The Bishop of Norwich’s crusade

Flanders, England and the Great Schism

On the 20 September 1378 the College of Cardinals came to the conclusion that their decision to elect Bartolomeo Prignano as Pope Urban VI taken but five months previously was in fact invalid as it had been unduly influenced by the calls of the Roman mob to elect an Italian to the post. The assembled cardinals accordingly chose the Frenchman Robert of Geneva as Pope Clement VII in his place.

However Urban VI refused to recognise his demotion and thus Christendom had two popes and what became known as the Great Schism. The one Clement VII supported by France and its allies Castile and Scotland the other Urban VI supported by most everybody else. In Flanders this schism highlighted the internal divisions within the region between the Francophile nobility who supported Clement VII and the Anglophile inhabitants of the major commercial towns such as Bruges and Ghent who where Urbanists by conviction.

Flanders was the subject of a power struggle between the towns and Louis of Mâle, Count of Flanders and faced with an open rebellion led by the citizens of Ghent the Count requested assistance from the French. Therefore in the autumn 1382, Charles VI of France came with an army, and defeated and killed the Gentois leader Philip Van Artevelde at the battle of Roosebecque. This French success was a source of discomfort to both Pope Urban and to the English in particular as French influence in Flanders threatened the important trade links between the two countries.

Pope Urban’s crusade

Pope Urban VI therefore conceived of the idea of launching a crusade against the French, with the goal of freeing Flanders from French control and allowing the Flemish to return to their allegiance to Rome. Hence Urban issued a series of papal bulls to promote such a crusade, and in particular to encourage England, as the natural enemy of France to participate.

By one such bull Pope Urban “granted to the king and to his uncles a plain dime to be taken and levied throughout all England, so that Sir Henry Spenser, bishop of Norwich, should be chief captain of all the men of war” with the instruction “to make war against all those that held with pope Clement.” By another he authorised the bishop to sell indulgences to raise further cash to fund the crusade. As one source noted “the bishop had wonderful indulgences … granted to him for the said crusade by Pope Urban VI” which enabled the bishop to promise absolution for “both the living and the dead on whose behalf a sufficient contribution was made”.

The choice of Henry Despenser or ‘Henry Spenser’ as he is sometimes known, was no accident as Henry, a grandson of the younger Hugh Despenser who had been the favourite of Edward II, was very much a fighting bishop. In truth he was really a soldier who had fought for the papacy in Italy and received as his reward the appointment to the see of Norwich. During the Peasants’ Revolt it is said that he had “reduced his diocese to peace … by remorseless executions” and later promised to burn as a heretic any of the followers of John Wyclif who came to preach in his diocese. Just the sort of bishop best suited to lead a military crusade against the pope’s enemies.

Both Parliament and king Richard II were enthusiastic about this crusade; not only was it being directed against the hated French but it was being entirely financed by the tax on the church and the sale of indulgences. Richard II therefore gave his blessing to the planned expedition, his only stipulation being that the crusaders should await the arrival of William Beauchamp before launching offensive operations against the French and their allies. So Henry Despenser sailed from Dover with a force of some 2,000 men and arrived at Calais on the 23rd April 1383 where they arranged lodgings pending the arrival of William Beauchamp. (Who was Captain of Calais and brother of Thomas Beauchamp, Earl of Warwick and otherwise engaged on the Scottish border at the time.)

The Bishop of Norwich’s crusade

In fourteenth-century double-speak the Bishop of Norwich’s campaign to Flanders came to be known as a crusade. With the revolt of Ghent against the Count of Flanders in 1383, and punitive action by Count Louis de Malle against the import of English wool into the Flemish cloth-making cities, England’s trade stood to suffer dramatically. Bishop Henry Despenser, who had suppressed the uprising in Norfolk in 1381, came up with another idea of violent action little fitting a bishop: an expedition to the Low Countries with papal sanction. As papal representative in England and Wales, he succeeded in obtaining papal approval and crusading status for the campaign, with all the spiritual and financial support which crusades enjoyed. The aim was to offer succour to the Flemish rebels, and thus to unseat the Count, on whom a Flemish alliance with France depended. And so over autumn and winter 1382–3, after a cross-taking ceremony in London, recruitment began for the army which Despenser was to lead in May 1383 from Sandwich. The army crossed the Channel, soon taking Gravelines and Bourbourg, and then continued further north-east up the Flemish coast. At the siege of Ypres the progress ended, as the force was ill-equipped and suffered disease. With the approach of a French relief force, the bishop called a truce, and withdrew to Calais. Although the young king had not led the expedition, this was undoubtedly a frivolous use of men and funds. If he were to impress and reassure, he would have to do better by leading a successful campaign.

Battle of Dunkirk

The Count of Flanders was naturally much annoyed at the thought of his lands being ravaged by an English army and gathered together a large force of Flemings and Frenchmen and marched on Dunkirk where the Bishop of Norwich and his men were taking a well earned rest after their most recent bout of pillaging. On the 25th May this Franco-Flemish army, numbering some 28,000 appeared near Dunkirk. But despite their overwhelming superiority in numbers they were soon put to flight by Henry Despenser and his allies who took many prisoners and killed some 3,000.

Having defeated this Franco-Flemish army the Gentois then urged Despenser to continue with his campaign of conquest by directing his forces against the town of Ypres. So the bishop now laid siege to Ypres, and made the necessary preparations to capture the town. He constructed “a great siege tower with a trebuchet” together with “a heavy gun called the Canterbury gun” which was directed “against a tower by one of the gates” in an effort to breach the defences, but without success. After eight weeks of effort Despenser suddenly decided to abandon the siege and withdraw to Dunkirk, leaving his Gentois allies to continue the siege on their own.

The reason for this sudden decision soon became apparent as the word spread that Charles VI himself was on his way with “an untold host under arms”. The Bishop of Norwich tried to persuade his men that they should harass the French king’s army by night raids, but found little enthusiasm for the idea so they all pulled back to Gravelines and awaited events.

Sir Thomas Trivet and the surrender of Bourbourg

Thomas Trivet and others were holed up in the town of Bourbourg, whose fortifications he had strengthened by the construction of a fence and ditch. The French soon appeared and set fire to the town but failed to breach the defences. The next day the French invited the defenders to surrender. The offer was haughtily declined by Thomas Trivet but nonetheless negotiations began with the Duke of Brittany (who was also the Earl of Richmond at the time) acting as intermediary. The English eventually agreed to surrender the town on the condition that would be allowed to “leave unharmed with their horses and arms, and other possessions”.

The Chronicle of Henry Knighton present this as an honourable withdrawal since the English were outnumbered by the French and “they could not reasonably expect to beat off or withstand such numbers”. Other sources however reveal that Thomas and the other English commanders were paid a sum not unadjacent to 28,000 francs by the French and were indeed “lured by bribes into surrendering the town to the king of France, taking an oath that they would not bear arms against him until after their actual arrival in England.”

This left the good bishop and his men somewhat isolated at Gravelines. Faced with the surrender of Bourbourg, they too came to an agreement with the French, by which they were given safe conduct to return to England. And return they did leaving the French as effective masters of Flanders for the time being.

After the Crusade

By the end of September 1383 all the crusaders were back in England and to put it mildly Richard II was livid. Not only had the crusade entirely failed to engage the French in battle it had degenerated into a frenzy of looting and pillaging directed against the Flemish and had resulted in the strengthening of French control of Flanders. Not all of this was the fault of the Bishop of Norwich, as once it became apparent that there was easy money to be had, his crusade had become a magnet for “countless persons with neither horses nor weapons who, on learning of the great execution recently done in those parts, had flocked to the bishop, the more eagerly because their motive was profit”

Nevertheless Henry Despenser took much of the blame and the king ordered the temporalities of the see of Norwich to be seized whilst Thomas Trivet and others were arrested and charged with treason. Arraigned before Parliament on the 26th October 1383, the Bishop Despenser blamed his captains for not following orders, they in turn threw themselves on the king’s mercy. In the end the king calmed down, the Bishop got his lands back and the likes of Thomas Trivet were let off with the payment of a 1,400 mark fine.

Meanwhile Charles VI made steady progress in Flanders. He gained control of Damme and executed its leading citizens and the remaining Flemish towns soon surrendered with the notable exception of Ghent. There the citizens appealed to England for help, and Parliament responded by raising the sum of 6,000 marks to pay for a small force of men-at-arms and archers to help them resist the French king. But the Lord Chancellor Michael de la Pole held on to the money until the Gentois were forced to surrender on terms to the French.

Christians, Muslims and Conflicts Up to the First Crusade Part I

How do ideas change? The shift can be abrupt or gradual; it can affect one individual or a nation. Sometimes, an old idea is merely re-stated and presented in a new way, adapted to fit a new time. Sometimes, it is deliberately distorted and given meanings it was never intended to have. Deeply-held convictions, such as religious beliefs, are no exception. A change in religious outlook may begin with one individual and spread, slowly or rapidly to a larger group. Indeed, this is how most religions are born. Those religious ideas themselves will inevitably change in response to world events and outside influences; they may die out if they fail to do so. Sometimes the changes are so drastic as to seem totally at odds with the original intentions of the early days of a belief. The medieval Christian embrace of the preaching of war against unbelievers as a penitential and sanctified act is one of the more remarkable examples of this shift.

Western attitudes toward Islam began to change dramatically during the second half of the eleventh century and into the beginning of the twelfth. Prior to this time, there had been less consideration of Christendom’s rival, except at the frontiers where the two faiths met and interacted, particularly in Spain and Italy. Such events as the Spanish Martyrs’ Movement notwithstanding, the primary resistance to Islam by the West was military rather than theological, and in these cases there was seldom any attempt to justify such actions with religious reasons. Attempts at conversion and ideological debate were also minimal. It is even worth noting that the Carolingian kings had diplomatic relations with Islamic rulers in the East from the eighth century. Pippin the Short (d. 768) sent ambassadors to al-Mansur in 765, the Abbasid caliph in Baghdad, and received them in return. His son Charlemagne was well known for massacring the pagan Saxons who refused to convert to Christianity, and yet was famed for his good relations with the fifth Abbasid caliph, Harun ar-Rashid (of Arabian Nights fame), who sent to Charlemagne, among many other fine gifts, and elephant named Abul-Abbas in 797. Charlemagne also discussed how to achieve peace with Moorish ambassadors from Spain, mindful of his grandfather’s military victory.

The common European name for Muslims used throughout the Middle Ages, “Saracen,” had an ancient history. Originally used by Greco-Roman writers to describe the peoples who lived in Arabia, it came to be synonymous in the medieval mind with those of the Islamic faith, and to have negative connotations. Its first western appearance was in the seventh century in the Merovingian Chronicle of Fredegar, which refers to the Saracens as being descended from Ishmael, Abraham’s son via his wife’s maid Hagar; this is believed in Islamic tradition, as well, and shows that the Chronicle was taking some information from an accurate source. They are called both Agarenes (from Hagar), and Saracens. Medieval Christians, however, believed that the term was evidence of how the Arabs lied about themselves, desiring to be seen as children of Sarah, rather than as children of a slave, Hagar. As a label, it stuck, because it signified that they were people of a lie, and lived in deceit.

Initially, Islam was seen less as a unified religious threat to the West, and more as an impressive empire and potential military enemy. Even into the eleventh century, it was often ignored.8 However, when lands in Spain and Southern Italy began to be recovered from Islamic control through Christian military victories by the middle of that century, the idea gradually formulated that it could be possible to make similar gains of territories lost to Christianity in the Holy Land.

The concept coincided with the effects of the “Gregorian” Reform movement, a series of sweeping changes in Church structure and function which were to have repercussions for centuries. These reforms were officially begun under Pope Leo IX at the Council of Rheims in 1049, and ended during the papacy of Calixtus II at the First Lateran Council in 1123. The designation “Gregorian” derives from Pope Gregory VII (1073–85), its most enthusiastic supporter, and is now generally not used. Three of the main issues involved were the introduction of the concept of a “papal monarchy,” that is, Church unity through absolute adherence to the pope, even from the Holy Roman Emperor; the liberation of the Church from secular influence and control (a long-standing thorn in the side of Church officials); and the idea that the priesthood was separate from and superior to the laity in Christian society. All of these, of course, delivered tremendous political advantages and power to the Church.

The third issue led to the concept of the nature of Ecclesia, that is, “the Church,” being changed as well. It had first been developed by the Carolingians (eighth to tenth centuries) and was defined by the view that the emperor and the pope were the “supreme officials of two parallel hierarchies, one clerical and one lay.” The reformers altered this, assuming that Ecclesia would thereafter consist only of the clergy. The laity would have no leading role, but were still seen as a vital part of Christianitas, the Christian community. This was a clear sign of the developing new attitude; the Church and its officials wanted to remove themselves from the shackles of Imperial and secular power, while at the same time recognizing that theirs was in effect a symbiotic relationship. The Church needed the laity for many duties, even if it desired to assume more power over them. From this, new ideas developed that would allow for the papacy to achieve the powers it sought and yet not alienate the people.

The crusading movement that ended the eleventh century was one such means of achieving this aim. In fact, the notion of an armed pilgrimage was the perfect solution to the pressing social and spiritual needs of the age. It allowed for the goal of papal preeminence to be realized, united the whole of Europe against a common foe (thus ending many internal conflicts), and helped the laity feel that they were a part of the sweeping changes occurring at the time. It was not, however, a flawless or trouble-free transition. These reforming attitudes sparked off fierce debates about papal authority, absolution of oaths to secular rulers, and clerical positions being obtained through simony, among other issues. Gregory VII, in particular, was heavily criticized by some, and strongly supported by others for his many proposed changes.

The movement was tightly bound up with monasticism and the resurgence of monastic ideals that had begun in the tenth century. The Reform sought to promote monastic values, particularly celibacy, and to impose them on all of the clergy. At the same time, an identity crisis was developing in monastic communities. Many monasteries, most notably Cluny, had acquired vast amounts of wealth from generous benefactors, and in doing so had strayed away from their vows of poverty, a central feature of the monastic revival. New monastic movements began to arise, with the goal of returning to poverty and strict adherence to the Benedictine Rule.

It was from such a desire for reform that the Cistercian Order was created in the early twelfth century, its principal aim being to practice strict observance of the Rule. The Cistercians, under the spiritual leadership of Bernard of Clairvaux, were to have an enormous influence on papal policies in the twelfth century and beyond, especially in the area of crusading and the justification of violence by Christians, not only against non–Christians, but against other Christians as well. Indeed, this was arguably the most important shift in Church teaching that the Reform brought.

Another of the goals of the Reform movement went hand-in-hand with the concept of Christian unity within Europe. It sought to make friends of enemies in Europe by turning the attentions of warring factions to a common cause, namely the defense of the poor and oppressed, and of Christendom as a whole. Knights who had previously been engaged in factional and territorial disputes were now encouraged to set aside their differences and turn their swords against those who threatened Christians, first from within, and then more importantly, from without. Slowly, a theology of knighthood and war was developed and encouraged. For example, participation in the reconquest of Spain was justified on the grounds that it was in defense of Spanish Christians. However, the idea of the threat of Islam as a whole had not yet crystallized; the Moors were seen as a military and territorial threat rather than a spiritual one, a view that would soon change.

This new aggressive attitude necessarily posed a contradiction to traditional Christian thought. Indeed, well into the second half of the eleventh century, the Church viewed warfare (and the killing and maiming that came with it) as a severe sin, regardless of how legitimate it might be. It was a sin that required penance. William the Conqueror’s army, for instance, had to perform penance for the invasion of England in 1066, even though they had papal support. Despite this, Christian writings about warfare had already begun to change in the first decades of the eleventh century. Among the most important of the writers who expressed a new outlook was the Benedictine monk from Cluny, Rodulfus Glaber (ca. 980—ca. 1046), whose Historium Libri Quinque provides fascinating insight into the thought-world of the early eleventh century.

Glaber addresses the subject of war frequently, and more significantly, in the writing of Book I of his Historium, he becomes the first writer in Northern European history to discuss Islam. Glaber presents the contradiction that becomes evident in the writings of the later eleventh and twelfth centuries: the support of armed conflict in the cause of righteousness, namely the defense of Christendom, and scorn for the petty wars and rivalries that abounded among the secular knights, nobility and royalty. It is the same contradiction that Bernard of Clairvaux would employ over a century later as his prime justification for the Knights Templar.

