Monday, 2 March 2015

cowboys and indians: sophomoric or dress right dress

Between what has become attested by history as the First and Second Crusade, there were several abortive waves of recruitment, which poor conditions in Europe—including poor harvests, civil unrest and the usual skirmishes between the kingdoms of the realm. Outside of the chief cities of Jerusalem, Haifa, Acre, Jaffa, Tripoli, Antioch and Edessa, control of the Crusader States territory was tenuous at best and quite treacherous for pilgrims or relief- and resupply-convoys. The advent of a novel military, monastic order, the Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and of the Temple of Solomon, the Templars in short-form and followed by the Knights Hospitaller, who could provide armed escourt was a help but their numbers were too disperse to launch coordinated campaigns and besides answered to God and the Church and were not a mercenary shock-force beholden to a local lord, as was the norm for Europe and the Middle East during this time. No ruler, however rich, for the most part had the luxury of maintaining a standing-army in times of (relative) peace and had to raise forces with a call to arms. The Templars and the other orders, in contrast, were constantly training in the art of battle and comprised, along with their Islamic counterpart, the Assassins, the Occident’s first professional fighting-forces. After around five decades of occupation, the County of Edessa was retaken by Islamic forces, under the leadership of Emir Zengi of Mosul, making the Holy Land all but inaccessible overland to Latin Christendom.
Antioch and other strategic lands looked poised to follow handily. Though the climate may not have been organically ripe for such a mobilisation, with a little assistance by another, charismatic papal legate who appealed to the noble sacrifices made by this Greatest Generation of fifty years hence and the mopey guilt of a young king of France for his immortal soul, eager to do penance and only a Crusade might cleanse his conscious. The adolescent king, Louis VII, in a whirlwind of events, had just months before found himself married to the wealthiest and most powerful heiress in the world, Eleanor of Aquitaine, and then with the death of his father, found himself elevated to the throne.
Being the king in Paris was a titular affair, as unruly landowners, his teenage wife included who controlled the whole of southwestern France, held much more legitimate power than him, and it was on an early mission to quash a rebellion in the Marne, Louis VII discovered that his men had corralled the entire population of an upstart village, Vitry-en-Perthois, into the church and then proceeded to burn it to the ground. This event haunted Louis for his entire life and sought to make amends and was willing to do anything to save his soul from eternal damnation. Having received the urgent pleas for assistance from the Crusader State, a relatively freshly-elected pope, Eugene III, approached his mentor, the monk Bernard of Clairvaux, as Bishop Adémar had done for the First Crusade, to rouse the people of France to action. Regarding his pupil as somewhat of a rustic, a hayseed, Bernard took the matter into his own hands, and just as with the first crusade, there was some mission-creep.
Bernard not only made quite an impression on the people of France, he also traveled to Germany, leaving quite a chain of miracles in his wake and sent missives even further afield.

Denmark and England also answered the call, and being apparently blown off course, landed in Portugal and began the Reconquista of Moorish-held lands there and throughout Spain. Saxon elements of the armies of Conrad III, emperor of the Germans and accompanied by his nephew Barbarossa, took it upon themselves to overrun their Slavic neighbours, who had up until now adhered to the pagan religion and converted them—to death. What was meant to be the sole thrust, the French, was on the march, but the plan to have the crusade under the leadership of the regent—as opposed to the princes, a bunch of poor-relations, usually without holdings of their own and ambitious, was not really playing out as expected. Eleanor of Aquitaine insisted she be allow to come along as well, and her eagerness inspired many other queens and princesses to join up too. Eleanor and her retainers even sported fancy battle-dress, agee white steeds with white cloaks and red leather boots. Had one been available, I am sure Eleanor would have had a unicorn as her mount. The same problems of petty intrigues and alliances that sacrificed larger goals, however, plagued this mission as much and more at times than the first, and an almost complete reversal transpired, causing most of the commanders to retreat to their respective homelands.
Eleanor of Aquitaine survived her ordeal but the royal union did not, enchanted first by the opulence of Constantinople, which must have made her staid court in Paris seem like an absolute sty, and then entertained by her uncle, Raymond of Poitiers, in Antioch—where Eleanor found herself among compatriots whom spoke her native Langue d’Oc, both of which Louis found infuriating and there was talk that Eleanor’s close relationship with her host and uncle had become too familiar. All of a sudden, Eleanor expressed her wish to renounce the title of Queen of France, and she sued for annulment of her marriage, based on consanguinity, that she and her husband were fourth cousins and consequently had only had female issue. Louis had Eleanor kidnapped and dragged along to Jerusalem. It was a hard slog over treacherous mountains and sea, with the Turkish forces ambushing the Crusaders at every turn.
All the Crusader forces eventually massed in Jerusalem, but as Edessa—the original object of the Kings’ Crusade, although Jerusalem and absolution was Louis’ own goal—bereft of its Christian population, and places of worship was not really worth the effort any longer. Louis was also probably not overly disposed to helping Antioch by securing the principality’s perimeter, what with his wife having been romanced by its ruler.   The armies convened at Acre to try to figure out what to do with all this pent up aggression, concluding disastrously to try to take the city of Damascus, the only Muslim city to have negotiated a peace treaty with the Kingdom of Jerusalem and whose failure was obvious from the outset. Like the bickering Louis and Eleanor magnified and reduplicated thousands of times, the coalition under national commands felt betrayed and had even managed to alienate themselves from former allies, split up and departed by sea back to the mainland. Eleanor and Louis took separate ships. Once back on the mainland, Eleanor was granted a divorce and regained her vast land holdings in Aquitaine and Poitiers—and left her daughters in Louis’ custody.
Shortly afterward, Eleanor began to fancy another relation—Duke Henry of Normandy and Count of Anjou, and following a short courtship, Eleanor and the heir to the British throne married. Upon the death of Henry I and Henry’s older brother Stephen, the young couple became king and queen of England. As happened with Louis’ sin of omission that led to an entire village perishing while locked in a burning church, Henry II allowed his henchmen to get out of control and murder his former chancellor become archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas à Beckett. Henry was devastated, both personally over the death of his friend that he did not prevent and because his popularity plummeted—forever pinning Henry II with the badge of the king who killed an archbishop (the cathedral becoming a pilgrimage destination to rival the popularity of Way of Saint James, Santiago de Compostela), rather than the reformer who helped to rebuild England after successive civil wars and crises of succession.
I wonder if Eleanor had that effect on men. The couple had eight children, whom, honestly unruly, Eleanor and ex-husband Louis VII in sort of a cold war with the English king played against Henry II, who in response kept his wife under house-arrest for a the last decade of his life. Eleanor, reaching an advanced age but active until the end, maintained a key role as regent, ruling in her sons’ names while they were away on campaigns, including the wicked and lazy King John (of Robin Hood lore but who really was made to sign the Magna Carta and limit his own power) and Richard Lionheart, who will play a key role in the next Crusade.