The Crusades (1095-1291) were a series of military campaigns by the Christian armies of Western Europe against Muslim forces in the Near East. Though the goals of various Crusades varied, their primary aims were fervently religious: retake control of the Holy Land, conquer pagan areas and check the spead of Islam. In all, there were eight official Crusades sanctioned by the pope, of which the First Crusade was the most succesful. The Crusades played an important role in the expansion and development of Europe during the Middle Ages, but remain one of the most controversial eras in Christian history.
In its broadest sense, the term crusades refers to a series of endeavors by the church to promote various religious and moral causes. In the popular imagination, the Crusades have come to be associated with the series of wars waged by Western Christians against Muslims in the Near East from 1095 to 1291. The causes for the wars are complex. In addition to standards such as piety, adventure, and greed, historians have adduced numerous other explanations, including the desire of the still-weak papacy to extend its authority and seize the moral leadership of Christendom and, ironically, the culmination of the peace movement aimed at limiting private warfare among the nobility of northern Europe. From the Muslim perspective, the appearance of Christian crusaders in their lands was a perplexing but hardly novel event. Muslim chroniclers tended to see the Crusades as a continuation of the Christian expansionist imperialism that they had experienced previously in Spain and in southern Italy and Sicily.
The initial conflict was sparked by the movement of the Seljuk Turks into the Holy Land. Originating in central Asia and recently converted to Islam, they had swept through Persia, reduced the Abbasid caliphs to clients, and inflicted a humiliating defeat on the Byzantines of Mantzikert (1071). According to the traditional and often disputed version, the Byzantine emperor Alexius issued an urgent plea to the West for assistance. This in turn led Pope Urban II to issue a call for "holy war" at Clermont in 1095. Amid shouts of "God wills it," the best of the
Frankish nobility went forth.
There were altogether eight official Crusades. The most successful was the first (1095–1099), led wholly by nobles. Their victories led to the capture of Jerusalem and the establishment of a series of Latin states in the Holy Land, known collectively as Outremer. The remainder of the Crusades failed to achieve the success of the first. The recapture of the county of Edessa by the Muslims in 1144 led to the Second Crusade (1147–1148). Promoted by the great Cistercian monk Bernard of Clairvaux, the Crusade was an ambitious affair that included simultaneous expeditions against the Moors in Spain and Portugal and the Wends in Pomerania Baltic Crusades). Although some successes were achieved in the Baltic and Iberian theaters, the expedition to Palestine was a dismal failure. Betrayed by the Byzantines, King Louis VII of France and the Holy Roman Emperor Conrad III were constrained to make hasty retreats. Louis suffered the further indignity of losing his queen, Eleanor of Aquitaine, to an adulterous affair with one of his generals. The ensuing divorce removed the important territory of Aquitaine from the control of the French crown and, with Eleanor's subsequent remarriage to Louis's rival, Henry II, brought it under the sway of the English. The Third Crusade (1189–1193) saw the spectacle of the three most illustrious Western rulers setting out for the Holy Land: Richard the Lion-Heart of England, Philip Augustus of France, and the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick Barbarossa. Philip Augustus, who disliked both the environment of the Middle East and the role of warrior, soon returned to France, whereas Frederick Barbarossa died en route, swept away by the tide as he stopped to take a drink. Only Richard the Lion-Heart distinguished himself in battle. The dashing English king made a lasting impression on the Muslims, who would later invoke his name to rally errant troops and strike fear into the hearts of naughty children. Richard found a worthy adversary in the great Muslim leader Saladin. After seizing political power in Egypt and Syria (1171), Saladin embarked on a campaign to liquidate the crusader kingdoms, culminating in the defeat of the crusaders at Hattin and the reconquest of Jerusalem (1187). Richard and Saladin fought their fiercest battle at Acre, where the English king eventually scored an impressive victory (1191). Richard failed, however, to take Jerusalem.
