“And spake I not too truly, O my knights?
Was I too dark a prophet when I said
To those who went upon the Holy Quest,
That most of them would follow wandering fires,
Lost in the quagmire?-lost to me and gone,
And left me gazing at a barren board,
And a lean Order-scarce return’d a tithe-
And out of those to whom the vision came
My greatest hardly will believe he saw;
Another hath beheld it afar off,
And leaving human wrongs to right themselves,
Cares but to pass into the silent life.
And one hath had the vision face to face,
And now his chair desires him here in vain,
However they may crown him otherwhere.”
Excerpt from Idylls of the King, the Round Table – ‘The Holy Grail” by Alfred Lord Tennyson
The First Crusade
What does a leader do with his disgruntled, his unruly, and his troublemakers? In our modern world if the accused are found guilty, depending on the crime, the individual may be placed on probation or parole, imprisoned, or even executed. In the medieval period, when the troublemakers were more often knights of the realm, what did one do with such men? Unless a serious crime was committed, and a witness came forth (if one was brave enough to do so), knights & nobleman would get away scot free. At one point, the eleventh century, small skirmishes became very common place. Bands of knights roamed picking fights with other knights.
About the same time, Constantinople was ruled by Alexius Commenus. He had anxiously watched while Seljuk Turks invaded lands surrounding the Middle East. The Seljuks believed in dividing their holdings among the male successors. In 1072, Malik Shah inherited after his father, Alp Arslan was killed. Malik and his brother, Tutush, conquered Jerusalem and Damascus by 1079. Emperor Commenus was worried with a good reason. The Seljuks had an eye to expansion. Alexius sent pleas to Pope Urban, asking for help.
Alexius was devious. If he was going to strengthen his borders, why not go a little further? He wanted to reclaim his territories. It was for the common good of the Christian people. In one letter to Count Robert of Flanders he wrote the fate of Christians captured, “…the enemy has the habit of circumcising young Christians and babies above the baptismal font…Then they are forced to urinate into the font…those who refuse are tortured or put to death. They carry off noble matrons and their daughters and abuse them like animals…Then, too, the Turks shamelessly commit the sin of sodomy on our men of all ages and all ranks…and, O misery, something that has never seen or heard before, on bishops…” The emperor doesn’t mention what soldiers on his side do to Turkish prisoners.
In an attempt to put the country at peace, the Pope Urban II came up with a radical idea. He didn’t take his decision lightly, and after discussing his idea with his council, Pope Urban made his declaration public on 27th of November 1095 in Clermont. He said, “Who shall avenge these wrongs, who shall recover these lands if not you? You are the race upon whom God had bestowed glory in arms, greatness of spirit, physical energy, and the courage of humble the proud locks of those who resist you…O most valiant knights, descendants of unconquerable ancestors, remember the courage of your forefathers and do not dishonor them.”
Wow, sounded pretty good. A rousing call to battle…if that was what Pope Urban said. However (isn’t there always a ‘but’). Other clerics recorded different versions of that day’s speech in which the knights and noblemen were called arrogant, criminals, basically told they should be ashamed to strap on their spurs.
No one questioned Pope Urban if any of the accusations were true. Ironically, westerners had been visiting the Holy Lands for generations. Jerusalem was a city of equal opportunity, free worship, and open trade. The Arabs were practicing advanced medicine, including anesthesia, hygiene, and surgery. One scientist, Albatanius, had calculated the distance from the earth to the Moon. They practiced advanced mathematics. It was already well known that Damascus steel made the best weapons. The biggest problem in the Arabic world was in-fighting within their ranks. It may have been the issue that allowed Pope Urban’s announcement to go unnoticed until it was too late.
Regardless of the contents of his speech, Urban’s words were taken to heart, but not completely for the reasons he had hoped. Yes, many of those who answered his call traveled to the Holy Lands to ‘free Jerusalem’ but others saw opportunities to get rich, gain lands or a title, or just cause mayhem. In addition to the knights and nobles, women and children took up the cross on the pilgrimage. After all, who wouldn’t take advantage of having their sins wiped clean – a guaranteed place in Heaven?
