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By Robert Payne
New York: Stein and Day, 1984
ISBN:0-8128-2945-X 421 pages

Bob Corbett
February 2016

I decided to read this work to help me better understand today’s world. Not that there are Crusaders around in quite the same sense as in those two hundred years of Crusades from 1098 onward, but to look at the similarities between the Crusades and the current radical Muslim movement going on now which, while centered in Syria and the Middle East, has drifted into Western Europe and even the United States.

I was hoping that by reading this work, the one that seemed the most highly recommended history of the “old” Crusades which I could find, I might better be able to compare and contrast and to better understand today’s world.

Having just finished reading this very impressive work by Robert Payne, it’s just too early for me to do any commenting upon the similarities and dissimilarities between these two movements which are over 900 years separate in time.

However, I came away from Payne’s work with a deep respect for his research and his writing of history, and, hopefully with some understanding of the complexity of the nature of the Crusades and the diversity of the Crusaders themselves. There seem to have been many more brutal warriors than saints and holy folks, yet the motivations of many of the Crusaders did seem to me to be rooted in their own understanding of Christianity and their duties.

I rather suspect that there is a similar degree of authenticity of belief in their “mission” among the radical Muslims of today’s wars as well. In both cases I was disturbed by the appeal to a God as a justification for brutality and mayhem that seems far far beyond the possibility of anyone’s notion of a good God to have wished for or ordered such horrible and brutal mayhem.

What follows below is not much of an assessment or explanation of Payne’s painstaking research and account, but just a basic outline of some of the details he gives us to help understand both the nature of the Crusades and the basic events of the 8 separate Crusades over the more than two century period from 1098 onward.

Dates of the 8 Crusades:


In 1088 Frenchman Urban II became pope. He was concerned to keep Muslims out of France. They were already well established in Spain, but Urban II called for this French Crusade to save France for Christianity.

What they claimed was the motivations for the Crusade were:

Hundreds of thousands of knights and soldiers went on the Crusade. At least ¼ died on route, another ¼ died in wars. They fought for a small strip of seacoast, The Kingdom of Jerusalem.

“Rarely were men made more sinful than when they set out to conquer the Holy Lands, and rarely were they more deeply religious, more certain of their faith.”

Muslims respected Jesus, but God was separate. Jesus was just an important prophet, not a part of the God head as in Christianity. God was “other.”

Until the 11th century there had been relative peace. Christians were in Jerusalem

“. . . worshipping at the altars in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, passing freely in and out of the city. It was as though the two religions had reached an accommodation, as though nothing could interrupt the continual flow of pilgrims.”

However, in the 11th century Turkish Muslims rose up and defeated much of the Christian Byzantine Empire. However, they were weakened by internal strife and by the late 11th century the Byzantine Empire could fight back.

Alexius Comnenus came to power for the Byzantines and appealed to the pope and western princes to join forces with Byzantine “under the banner of Christendom against the infidels.” A letter of 1093 from the pope was important.

Furthermore the pope wanted to stop European wars of Christians killing Christians, and to divert the attention of warriors to Islamic areas. Pope Urban’s plea was heard by many.

This first Crusade was led by two different groups:

Author Robert Payne gives the reader an idea of the size of this group: Godfrey of Bouillon (about 35 years old) led a force of about 1,000 knights + 500 more joined along the way. He also had:

Yet the stories recorded were mainly doings of the nobles. The historians of the period hardly mentioned the others.

Constantinople was their planned staging ground. All the Christian armies were to meet there first. It was the capital of the Byzantine Empire, as was technically “enemy” territory.

Eventually the Crusaders pledged allegiance to the Byzantines who were Christians of the Eastern sort. The Emperor was “en Christo Autocrator” (Autocrat in Christ).

By early May all the Crusaders had arrived at Constantinople and were ready to set out on the 2nd stage of their journey. Nicea was the next hurtle. It was 60 miles SE of Constantinople. The ruler was the Seljuk sultan. Crusaders set up a siege and after 7 weeks it fell.

The Turks held the city but eventually lost it, but continued to fight moving south was more difficult going for Crusaders.

Crusaders were greedy for booty, violated the basic rule “united we stand, divided we fall.” They began to split up seeking booty.

By Oct. 20, 4 months after Nicea, they arrived at Antioch. Huge defensive walls and a well-organized Turkish army were defending it. It was the third largest city in the Roman Empire at the time. At the time of the first Crusade it was the richest and largest city on the Palestinian coast.

Muslim’s held this walled city in Oct. 1097. But the population was mainly Christian with many Greeks and Armenians. Christians inside the city were very anti-Byzantine.

