The Holy Crusades or the holy wars as they were called were fought during the years from 1050 to 1150 AD in the name of the Lord as western Knights and soldiers ventured deep into the middle Asia to free Jerusalem from the clutches of the Muslims. There have been many accounts and reasons as to why the holy wars were fought and while liberating the holy lands was cited as the main reason, trade expansion, conquering of new territories was cited as another hidden reason. Among the many books that were written during those times, the work of Fulcher of Chartres called ‘A History of the Expedition to Jerusalem 1095-1127 AD’ is regarded as an authentic narration of the events. Fulcher of Chasrtres was present during the crusades and also when Jerusalem was conquered or liberated by the crusaders/ He worked as a scribe and it was his work to note down all the activities and narrate the events. This paper examines the work of Fulcher of Chasrtres and provides an understanding of the motivation and intent with which the work was written and if any bias can be noticed in the works. The paper also discusses the Crusades in general and the politics that was behind the crusades.
1. About Fulcher of Chasrtres
According to Holt (2005), Fulcher was a member of the troops raised by Count Stephen of Blois and toured wih them through France, Italy and entered through the city of Bari into the Byzantine empire. The troops finally arrived in Constantine in 1097 where they joined the large armies that had grouped to form the soldiers of the first crusade. Fulcher went through Asia Minor, Marash and to the city of Antioch where he was made the Chaplain to the Lord Baldwin of Boulogne.. Fulcher was in the city of Jerusalem when the city was conquered in 1099 and went into the city to complete the vows they had taken while commencing on the Crusades. After the Crusade was over, he served as the Chaplain of Jerusalem and King Baldwin who had become the king. He remained there till he died around 1127.
Holt has mentioned that Fulcher started writing his chronicles in late 1100, long after the city of Jerusalem has been conquered. The original work has not survived to this day but numerous authors have made enough references and a version of the work that was completed in 1106 has been extensively used by other historians. Fulcher had access to an ancient Library of Jerusalem that had numerous official order, records and letters and he managed to use them as a source to begin his writing. These sources may have served as the references to narrate events that he himself had not witnessed. Fulcher wrote a total of three books and the books record the events chronologically. The first Book narrates the preparations that were undertaken when the first crusade began in Clermont in the year 1095. Events are narrated up till the time when the City of Jerusalem was conquered and Godfrey of Bouillon established the Kingdom of Jerusalem. Book II narrates the deeds and works of King Baldwin I who become the next King after Godfrey, from 1100 to 1118. N=Book III narrates the life of the new King Baldwin II. The book was written up to the year 1127. In this year, Jerusalem was overcome by Plague and Fulcher died of the disease.
2. Politics Behind the Crusades
The word crusade comes from the French word ‘croisié’ which in French means a person who has put the mark of the cross on their clothes. The Cross-is regarded as a Christian symbol and Crusaders usually had a prominent red cross emblazoned on their clothes to identify them as Crusaders. Fulcher (1969), in the translated version of the original Latin work, provides an interesting prelude to the massive army build up. According to the author, the Byzantine Emperor Alexios I Komnenos requested for western mercenaries and soldiers to put down the ravaging the Turks in the area of Anatolia. Medieval Europe was at that time bursting with impatience and looking for new lands to expand and new areas to conquer so that people could settle there. The appeal for help acted as a trigger for mass mobilization of mercenaries, out of work soldiers, peasants, the landless, vagabonds and all sorts of people. The people were ready to fight for a holy cause and get rich in the bargain. The ostensible reason for the conquest was to liberate the holy lands from the Muslim rulers, to reclaim the holy city of Jerusalem and to save the Christian population from the alleged tortures that the Muslim rulers inflicted on them.
Fulcher (1969) however argues that the real reason was to expand into the regions of western Asia and open the trade routes so that the western countries could again start trading. Fulcher has mentioned the name of Pope Urban II who played a leading role in inciting the crowds to join the crusades. The Vatican Church also stood to gain from these conquests, as it would mean more tributary, funds and more areas over which the Church could rule. The author has mentioned that not since the ancient Roman times had such a massive conquest been organized. Fulcher writes about the Great Schism that had split apart the Christian religion and there were many sects and subjects, each of which denied the Papal his tribute and preferred to be on their own. It was the hope of Pope Urban II that the expansion and conquest of the holy lands would help to unify all the Christians under one banner of the Holy Church with himself at the head of a vast number of the faithful. The movement of the Crusades was largely under the influence of the Vatican.
Fulcher (1969) also suggests that since the since the Middle Ages, Europe had become relatively stable and even the Vikings had embraced Christianity and so there was a large pool of warriors who were spoiling for a good war. The kingdoms to which these warriors were tired of the incessant quarrels and fights that these warriors fought among themselves and the Crusades gave the Kings an excellent opportunity to send these warriors away. In the beginning of the 9th Century, the lands that were occupied by the Muslims such as Spanish moors had been forcibly liberated and there was in fact nothing much for the soldiers to do.