In Book IV, for example, Glaber writes approvingly of the Peace of God movement of his time, begun at the Synod of Charroux (ca. 989), with a view to protecting pilgrims and calling a cessation to warfare at certain times of the year, entitling the opening of the section, De pace et habundantia anni millesimi a Passione Domini. In other sections, however, he gives tacit approval to the waging of war for the sake of restoring order.

Glaber’s discussion of Islam is of particular interest. Muslims are first mentioned in Book I, wherein he describes the capture of Mayol, abbot of Cluny (948–94) by the Saracens of La Garde-Freinet (near Saint-Tropez) in 971–2. In addition to the usual praises for Mayol’s sanctity and restraint that one would expect, Glaber relates a remarkable incident that is all the more unusual for its likely accuracy:

Another of the Saracens was smoothing down a piece of wood with a knife, when in his haste he placed his foot upon the man of God’s book; it was the Bible which he always carried with him. When he saw this the saintly man groaned aloud, and certain of the less ferocious Saracens who had seen the incident reprimanded their companion, saying that great prophets should not be so scorned that he should tread their words under his feet. For the Saracens read the Hebrew prophets (or rather, those of the Christians), claiming that what they foretold concerning Jesus Christ, Lord of all, is now fulfilled in the person of Muhammad, one of their people. To support them in their error, they have in their possession a genealogy of their own, similar to that found in the Gospel of St Matthew, […] But theirs says that “Ishmael beget Nebajoth,” and continues with an erroneous fiction, which in deviating from the holy catholic account, strays equally from the truth.

Glaber continues with an account of how the enraged Saracens cut off the foot of the transgressor, to teach him a lesson, and were thus inadvertently the agents of God’s vengeance. This story, while containing an understandable Christian bias and perspective, is notable for its efforts to mention the veneration of the Judeo-Christian prophets by Muslims. The account must therefore certainly be true, since it is of little use as Christian propaganda. The brutality of the punishment was effective in relaying the Saracens’ perceived savagery, but the religious context of the story shows Muslim belief to be much closer to that of Christianity than had been previously known by many. Glaber’s is a remarkably different account from those provided by his contemporaries, Odilo or Syrus, who recount the event with invective and religious propaganda in mind.

Glaber made the effort to relate other accurate and obscure facts concerning the Muslim world. For example, in his account of the destruction of the Holy Sepulcher by the mad Fatimid caliph, Al-Hakim bi-Amr Allah (996–1021), whom he refers to as the Ammirati Babilonis, the Emir of Cairo, Glaber correctly notes that his mother was a Christian woman, but incorrectly attributes the motivations that provoked the Caliph to a Jewish conspiracy. Glaber was also aware of the Aghlabid dynasty of Tunisia. The probable source for this interest and the accuracy of his accounts came from his encounter with a group of Spanish monks whom he met while he was living at Cluny in the early 1030s, dispatched by King Sancho the Great of Navarre. These monks came to the monastery of Cluny in 1032. Indeed, Glaber mentions Spain frequently in his work, such as the defeat of a certain “Motget,” most likely Mujahid ibn ‘Abdullah, king of Denia, whose loss resulted in booty being donated to Cluny.

Spain was to play a key role in the dissemination to Europe of knowledge about Islam, from the ninth to the twelfth centuries. This knowledge, however, did not coincide with a desire to understand or tolerate the Muslim faith. Glaber, for example, felt that they must be fought and exterminated as enemies of the Roman Christian faith, and in this view he was no different from the later supporters of the crusade. He was also deeply anti–Jewish in tone, blaming the destruction of the Holy Sepulcher not on the Muslim caliph, but rather on a Jewish plot. According to Glaber, the Jews were the ones who prompted the caliph to persecute Eastern Christians. He said that they claimed that a large throng of Christian pilgrims were really an army coming to attack and take Jerusalem. Given the events of the First Crusade in the late eleventh century, this fiction proved to be astonishingly prophetic.

Glaber was not interested in objective history, and despite his even-handed account of the capture of Mayol, he wanted to promote views which were in support his Church. He was hostile to Islam, Judaism, and any foreign power or ideology which might threaten the Roman Catholic Church and Western Christendom. He equally disliked Byzantium (and by extension, Eastern Orthodoxy), which he blamed for bringing its woes upon itself.30 In his description of Christian armies liberating Jerusalem, he unknowingly became a predictor of future events; in his account, the army was a lie fabricated by Jews, but it would soon become very real.

Bearing that in mind, there has been considerable debate about the extent to which Glaber’s attitudes and writings “prepared” the latter part of his century for the idea of the crusade. Indeed, many theologians looked back to his writings and drew inspiration from the notion of war being acceptable in defense of the just, but not merely for its own sake. This seemed to be an adequate solution to the problem of how Christians should approach war, though it was not a new theology. St. Augustine had commented on the subject centuries before.

Glaber’s ideas do not seem to be completely representative of the general outlook of Cluny, however. Cluny was still primarily focused on the next life, that is, on the salvation of the soul, and the retreat from the concerns of this world. It was not involved in developing theologies of war and the duty to fight infidels, though it certainly gave its support to various Spanish efforts. It would be better to say that Glaber described several movements and attitudes of his time which later churchmen drew upon to justify their policies, rather than being the impetus for those policies himself. The critical link between war and pilgrimage had not yet been made in Glaber’s time, though things were changing.

A close contemporary of Glaber’s, was Adémar of Chabannes (ca. 989–1034), a monk associated with both St. Martial and Angoulême in central and south-west France. He was an early writer to connect Islam with heresy, believing like Glaber that Hakim’s destruction of the Holy Sepulcher had been part of a Jewish-Muslim conspiracy to destroy Christendom, but adding that this was a prelude to the last days (when in reality, it may have been due to his mental state, and a desire to “prove” his Muslim faith since his mother was a Christian). Adémar was aware of Islamic monotheism, but that made him spurn the faith all the more, because it rejected Trinitarian doctrine, and thus Church teaching. While he was obsessed with this potent mixture of heresy and apocalypse, and all of the dangers they represented, Adémar was also implicated in a rather elaborate forgery. He embraced and embellished popular stories of how the historical Martial had been one of Christ’s original apostles, forging a Life of the man, purportedly written by his successor. This may have been done in the hopes of increasing pilgrimage to St. Martial abbey, and the income it would bring. Eventually, his fraud was discovered, but he persisted, going so far as to invent a Church council proclaiming the truth of Martial’s apostolic identity. Amazingly, he seems to have escaped from all of this with little punishment; the polemicist and the forger existed side-by-side. He does stand as a remarkable early example of a Christian writer who understood Islam to be different than a pagan religion, but his concern was combating this heresy, not war or pilgrimage.

A few decades later, in 1053, Pope Leo IX made an unusual offer to German soldiers fighting under his command. If they would do battle against the Normans of southern Italy, he would grant them absolution for their sins. This was not a pilgrimage, but the experiences of actual pilgrims journeying to the Holy Land were beginning to foreshadow later events.

Indeed, an important episode in the history of eleventh-century pilgrimage can be found in an incident in 1065 involving a bishop named Gunther of Bamberg, who was traveling with a very large group of German pilgrims to the Holy Land. The group had faced harassment from the Turks at various points, at least according to the chronicler Lambert, of the abbey of Hersfeld near Thuringia, who wrote of the pilgrimage sometime after 1077. The affair shows an open hostility towards Muslims on the part of the pilgrims, and in this particular case, a willingness to depart from the normal pilgrim practice of non-violence. Despite its confrontational nature, it almost borders on the comic. There are different versions of events, of course, no doubt embellished like any good story. Lambert records a skirmish wherein the pilgrims were attacked by a group of Turkish marauders (probably Seljuks looking for a fight with the Egyptian Fatimids, testing their weaknesses, and such), and took refuge behind the walls of an old town near Rama in Palestine on Good Friday. For three days they held out against assault, and managed to take some prisoners, but they were low on supplies and were fast losing strength. They decided to buy their way out of it, and invited some of the Turkish soldiers in to discuss the matter, but the Turks had no intention of letting the pilgrims escape with their lives. Once inside, a skirmish broke out, and in the midst of it, an unusual event occurred:

During the fighting, one of the Saracen leaders seized the piece of cloth which he wore around his head after the custom of his race, and made it into a lasso which he threw around Bishop Gunther’s neck. The bishop was not prepared to put up with such a disgrace and gave his assailant a hefty blow in the face which sent him sprawling to the ground. As the man fell, the bishop shouted at him that he would pay him back for his impiety in having the audacity to raise his unclean, idolatrous hands against a priest of Christ.

This unexpected action inspired the rest of the Christians, who immediately seized the attacker and bound him tightly, and then fell upon the others and did the same. They threatened to kill them if the Turkish forces did not retreat, which they were now obliged to do, following the intervention of a small Egyptian Fatimid army (the enemies of the besiegers), who set to fighting them. After this, the pilgrims were able to continue their journey to Jerusalem.

This remarkable episode shows the readiness with which Christians were willing to use force to defend themselves, an action which by the strict Christian teaching contained in the Sermon on the Mount, was forbidden. Yet the monk Lambert extols them for their heroism, and at Jerusalem he records that they gave thanks to God for the victory and safe journey. There is no hint of repentance for the use of force here, or that their actions violated Christian teachings about non-violence. Furthermore, Lambert noted that Gunther “was a man of high moral and spiritual standing and well-endowed with worldly goods.”

This is an astonishing change of thought regarding the idea of pilgrimage. It was obvious that pilgrims anywhere, whether to Santiago, Rome, or Jerusalem, faced dangers from bandits, highwaymen, and other foes. The Church had sought to minimize this when it declared times of peace within Europe, but obviously that would have no bearing on the lands in the East, or on the criminally-minded. Indeed, the need to protect pilgrims would be offered as the chief reason for the creation of the Knights Templar in the early twelfth century.

Christians, Muslims and Conflicts Up to the First Crusade Part II

However, such an institution did not exist at this time, and there were no strict guidelines for the protection of pilgrims. The way to the holy city had become easier at the beginning of the eleventh century. With victories over pagans in Hungary, Stephen I had set himself up as that land’s first Christian king, and had opened the way for Western Europeans to attempt the long and arduous journey; it was not necessarily easier, but it was at least somewhat safer. The fact that this had occurred at the time of the first millennium was not lost on those who undertook the pilgrimage. Regardless of the hazards of travel, pilgrims were not expected to engage in armed resistance themselves, and this was especially true for the clergy. If this story is to be believed, Gunther’s act of desperation, the response of anyone in a life-threatening situation, served to inspire his fellow pilgrims to an unexpected level of aggression and violence. Lambert records that they bound their captives so tightly that blood burst from their fingernails, and that they threatened them all with decapitation, swords being held over their heads. If true, this episode shows how quickly those weakened by thirst, hunger, and fear can resort to violent acts in the name of self-preservation. Later aggressions were often preceded by just such a “miracle,” which would rouse the sagging morale of a group of pilgrims or crusaders, and inspire them to use their remaining strength to inflict a terrible retribution on their assailants. The violence would then be justified as the will of God. It was a situation that was to be repeated time and time again over the long history of the crusades.

The spontaneous quality of the whole affair is not completely convincing. One can note with suspicion that the effect of Gunther’s bravery was a bit too inspiring. Given how quickly the party of pilgrims was roused and carried out his orders for a counter-attack, it has the air of something planned in advance, and not just an act of faith in desperation. Was this move conceived beforehand by the desperate bishop to look like a moment of divine inspiration, needing only the proper provocation from his captors? If so, it succeeded remarkably well. We cannot know for sure, but such a scenario makes sense in view of the dangerous circumstances. Despite claims of divine support, it may just have been a daring gamble that paid off.

Regardless of the truth, this little episode showed that relations between the two faiths were becoming increasingly hostile, the Fatimid rescue notwithstanding. Indeed, the pilgrims were not grateful to them, viewing it merely as Satan defeating Satan. Christians were growing far less tolerant of Islam and the Islamic presence in the Holy Land. This may even have sprung from the Reform’s new ideas about Christian unity. It is easy to see from such actions how an aggressive, military attitude toward Islam was developing.

The most dramatic changes in this attitude came during the papacy of Gregory VII. He made use of Christ’s words, compelle intrare (“compel them to enter,” found in the Augustinian theology of just war and acceptable killing, and developed later by Pope Gregory I) to justify conversion to Christianity by force, if necessary, in order to secure the peace. Gregory stated that the militia Christi, previously defined as the community of monks engaged in spiritual battle with the devil (and which would always take priority, regardless of changes), could also include the militia secularis, the knights who fought with weapons, a concept previously unthinkable.

Nevertheless, prominent theologians such as the Italian Peter Damian (1007–72) rejected all war, allowing for no justification, regardless of the circumstances. Though an associate of Gregory VII, a Benedictine monk, a cardinal, and otherwise a supporter of the Reform, Damian denounced the use of force in relation to the conversion of non–Christians.

If such opposition existed, what then was the official Church policy? It is important here to discuss briefly the issue of canon law and the precedents for just war as set forth by the early Church writers such as Augustine. One standard view on the Church’s perceived change in policy was argued by Carl Erdmann in 1935, in his classic Die Entstehung des Kreuzzugsgedankens. This work, though dated, is a key reference. Erdmann saw a fundamental shift in Church thought, one that involved the modifying of canon law to suit the new ideas being discussed. Essentially, Augustinian theology was reworked and interpreted in the eleventh century to suit the concept of the holy war against the infidel.

Decades later, however, this notion was challenged.There were many objections, and various scholarly efforts have dispelled some popular notions about the changes that took place in theological thought in the eleventh century. Augustinian influence in the formulation of the crusading idea was not a given; in actuality, Augustine’s doctrine of conversion denounced the use of violence and was thus in opposition to the attitude being developed by crusading advocates. Nowhere in canonical literature is there mention of the Augustinian doctrine in support of crusading. In fact, canon law collections remain curiously silent about the crusades until the thirteenth century, and say nothing about the usual components of the crusade.54 So, there was a conflict between what the Church was beginning to preach, and what it held to in its own law books. Canon law still adhered to the older teachings regarding just war, and did not incorporate the newer ideas. And yet despite all of this, Augustinian concepts of just war certainly had a popular influence on crusading thought, even if the law did not specifically mention them.

Gilchrist argues that Augustine’s original intentions regarding conversion tended to be followed and this had little, if anything, to do with the crusading movement. His doctrine allowed for the use of violence, but it was still grounded in a notion of love, something that we might find curious and contradictory today. Indeed, his writings were the most important of those studied on the subject of war during the time of the First Crusade, so naturally, his ideas would appear in later commentary. However, Augustine was primarily concerned with heresies and schisms, and applied his notion of loving violence to them. For him, keeping the Church unified was of prime importance, in a time when breakaway sects were common.

The fact is that Gregory VII did employ the phrase compelle intrare, which was first commented on at length by Augustine, and reappeared many times throughout Christian history in different situations. Gregory was surely aware of the context within which Augustine had used the phrase, namely the forceful conversion of heretics (the Donatists in this case, who denied the validity of sacraments administered by priests who had renounced their faith under persecution, and later recanted and were reinstated). The fact that compulsion was to be undertaken with “love” for the misguided soul, and by avoiding violence if possible, did not prevent Gregory from using it. There was not only one method of interpretation of canonical texts. That the official interpretation of the phrase remained did not preclude other interpretations from being made, particularly in view of such radical ideas as an armed expedition to the East, one led by the pope. This was surely a concept never envisioned by Augustine, and while Gregory’s plans were not the same as those of the crusade preached twenty years later, they did have an influence and effect on the theological thought of the 1090s. Thus, while Augustine could not be invoked as a direct advocate of a military expedition for the purpose of conversion (which in the reality of the crusades rarely occurred anyway), the spirit of the just war must surely have been in the minds of those who formulated the plans for the First Crusade. Put simply, some supported the new ideas and others opposed them.

In addition, one can question Gilchrist’s argument, since it refers to the formative years of the crusading idea, specifically the latter part of the eleventh century, though he frequently brings in other accounts and writers from the first part of the twelfth century. Even if the focus is mainly on events prior to and including Clermont, it neglects to mention a point about Christian/Islamic relations, in the years before and after the First Crusade: certain western Christians increasingly regarded Islam as a Christian heresy (or at least a mixture of heresy and paganism), as faint understandings about Muslim belief filtered into European circles. Indeed, as we have seen, this perception began well before the later 1090s, among a small group of learned theologians and writers, including Gregory VII. Alberto Ferreiro notes, “whereas in earlier Middle Ages heresiologists defined Islam as pagan, in the high Middle Ages the prevailing opinion emerged that it was instead a heresy […] medieval writers were intent on demonstrating the heretical nature of Islamic doctrines and the perversity of Islamic morality.”

