History Jar Podcast

Those of you on my class mailing list or the History Jar Facebook page will already know about this. Thank you for the very kind feedback that I’ve received. The first episode is a sprint through Norman monarchs. There’s also a mnemonic included for those folk who are delving into their historical knowledge to do some home history schooling of younger school age children.

The school history curriculum in England and Wales includes the Norman Conquest in Year 7 (first year of secondary school) and it can also appear at Key Stage One or Two. The rest of the Norman period is unlikely to be covered until Key Stage 4 which may include Anglo Saxon society, the ways in which Edward the Confessor’s death was problematic and Norman government amongst other things.

Mnemonic’s are sentences that help you to remember a list. You take the first letter from each word in the phrase or sentence to help recall the list: e.g. Richard of York Gave Battle in Vain is the best known mnemonic which helps you to remember the order that the colours appear in the rainbow.

https://podcasts.apple.com/gb/podcast/the-history-jar-podcast/id1509714747

You should see the History jar and on the right hand side an arrow. Click on the arrow to listen. I can only apologise about the sound quality – I’m amazed the mic worked and as its the first one I’ve ever done I don’t think that I’m going to win any prizes for delivery. In future I shall position Paddington Bear in the front row before I start recording as a substitute for my lovely ladies and gentlemen. Hopefully I shall get better with an audience – even a solitary furry audience with a blue duffel coat and red wellies.

Good Queen Matilda – more on Edith of Scotland

Edith of Scotland, or Matilda as became upon her marriage to Henry I on Sunday 11th November 1100 was an example of how a medieval queen was supposed to behave. One bishop described her as a mother to her people. Weir makes the point that traditionally she has been seen as a pious queen without much of a political role but as with much of history, over time this view has been reappraised.

She advised the king, attended his meetings and worked for the reform of the Church as well as working with Anselm and maintaining a balance between her husband and his principal cleric. There are thirty-three charters in her own name. Her seal, pictured above is the earliest seal in England for a queen. It is in the hands of the British Library.

It was Matilda in 1103 who persuaded Henry to repeal the curfew laws introduced by his father. The idea had been to stop Saxon plotting. At eight o’clock every night the curfew bell tolled and people were required to damp down their fires – it also prevented fires in towns made largely from wood.

In addition to being pious, caring for the poor and interceding on behalf of the wider population it was also essential for a medieval queen to have children. On 31 July 1101 she gave birth to a daughter called Euphemia who did not live for long. By the summer of the same year she was pregnant again. We know this because Henry summoned the Abbot of Abingdon, a renowned physician, to care for his wife. On 7th February 1102 Matilda gave birth to another girl who was baptised as Aethelice (Adelaide) but she is known to history as the Empress Matilda. The year after that William was born.

There was another son called Richard. The Anglo Saxon Chronicle says that he died young whereas other sources state that a second son of Matilda’s called Richard drowned with the sinking of the White Ship. The fact that Henry also had an illegitimate son called Richard doesn’t much help matters.

After the birth of a male heir (and possibly a spare) Matilda had no more children. William of Malmesbury says that the king and queen stopped sharing a bed by common consent. Perhaps Matilda wasn’t terribly impressed with Henry’s love of the ladies. Princess Nest gave birth to one of Henry’s children in 1103. Weir speculates that Henry may have been put off from the wife he was described as ardently desiring because of the fact she spent so much time caring for the ill and the poor. An early example of social distancing perhaps? Weir goes on to suggest several other possible reasons – all in the realms of speculation but it is evident that the couple fell out over Church matters when Anselm was forbidden to return to England in 1104.

Despite this, Henry appointed Matilda as his regent when he went to Normandy that summer. Weir observes that William the Conqueror left his wife as regent and Henry now did the same – demonstrating that both men respected their wives abilities to maintain order in their absence. Henry gave Matilda the “power to judge crime.”

In 1110 Matilda’s daughter henceforth known as the Empress Matilda left England to marry Henry V- the Holy Roman Emperor.

Matilda died on the 1st May 1118 at Westminster Palace and buried in the abbey where she had spent much time in private prayer during her lifetime. She is also associated with Waltham Abbey and Malmesbury as both of them were part of her dower. Henry did not attend the funeral as he wasn’t in England at the time of her death.

