Europe: The First Crusade – A Good Crusade? – Extra History – #3


Last we left off, the disastrous People’s Crusade had met its end at the hand of the Seljuk Turks. And Peter, along with the few thousand remaining of those who joined him were hiding out in Constantinople awaiting the arrival of the real Crusaders. Today, finally, that real Crusade will begin. But before the first Crusade can begin in earnest, the Crusaders have to get to the Holy Land. And, to do that, we have to recognize one very important point about the First Crusade that’s often overlooked. The army of the First Crusade isn’t actually one army at all. Rather, it’s at least five separate armies lead by five different men from five different parts of Europe. Each of them set out from five different starting points with the idea that they’d all meet up in Constantinople and move on to the Holy Land from there. The first army is that of Hugh of Vermandois. This was the smallest army, although arguably the noblest of the noble armies, as Hugh was the brother of the King of France. Which was a bit awkward as the Pope had recently excommunicated King Philip I of France for adultery, but hey, why let fraternal excommunication get in the way of a good Crusade? Now, from western Europe there are basically two ways to get to Constantinople: travel over land through Hungary, or head to Italy and travel by sea. Hugh chose the latter of these two options. Unfortunately, his tiny fleet was hit by a storm and he lost a good number of his ships. But eventually, the Byzantines fished the remaining Crusaders out of the Adriatic and escorted them to Constantinople, where Hugh promptly sent a message to the Emperor that read: “Know, O King, that I am King of Kings and superior to all who are under the sky. You are now permitted to greet me on my arrival, and to receive me with magnificence, as befits my nobility.” Needless to say, the Emperor was not impressed. The second army on our list was that of Godfrey de Bouillon. He represented the German contingent of the Crusades and brought a sizeable force from the Holy Roman Empire. Which is only a little bit awkward as he had actually fought against the Pope when the Pope and the Holy Roman Emperor were duking it out and, in fact, he directly helped kick the Pope out of Rome, but hey, why let a few armed legions supporting the antipope to kick the legitimate Pope out of Rome get in the way of a good Crusade? He and his brother, Baldwin, leaving from only about 200 miles south of where Peter’s Crusade set out, decided to take the same route that Peter did. But this time, when the King of Hungary saw a group of Crusaders pulling up on his doorstep, he was like: “No! No, no, no no no, no! NO!” But, after a lot of talking, the King of Hungary finally allowed Godfrey to pass through on the condition that Godfrey’s brother Baldwin and his entire family stay as hostages. After making it through Hungary without a single looting, Godfrey planned to resupply at Belgrade, but- wait… no, Peter had burnt that to the ground… oops… Now, our poor beleaguered Byzantine governor must have been preparing himself for yet another round of terrible conflict with the Crusaders, but Godfrey’s army, like a champ, managed to make it through to Constantinople with only a tiny, itty bitty bit of pillaging. Next, we have the army of Bohemond, Prince of Taranto. The force he brought was smaller than most of the others, but it was, by far, the best armed and the most experienced. Which is a little bit awkward because most of these troops got their experience trying to conquer the Byzantine Empire 12 years before. But, why let unprovoked acts of naked aggression and the near unseating of the very ruler you’re now supposed to go help get in the way of a good Crusade? So, after sailing across the Adriatic and a ponderously slow march across the Balkans, where their men occasionally wholesale-looted the very same people they looted a decade and a half ago in the war, Bohemond and his nephew, Tancred, finally made it to Constantinople. After Bohemond, we have the army of Raymond, the Count of Toulouse. Raymond led the largest army and what can be considered the principal Crusading force. As such, Raymond considered himself to be leader of the Crusade. Which is only a little awkward as he traveled alongside Bishop Adhemar, the papal legate assigned by the Pope as the Leader of the Crusade. But, Raymond was also old, missing one eye and stated that he hoped to die in the Holy Land, so why let a little leadership dispute get in the way of a good Crusade? Raymond and his forces chose to follow the overland route to Constantinople. Unfortunately, when they got to the Balkans, they ended up passing through a lot of the same territory that Bohemond did. Which meant that the people there were hostile and the land was already stripped bare. This left Raymond’s gigantic force hungry and grumpy and by this point we all know what hungry, grumpy Crusaders do. During the pillaging, Bishop Adhemar was wounded and had to stay behind for a bit to recover. What’s more, Raymond was called off to Constantinople to meet with the Emperor personally, leaving no one really in charge of the largest Crusading army. This huge unsupervised army then managed to get itself in a tousle with Byzantine forces and, as is the pattern, got itself routed. But, eventually, Raymond’s remaining men limped