The perception of heresy as a grave danger in the Western Church seemed for many centuries to be of little concern following the demise of Arianism, a heretical movement from the fourth century which held that Christ had not always existed, but had been created by God. It had a wide-spread following, but died out by the seventh century. Later, Islam would be likened not only to Simon Magus’ trickery (discussed below), but also to Arian beliefs, for its rejection of the divinity of Christ. Certainly religious texts between the fifth and tenth centuries have little to say on the matter, being more focused on disagreements of doctrine. Glaber brought the issue to light again in the eleventh century, and from that time, it continued to grow, even coinciding with the Reform movement, and becoming an integral part of its objective to purify the Church.

It is very interesting to note that Church concern about the spread of heresy among the common people seems to have taken on new force in the eleventh and twelfth centuries, but before that, it was less worrying, and this is not just due to a paucity of surviving sources. Indeed, in 1002, Burchard of Worms put together a collection of ecclesiastical law, the most comprehensive yet assembled to that date. He included no provisions for dealing with heresy, and did not even discuss how to address it in the popular sense; there is no mention of it even being a problem. The reasons that concern about the spread of heretical ideas seem to become more prominent from this point onward are not completely clear.

Heresies in the eleventh century were often popular movements among the illiterate, who sought a life of complete simplicity, adhering to the Gospels without attaching importance to Church teachings or sacraments. Indeed, the sacraments were often denounced and considered unnecessary for true salvation. Other beliefs might include denial of the virgin birth of Christ, or his divinity, or the veneration of the cross. In these more particular aspects, one sees how Christian perceptions of Islam began to focus on accusations of heresy as well, since certain Islamic tenets seemed to have much in common with the beliefs of heretical movements.

Around the year 1100, a writer named Embrico of Mainz (about whom nothing is known) wrote the Vita Mahumeti, based on earlier Byzantine accounts. It is one of the earliest lives of Muhammad in Latin, and goes to great lengths to link Muhammad with the Antichrist, via the hated figure of Simon Magus, the arch-heretic of classical Christian lore. An apocryphal account (though widely believed) told that Simon Magus, after performing many false miracles with demonic help, challenged St. Peter and failed, falling to his death when the invisible demons carrying him (allowing him to falsely proclaim he could fly) were overcome by Peter’s prayer. Embrico embellished the story to have “the Magus” act as a mentor to Muhammad, who fell under his spell and never recovered (the mingling of conflicting timelines was common feature of medieval writing). Indeed, the legend of Muhammad’s nighttime flight to Jerusalem was seen as proof of the diabolical, since flight was long associated with demonic help (and would later be invoked in the condemnation of witches’ supposed aerial activities). Magus and Muhammad thus conspired to deceive the masses. By associating them, Embrico put Muhammad in the same company as all past heretics. While both heretics and pagans were approached by missionaries, views about the two were different; heretics could be seen as having had the truth but having fallen into error, while pagans had never known the truth.

Gregory VII probably embodied an early example of this shifting attitude. He, along with abbot Hugh of Cluny, was known to be eager to convert the Muslim ruler of Saragossa, Ahmad al-Muqtadir (1046–81), and the Spanish Muslims of the region. It seems that the word used for these attempts at conversion was “repentance,” which certainly implies a falling away from the truth, in the manner of a heretic. There may also have been a fear that if al-Muqtadir were to accept Christianity, he might adopt the Mozarabic rite (a form of liturgy used by Spanish Christians, many under Muslim rule; their first language was often Arabic), rather than the Gregorian, and so there was a desire to persuade him into joining the latter.

A remarkable letter from Gregory VII was addressed in 1076 to “Anzir,” or An-Nasir ibn Alnas, the Hammadid ruler of Maghreb (Western North Africa) from 1062–88 or 89. This conciliatory missive is among the earliest surviving missionary-style communications between a pope and a Muslim ruler. It is a response to actions of friendship on the part of ibn Alnas, along with a promise to send papal messengers to his court. Gregory acknowledges that they both serve the same God:

This affection we and you owe to each other in a more peculiar way than to people of other races because we worship and confess the same God though in diverse forms and daily praise and adore him as the creator and ruler of this world. For, in the words of the Apostle, “He is our peace who hath made both one.”

[…] For God knows our true regard for you […] and how earnestly we pray both with our lips and with our heart that God himself, after the long journey of this life, may lead you into the bosom of the most holy patriarch Abraham.

Regardless of the intention behind the letter, this is not the language that would be used to address a polytheistic pagan. Though knowledge of Islam was still limited at this time, there is nevertheless clear evidence in these statements that, at least in the immediate papal sphere of influence, the knowledge existed that Christians and Muslims worshipped the same deity, and that there was a desire to show Muslims their error. This exact sentiment would be reflected, at least in words, in the translation project of Peter the Venerable more than sixty years later.

Another notable letter from Gregory is his address “to all the faithful,” dated 1084. This work is concerned about the threats to Christianity, from other nations, who do not let Christians practice freely. This could refer to the Turkish situation in the Holy Land, though he does not say so specifically. He specifically notes, however, that the rulers of these lands practice heresy, and seek to spread it.

He then makes an important distinction. Having addressed the issue of heretics, he laments that the Christian faith has fallen, that the Church fathers are no longer honored, and are now a laughing-stock, not only to the devil, but also to Jews, Saracens, and pagans, who at least observe their own laws. Jews and Muslims are classified as something different from pagans here, though he does not indicate that one group is better than another, but rather that none of their laws can save their souls. Again, these are views that would be shared by Peter the Venerable, and the anti–Islamic polemicists of the thirteenth century.

Christians, Muslims and Conflicts Up to the First Crusade Part III

Saint Augustine (354-430) is one of the most influential thinkers of the Western World. His answers to life’s profound questions shaped Western civilization to an unparalleled degree.

Though the popular imagination continued to associate Islam with polytheism, we have seen that some writers and theologians were aware that this was not the case. Indeed, Glaber’s account proves that in at least some monastic circles in the early eleventh century, Muslim veneration of the Hebrew prophets and of Jesus was already known to be a fact. That some writers continued to distinguish between the heretics within Christendom and Muslims, whom they branded as pagans, does not detract from this.

In the 1140s, the abbot of Cluny, Peter the Venerable, made a detailed study of Islam, and implored Bernard of Clairvaux to write against the Muslims. His principal concern was that Islam was a heresy that was threatening the unity of the Church. In view of Peter’s concerns, one cannot then suppose that Augustinian ideas simply had no influence on crusading thought, officially or otherwise. If Islam could be regarded as a Christian heresy, then the forced conversion doctrine could be applied to it as well. Whether Peter intended this has been the subject of much debate.

The arguments for and against the use of armed force in the conversion of non-believers, whether “heretics” or “pagans” might have remained forever in the realm of theological speculation, had not a momentous event occurred in 1071. In that year, Jerusalem was wrested from Arab control by the aggressive Turks, specifically by an adventurer named Atsiz ibn-Abaq, a vassal to the Seljuk Sultan Alp Arslan. They adhered to a more strict and orthodox form of Sunni Islam, and so the political climate of the Middle East took a drastic change. There were power struggles for several years after this incident; at one point the Egyptian Fatimids (members of the rival Shi’a sect) succeeded in retaking the city from Atsiz for a short time in 1075. It would be wrong to focus on this incident as the major turning point in Christian relations with the East. Hostilities abounded previously (the incident with Bishop Gunther, for example). However, this Turkish invasion served as a new focal point for Christian indignation and retaliation.

The route for Christian pilgrims now became even more dangerous than before, owing to increased Turkish hostility towards the Christians. The previous Arab inhabitants of Jerusalem had often allowed Christian pilgrims to come and go without much hindrance (the destruction of the Holy Sepulcher notwithstanding), but the new Turkish rulers were not always so favorably inclined, though this may have been due as much to Christian perceptions and prejudices as to any real threat.74 Nevertheless, with so many political and military power struggles between rival Muslim factions, there was bound to be danger to travelers. With the rising threat of Turkish power, Anatolia was now a very dangerous route for a pilgrim to traverse, but it was the only overland route by which they could realistically travel. Indeed, it could only be undertaken by armed escort, owing to the frequent hostile flare-ups in the area. Once in the Middle East proper, Syria was no better. Both regions were plagued with bandits and petty local lords who imposed high levies and tolls. Pilgrims that did manage to make it safely to the Holy Land and back returned with many a harsh tale about their miseries.

With a major pilgrimage route believed to be in danger, a new form of remissio peccatorum began to take shape. Options for the remission of sin included becoming a monk, endowing a monastery, or going on a pilgrimage. The choice of a pilgrimage had traditionally involved the abandonment of all other activities until the pilgrimage was complete, for some a virtually impossible task. The notion of liberating Jerusalem from hostile Muslim hands presented what must have been seen as the perfect solution. It was an option particularly attractive to the knight. He had the opportunity to receive penance for his violent behavior through the exercising of his very reason for being, his martial skills.

It would not be until the 1090s, however, that this connection was fully made, for while Gregory VII was an enthusiastic supporter of an armed venture to liberate the Holy Land from Turkish/Muslim control, he does not seem to have conceived of the combination of a military campaign and a pilgrimage. Nevertheless, much of his correspondence addresses the issue of an armed expedition, and he implores his audiences to be receptive to his ideas. In his letter to “all Christians,” dated March 1, 1074, he states:

[…] we have learned that a people of the pagans have been pressing hard upon the Christian empire, have cruelly laid waste the country almost to the walls of Constantinople and slaughtered like sheep many thousand Christians.

[…] Be it known, therefore, that we […] are preparing in every possible way to carry aid to the Christian empire as soon as may be, with God’s help. We adjure you […] willingly to offer your powerful aid to your brethren in the name of Christ.

Note here that he refers to the enemies as “pagans” when he would soon praise a Muslim ruler in North Africa for being devoted to the same God, but in a different manner. This was the start of a series of missives regarding his conviction to do something about the Turkish situation. Passing reference is made to the venture in a letter addressed to King Philip I of France concerning the church of Beauvais, and at the conclusion of a letter to William, Count of Poitou and Duke of Aquitaine, concerning the annulment of his marriage to Hildegard, daughter of King Robert of Burgundy. He praises William for his willingness to offer military support for Gregory’s venture, but then informs him that at that time, good news had arrived and the Christians had succeeded in driving the Turks back:

Your assurance of readiness to act in the service of St. Peter was very welcome to us, but it has not seemed best to write you anything definite at present concerning an expedition, because the report is that the Christians beyond the seas have, by God’s help, driven back the fierce assault of the pagans, and we are waiting for the counsel of divine Providence as to our future course.

This temporary cessation did not last long, however, and by December, Gregory was once again making plans for a full-scale expedition to the east. He wrote to the Holy Roman Emperor, Henry IV, putting forth his plans in greater detail:

Further, I call to your attention that the Christians beyond the seas, a great part of whom are being destroyed by the heathen with unheard-of slaughter and are daily being slain like so many sheep, have humbly sent to beg me to succor these our brethren in whatever ways I can, that the religion of Christ may not utterly perish in our time […]

I […] have succeeded in arousing certain Christian men so that they are eager to risk their lives for their brethren in defense of the law of Christ and to show forth more clearly than the day the nobility of the sons of God. This summons has been readily accepted by Italians and northerners, by divine inspiration as I believe—nay as I can absolutely assure you—and already fifty thousand men are preparing, if they can have me for their leader and prelate, to take up arms against the enemies of God and push forward even to the sepulcher of the Lord under his supreme leadership.

There follows a section wherein Gregory discusses the rift between the Eastern and the Western Churches, the recent filioque controversy in the Nicene Creed no doubt still in his mind. The two churches were clearly at odds, and Gregory appears here to be hinting at the chance to reclaim some of the East for the Catholic faith. Indeed, his predecessor, Leo IX, had expressed a desire for a renewal of good ties between West and East, even if he preferred to refer to Rome and Constantinople as “mother” and “daughter” respectively, a designation of which the Greeks would hardly have approved.

He wrote a letter to Countess Matilda of Tuscany on 16 December of 1074 with a similar theme:

There are some whom I blush to tell, lest I should seem to be led by a mere fancy, how firmly my mind and heart are set upon crossing the sea in order that, by Christ’s favor, I may bring help to the Christians who are being slaughtered by the heathen like cattle.

[…] Now, I believe that many knights support us in such a task, also that our empress herself [Agnes of Poitou, widow of Henry III, mother of Henry IV] desires to come with us to distant parts and to bring you with her […]

We can see that Gregory was the first to propose an armed religious expedition, and he actually offered to lead it himself. This was remarkable; the idea that a pope could command an army had until this time been unthinkable. Regardless, even with Gregory’s plans to travel as far as Jerusalem, the idea of mixing a pilgrimage with war was probably not something that he envisioned. In fact, despite the reported 50,000 men waiting to make the journey (certainly an exaggeration), nothing came of these bold plans.

There are several reasons for this, most of which are due to the complex political situations involving the Normans and Byzantine claims to western lands. In 1074, Gregory had found himself embroiled in a battle of wills with the Norman Robert Guiscard, an adventurer-turned-noble, and Gregory had sought to raise forces against him, which would then proceed to the east in the quest to liberate it from Turkish control. This plan fell apart, and Gregory temporarily abandoned his hopes, though they were rekindled later in the year and into 1075, only to be dashed again, the second time mainly by a lack of interest. His disappointment and disgust are evident in a letter written to Abbot Hugh of Cluny on 22 January 1075, wherein he decries the lack of faith in God, and that men seek only their own glory, while even the Italians proved themselves to be worse than the pagans and heretics, and the devil has his way.

Within a year of his proclamations of armed expedition, Gregory was burdened with a problem much closer to home, the Investiture Contest, one of the principal side effects of the Reform movement, the great struggle between the Holy Roman Empire and the papacy. In short, the debate raged about whether the Holy Roman Emperor could appoint his own loyal bishops, and even influence the selection of popes. The emperor thought yes, the Church maintained that this duty was relegated to it alone by God. It would not be fully resolved (in the Church’s favor) until 1122.

Gregory’s plans had been important, however. It was the first time that the notion of a Christian holy war to the East, with papal sanction, had been seriously considered. Further, although it was initially conceived to give support to Byzantium (an idea with mixed support at best), Gregory clearly entertained the idea of sending the mission all the way to Jerusalem, thus planting the seed of the idea of a war and pilgrimage combined together. As for the effect this was about to have on Christian/Islamic relations, a pilgrimage with a military element would be the instigation of a new holy war.

Gregory never abandoned the idea, however, and in the early 1080s, he summoned Anselm of Baggio, Bishop of Lucca, to Rome to write on the Church’s right to wage war. In Book XIII of his collection of canonical texts (written at Gregory’s request), he included many ideas which justified the use of violence when willed by God, stressing that it was the intention of the warrior that mattered, and that fighting could be just if engaged in with “goodwill.” Indeed, many of these statements would be found again in Bernard of Clairvaux’s justification for the Knights Templar forty years later.91 In another work, De caritate, Anselm went so far as to proclaim that the use of violence for holy ends could be seen as an act of charity.

Significantly, he was also a supporter of the idea of the Church itself having the authority to use force, without the need to rely on secular permission or enforcement. Such thinking was very near that which was to be espoused by the supporters of the crusade.

The issue of Christian violence as an act of love and charity may seem very odd to the modern reader, but it formed a significant part of what was to become the theology of crusading, and it deserves to be discussed in more detail here. Actions taken to correct a wrong were legitimate in Christian teaching. St. Augustine had commented at length on the use of corrective force for a greater good. While he was not specifically referring to war, his comments were adapted to suit the situations of the eleventh and twelfth centuries. Further, since he also discussed the forced conversion of the Manichaeans in this context (a gnostic dualist faith that Augustine himself had been a member of, until his conversion in 387), it was only logical to transfer the same line of thinking to the Muslims. In his extended commentary on the Sermon on the Mount, he states:

A punishment that is designed for the purpose of correction is not hereby forbidden; for that very punishment is an exercise of mercy, and is not incompatible with the firm resolve by which we are ready to suffer even further injuries from a man whose amendment we desire. But no one is fit for the task of inflicting such punishment unless—by the greatness of his love—he has overcome the hate by which those who seek to avenge themselves are usually enraged.

