| Stories from the Crusades|
|by Janet Harvey Kelman|
|Brings the Crusades to life through stories of its most famous participants. Relates how Peter the Hermit leads the first crusade; three kings of Europe, King Richard the Lionhearted of England, King Philip of France, and the Emperor Frederick of Germany, join efforts in the third crusade; and King Louis of France launches the last crusade. Ages 9-12 |
HOW LOUIS THOUGHT DEATH A LITTLE THING
 Before the first Crusade, the Turks had poured westward
to Palestine. Now before the last Crusade, another wild
and fierce race swept down from China on Europe. They
were called Tartars, and the terror of them spread to
far countries. Villagers in France and Italy pointed to
curious clouds in the sky, and turned pale; they
thought them a sign that the monsters called Tartars
were coming. Men and women cowered away in terror at
the sight of a forest fire; they thought the Tartars
had kindled it.
A wild and fierce race called Tartars
Such a tribe swept over the Holy Land and Moslem and
Christian joined together to fight the terrible foe.
But even though they fought side by side, they could
 the fierce warriors back. On and on they came
till their horses dashed up the streets of Jerusalem.
The city was empty. Every one had fled. But the victors
were cruel men, they wished to kill their foes as well
as to take the city. They flung the banner of the
cross out against the sky, and rang glad peals on the
bells of the Christian churches. In the caves and
amongst the rocks round Jerusalem hundreds of people
were hiding. They heard the bells, and peered out to
see what had happened. They saw no foeman's flag, but
their own banner waving. The news spread from rock to
rock and from cave to cave. Crowds of joyful people
hurried back to their city and to their homes. But the
pealing bells and the floating banners drew them on
only to death. The enemy waited till all were either
within the gates or close to them. Then they fell on
them and killed them.
At this time King Louis of France was a young man of
twenty-six. His father had died when he was ten. Since
that time, his
 mother, Queen Blanche, had guarded his lands and had
trained him to be a good and true man. She was a wise
woman, and strong and beautiful. She was kind too, and
she charmed those whom she ruled.
Louis was a handsome young king, fair and slight. His
long hair flowed over his shoulders. He did not care
to wear gay clothes, for he was prouder of the coarse
hair shirt which he wore under his armour than of all
his royal robes. To all who met him, he was gentle and
Once he was very ill. His nobles stood round his bed.
They thought he was dead. Suddenly he spoke in a hollow
voice. He bade the Bishop of Paris fasten the cross of
the Holy War on his shoulder.
When he was well again many of his people wished him to
stay in France and rule them, for Louis thought of many
things that would help the people of his land. He made
good laws, and he was just and kind. Those who wished
him to stay at home said that he need not keep the
 he had made to go to fight in Palestine, because he was
so ill when he made it that perhaps he did not know
what he said. When this was said to Louis, the Bishop
of Paris chanced to be beside him again. The king
snatched the cross from his shoulder and gave it to the
bishop. Then he said:
"Now at least, I am in my senses, and I vow that no
food shall enter my lips till the cross is again on my
So they knew that they need not urge him again to stay.
It was Christmas Eve. The king sat in a dimly lighted
hall. The nobles of the court were called to him that
he might fulfil an old French custom of mantle-giving.
It was an honour to be called, and each man went up
gladly to the king and felt a thrill of pleasure as the
folds of the mantle fell from his shoulders. The nobles
went from the king's presence into the chapel for the
Christmas Eve service. As the bright light fell on the
new cloaks, the knights started in surprise. The Cross
of the Holy War had been fastened
 to each mantle. Each man saw it on his neighbour. Then
he looked at his own robe and saw it there. Some
smiled; some shrank from the vow; but the king's will
was law, and his nobles made ready to sail.
In this crusade there were no gay robes nor jewelled
bridles. Nor were there any ragged camp followers.
Louis's army was made up of strong workmen and nobles.
