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The Crusades; Monasticism; Feudalism; the Age of Faith and Chivalry. page 2


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The Crusades were the greatest events of the middle ages, the outcome of the deepest and most lasting enthusiasm, except that of Mohammedanism, which has been seen in the world. The movement cannot be fairly ascribed to popular delusion, or to calculating Papal policy, or to an outbreak of barbaric zeal for war. The Crusades were wars for an idea, and in this respect differed from all other "wars of religion," because they were not influenced by intolerance or sectarian jealousy. As the first united effort of Western Christendom, they embodied, in spite of the mingling of interested motives already noted, the best of the mediaeval spirit, and had an excellent moral influence in rousing the heroic and unselfish side of human nature. Failing in the grand object of finally expelling the Moslem from the Holy Land, the Crusades succeeded in delaying the fall of the Eastern Empire, a bulwark of Christendom, though the Fourth Crusade, which overthrew the true Eastern Empire, did great mischief in aggravating the political and religious dissensions of East and West, and rendering a combined effort against the Turk impossible. Politically viewed, the Crusades were a phase of the eternal "Eastern Question" which, in these latest years of the 19th century, is still before the statesmen and diplomatists of the Western World. It was an event of vast importance for Western civilisation that the tide of Turkish conquest was stemmed for three centuries, until a new Europe of powerful consolidated states was existing, and the West could defy the utmost efforts of the worst human products of the East, the barbarians who, unlike the Saracens or the Moors of Spain, are devoid of literature, science, and art, and, capable only of valorous and skilful warfare, and, at times, of brutal massacre and outrage, still pollute with their presence the soil of Europe, under the special sanction and encouragement, for their own ends, of two "Christian" emperors.

Among the effects of the Crusades, we may notice first the increase for a season of the power of the Papacy, which became the political centre of Latin Christendom. Civil authority was lowered as the ecclesiastical influence was raised, and the power of the Church was augmented by the institution of the new military orders, and those of the Friars, both due, directly or indirectly, to these great expeditions to the East. Ecclesiastics were enriched by the purchase, on most favourable terms, of the estates of Crusading barons and knights eager to raise money for the great expenses of their enterprise. In the political system, the power of the feudal sovereigns was increased through the reversion into their hands of many fiefs which became vacant. The absence, for long periods, of many members of the baronage threw more executive authority into the hands of royal officials. It was in France, especially, that the formation of a powerful monarchy was favoured by the merging of petty fiefs in the greater, and then of these larger lordships in the domains of the Crown. The power of the Empire declined, during the Crusade period, with the growth of the Papacy, and Germany and Italy became, for centuries, miserable spectacles of disintegration. Another important political effect was the rise and increase of municipal power in the towns, where the wealthy traders purchased charters of freedom from "overlords," or feudal proprietors desirous of raising funds for the fashionable trip to the East. When we turn to the social effects of the Crusades, we note the growth of international sympathy among those who shared the same dangers and toils in a common cause; the great development of trade and manufactures, in the necessity of providing the Crusading armies with weapons, clothing, harness, horses, and other articles, and in the introduction to Europe of Asiatic products. At this period the Italian republics reached their height of commercial prosperity, though Venice suffered greatly in the end through the loss of her previous monopoly of the Eastern trade, which she had to share henceforth with Pisa, Genoa, and Flanders. A great increase of comfort and luxury in western Europe followed the connection, in the East, with Oriental modes of life, and the rude feudal nobility were improved in culture and manners. All orders of society derived some benefit from the change. In another view, the maritime energy fostered by the Crusades led to the great discoveries of the 15th and 16th centuries, and to the same source we may trace the growth of maritime law, and the commercial finance of banking and exchange. To conclude, there was, in the Crusade period, a great stirring-up of stagnant waters which gave the Western world a new historical, poetical, and romantic literature, a great increase of geographical knowledge, and, according to some authorities, a new intellectual light not remotely connected with the event called the Reformation.

