08/18/14

Peipus 1242 Repulse of the “Baby-Burners”

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How you know the Germans are Bad Men: they toss naked babies into fire. After the Nazi war of extermination 1941+ not so far from the truth. From a memorable Russian film made in 1938 by Sergei Eisenstein

The battle of Lake Peipus (mod. Peipsi Järv, Estonia, Chudskoe Ozero, Russia) is more significant for its place in the national consciousness of Russia than as a military episode. In fact the battle itself was a small-scale affair, but it came to epitomize Russia’s struggle against Western interference. Similarly, the victory of a Russian Orthodox army over a force of Latin (i. e., Roman Catholic) crusaders became a symbol of the Orthodox determination to retain a distinct identity.

In the 1220s, as the Mongols attacked southern Russia, Danish and German crusaders conquered pagan Estonia. In response the Russians set about converting other Finno- Ugrian peoples to Orthodox Christianity. In addition to religious and political rivalry, there was also economic rivalry over access to Baltic trade. While the Mongols launched a second invasion of the south, friction increased between the newly established Baltic crusader territories and Russian Novgorod, culminating in the organization of a “Novgorod Crusade” in 1237. However, an invasion of Novgorodian territory in 1240-1241 faltered when Prince Alexander Yaroslavich of Novgorod defeated the Swedes at the River Neva, from which he was later known as “Nevskii.”

Prince Alexander now launched a counteroffensive, which culminated in a battle on the eastern shore of the frozen Lake Peipus. Here Alexander’s army, possibly supported by a contingent of Mongols, defeated a force of German crusaders from Livonia, Danes from Northern Estonia, and Estonian tribal auxiliaries under the command of the bishop of Dorpat.

It seems that the crusaders were pursuing the Russians, who had been raiding crusader territory. The latter retreated across Lake Peipus before adopting a defensive position on the far shore. A charge by the heavily armoured crusader knights was expected to break the enemy line, but instead the Russians absorbed the shock and attacked the crusaders’ flanks. Part of the crusader vanguard, including members of the recently disbanded Order of the Sword Brethren who had been absorbed into the Teutonic Order, was virtually wiped out, while the rest of the crusader army fled across the ice. Whether or not the ice gave way is unknown, although this did become part of Russian folklore.

Defeat at Lake Peipus undermined crusader prestige, contributing to an uprising by Estonians against Danish rule and by Prussians against the Teutonic Knights. In 1246 Prince Alexander submitted to the Mongol Great Khan, and six years later, with Mongol approval, he became grand prince of all Russia under Mongol overlordship.

Alexander Nevskii (1221-1263)

Prince of Novgorod (1236-1263) and grand prince of Vladimir (1252-1263); renowned for resisting the attacks of German and Swedish crusaders against northwestern Russia.

Alexander Yaroslavich belonged to the Vladimir-Suzdalian branch of the Ryurikid dynasty, and was the second son of Yaroslav Vsevolodovich, prince of Novgorod (later grand prince of Vladimir). He had already served as his father’s governor in Novgorod before becoming prince in 1236. The byname Nevskii (attested from the fifteenth century) derives from his great victory at the river Neva, when, thanks to Alexander’s tactics, the outnumbered Novgorodian host smashed an invading Swedish army (15 July 1240).

At the end of 1240 Alexander left Novgorod after having quarreled with its citizens, and only returned a year later, when a great part of the Novgorodian state, including Pskov, had been occupied by the Teutonic Knights of Livonia and their allies. In the winter of 1241-1242, the Novgorodian troops with Alexander at their head expelled the crusaders from the land of the Votians, and in March 1242 they liberated Pskov and invaded the bishopric of Dorpat in Livonia. On 5 April 1242, the Novgorodians overcame the crusaders on the ice of Lake Peipus, after which the Livonians asked for peace and renounced all their claims to Russian lands. Alexander resisted the attempts of the pope and the archbishop of Riga to persuade him to accept the Latin form of Christianity, and he succeeded in avoiding war on two fronts, by keeping peace with the Mongol Great Khan and the khan of the Golden Horde.

In 1252 Alexander became grand prince of Vladimir, while remaining prince of Novgorod. In 1256 he was able to prevent the Swedes from building a fortress on the right bank of the river Narva. Alexander concluded a treaty against the Teutonic Order with Mindaugas, king of Lithuania, in 1261, but a planned joint attack on Livonia the next year failed, as Alexander was obliged to journey to the Golden Horde; there he fell ill, and he died while returning to Vladimir. He was the subject of a memorable Russian film made in 1938 by Sergei Eisenstein.

Bibliography Brundage, James A., “The Thirteenth-Century Livonian Crusades,” Jahrbücher für Geschichte Osteuropas, n. s., 20 (1972), 1-9. Johnson, Edgar N., “The German Crusade in the Baltic,” in A History of the Crusades, ed. Kenneth M. Setton, 6 vols.(Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1975), 3:545-585. Nicolle, David, Lake Peipus 1242 (London: Osprey, 1996). Noonan, Thomas S., “Medieval Russia, the Mongols, and the West: Novgorod’s Relations with the Baltic, 1100-1350,” Medieval Studies 37 (1975), 316-339.

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08/12/14

King Richard – prepares for the Crusade

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Richard stood over his father’s corpse in silence. He looked down at a face marked by nearly half a century of trouble and glory. Henry II had died a miserable death: abandoned and embittered. The last words he had spoken to Richard were a vicious hiss in his ear as the two men embraced in a kiss of peace following the humiliating peace at Ballan: ‘God grant that I may not die until I have my revenge on you.’ But God had granted no such thing. Since 1187 Richard, in alliance with Philip II, had taken much of his royal inheritance – Maine, Touraine and many of the castles of Anjou – by force of arms. After Henry’s death the rest passed to him by right of law.

Henry’s corpse now lay in the abbey church of Fontevraud, the great monastic foundation in the hinterland between Anjou and the county of Poitou – the power base of the duchy of Aquitaine. As he stood vigil over his father Richard would have heard his own heart beat in the cool of the nave. The church’s arched ceilings and thick, cold columns soared high above him. Silent before his father’s still body, this man of action could pause and reflect. As Richard stood at the head of the bier, he said nothing and betrayed no feelings. He simply looked down at his once restless father’s motionless face, then turned on his heel and walked out. An epic reign was over. A new one – his own – had begun.

It was a reign that would be defined by warfare. There was no question where it would begin. News had reached France in 1187 that Jerusalem had fallen to Muslim forces under Saladin, and that the whole of Outremer – the general term for the Christian states established in the Middle East after the First Crusade – was under threat. Richard had heard of great atrocities committed in Saladin’s name: the brutal butchery of holy knights; the execution of great soldiers including Reynaud of Châtillon, who had been slashed with a sword by Saladin before he was beheaded. He would be aware of the Christian armies’ disastrous defeat on 4 July in the battle of Hattin, in which Frankish soldiers had been slain in their thousands amid burning scrubland, their parched tongues cracking as they succumbed to the lethal attacks of crack Muslim archers. He would have been told of the misery of poor Christians sold into slavery in north Africa. And most of all, Richard would have been troubled by the loss of the True Cross, the most holy relic in the kingdom of Jerusalem, which had been paraded at the head of every Christian army, until it was captured by Saladin’s armies at Hattin.

The Third Crusade appealed to Richard both as a soldier of Christ and as a Plantagenet prince. Richard shared the abhorrence of the infidel felt by every Christian who joined the Third Crusade. But he was also aware that Sybil, the queen of Jerusalem, was a cousin, descended from Fulk V of Anjou – Richard’s great-grandfather. Sybil’s husband, Guy de Lusignan, was a Plantagenet vassal. Crusading was therefore both a spiritual business and a family matter.

