Saturday, November 14, 2015

Benedict's Atlantic: The Last Emperor, the Second Crusade, the Fall of Lisbon, and the Plantation of the Atlantic

It's not a point that gets the attention it deserves, but on 23 May, 1147, an army of, uhm, let's say, ten thousand men, embarked on 150--200 ships, sailed from the Dartmouth, bound for the Holy Land --and fully expecting to get there. 

Dates can get a little unmoored. We have an image of a "medieval" feast as involving candied citron, figs, dates, raisins and sweet Malmsey, and sailing from Devon. That's where Sir Francis Drake comes from, after all! The diet implies the Levant trade. Ladies of Spain, and the wind, imply the West of England. "From Ushant to Scilly is forty-five leagues." 1147 is "medieval." Sou'west winds carry Joseph of Arimathea, citron of Candy, out of the Levant, from Santiago de Compostella to the pastures green. As if to make it all the more uncanny, we have the vast deposits of sub-Roman African Red Slip Ware at Tintagel Castle, where Arthur was conceived, at least as of 1135.

The problem comes when you try to moor 1147. It is seventy-nine years from the conquest, for example, 158 years from Erik the Red's arrival in Greenland, 94 years before the death of Snorri Sturlusson, nine years after the Battle of the Standard, in the midst of the Anarchy of Stephen and Matilda, just after Geoffrey of Monmouth writes, and while William of Malmesbury was composing. It is also not actually the earliest date at which we know North Sea society could mobilise such an effort, since an English fleet appeared off the Levant in March of 1098, pushing the economic context back another two generations, with Sigurd the Crusader's six-year adventure from here to there and back again to place in between. Which I will, if only to get in mention of Sigurd's crusading around Lisbon. If the Levant trade is, indeed, already centuries old in the Twelfth Century, then Sigurd's sailors would have known the Tagus-mouth well. That it is about to become Portuguese in no way erases an obscure past in which it was already a waypoint on the Christian pilgrimage to the Holy Land in spite of lying well within al-Andalus, as we anyway know from, of all sources, Adomnan, for a Gallic bishop fetched up, shipwrecked, on the Iona of Adomnan, and furnished him with the information he needed to write a guidebook for the Holy Land, presented to a Northumbrian king in 698.

The difference is, before 1147, these are rousing adventures. In 1147, it was a crusade, and it stuck. There's a difference. I'm guessing that it has to do with St. Benedict.

St. Benedict, not exactly as pictured. Tangent Cafe on Commercial, so way too cool for school.

The last Emperor of the title is, of course, Conrad III, who was honoured as Last Emperor (it's a German thing) by participants in the Wendish Crusade, which didn't really go anywhere, so my only point in bringing it up is that we have an ongoing debate as to whether the Wendish Crusade was part of a programme of "expanding Christiandom." Also, since he is the founder of the German dynasty of the Staufen, I get to make a timely joke about his being "last" from a certain point of view. This matters, as it turns out. Conrad was succeeded by members of his family, as Louis VII was, because. in part, he secured the Pope's consent to crown his son during his lifetime. Stephen of England did not. 

The reason for this, we can guess, is that Conrad chose to march to the Holy Land. It really does look like this was a risky decision on his part. His army bogged down in Anatolia, and the man who departed Germany a conquering hero, arrived in the Holy Land an indigent pilgrim. His nephew managed, in spite of all early, promising portents, ended up doing him one better by dying while marching the Imperial host across the Anatolian plateau during the Third Crusade. Although the Staufen went on to produce Frederick II (1194--1250), Stupor Mundi, the dynasty there If a dynasty must fail, let it be as the wonder of the world, and not the dynasty thereafter failed in the most spectacular fashion imaginable. A reading of Roman history, with its long and melancholy list of emperors dead on the road to the Persian front, at the front, or on the return, ought to have been a warning of the risks. Too bad we do not know whether these sad historical precedents were brought to Conrad's attention.

This is the Second Crusade we vaguely know, the one "no-one talks about," fiasco from beginning to end. It has been suggested that its Christian significance is that Pope Eugenius III  claimed for himself the power to grant remission of sins  to those who took the Cross. Call this a revision of Christian theology to admit holy war if you will; focus on the advance of Papal powers, if that is actually what happened --I gather that there's a debate-- if you prefer; what matters here for me is processual. What does remission of sins mean, parish by parish? Something, it is suggested, very substantial to the way that medieval European daily life, local and sacral, legal and productive.  

Just exactly what, in its detail, might also be open to question. How important was Eugenius and his bull? Other historians focus on St. Bernard of Clairvaux preaching the Cross before the King of France and his assembled magnates at Vezelay in northern Burgundy on 31 March, 1146: Easter Day. This focus places religious fervour at the centre of the narrative. Louis, and then Conrad, took up the Cross out of deep, religious commitment. Forget the whole crowning-the-heir-while-the-king-still-lives. That bit is, at best, icing on the cake.

