Search This Blog

Sunday, 17 August 2014

The Crusades

In 1095 The Byzantine emperor Alexius Comneus was threatened by Muslim advances in Anatolia, so he appealed to the Pope for help. On November 27, 1095 at the Council of Clermont (see below) Pope Urban II called on the nobility of Western Europe to join on a crusade to retake Jerusalem. As it was then believed that the church is an earthly empire that needs to be established by force, the Pope promised that anyone who died in battle fighting for the church that they would go straight to heaven.


The First Crusade was launched in 1096 when two main groups took up Pope Urban II's call to arms. The first were a poor and disorganized lot led by the unkempt, uncouth but charismatic monk Peter the Hermit. The second force was more aristocratic led by a team that included Robert Duke of Normandy. The leaders in both groups chose different routes to the Holy Land but when they gathered to prepare at Constantinople there was a mass of 150,000 Crusaders.

The Siege of Maarat occurred in late 1098 in the city of Ma'arrat al-Numan, in what is modern-day Syria. The crusaders breached the walls on December 11 and on the morning of December 12, the Muslim garrison negotiated with Bohemond, who promised them safe conduct if they surrendered. However, the crusaders began to massacre the population and about 20,000 inhabitants were killed. After finding themselves with insufficient food, the crusaders reportedly resort to cannibalism.

After a siege the Crusaders took Jerusalem in 1099 but in a horrendous massacre almost every Muslim as well as many Jews and even eastern Christians were slaughtered.



At the command of the Pope, Bernard of Clairvaux preached a sermon in 1146 at Vézelay, promoting a second Crusade that aroused enthusiasm throughout Western Europe. Louis VII, the King of France was persuaded to join the Crusade and recruits from northern France, Flanders and Germany signed up.

The Second Crusade, led by Louis VII of France and Emperor Conrad III, fails to take Damascus. Bernard of Clairvaux blamed the defeat on the lack of faith of the Crusaders.

The only success of the Second Crusade came to a combined force of 13,000 Flemish, Frisian, Norman, English, Scottish, and German crusaders in 1147. Travelling from England, by ship, to the Holy Land, the army stopped and helped the smaller Portuguese army in the capture of Lisbon, expelling its Moorish occupants.

After a series of crisis, the Muslim leader, Saladin (1137-1193) invaded the kingdom of Jerusalem with a massive force at the start of summer in 1187. The infidel leader was active in his faith, which in his younger days made him reclusive but later on became the motivation to drive the Christians from the Holy Land.

The Third Crusade was launched to retake Jerusalem. The leaders were the Holy Roman Emperor, Frederick Barbarossa, the newly crowned Richard I of England and Philip Augustus of France.

The wily Saladin proceeded to defeat the Christian Jerusalem army at the mountainous region of Hittin by setting fire to dry grass around the armoured Crusaders in the already hot terrain.

Despite the Crusaders capturing Acre in 1191, the Third Crusade was considered a failure as the Crusaders failed to regain Jerusalem.

In 1192 the Crusaders' Sultan opponent Saladin and the Crusaders finally agreed to a three-year truce and free access to Jerusalem for Christian Pilgrims, a concession Saladin would have granted before the crusade.

Though Saladin always kept his word, the Crusaders habitually broke theirs as they were absolved by their priests on the grounds that an oath to an infidel was invalid. Indeed the Crusades were a tragic misrepresentation of the ideals of Christian mission, carried out in the spirit of warfare rather than the spirit of Christ.

Saladin was a paradox for the Crusaders, Such was his chivalry and generosities to losers, many of his opponents believed he was a secret Christian. Later when Dante’s Divine Comedy allocated the great men of the Christian era to their destiny after death, Saladin was placed in purgatory rather than Hell, despite being a heathen.

Medieval Crusaders returning from the Middle East brought home a hitherto unknown series of foods that would become its essential ingredients—spices, sugars, almonds and citrus fruits.

The Crusaders brought the first samples to Europe of gingerbread, and also introduced fritters and puff pastry.

Only 12,000 men volunteered for the Fourth Crusade in 1202, so they were diverted by their Venetian financial backers to sack the wealthy city of Constantinople, partly to pay back the loan. Pope Innocent III was against this and excommunicated the Crusaders but they carried on in the name of God.

The first major action of the Fourth Crusade was the Siege of Zara, which began in Zadar, Croatia on November 10, 1202. It was the first attack against a Catholic city by Catholic crusaders.

The crusaders captured Constantinople by assault on April 12. 1204. The Byzantine emperor Alexios III Angelos fled from his capital into exile. Showing no respect to Constantinople’s churches the Crusaders removed anything of value including ornate crosses from the high altar and destroy priceless works of art. They even replaced a religious patriarch with a prostitute, who danced and sung bawdy songs to ridicule the chants of the Greek Christians. This was all supposedly in God’s name, but the whole episode is one of the most shameful blots on church history,

Capture of Constantinople by the Fourth Crusade in 1204

After repaying the loan the booty was shared between them and the Crusaders returned home richer in pocket but surely not richer in spirit.

The Children’s Crusade sets out in 1212, a movement of thousands of children (some as young as six) from Germany and France, aiming to reach the Holy Land and recapture Jerusalem from the Turks by faith alone. There were two groups, one led by Stephen, a 12-year-old French shepherd boy and the other by Nicholas, a slightly older German lad. Tragically thousands die of disease or hunger crossing Europe. Some reached Genoa, Italy, but did not embark; around 30,000 reached Marseille, France, whence they were offered free transport but instead were shipped in old rotted ships to Egypt and sold into slavery. Nobody arrived in Jerusalem.

The Fifth Crusade was launched in 1218 led by King Andrew of Hungary, King John of Jerusalem and King Hugh of Cyprus with the additional help of a small army sent by the Holy Roman emperor, Frederick II.

Their plan was to retake the Holy Land including Jerusalem by first conquering Egypt. However after initially capturing the strategic Egyptian port of Damietta, they lost it again and the crusade ended in failure.

Frederick II eventually set out on the Sixth Crusade in 1228. He succeeded in recovering Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Nazareth by negotiation with al-Kamil, the sultan of Egypt, on February 18, 1229 and had himself crowned king of Jerusalem in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. The Pope, however, was upset, as he'd been hoping for Muslim blood. He called for a crusade against the Crusader but this elicited little response.

Kingdom of Jerusalem after treaty from 1229

In 1244 Jerusalem was lost again when it was captured by the Egyptian Mamelukes. Four years later Louis IX of France set off on the Seventh Crusade and he sailed to Cyprus taking his wife with him so she could reap the spiritual reward.

1250 St Louis IX’s Crusaders were heavily defeated at Marsuna in 1250. The French king was taken prisoner having failed in his aim of taking Jerusalem, but he obtained his own release and that of other prisoners after a month in captivity in return for a large ransom and the surrender of Damietta, which they had taken a year previously.

King Louis IX landed in Tunis for the Eighth Crusade in 1270 but the saintly French king almost immediately caught the plague and he died soon after. His dying word was "Jerusalem." The Siege of Tunis was abandoned on October 30, 1270 and little was achieved.

Acre, the last Christian fortress in the Holy Land, fell to the Turks in 1291, thus ending the Christian military presence in the Near East. Over 50,000 Christians had perished and only some missionary friars remained to spread Christianity.

No comments:

Post a Comment