In the twelfth century, Bernard of Clairvaux would echo these words in describing the virtues of the Knights Templar. Essentially, the Christian soldier who divorced himself from hateful intent potentially had the moral authority to inflict punishment and commit violence for the greater good. Augustine continues with the view that the right to commit such acts must come from God:

Nevertheless, noble and saintly men inflicted death as a punishment for many sins, although they knew well that no one ought to fear the death which separates soul and body. But they were acting in conformity with the sentiment of those who do fear it, so that the living would be struck with salutary fear. Those who were put to death did not suffer injury from death itself; rather, they were suffering injury from sin, and it might have become worse if they had continued to live. This authority was not exercised rashly by those to whom God had committed it.

The influence that such a passage would have had in the formulation of the new martial ethic of the Church can clearly be seen. Perhaps the most significant statement was to be found in Augustine’s City of God, chapter 21:

The same divine law which forbids the killing of a human being allows certain exceptions, as when God authorizes killing by a general law or when He gives explicit commission to an individual for a limited time. Since the agent of authority is but a sword in the hand, and is not responsible for the killing, it is in no way contrary to the commandment, “Thou shalt not kill,” to wage war at God’s bidding, or for the representatives of the State’s authority to put criminals to death, according to law or the rule of rational justice.

While such teachings had been a part of the Church since the time of the fathers, it took the innovations of the eleventh century to adapt them to the situations that Christians faced about the status of Jerusalem and the perceived threat of Islam. Islam, of course, did not exist in Augustine’s time, but this was not an obstacle to the theologians seeking support for crusading.

An important French canonist who continued the thought of Anselm of Lucca was Ivo of Chartres (ca. 1040–1115), who in 1094, shortly before the Council of Clermont (wherein Urban II proclaimed the First Crusade), wrote his Decretum and Panormia. These works contained considerable speculation on the nature of Christian violence and justifiable war, and their relationship to love. In commenting on Augustine, he declared that a war fought by Christians was for the purpose of creating peace, and thus was an acceptable act; it had as its aim a higher good. Those who would punish evil were not persecuting their foes, but in fact loving them, and he distinguished, as Bernard of Clairvaux would, between war for its own sake and for a just cause. Indeed, Christopher Tyerman notes that by his writings, “Augustine had moved the justification of violence from lawbooks to liturgies, from the secular to the religious. His lack of definition in merging holy and just war […] produced a convenient conceptual plasticity that characterized subsequent Christian attitudes to war.”

The concept of Church-sanctioned, holy violence found its full flowering in the First Crusade, preached by Pope Urban II in 1095. In March of 1095, at the Council of Piacenza, ambassadors from the Byzantine Emperor Alexios I Komnenos arrived with an appeal for aid against continuing incursions by the Seljuk Turks. The emperor hoped for some military reinforcements, but what he received was beyond his imagination. Urban’s response at the Council of Clermont in November of that year was to call for a full-scale armed assault on the East. He presented the crusade as a pilgrimage to worship at Jerusalem. However, it was an armed pilgrimage; remission of sins was gained because one was armed, which, for a pilgrim, had been forbidden. This was a ground-breaking move; there was no precedent for such an attitude, regardless of previous Church support for armed campaigns against Muslims in Spain. There, the Church had given its endorsement to the continuing efforts of the reconquista, even offering remission of sins for those who perished fighting Islam on Spain’s soil. The difference was that there was not yet the link with pilgrimage that characterized the whole of the crusading movement for the next 200 years and beyond. The reconquest of Spain was principally a military exercise, not an opportunity for pilgrimage.

Christians, Muslims and Conflicts Up to the First Crusade Part IV

Indeed, medieval writers referred to crusaders and pilgrims with exactly the same word, peregrinus. As a result, it is not always clear whether the individual described in a given manuscript account is on crusade, or whether he is a traditional, non-armed pilgrim.

The reason for the novelty lay in its unique fusion, because, “its whole point seems to be rather that pilgrimage and war are fused together with the deliberate emphasis that remission of penance is not the automatic reward for waging this war, but that only he qualifies who ‘pro sola devotione, non pro honoris vel pecuniae adeptione, ad liberandam ecclesiam Dei Hierusalem profectus fuerit.’ The moral discipline associated with pilgrimage is written into the qualification […].” In other words, devotion to the crusade as its own reward, and not to gain riches or honor, was the method by which salvation was attained. There is a clear distinction between war for its own sake and the necessity to complete the pilgrimage. The remission is gained for completing the pilgrimage; the fighting necessary to this end is not the means by which salvation is gained, but rather a useful tool. The intention must not be for personal glory, but rather only to glorify God and Christ. Once again, this was a theme which was to be invoked by Bernard of Clairvaux in his support of the Knights Templar.

Therefore, the crusade was a new idea, and perhaps Urban felt the need to keep the concept out of the traditional boundaries of Church law. He was in uncharted territory with his proposals, and could have been unsure of how they would be received. It is not surprising therefore, that no attempt was made immediately to fit the idea of armed pilgrimage into existing Church statutes. However, at about the same time, an encyclical was circulating, purporting to be from Pope Sergius IV (d. 1012), calling for the expulsion of the Muslims from Jerusalem for Caliph Hakim’s crime of the Holy Sepulcher’s destruction. The general consensus is that this document is a forgery, and was probably created for the purpose of giving Urban some historical precedent for his proposal. It provides a prime example of how history was being manipulated to bring the new theology in line with existing beliefs.

Was the Holy Sepulcher the main goal? Erdmann put forth the argument that Pope Urban II’s principal concern was aid to Byzantium and Alexios I, with the hope that such a venture would allow for the possibility of reuniting the Church (i.e., extending Latin rule in the East). E. O. Blake has asked if Urban’s intention was “not to convert the military venture into a pilgrimage, but merely to divert the benefits of pilgrimage to reward an act of war?”

This is a possibility, and may have some truth, but it is also reliant on Erdmann’s thesis of the crusade just being the logical extension of just war theology. Erdmann adheres to the idea that the crusade was primarily about the practice of “legitimate” war, whereas later writers have argued that canon law was not invoked in crusading literature, and therefore the pilgrimage theme must be given more attention. Most likely, however, Urban held Jerusalem to be an important component of the expedition, and probably the primary reason. Baldric of Bourgueil recorded that Urban made use of Psalm 78:1–4 as part of his justification for the taking up of arms, since it proclaims that the heathen had defiled the holy places. Indeed, with Jerusalem as the main goal, the whole idea could be more related to such areas as theology and apocalypticism, rather than simply just war.

While the general assumption is that Alexios’ letter was the principal spur to the crusade, Andrew Jotischky has recently suggested that pleas from the Jerusalem church may have played a role. Indeed, stories about the popular preacher Peter the Hermit (whom we shall meet presently) said that he was in possession of just such a plea, and that this was what gave rise to the whole crusade. This is an exaggeration, but contacts between Jerusalem and the West had been ongoing, and reports of turmoil and difficulties between Eastern Christians and various Muslim rulers (not just Hakim) had existed for centuries.

Regardless of the ultimate aim, the idea became very popular. Part of the appeal of Urban’s new proposition was because it was in the form of a sermon. Odd as this may sound, the growing popularity of sermons outside of the monastic community was certainly a factor in Urban’s favor. Prior to the eleventh century, preaching was largely a monastic practice, and the focus of such sermons was on the patristic texts and scriptural exegesis. There was a good amount of theological contemplation, aimed at directing the minds of the monks toward heaven and spiritual concerns. Before the twelfth century, there was no real effort to bring such elevated spiritual ideas to the common people; indeed, it may have been only periodic. For example, the Council of Clovesho in 747 recommended preaching on Sundays, but did not require it as a part of the mass. In any case, it was assumed that the laity was not educated and intelligent enough to understand the complex ideas that monastic thinkers pondered. Instead, sermons were to concentrate on such topics as instruction in the faith, the meaning of the Creed, and how to be a good Christian.

However, by the time of the Reform, there had appeared a new phenomenon, or at least a surge in popularity of an old one: the itinerant preacher. As the Reform movement took hold, there began to appear a large number of itinerant and lay preachers (particularly in France), who had no formal training or Church affiliation. These individuals most often called on the laity to adopt a life of poverty and humility, imitating Christ, and were wanderers who were often rough in appearance and hygiene, but their messages resonated with lay audiences far and wide. They had an immediate appeal, being commoners like those they preached to, far different from the distant, upper-class Church officials.

The chicken-and-egg question is, of course, whether they generated the popular spiritual movements, or were responding to them. This cannot be answered with certainty, but there is no doubt that their words were well-received by many. Such a situation could not help but pose serious challenges for those officials within the Church, especially as many of these preachers did not extoll the formal Church structures as the way to salvation. Given this popular yearning for spiritual meaning, Urban’s Clermont sermon must have had tremendous power, being addressed not only to clergy, nobles, and knights, but to the common people, as well.

The Clermont sermon was an inspired work, for it answered the spiritual needs of the laity by including them in its preaching. Here was a sermon from the pope himself, and one that spoke to all Christians, not just the privileged few. Urban must have been aware of the effect that his words would have; indeed, he meant to reach the people in just the way that he did. It may have even been a kind of official response to the popular preachers, one which gave the people hope in the same manner that the words of the wanderers did, but one with papal authority.

There were unexpected and unfortunate events concerning one of those wanderers, Peter of Amiens, a priest known as the Hermit, who preached his own brand of the crusade. Peter was one of those “eccentric, unkempt” individuals, who exerted a strong charisma despite (or perhaps because of) his unwashed state, and he obtained many followers on his disastrous journey to the East in 1096. Whether or not he carried a plea for help from Jerusalem’s patriarch, his was the dark side of popular religious fervor. It led to some of his followers slaughtering groups of Jews living in the Rhineland, under the assumption that it was just as easy to kill the “enemies of God” near to home as to journey all the way to far-off Jerusalem. His vision of crusading differed dramatically from that of Urban’s, “as unlike as reasonably clean water and a muddy pool covered with weeds.” Thousands followed Peter as far as Constantinople, where the Emperor Alexios, eager to be rid of them, arranged for their transport into Turkish territory. He told them to wait for him to send guards as an escort, but they set off, thus sealing their fate. Shortly afterward, they were massacred by the Turks. Peter had escaped and returned to Constantinople with few followers left, but he remained a part of the crusade, and was given much credit for his later involvement by contemporary chroniclers.

In spite of such a tragic and even embarrassing setback, preparations for the true crusade continued, and the idea spread very quickly throughout Europe. The notion of holy and just war gained popularity rapidly, and seemed to answer some great spiritual need of the common people, with its promise of liberation of the sacred sites, and remission of all sins.

Indeed, the idea of the crusaders engaged in the imitatio Christi, imitating the life of Christ, seems to have taken hold and been popular. William Purkis focuses on the imitation of Christ’s life and passion as a major motivating force for those first crusaders. The idea of “taking the cross,” that is, the sewing of a cloth cross onto one’s clothing as a symbol of one’s crusading vow, could be compared to the act of Christ shouldering his own cross on his final walk to Calvary: a heavy burden that led to an eternal reward. This was seen as a living embodiment of Christ’s admonition in Matthew 16:24 that all who would come after him must take up their crosses and follow him. The crusaders were abandoning their homes and families, as Christ had commanded, to answer a higher calling. Upon reaching Jerusalem, they would literally be walking in the footsteps of Christ. Those that did so and died in this holy endeavor could be seen as martyrs. Even the ranks of the crusaders were seen in terms of the followers of Christ, with accounts that some contingents were numbered at 12 (the number of the apostles), that those who abandoned the crusade were akin to Judas, among other comparisons.

The adversary that they would face was the quintessential enemy. Though the people knew little or nothing about Islam, Urban and his successors had succeeded in defining it as the greatest of all threats. Over time, the term Saracen would designate all of the enemies of Christendom, and their supposed practices would be assigned to all such enemies. In a ridiculous example, a twelfth-century English monk mentioned that the pagan Saxons worshipped “maumets,” a reference to Muhammad and the belief that Muslims worshipped him. Islam was thus antithetical to Christianity; it was everything that Christians were not, or perhaps that they feared they might be. The excessive hatred and violence that could grow out of such a belief is obvious. Muslims were seen as a lost cause, inconvertible and fit only to be driven out or killed.

The result of this change in attitude toward war was a completely new outlook for the Church, one which was to have dramatic repercussions for hundreds of years. By the end of the eleventh century, the idea of a Church-sanctioned holy war had fully taken shape, a new and important belief in Western history. It went far beyond Augustinian notions of what constituted a just war. War of a certain kind was now pleasing to God, whereas previously, it required penance, no matter how just its cause. Fighting in a war was not only permitted, it was divinely-sanctioned, and it earned the remittance of all sins, guaranteed by a papal proclamation.

An important question that naturally arises from all of this activity is how sincere these various writers and theologians were in their beliefs. This is not always answerable, but it deserves some attention. As we have seen, there existed a curious double attitude toward Byzantium, which on the one hand condemned the Greeks for supposed treachery (a theme that would recur throughout the crusading period; indeed it was invoked by Peter the Venerable as a principal reason for the failure of the Second Crusade), and on the other considered it important to render assistance to the Byzantine army in repelling the Turks (though it must be pointed out that in no surviving account of Urban’s Clermont sermon is Byzantium mentioned). For the Church writers, perhaps it was a belief in the lesser of two evils, that it was better to have a schismatic Christian empire in the East than one controlled by the Turks. Or, the Byzantine appeal for help simply could have provided a timely and ideal opportunity to put the papacy’s hopes and plans into action, with little regard for the safety of the Eastern Empire at all. It is clear that Alexios certainly did not anticipate the unruly mobs that descended on his lands a few years after his appeal.

Were these crusading sentiments merely shrewd political manipulations from a Church desperate to obtain complete power over the secular rulers of Europe? Sources cannot confirm this, and there were undoubtedly many (if not most) among the laity who felt a genuine sense of religious duty to engage in the perceived defense of Christendom. The possibility of undertaking a true imitatio Christi must have been irresistible to those who had no idea what was ahead of them. Still, human nature has shown throughout history that the prospect of attaining such total power must have held great appeal for those in charge. The Church, of course, did achieve a great victory through all of these new movements, both in the spiritual and political sense. The misery, brutality, and death wrought by the crusades and their earlier models in Spain had little impact on those in Europe who did not participate in the fighting, and the troubles experienced by the crusaders were completely overshadowed by the retaking of Jerusalem, which more than redressed the suffering. A more perfect example of divine reward for Christian humility, obedience and suffering could not have been envisioned.

Though Gregory VII offered to lead the first such expedition, his sincerity in this proposal will never be known. The rapidity with which the whole plan was dropped indicates either a lack of conviction or, just as likely, a preoccupation with events closer to home. Indeed, the Investiture Contest allowed the opportunity for the pope to exert the Church’s worldly and spiritual authority without having to journey all the way to Jerusalem. The West probably was simply not yet ready for Gregory’s call to arms. The knights and fighting men of Europe were not initially interested in Gregory’s plan; in fact, it may have seemed quite odd to them. Long-standing conflicts and general mistrust among warring factions were enough to resist a call to fight under a papal banner in a militia Christi. In fact, the papacy could well have been seen by them as desiring the military expedition for its own ends, and so there was little appeal to a secular warrior, who had more to gain by waging war closer to his own home in Europe. So, unlike Urban’s crusade of 1095, Gregory probably alienated secular knights to some extent, by adopting an approach that was too hierarchical. Gregory said that he wanted to command the army in his time, but Urban had a far better idea; letting the greatest of the French knights and nobility themselves lead the expedition. It was this strategy that ensured the strong popular response to Urban’s call, where Gregory’s had failed. It is worth noting that before he became pope, Urban, as Odo of Lagery, was cardinal bishop of Ostia and was known as the pedisequus (valet) to Gregory VII, given their close friendship. So there can be no doubt that Gregory’s ideas of holy war lived on in Urban.

The crusaders themselves were certainly an enormously diverse group, and the reasons why so many took the cross and traveled such a perilous road to the east have been long questioned and debated. In addition to the imitatio Christi, many felt other religious inspirations, while some may well have desired material gain. Urban was aware of this, and stressed that it was only those who undertook the burden without wanting honor or wealth would gain the full remission of sins.

