Famous Men of The Middle Ages
John H. Haaren, LL.D. and A. B. Poland, Ph.D.
Part 2 out of 3
Roland had a friend and companion named Oliver, who was as brave
as himself. Many stories and songs have been written telling of
the wonderful adventures they were said to have had and of their
wonderful deeds in war.
The work of Charlemagne in Spain was quickly undone; for Abd-er-Rahman,
the leader of the Mohammedans who had come from Damascus, soon
conquered almost all the territory south of the Pyrenees.
For more than forty years Charlemagne was king of the Franks; but
a still greater dignity was to come to him. In the year 800 some
of the people in Rome rebelled against the Pope, and Charlemagne
went with an army to put down the rebellion. He entered the city
with great pomp and soon conquered the rebels. On Christmas day he
went to the church of St. Peter, and as he knelt before the altar
the Pope placed a crown upon his head, saying:
"Long live Charles Augustus, Emperor of the Romans."
The people assembled in the church shouted the same words; and so
Charlemagne was now emperor of the Western Roman Empire, as well
as king of the Franks [the emperors of Constantinople still called
themselves Roman Emperors, and still claimed Italy, Germany and
France as parts of their empire, though really their authority had
not been respected in these countries for more than 300 years.].
Charlemagne built a splendid palace at Aix-la-Chapelle (aks-la-shap-el'),
a town in Germany, where perhaps he was born.
Charlemagne was a tall man, with long, flowing beard, and of noble
appearance. He dressed in very simple style; but when he went into
battle he wore armor, as was the custom for kings and nobles, and
often for ordinary soldiers in his day.
Armor was made of leather or iron, or both together. There was a
helmet of iron for the head, and a breastplate to cover the breast,
or a coat of mail to cover the body. The coat of mail was made
of small iron or steel rings linked together, or fastened on to a
leather shirt. Coverings for the legs and feet were often attached
to the coat.
Charlemagne was a great king in may other ways besides the fighting
of battles. He did much for the good of his people. He made
many excellent laws and appointed judges to see that the laws were
carried out. He established schools and placed good teachers in
charge of them. He had a school in his palace for his own children,
and he employed as their teacher a very learned Englishman named
In those times few people could read or write. There were not
many schools anywhere, and in most places there were none at all.
Even the kings had little education. Indeed, few of them could
write their own names, and most of them did not care about sending
their children to school. They did not think that reading or
writing was of much use; but thought that it was far better for
boys to learn to be good soldiers, and for girls to learn to spin
Charlemagne had a very different opinion. He was fond of learning;
and whenever he heard of a learned man, living in any foreign
country, he tried to get him to come and live in Frankland.
The fame of Charlemagne as a great warrior and a wise emperor
spread all over the world. Many kings sent messengers to him
to ask his friendship, and bring him presents. Harun-al-Rashid
(hah-roon'-al-rash'-eed), the famous caliph, who lived at Bagdad,
in Asia, sent him an elephant and a clock which struck the hours.
The Franks were much astonished at the sight of the elephant; for
they had never seen one before. They also wondered much at the
clock. In those days there were in Europe no clocks such as we
have; but water-clocks and hour-glasses were used in some places.
The water-clock was a vessel into which water was allowed to trickle.
It contained a float which pointed to a scale of hours at the side
of the vessel. The float gradually rose as the water trickled in.
The hour-glasses measured time by the falling of fine sand from
the top to the bottom of a glass vessel made with a narrow neck in
the middle for the sand to go through. They were like the little
glasses called egg-timers, which are used for measuring the time
for boiling eggs.
Charlemagne died in 814. He was buried in the church which he had
built at Aix-la-Chapelle. His body was placed in the tomb, seated
upon a grand chair, dressed in royal robes, with a crown on the
head, a sword at the side, and a Bible in the hands.
This famous emperor is known in history as Charlemagne, which is
the French word for the German name Karl der Grosse (Charles the
Great), the name by which he was called at his own court during
his life. The German name would really be a better name for him;
for he was a German, and German was the language that he spoke.
The common name of his favorite residence, Aix-la-Chapelle, also
is French, but he knew the place as Aachen (ä'-chen).
The great empire which Charlemagne built up held together only
during the life of his son. Then it was divided among his three
grandsons. Louis took the eastern part, Lothaire (Lo-thaire') took
the central part, with the title of emperor, and Charles took the
Caliph from 786-809 A.D.
The most celebrated of all Mohammedan caliphs was Harun-al-Rashid,
which means, in English, Aaron the Just. Harun is the hero
of several of the stories of the "Arabian Nights," a famous book,
which perhaps you have read. There are many curious and wonderful
tales in it.
When Harun was only eighteen years old he showed such courage and
skill as a soldier that his father, who was then caliph, allowed
him to lead an army against the enemies of the Mohammedans; and he
won many great victories.
He afterwards commanded an army of ninety-five thousand Arabs and
Persians, sent by his father to invade the Eastern Roman Empire,
which was then ruled by the Empress Irene (i-re'-ne). After defeating
Irene's famous general, Nicetas (ni-ce'-tas), Harun marched his
army to Chrysopolis (Chrys-op'-o-lis), now Scutari (skoo'-ta-re),
on the Asiatic coast, opposite Constantinople. He encamped on the
heights, in full view of the Roman capital.
The Empress saw that the city would certainly by taken by the Moslems.
She therefore sent ambassadors to Harun to arrange terms; but he
sternly refused to agree to anything except immediate surrender.
Then one of the ambassadors said, "The Empress has heard much of
your ability as a general. Though you are her enemy, she admires
you as a soldier."
These flattering words were pleasing to Harun. He walked to and
fro in front of his tent and then spoke again to the ambassadors.
"Tell the Empress," he said, "that I will spare Constantinople if
she will pay me seventy thousand pieces of gold as a yearly tribute.
If the tribute is regularly paid Constantinople shall not be harmed
by any Moslem force."
The Empress had to agree to these terms. She paid the first year's
tribute; and soon the great Moslem army set out on its homeward
When Harun was not quite twenty-one years old he became caliph.
He began his reign by appointing very able ministers, who carried
on the work of the government so well that they greatly improved
the condition of the people.
Harun built a palace in Bagdad, far grander and more beautiful than
that of any caliph before him. Here he established his court and
lived in great splendor, attended by hundreds of courtiers and
He was very anxious that his people should be treated justly by
the officers of the government; and he was determined to find out
whether any had reason to complain. So he sometimes disguised
himself at night and went about through the streets and bazaars,
listening to the talk of those whom he met and asking them questions.
In this way he learned whether the people were contented and happy,
In those times Bagdad in the east and the Mohammedan cities of Spain
in the west were famed for their schools and learned men. Arabian
teachers first introduced into Western Europe both algebra and the
figures which we use in arithmetic. It is for this reason that we
call these figures the "Arabic numerals."
Harun-al-Rashid gave great encouragement to learning. He was a
scholar and poet himself and whenever he heard of learned men in
his own kingdom, or in neighboring countries, he invited them to
his court and treated them with respect.
The name of Harun, therefore, became known throughout the world. It
is said that a correspondence took place between him and Charlemagne
and that, as you have learned, Harun sent the great emperor a
present of a clock and an elephant.
The tribute of gold that the Empress Irene agreed to pay Harun was
sent regularly for many years. It was always received at Bagdad with
great ceremony. The day on which it arrived was made a holiday.
The Roman soldiers who came with it entered the gates in procession.
Moslem troops also took part in the parade.
When the gold had been delivered at the palace, the Roman soldiers
were hospitably entertained, and were escorted to the main gate of
the city when they set out on their journey back to Constantinople.
In 802 Nicephorus (Ni-ceph'-o-rus) usurped the throne of the Eastern
Empire. He sent ambassadors with a letter to Harun to tell him
that the tribute would no longer be paid. The letter contained
"The weak and faint-hearted Irene submitted to pay you tribute.
She ought to have made you pay tribute to her. Return to me all
that she paid you; else the matter must be settled by the sword."
As soon as Harun had read these words the ambassadors threw a
bundle of swords at his feet. The caliph smiled, and drawing his
own sword, or cimeter (sim'-e-ter), he cut the Roman swords in two
with one stroke without injuring the bald, or even turning the edge
of his weapon.
Then he dictated a letter to Nicephorus, in which he said:
"Harun-al-Rashid, Commander of the Faithful to Nicephorus, the Roman
dog: I have read thy letter. Thou shalt not hear, thou shalt SEE
Harun was as good as his word. He started that day with a large
army to punish the emperor. As soon as he reached Roman territory
he ravaged the country and took possession of everything valuable
that he found. He laid siege to Heraclea (Her-a-cle'-a), a city on
the shores of the Black Sea, and in a week forced it to surrender.
