Holy Land Crusades: Starting Point

To understand the history of the Knights Templar and the Crusades in the Holy Land, we have to go back in time, some 1,000 years before the birth of Jesus.

In the year 993 BC, King David conquered Jerusalem and between 958-951 BC, David’s son Solomon built a temple to his God.  In the temple’s inner sanctum, known as the “Holy of Holies” was housed the “Ark of the Covenant.”  A wooden casket designed to hold the stone tablets, upon which were carved the laws of the land; “The Ten Commandments,” which God gave to Moses on Mount Sinai.

For the Jewish nation, Jerusalem is significant, for it is where Abraham would prove himself to God, by sacrificing his own son; Isaac.  God stepped in, and sent a Ram for sacrificial purposes.

Jerusalem was also the city where the son of a carpenter; Jesus was condemned to death by crucifixion, upon the order’s of Pontius Pilate, and rose from the dead.  Overnight, Jerusalem became a place of Christian pilgrimage.

According to history, Solomon’s Temple is said to have been twice the size of the Tabernacle and the centre piece in Jerusalem.  It was built by Phoenician craftsmen over a seven year period.  The inner walls were lined in gold, with marble blocks and fine emeralds adorning the temple.

Upon the death of King Solomon, he was succeeded by his son; Rehoboam who became King of Israel.  In the fifth year of his reign, Shishak the King of Egypt, ransacked Solomon’s Temple and for the next 367 years it lay in decline, for its wealth, splendour and importance was gone.

In the year 586 BC, the Babylonians led by King Nebuchadnezzar totally destroyed Solomon’s Temple.

The construction of the Second Temple started in 535 BC and was completed in 515 BC.

Persian rule of the area, gave way to Greek rulers, followed later by the Romans.

Herod the Great remained ruler under Roman rule from 47-04BC.  He was responsible for enlarging the Second Temple with courts and walls.  The work was started in 20 BC and took eighty-three years to complete.

In 70 AD, the Jews rose up and revolted against their Roman Rulers, and Titus their Roman General, later known as Caesar replied by besieging the city, which led to the destruction of the Second Temple by fire.

The Roman Emperor Constantine was the first Emperor to convert to Christianity, after witnessing a cross in the sky, along with his entire army.  However, his spiritual growth did not happen overnight.  For it was some years later, in 300 AD that Emperor Constantine became a Christian.  Shortly thereafter he moved his headquarters to the Holy City of Constantinople.

Constantine devoted himself completely to God, and chose to immerse himself in the inspired writings.  He made the priests of God, his closest advisers, for he believed it was his duty to pay homage to the God who had appeared to him, in his vision of the cross.

In 326 AD, Hadrian’s Temple had been built by the Roman’s to their God; Venus built on Calvary and was torn down by order of Helena, the mother of Emperor Constantine.

In the year 614AD, the Holy Land was lost to the Persians, and in 636AD Mohammed the Arab, claimed a new religion under his Islamic banner, as he captured Jerusalem.

In 691 a shrine was built upon the site and called “Dome of the Rock” with the Al-Aqsa mosque built alongside by 715.  Some two earthquakes later, it had been destroyed.  In 1035 a new Al-Aqsa mosque had been built upon the former site.

By 1056 the Muslims refused Christian pilgrim’s access to Jerusalem, yet they still kept coming.  In 1064 the pilgrim situation had worsened, which led to the slaughter of hundreds of Christian pilgrims, as they neared Jerusalem.

In Norman times the Turks originally from present day Kazakhstan over ran Persia, converted to Islam, and expanded eastwards to rule the Holy Land and Egypt and to threaten Anatolia, to the east of the Bosporus.  The Byzantine emperor Romanus set forth from Constantinople to annihilate the Islamic Turks but instead at the land-mark battle of Manzikert (1071) the Christian East Roman armies were routed by the mounted archers of the Turks.  This battle proved to the Muslims that they could beat a crack Christian army, and for the next five hundred years the Islamic Turks steadily advanced westwards, conquering all of Europe east of Hungary except Austria, until they captured the Christian city of Constantinople. 

