Reflections on the Past V: The Crusades

This blog post is based on the Covenant Reformed Seminary of Asia’s lesson on Church History Module – Lesson 5: THE SEVEN CRUSADES: Why did they fail?

European Christians always regarded Palestine as holy and Jerusalem as the holy city. When the Mohammedans captured Palestine and took possession of Jerusalem, pilgrims were still allowed to visit the Land, but certain restrictions were to be observed; there were to be no processions, nor any public demonstrations in favor of Christianity, nor were any more churches to be built.

Seljuk Turks’ Conquest of Jerusalem. In the 11th century, however, a fierce pagan race known as the Seljuk Turks, who came from the Caucasus region, conquered the Holy Land. They were persuaded to become followers of Mohammed and under their rule, Christian pilgrims were subjected to harsh treatment and severe oppression.

CHRISTENDOM’S CRY! Discharge the Turks by force!

Pope Gregory VII himself hoped to raise an army and attack the Turks, but his quarrels with Emperor Henry IV prevented the carrying out of his plans. In any case, however, the Popes thought it would be a good thing to persuade men of the West to turn eastwards and fight the Turks, instead of fighting one another, as they were so prone to do.

Attempts had earlier been made to introduce what was called The Truce of God in Christendom, to prevent wars between Christians, but it had not been at all successful.

Then came Peter the Hermit who, having been on pilgrimage to Palestine and having experienced the cruel treatment from the Turks, decided to use all his influence to stir up Christians against them. He first went to see the Pope, Urban II, who sympathized with his plans and gave him official sanction to preach a crusade (a war on behalf of the Cross) against the oppressors of the pilgrims. Peter, on his donkey, then went from city to city throughout Italy and France, and wherever he appeared the people were deeply moved. Enthusiasm for a “holy war” was stirred up everywhere.

Taking advantage of this, Urban II proceeded to call a Church Council at Clermont in Southern France. He there made a fiery appeal to all Christians to engage in war under the standard of the Cross. With one voice the people exclaimed, “It is the will of God; it is the will of God.” Thousands enlisted in the cause, and had a red cross affixed to their right shoulder as a badge of honor. Princes and dukes, knights and squires, and even women and children were among them.

Pope Urban II promised a reward: forgiveness of sins including a guarantee of eternal salvation. To all who participated in the enterprise, the pope promised the forgiveness of sins. Bishops in their dioceses everywhere preached the crusade and before many weeks had passed, Christendom was stirred to its depths.

Thus began a movement that lasted for two centuries and which cost Europe nearly five million lives. In the end, every hope and purpose cherished by the crusaders was frustrated.

The crusades were series of military expeditions of the Middle East by Western Catholics, inspired and blessed by the Catholic church, with the aim of recapturing the Holy land from Muslims. (Needham, 184). This cost lives.

Our pastor provided 7 crusades, while others, like Needham, emphasized four major crusades. In this blog we will list 8 crusades (still some others list 9, see references). Here’s the summary:

Source: Everett Ferguson, Church History

First Crusade (1096 – 1099)

Following Pope Urban’s call to aid fellow Eastern Christians in their fight against the Muslims, the First Crusade was launched. The Byzantine Empire was supposed to receive conquered lands, but after capturing Jerusalem in 1099, the crusader leaders divided the lands amongst themselves. They established themselves as rulers of the newly formed Crusader states in the Holy Land, forming the Kingdom of Jerusalem, the Principality of Antioch, the County of Tripoli, and the County of Edessa.

It came in two phases. PHASE 1 is the People’s Crusade (peasants, petty nobles, untrained for war). But the problem was that most of those who set out were untrained and unprepared for warfare. Some were illiterate and did not have any idea about Jerusalem. PHASE 2 was joined with more trained men.

In July 1099, two years after the capture of Nicaea, they succeeded in taking Jerusalem. Duke Godfrey of Bouillon, who chose the title “defender of the holy tomb“, was offered the title of king, but he refused to accept it.

A horrible massacre followed the capture of the city in which all the Turks were killed, including the women and children. Not till the gruesome act had been accomplished did the Christians realize how merciless they had been. For nearly 50 years the new kingdom remained intact, but it was under constant threat by Turkish forces.

Second Crusade (1147 – 1149)

In 1147, Bernard of Clairvaux, known as The Honey-flowing teacher, perhaps the most famous monk of his time and the writer of Christian hymns, preached a second crusade to support the kingdom of Jerusalem. However, this crusade was a failure. The Church requested a second military expedition to the Holy Land in order to reclaim the County of Edessa, which had fallen to the Muslims in 1144. The crusade was to be led by two kings: Louis VII of France and Conrad III of Germany. They laid siege to Damascus a year later, but after failing to seize the city, the German king decided he’d had enough of the Holy Land and fled.