Richard had been the first nobleman north of the Alps to take the Cross in autumn 1187. His departure for the Holy Land had been delayed almost two years by his quarrel with his father. Dearly as he would have loved to have led the European charge, that honour had fallen to his brother-in-law, William II, king of Sicily, who scrambled fifty ships and hundreds of knights as soon as the news of Jerusalem’s fall had reached him. The elderly Frederick Barbarossa also sent troops to Outremer in 1188, his armies beginning their long march overland by way of the Danube. (It was on this mission that Barbarossa died, drowned while bathing in a river.) Richard could hardly bear to wait any longer. But he had two sorely pressing issues to settle before he could sew his cloth cross to his clothes and set off for the East: first was his inheritance; second was his relationship with the French king, Philip II. The issues were closely entwined.

Richard was crowned on Sunday 13 September 1189 in Westminster Abbey. It was only the second time since the Norman Conquest that a king had been succeeded, relatively smoothly, by his chosen son. Crowds turned out to glimpse a man of whom they would have seen almost nothing in the thirty-two years of his life. They were greeted by a tall, elegant man, with reddish blond hair and long limbs, proceeding in splendour towards the first coronation in a generation. It would have been easy to imagine that this was the start of a glorious new age.

Richard processed to Westminster behind ranks of bishops and abbots, barons, knights and the solemn officers of England. His favoured lay nobles bore great golden swords and ceremonial sceptres before him. The clergy were resplendent in purple copes and white robes. At the head of a procession was borne a great cross, and the abbey was lit with the bright flicker of candles. The rich, sickly smell of incense filled the early autumn air, and left a trail behind the procession as they approached the abbey’s inner chamber.

Inside the abbey church, solemn hymns boomed. Richard proceeded to the altar, watched on all sides by the greatest holy lords and magnificent barons of England. Perhaps the proudest of all of them was Eleanor of Aquitaine. To see Richard crowned represented the apogee of Eleanor’s long career, fulfilling as it did the supposed prophecy of Merlin: ‘The eagle of the broken covenant will rejoice in [her] third nesting’.

Before the altar, Richard made three oaths. He swore on the gospels and the relics of many saints that he would bear peace and honour and reverence towards God, the holy Church and her ministers; that he would administer justice to the people; and that he would abolish bad laws and customs in favour of good. As he stood, stripped to his breeches and with his undershirt unsewn at his right shoulder, wearing sandals woven from golden cloth, this pious soldier must have reflected with special reverence on the first of his oaths. He was being anointed as God’s hammer.

Richard held the sceptre in his right hand and the royal rod in his left, while Baldwin, archbishop of Canterbury, anointed him with holy oil on his head, shoulders and his sword-bearing right arm. He was dressed in a consecrated linen cloth, a cope, tunic and dalmatic – the liturgical tunic, with wide sleeves that billowed around his arms. Then he was armed with the weapons of the almighty: Baldwin gave him a sword with which he was to chastise those who did wrong to the Church, and two of his earls strapped to his feet golden spurs from the royal treasure.

Finally, when he had been cloaked, Richard was led up to the altar, and publicly warned by the archbishop of the awesome responsibility of his kingship. Impatient, Richard answered that he quite understood. He grabbed the crown from its place on the altar, thrust it into Baldwin’s hands and allowed the archbishop to place it on his head. ‘And so,’ wrote the chronicler Roger of Howden, ‘the crowned king was led to his throne.’

The king began to prepare almost at once. England and the rest of the Plantagenet dominions were gripped by crusading fever. Preachers toured Europe, holding large recruitment rallies on holy festival days, enlisting the faithful in their thousands with the promise of remission of confessed sins and eternal life for those who fell on campaign. It was no coincidence that areas known for their military character received especially close attention: Archbishop Baldwin made a grand tour of Wales, enlisting 3,000 fierce Welsh soldiers, known for their devastating skill with the bow and lance. The thirteenth-century biographer of the great chivalrous knight William Marshal recorded the explosion in industry:

King Richard prepared, during his stay in England, a great fleet of ships to take him to the Holy Land … There were many fine ships fortified with towers and magnificently equipped and manned by such worthy crews that they had no fear about putting up a stout defence against any galleys or hostile forces.

