Historical Overview of the Crusades

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Not to be deterred, Pope Innocent III called for another crusade to Egypt in 1213. It was believed that the Christians couldn’t hold Jerusalem until Egypt was captured. The pope died before the Fifth Crusade departed in 1217, without proper leadership. King John Lackland of England and Frederick II of Germany never actually went on the crusade. In 1218, papal control over the crusade was asserted through Pelagius of Albano, who successfully captured Damietta in 1219 but failed to advance further. By the end of 1221, the Fifth Crusade had retreated from Egypt. Because of his failure to appear in the Fifth Crusade, Frederick II of Germany was facing excommunication in 1225, so he swore new crusading vows and agreed to set sail in 1227. After the death of his wife in 1228 he became the regent King of Jerusalem- and was open to the idea of a truce with al-Kamil, the Egyptian Sultan.

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In 1229 the two rulers signed a 10-year truce which brought Jerusalem under Christian rule. This would be the only success of the Sixth Crusade, and King Frederick II abandoned Jerusalem by the end of 1229. Jerusalem would change hands twice before falling again under Muslim rule until World War I. In response to the capture of Jerusalem by Egyptian forces in 1244, the Seventh Crusade was called. King Louis IX of France took up the cross before the Pope’s crusading bull in 1245 and raised a substantial army before marching in 1248. He obtained Damietta easily in 1249, but impatience by his brother, Robert of Artois, resulted in a failed attack on Mansurah in 1250. The Seventh Crusaders surrendered and agreed to pay a ransom for their release and returned Damietta to Turan Shah, the Egyptian Sultan. (Daileader, Lecture 15) Despite the loss, King Louis IX began another Crusade in 1267.

 The Eighth Crusade drew Edward Longshanks, future king of England, and King James of Aragon into its ranks. In 1269 James’ fleet ran into a storm and he was killed, and without warning, Louis IX changed their destination from Egypt to North Africa. His death in 1270 left his brother in charge. Charles of Anjou secured tribute Tunis and cut the Eighth Crusade short, ending the last major crusade quickly. The Eastern Crusades ended in 1291, when Sultan Qalawun of the Malmuks conquered the remaining crusader states and Outremer ceased to exist. (Daileader, Lecture 17) While most people would group all Medieval crusades as against Muslims in the East and a fight for the Holy Land, it is not the case. 3 crusades were led in Europe against religions that were not Muslim, often as a territorial expansion over a religious cause. The same man responsible for motivating the Second Crusade’s departure  Bernard of Clairvaux  also organized another, less well-known expedition to Northern Europe. He called upon Pope Eugenius III to sanction a crusade along the Elbe River in Eastern Germany. Many potential German crusaders in 1147 had hesitated to fight Muslims in the far East with a pagan threat’ on their border. Bernard’s push to convert or destroy set a tone of brutality for all northern crusades. The Wendish Crusade only lasted two weeks in 1147, with Wendish leaders renouncing their baptismal conversions soon after the crusaders left.

However, by the end of the 12th century, the Wends had fallen to Saxon and Danish rule, effectively absorbing them into Christendom. Following the Wendish Crusade in 1147, and with the new Bishop Albert of Livonia’s appointment in 1199, the Northern Crusades picked up momentum. Between 1199 and Albert’s death in 1229, he led annual crusades against Baltic pagans and established a military order for the region: The Livonian Sword Brethren. Teutonic Knights eventually absorbed them. By 1230 effort of the Baltic Crusade had turned towards Prussia, and by 1300 the Teutonic Knights had conquered it. In 1245, the Teutonic Knights and all who joined them were granted plenary indulgence, leading to two centuries of crusades in central and eastern Europe. Having been ignored by the Fourth Crusaders in 1204, and King Phillip II of France on multiple occasions, Pope Innocent III directly addressed the Nobility of Northern France in 1208. He called on them to crusade against the Cather heretics in southern France, in response to a papal assassination  blamed on the Cathars and their protectors’, namely Count Raymond VI of Toulouse. Initial hesitation by the people to fight their relatives and neighbors was soon overrun with the promise of keeping captured lands, and later  plenary indulgences for 40 days of crusading. In 1209 after killing indiscriminately in the city of Beziers the crusades infamous quote: Kill them all. God will know his own. emerged. (Daileader, Lecture 13)

