Wednesday, 31 October 2012


After a siege gruelling beyond belief, the First Crusade had added the great city of Antioch to their list of extraordinary triumphs against the odds. The faltering cause had strength anew, as the Lance that pierced Christ's side at the Crucifixion was discovered at the last moment. The last great hurdle between the crusaders and the Holy City had been lifted, and the road to Jerusalem lay yonder...

The Angel of the Lord spurs on the Crusaders
Engraving by Gustave Doré
The euphoria from the triumph over Kerbogha took a long while to die down. As the dust cleared on the 29th June 1098, Christian's fell to their knees and gave thanks to God, for invulnerability, it seemed, was theirs now. But scarcely had that dust cleared when dissent struck the leadership of the Crusade. Scheming Bohemond, the Prince of Taranto, argued that the Emperor of Constantinople had deserted them, rendering the oaths they had all sworn before Alexius void. As the one who had ultimately prised open the formidable defences of Antioch, many argued that the city should come under his rule, many others disagreed. Most vocal was Count Raymond of Toulouse, a key leader of the Crusade, along with many others. The deeply pious Raymond scorned the hot-headed and flagrantly ambitious Bohemond, but was unable to sway a majority in the crusader noble council. For months was the crusade paralysed by infighting, and whilst it seemed the arguments were without end, supplies were not. The wretched famine that had so plagued the crusaders before Antioch fell had not abated, and now began to grow worse still. In desperation, for the already poverty stricken peasants in Syria refused to offer food, the crusaders turned their wrath upon the city of Maarrat, seizing it after a swift siege. Famine was so terrible at this point that the unthinkable was forced into horrifying reality. So weak they could barely stand, the crusaders were forced to resort to cannibalism, and the armed pilgrimage was "placed  in the cruel necessity of feeding itself upon the bodies of the Saracens". Vile pestilence stalked the streets of the crusader camp, retribution of the divine or of nature, who could say? Men and horses began to fall to the desert sand, never to rise again. Soon Adhemar, the papal legate of the Crusade who bore the Holy Lance, lay dead. Winter came, and cold amplified all perils, as Death followed the Crusade wherever it went. At last, their patience boiled over, the lesser knights and pilgrims of the Crusade threatened to march alone and leaderless to the Holy City if the situation were not resolved immediately. The year 1099 arrived, and the First Crusade took to the road once again, leaving Bohemond behind. So was formed one of the first of the Crusader States in the Holy Land - the Principality of Antioch, with Bohemond her first Prince. Another crusader leader, Baldwin of Boulogne, had broken off from the Crusade to form the County of Edessa, another Crusader State. The First Crusade, grand vision of Christendom, was faltering.

South the grand pilgrimage marched, passing many great cities of old. Tyre, Sidon and Acre, were all passed by with eerie peace, as all preferred to make peace than war with the Crusade, depleted though it was. Of over a hundred thousand pilgrims who took the cross, scarcely twelve thousand now survived to march on Jerusalem, and a mere twelve hundred knights. Only a handful of horses now remained. Word from those Christian peasants in those lands, who braved to make contact, told of the horrors the Turks had unleashed upon them, torture and forced conversion of their children. The Surian people, mostly Christian, advised Godfrey of Bouillon, Raymond and Tancred the nephew of Bohemond to take the path South, for the road through Damascus was not safe, for water would not be found for two days. The mountains of the Lebanon offered shelter, and good supplies of water, but the ground was too rugged for pack animals and camels. Only the coastal plain remained open, alongside Tripoli. Godfrey, the Duke of Lorraine, exhorted his fellows to action, and roused the crusader spirit once again. The crusaders gathered the relics from the churches of Antioch, and prepared for the final push.