The sheer logistics of taking up the Cross (no one referred to himself or herself as a Crusader back then) was enormous. Noblemen mortgaged properties to go on the pilgrimage. Common folk sold everything they had. The price of good needed to sustain those taking up the cross went up sky high. Many who left never returned. The road to Jerusalem was marked with makeshift graves. Many of those who died enroute succumbed of starvation, disease, or misfortune.
Those of rank had taxes, debts, or knight fees suspended until they returned. Even a landowners’ property was protected by the Church until the pilgrim returned. Opportunities were ripe in the Middle East. Many a young man arrived with nothing more than his bloodlines, his clothes, weapons and, if lucky, his horse. After the fighting was done, he was granted a small patch of land and a title.
The first religious leader was Bishop Adhemar of Le Puy. Two of the more well-known men to establish themselves after the fighting were Raymond of Toulouse and Godfrey of Bouillon. Contrast the pious Raymond & Godfrey to men like Bohemond of Otranto. Bohemond loved to mix it up, a medieval brawler. Bohemond did become the Prince of Antioch while his friend in crime, Baldwin of Boulogne was made the leader of Edessa.
The First Crusade attracted many of the ‘celebrity’ blue bloods. Duke Robert of Normandy, the brother to the King of England was one of the leaders. As did others, Robert took a loan from his brother, Rufus, to cover his expenses. Count High of Vermandois, the brother of the French King also was in attendance.
Amazingly enough, the mismatched army of nobles, knights, merchants, and common folk made it to Jerusalem. One massive group of common folk was led by a man claiming to be a monk. The monk, known as either Little Peter, or Peter the Hermit, was a charismatic man. Peter’s pheasant crusade followed a contingent of common folk by Walter Sans-Avoir. Walter and Peter both ran in trouble in Hungary. Sans-Avoir managed to negotiate with King Coloman of Hungary, thus passing out of the country. Peter’s group wasn’t as lucky. The monk’s band fought with the Hungarian army, amazingly enough, winning the fight. King Coloman wasn’t amused, and thereafter discouraged any further pilgrims from passing through his lands.
First taking Antioch, a young man had a vision in which he saw St. Andrew. The saint showed Peter Bartholomew the location of the Holy Lance. It Lance was buried at the Church of St. Peter. After digging, the Lance was found by Peter. Peter then had another vision; he told the leader that they needed to fast for five days before attacking the Turkish army. Bohemond carried the Lance, showing it to the Christian soldiers. This rallied the morale of the troops who defeated the larger Turkish army. The army then went on to Jerusalem, where the knights & nobles went berserk, massacring Muslims and Jews.
It wasn’t a proud moment. A chronicler said the streets ran red with streams of blood.
The Second Crusade
The Second Crusade started after King Baldwin II of Jerusalem died and Count Fulk of Anjou, the son-in-law of Baldwin succeeded the throne. Imad ed-Din Zengi saw the chance to gain lands, Zengi inspired fear. After he captured Baalbeck, he crucified 37 men and burnt the commander alive. Zengi desired Edessa, ruled by Jocelin. After tricking Jocelin away, Zengi attacked Edessa on December 24, 1144. When Archbishop locked the gated to the citadel, a panic ensued. Between the panic and Zengi’s attack, thousands died. Zengi’s army killed the Franks but gave mercy to the local people. Zengi ordered the Latin churches destroyed. Two years later, Zengi was killed by an assassin. His son, Nur ed-Din took over the reins.
