Post-classical history


The Crusade and Christian Society in the Later Middle Ages

Crusading mentalities did not wholly depend on active military engagement. The emotions sporadically summoned to support fundraising or recruitment were nourished by liturgy, literature, preaching, the sale of indulgences and taxation, from Cyprus to Greenland.1 By the fourteenth century, planners and publicists assumed popular understanding and, for anti-Muslim crusades, sympathy. The familiarity of the crusading spawned recognizable social stereotypes: the ‘ashy’ descroisié or pontificating armchair crusader; the money-grubbing huckster and indulgence salesman; the power-seeking crusade preacher; the pious and chivalrous crusading knight; the faithful footslogger. The categories identified by Francis Bacon in his discussion of responses to holy war in the early seventeenth century boasted long histories: thoughtful theologians; fiery religious zealots; pragmatic soldiers; calculating courtiers; temporizing politicians.2 In the later middle ages, crusading enjoyed greater prominence within western European society than on many frontiers with the infidel.


The wide social contact with crusading ideas and formulae transcended promotional special pleading and chroniclers’ exaggeration. Philip of Mézières’s final plan for his crusading Order of the Passion (1397) divided Christian warriors into three groups: kings and princes; common people; and, lastly, ‘knights, squires, other barons, nobles, townsmen (bourgeois), merchants and men of honour of middling rank’.3 On campaigns, humbler crusaders were naturally much in evidence. As in any army, officers needed men to command. The widely attested presence on crusades of squires, mercenaries and sailors causes no surprise. Perhaps more indicative were the urban citizens and working elites who displayed enthusiasm to join up. In the 1320s and 1330s citizens of northern French towns refused to pay crusade subsidies but protested their willingness to serve in person, encouraging fellow townsmen to follow suit.4 Of course, these avowals may represent a traditional legal device to avoid novel fiscal demands, but they indicate how crusading remained a respectable public activity. More direct were the London apprentices who attempted to follow a crusade led by the bishop of Norwich against followers of the Avignon pope (i.e. the French) in 1382; or the eighty citizens of Ghent who took the cross, chose their own commander and set out for Venice in March 1464 (they were back by Christmas). Corporate pride sustained crusade traditions, in great commerical cities such as Venice, Genoa, Florence or London. Wine provided by the civic authorities of the small Flemish town of Axel in 1464 eased the tearful public farewells of the town’s crusaders, who had just received the spiritual sustenance of the mass.5


24. Crusades in Europe

Such occasional civic ceremonies were matched by more permanent demonstrations of crusade commitment: regular festivals, confraternities and gilds. Crusade interest in the 1330s at Tournai in north-eastern France may have been associated with the week-long festival of the Holy Cross that ended on 14 September, Holy Cross Day, a date closely linked with crusading.6 While the lay orders of chivalry provided for the tastes and aspirations of the nobility, non-noble organizations emerged to cater for a wider public. Lay confraternities to channel devotion and material support can be found in France as early as the 1240s. In Italy, similar confraternities served the papalist cause. In Norfolk, England, in 1384 two gilds were founded, St Christopher’s at Norwich and St Mary’s at Wiggenhall, that began their meetings with prayers for the recovery of the Holy Land. If other English gilds’ sponsorship of Jerusalem pilgrimages are a guide, these expressions of spiritual sociability could act as foci to arrange crusaders’ practical needs as well as to give crucesignati members a good send off.7

The Parisian confrarie of the Holy Sepulchre demonstrated how interest could be fostered by overlapping local, political and social networks. Founded with a lavish ceremony on Holy Cross Day 1317 in the church of the Holy Cross in Paris, the confraternity’s patron was Louis I count of Clermont and duke of Bourbon, grandfather of the 1390 al-Mahdiya commander and the French royal prince most frequently associated with French crusade plans for twenty years after 1316. Between 1325 and 1327, a church was built for the confrarie, dedicated to the Holy Sepulchre. This came to house a number of Holy Land relics, including three pieces of the True Cross, a key to one of the gates of Jerusalem, an arm of St George and a piece of stone from the Holy Sepulchre itself. Although attracting royalty and nobility, the core of the membership, apparently over 1,000 in the 1330s, were Parisian bourgeois, many of whom had taken the cross at Philip IV’s great ceremony of 1313. The function of the confraternity was to provide these crucesignatiwith a way to structure and display their continued devotion and, no doubt, their special status and public association with the great. The patronage of courtiers lent snobbish value to membership as well as widening the circles of nobles’ political clientage. Theconfrarie also acted as a charity, with the unachieved aim of founding a hospital for Holy Land pilgrims. Such institutions and buildings formed a tangible daily reminder of the negotium crucis, exploiting a variety of highly effective pressures: charity; the cult of relics; the elitism of a prominent civic social club; public display; the social allure of nobles and non-nobles mingling as confréres the imprimatur of the church.8 Such institutional context helped crusading continue as a social as well as religious phenomenon.

Before the gradual fading of realistic hopes of recovering the Holy Land, active planning could generate wider popular engagement, occasionally with disruptive consequences. Preaching, offers of indulgences and taxation could still ignite popular response from those on or beyond the margins of accepted political society. In 1309, in reaction to a small crusade expedition run by the Hospitallers, engaged in completing their conquest of Rhodes, apparently large numbers from England, the Low Countries and Germany took the cross and converged on Mediterranean ports. The papal-Hospitaller campaign, designed to relieve Armenia and Cyprus, only departed early in 1310. It had not been planned as a mass crusade, even if some hoped it would constitute an advance guard of much larger force, a dual strategy urged by contemporary theorists. In 1308, Pope Clement V had granted crusade privileges to those who helped the Hospitallers. A discrepancy arose between organizers and public. Official interest was in raising money to pay for a largely professional army; over two years in the archdiocese of York nearly £500 was collected, primarily from indulgences. However, the loss of the Holy Land in 1291, combined with more recent hopes of a Mongol liberation of Jerusalem, encouraged a wider participation. While hostile conservative chroniclers dismissed the recruits as unauthorized, underfunded and indisciplined, of lowly peasant or urban status, the social mix in this ‘popular’ crusade, as in 1212 and 1251, was broader than clerical snobbery and hierarchic defensiveness implied. From England, those licensed to depart for the Holy Land ranged from nobles to a surgeon. Some of the unofficial levies were sufficiently conversant with the political mechanics of crusading to petition the pope to summon a general crusade; he refused. Larceny and thuggery provided a familiar accompaniment to the progress of these bands southwards. As well as demonstrating the commonplace of violence and lawlessness on the fringes of mass demonstrations that disrupt the tenor of local communities, the alleged outrages reflected the crusaders’ lack of funds and the impossibility of mounting a mass crusade without elite leadership and massive treasure. The existence of a pool of willing, if not particularly able, recruits cannot be doubted. The crusade industry had created its own market with customers unwilling to be fobbed off with spiritually passive or exclusively financial bargains.9

In 1320, the links between well-publicized official crusade policy and unauthorized crusade enthusiasm were just as clear. In the winter of 1319–20, Philip V of France held a series of conferences in Paris to discuss his crusade plans. A year earlier he had appointed Louis of Clermont as leader of the proposed French advance guard. In the spring, groups of so-called ‘pastoureaux’, indicating countrymen, if not literally shepherds, from northern France, converged on Paris around Easter. News of Philip’s crusade plans may have penetrated these regions through the summonses to the winter assemblies, especially Normandy, Vermandois, Anjou, Picardy and the Ile de France. Economic conditions in some of these rural areas had been appalling. Peace with Flanders in 1319 and the hope generated by prospects of better times and a new crusade may have helped set these bands on the road to Paris. As in 1212 and 1251, many of those who set out were young men, with loose domestic ties, possibly without jobs or tenancies to sustain them through the severe agrarian depression. Yet their association with court policy was evident. A Parisian observer noted many of them came from Normandy, heavily represented at the crusade conferences.10 Some marched behind the banner of Louis of Clermont, not improbably with his consent, hinting at the summons of the wider civil society in support of a troubled political elite. Pope John XXII expressed surprise that Philip V had acquiesced in the activities of the ‘pastoureaux’.11 Initially, churches gave them food and shelter. There was talk of using the marchers on a projected campaign to Italy by Philip V’s cousin, Philip of Valois, the future Philip VI, hardly a task for a criminal mob. Parisians let them pass unmolested. The bands were well organized, some professing clear objectives, such as Aigues Mortes, whence they wished to sail to the Holy Land, indicating the power of nostalgia, precedent, history and legend, here the dominant memory of St Louis. As the bands headed towards the Midi, lack of assistance, realization of their isolation and resentment at the parasitic privileges of those deemed to have exploited or failed the crusade were channelled into violence. Wealthy laity and clergy were attacked; Jews were massacred. Such mayhem acted as a symptom as much as a cause of disintegration, a sign of the desperation to sustain themselves through acts of chastisement, in their eyes moral deeds that had to serve as substitutes for the greatest moral deed of all, the crusade.

The extent to which the French regime was complicit in encouraging the ‘pastoureaux’ in order to put pressure on the pope to grant crusade money to Philip V remains conjectural. Nevertheless, the French ‘pastou-reaux’ did not operate entirely outside the perimeter of official crusade policy. They challenge any idea of popular enthusiasm for the Holy Land crusade declining or retreating into a day-dream for the chivalric classes. Neither were the ‘pastoureaux’ enacting a social revolt in disguise. The social critique was subtler, a shared acceptance with the elites of moral purposes coupled with harsh criticism of how those elites pursued them. Public failure, not social exploitation, lay at the heart of the grievances of 1320.12