3. Important Events from the work by Fulcher of Chasrtres – Speech of Pope Urban II
Among the important events that Fulcher (1969) has narrated in the work, the most important is the speech that Pope Urban II made in order to encourage and incite the masses into taking up arms and fighting for the Lord. The author has suggested that the rhetoric used by the Pope in his speech was excessive and many events and facts that were mentioned were blown up beyond reality. The Muslim rulers and soldiers were no doubt cruel but those were cruel and harsh times and beheadings, torture, dismembering and other acts were practised by the Christian soldiers also. But the Pope was in a hurry to drive support for the crusade and his speech was designed to make the people burn with anger. A sample passage is given as below:
“They destroy the altars, after having defiled them with their uncleanness. They circumcise the Christians, and the blood of the circumcision they either spread upon the altars or pour into the vases of the baptismal font. When they wish to torture people by a base death, they perforate their navels, and dragging forth the extremity of the intestines, bind it to a stake; then with flogging they lead the victim around until the viscera having gushed forth the victim falls prostrate upon the ground. Others they bind to a post and pierce with arrows. Others they compel to extend their necks and then, attacking them with naked swords, attempt to cut through the neck with a single blow. What shall I say of the abominable rape of the women? To speak of it is worse than to be silent.” (Fulcher, 1969, Urban II’s Speech at Clermont).
Fulcher (1969) suggests that the practices of the Christian conquerors on their victims were no better and he speaks of acts such as impalement on an upright spear as one of the main acts of torture. The author has also spoken about the speech of Pope Urban II , which he exhorts the large crowd to join the crusades. To gain credibility, the pope has used the Lord’s name rather very vigorously. The Pope called the Crusaders as the Shepherds of God and asks them not to act as hirelings but work as true shepherds and look after the herd and not go to sleep. Speaking as an ambassador of the Lord, the pope called the people to take up arms and join the army to rescue God from the hands of the unclean savages who had pillaged the holy lands. Fulcher has narrated the speech very well and it is to be commended as to how he could remember the speech, 20 years after it was spoken.
4. The Fall of the City of Jerusalem
Fulcher (1969, Chapter 27: The Siege of the City of Jerusalem) has given a detailed narration of the siege and fall of the City of Jerusalem. According to the author, the city was very heavily guarded by the Muslim soldiers and there were also many Jews in the city. The walls of the city were very thick and withstood the battering ram that the crusaders used to smash a hole in the wall. Moreover, slings with fireball, stones and spears were hurled in great number from the ramparts of the fort and the crusaders were not making much headway. Finally a hole was smashed open and the crusaders rushed in and then there was mass slaughter of the residents. Almost all the residents and this included the Muslims, Jews and even the eastern Christians were cut down mercilessly. The Crusaders were bent on killing each and every person in the city and neither man, women or children were spared.
“A great fight took place in the court and porch of the temples, where they were unable to escape from our gladiators. Many fled to the roof of the temple of Solomon, and were shot with arrows, so that they fell to the ground dead. In this temple almost ten thousand were killed. Indeed, if you had been there you would have seen our feet colored to our ankles with the blood of the slain. But what more shall I relate? None of them were left alive; neither women nor children were spared.” Fulcher (1969, Chapter 27: The Siege of the City of Jerusalem)
Fulcher (1969) has been quick to point out that the city was conquered by the Franks and he speaks of the manner in which the houses were systematically looted and the whole city pillaged. The author has claimed that many a poor man became rich from the spoils that were theirs.
5. Settling down of the Crusaders
Fulcher (1969, Chapter 36: The Settlement of the Crusaders) has stated that after the city fell and their main goal had been reached, many of the crusaders decided to settle down in te new lands they had conquered. Many of them had no homes so to speak as many of them were bandits, peasants and the new land afforded them a means to settle down and it gave them a new beginning. Fulcher makes this statement to depict how the crusaders settled down.
“We who have been occidentals, have become Orientals; a man once Italian of French has here become Galilean or Palestinian: and the man who once lived in Reims or Chartres now finds he is a citizen of Tyre or Acre. We have already forgotten the places of our birth…Some have married women who are Syrian or Armenian perhaps, or even Saracens who have received the grace of baptism. He who was once a stranger here is now a native” (Fulcher, 1969, Chapter 36: The Settlement of the Crusaders).
The paper has discussed the works of Fulcher of Chartres, A History of the Expedition to Jerusalem and given an understanding of the real political reason why the Crusade was fought. The paper has also discussed some important events of the Crusades such as the speech of Pope Urban II, the fall of Jerusalem and how the Crusaders settled down later in the new lands they had conquered.
Fulcher of Chartres,1969, A History of the Expedition to Jerusalem, 1095-1127, trans. Francis Rita Ryan, ed. Harold S. Fink.
Holt Andrew. June 2005. Fulcher of Chartres: Crusades-Encyclopedia. Retrieved 6 October 2007 from http://www.crusades-encyclopedia.com/fulcherofchartres.html