Setting the Stage for the First Crusade, 1096-1099 – guest post by Mary Ann Bernal

I’m delighted to welcome on to my blog today fellow historical fiction author Mary Ann Bernal.

Mary Ann is on her blog tour for her latest novel, Crusader’s Path, ‘a story of redemption set against the backdrop of the First Crusade’ – a fascinating period in history – and one that takes place across a wide sweep of what was then, to Europeans at least, the known world – from Normandy to Constantinople to the Holy Land.


Here Mary Ann tells us a little about the circumstances and the unfolding of that crusade…

Setting the Stage for the First Crusade, 1096-1099

During the Eleventh Century, the Roman Catholic Church held considerable influence throughout Christendom, despite the East-West Schism of 1054 caused by political and theological differences between the Latin West and Greek Eastern Orthodox Church.

Violence, lawlessness, famine, and poverty existed across the European continent. Peasants were at the mercy of the warring nobles craving wealth and power. A significant disparity prevailed in a social hierarchy where landowners set the rules, giving little hope for commoners to rise above their station.


Pope Urban II*


The authority of the Pope, also known as the Bishop of Rome, had waned over the years. Henry IV, the Holy Roman Emperor, clashed with Pope Gregory VII over papal authority. Pope Urban’s predecessor, Pope Gregory, excommunicated the errant Emperor. Military clashes ensued, and the victorious Henry installed the Antipope, Clement III, as the Bishop of Rome.


Alexios I*

Alexios I, the Byzantine Emperor, needed help in thwarting the Seljuk Turks harassing his kingdom. Fearing the fall of his capital city, Constantinople, Alexios requested Pope Urban’s assistance in vanquishing the infidel.

The Call to Arms

Pope Urban saw the request from Alexios as a means to reunite the Latin West and Greek East. Additionally, by channelling the violent knights’ and mercenaries’ thirst for fighting towards a common enemy, the followers of Islam, he kept unchivalrous warriors from pillaging the European countryside. Besides, a successful campaign would strengthen the Papacy, enhancing political power and dominance over kingly rule. And freeing Jerusalem from Muslim control would secure his place in history.


Urban II preaching*

Pope Urban II was a charismatic and intriguing man. In all probability, he was calculating and manipulative, necessary traits to retain control of the Papacy, defeating his enemies with skilful finesse.

The Council at Claremont had been called to address abuses within the Catholic Church. The assembly decided many canons, renewed earlier legislation, and settled lawsuits at its conclusion. However, Pope Urban piqued the curiosity of the religious elite and common people when mentioning a great speech on the day before the attendees’ departure.

In an open field, the eloquent preacher spoke of atrocities committed upon Christians by the Muslims. Pope Urban maligned the Saracens oppressing Christians, his speech cleverly fashioned to incite the crowd. He offered salvation, giving hope to the hopeless, calling upon rich and poor alike to embark on a righteous war. Pope Urban promised a full remission of sins if people died during the journey or on the battlefield. The chant Deus Vult, God wills it, echoed throughout the crowd.

Pope Urban’s successful oration created the armies of the First Crusade. Although religion was the driving force, the nobility and lowly knights sought land and wealth. They would give no quarter since the Church condoned killing.


The Armies

Peter of Amiens took Pope Urban at his word, leaving without paying heed to logistics – a coordinated campaign, led by princes and noblemen, acquiring manpower, provisions and money, a lot of money to pay the soldiers, and purchase supplies along the route.


Peter of Amiens*

Known as Peter the Hermit, the lowly monk preached to the peasants from Claremont to Amiens before setting out to Cologne, following the Rivers Rhine and Danube, reaching Constantinople before Pope Urban’s officially sanctioned army. Known as the People’s Crusade or the Peasants’ Crusade, the ill-fated collection of pilgrims failed to reach the Holy Land, most perishing on the road to Nicaea.


The First Crusade*

The peasants risked everything to reclaim the Holy Land for God, proudly wearing the Cross. They were ill-equipped, mostly farmers, men, women, and children. They left behind land they did not own, carrying meagre possessions with them, believing Pope Urban’s words about attaining salvation, their sins forgiven.