The wild warrior tribe that had so cruelly killed the
people of Jerusalem had left the land again and once
more the Holy City was in the hands of the Sultan of
Egypt. Louis hoped to surprise him and to attack him
at the mouth of the Nile, but the Egyptian heard that
he was coming and was ready to meet him. He brought a
fleet of ships down the Nile and he lined the shores
When the two fleets met, the ships spread
over miles of water. Close to the shore the fleet of
Egypt lay. In a half-circle round it the crusading
vessels gleamed in the sunshine, and the banner of the
Cross waved from
 each topmast. Away out to sea one ship lay alone. From
it, Queen Marguerite, the wife of Louis, watched the
In the morning, the knights who were to fight on shore
led their horses on planks from the great warships to
the barges that lay alongside. The horses lurched and
plunged in the unsteady boats, and the clang of their
armour rang out across the water. All was noise and
clamour. Hundreds of rowers bent to the oars. The
barges bounded forward. Suddenly the sunlight was
darkened. Spears and arrows from the Egyptian army flew
so thick around the Crusaders that they could not see
the sky. The rowers flagged. But the voice of Louis
rang out to cheer them, and they bent to the oars with
greater strength than ever. As the boat that bore the
king touched the ground, Louis leapt into the water
though it reached to his shoulder, and dashed through
it sword in hand. Nobles and men followed him. The
army that lined the shore
broke its ranks and fled. But almost before
 the Crusaders could form in line, the horse soldiers of
the Moslem army swept down on them from the desert.
Louis sprang into the water.
Louis was so calm that he knelt for a moment on the
sand. "Thy will be done!" he murmured. Then he sprang
up and rushed into the fight. As the day wore on, Queen
Marguerite as she watched, saw the oriflamme of France
push slowly up the beach. Ship after ship that had
river mouth sank. They were pierced by the prows of the
French vessels. Ere night the victory was won. The
crusading camp rang with shouts of joy.
In the morning a blaze of fire was seen in the south.
Damietta, the town that Louis hoped to take for his
own, was in flames. The foe had burned the city. No
riches were left to tempt the army, so the burning of
the city both helped and hindered Louis. Queen
Marguerite landed and formed her court within the
charred and ruined walls of Damietta. The army waited
for more ships and men. But while they waited, bands of
 Arabs came whirling down on the camp. They came to any
part of it that seemed less guarded, entered the tents,
killed those they found there, and carried off the
heads of all they killed. These wild men took the heads
of the Crusaders to the sultan, who gave a golden coin
for each one. Their horses were so swift and light that
they could always escape from the heavy chargers of the
knights. While the troops led by Louis were waiting
here, the sultan was busy. The town of Mansourah stands
at the place where the great river Nile breaks into
many channels and forms the delta at its mouth. There
the Moslem leader made ready to fight the French king.
He built walls and towers, and made the town strong
against the armies of the Cross.
At last the Crusaders marched, but when they reached
Mansourah they found a great stream of water between
them and the city. They could not fight the foe until
they had crossed the channel. Then Louis bade his
 men build a causeway across the stream. But even as
they built, the enemy on the other side dug away the
sandy bank, and the stream flowed on as broad as
A shout was heard "A ford, a ford." It was not a good
ford that had been found, still it was possible to
cross by it, and the eager armies hastened to it.
Robert, the king's brother, begged to be allowed to
cross first with his men. He said he would wait on the
other bank and guard the ford till the rest of the army
had crossed over. A band of Moslems tried to keep him
from landing. He drove them back. They fled across the
Then Robert forgot his promise to stay by the ford. The
masters of the knights of Jerusalem who rode with him
begged him to think. They knew that it was a great
mistake to break away from the other warriors. But
Robert was too eager to listen. He said bitter things
to them and seemed to think that they wished to keep
 the power in their own hands. They were very angry at
this, and the master of the Templars, to show that he
was neither a coward nor wilful, shouted out:
"Raise then the standard."
