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THE CRUSADES (1100s and 1200s)

Link to the Norman, Angevin and Plantagenet Kings of England


1st Crusade    2nd Crusade    3rd Crusade    4th Crusade    5th Crusade


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The 1st Crusade (1095 - 1099) was launched with a fiery speech by the French Clunaic Pope Urban II (1042 - 1088 - 1099) on Nov 27 1095 in a field in Clermont (France) (where there was a church council going on). Urban is pictured above in a French manuscript made just after the Crusades had ended 200 years later.  In his 1095 speech he promised participants remission of all past and future(!) sins and therefore a good post-death experience, and that, along with feudal obligations and desire to escape abject poverty, made the marketing message extremely persuasive!


Should you be in Piacenza in Emilia-Romagna, the locals will tell you that Urban actually launched the crusade in a field opposite the church of Santa Maria di Campagna.  Both sides agree on the field bit anyway, and the fact that Urban was French probably weighs the odds in favour of Clermont.


A large rabble of Germans, followers of Peter the Hermit, jumped the gun and, pausing only to kill all the Jews they could find, headed south leaving a trail of death and destruction in their wake.  They were eventually lured into a trap and slaughtered by the Turks after they had crossed the Bosporus into Asia. 


Meantime the main armoured columns had also got their pillaging act into gear as they moved south and joined up, and on July 15 1099 the 1st Crusade took Jerusalem, indiscriminately slaughtering nearly all of the inhabitants - Moslem, Christian and Jewish - and establishing a tradition of mindless violence which was maintained by later generations of crusaders, wherever they were and whoever they were fighting. 







Jerusalem and the Dome of the Rock - Photos taken in 1940 by Clare Sproule, Adrian Fletcher's maternal grandmother.






The 2nd Crusade (1147 - 49) was an unmitigated disaster launched at the urging of the Cistercian Pope Eugenius (an inappropriate name) by St Bernard of Clairvaux (1090 - 1153 (63)) (the hitherto highly successful Cistercian leader and intellectual) from Vézelay in 1147, after the Moslem leader Nur al-Din (c1118 - 1174) had sacked Edessa in 1144 and was reported to be advancing on Jerusalem. 



Saint Bernard of Clairvaux






It included the first Royal Crusaders - Holy Roman Emperor Conrad III, French King Louis VII and his then Queen, Eleanor of Aquitaine (1122 - 1204 (82)) accompanied by 300 women attendants dressed in armour (and no doubt with matching chastity belts).  Cameo players included the Eastern Roman (i.e. Byzantine) Emperor, Manuel I Comnenus, and the (Norman) King of Sicily - Roger II.


Gisant of Eleanor of Aquitaine in Fontevraud Abbey



The Crusade was a shambles which ended in a humiliating retreat.   Bernard unfairly copped the blame for this situation, the real villains being the royal incompetents, some unhelpful politicking and strategy decisions by Eleanor, and the fact that for the first time they were up against a competent Moslem military commander. 


Bernard spent the final years of his life writing De Consideratione - a feedback to his former pupil Eugene III on the lessons of the failed crusade.  De Consideratione and parts of the Saint's other great written work, the sermons on Solomon's Song of Songs, are included in the Penguin Classic "The Cistercian World - Monastic Writings of the Twelfth Century".  


In 1128 Bernard also had a major hand in writing the Rule for the Knights Templar,  who had been formed in 1118.  The rule included the amazing injunction not to wash.  Eugenius also left his mark on the Templars - their distinctive red cross, which replaced an unmemorable black and white (piebald) stripe pennant.  Interestingly the Templar seal shows two armoured knights riding on one horse - illustrating their vow of poverty and lack of consideration for horse welfare.  The knights also ate in pairs - using one bowl between two.  By the time they were closed down in 1312 by King Philippe le Bon and Pope Clement V they were richer, cleaner and had more horses.



Matthew Paris (c1200 - 1259 (59)), Benedictine monk illustrator, sketches the Templar seal and piebald pennant.

Illustration from "Illustrated History of the Knights Templar" by James Wasserman

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Eleanor's grandfather, Duke William IX of Aquitaine, claimed to have been the first of the troubadours, whose poetry of courtly love, romance and adventure was written in langue d'oc, the language of Aquitaine.  William supplemented the esoteric side with a healthy personal bonking regime.  Further north and east, trouvères, who wrote in early French, and minnesangers, writing in early German, pursued similar courses.  This CD contains examples of each genre compiled by early music specialist David Munrow and the Early Music Consort of London.