Following Henry I’s death Good Queen Maud’s reputation took a bit of a battering when her nephew by marriage, Stephen of Blois, insisted that she had been a nun when Henry married her which meant that Matilda’s daughter, the Empress Matilda, was not the legitimate heir whatever her father said.

Weir, Alison (2017) Queens of the Conquest. London: Jonathan Cape

The Essex forest of Henry I

The most famous Royal Forest is the New Forest in Hampshire created on the orders of William the Conqueror. Orderic Vitalis went so far as to suggest that the deaths of his son William Rufus and grandson Richard were essentially divine punishment for destroying the villages that were there before – William the Conqueror was admittedly dead himself by that point! The Anglo Saxon Chronicle also had something to say on the subject:

….established a great peace for the deer, and laid down laws therefor, that whoever should slay hart or hind should be blinded. He forbade the harts and also the boars to be killed. As greatly did he love the tall deer as if he were their father. He also ordained concerning the hares, that they should go free. His great men bewailed it, and the poor murmured thereat, but he was so obdurate, that he recked not of the hatred of them all, but they must wholly follow the King’s will, if they would live, or have land, or even his peace.’

Like his father and brother, Henry I enjoyed hunting. In 1136 King Stephen issued a charter saying that land which had been designated forest during the reign of Henry I would be returned to the status it had held prior to coming under Forest Law. Essentially whereas William Rufus had clung to the income from vacant bishoprics and abbeys, Henry had effectively increased his domain and taxation potential by turning lands into Forest which then came under the arbitrary control of the monarch.

From the above paragraph it should be evident that forest didn’t necessarily mean trees; it could include moorlands, waste ground and there were even townships that came under forest law. Forest comes from the Latin word “forests” which basically means “outside.” It was unenclosed land.

The key was that anyone living in an area designated as royal forest came under a set of regulations separate from common law and a set of fines and taxes different from elsewhere. if Stephen sought to win support by handing back land it wasn’t something that unduly bothered his successors. By 1189 something like a 1/3 of England came under Forest Law. The king appointed forest officials who seemed to have spent a lot of time collecting fines. There were laws against hunting, enclosing land, taking wood, grazing animals – all of them had penalties which the forest officials exacted on their master’s behalf. At its worst the penalty for hunting a deer or sheltering someone who had hunted a deer was death.

Some of England forests had been designated royal forests during the Saxon period. Edward the Confessor had a forest at Windsor and another in Essex. There were approximately 68 royal forests at the time of the Conquest. However, the laws were not as restrictive as they became after the Conquest.

Essentially William the Conqueror argued that no one owned the deer and the boar so therefore they must belong to the king. If they belonged to the king then if anyone else took them it was theft. He was however willing to grant royal licence to hunt. It also meant that if the king was chasing a deer, for example, it didn’t matter if the deer left the king’s land and fled across ground belonging to someone else. The animal was still the king’s and he had the right to chase it wherever he wanted. It is thought that the king deemed red deer, boar, hares and wolves as his. Later on the range of animals that could be chased only by the king was extended.

Today the Royal Forest that comprised all of Essex by the end of the reign of Henry I is recalled by the fragment that remains as Epping Forest which in turn was part of Waltham Forest. Hatfield Forest remains the only in tact royal hunting forest in Essex. There was also Writtle Forest near Chelmsford and Hainhault Forest which ultimately ended up in the hands of Barking Abbey until the the Dissolution of the Monasteries.

I find it fascinating that only about 20% of Essex was wooded at the time of Domesday but that by 1100 all of it was under Forest Law. King Stephen returned the land but Henry’s grandson also named Henry was swift to reclaim royal forests. In fact, Forest Law was one of the factors leading to Magna Carta.

Young, Charles R. (1979) The Royal Forests of Medieval England

The White Ship – history as poetry and moral message

The sinking of the White Ship

I’ve posted about the sinking of the White Ship on 25 November 1120 before. The boat sank off Barfleur causing the death of Henry I’s only legitimate son the 21 year old William Adelin.