But William Longsword of England still tried to keep
Robert from his folly.
"What cowards these English are!" said Robert.
But Longsword was no coward. Robert had his way. He
swept on with his followers, and chased the Moslems
into their fortress of Mansourah. But it was only one
part of the Moslem army that he defeated. Bibars, a
Saracen leader, saw what had happened. He gathered his
forces, and ere Robert knew what was going on, his foes
were at Mansourah, shutting it in on every side, and he
and his men were prisoners in the town they had won.
They fought all day long. Very few of them lived to see
the next morning's sun. William Longsword, whom Robert
had called a coward, fought so bravely that even his
foes noted where he
 fell, and after the fight was over gave back his body
to his friends.
But long ere nightfall, Louis had crossed the ford with
the other part of the crusading army. Instead of
comrades waiting to guard their landing, they found
only the track of fighting, and foes on every side.
They broke into bands. Instead of one great attack a
hundred battles were fought. The orders Louis gave
could not be heard, for his voice was drowned in the
noise and clamour of armour and of hoofs. No one knew
what to do next. It seemed that all must be lost.
Then Louis dashed forward with a small bodyguard. His
haste was so great that he left his guard behind him,
and found himself alone in the midst of six Moslem
warriors. They knew he was the king by his armour. It
seemed as if he must yield. But Louis was a great
fighter, and he did not know what fear was. He held the
six at bay until his guards joined him; then with them
he led his army on in one wild charge, and won
 the day. But though they were victors they had
suffered so greatly that it would have been wise if
they had gone back to Damietta. This they would not do.
They camped by the battle-field, and there very many of
them grew ill and died. There was little food, and the
air was evil-smelling and deadly. Louis went in and out
amongst his men. As a nurse to them he was as tender
and patient as he had been bold and fearless in war.
At length he too fell ill.
He knew that something must be done to make peace with
the sultan, for no help could come to Jerusalem from a
host of Christian soldiers who were dying on the sands
of Egypt. So he sent a message to say he would leave
Egypt if the Moslems would give Jerusalem back to the
Christians. The sultan said:
"Yes, if the king himself will be my prisoner until the
last Crusader has left Egypt."
Louis wished to agree to
this, but his nobles would not hear of it. Since there
could not be peace between the armies, there
 was no escape for the Crusaders but by flight. Even
that seemed hopeless. Still it was all that could be
done. Only a few of the boats which had followed them
up the Nile were left. On these they placed the sick
men and all the women and children. Then by night they
set them afloat down the stream towards Damietta. The
nobles begged Louis to go on board one of these
"Nay, I march with the last man of mine who lives,"
said Louis. As the army left the camp, it was attacked.
Louis turned and fought wildly for his men.
"Wait for the king! Wait for the king!" rang from
the banks. The vessels were stayed, but Louis signed
to them to go on. At length Louis and his men left the
camp. The king was on horseback, but without helmet or
cuirass. But all their efforts were in vain. Both
ships and soldiers fell into the hands of the enemy.
The king was weak and ill, but still free. His knights
saw that he could go no further. They sought to hide
him in a house in an Egyptian town,
 where a humble woman from France tended him gladly. But
in spite of the knights who guarded the door, the
Moslems burst into the house and loaded King Louis with
chains. They carried him to Mansourah in a vessel gaily
decked in honour of the great prisoner they had taken.
As he sailed southwards up the stream, he saw his men
driven along the banks in chains.
Louis in prison was as great a man as Louis in battle.
He wore a coarse robe, because he would not deign to
wear the gay clothing the sultan sent to him, nor would
he feast with the Moslems, though they wished him to
Each day he saw some of his followers led out from
prison. They were asked if they would cease to be
Christians and accept the faith of the prophet. They
refused. No sooner had they done so than they fell dead
before the eyes of their captive king. It was a
terrible thing for him to sit thus day after day and
watch the men who had
 fought by his side, and whom he loved, slain in this
When the sultan thought he had tried the king so long
and so greatly that he would be glad to agree to any
terms, he offered him freedom if he would give to him
Damietta and the cities of Palestine. Louis had won
Damietta in battle, but he had no right to the cities
of the Holy Land.