The Crusaders lay Siege to Jerusalem
Engraving by Gustave DorĂ© 
After an arduous journey under the burning Sun, there appeared on the horizon a sight many thought they would never see. Four years since Pope Urban II gave that momentous speech, words that shook the world,  the Holy City of Jerusalem was there on the horizon within sight at last! So many had fallen on the Great Expedition, tens of thousands who had left home in search of salvation, or a better life, now saw a place in their dreams. Many fell to their knees and wept, after so long and so much suffering. Raymond leapt off his horse in amazement at the sight, and donned the attire of a humble pilgrim. The fire of zeal rippled through the crusader ranks. Men of the West had heard of the city where Christ suffered only through the Bible, through fragmented stories of travellers, a place at the furthest ends of the Earth. Yet here it lay, in all its splendour, in physical, and visible, form at last. Back in Antioch, Peter Bartholomew had a vision in his dreams that Jerusalem, and the Kingdom of Heaven, would be theirs if they approached barefoot the walls of the Holy City, but here in the euphoria, his words of warning lay forgotten, and silent. The same could not happen here as at Antioch, to lay Jerusalem under siege until surrender was impossible. Too few crusaders were left, the countryside was harsh, scant of food, water and wood, and the danger of relief from the slowly uniting Muslim nations was terrifying. It was now or never. Without delay, the crusaders set up position around Jerusalem, preparing for the final onslaught, well aware that the outcome of this would be remembered in history for all times.

June 7th, 1099, arrived. Duke Robert of Normandy, and Count Robert of Flanders took up position to the north by the Church of the Blessed Stephen, where the martyr was stoned to death in ancient times. Duke Godfrey and Tancred set up camp to the West, and Count Raymond established base at the foot of Mount Zion, by the Church of the Blessed Mary, in the very place where legend had said that the Virgin Mary had departed the World, and where Christ had broken bread with his Disciples. On the third day, foraging parties encountered a band of Saracen troops whilst intent on plunder. After a brief struggle their foes were overcome, and thirty horses seized. Morale in the Christian camp soared. One crusader leader encountered a hermit on the Mount of Olives. "If you will attack the city tomorrow till the ninth hour, the Lord will deliver it into your hands", the wizened sage declared. "But we have not the necessary machinery for storming the walls", said the leader. "God is all powerful", said he, "If He wills, He will storm the walls even with one ladder. The Lord aids those who labor for the truth". The next day, the crusaders hurled themselves against the defenders of Jerusalem, the soldiers of the Egyptian Fatimid Caliphate, and fought with such fury that the city would have fallen that day had siege engines been ready at hand. The defenders were thrown back from the outer wall, which the Christians threw down, but held the inner walls firm. Many Christians fell, but many more of the Caliph's men. Food supplies were almost out, and for nine days the crusaders were forced to go without bread. On the tenth day, word came from the nearby port of Jaffa - ships from Genoa had been sighted, laden with supplies - aid was coming! Daylight came, and a hundred of Raymond's knights rushed to Jaffa, scarcely a day's march from Jerusalem, desperate for food. Spying many hundreds of Arabian soldiers rushing to cut them off, thirty of the most zealous Christian knights charged. Great chaos was sown, yet surrounded now were the foolhardy men. A messenger hurtled toward the main vanguard "Why do you dally here with your knights? Lo! All your comrades are in the clutches of Arabs, Turks and Saracens, perhaps even dead at this very minute. Hurry, hurry to their aid!" The man's words sparked fire in the crusaders who galloped to the aid of their brethren. So spirited was the charge that each knight conquered his foe, and the Arabs were sent reeling, and one hundred and three horses were captured. Spirits soared in the Christian camp at the news.

The Siege of Jerusalem
Image taken from a 13th century French
Illuminated Manuscipt
Yet ills abounded of their own for the crusaders. Water had all but disappeared. So desperate were they, that knight, lord and peasant alike sewed together the skins of oxen, buffalo and goats into leather skins and lugged water for over six miles under the unbearable heat of the desert. So foul and putrid was the water than disease, bane of the Crusade, ran rampant through the camp. Only the Fountain of Siloam at the foot of Zion released clean water, but only once every three days. Water was sold at so steep a price that a man could scarcely quench his terrible thirst for a fortune in gold. But hope remained with the arrival of aid from the coast. A party of Genoese under Guglielmo Embriaco appeared on the horizon, bringing skilled engineers and much needed timber to the crusaders. Without delay they set about raising mighty Siege Towers and ladders galore, whilst the defenders matched them in equal measure, strengthening the walls where they were weak, and raising the towers. There then came one night a vision of the fallen Adhemar to Peter Desiderius. The voice of the spirit commanded:

