October 10, 732 The Hammer

For seven days, the two armies faced one another with little but skirmishes between them. Finally, the Emir could wait no longer. It was late in the year and his men were not equipped for a northern European winter. On the seventh day, estimated to be the 10th of October in the year 732, al Ghafiqi ordered his cavalry to charge.

In 688, Pepin of Herstal was Mayor of the Palace of Austrasia; the Frankish Kingdom occupying what is now northern France, Belgium and parts of Germany. Pepin was the power behind the throne, King in all but name, controlling the royal treasury, dispensing patronage, and granting land and privileges in the name of a figurehead King.

Pepin kept a mistress, the noblewoman Alpaida, with whom he had two sons, Childebrand and Charles. The former went on to become a minor Duke. The latter, the founding father of the European Middle Ages.

The Hammer in Full Armor
Charles Martel, in full armor

Pepin’s only legitimate male heir predeceased him in 714, touching off a succession crisis with the naming of his 8-year-old grandson Theudoald his True Successor. The child’s grandmother, Pepin’s wife Plectrude, threw Charles in prison, but he escaped and rose to power in the Civil War which followed.

Charles showed himself to be a brilliant Military tactician, crushing a far superior army at the Battle of Ambleve.  Returning victorious in 718, he did something unusual for the time. He showed kindness to the boy Theudoald and his grandmother.

Charles consolidated his power in a series of wars between 718 and 732, subjugating Bavarians, Allemanii, and pagan Saxons, and combining the formerly separate Kingdoms of Nuestria in the northwest of modern-day France with that of Austrasia in the east.

At this time a storm was building to the west, in the form of the Umayyad conquest of Hispania. The Caliphate gained control of most of the Iberian peninsula beginning in 711, before invading eastward into Gaul.

The Umayyad conquest suffered a setback in 721, when forces under Odo the Great, Duke of Acquitaine, broke the siege of Toulouse.  The Emir then built a strong force out of Yemen, Syria and Morocco and, in 732, invaded again. This time Odo was destroyed in a crushing defeat at the Battle of the River Garonne. So great was the slaughter of Christians that the Mozarabic Chronicle of 754, a contemporary Latin source, said “God alone knows the number of the slain”.

Carolingian Empire Map

Odo fled to Charles asking for help, and the scene was set for one of the most decisive battles in world history.

The Umayyad Caliphate had recently defeated two of the most powerful militaries of its time. The Sassanid empire in modern day Iran had been destroyed altogether, as had the greater part of the Byzantine Empire, including Armenia, North Africa and Syria.

Other than the Frankish Kingdom, there was no force sufficient to stop the advance of the Umayyad Caliphate. Many historians believe that, if not for the Battle of Tours, the Islamic Conquest would have overrun Gaul and the rest of Western Europe, resulting in a single Caliphate stretching from the Sea of Japan to the English Channel.

Abd_ar-Rahman_I
Abd al-Rahman I of Damascus landed at Almuñécar, 23 years after the battle of Tours, to found the Emirate of Cordoba.

Estimates vary regarding the size of the two armies. The forces of Abd Ar-Rahman al Ghafiqi are estimated to have been 80,000 horse and foot soldiers on the day of battle. There were about 30,000 on the Frankish side.

Outnumbered more than two to one and having no cavalry of his own, Charles took his advantages where he could find them.  Charles’ tough, battle hardened infantry had been with him for years, and he was able to choose the ground on which to give battle.  Each man in the Frankish army wore up to 75lbs of armor, and every one of them believed in Charles’ leadership.  Taking to high ground between the villages of Tours and Poitiers, the Frankish host drew itself into a great, bristling square formation to withstand the shock of the cavalry charge.  And there, it waited.

Having nothing but contempt for what they saw as backward, irreligious heathens, the Saracen host was stunned to discover the army awaiting them.  For seven days, the two armies stood facing one another, with little but skirmishes between them. Finally, the Emir could wait no longer. It was late in the year and his men were not equipped for a European winter. On the seventh day, estimated to be the 10th of October in the year 732, al Ghafiqi ordered his cavalry to charge.

The Hammer, 732

History offers few instances of medieval armies withstanding the charge of cavalry, but Charles had anticipated this moment. He had trained his men, and they were prepared.