Finally, there is one last possible player from the ecclesiastical universe: the Black Monks of Cluny. So entirely forgotten today that there is not even a Cluniac order, the monks of the great abbey church of Cluny in the Loire Valley were the dominant expression of Frankish monasticism in their day, and their overthrow by St. Bernard's Cistercians may well be a critical part of this story. Why do I want to say that? Because I am an English-speaking historian. The traditional account has Bernard of Clairvaux persuading Pope Eugenius to remove Stephen's chosen Archbishop of York, William, in 1147, leading Stephen's brother, Henry of Blois, Abbot of Glastonbury, to put on the black robes, proclaiming an affiliation with Cluny, over and against the Cistercians of Clairvau. (Other momentous events of 1147 include the death of Empress Matilda's half-brother and supporter, Robert of Goucester, the Empress' departure from southwest England for Normandy, and an attempted invasion of England by her son, Henry Fitzempress, later Henry II.)

Several questions, interlocked. Are the Wendish Crusade and the Siege of Lisbon part of a grand project imagined by early-medieval grand strategist Pope Eugenius? Are they, rather, fostered on an impressionable Pope by that Twelfth Century Dick Cheney, Bernard of Clairvaux? Or has credit for a project out of the heart of old Europe (Cluny, if you were wondering) being wrested away by the new forces represented by Clairvaux?  integral parts of a larger game. 

Leaving the Wends aside, scholars such as Jonathan Phillips and Christopher Tyerman think that the Siege is, to some extent, part of the project. The main reason to disagree comes out of the same source that mainstream scholarship ransacks for evidence of concerted planning. The priest, Raoul, writing to Osbert of Bawdry in a widely-disseminated narrative, of the siege, tells us that at various points, dissenters within the crusading fleet argued for other courses of action. At landfall at Santiago de Compostella, some had to be persuaded to stop at Lisbon to lend a hand at the siege. In the initial stages of the siege, one William Viel emerges as the spokesman for eight ships of Southampton and Hastings, which are impatient to sail with the fair spring winds for the Levant, and perhaps take prize of a few fat merchants on the way. Also, William points out, some of these mariners had served with Afonso Henrique in an abortive siege of Lisbon five years before(!) and do not believe that he will deal with them fairly. Raoul tells us that he played some part in reconciling the dissidents, along with the secular leaders of the crusading fleet. He is much shorter with the later outbreak of dissent, led by an unnamed "priest of Bristol," who is concerned about division of the spoils.  

Notice that this priest of Bristol is not the only ecclesiastical rogue. Bernard's preaching tour was shadowed by an "unauthorised" one by one, Radulf, a renegade priest who was eventually dealt with in some way --scarcely the only evidence of a counter-culture incarnation of the crusading impulse. ("Peter the Hermit, primitive revolutionary: discuss.") Unless, that is, our account of Radulf is entirely misconstrued. 

And then there is the siege. We know what happened --in retrospect. The fall of Lisbon, on 25 October 1147, was the making of England's oldest ally, the Kingdom of Portugal, which is not England's ally without a reason. Portuguese Lancastrians led the "Age of the Reconnaissance," perhaps out of a desire to defend their shaky claim to be kings. For although Afonso Henrique was already calling himself it a king, and Portugal a kingdom, it was not obvious that Portugal was so easily detached from old Aragon, the first crusading kingdom. (At least if you believe the retrospective remaking of the immediate post-Conquest Hispanic past. I'm inclined to suspect ledgerdemain in the substitution of "Aragon" for "Asturias." But what do I know? I'm attached to the old Kingdom of Asturias because the name echoes Marion Zimmer Bradley's Darkover novels. Seriously, dude.) Nor was it obvious that the siege of Lisbon was a once-and-for-all-thing. Sigurd had raided at Lisbon. So had William Viel. So had other armed Christian pilgrims on their way to the Holy Land.  The Wendish Crusade was a dismal failure, as was the Second Crusade's siege of Damascus. All that the men of Lisbon agreed to, after all, was to give it a go.

The Conquest of Lisbon, Alfredo Roque Gameiro (1917)

Only, I think, is something more than just having a go. According to the "extending the frontiers" theory, it was planned, more-or-less, and the logistic effort might have been massive. According to the evidence of the eye, the crews of a mid-Twelfth Century crusading fleet constituted a hard core of very good carpenter-engineers, and the project of a siege of Lisbon was easy to sell to a very large fleet, much of which supported itself on nothing more than "fair markets" before Lisbon. If a fleet of 10,000 men stood out from the Dart on Easter, 1147, provisioned for  at least three-and-a-half weeks, 250,000 rations were made available there, in the height of the hungry season. It's not that this is impossible --it happened!-- and certainly the presence of all of that food would have helped in recruiting able-bodied sailor-men to balance out well-endowed crusaders. It just tells us that there was organisation, facilities, infrastructure, leadership, and probably established channels of chandlery.  

