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  • Theobald III of Champagne: The Preparations of an Absent Crusader
  • Melanie Panse-Buchwalter

Introduction: Crusades and Future Planning

When Theobald III (1179–1201) took the cross at a tournament in Écry in late November 1199, the crusades had already tremendously influenced the life and reign of his family in Champagne.1 His father Henry the Liberal had twice left the comital court in Troyes to go on crusade, one last time shortly after Theobald’s birth. Returning ill from this second crusade, Henry I died soon afterwards in 1181.2 Theobald’s older brother, Henry II, followed in the footsteps of his father and travelled to the Holy Land in 1190 after Saladin’s conquest of Jerusalem. Henry II not only fought as a crusader in the East, but also married the Queen of Jerusalem.3 He never returned to Champagne, to his younger brother and his mother Marie, who ruled the county intermittently for sixteen years as regent for her crusading family members.4

Many contingencies resulted from the family’s unwavering commitment to the crusades and the resulting persistent absence of the counts from their homelands. A letter to Pope Alexander III, written by Henry of Marcy on behalf of Theobald’s father, gets to the heart of the key challenges resulting from a crusade planned for the near future and exemplifies anticipated unpredictability, uncertainty, and precariousness in a concrete and condensed way.5 As Henry the Liberal went on crusade ten years after Alexander’s last call for the crusade, the abbot reminded the pope of the promised protection for crusaders in their absence. He outlined not only the potential threat to life and limb of the crusader during his journey on land and at sea, but also pointed out potential dangers for the crusader’s home.6 His letter shows that a nobleman’s decision to take the cross therefore had far-reaching implications not only for the crusader himself, but also for his family and his realm, because the crusader committed himself by oath to a crusade for Christ.7 The prompt fulfillment of the legally binding vow was a prerequisite; only in exceptional cases [End Page 39] could the pope or his authorized representative release the crusader from the oath he had taken.8 The families at home were not affected by the distant battle, but were nevertheless directly touched by the crusades; the departure of men for the crusade meant drastic changes, a considerable “disturbance” of the status quo, especially in a region like Champagne, where crusaders left in large numbers.9

Against this backdrop, it is necessary to examine in what way ongoing and recurring crusading activities impacted the political realm in the homelands of crusader families. We need to discuss the ways historical actors dealt with various contingencies resulting from crusading plans, since the enterprises were associated with an unpredictable outcome from the very beginning. Not only the crusaders, but also their families who stayed behind, were confronted with uncertain futures. It must be determined how contemporary actors tried to actively influence unforeseeable and therefore possibly frightening scenarios with future-oriented actions in their own present. Research has been able to show on a wide scale that historical actors did not passively endure contingencies, but actively tried to shape the future within the framework of their possibilities.10 Christopher Tyerman reminds us correspondingly in his How to Plan a Crusade, that although often portrayed otherwise, “military expeditions as complex as the crusades were carefully, exhaustively and rationally planned.”11 His remark does not only apply to the logistic, financial, and military aspects of the crusade, but also to the variety of measures taken in order to secure homelands in the absence of the crusaders. Crusaders and their families adopted a variety of precautionary practices and planning to protect body, life, and possessions, thus not only ensuring their own survival but also maintaining their rule in their regions of origin, as shown in many examples. The traditional understanding that these procedures must be interpreted as a sign for the inefficiency and impracticability of the promised papal crusader protection has recently been challenged, so that it seems reasonable to include this aspect once...


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