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The Crusades; Monasticism; Feudalism; the Age of Faith and Chivalry.


Medieval history. From end of western empire to the discovery of America (a.d. 476-1492). The Crusade Period (a.d. 1096-1270).
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The wonderful expeditions called the Crusades were undertaken from a variety of motives. The inspirer of the First Crusade was, beyond doubt, chiefly Pope Urban II. (1088-1099), who saw the interest of the Church in a general excitement of religious enthusiasm, and delivered an address to the multitude assembled at a council at Clermont, in Auvergne, in the autumn of 1095. A native of Rheims, and educated as a monk at Clugny (or Cluni), a famous Benedictine abbey near Macon, unsurpassed in the middle ages for splendour and influence, and second to Rome alone as a centre of Christianity, Urban was able to lay aside in his discourse the Latin of universal use among ecclesiastics, and to preach to the French warriors in his and their mother-tongue. He appealed to them in behalf of the pilgrims to the Holy Land, ill-treated by the Moslem possessors of the country; of Jerusalem and its sacred buildings, the vault and Church of the Holy Sepulchre, built by St. Helena, mother of Constantine the Great; and of Antioch, once the city of St. Peter, given over to Mohammedan sway and superstition. He bade them exchange warfare amongst themselves for fight against infidels, and his words were received with enthusiastic cries of "Deus vult!" "It is God's will!" Crosses were distributed to all who professed their readiness to start, and the bishops and priests of the Council returned to their homes to preach the new gospel in every quarter. There is much legendary matter concerning a little bright-eyed man of eloquent speech called Peter the Hermit or Peter of Amiens, who traversed France, riding on an ass, with a crucifix in his hand, and everywhere called on people to arise and start for the scene of action. An epidemical frenzy was caused by remission of penance, absolution of all sins, and assurance of eternal felicity for those who "took the cross," or went on the Crusade. Sham miracles and fanatical prophecies aroused high enthusiasm among the superstitious. There were thousands who made use of so excellent an opportunity to gratify curiosity, restlessness, love of licence, thirst for battle, emulation, and ambition. Some of the leaders aimed at founding principalities in the East. Some hoped to repair broken fortunes by the plunder of towns believed to hold boundless wealth. Of the common herd, the rank and file, of these expeditions, there were many thousands who sought there a refuge from the consequences of debt or crime. The Crusading host included priests who left their parishes, and monks who abandoned their cells; peasants exchanging the condition of serfs bound to the soil for a life of adventure; many women and children were found in the miscellaneous, undisciplined bands, led by Peter the Hermit, and such men as Gualtier Senzavoir, or "Walter the Penniless." Of these irregular hordes who started for the East, the vast majority perished, after boundless suffering from privation, at the hands of the people of Bulgaria, who were incensed by pillage.

The first band of regular Crusaders was the Teutonic host, under the famous Godfrey of Bouillon, in Lorraine, who started in August, 1096, and after some trouble with Alexius, the emperor, at Constantinople, crossed into Asia early in 1097. Bohemond of Tarentum, in southern Italy, a son of Robert Guiscard, and his relative Tancred, the famous hero of Tasso's poem, led a body of Normans. Raymond, count of Toulouse; Hugo of Vermandois, brother of Philip I. of France; and Robert, duke of Normandy, son of William the Conqueror, were other leaders of large bodies of men who made their way to Constantinople, numbering in all several hundred thousands. The emperor Alexius exacted from all the leaders an oath of fealty or feudal homage, binding them to restore to the empire whatever territory they might conquer from the infidels, if it had previously belonged to the Byzantine rulers. The warriors of the Crusade were strong in their mail-clad horsemen, and in the course of two years they beat down all resistance of the Moslem. In June, 1097, Nicsea, the capital of the Seljuk Turks of Asia Minor, was surrendered to the Greek emperor, who accompanied the expedition to look after his own interests. In July, on the way to Antioch, the first pitched battle was won by the Crusaders at Dorylaeum, in Phrygia, where the cavalry, protected by helmet and shield, scale and chain armour, carrying a long lance, sword, battle-axe, and heavy mace or club, and supported by archers with the long-bow or cross-bow, completely defeated the light quick-moving Asiatic horse under the sultan Soliman. The way to Syria was opened by the victory which restored to the Eastern Empire all the west of Asia Minor, and forced the Sultan of Roum to fix his capital at Iconium, in the south of the peninsula. Terrible privations were endured before the Christians arrived at Antioch, the great and populous capital of Syria, defended by hilly ground, marshes, and a wall of great height and solidity. The army melted away from desertion, fatigue, and famine, and it was only after a siege of seven months, in June, 1098, that the city fell through the treachery of one of the defenders. The captors of Antioch were then beleaguered by a fresh host of Mussulmans from Persia, _ and endured much from famine until a desperate sortie under Tancred, Godfrey of Bouillon, and Bohemond, drove off the besiegers. Resting during the summer heat, the Crusaders marched along the coast to Jerusalem in the spring of 1099, and, now reduced to little more than 20,000 effective fighters, they stormed the city in July, after a siege of five weeks. The place was taken from the Saracens of Egypt, whose caliph had conquered it recently from the Turks. A horrible massacre of the Moslem people occurred, in which 70,000 are said to have perished. The Jews were burnt alive in their synagogues. It was thus that the votaries of the religion of mercy showed their zeal for the Christian cause. The political result of this First Crusade was the establishment of Christian kingdoms at Jerusalem, at Antioch, and at Edessa, in Mesopotamia. The coast-towns of Palestine were taken with help, from the naval forces of Pisa and Genoa, and the kingdom of Jerusalem continued until its conquest by Saladin of Egypt near the close of the 12th century. We may note here the part played in the First Crusade by citizens of some of the Italian republics. As the Crusaders marched southwards along the shore of Syria, between the mountains and the sea, passing amidst the relics of old Phoenicia at Sidon, Tyre, Tripoli, and Acre, they obtained their supplies from traders of Pisa and Genoa, running down along the coast. When they had reached Jerusalem by way of Lydda, Emmaus, and other scenes of sacred history, they were enabled to attack the walls with success by means of a drawbridge let down from a huge movable tower of timber, constructed by the skill of Genoese artisans.

