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Uses and meanings of the word crusade in the late Middle Ages

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - CRUCIATA (Uses and meanings of the word crusade in the late Middle Ages)

Reporting period: 2019-09-01 to 2020-08-31

The study of the uses and meanings of the word “crusade” in the Middle Ages is aimed at bettering our understanding of how the crusading movement was perceived and conceptualized by contemporaries. Although the word “crusade” remained uncommon in medieval texts, it existed and was used in a large number of European languages from the first decades of the 13th century. By assigning the word “crusade” to a phenomenon, contemporaries created a mental category which connected different realities together and differentiated them from others labelled differently (“wars”, “pilgrimages”, etc.). Since military expeditions to Jerusalem were considered, in the Middle Ages, as the most holy of enterprises, the word “crusade” was very often used as a legitimizing tool to promote or justify a large variety of undertakings: a military expedition against enemies of the faith, but also a papal indulgence letter or a royal tax. Defining the crusading movement was both a way to understand it better and to promote a specific understanding of it, often linked to the defense of specific political interests.

As a consequence, not every speaker had the same conception of what a crusade was, and enterprises labelled “crusade” by some authors were denied this term by others. The comparative study of the uses of this word thus reveals competing views on the crusade: with semantics ranging from discussions on the legitimacy of crusading against the so-called heretics inside Christendom, to competitions between popes, emperors and kings for supremacy over the crusading movement, to opposition to new forms of taxation imposed in order to finance these wars against the enemies of the faith.

The crusading movement thus appears as much more complex and nuanced than is usually assumed. Studying the competing uses of the word “crusade” also helps us to better understand its modern uses, as well its particularly large current polysemy. It shows how words do not always provide a simple description of reality, but can also represent complex processes of semantic construction of which everyone of us should be aware. The use of “crusade” by Eisenhower in 1944, by G.W. Bush in 2001 or in ISIS propaganda in 2016-18 can therefore be explained not as “misuses” of the word but as fitting into a long history of similar usage in order to promote specific ideologies.
Three articles have been written in order to be published in peer-reviewed publications:
- “When and where did the word « crusade » appeared in the Middle Ages? And Why?” in K.V. Jensen (ed), Diversity of Crusading, University of Southern Denmark, 2020
- “Conceptualizing the Crusade in Outremer. Uses and Purposes of the Word “Crusade” in the French Continuation of William of Tyre” in Crusades, n°20, 2021
- “Telling the crusades in Occitan: Paolino of Venice’s Abreujamen de las Estorias (Egerton MS. 1500)”, submitted to the British Library Electronic Journal

One large audience article has been written,
- “The journey of the word crusade – from holy to oppressive … and back again” in The conversation (

The Co-vid Pandemy prevented from presenting this research in various conferences and lectures in the spring and summer 2020. However, two on-line seminars have been given at Stockholm’s University and one large audience conference on the uses of the word crusade from the Middle Ages to nowadays was given in Stockholm ABF.

A final international conference on the uses of the word crusade through history had been postponed. It is currently planed at the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences in April 2021.

Several findings and theories weren’t exposed in any oral or written papers (particularly on the use of the word in French chronicles of the late 13th century). Complemented with later research, they will allow numerous further publications.
Since many textbooks and scholars continue asserting the word “crusade” didn’t exist in the Middle Ages, my research will a solid basis for a complete re-consideration of this question. It also shows how fruitful it can be to apply cognitive linguistic theories to historical documents, a method still badly considered and seldom used by linguists as well as historians. From this point of view, publications in widely diffused journals and collections of essays will open path for new research on the medieval conceptualization of the crusades as well as on historical linguistics. Although the Co-Vid crisis has prevented a large part of the project’s dissemination, the research material will allow numerous papers in further seminars or conferences which will largely diffuse its conclusion.

The research on Paulinos da Venezia’s Abreujamen de las Estorias (British Library Egerton 1500) has been somehow deceiving since the use of the crozada (in Occitan) spotted before the project’s start appeared to be the only one in the entire manuscript. However, the work proved itself particularly rich as to reveal the political uses of crusading history in the beginning of the 14th century.
On the contrary, the English and French chronicles from the 13th and 14th century proved themselves particularly rich with much more occurrences of the word “crusade” than expected. The field of research had to bee narrowed to the French chronicles whether produced in England, France or Outremer and to the 13th century. An article was published on the use of the word in a single work, the French continuation of William of Tyre’s Estoire d’Outremer. The remaining collected material served for some presentation and seminars and will allow further publication on this topic.

This specific research on the medieval uses of the word, as well as wider diffusion on its uses until nowadays can bring a new consideration on current uses of the word and a lead to an increased attention to the meanings of words and the political uses of language. It reveals the social and political implications of the current very wide meanings of “crusade” and could bring speakers (journalists, politicians…) to a more careful usage of a word, considered as insulting by an increasing number of persons.