The First Crusade

The First Crusade

The First Crusade (1096 - 1099) played a very important part in Medieval England. The First Crusade was an attempt to re-capture Jerusalem. After the capture of Jerusalem by the Muslims in 1076, any Christian who wanted to pay a pilgrimage to the city faced a very hard time. Muslim soldiers made life very difficult for the Christians and trying to get to Jerusalem was filled with danger for a Christian. This greatly angered all Christians.

One Christian - called Alexius I of Constantinople - feared that his country might also fall to the Muslims as it was very close to the territory captured by the Muslims. Constantinople is in modern day Turkey. Alexius called on the pope - Urban II - to give him help.

In 1095, Urban spoke to a great crowd at Clermont in France. He called for a war against the Muslims so that Jerusalem was regained for the Christian faith. In his speech he said:

"Christians, hasten to help your brothers in the East, for they are being attacked. Arm for the rescue of Jerusalem under your captain Christ. Wear his cross as your badge. If you are killed your sins will be pardoned."

Those who volunteered to go to fight the Muslims cut out red crosses and sewed them on their tunics. The French word "croix" means cross and the word changed to "croisades" or crusades. The fight against the Muslims became a Holy War.

Many people did volunteer to fight on the First Crusade.

There were true Christians who wanted to reclaim Jerusalem for their belief and get the Muslims out of the city. There were those who knew they had committed sin and that by going on the Crusade they might be forgiven by God. They had also been told by the pope that if they were killed, they would automatically go to heaven as they were fighting for God. There were those who thought that they might get rich by taking the wealth that they thought existed in Jerusalem. Any crusader could claim to be going on a pilgrimage for God - pilgrims did not have to pay tax and they were protected by the Church.

A Crusader knight

The First Crusade had a very difficult journey getting to the Middle East. They could not use the Mediterranean Sea as the Crusaders did not control the ports on the coast of the Middle East. Therefore, they had to cross land. They travelled from France through Italy, then Eastern Europe and then through what is now Turkey. They covered hundreds of miles, through scorching heat and also deep snow in the mountain passes. The Crusaders ran out of fresh water and according to a survivor of the First Crusade who wrote about his experiences after his return, some were reduced to drinking their own urine, drinking animal blood or water that had been in sewage. Food was bought from local people but at very expensive prices. Odo of Deuil claims that these men who were fighting for God were reduced to pillaging and plunder in order to get food. 

Disease was common especially as men were weakened by the journey and drinking dirty water. Dysentery was common. Heat stroke also weakened many Crusaders. Disease and fatigue affected rich and poor alike. 

By 1097, nearly 10,000 people had gathered at Constantinople ready for the journey to the Holy Land. There was no one person in charge of the First Crusade. Urban II had made Bishop Adbenar the leader but he preferred to let others do the work and make decisions. They were four separate proper Crusader armies in the First Crusade but also a large number of smaller armies. However, there was no proper command structure and with the problems of communications at that time, it is possible that a command structure with one person in charge was an impossibility.

The first target of the Crusaders was the important fortress city of Nicea. This city was taken by the Crusaders without too much trouble as the man in charge of it was away fighting! 

The next target for the Crusaders was Antioch - a strongly protected Turkish city. It took a seven month siege before the city fell. The next target was Jerusalem.

The attack and capture of Jerusalem started in the summer of 1099. Jerusalem was well-defended with high walls around it. The first attacks on the city were not successful as the Crusaders were short of materials for building siege machines. Once logs had arrived, two siege machines were built.

A monk called Fulcher was on the First Crusade. He wrote about the attack on the Holy City and he can be treated as an eye-witness as to what took place.

Fulcher claimed that once the Crusaders had managed to get over the walls of Jerusalem, the Muslim defenders there ran away. Fulcher claimed that the Crusaders cut down anybody they could and that the streets of Jerusalem were ankle deep in blood. The rest of the Crusaders got into the city when the gates were opened. The slaughter continued and the Crusaders "killed whoever they wished". Those Muslims who had their lives spared, had to go round and collect the bodies before dumping them outside of the city because they stank so much. The Muslims claimed afterwards that 70,000 people were killed and that the Crusaders took whatever treasure they could from the Dome of the Rock.

The Crusader attack on Jerusalem - in the foreground is a siege castle

After the success of the Crusaders, the Kingdom of Jerusalem was created and its first king was Godfrey of Bouillon who was elected by other crusaders. He died in 1100 and was succeeded by his brother Baldwin of Boulogne.

The capture of Jerusalem did not end the Crusades as the Crusaders wanted to get rid of the Muslims from the whole region and not just Jerusalem. This desire ultimately led to the Second Crusade in 1147 as the threat from the Muslims grew over the following years.






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