Chapter XXXV, of Cassells Illustrated History of England, Volume 1
The First Crusade - The Byzantine Empire - Siege and Capture of Jerusalem.Pages: <1> 2 3 4
At the Council of Clermont a universal peace was proclaimed, called the Truce of God, and its observance was some time afterwards sworn, throughout the country. Europe had long been in a disturbed condition; the weak were liable to be plundered by the strong without redress; and wars and feuds between rival princes were continued with little intermission. It is related that at the Truce of God these evils disappeared, and for a short time there was a profound peace.
Thieves and murderers - criminals of every dye, were tempted by the prospect of boundless licence, and joined the Crusade. Every man wore the sign of the cross upon his shoulder, cut in red cloth, and many adventurers assumed that sacred emblem in the belief that it would afford a perpetual absolution for any crime they might commit. But while preparing for the departure of the various expeditions, the Crusaders - even those of the most reckless character - abstained for a while from violence, and kept the Truce of God. This cessation of civil warfare must have endured some time, for among the wild spirits who joined the first body of the Crusade few, if any, lived to return, and the removal of so many plunderers and marauders must have produced a beneficial effect on the state of society in Europe.
People of every degree and of various nations were animated with the same ardent enthusiasm. Nobles sold or mortgaged their lands to raise money for the enterprise; poor men abandoned their homesteads and their families, and flocked to the standard of the cross. The old writers describe the sufferings occasioned by the parting of husbands from their wives, parents from their children. They tell us, however, of exceptions to these scenes of misery. Some wives and mothers there were who, in their fanatic zeal? animated their husbands to the journey, and parted from them without a tear.
In the year 1096, the first body of the Crusaders set out for the Holy Land under the command of Gautier sans avoir, or Walter the Penniless, a nobleman of Burgundy. This man was a soldier of fortune, noted for his poverty, but also possessed of some degree of military fame. The army which he led was a mixed rabble without order or discipline, who committed many excesses, and plundered the towns and villages which lay on their road. Amongst the other chiefs were Walter di Pesejo, Gottschalk, and William the Carpenter.
Passing through Germany, Walter entered Hungary, which country had been converted to Christianity several centuries before.
At Semlin some stragglers of Walter's army were attacked and plundered by a portion of the inhabitants, and the arms and crosses of the men who had thus been despoiled were placed as trophies upon the walls of the city. The Crusaders called for vengeance; but Walter restrained their impetuosity, and passed on into Bulgaria. Here he found himself among a nation altogether hostile; the gates of the cities were shut against him, and his troops were unable to obtain food. Urged by hunger, they seized the flocks and herds of the natives, who attacked the invaders, and defeated them with great slaughter. Walter succeeded with great difficulty in collecting the remnant of his scattered multitude, and led them on the way to Constantinople. Here, after many privations, he at length arrived, and obtained permission from the emperor to await the arrival of Peter the Hermit.
Meanwhile there advanced over the plains of Germany a wild, disorganised multitude of all nations and languages. Men, women, and children were there 5 for women had at length been impelled by the fatal enthusiasm of the time, or by some equally powerful motive, to throw off the timidity of their sex, and to share the dangers of their husbands and their sons. Infants of tender age accompanied their parents, and the old and infirm dragged their weary steps in the rear ("Who shall count," says Guibert of Nogent, "the children and the infirm, the old men and young maidens, who pressed forward to the fight, not with the hope of aiding, but for the sake of the crown of martyrdom to be won from the swords of the infidel?").
At the head of this multitude, which numbered forty thousand persons, rode Peter the Hermit, pointing, with outstretched arms, the way to Jerusalem. The march to the southern part of Hungary was conducted without much disturbance or violence; but when the Crusaders arrived before Semlin, their anger was roused by the sight of the arms and crosses of Walter's followers, displayed in triumph on the walls. A furious assault was made on the town, which was taken by the troops of the cross, and 7,000 Hungarians were killed or made prisoners. Then Peter learnt, for the first time, that the passions which had been excited by his eloquence defied the control of the same power, and that he was utterly without authority in the midst of his reckless followers. For several days the captured city was the scene of every kind of licentiousness, and neither the property of the inhabitants nor the honour of the women was spared by the conquering troops.