The concept of the crusade could exceptionally be harnessed to radical social demands. In the spring of 1514, Archbishop Thomas Bakocz of Esztergom, with the vigorous assistance of the Observant Franciscans, hastily arranged a crusade in Hungary against the Turks, partly as a sop for his ego, battered by his narrow defeat at the papal conclave the previous year. Reminiscent of scenes in 1456, the preaching struck a chord with hard-pressed rural peasantry, townsmen and students. The economic situation was dire, hitting market towns and livestock herdsmen as much as peasants and tenant farmers. The crusade was sold as redemptive both spiritually and socially. The Hungarian nobility proved hostile, uninterested in supporting war with the Turks, eager to retain revenue designated for the defence of the Turkish frontier and angry at the potential loss of agricultural labour for hay making and harvest. Almost immediately, the crusaders turned on the nobles. Displaying a strong sense of community, the crusader army, led by the minor nobleman George Dozsa and allegedly numbering tens of thousands, began a reign of terror against nobles and their property across the Hungarian plain. Despite Archbishop Bakocz cancelling the crusade as soon as he saw how it was developing, the crusaders continued their rampage, while maintaining their devotion to the cross, crusading privileges, the king and the pope. As so often in sixteenth-century Europe, this was a very conservative social revolt. On 22 May 1514 an army of nobles was defeated, the crusaders finally being crushed only in mid-July at Timisoara (Temesvar). Atrocities had been committed on both sides, the final one the most horrific. Dozsa was placed on a burning stake, platform or throne, a red-hot iron ‘crown’ placed on his head and his followers compelled to bite chunks out of his burning flesh and drink his blood, all this accompanied by singing, dancing and a carnival atmosphere. Dozsa was being branded a traitor to nation, class and faith, precisely what he publicly denied. The 1514 crusade had been officially sanctioned. It attracted large numbers from a wide underclass of civil society with sensitive political antennae. They blamed the nobles – accurately – for failing to pursue the crusade, but took it further. The Hungarian nobles were branded as worse than Turks, a traditional charge levelled against those who impeded the negotium Dei. Only this time, those making these judgements were not popes, princes or prelates, but minor aristocrats and peasants who had taken too literally the message of the cross as a sign of emancipation.13 It may be significant that one later Hungarian word for rebel, kuruc, is derived from crux and may enshrine a long cultural memory of the grim events of the spring and summer of 1514.14

The eccentric and gruesome Hungarian crusade revolt revealed the crusade as not necessarily the preserve of the social elites. However, it also illustrated how crusading motifs could be employed in contexts not essentially connected with holy war and, conversely, how initially tangential or non-crusading emotions and aspirations could find expression in crusade language and forms, however eccentrically or tendentiously construed, in this case by the radical Observant Franciscans. Equally, the behaviour of the Hungarian nobles in 1514 points to the absurdity of generalizing about crusade popularity or social embrace. The Hungarian elite became tepid at formal crusading at a time when the Habsburgs, heirs of the dukes of Burgundy but especially in their Iberian manifestation, eagerly employed the fully panoply of rhetoric, theology and privileges, tempered by their own brand of monarchical messianism. The Iberian revival found fewer echoes in fifteenth-century England when the collapse of the credibility of the Prussian crusade was not replaced by any new feasible object for action, except for those who became Hospitallers. In France, the crusade retained its lustre, but was inextricably caught up in the burgeoning religion of monarchy. As a bond of community and a justification for war, in many places and times crusading, having provided a model, became superseded. The very lack of such confidence in their share of national identity may have encouraged the less grand elements in Hungary to define their action against the Turks and then their nobles so tenaciously in terms of traditional crusading.


As in previous centuries, crusading continued to run in families and in regions. This could impose a sense of obligation, almost of responsibility, especially as stories of past crusading heroism circulated widely in literature, polemic and preaching. Parish churches and family homes were festooned with relics of past crusades and crusading ancestors. Tradition caused successive kings of France to be proclaimed as bearing an especial responsibility for crusading in the east, not least by themselves. The duty formed part of their kingship, a proprietorial association carefully nurtured by the first two rulers of the cadet Valois dynasty, Philip VI in the 1330s and John II in the 1360s. More junior branches of St Louis’s descendants were no less infected, notably Louis I of Bourbon and his grandson Louis II, the al-Mahdiya commander. Across Europe similar family histories encouraged members from all stations of the nobility and aristocracy to maintain the tradition, some, such as the Beauc-hamps, Mowbrays and Percys in England, or the Briennes in Champagne, boasting holy war pedigrees that stretched in some cases from the early twelfth to the late fourteenth centuries. In the fourteenth century, families’ engagement scarcely abated.15 Although some used holy wars as a finishing ground for a knightly education, others found them sterner training. For casualties of Nicopolis or young Geoffrey Scrope of Masham in Yorkshire, killed in the forbidding wastes of Lithuania in 1362, as for those western recruits who fought with the Hospitallers in defence of Rhodes against the Mamluks in 1444, such as Daniel Habin of Majorca, who lost a hand, or Matthew of Transylvania, deprived of the use of his right arm, these wars were no games.16 The decline in active crusading was the result of a reduction in opportunity not, as often asserted, the other way round. In relation to eastern crusades, at least, the continuing lure of the Holy Places alone testifies to lively interest. From the 1330s and entrenched by the 1370 Cypriot-Egyptian treaty, the Mamluk rulers of Palestine followed the precedent of Saladin in allowing western Christians access to the Holy Sites at a price. The fourteenth and fifteenth centuries witnessed a resurgence of large-scale western pilgrimages to Palestine and Egypt and a welter of published accounts of pilgrims’ experiences as well as formal itineraries. Many of these pilgrims at other times also fought against the infidel, but not in the Holy Land.

Compensation for the absence of active crusading was found in the round of indulgences on offer and liturgies performed. Occasionally the crusading element in the prevailing cultural milieu found more targeted demonstration. In 1407–8, partly as a public relations exercise, the Hospitallers of Rhodes constructed the fortress of St Peter at Bodrum, classical Halicarnassus, on the mainland opposite Cos. To pay for the hugely expensive building work, which included reusing dressed stone from the nearby mausoleum, the Hospitallers launched an appeal, backed by papal indulgences. English contributions alone helped to pay for a tower on whose walls twenty-six coats-of-arms were set up in stone, including those of King Henry IV, his four sons and the families with recent or ancient crusade pedigrees, such as the Montagues, Courtenays, Nevilles, Percys, Beauchamps and Hollands. Possibly copied for an armorial roll, they may represent the chief contributors. One set of arms was those of the FitzHughs. Henry FitzHugh had sent equipment to Bodrum in 1409; Sir William, probably Henry’s son, and his wife bought Bodrum indulgences in 1414. Bodrum retained strong links with the English section (or langue) of the Hospitallers throughout the fifteenth century, William Dawney and John Langstrother, later prior of the English Hospitallers, holding the command there in 1448 and 1456 respectively.17

Regional commitment varied but also demonstrated tenacious links with the past. The dukes of Burgundy played on their inheritance as counts of Flanders of the Flemish crusading legacy during attempts to arouse their subjects’ support for a crusade in the 1450s. For a venture directed to the relief of Constantinople, it was convenient and appropriate to invoke the memory of Baldwin IX, the first Latin emperor. Each area seemed to require its crusade heroes – St Louis in France; Richard I in England; the Iberian champions of the reconquista, etc. – even ones with spurious credentials, such as St Ladislas in Hungary. The Low Countries, western Germany, Champagne and northern France, the heartlands of the First Crusade, remained fertile recruiting grounds. Grafting crusading enthusiasm on to social groups not attuned by long experience proved less easy, as the relative indifference of the Polish or Hungarian nobilities in the later fifteenth century testified. Long absence of concerted preaching or actual recruitment could relegate active crusading to an increasingly eccentric if no less sincere minority, as in England after the 1330s and even more after 1400. Conversely, as in Iberia in the later fifteenth century, crusade enthusiasm could be revived by government commitment and action. Either way, cultural recognition, once established, proved extremely tenacious, even when producing only fitful ignition of official or public activity.

One sign of this came in the way crusading acted as a mechanism of social advancement. Service in holy war acted as a means of entry to the ranks of the knightly and respectable for parvenus, a ticket of admission into the secular social elite. Such rites of social passage could include meritorious service in national or royal wars, but crusading, as indicated by the emphasis placed on it by numerous lay orders of chivalry, attracted especially rewarding recognition. Nicholas Sabraham, a veteran of Crécy in 1346, made his fortune at war for three decades, from the 1330s, on English campaigns in Scotland, France and Spain. He also fought in Prussia, joined Peter of Cyprus’s crusade to Alexandria in 1365 and from there went to serve on Amadeus of Savoy’s expedition of 1366–7 to the Dardenelles and Bulgaria. Most of the crusades offered few, if any, easy pickings. A professional soldier very different from the gilded crusading youths with whom he rubbed shoulders, Sabraham nonetheless was called to give evidence in a great armorial dispute held in the English Court of Chivalry in 1386, where he carefully described his crusading exploits.18They were a guarantee of his gentility of deed regardless of birth. Across the English Channel, Bertrand du Guesclin, the chief military commander and strategist under Charles V, by no means from the top drawer of the French nobility, attempted to enhance his status when fighting for French allies in Spain in 1366 by associating the Spanish war against the English with a crusade to Granada. Bertrand was even crowned ‘king of Granada’ by his employer, King Henry II of Castile.19 The image of holy wars of the cross required little explanation or special pleading to attract admiration.


The commitment of individuals and communities to the ideals and occasional practice of crusading found expression in art and literature. At the end of Thomas Malory’s Morte d’Arthur (finished 1469/70), Sir Bors, Sir Blamore, Sir Ector and Sir Bleoberis finish their careers fighting ‘miscreants and Turks’ in the Holy Land.20 Judging by the contents of contemporary late fifteenth-century libraries, this was a historical but not cultural anachronism. Texts of crusade history and advice continued to be written, copied or, later, printed with undiminished energy into the sixteenth century, when new genres of vernacular literature emerged regarding the Turkish menace, particularly in Germany. Especially popular across Europe were histories and legends of the Holy Land crusades, not just with kings, princes and courtiers. Chronicles of Jerusalem, probably William of Tyre, found their way into the possession of local gentry in Norfolk and Bedfordshire in England. The Norfolk gentleman John Paston II owned a chronicle, in English, about Richard I. The printer William Caxton translated William of Tyre in 1481.21 Historical knowledge was assumed. Entertaining Peter I of Cyprus to dinner in London in the winter of 1363–4, Edward III of England teased his guest that, if Peter succeeded in recovering Jerusalem, Cyprus, ‘which my ancestor Richard entrusted to your predecessor to keep’, should be restored to the English king.22

Contemporary news from the eastern front was equally avidly devoured, by word of mouth or in writing. Jean Waurin’s account of the anti-Turkish wars of the 1440s reached the English court under Edward IV. Guillaume de Caoursin’s eyewitness account of the siege of Rhodes (1480), with vivid woodcut illustrations, reached a wide international audience within a decade of its appearance, soon being translated, for example, into English in 1484.23 Printers other than Caxton cashed in. The mid-fourteenth century pseudonymous compendium of crusade exhortation, pilgrim guide and stories of the mythic marvels of the east known as The Travels of John Mandeville remained an international best-seller for 200 years, transmuting into a series of at least fourteen separate versions in twelve different languages to suit contrasting tastes, purposes and regions. There was even a ‘textless’ pictorial ‘Mandeville’ derived from a Czech redaction. Some of its versions, at least, stressed the need for ‘the right children of Christ… to challenge the heritage that Our Father left us and do it out of heathen men’s hands’.24

