Chapter 9 - THE FIRST CRUSADE, PART 1 (AD 1095-1099)

The popes who came next after Gregory VII carried things with a high hand, following the example which he had set them. They got the better of Henry IV, but in a way which did them no credit. For when Henry had returned from Italy to his own country, and had done his best, by many years of good government, to heal the effects of the long, troubles of Germany, the popes encouraged his son Conrad, and after Conrad's death, his younger son Henry, to rebel against him. The younger Henry behaved very treacherously to his father, whom he forced to give up his crown, and at last Henry IV died broken-hearted in 1106. When Henry was thus out of the way, his son, Henry V, who, until then, had seemed to be a tool of the pope and the clergy, showed what sort of man he really was by imprisoning Pope Paschal II and his cardinals for nine weeks, until he made the pope grant all that he wanted. But at length this emperor was able to settle for a time the great quarrel of investitures, by an agreement made at the city of Worms, on the Rhine, in 1123.

But before this time, and while Henry IV was still emperor, the popes had got a great addition to their power and importance by the Crusades,--a word which means wars undertaken for the sake of the Cross. I have told you already how, from the fourth century, it became the fashion for Christians to flock from all countries into the Holy Land, that they might warm their faith (as they thought) by the sight of the places where our Blessed Lord had been born, and lived, and died, and where most of the other things written in the Scripture history had taken place (p 91). Very often, indeed, this pilgrimage was found to do more harm than good to those who went on it, for many of them had their minds taken up with anything rather than the pious thoughts which they professed; but the fashion of pilgrimage grew more and more, whether the pilgrims were the better or the worse for it.

When the Holy Land had fallen into the hands of the Mahometans, as I have mentioned (p 169), these often treated the Christian pilgrims very badly, behaving cruelly to them, insulting them, and making them pay enormously for leave to visit the holy places. And when Palestine was conquered by the Turks, who had taken up the Mahometan religion lately, and were full of their new zeal for it (AD 1076), the condition of the Christians there became worse than ever. There had often been thoughts among the Christians of the West as to making an attempt to get back the Holy Land from the unbelievers; but now the matter was to be taken up with a zeal which had never before been felt.

A pilgrim from the north of France, called Peter the Hermit, on returning from Jerusalem, carried to Pope Urban II a fearful tale of the tyranny with which the Mahometans there treated both the Christian inhabitants and the pilgrims: and the pope gave him leave to try what he could do to stir up the Christians of the West for the deliverance of their brethren. Peter was a small, lean, dark man, but with an eye of fire, and with a power of fiery speech; and Wherever he went, he found that people of all classes eagerly thronged to hear him; they even gathered up the hairs which fell from the mule on which he rode, and treasured them up as precious relics. On his bringing back to the pope a report of the success which he had thus far met, Urban himself resolved to proclaim the crusade, and went into France, as being the country where it was most likely to be welcomed. There, in a great meeting at Clermont, AD 1095, where such vast numbers attended that most of them were forced to lodge in tents because the town itself could not hold them, the pope, in stirring words, set forth the reasons for the holy war, and invited his hearers to take part in it. While he was speaking, the people broke in on him with shouts of "God wills it!"--words which from that time became the cry of the Crusaders; and when he had done, thousands enlisted for the crusade by fixing little crosses on their dress.

All over Europe everything was set into motion; almost every one, whether old or young, strong or feeble, was eager to join; women urged their husbands or their sons to take the cross, and any one who refused was despised by all. Many of those who enlisted would not wait for the time which had been fixed for starting. A large body set out under Peter the Hermit and two knights, of whom one was called Walter the Pennyless. Other crowds followed, which were made up, not of fighting men only; but of poor, broken-down old men, of women and children who had no notion how very far off Jerusalem was, or what dangers lay in the way to it. There were many simple country folks, who set out with their families in carts drawn by oxen; and, whenever they came to any town, their children asked, "Is this Jerusalem?" And besides these poor creatures, there were many bad people, who plundered as they went on, so as to make the crusade hated even by the Christian inhabitants of the countries through which they passed.

These first swarms took the way through Hungary to Constantinople, and then across the Bosphorus into Asia Minor. Walter the Pennyless, who, although his pockets were empty, seems to have been a brave and good soldier, was killed in battle near Nicaea, the place where the first general council had been held (p 45), but which had now become the capital of the Turks; and the bones of his followers who fell with him were gathered into a great heap, which stood as a monument of their rashness. It is said that more than a hundred thousand human beings had already perished in these ill-managed attempts before the main forces of the Crusaders began to move.

PART II

When the regular armies started at length, AD 1096, part of them marched through Hungary, while others went through Italy, and there took ship for Constantinople. The chief of their Leaders was Godfrey of Bouillon, a brave and pious knight; and among the other commanders was Robert, duke of Normandy, whom we read of in English history as the eldest son of William the Conqueror, and brother of William Rufus. When they reached Constantinople, they found that the Greek emperor, Alexius, looked on them with distrust and dislike rather than with kindness; and he was glad to get rid of them by helping them across the strait to Asia.