Henry returned to England from Normandy on a separate vessel leaving his son, other family members and younger court elements enjoying themselves – drink was involved. Two monks who should have travelled with the group decided not to journey with the group describing them as “riotous.” The Orderic Vitalis estimates that there were three hundred people aboard when it sank. There was only one survivor. Many, if not most, of England’s leading families were hit by the event. One theory put forward at the time was that the ship sank because there were no clerics on board…

As a result of this disaster Henry, who it was said never smiled again, had to marry for a second time in the hope of a male heir. Even so he was faced with the knowledge that even if he did beget an heir with his young wife that in all likelihood he would die before the child achieved adulthood. The only other alternative was his daughter Matilda. Ultimately Henry made his barons swear that they would support her after his death.

Dante Gabriel Rosetti was sufficiently inspired by the episode to put pen to paper. The result was published in 1881. It is not a short ballad! It can be found here: https://excellence-in-literature.com/the-white-ship-by-dante-gabriel-rossetti/

I’ve also discovered this poem by Felica Hemens written in 1830 portraying Henry living out the rest of his life in the knowledge that his son was dead – which just goes to show that there’s always something new to find!

HE NEVER SMILED AGAIN

The bark that held a prince went down,
The sweeping waves rolled on;
And what was England’s glorious crown
To him that wept a son?
He lived—for life may long be borne
Ere sorrow break its chain;—
Why comes not death to those who mourn?—
He never smiled again! 

There stood proud forms around his throne,
The stately and the brave,
But which could fill the place of one,
That one beneath the wave?
Before him passed the young and fair,
In pleasure’s reckless train,
But seas dashed o’er his son’s bright hair—
He never smiled again! 

He sat where festal bowls went round;
He heard the minstrel sing,
He saw the Tourney’s victor crowned,
Amidst the knightly ring:
A murmur of the restless deep
Was blent with every strain,
A voice of winds that would not sleep—
He never smiled again! 

Hearts, in that time, closed o’er the trace
Of vows once fondly poured,
And strangers took the kinsman’s place
At many a joyous board;
Graves, which true love had bathed with tears,
Were left to Heaven’s bright rain,
Fresh hopes were born for other years—
He never smiled again!

            Felicia Dorothea Browne Hemans, 1793-1835

Poets who drew on historical events not only wanted to tell a story they wanted to draw on deeper emotional truths. In the case of Rosetti, Boos makes the point that The Rime of the Ancient Mariner probably had a part to play. Essentially Rosetti is using the event to look at the deeper darkness of the world. i.e. the perils of princes forgetting God and going on booze fuelled rowing activities. This is of course not so far from the medieval chroniclers of the period who were keen to chronicle current affairs from the point of view of fitting God into the overarching message or to frame their work as moral fables.

These days we are more likely to look for a conspiracy theory which is exactly what can be found in Victoria Chandler’s article – and very interesting reading it makes.

 The Poetical Works of Mrs. Hemans : electronic version”, University of California, British Women Romantic Poets Project. Retrieved 2020-03-04.

Boos, Florence S. The poetry of Dante G. Rossetti: A critical reading and source study

Chandler, Victoria, “The Wreck of the White Ship: A Mass Murder Revealed?”, The Final argument. The imprint of violence on society in medieval and early modern Europe, eds. Kagay, Donald J., and Villalon, L. J. Andrew (Woodbridge: Boydell, 1998)

Edith/Matilda of Scotland

Edith or Matilda of Scotland was the wife of Henry I.  The couple had four children but only two survived to adulthood – Matilda and William. It was the death of William that ultimately plunged England into a lengthy and rather bloody civil war.

Edith was born circa 1080 in Dunfermline to Malcolm III and Margaret , grand-daughter of King Edmund Ironside and great niece of Edward the Confessor .  Somewhat confusingly since Margaret fled England along with her family at the time of the Norman Conquest it turns out that Edith’s godfather was Robert Curthose, the eldest son of William the Conqueror.  William’s queen, Matilda of Flanders was also present at Edith’s baptism  as godmother. It’s recorded that little Edith pulled at the royal headdress – this was later seen as a sign that Edith would herself be queen one day. Tyler identifies the fact that Edith’s name identifies her Saxon royal heritage whilst the choice of godparents reflects the political capital of the infant.