Visual representations of crusading had long been popular. Many manuscript and printed books were embellished with especially luminous portrayals of famous crusading moments. Some of these suggest how, aesthetically, the past was hardly distinguished from the present, figures being shown in anachronistically contemporary dress. Late fifteenth-century illuminations depict Heraclius, the seventh-century Byzantine emperor whose return of the Holy Cross to Jerusalem opens William of Tyre’s chronicle, sporting the heraldic device of fifteenth-century Habsburg German emperors. Stained glass, murals, sculpture and decorative tiles all provided media for commemorating a heroic past that allowed some to dream of a heroic future. In the 1390s, Thomas of Woodstock adorned his castle at Pleshey with fifteen tapestries on the romances of Godfrey of Bouillon.25Seventy years later, the demand for such artefacts led to the London merchant Sir Thomas Cooke being arraigned for treason because he refused to sell to Edward IV’s mother-in-law an arras ‘wrought in the most richest wise with gold of the story of the siege of Jerusalem’.26

Dramatic tableaux and ritualized plays supplied another medium to remind audiences of the significance of their crusading heritage. In 1378, Charles V of France entertained the emperor Charles IV of Germany in Paris with a lavish production of the siege of Jerusalem, possibly stage-managed by Philip of Mézières.27 The impact of this presentation was later enshrined in manuscript illuminations of the event. On one level a wallow in shared chivalric nostalgia, the Paris production possessed a practical resonance. Both the French and German courts had been involved in actual crusade planning in the 1360s and were subject to more recent appeals for action against the Ottomans. Such play-acting could reduce the huge gap in time and circumstance, in a manner parallel to the static impression of time often given in church sermons; the past was somehow contemporary, whether biblical or crusading. These displays possessed purpose: to create a sympathetic atmosphere for the circulation of crusading ideas and to demonstrate continued official commitment, even of a generalized sort. Charles V was the first king of France not personally to be involved in crusading or crusade planning since Louis VI (d. 1137). The Paris fête asserted his credentials nonetheless. Elsewhere, such dramatic performances promoted more immediate causes, as at Mons in 1454, when the Burgundian court witnessed a pageant on the Fourth Crusade, Baldwin of Flanders and the 1204 capture of Constantinople.28 These extravagant theatricals raise questions of seriousness and sincerity. They were showy entertainments, not recruiting platforms. Yet they revealed the cultural vivacity of crusading and a receptiveness to retaining at least a sentimentalized idealism within which wars of the cross could be thought of as possible as well as admirable. In the light of those who fought and died in such wars, this playfulness contained a serious message.


Evidence from popular devotional practices confirm that two central elements of the appeal of crusading retained potency throughout the later middle ages and beyond: the offer of remission of sins and fear of the infidel, usually couched in terms of the recovery of the Holy Land. Of all the continuities of crusading, its promotion by the church remained the clearest and most ubiquitous. The apparatus of privileges remained in place. Clerical taxation became habitual, if localized. The offer of indulgences remained part of a general penitential system, increasingly commercial as redemption of vows or even the performance of any particular meritorious act gave way to simple sale and payment. The doctrine of a Treasury of Merits, a sort of divine bank account laid up by God to be drawn on by the penitent faithful, was perfected by Clement VI. This further institutionalized crusading indulgences. Preaching, donations and legacies persisted. The chests set aside for contributions stayed in parish churches. The increasingly bureaucratic procedures of the papacy and local dioceses still administered the crusade, its promotion, privileges, organization and finance. At the most mundane, parochial level, the liturgy for the recovery of the Holy Land and appeals to God to turn back the infidel reached the daily lives of the faithful throughout Christendom until the Reformation tore it apart.

Recent research has identified large quantities of surviving manuscripts recording a range of associated liturgical rites centred on general or specific supplications for divine aid on behalf of the Holy Land or the Turks.29 They reveal the extent of strenuous, regular religious activity, conducted in parish churches, monasteries and cathedrals across western Europe from the thirteenth to the sixteenth centuries, directed towards the object of crusading, the liberation of the Holy Land or defence against pagans, infidels or Turks. Although there are examples of papal orders to conduct Holy Land masses not being carried out, as in the diocese of Rouen in the 1330s, the nature and weight of the records suggest prayers and masses were not being copied out in some arcane collective antiquarian homage to past, dead usages but represent a set of living observances.30 The Holy Land supplicatory devices appeared in a number of liturgical categories. The clamor to invoke God’s help for the Holy Land was inserted in the mass between the consecration and the breaking of the Host before the Communion. It appeared in various standard forms in manuscript and printed missals from the thirteenth to the sixteenth centuries, those derived from the English dioceses of Salisbury, York and Hereford being particularly prominent. Associated with the rite of taking the cross, these prayers were inserted into the mass on special occasions. By contrast, normal celebrations of the Eucharist could be dedicated as a whole to the special votive aim of the recovery of the Holy Land. Provision for such special masses was included in the instructions for the preparations for a crusade by John XXII (1333), Urban V (1363) and Gregory XI (1373). Such special masses could be directed towards a particular crusade or, especially in the fifteenth century, to less precise assistance to the Holy Land. The later fifteenth century saw an increase in dedicated masses against the Turks, but they were also invoked against Hussites and, more vaguely, ‘pagans’ and ‘infidels’.

A more remarkable use of masses for the Holy Land were the so-called Gregorian Trentals, originating in England in the later fourteenth century. These comprised clusters of thirty masses to be said for the soul of the dead after the death or burial of the testator who endowed the services. Within the mass, prayers were included for the liberation of the Holy Land alone or combined the liberation of the Holy Land with the liberation of the soul of the departed from ‘the hands of demons’, i.e. in purgatory. The destination of the soul and the Holy Land were equated, the pagans by analogy liturgically demonized. In England alone there survive eighty separate liturgical sources for this habit, as well as almost 150 wills, mainly from the fifteenth century. Calixtus III appears to have encouraged the practice during his crusade efforts in 1455. In England, at least, these daily masses could be sung 365 days a year.

Although such liturgies stretched the link between crusade ideology and crusade action to an extreme, they testify to the inescapable power and penetration of the image of the liberation of the Holy Land, which did not depend on sporadic official preaching or fundraising to hold the thoughts of the faithful. Further confirmation of this can be found in wills across western Europe, certainly in the fourteenth century, bequeathing money for the crusade as well as for Holy Land masses. However, the lack of association with active crusading suggests that the liberation of the Holy Land provided a spiritual metaphor, both for the liberation of the individual soul from the consequences of sin, as in the English Gregorian Trentals, and, more widely, for the struggle against the ungodly. This passive response was evinced most clearly by Holy Land bidding prayers. These were vernacular intercessory prayers said in parish churches across Europe on Sundays and feast days directly after the sermon. From the late thirteenth century they became a habitual part of the general supplicatory apparatus of church liturgy. They were far from calls to crusade, unlike elements elsewhere in the liturgy.31 The only action prescribed for the recovery of the Holy Land was prayer, an ultimate distillation of the growing passivity that the extension of crusade institutions in the thirteenth century inadvertently encouraged. Once again, the recovery of the Holy Land appears as a symbol of God’s favour and the acceptability of the prayers of the faithful. This tradition sustained the image of crusading as a central Christian devotional activity long after fighting for the cross had become a rarity. However, on all sides of the confessional divides that opened up in the sixteenth century, such externalized manifestations of corporate religion, using a physical act – the recovery of the Holy Land – as a means of securing grace and salvation, became increasingly unconvincing as more and more articulate believers turned towards systems of devotion that concentrated more directly on the interior personal experience of God and faith. Furthermore, different categories of ‘ungodly’ entered Christian demonology, replacing the old stereotypes and analogies, rendering crusade polemical imagery redundant.

Central ceremonies of crusading persisted. As in bidding prayers, the emphasis on the cross displayed in crusade sermons became integrated into more general evangelism and penitential exhortation centred on the cross’s redemptive powers; parts of many crusade sermons were interchangeable with those concerned with moral reform. Sermons delivered or circulated in manuscript to provide models for local exhortation displayed a traditional formalism of structure and content, evident, for example, in England, in crusade sermons well into the fourteenth century. In fact, the heavily allusive metaphorical language of crusade was developed more by desk-bound or court-based propagandists, mostly laymen, than working preachers, who tended to operate within a tight academic tradition. Despite the crafted crusade preaching of, for instance, the fourteenth-century English Dominican John Bromyard, or the Frenchman Pierre Roger, the future Pope Clement VI, subsequently, the true heirs of the great crusade preachers of earlier generations were figures such as Mézières. Statistics of sermons in northern France between 1350 and 1520 indicate only a tiny proportion concerned the crusade, indulgences, Saracens or heretics.32 The crusade preaching tour and sermon, like the sale of indulgences, became routine aspects of administration, no longer the necessary focal point of recruitment and propaganda, sometimes omitted altogether. The exception of John of Capistrano’s popular evangelism in Hungary in 1456 exposed the contrast with other crusade initiatives where, if present at all, sermons were delivered to elite court audiences, with no thought to mass communication. Increasingly, the commonest public encounter came with the pardoner or indulgence salesman, not the preacher.

Other aspects of crusade organization, including privileges and taking the cross, similarly varied in intensity and application. Processions inspired by specific crusading campaigns were conducted at Douai regularly during the mid-fifteenth century. Such public demonstrations assumed greater significance in the absence of frequent recruiting drives. The near-permanent sale of indulgences, in many regions robustly popular in terms of profit, operated at a different, less intense level of public or personal involvement.33 With fewer people actually taking the cross, the associated privileges tended to fall into disuse. One much exploited privilege of crucesignati allowed them to delay answering law suits, known as essoin of court. In his Mirror of Justices, Andrew Horn (d. 1328), fishmonger and Chamberlain of the City of London, described, as a matter of course, the essoin of crusaders engaged in ‘a general passage to the land of Jerusalem’. By the end of the century, such assumptions may have became genuinely anachronistic. In France by the 1380s, for instance, the lawbook known as the Grand Coutumier de France omitted any mention of crusaders from its detailed list of essoins.34 The habit of taking the cross had become too infrequent.