The best known and greatest of the Moslem leaders of the period were Nur al-Din (c1118 - 1174 (56))  and Saladin (1138 - 1193 (55)).  Nur al-Din caused the end of the Egyptian Fatamid dynasty in 1169 and provided the first competent opposition to the crusader military.  Later Saladin, a nephew of Nur al Din's senior military commander, installed himself  as Sultan and the Ayyubid dynasty was launched.  It was Saladin who retook Jerusalem on October 2 1187, and, in sharp contrast to the bloodbath of 1099, allowed the crusader families to leave after payment of a minor ransom.




Crusade Number 3 (1189 - 92) saw Eleanor's son, the French speaking* just acceded English King Richard I (1157 -  1189 - 1199 (42)) together with the unenthusiastic real French King Philip II and, for a short while before he drowned on the journey south, the ageing Holy Roman Emperor Frederick I (Barbarossa - "Red Beard" (1122 - 1155 - 1190 (68)), have a go at getting Jerusalem back from Saladin.  In the 1188 lead up to the crusade, Richard's father Henry II had imposed the first secular tax in English history, the so called Saladin Tithe.  Interestingly, the Papal Bull proclaiming this crusade expressly forbade any participation by women - wonder why!  On the way to the Levant, both the English and French armies stopped off in Sicily where Richard's sister Joan needed freeing from King Tancred's prison.


Phillip gave up and went home early.  Richard negotiated the capture of Acre, by then one of the richest trading centres in the Middle East, then ensured that the ethical traditions of the Christian forces were maintained by beheading the 2,700 unarmed and surrendered Moslem garrison.  But it was increasingly apparent, even to the nasty and belligerent Richard, that there was no point in capturing Jerusalem, even if he could, because it was not possible to provide a viable ongoing garrison.  He also failed in a "Plan B" to marry Joan to Saladin's brother Al-Adil and make them King and Queen of Jerusalem.


So Richard headed "home", and was famously shipwrecked, captured, imprisoned by Emperor Henry VI (Barbarossa's son), discovered by the troubadour Blondel (maybe), ransomed for 150,000 marks (30 tons of silver) (definitely) which the treasury of England could not afford (very definitely), and eventually escorted "home" by his (by then) seventy year old mum, Eleanor of Aquitaine who had earlier sailed to Sicily with a bride for Richard.   In an interesting twist, the ransom money gave Henry the resources he needed to mount a campaign that eventually took took over the Kingdom Of Sicily ( = Sicily + Southern Italy).


It remains a mystery as to why the English later chose to place a large and dramatic equestrian statue of this unpleasant French speaking individual (Richard), who spent only a few months of his 10 year kingship resident in the country, in the prime spot in front of their Houses of Parliament at Westminster.  There is, more understandably, a full body "gisant" sculpture of him in the Royal Abbey of Fontevraud.





French was not replaced by English as the official language of the English law courts until 1362 (after the 1348 black death), during the 50 year reign of King Edward III (1312 - 1327 - 1377 (65)),  whose Hundred Years' War, which bankrupted a generation of Florentine bankers and did not do the English much good either, was ironically (and unsuccessfully) aimed at making his good self the King of France.  This was not just a linguistic issue - to the Norman and Angevin / Plantagenet Kings, home was the area around Tours, Le Mans and Poitiers, not England.








Head from the gisant of Richard I in the Royal Abbey of Fontervrault, burial place for the Plantagenet dynasty




A contemporary image of Saladin (maybe !)




Maritime cities and republics such as Venice, Pisa, Genoa and Naples (also Amalfi, and Norman controlled port cities in Puglia and Sicily such as Trani, Bari, Brindisi, Messina, Syracusa and Palermo) benefited most from the transport and trading opportunities of the crusades and the Christian kingdoms that flourished for two hundred years in the Holy Land.  The crusades also gave a serious boost to the knowledge of, availability of, and desire for eastern goods like silk, spices etc in Europe.