     " You who have come from distant lands to worship God and the Lord of hosts,
        purge yourselves of your uncleanliness, and let each one turn from his evil ways.
        Then with bare feet march around Jerusalem invoking God, and you must also
        fast. If you do this and them make a great attack on the city on the ninth day,
        it will be captured. If yo do not, all the evils that you have suffered will be
        multiplied by the Lord..."
                      - THE COMMAND OF ADHEMAR

The clergy in the Christian camp were afire at this news. Recognising the great evil that had been committed by many of the crusaders, they urged all to turn to each other as brothers, and lay aside their quarrels, and humble themselves before God. Their words fell on joyful ears as they addressed the princes and paupers of Europe. On the next Friday after three days of fasting, the priests lead the way, clad in their sacred vestments, marching before the sign of the cross, with lord, knight and peasant alike in tow, all barefoot in their great procession. It was as the days of Joshua, who lead the procession alongside the walls of Jericho, in most ancient times. High on the walls of Jerusalem, the Fatimid garrison jeered, raising crosses and striking them with their blades. Unfazed,  the crusaders stopped on the Mount of Olives, at the spot men say that Christ was taken into Heaven, whereupon a great speech was made to the gathered pilgrims that now they were here in all places , "we can do nothing more to purify ourselves, let each one of us forgive his brother whom he has injured, that the Lord many forgive us". News arrived that reinforcements were on their way from Egypt to drive the crusaders from the Holy Lands once and for all. It was now or never. The First Crusade would end in with the capture of Jerusalem now, or it would end in total disaster here at the very end.

Godfrey of Bouillon
Fresco by Giacomo Jaquerio
The 13th of July came, and the final attack began. Raymond's men rolled up their siege tower, with considerable difficulty, and stormed the South wall of Jerusalem. Far away, Godfrey and Tancred hurled themselves upon the North. The defenders fought back with exemplary valour. On all sides the crusaders charged the walls, but nowhere could a gap be opened. Many machines were burned and destroyed, and for every one the crusaders built, the defenders built seven more. Raymond's attack met with fierce oppostion. Things seemed desperate. However, in the words of an eyewitness, "the hour soon approached on which our Lord Jesus Christ designed to suffer on the Cross for us", and the knowledge of this spurred the crusaders on. One knight, by the name of Lethold, in the entourage of Duke Godfrey hurled himself onto the city wall, becoming the first crusader to gaze down upon the Holy City at last. Thrown back, the defenders fled in all directions, and the Christians poured into the city. Word reached Raymond, far away, who turned to his men, "Why do you loiter? Lo, the Franks are even now within the city!". Heartened by the triumph of their brethren, they fought as men possessed, throwing the Muslim lines into anarchy. The Emir commanding the Tower of David surrendered it to Godfrey, handing over the keys to the pilgrims gate. Where once peaceful worshippers had travelled, now a bloodthirsty mob thundered through. Terrible was the carnage, as four years of frustration and suffering allied with zealous faith was unleashed upon Jerusalem. None were safe, soldier or civilian alike, as all were slaughtered without mercy. To this day, the massacre of Jerusalem lives on in the memory of history as one of the greatest crimes in all humanity. Men, women and children were butchered where they stood, heads were severed and blood ran in rivers. The fleeing garrison fled to the Temple Mount, seeking refuge upon the roof. Tancred, seeing the carnage all around, felt a ripple of fear for his immortal soul, and desperately shouted at his men to contain themselves, declaring them prisoners of war under his protection. But the momentum of raw instinct and passion is not easily turned aside. Raymond's men poured through the gate and inflicted brutal death upon them. So terrible to behold it was, people hurled themselves to their deaths from the roof of the Temple to avoid vengeful blades. To the Temple of Solomon the crusaders pursued their foe. One who was there looked on is disbelief:

        " Piles of heads, hands an feet were to be seen in the streets of the city. It was
          necessary to pick one's way over the bodies of men and horses. But these were
          small matters  compared to what happened at the Temple of Solomon. What
          happened there? If I tell the truth, it will exceed your powers of belief. So let it
          suffice to say this much, at least, that in the Temple and porch of Solomon, men
          rode in blood up to their knees and bridle reins... "
                     - THE MASSACRE AT THE TEMPLE

