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The Story of Old France by  H. A. Guerber
Table of Contents


 

 

THE FIRST CRUSADE

W
HILE people were living in constant dread of the end of the world, and feared for their salvation they had undertaken many pilgrimages. Most of the pilgrims set out to visit the Holy Sepulcher, which was then in the keeping of the Saracens. These people, although not Christians themselves, had been moderately kind to pilgrims, but when the Holy Land fell into the hands of the Turks, poor Christians were subjected to great hardships. The story of their sufferings, of the lack of respect shown by the Turks for the holy places, and of the robbery and murder frequently committed upon pilgrim bands, little by little roused a storm of indignation in Europe.

In each castle it was customary to set aside a room, known as the Pilgrim's Room," for the use of all holy travelers. Wanderers on their way to and from the Holy Land, were entertained everywhere free of charge; but in return for food and lodging they generally amused the owner of the castle and his family with thrilling tales of their adventures. Such tales were also sometimes told by traveling bards, or singers, who were called "trouvères" (troo-vâr') in the north of France, and "troubadours" [110] (troo'ba-doorz) in the south. In these ways the conditions at Jerusalem became well known in most parts of France.

In 1094, one of the returning pilgrims, Peter the Hermit, obtained from Pope Urban II. (a Frenchman) permission to preach a holy war against the Turks, and to urge the noblemen to arm speedily and march to Palestine to rescue the tomb of our Lord from the hands of unbelievers.

A great assembly was therefore held at Clermont, whither the clergy and nobility were invited, and where the Pope and Peter the Hermit eloquently described the sufferings of the Christians, and urged the barons to enlist in a holy war. Such was the effect of this eloquence threat most of the knights present then and there donned a red cross, to show that they would fight for the Lord; and, as the [111] Latin word for cross is crux, this pious undertaking became known as a crusade. Not only did the clergy and nobility enlist in this war, but the poor and helpless, thinking they were as good in the sight of the Lord as the rich and strong, joined in it also.

Two great expeditions therefore soon set out from France. The first was composed mainly of poor men, women, and children led by monks and by an adventurer known as Walter the Penniless. This band followed the usual pilgrim route, though Europe to Constantinople, begging its way, and stealing and murdering whenever a good opportunity offered. When this rabble reached Constantinople, the Eastern Emperor, not wishing to support them, and finding them far too disorderly to be desirable guests, sent them, and finding them far too disorderly to be desirable guests, sent them hurriedly across the Bosphorus to Asia, where they were soon attcked and annihilated by the Turks.

A second band,—the real expedition,—composed of fighting men only, and led by Godfrey of Bouillon (boo-yon), made a much more successful journey, and having reached Asia, besieged Antioch (ăn'tĭ-ŏk), which was taken after eight months.

In 1099, five years after the first crusade had been preached, the crusaders came in sight of Jerusalem, where they fought so bravely that the city fell into their hands. A Christian "Kingdom of Jerusalem" was now founded, with Godfrey at its head, but he firmly refused the title of king, saying he would not wear a golden crown on the spot where his Redeemer had worn a crown of thorns, and preferred to be called "Defender of the Holy Sepulcher."

Although more than five hundred thousand persons set out on this crusade, less than five thousand returned, nearly [112] all the rest having perished, either from sickness or at the hands of the Turks. A small number of crusaders, left to defend the new conquest, formed two famous societies, which are known as the "Knights Templar" and the "Knights Hospitalers." The former undertook to guard the Holy Sepulcher and the places made sacred by the life and death of our Lord, while the latter established inns where pilgrims could be lodged and cared for on their way to and from Jerusalem, and served as their armed escort in time of need.

Thus the first crusade—and the only one which was wholly successful—was mainly the work of Frenchmen. The kingdom of Jerusalem, which they established, lasted for eighty-eight years. It was because the first crusaders came from France that Europeans were dubbed Fanks by the Turks, a name they still bear in the East.

The first crusade was followed by many others, which caused great changes in France. During many years not only were all the principal fighting men absent,—thus leaving none but peaceful folk at home,—but many of the noblemen, in order to procure funds for the expedition, either mortgaged or sold their lands, or allowed their vassals to purchase their freedom.

The king, who stayed at home and took no part in the crusade, found it comparatively easy to govern old men, women, and children, who were not likely either to resist his authority or to quarrel among themselves, so he could consider himself really head of the realm for the first time. He also took advantage of the times to extend his estates.

Then, too, many cities, having purchased the right to govern themselves during their lords' absence, now obtained [113] from the king charters of rights which established their freedom. The very first charter granted to a "commune," or city, in France is said to have been given (to the city of Le Mans) the same year that William conquered England (1066).

During the first crusade many similar charters were granted. All these free cities soon erected city halls, where the burghers assembled, and tall belfries where hung bells that rang out the alarm (tocsin)  in time of danger or fire. These bells also rang for "curfew,"—the daily signal for putting out the lights and banking the fires,—and thus helped to maintain order and safety.

Most of the free cities, like the castles, were surrounded by high walls, pierced by gateways flanked with towers, where watchmen were posted night and day, to notify the authorities of the approach of an enemy or of the outbreak of any fire or other disturbance.


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