Post-classical history

The Crusading Movement



As it neared the end of the first two centuries of its existence, the crusading movement was in a condition of crisis. Recent successes in Spain, Prussia, and Italy had been staggering, but they could not compensate for the fact that the defence of the Holy Land stood on the edge of calamity in the face of the Mamluk advance. Given the nature of crusading, the crisis was bound to be one of faith as well as military strategy: as the Constitutiones pro zelo fidei, the crusade decrees of the Second Lyons Council, expressed it in 1274, ‘to the greater shame of the Creator, and the injury and pain of all who confess the Christian faith, they [i.e. the Mamluks] taunt and insult the Christians with many reproaches—“where is the God of the Christians?” ’ (cf. Ps. 115: 2). The crisis did not end in 1291 because few contemporaries accepted the loss of Palestine as final: indeed, arguably it was not until after the outbreak of the Hundred Years War in 1337 that hopes for recovery were marginalized to an optimistic few. There are good reasons for beginning a survey of the later crusades by focusing on the fertile yeast of ideas, and the consolidation of methods of organization and finance, which the Second Lyons Council either initiated or furthered, and which spanned the decades on either side of 1300. These changes were not alone responsible for the survival of crusading for many generations to come; but they aptly displayed the qualities of engagement, resilience, and adaptability which underpinned that survival.

The Crucible Years and their Legacy

‘In order to acquire the Holy Land, three things are required above all: that is, wisdom, power, and charity.’ Thus Ramon Lull, in the preamble to his crusade treatise De acquisitione Terrae Sanctae (1309), set the agenda for the promotion of a recovery crusade. Wisdom (sapientia), in the form of advice, was not lacking. Lull himself was one of the most prominent and prolific of the many Latin Christians who penned recovery treatises in the decades between the Second Lyons Council and the beginning of the Anglo-French war. Sylvia Schein has listed twenty-six between the councils of Lyons and Vienne (1274-1314), after which there were still many to come. In terms of origin, status, affiliation, and expertise, the authors formed a cross-section of European male society (interestingly, there are no known contributions by women). They included kings (Henry II of Cyprus and Charles II of Naples), a leading French royal official (William of Nogaret), an assortment of bishops and mendicant friars, the masters of the leading military orders, an exiled Armenian prince, a Venetian businessman, and a Genoese physician. Some were armchair strategists, others experts, although this was not always apparent in their advice; all wrote for an audience, usually one of popes and kings, in the hope and expectation of action.

This outpouring of counsel and exhortation was new, distinctive, and significant. It came about in part because popes from Gregory X onwards acted on a precedent of Innocent III— in this, as so often, the fons et origo of crusading develop- ments—by soliciting advice. Most of the earliest surviving tracts and memoranda were written for the Second Lyons Council and the first full-blown recovery treatise, that of Fidenzio of Padua, was probably also a response to Gregory X’s appeal for written counsel, although it was not completed until shortly before the fall of Acre. Such appeals reflected a widespread perception of the need for radical and innovative thinking about virtually every aspect of crusade organization, from the form to be assumed by the expedition through to the disposition and protection of the conquered lands, if the mistakes of the past were not to be repeated. This constructive and unblinkered response to past errors led to something like a consensus of views emerging on many principal facets of the longed-for recovery crusade. The expedition should be preceded by a sustained blockade of the Mamluk lands, with the twin goals of depriving the sultan of essential war imports (including the slaves who were trained as his élite cavalry), and weakening his fisc. It should take place in two stages, the first of which (the passagium particulare) would establish a foothold, which the second (the passagium generale) would exploit. The crusade should be organized on a professional basis, well-funded, and subject to clear-cut, respected, and experienced leadership. Civilians and camp-followers should be excluded.

It would be wrong either to exaggerate this consensus or to assume that the emerging blueprint was a workable one. Some theorists, including, surprisingly, the last master of the Templars, James of Molay, rejected the passagium particulare and favoured a single, all-out general passage. There was no agreement about where the passagium should land. Axes were liberally ground and politics constantly intruded. For the French theorists Peter Dubois and William of Nogaret the crusade was in part an instrument of Capetian dynastic ambitions, while even such a brilliant and altruistic thinker as Ramon Lull allowed himself to be heavily influenced by Aragonese and French interests, which he incorporated into his plans of attack. On the other hand, it would have been a waste of time writing in a political vacuum; it was unrealistic to try to disentangle the crusade from the dynastic and economic goals of the great powers, and one of the most striking features of the finest treatise- writers, Lull and the Venetian Marino Sanudo Torsello, is the fact that their presence was welcomed at courts, assemblies, and church councils. They were great networkers and it is clear that the flow of ideas and influence was two-way.

Whether or not the purged and reformed crusade which such men advocated had any chance of materializing is more difficult to judge, hinging as it did on the other two attributes which Lull considered necessary, charity (caritas) and power (potestas). Any attempt to gauge public sentiments about the crusade either on the basis of reactions to the disasters in the East—above all the loss of Acre—or on that of the response to crusade preaching, is all but doomed from the start. The first was too conditioned by special interests and the universal search for a scapegoat, while the second was distorted by the shift in official preaching towards the collection of funds in lieu of personal participation. There were, however, some telling, if short-lived, eruptions of popular interest not long after the fall of Acre. These were usually linked to the eschatological strand in crusade ideas. They were at odds with the advanced, professional form of crusade advocated by most of the theorists, but have the virtue of revealing that the theorists’ obsession with the recovery of the Holy Land touched the population at large when the mood was right. Such eruptions occurred at roughly ten-year intervals: in 1300, when news reached the West of the ilkhan Ghazan’s victory over the Mamluks at Homs, and in 1309 and 1320, when ‘peasants’ crusades’ in Germany and France demonstrated clearly that the poor were still susceptible to outbreaks of crusading zeal.

Higher up the social scale, we are on firmer ground. Evidence is richer, and it is clear that the cult of chivalry, which attained its fullest elaboration at about the time of the fall of Acre, incorporated crusading as one of its defining characteristics. It was no coincidence that secular rulers so often chose to announce or launch their crusade plans in settings of chivalric splendour; indeed, this would be true as late as Philip the Good’s Feast of the Pheasant in 1454. Family traditions of crusading, particularly in France and England, also predisposed numerous nobles to respond enthusiastically to the projects which were hatched at the papal and royal courts. Their enthusiasm was increasingly tinged with suspicion about the motives and real intentions of those promoting the projects, and this expressed itself in greater wariness about undertaking the formal obligation of assuming the cross; but again and again, from the time of Edward I of England’s crusade plans in the 1280s, through to those of Philip VI of France in the early 1330s, recruitment of fighting men did prove possible.

In fact one is led to the conclusion that it was the lack of potestas, rather than that of caritas, which brought the recovery projects to nothing. To explain why, it is necessary first to outline some of the enormous advances in military organization and financial support which were occurring, and together with the treatises came to form a permanent legacy of the Lyons council and the fervid planning of the following half-century. There was gradually emerging a practice of crusading which, while less streamlined and efficient than that envisaged by some of the theorists, was more in tune with trends in contemporary warfare and was therefore more likely to produce results. A movement towards contractual recruitment, with all its advantages in terms of control and accountability, can clearly be seen in the crusade planning of Edward I, Charles IV, and Philip VI. There was a growing appreciation of the importance of making full use of the West’s supremacy at sea, and not solely in terms of the projected naval embargo on the Mamluk lands. Due importance was vested in reconnaissance, spying, and the cultivation of allies amongst neutral powers. The need to adapt tactics to deal with differing circumstances and enemies was appreciated, and the provision of experts in siege warfare was anticipated. Overall, the balance between the mystical and the military, once a crusade had taken the field, was firmly tipped in favour of the latter, to a degree which it had not been even as recently as the campaigns of St Louis.