In 1074, the Byzantine Emperor; Michael VII pleaded with Pope Gregory VII, for help… he who had expected mercenaries would come to his rescue, was disappointed when his call went unanswered. 

After Manzikert, the Emperor of Constantinople asked the Pope in Rome for military support.  Unfortunately, Pope Urban II saw the request as an opportunity not only to push the Muslims out of Anatolia but also to recapture Jerusalem for Rome, thus pulling a stroke over his Christian theological rivals in Constantinople.

In 1095 the Byzantine Emperor; Alexius I appealed to the Council of Piacenza for help against the Seldjuk Turks.  In November of 1095, Pope Urban II called for a Crusade, for Christians to take up arms and capture Jerusalem from these Muslims, at the Council of Clermont which was held in Southern France.

Had the two Christian groups worked together the outcome might have been different and today’s problem’s in modern day Jerusalem non-existent.  However, the same could be said for the Muslims who were then as now split between the Sunni and Shia factions.

Generally speaking, the Crusades were a failure.  The first actually recovered Jerusalem and Antioch but the Turks were too powerful and the Christians were expelled.  English King Richard I was involved in the 3rd Crusade but his main achievement was taking Cyprus from the Christian Byzantium’s and neglecting his subjects back home.  The 4th Crusade during the reign of England’s King John coincides when England lost most of its possessions in France.  This Crusade is remembered for the Crusaders diverting from their intended target of Jerusalem, to the headquarters of their allies in Constantinople, with the intention of looting the city, which they did having been invited through the city gates by those who thought they be friends.

The first Holy Land Crusade took place during the reign of the Normans, and the last during the Plantagenet reign.  Plantagenet King Richard I was the most famous crusader from the line of English Kings but was so involved that his English subjects hardly ever saw him, and his French lands were neglected.

9th – Final Holy Land Crusade

Prince Edward (Edward I) heir to the English throne arrived at Tunis with his forces, only to find the attack upon the city had been called off, and a diplomatic agreement brought the eighth crusade to an end.

Edward and his forces continued on to Acre, the last crusader outpost in Syria, thus starting what would be the Ninth and Final Crusade.

He succeeded in capturing Nazareth, and obtained an agreement with the Sultan of Egypt to agree a favourable treaty for Christians and pilgrims.

In 1272, Edward returned home to England, and was crowned King Edward I of England at his coronation on the 19th August 1274.

A fleet of warships from Venice and Aragon arrived to defend remaining crusader states in 1290.

The Crusader flame was slowly being extinguished, as al-Ashraf Khali attacked Acre, the final place under crusader control, which fell within seven weeks, and the crusaders were driven out of the Holy Land.

The Crusades in the Holy Land had come to a sticky end…

The Crusades were wars of unprovoked aggression against countries, who fought battles within the Holy Land, who until we arrived, believed in their own faith, and a holy war was started by Rome.  Its aim to spread Christianity across the land. 

8th Holy Land Crusade (1270).

The Eighth Crusade was launched in 1270 by King Louis IX of France.  Charles of Anjou, brother of Louis suggested the taking of Tunis first, thus taking command of the ports.

It didn’t go as planned, and Louis lost his life on the 25th August, beneath the walls of Tunis in North Africa, from diseased drinking water.  On the 30th October, the siege of Tunis was abandoned, in an agreement with the Sultan, as many were struck down by the disease.

The crusade hadn’t been a complete failure, for an agreement was made, whereby Christians gained free trade with Tunis, and Monks and Priests were permitted to reside in the city.

7th Holy Land Crusade (1248)

In 1228, the excommunicated King Frederick II of Germany, had managed to reclaim Jerusalem without spilling any blood.

In 1244, as King Louis IX, lay on his sickbed in Paris, Jerusalem had been captured by Muslim forces.

In 1245, King Louis IX of France (Saint Louis) declares his intent to launch a Crusade against these Muslim forces in the Middle East.

In August of 1248 King Louis IX, sailed to Cyprus with his forces, as leader of the Seventh Crusade, as they prepared for their assault on Egypt.