The Christians squabbled among themselves and Bohemond was especially troubling. He wanted Antioch for himself and others wouldn’t give in. He bribed some men inside and it worked. The Crusaders took the city and it went to Bohemond. This was done just in time to defend it against an arriving Turkish army.

However, soon Kerbogha’s army arrived and now the Christians were inside the city and they themselves were besieged. Bohemond, with special help of the Tafurs and also other Christians marched out of Antioch and defeated the besieging Kerborgha. Antioch finally fell to the Crusaders June 28, 1098. It was not until 6 months later they could move on toward Jerusalem.

On Jan. 13, 1099 the Count of Toulouse and his troops set off for Jerusalem. The Crusaders followed a costal road to Jaffa, then turned inland and “up” to Jerusalem. Jerusalem was well-provisioned and manned + the Egyptian army was on its way.

The Crusader siege began June 7, 1099. Their attack was successful and short. Jerusalem fell quickly and the large bulk of the inhabitants were massacred.

Soon the Crusaders accomplished a huge feat, the devastation of an Egyptian army much larger than that of the Crusaders. This led to a belief in the region of the power of the Crusaders.

Godfrey was in charge of Jerusalem but because of an internal disagreement The Count of Toulouse, Robert of Normandy and Robert of Flanders all left to return home. With them they took nearly ½ the Crusaders who had taken Jerusalem.

This first Crusade had been a fairly decent success and the Crusaders who remained controlled four states from 1099 to 1144.

By the 1130s the Muslims were becoming much more organized and skilled in fighting and were working to organize a more formidable force to fight the Christians.

In 1142 13 year old Baldwin III became King of Jerusalem. After his father died in a hunting accident his mother, Queen Melisende, was regent and controlling power. However, Baldwin was very learned and he was the first Crusader king who had been born in Jerusalem, not in Europe. His whole world view was formed in Jerusalem.

Trouble was brewing and in 1142 Edessa fell. Word got back to Europe and the pope and the King of Jerusalem sent out appeals. The stage was set for the Second Crusade to begin.


The Second Crusade was “. . . another folly.” It was led by King Louis VII of France and King Conrad III of Germany.

Louis VII had waged a brutal war in France and many innocent peasants had been killed. Louis thought he could redeem himself with a Crusade. Bernard of Clairvaux denounced his actions. Yet, he soon did support the Crusade after Pope Eugenius III called for all Christians to join this newly called Crusade.

They took the same route as the First Crusade, through Byzantine territory and through Constantinople. The Emperor of Byzantium deplored the ruthlessness of Conrad III’s army, but he didn’t oppose them, only wished they would fail after passing through his land.

Conrad was the first and he lost a great number of men to the Turks after passing through Byzantium. The French army learned from Conrad’s mistakes and stuck to a coastal route with support of the Byzantine fleet.

Queen Melisende (acting as regent for her son) convinced the French to attack Damascus – a nearly impossible battle to win. They didn’t all die, but lost hope. Conrad soon retreated home, and Louis remained a year but achieved little. The Second Crusade was an overall disaster.

Ironically, little by little more power fell to Baldwin III. He was the best known of all the kings of Jerusalem. His was considered the “Heroic age” of the Crusades. The author says of Baldwin III:

“. . . (he) seems to have no vices, to be at once intelligent, deeply religious, and gentle to all people. Moreover, he possessed the gift of command.”

He consolidated his power in 1158 when he married Theodora, who was linked with the leaders of Byzantium. She was just 13, but the marriage consolidated support and contacts with Byzantium that helped Baldwin.

At the same time the Emperor of Byzantium showed his power, coming to the wedding, but engaged in no wars, just demonstrating that he had the power were he to wish to use it.

Unfortunately for the Christians Baldwin III just lived 4 more years.

“With Baldwin III’s death in January 1162 the heroic age of the Crusades came to an end.”

And that, just after the end of the SECOND crusade!

By late 1160s Muslim’s captured Egypt and their authority went from the Euphrates to the Sudan.

The Crusaders in the Holy Land were in big trouble. They called on the Byzantine Empire and Europe for aid. However, the Muslims were rising and the famous warrior, Saladin, took Jerusalem in 1187 and thus Jerusalem was then under Muslim control.


There was a call for a new Crusade. King Richard I of England was one of the leaders. The loss of the Holy Sepulcher was a critical situation for Christians. The Christian powers in Europe weren’t exactly “united” and even the crosses on their uniform dress suggested this:

The English wore white crosses
The French wore red crosses
The Flemish wore green crosses.

While Richard was the new King of England, he was not English, but French and had no interest in England except for:

Richard went to England not to rule but to look for Crusaders. He is reputed to have said: “I would sell England if I could.”

He spent only 4 months in England and raised money for 250 ships and 1,000 horses, all sent to Marseilles.

