Post-classical history


The kingdom of England did not show the same level of commitment to the crusading cause as France, but it was nevertheless a major contributor to the crusading movement. One reigning and one future king went on crusade to the Holy Land, several others took the cross, and there was some English participation in almost every significant crusading expedition from 1096 to 1291, as well as considerable English interest in the later crusading movement. England was affected by the crusades in many of the same ways as the continental lands, such as in the development of crusade taxation and the foundation of houses of the military orders.

English Involvement in Crusade Expeditions

Some Anglo-Norman nobles participated in the First Crusade (1096-1099) together with Robert Curthose, duke of Normandy, the brother of King William II. These lords may not have been English as such, but they included men with strong landed connections with England. However, the main areas of recruitment for the crusade were France, the Low Countries, and Norman Italy. Englishmen were recorded among the nationalities involved in the army of Peter the Hermit, but there is no independent evidence to support this.

Recruitment for the Second Crusade (1147-1149) was concentrated in France and Germany. However, there was significant English participation in the expedition to Lisbon in 1147. Crusaders from the port towns of southern and eastern England joined their counterparts from Flanders and Germany in a seaborne expedition, and all of them were persuaded by Afonso I Henriques, the king of Portugal, to join in his siege of Lisbon en route to the Mediterranean. One of these Englishmen wrote an account of the siege, known as the De Expugnatione Lyxbonensi. The subsequent capture of the city was to prove the most significant achievement of the whole crusade. At a more exalted level of the social spectrum, a number of English lords joined the main expedition to the Holy Land, notably Waleran of Meulan, earl of Worcester, and Roger Clinton, bishop of Chester.

A number of Anglo-Norman lords took part in the crusade of Philip, count of Flanders, in 1177. Their participation in this and other expeditions led by foreign rulers is an indication of the close ties that existed between the English nobility and that of the continent, as well as of the international nature of crusading. The presence of Englishmen on this expedition was also a result of King Henry II’s suspicions of Count Philip’s motives. Fearing that Philip might attempt to claim the throne of Jerusalem, which Henry possibly hoped to gain for himself, the English king sent William of Mandeville to keep an eye on him. Henry II himself never went on crusade, despite repeatedly promising to do so, but he did provide funds for the defense of the Holy Land, and initiated the first taxes for that purpose.

Most later crusades to the Holy Land involved significant English participation, even though the commitment shown by English kings was inconsistent. The most celebrated English crusader was Richard I the Lionheart, who led a contingent on the Third Crusade (1189-1192), in the course of which he distinguished himself by his abilities as a commander, though less so as a diplomat. The crusade was a collaborative venture with Frederick I, Holy Roman Emperor, and Philip II Augustus, king of France. However, Richard emerged as the effective leader of the whole expedition, as Frederick drowned in 1190 en route to the Holy Land, leading to most of the German army returning home, while Philip proved himself to be an unenthusiastic crusader, returning to France early in the course of the expedition. Although Richard’s contingent included many Anglo-Norman lords, it also drew heavily on the Angevin lands in France, especially Richard’s county of Poitou. Richard’s contribution to the crusade was important in reestablishing a viable crusader presence in Outremer for a further century, but in England itself, which he visited rarely, his significance was that he gave his kingdom its great crusader hero, against whom his successors would have to measure themselves.

The rather chaotic Fifth Crusade (1217-1221) included a significant English element, led by Ranulf, earl of Chester, whose presence at Damietta was recorded alongside that of other English lords. Many English crusaders were reported in the Holy Land during the crusade of 1227, including two English bishops, Peter des Roches, bishop of Salisbury (who was actually a Poitevin) and William Brewer, bishop of Exeter. The later thirteenth century saw considerable interest in the crusades from the Plantagenet rulers of England. King Henry III vowed to go on crusade on three separate occasions, but was either unwilling or unable to redeem his vow. His brother Richard of Cornwall and Simon of Montfort, earl of Leicester, led crusading parties in 1240. William Longsword, earl of Salisbury, led an English contingent of 200 knights on the crusade of Louis IX of France to Egypt (1248-1254), where he was killed at the battle of Mansurah (mod. El-Mansûra) in 1250. Henry III’s eldest son, the Lord Edward (the future King Edward I), led an important English contingent on the crusade of 1270-1274, thereby renewing the crusading tradition of his great-uncle Richard I. Having intended to join forces with Louis IX, the English crusaders proceeded to Acre after the death of the French king in Tunis. Otho of Grandison, a Gascon associate of Edward I, led an English contingent to the East in the last months of the Frankish presence in the Holy Land (12901291).