Nur ed-Din was a different man than his father in many ways. First of all, it was written by Ibn al-Athir, a court official, that Nur ed-Din was an Islamist Fundamentalist. He banned wine, which his father enjoyed on occasion. Nur welcomed scholars and religious men. The leader wanted to unite his people and if that meant a Jihad, then so be it. Nur fought against the Shiites, finally banning them from Aleppo in 1149. The disposed ruler Jocelin made a valiant attempt to regain the city of Edessa, but was unsuccessful. Nur ed-Din remained in control, even accepting an offer from Unut, the Governor of Damascus to marry his daughter.
Overall, Nur ed-Din won the hearts and minds of his people. He made sure there was food available, lowered taxes – and in some cases abolished them, built schools, hospitals, mosques, and other public buildings. He was a respected ruler.
Christians heard about the taking of Edessa and was shocked. Westerners such as King Louis VII of France debated marching to the Holy Lands (known as Outremer) to win back Edessa, but no plans came to fruition. It took a religious man, Bernard, the Abbott of Clairvaux to get the ball rolling. Bernard was more a man of emotions than logic, and on March 31, 1146, he made a heartfelt speech at Vezelay. He was a hit. So many people signed up, he ran out of cloth to make the pilgrim patches. Bernard even sacrificed his own garments to make crosses to sew on pilgrim’s clothing. It was the same story in every town he stopped at. There was one snag; the crusading fervor resulted in a massacre of Jews after another monk also went about speaking to crowds. Bernard convinced the unfortunate monk to go back to his order.
Bernard spoke to royalty, convincing the German King, Conrad, to accompany him. The German army left with Bernard in May of 1146. French King Louis followed behind a month later, Queen Eleanor riding alongside her husband with her ladies. The German army was supposed to wait in Constantinople, but continued after that cities’ Emperor decided he didn’t want a mass gathering of warriors outside his gates. King Conrad made the decision to split his forces, sending the followers along the coast while he and the fighting men took a different route. Conrad was deceived and abandoned by the Greek guides, his army left to wander in Anatolia. While wandering, Conrad’s men were attacked by a Turkish army, only a small portion of the men and their king surviving.
King Louis welcomed the remnants of King Conrad & his men. The German King had had enough, he claimed to be sick. Louis kept on all the way to Attalia. Due to the Turkish Invasion, and the onset of winter, supplies were in short supply. Louis bugged out with the army, heading to Antioch, where Prince Raymond greeted the King and his wife. Prince Raymond was supposedly happy to see King Louis arrive with an army. The Prince knew it would only be a matter of time before Nur ed-Din turned an eye towards Antioch.
William of Tyre wrote of the events, although some of the facts can be disputed. During the time in Antioch, Louie expressed his desire to visit Jerusalem’s holy shrines before doing anything. Meanwhile, Queen Eleanor had become friendly with her uncle, Prince Raymond, Court gossip said Raymond had seduced his niece, who was heard to say “she had thought she had married a man but found she had married a monk.” Other chroniclers dispute Eleanor and Raymond’s friendship turning physical, Regardless of whether it did or not, Louis claimed his honor was stained.
When the King decided it was time to leave Antioch, his wife not only demanded to stay, she spoke of getting a divorce. Louie couldn’t allow that: Eleanor was rich in lands and a title. He still held hope she would bear him a son. Louis forcibly removed his wife, putting her on a ship, where they set off for Acre. Louis planned to win back Damascus.
King Louie’s army left for Damascus on May 25th, 1148. It was no secret; Unut was prepared for the Franks. Water holes were blocked off, strategic points had watchers, and keeps were fortified. Unut had even made requests for help in advance, not taking any chances.
Louie was in a zone, and wasn’t listening to his advisors. The initial attack was launched from orchards outside of the city. The orchards surrounded Damascus, providing ample cover. Unut sent men out to challenge Louie’s men. The French were winning, until they left the orchard, and once the Franks were in the open, they became vulnerable. The battle turned to Unut’s favor, boosted by reinforcements. King Louie had no choice; it was a classic ‘run-away’ or die. William of Tyre was unable to figure out why Louie changed his battle tactics. It didn’t matter; the end result was the same: Edessa and Damascus, both, were under Muslim control.
