Posts tagged 11th century.

June 7, 1099: The Siege of Jerusalem begins.

The weeklong siege of Jerusalem by crusaders of the First Crusade ended in the city’s capture and the slaughtering of many of its inhabitants. The main aim of the First Crusade, which was officially launched in 1096 by Pope Urban II, was to send volunteers to aid the Byzantine Empire and help   relieve the empire from the threat posed by the Muslim Seljuqs of Anatolia. Central to this goal of countering Muslim power in the region was the recapturing of Jerusalem, the holy city which had not been under the control of Christian rulers since the successful Muslim conquest of the Levant in the 7th century. 

At the time of the First Crusade the Seljuq Turks had captured Jerusalem, only to lose it once more to forces of the Fatimid Caliphate shortly before the crusaders launched their siege. Their principal commanders were Raymond IV of Toulouse, Tancred, Robert Curthose, Duke of Normandy, Robert II, Count of Flanders, and Godfrey of Bouillon, who would, after the Christians took control of Jerusalem, become the first ruler (not king) of the Kingdom of Jerusalem. The siege ended when Godfrey and his brother’s men assembled siege towers by the city walls and entered Jerusalem over its defenses on June 14-15.

At the time, Jerusalem was populated by 70,000 civilians practicing a variety of faiths; when the crusaders entered the city in 1099, they unleashed a bloody massacre upon these tens of thousands. Jews sought refuge within a synagogue, which was burnt down, and Muslims were slaughtered by the thousands as well. According to the Gesta Francorum, the crusaders brought the “killing and slaying even to the Temple of Solomon, where the slaughter was so great that our men waded in blood up to their ankles….” Many of those who were not killed were either ordered to leave the city or were sold into slavery. Amidst the bloodshed, the crusaders - laymen and clergymen alike - made their way to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre to give thanks and murmur prayers. 

March 8, 1010: Ferdowsi completes the Shahnameh (شاهنامه).

Ferdowsi’s “Book of Kings”, a poem consisting of over 50,000 couplets, took him over three decades to complete; the end result was the poet’s magnum opus and a national epic worthy of the long and rich historical and cultural legacy of Persia and Persian speakers. The poems chronicle the history of Iran over three eras - the mythical age, the heroic age, and the historic age, beginning at the creation of the Earth according to the beliefs of prei-Islamic Persians. In his work Ferdowsi wrote of the legendary shahs of Iran (the earliest kings who ruled for hundreds of years each) and of figures like the epic hero Rostam and Prince Siavash, and finally of the last kings of the Sassanid Empire and the conquest of Persia by the Rashidun Caliphate in the 7th century. The Shahnameh was several times longer than both the Iliad and the Nibelungenlied, and its composition was ordered by Mahmud, emir and later sultan of the Ghaznavid Empire; however, Ferdowsi was also heavily influenced by older compilations that had been commissioned by rulers of the Samanid dynasty, who were instrumental in the revival and celebration of Persian culture through their patronage of poets. 

Other links: English translation of the Shahnameh by Helen Zimmern.

December 28, 1065: Westminster Abbey is consecrated.

Construction on Westminster Abbey (or properly, the Collegiate Church of St Peter at Westminster) began during the reign of Edward the Confessor, so called because of his apparent piety. It was built in the Romanesque style, and it was completed twenty-five years after its consecration, although Edward himself was buried there in 1066, and the coronation of his successor William the Conqueror was the first to take place there. In 1245 Henry III sought to expand the building and rebuild it in the Gothic style to rival the great churches at Canterbury, Amiens, and Reims. Work continued until the early-16th century, and a great shrine to (now Saint) Edward was also built during this renovation.

Since 1065 sixteen royal weddings took place at Westminster Abbey. Until 1760 most of England’s kings and queens were also buried at the abbey, along with such luminaries and national icons as Geoffrey Chaucer, Charles Dickens, Sir Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin, Rudyard Kipling, and others. Lord Byron’s remains were sent to Westminster Abbey for burial, but he was refused (and the Abbey refused to enact a memorial to him until 1969). Coronations of English and British monarchs are traditionally held in the Abbey as well. 

October 14, 1066: William the Conqueror defeats Harold Godwinson at the Battle of Hastings.

The relatively short Norman conquest of England began in September of 1066, was (more or less) decided at Hastings, and ended in December of that same year, when William I, Duke of Normandy and descendant of Viking vassals to the king of France, was crowned king of England. The previous king of England (and last Anglo-Saxon king) Edward the Confessor was childless and heir-less upon his death; according to William, Edward had promised him the throne, but Edward’s brother-in-law Harold, son of the powerful earl Godwin of Wessex (hence “Godwinson”), took the throne instead, which he claimed had been promised to him by Edward on his deathbed. 

The decisive Battle of Hastings was fought around 10 km from Hastings, atop Senlac Hill. Harold’s force, though claiming the higher ground, was made up mostly of infantry versus the Norman cavalry, archers, and crossbowmen. With the advantage of elevation, the English shield wall tactic proved fairly successful… at first; however, when the Normans fled and the English gave chase, the tides of battle began to turn. Seeing that the shield wall was broken, William had his archers fire again, and, according to the Bayeux Tapestry (pictured above), an arrow struck the Anglo-Saxon king through the eye. Harold was the first of three English kings to die in battle. The Battle of Hastings ended soon after - a decisive Norman victory, and essentially the beginning of Norman England. 

With Harold dead, a new king was hastily proclaimed - Edgar the Ætheling, a Hungarian-born grandson of Edmund Ironside. Edgar was only fifteen and, having no significant military or leadership experience, was forced to submit to William’s forces as they advanced on London. 

September 27, 1066: William, Duke of Normandy, sets sail with his invasion fleet and army for England, beginning the Norman Conquest of England.

In 1066, the Normans of France, mainly a group of Norse Vikings who more or less assimilated with the French, launched an invasion of England that would establish a new era in its history. The Normans, under Duke William (later William the Conqueror) were able to quash the resistance of the Anglo-Saxons, one of the turning points of the invasion occurring less than a month after William’s departure from France- the Battle of Hastings, October 15, which claimed the life of then-king Harold II

Harold’s successor was none other than William himself, who subjugated the Anglo-Saxons under an autocratic but effective central government. The influence of the Norman conquest on England is vast- the Norman nobility displaced all the previous English aristocracy, which created a distinctive set of social/cultural disparities; Norman French led to the development of Middle English; also, the Normans brought with them or developed in England the most definitively “medieval” things- feudalism, castles, cathedrals, even names like “Henry” and “William”. The Normans ruled England for centuries through the Plantagenets, beginning with Henry II, great-grandson of William, and its branch houses, the Lancasters and Yorks. 

Other links: the Bayeux Tapestry, which details the years 1064-1066 until the Battle of Hastings and depicts both Harold and William.