The thirteenth century saw continued calls for crusades not only against Muslims in the Middle East, but also against the Slavs in the Baltic and Albigensian heretics in southern France. The contest in the Middle East induced notables such as Emperor Frederick II, Louis IX (St. Louis) of France, and Edward I of England to take up the cross. Frederick II had the audacity to recapture Jerusalem by negotiation (1229) rather than battle, a maneuver that earned him the further enmity of the pope, who had excommunicated him some years earlier. The Sixth (1248) and Seventh Crusades (1270) were led by the saintly French King Louis IX, who accomplished little. Louis's first expedition resulted in his capture, the second in his death. By the time of Louis's arrival, however, new players had entered the fray. The Mamluks, who formed the elite core of Ayyubid armies, seized power themselves in Egypt (1250). Their ascendancy made them a formidable new antagonist, and they would ultimately emerge victorious. Meanwhile, the Mongols, led by Genghis Khan, had moved rapidly from their home in Central Asia to occupy much of Persia. In 1258, they defeated Muslim forces, took Baghdad, and were poised to strike at the very heart of Islam. Louis, for his part, tried hard to make alliance with the Mongols, who had alleged Christian sympathies The advance of the Mongols was abruptly stopped by the mamluks at Ayn Jalut in 1260.
The eastward movement of Latin armies brought conflict with the Byzantines, who came to despise their crude allies. These tensions culminated in the conquest of Constantinople during the Fourth Crusade (1201–1204). The capture of the city, for which the Venetians have absorbed much of the blame, led to the establishment of a Latin regime that lasted until 1261.
The Crusades officially came to an end when the city of Acre, the last Christian stronghold, fell to the Mamluk sultan Baibars in 1291. This did not, however, mark the end of calls for crusades, which continued for hundreds of years. In the modern era, the Nationalist insurgents in Spain (1936–1939), imitating the earlier epoch, referred to their movement as "the crusade"
The conflicts brought to the battlefield two very different styles of warfare. The Christian crusaders favored the frontal charge, led by mailed knights on horseback. The Muslims relied on maneuverability, employing light cavalry of mounted archers to harass crusader troops. Muslim tactics, which included shooting frequent volleys of arrows and employing the so-called feigned retreat, were designed to cause confusion and break the enemy line. A potent weapon used by the Muslims, "Greek fire," was borrowed from the Byzantines. The mixture exploded on impact and could not be extinguished with water. To aid in reconnaissance, the Muslims employed carrier pigeons. The Christian and Muslim battles also saw some of the most protracted sieges of the Middle Ages. Richard the Lion-Heart's siege of Acre lasted two years, from June 1189 to July 1191.
The overall impact of the Crusades has been much debated. There were indeed few enduring political results. Militarily, the most apparent effect was on European fortifications. Impressed by the Byzantine fortifications, with their double or triple concentric lines of turreted walls, crusaders brought the style back to the West. Richard the Lion-Heart's mammoth Château Gaillard was inspired by what he had seen during his stay in the Holy Land. The Crusades also witnessed the birth of the three great knightly orders: the Templars, Hospitallers, and Teutonic Knights. Economically, the greatest beneficiaries were the Italian seaports Venice, Genoa, and Pisa, which established permanent bases in Syria and enlarged their role in international commerce.
Jonathan Riley-Smith, The Crusades: A Short History (1987); R. C. Smail, Crusading Warfare, 1097–1193 (1956).
The Reader's Companion to Military History. Edited by Robert Cowley and Geoffrey Parker. Copyright © 1996 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
Richard I (1157-1199), also known as "Couer de Lion" or Richard the Lionheart, was the king of England and duke of several French provinces including Aquiitaine, Poitiers, Normandy and Anjou. His knightly manner and his prowess in the Third Crusade (1189–92) made him a popular king in his own time as well as the hero of countless romantic legends. He has been viewed less kindly by more recent historians and scholars.