Susanna Throop has argued that a specific form of vengeance was also invoked as an encouragement to take the cross. Drawing from Old Testament influences, it was known in the sources as vindicta, ultio, and venjance. This was not the petty vengeance of mortals (and thus forbidden to Christians), but rather the divine vengeance of righting wrongs, of punishing and committing violence with moral authority against those who had transgressed divine law. Indeed the First Crusade itself might be seen more as an exercise in punishment than an actual war. While the Jews had killed Christ, a great affront to God, the Muslims were equally villainous, since they had willingly rejected Christ as God. They were the successors to the crime of deicide by their occupation of the holy places, and the crusaders saw it as a duty to take revenge on Islam for the perceived guilt of Judaism. Jews, heretics, and Saracens were equally enemies of God, and all were deserving of the same divine punishment. God had been injured by the Muslims. Their rebellion against Christian law was likened to a kind of ongoing crucifixion. The Jews had crucified Christ once because of their lack of belief; the Muslims, by also not believing, did so every day.

Looking at another possibility, Jay Rubenstein makes the case for apocalyptic hopes and fears playing a key role in the lives and motivations of the first crusaders.

All of these can be put forward as being among the reasons for the success of the venture, and the ability to inspire thousands to take up arms. Within that success, however, we must remember that there was a clearer line of demarcation between the duties of the clergy and the laity within Ecclesia, enhanced as a result of the increased gulf between the two groups, which the Reform created.

The absolute prohibition on monks joining the crusade, and the stipulation that other clergy needed to demonstrate justifiable reasons for doing so, are further examples of the difference between clerical and lay duties in this new vision of the Church. Indeed, Urban was faced with the problem of enthusiastic monks desiring to join the crusade, and had to expressly forbid it, reminding them that they had already devoted themselves to spiritual warfare. They were warned that they would face excommunication if they failed to heed his command. Priests had never been permitted to shed blood, but they were, of course, expected to minister to soldiers and whole armies. The Church was defining its own role in crusading as something different from the laity. Penitential killing of the infidel was held to be meritorious for the secular man, who was by nature sinful and prone to violence and killing, but not for the priest or monk, who had sworn his life to peace and service to God. And yet, certain chroniclers favorably compared the crusaders to monks, saying that they were more like monks than knights.

Was this a means of allowing the masses of common people to perform the tasks that the Church desired, without it having to take undue risks itself? It is possible, though remember that in the structured organization brought about by the Reform, all classes of society were seen as having different duties to perform and different expressions of piety. By presenting a “secular” means of salvation, one that made use of both the imitation of Christ‘s sufferings and the use of “holy” violence, the laity would be active participants in the spreading of the Gospel in their own way. God’s enemies could be defeated, and Catholic rule brought to the East (thus enhancing papal power and influence even further) without the pope having to exert great amounts of effort beyond preaching and encouraging feelings of support for the idea. The lay crusader was thus helping all of Christendom by undertaking the dangerous journey to the East, with the spiritual support of the clergy. The mere fact that the Reform sought to establish the Church as the supreme earthly authority and to elevate itself over the laity suggests that such measures of encouragement may have been employed, for both political and religious reasons. Helping the common people feel valued by encouraging their participation in the crusading venture was a most effective means of encouraging the spirit of cooperation in the formation of the new Ecclesia. Quite simply and obviously, the crusade would not have succeeded without lay support. How much of this was manipulative and how much sincere continues to be debated, though there may have in the end been little difference in motivation between the Church and lay society in general.

It is clear from the correspondence and writings cited that Christian writers of the eleventh century felt a genuine sense of outrage at Turkish and Muslim military activities directed against pilgrims, or at least catching them up in the “crossfire” of sectarian disputes. The situation in the East provided a coincidental and most effective means of helping the Church to secure power, and in their determination to counter the perceived Muslim threat, the papacy realized this. The solution to the problem of Islam could be found in the attitudes of the Reform movement itself, and was no doubt held by many to be God-given. The First Crusade was the result of this combination.

The papacy did not conceive of its ideas in a vacuum; it relied on the support of certain key institutions and thinkers to make the whole process of the new Christian war machine operate effectively. It was one matter to have the support of the laity, but that support had to be reinforced by many others within the Church itself. Perhaps somewhat surprisingly, it was in the monastic houses that this support often came with such strength.

The Burgundian monasteries of Cîteaux and Cluny were to prove vital in maintaining support and engendering enthusiasm for future holy military ventures. The Cistercians, under Bernard of Clairvaux, were particularly important in this regard, for it was Bernard who so strongly advocated the Second Crusade, and who gave his support to the new Order of the Knights Templar of Jerusalem. This monastic order was created to deal with the Muslim presence and other dangers to pilgrims in the new Christian Kingdom of Jerusalem, as well as to defend the lands won by the Christian conquest. The Benedictine Cluniacs, while supporting the crusade, also played a role, for their abbot, Peter the Venerable, acquired a keen interest in Islam and its teachings.

The Recovery of Constantinople [1205–61]

In contrast to Doge Dandolo, who now proudly styled himself ‘Lord of a Quarter and Haifa Quarter of the Roman Empire’, the Emperor Baldwin cut a sorry figure. He was left with just a quarter of the territory that had been ruled by his immediate predecessors; and even this was contested. Boniface of Montferrat, furious at having been passed over, refused the Anatolian lands he was offered and seized Thessalonica, where he established a kingdom extending over a large part of Macedonia and Thessaly.

The new rulers were, not surprisingly, detested. The Franks, staunch upholders of the Church of Rome, unhesitatingly imposed the Latin rite wherever they could. Many Greeks left their ancestral lands and moved to the Byzantine successor states in which the national spirit and the Orthodox faith were still preserved. Of these states, the largest and by far the most important was the so-called Empire of Nicaea, where Alexius III’s son-in-law Theodore Lascaris was crowned in 1208. It occupied a broad strip of land in western Anatolia, extending from the Aegean to the Black Sea. Although the official capital remained Nicaea – the seat of the Patriarch, where the imperial coronations took place – Theodore’s successor John III was to establish his residence in the Lydian city of Nymphaeum; and for most of the fifty-seven-year period of exile from Constantinople this was the seat of government. The two other successor states, situated one on the Adriatic coast and the other at the south-eastern extremity of the Black Sea, were too remote to exert much influence. The Despotate of Epirus was founded soon after the capture of Constantinople by a certain Michael Comnenus Ducas, great-grandson of Alexius I Comnenus. From his capital at Arta he controlled the north-west coast of Greece and part of Thessaly – a domain substantially increased in 1224 by his half-brother Theodore who captured Thessalonica from the Latins and was crowned Emperor as a rival to John III in Nicaea. Unlike Nicaea and Epirus, the Empire of Trebizond was not the result of the fall of Constantinople. It had been founded in April 1204 by Alexius and David Comnenus, grandsons of the Emperor Andronicus through his son Manuel, who had married a Georgian princess. After the fall of Andronicus in 1185 the young brothers had been brought up at the Georgian royal court. Determined to continue the Comnenus dynasty, they had captured Trebizond in April 1204. For the greater part of its 257-year history the Trapezuntine Empire was confined to a coastal strip between the Pontic mountains and the sea.

As ruler of Byzantium in exile, Theodore I Lascaris of Nicaea faced a multitude of problems. Even within his own borders, petty Greek principalities were declaring themselves; then, in autumn 1204, a Frankish army led by Baldwin himself began to move against him. Theodore was still hopelessly unprepared; and on 6 December a calamitous defeat at Poimanenon gave the Franks control of the whole Bithynian coast as far as Brusa. But Baldwin’s arrogance soon caught up with him. The Greek landowners in Thrace offered the imperial crown to the Bulgarian Tsar Kalojan in return for driving the Latins from Constantinople. Earlier in 1204 Kalojan had been crowned King (though not Emperor) by Innocent III’s envoy and had accepted the jurisdiction of Rome; but he was as anxious to get rid of the Crusaders as were the Byzantines themselves. On 14 April 1205 he destroyed the Frankish army outside Adrianople, taking prisoner Baldwin himself who died soon afterwards. Just a year after the capture of Constantinople, the power of the Latins was broken. In all Asia Minor, only Pegae on the Marmara remained in Frankish hands.

Now at last Theodore could forge his new state, never for a moment doubting that his subjects would be back, sooner or later, in their rightful capital. He followed the old Byzantine pattern in every detail; thus, after his coronation in 1208, there were two Eastern Emperors and two Patriarchs, the Latin in Constantinople and the Greek in Nicaea, each initially determined to destroy the other. In the following year Baldwin’s brother and successor Henry of Hainault, swallowing his Crusader scruples, concluded a military alliance with the Seljuks, who also saw the new Greek state in Asia Minor as a threat; and in 1211 he inflicted a serious defeat on Theodore, pressing on to Pergamum and Nymphaeum; but he was too hard pressed by the Bulgars in his rear to be able to pursue his advantage. In late 1214 the two Emperors agreed to a treaty of peace: Henry would keep the north-west coast of Asia Minor as far south as Atramyttion; the remainder as far as the Seljuk frontier would go to Theodore.

The young Empire had finally obtained formal recognition by the Crusaders of its right to exist. Almost simultaneously, the Latin Empire began once again to decline; in June 1216 Henry died at Thessalonica. In barely a decade, by respecting the rights and religion of his Greek subjects and achieving a balance of power with Nicaea, he had saved an apparently lost cause. He died childless; and to succeed him the Frankish barons elected Peter of Courtenay, husband of his sister Yolanda. Peter, who was then in France, set out for the East in the first weeks of 1217. Unfortunately he stopped at Durazzo to recover the city from the Despot of Epirus, but his attempt ended in fiasco. He was captured, thrown into prison and never heard of again.

The Empress Yolanda, who had wisely decided to travel out with her children by sea, meanwhile arrived without mishap in Constantinople, where she gave birth to a son, Baldwin. She then governed as Regent until her death in 1219, confirming her brother’s conciliatory policy by giving her daughter Mary to Theodore Lascaris as his third wife. News of this step, however, was received with horror in Epirus, where the star of the Despot Theodore was rising fast. He had never accepted the treaty of 1214; here, he claimed, was a further betrayal. The truth was that Theodore could never be satisfied with Epirus. As the legitimate great-grandson of Alexius I, he could boast a far stronger claim to the imperial throne than Lascaris. His immediate ambitions were now focused on Thessalonica; but Thessalonica was, in the eyes of Theodore Angelus Ducas Comnenus, little more than a stepping-stone to Constantinople itself.

Since the death of Boniface of Montferrat in 1207, Thessalonica had been governed by his widow, acting as Regent for her son Demetrius; but after the arrival of the Empress Yolanda it could no longer rely on firm support from Constantinople. It was already plain that its days as an independent state were numbered; and in the autumn of 1224 it fell. Theodore of Epirus now ruled supreme from the Adriatic to the Aegean. Soon afterwards, in open defiance of Lascaris, he was crowned by the Bishop of Ochrid as Emperor of the Romans. Thus it was that, in place of the single Empire that had existed little more than a generation before, there were now four three Greek and one Latin. And not far away there loomed a fifth: for the Second Bulgarian Empire was growing rapidly. Tsar Kalojan had already extended his rule over much of Thrace and Macedonia; his second successor, John II Asen, also coveted Constantinople. By far the weakest of the powers was the Latin Empire itself, by 1225 reduced to the capital itself, the region immediately to the north and west, and a small area of Asia Minor south of the Marmara. Yolanda had died in 1219; her son Robert was a feckless youth, totally outclassed by Theodore, John Asen and John Vatatzes, who had inherited the Empire of Nicaea from his father-in-law Theodore Lascaris in 1222. After a punishing defeat by Vatatzes, the capture of Thessalonica was too much for him. From that moment on he gave himself up to a life of pleasure and dissipation, dying in January 1228.

Robert left no legitimate children; and since his brother and successor Baldwin II was still only eleven the barons therefore turned for a Regent to the most distinguished of living Crusaders: the former King of Jerusalem, John of Brienne. Though now nearly eighty years old, he was still remarkably spry – he had a daughter of four – and no one else could match his record. He made, however, a number of conditions. The young Emperor must immediately marry Maria, his own four-year-old daughter, who must receive a suitable territorial dowry; he himself must be recognized as basileus in his own right, with Baldwin succeeding him on his death; and at the age of twenty Baldwin, if not yet Emperor, should be invested with the Empire of Nicaea, together with all Frankish possessions in Asia Minor. He was still in no hurry: only in the autumn of 1231 did he finally appear off the Golden Horn. A few days later he was crowned Emperor in St Sophia.

During this three-year interregnum, the balance of power in the Balkans suffered a radical change. In April 1230 the Emperor Theodore Comnenus had been defeated and captured by John Asen. To be sure, his brother Manuel was allowed to stay on in Thessalonica with the title of Despot; but this was only because he was married to Asen’s daughter. He was a puppet of his father-in-law and made little pretence of being anything else. The Latins had been saved from almost certain destruction – and by a nation that they had previously spurned. But they now had to watch John Asen advance unopposed across the Balkans, from the Adriatic to the Black Sea.

The effective elimination of the fourth participant in the struggle for supremacy led inevitably to a radical realignment among the other three. To John Asen, Vatatzes now seemed a far more useful ally than the Latins, particularly since he was about to abandon the Church of Rome. Western Christianity had never really taken root among the Bulgars; besides, any future offensive against the Latin Empire would be a lot easier to justify if the Tsar were seen to be acting against heretics. In 1232 the break was made. A Bulgarian Orthodox Patriarchate was once again established; and three years later John Asen signed a treaty of alliance with Nicaea, which was subsequently sealed by the marriage of his daughter Helena to the son of John Vatatzes, Theodore II Lascaris. In the late summer of 1235 the combined forces of Orthodoxy were besieging Constantinople by land and sea.

Old John of Brienne fought like a tiger for the defence of his Empire, and Venetian ships provided invaluable support; but Constantinople was saved only by a change of heart on the part of John Asen, who suddenly realized that an energetic Greek Empire would constitute a far more serious threat to Bulgaria than an exhausted Latin one and called off the attack. Almost at once, however, disaster struck. His own capital fell victim to a furious epidemic, which carried off his wife, one of his sons and the recently-installed Patriarch. To John Asen, this was the judgement of heaven; immediately he made his peace with Vatatzes. Soon, however, he began to look for a new wife; and somehow his prisoner Theodore of Thessalonica managed to persuade him to marry his daughter Irene. As the Tsar’s father-in-law, Theodore was then released from his captivity and returned to Thessalonica, where he deposed his brother Manuel and enthroned instead his own son John, restoring to him the title of Emperor.

The year 1241 proved a watershed. Before it was over, three of the protagonists were in their graves: John Asen of Bulgaria, Manuel of Thessalonica and Pope Gregory IX, one of the most redoubtable champions of the Latin Empire. That same year also saw a Mongol horde sweep through Hungary into the Danube basin, leaving the Bulgars little opportunity to undertake further adventures to the East: another once formidable nation was thus effectively eliminated. The power of Thessalonica had already been broken. The Latin Empire, which now consisted of little more than the city of Constantinople itself had survived only thanks to dissension among its enemies. Of those enemies, there remained but one: the Empire of Nicaea, whose ruler John Vatatzes continued to prepare for its reconquest. He still had the problem of Thessalonica to settle. Its Emperor John was a weak and pious figurehead; the real power was back in the hands of Theodore, as ambitious as he had ever been. Thus it was Theodore whom in 1241 John Vatatzes invited to Nicaea as his guest. The old man accepted, and was received with every courtesy; only when he came to leave was it politely explained to him that his departure would unfortunately not be possible. He remained a prisoner until the following summer, when Vatatzes escorted him back to Thessalonica and then sent him as an envoy to his son to negotiate a treaty. The result was that John exchanged the title of Emperor for that of Despot, and acknowledged the supremacy of Nicaea.

While Vatatzes was still in Thessalonica, the Mongols invaded Asia Minor. In June 1243 they defeated the Sultan Kaikosru II at the battle of Kösedağ the Emperor of Trebizond, who had been a vassal of the Sultan, suffered much the same fate. Fortunately the Mongols moved away again, leaving a broken Sultanate behind them but the Nicaean lands untouched. The Bulgar Empire too had been crippled by this most recent of the barbarian invasions; while the death in 1246 of Coloman, John Asen’s twelve-year-old son, and the succession of his still younger half-brother Michael, further troubled the waters in which Vatatzes cheerfully intended to fish. By the autumn of that year he had occupied a good deal of western Macedonia. He was still encamped there when a group of Thessalonians arrived with a proposal. If he would guarantee to the city the continuation of its ancient rights and privileges, it would be surrendered without a struggle. Vatatzes agreed at once. In December he entered Thessalonica unopposed, exiled old Theodore and left as his Viceroy his distant kinsman Andronicus Palaeologus.