While he isn’t a very admirable king, nonetheless he was:

Richard and King Philip of France were not at all friends but allowed themselves to seem to be while on the Crusade.

The Crusade was from 1189-1192. However, the English and French didn’t set out until July 1190, and arrived much later, after winter. They started out with 100,000 men.

Richard took his time getting to the Holy Land! However, while he was only in the Holy Land for 16 months he “accomplished miracles.” Among other things he revitalized Christians.

“. . . he provided a new vigor, a new way of looking at life, one that was violent, self-assured, flamboyant, and sometimes chivalrous.”

This was a return to the spirit of the early Crusaders.

Richard and Philip didn’t get along in the slightest. However, the Crusaders took back Acre. On July 12th Acre surrendered and on the 31st Philip departed for France, and so did Leopold of Austria.

Saladin, one of the finest Muslim generals, possessed the true cross and Richard wanted to recover it. Saladin wouldn’t deal so Richard put to death his prisoners, 3,000 + men, women and children. Richard had no mercy.

Richard then move on to the port of Jaffa, the closest port to Jerusalem. He had about 85,000 men in his army.

On Aug. 31, 1191 during the march to Jaffa even Saladin’s chronicler praised Richard’s organization of the march and the Crusader’s discipline. It took 19 days to cover the 80 miles from Acre to Jaffa. The major battle was on September 7, 1191 about ½ ways between Acra and Jaffa. There were wooded areas close to the sea, so Saladin’s troops could get closer without being observed.

“The Saracens came out of the woods with a noise like Doomsday; clarions, horns, trumpets, gongs, cymbals, high-pitched yells, all intended to exalt their own spirits and terrify the enemy.”

Saladin’s army attacked but was beaten back. He lost about 7,000 men to Richard’s 1,000. But, author Robert Payne cautions:

“Never again would Richard score such a resounding victory over Saladin.”

In a letter which Richard wrote to England on Oct. 1, 1191 detailing his victories and actions, Payne notes:

“Among the Crusading kings, Richard alone followed heroic words with heroic acts.”

In the end Richard and Saladin signed a treat. The Christians didn’t get Jerusalem, but they had the right “. . . to make pilgrimages to Jerusalem as they pleased.”

However, Richard had troubles at home since both his brother, John, and King Philip of France, were a threat to his kingship in England. He left from Haifa on Oct. 9, 1192. He lived another 7 years and died at age 42.

Saladin died in March 1193, just months after Richard left. He was 54. With his death Islam “. . . fell once more into separate parts.”


The 4th Crusade shouldn’t really be called a “crusade” since it never got to the Holy Land, was taken over and corrupted by the doge of Venice and ended after the sack and burning of Constantinople. It was, from beginning to end, a farce, a use of a noble sounding ideal to justify a power and wealth grab by various leaders and those they made alliance with!

It began in 1199 when Thibault, count of Champagne called for a Crusade. It was 100 years after the Christians had taken Jerusalem, and yet Jerusalem was in ruins.

The Doge of Venice was to transport and outfit them, for a sizeable price. It was a major funding deal:

“its leader was ignorant and almost insanely proud, without faith, without scruples, without remorse. He would lead the Crusaders where he wanted to lead them.”

Troubles began almost immediately. The Crusaders were short of money promised to Venice for transporting them to the Holy Land. The doge made a deal: if the Crusaders would take back Zara for Venice then he would provide the transport to the Holy Land. It was a ruse from beginning to end.

Zara was a Christian town. The pope vehemently denounced this act of Crusaders attacking a Christian city.

The Doge effectively took over the Crusade to actually extend Venice’s reach and power.

“The Crusade, which had begun with the young and idealistic count of Champagne, was now falling into the hands of the doge, a man of extraordinary willpower and immense ability, who surpassed the marquis of Montferrat in the arts of war and conspiracy. He was the leader, but he had not the least intention of attacking Cairo or of aiding the shattered Kingdom of Jerusalem or of rescuing the Holy Sepulcher. His single aim was to establish an empire under the Republic of Venice, which would permit the Venetians to become ‘Lords and Masters of a Quarter and Half-quarter of the Roman Empire.’ In all this he succeeded brilliantly, and in doing it, he destroyed the Crusade.”

Soon it was even more complicated with dissident factions in the Byzantine Empire wanting the Crusaders to help them take Constantinople. The pope was very displeased with the Crusaders.

Boniface wanted to retake the power over the Crusade from Venice and to himself. By lying to Crusaders he won their support. He promised them if they supported and carried out a sacking of Constantinople they would then go immediately to the Holy Land. He had no plan at all to do so.

