March 17, 2019

March 18, 2019, the 705th anniversary of the death of Jacques de Molay

On March 18, 2019 we commemorate the 705th anniversary of the death of the last official Grand Master of the Knights Templar, Jacques de Molay. De Molay, born in 1244 was put to death in Paris by the King of France on 18 March 1314. He was the 23rd and last Grand Master of the Knights Templar, leading the Order from 20 April 1292 until it was dissolved by order of Pope Clement V in 1307.

Though little is known of his actual life and deeds except for his last years as Grand Master, he is the best known Templar, along with the Order's founder and first Grand Master, Hugues de Payens (1070–1136). Jacques de Molay's goal as Grand Master was to reform the Order, and adjust it to the situation in the Holy Land during the waning days of the Crusades.

Death-site plaque of Jaques de Molay on Isle des Juifs, Paris
As European support for the Crusades had dwindled, other forces were at work which sought to disband the Order and claim the wealth of the Templars as their own. King Philip IV of France, deeply in debt to the Templars, had De Molay and many other French Templars arrested in 1307 and tortured into making false confessions. When de Molay later retracted his confession, Philip had him executed by burning upon a scaffold on the Paris Ile des Juifs in the River Seine on 18 March 1314.

source text and illustrations

March 14, 2019

Numbers of participants of the First Crusade

"The most thorough discussion of the number of combatants on the First Crusade is that offered by John France and this study cannot improve on his painstaking assembly of the relevant data and the plausible manner in which it assessed. At its height, gathered together at Nicea, John France estimates the Christian army to have been composed of some 50,000 combatants, of whom 7,000 were knights. Using these figures as a guide, the overall composition of the crusade would have, very approximately, been as follows. Nine princes, 200 magnates, 7,000 knights, 40,000 footsoldiers, and 40,000 pauperes.

This overall figure of around 90,000 people differs from France’s estimate of 50–60,000 inclusive of non-combatants and it is at the high end of estimates by other modern historians, even though most have revised upwards the estimate in Steven Runciman’s discussion of the subject, that there were 4200 to 4500 cavalry and 30,000 infantry.

Jonathan Phillips offers the figure of 60,000, although somewhat confusingly these are divided between 6,000 knights and the rest ‘servants, pilgrims and hangers-on.’ In other words, the footsoldiers are absent....

The huge variation of the various estimates is a fair reflection of the difficulty of the sources in regard to the reporting of numbers and this study claims no great authority on the matter. It does seem inconsistent of France, though, to assess the number of combatants of the First Crusade at 50,000, yet the overall number, including non-combatants, at 50–60,000. The discussion in Chapter Three shows that when the People’s Crusade departed and, indeed, the various contingents of the princes, the movement had something of a mass emigratory character.

The People’s Crusade was overwhelmingly made up of pauperes, but they were also present in substantial numbers among those marching with the princes. Even after the destruction of the People’s Crusade, thousands of survivors (and later, returned prisoners) joined up with the united army.

That is why it seems reasonable to push the overall figure for the expedition to the higher one of 90,000 by including some 40,000 non-combatants with the 50,000 soldiers."

This blog quotes an abreviated section of the book The Social Structure of the First Crusade by Conor Kostick (2008), which is available at Brill Leiden/Boston via This is an open access title distributed under the terms of the cc-by-nc License, which permits any non-commercial use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author(s) and source are credited. Illustration shows The siege of Jeriusalem at 1099, Source Wikimedia Commons

March 5, 2019

Crusading, an "act of love"

"Upon leaving for the crusade, very many property owners made substantial donations to the church, in return for ready coin with which to finance their involvement on the expedition. These transactions were recorded and churches and monasteries preserved the charters throughout the centuries, being ever diligent on such matters.

Methodologically, the inclusion of such charters in a discussion of the First Crusade is unfaultable; the database created as a result of research into donation charters is extremely valuable. By the mid 1990s, for the period 1095–1131, it comprised 549 men and women who definitely took the cross, 110 who probably did so, and 132 who might have become crusaders. Insofar as such a database helps reveal the geographical and familial networks of the nobles who participated in the First Crusade, charter evidence is a welcome addition to the crusading sources. But their use as the key evidence in refuting the popular notion that crusaders were greedy knights, who cloaked their desire for booty in a pretended piety, is problematic.

Essentially, the argument in favour of seeing the motivation of the crusaders as primarily spiritual consists of three observations based on the charter evidence. Firstly, the cost of going on the crusade was shown to be extremely high; four times a knight’s annual income. The enterprise was not ‘cost effective’. Secondly, the proportion of second sons going on the crusade was demonstrably low. Therefore the theory that those who had no other prospects were the main driving force behind the crusade was rejected. Thirdly, the charters are consistent in expressing a deep concern for the salvation of their soul and a love of Christ.

The core of the ‘act of love’ position rests on the point that, in the absence of material motivations, the professed piety of the first crusaders must be considered to be the best guide to their outlook. Those who set forth on the First Crusade did so out of love of Christ and their neighbour."

This blog quotes a section of the book The Social Structure of the First Crusade by Conor Kostick (2008), which is available at Brill Leiden/Boston via This is an open access title distributed under the terms of the cc-by-nc License, which permits any non-commercial use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author(s) and source are credited. Illustration shows Pope Urban II preaching the crusade. Source Wikimedia Commons

February 16, 2019

Prologue of the Crusades: Jerusalem and the Seljuks

"When the Muslim Seljuks, a Turkish steppe tribe, spectacularly defeated an army of the Byzantine Empire at the Battle of Manzikert in ancient Armenia in August 1071 CE, a series of events followed which would lead to centuries of East-West warfare couched in religious terms: the Crusades.

The Seljuks created the Sultanate of Rum and conquered Byzantine Edessa and Antioch in 1078 CE. Next, they captured Jerusalem from their rival Muslims, the Fatimids of Egypt, in 1087 CE (the city had been in Muslim hands since the 7th century CE).

Alexios I Komnenos, the Byzantine emperor (r. 1081-1118 CE) realised that Seljuk expansion into the Holy Land was a perfect opportunity to gain the help of western armies in his battle to control Asia Minor and so he sent a direct appeal to Pope Urban II in March 1095 CE. Both the Pope and western knights would respond in a far greater capacity than Alexios could ever have imagined.

Urban II was disposed to give military assistance to the Byzantines for various reasons. A crusade to bring the Holy Land back under Christian control was an end in itself - what better way to protect such important sites as the tomb of Jesus Christ, the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. Christians living there or visiting on pilgrimage also required protection.

In addition, there were very useful additional benefits. A crusade would increase the prestige of the Papacy, as it led a combined western army, and consolidate its position in Italy itself, having experienced serious threats from the Holy Roman Emperors in the previous century which had even forced the popes to relocate away from Rome. Urban II also hoped to make himself head of a united Western (Catholic) and Eastern (Orthodox) Christian church, above the Patriarch of Constantinople. The two churches had been split since 1054 CE over disagreements about doctrine and liturgical practices."

Quotes and illustration from Cartwright, M. (2018, October 22). Council of Clermont. Ancient History Encyclopedia. Retrieved from This quote is licensed under equal terms as the original publication, being Creative Commons: Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike.