Heraldry and The Crusades part 1

The Siege of Antioch, 1st Crusade
“ Then might you have seen many a banner and pennon of various forms floating in the breeze ……. Helmets with crests, brilliant with jewels, and shining mails, and shields, emblazoned with lions, or flying dragons in gold.”

-- Geoffrey de Vinsauf, Itinerary of Richard I
The Crusades were a series of military campaigns during the time of Medieval England against the Muslims of the Middle East. In 1076, the Muslims had captured Jerusalem - the most holy of holy places for Christians. Jesus had been born in nearby Bethlehem and Jesus had spent most of his life in Jerusalem. He was crucified on Calvary Hill, also in Jerusalem. There was no more important place on Earth than Jerusalem for a true Christian which is why Christians called Jerusalem the "City of God". However, Jerusalem was also extremely important for the Muslims as Muhammad, the founder of the Muslim faith, had been there and there was great joy in the Muslim world when Jerusalem was captured. A beautiful dome - called the Dome of the Rock - was built on the rock where Muhammad was said to have sat and prayed and it was so holy that no Muslim was allowed to tread on the rock or touch it when visiting the Dome.Therefore the Christian fought to get Jerusalem back while the Muslims fought to keep Jerusalem. These wars were to last nearly 200 years. Heraldry played an important role in the Crusades.

Although we can trace the beginnings of Heraldry to a period prior to King Richard’s First Crusade, it was during that great adventure that the need for a developed system of armory became apparent, and the Heraldic emblems and nomenclature of the Middle Ages bear many traces of impressions left by the later Holy Wars. The impetus, which Richard’s expedition gave to Heraldry, is seen when a comparison is made between the Coats of Arms in use before the crusade and those in the Roll of Arms compiled later in the reign of Henry III. There are certain ubiquities in 12th century Coat of Arms, mainly due to the frequent repetitive use of only a small number of charges that were grouped and colored differently in order to produce differing Coats of Arms. The heraldic ordinaries, or charges, which consisted of birds and beasts, and common objects which served as a pun on the bearers name were the full range of arrows in the Herald’s quiver. But the Crusades gave birth to many new heraldic figures. The enrichment of Heraldry at this time is typical of the manner in which the ideas of Western Europe in art, science and philosophy were broadened through contact with the more ancient culture of the East.

Foremost amongst the emblems of the Holy Wars was the cross. Every man of the Christian armies, like Spenser’s knight St. George in his epic poem “ The Faerie Queene”
Upon his breast a bloody Cross he bore,

The dear remembrance of his dying Lord,

For whose sweete sake that glorious badge he wore,

And dead, as living, ever Him ador’d;

Upon his shield the like was also scor’d

Pope Urban address1095Pope Urban II, the preacher of the First Crusade, decreed this practice at the council of Clermont in 1095 ( image left ). “The Cross of Christ,” he told the crusaders, “ is the symbol of your salvation. Wear it, a red, a bloody cross, on your breast and shoulders, as a token that His help will never fail you; as the pledge of a vow which can never be recalled.” His words echoed those of St. Olaf, who 60 years previously had ordered his men to paint the Holy Cross on their shields before their encounter with the pagan forces of Scandinavia. The color of the cross was later varied to distinguish the soldiers of one country from those of another.

In the Third Crusade the red cross was appropriated by the French forces, while the English displayed a white cross and the Flemish green crosses. But when the English adopted St. George as their patron saint they made his red cross their own, and in this ancient crusading device we see the beginnings of the English national flag, the Union Jack

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