When it came to crusading overseas, however, the English of the High Middle Ages showed little interest in crusading outside the traditional theater of the Levant. There was no English involvement in the Albigensian Crusade (1209-1229) and little interest in crusading in the Baltic region or Greece. In 1239, Richard of Cornwall and his fellow English crusaders vowed not to be diverted from the aim of going to the Holy Land in order to shed Christian blood in Greece or Italy, a reference to the papacy’s desire to recruit men to defend the Frankish states in Greece or to wage war against Emperor Frederick II. The fear that the crusade against the Muslims was being diverted by papal political ambitions in the Mediterranean was also an important element of the baronial criticism of Henry III’s “Sicilian Business,” a papal plan to oust the Staufen dynasty from Italy in 1258.

In the later Middle Ages, crusading activity continued to be a feature of English life, despite the loss of the last Christian lands in the Holy Land. The fall of Acre (mod. ‘Akko, Israel) to the Mamlûks in 1291 did not represent the end of crusading activity in the minds of contemporaries. The crusade was preached, and crusading taxes were raised, both in the immediate aftermath of the loss of Acre, and into the first two decades of the fourteenth century. As king, Edward I repeatedly promised to go on crusade, but was diverted by more pressing issues closer to home. The French writer Pierre Dubois dedicated his De Recuperatione Terre Sancte (one of a number of treatises of the period that presented schemes for the reconquest of the Holy Land) to Edward in 1306.

Crusades against the Baltic pagans became increasingly popular among knights and noblemen in the fourteenth century, notably Henry Bolingbroke (the future King Henry IV). Englishmen were also involved in crusading activities against Muslim powers in the Mediterranean, such as the sack of Alexandria in 1365. The poet Geoffrey Chaucer, in the Canterbury Tales, described a knight who had fought in the Baltic and the Mediterranean, and paid tribute to King Peter I of Cyprus (“worthy Petro, kyng of Cipre”: Monk’s Tale, line 3188), who visited the English court attempting to recruit soldiers for his crusading expeditions. King Richard II (1377-1399) was an enthusiast for an Anglo-French crusade against the Ottoman Turks, although in the event there was little English participation in the disastrous French-led crusade to Nikopolis in Bulgaria in 1396. The French crusader Philippe de Mézières was influential at Richard’s court, and he established the knightly Order of the Passion, dedicated to the recovery of the Holy Land. Fourteenth-century writers also remembered past crusading heroes, whom they celebrated in vernacular poems and songs, such as Richard Coeur de Lion and Guillaume Longespee.

The Hundred Years’ War against France, and associated conflicts, gave rise to some political crusades in Richard’s reign, as the schism between the popes at Rome (backed by England) and Avignon (backed by France) allowed a crusading veneer to be applied to these struggles. Henry Despenser, bishop of Norwich, led an unsuccessful “crusade” to Flanders in 1383, and John of Gaunt’s expedition to Portugal and Castile in 1386-1387 was also dignified with crusade status. In addition, the war against France as a whole had something of a crusading aura about it, with the English church organizing prayers for the king’s success in battle, and French resistance in 1429 crystallizing around the religious figure of Joan of Arc.

Crusading and Domestic Politics

In general, the pilgrimage element of crusading gave way in later years to the broader concept of a war fought under papal auspices against those deemed to be enemies of the church. In this form, the crusade had some bearing on domestic politics in England in the thirteenth century. In the civil wars of the thirteenth century, the combatants frequently sought to portray themselves as crusaders. After King John turned England into a fief of the papacy in 1213, he was able to invoke papal aid against rebels, for example, by having Magna Carta declared void. His son Henry III was taken under papal protection, and took a crusade vow at the beginning of his reign, so the war of his supporters against baronial rebels and their French allies was declared a crusade. Henry’s troops were dubbed a militia Christi (knighthood of Christ) and took the cross before the battle of Lincoln in 1217. Despite this, however, many of these warriors chose to go to Egypt as part of the Fifth Crusade, suggesting that, despite having legally fought a crusade in England, they still felt the desire to take part in an expedition to the East.

