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Authors: Susan Wise Bauer

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Blame for her infrequent pregnancies likely lay elsewhere. Louis VII had been educated for the priesthood, not the crown. The death of his older brother had unexpectedly catapulted him out of the cloisters and onto the throne, and that early schooling had left its mark. A life in the Church was a life without women; Louis had been taught that sex had the potential to deprive man of judgment and distort his view of God. Even with a lawful spouse, too-enthusiastic lovemaking could be considered sin. Overindulgence in the pleasures of the marriage bed, theologians warned, could “cripple superior masculine reasoning faculties.”

In the twelfth-century French church, virgins stood at the top of the moral hierarchy; and, thrown back into a world where he was expected to father children, Louis seems to have attended to his marital duties with some reluctance. It was an attitude that would, very shortly, have international repercussions.

5.3 Conquests of Zengi and Nur ad-Din

By the time Louis and Eleanor arrived at Constantinople, in 1147, Zengi was dead: stabbed to death in September of 1146 by one of his own slaves, as he slept. Zengi’s son Nur ad-Din had taken up his father’s sword, and Edessa still remained in Muslim hands.

The armies of the Second Crusade were savagely battered before they ever got near their goal. Louis’s ally, the German king Conrad III (successor of Lothair III, but still uncrowned by the pope), had beaten him to the east. But instead of waiting for the French forces, Conrad’s men had set out for Antioch and been nearly wiped out by a Turkish force at Dorylaeum. “Of seventy thousand mailed knights and many companies of foot soldiers, countless in number,” says William of Tyre, “barely a tenth part escaped.” The survivors retreated to Nicaea and waited for the French. But Conrad III himself had been badly wounded, and when Louis arrived at the rendezvous point, Conrad was still unable to fight.

The injured German king returned to Constantinople for nursing; and Louis VII took command of the combined French and German army and marched along the coast, making his way slowly towards Edessa. He had even worse fortune. In January of 1148, after two months of hard slogging, the French Crusaders were strung out and separated, marching past Mount Cadmus near Laodicea, when a Turkish army descended on them. Louis VII himself escaped, climbing up out of the gorge he was in by clutching on to the roots of trees. But his men were lost: “Our army,” writes William of Tyre, “was reduced to a very few. . . . That day the glorious reputation of the Franks was lost . . . their valor . . . crushed to earth.”

The survivors limped and straggled their way to Antioch, which was ruled by Eleanor’s uncle Raymond of Poitiers, and took refuge there. They were too few to even attempt the siege of Edessa. Yet to return home in humiliation was unthinkable, particularly for Louis VII, who would ultimately have borne the blame for the defeat. Raymond suggested an assault on nearby Aleppo instead; it was smaller, less fortified, and also happened to be the headquarters of Nur ad-Din himself. Louis VII shrugged off the suggestion. He wanted to march on towards Jerusalem and gain at least remission of his sins for his trouble in coming east.

Raymond then chose a fatal strategy: he decided to work on his young niece and convince her to bring her husband around to his way of thinking. Eleanor was quickly persuaded, and immediately began to lobby Louis on Raymond’s behalf.

Whether this was political shrewdness on her part, or something more convoluted, will never be known. Certainly most of the Crusaders in Antioch thought that Raymond had seduced his niece; he was only in his early thirties at the time and (according to William of Tyre) “very tall . . . handsome far beyond all the kings and princes of the world . . . a charming and elegant prince.” William adds, mournfully, “He was seldom lucky”; and so it would prove.

Subjected to unceasing pressure from both his wife and his host, Louis VII obstinately refused to even consider an attack on Aleppo. Finally, Eleanor announced that if Louis refused to follow Raymond’s plan, she would ask Pope Eugenius III for an annulment; after all, she and Louis were third cousins (as were most European monarchs, if you climbed far enough back into the family tree). This threat undoubtedly had less to do with Aleppo than with Louis’s inadequacies as a husband. Eleanor was famously rumored to have complained that she thought she’d married a king, but ended up with a monk instead.

Infuriated, Louis VII removed his wife from Antioch by force and hauled her down the coast to Jerusalem. There, he completed his pilgrimage; and she, not having any choice, accompanied him to the holy sites. Afterwards, he took her with him back up to Acre. Conrad III, recovered from his wounds, had arrived with reinforcements, and a great council of Crusader princes and warriors had been called to determine the next move in the Crusade. (Raymond of Antioch was noticeably absent.)

After a lengthy debate, the Crusaders decided to attack Damascus, which was under the control of Nur ad-Din’s father-in-law. The siege began on July 24, 1148, and was over in five days. Nur ad-Din sent troops to relieve the city, and the Crusaders were so clearly outarmed that they hastily withdrew. Conrad III made a pass through Constantinople, on his way home, to firm up his friendship with the Byzantine emperor Manuel Comnenus; the other Crusaders dispersed.

But despite pleas from his officials back in Paris, Louis VII lingered in Jerusalem until Easter of 1149. He was reluctant to take his wife home, where she could carry out her threat of annulment. Finally, broke and unable to delay the inevitable, he and Eleanor started home, by sea—on different ships.

