The power of the Church in 12th Century Europe was not confined to the spiritual realm. On the contrary, because of their aristocratic background, high levels of education, and lack of dynastic ambitions, princes of the church were widely employed as royal officers. As chancellors, particularly, bishops and archbishops often wielded great influence in secular affairs.
In this excerpt from The Last Crusader Kingdom based on a true incident during the "German Crusade of 1197," John d'Ibelin must convince an Archbishop, the Archbishop of Hildesheim and Chancellor of the Holy Roman Empire, to take military action.
[John d'Ibelin] burst into the Archbishop's great hall to find it already crowded with men milling about. To his relief, the Archbishops of Acre and Hildesheim sat together on the dais. They were apparently in earnest discussion with a number of noblemen. John pushed his way through the seething crowds in the lower hall, unable to understand what was agitating the occupants, because they were all speaking German. He sprang onto the dais, provoking a tardy response from a young knight in Hildesheim's service. The latter tried to put himself between John and the men at the table, but John shoved him aside so forcefully that two German noblemen sprang to their feet with their hands on their hilts.
"My lord of Hildesheim!" John called out to the Imperial Chancellor from half a dozen feet away. "Your men are plundering and looting in the streets of Acre as if they were in Damascus! And you have nothing better to do than sit and drink?" The outrage in John's voice rang to the vaulted ceiling and reverberated there.
The German noblemen at once drew their swords and shouted back at John, while behind him a general uproar erupted. The Archbishop of Acre, however, leaned back in his chair with an odd smile on his face, and the Imperial Chancellor gestured for silence, telling the noblemen to sheath their swords.
The level of noise dropped but did not fully die away. The Imperial Chancellor spoke into the lull, "It's young John d'Ibelin, is it not?" He spoke in Latin.
"Yes, my lord," John answered in the same tongue, because it was their only common language.
"And you presume to give orders to me? The Imperial Chancellor of the Holy Roman Empire?" he asked with raised eyebrows.
"My sister the queen," John started deliberately. He was breathing heavily, but he had a grip on himself. He answered slowly and clearly, speaking so every man in the hall could hear him, "...is in grief and mourning. The Dowager Queen of Jerusalem, therefore, tasked me with restoring order. And that I will do, even if it means riding down and butchering your men," John bluffed. "I would prefer, however, if you brought your men to order."
Behind him he heard men muttering "Juden" and "Schweine," but he ignored them and focused on the Imperial Chancellor. Hildesheim might be a bishop, but he was a worldly bishop -- and one who know how to wield a mace.
"What makes you so certain you can stop thousands of fighting men from obtaining what they believe is their just reward, young man?"
"My faith in God, my lord bishop," John answered as forcefully as he could, gulping air into his lungs to try to calm his racing pulse. "He knows that what your men do is an offense against His people -- the people he was born to -- and His Holy Gospel, for which He gave His sacred blood. Even now my men are calling out the watch. If you do not take action, we will." John's heart was pounding furiously in his breast. God help me! He pleaded silently. God help me!
"Is this not what I have been saying for the last hour?" the Archbishop of Acre spoke up, leaning forward and hissing to his fellow bishop: "You know it is the right thing to do."
"My men won a great victory over the Saracens, and what have they got for it? Nothing. No loot. No gold. Nothing."
"They have received the remission of sins past," the Archbishop of Acre countered, "but not, I must stress, absolution for what they are doing now. The sins they are committing here in the Holy Land against innocent people will take them all to hell, regardless of what they did to al-Adil's army!"
Hildesheim looked over at Acre with raised eyebrows for a moment, but then he pulled his feet under him and stood. He started distributing orders in German. The noblemen around him nodded, turned toward the hall, and started calling to their men. Abruptly all the men in the hall appeared to scrambling to find their helmets and gauntlets. John felt himself quaking. If they were going to join their men in the looting, he -- no, Acre -- was utterly lost.
As if reading his mind, Hildesheim clapped him on the shoulder and remarked, "You win, boy. I've ordered my knights to rein in their men and move them out of Acre. We'll set up camp outside the walls -- and then look for a Saracen city to sack."