The Albigensian Crusades would last another two decades and see the death of two kings. By 1229 Count Raymond VI surrendered, leaving his lands to his daughter  who would marry a French Royal. The Cathar sect survived at least another century afterwards, though they lost the protection of French nobleman because of the crusade. As the Albigensian Crusades were on the rise, a smaller non-papal crusade was gaining momentum in Chartres, France. It was led by a shepherd named Steven of Cloyes, rumored to be 12-15 years old. The Children’s Crusade was composed of youths ages 6-14. In early 1212, King Phillip II of France ordered them to disperse after they arrived outside his palace. Instead, they headed to Germany, where they picked up additional travelers, intent on delivering Jerusalem through miraculous means. (Daileader, Lecture 13)

Various accounts of what happened to the Children’s Crusade differ. They never reached the Holy Land, and their efforts were likely halted after failing to book passage across the sea. Later, edited accounts added increasingly brutal ends to the Children’s Crusade, also trying to bury the clergy’s initial hostility towards the movement. It survived as long as it did with the support of the people, though it had faded out by the end of 1212 with most of the children returning home. 300 years before the first crusade to the Holy Land, the Iberian Peninsula had been divided into a small Christian North and a large Muslim South. During the First Crusade, Spanish Crusaders were encouraged to stay and defend newly gained Christian territory. Along with Germany and France, Spanish Christians were called to crusade in 1145 by Pope Eugenius III. Crusades in Spain were vastly different from crusades in the Holy Land. With established Christian royals, their territorial claims were backed by their ideological views. In 1147, while their fellow Christians failed in the Second Crusade, the Spanish Reconquista saw a string of lasting victories on their way to capture the Moor city of Lisbon. The Reconquista lasted from 718 to 1492. During the Crusades, Spanish view on the treatment of Muslims often put them at odds with other European Christians. The Christian vs. Muslim conflict outlived the Crusades for the Holy Land by more than 500 years. One of the more unsettling aspects of the Christian Reconquista was the fact that, in Medieval Spain, war bred tolerance, and peace bred intolerance. (Daileader, Lecture 11)

With the 1291 end of the Holy Land Crusades, Spain had seen a partial expulsion of Muslims from their territory. In 1311 the Council of Vienne prohibited Muslim prayers, and by 1492 Spain had expelled all remaining Muslims and Jews. This long-lasting conflict is largely misrepresented or ignored in modern discussion of the crusades. The loudest motivator for the crusades was a religious one, but ultimately, they were attempts to gain territory and power  or to maintain it. When Christian crusaders fought their way to Jerusalem at the heart of the Muslim world, the flow of civilization was the other way. (DK, p 75) Though the Crusaders did not win the Holy Land, they did result in cultural curiosity and exchange. (Daileader, Lecture 21) The Dominance of two mutually hostile monotheistic religions was the most distinctive characteristic of [The Middle Ages] across much of Eurasia. (Grant, p 74)

The failures of the crusades East outshine the successes of the crusades in Europe  though the European crusades had a longer lasting impact in history. The Catholic Church and Christianity maintained a strong hold in the civilizations that developed after the Middle Ages. In retrospect, it has been surmised that The Crusades were The most signal and most durable monument of human folly that has yet appeared in any age or nation. (Hume, circa 1778) Modern views that the Crusades somehow triumphed over Islam conveniently ignore that the territory fell to Mongols, not the West. Although the Crusades accomplished little of lasting value, they exposed Europeans to the larger world and encouraged them to unite under strong leaders. (Kagan, p 161) In researching The Crusades, I noticed a trend of biased inaccuracies. Several of the books I read had conflicting information, from how The Children’s Crusade ended to important dates, even the names of various rulers.

What I know of the Crusades now is still minimal and guessing at what brought on the madness is futile. What I can be sure of is the pattern of humanity where opportunities to grow are continually missed. Americans look at the Middle Ages today with lenses colored by chivalry-biased propaganda; ignoring the hubris in civil disdain and turning our noses from what stinks’. War is not pretty, it is rarely an advantage for the people and it always benefits someone higher up the food chain  no matter the structure of government. The Crusades failed at expanding Western control in the East, but it did succeed in the near erasure and continual persecution of anyone who did not adhere to Catholic expectation or control for centuries afterwards.

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Historical Overview Of The Crusades. (2020, Feb 26). Retrieved January 30, 2023 , from
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