Crusade Number 4


One of the early acts of Pope Innocent III ((1161 - 1216 (55), and elected Pope in 1198) was to launch a new crusade, which he preached from the steps of the old Roman Forum in Orvieto.  Even with the full weight of the papacy and its tax raising powers behind it, it took a bit of time to generate any momentum.  However by early 1200, 100 years after the first crusade captured Jerusalem,  three of the most powerful young nobles of France had joined in, and  preparations started gathering pace. 


Six representatives were sent to Venice, with authority to commit to whatever they thought was needed in the way of Venetian sea transport.  This turned out to be transports for 4,500 knights and their horses, 9,000 squires, and 20,000 infantry.  Supplies were to be provided at the rate of 500 litres of flour / grain / legumes, and 340 litres of wine per person, plus a cubic meter of grain per horse.  The whole fleet was to be handed over for one year on the feast day of Peter and Paul (29 June 1202) in exchange for 85,000 marks (25,000 kilograms of pure silver).  It is interesting that ten years earlier after the 3rd Crusade it had cost England nearly twice this just to get back the awful Richard I from Emperor Henry Hohenstaufen VI - which is why English money did not feature greatly in Crusade Number 4.


In addition Venice agreed to provide 50 war galleys at "no cost", or more accurately in exchange for half of any booty.  All parties signed the transport agreement, which was ratified by the Pope.






This mosaic depicting the capture of Constantinople by the 4th Crusade was rescued from the rubble of the Basilica di S Giovanni Evangelista in Ravenna after it was bombed by the USAAF in 1944, and is now on display with others in the reconstructed church.  They are the only surviving contemporary pictorial representations of the Crusade.



The Venetians kept to their promises, dropped other projects, and everything was ready to go on 29 June 1202.  Problem was that hardly a third of the expected number of crusaders had turned up, and worse still they could barely scrape together 50,000 marks between them.


Elderly blind energetic and cunning Venetian Doge Enrico Dandalo proposed that the Venetians would make the Crusade a short term loan of the shortfall, if in exchange the crusade would go with the Venetians to Zara in Dalmatia to crush a rebellion there.  After wintering in Zara, the fleet would proceed to Egypt (where they had originally intended to go straight away), and the loan would be repaid by the Venetians having ownership of all of the first 35,000 marks worth of bounty.  Everybody shook hands and the large fleet set sail in September 1202.


By November Zara had been forcibly captured and the Pope had excommunicated the 4th Crusade (and especially the Venetians) as a result of a complicated series of events which you will have to read about elsewhere.


By March 1203 the excommunicated crusaders, wintered in Zara, were not happy.  Provisions were running out and they could not afford the costs of getting to Egypt.  The Venetians were not of a mind to offer more loan funds. 


Then who should turn up but an exiled claimant to the Emperorship of Byzantium, Prince Alexius Angelus.  Alexius offered 200,000 marks, food, 10,000 soldiers and a future garrison for Jerusalem if the crusaders would just divert their journey and help him take over (or back as he put it) Constantinople.


The offer from Alexius was too good to refuse, and by June 1203 the fleet was anchored off Constantinople, happily awaiting the spontaneous uprising of the oppressed populous in favour of the popular Alexius.  However it turned out to have been a big mistake to take Alexius' assertion of such popularity at face value, and the gates to the city were slammed in the crusaders faces.  But then the Emperor lost his nerve and fled, and a month later the crusading lads found themselves in Constantinople with surprisingly few casualties.


Alexius paid up the first half of the promised 200,000 marks, which went mostly to the Venetians, but by the beginning of 1204 it was pretty clear that he could not come up with the remainder.  Apart from anything else, the local populace had not taken kindly to the accidental burning down of a third of their city following a crusader escapade, and were certainly not about to kick in any more money to the coffers of the lads from the west.   And the lads themselves now had to face the fact that they could not get to Egypt anyway as the Crusade had long since lost its one year's lease rights to the Venetian boats.



Which is how the grizzly sack of Constantinople, murder of Alexius and other nasties happened, and how the Latin Empire of Byzantium came into being. 


The 4th Crusade officially ended in April 1205, and most of the crusaders went home (the Venetians had already taken off laden with loot - including the Horses of Saint Marks, right - though Amalfi got away with the bones of the Apostle Andrew)


Enrico Dandolo died in Constantinople in May 1205, and was laid to rest in a fine marble tomb in Santa Sophia.  Today there is still a stone slab in the church then mosque now museum's floor with Enrico's name on it.