The foundation of the religious orders of knighthood is due to the same enthusiastic feeling as that which prompted the Crusades. The earliest of these institutions was that of the Knights of St. John, or Hospitallers, having their origin about 1048 in a hospital founded at Jerusalem, with permission of the Moslem ruler, by some merchants of Amalfi, then a flourishing seaport and centre of Eastern trade, on the west coast of southern Italy. The hospital, provided for the tendance of Christian pilgrims, was dedicated to St. John the Baptist, and after the First Crusade many of the soldiers of the army joined the servants of the hospital, and devoted their lives to the care of poor and sick pilgrims. They were all formed into a regular religious body, with vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, under special protection of the Papal See, by a bull from Pope Paschal II., which confirmed to the Order, in 1113, the possessions held both in Syria and in western Europe. In due course, the service of the Order was extended to the armed protection of pilgrims journeying from the seaports to Jerusalem, and the Knights of St. John then became a military body, sworn to defend the Holy Sepulchre to the death, and to make incessant war upon infidels. When the Holy City fell into the possession of Saladin, the knights settled at Acre (1191). A century later they were driven away by the Moslem to Cyprus, and in 1310, under their grand-master Fulk de Villaret, they captured Rhodes and some neighbouring islands from the Greek and Moslem pirates, and from these strongholds they waged war with success for two centuries against the Turks, being now entitled "Knights of Rhodes." The Order possessed great wealth from royal and other benefactions, and from the spoiling of infidel foes. There were three classes of the brethren - knights, chaplains, and serving-brothers - the last being the "squires" of the knights in warfare. At this time of their greatest prosperity the Hospitallers owned many thousands of manors in different parts of Europe. In London, their great priory at Clerkenwell was maintained with much state until the suppression of religious houses by Henry VIII. The Knights Hospitallers had still a long career abroad. In 1523, driven from Cyprus by the Turks, they retired for a few years to Candia (Crete), and in 1530 they received from the emperor Charles V. the gift of Malta and Gozo, with Tripoli on the opposite coast of Africa. From Tripoli they were forced away in 1551 by the renowned Barbary corsair Dragut, from whom they sustained at Malta a siege of four months in 1565. They defended their fortifications with great determination, and finally repulsed their assailants with the loss of many thousands of men. The "Knights of Malta," as they were now called, declined rapidly in moral worth and political importance after the Reformation, and the career of the ancient Order practically ended with the surrender of the island to the French in 1798, and the confiscation of their lands, about the same time, in various European countries. A modern revival, with its headquarters at St. John's Gate, Clerkenwell, is honourably distinguished in connection with cottage-hospitals and convalescent homes, an ophthalmic hospital at Jerusalem, the street-ambulance system, and the organisation of the "Red Cross Society" for the aid of the sick and wounded in war.

The still more famous Knights Templars, so styled from their house at Jerusalem, near the site of Solomon's temple, were from the first a military Order, founded in 1118 by a Burgundian knight, Hugues de Payen, and eight French knights, for the protection of poor pilgrims against Moslem attacks. Bernard of Clairvaux obtained for them, from the Pope, a formal "Rule," and the Order became renowned for valour against the infidels. The organisation and vows were like those of the Hospitallers, and the mode of life was very strict. A Papal "bull" of 1172 rendered the Templars free from episcopal jurisdiction, and accountable to the Pope alone. This body of warriors, numbering many thousands in the 13th century, were in their best days lions in conflict, foremost supporters of Richard of England in the Third Crusade. No knight was ever known to shrink in battle, or to make dishonourable terms with the Moslem, and the Order could boast that, during its two centuries of existence, 20,000 members had died fighting in Palestine, and that seven out of 22 grand-masters had fallen on the battle-field,, and five more from wounds there received. The seat of the Templars in Palestine was Acre, with a stupendous castle whose ruins still exist. The accumulation of vast wealth, largely due to the property of those who joined the Order, and the special privileges enjoyed, along with their exclusive and secret management of affairs, aroused great jealousy among both ecclesiastics and laymen, who freely accused the Templars not only of pride, but of luxury and gross immorality. The end of the Order was to the last degree disastrous. An unscrupulous king, Philip le Bel of France, aiming at their wealth, sought the aid of the Pope (Clement V.) and the Inquisition, and attacked the Order in 1307. The grandmaster, summoned from Cyprus, and 140 knights, were seized at "the Temple," their palace in Paris, and imprisoned, and charges of the worst character - rank heresy and blasphemy included - were held to be confirmed by confessions wrung from victims by the most cruel tortures. Careful modern investigation has proved the infamous injustice of the proceedings against the Order in France. In Paris alone 36 knights died under torture. The doomed victims of a despot and his instruments, composed of envious bishops and abbots and an ignorant laity, were subjected to a long series of trials before prejudiced judges. In May, 1310, 54 knights were slowly burned to death in Paris, refusing to make any confession, and the Order was suppressed by a bull in 1312, with transference of some of its landed property to the Knights of St. John. Two years later two chiefs of the body were roasted to death in Paris. In England a merciful treatment, by comparison, was accorded to the Templars, the last master dying as a prisoner in the Tower. The Temple Church in London, consecrated in 1185 by Heraclius, patriarch of Jerusalem, and splendidly restored, at great cost, in 1839-1842, by the Benchers of the Inner.and Middle Temple, marks the spot, now so greatly changed in the character of the buildings and their occupants, where the prior, knights, and serving-brethren of the great military Order dwelt, in the London of mediaeval times, looking out on the waters of the fair broad river.

