The Crusades

by Teresa Eckford

Crusade # Dates Other commentsFirst 1096-1099 In response to Urban II 1095 call to all Christians to free the Holy Land from the “Infidel”Second 1145-1149 Crusade led by Louis VII of France – he was accompanied by his wife Eleanor of AquitaineThird 1187-1192 The Germans, French and English all took part – most notably Richard I (the Lionheart) – resulted in a TreatyFourth 1198-1204 This Crusade started out as one against the “Infidel”, but was sidetracked in Byzantium with the sacking of ConstantinopleFifth 1217-1221 Crusade against the Egyptians at DamiettaSixth 1228-1229 Crusade of Frederick II – resulted in another TreatySeventh 1248-1254 First Crusade of Louis IX – included his captivity at the hands of the “Infidel”Eighth 1270 Second Crusade of Louis IX – he died outside Tunis in August of that year. Prince Edward of England (later Edward I) also travelled to the Holy Land that year and stayed until 1272, arranging a truce with the Baibars.

What were the Crusades? Why did men take the Cross?

]]>Support our sponsors The Crusades were a series of campaigns against Islam and against heretics and troublemakers in Europe itself. They were lead by kings, princes, knights and papal legates as well as by shepherd and hermits on unique occasions. They were not always under direct control of the Church, a fact which caused much distress to a number of Popes. Different motives influenced those who journeyed to the Holy Land, and they were not always religious ones. The Church offered many incentives to encourage men to take the Cross. These included remission from sins, protection for the Crusaders’ families, freedom from law suits and exemption from interest on loans authorized by the Church.

Organizing and Paying for the Crusades

Crusading entailed more than just a group of men marching off to fight for Christ. Organization was necessary and as the crusading idea became more institutionalized, preparations became more elaborate and incorporated a larger part of the population. The first Crusade, for instance, was financed primarily by those knights who took part and who could afford to pay people to accompany them. The People’s Crusade (which also left Europe in 1096), lead by Peter the Hermit, gathered food along the way, while their lack of money accounts for their brutal treatment of the Jews (many Jews were massacred as the “army” made its way through Europe.) The majority of the People’s army was annihilated soon after crossing the Bosphorus at Constantinople. In 1145, Louis VII levied a crusading tax against the French population to support his crusade, establishing a tradition of royal taxation for the crusading cause.

In preparation for the Third Crusade, Henry II and Philippe-Augustus of France collected the Saladin Tithe, but it should be noted that Henry had been taxing his subjects for the Holy War since 1166.1

For the first century of the Crusading movement, the church gave quite happily and voluntarily to the “Just Cause”. In 1199, Innocent III issued an “apostolic letter” – Graves orientales terrae – which introduced a tax on the clergy, requiring they all donate 1/40th of their income.2 In return, one quarter of their penance was relaxed. Locked trunks were also placed in the churches, into which the faithful were to put their money, according to God’s direction. Although this form of clerical taxation was supposed to be temporary, Graves orientales terrae became the basis for the development of a general European taxation bureaucracy.

Crusader Monks

The Order of the Knights Templar were founded in the years following the end of the First Crusade. From that point on The Poor Knights of Christ and the Temple of Solomon grew until it became one of the most powerful forces in medieval Europe. For 200 years its members served in the Holy Land until they were all arrested on Friday October 13, 1307. The Order was dissolved in 1312 and the last Grand Master burned to death in 1414 – condemned as a heretic after years of persecution and a trial. Many believe that this was because the European monarchs, most notably Philip the Fair of France, felt threatened by the power the Order held.

Most of the knights who joined became monks – taking vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. They were outfitted for fighting by the Order, a suit of armour, three horses and a sword, but could not retain possession of anything else. There were varying ranks, according to their social position upon entering the Order and it was difficult for the men to move up. Knights made up the first rank, common men made up the second rank of sergeants (who acted as squires) and priests made up the third rank. The vows were for life, just like any other monastic vows, but provisions were made to allow others to serve with the Order for a set period of time. Bernard of Clairvaux set out the Rule after being contacted by the Order’s founder, Hugh de Payens in 1127. Those who joined for life, though, could not leave unless they retired to a monastery to live out their life there.