The most significant breakthrough, however, came in funding. All the changes mentioned in the previous paragraph were expensive, and in order to handle the ever-mounting costs of crusading the Second Lyons Council proposed a tax on the laity throughout Christendom. This foundered on the rocks of suspicion and particularism, but the council achieved a lasting success with its other main financial measure, a six-year tenth levied on the entire Church. Clerical income taxes had been recognized for some decades as the only reliable means of ensuring a continuous flow of funds for the crusades, but the procedures for assessing, collecting, and transmitting the funds had to date been haphazard. It was Gregory X’s greatest contribution to the movement that he grasped the nettle of placing this taxation on a firm institutional basis. The pope set up twenty-six collectorates and, in his bull Cum pro negotio of 1274, laid down detailed guidelines for the assessment of clerical revenues for tax purposes. In the years following Gregory’s death in 1276 his successors had to make amendments to his procedures, but by the death of Boniface VIII in 1303 the papacy possessed a comprehensive system of taxation on which it could draw to finance crusading ventures. Indeed, this system had by then come through its first major trial, in the shape of the numerous tenths and subsidies which the popes levied in order to finance the series of crusades which they waged against the rebel Sicilians and their allies between 1282 and 1302.

Papal taxation of the Church was an extraordinary achievement. It can appear deceptively simple. In 1292, for example, the annual revenues of the bishop of Rochester were assessed at £42 2s. 2d., including rents, fisheries, mills, markets, and courts; it followed that he had to pay £4 4s. 2 1/2d. a year towards the tenth which Pope Nicholas IV had granted to Edward I for his crusade project. But this apparently straightforward reckoning was beset with difficulties. Should the tenth be based on an assessment of income made by an impartial investigator, which was time-consuming and quickly out-ofdate, or should payment be made retrospectively on the basis of a cleric’s conscience and his knowledge—not always accurate of course—of what his income for a given year had been? How should assessors and collectors be found and remunerated, and how should their work be monitored? How could the proceeds best be secured and transferred? In addition to this, there were two enormous groups of problems relating to the taxpayers and the secular leaders who received the money for crusading purposes. The means of resistance employed by clerics, from evasive measures and subterfuges to open defiance, were numerous and astute. And at the other end of the process, it was necessary to devise some means of ensuring that money handed over was actually spent on a crusade, that accounts were kept and checked, and that unspent proceeds were returned.

These problems proved to be beyond solution: tax-evading clerics, fraudulent collectors, highwaymen, insolvent banking companies, and rulers who purloined crusade taxes, were unchanging features of the European socio-economic landscape throughout the late Middle Ages. Like most medieval systems of taxation, the papacy’s taxation of the Church was ramshackle, much-criticized and resented, costly yet inefficient. But for all its faults, it did provide a large proportion of the funds on which crusading had now come to depend, and it therefore made possible the continuation of the movement. It also, of course, actively stimulated that continuation. The levy of universal six- year tenths for the crusade, not just at Lyons in 1274 but also at Clement V’s general council at Vienne in 1312, brought into existence vast sums of money which were supposed to be spent on a passage to the East, and therefore helped to keep this issue alive in the political sphere. And the readiness of the papal curia to grant an individual ruler a tax on his clergy, either directly for a crusade or for a cause which was depicted as essential preparation for such a venture, had much the same effect. The presence of the crusade in late medieval Europe was perhaps more than anything else that of the armies of collectors, bankers, and bureaucrats who busied themselves assembling and distributing the money without which nothing could be done.

To a large degree, Lull’s potestas was money, and there was not enough of it for a recovery crusade; or more accurately, the political conditions of Europe around 1300 made it impossible for it to be sufficiently concentrated. The growing selfconfidence and acute domestic needs of Christendom’s lay rulers meant that while they would accept papal taxation of the Church in their lands, particularly if they could hope to enjoy at least a share of the proceeds, they would not permit the export of those funds for use by another ruler who was supposedly organizing a passage to the Holy Land. No designated leader of a recovery crusade could therefore manage, in practice, to gather in the resources needed. Philip VI, who probably came nearest, in the early 1330s, to initiating a recovery passagium, tried to bypass this problem by collecting lay taxes within France, and by pressurizing the papal curia into bringing in funds from outside France and her satellite states. But the latter measure could not succeed because the papacy’s influence in the political sphere had weakened too much. There was a double irony here.

It was Philip VI’s own uncle, Philip the Fair, who had glaringly highlighted this weakness in the course of his great struggle with Pope Boniface VIII; and the reason for Philip VI’s pressure was the creation of a papal taxation system which displayed the impressive extent of the authority which the papacy still wielded, by contrast, within the Church.

Not surprisingly, few contemporaries had a clear perception of these subtle but vital shifts of power and authority, or of their impact on the crusade; the impression they received was of muddle, prevarication, and dissimulation on the part of their rulers. To use Anthony Luttrell’s striking phrase, it was ‘an epoch of crises and confusions’. Project after project was mooted with the aims of recovering the Holy Land, assisting Cyprus and Cilician Armenia, or seizing Constantinople back from the Greeks, these latter goals being viewed as preparatory to the former. Nearly all were abandoned, building up a massive fund of disillusionment. To rub salt into the wound of popular frustration, much crusading of one sort or another did take place; in 1309, for example, there were no fewer than three campaigns, in northern Italy, Granada, and the Aegean Sea. Above all, the fall of the Templars in 1307-12 provoked consternation and disarray. If it resolved, for some, the problem of who was to blame for the events of 1291 and settled, by force majeure, the vexed question of unifying the military orders, it also raised disturbing questions about the power and motives of the French crown. Faced with the repeated postponement of crusade programmes, the diversion of crusade funds by both popes and secular rulers, and the daunting strategic and financial problems involved in recovering the Holy Land, there is no doubt that some despaired of the latter. As we know from Humbert of Romans’s rejoinder to the critics of crusading, as early as 1274 some people agreed with Salimbene of Adam that ‘it is not the divine will that the Holy Sepulchre should be recovered’.

In the last resort, the crisis which confronted the crusading movement towards the close of the thirteenth century was not resolved. Instead, two things happened. First, following the collapse of Philip VI’s crusade project in 1336, when the pope indefinitely postponed it, the recovery of the holy places slipped down the agenda. It survived, mainly for reasons of clerical convenience, in the terminology used to define the indulgence and privileges of each crucesignatus. More significantly, it continued to exert a powerful hold on the minds of some enthusiasts, such as Philip of Mezieres; and at times, notably during the early 1360s and mid-1390s, it briefly re-emerged as a topic of discussion and planning in Christendom’s courts. But in general it became subsumed under other, more realistic goals. Secondly, as we shall see below, the new ideas, approaches, and structures which had been formulated under the pressure of defeat and in the hope of clinging on to or recovering the Holy Land, both invigorated existing areas of crusading and helped to create new ones. This is not a point to be stretched too far: it was local circumstances, active papal policy, and the deep-rootedness of crusading within the religious and social culture of Catholic Europe, which carried it beyond the painful hiatus of 1291. But there is a lot to be said for stressing the adaptability, as well as the sheer resilience, of the movement.

