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The Story of the Middle Ages by  Samuel B. Harding
Table of Contents





FTER the Holy Land was won, a government had to be organized to prevent the land from slipping back into the hands of the infidels. The Crusaders knew only one way to rule a land—namely, the feudal way. That was the way Western Europe was ruled, so that was the form of government set up in Palestine. The land was divided into a number of fiefs, and each of these was given to a Crusading chief. In each fief the feudal law and a feudal government was then introduced. Jerusalem, with the country about, was formed into "the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem," and was given to Godfrey of Bouillon, one of the most famous of the Crusaders. The rest of the land was formed into three principalities, each with its own feudal head, and with many vassal Crusaders. The peasants who tilled the soil before the Crusaders came were not driven off. They had long been Christians, though they worshiped more like the Greeks than like the Latins. The only difference in their position was that now they were to pay rent and taxes to Christian masters, and not to Turks and Saracens.

As soon as Jerusalem had fallen, most of the Crusaders began to make preparations for returning home. Soon Godfrey and his fellow rulers were left with mere [128] handfuls of men to resist the attacks of the Mohammedans. If the latter had been united, they could easily at this time have driven the "Franks" into the sea. But the Mohammedans were quarreling among themselves, and besides had learned to fear the mail-clad Franks. So the Christians were given time to prepare their defence. Huge castles were everywhere built to protect the lands they had won. New companies of Crusaders, too, were constantly arriving to take the place of those who had returned home; and merchants from the Italian cities were coming to settle for the purpose of carrying on trade.

Soon, too, three special orders of knights were formed to protect the Holy Land, and care for the Christians. The first of these was the Knights of the Hospital, or the Knights of St. John; its chief purpose was to care for and protect sick pilgrims. The second was the Order of the Temple, or Knights Templar; they got their name because their headquarters were in the temple at Jerusalem. The third was the Order of the Teutonic Knights, which received its name because its members were Germans, while the members of the other orders were mostly French. The members of these orders were both monks and knights. [129] They were bound like monks by vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience; but they were also knights engaged in a perpetual crusade against the infidel. The Hospitallers wore a white cross on a black mantle; the Templars a red cross on a white mantle; and the Teutonic Knights a black cross on a mantle of white.

These "military orders" became very powerful and wealthy, and helped a great deal to keep the Holy Land in the hands of the Christians. For nearly half a century after Jerusalem was recovered there was no very great danger to the rule of the Franks. Then all Europe was startled by the news that one of the four Christian principalities had been conquered by the Saracens, and the Christians put to the sword. At once there was great fear lest the other states should fall also, and preparations were made for sending out a large number of Crusaders to their assistance.

This expedition started in the year 1147, and is known as the Second Crusade. The kings of two of the leading countries of Europe, Conrad III. of Germany and Louis VII. of France, led the forces. Their armies took the same route—down the river Danube and across to Constantinople—that the first Crusade had followed. Again there was terrible suffering on the way. The German army was almost entirely destroyed in Asia Minor; and although the French reached Palestine in safety, very little was accomplished in the way of strengthening the Christians there.

After the failure of this Crusade, there was no great change for forty years. Twice a year, in the spring and autumn, a number of vessels would sail from the cities [130] of Italy and Southern France carrying pilgrims and adventurers to Palestine. In this way the strength of the Christian states was kept up, in spite of the number who were constantly returning. Then, towards the end of the period, rumors began to come of a great Mohammedan leader who had arisen in Egypt, and was threatening Palestine with new danger. He was called Saladin, and was one of the greatest rulers the Mohammedans ever had. He was foremost in battle, and wise and far-sighted in council. When he was victorious, he dealt generously with his enemies; and when defeated he was never cast down. He was ever simple in his habits, just and upright in his dealings, and true to his promises. He was, in short, as chivalrous a warrior, and as sincere a believer in his faith, as any of the Christian knights against whom he fought.

For Saladin, as well as for the Crusaders, the war for Palestine was a "holy war"; and soon his power was grown so great that he could attack them from all sides. "So great is the multitude of the Saracens and Turks," wrote one of the Crusaders in speaking of his armies, "that from the city of Tyre, which they are besieging, they cover the face of the earth as far as Jerusalem, like an innumerable army of ants." When the Christians marched out to battle, they were overthrown with terrible slaughter; and the King of Jerusalem, and the Grand Master of the Templars, were among the captives taken. Three months after this, Saladin laid siege to Jerusalem itself. For two weeks only the city held out; at the end of that time it was forced to sue for peace. The mercy which [131] Saladin now showed to the conquered Christians was in strange contrast to the cruelty which the Crusaders had displayed when the city fell into their hands. There was no slaughter such as had occurred ninety years before, and the greater number of the defeated party were allowed to go free, on paying a ransom. But the crosses on the churches were torn down, the bells were destroyed, and the churches themselves were changed into Mohammedan mosques. Once more the Holy Land was in the hands of the unbeliever.

