Synopses & Reviews
In this work Michael Foss casts new light on the reality of and motives behind the Crusades in general, and in particular the First Crusade, which set the tone for all those that followed. As the eleventh century came to an end, the Christian lands of Western Europe were in trouble. Afflicted by repeated invasions from the north, by the collapse of internal order and safety, by the increasing laxity and ignorance of the clergy, and by the unrestrained tyranny of the feudal lords, life in the West was, as one philosopher described it, "nasty, brutish, and short". To make matters worse, the Seljuk Turks, recently converted to Islam, had overrun the Holy Land. Pope Urban II, searching for a way out of the increasing anarchy and to rid himself of unruly, marauding knights, exhorted the faithful, at the Council of Clermont in 1095, to free Jerusalem from the Infidels. The response was immediate and enthusiastic. Proud knights, poor peasants, artisans armed with pikes and bows and arrows - and often only sticks or clubs - set out on the great adventure, fighting or negotiating their way through strange, exotic lands, until, four long years later, the ragged remnants of the once proud army stood below the forbidding walls of Jerusalem. Michael Foss tells the stories of these men and women of the First Crusade, often in their own words, bringing the time and events to life. Through these eyewitness accounts the cliches of history vanish, the distinctions between hero and villain blur: the Saracen is as base or noble, as brave or cruel, as the crusader. In that sense, the fateful clash between Christianity and Islam teaches us a lesson for our own time. For the attitudes and prejudices expressed on both sides in the First Crusade became the basic currency for all later exchanges, down to our own day, between the two great monotheistic faiths of Mohammed and Christ.