The Third Crusade
The seeds of the Third Crusade were sown when the Vizier of Egypt, Shawir, were kicked out. Shawir naturally wanted to regain his seat of leadership, so he contacted, Nur ed-Din. Nur wasn’t helping Shawir out of good will alone: having the Egyptian ruler owe him a favor allowed the Seljuk Turks to get his foot in the door. Nur had his eyes on Egypt, and sent his general Shirkuh to set the wheels in motion. Shawir’s men, with General Shirkuh’s help, was reinstated as Vizier in May of 1164.
Shawir hadn’t looked at the long-term picture when he asked Nur ed-Din for help. The Seljuk army refused to bug out. In desperation, Shawir asked King Almaric of Jerusalem to help purge his land of the unwanted soldiers. Nur ed-Din stepped in, cutting off Bohemond III and Raymond III of Tripoli at Harim. Nur ed-Din imprisoned Raymond & Bohemond in Damascus, keeping the Princes from causing any further impediments. The fight in Egypt ended in a stalemate.
Shawir didn’t give up. He contacted Almaric in 1166, for another attempt at dealing with the Turks. Shawir and his nephew, Salah ed-Din (Saladin) planned to their allies in Cairo. The crusaders, led by King Almaric were ambushed, lured in by Salah ed-Din. A year later, King Almaric took his revenge, returning to Alexandria, at the fortress of Bilbeis. Almaric slaughtered the residents. The two leaders came to an agreement: Cairo would stay King Almaric – for a time. But, General Shirkuh couldn’t forget the massacre. He returned a couple of months and executed Shawir.
Salah ed-Din became Vizier. He had a vision of expansion. Nur ed-Din died in 1171, solving Salah ed-Din’s first problem. Within months, King Almaric died, leaving his throne to his heir, Baldwin IV; Baldwin was the Leper King (the King of the Kingdom of Heaven movie). The leader of Aleppo, Atabeg, saw the light, declaring his allegiance with the Muslim leader.
King Baldwin IV was a decent ruler. It was too bad he wouldn’t live long or sire an heir. His aunt, sister to his father, Sibylla had a son by her husband, William of Montferrat (who died three months after getting married). Sibylla’s son, Baldwin V, needed a strong male influence. King Baldwin wanted Count Raymond III of Tripoli. Raymond, recently released from imprisonment from Damascus, was a steady man and uncle to King Baldwin. Sibylla had another tutor in mind, her boyfriend, Guy of Lusignon. Both Raymond and Guy acted as counselors to the King, but it was well known they disliked one another. When Guy married Sibylla in 1180, the writing was on the wall.
Reynard’s influence dropped against the influence of the King’s mother, Sibylla, Guy, Reynald de Chatillon, and the Templars. Tensions were running high between the Christians and the Muslims but still, Salah ed-Din & King Baldwin IV managed to negotiate a peace treaty. There were those who ignored the treaty, especially Chatillon. On the death of King Baldwin IV, in March of 1185, all bets were off. The boy king, Baldwin V was crowned, with Guy as his regent until he came of age. Another treaty was agreed upon, but this too, didn’t last. Baldwin V died.
Reynald de Chatillon journeyed to Jerusalem during the second crusade, following King Louis. Reynald was a second son, and as such, had no wealth of his own. William of Tyre claimed de Chatillon had secretly married Constance, the Princes Regnant of Antioch. Reynald had a cruel streak, and he enjoyed mayhem. In 1156, Reynald and his men attacked Cypress. William of Tyre wrote of the attack, “He then completely overran the island without meeting any opposition, destroyed cities and wrecked fortresses. He broke into monasteries of men and women alike and shamefully abused nuns and tender maidens.” Reynald was spiteful enough to cut off the nose of the priests. Cypress was said never to be the same again after Reynard left.
