Crusades

Theme

A holy war in red and white

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During the 11th century, war came to be seen as a form of penance – if one went off to battle for all the right reasons. Absolution could be granted by fighting God’s war against the Church’s internal and external enemies. According to the Church Fathers and the theology of the day, this thinking was clearly formulated in the New Testament, and it gained ground in Denmark starting in the mid 11th century.

The Roman connection
In its battle against the emperor, the Catholic Church tried to gain allies among the heads of principalities who could become fideles sancti Petri – the faithful of St Peter – and serve as defenders of the true faith. They made up a political network of allies who deepened their ties by intermarriage. The Danish royal family was a part of this network that supplied many of the first crusaders. Danes and other Scandinavians took part in Crusades to the Holy Land during the entire period. By the end of the Crusades, it became more common to contribute money than to participate.

Holy conquest
Crusade ideology became an important part of Danish royal strategy during the 12th century. Danish expansionism began in earnest in the mid-12th century during the reigns of Valdemar I (1157-1182) and his sons Knud VI (1182-1202) and Valdemar II (1202-1241). The kings built castles as coastal defences. Many of them, including Vordingborg and Kalundborg, were also staging points for Danish crusades in the Baltic.
Around 1170, the Order of St John, a large international crusading order, arrived in Denmark. Crusade ideology legitimised conquest and the fight against competing rivals for the throne and played a major role until the end of the 17th century.

By cross and by sword
Pope Urban II called for the First Crusade in 1095, and four years later crusaders had captured Jerusalem. In the following years the crusaders established a number of Christian kingdoms in the Middle East.
The Fourth Crusade (1204) sought to invade Egypt as a launching pad for a campaign to retake Jerusalem. The efforts led to the conquest of the Orthodox Byzantine Empire, and the founding of the Latin Empire. It fell in 1261.

Onward Christian kingdoms
The 12th century saw armies or pilgrim groups of varying size set out every year to “Outrems” (kingdoms across the sea). The period also saw crusades being fought on a number of fronts as Christian kingdoms expanded. On the Iberian Peninsula, Christian kings and princes conquered large tracts of land from Muslim principalities and by the mid-13th century, almost all of the peninsula was under their control.

Starting at the end of the 12th century, crusades turned against Christianity’s inner enemies, the heretics. The best known of these crusades lasted from 1209 to 1226 and was targeted against the Cathars of southern France.

On a mission from God and Denmark
In the Baltic region, Danish and Swedish kings, as well as German princes, waged battle against heathens as part of their internal power struggles, to expand their spheres of influence, take control of trade routes and to spread Christianity. The Danish kings gained control of Wendish areas near the island of Rügen and parts of Pomerania in 1185, and in 1219, they conquered Estonia, which remained a Danish possession until it was lost in 1346 during the battle against the Teutonic Order.
The conquest in the Baltic was followed by a period of conversion and the construction of monasteries and churches. The efforts stood in contrast to Christianisation efforts in other areas, where conversion of Muslims was quickly abandoned.