The Battle of Ascalon
Image taken from a 13th century French
Illuminated Manuscript
When the smoke cleared on the 16th July, Songs of triumph rose higher than the cries of lamentation. "This is the day the Lord hath made, let us rejoice and be glad in it!", rang through a city drenched in blood. Men of the First Crusade fell to their knees and kissed the ground, their Great Expedition was over at last, and the Holy City was in Christian hands. Four years since the small Council of Clermont, when a Pope had implored all to march to salvation, the end had come. But at a price so terrible that the outrages of it live on in the memories of those who even today shed blood in the Holy Lands. The more honourable among the crusaders looked on in anguish and dismay as the Crusade was for ever stained in blood. So was born another of the Crusader States - the Kingdom of Jerusalem. But who to elect as the new King of Jerusalem? Thoughts turned to Raymond, but he declined.The clergy declared, "you ought not to choose a king in the city where the Lord suffered and was crowned". But council turned upon the noble Godfrey, one of the few men present who was a truly spiritual man at heart, a mighty warrior and pious soul. To him was offered the crown of Jerusalem, yet the horrified Godfrey refused, declaring that it was blasphemous to wear a crown of gold where Christ had worn a crown of thorns. Instead, he was named the Guardian of the Holy Sepulchre, the holiest of churches which now lay in Christian hands. To Raymond passed the County of Tripoli some years later, forging the last of the Crusader States. The crusading vow fulfilled, many deigned to return home, but unfinished business was yet needed. For the grand army of the vizier of Egypt bore down upon Jerusalem. But with the crusaders on such a high, and with the wise council of Godfrey, the Fatimids were decisively crushed at Ascalon on the 10th of August 1099, only a days march from the Holy City. The Kingdom of Jerusalem was safe, for now...

When news arrived in Europe, the crusaders were hailed as heroes, and all who made the return journey home were greeted as royalty. All those who had deserted the crusade were scorned as cowards beyond the grace of God. Duke Robert of the Normans returned home to find, to his dismay, that the throne of England had been usurped by his younger brother Henry, now Henry I of England. Defeated in war, the would be King Robert died in imprisonment in Wales in 1134. Raymond ruled the County of Tripoli for six years, envious of the glories of his fellow leaders. Godfrey ruled the Kingdom of Jerusalem well but briefly, dying of illness in 1100, succeeded by his brother Baldwin, crowned King of Jerusalem. Tancred, on account of his piety and competence as a leader, was named Prince of Galilee and regent of Antioch. Hot headed Bohemond ruled Antioch with eccentric adventurism, a law unto himself, until the Emperor Alexius at last brought him to heel, but only through cooperation with the Emirs of the East. Embarking upon adventures back in Europe, many a court did he enthral with his tales of heroism and his dazzling relics, even winning the hand of the daughter of the King of France in marriage. Thirsting for glory, Bohemond launched an audacious war against the Romans, determined to exact revenge upon Alexius, but alas in vain. He died in Italy in 1111, where his body remains to this day. Pope Urban II, the man whose vision the Crusade had been, died on the 29th July 1099, just days before the word reached Rome of the fall of Jerusalem. Many flooded to the Holy Lands, to begin a new life in Christian lands, in a foreboding of the colonisation of the New World six centuries later. In the wake of the Crusade, the Military Orders of the Church were first established, most famously the Knights Templar, yet also the Knights Hospitaller and the Teutonic Knights, both of which are still active today. Only a fraction of those who set out from Clermont lived to see the end of the First Crusade, but its memory lived far beyond mortal lives, for its staggering success against the odds, and the terrible crimes wrought in its wake...

United Kingdom

Eyewitness accounts
The First Crusade: "The Chronicle of Fulcher of Chartres" and Other Source Materials (Middle Ages)
(A very useful collection of eyewitness accounts of the First Crusade)

United States

Eyewitness accounts
The First Crusade: "The Chronicle of Fulcher of Chartres" and Other Source Materials (The Middle Ages Series)
(A very useful collection of eyewitness accounts of the First Crusade) 

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