The Byzantine Emperor was happy. Cypress fell under his lands. The Emperor gathered his forces and trotted them to Antioch. For once, Reynald was cowed. He went all out: wearing a rope around his neck, a short tunic, going shoeless and holding a sword by the point. He talked a big game, kissing ass. Reynald stopped in front of the Emperor, falling to the ground.
Reynald de Chatillon act worked. He couldn’t behave forever; Reynald went back to raiding. A year later, the Governor of Aleppo threw him in the pokey for sixteen years. His disposition didn’t change any during his time in prison. When Reynald walked free, his wife was dead and he was on the hunt for riches. In 1181, he was back raiding again from Kerak Castle, which was owned by a widow, Stephanie.
Sibylla was crowned, as was her husband, King Guy I. The unofficial war was on. Men gathered on both sides. The Bishop of Acre was part of Guy’s army, claiming to have part of the True Cross. Guy listened to Reynald de Chatillon, not Raymond of Tripoli. On July 3rd, 1187, Guy ordered his men to move, marching across the Plain of Toran. With minimal water & supplies, in the heat of the sun, and under guerrilla attacks, King Guy’s army was harassed. He ordered his men to stop, camping under the sun and resting until the next day. On July 4th, Guy’s army started up again. At a landmark referred to as the Horns of Hattin, the Christians were massacred by Salah ed-Din’s men. The True Cross disappeared, the Bishop killed. The Muslim leader executed Chatillion and took Guy and a few other nobles prisoner. Salah ed-Din continued on his quest to take the Holy Lands. By August, only Tyre and Jerusalem were under Christian control.
Salah ed-Din moved to Jerusalem and stopped outside its walls on September 20th. The Holy City was mobilized Balian of Ibelin, the husband of Queen Maria Comnena. Salah ed-Din’s army battered the Holy City’s walls using siege weapons (this is depicted in the Kingdom of Heaven). Balian knew it was inevitable that the Muslim army would break through Jerusalem’s defenses. He negotiated surrender with Salah ed-Din on October 2, 1187.
When word of Jerusalem’s fall reached Europe, Pope Gregory VIII called for action. France and England put a special tax in effect called the “Saladin Tithe” to raise funds to cover the Crusade. King Richard I, also known as King Richard the Lionhearted, deeply wished to heed Pope Gregory’s call, as did King Phillip II Augustus of France. Placing England in the hands of his brother, John, Richard left for Vezelay to meet Philip.
The two Kings gathered their forces at Vezelay, where both armies travelled by ship. Eleanor travelled with Richard’s new betrothed, Princess Berengaria of Navarre. Travel by ship was hazardous in the winter, even in the Mediterranean. Eleanor’s ship wrecked near the Cypress coast; the Princess and Queen rescued. The rescuers kept Richard war chest, refusing to relinquish the booty to Richard when he arrived. This was a bad move on their part. Richard had the infamous Plantagenet temper: he landed at Limasso. The City didn’t know what hit them. The Lionheart recovered his war chest and a dragon’s share of additional wealth.
Guy of Lusignon arrived at Limasso a few days later. He saw an opportunity. Guy pled his case with Richard, hoping to get aid to gain Acre, a city he had besieged for two years. With Phillip’s army landing, Guy saw plenty of men to get the job done. Richard considered Guy’s request, and agreed – provided Guy swear fealty to him. First, the army successfully invaded Cypress, putting Isaac Comnenus in silver chains. Richard them married Berengaria.
Next step, Acre.
King Richard met King Phillip at Acre on June 8, 1191. Their ships bottled –necked the city, while Guy continued his siege of the city. On July 11th, Acre surrendered. The surrender terms included returning the True Cross and the return of 1,500 Christian prisoners held by Salah ed-Din. Too bad someone forgot to tell Salah ed-Din. Phillip, Guy, and Richard argued who would be ruler of Jerusalem, even though the city hadn’t been won back yet. It was finally decided that Guy would keep King of Jerusalem and on his death, the throne would go to Conrad of Montferrat or his son by Isabella.