One more enemy was left for him to conquer before he could concentrate on Constantinople. Some nine years before, Epirus had separated from Thessalonica and set itself up once again under Michael II, an illegitimate son of its original founder Michael I. John Vatatzes did not attack it: instead, in 1249 he concluded a treaty of friendship with Michael, sealing it by betrothing his granddaughter Maria to Michael’s son Nicephorus. Theodore, still unreconciled, persuaded his nephew to take up arms once again against the Nicaean Empire; but John Vatatzes was taking no more chances. Early in 1253 he forced the Despot’s surrender. Michael ceded much of his territory; his son Nicephorus was carried off to Vatatzes’s court as a hostage for his future good behaviour. As for the old, blind, insufferable Theodore, he was shipped off to end his days in the prison he so richly deserved.

The Latin Empire was tottering. Already in 1236 the young Emperor Baldwin, now nineteen, had left for Italy in a desperate attempt to raise men and money; it was not until early 1240 that he returned to the Bosphorus. This chronic shortage was also responsible for another decision, deeply demoralizing to Greeks and Latins alike: the pawning to Venice of Constantinople’s most hallowed possession, the Crown of Thorns that Christ had worn on the Cross. The Emperor being unable to redeem it, the opportunity was seized by St Louis of France, who built the Sainte-Chapelle to receive it.

For Baldwin, even cap in hand, the courts of Europe must have been vastly preferable to life in gloomy, beleaguered Constantinople. In 1244 he was off again – to Frederick II; to Count Raymond in Toulouse; to Innocent IV in Lyon; to St Louis in Paris; and even to London, where King Henry III made a small and grudging contribution to his funds. But he returned in October 1248 to find himself in such straits that he was obliged even to sell off the lead from the roof of the imperial palace. He would never have reigned for another thirteen years if his enemy in Nicaea had survived; but on 3 November 1254 John Vatatzes died at Nymphaeum. During the last ten years of his life his worsening epilepsy had seriously unbalanced him: it was clear to everyone at court that he was rapidly losing his grip.

He had, nevertheless, been a great ruler. He had inherited from his predecessor a small but viable state; when, thirty-two years later, he left it to his son Theodore II, its dominions extended over most of the Balkan peninsula and much of the Aegean, its rivals were crippled or annihilated, and it stood poised to achieve the purpose for which it had been established. At home, John continually reminded his subjects that they lived in a state of emergency, and that sacrifices were required of them until Constantinople should be theirs. Foreign imports were forbidden; self-sufficiency was now the watchword, and he himself set an example by running a profitable farm, using the profits from his sales of eggs to buy his wife Irene her ‘egg crown’ – a jewelled coronet, which he publicly presented to her as proof of what could be achieved by efficient husbandry. The gift was well-deserved. Thanks to the two of them hospitals and orphanages were established, art and literature encouraged, and the foundations laid for the spectacular cultural revival which was to occur in the reign of their son Theodore, under whom Nicaea would become a dazzling centre for Byzantine culture. In consequence John and Irene were genuinely loved by their subjects.

John knew as he lay on his deathbed that the day towards which he had worked all his adult life could not be long delayed, despite some doubts that he may have entertained about his only son and successor. Not that the young Theodore II Lascaris was altogether unworthy of the throne. He was an intellectual who produced in the course of his short life a whole corpus of literary, theological and scientific works; and he never allowed these interests to deflect him from the business of government. Unfortunately he had inherited his father’s epilepsy in an even more serious form. This was dangerous enough in Constantinople; when he was with his army in the field it was potentially disastrous. He ruled, nevertheless, with a strong hand. Instinctively distrustful of the aristocracy, he relied on a small group of bureaucrats, chief among them being his protovestiarius George Muzalon and George’s two brothers, Theodore and Andronicus; and he enraged the clergy by appointing as Patriarch a bigoted ascetic named Arsenius, annihilating at a stroke his father’s old dream of union with Rome.

Theodore signed a peace treaty with Bulgaria in 1256, and relations were further improved when the Tsar Michael Asen was murdered shortly afterwards and succeeded by a boyar named Constantine Tich, who married Theodore’s daughter Irene. Another dynastic marriage was that of John’s daughter Maria to Nicephorus, son of the Despot Michael II of Epirus. This unfortunately proved counter-productive, Theodore having unwisely made a last-minute demand for Durazzo and the Macedonian city of Servia as a condition of the marriage. The bridegroom’s mother, who had accompanied her son to the imperial camp on the Maritsa, was intimidated into agreement; but when she returned to tell her husband that she had given away two of his most important cities, he immediately launched a furious campaign against Thessalonica, encouraging the Serbs and the Albanians to support him. Within days, Macedonia was up in arms.

The man best qualified to handle the situation was a young general named Michael Palaeologus; the Emperor, however, had always been jealous of this handsome young aristocrat, who seemed to possess all the gifts he himself lacked. He also mistrusted him. Earlier that year he had accused him – quite unjustifiably – of high treason, threatening him to the point where the young general had been obliged to take refuge with the Seljuks. Michael had since sworn fidelity to the Emperor; nevertheless Theodore had decided only hesitantly to entrust him with the new command. Fearing, presumably, that his general might turn against him, he also gave him too small an army to be of any real use. Michael and his men fought bravely, penetrating as far as Durazzo; but they were unable to stem the tide. By summer the Despot was at the gates of Thessalonica, and Michael Palaeologus, disgraced and shortly afterwards excommunicated, was languishing in a Nicaean prison. This shameful treatment of the Empire’s outstanding general confirmed the people of Nicaea in their conviction that their basileus was no longer capable of responsible government; and there would surely have been a military revolt had not Theodore suddenly and conveniently succumbed to his disease in August 1258, aged thirty-six. His eldest son John being a child, he had appointed the hated George Muzalon as Regent. On his deathbed he had forced the leading members of the aristocracy to swear allegiance to John and George together, but in the course of a memorial service held nine days later they murdered Muzalon at the high altar and hacked the body to pieces. A palace revolution ensued, the result of which was to nominate the hastily-liberated Michael Palaeologus – who had probably instigated the plot – in his stead.

Michael, now thirty-four, was in many respects the obvious choice. He could claim kinship with the houses of Ducas, Angelus and Comnenus, while his wife Theodora was a great-niece of John Vatatzes. His complicity in Muzalon’s murder should have been seen as a stain on his character; but the protovestiarius had been so hated that it was overlooked. He remained immensely popular with the army and was well thought of by the clergy. He was awarded the title of Grand Duke (megas dux) and soon afterwards that of Despot. Finally in November 1258 he was raised on a shield and proclaimed co-Emperor, his coronation taking place at Nicaea on Christmas Day. He and Theodora were crowned first, with imperial diadems heavy with jewels; only afterwards was a narrow string of pearls laid upon the head of his young colleague, John IV.

Few of the congregation doubted that it was Michael VIII Palaeologus who would lead his subjects back into their capital. First, however, there was one more enemy to be faced. Early in 1258 Manfred of Sicily, bastard son of Frederick II, had invaded Epirus and occupied Corfu. The Despot Michael had joined with him against Nicaea, offering him the hand of his eldest daughter Helena. Manfred had accepted and had sent his new father-in-law four hundred mounted knights from Germany. Soon afterwards the new alliance was joined by William of Villehardouin, the Latin Prince of Achaia, who married Michael’s second daughter Anna. The ultimate object of the expedition was Constantinople, but this would clearly involve the capture of Thessalonica on the way.

Thus, at the time of the accession of Michael Palaeologus, virtually the whole of the Greek mainland was ranged against him. Fortunately he had dispatched a large expeditionary force to the Balkans, commanded by his brother, the sebastocrator John Palaeologus, and the Grand Domestic Alexius Strategopulus; and early in 1259 he ordered them to advance against the enemy. The two armies met at Pelagonia; and almost immediately the coalition fell apart. The Despot Michael and his son Nicephorus, wrongly suspecting that their allies were planning to betray them to the enemy, deserted the camp and fled. Another son, John the Bastard, taunted by Villehardouin over his illegitimacy, joined the Nicene forces out of pique. By the time the battle began John Palaeologus found only the cavalry of Villehardouin and Manfred ranged against him; and they proved defenceless in the face of his Cuman archers. Manfred’s knights surrendered and were taken prisoner, as – subsequently – was Villehardouin himself, who was found hiding in a haystack near Castoria and was recognized only by his protruding teeth. John then advanced through Thessaly, while Alexius marched straight to Epirus and captured its capital, Arta. The victory was complete.

It was by now plain that the recapture of the city could only be a question of time, and a short time at that. Of all Baldwin’s allies, there remained only the Papacy and Venice. Pope Alexander IV was uninterested; that left the Venetians, who had been largely responsible for the Latin Empire, and whose fleet of thirty ships still patrolled the Bosphorus. But soon the value of even Venetian support began to appear problematical, for on 13 March 1261 Michael Palaeologus, desperate for a navy, signed a treaty with Genoa whereby, in return for their help, the Genoese were promised all the concessions hitherto enjoyed by Venice, with their own quarter in Constantinople and the other principal ports of the Empire and free access to those of the Black Sea. For Genoa it was a historic agreement, laying as it did the foundations for her commercial empire in the East.

The recovery of Constantinople eventually came about almost by accident. In the summer of 1261, Michael VIII had sent Alexius Strategopulus to Thrace with a small army to indulge in a little mild sabre-rattling, sounding out the city’s defences at the same time. At Selymbria, Alexius learned that the Latin garrison was absent, having been carried off by the Venetians to attack the Nicaean island of Daphnusia, a harbour controlling the entrance to the Bosphorus from the Black Sea. They also told him of a postern gate in the walls, through which a handful of men could easily pass into the city. The opportunity seemed too good to miss. That night a detachment slipped into the city, surprised the guards and threw them from the ramparts. They then quietly opened one of the gates. At dawn on 25 July 1261 the army poured in.

Baldwin, awakened by the tumult, fled for his life. Making his way on foot to the little harbour of the Bucoleon, he escaped on a Venetian merchantman to the Latin-held island of Euboea. Meanwhile Alexius and his men set fire to the entire Venetian quarter so that the sailors returning from Daphnusia, finding their houses destroyed and their terrified families huddled on the quayside, would have no real choice but to sail back to their lagoon. Among the remaining Franks – perhaps a thousand all told – there was widespread panic. Some hid; some fled to monasteries; a few even resorted to the sewers; but there was no massacre. Gradually they emerged from their various refuges and made their way down to the harbour where the thirty Venetian ships were waiting These too sailed for Euboea – not, apparently, even pausing to take on provisions, since it is recorded that many of the refugees died of hunger before reaching their destination.

The Emperor Michael was two hundred miles away, asleep in his camp at Meteorium in Anatolia, when the messengers arrived. His sister Eulogia woke him and told him the news; but only when he was handed Baldwin’s abandoned regalia did he believe her. Immediately he began his preparations; and on 15 August 1261 he made his entry into the capital. Entering by the Golden Gate and preceded by the great icon of the Virgin Hodegetria – She who points the way’ painted, as everyone knew, by St Luke himself he proceeded on foot along the traditional route through the city as far as St Sophia, where a second coronation ceremony was performed by Patriarch Arsenius. This time, however, he and his wife were crowned alone, their baby son Andronicus being proclaimed as heir presumptive. As for John Lascaris, Michael’s ten-year-old co-Emperor, he had been left behind in Nicaea, ignored and forgotten. A little over four months later, on Christmas Day, his eyes were put out. It was, as it happened, his eleventh birthday.

From the start, the Latin Empire of Constantinople had been a monstrosity. In the fifty-seven years of its existence it had achieved nothing, contributed nothing, enjoyed not a moment of distinction or glory. After 1204 it had made no territorial conquests, and before long it had shrunk to the immediate surroundings of the ruined and ravaged city. The only wonder is that it lasted as long as it did. Of its seven rulers, not one made the slightest attempt to understand his Greek subjects, let alone to learn their language. Meanwhile its knights trickled back to the West, its allies turned away, its treasury lay empty. And its fall was, if anything, even more ignominious than its beginning – overpowered by a handful of soldiers in a single night.

But the dark legacy that it left behind affected all Christendom – perhaps all the world. For the Greek Empire never recovered from the damage, spiritual as well as material, of those fateful years. Nor, with its loveliest buildings reduced to rubble and its finest works of art looted or destroyed, did it ever succeed in recovering its morale. Before the Latin conquest the Empire had been one and indivisible, under a single basileus, Equal of the Apostles. Now that unity was gone. There were the Emperors of Trebizond, still stubbornly independent on the Black Sea shore. There were the Despots of Epirus, always ready to welcome the enemies of Constantinople. How, fragmented as it was, could the Greek Empire continue as the last great eastern bulwark of Christendom against the Islamic tide?

But Christendom too was changed. Long divided, it was now polarized. For centuries before and after the Great Schism, the differences between the Churches had been essentially theological. After the sack of Constantinople this was no longer true. To the Byzantines the barbarians who had desecrated their altars, plundered their homes and violated their women could not be considered, in any real sense, Christians at all. Future attempts to force them into union could never succeed for long, simply because anything appeared to them preferable to the idea of submission to Rome. ‘Better the Sultan’s turban than the cardinal’s hat,’ they used to say; and they meant it.

The Pseudo-Baldwin and the ‘Master of Hungary’

The gigantic enterprise of the crusades long continued to provide the background for popular messianic movements. In the official crusades secular politics bulked ever larger. Already in the Third Crusade, which started on its way in 1189, the political interests of the secular states — the Empire and France and England — found open expression. And the Fourth Crusade, in the opening years of the thirteenth century, ended as a purely lay war waged for purely political ends – an expedition in which the commercial ambition of Venice combined with the territorial ambitions of French and German princes to bring about the capture of Constantinople and the conquest and partition of the Eastern Empire. In such a crusade there was no longer any room for the pauperes — they were not wanted and would not have been interested. But they had not abandoned the old ideal of the liberation and defence of the Holy City, nor the old eschatological hopes. On the contrary, now that the barons had given themselves up altogether to worldliness, the poor were even more convinced than before that they and they alone were the true instruments of the divine will, the true custodians of the eschatological mission.

In 1198 for the first time there seems to have appeared a propheta who summoned the poor to a crusade which should be theirs and theirs alone. Fulk of Neuilly was a typical ascetic miracle-worker whose immense popular prestige owed much to his supposed ability to heal the blind and the dumb. And what he envisaged would seem to have been nothing less than an independent army which would be as rigorously insistent on its poverty as, it was said, the horde of King Tafur had been. The crowds set in motion by Fulk perished miserably on the coast of Spain; but within a few years they were succeeded by the Children’s Crusades. In 1212 armies of children set out to recapture the Holy City, one army from France and another, much larger, from the Rhine valley. Each was headed by a youth who believed himself chosen by God and who was regarded by his followers as a miracle-working saint. These thousands of children could be held back neither by entreaty nor by force; their faith was such that they were convinced the Mediterranean would dry up before them as the Red Sea had dried up before the Israelites. These crusades too ended disastrously, with almost all the children either drowned in the sea or starved to death or sold into slavery in Africa. Nevertheless these mass migrations had inaugurated a tradition; for more than a century autonomous crusades of the poor continued to occur from time to time, and with consequences which were no longer disastrous to themselves alone.

Meanwhile in Flanders and Hainaut the Fourth Crusade itself gave rise, indirectly and after an interval of a generation, to a movement which appealed strongly to the messianic hopes of the masses, even though its origin lay in a political intrigue. When the crusaders captured Constantinople in 1204 they installed Baldwin IX, Count of Flanders, as Emperor of Constantinople and suzerain of all the princes from the West who were now carving fiefs for themselves out of the territories of the Eastern Empire. Baldwin’s state was however very vulnerable and within a year the Emperor was captured by the Bulgarians and put to death. At home Baldwin’s daughter Joanna became Countess; but as she could not effectively oppose that resolute and able politician Philip Augustus of France her lands of Flanders and Hainaut fell under French domination. It was an unwelcome domination and on the death of Philip in 1223 it was only lack of a leader that prevented a general rising. At this point the age-old phantasy of the Sleeping Emperor reappeared in a form adapted to the hour. In virtue of his extraordinary history Baldwin had become in the popular imagination a figure of superhuman dimensions, a fabulous creature, half demon and half angel. Gradually a whole legend was elaborated. It was rumoured abroad that the Count was after all not dead but, having sinned greatly, was still discharging a penance imposed on him by the Pope. For many years he had been living in obscurity as a wandering beggar and hermit; but his expiation was now almost completed and he would very soon be returning in glory to free his land and people.