When she was about six Edith was sent to England to be educated by the nuns of Romsey Abbey in Wiltshire.  The Royal House of Wessex had a tradition of association with the abbey and Edith’s aunt Christina was the abbess there. She had left Scotland in 1086 to become a nun. Edith’s older sister Mary went with her. As well as spending time in Romsey the girls also spent time at Wilton Abbey – again there was a royal connection to the House of Wessex – Edward the Confessor’s wife Edith Godwinson was associated with the nunnery and had retired there after the Conquest. Wilton was regarded as a centre for female learning as well as a centre of spirituality.  The nunnery had a nail from the True Cross, bits of the Venerable Bede and St Edith.

The choice of these nunneries perhaps reflects the political heritage of Edith of Dunfermline.  The Normans weren’t necessarily secure on the throne and by maintaining their royal behaviours Malcolm III and his wife were leaving a path open to reclaiming the crown as well as arranging good marriages for their daughters.

Unsurprisingly Edith had lots of prospective suitors including the 2ndearl of Surrey (de Warenne) and Alan Rufus the Lord of Richmond.  It is also suggested that William Rufus might have been a candidate for Edith’s hand – it is perhaps one reason why Edith was required to wear a religious habit during her childhood.

Edith’s settled life came to an end on November 13 1093 when her father and one of her brothers was killed at the Battle of Alnwick.  Her mother died on the 16thNovember at Dunfermline where she is buried. Aside from a controversy about whether she was a nun or not History does not know where Edith was between 1093 and 1100.

At some point in 1093 Edith left Wilton and was ordered back there by Anselm the Bishop of Canterbury. He believed that she had taken holy orders – that she was in fact a nun. In 1100 Edith was called upon to testify before a council of bishops that although she had been educated at Romsey and Wilton that she had not taken any vows.  She stated that Christina had required her to wear a habit to protect her from unwanted attention from Norman lords.  Edith does not appear to have had a good relationship with Christina – she stated that her aunt would often give her a sound slapping and “horrible scolding.” She further added that when she was out of her aunt’s sight she tore off the monastic veil that her aunt made her wear and trampled it in the dust.

In addition to Edith’s testimony there was also the fact that Archbishop Lanfranc had ruled that Saxon women who went into hiding in nunneries in the aftermath of the Conquest could not be deemed as having taken monastic vows when they emerged from their hiding places.  Although Edith clearly hadn’t gone into hiding due to ravaging Normans, Christina’s dressing of the girl in a monastic habit was seen as having stemmed from the same root. William of Malmsebury notes that Christina grew old and died at Romsey so perhaps the move to Wilton was partially to get away from an unloved relation – but that is entirely speculation.  

On one hand its evident that Edith/Matilda’s bloodline was ample reason for Henry I to marry her but William of Malmsebury states that Henry loved his new bride.  Henry I and Edith married on November 11thin Westminster Abbey. Anselm performed the marriage but before doing so told the entire congregation about Edith potentially being a nun and asked for any objections.  The congregation- possibly knowing what was good for it- cried out in Edith’s favour.  Afterwards she took the name Matilda – not that it stopped Henry I’s lords mocking him by calling him Godrick and his queen Godiva because of the return to Saxon customs that Henry instituted.  

And for anyone doubting whether Edith/Matilda was legally able to marry, the fact that a healthy baby daughter, the future Empress Matilda, was born in February 1102 followed by a boy called William in September 1103 put an end to those niggling concerns that Henry might have married a nun – would God have blessed a marriage if it was invalid?

Honeycutt, Lois L. (2005) Matilda of Scotland: A Study in Medieval Queenship

“Edith Becomes Matilda.” England in Europe: English Royal Women and Literary Patronage, C.1000–C.1150, by ELIZABETH M. TYLER, University of Toronto Press, Toronto; Buffalo; London, 2017, pp. 302–353. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.3138/j.ctt1whm96v.14. Accessed 24 Feb. 2020.