The civil war of 1264-1265 between Henry III and the reformers led by Simon of Montfort saw crusade imagery and propaganda used by both sides. The baronial opposition of 1258 included among their grievances the complaint that Henry’s involvement in the “Sicilian Business” was impeding crusade plans. Both sides claimed to be waging a crusade, with Montfortian forces wearing crosses at the battle of Lewes in 1264, and royalist forces wearing them at the decisive battle of Evesham the following year. Montfort was revered by his supporters as a martyr after his death at Evesham, a view of him that was boosted by his record as a crusader and his role in his partisans’ eyes as a miles Christi (knight of Christ) in the civil war. Both these periods of civil war were followed by recruitment to the crusade, although with rather different results. Whereas the papal legate Guala used recruitment to the Fifth Crusade as a means of uniting the rival factions, the Crusade of the Lord Edward (1270-1272) drew its personnel largely from former royalists who had formed links with Edward in the course of the struggle against Montfort.

There were often crusading overtones to wars between England and her neighbors; Henry II’s overlordship of Ireland in the twelfth century was sanctioned by a papal bull, and the Scots’ resistance to Edward I was bolstered by the backing of the Scottish clergy. Crusading rhetoric was used on both sides of the struggle between England and Scotland. Edward I’s forces invaded Scotland in 1300 under a banner of the Holy Cross, and the English later claimed that the “rebellion” of Robert Bruce was hampering preparations for a crusade. In the Declaration of Arbroath addressed to Pope John XXII in 1320, the Scots asserted that their cause was a holy one, and that the delay in crusade proceedings was the fault of the English for making war on their neighbors.

The crusades had a disastrous impact on the Jews of England, as was also the case on the continent. The preaching of the crusade in 1189-1190 was accompanied by a series of violent attacks on the Jews in the eastern half of the country, notably in York, Stamford, and Lincoln. At a more general level, the crusading movement, creating as it did a violent Christian self-identity, contributed to a hardening of attitudes against the Jews, culminating in their expulsion from England in 1290.

Military Orders

The establishment of military orders for the defense of the Holy Land led to the establishment of houses of the orders of the Hospital and Temple. Individual houses were often founded or endowed by crusaders, such as Roger de Mowbray, founder of the Templar preceptory of Balsall. Templar activity in England can be dated to the very beginnings of the order, when Hugh of Payns, the Templars’ founder, visited England in 1128, and the Temple of London was founded shortly thereafter. The English Templars were organized into the Province of England, with its headquarters at the London Temple, the oldest and greatest of the Templar houses in England. The Hospitallers for their part came under the Priory of England, with its headquarters at Clerkenwell. Each order was governed by a master at provincial or priory level, while at a local level, each house was headed by a commander (Lat. preceptor). Many Englishmen joined the military orders, or helped them by providing them with money and land. While their houses in the Holy Land played a military role, those in Europe were responsible for the recruitment and supply of knights. Donations of land or money to the military orders were a way for noncrusaders to contribute directly or indirectly to the defence of Outremer. The London Temple played an important role as the place for collection and safekeeping of funds intended for the crusade. The lesser military Order of St. Lazarus, established to give succor to leprous knights, was also present in England, with its chief house at Burton Lazars in Leicestershire. The Order of St. Thomas of Acre, founded during the Third Crusade, was the one distinctively English contribution to the military orders. Named in honor of St. Thomas Becket, archbishop of Canterbury, some sources attribute its foundation to King Richard I. It was dissolved by Henry VIII in 1538. In addition, the nonmilitary Order of Canons of the Holy Sepulchre was another reminder in England of the existence of the Holy Places. The Templars were suppressed in England, as elsewhere, on trumped-up charges of heresy in 1312, after which their English possessions passed to the Hospitallers. King Edward II at first resisted the order’s suppression, expressing disbelief at the charges leveled against them, before acquiescing after the order had been dissolved by papal bull.