The Second Crusade (1147-1149) was marked by the presence of two European sovereigns, Conrad III. of Germany and Louis VII. of France. The religious feeling of the West had been aroused by Moslem conquest of the kingdom of Edessa, and the famous St. Bernard, first abbot of Clairvaux in Champagne, a chief theologian of mediaeval times, an oracle of Christendom, kindled the enthusiasm of French and German warriors by the glowing eloquence of his addresses at the Council of Vezelay, near Auxerre, and during a tour beyond the Rhine. In this disastrous enterprise many thousands of lives were flung away. The German force was almost annihilated in Asia Minor by famine and Turkish attacks, and the French host suffered a like fate in Cilicia and northern Syria, without rendering the least service to the cause of Christianity against the infidels.

The Third Crusade (1189-1192) is familiar to readers of British history from the presence and achievements of Richard Coeur de Lion. This renewal of the warfare of the West against the East was marked by some brilliant deeds of arms, but it had little permanent effect. The immediate cause of the expedition was the capture of Jerusalem in 1187 by Saladin of Egypt, one of the noblest characters of that or of any age, a most gallant soldier, a wise ruler, true as the steel of his own scimitar, magnanimous, just, generous - at all points the model of Moslem chivalry. The emperor Frederick I. of Germany, the famous "Barbarossa," who had taken part in the Second Crusade, 40 years previously, was the first to set forth, when he was nearly 70 years of age, and make his toilsome way through Hungary and Bulgaria. He entered Asia in the spring of 1190, and was drowned in trying to swim a rapid stream on the borders of Cilicia, when he was heated and fatigued by the march. Richard of England and Philip Augustus of France were somewhat later in the field. They stayed some months in Sicily on the road, and when Richard sailed for Palestine in April, 1191, he was delayed further by a storm which scattered his fleet, and by a call at Cyprus, where he conquered the island from the churlish king Isaac Comnenus, of the Byzantine imperial family, who had ill-treated some of the shipwrecked crews. At the same time and place Richard married Berengaria of Navarre, whom his mother Eleanor had brought to Messina. The English king, the most athletic and brilliant of feudal warriors, soon made his presence known in Palestine by the capture of Acre, besieged in vain for two years. In July, 1191, he was deserted, after many quarrels, by his French colleague, and he then started along the shore for Ascalon, accompanied abreast by Saladin's host, and harassed by the terrible heat. A fierce battle, in which Richard was foremost, cleaving his way through the enemy's ranks, ended in the defeat of the Saracens, who left 32 emirs, or chieftains, a title familiar to us from modern warfare in the Soudan, and 7,000 men, dead on the ground. Ascalon and Jaffa were held by the Crusaders. Many delays occurred, owing to quarrels, and to vain negotiations with Saladin, and it was not until June, 1192, that an advance was made towards Jerusalem. A great caravan on its way from Egypt was captured, with vast spoil in gold, silver, silks, spices, and weapons, nearly 5,000 camels, and countless asses and mules. After a retreat to Acre, for unknown reasons, Richard again met and defeated the Saracens, who were besieging Jaffa, and then the almost useless enterprise came to an end with a truce made between the English leader and Saladin, who had a sincere admiration of each other's prowess. The strip of coast between Joppa (Jaffa) and Acre was yielded to the Christians, and Saladin's promise, as good as any Christian's oath, secured safety for pilgrims to the "Holy Places" at Jerusalem, and gave permission for Latin priests to celebrate divine service at the Holy Sepulchre and at Bethlehem and Nazareth. The failure of the Third Crusade was mainly due to divisions among the Christian leaders. Richard of the Lion Heart was alone zealous in the cause, and his last words, as the low shore of the Holy Land faded from his view, were a prayer that he might yet return to its aid.