The Order acquired many houses all over Europe, mostly donated by those wanting to find favour with God by supporting the monks who fought to free the Holy Land. Land equalled wealth in medieval Europe and even though the individual knights remained poor, the Order grew very wealthy, with many of its followers living like princes. Its members fought the Muslims and protected Christian pilgrims on their journey through the Holy Land

The Hospitallers were another Order that grew out of the Crusading movement. Its members established hospitals, first in the Holy Land, then throughout Europe. Again, those who joined became monks, but unlike the Templars, they did not gain the same kind of wealth and because of their more peaceful pursuit, were not as resented or feared by those in power. This Order is still thriving today – check out their website at

Disease, Disorder and Disaster

While on Crusade, the armies encountered many problems. The climate was much different from that of Western Europe, resulting in many deaths from rampant disease, as well as debilitating illness, malnutrition and sunstroke. The Saracens had the definite advantage of knowing the country much better and being immune to many of the diseases which felled the Crusaders. Both the Fifth and the Seventh Crusades failed because there was not enough food and water and because the Crusader armies did not understand the geography of the Nile Delta. Lack of competent strategists and diplomats caused problems for the majority of the Crusades.

Women and The Crusades

Many men took the Cross during the Crusading years, leaving their wives and children at home, often for years, and in some cases, never to return. Wives were used to running the estates for long periods while their husbands served the king, but at least they could usually get a message to him, since he was never more than a week or two away. But with the Crusades, it took months for a message to reach the Holy Land, if at all. Women had to deal with any problems that arose, and occasionally found themselves defending the keep against another knight eager to take advantage of its master’s absence. Far from being pretty ornaments, medieval women were strong and capable administrators who learned to face every adversity thrown their way.

While some women would have preferred their husbands remain at home, others enjoyed the freedom. Adela of Blois (daughter of William the Conqueror) ruled with an iron fist, sending her husband, Count Stephen back to the Holy Land after he skulked home, deserting the besiegers at Antioch. He died there in 1102. Their son, also Stephen later usurped his cousin Maud’s throne, leading to the Civil War of 1139-1153.

Others decided to participate in the Crusade, most notably Eleanor of Aquitaine, while she was queen of France. She accompanied her husband Louis VII, leaving France in 1147 for the Holy Land. However, she discovered that once she reached Antioch, she would prefer to stay there with her uncle, Raymond of Poitiers, Prince of Antioch. There were even rumours she had an affair with him, forcing Louis to spirit her away in a closed litter. It’s more likely, however, that she merely enjoyed her spirited uncle’s company to that of her pious husband.

More than 40 years later, Eleanor journeyed south to take her son Richard I’s betrothed, Berengaria of Navarre to Sicily, where she handed her over to the care of her daughter, Joanna, the Dowager Queen of that Island, who was to act as her chaperone until the marriage. The women set sail on a separate ship from the king and, during a raging storm, were blown onto Cyprus, where they were taken captive by the island’s ruler. Richard stormed the island and overthrew Isaac Comnenus and later granted it to Guy of Lusignan, king of Jerusalem.3 It was there in May 1191, that Richard and Berengaria were married. She and Joanna accompanied Richard to the Holy Land, remaining with him to he set sail for home in autumn 1192, when he was captured and held for ransom by the Holy Roman Emperor.

Other women who accompanied their husbands to the Holy Land included: Eleanor de Montfort, sister of Henry III of England; Marguerite of Provence, wife of Louis IX of France; and Eleanor of Castile, wife of Prince Edward (later Edward I) of England.

The Muslim Point of View

The Muslims fought against the Crusader armies for a variety of reasons. First and foremost, the city of Jerusalem meant (and still does mean) as much to Islam as id did (and still does) to Christianity and Judaism. The city of Jesus’ last days was also that from which Mahomet ascended to Heaven. There he spoke with the prophets and saw a vision of God before returning to earthly Mecca. The Dome of the Rock commemorates that event and was as important to the Muslims as the Church of the Holy Sepulchre was to the Christians.