Salah ed-Din stalled while he waited for his reinforcements. Meanwhile, Richard was getting antsy. Tired of waiting for Sal ed-Din’s answer, Richard ordered 3,000 Muslim prisoners Acre executed by beheading. The deed was witnessed by the Muslim army. After witnessing the act, the negotiations were over.
Phillip saw no reason to stay in Outremer, packing up his bags and leading his men home. The French King was also pissed off at Richard for breaking his betrothal to his sister, Alys. Phillip didn’t care that Alys had been involved in a torrid affair with Richard’s father, Henry II. A contract was a contract. Part of Alys’s dowry was the Vexin, which had been turned over to Henry. Phillip wanted the lands back since Richard was now married to Berengaria. Phillip agreed to let Richard keep the Vexin, but the French king still worried over what was happening to his territories while he was gone. He knew the chances of winning back Jerusalem were slim to none. He gave the men in his army the choice to stay or leave; those who chose to stay were placed under the Duke of Burgundy, Hugh’s command.
Richard and Salah ed-Din met in battle at Arsuf on September 7th, 1191. Richard won the battle. He kept on towards Jerusalem, but was halted at the mountain passes between Beit Nuba and Jerusalem. Negotiations began anew between Richard and Salah, but they couldn’t agree on terms, Richard even offered his sister, Joan, in marriage. Richard’s allies broke away, deciding on other opportunities. Richard finally had to give up, turning around and heading home – never making it to the holy City. Richard was captured and held for ransom in Austria on his way home. He was finally released he returned to his kingdom.
In 1199, Richard went to suppress a revolt by Aimar V of Limoges at Castle Chalus-Chabrol. On March 25, the English king was reviewing the progress of the siege when he was hit with a cross bolt arrow in the shoulder. His men cut out the bolt, but it wound festered. Despite a physicians attempt to treat the gangrene, King Richard died on April 6, 1199. Just before he died, Richard forgave the men who had been shooting cross bolts: Pierre Basile, John Sabroz, Dudo, and Betrande de Gurdon.
Emperor Frederick Barbarossa of Germany also heard the call of Pope Gregory. He left for the Holy Lands in May 1189. Unlike Richard and Phillip, Frederick was elected to his position. Frederick was a rebel, being excommunicated by Pope Alexander for his campaign in conquering the Lombards. In turn, Frederick elected an anti-Pope. Frederick eventually reconciled with Alexander.
Frederick and his army took the land route. They made it through Hungary without a problem, but when the German Emperor’s army arrived in Byzantine, the leader, Emperor Isaac II Angelus decided to be pigheaded. He had no problem arranging supplies or guides, but allowing the Germans to pass through the mountains to his lands? Hell no! Lucky for Frederick, there was another route, and with an agreement with the Serbs, Frederick led his army to Constantinople. Again, though, more problems awaited the Germans.
After spending the winter in Adrianople, Frederick moved on again. He and his men engaged the Turks by Philomelium. Winning the battle, Frederick continued on to the capital city of Konya, taking on supplies before marching through the Taurus mountains to their destination of Antioch. To his men’s dismay, Frederick tragically drowned in a river crossing. His son, Frederick of Swabia made a good old fashioned attempt to establish control, but it didn’t work. The army made it to Antioch – some of the remaining men joined Kin g Guy’s army and the rest boarded a ship to take Frederick’s body back to Germany.
To learn more about the Crusades, there are hundreds of books. Here are a couple to start on:
The Crusades Through Arab Eyes
By Maalouf, Amin and Jon Rotschild
1984 Al Saqi Books
Historical Atlas of the Crusades
By Angus Konstam
2004 Mercury Books
By Terry Jones and Alan Ereira
1995 Facts on File
The Historical Atlas of Knights and Castles
By Dr. Ian Barnes
2007 Chartwell Books, Inc
ISBN # 978-0-7858-2747-4