their way to Constantinople. Lastly, we have the army of Robert of Flanders who, surprisingly, had nothing awkward going on at all, as his father had gone on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem a few years back and had fought for Alexius Comnenus along the way, leaving the family on good terms with the Byzantines. Like Bohemond and Hugh, Robert also decided to try his hand at the sea route and, surprisingly, he managed to make the crossing to Byzantine territory without losses. Even more surprisingly he managed to make it all the way to Constantinople without any major reports of pillaging or looting. But there were two other fellows leading this Crusading army along with Robert: One Robert of Normandy (just to make things confusing) and a Steven of Blois. Both of whom were relations of William the Conqueror. They decided that the crossing was too risky, and that they were going to wait until Spring to cross. That would generally be a wise decision though, in this case, they would end up losing one of their ships where Robert had lost none. And, while they waited in Italy, a fair number of Crusaders decided that a Winter in Italy isn’t what they signed up for and deserted. All right, I think that’s everybody. Now that all the Crusaders are in Constantinople, the real party starts. At least, for the leaders of the Crusade it does. You see, Alexius Comnenus, being a savvy guy, basically trusted none of these people. So he decided that before he’d ferry them across the Bosphorus, he’d get all the leaders to swear that as they Crusaded, they would return any previously Byzantine territory they conquered to the Byzantine Empire. That’s the entire reason Alexius got this ball rolling in the first place, after all. As you can imagine, this didn’t sit well with some of the Crusading leaders. So, Alexius decided to talk to them privately; one by one. It turned out that Hugh, in this as in most things, was a bit of a pushover. Godfrey, on the other hand, turned out to be absolutely bonkers. He just straight-up refused to go to the Imperial Palace to meet with Alexius at all. So far as I can tell, he didn’t really give any reason for this, either. He had come all the way to Constantinople and now he just sat outside doing nothing. Emperor Alexius finally decided “Okay, I’ll send Hugh to talk to him, I guess.” But when Hugh showed up, Godfrey called him a ‘lackey’ and refused to deal with anyone less than the Emperor. Umm… okay… This weird standoff continued until, finally, after Alexius cut off the supplies he’d been sending him, Godfrey’s troops attacked Imperial troops. There was a minor skirmish, Godfrey’s troops lost, and so far as I can discern, Godfrey just instantly caved. The Emperor gave Godfrey a small mound of treasure and basically just said: “Get out of here!”, and booted his forces over the Bosphorus. Okay, that’s two down… Now it was Bohemond’s turn, and he was a wily one. Now, whatever else you may say about Bohemond, He was charming, intelligent, diplomatic and shrewd. Alexius knew that Bohemond probably wasn’t there just out of Crusading zeal, as this was the same Bohemond who had tried to dethrone him a few years ago. Alexius was bracing himself for an argument to get Bohemond to agree to give back whatever conquests he might gain on the Crusade. But Bohemond was one step ahead. He agreed right away. Of course he would take the oath! But, since he was being so forthcoming, wouldn’t it make sense for the Emperor to name him as the Leader of the Crusade? Ehh… what? Alexius stumbled for a moment here, but he, too, was a savvy and shrewd man, and so, rapidly regained his bearing, said something non-committal like: “Uh, yeah, I- I probably could- hang on”, and then quickly shuffled Bohemond off to a room literally overflowing with gold and jewels and silver, and basically said: “Whaaat? Look at all this annoying treasure just clogging up my otherwise lovely room! Wow, that’s a nuisance. If only I had a buddy here who could cart it all off for me after saying one measly little oath?” And measly little oaths were indeed said. But this whole time, Bohemond’s nephew, Tancred, was outside with the army, miles from the city and so managed to just sort of never take the oath himself. This may end up being relevant to future Extra History episodes. Raymond was next. He met with the Emperor, but flat-out refused to take the oath. He went on a whole spiel saying: “God is my only leader, and that he would not swear to such a thing”. Eventually, Alexius managed to get him to at least swear to an oath of ‘bro-hood’ – a ‘broath’, if you will – proclaiming that Alexius was his bro forever and that he would help him wherever he could – especially against that weasel Bohemond. Alexius eventually said: “…all right, good enough”, and sent him on his way. “No presents for you, though. Presents are for people who swear actual oaths!” Lastly, of course, there was Robert. Their conversation boiled down to: “We cool?” “Yeah, we’re cool.” Then Alexius showered him with gifts and said: “Go get ’em, tiger!” And thus began the First Crusade. Seriously this time, the First Crusade is actually beginning now. Next week, we’ll see them march off into Turkish territory, fight battles against people who aren’t supposed to be their allies, and actually retake land for Christendom. See you then!

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