Then he sacked the place.
Nicephorus was now forced to agree to pay the tribute. Scarcely,
however, had the caliph reached his palace in Bagdad when the
emperor again refused to pay.
Harun, consequently, advanced into the Roman province of Phrygia,
in Asia Minor, with an army of 15,000 men. Nicepherus marched
against him with 125,000 men. In the battle which followed the
emperor was wounded, and 40,000 of his men were killed.
After this defeat Nicephorus again promised payment of the tribute,
but again failed to keep his promise.
Harun now vowed that he would kill the emperor if he should ever
lay hands upon him. But as he was getting ready to march once more
into the Roman provinces a revolt broke out in one of the cities
of his own kingdom; and while on his way to suppress it the great
caliph died of an illness which had long given him trouble.
King from 802-837 A.D.
Egbert the Saxon lived at the same time as did Harun-al-Rashid and
Charlemagne. He was the first king who ruled all England as one
kingdom. Long before his birth the people who are known to us as
Britons lived there, and they gave to the island the name Britain.
But Britain was invaded by the Romans under Julius Cæsar and his
successors, and all that part of it which we now call England was
added to the Empire of Rome. The Britons were driven into Wales
and Cornwall, the western sections of the island.
The Romans kept possession of the island for nearly four hundred
years. They did not leave it until 410, the year that Alaric sacked
the city of Rome. At this time the Roman legions were withdrawn
Some years before this the Saxons, Angles and Jutes, German tribes,
had settled near the shores of the North Sea. They learned much
about Britain; for trading vessels, even at that early day, crossed
the Channel. Among other things, the men from the north learned
that Britain was crossed with good Roman roads, and dotted with
houses of brick and stone; that walled cities had taken the place
of tented camps, and that the country for miles round each city was
green every spring with waving wheat, or white with orchard blossoms.
After the Roman legions had left Britain, the Jutes, led, it is
said, by two great captains named Hengist and Horsa, landed upon
the southeastern coast and made a settlement.
Britain proved a pleasant place to live in, and soon the Angles
and Saxons also left the North Sea shores and invaded the beautiful
The new invaders met with brave resistance. The Britons were headed
by King Arthur, about whom many marvelous stories are told. His
court was held at Caerleon (cär'-le-on), in North Wales, where his
hundred and fifty knights banqueted at their famous "Round Table."
The British king and his knights fought with desperate heroism.
But they could not drive back the Saxons and their companions and
were obliged to seek refuge in the western mountainous parts of the
island, just as their forefathers had done when the Romans invaded
Britain. Thus nearly all England came into the possession of the
three invading tribes.
Arthur and his knights were devoted Christians. For the Romans
had not only made good roads and built strong walls and forts in
Britain, but they had also brought the Christian religion into the
island. And at about the time of the Saxon invasion St. Patrick
was founding churches and monasteries in Ireland, and was baptizing
whole clans of the Irish at a time. It is said that he baptized
12,000 persons with his own hand. Missionaries were sent out by
the Irish Church to convert the wild Picts of Scotland and at a
later day the distant barbarians of Germany and Switzerland.
The Saxons, Angles, and Jutes believed in the old Norse gods, and
Tiew and Woden, Thor and Friga, or Frija, were worshiped on the
soil of Britain for more than a hundred years.
The Britons tried to convert their conquerors, but the invaders did
not care to be taught religion by those whom they had conquered; so
the British missionaries found the work unusually hard. Aid came
to them in a singular way. At some time near the year 575 A.D.,
the Saxons quarreled and fought with their friends, the Angles.
They took some Angles prisoners and carried them to Rome to be sold
in the great slave-market there. A monk named Gregory passed one
day through the market and saw these captives. He asked the dealer
who they were. "Angles," was the answer.
"Oh," said the monk, "they would be ANGELS instead of ANGLES if they
were only Christians; for they certainly have the faces of angels."
Years after, when that monk was the Pope of Rome, he remembered this
conversation and sent the monk Augustine (Au-gus'-tine) to England
to teach the Christian religion to the savage but angel-faced Angles.
Augustine and the British missionaries converted the Anglo-Saxons
two hundred years before the German Saxons were converted.
Still, though both Angles and Saxons called themselves Christians,
they were seldom at peace; and for more than two hundred years they
frequently fought. Various chiefs tried to make themselves kings;
and at length there came to be no less than seven small kingdoms
in South Britain.
In 784 Egbert claimed to be heir of the kingdom called Wessex;
but the people elected another man and Egbert had to flee for his
life. He went to the court of Charlemagne, and was with the great
king of the Franks in Rome on Christmas Day, 800, when the Pope
placed the crown on Charles' head and proclaimed him emperor.
Soon after this a welcome message came to Egbert. The mind of the
people in Wessex had changed and they had elected him king. So
bidding farewell to Charlemagne, he hurried to England.
Egbert had seen how Charlemagne had compelled the different quarreling
tribes of Germany to yield allegiance to him and how after uniting
his empire he had ruled it well.
Egbert did in England what Charlemagne had done in Germany.
He either persuaded the various petty kingdoms of the Angles, the
Saxons and the Jutes to recognize him as their ruler, or forced them
to do so; and thus under him all England became one united kingdom.
But Egbert did even better than this. He did much to harmonize
the different tribes by his wise conciliation. The name "England"
is a memorial of this; for though Egbert himself was a Saxon,
he advised that to please the Angles the country should be called
Anglia (An'-gli-a), that is, Angleland or England, the land of the
Angles, instead of Saxonia (Sax-on-i'-a), or Saxonland.
Rollo the Viking
Died 931 A.D.
For more than two hundred years during the Middle Ages the Christian
countries of Europe were attacked on the southwest by the Saracens
of Spain, and on the northwest by the Norsemen, or Northmen. The
Northmen were so called because they came into Middle Europe from
the north. Sometimes they were called Vikings (Vi'-kings), or
pirates, because they were adventurous sea-robbers who plundered
all countries which they could reach by sea.
Their ships were long and swift. In the center was placed a single
mast, which carried one large sail. For the most part, however,
the Norsemen depended on rowing, not on the wind, and sometimes
there were twenty rowers in one vessel.
The Vikings were a terror to all their neighbors; but the two
regions that suffered most from their attacks were the Island of
Britain and that part of Charlemagne's empire in which the Franks
Nearly fifty times in two hundred years the lands of the Franks
were invaded. The Vikings sailed up the large rivers into the heart
of the region which we now call France and captured and pillaged
cities and towns. Some years after Charlemagne's death they went
as far as his capital, Aix (aks), took the place, and stabled their
horses in the cathedral which the great emperor had built.
In the year 860 they discovered Iceland and made a settlement upon
its shores. A few years later they sailed as far as Greenland,
and there established settlements which existed for about a century.
These Vikings were the first discoverers of the continent on which
we live. Ancient books found in Iceland tell the story of the
discovery. It is related that a Viking ship was driven during a
storm to a strange coast, which is thought to have been that part
of America now known as Labrador.
When the captain of the ship returned home he told what he had
seen. His tale so excited the curiosity of a young Viking prince,
called Leif the Lucky, that he sailed to the newly discovered coast.
Going ashore, he found that the country abounded in wild grapes;
and so he called it Vinland, or the land of Vines. Vinland is
thought to have been a part of what is now the Rhode Island coast.
The Vikings were not aware that they had found a great unknown
continent. No one in the more civilized parts of Europe knew anything
about their discovery; and after a while the story of the Vinland
voyages seems to have been forgotten, even among the Vikings
So it is not to them that we owe the discovery of America, but to
Columbus; because his discovery, though nearly five hundred years
later than that of the Norsemen, actually made known to all Europe,
for all time, the existence of the New World.
The Vikings had many able chieftains. One of the most famous was
Rollo the Walker, so called because he was such a giant that no
horse strong enough to carry him could be found, and therefore he
always had to walk. However, he did on foot what few could do on
In 885 seven hundred ships, commanded by Rollo and other Viking
chiefs, left the harbors of Norway, sailed to the mouth of the
Seine (San), and started up the river to capture the city of Paris.
Rollo and his men stopped on the way at Rouen (rö-on'), which also
was on the Seine, but nearer its mouth. The citizens had heard of
the giant, and when they saw the river covered by his fleet they
were dismayed. However, the bishop of Rouen told them that Rollo
could be as noble and generous as he was fierce; and he advised
them to open their gates and trust to the mercy of the Viking chief.
