by Friar Thomas Bacon (David Moreno)
Orignally published in the May 1998, A.S. XXXIII issue of the Dragonflyre, a publication of the Barony of Vatavia.
When people talk about the Crusades, they usually are referring to the military campaigns in the Middle East. While certainly the largest and most prestigious, there were plenty of others during the period. This essay explores these other crusades.
Technically, any endeavor that promises special benefits is a crusade. Legally only those authorized by the Pope could be so called. And while the initial crusades were called because of the situation in the Holy Land, by the end of the period it was but one weapon the Pope employed against his enemies. This is one of the reasons that the Crusades gradually lost their impact.
Of these other Crusades, only three had lasting historical significance. The first was the Spanish Reconquista. While this military action began before the idea of a crusade arose, it was later incorporated into the general movement. The second was the Albigensian Crusade in southern France. While the main objective of this crusade was to crush the heretical Cathars, it also crushed the Provencal culture. The third were the Baltic crusades, which were to create Prussia, which in its turn would have much influence on Germany and Poland.
The Reconquista was a series of military campaigns spread over seven and a half centuries. There was no overarching strategy, though the general pattern was to hang on to land when the Muslims were strong and to seize land when they were weak. In a sense the Reconquista was merely the continuation of the war that started when the Muslims first invaded the Spanish peninsula in 711.
The first crusade of the Reconquista was proclaimed in 1096 by Pope Urban II. Over the next centuries, crusades were regularly proclaimed. The most important were the crusade of 1212 by Innocent III, and the crusade of 1482. The first stopped the last major offensive of the Muslims, and with the collapse of the Almohad Empire a few years later, were never again a serious threat. It was only the internal bickering among the Christian kings that the Muslim held on as long as they did. It was only after Ferdinand and Isabella united Christian Spain, that the last crusade destroyed the remaining Muslim presence.
Like the crusades to the Near East, the Reconquista generated its own set of crusading orders. While the Templers and the Hospitallers had a presence, it was the orders of Calatrava and Santiago had the leading role. However, unlike the Holy Lands, these orders did not form the bulk of the fighting force. The army, for the most part, was your standard feudal force. The crucial part the orders play was manning the outlying outposts guarding critical routes that were otherwise too dangerous to live and work.
On the other side of the continent, a similar effort was being made. The Baltic crusades had more peaceful beginnings. They began as ordinary missionary efforts to the eastern coast of the Baltic Sea. The natives were not at all interested in converting and reacted with hostility. Too support the effort the Popes Celestine III and Innocent III authorized crusades.
Not much was accomplished till the arrival of the Teutonic Knights. This order was founded and originally operated in the Holy Land. Overshadowed by the Templars and Hospitallers, they looked elsewhere for their destiny. Their chance came when they were invited to pacify Prussia, which separated the Christian colonies in what is now Estonia and Latvia from the rest of Christendom.
They took to it with a vengeance, and the natives quickly learned to fear them. To support themselves, they offered generous terms to German settlers. Though the lands they conquered normally became part of the German Empire, they functioned as an independent state. Their end came with the defeat of the last pagans in the area, removing their raison d'ętre. Soon afterwards most of their lands were taken by Poland.
The Albigensian crusade was a different thing. The enemy this time was the heretical group known as the Cathars. They were also known as the Albigensians for their center, the city of Albi. The Cathars were a reaction to what they saw as the corruption of the Church by wealth and power, and attempted to return to the purer days of the early Church. In doing so however, they picked up some doctrines the Church had already drop as so became heretical. The church initially responded with missionary efforts, which failed miserably. With the murder of a papal legate in 1208, Pope Innocent III had the excuse he needed to call a crusade against the Cathars.
To the medieval mind, the heretic who has thereby fallen from grace was worse then the pagan who is merely ignorant. Thus the Albigensian was particularly vicious. Yet strangely enough, the bulk of the opposition was done by those who professed orthodoxy. The reason behind this is that during this time southern France formed a separate culture with a separate language, operating mostly independent of the King of France. Much like Quebec in Canada. They greatly resented the imposition by the King.
The end result was the complete destruction of the political structure of southern France. Much of the land came into the hands of the royal family. It also extinguished the Provincial culture, which had given birth to the troubadours and courtly love. What the crusade did not accomplish was the suppression of the Cathars. That had to be done by the invention of the Inquisition.
Beside these, there were many other crusades called during the Middle Ages. Many were used by the Pope against his secular enemies in Italy. There were also a number of crusades that arose spontaneously among the peasant class that were never sanctioned by the Pope, nor got out of Europe. There was a set of crusades against the Hussites in Bohemia on the model of the Albigensian crusade and were less successful.
It is not possible to point to the last crusade. Towards the end of the sixteenth century, the crusades gradually became indistinguishable with the rather ordinary military campaigns of the emerging nations-states. To a large extent the fact that the enemy was Muslim, or after the Reformation Protestant, was incidental. When the Ottoman Empire quit expanding, the impetus for crusades died. Many of the crusading orders survived, but only as honor or charitable organizations.
Hallam, Elizabeth Ed. Chronicles of the Crusades: Eye-Witness Accounts of the Wars between Christianity and Islam. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1989.
Koch, H.W. Medieval Warfare. New York: Crescent Books, 1983.
Riley-Smith, Jonathan. Atlas of the Crusades. New York: Facts on File 1990.
Strayer, Joseph R. The Albigensian Crusades. Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press, 1992.
Stewart, Desmond. The Monks of War: The Military Religious Orders. New York: Penguin (Non-Classics) Books, 1995.
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