(EUROPE: 1001 to 1212 – continued)

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EUROPE: 1001 to 1212 (7 of 7)

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More Crusades and Heretics, 1144 to 1212

In 1144, Muslims captured the city of Edessa in northern Mesopotamia (now southern Turkey), and a crusade from 1147 to 1149, led by the German emperor, Conrad III, and the French monarch, Louis VII, failed to retake the city for Christendom. In 1187 the Muslims, led by the great Saladin, reconquered Jerusalem. And from 1189 to 1191 a third crusade, led by Richard the Lionhearted of England along with the French and German monarchs, failed to retake the city. Then in 1193 the death of Saladin inspired hope among the Christians, and Pope Innocent III decided on a new crusade, the Fourth, to retake Jerusalem.

Venetian merchants, in competition with Constantinople for trade with the Muslims, offered transportation for the Crusaders in exchange for the Crusaders capturing the port town of Zara (Zadar) on the Adriatic coast in what today is Croatia. The city, in 1202, was besieged, ransacked, demolished and robbed, and its population escaped into the surrounding countryside. Pope Innocent III responded by excommunicating the Venetians and the crusaders involved.

From Zara, a fleet with Crusaders arrived at Constantinople in the spring of 1203. The people of Constantinople revolted against the presence of the Crusaders, and the Crusaders retaliated, seizing the city for themselves in a three-day orgy of rape and the plundering of palaces and Eastern Orthodox convents and churches. Fire destroyed much of the city, and the Crusaders set up their own king in the city, after executing Emperor Alexius V by throwing him from the Column of Theodosius. In accordance with an agreement made before the sacking of Constantinople, half the booty taken there went to the Venetians.

Pope Innocent III was delighted by the news of the fall of Constantinople to Roman Christianity. When he heard of the atrocities that had attended the victory he was shocked, but he continued to approve of the conquest. And soon in Constantinople, Latin (Roman) prelates would replace Greek (Eastern Orthodox) prelates.

Eastern Orthodox Christians clung to their ideological brand of Christianity despite rule by Latin Christians. The dream in Rome of uniting Christendom would remain just a dream. Roman Catholic rule in Constantinople, called the Latin Empire, would last only to 1261. The Latin Empire included some of Thrace and Greece and weakened itself with constant wars against the Bulgars. It was defeated by Michael VIII, a co-emperor of a neighboring fragment of Byzantium's empire to its east called the Empire of Nicaea.

A Crusade Against the Cathars

Philip Augustus of France

Philip Augustus at Acre.
Click to enlarge and for details. Philip Augustus of France, enlarged

Innocent III had become pope when a number of dissident movements were spreading among the Christians. This was mainly in economically advanced areas, where people were more inclined to question and to exercise independent thinking – areas such as the Rhineland, Italy and southern France. These movements came with many names, among them were the Waldenses, Beguines, the Humiliati and the Albigenses (Albigensia) or Cathars. All of them were concerned with what they saw as the growing greed and corruption of public life, and they tended to be interested in a literal interpretation of scripture and a return to "true" Christianity.

In 1207, Pope Innocent III launched a crusade against the Cathars, believing they were in error concerning the nature of Jesus Christ. He associated heretics with treason, disease and filth. He rallied to his cause the French monarch, Philip Augustus. France was still under a variety of local rulers, and Philip Augustus was eager to extend his authority into southern France against nobles who had adopted the Cathar heresy.

People devoted to the Church joined the crusade – to be known as the Cathar Crusade. Innocent III had already declared heresy as a capital offense, and some of the Crusaders took it upon themselves to be executioners. The leader of the crusade at Beziers is said to have responded to the question of how they should know who was a heretic and who was not with the call of "Kill them all, God will know His own." But a Catholic encyclopedia denies that such words were uttered.

According to reports, 20,000 men, women and children were massacred at Beziers. At Minerve, hundreds received more lenient treatment: they had their ears and noses cut off. After all the killing and looting the Cathars remained, clinging to their beliefs as had other persecuted believers. It would take persistent effort by the Church to wipe them out as a recognizable group – which would not be accomplished until the late 1300s.

The Children's Crusade

children's Crusade

Children's Crusade.
Click to enlarge and for details. children's Crusade, enlarged

During the crusade against heretics in southern France and northern Italy, children whose emotions were fired by the cause of Christianity and the preaching against heretics decided to be Christian heroes by trying to retake the Holy Land. In 1212, thousands of children, with a sprinkling of adults and a few clerics, started for Jerusalem. They were deficient in money and organization but they believed that as children they were favored by God and could work miracles that adults could not.

The Children's Crusade did not have the blessing of the Church and technically was not a Church crusade. But neither ecclesiastical nor secular authorities bothered to disperse the children, except for the king of France, Philip Augustus, who persuaded a large group of them to return home.

The children left the Rhineland in early July 1212, and crossed the Alps. About 7,000 of them arrived at the port city of Genoa in late August – thousands having died along the way. And at Genoa the miracle they expected failed to happen: God did not part the sea for them or allow them to walk on water as they had expected. In November, exhausted and disappointed, many went back home. Two merchants from Marseilles provided seven ships for the remaining children. Two of these ships were wrecked off the coast of Sardinia, and the children aboard the other five ships were sold on slave markets in North Africa and Egypt.

In the wake of the failures of the Children's Crusade, people came to decide that the whole enterprise was the work of the devil. Success was still the work of God and the devil was still responsible for failures.

But Pope Innocent III would summon Europe to another crusade, saying of the children, "They put us to shame. While they rush to recover the Holy Land, we sleep." note28


The World of the Crusaders, by Joshua Prawer, 1972

The Good Men, by Charmaine Craig, a novel about Cathars and the Church's campaign against heretics, 2003

Chapters is Social History, by Henry S Spaulding, 1925

A History of Western Society, Volume One, Chapter Nine, "Revival, Recovery and Reform," by John P. McKay, Bennet D. Hill and John Buckler, 1995

Warriors of God: Richard the Lionhearted and Saladin in the Third Crusade, by James Reston Jr, Doubleday, 2001

Empires: Holy Warriors (Saladin and Richard the Lionhearted) by Public Broadcasting (PBS), 2012

The murder of Thomas Becket,

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