"The cities do not belong to me but to God," he said.
Then the sultan threatened to torture Louis to make him
"I am the sultan's prisoner," said the king; "he can
do with me as he will."
He was so calm and firm that a Moslem who stood by
said: "You treat us, sire, as if you had us in prison
instead of our holding you."
But though the sultan spoke of torturing King Louis, he
did not do it except by making him watch the men of his
army as they died before him. When he found that the
king would not yield he gave in himself, and
 agreed to accept Damietta in return for the king, and a
large sum of money for those of the army who still
But the knights would not let Louis wait to see the men
set free. A vessel lay waiting at the mouth of the
Nile. As soon as he and his queen were on board, it
sped out to sea, and ere long King Louis was once more
He was a great ruler as well as a great fighter, and he
thought of the needs and duties of those whose king he
was, as none in that land had ever done before. While
he made France strong and its people happy, Bibars, who
had so cleverly trapped Robert at Mansourah, became
sultan, and laid waste the Holy Land. The news of this
reached the northern lands from which the crusading
armies had gone forth in former days, and once more the
great longing to save Jerusalem took hold of Louis.
His nobles sat in council. He came to them bearing a
crown of thorns in his hands. Again he fastened the
cross of war on his shoulder. He had
 heard that a great king in Africa was willing to
become a Christian, and as he thought of this he
dreamed bright dreams. He thought that he might bring
this desert king and his dark followers to join his
faith and his army, and that with them to aid him, he
might even yet conquer the Moslem armies and win
Jerusalem and Palestine.
His fleet sailed for the African coast. The army landed
and marched into the desert. The hot sand blew about
them and choked them. They found no friendly welcome,
but only messages of blood and war from the king whom
Louis had hoped would join him in battle against the
Moslems. Illness and death swept through the army. One
of the first to die was a son of King Louis. Soon the
king himself lay dying in his tent in the hot desert
"Jerusalem, Jerusalem," he cried, "we will go to
Jerusalem!" His couch was very comfortless, but it was
not so humble as Louis wished it to be. He bade them
spread ashes on the ground and lay him there. When
 they had done this, they saw his lips more. They bent
to listen, and heard these words:
"Father, into Thy
hands I commend my spirit."
Then he fell asleep. The sleep grew deeper and deeper,
and soon the men who watched him there knew that he
would never wake on earth again.
In the dim light of the tent, on a bed of ashes, lay
all that was left of good King Louis. His beautiful
face still kept the grandeur men had loved to see all
his life long. He lay there in the sad, plague-stricken
camp, and around him there seemed to linger the light
Louis was the last of the heroes of the Crusades, but
for years after his death the Christian forces held
cities in the Holy Land. At last they were driven from
all their strongholds, and the Moslem rule was
To-day there is no kingdom of Jerusalem. There are
ruins of churches and of castles, and the broken walls
show how great
 was once the power of the armies of the Cross.
But though the dream of the Crusaders never came true,
and though all their efforts left little mark on the
life of the East, yet the lands from which the knights
went out have been changed, and all their history has
been different, because of those wars to which their
Over the door of an old house in a close in Edinburgh a
scallop-shell, like the shells that were brought by
pilgrims from the Holy Land, was cut in stone. In that
house those who had made the long journey to the East,
and had come back weary or ill, were welcomed and cared
for. The shell above the door stood for hundreds of
years to tell of the olden days. It is so in the
history of Europe. Those who know it best can see the
mark of the Crusades cut into the life of the nations
whose knights led the armies of the Holy War, as
clearly as the scallop-shell was cut into the old wall
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