Peter could not control the unruly mob who ravished the land with such ferocity that it sent chills down the spines of the Turkish people when word reached their ears of the rabble’s murderous deeds.

The Princes’ Crusade consisted of four main armies, leaving Europe in August 1096, the planned departure date, and several months after Peter’s Army of Peasants. To the aristocracy, fighting for Christ was an honour, elevating their standing within the hierarchy, commanding respect and awe from the masses. While saving souls was the catalyst, attaining wealth in a land flowing with milk and honey, controlling centres of trade, satisfied their ambition.

trumpet blast

Crusaders arrive in Jerusalem*


The First Crusade was a holy war that had the blessing of God, according to Pope Urban. The Commandment, thou shall not kill, was ignored when fighting the infidel. In retaliation, the Muslims raged a Holy War against the Christians. The apoplectic war of the two faiths continues to this day.

The First Crusade saw the establishment of the Crusader States and the Knights Templar and Knights Hospitaller military orders. The role of the Roman Popes progressed in secular affairs. Alliances deteriorated between the Latin West and Greek East. Subsequent crusades failed to keep Jerusalem under Christian control.


I could not help but wonder if Pope Urban would have condoned a Holy War if he knew the ramifications of his deeds. Just as I wonder whether Catherine of Aragon would have given Henry VIII a divorce if she had known Henry would become the Church of England. Who in history has ever considered the consequences before acting? Just thoughts to ponder.



Crusader’s Path 

by Mary Ann Bernal

From the sweeping hills of Argences to the port city of Cologne overlooking the River Rhine, Etienne and Avielle find themselves drawn by the need for redemption against the backdrop of the First Crusade.

Heeding the call of His Holiness, Urban II, to free the Holy Land from the infidel, Etienne follows Duke Robert of Normandy across the treacherous miles, braving sweltering heat and snow-covered mountain passes while en route to the Byzantine Empire.

Moved by Peter of Amiens’ charismatic rhetoric in the streets of the Holy Roman Empire, Avielle joins the humble army of pilgrims. Upon arrival in Mentz, the peasant Crusaders do the unthinkable, destroying the Jewish Community. Consumed with guilt, Avielle is determined to die fighting for Christ, assuring her place in Heaven.

Etienne and Avielle cross paths in Constantinople, where they commiserate over past misdeeds. A spark becomes a flame, but when Avielle contracts leprosy, Etienne makes a promise to God, offering to take the priest cowl in exchange for ridding Avielle of her affliction.


Crusader’s Path is available from:

Amazon UK:


Mary Ann Bernal

mary anne bernalMary Ann Bernal attended Mercy College, Dobbs Ferry, NY, where she received a degree in Business Administration. Her literary aspirations were ultimately realized when the first book of The Briton and the Dane novels was published in 2009. In addition to writing historical fiction, Mary Ann has also authored a collection of contemporary short stories in the Scribbler Tales series and a science fiction/fantasy novel entitled Planetary Wars Rise of an Empire. Her latest endeavour is Crusader’s Path, a story of redemption set against the backdrop of the First Crusade.

Connect with Mary Ann: Website • Blog • Whispering Legends Press •  TwitterFacebook.






Whispering Legends Press:





Thanks to Mary Anne Yarde of the Coffee Pot Book Club for arranging the blog tour

*Picture credits:

Pope Urban II

Alexios I 

Urban preaching

Peter of Amiens

Crusaders arrive in Jerusalem

Map of the First Crusade




Alex Marchant is author of two books telling the story of the real King Richard III for children aged 10+, The Order of the White Boar and The King’s Man, and editor of Grant Me the Carving of My Name and Right Trusty and Well Beloved…, two anthologies of short fiction inspired by the king, sold in support of Scoliosis Association UK (SAUK). 

Alex’s books can be found on Amazon at:

My Facebook author page 

My Twitter handle  and Matthew Wansford’s

Instagram: AlexMarchantAuthor

About alexmarchantblog

A Ricardian since a teenager, and following stints as an archaeologist and in publishing, Alex now lives and works in King Richard’s own country, not far from his beloved York and Middleham
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2 Responses to Setting the Stage for the First Crusade, 1096-1099 – guest post by Mary Ann Bernal

  1. Thanks for having me, Alex. Have a lovely day.


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