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. BLIND OBEDIENCEmany ways the European Union is an attempt to set the clock for Europe back just over a thousand years. In 771, Charles became the sole king of a relatively small German kingdom whose capital was Aachen. In fifty-three military campaigns, and by having the distinction of being one of the most competent administrators in history, he was able to carve out an empire that was larger than anything Europe had seen since Rome. He worked hard all his life to create a prosperous and united kingdom, generally succeeding. Literacy grew, and the economy of central Europe, including today’s Germany and France, surged. But law and tradition waited to doom the first united Europe.law that put an end to one of the brightest periods in the Dark Ages was a long tradition that attempted to deal with the often murderous rivalry between the heirs of a king or other noble. This law decreed that any kingdom or noble’s holding was to be divided between all of the sons of a king. This may help minimize the rivalry between siblings, but it also meant that large viable kingdoms and fiefdoms were split and split again.was going to happen to Charlemagne’s empire on his death, but all the possible heirs except one, Louis, died before their father. So Louis became the sole ruler of the empire and also did a good job of ruling. Unfortunately, he also did an equally good job of begetting sons. His three, Pepin, Lothair, and Louis, all proved ready and anxious to inherit their third of the kingdom. They even accepted that they would have to share with their two brothers. But in 823 Emperor Louis’ second wife had a fourth son, Charles. When Louis tried to change his will so that the new son got a fourth part of the empire, the older sons organized a revolt within the palace. The conflict simmered and likely threatened to become open civil war. Louis tried to meet with Lothair, hoping to restore their relationship. When he arrived at the meeting place, all three of the older sons were there with their supporters. They forced Louis to abdicate. At this point, the empire was split into three parts, never to be united again.the law been different, with one son inheriting, the history of Charlemagne’s family might well have been bloodier and all of Europe much more peaceful. If his empire had not been split apart by a tradition that created rival kingdoms every generation, a united Europe might have been the norm. Millions of deaths could have been avoided if the wars between the nations formed from the pieces of his realm would not have been fought. The unity that the European Union strives for might well have been achieved a thousand years earlier. That law, created to keep peace within a family, was a terrible mistake for Europe, and the continent paid for it with a millennium of chaos and war.

. BAD PRIORITYare many descriptions of Vikings written around the year 1000. Perhaps the mildest of them described the fearsome Norsemen as violent and impulsive. Most use very graphic and negative terms, which are used today to describe psychopaths and worse. Basically, the Vikings’ main pursuit for over two centuries was raiding, plundering, and taking over other people’s lands. The land stealing becomes more understandable if you consider the poor, rocky soil and frigid weather that dominates Scandinavia. So it took a real effort to stand out among the Vikings as being the most violent of them all. But one Viking was just that, and he was banished twice, until he ended up living at the far western edge of the entire European world. This Viking was called Eric the Bloody. Eric the Red is the more tempered translation, which is suitable for consumption by schoolchildren. Eric the Bloody managed to get himself banned to remote Iceland and then from all but a corner of that small island. But even after killing several neighbors in what should have been easily settled disputes over boundaries, the man had enough charisma to gather a group of followers and lead them even farther west. They settled on an island he called, more for good PR than reality, Greenland. The name stuck.settlement had Eric the Bloody as the acknowledged leader so at least there, no one could banish him again. The settlement thrived for a while, and Eric raised two children. These were Leif, called for obvious reasons Ericson, and Freydis Eiriksdottir (Eric’s daughter). Leif too was a leader and explorer. When old enough, he gathered a crew and sailed west again. It is likely Leif had heard accounts of a rich land to the west from native traders and fishermen. And after a surprisingly short sail, the Viking party landed on what must have seemed a verdant landscape after frozen Greenland. Leif named it Vinland, the fertile land.was the Viking habit, they decided to take the land where they had arrived as their own. Leif’s followers showed this by laying out a town and building stone houses. This upset the local peoples, who eventually attacked the settlement. They drove the small party back to their ships. The season was late so they returned to Greenland. This is when we first hear about Freydis, whose rage changed history. At this point she is a hero—well, heroine—fighting in the rear guard and helping hold back the far more numerous Native Americans until the boats could be launched. Women, particularly the daughters of higher-class Vikings were trained to use