The ceremony of taking the cross, the defining ritual of crusading, remained available for the faithful, penitent or adventurous, but, as an active expression of interest in holy war, appears increasingly exceptional compared with earlier centuries. In December 1382, Bishop Henry Despenser of Norwich took the cross in St Paul’s cathedral, London. He apparently had experienced some difficulty locating an order of service, given its recent rarity. In fact, copies of the ceremony existed in many English cathedrals and abbeys. Different English rites for taking the cross existed in York, Lincoln and Salisbury (Despenser found his version in the liturgy books of the monks of Westminster).35 Although notable for their absence during the 1390 al-Mahdiya and 1396 Nicopolis expeditions, or as part of the Burgundian court’s display of crusade enthusiasm in the 1450s, examples of individuals and groups taking the cross show how the practice continued, as among the Hungarian peasantry in 1456 or the citizens of Ghent in the 1460s. Individual vows to fight the infidel can be found from France and Bavaria in the fourteenth century to Englishman and Scotsmen in the 1450s and worsted weavers from Norfolk in 1499.36 Rites for taking the cross continued to be copied into diocesan service books throughout the period, alongside the wider Holy Land liturgy. When Innocent VIII standardized the rite in the Roman Pontifical, he acknowledged the new circumstances of the Turkish advance when he changed the preamble to the ceremony from one restricted to those ‘going to assist the Holy Land’ to those wishing ‘to assist and defend the Christian faith or the recovery of the Holy Land’.37 The change indicated the pope believed or hoped the rite was in current use. Below the level of papal authorization, the cross could be given by local clergy to adventurers, such as Robert Almer at Canterbury in 1462, or to penitent robbers, a couple of whom received the cross at St Alban’s in 1479.38 The adaptability of the ceremony and institution was repeatedly confirmed, from new Iberian conquistadors to devout Roman Catholics fighting Protestant Huguenots in Toulouse during the French Wars of Religion in the 1560s. No less than Innocent III summoning the Fourth Lateran Council in 1213, Paul III was certain his congregation knew the significance of assuming the cross of Christ when he assembled the Council of Trent in 1544–5.39

By then, the whole idea of the redemptive merit of crusading had been challenged by critics of the Roman Church, mostly, but not exclusively, by Protestant confessional opponents. Ironically, central to the criticism lay the question of indulgences. Although those directed at serving the recovery of the Holy Land, the fight against the Turks or subsidizing the Hospitallers at Rhodes could still prove popular, the wide application and in places blatant racketeering involved threatened to discredit the whole system, as Pius II had warned.40 Thus at the very core of the crusading practices, a de facto separation emerged between function – fighting the infidel – and method – the offer and sale of indulgences. This occurred at the same time as other dimensions of holy war asserted themselves across Christendom, some overtly associated with crusading, some less so, some not all. Hussites and Protestants could happily fight holy wars without the apparatus of Roman Catholic crusade theology. Prayers for aid against the Turks appeared in Edward VI of England’s Protestant Prayer Book (1549, 1552). Just as not all prayers for the Holy Land indicated closet crusading, so not every expression of holy war, just war or hostility towards infidels came wrapped in formal crusading packaging. Even amongst Roman Catholics, the devolution of crusading to frontlines where combat was a matter of national survival, not religious duty, further diluted any ideological exclusivity the crusading may have possessed. The association of holy war with lay politics at once provided one of the commonest and most controversial battlefields for crusaders. As with indulgences, one of the most characteristic features of later medieval crusading proved one of the most self-defeating. To understand this, it is necessary to return to the thirteenth century.


Between the late thirteenth and early fifteenth centuries, crusades launched against Christians, in the heart of Christian society, formed the most consistent application of papal holy war. Inherent in the emergence of an ideology of holy war in the early middle ages, canonists and theologians in the thirteenth century, including Thomas Aquinas, further developed the doctrine of religious just war in Christendom. Henry of Segusio or Hostiensis argued that the crux cismarina, the crusade within Christendom, possessed more urgency and justice than the crux transmarina, or overseas crusade. In condoning papal policy, Hostiensis was reflecting traditional attitudes.41 This did not absolve them from criticism and controversy. When preaching against the Hohenstaufen in Germany in 1251, Hostiensis himself discovered wide and deep opposition to preaching the cross against Christians.42 Intellectually and legally valid, crusades against Christians never sat as comfortably in the mentalities of the faithful as wars against infidels. One of the key attractions of crusading lay in demonizing ‘aliens’ against whom the faithful could define their identity; crusades against Christians too often looked uncomfortably like crusades against themselves.

During the twelfth century, the papacy continued to sanction wars against its political opponents. Yet none, even the substantial expedition directed against the adventurer Markward of Anweiler in 1199, seems to have been accompanied by preaching, cross-taking or the full array of Holy Land privileges.43 Only with the Albigensian crusade in 1209, directed to the Christian protectors of heretics as much as the heretics themselves, was the complete Holy Land apparatus employed, its equality with the eastern war confirmed in the bull Excommunicamus of the Fourth Lateran Council (1215). Innocent III’s desire to offer the crusade indulgence as widely as possible and his encouragement of the idea of Christian society as a church militant constantly challenged by sin and temporal enemies made the incorporation of wars against Christians a logical step. Clerical crusade taxation for political conflicts appealed to secular rulers caught up in them, as well as providing the papacy with a mechanism of control and the capacity the vast sums of church money granted to initiate military action on its own behalf. This became useful with the acquisition under Innocent III and his successors of temporal Papal States in central Italy that required maintaining and defending.

The main wars of the cross against Christians in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries revolved around the temporal position of the papacy in Italy, the defence of the Papal States, church rights, access to ecclesiastical wealth and fears of territorial encirclement. This last was no paranoid fiction. Thirteenth-century popes, such as Innocent IV, spent long periods in exile from Rome. A regularly peripatetic papacy presiding over an increasingly effective centralized bureaucracy and growing international recognition of papal ecclesiastical jurisdiction offered an irony not lost on papal adherents as much as opponents. Physical insecurity contradicted papal claims to temporal as well as spiritual plenitude of power. Directing crusades as a remedy implemented the ideological implications of papal ambition as well as confronting their material adversaries. Thus crusading became a major device in papal attempts to protect its vassals and allies. To achieve independence in Italy and primacy in Christendom, popes applied crusading to wars with the Hohenstaufen rulers of Germany and Sicily (1239–68), the Wars of the Sicilian Vespers to restore Angevin rule in Sicily (1282–1302), campaigns to secure papal interests in central and northern Italy during the evacuation of the papal Curia to Avignon (1309–77) and attempts to resolve by force the Great Schism (1378–1417), when two, then three popes claimed to be the legitimate successors of St Peter.

Papal ideology could easily become distracted to essentially secular conflicts, as in England in 1216–17 and 1263–5.44 Between 1208 and 1214, England had lain under a papal interdict (which meant that the church ceased to function except for infant baptism and Extreme Unction) because of King John’s refusal to accept Innocent III’s nominee Stephen Langton as archbishop of Canterbury. John had been excommunicated (1209–13). In 1213, as part of the agreement that ended the interdict, John made England and Ireland fiefs of the papacy. After his attempt to win back lost lands in France in 1214, John took the cross in 1215, in part to gain protection against the growing threat of rebellion against his harsh financial exactions and roughshod management of his nobility. This failed to prevent England’s slide into civil war, but the alliance with the Roman church persisted. After John’s death, his nine-year-old heir, Henry III, reinforced his credentials as a deserving recipient of church assistance by taking the cross immediately after his coronation in 1216. The crusader’s privilege paid dividends. In January 1216, Innocent III offered remission of sins to those who fought for King John; his opponents were branded as renegades hindering the crusade to the Holy Land. Indulgences were repeated by Honorius III in September 1216. Crusaders destined for the east were permitted to deflect their crusade vow to fight for the king. Contemporary chroniclers were unequivocal in describing royalists as crucesignati, the victors over the rebels at the crucial battle of Lincoln being depicted wearing the white crosses of the Angevins, albeit on their backs, not shoulders. Although the documentary evidence is more equivocal, it seems possible that a number of individuals took the cross to defend the English king in 1216–17. More certainly, eyewitnesses painted the conflict in explicitly crusading terms through language that sat comfortably with Innocent III’s extended use of wars of the cross.

Half a century and a weight of crusades against Christians later, there was no doubt. In the autumn of 1263, in answer to an appeal from Henry III, Urban IV appointed Gui of Foulquois (subsequently Pope Clement IV) to negotiate peace between the king and his domestic opponents, if necessary by preaching the cross against them. The rebel victory at Lewes in May 1264 denied Gui access to England and, beyond excommunicating them, there is no sign Gui preached the cross. However, as Pope Clement IV, Gui renewed the royalist crusade. In the summer of 1265, Cardinal Ottobuono was instructed to preach the cross in north-west Europe and to raise a clerical tax in England, avoiding areas of southern Europe where Charles of Anjou’s crusade to Sicily was being raised. In the event, the royalists crushed the rebels under Simon of Montfort at Evesham in August 1265 before any continental crusade force had been gathered. Nonetheless, the willingness of Urban IV and Clement IV to throw the full panoply of Holy Land crusading behind the political interests of their temporal allies reveals how far the war of the cross had become integrated into all aspects of papal secular policy, in the eyes of its promoters, synonymous, if only rhetorically, with the defence of the faith, i.e. the Roman church. This assumption, falling as a material burden on the whole church through taxation, grated on many, especially when it seemed to promise no end to conflict and bore few tangible benefits.

The war against the Hohenstaufen (1239–68) witnessed the most sustained pursuit of this policy.45 It marked a final collapse of hopes for a papal–imperial alliance that had seemed attainable on a number of occasions between 1180 and 1230, not least during the youth of Frederick II, when he was a papal protégé and designated commander of the pope’s crusade. The dispute derived from an intractable range of problems. The dynastic claims of Frederick to rule Sicily and the German empire, including rights over northern Italy, posed a potential challenge to papal independence. The creation of the Papal States inevitably led to tensions over frontier regions, especially the March of Ancona and the duchy of Spoleto. Local territorial rivalries were complicated by the special relationship of pope and emperor, symbolized by papal recognition and coronation of imperial candidates. Control of Sicily, as a papal fief, provided another focus of conflict, especially as Frederick and his successors governed the church in their lands with scant regard for papal supremacy and disdain for papal interference. The bitterness of papal hostility towards Frederick II in particular was a product of previously close attachment turning sour. A fundamental lack of trust in what Urban IV called a ‘viper race’ fuelled the tenacity with which the successive popes pursued Frederick and his heirs.