Early sources on the death of William Rufus

William Rufus pictured in the Stowe Manuscript

I’ve stated before that we all like a good conspiracy theory – and why not- sometimes though the theory grows with the retelling.

The Anglo Saxon Chronicle  which is one of the earliest accounts of William’s untimely demise is terse. “In the morning after Lammas King William when hunting was shot by an arrow by one of his own men.” Similarly Eadmer, who is St Anselm’s first biographer, states that when the news that William had been killed arrived at the monastery where Anselm was staying that Anselm sobbed for the soul of the king and wished that he had died – the inference being that Anselm had a better chance of Heaven than the “Red King” who was definitely not on the list of the Church’s ten most saintly people. There was however, no suggestion, that he had been murdered.

If anything the accounts that followed wished to create a moral story. Peter of Blois’s account saw the Devil make an appearance whilst William of Malmesbury mentions dreams amongst other portents. In both cases there is no suggestion that William’s death is anything other than a hunting accident. Orderic Vitalis discusses other royal hunting accidents.

Matthew Paris has the arrow that killed William ricocheting off a tree where as earlier accounts have Walter Tirel taking a shot at a second deer but having the sun in his eyes. A later account, 1889, includes the sound of argument and broken bow strings. The broken bow string belonged to Prince Henry and that can be found in Wace’s account of William’s death. Wace was born about 1110 and he wrote his La Roman de Rou in about 1160.

It should probably be noted that William’s likely killer, Walter Tirel, was a patron of the Benedictines. He had links with Bec and let’s face it there’s the additional problem of Henry I’s undignified rush for the treasury in Winchester and the Crown of England. It is very easy to see henry making a bid for the crown, especially as his and William’s elder brother Robert Curthose was on his way back from the First Crusade with a wealthy bride – were she to have children then Henry’s claim would dwindle. Alternatively if you were a Norman prince you probably had to cease opportunities when they came up in order to gain the power you craved.

I have posted elsewhere about the possibility of the Clare family being involved in a conspiracy to finish William and as always there’s more than one argument to be made as well as rather a lot of circumstantial evidence to unpick. It’s certainly provided rather a lot of novelists with material.

The Prince’s Crusade

The image shows the Siege of Antioch: (Image: Jean Colombe – Adam Bishop/Public domain) from https://www.infoplease.com/encyclopedia/history/modern-europe/wars-battles/crusades/first-crusade

Urban II convinced many people to take the cross because he offered a papal indulgence – essentially they would be pardoned for their sins. It was also an opportunity for impoverished knights to achieve some wealth.

The Princes’ Crusade set off between August and October 1096. In total eight “princes” were involved with the official First Crusade -not the Peasants’ Crusade. They were Count Hugh of Vermandois, Count Robert II of Flanders, Duke Godfrey of Bouillion, Prince Bohemund of Taranto, Bishop Adhemar of Le Puy, Count Raymond of Toulouse, Count Stephen of Blois and Duke Robert of Normandy. Each of them gathered their nobility together and raised funds for the journey and to pay for their armies.

It is believed that there were 6000 mounted knights and 44,000 foot soldiers though only half of them were fully equipped and trained. Robert Curthose did not lead an army he joined with his nearest relations having taken a leisurely journey, overwintering in Puglia with Count Roger Borsa. On arrival in Constantinople each prince was presented with lavish gifts by Emperor Alexios and in return swore to hand over any land they acquired if it had once been part of the Byzantine Empire.

On 19th June 1097 Nicea fell to the crusaders – in part because the Seljuk Turks underestimated the new armies that had arrived on their doorstep believing them to be as badly trained and armed as the Peasants’ Crusade.

In March 1098 Baldwin of Boulogne and Godfrey of Bouillion took their men in the direction of Edessa which they seized and held.

Meanwhile Antioch was under siege. It was a protracted affair. In January 1098 Bishop Adhemar proclaimed that Antioch had not fallen to the crusaders due to their sinfulness. The army was required to pray and fast, all women had to leave the camp, and riches were donated into a central fund to help the poor.

Stephen of Blois decided to go home and told Alexios not to bother bringing an army to support the remaining crusaders. This meant that when Antioch did eventually fall that Bohemund was able to convince the remaining princes that their oath to the emperor no longer held because he had not fulfilled his side of the bargain.