weapons. Since the men of a village might be away for weeks at a time raiding, this was almost a necessity.long after his two children returned from Vinland, Eric the Bloody died. Leif took over as ruler of Greenland. He no longer could take the time to go exploring. But Vinland was not forgotten and another, stronger expedition formed to return there. There were more ships sailing west this time, and the way was known. They may have started together, but the ships sailed at different speeds, and some arrived sooner than others. Unfortunately for two families, their ship arrived earlier than the one Freydis was on. There was another Viking tradition. In abandoned lands, the first to arrive got to take their pick of the houses. Normally, those would be Saxon or British homes from which the owners fled, but the rule was applied to Vinland as well.when Freydis arrived at the site where she had been a hero, there was a problem. She was the daughter and sister of the king and hero of the retreat. Evidently, Freydis had her heart set on taking the largest and, most likely, best-made of the stone houses. But the two families who had arrived earlier had already moved into the one she had chosen. So Freydis ordered them out. They said no. The law was on their side. There was likely a real confrontation and many unfortunate things were said. It ended with Freydis, and possibly her personal guards, killing the two men who had moved in first.was not good, but seemingly within acceptable limits for the daughter of Eric the Bloody in 1001. Remember, this was a violent culture and her brother was king. But then Freydis didn’t stop. She ordered those with her to also slaughter the wives and children of the two men. When they refused to do this, she grabbed an ax and did the deed herself. It was a rage truly in the tradition of her father. The murder of women and children was also highly unlawful, even among the Vikings.colony was not off to a good start. By fall, perhaps by plan, everyone returned to Greenland. This put Freydis’ brother, who was also her king, in a bad position. By law, she was a murderer. Like most highly armed cultures, the Vikings took the law very seriously. Killing men was one thing, but killing the rest of their families was too much. There were never enough Vikings, and mothers and children were highly valued. He should have executed her, but if he did, there was another complication. To avoid a serious shortage of siblings in such an ambitious and violent culture, there were strict laws about killing off anyone in your own family as well. Whatever Leif did, he was going to break a law. If he broke the law, there was a good chance he would be ousted as king. So he chose instead a compromise. Freydis was banned from Greenland. Then he ordered that the colony was never to be returned to or even spoken of. The entire incident was hushed up.Vikings never did return to Vinland. It was five centuries later when Europe again “discovered” the Americas. How different this world would have been if the Norsemen had settled and stayed. The Native Americans most likely would have absorbed European technology and culture in smaller doses. Without rifles and cannons, there was no way for just a few Europeans to be able to come to dominate or destroy the native cultures on two continents. At the very least, northern Europe, not Spain, would have benefited from the wealth of the new continent. The world of today became a far different place, all because a thousand years ago Freydis flew into a rage.

. FOOLISH PROMISEWilliam the Conqueror came over from Normandy in 1066 and defeated the English forces, it came as a great surprise to many, especially his adversary, Harold Godwinson, whose father had sought the appointment of Edward the Confessor as king. However, the greater shock came after the battle when William launched a campaign to wipe out the Anglo-Saxon and Anglo-Danish culture that had been established in England and replace it with that of the Normans.lead-up to this battle, which took place in Hastings, began years before, after the death of King Canute in 1035. Canute came to England as a conqueror but embraced the Anglo-Saxon culture and way of life. His death marked the beginning of the end of the Anglo-Saxon empire. The hopes of the people lay in Canute’s three sons, but they proved to be ignorant and boorish. Many eyes turned toward the sons of the dead king’s widow, Emma, and the previous king, Ethelred. The two princes descended from the line of Alfred the Great. The elder son, Alfred (named for his famous ancestor), possessed many fine qualities. He was brave, charismatic, and well liked. Edward, on the other hand was monkish, pious, and had no aptitude for administrative duties. And, because of his family’s exile in Normandy, he had been raised as a Norman.this time, another man began his rise to power. He was Godwin, earl of Wessex and leader of the Danish party. He wanted total control over the English people and he wanted it under the Anglo-Danish system. When it came to pursuing these goals, his treachery knew no bounds. When the exiled prince Alfred came to England under the guise of visiting his newly widowed mother, Godwin had him arrested. Then he had Alfred’s attendants slaughtered and the prince blinded. It is certain that the prince’s brother, Edward, would not have forgotten the incident, and it is even possible that he could have been