This was done, and Rollo marched into Rouen and took possession of
it. The bishop had given good advice, for Rollo treated the people
Soon after capturing Rouen he left the place, sailed up the river
to Paris, and joined the other Viking chiefs. And now for six long
miles the beautiful Seine was covered with Viking vessels, which
carried an army of thirty thousand men.
A noted warrior named Eudes (Ude) was Count of Paris, and he had
advised the Parisians to fortify the city. So not long before the
arrival of Rollo and his companions, two walls with strong gates
had been built round Paris.
It was no easy task for even Vikings to capture a strongly walled
city. We are told that Rollo and his men built a high tower and
rolled it on wheels up to the walls. At its top was a floor well
manned with soldiers. But the people within the city shot hundreds
of arrows at the besiegers, and threw down rocks, or poured boiling
oil and pitch upon them.
The Vikings thought to starve the Parisians, and for thirteen months
they encamped round the city. At length food became very scarce,
and Count Eudes determined to go for help. He went out through one
of the gates on a dark, stormy night, and rode post-haste to the
king. He told him that something must be done to save the people
So the king gathered an army and marched to the city. No battle
was fought--the Vikings seemed to have been afraid to risk one.
They gave up the siege, and Paris was relieved.
Rollo and his men went to the Duchy of Burgundy, where, as now,
the finest crops were raised and the best of wines were made.
Perhaps after a time Rollo and his Vikings went home; but we do not
know what he did for about twenty-five years. We do know that he
abandoned his old home in Norway in 911. Then he and his people
sailed from the icy shore of Norway and again went up the Seine in
hundreds of Viking vessels.
Of course, on arriving in the land of the Franks, Rollo at once
began to plunder towns and farms.
Charles, then king of the Franks, although his people called him
the Simple, or Senseless, had sense enough to see that this must
So he sent a message to Rollo and proposed that they should have
a talk about peace. Rollo agreed and accordingly they met. The
king and his troops stood on one side of a little river, and Rollo
with his Vikings stood on the other. Messages passed between them.
The king asked Rollo what he wanted.
"Let me and my people live in the land of the Franks; let us make
ourselves home here, and I and my Vikings will become your vassals,"
answered Rollo. He asked for Rouen and the neighboring land. So
the king gave him that part of Francia; and ever since it has been
called Normandy, the land of the Northmen.
When it was decided that the Vikings should settle in Francia and
be subjects of the Frankish king, Rollo was told that he must kiss
the foot of Charles in token that he would be the king's vassal.
The haughty Viking refused. "Never," said he, "will I bend my
knee before any man, and no man's foot will I kiss." After some
persuasion, however, he ordered one of his men to perform the act
of homage for him. The king was on horseback and the Norseman,
standing by the side of the horse, suddenly seized the king's foot
and drew it up to his lips. This almost made the king fall from
his horse, to the great amusement of the Norsemen.
Becoming a vassal to the king meant that if the king went to war
Rollo would be obliged to join his army and bring a certain number
of armed men--one thousand or more.
Rollo now granted parts of Normandy to his leading men on condition
that they would bring soldiers to his army and fight under him.
They became his vassals, as he was the king's vassal.
The lands granted to vassals in this way were called feuds, and
this plan of holding lands was called the Feudal System.
It was established in every country of Europe during the Middle
The poorest people were called serfs. They were almost slaves and
were never permitted to leave the estate to which they belonged.
They did all the work. They worked chiefly for the landlords, but
partly for themselves.
Having been a robber himself, Rollo knew what a shocking thing it
was to ravage and plunder, and he determined to change his people's
habits. He made strict laws and hanged robbers. His duchy thus
became one of the safest parts of Europe.
The Northmen learned the language of the Franks and adopted their
The story of Rollo is especially interesting to us, because Rollo
was the forefather of that famous Duke of Normandy who, less than a
hundred and fifty years later, conquered England and brought into
that country the Norman nobles with their French language and
Alfred the Great
King from 871-901 A.D.
The Danes were neighbors of the Norwegian Vikings, and like them
were fond of the sea and piracy. They plundered the English coasts
for more than a century; and most of northern and eastern England
became for a time a Danish country with Danish kings.
What saved the rest of the country to the Saxons was the courage
of the great Saxon king, Alfred.
Alfred was the son of Ethelwulf, king of the West Saxons. He had
a loving mother who brought him up with great care. Up to the age
of twelve, it is said, he was not able to read well, in spite of
the efforts of his mother and others to teach him.
When Alfred was a boy there were no printed books. The wonderful
art of printing was not invented until about the year 1440--nearly
six hundred years later than Alfred's time. Moreover, the art of
making paper had not yet been invented. Consequently the few books
in use in Alfred's time were written by skillful penmen, who wrote
generally on leaves of parchment, which was sheepskin carefully
prepared so that it might retain ink.
One day Alfred's mother showed him and his elder brothers a beautiful
volume which contained a number of the best Saxon ballads. Some
of the words in this book were written in brightly colored letters,
and upon many of the leaves were painted pictures of gaily-dressed
knights and ladies.
"Oh, what a lovely book!" exclaimed the boys.
"Yes, it is lovely," replied the mother. "I will give it to
whichever of you children can read it the best in a week."
Alfred began at once to take lessons in reading, and studied hard
day after day. His brothers passed their time in amusements and
made fun of Alfred's efforts. They thought he could not learn to
read as well as they could, no matter how hard he should try.
At the end of the week the boys read the book to their mother,
one after the other. Much to the surprise of his brothers, Alfred
proved to be the best reader and his mother gave him the book.
While still very young Alfred was sent by his father to Rome to
be anointed by His Holiness, the Pope. It was a long and tiresome
journey, made mostly on horseback.
With imposing, solemn ceremony he was anointed by the Holy Father.
Afterwards he spent a year in Rome receiving religious instruction.
In the year 871, when Alfred was twenty-two years old, the Danes
invaded various parts of England. Some great battles were fought,
and Alfred's elder brother Ethelred, king of the West Saxons, was
killed. Thus Alfred became king.
The Danes still continued to fight the Saxons, and defeated Alfred
in a long and severe struggle. They took for themselves the northern
and eastern parts of England.
Moreover, Danes from Denmark continued to cross the sea and ravage
the coast of Saxon England. They kept the people in constant
alarm. Alfred therefore determined to meet the pirates on their
own element, the sea. So he built and equipped the first English
navy, and in 875 gained the first naval victory ever won by the
A few years after this, however, great numbers of Danes from the
northern part of England came pouring into the Saxon lands. Alfred
himself was obliged to flee for his life.
For many months he wandered through forests and over hills to avoid
being taken by the Danes. He sometimes made his home in caves and
in the huts of shepherds and cowherds. Often he tended the cattle
and sheep and was glad to get a part of the farmer's dinner in pay
for his services.
Once, when very hungry, he went into the house of a cowherd and
asked for something to eat. The cowherd's wife was baking cakes
and she said she would give him some when they were done.
"Watch the cakes and do not let them burn, while I go across the
field to look after the cows," said the woman, as she hurried away.
Alfred took his seat on the chimney-corner to do as he was told.
But soon his thoughts turned to his troubles and he forgot about
When the woman came back she cried out with vexation, for the
cakes were burned and spoiled. "You lazy, good-for-nothing man!"
she said, "I warrant you can eat cakes fast enough; but you are
too lazy to help me bake them."
With that she drove the poor hungry Alfred out of her house. In
his ragged dress he certainly did not look like a king, and she
had no idea that he was anything but a poor beggar.
Some of Alfred's friends discovered where he was hiding and joined
him. In a little time a body of soldiers came to him and a strong
fort was built by them. From this fort Alfred and his men went
out now and then and gave battle to small parties of the Danes.
Alfred was successful and his army grew larger and larger.
One day he disguised himself as a wandering minstrel and went into
the camp of the Danes. He strolled here and there, playing on a
harp and singing Saxon ballads. At last, Guthrum (Guth'-rum), the
commander of the Danes, ordered the minstrel to be brought to his
Alfred went. "Sing to me some of your charming songs," said Guthrum.
"I never heard more beautiful music." So the kingly harper played
and sang for the Dane, and went away with handsome presents. But
better than that, he had gained information that was of the greatest
In a week he attacked the Danish forces and defeated them with
great slaughter in a battle which lasted all day and far into the
night. Guthrum was taken prisoner and brought before Alfred.
Taking his harp in his hands, Alfred played and sang one of the
ballads with which he had entertained Guthrum in the camp. The
Dane started in amazement and exclaimed:
"You, then, King Alfred, were the wandering minstrel?"