Earlier papally sponsored campaigns against Frederick II, such as that under John of Brienne in 1228–30, had been funded by clerical taxation. Frederick had twice been excommunicated, in 1227 and March 1239. However, only in the winter of 1239–40 did Gregory IX call for a formal crusade against the emperor. The pope’s allies, the Lombard League of northern Italian cities, had been heavily defeated by Frederick in 1237. Imperial forces threatened Rome, where, as so often in the period, support for the pope remained fickle. By summoning a crusade, Gregory could expect to stiffen local resistance but also mobilize a larger coalition in northern Italy and Germany by making church funds available to those prepared to take the field against the emperor. The crusade, renewed in 1240 and 1243, was primarily preached in imperial lands north and south of the Alps. Anti-kings were established in Germany: Henry Raspe of Thuringia (1246–7), then William of Holland (1247–56). Ringingly endorsed by the First Council of Lyons (1245), these anti-Hohenstaufen crusades attracted many recruits, some defecting from Louis IX’s crusade. The association of crusading to the political conflicts of Italy and Germany lent the anti-imperialist cause an element of institutional commitment and international appeal (or outrage, depending on the observer) they would otherwise not have enjoyed. However, the crusade’s main contribution was financial: the church subsidized the war to destroy the Hohenstaufen, which would otherwise have been beyond the resources, let alone will, of the motley collection of secular lords ranged with the papacy.

On Frederick’s death, attempts to reach an accommodation with his successors failed, and crusades were renewed against his heir, Conrad IV, and Frederick’s illegitimate son, Manfred, regent (1250–58), then king, of Sicily. Increasingly, the focus of crusading fell on Italy and Sicily. In 1255 Alexander IV persuaded Henry III of England to accept the crown of Sicily on behalf of his second son, Edmund, hoping to add the resources of a secular kingdom to those of the church. English involvement proved abortive, as the financial obligations of the project and the extravagance of its ambition helped provoke opposition and civil war in England (1258–65). However, the scheme of hiring a secular prince to attack Manfred was revived by Urban IV and Clement IV, who secured the services of Louis IX’s youngest brother, Charles of Anjou. After a lightning campaign in the winter of 1265–6, Charles defeated and killed Manfred at the battle of Benevento in February 1266. Two years later, Charles secured his position by victory at Tagliacozzo (August 1268) over Conrad IV’s now teenage son and titular king of Jerusalem, Conradin. In October 1268, Charles had Conradin executed at Naples, the last of the male Hohenstaufen line.46

The baleful legacy of the crusades of conquest in southern Italy and Sicily infected the politics of the peninsula for generations. Opponents of papal interests became known as Ghibellines (Ghibellini), a nickname apparently derived from a twelfth-century Hohenstaufen war cry, ‘Waiblingen’, the name of a family estate in Swabia. Papal supporters and anti-imperialists, by deliberate contrast, were described as Guelphs, recognizing the long German opposition of the Welf family to the Hohenstaufen. Crusading became almost endemic in Italian politics, crusades being launched against Ezzelino and Alberic of Romano in 1255 and Sardinia in 1263. A new lease of papal energy followed the Sicilian uprising against Charles of Anjou in March 1282, known as the Sicilian Vespers, and the annexation of the island a few months later by Peter III of Aragon, whose wife was Frederick II’s daughter.47 In January 1283, a new crusade against Aragon was promulgated by Martin IV, to which Philip III of France was recruited. Philip’s invasion of Aragon in 1285 ended in dismal failure. Having wasted the summer months in a fruitless siege of Gerona in north-east Catalonia and losing his fleet to the Aragonese navy, Philip was forced to retreat, during which he died. This debacle probably persuaded Philip III’s son and heir, the inscrutable but single-minded Philip IV, to avoid such direct entanglements in the future. Further crusade bulls were issued when Frederick of Sicily, Peter III of Aragon’s younger son, defied his elder brother James II of Aragon by retaining control of Sicily despite a papal-Aragonese agreement in 1295 restoring the island to the Angevins. This fresh round of crusades only ended with the Treaty of Caltabellota in 1302 between Frederick of Sicily and the new papal claimant to the island, Charles of Valois, younger brother of Philip IV of France. Thereafter, there were no more crusades against Sicily. Although the crusade weapon may have helped destroy the Hohenstaufen, the final territorial settlement hardly matched papal aspirations; Sicily remained divided from the kingdom of Naples for another two centuries.

In the fourteenth century, Italian battlelines fragmented, especially with the papacy largely absent from the peninsula (from 1305, at Avignon from 1309 until 1377). Popes persisted in using the crusade to further their policies.48 Twice aggressive attempts were launched to reassert imperial claims in Italy, by Henry VII (in 1310–13) and Louis IV (1328–30), German kings eager to acquire the traditional imperial title, the latter’s move on Rome eliciting a crusade against him. Most Italian crusades in the period were applied to more local targets; Boniface VIII in dealing with his rivals the Colonna in 1297–8; the suppression of the Piedmontese heretical leader Dolcino in 1306–7; or preventing Venetian annexation of Ferrara (1309–10). John XXII showed himself particularly bellicose. The signori (military rulers of cities) of Lombardy, Tuscany and central Italy tended to be anti-papal Ghibellines, prominently the Visconti of Milan. Florence and the rump Angevin kingdom of Naples favoured the papal, Guelph, side. Regardless of the traditional crusade rhetoric, privileges, funding and accoutrements, such as red and white crosses adorning the banners of John XXII’s Italian crusaders, self-interest, not principle or faith, determined action.49 Thus in 1334 Guelph Florence combined with its rival, Ghibelline Milan, to thwart papal plans for a new Lombard puppet state. Only a very narrow, technical, partisan and increasingly unconvincing equation of the political interests of popes with the spiritual health of Christendom could endow these wars with religious significance. This did not prevent participants enjoying the crusader status and privileges on offer. The wars would have been fought in any case and men would have fought in them. The crusade merely added lustre; it hardly determined their practical nature. As in Spain, the crusade in Italy became increasingly a fiscal device, a means of raising money for war.

Major campaigns over the Papal States were organized by cardinallegates Bertrand du Poujet after 1319 and Gil Albornoz after 1353. Crusades were instigated against Milan and Ferrara in 1321; Milan, Mantua and rebels in Ancona in 1324; Cesena and Faenza in 1354; and Milan again in 1360, 1363 and 1368. After 1357, a new element was introduced, with crusades directed to eradicating those mercenary companies not in papal pay, in 1357, 1361 and 1369/70. Huge sums were spent, especially by the spendthrift amateur war-monger John XXII. Yet outside Italy, the same popes were reluctant to apply crusading to other people’s wars, such as those between France and England. Even in Italy, it is hard to see how the use of the crusade as a local coercive weapon, with strictly limited regional objectives, preaching, recruitment and impact, made much of a difference. They may not have been theoretical perversions of the institution of crusading. They were certainly enthusiastically embraced by those who were on the pope’s side in the first place. They may have persuaded more to join the spiritual gravy train. They ensured the crusade remained embedded in western European experience, yet only on a limited scale. The Italian wars were not universal, even in propaganda. Although canonically legitimate – how could they not be, as popes determined what was canonical? – the papal crusades in Italy, and crusades against Christians generally, lacked the distinctive numinous historical resonance that gave holy wars elsewhere their particular spiritual charge.

As if to reinforce this, the early years of the Great Schism (1378–1417) saw crusades launched by both sides against each other. In 1378 the Roman pope Urban VI launched a crusade against his Avignon rival Clement VII. In 1383, a campaign against Flanders organized and led by Bishop Henry Despenser of Norwich gained funds and popular support by being granted crusade status by Urban VI as an attack on Clementists. Despite the panoply of cross taking, preaching, masses, processions, confessions and a massive campaign of selling indulgences, the 1383 expedition amounted to nothing more than an episode in the Hundred Years War under another name. Its true nature was tellingly exposed as most of Despenser’s Urbanist army spent its time ravaging Urbanist territory and besieging Urbanist towns.50 A neat device to conduct a chevauchée on the cheap, the crusading elements of the 1383 Flanders crusade nonetheless disturbed some members of the English establishment wary of excessive ecclesiastical control over secular affairs and, as it transpired, rightly suspicious at the efficacy of the stratagem.51 Official unease was cast in the shade by the English heresiarch John Wyclif’s radical condemnation of Despenser’s crusade and the sale of indulgences, De Cruciata, which portrayed the exercise as a corrupt and deceitful ploy, among other things to raise money.52 Wyclif’s opinion was not general. Schism crusading continued. In 1386, John of Gaunt received Urbanist crusade credentials to back his unsuccessful attempt to realize his wife’s claim to the throne of Clementist Castile. The year before, at the battle of Aljubarrota, the victorious Urbanist Anglo-Portuguese troops had been fortified by receiving the cross from the bishop of Braga, while their defeated Castilian and Clementist foe had been offered indulgences from Clement VII by their spiritual advisors. However, at Aljubarrota, as with Despenser’s crusade, the popularity of crusade images and privileges merged with a sense of national identity.53This lent such traditional gestures continuing potency but not in a traditional crusading context.

The death of the belligerent Urban VI (1389) and the withdrawal of active political support from the Avignon papacy by the French government in the 1390s effectively ended the use of the crusade as a weapon in the papal schism. The long-running succession dispute in the kingdom of Naples attracted crusade bulls in 1382 from Clement VII and in 1411 and 1414 from John XXIII, himself a former naval adventurer and military commander in the Neapolitan wars. However, the experience of the Italian wars of the previous century as well as the Schism wars dissuaded popes after the end of the Schism in 1417 from using the crusade to defend the Papal States. Only the aggressive Julius II revived the tradition of crusading in Italy (for which he was imperishably lampooned in Erasmus’s Julius Exclusus) as well as granting Henry VIII of England’s French war of 1512 crusading status.54 The abandonment of crusades against political enemies perhaps signalled retrospective recognition of their futility and the damage they caused to the standing of both papacy and crusade. In the context of the growing dangers presented to Latin Christendom by the advances of the Ottomans, such applications of papal crusade theory appeared politically, militarily and financially self-defeating.

