From the confines of Jerusalem and from the city of Constantinople a horrible tale has gone forth .. an accursed race utterly alienated from God .. has invaded the lands of these Christians and depopulated them by the sword, plundering and fire. O most valient soldiers .. start upon the road to the Holy Sepulchre, to tear that land from the wicked race and subject it to yourselves.
Pope Urban II
Crusades and Pilgrimages
Islam had expanded rapidly and militantly from its beginnings in Arabia. The Seljuk Turks had conquered Jerusalem in AD1071 and, by 1095, threatened Constantinople, the home of Eastern Christianity.
Pope Urban's sermon was received enthusiastically. Europe was on fire with this new adventure. The warriors of the West united in the crusade, with "God wills it" as their battle cry. Their banners proudly displayed the cross.
The attraction of the crusade was, first, a military expedition with the pope's blessing and, second, a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. The pope offered spiritual incentives, particularly an indulgence guaranteeing crusaders a place in heaven.
Still, the crusades got off to a bad start. A mob of 50,000 undisciplined volunteer soldiers descended on Constantinople en route and disgraced themselves. Eventually they reached the Holy Land, arriving at a fortunate time. Islam was in disarray, due to internal religious feuding, and the crusaders were able to capture Jerusalem from Turks in AD 1099.
From Bad to Worse
Subsequent crusades went from bad to worse. The second crusade, begun in 1147, ended in a military disaster. Near Dorylaeum, the knights had dismounted to water their horses when the Turks attacked. It was a slaughter. Those who were not killed were sold into slavery by the Turks.
The German contingent defeated, the French traveled through Pergamum, Smyrna, and Ephesus, all cities of renown in Christian history. They reached Ephesus around Christmas time.
While camping en route to Antioch, the crusaders were flooded out by a storm, losing their tents, provisions, and some of their people.
They decided to go overland, cutting through the southwest corner of Turkey, shortening the distance to Antioch. In early January, they entered Laodicaea, but found that it had been stripped of supplies.
They now had to cross a range of mountains, with few supplies and Turks all around them. During the crossing, they came across the bodies of the German crusaders, dealing a sharp blow to morale. The Turks attacked and killed any stragglers, and the discipline of the army was failing.
Late in January, they were attacked by a large force of Turks. The French were routed. Fleeing soldiers fell into ambushes and were slaughtered. Those who survived were saved only by nightfall.
Reaching Attalia, a fleet of ships were commandeered, on which the officers and the knights set up for Antioch, leaving the remainder of the crusaders behind to fend for themselves. Disorganization, infighting, and desertion eventually led to a dissolution of the second crusade.
In 1187, the Muslim leader, Sala al-Din Yusuf, also known as Saladin, recaptured Jerusalem. Pope Gregory VIII ordered another crusade immediately, to reclaim the Holy City for Christianity. This was the start of the third crusade.
The new pope did not try to have the church lead the crusade. His appeal was to the lay leaders of Europe.
This third crusade, the one in which Richard the Lionheart took part, met with some success.
King William II of Sicily was one of the first monarchs to hear the news, and he immediately sent a fleet to the Holy Land, saving Tripoli and Tyre.
England and France, who were at war with one another at the time, declared a truce on the spot, and agreed to take up the cross. King Henry II of England and King Philip II of France determined to establish a tax to finance the crusade.
Rather than setting off to save Jerusalem, however, they went to war with one another again. King Henry's son, Richard of Poitou, switched sides and went to war against his father. In July of 1188, the old king died and Richard became Richard I, King of England.
Once Richard became king, he had no further excuse to delay in his promise to support the crusade, so, three years after the fall of Jerusalem, Richard departed for the Holy Land.
While King William II of Sicily was the first to respond to the appeal, sending a fleet, the first army actually to depart was led by the emperor of the Romans, Frederick I, whom the Italians had nicknamed "Barbarossa."
As a teenager, Frederick had participated in the second crusade. With Germany quiet, and Italy in good shape, Frederick answered the call eagerly, with the largest single crusading army ever to march.
Unfortunately, at an age approaching 70, King Frederick drowned attempting to cross the Saleph River in Armenia.
Their leader gone, the German army almost immediately began to dissolve. Some went home. Others continued to Antioch by ship, while others went overland. By the time the army reached the Holy Land, it was drastically reduced in numbers, disorganized, and ineffective.