Richard was the third son of Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine. He was given the duchy of Aquitaine, his mother's inheritance, at age 11 and was enthroned as duke at Poitiers in 1172. Richard possessed precocious political and military ability, won fame for his knightly prowess, and quickly learned how to control the turbulent aristocracy of Poitou and Gascony. Like all of Henry II's legitimate sons, he had little or no filial piety, foresight, or sense of responsibility. He joined his brothers in the great rebellion (1173–74) against their father, who invaded Aquitaine twice before Richard submitted and received pardon. Thereafter Richard was occupied with suppressing baronial revolts in his own duchy. His harshness infuriated the Gascons, who revolted in 1183 and called in the help of the “Young King” Henry and his brother Geoffrey of Brittany in an effort to drive Richard from his duchy altogether. Alarmed at the threatened disintegration of his empire, Henry II brought the feudal host of his continental lands to Richard's aid, but the younger Henry died suddenly (June 11, 1183) and the uprising collapsed.
Richard was now heir to England and to Normandy and Anjou (which were regarded as inseparable), and his father wished him to yield Aquitaine to his youngest brother, John. But Richard, a true southerner, would not surrender the duchy in which he had grown up, and even appealed, against Henry II, to the young king of France, Philip II. In November 1188 he did homage to Philip for all the English holdings on French soil and in 1189 openly joined forces with Philip to drive Henry into abject submission. They chased him from Le Mans to Saumur, forced him to acknowledge Richard as his heir, and at last harried him to his death (July 6, 1189).
King of England
Richard received Normandy on July 20 and the English throne on September 30. Richard, unlike Philip, had only one ambition, to lead the Crusade prompted by Saladin's capture of Jerusalem in 1187. He had no conception of planning for the future of the English monarchy and put up everything for sale to buy arms for the Crusade. Yet he had not become king to preside over the dismemberment of the Angevin empire. He broke with Philip and did not neglect Angevin defenses on the Continent. Open war was averted only because Philip also took the Crusader's cross. Richard dipped deep into his father's treasure and sold sheriffdoms and other offices. With all this he raised a formidable fleet and an army, and in 1190 he departed for the Holy Land, traveling via Sicily.
Richard found the Sicilians hostile and took Messina by storm (October 4). To prevent the German emperor Henry VI from ruling their country, the Sicilians had elected the native Tancred of Lecce, who had imprisoned the late king's wife, Joan of England (Richard's sister), and denied her possession of her dower. By the Treaty of Messina Richard obtained for Joan her release and her dower, acknowledged Tancred as king of Sicily, declared Arthur of Brittany (Richard's nephew) to be his own heir, and provided for Arthur to marry Tancred's daughter. This treaty infuriated the Germans, who were also taking part in the Third Crusade, and it incited Richard's brother John to treachery and rebellion. Richard joined the other Crusaders at Acre on June 8, 1191, having conquered Cyprus on his way there. While at Limassol in Cyprus, Richard married (May 12) Berengaria of Navarre.
The Holy Land
Acre fell in July 1191, and on September 7 Richard's brilliant victory at Arsuf put the Crusaders in possession of Joppa. Twice Richard led his forces to within a few miles of Jerusalem. But the recapture of the city, which constituted the chief aim of the Third Crusade, eluded him. There were fierce quarrels among the French, German, and English contingents. Richard insulted Leopold V, duke of Austria, by tearing down his banner and quarrelled with Philip II, who returned to France after the fall of Acre. Richard's candidate for the crown of Jerusalem was his vassal Guy de Lusignan, whom he supported against the German candidate, Conrad of Montferrat. It was rumoured, unjustly, that Richard connived at Conrad's murder. After a year's unproductive skirmishing, Richard (September 1192) made a truce for three years with Saladin that permitted the Crusaders to hold Acre and a thin coastal strip and gave Christian pilgrims free access to the holy places.
Richard sailed home by way of the Adriatic, because of French hostility, and a storm drove his ship ashore near Venice. Because of the enmity of Duke Leopold he disguised himself, but he was discovered at Vienna in December 1192 and imprisoned in the duke's castle at Dürnstein on the Danube. Later, he was handed over to Henry VI, who kept him at various imperial castles. It was around Richard's captivity in a castle, whose identity was at first unknown in England, that the famous romance of Blondel was woven in the 13th century.
