Your RDA of Irony

Press Releases of 1095

November 27, 1095:  Kill Your Way to Heaven

On this day in 1095, Pope Urban II gave one of the greatest speeches in history.  Unfortunately, no one knows what he actually said.  There are five different versions of what he was purported to say, but none of them was written at the time of the speech.  Only one chronicler, Guilbert de Nogent, claims to have heard the speech.  One can question his memory, however, because he was writing 13 years later and evidently forgot that he was plagiarizing an earlier account.

The lack of a contemporary transcript is all the more amazing because the Pope was addressing a church council at Clermont, France.  True, there were fewer literate people in all Western Europe than on any street in Constantinople or Baghdad.  But the majority of European literates would have been at Clermont that day.  Furthermore, the topic of the speech was certainly memorable.  In the 11th century, a Crusade was more than just a glitzy term for a clothing drive.

Even without a transcript, we can infer that the Pope had nothing good to say about the Moslems.  He apparently offered an unsurpassed benefits package to anyone who went on the Crusade: remission of past sins, pardon for any “excesses” committed–in good faith–on the Crusades, and reservations (with a seating upgrade) for Heaven.  By medieval standards, the Pope’s offer was better than stock options.

In March of 1095, the Byzantine Emperor had asked the Pope for help in recruiting a few hundred knights to fight the Turks.  A year later, the Byzantine Emperor found himself contending with the Pope’s response:  100,000 Crusaders.

Whatever the Pope said, it evidently was a great speech.


p.s.  If you would like to know the Byzantines’ reaction:

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