Continuing Traditions—New Directions

The middle decades of the fourteenth century were particularly difficult ones for the crusading movement. The Anglo-French war, the collapse between 1343 and 1348 of the Italian banking houses on whose resources and expertise papal taxation of the Church strongly depended, the Black Death (1348) and the resulting dislocation of economic and social life, all dealt hammer-blows to the political and financial initiatives on which large-scale crusading hinged. Viewed against this gloomy backcloth, the range and vitality of crusading in the fourteenth century were remarkable. This activity took place both within existing traditions and in new forms and contexts. Its ebb and flow was heavily influenced, if not dictated, by the pace of the war in France, but subject to this constraint it displayed great exuberance. The days have long since passed when this period could be relegated to the status of an aftermath or Indian summer in the history of the crusades.

Crusading in Iberia and Italy may be taken as examples of continuing traditions which were given renewed vitality by the organizational advances which had occurred. In Iberia the massive gains of the mid-thirteenth century had created a complex group of problems which prevented for many generations the acquisition of further gains of any major significance. All the Christian kingdoms faced the task of absorbing their conquests; in Castile, the greatest beneficiary, this was achieved at the cost of creating an extremely powerful and intransigent magnate class which constantly defied the crown. Aragon and Portugal, fearful of Castile’s hegemonical ambitions, both encouraged this defiance and usually opposed any resumption of the Reconquista on the grounds that the chief result would be yet more gains for the Castilians. The Moors, on the other hand, were very conscious of their precarious situation in Granada and not only constructed formidable defences there, but made it clear that in the eventuality of a big Christian offensive they were ready to call on the assistance of their co-religionists in North Africa, even at the price of losing their own independence.

That the three big Christian states did periodically take up arms against Granada has to be attributed in part to the readiness of the popes at Avignon to grant lavish Church taxes to the enterprise. Indeed, the financial negotiations between the Castilian and Aragonese courts and the popes were as tough and hard-headed as those concerning a recovery passagium, and for the same reason: not because the Iberian rulers were insincere, but because they saw no reason to be bankrupted while fighting Christ’s war. During the reign of Alfonso XI of Castile (1325-50), when the nobility was temporarily brought to heel and the other Christian powers were impelled into co-operating by the threat of Moroccan intervention, these negotiations bore rich fruit: the king won one of the biggest pitched battles of the Reconquista at the Salado river in 1340, captured the port of Algebras in 1344, and was besieging Gibraltar when he died of the Black Death six years later. Thereafter, with the threat from Morocco waning, war broke out between the Christian kingdoms and the peninsula was dragged into the Anglo-French conflict as a satellite theatre of operations.

The crusades which the popes waged in Italy in the fourteenth century were, even more conspicuously than those in Iberia, fought chiefly by professionals supported by massive levies of church taxes and, on occasion, by the successful preaching of indulgences. In the thirteenth century the focal point of crusading effort in Italy was the southern kingdom, first to wrest it from the hands of the Staufen, and subsequently to keep it in those of the Angevins. In the Avignonese period (1305-1378), by contrast, crusading moved northwards to Lombardy and Tuscany. In order to create the peaceful conditions required for their return to their see, the popes had both to bring the provinces of the Papal State back under their control, and to hold in check the expansionist and destabilizing policies of the dynastic lords who were inexorably seizing control of the northern cities. The mechanism employed by the curia to achieve these objectives was a distinctive one. Time and again, powerful cardinal-legates, such as Bertrand of Le Poujet in the 1320s and and Gil Albornoz in the 1350s, were dispatched with armies of mercenaries, the money and credit facilities needed to pay them and subsidize the curia’s allies, and the crusade bulls which, it was hoped, would enable them to tap into fresh supplies of both men and money.

But fourteenth-century Italy was a maelstrom of colliding and rapidly-changing interests and ambitions. Even traditional papal allies like Angevin Naples and Florence became unreliable and, by mid-century, the entire political status quo was being subverted by the independent companies into which the professional troops hired by all sides had cohered. After the peace of Bretigny (1360), similar companies (the routiers) threatened the pope and his court at Avignon, and the curia began to issue crusade indulgences for combating the companies both in France and in Italy. When the Great Schism broke out in 1378, dividing Christendom into two, and later three, obediences, rival popes began to declare crusades against each other. In 1383, for instance, the bishop of Norwich, Henry Despenser, raised a crusading army in England and personally led it on campaign in Flanders. Neither the crusade against routiers nor that against schismatics was an innovation: both drew on traditions as old as the movement itself. Crusading had, however, turned in on itself in a remarkable and rather unhealthy way, with not only its directing authority, the papacy, but also its chosen instrument, the professional man-at-arms, themselves becoming, in different ways, the object of crusades.

To some degree the Ottoman Turks helped to bring this disarray to an end by providing the movement with a new and compelling focal point in the Balkans: as early as the mid-1360s packing the companies off on crusade against the Turks was mooted as an alternative to their destruction within Christendom, while in the 1390s plans for an anti-Turkish crusade were depicted as a mechanism, as well as a reason, for ending the Great Schism. Before that, however, the successes of the Turks in Asia Minor and their incipient seapower in the Aegean Sea gave rise to an excellent example of the movement’s ability to respond to changing demands. This was the naval league, an association of Latin powers threatened by the Turks and banding together under the papal aegis to provide a flotilla of galleys in their self-defence. The leagues were the principal form of crusading in the East between 1334, when their prototype defeated the Turks in the gulf of Adramyttion (Edremit), and the 1370s, when the Turkish advance in the Balkans placed a field campaign back on the agenda. Small-scale, funded through a combination of church taxes and the sale of indulgences, and presided over by a papal legate whose chief problem was usually to prevent the allies falling out among themselves, the leagues were well-tuned both to the new strategic scenario in the East and to the chronic warfare and economic dislocation in the West, which rendered impossible any grander enterprise.

In essence the anti-Turkish leagues were ‘frontier crusades’, waged in the main by local powers—principally Venice, Cyprus, and the Knights Hospitallers of St John—as a means of maintaining the regional balance of power. Although fought on a larger scale, they were somewhat like the constant razzias which took place on the Granada frontier, and like the razzias they were interspersed with periods of convivencia and free commercial exchange. However, the active involvement of the papacy gave them a broader complexion, because of the measures which it undertook in their support, its attempts to bring in western powers as participants, and its constant plans that the leagues’ limited goals and successes should become a springboard for much more. After his league achieved the greatest success of any by capturing most of the Turkish port of Smyrna in October 1344, Pope Clement VI expressed the hope that this bridgehead might be exploited by a bigger expedition, a passagium particulare. This was a striking example of how concepts generated by the recovery treatises and planning were adapted for use elsewhere; much the same strategic thinking lay behind papal sponsorship of Count Amadeus of Savoy’s crusade in aid of the Greeks at Constantinople in 1366.