planning his revenge from the moment he found out about it.Canute’s sons succeeded him, their reign was short-lived. They died within six years, and once again England had no king. In this vacancy of power, Godwin stepped up to the plate. He had great political influence, but he lacked the support of many of the Saxons. So, he came up with what he thought would be the perfect solution. He decided that the best way to unite the Saxons and Danes, and consolidate his power, would be to make Edward king. A monarch from the line of Alfred the Great would rally the people, but Godwin would be pulling the strings. He believed Edward would be easily manipulated, and through Edward he could spread his sphere of influence.Edward appointed his Norman friends to high positions, Godwin allowed it only to a point. To prove his allegiances lay with the English and not the Normans, Edward begrudgingly married Godwin’s beautiful daughter Edith. It is likely this was what Godwin had in mind all along. With his daughter as queen, his descendants would inherit the kingdom. The bitterness of his brother’s plight must have raced through his mind when Edward decided to defy his overbearing father-in-law. He would destroy any chance Godwin had at being the sire of kings. He refused to consummate his marriage to Edith. Edward lived a pious, monkish life, which earned him the name “The Confessor.” His favor increased in the court, especially among the Normans. He gained allies and in 1051 was able to oppose Godwin and send him and his family into exile. He also dismissed his own queen.the time of the Godwins’ exile, it is believed that William, duke of Normandy, paid Edward a visit. It was during this visit that Edward supposedly offered the succession to William. Considering Edward’s history with Godwin it seems more than possible. When word got out about the crown being offered to a Norman, Edward lost favor with the English lords. Godwin managed to win back some of the support he had lost and even mustered troops in Flanders. He then strong-armed the king into letting him return. The king took Godwin and his sons back and gave them their old rank and titles. It didn’t take long for Godwin to exercise his authority. Upon his return, many of the Normans lost their titles and land. When Godwin finally died in 1051, those dispossessed lords nourished hopes of regaining their former status. These hopes never saw fruition.’s eldest son, Harold, stepped forward to fill in the gap. Like his father before him, Harold ruled England from behind the scenes. Harold held his authority with virtually no opposition, despite the unrest that plagued the court between the Normans, Saxons, and Danes. The only direct resistance came from his own brother, Tostig, who quickly won favor with the king. Tostig befriended many of the Norman lords, which endeared him to Edward. He received the earldom of Northumbria, which invoked the jealousy of Harold. The two brothers were at odds, which may have been the king’s intention all along. Perhaps Edward had been far underestimated by the Godwinsons. Whatever his intention, Edward managed to drive a wedge between Harold and Tostig.Harold’s relationship with his brother had been severed, Harold would find new friendship in an unlikely source. In 1064, Harold’s ship ran aground off the French coast. The count of Ponthieu took Harold prisoner and held him for ransom. William sent a request to the count asking for the release of the English king’s thane. Harold soon found himself in the court of Duke William. The two had a genuine liking for each other and quickly became friends. Through this friendship, certain alliances formed. According to the chronicle depicted in the Bayeux Tapestry, William proposed that Harold support his claim as the heir to the English throne. In exchange, Harold would be made earl of Wessex and be given William’s daughter in marriage. According to tradition, Harold took an oath of fealty to William and promised not to make any attempt to claim the crown. The oath was taken on an altar that hid the bones of St. Edmund within it. Oaths taken on sacred relics were considered unbreakable, no matter what the circumstance.the end of Edward’s reign, the country began a downward spiral as the different factions fought among themselves. The Anglo-Danish council, who believed they spoke for the entire populace, weakened the power of the monarchy without strengthening their own administrative body. Local chieftains began intriguing and pursuing their own interests, and feuds broke out all over the country. In this chaos and uncertainty, Edward took to his deathbed. With his last breath, he allegedly named Harold as his successor, despite having already promised it to William, the duke of Normandy. Conveniently, Archbishop Stigand, a staunch supporter of Earl Godwin, had been present to confirm the announcement. Edward the Confessor died in January 1066. (The Church later canonized him and he became England’s foremost saint until replaced by St. George.) Disregarding the oath he took at William’s court and the fact that he had no hereditary claim, Harold took over as king. Things quickly got complicated. Much of England accepted Harold as their king, but the royal houses of Europe and the Church in Rome did not. In William’s eyes, it became his duty to overthrow the usurper. So, he crossed the Channel and with a little help from Harold defeated the Saxons.