The Mozarabic Chronicle describes the scene in greater detail than any source, Latin or Arab: “[I]n the shock of the battle the men of the North seemed like a sea that cannot be moved. Firmly they stood, one close to another, forming as it were a bulwark of ice; and with great blows of their swords they hewed down the Arabs. Drawn up in a band around their chief, the people of the Austrasians carried all before them. Their tireless hands drove their swords down to the breasts [of the foe].”

A few Umayyad troops succeeded in breaking into the square and went directly for Charles, but his liege men surrounded him and would not be broken. The battle was still in flux when rumors went through the Muslim host that Charles’ men had broken into the Umayyad base camp. Afraid of having the loot they had plundered at Bordeaux taken from them, many of them broke off the battle to return to camp. Abdul Rahman was trying to stop the retreat, when he was surrounded and killed.

Wary of a “feigned flight” attack, the Franks resumed their phalanx. There they stood all night and into the next day, until it was discovered that the Islamic host had fled in the night.

Following the Battle of Tours, (Poitiers), the bastard son of Pepin and father of Charlemagne would, henceforward and forever, be known as Charles “the Hammer” Martel.0227 - 1.20

The threat was far from over in 732.  New Umayyad assaults would threaten northern Europe in 736 and 739, until internal conflicts divided the Caliphate against itself, the feudal Arab Empire of the Umayyads falling to the multi-ethnic Empire of the Abbassid Caliphate of Baghdad in 750, the third Caliphate in the early history of Islam.

The reconquest of “al-Andalus” would be another 760 years, in the making.   The “Golden age” of Islam ended with the sack of Baghdad in 1268 by the Mongols of Hulagu Khan, making way for the rise of the Ottoman Empire of the Seljuq Turk.  Forces of this “Ottoman Caliphate” conquered the last vestige of the eastern Roman empire in 1453.

Ottoman forces attempted the conquest of Europe from the east, taking Vienna under siege in 1529 and again in 1683, as well as Malta, in 1565.  Famagusta, the last Christian possession in the eastern Mediterranean island nation of Cyprus, held out for eleven months, in 1570-1.  8,500 Venetian defenders, against the 200,000-strong Ottoman forces under General Lala Mustafa Pasha.

Commander Marcantonio Bragadin would be flayed alive and stuffed with straw as a grisly trophy of war, together with the heads of the Venetian commanders, Astorre Baglioni, Alvise Martinengo and Gianantonio Querini.  Yet this desperate and doomed defense of the last stronghold on Cyprus bought Pope Pius V time to cobble together an anti-Ottoman “Holy League” coalition among the Catholic states of Europe.  Ottoman naval power was destroyed for all time in 1571 near a place called Lepanto.  The largest naval battle in Western history, since classical antiquity.

1024px-Battle_of_Lepanto_1571
Battle of Lepanto, October 7, 1571, Artist unknown

Conflict between Cross and Crescent would continue far into the future of Charles Martel, but, Christian Europe would never again, be so grievously challenged.

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September 25, 1066 Stamford Bridge

Of 300 ships which had arrived on the 20th, the battered remnants of the Viking army needed only 24 to sail away.

Edward the Confessor, King of England, went into a coma in late 1065, having expressed no clear preference for a successor.  Edward died on January 5, 1066, after briefly regaining consciousness and commending his wife and kingdom to the “protection” of Harold, son of Godwin, the powerful Earl of Essex.

Anglo-Saxon Kings didn’t ordinarily pick their own successors, but their wishes carried import.  Nobles of the Witenagemot, the early Anglo-Saxon predecessor to the modern parliament, appear to have been in Westminster to observe the Feast of the Epiphany.  Convening the following day, the council elected Harold Godwinson, crowning him King Harold II.

For some, Harold’s quick ascension was a matter of administrative convenience and happenstance.  Others saw it as evidence of conspiracy.  A usurpation of the throne.  Edward’s death touched off a succession crisis that would change world history.

Harold’s younger brother Tostig, Earl of Northumbria, believed he had his own claim to the throne. His animosity for his brother would prove fatal for them both.  After conducting inconclusive raids that spring, Tostig went to a Norman Duke called William “the Bastard”, looking for support. William had his own claim to the English throne, and had openly declared his intention to take it.  The Norman Duke had no use for King Harold’s little brother, so Tostig sought the assistance of the King of Norway, King Harald “Hardraada”, the name translating, literally, as “hard ruler”.