Although the Muslims often saw the Christians as worthy adversaries, there is still evidence of their antagonism in the Arab Chronicles. Just as the Islamic doctrine was misunderstood in the Christian West, so was Christianity in the Middle East.4 A measure not of friendship, but of mutual respect, was the result of the exchanges that took place in the Crusading period. This measure helped to balance out the hatred and fear that also grew out of the Crusade and Ji-had movements. Legends about the enemy leaders, for example Richard I and Saladin, became popular in both cultures while the discovery of Arab translations of Aristotle and Averrones helped to accelerate the twelfth-century renaissance.

Innocent Victims of the Crusading Movement

Other religious groups in Europe were affected by the Crusades, especially the Jews. They suffered the most during the First and Third Crusades. Their religion dictated that they should commit suicide rather than submit to the sacrilege of Christian baptism. Therefore, when attacked by pilgrims in a number of German cities in 1096, mass suicides and mercy killings were common. Similarly, after the coronation of Richard I of England, resentment against the wealth of the Jews resulted in riots and massacres. Also included in Christian feeling was hatred for those they believed murdered Christ, resulting in outbreaks of mindless mob actions of unspeakable atrocity. The Jews were safe as long as they had money to led the European rulers, but lost all protection when that money ran out (mostly because many who borrowed never bothered paying the money back.) After the recapture of Jerusalem many Jews moved to Palestine because the Saracens were far more tolerant of Judaism than the Christians.


The Crusades, then, were more than just campaigns in a Holy War against Islam. Religious fervour was not the only motive and the actual Crusades rarely went according to plan. The initial idea of fighting for Christ’s birth-right gave way to combatting heretical Christians, pagans and “evil” rulers. The sack of Constantinople during the Fourth Crusade has been considered by many scholars the ultimate deviation from the original Crusading ideal. The failure of every Crusade after the First, the frequent degenerations into debauchery and drinking by members of the armies, emphasizes the abyss between the ideal and the reality of the Crusading movement. The inability to inspire commitment and establish a strong unified leadership or the strategy to defeat the Saracens on their own land, plagued each Crusade, dooming them to failure. Had those who organized them learned from previous mistakes, the result might have been different.


1. Mayer, Hans Eberhard. (Translated by John Gillingham) The Crusades. Oxford. Oxford University Press. 1972, p. 135

2. Riley-Smith, Jonathon and Louise. The Crusades – Idea and Reality, 1095-1274. London. Edward Arnold (Publishers) Ltd.. 1981, p. 144

3. Hallam, Elizabeth (Editor). The Plantagenet Encyclopedia. Markham. Penguin Books Canada Ltd.. 1990, p.57

4. Gabrieli, Francesco (Translated from Italian by E.J. Costello) Arab Historians of the Crusades. London. Routledge & Kegan Paul. 1969, 1984, p. 149

Primary Sources

  • Eidelberg, Shlomo (Translator and Editor). The Jews and the Crusaders – The Hebrew Chronicles of the First and Second Crusades. Madison, Wisconsin. The University of Wisconsin Press. 1977
  • Gabrieli, Francesco (Translated from Italian by E.J. Costello) Arab Historians of the Crusades. London. Routledge & Kegan Paul. 1969, 1984
  • Gerald of Wales (Translated by Lewis Thorpe.) The Journey Through Wales/The Description of Wales. Markham. Penguin Books. 1978
  • Joinville and Villehardouin (Translated by MRB Shaw). Chronicles of the Crusades. Markham. Penguin Books. 1963
  • Odo of Deuil (Edited and Translated by Virginia Gingerick Berry) De Profectione Ludovici VII in Orientem – The Journey of Louis VII to the East. Markham. Penguin Books. 1984

Secondary Sources

  • Malcolm Barber. The New Knighthood – A History of the Order of the Temple. Cambridge. Cambridge University Press. 1995 (Canto Edition)
  • Hallam, Elizabeth (Editor). The Plantagenet Encyclopedia. Markham. Penguin Books Canada Ltd.. 1990
  • Mayer, Hans Eberhard (Translated by John Gillingham). The Crusades. Oxford. Oxford University Press. 1972
  • Riley-Smith, Jonathon and Louise. The Crusades – Idea and Reality, 1095-1274. London. Edward Arnold (Publishers) Ltd.. 1981
  • John J. Robinson. Dungeon, Fire and Sword – The Knights Templar in the Crusades. New York. M. Evans & Company, Inc.. 1991

Also visit the following Web sites (very graphics intensive) for more info on the Templars:



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