"Yes," replied Alfred, "I was the musician whom you received so
kindly. Your life is now in my hands; but I will give you your
liberty if you will become a Christian and never again make war on
"King Alfred," said Guthrum, "I will become a Christian, and so
will all my men if you will grant liberty to them as to me; and
henceforth, we will be your friends."
Alfred then released the Danes, and they were baptized as Christians.
An old road running across England from London to Chester was then
agreed upon as the boundary between the Danish and Saxon kingdoms;
and the Danes settled in East Anglia, as the eastern part of England
Years of peace and prosperity followed for Alfred's kingdom. During
these years the king rebuilt the towns that had been destroyed by
the Danes, erected new forts, and greatly strengthened his army
He also encouraged trade; and he founded a school like that
established by Charlemagne. He himself translated a number of Latin
books into Saxon, and probably did more for the cause of education
than any other king that ever wore the English crown.
Henry the Fowler
King from 919-936 A.D.
About a hundred years had passed since the death of Charlemagne,
and his great empire had fallen to pieces. Seven kings ruled where
he had once been sole emperor.
West of the Rhine, where the Germans lived, the last descendant of
Charlemagne died when he was a mere boy. The German nobles were
not willing for any foreign prince to govern them, and yet they saw
that they must unite to defend their country against the invasions
of the barbarians called Magyars (ma-järz'). So they met and
elected Conrad, duke of Franconia, to be their king.
However, although he became king in name, Conrad never had much
power over his nobles. Some of them refused to recognize him as
king and his reign was disturbed by quarrels and wars. He died in
919, and on his death-bed he said to his brother, "Henry, Duke of
Saxony, is the ablest ruler in the empire. Elect him king, and
Germany will have peace."
A few months after Conrad's death, the nobles met at Aix-la-Chapelle
and elected Henry to be their king.
At this time it was the custom in Europe to hunt various birds,
such as the wild duck and partridge, with falcons. The falcons were
long-winged birds of prey, resembling hawks. They were trained to
perch on their master's wrist and wait patiently until they were
told to fly. Then they would swiftly dart at their prey and bear
it to the ground. Henry was very fond of falconry and hence was
known as Henry the Fowler, or Falconer.
As soon as the other dukes had elected him king a messenger was
sent to Saxony to inform him of the honor done him. After a search
of some days he was at last found, far up in the Hartz Mountains,
hunting with his falcons. Kneeling at his feet, the messenger
"God save you, Henry of Saxony. I come to announce the death of
King Conrad and to tell you that the nobles have elected you to
succeed him as king of the Germans."
For a moment the duke was speechless with amazement. Then he
"Elected me king? I cannot believe it. I am a Saxon, and King
Conrad was a Frank and a bitter enemy to me."
"It is true," replied the messenger. "Conrad, when dying, advised
that the nobles should choose you as his successor."
Henry was silent for while and then he said, "King Conrad was a
good man. I know it now; and I am sorry that I did not understand
him better when he was alive. I accept the position offered to me
and I pray that I may be guided by Heaven in ruling his people."
So Henry the Fowler left the chase to take up his duties as king
of the Germans.
In proper time Henry was proclaimed king of Germany; but he was hardly
seated on the throne when the country was invaded by thousands of
Magyars, from the land which we now know as Hungary.
As soon as possible Henry gathered an army and marched to meet the
barbarians. He came upon a small force under the command of the
son of the Magyar king. The Germans easily routed the Magyars and
took the king's son prisoner.
This proved to be a very fortunate thing, because it stopped the
war for a long term of years. When the Magyar king learned that
his son was a prisoner in the hands of King Henry he was overwhelmed
with grief. He mourned for his son day and night and at last sent
to the German camp a Magyar chief with a flag of truce, to bet that
the prince might be given up.
"Our king says that he will give whatever you demand for the release
of his son," said the chief to the German monarch.
"I will give up the prince on this condition only," was the reply,
"the Magyars must leave the soil of Germany immediately and promise
not to war on us for nine years. During those years I will pay to
the king yearly five thousand pieces of gold."
"I accept the terms in the king's name," responded the chief. The
prince was, therefore, given up and the Magyars withdrew.
During the nine years of truce King Henry paid great attention to
the organization of an army. Before this the German soldiers had
fought chiefly on foot, not, as the Magyars did, on horseback.
For this reason they were at a great disadvantage in battle. The
king now raised a strong force of horsemen and had them drilled so
thoroughly that they became almost invincible. The infantry also
were carefully drilled.
Besides this, Henry built a number of forts in different parts of
his kingdom and had all the fortified cities made stronger.
The following year the Magyar chief appeared at the German court
and demanded a tenth payment.
"Not a piece of gold will be given you," replied King Henry. "Our
truce is ended."
In less than a week a vast body of Magyars entered Germany to
renew the war. Henry held his army in waiting until lack of food
compelled the barbarians to divide their forces into two separate
bodies. One division was sent to one part of the country, the
other to another part.
Henry completely routed both divisions, and the power of the Magyars
in Germany was broken.
The Danes also invaded Henry's kingdom, but he defeated them and
drove them back.
Henry reigned for eighteen years; and when he died all Germany was
peaceful and prosperous. His son Otto succeeded him. He assumed
the title of "Emperor," which Charlemagne had borne more than a
hundred years before.
From that time on, for nearly one thousand years, all the German
emperors claimed to be the successors of Charlemagne. They called
their domain "the Holy Roman Empire," and took the title "Emperor"
or "Emperor of the Romans," until the year 1806, when Francis II
Canute the Great
King from 1014-1035
The Danes, you remember, had the eastern and northern parts
of England in the time of Alfred. Alfred's successors drove them
farther and farther north, and at length the Danish kingdom in
England came to an end for a time.
But the Danes in Denmark did not forget that there had been such
a kingdom and in the year 1013 Sweyn (swane), King of Denmark,
invaded England and defeated the Anglo-Saxons. Ethelred, their
king, fled to Normandy.
Sweyn now called himself the king of England; but in a short time
he died and his son Canute succeeded to his throne. Canute was
nineteen years old. He had been his father's companion during the
war with the Anglo-Saxons, and thus had had a good deal of experience
as a soldier.
After the death of Sweyn some of the Anglo-Saxons recalled King
Ethelred and revolted against the Danes.
Canute, however, went to Denmark and there raised one of the largest
armies of Danes that had ever been assembled. With this powerful
force he sailed to England. When he landed Northumberland and
Wessex acknowledged him as king. Shortly after this Ethelred died.
Canute now thought he would find it easy to get possession of all
England. This was a mistake.
Ethelred left a son named Edmund Ironside who was a very brave
soldier. He became, by his father's death, the king of Saxon
England and at once raised an army to defend his kingdom. A battle
was fought and Edmund was victorious. This was the first of five
battles that were fought in one year. In none of them could the
Danes do more than gain a slight advantage now and then.
However, the Saxons were at last defeated in a sixth battle through
the act of a traitor. Edric, a Saxon noble, took his men out of
the fight and his treachery so weakened the Saxon army that Edmund
Ironside had to surrender to Canute.
But the young Dane had greatly admired Edmund for the way in which
he had fought against heavy odds, so he now treated him most generously.
Canute took certain portions of England and the remainder was given
to Edmund Ironside.
Thus for a short time the Anglo-Saxon people had at once a Danish
and a Saxon monarch.
Edmund died in 1016 and after his death Canute became sole ruler.
He ruled wisely. He determined to make his Anglo-Saxon subjects
forget that he was a foreign conqueror. To show his confidence in
them he sent back to Denmark the army he had brought over the sea,
keeping on a part of his fleet and a small body of soldiers to act
as guards at his palace.
He now depended on the support of his Anglo-Saxon subjects and he
won their love.
Although a king--and it is generally believed that kings like
flattery--Canute is said to have rebuked his courtiers when they
flattered him. On one occasion, when they were talking about his
achievements, one of them said to him:
"Most noble king, I believe you can do anything."
Canute sternly rebuked the courtier for these words and then said:
"Come with me, gentlemen."
He led them from the palace grounds to the sea-shore where the tide
was rising, and had his chair placed at the edge of the water.
"You say I can do anything," he said to the courtiers. "Very well,
I who am king and the lord of the ocean now command these rising
waters to go back and not dare wet my feet."
But the tide was disobedient and steadily rose and rose, until
the feet of the king were in the water. Turning to his courtiers,
"Learn how feeble is the power of earthly kings. None is worthy
the name of king but He whom heaven and earth and sea obey."
During Canute's reign England had peace and prosperity and the
English people have ever held his memory dear.