By contrast, where fighting for the cross appeared more appropriate, there was little hesitation. Five crusades were fought against the Hussite heretics of Bohemia (1420, 1421, 1422, 1431, 1465–71) and another planned (1428–9).55 The Hussites, puritanical scriptural fundamentalists similar to Wyclif’s followers in England, took their name from one of their early leaders, Jan Hus, a Prague academic who was burnt by the Council of Constance in 1415. The Hussites combined strong religious revivalism with a powerful sense of collective identity. The twin pillars of corporate unity rested on faith, expressed in rituals such as Communion in both kinds, which distinguished them from Roman Catholics, and nationality, demonstrated in the use of the written Czech vernacular. The mixture of political, social and religious rebellion forged a potent threat, which gave Bohemia a period of hard-fought independence for much of the fifteenth century. The serial failure of the crusades launched initially by Sigismund, the king of Bohemia and Hungary and the German emperor (d. 1437), and the indiscriminate brutality of the invading crusaders merely enhanced Czech appreciation of their own exceptionalist destiny, one holy war decisively repulsing another.

The sixteenth-century Reformation led to a fleeting revival of crusade schemes against the new heretics and schismatics, such as Henry VIII of England in the 1530s and his daughter Elizabeth I in the last years of the century, when Spain’s attack in 1588 and Roman Catholic subversion in Ireland became associated with crusading.56 Occasionally, popes, exasperated at compromises with confessional opponents, could threaten crusades against Catholic rulers such as Henry II of France, criticized by Julius III. The austere papalist militant Paul IV even waved the menace of a crusade against the Habsburgs Charles V and Philip II.57 At the sharp local level of religious conflict, in the early years of the French Wars of Religion (1562–98), crusading motifs appeared among Catholic associations committed to combating the Huguenots. In Toulouse, Catholics defending the city from Huguenot attack in 1567 started wearing white crosses to symbolize their holy cause. The following year, 1568, Pius V granted these ‘crucesignati’ plenary indulgences.58 However, the general political approach to fighting Protestants, in Germany, France or England, avoided overt crusading, even if the circumstances of holy war were inescapable.

The absence of crusades against Protestants provided its own barometer of the decline of crusading as a living force within Christendom. To some extent this represented more a series of shifts in cultural emphasis than a wholesale abandonment of the crusading tradition. In 1536, elements of society in northern England rebelled against religious and political measures of the government of Henry VIII. At a crisis of the rebellion, the rebels were given badges of the Five Wounds of Christ that had been made for an English contingent sent to Cadiz to join a crusade to north Africa in 1511. Kept in storage ever since, they were now used to emphasize the religious legitimacy of rebellion, to the alarm of Henry’s ministers, who suspected that the rebel leadership was trying to equate the uprising with a crusade. The 1511 crusade had ended in drunken brawls on the streets of Lisbon as the English, as many of their successors abroad, had found the local wine too intoxicating. The badges lent the rebels of 1536 no better fortune, but revealed how introspective religious priorities and ideas of holy violence could become. Thirty years later, crusade symbols were again on display, during the 1569 Northern Rebellion, like its predecessor in part a protest at religious change. However, by then few had any experience of crusading, unlike the leaders of the Pilgrimage of Grace. The resonances of the crusade had become fainter. Partly this charted the success of the Protestantizing policies of Elizabeth I; partly it revealed a significant change in perceptions of the Christian polity.59

With Christendom no longer confessionally united, nonetheless a sense of unity transcended the religious divide in the face of a common enemy, the Turk. This was one reason sixteenth-century anti-Protestant crusades failed to become more established. Both Lutheran and Roman Catholic addressed the Turkish threat to Germany in writing and action. Monks and Calvinists alike sought to extract from crusade histories lessons of faith and devotion.60 Edward VI and his ministers called the Turks in 1552 ‘the old common enemy to the Name and Religion of all Christianity’.61 In 1571, news of the great Habsburg Mediterranean naval victory over the Turks at Lepanto, seen by Roman Catholics as a crusading venture, was greeted with great enthusiasm in London, with sermons of Thanksgiving at St Paul’s and bonfires and banquets in the streets ‘for a victorie of so great importance unto the whole state of Christian commonwealth’. One observer even hoped Protestant and Roman Catholic might reach a compromise so that they could pit their combined resources against the Turk.62 This was remarkable given that England’s monarch had only the year before been excommunicated and her subjects advised to overthrow her by the pope, who planned the coalition that achieved the Lepanto triumph. An increasingly secular concept of Europe, a continent shared by different confessional groups, supplanted the idea of a religiously uniform Christendom. In this new world, anti-Christian crusades held little meaning, let alone prospects for success outside a narrow closed circle of Spanish Habsburg strategists and their apologists at the papal Curia.

Even in their heyday, crusades against Christians had thrown up anomalies. The longevity of wars of the cross directed against Christians depended on cultural attitudes and an understanding of how the world operated that demanded formal religious sanction for what in other respects was secular behaviour. This mentality helps explain the eccentric phenomenon of what can only be called crusades against crusaders, on display among rebels in England in 1215–17,63 anti-papalists in Germany in the 1240s,64 during the Shepherds’ Crusade of 1251 and with Simon of Montfort’s radical anti-royalist idealists in 1263–5.65 Such counter-crusades appear to be confined to the thirteenth century. Even though the English and the French smoothly incorporated holy war motifs into their propaganda and apologetics, and, later, both Hussites and Protestants were wholly familiar with justifications of religious warfare, the trappings of crusading had become at once undifferentiated and controversial through their use, some at the time argued overuse, in wars within Christendom. Victims and opponents naturally sought to distance themselves from what many asserted was an abuse. Crusades against Christians could seem tawdry rackets, distracting the faithful from the higher calling of the Holy Land or the defence of eastern and central Europe. In the thirteenth century many otherwise sympathetic to crusading opposed the papal wars in Italy: clergy resentful at taxation; English and French nobles reluctant to commute their vows; citizens of Lille in 1284; Florentines who refused to allow their crusade legacies to be diverted. Hostiensis, a passionate advocate of crusades against Christians, was forced to admit to widespread hostility to them in Germany.66 Even Innocent IV recognized this when he insisted his order stop preaching the cross for the Holy Land to facilitate the war of the cross against Frederick II be kept secret.67 The use of the Holy Land clerical taxes granted in 1274 and 1312 for the Italian wars looked like fraud. Those many, especially in the fourteenth century, who saw in crusading a means and expression of moral and spiritual regeneration, looked to wars with heretics and infidels, not fellow Christians. Numerous popes largely agreed, such as Gregory X, Nicholas IV, Benedict XII, Gregory XI and even Urban V, despite his use of crusades to tackle routiers. While certain popes and their apologists insisted that the Hohenstaufen and Italian crusades were necessary prerequisites for any successful eastern campaign, others, such as the Venetian lobbyist and habitueé of the papal Curia Marino Sanudo or Philip of Mézières, argued instead that they constituted major impediments to the recovery of the Holy Land and defence against the Turks.68 The coincidence of the gradual loss of the Holy Land after 1250 with the intensification of Italian crusading struck some as reprehensible. Anti-Christian crusading did not destroy the popularity of some holy wars of the cross, except in so far as it sharpened scepticism over papal motives and provided polemical ammunition for papal enemies, such as Wyclif or the influential political philosopher Marsilius of Padua in the 1320s. By the early fifteenth century, with papal plenitude of power compromised by schism, a sclerotic bureaucracy, political corruption and the growing assertion of national ecclesiastical autonomy, the Italian crusades appeared at worst objects of derision and at best irrelevant beyond the regional conflicts to which they were applied. When, in the last years of the fourteenth century, the English civil servant and poet Geoffrey Chaucer outlined the career of a perfect crusading knight, he pointedly omitted from his roll of honour the Italian crusades, with which he was personally most familiar. Whatever notional spiritual benefits the crusaders enjoyed, as a weapon of policy they failed to transcend normal secular constraints of politics and military action. A generation after Chaucer, the secular anti-Christian crusades were abandoned, not as ideologically corrupt so much as bad business. A century and a half later, they were joined by the crusades against schismatics and heretics.


In the early years of the fourteenth century, an obliging French cleric attempted to present a case for the king of France’s war with the count of Flanders being regarded as holy, equivalent in merit to a traditional crusade. The French kings were holy because ‘they esteem holiness, protect holiness and beget holiness’. Their victory over Flemish opponents characterized as rebels would be both just and pious because ‘the king’s peace is the realm’s peace; the realm’s peace is the peace of the church, knowledge, virtue and justice, and it is [a precondition for] the conquest of the Holy Land’. The French were following Maccabees (2:15, vv. 7–8) in seeking God’s assistance, confident that those who died ‘for the justice of king and realm will receive the crown of martyrdom from God’.69 The argument embraced central elements of repeated attempts in the later middle ages to elevate national secular conflicts into holy wars, analogous or, occasionally, synonymous with crusading: monarchical holiness; the identification of king and nation; the providential destiny of a specially favoured patria; the consequent perfidy and evil of that nation’s enemies; the translation of crusade and holy war privileges to lay warfare; the promise of salvation; and the testing of unrelated political contests against the requirements of the recovery of the Holy Land. The success of such efforts profoundly affected western political culture and marked one of the most significant of the crusade’s legacies to succeeding generations.

The translation of crusading ideology and emotion to national conflicts in some senses saw a resurrection of the early medieval sanctified patriotism that had surrounded Christian rulers such as Charlemagne. However, the concept of holy war was now allied with stronger central control by governments of society and social ideas. The increasingly high costs of warfare and the techniques of centralized fiscal exploitation they provoked gave rulers added authority. Although the church had in many instances led the way in experimenting with techniques of public taxation and supplying justification for it, lay power benefited most, witnessed across Europe in England, France, Iberia, fifteenth-century Burgundy, the German regional principalities and the Italian city states. Political theory and propaganda followed suit. The fusion of the ruler and the ruled became crucial to developments in political identity, the lay power personifying or representing the people or nation. Two associated phenomena supported this creation of self-sufficient and self-regarding states: the perception of a people as Elect, whose public business was therefore meritorious on a transcendent not just temporal plane; and the assumption by rulers of what has been called a religion of monarchy, which both copied and usurped traditional ecclesiastical presentations of authority.