. RUSH INTO BATTLEGodwinson, king of England, had something to prove. Edward the Confessor had died without having an heir. So the Witan, a council of nobles, named Harold king. He was not a unanimous choice and could not claim that he had a divine right to the throne. The closest he got to royal blood was that Edward had been his brother-in-law. To many, this meant that the rule of England was theirs and was available for the taking. Two men decided to do just that.’s brother, Tostig, also claimed the throne. If Harold’s blood was good enough to be that of a king, so was his brother’s. To support his claim, Tostig turned to an old enemy of England, Harald Hardrada, the Viking king of Norway. In Normandy, another man had reason to claim the throne of England as well. This was William, duke of Normandy. William, through persuasion and politics, managed to get Pope Alexander II to support his claim. In a religious age, this made recruiting knights and soldiers easier and guaranteed support of the clergy. Both were needed to invade the island and enforce one’s claim.and Harald landed first near modern-day York. The new English king hurried north accompanied by his huscarls— ax- and shield-wielding warriors sworn to his service—the only professional soldiers he commanded. The king gathered further fighters from the local militia, the fyrd, until his army matched that of the Vikings in size if not quality. After marching 200 miles in five days, Harold was able to surprise the normally canny Norwegian king and Tostig at the Battle of Stamford Bridge. It was September 25, and the battle was a tough and costly fight, with Harold Godwinson losing nearly 1,000 dead or wounded huscarls, cutting his personal guard and the island’s only full-time military force by a third.a few days later, on October 1, Harold got word that William of Normandy had landed his army near Hastings. The southern fyrd had already been called up, so it was ready to join up with him and his huscarls. But Hastings was more than 300 miles away from York. Having exhausted his army in the march north, the English leader now had to make a decision. If he did not react quickly, William the Norman would be able to establish a strong position. This would be particularly true if William captured a few cities. But perhaps another thought lay behind the new king’s mistake, one that may have cost him and the Saxons England. Elected without royal blood, Harold had to show everyone that he was capable of defending England and worthy of being the first of a new line of Saxon kings. To do that, he may have felt it necessary to act before William could do much damage to what was one of the richest parts of his kingdom.whatever reason, Harold not only began moving south but hurried toward Hastings in an even greater rush than he had gone north a week before. This had two negative effects. The speed of the march meant that many of his lightly wounded, or just plain exhausted, huscarls could not keep up. Even riding at that speed was punishing. The hurried march also meant that hundreds of fyrd and local nobles who might have joined the Saxon army were unable to do so.Harold arrived near Hastings he again did not pause. The Saxon king formed his army on Senlac Ridge and prepared to battle William. Even though he fought on home ground and in defense of the land, the new king’s haste meant that the two armies were of about the same size.and his warriors at first stood and beat back the Norman attacks. But the fyrd who were fighting on the right of the Saxon position attempted to pursue a feigned retreat, and they were ridden down by William’s mounted knights. Eventually, more than anything else, the Normans wore down and then broke the Saxons. Exhausted and outnumbered, the huscarls died fighting. Harold was hit by an arrow in one eye, and with his death, the Saxon defense collapsed. He had hurried to his death. Had Harold hesitated until he could gather a much larger army, he might have held England. William of Normandy had no reinforcements to match those Harold could have called from all over England. Harold risked everything in the hope of a quick victory that would ensure his position on England’s throne forever. But in his haste he, and the Saxons, lost everything. It is impossible to determine how much the exhaustion of his best troops, the huscarls, affected the battle. But William was able to finally break the Saxon formation and went on to become known as William the Conqueror (an improvement on his former commonly used name, William the Bastard). Harold, king of the Saxons, had rushed to defend his new throne and, in the effort, lost all of England.Battle of Hastings marked the end of the Saxon-Danish rule in England. It also marked the beginning of a cultural revolution. Unlike Canute, who embraced the Anglo-Saxon culture, William sought to wipe it out. He replaced the Saxon and Danish nobles with Norman nobility, he handed out land grants to his men, and he implemented Norman law. Great building projects took place all over the British Isles, and the crude dwellings of the Saxons gave way to magnificent Norman Cathedrals and castles. These changes helped establish England as a formidable power, but it was surely not the future Earl Godwin had in mind when he appointed Edward the Confessor as king. Godwin sought to make England a nation of Saxons and Danes, getting rid of the Norman influence altogether. Instead, his underhanded tactics and treatment of Edward ended up paving the road to destruction of the very culture he fought so hard to preserve and ensured that the Norman kings and not the Saxons would go down in history as the great kings of England.