The news of the fall of Semlin being conveyed to Carloman, King of Hungary, he immediately marched a large force to the southern frontier. Peter retreated before the Hungarian army, and effected the passage of the Save with considerable loss, a party of native Bulgarian troops having advanced to oppose him.
The hermit now led his army in the direction of Nissa, which was occupied by the Duke of Bulgaria with a considerable force. With a prudence which in their case was exceptional, the Crusaders here abstained from any attempt at violence, and the duke in return permitted his subjects to supply them with necessaries. These peaceful relations were maintained until the moment of departure of the hermit's army, when some German stragglers, who had engaged in a dispute with some Bulgarian merchants, set fire to several dwellings and warehouses without the walls of the town.
Aroused to vengeance, the troops of the garrison rushed put upon the rear of Peter's army, and put to the sword indiscriminately all who opposed them, carrying off many women and children as prisoners.
Peter turned back, and, with a degree of calmness and wisdom which does honour to his memory, inquired into the causes of the conflict which he saw raging around. He negotiated successfully with the duke, and peace was on the point of being restored, when a portion of the hermit's undisciplined army made an attack upon the city, and were repulsed with heavy loss. The conflict then became general, and resulted in the total defeat of the Crusading troops.
Peter himself escaped with difficulty, and took refuge among the mountains. For many days he wandered about alone, oppressed with grief for the fate of the expedition, ' and despairing of the future. At length he met with some of his knights, who retained more courage and energy than their leader, and, with their assistance, a portion of the scattered forces of the cross was gathered together. Peter once more placed himself at the head of the troops, and, with renewed vigour, hastened on towards Constantinople.
At every step the hermit received re-enforcements from the fugitive bands of his followers; and the news of his approach having reached Constantinople, the Emperor Alexius sent deputies to meet the Crusaders, and assist them in procuring provisions. At Philippopoli Peter addressed an eloquent appeal to the people, which was attended with such success that the wants of the army were abundantly supplied.
After reposing for a while from the fatigues and privations they had undergone, the Crusaders, now numbering nearly 30,000 men, set out for Constantinople. Here they at length arrived, and effected a junction with the troops of Walter the Penniless.
The discordant elements of which these combined forces were composed soon appeared, in a defiance of all authority; and between the various nations a spirit of animosity arose, which found vent in repeated quarrels and disturbances. The thirst for plunder, also, was not restrained by any gratitude for the hospitality of the emperor. Alexius had sent both money and provisions in abundance to the camp of the Crusaders, who, nevertheless, seized whatever booty came within their reach; entering dwelling-houses and palaces, and even stripping the lead from the roofs of the churches, and selling it to the people from whom it had been stolen.
These lawless acts continuing on the increase, the emperor found means to convey his dangerous allies across the Bosphorus, advising them not to quit their new encampment till the arrival of other divisions of the Crusade. The troops, however, still continued their ravages throughout Bithynia; a stronger hand than that of a palmer was necessary to control them; and Peter, wearied with the sight of excesses which he was unable to prevent, proceeded to Constantinople for the purpose of holding a council with the emperor.
During his absence the Lombards and Germans separated from the French, and chose for their leader a man named Renault, or Rinaldo. Under his command, they resumed their march, and took possession of the fortress of Xerigord. Here they were attacked by Sultan Soliman, who cut to pieces a detachment placed in ambuscade, and then invested the fortress.
The besieged possessed no supply of water within the walls, and they endured the most dreadful agonies from thirst. At the end of eight days, the leader, Rinaldo, with his chief companions, went over to the Turks, and betrayed the fortress into their hands. The remainder of the garrison were put to death without mercy.