When news of these events reached Europe, it caused great excitement. The three most powerful rulers,—Frederick of Germany, Philip of France, and Richard the Lion-Hearted of England,—took the cross, and in the years 1189 and 1190 they led forth their followers to the Third Crusade.

The Emperor Frederick of Germany,—who was called "Barbarossa," on account of his red beard,—had been one of those who followed King Conrad in the Second Crusade; now although he was seventy years old, he was the first to start on the Third. He [132] led his army by the old land route, but his forces were better organized, and there was not so much hardship as there had been before. Except for one battle which they had to fight with the Greek Emperor, all went well until the army reached Asia Minor. There, alas! The old Emperor was drowned, while swimming a river one hot day, to refresh himself and shorten his way. After that the German army went to pieces, and most of its members lost their lives in the mountains and deserts of Asia Minor, or were cut down by Turkish soldiers. In Germany the people refused to believe that their king was dead. Long after this, stories were told of the good Barbarossa, who slept from year to year in a rocky cavern high up on a lonely mountain side, with his head resting on his hand and his long red beard grown round the granite blocks by his side. There, the people said, he lay sleeping throughout the ages; but when the ravens should cease to fly about the mountain, the Emperor would wake to punish the wicked and bring back the golden age to the world.

When at last Philip of France and Richard of England were ready, they took ship to avoid the hardships of the journey by land. From the beginning, however, things went wrong. Richard and Philip were very jealous of each other, and could not get along together. Philip was only half-hearted in the Crusade, and longed to be back in France; while Richard allowed himself to be turned aside for a while to other things. When they reached the Holy Land, they found the Christians laying siege to Acre, one of the sea-ports near Jerusalem. The siege had already [133] lasted more than a year, and for several months longer it dragged on. It was a dreary time for the Christians. "The Lord is not in the camp," wrote one of their number; "there is none that doeth good. The leaders strive with one another, while the lesser folk starve, and have none to help. The Turks are persistent in attack, while our knights skulk within their tents. The strength of Saladin increases daily, but daily does our army wither away."

At last Acre was taken,—mainly through the skill and daring of King Richard, who was one of the best warriors of that day, and knew well how to use the battering-rams, stone-throwers, moveable towers, and other military "engines" to batter down walls and take cities. Philip was already weary of the Crusade, and soon after returned to France. Richard remained for more than a year longer. In this time he won some military successes; but he could not take Jerusalem.

Finally news came to Richard from England that his brother John was plotting to make himself king. Richard was now obliged to return home. The only [134] advantage he had gained for the Christians was a truce for three years, permitting pilgrims to go to the Holy Sepulchre at Jerusalem without hindrance.

Before he left, Richard warned Saladin that he would return to renew the war; but he never did. On his way home he was shipwrecked and was obliged to pass by land through Germany. There he was recognized by his enemies, and kept prisoner till he paid a heavy ransom. Then, after his release, he found himself engaged in troubles with his brother John, and in war with King Philip; and at last, in the year 1199, he died from an arrow wound while fighting in France.

The remaining Crusades are not of so much importance as the First and the Third. On the Fourth Crusade, the Crusaders were persuaded by the Venetians to attack the Christian city of Constantinople. In this way the Greek Empire passed for fifty years into the hands of the Latin Christians. As a result of the Fifth Crusade, Jerusalem was recovered for a while; but this was accomplished through a treaty, [135] and not as the result of victories won by arms. The Sixth Crusade was led by the good king, St. Louis of France. The Crusaders now sought to attack the Saracens in Egypt; but they were defeated, and the French king himself was captured and forced to pay a heavy ransom. The last Crusade was the Seventh, which was also led by St. Louis of France. Now the Crusaders attacked the Saracens in Tunis. Again the Crusade was a failure, and this time the French king lost his life, through a sickness which broke out in the army.

After this, for more than a century, popes and kings talked of crusades, and raised taxes and made preparations for them. But though they fought the heathen in Prussia, and the Mohammedans in Spain and in Hungary, no more crusades went to the Holy Land to win the sepulchre of Christ from the infidel. Men no longer thought that this was so important as it had once seemed to them; and no doubt they were right. It doesn't make so much difference who rules the land where Christ lived and died; the great question is whether Christ lives and rules in the hearts and lives of those who follow Him.

Although the Crusades failed in what they were intended to accomplish, they had some very important results. For nearly two hundred years men were going and coming in great number to and from the Holy Land, seeing strange countries and strange peoples, and learning new customs. Before the Crusades, each district lived by itself, and its inhabitants scarcely ever heard of the rest of the world. During the Crusades this separation was [136] broken down, and people from all parts of Christendom met together. In this way men came to learn more of the world, and of the people who dwelt in it; and their minds were broadened by this knowledge. Never after the Crusades, as a result, was the life of man quite so dark, so dreary, and so narrow, as it had been before. From this time on, the Middle Ages gradually changed their character; for influences were now at work to bring this period to an end, and bring about the beginning of Modern Times.

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