Under the threat of being handed over to Philip II, Richard agreed to the harsh terms imposed by Henry VI: a colossal ransom of 150,000 marks and the surrender of his kingdom to the emperor on condition that he receive it back as a fief. The raising of the ransom money was one of the most remarkable fiscal measures of the 12th century and gives striking proof of the prosperity of England. A very high proportion of the ransom was paid, and meanwhile (February 1194) Richard was released.
Return to England
He returned at once to England and was crowned for the second time on April 17, fearing that the independence of his kingship had been compromised. Within a month he went to Normandy, never to return. His last five years were spent in warfare against Philip II, interspersed with occasional truces. The king left England in the capable hands of Hubert Walter, justiciar and archbishop of Canterbury. It was Richard's impetuosity that brought him to his death at the early age of 42. The vicomte of Limoges refused to hand over a hoard of gold unearthed by a local peasant. Richard laid siege to his castle of Châlus and in an unlucky moment was wounded. He died in 1199. He was buried in the abbey church of Fontevrault, where Henry II and Queen Eleanor are also buried, and his effigy is still preserved there.
Richard was a thoroughgoing Angevin, irresponsible and hot-tempered, possessed of tremendous energy, and capable of great cruelty. He was more accomplished than most of his family, a soldier of consummate ability, a skillful politician, and capable of inspiring loyal service. He was a lyric poet of considerable power and the hero of troubadours. The evidence that he was a homosexual seems persuasive but has been strongly challenged. Richard had no children by Queen Berengaria, with whom his relations seem to have been merely formal.
Geoffrey Wallis Steuart Barrow
The Children's Crusade was a popular religious movement in Europe during the summer of 1212 in which thousands of young people took Crusading vows and set out to recover Jerusalem from the Muslims. Lasting only from May to September, the Children's Crusade lacked official sanction and ended in failure; none of the participants reached the Holy Land. Nevertheless, the religious fervor it excited helped to initiate the Fifth Crusade (1218). It was arguably the first European youth movement.
The Children's Crusade: Controversy
Although it is mentioned in more than 50 chronicles (lists of historical events in chronological order) dating from the 13th century, much about the Children's Crusade remains obscure. Reports in the chronicles often amount to no more than a line or two, and other sources are fragmentary and at times unreliably embellished. As a result, crucial aspects of the Children's Crusade remain controversial. For example, scholars of the period have debated whether the movement was really a Crusade and whether the participants were really young people.
Despite its popular designation, the Children's Crusade was officially never a Crusade. Crusades could come into existence only with papal approval, and Pope Innocent III (1198–1216) never summoned it. These self-proclaimed, unarmed Crusaders voiced their intention to regain Jerusalem and recover the True Cross (a purported relic of the cross on which Jesus was crucified)—which had been lost to the Muslims in the Battle of Hattin (1187)—but said nothing about how they hoped to achieve their goals. Nevertheless, the pueri (Latin: “boys” or “children”)—the term used by 13th-century writers to describe participants in the movement—wore the insignia of the cross (as did all Crusaders) and took the Crusader's vow, which was binding on those who were at least 14 years old. Moreover, the church recognized their vow as valid. This is known because in 1220 Pope Honorius III absolved a “poor student” named Otto from his Crusading vow. Although Honorius does refer to “a multitude of other pueri” who joined the movement, only Otto's papal absolution is recorded. Although a majority of the chronicles that mention the Children's Crusade do so in disapproving terms, all of them refer to it as a Crusade.
Were the pueri really young people? Some scholars, such as the German historian Peter Raedts, have argued that “pueri” in the chronicles and other documents does not signify an age group but instead describes a social class of impoverished landless peasants and day labourers of indeterminate age. In fact, many of the pueri and puelle (“girls”) would indeed have belonged to such a social class. Yet, this by no means rules out their youthfulness. The chroniclers emphasized the prevalence of young people in relation to other groups within the Children's Crusade, including urban labourers, mothers, and the elderly. In addition, several chroniclers noted that some parents imprisoned their children in their homes to prevent them from joining. Thus, it seems likely that young people were the most conspicuous element within the Children's Crusade as well as its leaders, though it is also probable that the movement was not composed exclusively of young people.