The scope for crusading to assume a national guise was thus greatly increased. The process could operate in three ways: through national pride in past involvement in crusades; formal crusades fought for national interests; and the elevation of the patria itself into a Holy Land, its defence being sanctioned by God and the Scriptures. Underpinning such a transformation lay the sacralization of war, its destinations and its participants inherent in crusading ideas and practices. Objects of crusading aggression were consistently couched in spiritual terms of the recovery of the lands of Christ (Palestine), His Mother (Livonia) or His disciples, such as James (Iberia) or Peter (any region extended papal protection or lordship, for example Prussia). By extension, the lands whence crusaders came assumed something of the numinous quality of the holy enterprise. As the universal homeland of these New Israelites or Maccabees, Christendom (Christianitas) became fragmented into distinct kingdoms, principalities or cities, patriae, these appropriated to themselves the concept of a Holy Land and the Old Testament images of the Chosen People. The consequent habit of equating national ambition with universal good formed a prominent part of the emergence of the nation state.70

In some instances, the link between traditional crusading and national crusades was immediate and direct. Although an idea that dated back at least to Urban II in the late eleventh century,71 from the fourteenth, the idea of defensive bastions of Christianity (antemurales) standing on the frontier with the infidel was widely adopted along the borders with the Ottomans, from Poland and Hungary to the Adriatic. Apparently engaged in constant holy war, local rulers promoted national exceptionalism – and their own authority – though crusading imagery and the sacralization of their realms. Away from the frontline, myths and rituals of civic or national identity, as in Pisa, Genoa or Venice, proudly proclaiming their involvement in eastern crusades in public art, literature and municipal ceremonial. In Florence, crusading reinforced civic exceptionalism. The banner borne by Florentines at Damietta in 1219 became a revered relic in the church of San Giovanni. Florence repeatedly refurbished its crusade credentials, even responding positively, if cautiously, to Pius II’s crusade appeal in 1463–4. This context of the crusade helping define distinctive civic identity and virtue probably helped the radical evangelist Girolamo Savonarola, who dominated Florence between 1494 and 1498, when he declared the city to be a New Jerusalem.72 Although cities such as Florence or Venice may have been exceptional in the scale of crusade imagery on display, similar attention to their crusading past came from northern cities such as London or Cologne.

A parallel trend can be observed in the parade of canonized crusaders that adorned the royal genealogies of Europe: Charlemagne, universally regarded as a proto-crusader (canonized in 1166); Eric IX of Sweden (d. 1160; canonized 1167); Ladislas of Hungary (d. 1095; canonized 1192); Ferdinand III of Castile (d. 1252, whose cult was apparent soon after his death, even though he was officially canonized only in 1671); and, most famously, Louis IX of France (d. 1270; canonized 1297). Local secular ‘saints’ could be made out of crusader heroes, such as James of Avesnes, killed at Arsuf in 1191, or William Longspee, cut down at Mansourah in 1250.73 In the absence of sanctified crusaders, local saints could be also pressed into service, such as Thomas Becket, whose shade was regularly invoked by Englishmen during the Third Crusade and who gave his name to a religious, briefly military, order at Acre. Such figures appeared as distinctively national or regional figures, the kings among them materially aiding the assertion of local royal dynasticism, all attaching an aura of sanctity to cities, regions or nations, helping mould a collective identity.

This incorporation of public religion, if not necessarily overt crusading, into assumptions of national self-image was reflected in the adoption across Europe of the cross as a national symbol, banner or uniform. It provided the sign of the Florentine popolo. Danish kings adopted the cross for their symbol around 1200. As already seen, at the battle of Evesham in Worcestershire in 1265, facing rebels wearing white crusader crosses, the royalists wore red ones. In the fourteenth century the red cross became the emblem of English troops in France and Spain and the national symbol, branded as the cross of St George. Apparently, some rebels during the so-called Peasants’ Revolt of 1381 wore them. Yet iconographically red crosses remained associated with crusading, worn by crusaders in Prussia, on Despenser’s crusade in 1383 and against the Hussites in the 1420s.74 This elision of reference may not have been accidental. One description of Edward I of England’s 1300 campaign against the Scots to Annandale and Carlaverock talked of him signing himself and his troops ‘with the Lord’s Cross’, an unmistakable gesture in a war that observers on both sides equated with a holy war. In similar vein, Henry Knighton, a canon of Leicester, looking back from the 1390s on the French wars a generation earlier, depicted the English before the battle of Poitiers (1356) signing themselves ‘with the Holy Cross’.75 Overtones of holy war were convenient for Edward III, accused by many as responsible for scuppering the crusade plans of the 1330s and the first English king since Stephen not to take the cross for the Holy Land.

The most consistent hijack of the crusade for national objectives came from the French. By 1300, crusading had been claimed almost as a national prerogative, an enterprise in which the king of France held the major shareholding. A lavish illuminated manuscript produced at Acre c.1280 shows Louis IX attacking Damietta in 1249, the king and his followers emblazoned with the royal emblem of the fleur de lis. There is not a cross in sight.76 Fashioned at the French royal court by a coalition of xenophobic clergy and smooth Roman lawyers, the ideologies of the crusade and the providential destiny of France and its monarch were woven into a legal imperialism backed by a form of apocalyptic royal, hence national, messianism. The argument deployed against the Flemish above was typical. The harnessing of the crusade semiotics of the Old Testament Israelites and Maccabees extended the transformation of a land of crusaders into a Holy Land in its own right. At least diplomatically, some were convinced. In 1311, Pope Clement V – a Frenchman from Gascony – declared: ‘Just as the Israelites are known to have granted the Lord’s inheritance by the election of Heaven, to perform the hidden wishes of God, so the kingdom of France has been chosen as the lord’s special people.’77 This tradition helped sustain French propaganda through the darkest days of defeat during the Hundred Years’ War. In 1429, Christine de Pisan prophesied that Joan of Arc’s recent victories over the English presaged her leading Charles VII to reconquer the Holy Land because God specially favoured the royal house of France. Joan, like Moses, would lead God’s new people, the French, out of defeat and occupation.78 In the manner of earlier crusaders, Charles was declared to be the fulfilment of the prophecy of the Last Emperor, whose career of world conquest would end with the laying down of his crown on the Mount of Olives in preparation for the Last Days. God directs the destiny of France; those who die in her cause will gain paradise. With or without the formal trappings, the ideology and mentality of crusading here permeated nationalist propaganda. This cocktail of prophecy, eschatology, holy war and the recovery of Jerusalem enlivened the rhetoric surrounding Charles VIII’s invasion of Italy in 1494. Such justifications acted both as cover for political ambition and genuine inspiration. The potency of the identification of crusading with ‘the Most Christian Kings’ of France (a twelfth-century courtesy title bestowed by a grateful pope) was such that it survived the destructive Wars of Religion (1562–98) to find new literary expression from both Roman Catholic and Huguenot apologists of Henry IV (1589–1610).79

However, the appropriation of crusading mentalities did not lead to the application of formal crusade institutions to French wars. Popes consistently refused to elevate French conflicts with Flanders or England into crusades. Here the contrast with the otherwise closely parallel experience of late medieval Spain, in particular Castile, is most notable. An indigenous Iberian prophetic tradition nurtured by the reconquista encouraged a belief that the Iberian holy wars required ultimate fulfilment in the recovery of Jerusalem. Unlike the French, whose immediate enemies were fellow Christians, the Spanish faced Muslims, allowing papal grants of crusade privileges, especially taxation and indulgences, to flow more or less on demand. The expulsion of the Moors from Granada led to north African forays by Ferdinand of Aragon and his grandson Charles V (I of Spain). These not only attracted crusading privileges, but were cast by royal polemicists as preludes to the recovery of the Holy Sepulchre. Whatever the religious dimension, these were national campaigns in pursuit of local strategic conquest, political aggression and commercial advantage. However, for Charles’s son, Philip II, the synergy of God’s war and Spain’s war occupied the centre of his world-view. The crusade, in the Mediterranean, north Africa, Europe or the Americas, imposed a specifically national responsibility in fulfilment of Spain’s providential mission to lead the redemption of Christendom, whether the rest of Christendom approved or not.

While such conflation of the temporal and transcendent proved harder to pull off elsewhere, others played the same game. Reflecting on English success in the French wars, Chancellor Adam Haughton, bishop of St David’s, insisted to Parliament in 1377 that ‘God would never have honoured this land in the same way as he did Israel… if it were not that He had chosen it as His heritage’. A popular verse at the time reinforced the message; the pope had become French, but Jesus had become English. God’s career as an Englishman lasted for centuries.80 Such fancies and scriptural references connected with pre- and non-crusading traditions of the Old Testament and providential precedents for the defence of homelands. However, the congruence of language used to sacralize national warfare with concurrent crusade rhetoric made neat distinctions unconvincing. The intent of those English sources in describing crusaders against rebels in 1216–17 or the Montfortian crucesignati in 1263–5 as fighting ‘pro patria’ was clear. So, too, were the motives of writers such as Henry Knighton or the Scottish propaganda that equated their war of independence in the early fourteenth century with the Holy Land crusade. In England, liturgy, church processions and prayers similar to those devoted to the recovery of the Holy Land were directed in support of royal wars.81 In the 1340s, those in royal service received the temporal privileges of essoin of court, exemption from taxation, moratorium on debt and pardon for crimes. It seems only the indulgences could not be transferred from crusading to national war. Even that may not have made too much difference, if Froissart, a close observer of the Anglo-French nobility, can be believed: ‘Men at arms cannot live on pardons, nor do they pay much attention to them except at the point of death.’82

While numerous examples can be found of writers throwing a crusading mantle over secular warfare, the more powerful and lasting transference came where national wars were portrayed as of equal worth as crusading, as holy wars in their own right, independent of the Holy Land tradition. Just as the Hundred Years War fatally undermined practical efforts to raise a new eastern crusade, so it went far to replace crusading as the central public meritorious military act, even if many still hankered after the easy certainties of wars of the cross against infidels on far foreign fields. The construction of non-crusading holy war was a feature of fifteenth-century Europe where not all national wars were linked to the crusade tradition. While rejecting the theology and institutions of crusading, the Hussites in Bohemia self-consciously created their own holy land, renaming cult sites after places in Palestine, such as Mount Tabor or Mount Horeb. Within the pale of Catholic Christendom, similar reinventions were equally possible and plausible. In his description of the battle of Agincourt (25 October 1415), Henry V’s chaplain had the king call the English ‘God’s people’ as they donned ‘the armour of penitence’, exhorting them to follow the example of Judas Maccabeus.83 Confession, absolution and taking Communion were familiar pre-battle morale-raising techniques, but the focus in this account is unambiguous. King Henry was God’s soldier as well as the Lord’s anointed. On his return to London after his victory, he was greeted by patriotic displays in praise of the blessed kingdom of England, its patron saints and holy kings.84 While the crusade mentality and images infected the sacralization of political rule and patriotic identities in the later middle ages, national holy lands and holy wars acquired and projected an independent vitality. National crusades became the nations’ wars.