By the 4th June 1098 the Crusaders, due to a bribe, had taken the city but not the fortified citadel of Antioch and now found themselves facing a relief force that had arrived from Mosul. The Crusaders now found themselves besieged in Antioch whilst the citadel worked with the Moslem general Kerbogha to attack them. Some crusaders deserted the cause, including Bohemond’s brother. The city was already in a poor state so it wasn’t long before the remaining crusaders began to face starvation and death from assorted diseases. There were rumours of cannibalism.

But on the 28th June 1098 the crusader army faced Kerbogha in open battle – some sources suggested that they were outnumbered 4 to 1. The crusaders won the battle and took full possession of both the town and the citadel. The reason behind the victory is usually given that on the 14th June the crusaders discovered the Holy Lance which had pierced Christ’s side. Their faith was reinvigorated because God had shown himself to be on the side of the crusaders- at least that’s what most of the received wisdom on the subject states because that’s what the primary sources indicate. The siege had lasted seven months.

Essentially on the 10th June Peter Bartholomew had a private meeting with Raymond of Toulouse – unusual given that Bartholomew was a peasant. He claimed that he had received a series of dreams featuring St Andrew the Apostle telling him where to find the Holy Lance in the Basilica of St Peter in Antioch. Apparently God had set the spear aside specifically for Raymond. The account of the visions and discovery was written in about 1101 by Raymond of Toulouse’s confessor. Bishop Ademar who was at the initial meeting had his doubts about the whole thing and these are also recorded in the primary source – the cleric wasn’t convinced that St Andrew would have anything to do with a peasant from Provence plus Emperor Alexios had the Holy Lance in his collection of religious artefacts because it had been discovered in the fourth century by St Helena. Either way the Crusaders had a thing about religious artefacts -for instance, Robert of Flanders stole St George’s arm from a monastery en route to the Holy Land. And it wasn’t just relics – angels had started turning up in support of the Crusaders. At the Battle of Dorylaeum Raymond of Aguiliers recorded a shining presence in the crusaders’ midst.

By June 1099 the crusaders were besieging Jerusalem. The siege lasted from the June 7th until July 15th. It began with a barefooted march around Jerusalem’s wall reminiscent of the Biblical Siege of Jericho. Fortunately for the crusaders who were hungry and thirsty supplies were delivered by the Genoese fleet which made harbour in Jaffa. When Jerusalem fell there was a terrible massacre of Moslems and Jews. Whilst post-siege atrocities were the done thing in medieval times the deaths that followed Jerusalem’s fall were seen as excessive even by the standards of the time – first hand accounts describe crusaders up to their ankles in blood.

Following the fall of Jerusalem and later of Acre many crusaders believed that their pilgrimage was over and went home. Those who remained founded the Crusader states or Outremer: the Kingdom of Jerusalem, the county of Tripoli, the Principality of Antioch and the County of Edessa. This was clearly contrary to the oath that the princes had taken to the Emperor Alexios (Though Raymond I think had promised only not to harm Alexios rather than giving any oaths pertaining to land). The new Christian kingdoms were vulnerable to attacks by Muslims who aimed to recapture the territory taken in the first crusade. Inevitably it led to more conflict.

And that’s all I plan on posting about the First Crusade for the time being – though I am beginning to think it would make a manageable topic for a day school in Halifax in 2020/21. As always apologies for any spelling mistakes – I have discovered an app that should help but cannot download it onto my computer at present (bah humbug.)

The Peasants’ Crusade

Map showing the People’s Crusade – not sure about language. The People’s Crusade went through the Rhineland, by-passed Bohemia, received permission to travel through Hungary and from there into the Byzantine Empire – (Serbia and Bulgaria – ish!)

As with the previous post this is not an exhaustive piece on the Peasant’s Crusade or the People’s Crusade as it is also known – it’s an introduction.

Pope Urban II preached crusade at the Council of Clermont in November 1095. The idea was that the crusaders would set off the following summer. However, before the various military leaders could get themselves organised an army of about 50,000 peasants marched in the direction of Constantinople.