In 1203 Alexius was crowned emperor of Constantinople. He was being played by the doge of Venice who was the real power. Muzuphlus murdered the emperor, took over and announced his intention to take Constantinople back from the Crusaders. The Crusaders ended up completely destroying and burning Constantinople, but with that act the Crusade simply ENDED! It never got beyond Constantinople.


The Children’s Crusade doesn’t actually count as one of the Crusades. It occurred in 1212 and simply everything went wrong and it didn’t even leave Europe!

It had non-violent intent. The leader was a 15 year old shepherd boy who claimed to have been visited by Christ and that he was to lead a totally non-violent crusade. At first some of the adult powers were attracted to this lad and the plans, but they soon backed away. However, quite a number of youth followed him. They ended up in Brindisi and there it collapsed since no ship owners would transport them. At that point it all fell apart and the boys just dispersed.


The fifth Crusade was people by 15,000 knights and some 40,000 or more foot soldiers. This Crusade was very poorly organized and while it got to the Middle East it quickly collapsed and ended in 1221. They made no gains for Christians, never got to Jerusalem and never even tried to.


The sixth Crusade was a bit different. Frederick II was the leader. He was called “stupor mundi” since he was “. . . the man who stupefied the world by his conquests and by his far-reaching intelligence and imagination.” If so, it would be because of his ability to bluff and stall! Yet, in a sense he conquered Jerusalem with the use of military force, though it actually became a semi-Muslim land at the same time.

Frederick was learned. He knew Arabic, studied science, philosophy, astronomy, astrology and the physical sciences. He had great respect for the learning of the Muslims.

Before the pope and Frederick had a great falling out, the pope recommended that he marry Isabelle, who was the daughter of John of Brienne and the King of Jerusalem. Frederick liked the idea since he would inherit the title King of Jerusalem. She was 14 and he 30 at the time of marriage. It wasn’t much of a marriage, but she did produce a son, Conrad, and then died in 1228. This meant that Frederick was then the next in line to INHERIT the Kingship of Jerusalem.

While Frederick was Christian by baptism and reputation, he was much more Islamic in most other ways. When he arrived in the Arab lands his considerable diplomacy, rather than any military might, brought about an agreement with Al-Kamil, the dominant Muslim authority in the region. Frederick would be given Jerusalem, but certain sections would be open and controlled by Muslims.

Thus, without any fighting, for the first time in 42 years Christians were free to pilgrimage to the Holy Sepulcher. The pope was simply furious with Frederick’s success. Frederick actually only stayed in Jerusalem for one day!

The pope denounced Frederick and forbade Christians to visit Jerusalem which Frederick ruled. He even named Frederick “the Whore of Babylon!”

“Such was the Crusade of Frederick, Emperor of the Romans, ever glorious, the excommunicated King of Sicily, Apulia and Jerusalem, who alone among Western monarchs acquired Jerusalem for the Christians.”

However, that “acquisition” was in name only.


Much different would be the last two Crusades, both led by St. Louis IX of France, of course, the name sake of my own city, St. Louis, Missouri!

He was a very holy man. He left Paris on June 12, 1248 for the Holy Land. His intent was “. . . recovering the Holy Sepulcher for the Christians.” He had with him a relatively small number of Crusaders, some 20,000 men, perhaps 4,000 of them knights.

A great deal is known of his Crusade because of the writing of John of Joinville, the king’s chronicler. He wrote “Chronicle of the Crusade of St. Louis.”

At first there seemed to be some hope. The Christian Mongol leader of Persia was in an alliance with France against the Saracens. The union suggests a possible victory over the Saracens which might well have led to control of the Holy Land itself. But this union fell apart when the relevant Mongol leader died and the new leader wanted nothing to do with this “union.”

Nonetheless, Louis continued on his plan. He had it in his mind that he could easily begin his attack at Damietta, on the Nile about 100 miles north of Cairo. However, he lost thousands of men. Louis was a very holy fellow and didn’t regard this as such a horrible thing since these me were on a holy pilgrimage and thus they were safe in heaven!

In 1270 he set off on another Crusade. His younger brother, Charles of Anjou ingratiated himself with Pope Urban IV and his successor, Clement IV and convinced his brother that another Crusade should be undertaken.

However, The Crusaders were not even going to The Holy Land, but to Tunis! They landed near Carthage and set up camp, but were in a terrible position. Louis insisted on waiting things out, however he died in the waiting. The last Crusade never really got underway.

By about 1266 Baibar, a radical fundamentalist Muslim emerged into power. He wanted all Christians murdered and saw himself “. . . as the man destined to sweep the Christians out of the Holy Land.”

After the collapse of Louis IX’s second Crusade the Muslim power began to grow strong and within a quarter century most vestiges of a Crusader Control had vanished. An era had ended. Jerusalem was in Muslim hands for the coming future.

Bob Corbett


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Bob Corbett