In February of 1250, fought a decisive battle at Al-Mansurah in the Nile Delta, where the Christian forces were overwhelmed.  Louis along with many of his nobles were captured and held for ransom.

The Crusade of the Pastoureaux, made up of French peasants, attempted the impossible, to release their King from his captors.  Even though it was a failure, it shows how popular, Louis was as King of France.

Damietta was the price of the King’s release along with Christian captives.

Louis remained in the Middle East, making a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, then staying at the Christian stronghold of Acre, until troubles at home, forcing his return to France in 1254.

The Seventh Crusade had been declared a failure, and Louis became a Saint, which increased his fame among his people.

6th Holy Land Crusade (1227)

On the 26th December 1194, Frederick II of the Hohenstaufen dynasty was born in Jesi, in the Ancona region to parents; King Henry VI of Germany, the Holy Roman Emperor and Constance his mother, last heiress of the Norman royal dynasty of Sicily.

In 1197, his father Henry VI died, plunging Germany into fourteen years of civil war.  By 1198, the young Frederick had been orphaned, and came under the guardianship of Pope Innocent III.

The civil war and the constant struggle for the German crown, would not be resolved until 1211.  German princes deposed the excommunicated Guelf Emperor Otto IV, and invited Frederick to be their new King.

On the promise he undertook a crusade to the Holy Land, Pope Innocent III sanctioned his coronation in 1215, and in 1220 Pope Honorius III crowned him Emperor in Rome.

Frederick’s success in Germany, was not where his heart lay, it was nothing more than a source for money, for his main concern was to rebuild his dynasty, in southern Italy, where he grey up.

It was his intention to reduce the pontificate to a mere archiepiscopal, one of an archbishop.  To achieve this, he organised his territories, founded the University of Naples, became a patron of the arts, promoted medicine, and created laws, covering both German and Italy, which both would adhere to.

In his palace at Palermo, Frederick would sit enthroned in the manner of a Byzantine Emperor, and supplicants would prostrate themselves before him.

Frederick’s interests lay with Italy, and were more important to him, than the promise he had made to the Pope, to join the crusades.  With the threat of excommunication hanging over him, he finally set out to the Holy Land in 1227.

After barely a week at sea, Frederick returned home, claiming he be too ill to fight.  In 1228 Frederick incurred the wrath of Pope Gregory IX, who excommunicated him for abandoning his position as leader of the Fifth Crusade, and ultimately held him responsible for its failure.

Frederick was racked with guilt, for not leading the Fifth Crusade, as Christian armies were being defeated by the Egyptian sultan.

Frederick tried to make amends, for fifth crusade events, by launching a new crusade.  As news filtered through of his excommunication, his popularity, his support declined.  He may not have had the Pope’s blessing, but he recruited an army, and sailed to Syria, and onto Cyprus to create a base, before sailing onto the Holy Land.  As his popularity waned, so did the size of his army.

He used tactics to combat the like of the Sultan of Egypt, giving the impression he led a force, much larger than he did.  Al-Kamil the Sultan of Egypt had other issues to deal with, and surrendered Jerusalem, Nazareth and smaller towns in exchange for a ten year truce.

On the 17th March 1229, Frederick entered Jerusalem having achieved what the last four crusades had failed to do, retake the Holy Land, without spilling Christian blood.

Pope Gregory IX condemned Frederick for entering the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem on the feast of the Annunciation of the Blessed Mary, whilst excommunicated, and crowning himself at the High Altar.

In 1230 Pope Gregory IX withdrew the excommunication he had placed upon Frederick II.

The Sixth Crusade had come to an end, with a successful conclusion…

5th Holy Land Crusade (1217)

A little over a hundred years earlier, Pope Urban II had told the Knights of Europe, that it was a crime to kill Christians, for the purpose of the crusade was to free up the Holy Land for Christian pilgrims.

The Fourth Crusade, led by knights not kings under the direction of Pope Innocent III, had no compunction about killing Christians who actively stood in their way.  In the beginning knights just ignored requests by the Pope not to kill Christians, but he was not standing with them, and his requests fell on deaf ears.