Battles of 1066Tostig sailed for England with King Harald and a mighty army of 10,000 Viking warriors, meeting the northern Earls Edwin and Morcar in battle at Fulford Gate, on September 20.

The encounter was a comprehensive defeat for the English side.  When Harald came to Stamford Bridge five days later, he expected only formal capitulation and tribute.

Meanwhile, King Harold was at the head of an army in the south, anticipating William’s invasion from Normandy. My military friends will appreciate what happened next; Harold marched his army north, traveling day and night, covering 185 miles in four days, on foot, completely surprising the Viking army waiting at Stamford Bridge.

The Vikings must have looked at the horizon and wondered how a peace party could raise that much dust, only to learn that they faced a new army.

Believing they were there to accept submission, Harald’s army had left half its number behind to watch the ships, along with their armor.

Stamford Bridge

During the height of the following battle, one giant Viking warrior, a Berserker, stood alone at the top of Stamford Bridge. Swinging the great two-handed Dane Axe, this giant of a man had slain something like 40 English warriors, lying dead in heaps around him, when one of Harold’s soldiers floated himself under the bridge, spearing the Viking warrior from below.

The savagery of the battle can only be imagined. Before the age of industrialized warfare, every injury was personally administered with a bladed or crushing weapon of some kind. 5,000 of King Harold’s soldiers would be dead before it was over, about a third of his force. Two thirds of King Harald’s Vikings died that day, about 6,000, including Harald himself and his ally Tostig. So many died in that small area that 50 years later, the site was said to have turned white with the sun bleached bones of the slain.

Of some 300 ships arriving on the 20th, the battered remnants of Harald’s Viking army needed only 24, to sail away.

Stamford Bridge is often described as the end of the Viking invasions of England, but that isn’t quite so. There would be others, but none so powerful as this.

The Norman landing King Harold had been waiting for took place three days later at Pevensey Harbor, just as his battered army was disbanding and heading home for the Fall harvest.  The Anglo Saxon army would march south again, meeting the Norman invader on October 14 at a place called “Hastings”. King Harold II took an arrow in the eye that day, thus becoming the last of the Anglo Saxon Kings.

lovellhastingsstitched
Battle of Hastings, by Tom Lovell

Thenceforward and forever, William the Bastard would be known as William “The Conqueror”.

September 20, 451 Attila the Hun

Nestorius, Patriarch of Constantinople, described Rome’s Hun problem, succinctly.  “They have become both masters and slaves of the Romans”.

In the 5th century, the migration of warlike Germanic tribes across northern Europe culminated in the destruction of the Roman Empire in the west.  That much is relatively well known, but the “why”, is not.  What would a people so fearsome that they brought down an empire, have been trying to get away from?

The Roman Empire was split in two in the 5th century and ruled by two separate governments.  Ravenna, in northern Italy, became capital to the Western Roman Empire in 402, and would remain so until the final collapse in 476.  Constantinople, seat of the Byzantine empire and destined to become modern day Istanbul, ruled in the East.

Attila BronzeVast populations moved westward from Germania during the early fifth century, and into Roman territories in the west and south. They were Alans and Vandals, Suebi, Goths, and Burgundians. There were others as well, crossing the Rhine and the Danube and entering Roman Gaul. They came not in conquest:  that would come later. These tribes were fleeing the Huns:  a people so terrifying that whole tribes agreed to be disarmed, in exchange for the protection of Rome.

Rome itself had mostly friendly relations with the Hunnic Empire, which stretched from modern day Germany in the west, to Turkey and most of Ukraine in the east. The Huns were nomads, mounted warriors whose main weapons were the bow and javelin. Huns frequently acted as mercenary soldiers, paid to fight on behalf of Rome.

Rome looked at such payments as just compensation for services rendered.  The Huns looked at them as tribute, tokens of Roman submission to the Hunnic Empire.Atilla_fléau_de_dieu

Nestorius, Patriarch of Constantinople, described Rome’s Hun problem, succinctly.  “They have become both masters and slaves of the Romans”.

Relations were strained between the two powers in the time of the Hunnic King Rugila, as his nephew the future King Attila, came of age.

