Urged on by Pope Urban II, thousands of Europeans joined the Crusades to expel Muslims from the Holy Land. What route did English crusaders take? Why do you think they took that route?
In 1095, the Byzantine emperor Alexius I urgently asked Pope Urban II for Christian knights to help him fight the Muslim Turks. Although Roman popes and Byzantine emperors were longtime rivals, Urban agreed.
At the Council of Clermont in 1095, Urban incited bishops and nobles to action. “From Jerusalem and the city of Constantinople comes a grievous report,” he began. “An accursed race …
has violently invaded the lands of those Christians and has depopulated them by pillage and fire.” Urban then called for a crusade to free the Holy Land.
Both knights and footmen, both rich and poor … [must] strive to help expel [the Seljuk] from our Christian lands before it is too late…. Christ commands it. Remission of sins will be granted for those going thither.
—Fulcher of Chartres, Chronicle of the First Crusade
“God wills it!” roared the assembly. By 1096, thousands of knights were on their way to the Holy Land. As the crusading spirit swept through Western Europe, armies of ordinary men and women inspired by fiery preachers also left for the Holy Land. Few returned.
Why did so many people embark on the Crusades? Religious reasons played a large role. Yet many knights hoped to win wealth and land. Some crusaders sought to escape troubles at home. Others yearned for adventure.
The pope, too, had mixed motives. In addition to his religious motivations, Urban hoped to increase his power in Europe and perhaps heal the schism, or split, between the Roman and Byzantine churches. He also saw lands in the Middle East as an outlet for Europe's growing population of knights. Sending Christian knights to fight Muslims instead of one another would help ease warfare at home.
Only the First Crusade came close to achieving its goals. After a long and bloody campaign, Christian knights captured Jerusalem in 1099 and killed the Muslim and Jewish residents of the city.
The crusaders divided their captured lands into four small states, called crusader states. The Muslims repeatedly sought to destroy these Christian states, prompting Europeans to launch new crusades.
By 1187, Jerusalem had fallen to the able Muslim leader Salah al-Din, known to Europeans as Saladin.