Whatever advantage they gained from the papacy’s sponsorship, the leagues’ successes naturally hinged primarily on the dominance of western seapower in the Mediterranean. This enabled the Latins to strike at will anywhere on the Muslim littoral, from the central Maghrib to the Dardanelles, and it resulted in the most dramatic crusading victory of the century, Peter of Cyprus’s capture of Alexandria in 1365. The king’s expedition followed a tour of Europe’s courts which he conducted between 1362 and 1364 in the hope of raising assistance and volunteers. His proclaimed goal was the reconquest of Jerusalem, of which he was titular king, and to this end he enjoyed the backing of both Pope Urban V and King John of France. In practice, it is more likely that the king aimed from the start at capturing Egypt’s premier commercial outlet, the most important rival to his own port of Famagusta, with a view to either holding on to it or destroying its amenities. However, the success of Peter and his Cypriot and Hospitaller fleet in seizing Alexandria was marred by the fact that, with a Mamluk army approaching, they had to abandon it within less than a week.

The Alexandria campaign brings together many of the recurring themes of fourteenth-century crusading. It reveals that naval strength in itself could not effect a decisive or lasting turnaround in the strategic situation. The expedition’s origins were as a passagium particulare, but the planned general passage, which was to be led by King John of France, was always unlikely, and it faded away completely at the king’s death in 1364. The crusade displayed, too, the muddle in papal policy which led both Urban V and his eastern legate, Peter Thomas, to accept King Peter’s suggestion that the West should resume the struggle against the Mamluks at a time when the Turkish danger was growing ominously in the north: quite possibly the pope was happy to support any eastern project which offered hopes of ridding France and Italy of the routiers. And the fundamental tension between trade and crusade which had earlier doomed attempts to maintain a trade embargo on Egypt was apparent in the horrified response to these events of the Italian commercial powers. By spreading rumours of a Cypriot-Mamluk truce, Venice helped to destroy any hopes of a ‘follow-up’ expedition, and in 1367 the republic earned the pope’s rebuke by refusing to transport crusaders, horses, and war materials to the East.

The ‘hit and run’ approach which characterized the capture of Alexandria was again in evidence some twenty-five years later in the Franco-Genoese crusade to the Maghribian port of Mahdia. On this occasion trade and crusade were in harmony, for it was the Genoese who proposed the campaign at the court of Charles VI, in the winter of 1389-90, in the hope of establishing permanent control over the port. Following the three- year truce arranged with England in June 1389, the proposal was received with great interest. The king’s maternal uncle, Louis II of Bourbon, eagerly embraced the opportunity to follow in the footsteps of his ancestor St Louis. An army of about 5,000 combatants, including 1,500 French gentilshommes, sailed from Genoa early in July 1390. The crusaders laid siege to Mahdia, but after several weeks a number of Muslim relief forces arrived. It was apparent that the port could not now be taken, and a withdrawal was arranged.

There is strong evidence that both Peter of Cyprus and the Genoese were anxious to depict their expeditions as fully- fledged chivalric enterprises which would enable participants to display their prowess and reap a harvest of rewards and renown, while imitating the deeds of such heroes as St Louis, Godfrey of Bouillon, and Roland. To this extent the two crusades were very traditional, while at the same time being akin to the naval leagues in their astute use of seapower as a means of achieving clear-cut and limited military objectives within a commercial context. To accuse either Peter or the Genoese of manipulating the chivalric zeal of their contemporaries in order to realize selfish goals would, however, be a simplistic and anachronistic view of a much more complex interaction of goals and attitudes. The same applies to relations between the Teutonic Knights and the volunteer knights who came to Prussia to take part in the Reisen, the order’s campaigns against the Lithuanian pagans. Not only did these furnish incontrovertible proof of the persistence of crusading enthusiasm amongst Europe’s chivalric élite right through to the end of the century, but they also, like the naval leagues, showed the movement and its sponsors adapting with some ingenuity to novel strategic circumstances.

These circumstances were composed of a conflict between a Catholic military order and a dynamic pagan power for control of Samogitia and the valley of the Nemunas (Memel). The conflict fitted the remit of the crusading movement; it enjoyed the support of the popes and was generally regarded by European public opinion as a worthy outlet for the energies and resources of the Teutonic Knights following the loss of the Holy Land. But the nature of the war did not favour large crusading armies recruited by papal bulls and financed by Church taxes; nor was Prussia a suitable arena for the ‘multiple-stage’ crusade developed by the theorists. The terrain between Prussia and Lithuania was a barren wilderness and large armies could not have been fed. Moreover, the harsh climate, with its bitter cold and heavy snowfalls in winter, and its massive flooding in spring and early summer, confined campaigning to the depths of winter, when the snow was hard and firm and the marshes iced over, and to late summer, when some weeks of high temperatures had dried the landscape. Even then, the inhospitableness of the terrain and the distances to be covered limited most campaigning to raids, sieges, and perhaps the construction or strengthening of a fortress, to stake out a more permanent claim to the land.

The order had no more than about 1,000 brethren in both Prussia and Livonia with which to conduct these winter and summer Reisen (journeys). In order to defend its lands in eastern Prussia, and to carry out its proclaimed goal of converting the Lithuanians by coercion, it made use of the privilege granted it by Innocent IV in 1245 to recruit crusaders without the formal preaching of the crusade. On this basis, starting in the winter of 1304-5 and continuing for more than a century, thousands of knights from almost every Catholic state in western and central Europe travelled out to Prussia by land and sea in the hope of taking part in a summer or winter Reise. The war in which they fought has been described as an ‘interminable crusade’, and it lacked even the regular pattern of war and truce which characterized the Catholic-Muslim frontiers in Granada and the Aegean. It was conducted with great savagery on both sides. During a Lithuanian invasion of Livonia in 1345, for instance, the chronicler Wigand von Marburg noted that ‘everything was laid waste, many people massacred, women and children captured and carried off . . .’, while in 1377 Master Winrich von Kniprode and his guest Duke Albert of Austria ‘spent two days in the area [of Kaltinenai], set fire to everything, and drove away men, women, and children. Nobody escaped their hands.’ As Wigand noted on another occasion, the Teutonic Order’s volunteers came eastwards, ‘to practise chivalry against Christ’s enemies’, and they were habitually led into action by the banner of St George, the patron saint of knighthood. It is in the promotion of the Reisen by the order, and particularly in its astute use of the Ehrentisch (table of honour), that the centrality of the cult of chivalry to the Lithuanian campaigns is seen at its clearest. Although the fullest description of the Ehrentisch, by John Cabaret of Orville, portrays it as a sort of prize-giving banquet at the end of a Reise, rather stronger evidence points to it preceding the campaign, perhaps as a means of sealing the brotherhood-in-arms of the volunteers. Thus in 1391, when the murder of the Scots nobleman William Douglas by some English knights made it impossible to set up the Ehrentisch at Königsberg before the Reise, the master feasted his guests on campaign, at Alt-Kowno; since this was enemy territory, they had to dine in full armour. Such curious, not to say comical, episodes should not lead us to think that the Reisen constituted mere fantasy or play-acting, for they were dangerous as well as expensive undertakings. Clearly the order had succeeded in touching a nerve in the minds of Europe’s nobility, but there can be little doubt that the same men who flocked to Prussia would have fought on other fronts, had the nature of the conflicts there permitted.