Late one sunny afternoon one and twenty knights were riding along
the highway in the northern part of Spain. As they were passing a
deep mire they heard cries for help, and turning, saw a poor leper
who was sinking in the mud. One of the knights, a handsome young
man, was touched by the cries. He dismounted, rescued the poor
fellow, took him upon his own horse, and thus the two rode to the
inn. The other knights wondered at this.
When they reached the inn where they were to stop for the night,
they wondered still more, for their companion gave the leper a
seat next to himself at the table. After supper the knight shared
his own bed with the leper. If the knight had not done this, the
leper would have been driven out of the town, with nothing to eat
and no place in which to sleep. At midnight, while the young man
was fast asleep, the leper breathed upon his back. This awakened
the knight, who turned quickly in his bed and found that the leper
The knight called for a light and searched, but in vain. While he
was wondering about what had happened, a man in shining garments
appeared before him and said, "Rodrigo, art thou asleep or awake?"
The knight answered, "I am awake, but who art thou that bringest
such brightness?" The vision replied, "I am St. Lazarus, the leper
to whom thou wast so kind. Because I have breathed upon thee
thou shalt accomplish whatever thou shalt undertake in peace or in
battle. All shall honor thee. Therefore, go on and evermore do
With that the vision vanished.
The promise of St. Lazarus was fulfilled. In time young Rodrigo
became the great hero of Spain. The Spaniards called him Campeador
(cam-pe-ä-dor'), or Champion. The Saracens called him "The Cid,"
or Lord. His real name was Rodrigo Diaz de Bivar, but he is usually
spoken of as "The Cid."
The Goths, after the death of Alaric, had taken Spain away from the
Romans. The Saracens, or, as they were usually called, the Moors,
had crossed the sea from Africa and in turn had taken Spain from
the Goths. In the time of Charles Martel the Goths had lost all
Spain except the small mountain district in the northern part. In
the time of the Cid the Goths, now called Spaniards, had driven the
Moors down to about the middle of Spain. War went on all the time
between the two races, and many men spent their lives in fighting.
The Spanish part of the country then comprised the kingdoms of
Castile, Leon, Aragon and others.
The Cid was a subject of Fernando of Castile. Fernando had a
dispute with the king of Aragon about a city which each claimed.
They agreed to decide the matter by a combat. Each was to choose
a champion. The champions were to fight, and the king whose champion
won was to have the city. Fernando chose the Cid, and though the
other champion was called the bravest knight in Spain, the youthful
warrior vanquished him.
When Alfonzo, a son of Fernando, succeeded to the throne, he
became angry with the Cid without just cause and banished him from
The Cid was in need of some money, so he filled two chests with
sand and sent word to two wealthy money lenders that he wished to
borrow six hundred Spanish marks (about $2,000 [as of 1904]), and
would put into their hands his treasures of silver and gold which
were packed in two chests, but the money lenders must solemnly swear
not to open the chests until a full year had passed. To this they
gladly agreed. They took the chests and loaned him six hundred
The Cid was now ready for his journey. Three hundred of his
knights went into banishment with him. They crossed the mountains
and entered the land of the Moors. Soon they reached the town of
Alcocer, and after a siege captured it and lived in it.
Then the Moorish king of Valencia ordered two chiefs to take three
thousand horsemen, recapture the town and bring the Cid alive to
So the Cid and his men were shut up in Alcocer and besieged. Famine
threatened them and they determined to cut their way through the
army of the Moors. Suddenly and swiftly they poured from the gate
of Alcocer, and a terrible battle was fought. The two Moorish
chiefs were taken prisoners and thirteen hundred of their men were
killed in the battle. The Cid then became a vassal of the Moorish
king of Saragossa.
After a while Alfonzo recalled the Cid from banishment and gave him
seven castles and the lands adjoining them. He needed the Cid's
help in the greatest of all his plans against the Moors. He was
determined to capture Toledo. He attacked it with a large army
in which there were soldiers from many foreign lands. The Cid is
said to have been the commander. After a long siege the city fell
and the victorious army marched across the great bridge built by the
Moors, which you would cross to-day if you went to Toledo. [NOTE
FROM Brett Fishburne: This stunned me, so I researched it briefly
and it turns out that the bridge was washed out completely in 1257,
then rebuilt by Alfonso X. There were numerous other reconstructions
done between then and 2000, the most recent of which I am aware
was in the late 1970s using stone blocks found in situ.]
Valencia was one of the largest and richest cities in Moorish Spain.
It was strongly fortified, but the Cid determined to attack it.
The plain about the city was irrigated by streams that came down
from the neighboring hills. To prevent the Cid's army from coming
near the city the Saracens flooded the plain. But the Cid camped
on high ground above the plain and from that point besieged the
city. Food became very scarce in Valencia. Wheat, barley and
cheese were all so dear that none but the rich could buy them.
People ate horses, dogs, cats and mice, until in the whole city
only three horses and a mule were left alive.
Then on the fifteenth of June, 1094, the governor went to the camp
of the Cid and delivered to him the keys of the city. The Cid
placed his men in all the forts and took the citadel as his own
dwelling. His banner floated from the towers. He called himself
the Prince of Valencia.
When the king of Morocco heard of this he raised an army of fifty
thousand men. They crossed from Africa to Spain and laid siege to
Valencia. But the Cid with his men made a sudden sally and routed
them and pursued them for miles. It is said that fifteen thousand
soldiers were drowned in the river Guadalquivir (Gua-dal-qui-vir')
which they tried to cross.
The Cid was now at the height of his power and lived in great
magnificence. One of the first things he did was to repay the two
friends who had lent him the six hundred marks. He was kind and
just to the Saracens who had become his subjects. They were allowed
to have their mosques and to worship God as they thought right.
In time the Cid's health began to fail. He could lead his men forth
to battle no more. He sent an army against the Moors, but it was
so completely routed that few of his men came back to tell the tale.
It is said by a Moorish writer that "when the runaways reached him
the Cid died of rage" (1099).
There is a legend that shortly before he died he saw a vision
of St. Peter, who told him that he should gain a victory over the
Saracens after his death.
So the Cid gave orders that his body should be embalmed. It was
so well preserved that it seemed alive. It was clothed in a coat
of mail, and the sword that had won so many battles was placed in
the hand. Then it was mounted upon the Cid's favorite horse and
fastened into the saddle, and at midnight was borne out of the gate
of Valencia with a guard of a thousand knights.
All silently they marched to a spot where the Moorish king, with
thirty-six chieftains, lay encamped, and at daylight the knights
of the Cid made a sudden attack. The king awoke. It seemed to him
that there were coming against him full seventy thousand knights,
all dressed in robes as white as snow, and before them rode a knight,
taller than all the rest, holding in his left hand a snow-white
banner and in the other a sword which seemed of fire. So afraid
were the Moorish chief and his men that they fled to the sea, and
twenty thousand of them were drowned as they tried to reach their
There is a Latin inscription near the tomb of the Cid which may
be translated: *Brave and unconquered, famous in triumphs of war,
Enclosed in this tomb lies Roderick the Great of Bivar.*/
Edward the Confessor
King from 1042-1066
The Danish kings who followed Canute were not like him. They were
cruel, unjust rulers and all the people of England hated them. So
when in the year 1042 the last of them died, Edward, the son of
the Saxon Ethelred, was elected king.
He is known in history as Edward the Confessor. He was a man of
holy life and after his death was made a saint by the Church, with
the title of "the Confessor." Though born in England, he passed the
greater part of his life in Normandy as an exile from his native
land. He was thirty-eight years old when he returned from Normandy
to become king.
As he had lived so long in Normandy he always seemed more like a
Norman than one of English birth. He generally spoke the French
language and he chose Normans to fill many of the highest offices
in his kingdom.
For the first eight years of his reign there was perfect peace in
his kingdom, except in the counties of Kent and Essex, where pirates
from the North Sea made occasional attacks.
These pirates were mostly Norwegians, whose leader was a barbarian
named Kerdric. They would come sweeping down upon the Kentish
coast in many ships, make a landing where there were no soldiers,
and fall upon the towns and plunder them. Then, as swiftly and
suddenly as they had come, they would sail away homeward, before
they could be captured.
One day Kerdic's fleet arrived off the coast, and as no opposing
force was visible, the pirates landed and started toward the nearest
town to plunder it.
By a quick march a body of English soldiers reached the town before
the pirates, and when the latter arrived they found a strong force
drawn up to give them battle. A short struggle took place. More
than half of the pirates were slain and the remainder were taken
After the prisoners had been secured the English ships that were
stationed on the coast attacked the pirate fleet and destroyed it.
Edward took part in the events upon which Shakespeare, five hundred
years later, founded his famous tragedy of "Macbeth."