In 1224 a stranger passed through the country around Tournai, distributing largesse and announcing that Baldwin was about to return. A few months later there appeared between Tournai and Valenciennes a begging hermit, in appearance a typical propheta, of imposing stature, with long hair and flowing beard. He was traced to a nearby forest, where he was found to be living in a hut made of branches; and at once the rumour began to spread that he was no other than the missing Count. It has never been decided whether the hermit suggested this role for himself or simply accepted it when it was proposed to him. What is certain is that, having insisted on spending another year in the forest to complete his penance, he used the time to provide himself with counsellors and to organize a secret court. He was visited by the nobility; a nephew of Baldwin really believed that he recognized his uncle in him; the leaders of the Flemish resistance to France at least claimed to recognize him so that they could adopt him as their man. Fortified by this support the hermit announced that he was indeed Baldwin, returned home from the East after terrible sufferings. Great crowds streamed out from Valenciennes to see him and in April 1225 brought him back to the town on horseback, clad in a scarlet robe, amidst scenes of wild jubilation.

Accepted by most of the nobility and towns of Flanders and Hainaut, the hermit assumed sovereign powers. But when the Countess Joanna invited him to come to her court to be recognized and acclaimed, he refused to go. Instead, he prepared to establish his position by force; while Joanna on her side, having interviewed crusaders who had known her father, denounced the hermit as an impostor. The towns were in a turbulent mood, not only because they saw a chance to extend their liberties by throwing off the suzerainty of the King of France but because they really believed that their true lord had been restored to them. Now they rose in arms and deposed Joanna, who only narrowly escaped capture. Civil war broke out; and the hermit, at the head of a powerful force, devastated Hainaut from end to end, pillaging and destroying every centre of resistance and setting fire to churches crammed full with people. This was no ordinary war but (as a modern historian has described it) a war of religious exaltation, a crusade against the Countess Joanna – who was now detested not merely as the ally of France but as an undutiful and rebellious daughter. And the leader of the crusade was no ordinary commander but a holy prince, a being so revered that people kissed the scars which bore witness to his long martyrdom, fought for a hair of his head or a scrap of his clothing and drank his bathwater as an earlier generation had drunk Tanchelm’s.

In May the hermit was crowned, probably at Valenciennes, as Count of Flanders and Hainaut and Emperor of Constantinople and Thessalonica, in a ceremony in which the splendours of western and of eastern ritual were combined. The new monarch at once created knights, distributed fiefs and benefices and largesse and set off on a state visit to his towns. Clad in imperial purple, borne in a litter or mounted on a noble palfry, surrounded by the banners of his domains in the East and West and preceded by the cross which traditionally preceded the successors of Constantine — yet still wearing the long beard of a holy hermit and carrying the white wand of benevolence instead of a metal sceptre, he must indeed have seemed the messianic Emperor, come at last to fulfil the old Sibylline prophecies.

The popular enthusiasm was overwhelming. Headed by abbots and monks, long processions of townsmen and peasants came everywhere to meet him; towns such as Lille and Ghent and Bruges offered him not only their keys but money as well, praising God for a return so miraculous that it seemed a rebirth; people dropped on their knees as he passed by. As a contemporary observer significantly remarked: ‘If God had come down to earth, he could not have been better received.’ Yet the enthusiasm was not equally great in all classes. While the rich tended to look askance at the new sovereign, the poor were all convinced that it was indeed Baldwin who had appeared amongst them. Although modern historians have tended to ignore the fact, the original sources show clearly enough that it was the urban poor, and especially the workers in the great textile industry, who adopted the man as their messiah. According to the same observer, ‘the poor folk, weavers and fullers, were his intimates, and the better-off and rich people got a bad deal everywhere. The poor folk said they would have gold and silver … and they called him Emperor.’ The comment seems all the more significant when one realizes that in that year of 1225 Flanders and Hainaut were in the throes of an appalling famine, such as had not been seen for generations.

Politically the hermit had become a force to be reckoned with, for he had not only established his authority at home but was winning recognition abroad. Neighbouring princes sent ambassadors to his court and Henry III of England offered a treaty of alliance, directed of course against France. To all this the French king Louis VIII replied by concluding a treaty of alliance with the Countess Joanna, at the same time hinting that he himself might recognize the claims of the new ruler if the latter would visit him in person. The hermit accepted the invitation and made his way in magnificent state to the French court at Péronne. This turned out to be a fatal blunder. In conversation with Louis the hermit proved unable to recall things which the real Baldwin must certainly have known. Very soon he was identified as one Bertrand of Ray in Burgundy, a serf who had indeed taken part in the Fourth Crusade as a minstrel in the suite of his lord and who in later life had become notorious as a charlatan and impersonator.

Unmasked, the impostor lost his nerve and fled overnight from the court, while his suite of a hundred knights, hitherto his devoted partisans, dispersed in utter disillusionment. He might still have saved his life, for Louis had granted him a three-day grace in which to leave French territory; but instead of availing himself of this safeguard he made his way to his old headquarters at Valenciennes. His arrival threw the town into uproar. The rich burghers tried to arrest him but were prevented by the popular fury. Instead, some of the rich were themselves taken prisoner and held to ransom, while the rest fled from the town. The common people deposed the old administration and proclaimed a commune amidst scenes of hectic festivity. They also lodged their messiah in the town fortress and set about strengthening the town walls. And Valenciennes was indeed about to be besieged by the French when the pseudo-Baldwin again lost his nerve and fled, taking with him a large sum of money. Recognized and captured, he was paraded with great ignominy through the towns which had witnessed his triumph. In October he was hanged in the market-place at Lille, some seven months after he had first declared himself Count and Emperor.

Before his execution Bertrand of Ray described himself as a poor devil who had been led astray by the evil counsel of knights and burghers. But nothing could break the hold which he had obtained over the popular imagination. The towns had to beg forgiveness of the King of France, but at heart the common people remained true to their lost lord. Although the Countess Joanna ruled her dominions with prudence and courage, for many generations after her death she continued to be execrated as a parricide, while the figure of Baldwin, the Latin Emperor of the East who for a few weeks had appeared amongst the Flemish masses as their messiah, took his place (as Count Emico of Leiningen had taken his) amongst the sleeping monarchs who must one day return. Again in the words of the contemporary observer, ‘at Valenciennes people await him as the Bretons await King Arthur’; one might add, as the common people everywhere had long awaited the resurrected Constans. Brief though the episode had been, it had inaugurated an epoch of social turbulence which was to continue for a century and a half.

In France messianic expectations centred on the Capetian dynasty, which during the twelfth and the thirteenth century came to enjoy a quasi-religious prestige of peculiar intensity. Already at the time of the Second Crusade Louis VII had been regarded by many as the Emperor of the Last Days. By the beginning of the thirteenth century the common people were at one with the king and his official apologists in claiming for the French monarchy an absolute primacy over all other monarchies. The King of France was anointed from the sainte ampoule, which had been brought by a dove from heaven; his standard was the oriflamme, which had also descended from heaven; he himself possessed miraculous powers, particularly as a curer of disease. Philip Augustus – whose very title was modelled on the semper augustus of the imperial title — saw himself as a second Charlemagne, appointed by God to be the leader of all Latin Christendom. On the day of the battle of Bouvines in 1214, which by smashing the coalition of England, Germany and Flanders went far towards gaining him that leadership, Philip actually assumed the role of priest-king and, like Charlemagne in the Chanson de Roland, blessed his army as a host which was fighting for the true faith.

In those same years there were sectarians in Paris who saw in the Dauphin, the future Louis VIII, a messiah who would reign for ever under the dispensation of the Holy Spirit over a united and purified world. If in the event Louis VIII distinguished himself by his shrewdness and determination rather than by any spiritual gifts, his successor was indeed a secular saint. Louis IX – St Louis – set a new standard for kings throughout Christendom. Together with his rigorous asceticism, the genuine solicitude which he extended to the humblest of his subjects earned him an extraordinary veneration. What miraculous happenings were expected, one wonders, when this radiant figure set off on the Seventh Crusade? Certainly when he was defeated at Mansura in 1250 and led into a captivity which was to last four years it was a terrible blow to all Christendom. The disillusionment was so great that many in France began to taunt the clergy, saying that after all Mohammed seemed to be stronger than Christ.

It was in response to this catastrophe that there sprang up the first of the anarchic movements known as the Crusades of the Shepherds. At Easter 1251 three men began to preach the crusade in Picardy and within a few days their summons had spread to Brabant, Flanders and Hainaut – lands beyond the frontiers of the French kingdom, but where the masses were still as hungry for a messiah as they had been in the days of Bertrand of Ray a generation earlier. One of these men was a renegade monk called Jacob, who was said to have come from Hungary and was known as the ‘Master of Hungary’. He was a thin, pale, bearded ascetic of some sixty years of age, a man of commanding bearing and able to speak with great eloquence in French, German and Latin. He claimed that the Virgin Mary, surrounded by a host of angels, had appeared to him and had given him a letter — which he always carried in his hand, as Peter the Hermit is said to have carried a similar document. According to Jacob, this letter summoned all shepherds to help King Louis to free the Holy Sepulchre. God, he proclaimed, was displeased with the pride and ostentation of the French knights and had chosen the lowly to carry out his work. It was to shepherds that the glad tidings of the Nativity had first been made known and it was through shepherds that the Lord was now about to manifest his power and glory.

Shepherds and cowherds — young men, boys and girls alike — deserted their flocks and, without taking leave of their parents, gathered under the strange banners on which the miraculous visitation of the Virgin was portrayed. Before long thieves, prostitutes, outlaws, apostate monks and murderers joined them; and these elements provided the leaders. But many of these newcomers too dressed as shepherds and all alike became known as the Pastoureaux. Soon there was an army which – though the contemporary estimate of 60,000 need not be taken seriously — must certainly have numbered some thousands. It was divided into fifty companies; these marched separately, armed with pitchforks, hatchets, daggers, pikes carried aloft as they entered towns and villages, so as to intimidate the authorities. When they ran short of provisions they took what they needed by force; but much was given freely for — as emerges from many different accounts – people revered the Pastoureaux as holy men.

Soon the Pastoureaux were behaving exactly like the hordes which had followed Tanchelm and Eudes de l‘Étoile. Surrounded by an armed guard, Jacob preached against the clergy, attacking the Mendicants as hypocrites and vagabonds, the Cistercians as lovers of land and property, the Premonstratensians as proud and gluttonous, the canons regular as half-secular fast-breakers; and his attacks on the Roman Curia knew no bounds. His followers were taught to regard the sacraments with contempt and to see in their own gatherings the sole embodiment of truth. For himself he claimed that he could not only see visions but could heal the sick – and people brought their sick to be touched by him. He declared that food and wine set before his men never grew less, but rather increased as they were eaten and drunk. He promised that when the crusaders arrived at the sea the water would roll back before them and they would march dryshod to the Holy Land. On the strength of his miraculous powers he arrogated to himself the right to grant absolution from every kind of sin. If a man and a woman amongst his followers wished to marry he would perform the ceremony; and if they wished to part he would divorce them with equal ease. He was said to have married eleven men to one woman – which rather suggests that he saw himself as a ‘living Christ’ requiring ‘Disciples’ and a ‘Virgin Mary’. And anyone who ventured to contradict him was at once struck down by the bodyguard. The murder of a priest was regarded as particularly praiseworthy; according to Jacob it could be atoned for by a drink of wine. It is not surprising that the clergy watched the spread of this movement with horror.

Jacob’s army went first to Amiens, where it met with an enthusiastic reception. The burghers put their food and drink at the disposal of the crusaders, calling them the holiest of men. Jacob made such a favourable impression that they begged him to help himself to their belongings. Some knelt down before him ‘as though he had been the Body of Christ’. After Amiens the army split up into two groups. One of these marched on Rouen, where it was able to disperse a synod which was meeting there under the Archbishop. The other group proceeded to Paris. There Jacob so fascinated the Queen Mother Blanche that she loaded him with presents and left him free to do whatever he would. Jacob now dressed as a bishop, preached in churches, sprinkled holy water after some strange rite of his own. Meanwhile the Pastoureaux in the city began to attack the clergy, putting many to the sword and drowning many in the Seine. The students of the University – who of course were also clerics, though in minor orders — would have been massacred if the bridge had not been closed in time.

When the Pastoureaux left Paris they moved in a number of bands, each under the leadership of a ‘Master’, who, as they passed through towns and villages, blessed the crowds. At Tours the crusaders again attacked the clergy, especially Dominican and Franciscan friars, whom they dragged and whipped through the streets. The Dominicans’ church was looted, the Franciscan friary was attacked and broken into. The old contempt for sacraments administered by unworthy hands showed itself: the host was seized and, amidst insults, thrown on to the street. All this was done with the approval and support of the populace. At Orleans similar scenes occurred. Here the Bishop had the gates closed against the oncoming horde, but the burghers deliberately disobeyed him and admitted the Pastoureaux into the town. Jacob preached in public, and a scholar from the cathedral school who dared to oppose him was struck down with an axe. The Pastoureaux rushed to the houses where the priests and monks had hidden themselves, stormed them and burned many to the ground. Many clergy, including teachers at the University, and many burghers were struck down or drowned in the Loire. The remaining clergy were forced out of the town. When the Pastoureaux left the town the Bishop, enraged at the reception that had been accorded them, put Orleans under interdict. It was indeed the opinion of contemporaries that the Pastoureaux owed their prestige very largely to their habit of killing and despoiling priests. When the clergy tried to protest or resist they found no support amongst the populace. It is understandable that some clerics, observing the activities of the Pastoureaux, felt that the Church had never been in greater danger.

At Bourges the fortunes of the Pastoureaux began to change. Here too the burghers, disobeying their Archbishop, admitted as many of the horde as the town could hold; the rest remaining encamped outside. Jacob preached this time against the Jews and sent his men to destroy the Sacred Rolls. The crusaders also pillaged houses throughout the town, taking gold and silver where they found it and raping any woman they could lay hands on. If the clergy were not molested it was only because they remained in hiding. But by this time the Queen Mother had realized what sort of movement this was and had outlawed all those taking part in it. When this news reached Bourges many Pastoureaux deserted. At length, one day when Jacob was thundering against the laxity of the clergy and calling upon the townsfolk to turn against them, someone in the crowd dared to contradict him. Jacob rushed at the man with a sword and killed him; but this was too much for the burghers, who in their turn took up arms and chased the unruly visitors from the town.

Now it was the turn of the Pastoureaux to suffer violence. Jacob was pursued by mounted burghers and cut to pieces. Many of his followers were captured by the royal officials at Bourges and hanged. Bands of survivors made their way to Marseilles and to Aigues Mortes, where they hoped to embark for the Holy Land; but both towns had received warnings from Bourges and the Pastoureaux were caught and hanged. A final band reached Bordeaux but only to be met there by English forces under the Governor of Gascony, Simon de Montfort, and dispersed. Their leader, attempting to embark for the East, was recognized by some sailors and drowned. One of his lieutenants fled to England and having landed at Shoreham collected a following of some hundreds of peasants and shepherds. When the news of these happenings reached King Henry III he was sufficiently alarmed to issue instructions for the suppression of the movement to sheriffs throughout the kingdom. But very soon the whole movement disintegrated, even the apostle at Shoreham being torn to pieces by his own followers. Once everything was over rumours sprang up on all sides. It was said that the movement had been a plot of the Sultan’s, who had paid Jacob to bring him Christian men and youths as slaves. Jacob and other leaders were said to have been Moslems who had won ascendency over Christians by means of black magic. But there were also those who believed that at the time of its suppression the movement of the Pastoureaux had broached only the first part of its programme. These people said that the leaders of the Pastoureaux had intended to massacre first all priests and monks, then all knights and nobles; and when all authority had been overthrown, to spread their teaching throughout the world.