Indeed, many who fought on the Reisen also took part in the biggest and most ambitious of the century’s crusades, the Nicopolis campaign of 1396. This expedition was the West’s response to the Ottoman advance in the Balkans, in particular to the disastrous Serb defeat at Kosovo in 1389, which brought the Turks to the frontiers of Hungary and made the Venetians fear for the safety of the Adriatic. So grave was the situation in the East that both obediences of the Great Schism were prepared to back a major crusade. But what made such a crusade possible was the truce between England and France, and the existence at both courts of powerful peace lobbies which saw in the Balkan crisis a chance to effect a lasting reconciliation between the two countries. Between 1392 and 1394 there was a great deal of diplomatic activity which envisaged a two-stage crusade: a passagium particulare to depart in 1395 led by John of Gaunt, Louis of Orleans, and Philip the Bold of Burgundy, and a subsequent general passage to be jointly commanded by Charles VI and Richard II. As in the case of the Mahdia and Alexandria campaigns, the strategic ideas of the recovery theorists thus retained their influence. But the gravity of the situation, the alarm bells ringing at Buda and Venice, and the altruistic but active interest of Westminster and Paris, raised expectations to a level unprecedented since the 1330s, perhaps even since the death of Gregory X.

The scope of the planning contracted in 1395. For various reasons all three royal princes dropped out of the crusade, and by the winter of 1395-6 the advance passagium had become a predominantly Franco-Burgundian force under the command of Philip the Bold’s eldest son, John of Nevers, and a cluster of French magnates, including the period’s crusading hero par eminence, John le Maingre (Marshal Boucicaut). The force which set out from Montbéliard in the spring of 1396 remained impressive, and at Buda it picked up Hungarian support led by King Sigismund. Initial successes along the Danube valley came to an abrupt end on 25 September, when the army fought a pitched battle with Sultan Bayezid I south of the Bulgarian town of Nicopolis (Nikopol). It is extremely difficult to work out what happened, but it was probably French chivalric pride linked to unfamiliarity with Turkish tactics—a combination all too familiar in crusading history—which led to a catastrophic defeat. John of Nevers and many other crusaders were captured. There could be no general passage now.

The army which perished at Nicopolis was the last big international force to set out from the West to engage the Turks, and the historian is left feeling that this battle must have possessed the long-term significance of Hattin or La Forbie. This is easier to suggest than to prove. There is no doubt that the interest in crusading of both the French and the English nobility declined after Nicopolis, but this could have occurred for reasons other than the defeat; and it is arguable that the trail-off in French royal interest was compensated for by the continuing commitment of the Burgundian ducal court, which now had a virtual vendetta to conduct. However, after Nicopolis there does appear to be a change in mood. The enthusiasm of the military class was to be less easily aroused in future, and there were fewer signs in the fifteenth century that crusading was cherished as one of the primary expressions of the values of Europe’s nobility. It is this, above all, which gives inner coherence to a great deal of fourteenth-century crusading, and explains its remarkable panache, as well as its sometimes irritating lack of focus.

Failure in the East—Success in the West

Whatever the precise impact of Nicopolis on the feelings of Europe’s nobility, the fact remains that major changes soon started to make themselves felt within the crusading movement. The range and diversity of crusading, which had been so characteristic of the fourteenth century, contracted; novel themes and ideas began to enter crusade propaganda; and above all, large-scale planning and organization by at least some of Christendom’s secular authorities meant that crusading moved from being, on the whole, a frontier enterprise given broader resonance by the participation of chivalric volunteers from the Catholic heartlands, to becoming once again a matter for Europe’s principal powers. With some exceptions, such as Alfonso XI’s campaigns and the Nicopolis expedition, the role of those powers had been muted since the collapse of Philip VI’s recovery project in the late 1330s. In the fifteenth century they came once more to the foreground.

One prominent crusading front, the Baltic, had come close to disappearing altogether by 1500. The baptism in 1386 of the Lithuanian grand prince, Jogailo, and his promise to assist in the conversion of his pagan subjects, ultimately doomed the crusading rationale of the Teutonic Order’s warfare against the Lithuanians; it also threatened the knights’ hold on their Prussian Ordensstaat (order-state), in so far as Jogailo’s conversion was associated with his marriage to Queen Jadwiga of Poland, the order’s principal Catholic antagonist, and with the personal union of the two states. The full difficulty of the new strategic situation facing the Teutonic Knights took some time to emerge. The order proclaimed the Christianization of Lithuania to be a sham, and the flow of volunteers from the West was not noticeably affected, while it took some decades to bring about the concentration of Polish and Lithuanian resources against the Ordensstaat.

From 1410 onwards, however, disasters came thick and fast. On 15 July 1410 the order’s army suffered a terrible defeat at the hands of the Poles and Lithuanians at the battle of Tannenberg. This increased the knights’ dependence upon the help of volunteers from the West. But a few years later their representatives at the council of Constance failed to persuade the council to assist the order against its enemies, and the flow of volunteer knights to Prussia shrank to almost nothing. Some German crusaders continued to proceed northwards to Livonia, where the order’s war against the Orthodox of Novgorod and Pskov still enjoyed crusade status, and Popes Nicholas V and Alexander VI granted crusade indulgences, the preaching of which helped the Livonian brethren pay their heavy war costs.

But the Livonian crusade was a very marginal feature of the movement, and those crusading enthusiasts who considered the Teutonic Order at all after Tannenberg came up with various ideas for redeploying its resources on the Turkish front.

This latter development was of course symptomatic of the fact that the Ottoman Turks had become the movement’s main enemies. With the exception of the years from 1402 to about 1420, when the sultanate was recovering from the blow inflicted on it by Tamerlane at the battle of Ankara, the westwards advance of the Turks compelled crusade theorists and enthusiasts to keep their attention focused on the Balkans throughout the fifteenth century. Within this broad span there were several periods of concentrated diplomatic activity, planning, and effort. Between 1440 and 1444 Pope Eugenius IV worked hard to co-ordinate the resistance of the Balkan Christians, especially the brilliant Hungarian commander John Hunyadi, the naval resources of Venice, and contributions by himself and other western rulers, in order to relieve Constantinople, which was on the verge of falling to the Turks. This policy ran into the sands with the disastrous defeat suffered by the Balkan powers at Varna in November 1444. In 1453 the new sultan Mehmed II took Constantinople, and during the next twenty-eight years he directed one of the sultanate’s most powerful surges of expansion. Wallachia, Albania, and Greece were brought under Ottoman rule, and the popes responded with constant attempts both to encourage the resistance of the local powers, and to mobilize a general crusade from the West. Following Mehmed’s death in 1481, his son Bayezid II pursued less aggressive policies in the west, but there were still crusade plans, particularly at the papal congress of Rome in 1490, and during Charles VIII’s invasion of Italy four years later.

Although there were successes, such as Hunyadi’s extraordinary field campaign of 1443 and the miraculous relief of Belgrade in 1456, the anti-Turkish crusade was a failure. Attempts to deploy western seapower, which was still domi- nant—although not for much longer—in association with the Hungarians, Serbs, Moldavians, and other Balkan land forces, came to little. Funds and military supplies siphoned eastwards were inadequate, mistimed, or misdirected. And most importantly, no general crusade set out from the West, though that promoted by Pope Pius II came close to doing so in 1464. This failure begs comparison with that of the earlier recovery crusade. Each of the phases of planning was accompanied by the writing of advisory tracts which reconsidered many of the political, financial, and military problems discussed in the recovery treatises, although the strategic scenario called for a largely fresh approach. There were successive waves of exiled rulers who toured Christendom’s courts begging for help, and there were individuals, such as the redoubtable Cardinal Bessarion, who dedicated themselves to the cause of the crusade. There was, too, a not dissimilar spate of projects to which rulers like the western emperor, the king of Aragon, and the duke of Burgundy committed themselves; for these church taxes were levied and indulgences preached, but they failed to materialize.