Once the last Crusaders were gone, Nur ad-Din invaded Antioch. Raymond and his army marched out to drive them back. In the battle that followed, the unlucky Raymond was killed. Nur ad-Din, says William of Tyre, ordered Raymond’s head cut off, and had it sent to Baghdad as a trophy; according to rumor, sealed in a silver case.

The Second Crusade had come to an embarrassing end. Bernard of Clairvaux, who had preached with such fervor that God was with the Crusaders, blamed the Crusaders for their lack of both holiness and resolve: “The Lord,” he wrote afterwards, “provoked by our sins . . . neither spared his people nor his own name. . . . How could they advance, [since] they were continually turning back whenever they set out?” But whatever the reason for the failure, the result was disastrous; afterwards, William of Tyre notes with regret, “fewer people, and those less fervent in spirit, undertook this pilgrimage thereafter.” The crusading impulse, already aging and infirm, had been dealt a deadly blow.

Chapter Six

Reconquista and Rediscovery

Between 1134 and 1146,
Christian kings, Almoravid warriors, and Almohad caliphs
battle on the Spanish peninsula,
while more and more Arabic books reach the west

1134, the Spanish king Alfonso the Battler died after a lifetime on the battlefield.

He had drawn the four Christian kingdoms of Spain—Aragon and Navarre, León and Castile—together under the joined crowns of himself and his wife Urraca. But the south of the Spanish peninsula had never been under his control. For over four hundred years, Muslim dynasties had ruled there instead.

Nearly five decades earlier, a North African sect known as the Almoravids had crossed the Strait of Gibraltar into the Spanish peninsula. Within three years, the south of Spain was under Almoravid rule. The Christian kingdoms of the north fought back against the invaders, turning the center of the peninsula into a much contested battlefront. Their resistance gained energy when a church council at Toulouse, in 1118, gave the fight the status of
. Instead of traveling east, western noblemen with their private armies could now take the shorter journey west and earn the same spiritual rewards. Military orders—monks with swords—shouldered the task as well.

But the battlefield was large, and the enemy determined. In the east, crusades were measured in years. The crusade in Spain, the Reconquista, continued for centuries.

By 1134, Almoravid power in Spain had weakened. The Almoravid ruler Ali ibn Yusuf, ruling from North Africa, was more concerned with African territories than with his trans-Mediterranean lands. Meanwhile, Christian strength had grown. Alfonso the Battler, earning his nickname, had pushed the Almoravid front back, and back, and back. For Alfonso, Spain was not merely a political realm. It was a sacred space where Christianity carried on its undying fight against evil. And so, when he died, he left his kingdom to the Knights Templar, the Hospitallers, and the Knights of the Holy Sepulchre: three of the military orders established to nurture holy warriors.

His people ignored the bizarre will. The four kingdoms split apart: León and Castile under his stepson Alfonso VII,
Aragon under Alfonso the Battler’s brother Ramiro II (a monk who gave up his vows in order to be king, finding the two incompatible). Navarre, which had been under Aragonese control for nearly sixty years, threw its support behind Garcia Ramirez, a grandson of the legendary Christian warrior El Cid; he would rule an newly independent Navarre for sixteen years, earning himself the title of “the Restorer.”

The separation of the once-united kingdoms could have provided the Almoravids with an opportunity to retake some of the lost land, but rot was spreading farther and farther into their realm. A new challenge to Almoravid power had arisen in Africa itself. A North African prophet named Ibn Tumart, a devout Muslim who had left his homeland to study his faith in Baghdad, had returned with a revelation: the end of time was near, and Ibn Tumart had been called to purify the practice of Islam and to unite its followers in dedication to Islamic law.

At twenty-eight, he was blazingly charismatic, persuasive, and driven. The thirteenth-century historian al-Marrakushi says that on the journey back to North Africa, he preached so unceasingly to the sailors on the ship where he had bought passage that they threw him into the sea (he swam along in the wake until they had second thoughts and hauled him back on board). Before his premature death in 1130, he had managed to gain an enormous following: the
, or Almohads, the Unified Ones.

One of Ibn Tumart’s followers, the soldier al-Mu’min, built on his theological groundwork and transformed the religious movement into one of conquest. By 1134, the Almohads had begun to push into the Almoravid land in North Africa. In Almohad eyes, the Almoravids were the enemy as much as the Christians farther north: Muslim but unpurified, corrupt lawbreakers.

Fighting on two fronts, the Almoravids soon found themselves overmatched on both.

On the Spanish peninsula, the Christian front had advanced to the south of Toledo. Toledo itself, hotly contested, was so dangerous a place that Alfonso VII made a nobleman he particularly distrusted its governor, a hopeful move since the previous governors of Toledo had all been killed in battle. The nearby castle of Oreja was an Almoravid base of operations, and in the spring of 1139, Alfonso VII laid siege to it: “The castle was very strong,” says the
Chronica Adefonsi Imperatoris
, the official chronicle of Alfonso’s reign, “and was well fortified with all kinds of weapons and crossbows. Nevertheless, the emperor ordered his engineers to build siege towers and many engines with which to attack the castle, [and] he ordered sentries to be placed along the riverbank in order that he might destroy them by thirst.”

BOOK: The History of the Renaissance World
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