Rugila’s death in 434 left the sons of his brother Mundzuk, Attila and Bleda, in control of the united Hunnic tribes. The brothers negotiated a treaty with Emperor Theodosius of Constantinople the following year, giving him time to strengthen the city’s defenses. This included building the first sea wall, a structure the city would be forced to defend a thousand years later in the Islamic conquest of 1453, but that is a story for another day.Attila

The priest of the Greek church Callinicus wrote what happened next, in his “Life of Saint Hypatius”. “The barbarian nation of the Huns, which was in Thrace, became so great that more than a hundred cities were captured and Constantinople almost came into danger and most men fled from it. … And there were so many murders and blood-lettings that the dead could not be numbered. Ay, for they took captive the churches and monasteries and slew the monks and maidens in great numbers“.

Bleda died sometime in 445, leaving Attila the sole King of the Huns.  Relations with the Western Roman Empire had been relatively friendly, for a time.  That changed in 450 when Justa Grata Honoria, sister of Emperor Valentinian, wanted to escape a forced marriage to the former consul Herculanus.  Honoria sent the eunuch Hyacinthus with a note to King Attila, asking him to intervene on her behalf.  She enclosed her ring in token of the message’s authenticity, which Attila took to be an offer of marriage.

Attila_in_Gaul_451Valentinian was furious with his sister.  Only the influence of their mother Galla Placidia convinced him to exile rather than have her put to death, while he frantically wrote to Attila saying it was all a misunderstanding.

The King of the Huns wasn’t buying it, and sent an emissary to Ravenna, to claim what was his.  Attila demanded delivery of his “bride”, along with half the empire, as dowry.

In 451, Attila gathered his vassals and began a march to the west. The Hunnic force was estimated to be half a million strong, though the number is probably exaggerated. The Romans hurriedly gathered an army to oppose them, while the Huns sacked the cities of Mainz, Worms and Strasbourg. Trier and Metz fell in quick succession, as did Cologne, Cambrai, and Orleans.

The Roman army, allied with the Visigothic King Theodoric I, finally stopped the army of Attila at the Battle of the Catalaunian Plains, near Chalons.   Some sources date the Battle of Chalons at June 20, 451, others at September 20.  Even the outcome of the battle is open to interpretation.  Sources may be found to support the conclusion that it was a Roman, a Gothic or a Hunnic victory.

Apparently a Pyrrhic victory, Chalons was one of the last major military operations of the Roman Empire in the west. The Roman alliance had stopped the Hunnic invasion in Gaul, but the military capacity of Roman and Visigoth, both, was destroyed. The Hunnic Empire was dismantled by a coalition of Germanic vassals at the Battle of Nedau, in 454.

800px-De_Neuville_-_The_Huns_at_the_Battle_of_Chalons
“The Huns at the Battle of Chalons” from page 135 of A Popular History of France From The Earliest Times Volume I of VI (en:Project Gutenberg e-text). Illustration by A. De Neuville (1836-1885). img url: http://www.gutenberg.org/dirs/1/1/9/5/11951/11951-h/images/135.jpg

Attila would return to sack much of Italy in 452, this time razing Aquileia so completely that no trace of it was left behind. Legend has it that Venice was founded at this time, when local residents fled the Huns, taking refuge in the marshes and islands of the Venetian Lagoon.

Attila died the following year at a wedding feast, celebrating his marriage to the young Ostrogoth, Ildico.  The King of the Huns died in a drunken stupor, suffering a massive nosebleed or possibly esophageal bleeding.  The Hunnic Empire died along with Attila the Hun, as he choked to death on his own blood.

September 13, 1501 David

If you look at the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, you would never know that the artist who produced such a work didn’t care for painting. Michelangelo was a sculptor. “Along with the milk of my nurse,” he said, “I received the knack of handling chisel and hammer, with which I make my figures”.

The Renaissance has been variously described as an advance beyond the dark ages, andMasters of Italian Art a nostalgic period looking back to the Classical age. Whatever it was, the 15th and 16th centuries produced some of the most spectacularly gifted artists, in history.

None more so, than the Italian Masters.

There was Leonardo and Donatello, Raphael, Brunelleschi and Botticelli, but only one of them would have his biography written while he was still alive. Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni, had two. Only one of these men would have his home town renamed after himself.  Today, the Tuscan village of Caprese is known as Caprese Michelangelo.