BETWEEN THE MAMLUKS AND THE MONGOLS

1250–1260

With Tturanshah’s bloody heart at Louis’s feet and his body dumped in the Nile, life was draining out of the Ayyubid dynasty. It was the Mamluk regiment created by al-Salih that had massacred the Christians at Mansurah and saved Egypt. This professional military corps had become the power behind the throne, and during the 1250s, they took it. It was a convoluted process that lasted ten years and involved puppet rulers and a contest between different Mamluk factions. They were the source of discord in Cairo. Its citizens came to fear the Turkish presence in their midst. Aqtay, leader of the Bahriyyah regiment, was murdered by a rival, Qutuz, and in 1254, the Bahriyyah, with Baybars increasingly influential, were forced out of Egypt. For the rest of the decade, Baybars honed his leadership and fighting skills on behalf of different Ayyubid princelings in Syria. In Egypt, Qutuz manipulated claimants to the throne and then declared himself sultan in 1259.

Louis, to his great credit, did not shirk the consequences of his failed crusade. Instead of returning to France, he stayed in the Holy Land for four years, ransoming prisoners from the Egyptian debacle and fortifying the remainder crusader footholds at Acre, Caesarea, Jaffa, and Sidon at considerable personal expense. He established a permanent French regiment in Acre, a small but valuable professional force, and also set about seeking out potential allies against Islam.

For a long time, distorted echoes of the advance of the Mongols had been reaching the Christian West—and with it the hope that their kings might become, or even be, Christians. The evidence was otherwise. By the 1240s, eastern Europe was being shattered by Mongol raids. In 1249, while in Cyprus preparing to launch his crusade, Louis had received envoys from the Mongols in Persia. In reply, he dispatched two Dominican friars (one of whom, André de Longjumeau, spoke relevant languages) to encourage their adherence to the Christian faith and “to show and teach the Tartars [Mongols] what they should believe.”1 The missionaries displayed some imaginative insight into the nomadic condition of their potential converts by taking with them a portable tent chapel, embroidered with scenes from the life of Christ, along with chalices, books, and everything needed for the friars to perform mass. The trip took two years and a journey into the heart of central Asia to the Mongol court. Longjumeau returned to find Louis at Caesarea, overseeing refortification of the city after his failure on the Nile. Longjumeau’s somewhat garbled report contained a brisk corrective to any blithe optimism. The friars had witnessed devastation: ruined cities, great heaps of human bones. They had been sent back with the warning that the Mongol khans put all opponents to the sword: “We point this out to warn you that you cannot have peace unless you have peace with us. So we advise you to send us enough gold and silver each year for us to keep thinking of you as friends. If you do not do this we will destroy you and your people as we did those others we mentioned before.” Submit or die: it was a choice that would soon confront the whole of the Middle East. Louis did not reply.

In 1253, Hülegü Khan, brother of the ruler Möngke Khan and a grandson of Genghis, was ordered to advance west with his army, “as far as the borders of Egypt.” The aim was to crush Islam as a step to Mongol world domination. By 1256, Hülegü was in Persia.

Two years later, the Mongols delivered a shattering blow to the Islamic world, one that echoed down the centuries. In January 1258, Hülegü laid siege to Baghdad, seat of the Abbasid Caliphate for half a millennium, repository of scholarship and culture, intellectual center of the Islamic world. With the aid of Chinese siege engineers, Baghdad’s walls were breached in early February. Surrender made no difference. The city was put to utter destruction; mosques, palaces, libraries, and hospitals destroyed. Estimates of the dead have ranged wildly between 90,000 and 800,000. The Tigris ran black with the ink of thousands of books hurled into the water, their leather covers torn off to make sandals. The last Abbasid caliph was rolled in a blanket and trampled to death by Mongol horsemen. The sack of Baghdad shook Islam to its roots.

In September 1259, Hülegü crossed the Euphrates on pontoon bridges with an enormous army, perhaps 120,000 men, his sights set on Syria. The Christian kingdoms of Outremer were in a quandary. Hethoum I, the Christian king of the principality of Cilician Armenia in southwestern Turkey, accepted the overlordship of the Mongols; it was known that Hülegü’s general Kitbuqa had been converted by Nestorians to Christianity, and Hethoum naively believed that the Mongols wanted to recapture Jerusalem for the Christians. He attempted to persuade other Christian enclaves to join the Mongols; only his son-in-law, Bohemond VI, ruler of the small principality of Antioch and count of Tripoli, responded. When Aleppo fell, the Muslims were put to the sword; Armenian Christians burned the great mosque to the ground. Damascus saw what was coming and just opened its gates to the Mongols in March 1260. The city’s Eastern Christians rejoiced intemperately at the discomfiture of their Muslim neighbors: they rang their bells and drank wine during Ramadan—humiliations that would not be forgotten. Soon, almost all of Syria was in Mongol hands. Most of the Ayyubid princes capitulated, and the Mongols were raiding south to the borders of Egypt. The Islamic world was facing collapse.

Acre was also in turmoil. During the late 1250s, it became the epicenter of the growing commercial rivalry between Genoa and Venice that culminated in a full-blown contest in the city, known as the War of St. Sabas. Ostensibly over ownership of the monastery of that saint, which lay on the boundary between the two Italian communes, the war was a reflection of a wider struggle for trading supremacy across the Mediterranean and the Black Sea. The competition sucked in almost all the city’s factions and those of surrounding crusader states. The Pisans sided with the Genoese before switching allegiance to Venice; the Hospitallers were for the Genoese, the Templars and the Teutonic Knights for Venice; the powerful barons of Outremer similarly took sides. The year-long contest included sea battles, blockades, and siege warfare on an intimate scale. Within Acre, the two sides bombarded each other at close range with catapults, hurling rocks over the walls of fortified enclosures into their neighbors’ quarter. The chronicles record that during 1258, “all that year there were at least sixty engines, every one of them throwing down onto the city of Acre, onto houses, towers and turrets, and they smashed and laid level with the ground every building they touched.… This meant that nearly all the towers and strong houses in Acre were destroyed, except for religious houses. Twenty thousand men died in this war on one side or the other… the city of Acre was utterly devastated by this war as if it had been destroyed in warfare between Christians and Saracens.” Allowing for the probably exaggerated death toll, the contest wrecked large parts of the city. Houses, warehouses, ships, and defensive towers were destroyed before the Genoese were finally expelled and their quarter flattened. They moved up the coast to Tyre. Acre required major reconstruction; its trade had been damaged, its factional divisions exacerbated, and its manpower diminished.

At the same time, the kingdom of Jerusalem was also starting to feel pressure from the Mongol advance. Hülegü’s true intentions were expressed in an order to a commander in 1257 to “advance as far as the coasts of the sea, and wrest those countries from the hands of the children of France and England.” Acre had resisted Hethoum’s urging to join the Mongol cause. That year, it received a blunt demand to submit. The determination, as expressed by the military orders, was resolute: “Let therefore these Tartars [Mongols]—these demons of Tartarus—come on, and they will find the servants of Christ encamped and ready to do battle.” In February 1260, Hülegü’s general Kitbuqa peremptorily ordered them to dismantle their walls. The leading council in Acre ignored him and strengthened their fortifications, going so far as robbing outlying cemeteries of tombstones in a search for suitable building material. There was no reason to feel positive about voluntary submission or alliance. Both Armenia and Antioch had been reduced to vassal status. When the lord of Sidon launched an intemperate raid, Mongol forces sacked the city and razed it to the ground. The Mongol contempt for other groups was absolute. Calls were sent to Europe for aid, not only out of fear of the Mongols but also with the hope that with Islamic power waning and the Mongols increasingly focused on Egypt, there might actually be opportunities to expand. The claim was that

we duly believe that Jerusalem and the whole kingdom of Jerusalem could, with God’s aid, be obtained easily if those who are called Christians were swiftly and manfully to make ready to assist us. For the Saracens, for the most part, are now gone. And as for the Tartars, if they meet with resistance on the part of the Latins, we believe that the more [opposition] they fear they will find, the sooner they will sheathe their bloodstained swords.

But no crusading ventures resulted. Acre played a distrustful and waiting game.

When the Mongol blow did fall, the crusader states were mere onlookers. In early 1260, Mongol ambassadors arrived at Cairo with a familiar message:

From the King of Kings of the East and West, the Great Khan. To Qutuz the Mamluk, who fled to escape our swords.

You should think of what happened to other countries… and submit to us. You have heard how we have conquered a vast empire and have purified the earth of the disorders that tainted it. We have conquered vast areas, massacring all the people. You cannot escape from the terror of our armies. Where can you flee? What road will you use to escape us? Our horses are swift, our arrows sharp, our swords like thunderbolts, our hearts as hard as the mountains, our soldiers as numerous as the sand. Fortresses will not detain us, nor arms stop us. Your prayers to God will not avail against us. We are not moved by tears nor touched by lamentations. Only those who beg our protection will be safe.

Hasten your reply before the fire of war is kindled.… Resist and you will suffer the most terrible catastrophes. We will shatter your mosques and reveal the weakness of your God, and then we will kill your children and your old men together.

At present you are the only enemy against whom we have to march.

Qutuz had only seized power three months earlier. His regime was fragile but his response resolute. He chopped the Mongol ambassadors in half and hung their heads from the city gates. He prepared to go out to fight rather than await a siege. The lesson of Baghdad had not been forgotten.

The army that Qutuz could potentially raise was massively outnumbered by a factor of ten to one, but luck was on his side. In August of the preceding year, Möngke, the Great Khan of the Mongols, died, exposing one of the structural flaws in the Mongol Empire. Each succession contest inevitably required a return of the leading khans to central Asia. When word reached Hülegü in Syria, he prepared to withdraw the bulk of his men, perhaps 100,000, leaving his general Kitbuqa with a holding force of 10,000 to 12,000. In a letter sent to Louis IX, Hülegü himself claimed that the withdrawal of the bulk of his army, with its tens of thousands of horses, had been a logistical necessity. The fodder of northern Syria had been used up, and it was the Mongol custom to withdraw to more temperate lands in summer. The possibility that the Mongols, once across the Euphrates, were campaigning at their operational limit was a vulnerability the Mamluks would later exploit.

The Mongol advance into Syria had displaced many Muslim refugees and Ayyubid soldiers, who now rallied to Qutuz. And these included Baybars and the Bahriyyah Mamluk contingent, battle-hardened by a decade of fighting for and against various factions in the fragmentation of Syria. Among these ventures had been raids and invasion attempts against Egypt itself. There was long-standing enmity between the Bahriyyah and Qutuz over the murder of their leading emir, Aqtay, but the differences were, for the time being, shelved. The Mongol threat created a coalition of rivals. Baybars obtained a guarantee of safe conduct from Qutuz and brought his Mamluks to Cairo to confront the gathering storm. His troops were a welcome addition.

In July 1260, the Egyptian army rode out with a force of perhaps 12,000 men, probably slightly larger than Kitbuqa’s. The Egyptians consisted of a small corps of Mamluks, local Egyptian soldiers, and refugees. As Qutuz moved up the coastal plain toward Acre, he decided to ask for Christian cooperation. Within Acre, there were intense discussions on how to respond. Many were in favor. The sacking of Sidon and the intemperate Mongol threats had rattled the Christians. Qutuz was the third sultan of Egypt in six years; there was no reason to believe that he could provide a threatening stability. They could, at that moment, hardly distinguish this latest ruler from the more easy-going Ayyubids, who had been valuable trading partners. A joint campaign might ease the Mongol pressure too. However, the grand master of the Teutonic Order, Hanno von Sangershausen, argued vehemently against any cooperation and eventually talked the authorities out of it. It was unwise to risk Christian lives, and in the aftermath of a Muslim victory, Qutuz might turn on them; better to conserve their strength and watch two rivals fight it out.

The Christians may have opted for neutrality, but they hedged their bets by granting Qutuz a safe conduct. He could pass through their territory without fear of attack. For three days, the Egyptian army camped in orchards outside the city walls and were provided with provisions. There was nervousness in the town. The leading emirs entered Acre and some kind of compact was made. Among them, according to the Christian sources, was “a great emir called Bendocar, who later became sultan.” The Arabic sources claimed that Baybars came in disguise as a spy to gain information to store against a future opportunity. While camped outside the walls of Acre, Qutuz delivered a powerful speech to his increasingly hesitant collection of troops, now more than wary of the power of the Mongols, to whip up their courage: the future of Islam hung in the balance. Baybars was sent ahead with the vanguard to scout out the disposition of the enemy.

Qutuz and his army met the Mongols at Ayn Jalut—the appropriately named Goliath’s Spring, where David was said to have slain the giant—thirty miles southeast of Acre on September 3, 1260, for a contest that has been claimed as epochal in world history. The central corps of each army, supported by allies and unreliable supporters, was similar. It was a battle between matching detachments of Turco-Mongolian horse archers from the Eurasian steppes, employing similar tactics: mounted attacks, feigned retreat, and mobile encirclement. Baybars led the vanguard charging the Mongols, alternately advancing and retreating. Twice the Mongols came close to crushing Qutuz’s army. At the height of the battle, with the situation critical, Qutuz took off his helmet to show his face to his men and shouted, “O Islam, O God, help your servant Qutuz against the Mongols!” With the red and yellow banners of the Mamluk detachments rallying the men, he was able to stem the rout, regroup, and shatter the enemy. Kitbuqa was killed in the heat of the battle and the Mongols were slaughtered. Those who escaped were pursued by Baybars and beaten again.

It was not the first defeat that the Mongols had incurred nor did it end their ambitions in Syria. Theirs was a relatively small army that had unwisely underestimated an adversary similar to itself. Hülegü considered it a local setback that he intended to redress. The Mamluks had not confronted the full force of Mongol military might; a further riposte was inevitable, yet it had unforeseen consequences. Qutuz’s rallying cry was prophetic of the ability of Turkish-speaking peoples, nomads from the Asian steppes, to unify Islam. The battle of Ayn Jalut conferred prestige and legitimacy on these outsiders.

Qutuz was not destined to enjoy the fruits of victory. Maybe he had made overgenerous promises to his leading emirs—including the offer of the governorship of Aleppo to Baybars—which he failed to keep. In the aftermath of Ayn Jalut, the distrust between the Mamluks of Qutuz and those of the Bahriyyah bubbled to the surface again, and so it was probably just a question of which side struck first. The Bahriyyah had never forgiven Qutuz for the murder of Aqtay. On the way back across the desert to Cairo, Qutuz expressed a desire to stop and engage in his favorite sport of hare coursing. He turned off the road, accompanied by his emirs. When the hare had been caught, it signaled the Bahriyyah contingent to make their move. The most likely version of events is something to the effect that Baybars—or perhaps another emir—approached the sultan to ask a favor. Baybars moved to kiss his hand. This was the signal. Baybars firmly gripped Qutuz to prevent him drawing a weapon. A second emir stabbed him with a sword. Qutuz was finished off with arrows. Baybars did not act alone nor was he most likely the one who struck first; as with the murder of Turanshah, history was possibly rewritten to favor him. In the process of election that followed, Baybars claimed primacy on the basis that he was the one who had struck Qutuz down. Although the position of Mamluk sultan came to depend on a supporting confederacy of leading emirs, Baybars was to set about establishing unfettered personal rule.

From Acre, the murder of Qutuz must have looked like just another sign of the welcome dysfunctionality of the Islamic world—one ruler following another in a bloodbath of fragmenting petty kingdoms. The Christians breathed a sigh of relief. The Mongols were defeated, Egypt and Syria remained divided. What they did not know was that with Baybars, a new Turkish dynasty would unify the Islamic Middle East with an uncompromising commitment to jihad not seen since the days of Saladin, nor that the Mongols, despite sorties, would never return with sufficient desire to provide a counterbalance to Baybars or create the space to play off two more powerful opponents. For Acre particularly, the dislocation caused by the Mongols and the rise of the Mamluks had severe economic consequences. With Baghdad ruined, the long-range trade routes that had ended at Acre and Tripoli moved north. The great days of economic prosperity were over, and the lords of Outremer were no longer so rich. Increasingly, they leased or sold their castles and lordships to the military orders, which would become the only viable defense of the Christian Holy Land. It was Baybars who would slowly squeeze their room to breathe. His stealthy reconnoiter of Acre was to be put to good use.

Baybars himself never forgot the allegiances made by some Christians with the Mongol foes, nor the burned mosques. The remaining crusader states were to confront a stable, unified Islamic dynasty and an unrelenting foe in Baybars, who would rule for seventeen years. The new sultan was said to be short of stature, broad chested, with a powerful voice. In one of his blue eyes there was an unusual white fleck. When he was first sold as a slave, he had fetched a cheap price—one purchaser promptly returned him to the auctioneer as spoiled goods. It was said that there was something evil in his eye. He rarely blinked.