In 1203 the population of Constantinople had been 500,000, and the ten largest cities of Europe could have been fitted within its walls.   Sixty years later, when the Byzantines reclaimed the throne, only 35,000 people were left!  The greatest city in Christendom had been destroyed by an army of Christians.



You will also come across the Albigensian Crusade in the first three decades of the 1200s.  Another of Innocent III's initiatives, this one was a legalized and very bloody land grab aimed at eradicating the Cathars - dualiast heretics living in SW France.  Paradoxplace's book pages include some of the numerous books on this romantic subject.






Crusade Number 5


Undeterred by what had happened to his earlier No 4 crusading effort, Pope Innocent III (1161 - 1198 - 1216 (55)),  by now established as the most powerful of the medieval popes (and who, as a matter of irrelevant interest, was born around the same time as Ghengis Khan (1160 - 1227 (67)), proclaimed the 5th Crusade in 1213. 


The brilliant, cruel and larger than life Emperor Frederick II ("Stupor Mundi" - 1194 - 1250 (56)) took the vow to go in 1215.  He had not got within a bull's roar of setting out when, in August 1219, none other than San Francesco (1182 - 1226 (44))  made a cameo appearance in Egypt - he told the Franks who were already in Arab lands that they were about to lose the next battle (which they did) and counselled the Egyptian Sultan to convert to Christianity (which he did not), then he went home to his more appreciative Italian audiences. 


Frederick did not finally set off till 1228, having been excommunicated twice by Innocent's successor Pope Gregory IX - once for not going soon enough and then for going without authorization.  Frederick then organized the return of Jerusalem by negotiated treaty, but the concept of negotiation rather than bloodshed did not strike a sympathetic chord with the Pope, and he ended up attacking Frederick's kingdoms in Sicily and Southern Italy. 


(Note: You will also find the second leg of this crusade referred to as the sixth crusade, with other crusades numbered 7, 8 and 9 also listed.  Most commentaries now use the one to five numbering employed here.  There are many other sources on the web that will tell you about the rest!)




Later in the twelve hundreds "crusading" completely lost its focus on Jerusalem and got progressively more confused, with "crusades" being declared by various Popes and European rulers against all sorts of people and movements they did not like.  This went on into the fourteen and fifteen hundreds - the Renaissance Sienese Pope Pius II (Piccolomini) died in 1464 on the way to Ancona, where he was (unsuccessfully) trying to put together a Crusade (which he had preached earlier at Mantova, an event recorded in the Piccolomini Library in Siena Duomo) to recapture Constantinople, which had finally fallen to the Turkish Sultan Mehmet II in 1453.  In 1578 the King of Portugal was off crusading against Morocco, and in 1588 Pope Sixtus V blessed the Spanish Armada as a Crusade against Protestant England (but he did not know about the el Nino effect, which was about to generate the gales which dispersed and smashed the fleet). 




Back in time and in the Middle East, 1258 saw the sacking of Baghdad by the rejuvenated  Mongols - this time led by Hulagu Khan (C1217 - 1265), grandson of Ghengis.  The Mongols were in turn stopped then defeated by Egyptian Mamluk armies, who, by 1291, had also closed down the last of the remaining Frankish crusader kingdoms and towns.  The crusading era (but not its values or memories or the trading routes it opened up) had ended after almost exactly 200 years.



A very accessible account of the crusades is to be found in the paperback book  "Crusades" - by Terry Jones and Alan Ereira.  This is based on an outstanding BBC TV series narrated by Jones (a member of the "Monty Python" team), which is available on video.


On the right is the cover of a great illustrated book.  The writing is interesting and the illustrations are plentiful, high quality and much more broadly based than the "standard pics" that appear ad nauseam in the voluminous literature with titles including the words "crusade" or "templar".




Link to the Wikipedia Crusades Pages


That's generosity for you because a Canadian based Wiki "administrator" named Adam Bishop flamed a link that someone had set up from Wikipedia to this page, calling it spam!  Mindless crusading traditions live on ... wish the spam we received was this interesting.  If you want a bit of fun and an insight into the wiki jungle, have a look at the goings on on the "history" log of this wiki page.




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