If you look at the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, you would never know that the artist who produced such a work didn’t care for painting. Michelangelo was a sculptor. “Along with the milk of my nurse,” he would say, “I received the knack of handling chisel and hammer, with which I make my figures”.

Sistine Chapel
Sistine Chapel

He was “Il Divino”, “The Divine One”, literally growing up with the hammer and chisel. He had a “Terribilità”, a sense of awe-inspiring grandeur about him that made him difficult to work with, but he was widely admired and imitated. Michelangelo was that insufferably cocky kid who wasn’t bragging, because he could deliver.

Michelangelo-David-rearThe massive block of Carrara marble was quarried in 1466, nine years before Michelangelo was born. The “David” commission was given to artist Agostino di Duccio that same year. So difficult was this particular marble block that he never got beyond roughing out the legs and draperies. Antonio Rossellino took a shot at it 10 years later, but he didn’t get much farther.

25 years later, the Guild of Wool Merchants wanted to revive the abandoned project, and went looking for an artist. The now infamously difficult marble slab had deteriorated for years in the elements, when Michelangelo stepped forward at the age of 26.  The prevailing attitude seems to have been yeah, give it to him.  That will take him down a few pegs.

Michelangelo began work on September 13th, 1501. His master work would take him three years to complete.

The 17′, six-ton David was originally intended for the roof of the FlorenceDavid, Michelangelo Cathedral, but it wasn’t feasible to raise such an object that high. A committee including Leonardo da Vinci and Sandro Botticelli was formed to decide on an appropriate site for the statue. The commitee chose the Piazza della Signoria outside the Palazzo Vecchio, the town hall of Florence.

It took four days on a specially constructed cart to move the David statue into position, the unveiling taking place on September 8, 1504. Among the dignitaries gathered for the occasion was the Mayor of Florence, Vasari Pier Soderini, who complained that David’s nose was “too thick”.

Michelangelo climbed the statue with a handful of marble dust, sending down a shower of the stuff as he pretended to work on the nose. After several minutes, he stepped back and asked Soderini if it was improved. “Yes”, replied the Mayor, now satisfied. “I like it better. You have given it life”.Michelangelo at Work

September 2, 1192 Sultan and Crusader

In time, the Crusader and the Sultan came to hold a degree of respect for one another.   Legend has it that, at one point in the fighting around Jaffa, Saladin even sent Richard a fresh horse, after one was killed beneath him.

The Islamic Conquests began in the 7th century on the Arabian Peninsula.  In the first 100 years of its existence, Islam established the largest pre-modern empire up to that time, stretching from the borders of China in the east, through India and Central Asia, the Middle East, North Africa, Egypt, Sicily to the Iberian Peninsula (Spain), in the west.

The Sasanid Empire in what is now Iran ceased to exist under the Muslim conquest, as did much of Byzantium, seat of the Roman Empire in the east. Europe itself narrowly escaped subjugation when Charles “The Hammer” Martel defeated the army of Abdul Rahman al Qafiqi at Poitiers (Tours) in October, 732.

Estimates suggest that the Caliphate was over 5 million square miles, larger than any modern-day state with the sole exception of the Russian Federation.

Muslim Conquests, 632-750
Muslim Conquests, 632-750

The First of the Christian Crusades was launched by Pope Urban II on November 27, 1095, in response to an appeal from Byzantine Emperor Alexios I Komnenos, who was requesting help in Constantinople against the invading Seljuq Turks.

Such a request wasn’t new, the Reconquista in Spain had not yet reached the mid-point of its 781-year effort to overthrow Muslim rule, and European knights traveled to Spain on a regular basis to assist in the effort.

Once in Anatolia (modern day Turkey), the ancillary goal of freeing Jerusalem itself and the Holy Land soon became the principal objective, as Jerusalem had by then been under Islamic rule for 461 years.  Jerusalem was recaptured on July 15, 1099, following a siege of six weeks.

first_crusade_route_map
Route Map of the First Crusade

The County of Edessa was the first Crusader state to be created, and the first to go, falling in 1144 and leading to the second crusade. Mostly notable for its failures, the one major success of the second crusade was when it stopped on the way to the Holy Land, helping a much smaller Portuguese army overthrow Muslim rule in Lisbon. Two kings then marched two separate armies across Europe into Anatolia, only to be soundly defeated by the Turks.

