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Pope Innocent III
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  Home >> The Crusades >> The Fourth Crusade >> Pope Innocent III

Almost immediately upon being elected pope, Innocent III decided that the papacy itself should assume the leadership of the next Crusade. He issued his crusading letter in August of 1198, sending it to all the archbishops of the West. He directed the call to arms not to kings and emperors, but to counts and barons and even to cities. The archbishops and bishops of the Church were likewise to contribute soldiers, or an equivalent amount in money.

The tone of the encyclical makes it clear that Innocent believed the Church itself was the true leader of the Crusades. Even so, he wrote separately to the kings of France and England, ordering them to cease their war. Not, you will note, that they should go on crusade themselves, but only that their quarrel should not interfere with the raising of troops and money for the Crusade. He likewise sent a papal legate to try to persuade Genoa and Pisa to make a truce between them, for much the same reasons, except that he wanted the Pisans and Genoese to participate in the Crusade.

The original date set by Innocent for the departure of the Crusade was March 1199, but no one left. Richard and Philip declared a truce, but Richard died soon after, and the war between England and France was on again. Preachers preached, Innocent wrote more letters and tried to raise money, but still nothing much happened. Only in November 1199 did the first significant lords take the cross and formally commit enough men to the enterprise for it to be called an army.

Almost immediately, Innocent began to lose control of the Crusade. He had intended for the Crusaders from all over Europe to assemble at Venice, where that city would agree to provide the ships to transport the hosts to the Holy Land. This service would not be free, of course; but only Venice could even contemplate building enough ships to carry an entire Crusader army. Innocent had asked Venice to participate in the Crusade, but this matter of being the primary provider of transportation was something arranged between Venice and the lay lords. From that moment on, the course of events were affected far more by Venice than by the pope.

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