Crusaders – an epic history of the wars for the holy lands
CRUSADERS – AN EPIC HISTORY OF THE WARS FOR THE HOLY LANDS
The enemy commander – the Kurdish sultan of Egypt and Syria, Salah al-Din Yusuf ibn Ayyub, colloquially called Saladin – was highly capable and had already inflicted a series of devastating defeats on armies of the western Christians generically known as ‘the Franks’.
The previous summer he had crushed a huge army in the field, imprisoned the king of Jerusalem, seized the holy relic of Christ’s cross, and evicted a Christian government from the city of Jerusalem.
The only sure reward for participants in the war to take revenge on Saladin would be redeemed in the afterlife, where it was assumed that God would look favourably on participants, granting them a smoother, swifter entry into paradise.
Although in a religious age obsessed with tallying and remitting sin this was a more enticing offer than it might seem today, Baldwin nevertheless had his work cut out, as he and his entourage slogged through Wales from town to town: preaching, persuading and whipping up enthusiasm for a war against an enemy none of his audience had ever seen, in a land vanishingly few had never experienced outside their imaginations.
In a small town called Aberteifi, in west Wales, a young married couple reacted to Baldwin’s arrival by fighting. The husband had decided he wanted to sign up for the crusade.
His wife was adamant he was going nowhere. According to the writer Gerald of Wales, who travelled with Archbishop Baldwin and kept a vivid record of the journey (although he sadly omitted the couple’s names), the wife ‘held her husband fast by his cloak and belt, and publicly… prevented him from going to the archbishop’!
They struggled and she won. But, wrote Gerald, her victory proved short-lived: ‘Three nights afterwards, she heard a terrible voice saying, “You have taken my servant away from me, therefore what you must love shall be taken away from you.”
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