Saladin
Saladin

A Kurdish leader arose to become Sultan at this time, founding a dynasty which would last for eighty-nine years. His name was Salāḥ ad-Dīn Yūsuf ibn Ayyūb, better known as Saladin, a Sunni Muslim who rose to greatness in a Shi’ite world.

No less a figure than Dante Alighieri counted Saladin a “virtuous pagan,” in the ranks of Hector, Aeneas, and Caesar.

While Christian leaders in the Middle East fell to squabbling among themselves, Saladin united Syria, Egypt, Mesopotamia, Yemen and parts of North Africa. Saladin’s annihilation of a crusader army at Hattin on July 4, 1187 opened the way to the recapture of every Crusader state but one.  Jerusalem itself fell on October 2.

Pope Urban III is said to have collapsed and died, on hearing the news.

King Henry II of England and King Philip II of France were at war at the time, but ended that and began preparations for a third crusade with the exhortations of Pope Henry VIII. An extremely unpopular tax of 10% on all revenues and movable goods was imposed by the Church, and enforced under pains of imprisonment or excommunication. This “Saladin Tithe” raised 100,000 marks of silver, about 800,000 ounces.

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Route Map of the Third Crusade

The aging Holy Roman Emperor, Frederick I “Barbarossa” (Red Beard), was the first to go, taking up the cross at Mainz Cathedral in March, 1188.  Emperor Frederick drowned crossing the Saleph River in Asia Minor in June 1190, after which most of his army of 100,000 returned to Germany.

Henry II of England died in the meantime, leaving his son Richard I “Coeur de Lion”(Lion-heart) to lead the crusade with Philip in the summer of 1190.

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Richard I, “Lion-heart”

Richard took time to conquer Sicily on the way to the Holy Lands, where King Tancred I was holding Richard’s sister Queen Joan, prisoner.  He reached Cyprus that May, there pausing long enough to marry Berengaria of Navarre, thus alienating his alliance with the French King, who considered Richard to be betrothed to his own half-sister, Alys.

Richard landed near Acre in June 1191 to find the city under Muslim occupation, and under siege by the forces of Guy de Lusignan, himself held under siege by the armies of Saladin.

Richard became ill at one point during the battle for Acre, it’s said that he picked off guards on the city walls with a crossbow, as he was being carried off on a stretcher.

The fall of Acre led to a number of meetings between Richard and Saladin’s brother Al-Adil, from which nothing resulted.  The Crusaders lost all patience by August, believing Saladin to be dragging his feet, and decapitated 2,700 Muslim prisoners in view of Saladin’s army.  This number included women and children.  Saladin responded by murdering every Christian captive, under his control.

Dominique-Louis-FeÌ-reÌ-ol Papety - The Siege of Acre ca_ 1840
The Siege of Acre, by Dominique-Louis-FeÌ-reÌ-ol Papety – ca 1840

Richard took the strategically important city of Jaffa, control over which was necessary if the Crusaders were to hold the coast and retake Jerusalem. The Crusader victory at Arsuf would prove Richard’s personal courage and skill as a commander, at the same time putting a dent in Saladin’s reputation as the invincible warrior King.

Two times Crusader armies came within sight of Jerusalem, never suspecting that, within the city, “Saracen” morale was so low that the city may have been theirs for the taking.  Meanwhile, the Crusader side fell to bickering, with half wanting to push on to Jerusalem, the other wanting to attack Saladin’s base of power, in Egypt.

In time, the Crusader and the Sultan came to hold a degree of respect for one another.   Legend has it that, at one point in the fighting around Jaffa, Saladin even sent Richard a fresh horse, after one was killed beneath him. The pair even discussed marrying Joan off to Saladin’s brother, Al-Adil, with themselves becoming co-rulers in Jerusalem. The plan might’ve worked, too, until the Roman Church got wind and threatened excommunication if Richard carried it out.