The peasants were led by Peter the Hermit. He had made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem but was prevented from entering the city by the Seljuk Turks. It is possible that he was one of the inspirations for Urban II’s sermon but more factually we know that he preached crusade in France and then began gathering his army under the authority of the Patriarch of Jerusalem. His licence to preach included England.

For the people who joined Peter the Hermit there was the religious element of the crusade to consider but also the fact that it enabled peasants to leave the land which many of them were tied to by the feudal structure. However, as the vast majority of them were not wealthy there came the problems of having to take entire families and living off the land.

By spring 1096 Peter was in the Rhineland where preaching crusade led to a massacre of Jews. This killing spread with the crusade. At Mainz the Bishop hid numbers of Jews in his palace but they were still murdered. In part it was religious intolerance – torah scrolls were destroyed. The Jewish population was targeted and murdered. Another element was the opportunity to acquire money and goods.

At Cologne, Peter had to stop to resupply but here, initially at least, the Jewish community was largely saved by their gentile neighbours who hid them in their own homes. Unfortunately the crusaders sought them out when they moved into hiding in nearby villages -and killed them anyway. None of it makes happy reading.

At this time, whilst Peter halted, a party of impatient crusaders led by Walter the Penniless contained on their journey. As this army led journeyed south stealing and living off the land there were confrontations between the crusaders and the local Christian populations.. At Semlin about 4,000 Hungarians were killed and a number of crusaders took refuge in a chapel where they were burned to death. The rest of the crusaders continued on their way setting Belgrade on fire. They were attacked on the way to Sofia resulting in the loss of many of their untrained soldiers. Peter travelling after Walter’s group came to Semlin to find the town wall hung with things taken from Walter’s crusaders.

Peter and his army eventually arrived in Constantinople in July 1096. They were not what the Emperor Alexios wanted not least because he was now expected to care for an untrained army that included impoverished men, women and children – think rabble rather than army. There are questions as to whether Alexios sent Peter and his People’s Crusade off across the Bosphorus without guides in order to get rid of them or whether they continued into Turkish territory despite having been told to wait but that is a matter for debate.

At Dracon, in Turkish held territory Peter and his army were attacked and fought the Battle of Civetot. It was a disaster for the People’s Crusade. Most of them were killed or enslaved.

Duncalf notes that the chroniclers of the period did not write much about the People’s Crusade not least because they did not assist the main or Princes’ Crusade although Peter the Hermit turns up on other occasions in the story of the First Crusade because he joined with the army of Godfrey of Bouillon. There other narrative accounts which are contemporary including that of Anna Komnina the daughter of Emperor Alexios.

I am sorry if there are any really terrible spelling mistakes – this version of WordPress changes spellings to what it thinks they should be, based on the pattern the misspelling makes and I cannot always see where changes have happened even reading the post through before hitting the publish button.

For a more extended account of the People’s Crusade follow this link: https://www.historynet.com/first-crusade-peoples-crusade.htm

Duncalf, Frederic (1921) The American Historical Review, Volume 26, Issue 3, April 1921, Pages 440–453, https://doi.org/10.1086/ahr/26.3.440

Kostick, Conor (2008), The Social Structure of the First Crusade. Brill

The First Crusade 1095-1099

Urban preaches

Pope Urban II preached at Clermont-Ferrand in November 1095. As a result of his words somewhere in the region of 100,000 men from all ranks of society took up his call to arms in order to recapture Jerusalem from the Saracens (Seljuk Turks) who since their capture of the city had forbidden Christians from making pilgrimages. In addition to suddenly wanting to make the Holy Land Christian there was also a wave of anti-Semitism across Western Europe.

Usually three political reasons are given for the Crusade:

  1. The Byzantine emperor, Alexios Comnenos, wanted the Franks to help get rid of the Turks who were invading from Asia Minor.
  2. Pope Urban II was not the only pope – there was an alternative in the form of Pope Clement III who was based in Rome whilst Urban held northern Italy and France. By calling for a holy war he was seeking to unite a faction ridden Christian world and take the spot as top Pope. It would become deeply un-Christian for Christian rulers to go to war against one another when they should be killing the infidel.
  3. Faith, land and religious violence go hand in hand at this time. Urban preached Crusade in Spain against the Muslims as well as preaching for the capture of Jerusalem from the Saracens.

