Ibn Warraq: Walter Scott, The Talisman, the Crusades, Richard I of England and Saladin: Myths, Legends and History (Part 49)
Walter Scott, The Talisman, the Crusades, Richard I of England and Saladin: Myths, Legends and History
by Ibn Warraq
Parts 1-39 / Part 40 / Part 41 / Part 42 / Part 43 / Part 44 / Part 45 / Part 46 / Part 47 / Part 48
Gibbon also acknowledges that that many crusaders had mixed motives, that it was not a simple matter — not all were moved by pure thoughts. It was much easier for the religious authorities to goad the masses into action by promises of absolution of their sins by fighting, not their brethren in Europe, but infidels in foreign lands, with possiblities of achieving immortality as Christian heroes:
“Of the chiefs and soldiers who marched to the holy sepulchre, I will dare to affirm, that all were prompted by the spirit of enthusiasm ; the belief of merit, the hope of reward, and the assurance of divine aid. But I am equally persuaded, that in many it was not the sole, that in some it was not the leading, principle of action. The use and abuse of religion are feeble to stem, they are strong and irresistible to impel the stream of national manners. Against the private wars of the Barbarians, their bloody tournaments, licentious loves, and judicial duels, the popes and synods might ineffectually thunder. It is a more easy task to provoke the metaphysical disputes of the Greeks, to drive into the cloister the victims of anarchy or despotism, to sanctify the patience of slaves and cowards, or to assume the merit of the humanity and benevolence of modern Christians. War and exercise were the reigning passions of the Franks or Latins; they were enjoined, as a penance, to gratify those passions, to visit distant lands, and to draw their swords against the nations of the East. Their victory, or even their attempt, would immortalize the names of the intrepid heroes of the cross; and the purest piety could not be insensible to the most splendid prospect of military glory.”
The vulgar masses were undoubtedly taken with visions of worldly gain, and they believed they would acquire wine, women, and land, and at the same time escape their own state of servitude in Europe:
“They could march with alacrity against the distant and hostile nations who were devoted to their arms: their fancy already grasped the golden sceptres of Asia; and the conquest of Apulia and Sicily by the Normans might exalt to royalty the hopes of the most private adventurer. Christendom, in her rudest state, must have yielded to the climate and cultivation of the Mahometan countries ; and their natural and artificial wealth had been magnified by the tales of pilgrims, and the gifts of an imperfect commerce. The vulgar, both the great and small, were taught to believe every wonder, of lands flowing with milk and honey, of mines and treasures, of gold and diamonds, of palaces of marble and jasper, and of odoriferous groves of cinnamon and frankincense. In this earthly paradise, each warrior depended on his sword to carve a plenteous and honourable establishment, which he measured only by the extent of his wishes. Their vassals and soldiers trusted their fortunes to God and their master: the spoils of a Turkish emir might enrich the meanest follower of the camp; and the flavour of the wines, the beauty of the Grecian women, were temptations more adapted to the nature, than to the profession, of the champions of the cross. The love of freedom was a powerful incitement to the multitudes who were oppressed by feudal or ecclesiastical tyranny. Under this holy sign the peasants and burghers, who were attached to the servitude of the glebe, might escape from an haughty lord, and transplant themselves and their families to a land of liberty. The monk might release himself from the discipline of his convent : the debtor might suspend the accumulation of usury, and the pursuit of his creditors; and outlaws and malefactors of every cast might continue to brave the laws and elude the punishment of – their crimes.
“These motives were potent and numerous: when we have singly computed their weight on the mind of each individual, we must add the infinite series, the multiplying powers of example and fashion. The first proselytes became the warmest and most effectual missionaries of the cross : among their friends and countrymen they preached the duty, the merit, and the recompense, of their holy vow; and the most reluctant hearers were insensibly drawn within the whirlpool of persuasion and authority. The martial youths were fired by the reproach or suspicion of cowardice ; the opportunity of visiting with an army the sepulchre of Christ, was embraced by the old and infirm, by women and children, who consulted rather their zeal than their strength; and those who in the evening had derided the folly of their companions, were the most eager, the ensuing day, to tread in their footsteps. The ignorance which magnified the hopes, diminished the perils, of the enterprise. Since the Turkish conquest, the paths of pilgrimage were obliterated, the chiefs themselves had an imperfect notion of the length of their way and the state of their enemies ; and such was the stupidity of the people, that, at the sight of the first city or castle beyond the limits of their knowledge, they were ready to ask whether that was not the Jerusalem, the term and object of their labours. Yet the more prudent of the crusaders, who were not sure that they should be fed from heaven with a shower of quails or manna, provided themselves with those precious metals, which, in every country, are the representatives of every commodity. To defray, according to their rank, the expences of the road, princes alienated their provinces, nobles their lands and cattle, peasants their castles and the instruments of husbandry. The value of property was depreciated by the eager competition of multitudes ; while the price of arms and horses was raised to an exorbitant height by the wants and impatience of the buyers. Those who remained at home, with sense and money, were enriched by the epidemical disease : the sovereigns acquired at a cheap rate the domains of their vassals ; and the ecclesiastical purchasers completed the payment by the assurance of their prayers. The cross, which was commonly sewn on the garment, in cloth or silk, was inscribed by some zealots on their skin : an hot iron, or indelible liquor, was applied to perpetuate the mark ; and a crafty monk, who showed the miraculous impression on his breast, was repaid with the popular veneration and the richest benefices of Palestine.”
The Romantic reaction to the Enlightenment view of the Crusades was led by Chateaubriand [1768-1848], who wrote: “The writers of the eighteenth century have taken pains to represent the Crusades in an odious light. I was one of the first to protest against this ignorance or injustice. The Crusades were not mad expeditions, as some writers have affected to call them either in their principle or in their results. The Christians were not the aggressors. If the subjects of Omar, setting out from Jerusalem, and making the circuit of Africa, invaded Sicily, Spain, nay, even France, where they were exterminated by Charles Martel, why should not the subjects of Philip I quitting France, make the circuit to Asia, to take vengeance on the descendants of Omar in Jerusalem itself?… Those who perceive in the crusades nothing but a mob of armed pilgrims running to rescue a tomb in Palestine, must take a very limited view of history. The point in question was not merely the deliverance of that sacred tomb, but likewise to decide which of the two should predominate in the world, a religion hostile to civilization, systematically favourable to ignorance, despotism, and slavery, or a religion which has revived among the moderns the spirit of learned antiquity and abolished servitude. Whoever reads the address of Pope Urban II, to the council of Clermont, must be convinced that the leaders in these military enterprises had not the petty views which have ascribed to them, and that they aspired to save the world from a new inundation of barbarians. The spirit of Islamism is persecution and conquest; the gospel, on the contrary, inculcates only toleration and peace. Accordingly the Christians endured for seven hundred and sixty-four years all the oppressions which the fanaticism of the Saracens impelled them to exercise.
To be continued.