I have not been able to learn what Joan herself thought of the match.

crusade, 3

Time finally ran out for Richard and Saladin, both. The Christian army was decimated by disease.  Fierce quarrels between German, English and French contingents threatened to break up the Crusader army.   Richard himself was gravely ill, near despair of ever regaining his health.  On top of that, his own little brother John was plotting against him, with the connivance of the French King Philip. Richard Lion-heart no longer had the strength to challenge Saladin for Jerusalem.

Saladin, for his part, had serious morale problems, after repeated defeats at the hands of the Crusaders.

With Saladin’s brother Saif adDin acting as intermediary, the King and the Sultan concluded the Treaty of Jaffa on this day in 1192.  The fortifications at Ascalon were to be dismantled, in exchange for which Christians would continue to hold the coast from Jaffa to Tyre. Jerusalem would remain in Muslim hands, while unarmed Christian pilgrims and traders would be guaranteed free passage to visit the Holy Sepulcher of the Lord in peace, without the exaction of any tribute or tax.  Further, Christian traders were permitted the possession objects for sale throughout the land, thus permitting such traders right of free commerce.

Crusades

Sultan Salāḥ ad-Dīn Yūsuf ibn Ayyūb died of a fever the following March, and was buried in the garden outside the Umayyad Mosque in Damascus, Syria.  Saladin’s kingdom and the Crusader states would remain at peace, for a period of three years.

Seven centuries later, German Emperor Wilhelm II donated a new marble sarcophagus, to the tomb of the Sultan who had reclaimed Jerusalem from the Crusaders.

Foul weather drove King Richard I ashore near Venice, where he was captured by Duke Leopold of Austria and handed over to German Emperor Henry VI and held for ransom. This time, the tithe would be 25%, raising about 1.2 million ounces of silver, and forever answering any questions as to what might constitute a “King’s Ransom”.

Magna Carta
King John signing the Magna Carta, June 15, 1215

A bolt from a crossbow left Richard Coeur de Lion mortally wounded on April 6, 1199, while besieging the castle of Châlus, in central France. He was 41.

Richard was destined to be succeeded by his brother John, after all.  John became such an unpopular King that his Nobles and their French and Scots allies forced him to sign the “Great Charter of the Liberties”, the Magna Carta, at a place called Runnymede.

Nearly 600 years later, the document would influence early government in the thirteen American colonies, and the formation of our own Constitutional Republic.  But that must be a story for another day.

 

September 1 (est.), 911 A Different Normandy Story

Rollo was called “The Walker”, because the man was so huge that no horse could carry him.

The warlike men who sailed their longboats out of the north tormented the coastal UK and northwestern Europe, ever since their first appearance at Lindisfarne Monastery in 793.

These “Norsemen” (“Normans”), attacked Paris early in 911. By July they were holding Rollothe nearby town of Chartres under siege. Normans had burned the place to the ground back in 858 and would probably have done so again, but for their defeat at the battle of Chartres on July 20.

Even in defeat, these people presented a formidable threat. The Frankish King approached them with a solution.

King Charles III, known as “Charles the Simple” after his plain, straightforward ways, proposed to give the Normans the region from the English Channel to the river Seine. It would be the Duchy of Normandy, some of the finest farmlands in northwest Europe, and it would be theirs in exchange for an oath of loyalty to Charles.

Rollo the WalkerThe deal made sense for the King, because he had already bankrupted his treasury paying these people tribute. And what better way to deal with future Viking raids down the channel, than to make them the Vikings’ own problem?

And so the Treaty of Saint-Clair-sur-Epte was concluded on this day in 911, when the Viking Chieftain Rollo pledged feudal allegiance to the King of Western Francia. Rollo was called “The Walker”, because the man was so huge that no horse could carry him. He must have been some scary character with a two-handed battle axe.

At some point in the proceedings, The Walker was expected to stoop down and kiss the king’s foot, in token of obeisance. Rollo recognized Treaty of Saint-Clair-sur-Eptethe symbolic importance of the gesture, but wasn’t about to submit to such degradation himself. The chieftain motioned to one of his lieutenants, a man almost as huge as himself, to kiss the king’s foot. The man shrugged, reached down and lifted King Charles off the ground by his ankle. He kissed the foot, and tossed the King of the Franks aside.  Like a sack of potatoes

In that moment, the personal dignity of the King of France, ceased to exist. The Duchy of Normandy, was born.

