The Crusades

The Crusades : Holy War, Piety and Politics in Christendom from the First Crusade to the Reconquista

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Crusading fervour gripped Europe for more than 200 years and yet, almost a millennium later, we continue to question the crusaders' motivation: was it purely spiritual reward or did greed play a part? What did knights from Western Europe have to gain from a hugely risky and expensive missions to the the Holy Land?
The Crusades expertly takes the reader into the mindset of crusading knights, exploring, on the one hand, the role played by pilgrimage, penance and piety in Christian life and, on the other, the politics of Western Europe, the Papacy, Byzantium and the Sunni and Shi'a groups in the Middle East. Encompassing both the crusades to the Holy Land, Iberia and the Baltic as well as popular crusading, the book explores how crusades were financed, how the crusader principalities functioned and how they were lost by the end of the 13th century. Looking more broadly at the era, the book reveals how the crusades were reflected in art and the influence they had in reviving Mediterranean trade and in the development of banking.
From Christian holy war to Muslim jihad, from the Templars to the Teutonic Knights, from warring monarchs to popular preachers, from pogroms against Jews to crusades against heretics, the book tells the crusading story from the 11th century through to the completion of the Reconquista of Spain in the 15th.
Illustrated with 160 photographs, paintings, artworks and maps, The Crusades is a fascinating and accessible history.
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Product details

  • Paperback | 224 pages
  • 186 x 244 x 19mm | 910g
  • London, United Kingdom
  • English
  • 180 photos, artworks and maps; 180 Illustrations, unspecified
  • 1838861440
  • 9781838861445

Table of contents

Christian concepts of 'holy war' before the First Crusade
Jerusalem had been lost to Muslim control in 638, but Christians were usually still allowed to go on pilgrimage there.

Pope Gregory VII's failed scheme of 1074 to lead an army to Jerusalem. Pope Urban II was already sponsoring wars against Muslims in Spain. Alexius I Comnenus of Constantinople asked the Pope for military assistance against the Turks.
Urban II's 1095 decree: that those who, for devotion alone, go to Jerusalem to liberate the Church of God can substitute this journey for all penance. They would also be given immunity from law suits and interest repayment on debts. There was no word for crusading until centuries later: those who went on crusade were crucesignati - 'signed with the cross'.
First crusaders: Western European military aristocrats whose sufficient funds and followers was matched by an awareness of their sinfulness and a desire for penance.
Peter the Hermit's 'Peasants' Crusade' - antisemitic pogroms in Rhineland (1096). These forces, not princely-led but still containing nobles, reached Asia Minor before being defeated by the Turks.
With no single commander, the main armies reached Constantinople and just defeated the Turks at Doryleaum (1097), before besieging Antioch (1097-98) and conquering Edessa.
1099: March on Jerusalem, taking advantage of divisions among Muslim opponents. Conquering Jerusalem in July and defeating Egyptian relief army at Ascalon in August.

Following the capture of Jerusalem, four principalities were established: kingdom of Jerusalem (1099-1291), principality of Antioch (1098-1268), county of Edessa (1098-1144) and county of Tripoli (1102-1289). Explosion of pilgrimage trade.
Life in the crusader states - religion not race formed the test of civil rights and citizenship. Outremer was a picture of enforced inequality, but Franks learnt Arabic and married with local Christians and converted Muslims. At court, witnesses were permitted to swear on their holy book - be it the Bible, Torah or Koran. The great hospital at Jerusalem treated people of all religions.
An open Jerusalem: In 1229, a deal was made with the Sultan of Egypt restoring Jerusalem to the Franks. The city was to be open to all, with the Islamic authorities controlling Temple Mount. In 1244, forces for the Sultan retook Jerusalem and it remained under Muslim control until 1917.
Box feature: Crusader castles, such as Crac de Chevalier and Margat in Syria, and Belvoir Fortress in Israel.