The Teutonic Knights had a like origin with the two other military Orders, early in the 12th century. In the 13th century a body of these knights waged successful war against the heathen Wends in Prussia, and before the close of that period the Teutonic Order were masters of the territory between the Memel and the Vistula, as well as of possessions in Courland and Livonia. They began to decline in importance towards the end of the 14th century, when their true work - that of forcibly converting the Prussians and Lithuanians - was completed. The knights had also been of great service in protecting the Hanseatic league of trading towns, and in spreading German civilisation through the territory which became the Baltic provinces of Russia. The first seat of the Order had been at Acre. In 1291 it was transferred to Venice, and a few years later to Marienburg, near Danzig. In 1410 the knights lost credit through a terrible defeat from the Poles and Lithuanians, and before the close of the 15th century the Order, having now removed its seat to Konigsberg, had lost west Prussia, and only held east Prussia as a fief of Poland. In 1525 the Order and its landed possessions were "secularised," and the grand-master, Albert of Brandenburg-Anspach, became hereditary Duke of Prussia as a vassal of Poland. In 1809 the Teutonic Knights were finally suppressed by Napoleon in all the German states. A branch of the Order, left in Austria, was reorganised in 1840, and does service in caring for the wounded in war.

Chivalry has been well described as "an institution which both affected the character of the Crusades and received from them in return a powerful impulse; it was one means by which the nobles separated themselves from the people, for no one might be a knight but a man of high birth." The word properly means the usages and qualifications of chevaliers or knights, originally "mounted warriors," the word cavalry being another form of the same Latin derivative. The landed gentry, or feudal tenants of a certain rank, could alone render such service in war, while the infantry was composed of plebeians. " During the Crusades, prowess in war added a personal chivalry to the technical, landed Border of knighthood, and this, being won by merit alone, was an object of ambition to the younger sons of a noble, who accompanied the richer barons to war, as their paid comrades on the most honourable terms. In this new form, the knight was attended by his "squire," a youth of equal birth and similar hopes of plunder, promotion, and fame. Archers and men-at-arms completed the retinue. In order to prepare a lad for the career of chivalry, he was taken, at the age of seven years, into the castle of some baron as a page or "varlet," and trained in athletic exercises, with horsemanship and the use of weapons, until the age of 14, having also acquired from his surrounding of brave knights and noble ladies habits of obedience and a courteous demeanour. At 14 he became a squire, and afterwards, with preparation and ceremonies including a bath, a night-watch or vigil, confession of sins, and the holy communion, he was clad in a white robe, and created a knight, always by a knight, with an oath binding him to defend the Church, to protect virtuous women both in their persons and their honourable reputation, to be loyal to his prince, to be the reliever of suffering and the redresser of oppression and wrong. The buckling-on of gilt spurs, the origin of the expression "winning his spurs," and the girding with a sword solemnly blessed by the priest as it lay upon the altar, were followed by kneeling and by his "dubbing" or " striking" as a knight in the laying of the flat of a sword on his right shoulder. This ceremony, and an embrace with arms round the neck, formed the "accolade," and he was thus created a knight in the name of God, of St. George, and of St. Michael the archangel, or of the Three Persons of the Trinity.

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Map. Europe during the Cruisade Period.
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