To a large extent, too, the failure of the anti-Turkish crusade is explicable by reference to the same considerations which had brought the recovery projects to nothing. The obstacles to be overcome in assembling Ramon Lull’s potestas for the crusade against the Ottomans were even more formidable than for that against the Mamluks. The art of war had become more professional and more costly in the intervening years. There was a greater accumulation of disillusionment and suspicion to deal with in persuading people of the practicability of projects. Theories of the sovereign independence of the lay power, and of the priority of its demands over the resources of its subjects, which were still relatively inchoate around 1300, had been much developed. The Great Schism had brought about a further decline in the political authority of the papacy, with the result that popes like Pius II and Innocent VIII discovered that Christendom’s secular rulers hardly bothered any longer to send representatives to the congresses which they summoned to debate the Turkish threat. Even the construction of a coalition of powers which did have a clear commitment to crusading in the East, normally on grounds of self-interest, was time and again wrecked by Europe’s complex political alignments: Hungary was feared by Venice, Venice’s power alarmed the other Italian states, ducal Burgundy’s involvement was opposed by France, and the German princes believed that any major crusade would trigger an unwanted resurgence of imperial authority in the Reich. Every ruler in fifteenth-century Europe acknowledged the need for a crusade, as the only practicable means of pooling the resources required to combat this massive and hostile power; but in practice nearly all of them blocked its organization.

As for popular feeling about the anti-Turkish crusade, this raises problems which make generalized remarks hazardous. As noted earlier, the association between chivalry and crusade was weakening, not least because the decay of the Reisen brought its most regular expression to an end: already by 1413 the Burgundian traveller Guillebert of Lannoy wrote of the Reisen as an historical episode. Actual crusading had long since become distant from the lives of most commoners. For them, the crusade meant primarily the preaching of indulgences, the success or failure of which hinged on so many other factors—such as the ability of the preachers, the attitude of the local lay powers, and the extent to which other indulgences were being or had recently been promoted—that viewing response as a measure of people’s reaction to the crusading cause itself is hardly viable. In 1488 the parishioners at Wageningen, in the diocese of Utrecht, received their priest’s attack on the preaching of the crusade with such sympathy that they refused to allow the collectors to take away the money donated. But how much is this evidence of antagonism worth by comparison with chronicle accounts of the popular and successful preaching of the crusade at Erfurt in the same year, let alone the extraordinary response to the preaching of the crusade to relieve Belgrade in 1456? The subject is an interpretative minefield; but the evidence to hand would certainly not support the view that it was popular apathy or hostility, as opposed to political and financial problems, which stopped the anti-Turkish crusade materializing.

With the exception of some naval activity, and campaigning by the local powers in the Balkans, the anti-Turkish crusade failed at the drawing-board stage. More dramatic failures, in the sense of repeated and humiliating defeats in the field, were suffered by the series of crusades launched between 1420 and 1431 against the heretical Hussites in Bohemia. These crusades, the only large-scale expeditions against doctrinal heretics in the late Middle Ages, had their origins in the complex interaction of religious unorthodoxy, political unrest, and nationalist stirrings within the Bohemian crown lands. The harsh criticism directed against the abuses of the contemporary Church by the Prague academic and preacher John Hus broadened out into a radical reinterpretation of basic Catholic beliefs which brought about his condemnation and burning in 1415 at the council of Constance. The complicity in this tragic event of the ruling Luxemburg dynasty, and the sympathy felt by many Czech nobles for Hussite views, led to a rebellion in Prague in 1419. And the association of Hussitism with Czech national identity, and of the repressive forces of both Church and State with the German minority in Bohemia, gave the conflict between Catholics and Hussites a nationalist complexion.

The man who had to deal with this very tangled scenario was Sigismund of Luxemburg, the king of Hungary. Sigismund inherited the Bohemian crown from his brother Wenceslas after the latter died of shock during the rebellion of 1419. Unwisely Sigismund decided to apply an axe to a situation which we can see, with the benefit of hindsight, called for a scalpel. Since he was emperor-elect, and Bohemia and its dependent territories lay within the boundaries of the Reich, Sigismund was entitled to call on the assistance of the German princes. He also needed to do so, since it was dangerous to denude Hungary of fighting men at the precise point when the Turks were resuming their pressure on its southern border. But he knew from experience that, for all their fears about Hussitism spreading into their lands, Germany’s princes, both secular and ecclesiastical, would be reluctant to take the field. Faced with this dilemma, Sigismund acceded to the suggestions of Pope Martin V and militant lobbyists at his own court that the religious issue should be highlighted and his dynastic cause in Bohemia raised to the level of a crusade. It was therefore as the commander of a crusading army that he entered his own lands in the spring of 1420.

Sigismund was unable to take Prague in 1420 and, although he was crowned king in St Vitus’s Cathedral, which luckily was situated in the Catholic-held fortress of Hradcany, outside the city walls, he was hounded out of his kingdom in March 1421. But this was only the first in a sorry catalogue of disasters. Two further crusades in 1421-2 suffered defeats just as serious as those incurred by the first expedition. In 1427 another crusade, the most ambitious of them all, was routed in western Bohemia. The Hussites had now gained the upper hand to such an extent that they launched a series of raids, which they dubbed ‘the beautiful rides’, into the surrounding German lands. Finally, in the summer of 1431, a fifth crusade was turned back at Domazlice. The hawks having conspicuously failed, the doves were allowed to take over, and after painful negotiations Sigismund reached a compromise settlement with his recalcitrant subjects in 1436. Hussitism remained entrenched in Bohemia, despite further attempts to suppress it through crusades in 1465-7.

The Hussite crusades have not received the detailed attention which they deserve and while some aspects of their failure are reasonably clear-cut, others are not. On the Hussite side, it is apparent that a fragile coalition of radicals and conservatives was reinforced both by the atrocities foolishly committed by the Catholics and by a strenuous assertion of Czech national feeling in the face of crusading armies composed largely of Germans. In the field, it benefited enormously from the organizational flair and innovative tactics of John Zizka. Given the relatively primitive conditions of fifteenth-century warfare, it is probable that the Hussites drew a greater advantage from their short lines of communication and supply than the crusaders did from their theoretical ability to surprise the enemy and co-ordinate attacks from several directions. On the Catholic side, the fact that armies were, time and again, routed rather than defeated testifies to a severe deterioration in morale. As always in crusading, these defeats prompted doubts about the justice of the Catholic cause, the more tellingly since a negotiated settlement was viable in a way which it was not in crusading against Muslim powers. The leaders of the crusades tried both to learn and to innovate—the promoters of the 1431 campaign adopted military ordinances which may have been based on Zizka’s own—but were at best partially successful. Above all, the Reich’s decentralized constitution militated against the forceful direction and control which were needed.

This last point receives indirect corroboration from the most successful fifteenth-century crusade, that conducted by Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castile against Granada between 1482 and 1492. Indeed, a comparison between the Turkish and Hussite crusades on the one hand and the Granada war on the other is revealing of what was lacking in the first two. This final phase in the Reconquista hinged on the marriage between Ferdinand and Isabella in 1469, which ended, temporarily at least, the age-old rivalry between the two kingdoms, and on Isabella’s success, ten years later, in bringing to a close the dynastic convulsions within her realm. That done, Isabella could turn to Granada. Her own temperament was fully in tune with the growing atmosphere of militant intolerance towards other faiths which has been detected in mid- to late-fifteenth- century Castile. Moreover, it was in the interests of both Castile and Aragon to expel the Moors before the advancing Ottomans developed their seapower enough to imitate the Almoravids and Almohads by bursting into Spain through a door held open by their embattled fellow Muslims. These background considerations explain why the opportunistic seizure of Alhama by the count of Cadiz, early in 1482, was developed into a programme of conquest which culminated in the surrender of Granada ten years later.