August 26, 1346 Crécy

“Do not send to me so long as my son lives; let the boy win his spurs; let the day be his.”

From the time of Charlemagne, the social and political structure of Middle Ages European society rested on a set of reciprocal obligations between a warrior nobility, supporting and in turn being supported by, a hierarchy of vassals and fiefs.

The system was called Feudalism, a system in which the King granted portions of land called “fiefs” to Lords and Barons in exchange for loyalty, and to Knights (vassals) in exchange for military service.

Knights were a professional warrior class,  dependent upon the nobility for lodging, food, armor, weapons, horses and money.

The whole edifice was borne up by peasants, serfs who farmed the land and provided the vassal or lord with material wealth, in the form of food and other products.

The 18th century historian and political economist Jean Charles Léonard de Sismondi wrote “We must not confound chivalry with the feudal system. The feudal system may be called the real life of the period of which we are treating, possessing its advantages and inconveniences, its virtues and its vices. Chivalry, on the contrary, is the ideal world, such as it existed in the imaginations of the Romance writers. Its essential character is devotion to woman and to honour”.

The Battle of Crécy is memorable for several reasons. Crude cannon had been used in siege operations during the Muslim conquest of Spain, (al Andalus), but this was the first time they were used in open battle. Perhaps more important, though less evident at the time, was that Crécy spelled the end of feudalism.

Crecy-en-Ponthieu_champ-de-bataille
Crécy Battlefield

The Battle of Crécy was the first major combat of the hundred years’ war, a series of conflicts fought over a 116-year period for control of the French throne.  King Edward III invaded the Normandy region of France on July 12, 1346. Estimates vary concerning the size of his army, but not of its composition. This was not an army of mounted knights, though there were a few of those. This was a yeoman army of spearmen and foot archers, ravaging the French countryside as they went, and pursued by a far larger army of French knights and mercenary allies.

crecy-mapA fortunate tidal crossing of the Somme River gave the English a day’s lead, allowing Edward’s forces time to rest and prepare for battle as they stopped to wait for the far larger French army near the village of Crécy.

Edward’s forces took a strong defensive position overlooking flat agricultural land, natural obstacles to either side effectively nullifying the French numerical advantage. The French army under King Philip VI was wet and exhausted when they arrived on the 26th, nevertheless launching themselves directly at the English, almost immediately upon their arrival.

Genoese crossbowmen opened the battle on the French side, but wet strings hampered the weapon’s effectiveness. English archers had unstrung their longbows during the previous night’s rain, and now showered thousands of arrows down on the heads of their adversaries. The French first line broke and ran, only to be accused of cowardice and hacked to pieces by the knights to their rear.Crecy, Bowmen

French mounted knights now entered the fray, but orderly lines soon dissolved into confusion. The muddy field combined with English obstacles and that constant barrage of arrows unhorsed French knights and confused their lines.

Riderless horses and unmounted knights alike were run down by successive waves of horsemen, each impatient to win his share of the “glory”. Those who made it to the English side faced a tough, disciplined line of spearmen and foot soldiers who held their position. Heavily armored knights, once unhorsed, were easy prey to the quick and merciless knives of the English.

A messenger sought out the English King in the midst of the battle, beseeching aid for the King’s son, the 16-year-old Prince of Wales. Edward replied “Do not send to me so long as my son lives; let the boy win his spurs; let the day be his.”

Philip’s ally, the blind King John of Bohemia, heard that the battle was going badly for the French. He ordered his companions to tie his horse’s bridle to theirs, and lead him into the fight. It was the last time he was seen alive.Ich Dien

The Prince of Wales did earn his spurs that day. He adopted old King John’s crest and motto, the triple ostrich plume with the words “Ich Dien”. I serve.  The heraldic badge is worn by his successors, to this day.

When it was over, the feudal age lay dead in the mud and the blood of Crécy, alongside the mythical age of chivalry.  The English side suffered one/tenth the number of casualties.  2,200 Heraldic coats were taken as trophies.

In the words of A Short History of the English People, by John Richard Green, “The churl had struck down the noble; the bondsman proved more than a match in sheer hard fighting, for the knight”.  After Crécy, the world’s land battles would be fought not by armored knights fighting toe-to-toe with battle-axe and lance, but by common foot soldiers, with the bow and with the gun.