Medieval prophets and some post-medieval historians have not been shy to attribute sweeping consequences for the crusade, from a role in the Apocalypse to the opening of the west to new scholarly learning and fresh commercial markets. Such claims have prompted one modern historian to react by reducing crusading’s contribution to western culture to the introduction of the apricot.85 Yet it is undeniable that both practically and intellectually the traditional western European ambition of occupying Palestine encouraged sensitivity to Christendom’s place in the wider world of the three classical continents of Europe, Asia and Africa. In turn this contributed to an inquisitive and acquisitive expansionism that characterized high and late medieval western European approaches to other peoples and regions near and distant. The extension of western European Christian culture and power to all other parts of the globe provided one of the major features of world history after 1500. In the origins of this process, which formed such as marked contrast to, say, the Chinese experience after 1400, the idealism and activity of crusaders in the four centuries after 1095 played a part.

The intellectual and physical, geographic aspects of the crusade’s influence on European expansion cannot neatly be separated. Neither should it be exaggerated. The creation of Asiatic empires and the altering of trade routes; the development of the European economy, technology and commerce; or the transmission of classical and Arabic texts via Spain, Sicily, southern Italy and Byzantium ran distinct and parallel to the effect of the wars of the cross. However, crusading idealism led to significant political settlements of Latin Christians in the Near East and, in places, an obsessive European concern for western Asia and the eastern Mediterranean that would not have developed in the way it did without the distinctive dynamism of the crusade mentality and tradition. Politically, the nature of the Muslim powers of the Near East mattered to Frankish rulers and warriors. The acute interest in events further east during the Fifth Crusade stood as an extreme example of a more general concern, evinced, for example, in William of Tyre’s lost history of the Muslim east. Although the irruption of the Mongols into western Asia and eastern Europe owed nothing to crusading, the European response did, in so far as successive missions were despatched to Mongol rulers in the thirteenth century at least in part to test prospects for an anti-Muslim alliance.

The Latin presence in the eastern Mediterranean and the need of prospective western crusaders for information stimulated a small industry of written information about Asia and north Africa from the thirteenth century. This sense of place and desire to acquire knowledge of it was encouraged and sustained by the increasing volume of Holy Land and Near East pilgrimage accounts after 1300, supplemented by memoirs of released captives or western spies, many of which were widely circulated and, in the fifteenth century, printed. While much of the writing about Asia and Africa was fanciful, non-empirical, inaccurate, hidebound by classical texts or vitiated by wishful thinking, it provided a way of looking at the non-Christian, non-European world that transcended mere tales of wonder (although these remained very popular throughout the later middle ages). Asiatic, Muslim and Mongol geography, politics, economy, sociology and demography came under increasingly familiar scrutiny, especially in the large numbers of ‘recovery’ treatises composed between the 1270s and 1330s.86 These works, by such disparate figures as the Armenian Prince Hayton, who wrote about the Tartars (1307) or the French provincial lawyer Pierre Dubois, who worried about the demographic inequalities of Latins and Saracens (1306–8), reflected both pragmatic and academic concerns about the nature of the outside world that went far beyond crusade planning.87The missions to the Mongols and the opening-up of China to western visitors after the Mongol conquest of 1276 added new geographic horizons, new intellectual challenges and, for some, a new crusading urgency. The introspective idealism of the need to recover Christ’s heritage for Christendom was matched or replaced by a new understanding of the world context of the Holy Land, Christendom and Christianity itself. Such perceptions led directly to the development from the thirteenth century of the idea of crusading for the extension (dilatio) of the faith, not just its defence, a concept eagerly embraced and promoted by Iberian crusaders expanding their conquests along the shore of the Maghrib and into the north Atlantic in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. The effect of this aggressive concept of holy war, which even tolerated de facto wars of conversion previously outlawed, was powerfully displayed from the 1490s in the conquests in the Americas.88

Jerusalem and the Americas may appear opposite ends of the conceptual as well as geographic map. In fact the road to one led straight to the other. Christopher Columbus was an enthusiast for the recovery of Jerusalem. In later life, he construed his voyages to what he stubbornly viewed as part of the old world as fulfilling biblical prophecies of the reconquest of Jerusalem, notably Isaiah 60:9. In 1501, he wrote to his patrons, the Catholic monarchs of Spain, Ferdinand and Isabella, ‘Our Lord wished to manifest a most evident miracle in this voyage to the Indies in order to console me and others in the matter of the Holy Sepulchre.’89 Columbus, here and in his own work of prophecy, the Libro de las profecias (Book of Prophecies), a decade after his first voyage, was casting himself in an almost messianic role as the deliverer of Jerusalem. Such delusional hubris may have startled his royal sponsors, but it sprang from a lively current Spanish interest in outréprophecy, nationalism, the Holy Land and the crusade that the court and policies of Ferdinand and Isabella had done much to excite and foster. Columbus’s interest was grounded on more than apocalyptic dreaming. His will of 1498 provided for a fund to be established in his home city of Genoa for the recovery of Jerusalem.90

Crusading, far from an anachronism, provided one impetus for the European age of discovery. One of the texts that Columbus may have consulted, and was certainly well known to members of his circle and people he met, was the pseudonymous John Mandeville’s Travels. Its Prologue was unambiguous about the status of the Holy Land, Christ’s heritage, as the centre of the world and about the Christian obligation to recover it by force. ‘Mandeville’s’ account of his supposed travels to Jerusalem, the Near East, Asia and the fabulous Orient provided a rich mine of romance, history, theology, topography and geography. From the original as well as the many contrasting variants, different audiences could extract whatever they desired to inform their own interests, tolerant, bigoted, fanciful or topographical. For Columbus’s circle, the focus on the crusade, which set the frame for ‘Mandeville’, would be of equal attraction as one of the book’s most unequivocal claims: ‘I say with certainty that one could travel around all the lands of the world, both below and above, and return to one’s country’.91 This assumption of the possibility of circumnavigation was supported by measurements. ‘Mandeville’ rejected the standard medieval calculation of the circumference of the earth, derived from Ptolemy of Alexandria, 20,245 miles, in favour of the more accurate 31,500 miles, Eratosthenes’s figure included in the university textbook De Spaera(1230×45) by John of Sacrobosco.92 For Columbus, even if not directly influenced by ‘Mandeville’, which he may have been, science, cosmology and the crusade were complementary, not aspects of antagonistic cultures or hostile systems of thought. In contemplating ways of fulfilling the injunction to recover Christ’s heritage, Columbus, like so many of his would-be crusader predecessors stretching back to Urban II’s call to arms at Clermont, first sought to understand the world better, its natural phenomena, its diversity and its breadth as much as its eschatalogical destiny. Crusading remained embedded in western European culture for so long precisely for this reason. In presenting a spiritualized vision of reality, it recognized the temporal world and the actual experience of man while offering to transform both.


1. Jerusalem and its environs c.1100: the Holy City in the eyes of western Christendom.


2. Urban II consecrating the high altar at Cluny during his preaching tour of France, October 1095; see p. 63.


3. Peter the Hermit leading his crusaders.


4. Alexius I Comnenus, emperor of Byzantium 1081–1118.


5. The church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem idealized in later medieval western imagination.


6. The front cover of the Psalter of Queen Melisende of Jerusalem (1131–52); see p. 210.


7. Saladin: a contemporary Arab view.


8. The battle of Hattin, 4 July 1187: Saladin seizing the True Cross, a fictional scene visualized by the monk Matthew Paris of St Alban’s (d. 1259).


9. Frederick I Barbarossa, emperor of Germany, dressed as a crusader c.1188, receiving a copy of Robert of Rheims’s popular history of the First Crusade. The inscription exhorts Frederick to fight the ‘Saracens’. See pp. 245, 418.


10. Embarking on crusade, showing, among others, the banners of the kings of France and England, from the statutes of the fourteenth-century chivalric Order of the Knot, dedicated to the Holy Spirit; see p. 855.


11. Women helping besiege a city, as at the siege of Acre 1190; see pp. 396–7, 415, 428.


12. The western image of war in the Holy Land: Joshua, in the guise of a Frankish knight, liberates Gibeon from the Five Kings, an episode in the Book of Joshua (10:6–13) from an illuminated Bible commissioned for the crusading court of Louis IX of Francec.1244–54.


13. Military orchestra of the kind employed by Turkish, Kurdish and Mamluk commanders, see p. 821.


14. Pope Innocent III (1198–1216).


15. Venice c.1400.


16. Innocent III and the Albigensian Crusade.


17. Neighbours at war: Moors fighting Christians in thirteenth-century Spain.


18. The Fifth Crusade: a clash between Frankish and Egyptian forces outside Damietta, June 1218, from Matthew Paris’s Chronica Majora, c.1255.


19. The Fifth Crusade: the capture of the Tower of Chains by Oliver of Paderborn’s floating fortress, August 1218 (left), and the fall of Damietta, November 1219 (right), from Matthew Paris’s Chronica Majora, c.1255.


20. Frederick II, emperor, king of Germany 1212–50, ruler, crusader, polymath and falconry expert.


21. Louis IX of France captures Damietta, June 1249, from a manuscript produced at Acre c.1280. Not a cross in sight; instead the crusaders bear the royal emblem of France, the fleur de lis; see p. 909.


22. Outremer’s nemesis: Mamluk warriors training.


23. Outremer’s nemesis: a Turkish cavalry squadron.


24. The battle of La Forbie, October 1244: a Khwarazmian and Egyptian army annihilate a Frankish-Damascene force; see p. 771.


25. Matthew Paris imagines the Mongols as cannibalistic savages, Chronica Majora, c.1255.


26. The fall of Tripoli to the Mamluks, April 1289; see p. 817.


27. Charles V of France entertains Charles IV of Germany during a banquet in Paris in 1378 with a lavish show of the siege of Jerusalem of 1099, possibly stage-managed by Philip of Mézières, perhaps the figure in black shown in the left foreground; see p. 887.


28. Andrea Bonaiuti’s fresco ‘The Church Militant’ in the Spanish Chapel, St Maria Novella, Florence, portraying the leading lights in crusading at the time (back row, right to left, beginning with the black-bearded noble carrying a sword): Amadeus VI count of Savoy, King Peter I of Cyprus, the Emperor Charles IV, Pope Urban V, the papal legate in Italy, Gil Albornoz; (back row, fourth from far left) Juan Fernandez Heredia, master of the Hospitallers; and, standing in front of Peter of Cyprus, Thomas Beauchamp earl of Warwick, wearing the insignia of the Order of the Garter below his left knee. See p. 832.


29. The failed Ottoman Turkish siege of Rhodes, 1480.


30. Mehmed II the Conqueror (1451–81) by Gentile Bellini, 1480/81.


31. The battle of Lepanto, 1571; see pp. 903–4.

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