With the disaster of the Fourth crusade behind them, Pope Innocent III called for a new crusade, which was made up of many Christian citizens, as many European leaders were busy fighting each other.

In 1217, the Crusader army headed to Acre and joined up with John of Brienne current ruler of the Kingdom of Jerusalem, and Prince Bohemund IV of the kingdom of Antioch.  Their combined forces would do battle against the Ayyubids state of Egypt.

With minimal success, they were joined by the armies of Germany and Holland, in re-taking Jerusalem.  Oliver of Cologne and William I the Count of Holland arrived to conqueror Egypt.  They allied themselves with the Seljuk Sultan of Rum, who attacked Egyptians from the north.

In June of 1218, the crusaders attacked Damietta, an Egyptian settlement, taking several months of hard fighting, with the loss of thousands of lives.  As victors they looted Damietta, giving them the inspiration to take on Cairo.

The Sultan Al-Adil came face to face with the crusader army a few miles outside of Damietta.  Egyptian forces moved closer to Cairo and the Nile.  As the crusaders neared Cairo, they became trapped by the water’s, and were forced to retreat.

The Sultan Al-Adil’s army captured the larger crusader force, because they knew their landscape and the water’s well.  Damietta was returned to the Sultan, as the fifth crusade drew to a close.

4th Holy Land Crusade (1201)

Pope Innocent III, an enthusiastic and ambitious Pope, who had taken up his post in 1198.  Wanting to make a name for himself, he called for a new crusade on the 15th August 1198, to revive the plans of one of his predecessors; Pope Urban II, and reclaim Jerusalem and the Holy Land.

His call was ignored by European monarchs, for they had their own battles at home to contend with.  The English and French were at war, the other nations, weren’t interested after the failure of the third crusade.

However, all was not lost as many knights, mainly French picked up their arms and took the Crusader’s vow.

Marquis Boniface of Montferrat accepted the offer in June of 1201, to become its leader, replacing Count Theobald of Champagne who was the intended leader, and had recently died.  To many, the leader of the Fourth Crusade, was Doge of Venice; Henry Dandolo.  Even in his eighties, this semi-blind warrior showed his determination for success.

The Crusaders travelled overland to Venice, and were destined to travel by sea to Egypt.  Things weren’t as simple as planned, for the Venetian’s had their own agenda.

The Crusaders had a dilemma; they had insufficient money to pay for the Venetian fleet of ships, to transport them to the Holy Land.  Fortunately, an offer was put forward by the Venetian’s which would help both parties.  “You have an army, we are but ship builders, and our city of Zara has been captured.  Help us take back what is ours, and the debt will be postponed.”

These French knights and barons, had sworn an oath as crusaders to the Pope, to re-take Jerusalem and free Christianity.  Yet, they were stranded with insufficient funds, and would go against the Pope, taking on a Christian city.

The offer was put to the crusaders and venetian forces alike, as hostile debate broke out.  Finally, it was agreed both forces would capture Zara, a rival naval port on the eastern coast of the Adriatic.

In November 1202, as the attack was about to commence on Zara, the Abbot of Vaux brought a letter from the Pope, forbidding them to attack the Christian city of Zara.

Zara fell to the crusading army, and their soldiers pillaged the city.  They took over the fine houses, and saw out the winter there, before continuing on the crusade in the spring.

The love of the fight was in the blood of these French crusaders, and it didn’t take much to persuade them to take up arms, and take Constantinople.

Thus it took place, these crusading soldiers, pledged war against the Christian city of Constantinople.  They burned down large parts, slaughtered the people, and destroyed monuments, paintings and statues.  The city was pillaged, little was left, just ruins.  Most crusaders returned home, with their spoils of war.

What will be remembered about the Fourth crusade, the campaigns ultimate goal was to free Jerusalem and Christians.  The decision to capture Zara and then Constantinople, the jewel in the crown, pillaging the city and slaughtering its inhabitants, against the wishes of the Pope, was a bad move… 

3rd Holy Land Crusade (1187)

On the 4th July 1187, Saladin the Sultan of Egypt, came face to face with the 20,000 strong Christian army, commanded by Guy de Lusignan, the King of Jerusalem.  An exhausted and dehydrated Christian Army met Saladin’s forces at the “Battle of Hattin,” in the hills behind Tiberias on the Sea of Galilee.

