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The Later Crusades

Paul Crawford

It used to be thought that the Crusades essentially ended in 1291, with the loss of the Holy Land. Recent scholars have argued that medieval men may have thought of expeditions to other places as carrying the same kind of weight and prestige as crusades to Syria-Palestine. The primary sources confirm that most if not all of the administrative mechanism which supported Crusades to the East also supported crusades to other theatres. Very few scholars cling to the notion that crusading died with the Holy Land. Rather we now see that the crusading idea evolved and adapted to changing circumstances and needs, remaining very much alive well into the modern period.

The Iberian peninsula had been the site of continual fighting since the Muslim Arabs invaded it in 711. By about the middle of the eleventh century, Christian forces had managed to recover about half the peninsula, and the popes, in order to help them in their struggle, had made limited indulgences available to those who came from other lands to assist the Spanish in their business of reconquest (known as the Reconquista). In some ways, then, the Reconquista may claim to be the real "first Crusade."

When St. Bernard preached the Second Crusade in the mid-1140s, after the fall of Edessa, the Spanish asked for and received similar crusade privileges for a renewed push against the Muslims. Additionally, the Saxons received some crusade privileges for an inconclusive crusade against their pagan neighbors, the Wends. Hence the Second Crusade was in fact a three-front war, and although this probably contributed to its ultimate failure, it also established the precedent that crusades could be officially declared for areas other than the Holy Land.

Another step in the evolution of crusading came at the beginning of the thirteenth century. A dualist heresy, whose followers were known as Cathars or Albigensians, arose in southern France. It became very widespread and proved impossible to stamp out by ordinary means such as persuasion. Eventually Innocent III declared a crusade against these heretics, making the Albigensian Crusade the first against internal enemies of Christendom instead of external ones.

Through this time period the papacy carried out a long conflict with the Holy Roman Empire, primarily fought in the Italian peninsula. At times of great need popes would sometimes declare crusades against their political enemies in these conflicts. This considerably devalued the crusading ideal and brought it into some disrepute.

Meanwhile, German bishops began missionary work among the Baltic pagans. Some Prussians, Lithuanians, and Livonians (people living the the area of modern Estonia and Latvia) did indeed convert, but their unconverted neighbors often persecuted and killed both converts and missionaries. Eventually the missionaries called for help to protect their converts, and crusades composed primarily of Germans answered the call.

Soon a military order, the largely German Teutonic Knights, became involved in the area, and a perpetual Baltic Crusade against the heathen began. This conflict was marked by a much greater level of savagery than that in the Holy Land. The civilization of the pagan Prussians and Lithuanians was vastly inferior to that of the relatively sophisticated German Christians for one thing, and partly as a result the mutual respect which often marked contacts between Turks and Franks was almost entirely absent from the Baltic theatre. And as might easily be guessed, under the circumstances the Christian prohibition against forcible conversion sometimes became blurred and even forgotten.

The Teutonic Knights set up "Order-States" in both Prussia and Livonia, and soon their crusading policy became inextricably entwined with the foreign policy of these states. As a result the Teutonic Knights often found themselves "crusading" against Christians, including the Catholic Poles and the Orthodox Russians. Occasionally the papacy tried to restrain them, but without much effect.

At the end of the fourteenth century the Lithuanians converted en masse to Christianity, and the crowns of Lithuania and Poland were united in marriage. The combined power of the Polish-Lithuanian union proved too much for the Teutonic Knights. In 1410 they were badly defeated at the First Battle of Tannenberg, and they ceased to be a major player in the area thereafter. In the next century the Prussian and Livonian Teutonic Knights converted to Lutheranism and founded the secular duchies of Prussia and Courland, respectively.

Crusades were also called against the Hussites in Bohemia in the fifteenth century. The Hussites were followers of the Bohemian reformer Jan Hus, who was declared a heretic and burned at the stake in 1415. Many Bohemians, motivated by both religious and political reasons, revolted against their Catholic German rulers and formed a sort of republic. Several crusades were declared against them, but all failed. Eventually the Hussite Crusades were ended by a compromise, not by a crusade.

  1. Introduction
  2. Military and Political Background
  3. The First Crusade
  4. Crusades and the Counter-Crusades
  5. The Later Crusades
  6. Additional Background
  7. Crusading Vows & Privileges
  8. Legacy

Copyright (C) 1997, Paul Crawford. This file may be copied on the condition that the entire contents,including the header and this copyright notice, remain intact.

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