The news of this disaster reached the French camp, and with it came a false report of the fall of Nicaea. The troops demanded to be led towards the Turkish territory, and Walter the Penniless, having in vain attempted to restrain their impatience, placed himself at their head. Before the army had advanced many leagues into the country, it was encountered by the Turks, who attacked the Crusaders in overwhelming numbers. An obstinate resistance only served to make the carnage more complete. Walter himself, after performing many feats of valour, fell covered with wounds, and the Christian army was routed so completely, that only 3,000 men escaped the sword.
The fugitives entrenched themselves at Civitot, where they were again attacked by a large force. The Turks surrounded the fortress with piles of wood, with the intention of destroying the garrison by fire, but the Crusaders, seizing a moment when the wind blew towards the Turkish camp, set fire to the wood themselves, and many of their enemies perished in the flames.
Meanwhile a soldier had made his escape from the town, and having reached Constantinople, told the news of these disasters to Peter the Hermit. At the prayer of Peter, the Emperor Alexius sent forces to rescue the garrison of Civitot, and the remnant of the army of the cross was brought in safety to Constantinople. On their arrival, however, Alexius commanded them to disperse and return to their own country, and he bought from each man his arms; thus at once depriving him of the means of violence, and supplying him with money for the journey.
This policy on the part of the emperor has given rise to an accusation against him of having betrayed the cause of the cross, and entered into an alliance with the Turks. No such motive is necessary to account for the conduct of Alexius. He would necessarily be glad to purge his dominions from a number of lawless vagabonds, who committed every species of iniquity under the name of a holy cause, and who, as his allies, were more to be dreaded than the Turks his enemies.
While the expedition of Peter the Hermit thus came to an end, other bands of fanatics and adventurers were following on his steps, without being destined to reach so far as Constantinople. The accounts of these expeditions are necessarily obscure; but the information we possess on the subject is not of a kind to induce a desire for further details. it is related that a multitude of 200,000 persons, without even a nominal leader, passed through Germany towards the south of Europe. Their course Was marked by excesses of every kind; men and women lived in a state of debauchery, and indulged in drunken orgies, obtaining supplies by plundering the surrounding country. Every Jew who fell into their hands was put to death, and the fanatic multitude declared it to be the will of Heaven that they should exterminate the nation who had rejected the Saviour.
A terrible retribution, however, was at hand, and the sacred emblem of the cross was purified from the stains with which it had been covered by the perpetrators of these enormities. At Merseburg, a large Hungarian force opposed the advancing multitude, who attacked that city with fury. A breach had been made in the walls, and the fall of Merseburg seemed inevitable, when some strange and sudden terror, which has never been accounted for, seized the besieging army, and they gave up the attack, and fled in dismay over the country. The Hungarians pursued them on every side, and mowed them down by hundreds. Day after day the work of slaughter went on, until the fields were strewed with corpses and the Danube was red with blood.
Such was the fate of the first bands of Crusaders who set out towards the Holy Land. More than a quarter of a million persons had already perished by famine or disease, or by the swords of the Turks or Hungarians, whose vengeance they had excited by acts of violence and plunder.
Meanwhile many powerful princes of the West were occupied in collecting troops and preparing to take the field. Among these were Godfrey of Bouillon, Duke of Lorraine; Hugh, Count of Vermandois, and brother of Philip, King of France; Robert, Duke of Normandy; Bohemond, Prince of Tarentum; Robert, Count of Flanders; and Raimond, Count of Toulouse; each of whom conducted an army towards Constantinople.
Among the leaders of the first Crusade, the most distinguished name is that of Godfrey VI., Lord of Bouillon., Marquis of Anvers, and Duke of Brabant. Inferior in political power to some of his companions, he was superior to them all in that influence which depends upon personal character. Although still young in years, he had earned fame in many a well-fought field; and his name was known throughout Europe in connection with many acts of private virtue no less than with gallant feats of arms. Amidst the cruelty and licentiousness so commonly attributed to the men of that age, the character of Godfrey is presented to us almost without blemish; and if we make a certain reservation for the partiality of monkish chroniclers towards the great leader of the Crusade, there will still remain evidence of facts which entitle the memory of the Lord of Bouillon to the highest honour with posterity.
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