How a Sex Scandal Started the Crusades and Changed the World

OK, now that I got your attention (and in the interest of lightening things up as well), let me explain.

It all started with a beautiful Russian princess, Eupraxia of Kiev, daughter of Vsevolod I of Kiev and sister to Vladimir II Monomakh. This was back in the eleventh century, around the time of the Great Schism between East and West.

You see, Eupraxia (who took the name Adelhaid) became the second wife of Emperor Henry IV in 1088. A German king, Henry’s life and reign were tumultuous (to say the least). The Investiture Controversy erupted during his reign and to make a long story short, he had to abase himself before Pope Gregory VII by standing barefoot in the snow in the Alps, at a town called Canossa.

The Humiliation at Canossa was just one of the many crises that plagued Henry, the Holy Roman Empire, and the Western Church during that time. If you want to get the drift, think of it as Game of Thrones, only real.

“Hey, Your Holiness, it’s getting cold out here with me being barefoot in the snow and all. Can we get this thing over with already?”

[Editor’s note: you might want to stop reading here as what follows is pretty salacious.]

All told, Henry had been excommunicated five,e different times by three different popes, probably a record if you ask me. Anyway, it seems that Henry had interesting ideas about the marital bond. According to his long-suffering wife, he was a voyeur who made her participate in orgies while he watched. That was bad enough but then she accused him of performing a Black Mass on her naked body. That was the final straw and so she appealed to the pope in order to get out of her marriage.

Unfortunately, there were two popes at the time: Guiscard, Bishop of Ravenna and Odo of Chatillon-sur-Marne, the former Abbot of Cluny. Guiscard took the regnal name of Clement III while Odo became Urban II. Clement’s election was considered by most to be illegitimate and he became known as an antipope. The problem was that he and the armies of several nobles who supported him occupied Rome. Urban, the legitimate pope, lived like a refugee for several months, never daring to enter Rome.

OK, got it so far? (This actually makes Game of Thrones look like a junior high mean-girls cat-fight if you ask me.)

Over in Constantinople, the emperor, Alexius I Comnenus, had his own problems. The Seljuk Turks had conquered much of Anatolia, which was the backbone of his empire. Needless to say, he wanted it all back. A general himself who had become emperor by dint of his martial prowess, he knew that his army was too weak at the time to take on the Turks single-handedly. He thought that perhaps if six thousand or so armored knights from the West joined him, that would do the trick. And it probably would have. Unfortunately, as we shall soon see, he got more than he bargained for –much more.

Interestingly, Urban put out feelers to Alexius at around this time. As the legitimate Emperor of the Romans (as opposed to the immoral and many times excommunicated Henry IV who ruled over an unruly conglomeration of independent principalities, duchies, and counties), Urban felt that only a real emperor could settle the issue once and for all. And both men (Urban and Alexius) felt that they could heal the Schism which had taken place some thirty years earlier.

So, to make a long story short, Alexius came to Urban’s aid and restored him to the papacy. Urban then convened a council in 1095 where he heard the plea of Eupraxia. And then, he announced to all of the assembled bishops there that their Christian brothers in the East needed their help. A second, much larger council was called at Cluny and in no time flat, men from all over Europe took up arms and formed the First Crusade. Before anyone knew it, there was a Second Crusade, then a Third and then we all know what happened during the Fourth Crusade in 1204.

The moral of the story? Little things can get out of hand.

P.S. And that’s why words matter. Even simple prepositions such as among and without.


  1. Yes, words matter. So what’s up with the little thumbs up/down that now appear at the bottom of comments?
    Thumbs up, thumbs down, like, dislike, press one if you agree, press two for more options.
    Click here and you can give your opinion without exertion. No tedious explanations. No strenuous mental effort in defense of your position.
    Who needs words?

  2. Lexcaritas says

    Correction, George: Leo IX was the pope of Whom Humbert was the legatee, who took it upon himself to issue the infamous Bull of Excommunication of Michael Cerularius. Hildebrandt did not become pope for another 20 years.

    Nothwithstanding the prior two comments, I rather like the thumbs. Some of us work full time and more to earn a living and serve at the altar and do not always have time to participate by formulating a worthwhile comment.


    • George Michalopulos says

      Lex, forgive me! I thought for sure it was Gregory VII. I didn’t mention Hildebrand, did I? Wasn’t he Innocent III?

      Regardless, lemme do some more homework and make the necessary changes. Thanks for your readership and correction.

    • George Michalopulos says

      Made the change!  thanks Lex

  3. Merle Comitas says

    In Greek, Vice President, or Presidential Vicar, is Anti-President. 
    Therefore the Vicar of Christ fully proclaims himself the Anti-Christ