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Chapter 9

CHAPTER IX: THE FIRST CRUSADE (AD 1095-1099) PART I

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.