There lived in Scotland during his reign an ambitious nobleman named
Macbeth, who invited Duncan, the King of Scotland, to his castle
and murdered him. He tried to make it appear that the murder had
been committed by Duncan's attendants and he caused the king's
son and heir, Prince Malcolm, to flee from the land. He then made
himself king of Scotland.
Malcolm hastened to England and appealed to King Edward for help.
When the king was told the number of soldiers Malcolm would probably
need he gave orders for double that number to march into Scotland.
Malcolm with this support attacked Macbeth, and after several
well-fought battles drove the usurper from Scotland and took
possession of the throne.
Edward did a great deal during his reign to aid the cause of
Christianity. He rebuilt the ancient Westminster Abbey in London
and erected churches and monasteries in different parts of England.
Edward was long supposed to have made many just laws, and years after
his death the English people, when suffering from bad government,
would exclaim, "Oh, for the good laws and customs of Edward the
Confessor!" What he really did was to have the old laws faithfully
He died in 1066 and was buried in Westminster Abbey.
William the Conqueror
King from 1066-1087
On the death of Edward the Confessor the throne of England was
claimed by William, Duke of Normandy.
When Edward took refuge in Normandy after the Danes conquered
England, he stayed at the palace of William. He was very kindly
treated there, and William said that Edward had promised in gratitude
that William should succeed him as king of England.
One day in the year 1066 when William was hunting with a party of
his courtiers in the woods near Rouen, a noble came riding rapidly
toward him shouting, "Your Highness, a messenger has just arrived
from England, bearing the news that King Edward is dead and that
Harold, the son of Earl Godwin, has been placed on the English
William at once called his nobles together and said to them, "I
must have your consent that I enforce my claim to England's throne
The barons gave their consent. So an army of sixty thousand men
was collected and a large fleet of ships was built to carry this
force across the channel.
During the months of preparation William sent an embassy to
the English court to demand of Harold that he give up the throne.
Soon all England was startled by the news that William had landed
on the English coast at the port of Hastings with a large force.
Harold immediately marched as quickly as possible from the north to
the southern coast. In a week or so he arrived at a place called
Senlac nine miles from Hastings, in the neighborhood of which town
the Norman army was encamped. He took his position on a low range
of hills and awaited the attack of William. His men were tired
with their march, but he encouraged them and bade them prepare for
On the morning of October 14, 1066, the two armies met. The
Norman foot-soldiers opened the battle by charging on the English
stockades. They ran over the plain to the low hills, singing a
war-song at the top of their voices; but they could not carry the
stockades although they tried again and again. They therefore
attacked another part of the English forces.
William, clad in complete armor, was in the very front of the
fight, urging on his troops. At one time a cry arose in his army
that he was slain and a panic began. William drew off his helmet
and rode along the lines, shouting, "I live! I live! Fight on!
We shall conquer yet!"
The battle raged from morning till night. Harold himself fought
on foot at the head of his army and behaved most valiantly. His
men, tired as they were from their forced march, bravely struggled
on hour after hour.
But at last William turned their lines and threw them into confusion.
As the sun went down Harold was killed and his men gave up the
From Hastings William marched toward London. On the way he
received the surrender of some towns and burned others that would
not surrender. London submitted and some of the nobles and citizens
came forth and offered the English crown to the Norman duke. On
the 25th of December, 1066, the "Conqueror," as he is always
called, was crowned in Westminster Abbey by Archbishop Ealdred.
Both English and Norman people were present. When the question was
asked by the Archbishop, "Will you have William, Duke of Normandy,
for your king?" all present answered, "We will."
At first William ruled England with moderation. The laws and
customs were not changed, and in a few months after the battle of
Hastings the kingdom was so peaceful that William left it in charge
of his brother and went to Normandy for a visit.
While he was gone many of the English nobles rebelled against him,
and on his return he made very severe laws and did some very harsh
things. He laid waste an extensive territory, destroying all the
houses upon it and causing thousands of persons to die from lack of
food and shelter, because the people there had not sworn allegiance
He made a law that all lights should be put out and fires covered
with ashes at eight o'clock every evening, so that the people would
have to go to bed then. A bell was rung in all cities and towns
throughout England to warn the people of the hour. The bell was
called the "curfew," from the French words "couvre feu," meaning
"to cover fire."
To find out about the lands of England and their owners, so that
everybody might be made to pay taxes, he appointed officers in all
the towns to report what estates there were, who owned them, and
what they were worth. The reports were copied into two volumes,
called the "Domesday Book." This book showed that England at that
time had a population of a little more than a million.
William made war on Scotland, and conquered it. During a war with
the king of France the city of Mantes (mont) was burned by William's
soldiers. As William rode over the ruins his horse stumbled and the
king was thrown to the ground and injured. He was borne to Rouen,
where he lay ill for six weeks. His sons and even his attendants
abandoned him in his last hours. It is said that in his death
struggle he fell from his bed to the floor, where his body was
found by his servants.
Peter the Hermit
During the Middle Ages the Christians of Europe used to go to the
Holy Land for the purpose of visiting the tomb of Christ and other
sacred places. Those who made such a journey were called "pilgrims."
Every year thousands of pilgrims--kings, nobles and people of
humbler rank--went to the Holy Land.
While Jerusalem was in the hands of the Arabian caliphs who reigned
at Bagdad, the Christian pilgrims were generally well treated. After
about 1070, when the Turks took possession of the city, outrages
became so frequent that it seemed as if it would not be safe for
Christians to visit the Savior's tomb at all.
About the year 1095 there lived at Amiens (ä-me-an') France, a monk
named Peter the Hermit.
Peter was present at a council of clergy and people held at Clermont
in France when his Holiness, Pope Urban II, made a stirring speech.
He begged the people to rescue the Holy Sepulchre and other sacred
sites from the Mohammedans.
The council was so roused by his words that they broke forth into
loud cries, "God wills it! God wills it!"
"It is, indeed, His will," said the Pope, "and let these words be
your war-cry when you meet the enemy."
Peter listened with deep attention. Immediately after the council
he began to preach in favor of a war against the Turks. With head
and feet bare, and clothed in a long, coarse robe tied at the waist
with a rope, he went through Italy from city to city, riding on a
donkey. He preached in churches, on the streets--wherever he could
secure an audience.
When Peter had gone over Italy he crossed the Alps and preached to
the people of France, Germany, and neighboring countries. Everywhere
he kindled the zeal of the people, and multitudes enlisted as
champions of the cross.
Thus began the first of seven wars known as the "Crusades" or "Wars
of the Cross," waged to rescue the Holy Land from the Mohammedans.
It is said that more than 100,000 men, women and children went on
the first Crusade. Each wore on the right shoulder the emblem of
Peter was in command of one portion of this great multitude. His
followers began their journey with shouts of joy and praise.
But they had no proper supply of provisions. So when passing through
Hungary they plundered the towns and compelled the inhabitants
to support them. This roused the anger of the Hungarians. They
attacked the Crusaders and killed a great many of them.
After long delays about seven thousand of those who had started on
the Crusade reached Constantinople. They were still enthusiastic
and sounded their war-cry, "God wills it!" with as much fervor as
when they first joined Peter's standard.
Leaving Constantinople, they went eastward into the land of the
Turks. A powerful army led by the sultan met them. The Crusaders
fought heroically all day long but at length were badly beaten.
Only a few escaped and found their way back to Constantinople.
Peter the Hermit had left the Crusaders before the battle and returned
to Constantinople. He afterwards joined the army of Godfrey of
Godfrey's army was composed of six divisions, each commanded by a
soldier of high rank and distinction. It was a well organized and
disciplined force and numbered about half a million men.
It started only a few weeks after the irregular multitude which
followed Peter the Hermit, and was really the first Crusading army,
for Peter's undisciplined throng could hardly be called an army.
After a long march Godfrey reached Antioch and laid siege to it.
It was believed that this Moslem stronghold could be taken in
a short time; but the city resisted the attacks of the Christians
for seven months. Then it surrendered.
And now something happened that none of the Crusaders had dreamed
of. An army of two hundred thousand Persians arrived to help the
Moslems. They laid siege to Antioch and shut up the Crusaders
within its walls for weeks. However, after a number of engagements
in which there was great loss of life, the Turks and Persians were
at last driven away.
The way was now opened to Jerusalem. But out of the half million
Crusaders who had marched from Europe less than fifty thousand were
left. They had won their way at a fearful cost.
Still onward they pushed with brave hearts, until on a bright
summer morning they caught the first glimpse of the Holy City in
the distance. For two whole years they had toiled and suffered in
the hope of reaching Jerusalem. Now it lay before them.