Thousands of Christian warriors lost their lives, other’s captured and thrown into chains, and Guy de Lusignan, captured.  The Holy Cross that had been carried into battle, was lost, and became one of the spoils of victory for Saladin.

Saladin’s victory, led to Christian held cities opening their gates to him, followed by Jerusalem, who after a short siege accepted him as leader.

News of the disaster in the Holy Land, spread across Western Christendom…  Public opinion demanded that the Kings of England and France should rescue Jerusalem the Holy City.

On the 29th October 1187, Pope Gregory VIII sent greetings and an apostolic benediction, to men of God.  He called upon the warriors of God, to take up arms and free Jerusalem from these infidels.  Thousand’s answered the reply, sewing the sign of the cross upon their garments.

King Philip Augustus of France, King Richard I of England and the German emperor; Frederick Barbarossa took the cross, believing in the restoration of Christian supremacy.  Each ruler, each commander headed a large army, destined to take back the Holy City of Jerusalem.

On the 11th May 1189, the sixty year old, Holy Roman Emperor; Frederick Barbarossa, set out, believing this would be the crowning act of his career.  His forces travelled overland, rejected by the Byzantine Empire, crossed into Asia.  In May of 1190 defeated the Turks of Armenia, but they suffered much from thirst, hunger and constant ambushes.  Thousands died on route, just laid down and died.

Survivors of this traumatic journey, negotiated the Taurus mountains, and into the valley of the Goksu, and the fast flowing river.  The heat was so intense, that Barbarossa sought the coolness of the water’s, plunging in without thought, and his troops were stunned, when their commander drowned before their eyes, on the 10th June 1190.

King Richard the Lion-Heart, successor to Henry II of England and King Philip Augustus, successor to King Louis of France, would go side by side on Crusade, not because they were friends, but because they be enemies.  Whilst the King of England ruled half of France, they would remain enemies.

With their armies assembled, these two large armies were prepared to fight, side by side, as one.

The siege of Acre began in the summer of 1189, when Guy of Lusignan, the King of Jerusalem laid siege to the city, with but a small band of supporters.

Two years later in 1191, the crusader army led by King Richard I of England and King Philip II Augustus of France, arrived to break the stalemate that had existed.

Richard’s fleet intercepted and sank a Muslim vessel from Beirut, carrying supplies and reinforcements for the garrison.  After that time a blockade existed by land and sea, imposed by crusaders.

At one point, a tunnel was dug under the wall, supported by wooden beams, and then set alight.  As the beams burned, the walls collapsed, it had the desired effect; weakening Muslim forces.

By July of 1191, the garrison, the city had no choice but to surrender, for the city was rife with disease, and any hope of rescue by Saladin’s forces, appeared doubtful.  The siege had lasted from the 28th August 1189 to the 12th July 1191.

On the 31st July 1191, King Philip II and his forces, set sail for home.

King Richard I remained in the Holy Land, and left Acre on the 22nd August, and faced Saladin’s forces at Arsuf on the 11th September, a victorious victory was achieved by Christian knights.

King Richard I made a truce with Saladin, the terms laid down, permitted Christian’s access to Jerusalem, and holy sites.  In October of 1192, Richard sailed to England, as the third crusade drew to a close.

Childrens Holy Land Crusade (1212)

In the year 1212, tens of thousands children, put down their ploughs, carts, the flocks they tended, claiming it be God’s will, and joined the Children’s Crusade to the Holy Land.

In May of 1212, a shepherd boy named Stephen of Cloyes, believed he had been chosen by Jesus Christ to lead a crusade of children in the rescue of the Holy Sepulchre.

By June, thousands of children under twelve flocked to the Vendome rendezvous point.  Upon receiving blessings, the crusade begun.  By the time they reached Marseilles, the 30,000 who started out had dropped to 7,000 for many died of hunger on route, others wandered off, heading for home.

