(We’d like to welcome guest poster Rima Jean, the author of the delicious YA historical fantasy KNIGHT ASSASSIN! ~ eds.)
Today I’ll be giving you the low-down on the Crusades—namely, why they happened. Why the Crusades, you ask? Good question. My YA historical fantasy, Knight Assassin, takes place in Syria and Jerusalem between the Second and Third Crusades, and while the heroine is a Syrian Assassin, the hero is a Knight Templar. The mixing of cultures and peoples made for a complex and fascinating period in history.
Not that I would want to live back then.
As if living in Medieval Europe wasn’t enough of a pain in the butt, the armies of Western Europe went on a series of Crusades between the 11th and 14th centuries to take back the Holy Land from the Muslims. The knights and nobles of Europe were constantly fighting with each other over land, so they were thrilled when, in 1095, Pope Urban II went on tour (like a rock star) to urge those knights and nobles to turn their excessive testosterone against the Muslims. At that time, the Seljuk Turks, who were Muslims, were in the process of beating the crap out of the Byzantine Empire (in Asia Minor), which was Christian. To sweeten the deal, Pope Urban offered an indulgence to those who went to liberate Jerusalem, which was basically a way for Crusaders to have all their sins forgiven.
Folks went running, let me tell you. The first band of Crusaders consisted of peasants led by a preacher named Peter the Hermit (clearly, he stopped being a hermit for the occasion) who tore through France and Germany plundering towns and killing Jews, only to arrive in Constantinople in bad shape. Needless to say, the Turks handed the Crusaders’ asses to them. This got the knights moving, and the first “official” Crusade was led by celebrity knights and nobles: Bishop Adhemar of Le Puy, who was made leader of the Crusader armies; Hugh of Vermandois, the little bro of the king of France; Robert of Normandy, the son of William the Conqueror; Baldwin of Flanders and his brother Godfrey of Bouillon, the Duke of Lower Lorraine; and also Raymond of Toulouse, an experienced warrior who had fought the Muslims in Spain.
That’s when things really started to suck for the knights: The Holy Land was friggin’ hot, way hotter than Europe, and the men wore serious layers of armor, including a gambeson, which was a thickly padded tunic, a hauberk over it, which was a chainmail coat, a metal helmet… Dudes must have been cooking under the desert sun. Of course, what was a disadvantage in the heat was an advantage in battle – when the knights would charge the lightly-clad Muslim forces, they were lethal.
After finding what the Crusaders believed to be the lance that had pierced the side of Christ during the Crucifixion (riiiiiiight), the Crusaders defeated the Turks at Antioch and trudged on to Jerusalem (finally!) in June 1099. The Crusaders pummeled the city for only a month before they were able to capture it. The capture of Jerusalem was a wholesale slaughter – Muslims, Christians and Jews were massacred, and their corpses were piled outside the city higher than the gate itself.
Of course, the Crusaders’ problems weren’t finished yet; now they had to decide who would be the ruler of this new Christian state. Needless to say, they all wanted to be king. Go figure. They finally settled on Baldwin, who took the crown of the new Kingdom of Jerusalem, which was also called Outremer. Sadly, war did not end there. In under 50 years, Jerusalem fell again to the Muslims and the need for another crusade sprang up…
Okay, so there was a lot of killing going on in the name of religion. Still, a fascinating period of history that would trigger the imagination of any history lover, and one that provides fertile grounds for a great story.
Rima Jean received a degree in archaeology from the University of Pennsylvania. After a dismal law school experience, she floundered a bit before accepting her calling: storytelling. She resides in Houston with her wonderful husband and two beautiful daughters, where she writes, edits, and dabbles in digital art. Her debut YA historical fantasy, Knight Assassin, is out now.