But it had yet to be taken. For more than five weeks the Crusaders
carried on the siege. Finally, on the 15th of July, 1099, the
Turks surrendered. The Moslem flag was hauled down and the banner
of the cross floated over the Holy City.
A few days after the Christians had occupied Jerusalem Godfrey of
Bouillon was chosen king of the Holy Land.
"I will accept the office," he said, "but no crown must be put on
my head and I must never be called king. I cannot wear a crown of
gold where Christ wore one of thorns nor will I be called king in
the land where once lived the King of Kings."
Peter the Hermit is said to have preached an eloquent sermon on the
Mount of Olives. He did not, however, remain long in Jerusalem,
but after the capture of the city returned to Europe. He founded
a monastery in France and within its walls passed the rest of his
Emperor from 1152-1190
Frederick I was one of the most famous of German emperors. He was
a tall, stalwart man of majestic appearance. He had a long red
beard and so the people called him Barbarossa, or Red-Beard. He
came to the throne in 1152.
At that time the province of Lombardy in northern Italy was a part
of the German empire.
In 1158 Milan (mï-lan'), the chief city of Lombardy, revolted. Then
over the Alps came an army of a hundred thousand German soldiers,
with Frederick at their head. After a long siege the city surrendered.
But soon it revolted again. The emperor besieged it once more and
once more it surrendered. Its fortifications were destroyed and
many of its buildings ruined.
But even then the spirit of the Lombards was not broken. Milan
and the other cities of Lombardy united in a league and defied
the emperor. He called upon the German dukes to bring their men
to his aid. All responded except Henry the Lion, duke of Saxony,
Frederick's cousin, whom he had made duke of Bavaria also. Frederick
is said to have knelt and implored Henry to do his duty, but in
In his campaign against the Lombards Frederick was unsuccessful. His
army was completely defeated and he was compelled to grant freedom
to the cities of Lombardy. Everybody blamed Henry the Lion. The
other dukes charged him with treason and he was summoned to appear
before a meeting of the nobles. He failed to come and the nobles
thereupon declared him guilty and took from him everything that he
had, except the lands he had inherited from his father.
Frederick now devoted himself to making Germany a united nation.
Two of his nobles had been quarreling for a long time and as a
punishment for their conduct each was condemned, with ten of his
counts and barons, to carry dogs on his shoulders from one country
Frederick finally succeeded in keeping the nobles in the different
provinces of Germany at peace with one another, and persuaded them
to work together for the good of the whole empire. He had no more
trouble with them and for many years his reign was peaceful and
After the Christians had held Jerusalem for eighty-eight years, it
was recaptured by the Moslems under the lead of the famous Saladin
(Sal'-a-din), in the year 1187. There was much excitement in
Christendom, and the Pope proclaimed another Crusade.
Frederick immediately raised an army of Crusaders in the German
Empire and with one hundred and fifty thousand men started for
He marched into Asia Minor, attacked the Moslem forces, and defeated
them in two great battles.
But before the brave old warrior reached the Holy Land his career
was suddenly brought to an end. One day his army was crossing
a small bridge over a river in Asia Minor. At a moment when the
bridge was crowded with troops Frederick rode up rapidly.
He was impatient to join his son, who was leading the advance
guard; and when he found that he could not cross immediately by the
bridge, he plunged into the river to swim his horse across. Both
horse and rider were swept away by the current. Barbarossa's heavy
armor made him helpless and he was drowned. His body was recovered
and buried at Antioch.
Barbarossa was so much loved by his people that it was said, "Germany
and Frederick Barbarossa are one in the hearts of the Germans." His
death caused the greatest grief among the German Crusaders. They
had now little heart to fight the infidels and most of them at once
returned to Germany.
In the Empire the dead hero was long mourned and for many years
the peasants believed that Frederick was not really dead, but was
asleep in a cave in the mountains of Germany, with his gallant
knights around him. He was supposed to be sitting in his chair
of state, with the crown upon his head, his eyes half-closed in
slumber, his beard as white as snow and so long that it reached
"When the ravens cease to fly round the mountain," said the legend,
"Barbarossa shall awake and restore Germany to its ancient greatness."
Henry the Second 1154-1189 and His Sons 1189-1216
In 1154, while Barbarossa was reigning in Germany, Henry II, one
of England's greatest monarchs, came to the throne.
Henry was the son of Geoffrey Plantagenet (Plan-tag'-e-net),
Count of Anjou in France, and Matilda, daughter of King Henry I
and granddaughter of William the Conqueror. Count Geoffrey used
to wear in his hat a sprig of the broom plant, which is called in
Latin "planta genista." From this he adopted the name Plantagenet,
and the kings who descended from him and ruled England for more
than three hundred years are called the Plantagenets.
Henry II inherited a vast domain in France and managing this in
addition England kept him very busy. One who knew him well said,
"He never sits down; he is on his feet from morning till night."
His chief assistant in the management of public affairs was Thomas
Becket, whom he made chancellor of the kingdom. Becket was fond of
pomp and luxury, and lived in a more magnificent manner than even
the king himself.
The clergy had at this time become almost independent of the king.
To bring them under his authority Henry made Becket Archbishop of
Canterbury, thus putting him at the head of the Church in England.
The king expected that Becket would carry out all his wishes.
Becket, however, refused to do that which the king most desired
and a quarrel arose between them. At last, to escape the king's
anger, Becket fled to France and remained there for six years.
At the end of this time Henry invited him to come back to England.
Not long after, however, the old quarrel began again. One day
while Henry was sojourning in France, he cried out in a moment of
passion, while surrounded by a group of knights, "Is there no one
who will rid me of this turbulent priest?"
Four knights who heard him understood from this angry speech that
he desired the death of Becket, and they went to England to murder
the Archbishop. When they met Becket they first demanded that he
should do as the king wished, but he firmly refused. At dusk that
same day they entered Canterbury Cathedral, again seeking for him.
"Where is the traitor, Thomas Becket?" one of them cried.
Becket boldly answered, "Here am I--no traitor, but a priest of
As he finished speaking the knights rushed upon him and killed him.
The people of England were horrified by this brutal murder. Becket
was called a martyr and his tomb became a place of pious pilgrimage.
The Pope canonized him and for years he was the most venerated of
King Henry was in Normandy when the murder occurred. He declared
that he had had nothing whatever to do with it and he punished the
But from this time Henry had many troubles. His own sons rebelled
against him, his barons were unfriendly, and conspiracies were
formed. Henry thought that God was punishing him for the murder
of Becket and so determined to do penance at the tomb of the saint.
For some distance before he reached Canterbury Cathedral where
Becket was buried he walked over the road with bare head and feet.
After his arrival he fasted and prayed a day and a night. The
next day he put scourges into the hands of the cathedral monks and
said, "Scourge me as I kneel at the tomb of the saint." The monks
did as he bade them and he patiently bore the pain.
Henry finally triumphed over his enemies and had some years of
peace, which he devoted to the good of England.
In the last year of his life, however, he had trouble again. The
king of France and Henry's son Richard took up arms against him.
Henry was defeated and was forced to grant what they wished. When
he saw a list of the barons who had joined the French king he
found among them the name of his favorite son John, and his heart
was broken. He died a few days later.
Henry's eldest surviving son, Richard, was crowned at Westminster
Abbey in 1190. He took the title of Richard I but is better known
as "Cœur de Lion" ("the lion-hearted"), a name which was given
him on account of his bravery. He had wonderful strength and his
brave deeds were talked about all over the land.
With such a man for their king, the English people became devoted
to chivalry, and on every field of battle brave men vied with another
in brave deeds. Knighthood was often the reward of valor. Then,
as now, knighthood was usually conferred upon a man by his king or
queen. A part of the ceremony consisted in the sovereign's touching
the kneeling subject's soldier with the flat of a sword and saying,
"Arise, Sir Knight." This was called "the accolade."
Richard did not stay long in England after his coronation. In 1191
he went with Philip of France on a Crusade.
The French and English Crusaders together numbered more than one
hundred thousand men. They sailed to the Holy Land and joined an
army of Christian soldiers encamped before the city of Acre. The
besiegers had despaired of taking the city but when reinforced they
gained fresh courage.
Cœur de Lion now performed deeds of valor which gave him fame
throughout Europe. He was the terror of the Saracens. In every
attack on Acre he led the Christians and when the city was captured
he planted his banner in triumph on its walls.
So great was the terror inspired everywhere in the Holy Land by
the name of Richard that Moslem mothers are said to have made their
children quiet by threatening to send for the English king.
Every night when the Crusaders encamped, the heralds blew their
trumpets, and cried three times, "Save the Holy Sepulchre!" And
the Crusaders knelt and said, "Amen!"
