They were a series of military expeditions ranging from the 11th to the 14th centuries, meant to secure Christian rule over the holy places of Palestine controlled by the Muslims. It would not be too much to say that Islam has never forgiven the European Christian kings for what is still seen as presumption. In modern times, the term is extensively used to describe any war encouraged by a moral, religious or political movement. There was a ‘crusade’ recently when the West decided to assist Iraquis in their successful move to dislodge Saddam Hussein. George Bush Senior thought his defence of Kuwait against the same man and country was a ‘crusade’. It seems likely that the woman C. Kirchner, installed as President of Argentina, will shortly embark on a ‘crusade’ firmly to replace the term ‘Falkland Islands’ with ‘Las Malvinas’. Equally, Mr David Cameron will resist this, and employ the word ‘crusade’ as he launches what is left of the British Army and Fleet towards the South Atlantic.
The Crusades produced two extremely rich and powerful orders of knights called the Knights Hospitallers and the Knights Templar (the latter would come to a morbid end). The First Crusade (there were a number of them) was summoned by a Pope – Urban II, who explained he was perturbed by the rise to power of the Turks, interfering with the traditional pilgrimages made to Palestine. The Pope promised financial reward and spiritual benefits to warriors from any country ready to fight under a Christian banner. Off went the crusaders, who captured Jerusalem and put its inhabitants to the sword (1099). Godfrey de Bouillon was established there as a kind of king.
The Second Crusade (1147-49) did not achieve much more than internecine quarrels between the Crusader Kingdoms (France, Austria, England etc.), the Byzantine Empire, and originally friendly Muslim rulers, who professed themselves astonished. The Third Crusade (1189-92) was prompted by Saladin’s capture of Jerusalem. The Crusaders took Acre and put the inhabitants to the sword but not much more was achieved.
The Fourth Crusade (1202-04) set out to the Holy Land but got diverted (business interests) to Constantinople, where the inhabitants were put to the sword again, making unbridgeable the enormous gulf between Eastern and Western Churches.
There were two more Crusades to go, but by now the world knew that all of them were stained by ambition, greed and brutality. King Richard I’s performance after Acre, in which his knights executed more than 10,000 men, women and children with swords that went blunt after so many necks – is a scaring example.
It is also a fact that both Jews and Christians were attacked and killed on the way to the Crusades. The Popes were quite unable to organise or control the massive forces they rallied.
Probably the best known crusaders were the above-mentioned Richard (known as The Lionheart, a son of Henry II), Frederick II, Jaime I de Aragon and Louis IX of France; Henry VI of Austria imprisoned his colleague Richard for ransom in one of his castles. Richard’s mother the redoubtable Eleanor of Acquitane raised the monstrous sum, and the crusader was released. Stories about the Crusades became legion, and affected European literature for centuries, right up to the present day. They also deepened the gap between Christianity and Islam, causing profound mutual hatred. If there is to be a Third World War, it will partially or wholly be caused by this rift between humans on account of their religion, and the Crusades were a spark that has never been extinguished.