Richard shipped so much silver and gold, so many furs of minever and grey squirrel, so much plate, so many splendid and expensive garments and arms of every kind, that no man who had seen them could have easily listed them one by one. There were no stores wanting: there were flitches of bacon, wines, wheat, flour and ship’s biscuit in abundance … there was pepper, cumin, wax and spices and electuaries of the very best available. There were many other drinks and jellies and syrup, bows, crossbows and bolts, sharp-pointed and swift-flying …

Richard spent around £14,000 in a single year from September 1189, ordering vast stockpiles of goods: 14,000 cured pig carcasses, 60,000 horseshoes, huge numbers of cheeses and beans, thousands upon thousands of arrows. The mass of provisions and supplies required were paid for through a parallel exploitation of every conceivable source of royal revenue.

Before his death, Henry II had raised the enormous sum of £100,000 through the Saladin Tithe: a tax of 10 per cent on all movable goods enforced by the threat of excommunication and collected by Templar and Hospitaller knights. But £100,000 was only the beginning for Richard. He looked at the Plantagenet empire he had inherited and saw revenue streams where his father had not. Henry had generally balanced the profits that could be derived from the sale of office and royal favour against the need to offer kingship based on stable government by competent royal servants. Richard was never so keenly bureaucratic. As Roger of Howden noted: ‘he put up for sale all he had: offices, lordships, earldoms, sheriffdoms, castles, towns, lands, everything.’ He did not sell his land so recklessly as to jeopardize its governance, but he sold it nevertheless. It was said that Richard joked he would sell London if he could find a buyer.

As England hummed with activity, Richard attended to politics. He met Philip II at Nonancourt after Christmas in 1189 and thrashed out a mutual defence pact. The French king was also committed to crusade, but leaving Europe leaderless demanded a good deal of mutual trust. Richard and Philip swore not to attack one another’s lands, to protect the goods of all crusaders, and to act in good faith towards one another. Their barons swore to keep the peace. But mutual suspicion smouldered. The two kings had seen enough of one another during Henry II’s reign to know the limits of the other’s good faith.

The most difficult problem Richard faced in leaving his kingdom was what to do with his 22-year-old brother John, who had not taken the Cross. Known as Jean sans Terre, or ‘John Lackland’ during their father’s reign, John was now lord of Ireland and had been promised £4,000 of land in England. Richard fulfilled the promise. John was given a Norman title – count of Mortain – and awarded the earldoms of Derby, Nottingham, Cornwall, Devon, Somerset and Dorset, numerous castles in the Midlands, and marriage to Isabel of Gloucester, heiress to Bristol, Glamorgan and Newport. This was a massive power bloc with which John could easily threaten to destabilize government. Richard had never trusted his younger brother, and when making peace with his father in their final war, had always tried to insist that John would accompany him on crusade. Now he vacillated: first banning John from England outright and then relenting, probably on the advice of their mother Eleanor. There was no easy way to solve a problem like John – leaving him with much land but no official power was the only solution it was possible to muster.

Richard appointed a team of loyalists to govern in his absence in the hope they would be able to deal with John. Eleanor of Aquitaine, now once more a political figure after her long years of imprisonment, and at the age of sixty-six no candidate for joining the second crusade of her lifetime, was tasked with keeping a maternal eye on her youngest son. Administration in England was split between Hugh de Puisat, bishop of Durham, and William Longchamp, bishop of Ely, whose jurisdictions were divided along the line of the river Humber. They were given clear instructions as to the government of the country, but it would have been surprising if they had not felt apprehensive. Henry II might have shown that a Plantagenet king could successfully spend more time out of England than inside it, but he had never been further away than the southern coast of France.

Finally, with his armies mustered and provided, and a huge fleet set to meet him in Marseille at the end of July 1190, Richard met Philip II in Burgundy. They swore an oath to share whatever plunder and gain they made equally. On 4 July the two kings set off south, accompanied by their gigantic armies. At Lyon, they split paths: the French king’s contingent headed for Genoa, where a fleet was to be hired; Richard’s men headed for Marseille. Richard, ever mindful of his own romantic myth, carried a sword which was purported to be Excalibur, King Arthur’s legendary sword. Crusading fever swept before him.