Uni-category

The First Crusade(s)

crusades-1Hello there everyone, how nice of you to drop by 😀

Some time ago, I saw this post by Samantha from The Historical Diaries. She was looking for people who wanted to write a guestpost, and of course I acted like a pitbull and decided to write one. The post is already on her blog (Click here to see the post on her blog). Not feeling like clicking the link? Just read on 🙂

It took me some time to come up with a subject for my post. Important questions had to be asked beforehand. Questions like: What era shall I write about? Shall I write about a person or an event? Do I write about something that I adore or detest with the deepest of my being? Can I just cry and run away?

In the end, I decided to stay! *hurraaaay* and I went with one of the major events in Medieval History: The First Crusade(s). But, why the s between brackets? You’ll find out, but only if you read this post (can you feel the pressure already?). I was inspired by an extra course that I’m taking this semester, being about this topic (how convenient).

In this short post I will try to convince you that there was more to the first crusade than one shout of a pope that would make an entire people of one region, come together and move to the east to take back what was theirs. There will be pictures, and additional links to interesting websites. If you are interested in the literature, I’ve mostly based this post on the information that is given in God’s War by Christopher Tyerman. (The pictures of the maps that I’ve included in this post are from that book as well, unless mentioned otherwise).


The most accepted story about the crusades is this: Pope Urban II gave a shout-out to his people to help the poor Byzantines fight the evil people who had also claimed Jerusalem. Immediately, a whole lot of people took the cross, marched to Jerusalem and reclaimed the Holy City back from the evil people. The End.
Yes, it is a little simplified, but truth be told, it is what most of us have heard in middle school and before that. When tracing back the historical evidence however, it took the pope a lot more effort to get the people to leave everything they had in life, and travel to a city on the other side of the world. Not all those people were brave knights in shining armour who would take the city back without breaking a sweat, and no… neither were they all handsome young fellows to begin with. This first crusade wasn’t all that popular with the monarchy either, no king or emperor (except for the emperor of Constantinople) got involved in this crusade to begin with.

Let’s first get one thing straight: non-Christian people had already captured Jerusalem long before the pope decided to go on a holy war. This had already happened in 638 CE. It was in 1071 CE that the Seljuq Turks captured Jerusalem, and this started the entire issue. A call from emperor Alexius Comnenus came in the year 1095 CE, when the Turkish threat became too much for him to handle on his own. imag0897
It was on that point that the relationship between the east and west was improving, and Pope Urban II reacted. He started a preaching tour. Urban II was from southern France himself, and so he had relations with the aristocracy from that area. The Council of Clermont was where he summoned the people to take up arms, help the Byzantine Christians and reclaim Jerusalem. On the image on the right, you can see his preaching tour.

It is important to remember is that the sources that we now possess about the precise contents of Urban II his preach during the Council of Clermont, was only written down after the success of the crusade.

Reacting to the Pope’s call to pick up arms, were multiple groups of people.
The first stream of ‘armies’ that headed to Jerusalem (or at least Constantinople) is now known as the Peasant Crusade, these armies left before the ‘official departure date’ of August 1096.

One of these armies that belonged to the first stream, was the one of Peter the Hermit. He was a priest who was present during the speech of Pope Urban II at the Council of Clermont. Afterwards he rounded up a large band that would become his ‘army’. These people were mostly from the city, or lower aristocracy. Peter had an associate called Walter Sansavoir (also known as Walter the Penniless) who would lead a band of Franks to the Holy Land.
Peter’s army would have been joined by the armies of two other men, called Fulk and Gottschalk. Both armies lead by Fulk and Gottschalk were annihilated by the Hungarian army, thanks to Peter who destroyed the good faith of the Hungarians by not keeping his promise.
Another man who came with the first stream of crusaders was Count Emicho.  He was responsible for the Rineland massacres of the Jews in 1096.

(If you want to know a bit more about the Peasants Crusade, click this link or this one)

imag0898

The armies of the second stream were all led by local or regional lords. These armies were led by Godfrey of Bouillon, Bohemund, Raymond of Saint Gilles (count of Toulouse), and Robert of Flanders together with Stephen of Blois.  As you can see on the map, these four armies came from different parts of Europe as well, and only met in Constantinople. It was after they had all arrived that they continued as ‘one’ force towards Jerusalem (let’s not get into too much detail here).
There were no kings among the leaders of those armies.

Again, here it is important to remember that most accounts were written after the successful crusade. There is however one other source about the leaders of the second stream. It is written by the daughter of Alexius Comnenus, Anna Comnena. She portrays her father in adulation, but there are also great descriptions about the leaders of the armies, and how things went down in Constantinople. (A translations of her book The Alexiad can be found if you click on the link. Read from page 176, that’s where the Frankish armies come in).

More information (still not that detailed, but it does contain more information about the second stream and the journey to Jerusalem) click here.


I hope that this post has convinced you that the First Crusade existed of several smaller crusades, and I do hope that you liked this post. If you have any questions, or if there’s anything you want to add, please let me know in the comment section! Also, I don’t pretend to know everything, so if you find a flaw in my work, do let me know so that I can adjust it 🙂

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7 thoughts on “The First Crusade(s)

  1. You’ve pretty much captured the story, I think, on the ‘Christian’ side anyway. Maybe I should post the story of Sir Symon Lockhart, a spurious ancestor, and the Lee Penny (?) Or maybe not.

    Liked by 1 person

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