Stephen’s promise that the sea would divide, and they could walk across, never happened.  Some felt betrayed and headed home…  Thousands sailed from the port, on merchant ships, who offered free passage.  In fact they were taken to Alexandria and sold as slaves.

In the same year, 1212, Nicholas of Germany also led a children’s crusade of 50,000 over the Alps and into Italy, hoping to board ships to Palestine.  Thousands died on route, and only a few thousands boarded ships.

Their fate was to be sold into a life of slavery.

In the spring of 1213, some made it back to Germany and told of their adventure, and how thousands died on route of hunger and cold.  Parents of those who had lost their young ones, turned on the father of Nicholas.  He was arrested and hanged.

Pope Gregory IX (1227-1241) groaned with anguish how these children had suffered and died.  He raised a memorial at the island of San Pietro, where two ships had floundered and all aboard had drowned.

A church was built, and the children’s bodies exhumed and buried within.  It was called the “Church of the New Innocents” supported by twelve monks, offering prayers at the church.

For three hundred years the shrine existed, until the monks left.

In 1737 Christian captives escaping Africa landed at the island; deserted except for a ruined church.

The Children’s Crusade marked a dark history, and led to the decline of Crusades to the Holy Land.

Peoples Holy Land Crusade to (1096)

In March of 1095, Pope Urban II received a delegation led by the Byzantine Emperor’ Alexius Comnenus, appealing for help against the Muslims.

On the 27th November 1095, at The Council of Clermont, Pope Urban II preached about the oppression being inflicted upon Christians in the Middle East by Muslim Seljuks.  He called upon knights and warriors to pick up their arms, and fight as one; “Warriors for God.”  Wear his cross as your badge, and if you be killed, know your sins will be pardoned.

Peter the Hermit, a French monk upon hearing the speech given by his Pope, believed it be his duty to rally support, for a crusade to the Holy Land and free Christians and preserve the Holy Sepulchre.

Dressed in nothing more than a coarse cloth robe tied at the waist with a rope, with no shoes upon his feet.  This humble monk travelled across Italy, France and Germany, preaching in churches and streets, enlisting an army to join with him, on a crusade to the Holy Land.

Thousands of warriors, men, women and children went on the “People’s Crusade” led by “Peter the Hermit.”  Each wore the emblem of the cross upon their shoulder.  They had no provisions, and intended to live off the land.

When the army of Peter the Hermit, reached Cologne, they called a halt to take advantage of the food supplies on offer.

Walter the Penniless also known as Walter Sans Avoir, chose to take some of the army and continue on their quest.  As they passed through Semlin in Hungary, disputes broke out when his warriors stole food.  At Belgrade they pillaged the surrounding area for food, as the harvest had not been gathered.  The Belgrade garrison attacked Walter’s forces; some 60 who took shelter in a chapel were burnt alive.

Supplies were sent by Alexius Comnenus and an escape to march them into Constantinople.

Peter the Hermit following up behind Walter the Penniless reached Semlin, only to discover spoils taken from Walter’s men were displayed on the city walls.

At Constantinople Peter’s army were welcomed, but lack of supplies for such a large army, led to attacks and thefts from surrounding villages.  It had been suggested by Emperor Alexius that Peter’s forces should wait for the fully trained forces of the first crusade before they moved on.  However the pressure on feeding the people of Constantinople and Peter’s army forced their departure.

The People’s Crusade moved on to Civetot a former army base, where they attacked surrounding area in search of food.  They came under attack, when the base was attacked by Turks, who slaughtered most of the crusaders.

Peter the Hermit joined with the forces of Godfrey of Bouillon.  By the time these warriors for God had reached the outer walls of Jerusalem, only 50,000 crusaders remained out of a force of half-a-million.  Finally on the 15th July 1099, the Turks surrendered.  The Muslim flag was torn down and replaced by a banner flying a single cross.

Godfrey of Bouillon was elected King of Jerusalem.

Peter the Hermit, a French monk from Amiens, preached from the Mount of Olives, and shortly afterwards returned to Europe where upon he founded a monastery in France, and lived out the remainder of life there, until his death in 1131.

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