26 William Rufus, Normandy and the First Crusade

William Rufus was a flamboyant, red faced, pudgy and irreverant bloke, but none the less his father's favourite son. So Dad tipped him the wink and he left the death bed to take the throne of England from his older brother. And spent his reign trying to re-unite England and Normandy again.

26 William Rufus, Normandy and the 1st Crusade

William Rufus

William's reign is dominated by 4 themes:

  1. William's main aim – get Normandy away from big brother
  2. Tax the living daylights out of the English so I can get Normandy back
  3. Keep the Scots and Welsh quiet so I can get Normandy back
  4. Stop the church from taking away customary royal rights.

This episode we'll talk about the first two. And a bit about the First Crusade, for no good reason.

A brief guide to medieval taxation

Rufus and the first Chief Justiciar of England, Ranulph Flambard, used all the means at their disposal to raise money.

  • Raise a geld – the Danes have gone, but that's no reason not to raise a geld or two
  • Revenue from the Royal Demesne lands
  • Turn the old English dues into cash – raise the Fyrd, then get them to give you money rather than fight
  • Feudal dues: Wardships – take under-age orphaned heirs into the Royal care, and make money from their estates. Or sell the wardship to highest bidder.
  • Charge your vassals a fee for getting married
  • Scutage – get money from your vassals instead of getting them to fight
  • Relief – medieval inheritance tax

Norman kings steered a very fine line. Charge too much for all this stuff and you have a baronial revolt on your hands. William got away with it – but was always close to that line.

Getting Normandy back

Rufus first had to fight Robert Curthose off – which he successfully did in 1088. And from then on he was on the offensive. But despite campaigns in 1091 and 1094, he never really had Robert on the run. Until in 1096, Robert heard Pope Urban II's call to the Crusade. William loaned him £10,000, and had control of Normandy until Robert came back. Pretty soon, William had re-asserted Ducal control over the baronage that Robert had lost.

The First Crusade

The First Crusade affected England relatively lightly – though there are records of a fleet of ships that took an active part. But the largest part of the Crusade came from Northern France and Germany.

Alexios Comnenus was in fact probably pretty horrified when 35,000 hairy northerners turned up in Byzantium. And in fact, the Crusades did little for east-west relations. Alexios really fancied a load of gold to pay for mercenaries to regain lands for Byzantium. Instead, he ended up with 4 Frankish kingdoms in the Holy Land, who he understood less that he did the Turks.

The Crusader march to Jerusalem

The march to the Holy land took the Crusaders first to Nicea, which they regained for the Emperor. At Dorylaeum, the Sultan of Rhum got his taste of western knights, and his arrows simply bounced off their armour. So he stood aside and waved them through.

At Antioch, the Crusaders faced a challenge they looked like losing. Camped in front of walls they couldn't properly blockade, they boiled in the heat, without sufficient food, while a Muslim relief army approached. But sneakiness won The Crusader States the day, when they bribed a Turkish captain to let them in. They slaughtered the inhabitants, Muslim and Christian alike. Then, inspired by the Holy Lance found within the walls, they put the Muslim army to the sword.

By then many leaders had left – Stephen of Blois for example. Their original army of 35,000 was down to 12-15,000. But on they marched to Jeruslaem. Their chances looked slim. The Turks had denuded the land around of food, and poisoned the wells. Jerusalem was a massive fortress. Another army approached from Egypt. But despite the odds, the desperate Crusader assault worked, and on 13th July 1099 Jerusalem was in their hands. The Crusaders celebrated with another orgy of destruction and murder that was to prevent any chance of working with the local Muslim population. Baldwin was crowned the first King of Jerusalem.

The final stroke was the Battle of Ascalon, where again a Muslim army was defeated, and many Crusaders came on home. Among them was Robert Curthose. Robert had a good crusade, involved in all the major battles, and there was even a rumour that he was offered the crown.

The First Crusade was massively helped by Turkish divisions, and really shouldn't have had much chance of success. It established 4 rather unlikely western kingdoms in the Levant that were to be the focus of 8 more crusades until the final fall of Acre in 1291.

4 thoughts on “26 William Rufus, Normandy and the First Crusade

  1. Thanks for sidetracking into the 1st Crusade! I’ve been positively giddy with anticipation to see if you’d dip into the Levant for the whole previous century’s worth of podcasts, probably even since ol’ Aetheled the Unready. For me it’s an interest point second only to 1066 in Medieval English relevance, and I’m glad to see you don’t shrink from concurrent histories when you think they’re interesting enough.
    I was wondering if you’d be willing and interested in going a bit into the religious and ecclesiastical differences between Normandy and Norman England at the time, and what it meant for England post 1066. I realize I probably should have asked this when you were still leading up to 1066, as it would have been a more striking dissimilarity then, but it seems to me over the past few podcasts that the Norman Church and English laity as such likely did not see eye for a generation or so (notwithstanding the conflicts between Church leaders and the Norman Dukes).
    I know you’ve gone into the political conflicts between Bishops and various Sovereigns and even the Pope in Rome, but I was just wondering, if you’d find it interesting, if you’d like to spend a bit on that particular facet of norman cultural conquest.

  2. being sidetracked has been one of the joys of doing this podcast. For example, I found the history of early Scandinavia fascinating. The history of the Crusades and Outremer I think is quite extra ordinary – I am deeply tempted to do another podcast on them, but lord knows where I’d founnd the time. But thanks – you’ve iven me the excuse I needed for the other crusades!
    Let me think about the attitude of the English laity towards the Norman reforms; needs a bit of work I think. Certainly what has struck me is the old Norman arrogance – England as a provincial backwater – above and beyond the general, Europewide trend of church reform. And in the process (I’m not an expert) it seems to me that the local connections between church and laity were weakened, for a while. And the old national symbols of the English church were also damaged as Cathedrals were built and diocese moved to new centres.
    Anyway, thanks for the comment and encouragement !

  3. Hi David
    I’m an expat living in NZ, whilst I’m an avid history reader your podcasts are really bringing our history to life. I listen to your podcasts while driving around, on business travel, across the country. I’m loving them. I’m up to episode 26 and I’m pleased to say, I have plenty to go! My 20 year old son, who is a true blue kiwi and plays rugby for Otago, is also hooked and studying history at the University of Otago, has told me he is learning more from you than his History Professor….is that good or bad? Anyhow well done, Top Job.
    You mentioned a sadness at the fall of Troy – do you remember? Would love to hear your thoughts on that earlier age. Have you read ‘Where Troy Once Stood’ by Iman Wilkens ? Trojans in British Isles? For a place name buff such as yourself you will find it unputdownabe!
    Regards Clive. Hawkes Bay NZ.

  4. Hi Clive
    You lucky thing. I love England and all, but I’d love a chance to see NZ. Hope it’s as good as it sounds. Plays rugby for Otago? That’s something of an achievement isn’t it?
    I’ve not read that but will look out for it. There’s a tradition is there not that Aneas fled Troy and ended up in England? Could be wrong…
    Cheers, David

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