Not since St Louis’s expeditions more than two centuries previously had a major European government been so directly and continuously involved in organizing and waging a big crusade. Such involvement was essential, for Granada’s defences had been built up over much the same period of time. Its conquest necessitated the application of massive military power, deployed with persistence year after year to reduce the emirate’s size piecemeal fashion. The mobilization of men, horses and mules, artillery and powder, grain and other foodstuffs, necessitated a formidable concentration of effort. Some 52,000 combatants were engaged for six months in the siege of Baza in 1489. Above all, money was called for: some 800 million maravetis according to one estimate. The provisioning of the troops and the financing of the conflict were directed personally by the queen. As one of the war’s leading historians, Ferdinand del Pulgar, put it, ‘the queen’s mind did not stop thinking about how to get money, both for the war against the Moors and for the other demands constantly thrown up by the government of her realm.’

Most of the extraordinary expenditure which the war required was met from crusade sources, in particular from church taxes and the preaching of indulgences. The king and queen petitioned vigorously for these and took care that each crusade bull (bula de la cruzada) was publicized to maximum effect. The success achieved by the latter, by comparison with the patchy results obtained by the preachers of the anti-Turkish crusade elsewhere in Europe, is striking. To a large extent it can be attributed to the small sums demanded in exchange for the indulgence, the generous privileges granted, the active assistance which preachers and collectors received from lay officials, and the proof available, in the shape of bulletins from the front-line, that the money was really being spent on fighting. But there was probably more to it than this. The cause for which Castilians gave money and, in the case of the troops, fought and even died, was a national as well as a sacred one. The convergence of patriotic feeling and religious zeal, visible at times during the Hundred Years War and, paradoxically, amongst the Hussite heretics in the 1420s, was at its most apparent in Castile in the 1480s. Together with the dominance of the state in the management of the crusade itself, it was a clear pointer for the future development of crusading.

Extinction in the North—Survival in the South

As it entered the sixteenth century, the crusade, in its traditional form as a papally-directed holy war symbolizing Christendom’s unity and forwarding its common interests, was in a manifestly sick condition. Nothing showed this more vividly than the Fifth Lateran Council (1512-17), at which the papal curia made its last attempt before the Reformation to set in motion an antiTurkish crusade. The eastern background to the councII’s deliberations was an immensely sombre one. The Turks had recently developed their naval strength to the extent of inflicting huge losses on the Venetians; in 1515-17 they conquered the eastern Anatolian plateau; and in 1516-17 they destroyed the Mamluk sultanate and absorbed Syria and Egypt into their empire. It was virtually inevitable that they would resume their westwards advance in the near future. The council listened to impassioned speeches, levied church taxes for a crusade, and appealed for action by Europe’s rulers. Pope Leo X was genuine in his enthusiasm for crusading and he made strenuous efforts both to dampen down the Italian conflicts, which his predecessor Julius II had vigorously fanned, and to assist in peace negotiations between France and England. There was some optimism in the air but, as so often in the past, the grandiose offers and sweeping promises made by such rulers as the Emperor Maximilian I, Francis I of France, and Henry VIII of England came to almost nothing. As if emphasizing the contrast with their opponents’ lethargy, the Turks managed in 1521 to take Belgrade, the key to Hungary and the chief obstacle to their renewed advance.

If there was any hope for a revival of the movement, it lay with Spain. The union of Castile and Aragon proved to be permanent, if imperfect, and this new power was embarking on an expansionist foreign policy which drew not only on the military expertise built up during the Granada war, but also on the convergence of religious and patriotic fervour which had characterized it. The papacy contributed towards the latter by constantly issuing fresh grants of clerical taxes and renewing the bula de la cruzada. As early as 1415 the Portuguese capture of Ceuta in Morocco had been treated as a crusade, and a flow of further Portuguese conquests in the western Maghrib in the fifteenth century benefited in the same manner. Soon after Granada was secure the Castilians imitated their western neighbours, commencing a spectacular drive into Algeria and Tunisia. By 1510 they had reached Tripoli and were preparing for an assault on Tunis. They were half-way to their stated objective of Jerusalem. This may seem like propaganda or at best self-delusion, but it was fully in keeping with the mystical and eschatological tone which is frequently visible during the Granada war, and which shaped the thinking of Christopher Columbus and the Franciscan missionaries in the New World. In practice, however, this surge eastwards brought the Castilians into collision with the Ottomans and their clients, the North African emirs and corsairs. Thus the Iberian crusade merged with the anti-Turkish crusade in the central Maghrib.

At this point it seemed inevitable that the papally-directed international crusade would be superseded by the state-directed national crusade epitomized by Spain’s campaigns against the Moors. But the election of Charles of Spain as Holy Roman Emperor in 1519 brought about what looks like a brief revival of the older tradition. Charles V had to perform a difficult balancing act between furthering Castile’s interests in North Africa and carrying out his imperial responsibilities in central and eastern Europe. Initially, the latter entailed assisting Hungary, and after Hungary’s collapse in 1526 it meant the defence of the Reich itself against the Ottomans. The emperor worked in close if abrasive co-operation with the pope, who constantly reminded him of his many duties, and his territories were so extensive and varied that at times it seems as if his crusades, particularly his relief of Vienna in 1529 and his great expedition to Tunis in 1535, were akin to those of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. Charles saw himself as a new Barbarossa or Charlemagne; indeed, the celebration of the victory at Tunis as the triumph of Rome over Carthage points to even older traditions of imperial warfare. But this is illusory, for Charles was always defending his own lands or dynastic interests, with the use of his own troops and funds, even if the former were encouraged and the latter boosted by crusading measures. The crusading status of Charles’s conflicts is undeniable, but as Francis I and other enemies of the emperor were quick to point out, they were ‘Habsburg crusades’, fought for particularist ends.

By the time Charles V marched in relief of Vienna Christendom was split by its confessional divide. In the Lutheran, and later Calvinist, states of the North the rejection both of papal authority and of the sacrament of penance which underpinned crusade indulgences, effectively extinguished crusading. Arguably this was little more than the formal ending of a practice which had become residual in any case. The closing- down of the Lithuanian front in the early fifteenth century and the failure of all plans for a general crusade against the Ottoman Turks meant that relatively few families in England, the Low Countries, or Germany had directly experienced crusading for some generations, unless their members entered the Order of St John, became papal preachers and tax collectors, or went as individuals or in groups to fight in Granada, Hungary, or Rhodes. There were more of the latter than one might expect, such as the 2,000 or so Burgundians who set out from Sluys in 1464 with the intention of fighting on Pius II’s crusade—en route, they stopped off at Ceuta and helped the Portuguese to repel a Moorish attack—or the 1,500 English archers whom Henry VIII sent to Cadiz in 1511 to take part in King Ferdinand’s planned Tunis crusade. But they were not enough to keep the tradition healthy. It is hard to avoid the conclusion that crusading had come to occupy a rather small corner of the rich fabric of Catholic culture which the reformers destroyed.