The Children's Crusade: Origins
Popular movements of religious revivalism like the Children's Crusade usually appeared when official Crusades were preached. Preaching aroused collective enthusiasm, particularly in areas with a long tradition of Crusading, as in the town of Chartres and its surrounding region (the Chartrain) in north-central France. Beginning at the time of the First Crusade in the late 11th century and continuing into the 13th century, successive waves of Crusading fervour swept over this region. During the winter of 1211 and the spring of 1212 the Albigensian Crusade was preached against the heretical Cathars of southern France, resulting in strong military recruitment from the Chartrain. Spain, on Christendom's western frontier, was the scene of another Crusading crisis. A Muslim invasion from North Africa in 1210 led to the fall of the castle of Salvatierra in 1211. A climactic battle was expected by Pentecost in 1212. Pope Innocent III anxiously attempted to mobilize the prayers of Christians on behalf of the threatened Spanish church by holding processions in Rome on May 16, 1212.
It is likely that similar processions were held at Chartres on May 20. In all probability, a shepherd boy, Stephen of Cloyes, and some of his fellow workers took part in them. The enthusiasm generated by these processions gave birth to a popular Crusading movement whose aims were summed up in acclamations shouted out by the pueri: “Lord God, raise up Christendom!” and “Lord God, return to us the True Cross!”
The Children's Crusade
Under Stephen's leadership, the French participants in the Children's Crusade assembled at Saint-Denis, probably during an annual fair known as the Lendit fair (June 8–24). Contemporary estimates of the size of Stephen's following ranged from 15,000 to nearly 30,000. The anonymous chronicler of Laon says that Stephen was instructed by a poor pilgrim—who was actually Jesus—to deliver letters to King Philip II of France. Nothing is revealed about the contents of these letters, if indeed they existed, nor of any meeting with the king. The king, however, ordered the pueri to disperse. Although nothing further is known of Stephen, bands of French pueri may have then headed north and east to the town of Saint-Quentin. At this point the French pueri disappear from the historical record, their whereabouts uncertain, but it is possible that some of them arrived in the German city of Cologne about July 14–18. Contact with the French pueri is the most likely origin of the Children's Crusade in Germany, which began about that time.
Attempting to reach the Holy Land, Nicholas of Cologne led the German pueri southward to Mainz and Speyer. There is reason to suppose that there were French pueri, as well as pueri from the region between France and Germany, among them. Little is known about Nicholas except that he originated from the countryside near Cologne and carried a cross shaped like a T (the tau cross), which was his charismatic emblem. Invoking the biblical Exodus from Egypt and the parting of the Red Sea, they proclaimed that the Mediterranean Sea would part for them, a motif of divine election that implies some degree of identification with the Israelites. Nicholas then led the pueri across the Alps to the Italian cities of Piacenza and Genoa, where, however, they failed to find a ship to take them to the Holy Land. Their ultimate fate remains uncertain; some of them might have traveled by ship to Marseille, while others apparently journeyed to Rome to ask papal officials to nullify or defer their Crusade vows. Of the more than 7,000 pueri who arrived in Genoa, many remained—cheap labour was needed there and in other thriving Italian cities. Thus, what began as a popular Crusade probably ended as a massive labour migration.
According to the chronicles, the Children's Crusade was an utter disaster. Few of the Crusaders returned from their journey; most died of hunger or thirst or were drowned at sea, while others were sold as slaves. The chroniclers' story carried a clear message: God did not will it. Be this as it may, the Children's Crusade did confirm Innocent III's belief that Crusading enthusiasm was far from dead. Less than one year later he summoned the Fifth Crusade.
Despite the extreme brevity of the movement, interest in the Children's Crusade continued through the centuries. It has been depicted in works by authors as diverse as Voltaire, Bertolt Brecht, Agatha Christie, and Kurt Vonnegut, and countless children's books have been written about it. Its evocative themes still delight the literary imagination.