But why did so many men take up the call to arms:

i) Urban promised that they would be forgiven their sins.

ii) There was the lure of land and loot.

iii) Adventure.

iv) Deus Vult “God Wills It” – a snappy piece of recruitment either used during the Clermont sermon by a very enthusiastic crowd or by a sharp thinking eleventh century spin doctor shortly after.

In Normandy a period of unrest came to an end – more or less as Urban must have hoped would happen across the Western Christian World. Robert Curthose took the cross having mortgaged his duchy to his brother William Rufus in order to pay for the adventure and set off in the direction of the Holy Land. William waved his brother goodbye and settled down to being regent in Normandy in his brother’s absence.

It had been pretty good timing on Robert’s part given that it would have been deeply unmannerly of William to conquer the duchy whilst Robert was on Crusade. Yet in 1094 William and set his sights on Normandy, come to terms with his brother Henry and taken castle after castle. By the time Robert decided to take the Cross, William already held 20 castle in Normandy. By going when he did Robert deferred defeat.

William Rufus – the red

King William II – a name that we don’t tend to use – it’s usually Rufus. Bynames which described a person’s appearance crop up a lot in medieval history. It was a habit that gradually disappeared from the naming of English monarchs but in continental Europe there were a whole series of Charleses who rejoiced in bynames such as “fat,” “bald,” “simple,” not to mention a number of King Louis who were pious or who stammered.

Eadmer of Canterbury never uses his byname whilst a slightly later writer, William of Malmesbury does call him King William Rufus and spends some time describing him whereas Geoffrey de Gaimar who wrote before 1140 explains that he was called Rufus on account of his hair colouring.

It’s Orderic Vitalis who calls him William Rufus throughout his account and its probably from him that the name has stuck.

William was a third child after Robert and Richard and as as such may well have been intended, initially at least, for the church. If this was indeed the case he may have been more literate than historians give him credit for. Usually Henry II is identified as the first post-Conquest literate King of England. Essentially if you were going to be a knight and land owner you did not need to be able to read and write – someone else could do it for you.

As a third son his birth was not particularly auspicious – so history down not know the date.

We know that part of his education was overseen by Lanfranc of Bec who went on to become Archbishop of Canterbury. He could have been placed in monastic care from the age of five which might go some way towards explaining his antipathy towards the Church.

Richard died and William’s role in life may have been amended to reflect this. As Robert grew to adulthood he rebelled against his father. Again, William’s standing in society would have been affected by this but it is important to note that a boy’s military training began at the age of twelve and young William was noted for his aptitude in warfare in a family and court that trained hard in combat so if he had been destined for the church William changed his plan early on.

Popular quiz knowledge jumps William from his name to his death in the New Forest. For those with a greater knowledge base is the idea that he was a tad on the villainous side – which is impressive given that his father purportedly laid waste to the north and died being haunted due to the atrocities he committed. The idea of the villainous red king comes from the writings of Eadmer of Canterbury who tells the story of St Anselm. If Anselm is the hero of the tale, William Rufus is the villain.

Later writers took up Eadmer’s position, added the views of Henry I’s chroniclers who often denigrated William to “big up” Henry and his legal reforms – turning Henry into Beauclerk or the Lion of Justice whilst William resides in the role of avaricious thwarter of the church with a questionmark about his sexuality. The Anglo -Saxon Chronicle stated that William was “abhorrent to God.”

All of which seems a bit unfair given that William put down his uncle’s rebellion in short order (admittedly he reneged on the promises that he had made to the militia); secured his country’s northern borders and exerted control over his treasury (by failing to appoint bishops and abbots so he could draw the income from the vacant bishoprics and monasteries.) It was Rufus who cemented his father’s conquest of England using techniques familiar to any medieval king worth his salt.

Revisionist historians have argued that actually Henry benefited from his brother’s policies and that William has suffered on account of negative press. It cannot have helped that he alienated the Church and that they were the chroniclers of the period. It’s probably not good press when a saint attacks you for your licentious behaviour!