Of equal importance was the fact that its image had become disreputable and its resonances negative. This is nowhere more apparent than in Erasmus’s contribution to the long series of crusade treatises, his Consultatio de bello Turcis inferendo of 1530. Writing at the time of Hungary’s dismemberment and in the immediate aftermath of the Ottoman siege of Vienna, Erasmus most unwillingly supported a war against the Turks: ‘I do not advise against war, but to the best of my ability I urge that it be undertaken and pursued auspiciously.’ This meant that Christendom’s secular authorities should fight altruistically, and the troops in a spirit of penitence, like the early Templars as described by St Bernard. The conflict should be financed by cutting superfluous court expenditures, ‘spending in piety what they take away from extravagance’, and by voluntary donations, for ‘the people’s suspicion will be eroded as plans mature into action’. Above all there should be no preaching of indulgences, which were associated with failure, dissimulation, and shabby ‘fixes’ between the pope and local rulers, and no participation by the Church. ‘For it is neither seemly, nor in accordance with holy scripture or the laws of the Church, for cardinals, bishops, abbots, or priests to get involved with these matters; and to this day their involvement has never met with success.’ This was no longer crusading, rather a purged form of Christian warfare rising phoenix-like from the ashes of old, discredited structures.

Erasmus criticized Luther in the Consultatio for condemning the anti-Turkish war outright on the grounds that the Turks were sent by God to punish Christians for their sins. In fact Luther had abandoned this extreme Augustinian stance by this point, for much the same reasons that Erasmus gave his highly- qualified approval for a secular war of defence; whatever their theological views, no reformers could bear the thought of actually living under Ottoman rule. Up to the Peace of Augsburg in 1555 Germany’s Lutheran princes fought alongside their emperor against the Turks, extracting valuable concessions on the religious issue as the price of their assistance. Even after it became clear that the confessional divide was more than a temporary aberration, military co-operation between German Protestants and Catholics against the Turks, like the survival of the Teutonic Order in the northern states, was a sign that things were less clear-cut than they appeared to be. Catholic victories in the Mediterranean were celebrated in the Protestant countries and a sense of common values, some either religious or derived from religion, persisted. Politically and culturally, the Turks were still ‘alien’: Protestant alliances with them against the Catholic powers were kept secret for fear of offending public opinion. Old feelings and beliefs were not to be discarded overnight.

However, it was in the South that the forms and attitudes of crusading persisted, and the length of time for which they endured has in recent years finally received due recognition. The sixteenth century witnessed the culmination of the practice of forming naval leagues against the Turks, which had its humble origins in the 1330s. A league consisting of Charles V, Venice, and the pope was formed in 1538, but it suffered a serious defeat at Preveza, off the west coast of Greece. This failure, the recriminations which it caused, and the political differences between the contracting powers, prevented the formation of another league until the struggle for naval control of the central Mediterranean had reached its climax in the late 1560s. The Turkish capture of Tunis in 1569 and Nicosia in 1570 enabled Pope Pius V to persuade both Spain and Venice to enter another league. On 7 October 1571 its galleys won the biggest naval battle of the century at Lepanto, in the gulf of Corinth. The Catholic fleet at Lepanto was financed largely by church taxes and the sale of indulgences. Those who fought were conscious of the significance of the engagement and, in accounts published very soon afterwards, they were depicted preparing themselves for action in a spirit of piety, penitence, and forgiveness which would have earned Erasmus’s approval and would not have seemed unfamiliar to St Louis. Indeed, the Catholicism of the Counter-Reformation accommodated with ease many of the devotional practices of crusading, as well as making its principal institutions acceptable by modifying them. In 1562 Duke Cosimo I of Florence even founded a new military order, the Knights of Santo Stefano, which is described in Chapter 13.

As was to be expected, it was in Habsburg Spain that the crusade flourished most during the Counter-Reformation. The degree of institutional continuity here was remarkable, with less reform than elsewhere. It was most visible in the prominent role which the Spanish military orders continued to occupy in society, despite the abuses practised by a crown which used its control of the orders to milk their offices and lands for all they were worth. Then there was the regular preaching of the bula de la cruzada on behalf of the Turkish war and the collection of the subsidio, a church tax which was clearly descended from the clerical tenth, although it had come to assume far greater proportions. The presence of such legacies from Spain’s crusading past was rationalized in terms of its crusading present, for whatever the concerns of the popes about Spanish aggrandizement, there could be no doubt that the wars which Philip II was waging in the Mediterranean, the Maghrib, and the Low Countries had the effect of maintaining the Catholic faith. Thus when he granted the king a totally new form of levy on church revenues, the excusado, in 1567, Pius V justified it by reference to Philip’s expenses ‘for the preservation and defence of the Christian religion’ in Flanders and the Mediterranean. The pope’s renewal of the bula de la cruzada, too, despite the fact it contravened the reforming decrees of the council of Trent, came about in 1571 as the price which Philip II attached to his joining the Holy League.

The survival to such a pronounced degree of crusading practices in Spain is explained by the conservatism of Church and society and, above all, by the link between state finances and crusade revenues which dated back at least to the Granada war. Profits drawn from the military orders, the cruzada, and the subsidio made up about two-thirds of the two million ducats which an informed commentator at Rome estimated in 1566 as Philip II’s annual haul from the Spanish Church. This may make us suspicious about the king’s constant assertions that he was engaged in the pursuit of God’s cause. His biographers, however, tend to be convinced of his sincerity. Moreover, many of the numerous comments made in the sixteenth century to the effect that Spain’s wars were those of God originated not at governmental level but in sources which cannot be construed as propagandistic in intent. Accounts of the exploits of conquistadores, the memoirs of Spanish soldiers, and contemporary letters and histories about the fighting in the Mediterranean and the Low Countries, as well as the Armada of 1588, expound common themes. The Spanish were God’s chosen people, the new Israelites; they were extending the faith by conversion in the New World and defending it by force of arms in the old one; their successes were providential. It followed that their soldiers who fell were guaranteed a place in heaven. Before the battle of Steenbergen in 1583, for example, Alexander Farnese reportedly encouraged his troops by assuring them that they would win ‘a fair victory over the enemies of the Catholic religion, of your king and mine; this is the day on which Jesus Christ will make you all immortal and place you in the ranks of the chosen.’

This association of crusading with Habsburg foreign policy, with the idealized self-perception of Spain’s military class, and more generally with Spanish national feeling, was the most significant expression of the survival of the crusade, albeit in radically altered form, in the Catholic South. But it was not the only one. In Chapter 13 it will be shown that the Hospitallers carried the history of the military orders through into the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries by their participation in the continuing struggle against the Turks in the Mediterranean. The survival in the same period of crusade indulgences and church taxes is less well documented but undoubtedly occurred, for example during the Veneto-Ottoman struggle for Crete (1645-69), the second siege of Vienna (1683), and the Holy League of 1684-97. There is for historians of the crusades a fascination in tracking down ever-later examples of crusade preaching, individuals assuming the cross, and grants of indulgences for fighting, and more generally in tracing the expression of crusading ideas and sentiments into modern times. This fascination is easily understood and it forms a legitimate field of enquiry, so long as we accept that the crusading movement, with its connotations not just of acquiescence but of broad- based popularity and support, had long since come to an end.

If you find an error please notify us in the comments. Thank you!