. SELF-INTEREST1186, the land of Outremer was thriving. Outremer in French translates basically to “across the seas.” The kingdom had been founded by Christian crusaders in 1098. Its income from trade was substantial. This provided the money needed to construct a strong line of castles and fortified cities that protected the kingdom of the Holy Land from the constant threat posed by Islam. In the age of great castles, those of Outremer were among the most powerful and imposing.former king, a leper, had just died, and Guy of Lusignan was elected king by nobles and military orders. He was not a generally popular choice and was painfully aware of his lack of support among those who controlled the bulk of the Christian knights. Unfortunately, some of those knights were also his biggest problem. Even before Guy had taken the throne, some of the nobles had begun raiding the trade caravans of the Islamic merchants. Along with being bad for business, this broke the treaty between the Christian and Islamic kingdoms. The attacks were most definitely a cause for war and also a demonstration that Guy of Lusignan did not really rule most of his new kingdom.the Christian kingdom and its new king was Salah ad-Din Al-Ayyubi, who ruled the Islamic world from Damascus to Cairo. He is known as Saladin in Western history. He had risen to power mostly because of his military skills and charisma. Saladin had won his way to general and had become the most important military leader of the Fatimid caliphs. Eventually, he was so well-thought-of that he was elevated to the throne left vacant when the last caliph in Damascus died without an heir. Even as caliph, Saladin remained a relentless warrior with notorious cunning; he was also known for his strong sense of honor and for protecting the common people. His reputation for chivalry was famous even in Europe. Although the leader of the largest Islamic empire of his time, he is remembered even today as being the fair and just protector of several nearby Christian lands that had also suffered at the hands of the crusaders.could not allow the attacks on his merchants to continue. The raids were both an act of war and a challenge. When Guy proved unable to restrain his subjects, war was inevitable. But it was not the decision to go to war that put Guy of Lusignan on the list of people who made the greatest mistakes in history, but it was how he fought that war. Once more we have a case in which a leader takes an army that has tremendous strengths and puts it in a position where those strengths are unusable and the enemy’s strengths are emphasized instead. And once more we see this happen because of a king who put his own interests before those of his nation.castles of Outremer, and her walled cities, were thick, strong, and almost impregnable to any weapon Saladin could command. This was before the use of gunpowder and a fifteen-foot-thick, forty-foot-high wall enabled even a few dozen men to hold off hundreds. The main field strength of the Christian army was their heavily armored knights. The chain mail and metal armor of the Christian knight meant that on a similarly armored horse, he was nearly invulnerable to the arrows that were the primary weapon of most of Saladin’s horsemen. The armor also served the knights well in resisting all but the most skilled thrusts and slashes of the familiar curved cavalry sword that was used in close combat by Saladin’s light cavalry. The disadvantage of the armor was that Outremer is located in one of the hottest climates in the world. Being in the armor too long made a knight vulnerable to dehydration and heat stroke, both of which could be fatal.of Saladin’s Islamic army was made up of unarmored horsemen who shot bows from the saddle. Backing up these horse archers were more heavily armed and armored nobles and their followers. Even these wealthy horsemen wore only relatively thin and light armor. Although less protected, they were also less vulnerable to the heat. Perhaps the most important difference was that Saladin’s army was at least five times the size of the largest force Outremer could gather.his castles, Guy of Lusignan and his kingdom could easily repel any attack by any number of Islamic horse archers and nobles. But he was new and not established on the throne. Guy needed not only to repel any attacks but also to demonstrate he was a strong leader. By doing this, he would have rallied the support he needed to maintain his throne and gain the upper hand on Outremer’s highly independent nobles. So instead of waiting for Saladin to throw himself against stone walls, Guy decided to gather an army, the largest he could, and go out and defeat Saladin in battle. But to gather enough trained soldiers and knights, the Christian king had to strip all of the garrisons from the castles. This