starving. They opted to swear, and one by one, the barons caved in and swore to what Alexius I demanded of them.

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Leaving Constantinople

It was not until the spring of 1097 that the Barons’ Crusade finally left Constantinople, and began to march its way through Asia Minor, and towards Jerusalem. The Barons’ Crusade was accompanied at the outset by Byzantine troops, but not by Alexius I Comnenus.

He claimed that he really would have loved to have gone along on this Crusade, and to have been surrounded by the barons, but that he had other obligations that meant he could only stay in the rear, organizing supplies for the Crusaders, without getting too close to them. To the Crusaders, this was merely further evidence of Alexius I’s cowardice and treachery.

Not far from Constantinople was a city by the name of Nicaea. The capture of the city of Nicaea was the Crusaders’ first major objective. This was to be site of the first decisive battle of this Barons’ Crusade.

Common Questions about the Barons’ Crusade

Q: Who was involved in the Barons’ Crusade?

The Barons’ Crusade consisted of semi- independent bands, each of which had its own leader.

Q: Who was the nominal leader of the Barons’ Crusade?

Bishop Adhemar De Puy was the nominal leader of the Barons’ Crusade, though he died in 1096.

Q: How were the Crusaders welcomed at Constantinople?

At Constantinople, Alexius I, the ruler of Byzantium, welcomed the Crusaders with a demand that they swear an oath of loyalty to him. This made the Crusaders mistrust Alexius.

Q: What support did Alexius I give the Crusaders?

The Barons’ Crusade was accompanied at the outset by Byzantine troops, but not by Alexius I Comnenus. Alexius I did not accompany the Crusaders but only stayed in the rear, organizing supplies for the Crusaders, without getting too close to them.

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