In passing through Asia Minor, the Crusaders had to fight often, and to struggle with many other difficulties. The sight of the hill of bones near Nicaea roused them to fury; and, in order to avenge Walter the Pennyless and his companions, they laid siege to the city, which they took at the end of six weeks. After resting there for a time they went on again and reached Antioch, which they besieged for eight months (Oct. 1097--June 1098). During this siege they suffered terribly. Their tents were blown to shreds by the winds, or were rotted by the heavy rains which turned the ground into a swamp; and, as they had wasted their provisions at the beginning of the siege (not expecting that it would last so long), they found themselves in great distress for food, so that they were obliged to eat the flesh of horses and camels, of dogs and mice, with grass and thistles, leather, and the bark of trees. Their horses had almost all sunk under the hardships of the siege, and the men were thinned by disease and by the assaults of their enemies.

At length Antioch was betrayed to them; but they made a bad use of their success. They slew all of the inhabitants who refused to become Christians. They wasted the provisions which they found in the city, or which were brought to them from other quarters; and when a fresh Mahometan force appeared, which was vastly greater than their own, they found themselves shut in between it and the garrison of the castle, which they had not been able to take when they took the city.

Their distress was now greater than before, and their case seemed to be almost hopeless, when their spirits were revived by the discovery of something which was supposed to be the lance by which our blessed Lord's side was pierced on the Cross. They rushed, with full confidence, to attack the enemy on the outside; and the victory which they gained over these was soon followed by the surrender of the castle. But a plague which broke out among them obliged them to remain nearly nine months longer at Antioch.

Having recruited their health, they moved on towards Jerusalem, although their numbers were now much less than when they had reached Antioch. When at length they came in sight of the holy city, a cry of "Jerusalem! Jerusalem! God wills it!" ran through the army, although many were so moved that they were unable to speak and could only find vent for their feelings in tears and sighs. All threw themselves on their knees and kissed the sacred ground (June, 1099). The siege of Jerusalem lasted forty days, during which the Crusaders suffered much from hunger, and still more from thirst; for it was the height of summer, when all the brooks of that hot country are dried up; the wells, about which we read so much in holy Scripture, were purposely choked with rubbish, and the cisterns were destroyed or poisoned. Water had to be fetched from a distance of six miles, and was sold very dear; but it was so filthy that many died after drinking it. The besiegers found much difficulty in getting wood to make the engines which were then used in attacking the walls of cities; and when they had at length been able to build such machines as they wanted, the defenders tried to upset them, and threw at them showers of burning pitch or oil, and what was called the Greek fire, in the hope that they might set the engines themselves in flames, or at least might scald or wound the people in them. We are even told that two old women, who were supposed to be witches, were set to utter spells and curses from the walls; but a stone from an engine crushed the poor old wretches, and their bodies tumbled down into the ditch which surrounded the city. The Crusaders were driven back in one assault, and were all but giving way in the accord; but Godfrey of Bouillon thought that he saw in the sky a bright figure of a warrior beckoning him onwards; and the Crusaders pressed forward with renewed courage until they found themselves masters of the holy city (July 15, 1099). It was noted that this was at three o'clock on a Friday afternoon--the same day of the week, and the same hour of the day, when our Blessed Lord was crucified.

I shall not tell you of the butchery and of the other shocking things which the Crusaders were guilty of when they got possession of Jerusalem. They were, indeed, wrought up to such a state that they were not masters of themselves. At one moment they were throwing themselves on their knees with tears of repentance and joy; and then again they would start up and break loose into some frightful acts of cruelty and plunder against the conquered enemy, sparing neither old man, nor woman, nor child.

PART III

Eight days after the taking of Jerusalem, the Crusaders met to choose a king. Robert of Normandy was one of those who were proposed; but the choice fell on Godfrey of Bouillon. But the pious Godfrey said that he would not wear a crown of gold where the King of Kings had been crowned with thorns; and he refused to take any higher title than that of Defender and Baron of the Holy Sepulchre.

Godfrey did not live long to enjoy his honours, and his brother, Baldwin, was chosen in his room. The kingdom of Jerusalem was established, and pilgrims soon began to stream afresh towards the sacred places. But, although we might have expected to find that this recovery of the Holy Land from the Mahometans by the Christians of the West would have led to union of the Greek and Latin Churches, it unhappily turned out quite otherwise. The popes set up a Latin patriarch, with Latin bishops and clergy, against the Greeks, and the two Churches were on worse terms than ever.

This crusade was followed by others, as we shall see by-and-by; but meanwhile, I may say that, although the Latin kingdom of Jerusalem was never strong, and soon showed signs of decay, these crusades brought the nations of the West, which fought side by side in them, to know more of each other; that they served to increase trade with the East, and so to bring the produce of the Eastern countries within the reach of Europeans; and, as I have said, already (p 199), they greatly helped to increase the power of the popes, who had seen their way to take the direction of them, and thus get a stronger hold than before on the princes and people of Western Christendom.