meant that if he lost, there would not be enough men to defend the massive and expensive fortifications. It would be an all-or-none risk, not for the good of Outremer, but for the benefit of King Guy.July 2, 1186, the largest army Outremer had ever seen marched out with King Guy at its head. To ensure the righteousness of their cause, monks carried a piece of the True Cross in front of the army. That relic was considered the greatest treasure in the kingdom. Behind them, they left castles, often garrisoned by less than a dozen men, and cities with just enough men-at-arms to maintain order.the Christians and Saladin was a stretch of brutally dry desert. Almost as soon as the Outremer army entered the dry wasteland, they came under continuous attack by Muslim horse archers. Each attack forced the column to slow or stop until knights could gather and drive the light horsemen off. By evening, the Christian army had traveled less than half as far as planned. They were still several hours short of any wells. But marching in the dark left the column even more vulnerable, so it was decided to make a dry camp. This is significant because it meant their horses also went thirsty or drank up much of the water that was on hand.the second day, the lack of water was becoming a real concern. What few wells the army could use were unable to supply enough water for such a large number of men and horses. Saladin’s horse archers caused few casualties, but the constant threat of arrow fire meant that everyone had to stay in their armor, metal or padded. The hot sun and a lack of water soon caused men to collapse and horses to flounder. Anyone left behind was killed. By the end of the second day of marching in armor in the desert heat, the forces of Outremer were reeling with exhaustion and thirst.the sun set, the army staggered up two hills, the largest of which was said to have a good well at its top. These hills were named the Horns of Hattin. There was no relief. Saladin had collapsed the stone walls surrounding the well into it, making the water below impossible to reach. In the distance, the Christian army could see two lakes that were less than two hours’ march away. They contained more than enough water to relieve any thirst and replenish their supply. The problem was that Saladin’s entire force waited between the knights and the lakes. But the position on the Horns of Hattin was strong because the steep hills were easy to defend and slowed any mounted attacks. So Guy ordered yet another dry camp.morning, the Islamic army had completely surrounded the two hills and the army on them. Trapped with no water, the knights and men-at-arms endured hours of a near-constant rain of arrows. They could barely move within the camp, much less organize to fight a major battle. Horses began to die from heat and thirst. Men soon followed. A few of the nobles gathered their followers and tried to break out. Balian of Ibelin and a few hundred knights actually cut their way through the surrounding horsemen and managed to escape the trap. He turned to see if he could help relieve those still inside and was confronted by ten times his number of Islamic riders charging toward his small force. He wisely turned and fled, eventually becoming one of the few survivors. Reginald of Sidon led another breakout and also escaped. He was the last to do so.hours, a good number of the Outremer infantry had endured enough. They formed themselves into a solid mass of men and tried to push their way through to the lakes and the precious water. Every one of the hundreds of men were slaughtered before they even got close to the water.then ordered his horsemen to attack the hills. One attack was beaten back, then another, and another. But the waterless defenders lost more men with each charge. By the end, only a few hundred knights remained able to fight when yet another charge overwhelmed them at the top of the hill. Many of the fallen Christians were found to be only lightly wounded and many had passed out from dehydration and heat stroke. Most of these were revived and spent the rest of their lives as slaves building stone walls around Cairo, Egypt. In the weeks that followed, with too few defenders, most of Outremer’s castles and cities had no choice but to surrender when Saladin approached.of Lusignan had fought the war in the way that he needed, but he risked losing all the kingdom to Saladin. And lose it he did. It was almost 200 years before the last Outremer holdings on Cyprus were captured, but after Guy put his army in a position that played to the enemy’s strengths, the end was inevitable. The original goal of so many crusades, Jerusalem, was lost forever, and the history of the Middle East became a tale of only Islam.

Date: 2015-02-16; view: 1047

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