I might have misunderstood this, but from what I gathered the main selling point/reward for going on the various crusades, was absolution for your sins: it didn´t matter what someone had done, if that person went on a crusade to the holy lands, that person would be forgiven for all the biblical sins that person had committed.

My question is, could going on a crusade also be used to clear away any misdeeds one might have committed as in once one returned from the crusade it wouldn´t matter what misdeeds or crimes (short of actual treason of the kind that would get you executed) one had committed? Once returned, were people considered absolved of those misdeeds and crimes?

Or was that not how the crusades worked?

Also, was it more like once someone went on a crusade (unless the person was a king) the person was expected to remain in the holy lands until the person died?

Or it only gave the person absolution for their sins, but any other problems you might have had crime, a scandal, debt or whatever didn´t go away and still waited for the person once the person got back?

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    I'm not sure what "biblical sins" are. Are you asking if Crusade could clear civil crimes? or scandals?
    – MCW
    Oct 30, 2021 at 12:53
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    @Lucian Military service was only introduced in Western Europe at the end of the 18th century. Before that, soldiers were usually fighting for money or for loot (though occasionally armies would also pressgang random men into service). See e.g. Landsknechte or, before that, Swiss mercenaries. Or Free companies in France.
    – Jan
    Oct 30, 2021 at 12:58
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    @rs.29 and maybe some loot.
    – Jan
    Oct 30, 2021 at 13:00
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    I just watched They Shall Not Grow Old. The opening few minutes have a lot of insight into why young men sign up for wars. It's profitable, exciting, guaranteed work glorified (at least before you go over!) by elders, youth, and love interest alike, and few knew what they were getting into... I wonder how many of those reasons were just as true in the 11th century. Oct 30, 2021 at 13:06
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    It was not 'forgive everything magic', it was only a plenary indulgence newadvent.org/cathen/07783a.htm (you have to confess it before hand, must abhor your sin, it does not take the guilt, only the penalty in purgatory, etc) There were (and are) much easier ways to gain an indulgence than crusading, it would not be rational to go there just because of that. Reasons may be adventure, gains, social pressure, sense of duty, being ordered to go, or just because too much was lost to muslims and they were afraid to be the next victim.
    – Luiz
    Oct 30, 2021 at 18:38

1 Answer 1


There were indeed other incentives offered by both Church and State to individuals joining the crusades. What was offered was more often in the form of assurances of protection for the status and household/families of the individuals.

Suspension of debt payments, termination of interest payments, protection from lawsuits, and three year payment plans for debts after a two year hiatus are among the offerings.

The 1901 book Urban and the Crusaders, edited by Dana Carleton Munro, has a section on Privileges of the Crusaders. In this section he has gathered several relevant documents translated from various popes and kings concerning the types of concessions and protections offered to those individuals who 'take the cross'.

A web friendly version of this information can be found at the site Medieval Sourcebook: Evolution of Crusader Privileges, 1095-1270 at Fordham.edu.

Some excerpts (bold points mine):

First, the religious aspect, Council of Clermont 1095:

If any one through devotion alone, and not for the sake of honor or gain, goes to Jerusalem to free the church of God, the journey itself shall take the place of all penance.

Pope Eugenius III, 1146 (second crusade) expanded the incentives package :

We have also commanded that their wives and children, their property and possessions, shall be under the protection of the holy church, of ourselves, of the archbishops, bishops and other prelates of the church of God. Moreover, we ordain by our apostolic authority that until their return or death is fully proven, no law suit shall be instituted hereafter in regard to any property of which they were in peaceful possession when they took the cross.* ... Those who with pure hearts enter upon such a sacred journey and who are in debt shall pay no interest. And if they or others for them are bound by oath or promise to pay interest, we free them by our apostolic authority

The next section is from a decree by King Phillip Augustus of France, in 1188

That bishops, prelates, and clerks of the conventual churches, and knights who have taken the cross, shall have a respite of two years - dating from the first feast of All Saints after the departure of the king - in paying the debts which they owed to Jews or Christians before the king took the cross; that is, on the first feast of All Saints the creditors shall have a third of the debt, and on the following feast of All Saints a second third of the debt, and on the third feast of All Saints the last third of the debt. Also, for each one, from the day on which he takes the cross, interest on debts previously contracted shall cease.

I don't want to copy paste the entire page over, but this point may be poignant concerning individual incentives (same decree):

If a knight, who is the legitimate heir, son, or son-in-law of a knight not taking the cross, or of a widow, and who is under the jurisdiction of his father or mother, takes the cross, his father or mother shall have a respite from their debts, in accordance with the above ordinance.

This section would seem to indicated a son joining the crusades in the name of his elders would get the same protections applied to his parents debts.

One last note, since part of the question was referring to forgiveness for crimes. A privilege offered by Louis IX of France in 1270 seems to offer some limited protection to crusaders for criminal actions by turning them over to be judged within the church instead of the secular courts:

If the king, or a count, or a baron, or any lord who has the right of jurisdiction in his land, arrests a clerk, or crusader, or any man of religion, even if he is a layman, the lord ought to deliver him to the holy church, whatever may be his crime. And if the clerk has committed a crime for which the penalty is death by hanging, and is not tonsured, the secular justice ought to try him. But if be is tonsured and wears the habit of a clerk, even if he is a thief, no confession, no answer that he may make, can injure him, for he is not before his regular judges; and any confession made by one who is not before his regular judges has no value, according to the law written in the Decretals.

Some more details in the book and web page, but this gets the main idea across concerning the form of some of the incentives and protections offered to those that joined the crusades.

  • Not paying interest, or covering debts, etc... would you describe that as "payment" more or less? Like how modern soldiers actually take a salary? And were the debt holders just forced to eat it, or did the Church or other authorities actually cover them, in part or whole?
    – user1973
    Nov 7, 2021 at 16:45
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    Since most of these were actually listed as deferments, I think they still would be more aptly considered incentives. They were essentially guarantees that the status quo would be maintained while the knight was off crusading. Much like today when National guard soldiers are called to active duty and their civilians jobs are supposed to be protected while they are gone. The cancellation of interest would be a direct financial gain, however.
    – justCal
    Nov 7, 2021 at 16:55
  • Thanks. I missed that they were deferred, not cancelled.
    – user1973
    Nov 7, 2021 at 17:12

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