With the loss of Edessa to the Turkish warlord Zengi in 1144, Pope Eugenius III launched the Second Crusade. This time he eagerly enrolled monarchs, such as Louis VII of France. Abbot Bernard of Clairvaux conducted a preaching tour in Flanders and the Rhineland to recruit crusaders. Box Feature: How preachers drummed up support.
On reaching Outremer, the Second Crusade failed utterly. Where the First Crusaders had benefitted from Muslim disunity, in the 12th century, Syria unified under Zengi's son, Nur al-Din, whose Kurdish mercenary Shirkuh conquered Egypt. With Shirkuh's nephew, Saladin, Nur al-Din created an Egypto- Syrian Empire. Outremer was now surrounded.
With internal dynastic weaknesses in Jerusalem, Saladin defeated the kingdom of Jerusalem's forces at the Horns of Hattin in Galilee in July 1187. Ports and castles fell; Jerusalem fell that October.
Box Feature: the crusades in western art: The Tympanum at Vezelay Abbey (1130), depicting the first Pentecostal Mission to spread the word of God to all the people of the world, some of whom are presented as mythical beasts. A spiritual defence of the crusades. Box Feature: Jihad and how it differs from crusade.

The West responded to the loss of Jerusalem with the Third Crusade. A profits tax was introduced in France and England to pay for the crusade. King Guy of Jerusalem besieged Acre. Frederick Barbarossa, king of Germany and Holy Roman Emperor, led an army through unhelpful Byzantine territory and hostile Turkish Anatolia, before he drowned crossing the River Saleph in June 1190. Demoralized, only a few of his soldiers reached Acre.
The following summer Richard I of England arrived. After six weeks of pounding, Acre fell to the crusaders. Philip II of France, overshadowed by Richard's military prowess, now left the crusade, but most of the crusaders stayed on with Richard I and marched on Jerusalem. With insufficient troops to make a full assault on the city, the situation fell to a stalemate. Richard reached an agreement with Saladin: the Treaty of Jaffa (1192) left the Franks in control of the coast from Acre to Jaffa and allowed access to Jerusalem for pilgrims. Box Feature: financing a crusade

Intended to attack Egypt, the Fourth Crusade was to be manned by a Venetian fleet, but, lacking sufficient funds to pay the Venetians in full, the crusaders had to agree a deal with the Doge: in return for Venetian support, the crusaders would have to help the Venetians capture the Dalmatian port of Zara, even though this was a Christian city belonging to a fellow crusader.
This was followed by a further diversion: Alexius Angelus, son of the deposed Byzantine emperor Isaac II, promised to subsidize the crusaders' attack on Egypt if they helped him take the Byzantine throne from his usurping uncle Alexius III. Many crusaders refused, but the bulk took part in the amphibious assault on Constantinople. But, Alexius Angelus and Isaac were unable to honour their promise of subsidy. Having been reinstated, they were deposed and murdered. The new government was unsympathetic towards the crusaders. Western leaders decided to partiton Byzantium. Crusaders attacked the city, looting it for three days before a Latin emperor was installed. The crusade to Egypt, though, was abandoned.

Northern Crusades - Firstly, Danish and German anti-slav aggression during Second Crusade. Christianization and Germanization of lands was given a religious gloss by the term crusading - 'Conversion or extermination'.
Military Order of Teutonic Knights active across Prussia and the Baltic. After 1245, the pope gave them the unique right to grant crusade indulgences without special papal authorization. Peaking in the 14th century, the Teutonic Knights were defeated by a Polish-Lithuanian army at Grunwald in 1410, their castle at Malbork was besieged, and thereafter their influence was curbed.
Iberian Crusades - Members of the Second Crusade helped reconquer Lisbon from the Moors, before continuing their journey to the eastern Mediterranean. 1212 Crusade against Almohads in Spain.
Albigensian Crusades (1209-29) against the Cathars in southern France, degenerated from a genuine attempt to cauterize widespread heresy into a brutal land seizure.

Smaller crusades and the disastrous crusade of Louis IX (1249). Antioch fell in 1268, Tripoli in 1289 and, finally, Acre, in 1291. To ensure that the Franks didn't return, the Sultan levelled their ports.
Christendom redirected its efforts against the Ottoman Turks from the mid-14th century. At Nicopolis (1396) and Varna (1444), crusaders were defeated by the Ottomans, who had received aid from Christian allies - Serbs and the Genoese.
In the East: Constantinople finally falls to the Turks in 1453. Belgrade was saved by a crusading force in 1456.
In the West: Completion of the Reconquista of Spain with the expulsion of Islamic power in 1492.
Ultimately, crusading faded when secular powers claimed morality and the control of warfare, not the Church.

Further reading

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About Chris McNab

Chris McNab is the author of many history and military history titles, including Battles That Changed History. In addition to his writing work, Chris has made regular contributions to radio and TV programmes. He holds a PhD from the University of Wales and lives in south Wales, UK.
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