In connection with these expeditions to the East, we may observe that progress thither, from western Europe, both by land and sea, in and after the nth century, had been made easy by two circumstances. The conversion of the Hungarians to Christianity opened communication down the Danube, and the sea-route was cleared by the destruction of Saracen naval power in the Mediterranean through the action of the fleets of the Pisans, Genoese, and Normans in the open sea, and of the Venetians in the Adriatic waters. Up to that time, no war-galleys belonging to any Christian power except that of Constantinople had been seen in the great central sea. The Fourth Crusade (1202-1204), undertaken through the influence of Pope Innocent III., and including as many greedy military adventurers as real enthusiasts, was entirely useless as regarded the main purpose of the expedition. The leaders of the enterprise were great French barons, assisted by Baldwin, count of Flanders, a gallant, pious, and generous man, a worthy successor of Godfrey of Bouillon, and by Boniface, marquis of Montferrat, a territory in the north-west of Italy. This Lombard noble, a cunning schemer, cared for nothing but wealth and fame to be won in the East, by any forceful or fraudulent means. The aged Venetian Doge, Henry Dandolo, a man of the clearest head and the most unswerving energy, took part in the expedition solely for the interests of his country. The bulk of the force included relic-hunting abbots in coats of mail, penniless knights, Venetian seamen who were half-pirates, and the brutal soldiery of the West. The Crusaders, when they did start, were persuaded by Dandolo to turn aside from Egypt to Constantinople, in order to help the dethroned Alexius Angelus. Some particulars will be given in the further history of the Greek Empire, and we need here only record, as the sole result of the Fourth Crusade, the establishment of a "Latin Empire" at Constantinople. The height of folly was reached in the "children's crusade" of 1212, when thousands of French and German boys started for the Holy Land, only to die by the way, to wander back home in rags, or be sold into slavery.

The Fifth Crusade (1228-1229) was conducted by Frederick II., emperor of the Western or "Holy Roman" Empire, who landed at Acre in September, 1228, with a force of only 600 knights, and made a friendly arrangement with the Moslem ruler at Jerusalem by which the Holy City (except the site of the Temple, covered by the Mosque of Omar), Bethlehem, and Nazareth were surrendered to the Christians. This proceeding was severely condemned by the Patriarch of Constantinople and by Pope Gregory IX. as a betrayal of the honour of the Church. In 1239 another expedition, not reckoned as one of the regular Crusades, started from Marseilles under Theobald, king of Navarre, being chiefly composed of Spaniards and Frenchmen. The Moslem position in the East had been of late much weakened by feuds among themselves, and by Tartar (Mongol) attacks, and a favourable opportunity seemed to have come. Part of the force was, however, destroyed in a surprise by the Saracens, and Theobald, in the following year, left Acre, with his followers, and went home. In 1244 Jerusalem was finally conquered by an Eastern tribe of Mohammedans, driven from their abode by the Mongols under the famous Genghis Khan, and this really ended Christian sway in Palestine.

From this time forward, Crusading enthusiasm in the West was dying away under the influence of new ideas and aspirations. Important political changes were in progress, in the rise of great cities, the consolidation of kingdoms, the struggles for power between monarchs and nobles, combined with the beginnings of new studies and opinions, and of a transition from the age of blind faith to that of reason and argument. In France alone, under the rule of a truly pious king at the middle of the 13th century, could a monarch be found who was ready to "assume the cross." The Sixth Crusade (1248-1254) was due to the zeal of Louis IX. (St. Louis), who went to Egypt in the spring of 1249, after spending the winter at Cyprus in making preparations. The Saracens fled from Damietta at the mere sight of the great French armament of 1,800 vessels, but returned in great force, and in April, 1250, captured Louis and his army on the advance to Cairo. He was released, after some time, on ransom, and then passed four years in Palestine, engaged in fortifying Acre and other coast-towns, and in rebuilding Caesarea, Jaffa, and Sidon. The Seventh Crusade (1270) was also undertaken by Louis, who was accompanied by the kings of Aragon and Navarre. They landed at Tunis, in the hope of converting the ruler to Christianity, and there, in August, the excellent king of France died of dysentery, murmuring "Jerusalem! Jerusalem!" as he lay on his ash-strewn bed. The greater part of his army was swept away by sickness, and this was the end of the Crusades. An illustrious prince, eldest son of Henry III. of England, with many young nobles of his country, started soon after St. Louis. In October, 1270, they were at Tunis, and in the following year they arrived at Acre just in time to save the place from the Saracens. Some small successes came, and Edward was joined by a great force from Cyprus. In June, 1272, occurred the stroke of an assassin with a poisoned dagger, from the effects of which the prince was saved, not through the sucking of the wound by his beloved wife Eleanor, according to the romantic story, in vented half a century later, but by an English doctor's excision of the tainted flesh. A ten-years' truce was concluded with the Moslem, and Edward left for England with the princess in September, 1272. Nearly 20 years passed away, and then, in 1291, the Christian kingdom of Acre was overcome by the Mohammedans, a century after the recovery of the fortress by the Christians of the Third Crusade, and with the surrender of Tyre, Berytus, Sidon, and other ports, the Christian hold on Palestine was ended.

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Map. Europe during the Cruisade Period.
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