The great leader of the Saracens was Saladin. He was a model of
heroism and the two leaders, one the champion of the Christians and
the other the champion of the Mohammedans, vied with each other in
Just before one battle Richard rode down the Saracen line and
boldly called for any one to step forth and fight him alone. No
one responded to the challenge, for the most valiant of the Saracens
did not dare to meet the lion-hearted king.
After the capture of Acre Richard took Ascalon (As'-ca-lon). Then
he made a truce with Saladin, by which the Christians acquired the
right for three years to visit the Holy City without paying for
Richard now set out on his voyage home. He was wrecked, however, on
the Adriatic Sea near Trieste. To get to England he was obliged
to go through the lands of Leopold, duke of Austria, one of
his bitterest enemies. So he disguised himself as a poor pilgrim
returning from the Holy Land.
But he was recognized by a costly ring that he wore and was taken
prisoner at Vienna by Duke Leopold. His people in England anxiously
awaited his return, and when after a long time he did not appear
they were sadly distressed. There is a legend that a faithful
squire named Blondel went in search of him, as a wandering minstrel
traveled for months over central Europe, vainly seeking for news
of his master.
At last one day, while singing one of Richard's favorite songs near
the walls of the castle where the king was confined, he heard the
song repeated from a window. He recognized the voice of Richard.
From the window Richard told him to let the English people and
the people of Europe know where he was confined, and the minstrel
immediately went upon his mission.
Soon Europe was astounded to learn that brave Richard of England,
the great champion of Christendom, was imprisoned. The story
of Blondel is probably not true, but what is true is that England
offered to ransom Richard; that the Pope interceded for him; and
that finally it was agreed that he should be given up on the payment
of a very large sum of money. The English people quickly paid the
ransom and Richard was freed.
The king of France had little love for Richard, and Richard's own
brother John had less. Both were sorry that Cœur de Lion was at
John had taken charge of the kingdom during his brother's absence,
and hoped that Richard might pass the rest of his days in the prison
castle of Leopold.
As soon as Richard was released, the French king sent word to John,
"The devil is loose again." And a very disappointed man was John
when all England rang with rejoicing at Richard's return.
Upon the death of Richard, in 1199, Arthur, the son of his elder
brother Geoffrey, was the rightful heir to the throne. John,
however, seized the throne himself and cast Arthur into prison.
There is a legend that he ordered Arthur's eyes to be put out with
red hot irons. The jailor, however, was touched by the boy's prayer
for mercy and spared him. But Arthur was not to escape his uncle
long. It is said that one night the king took him out upon the
Seine in a little boat, murdered him and cast his body into the
Besides being a king of England, John was duke of Normandy, and
Philip, king of France, now summoned him to France to answer for
the crime of murdering Arthur. John would not answer the summons
and this gave the king of France an excuse for taking possession
of Normandy. He did so, and thus this great province was lost
forever to England. Nothing in France was left to John except
Aquitaine (A-qui-taine'), which had come to him through his mother.
John's government was unjust and tyrannical, and the bishops and
barons determined to preserve their rights and the rights of the
people. They met on a plain called Runnymeade, and there forced
John to sign the famous "Magna Carta" ("Great Charter").
Magna Carta is the most valuable charter ever granted by any sovereign
to his people. In it King John names all the rights which belong
to the citizens under a just government, and he promises that no
one of these rights shall ever be taken away from any subjects of
the English king. For violating this promise one English king lost
his life and another lost the American colonies.
Magna Carta was signed in 1215. A year after he signed it the king
died. His son, Henry III, succeeded him.
Louis the Ninth
King from 1226-1270
After the time of Barbarossa and Richard Cœur de Lion lived another
great Crusading king. This was a grandson of Philip II, named
Louis IX, who became sovereign of France in 1226. He was then only
eleven years old, so for some years his mother ruled the kingdom.
A few years after he had begun to reign Louis decided to make his
brother Alphonse the governor of a certain part of France. The
nobles of the region refused to have Alphonse as governor and
invited Henry III of England to help them in a revolt.
Henry crossed to France with an army to support the rebellious
nobles. He was duke of Aquitaine and Gascony; so that although he
was the king in England he had to do homage to the king of France
for his possessions in that country, and fight for him if called
upon to do so.
Louis gathered an army and hastened to meet the English troops.
He drove Henry from place to place, until at last he forced him
to make terms of peace. The rebellious nobles who had invited the
English king to France soon after swore allegiance to Louis and
afterwards he had little trouble in his kingdom.
Once Louis was dangerously ill and his life was despaired of.
Finally he was believed to be dying and his wife and chief officials
gathered round his bed to await the end. Suddenly he roused himself
and said in a feeble voice, "The cross! The cross!"
They laid the cross upon his heart and he clasped it fervently.
For a while he slumbered. When he awoke he appeared much better.
In a day or two he was entirely well. He then made a solemn vow
that in thankfulness for his restoration he would go on a Crusade
to the Holy Land.
Louis lived at a time when everybody was full of the Crusading
spirit. A few years before he was born even the children in France
and Germany started out upon a Crusade of their own. It is called
in history the "Children's Crusade." Several thousand left their
homes and marched toward the Mediterranean. They thought that God
would open a pathway to the Holy Land for them through its waters.
A number of them died of cold and hunger when trying to cross the
Alps. Some reached Rome, and when the Pope saw them he told them
to return home and not think of going on a Crusade until they were
It is easy to understand how in such an age people flocked to
Louis' banner when he asked for volunteers to go with him on another
In a few months forty thousand Crusaders assembled at a French port
on the Mediterranean Sea. On a bright day in August, 1248, they
went on board the fleet which was ready to sail. The king called
to the Crusaders, "Sing in the name of God. Shout forth his praises
as we sail away." Then quickly, on ship after ship, shouts of
praise burst from the lips of thousands and amid the grand chorus
the fleet began its voyage.
The Crusaders went to Damietta (Dam-i-et'-ta), in Egypt. Louis
was so eager to land that he jumped into water up to his waist and
waded ashore. He captured the city without striking a blow.
He had resolved to make war on the Moslems in Egypt rather than in
the Holy Land, so when he left Damietta he marched southward.
He supposed there would be no strong force to stop his progress.
However, he was mistaken, for he had not marched forty miles toward
Cairo when he was attacked by a Moslem army led by the sultan of
A great battle was fought. The Crusaders were commanded by King
Louis and throughout the battle showed the utmost bravery, but they
were outnumbered. Thousands were slain and the survivors retreated
The Moslems pursued them and the Crusaders were obliged to surrender.
Out of the forty thousand men who had left France only about six
thousand now remained. Many had died of disease as well as in
King Louis was among the prisoners, and the sultan of Egypt agreed
to release him only upon the payment of a large ransom.
When the ransom had been paid a truce was made for ten years between
Louis and the sultan, and the good king left Egypt. He then went
to the Holy Land, and for four years worked to deliver Crusaders
who were in Moslem prisons.
During the time that Louis was in the Holy Land his mother ruled
France as regent. When she died he returned immediately to his
kingdom and devoted himself to governing it.
In 1252 he took part in the founding of the Sorbonne, the most
famous theological college of Europe from the days of St. Louis
down to the time of the French Revolution.
He ruled his people so wisely and justly that it is hard to find
any better king or even one equally as good in the whole line
of French kings. He never wronged any man himself, or knowingly
allowed any man to be wronged by others.
Near his palace there was a grand oak with wide-spreading branches,
under which he used to sit on pleasant days in summer. There
he received all persons who had complaints to make, rich and poor
alike. Every one who came was allowed to tell his story without
For hours Louis would listen patiently to all the tales of wrong-doing,
of hardships and misery that were told him, and he would do what
he could to right the wrongs of those who suffered.
When news came of some more dreadful persecutions of Christians by
the Moslems in Palestine, Louis again raised an army of Crusaders
and started with them for Tunis, although he was sick and feeble--so
sick, indeed, that he had to be carried on a litter. Upon his
arrival at Tunis he was attacked by fever and died in a few days.
He is better known to the world as Saint Louis than as Louis IX,
because some years after his death Pope Boniface VIII canonized
him on account of his pious life and his efforts to rescue the Holy
Land from the Turks.
King from 1306-1329
The most famous king that Scotland ever had was Robert Bruce. He
lived in the days when Edward I, Edward II, and Edward III were
kings of England.
During the reign of Edward I the king of Scotland died and thirteen
men claimed the throne. Instead of fighting to decide which of them
should be king they asked Edward to settle the question. When he
met the Scottish nobles and the rivals, each of whom thought that
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