Weird History
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What Was Life Like For A Medieval Crusader?

Updated December 23, 2020 25.9k views15 items
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Like any great conflict, the Crusades have been the subject of myths and misinformation for years. While few still believe the propaganda that justified the fighting, various false facts have proliferated over the years, concerning everything from the motivations of the Crusaders to their reception in Arab lands. 

It's easy to understand how both storytellers and audiences get swept up in the romance of the Crusades. The epic sweep, the clash of cultures, and the stunning aggression still thrill us today. But what was life actually like for a medieval crusader? Of course, the answer varies. The wars were radically different experiences for a noble knight than they would be for a common farmer. 

A day in the life of a Crusader, like soldiers throughout history, alternated between boring and terrifying, exhilarating and tragic. But in the midst of the conflicts, the Crusaders also met a new culture, forged new trade routes, and shifted the social and political landscape.

  • Photo: Gustave Dore / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    You May Have Been Fighting Alongside Children

    In 1212 CE , two young boys, Stephen of Cloyes and Nicholas of Cologne, raised armies in France and Germany, respectively, in what was later named the ' Children's Crusade '. Though much of the story has been obscured or mythologized, the shepherd boy Stephen is said to have received a letter from Jesus instructing him to preach crusade. Stephen brought the letter to King Philip II but was rejected by the royal court. Despite this, he began preaching and a crusading fervor moved westward from France until finally two armies congregated together, consisting of 20,000-40,000 children, adolescents, and adults.

    This group was determined to take Jerusalem. They traveled through Europe, crossing the Alps towards the Middle East, but many lost their lives before they even made it to Genoa. It is unclear what happened to them; some stories claim they were captured and sold into enslavement, while others claim they were turned back in Rome by Pope Innocent III. Regardless, they never made it to Jerusalem.

  • Photo: Chroniques de Saint-Denis / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Due To A New Truce Among European States, You Knew Your Land Back Home Was Safe From Harm

    Before the Crusades, Europe had been riven by centuries of bloody feuds and internecine conflict. Those rivalries didn't disappear the moment a Crusade was called and needed to be accounted for before soldiers would commit to abandoning their homes and marching to Jerusalem. There were a variety of truces and understandings reached over time, but one was emblematic for all the wrong reasons.

    In 1188, Philip II of France and Henry II of England met near Gisors, France, to negotiate a truce that would allow them both to commit their armies to the Third Crusade. It was a bitter and intractable affair, with both kings refusing to give ground and agreeing to essentially pause their rivalry for a short period. Unsurprisingly, the truce collapsed, and both armies had to return home a couple years later, effectively ending the Third Crusade.

  • Photo: Palma Le Jeune / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    The Combined Rage And Greed Of The Crusaders Could Lead You Into Unlikely Confrontations

    The Fourth Crusade was originally called by Pope Innocent III to reclaim Jerusalem, but the Crusade ran afoul when Venetian traders demanded that the Crusaders besiege the Christian city of Zara in exchange for passage to Jerusalem. The Pope was enraged by this and excommunicated the Crusaders and the Venetians. The ex-communication of the former was quickly revoked, but the objective of Crusades quickly changed once again when they were ordered to besiege Constantinople.

    It is unclear why the Crusaders then turned on Constantinople. Perhaps it was an attempt to appease the Pope, or even make a deal with him. Perhaps it was simply anger or greed. Regardless, they fell upon the city with a vengeance, quickly overcoming the garrison. The looting was intense and unrestricted, and many soldiers made off with priceless artifacts. The Emperor of the Byzantine Empire fled the city and, while the Crusaders quickly abandoned the city, left it as vulnerable husk of what it once was.

  • Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Despite Signing Up For The Love Of God, You Would Have Primarily Fought To Support Your King

    We cannot know what was in the mind of each Crusader as they signed up for combat. Ostensibly, every single Crusader was marching to take the holy city of Jerusalem back from the people of Islam. The truth is that everyone had their own reasons. Some were fleeing debts, some were seeking financial gain, while others were genuine in their faith.

    The First Crusade began primarily out of popular fervor when Pope Urban II promised all Christians absolution for their sins if they were to aid in reclaiming the Holy Land.

    In later crusades, however, many fought for their king, whomever their king may be. During the Third Crusade, English armies were mustered by King Richard I (commonly referred to as Richard the Lion Heart); the French were led by Philip II; Germans were led by Holy Emperor Frederick Barbarossa. Without the support and leadership of these monarchs, many of the crusaders may not have had the will to travel to Jerusalem and fight. There is evidence of this in the demise of King Barbarossa. When he passed, most of the army didn't continue on; a number of his soldiers, stricken with grief and despair, even renounced their Christian faith and joined the Muslims in Turkey.