Participation and Finance

Englishmen were kept informed of events in Outremer by the presence of houses of the military orders, by regular newsletters (usually appealing for support) that arrived from Outremer, by visits to the kingdom of representatives of Outremer such as that of Eraclius, patriarch of Jerusalem, in 1185, as well as by direct preaching of the crusade. Appeals to aid the Christians of Outremerwere often made on feast days associated with the Holy Cross, as was the case with the coordinated preaching campaign launched by Archbishop Romeyn of York throughout his archdiocese on 14 September (the Feast of the Holy Cross) 1291. Preaching could serve wider purposes; the famous preaching campaign of Archbishop Baldwin of Canterbury through Wales in 1188, which was recorded by the chronicler Gerald of Wales (Giraldus Cambrensis), was in some ways a political mission to emphasize the authority of the see of Canterbury over Wales.

Recruitment tended to follow lines of noble patronage and association, such as tenure, vassalage, kinship, or geographical proximity. The English contingent on the Fifth Crusade, for example, was grouped in part around Ranulf, earl of Chester, and his followers. Participants in the Lord Edward’s crusade were drawn almost exclusively from his own supporters in the Montfortian civil war, while the presence of a large contingent of “Northern” crusaders demonstrates the importance of local loyalties and ties in determining crusade participation. Such links might also be supplemented (or where absent, replaced) by oaths of sworn association or written contracts. The Lord Edward’s Crusade of 1270-1272 was organized by binding contracts, both between Edward and Louis IX of France, and between Edward and his barons.

Participation in the crusades was unsurprisingly concentrated among the military landowning classes, but not exclusively so. The Lisbon crusaders of 1147 were drawn from the townspeople of the ports of southern and eastern England. Records of inquiries into the fulfillment of vows in Cornwall and Lincolnshire in the 1190s show evidence for the involvement of the lower classes in crusading (although it is true that these records by their nature tend to reveal high levels of nonfulfillment of the crusading vow). Even the lowliest were involved in the crusading movement, with evidence of serfs taking the cross in order to gain manumission or as proxies for their lords.

Women, too, were engaged in the crusading movement. At the highest level in society, Eleanor of Castile, wife of the Lord Edward and future queen of England, accompanied her husband on crusade in 1272-1274. But many other women were involved in the crusade as well, a reminder that the institution had its origins in pilgrimage, an activity in which all classes and both sexes participated. Some women became involved in crusades involuntarily, as in the case of Margaret of Beverley, who found herself caught up in Saladin’s invasion of 1187 and the defense of Jerusalem against his army.

The development of fund-raising methods reflected the general evolution of the crusade as an institution, with the emphasis of preaching shifting in the course of the thirteenth century from recruitment to fund-raising through the commutation of vows in return for monetary payment. For example, the success of preaching in the archdiocese of York in 1275 was measured in a list of those who had taken and then redeemed vows, and the sums of money they had paid to do so. In addition to vow redemptions, money was raised through the collection of alms, or through money bequeathed in wills. Kings (such as Henry II) and noblemen who had been unable in life to go on crusade frequently supported the cause after death in this manner.

The most significant form of fund-raising, both in terms of the sums raised and the long-term impact, was taxation. The relatively centralized nature of the Anglo-Norman state meant that taxation was more extensive and systematic than in other polities. The first crusade tax was levied in 1166, but the Saladin Tithe of 1188 was a more significant landmark, with sophisticated arrangements for its promulgation and collection. The crusade tax became a feature of the English fiscal landscape into the fourteenth century, and was an important stage in the evolution of royal taxation and a state bureaucracy. Changes in fund-raising reflected changes in the financing of the crusade. By the thirteenth century, the crusade was very much centrally financed, with crusade funds allocated not to individual crusaders, but to the crusade leader (usually a royal figure), who subsequently drew up contracts with his followers, who were paid out of the central funds. This model was followed on the crusade of the Lord Edward, who contracted eighteen barons to supply 225 knights.

The need for crusaders to raise money by mortgaging land helped the development of a land-market and money economy, while the levying of taxes to finance crusade expeditions helped the development of government infrastructure. Harder to quantify is the impact the crusades had in broadening the horizons of those who took part, opening their consciousness to the existence of a wider world, and encouraging an awareness in the minds of Western Christians of their being part of a wider Christian community, and of the physical existence of the Holy Places. The impact of these developments long outlasted the crusade movement itself.

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