This last is telling. When the Royal Navy shited its base of operations to Dartmouth during the Eighteenth Century wars, the consequence of all this procurement was the Industrial Revolution itself. Provisioning a 10,000 man fleet for a single voyage is far less effort than maintaining Hawke in the Western Approaches, but with seven centuries of progress, you would expect some progress. In any case, the procurement was up the Severn river valley, where we find Gloucester and Bristol, Angevin heartlands, nipping off Henry of Blois's Glastonbury. (We also find the need to tranship Severn Valley provisions across the peninsula to the Dart, the one kind of trade which makes it even vaguely explicable to find so much Mediterranean ware at Tingatel, on the north side of the peninsula, although whether it was being portaged overland north or south is an open question.) 

Tintagel Castle. I wish we were looking at sub-Roman remains out of the misty dawn, but in fact this is a sustained antiquarian enterprise by Richard of Cornwall, looking to create a link between his times and the booming popular culture industry associated with that Arthur dude. "Upper mainland courtyard of Tintagel Castle, 2007" by Kerry Garratt - 20070917-P1010730. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Commons -,_2007.jpg#/media/File:Upper_mainland_courtyard_of_Tintagel_Castle,_2007.jpg

So, in 1147, Dartmouth could draw on some kind of well-developed local markets, or on a maritime hinterland, and our eyes are drawn up into the Angevin heartland. So when Raoul argues with an un-named priest from Bristol, do we see an echo of England's intercine conflict? We do! Raoul himself tells us that the leadership of the fleet includes Flemings and Imperials under Arnold of Aerschot, a kinsman of Godfrey of Bouillon, men of Kent under Simon of Dover, men of London under one Andrew, northern Frenchman under the experienced captain of men, Saher of Archelle, Scots, Bretons, and others, under their leaders, and William Viel. Southwestern England is conspicuously not led.

Oh. And I left one man out, a most praiseworthy man, we know, because Raol praises him: Hervey of Glanvill, leader of the men of East Anglia. With the exception of Arnold, every attempt to track these men down leads to blind alleys. Even Raoul, who was wealthy and carried a fragment of the True Cross, and who might have been a Papal legate, is otherwise obscure. Except Hervey of Glanvill. Because, if he is the man we think he is, he is the nephew of Stephen's chancellor.  

So there you go. Royal elements, soft-pedalled, Angevin elements, suppressed. We are not to know the details, out of an England divided between Empress and King. National unity is emergent, contrived on the ground by arguments to religion and Afonso Henrique's purse. (And Raol's.) At the last, the fractious English may have been kept together as much by the promise of plenary remission of sins as much as anything else. Even William Viel's men were so mercenary in part because they did not have the resources to reach Jerusalem if they tarried at Lisbon. 

So I am going to end by gesturing in an already-established direction, to the emergence of centralised government on a ground where it did not previously exist. Notice, above all, that this is not a directed and planned, or even a teleologically emergent phenomena. There is a screaming argument about the "crisis of the Twelfth Century," in which Thomas Bisson will argue up and down that it is not about government or administration, but about the emergence of an "ideology of dominance and lordship." Governance is an emergent outcome. He has his critics, but it'll do as a start. So where is the skeleton of organisation that gives impetus to this shapeless mass, even as much impetus as an army of perhaps ten thousand men "commanded" by a council of twenty "judges" can have? 

Old-timey Catholic historians have an answer for that: it is the monastic structure that, for this argument to make sense, must emerge in the Twelfth Century. Who is our protagonist, then? Bernard of Clairvaux, and his "revival" of the Benedictine rule, which is, in fact, a novel departure, transforming Eiropean society and making the Siege of Lisbon possible. It is not that he intends this. The effort to organise the Crusades visibly moves medieval Europe from point A) to point B), at least to the extent of consolidating hereditary, monarchical rule in England and, briefly, Germany. Why not suppose that this consolidation is happening at lower levels of society, that the whole thickening and tightening of the monastic web has consequences. (Notice that this is not the establishment of "monasticism" but of a new kind of monasticism.) 

One level of organisation makes it possible to move individual shiploads from the southwest of England to the Levant and back. It is antoher, entirely, that moves fleets. The candidate change in deep infrastructure is presented here: the implication is that the social capacity to plant the north Atlantic comes about during the Eleventh Century crisis. 

Therefore, the Norse settlement of Greenland is not a plantation. Woah. Look, I'm not saying that Erik the Red was an Eskimo, but. . . . 


  1. Great piece. Something else unmoored: the version of "Spanish Ladies" I learned says Ushant to Scilly is thirty-four leagues. Sir Cloudesley, are you sure that's the turning point?

  2. Yes, yes, 34 leagues. I'm sorry. Now will you please stop drowning?