Third Crusade (1189 – 1192)

The Third Crusade is the one most people know something about, and sometimes known as the Monarchs’ Crusade because it involved as many as three European kings (Frederick Barbarossa, Emperor of Germany; Philip Augustus, King of France, & Richard the Lionheart) who were enraged, was started after the Muslim leader Saladin took control of Jerusalem in 1187. However, due to disagreements with Richard I of England, Philip II soon left for France; and Frederick I (Barbarossa) of Germany died on his route to the Holy Land. Although the former won several major battles, they were unable to retake Jerusalem. However, before returning to Europe, the English king was able to secure unrestricted passage to Jerusalem for Christian pilgrims.

Fourth Crusade (1202 – 1204)

This crusade was proclaimed by Pope Innocent III (1198-1216) as he was not able to cope with the loss of Jerusalem. He was successful in raising a crusader army, but they never made it to the Holy Land. They took the Adriatic city of Zara for Venice on their route to Jerusalem, and were soon entangled in the Byzantine throne fight. The Fourth Crusade ended in the Destruction of Constantinople and the establishment of the short-lived Latin Empire on the seized Byzantine territories, rather than recapturing Jerusalem as the Pope had planned. Because of the material gain, Crusading army fought fellow Christians for the first time. The Byzantine Empire was severely wounded. The Eastern Orthodox hated the Western Catholic Church. Hence, it was one of the darkest episodes in Christian history.

Fifth Crusade (1217 – 1221)

This is called the children’s crusade. Stephen, a French boy, claimed that Christ appeared to him and that what the kings and knights of Christendom had failed to do, children would accomplish by the Lord’s promised help. He said that, if an army of children assembled in a southern port of France, the sea would divide before them, as it had done when the Israelites crossed the Red Sea, and thus make possible their arrival in the Holy Land.

Many of the marchers died in crossing the snowy Alps, but a considerable number finally reached the sea, as also did the French marchers. But the sea did not divide before them. Many returned home, but some 5,000 were taken on board merchant ships, with the promise of conveyance to Palestine. Two of the ships struck rocks and sank.

Sixth Crusade (1228 – 1229) & SEVENTH CRUSADE (1248 – 1254)

Aside from the unrivaled first four crusades, the Sixth Crusade was one of the most important of the others. The sixth and seventh Crusade, according to our lecture, were the last two crusades and were promoted by the French king known as St. Louis in the 13th century. The 6th ended dismally. Luis was captured by the Sultan of Egypt and only obtained his liberty by paying a heavy ransom.

The Seventh Crusade began with the goal of retaking the Holy Land by first conquering Egypt. Louis IX, like the commanders of the Fifth Crusade, succeeded in capturing Damietta but fell short of capturing Cairo. In addition, he was seized while attempting to return to Damietta’s harbor. The French king was liberated after a ransom was paid. However, as he was preparing for a war in the Holy Land, he received word that his mother had died and had returned to France.

The aftermath of this crusade (seventh) finalized the schism between the East and West.

Eighth Crusade (1270)

In 1270, King Louis IX of France, together with Prince Edward of England, resolved to give it another go and began their second crusade. Rather than the Holy Land or Egypt, he began his campaign in Tunisia this time. However, sickness spread quickly among the troops, and the French king, who became ill himself, died soon after. His younger brother, Charles of Anjou, arrived one day before his death and immediately began negotiations with the Caliph of Tunis to arrange the safe withdrawal of the crusader army.

Lessons from the Crusades

The Crusades resulted in increased prestige for the papacy. The involvement of the laity in the Crusades stirred religious sensibilities that may be related in some ways to the new religious movements of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. (Ferguson, 20, IV. E)

It failed because it is not based upon faith but just mere sentiment and superstition.

We learned that the cause of Christ is not to be promoted by the use of the world’s weapons.

The weapons of our warfare, said the Apostle Paul, are not carnal [swords made of steel], but mighty through God to the throwing down of strongholds (2 Cor. 10:4).

Carnal weapons can never accomplish spiritual work. We must trust in the Lord by the Spirit and faithful proclamation of His Word to save souls than to conquer temporal land. Our citizenship is in heaven with incorruptible riches.


Cover photo by Yuri_B  from Pixabay.


  • Needham, Nick R. 2000 Years of Christ’s Power. Volume 2, the Middle Ages. London, Grace Publications Trust, 2016.
  • Ferguson, Everett. Church History : The Rise and Growth of the Church in Its Cultural, Intellectual, and Political Context. Grand Rapids, Zondervan, 2013.
  • “The Crusades”. 2015. Web., Accessed 2 Sept. 2021.
  • scottericalt. “The Truth about the Crusades.” Catholic Stand, 21 Nov. 2015. Web., Accessed 2 Sept. 2021.
  • Houghton, S M, and B J Bennink. Sketches from Church History. Edinburgh ; Carlisle, Pa., Banner Of Truth Trust, , Printing, 1980.
  • “List of 9 Crusades to the Holy Land – History Lists.”, Accessed 2 Sept. 2021.

Published by Jeff Chavez

Sinner saved by grace

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