The English Abroad

The denizens of these islands have long had an awkward relationship with mainland Europe, perhaps more so during the Crusades when they were often on the rampage away from home. This is from Rose Macaulay’s book ‘the Went to Portugal’,  after a suggestion from the Pope that they could break their journey in Portugal. This is what happened in 1147, the Second Crusade, when a fleet of Flemish and Rhinelanders called at Dartmouth to collect the Anglo-Norman contingent for the Holy Land. :

“these were four groups – the men of Kent under Simon of Dover, the men of London under Andrew, the west countrymen (very difficult, especially those from Bristol, and much influenced by professional pirates, and a few Scots and Bretons.  They were… an essentially lower class crowd, hardy sailors and adventurers, both Saxon and Norman by race. Before setting forth on their holy enterprise… the company dew up regulations and ordinances for their conduct abroad; laws of retribution, such as eyes for eyes, teeth for teeth.. rules for weekly confession and communion, for the division of spoils, for the behaviour of the women they were taking, who were on no account to walk out in public. [they were probably washerwomen] ”

This rough fleet set sail in May, 190 ships in all. After a rough crossing of the Bay of Biscay, they were eagerly awaited when they arrived at Oporto., “an international crowd of tough armed men disembarked with an air of being ready for anything, from piracy to Moor-killing” They were welcomed by the Bishop of Oporto who wanted them to take Lisbon for the King.  Kiing Alfonso had to convince the men to fight instead of continuing to the Holy land.

“Most of the English contingent voted for staying. Not, however, those who had been to Lisbon before and had seen through besieging it; those took the king’s promises for treachery. Some were swayed by the [Bristol] pirates, practical men to whom crusades were not only partly, as with most crusaders, but exclusively, plundering expeditions, a legitimate and industrious means of laying up capital against old age. They and their followers were for going pirating along the Spanish and African coasts, and making Jerusalem while weather and winds were good.  About 8 of the English ships were for doing this. Noisy disputings broke out; Hervey of Glanville addressed the pirate group, entreatng them for their honour’s sake to stay with their comrades; even the Scots, said he, who were universally agreed to be barbarians, had not failed in the duty of friendship. Finally the pirates agreed; still strictly businesslike, they would remain as long as they were fed and paid, and not a day longer. ”

Agreements were drawn up, and terms for the surrender of the city by the Moors.

“The alcayde and others stood on the city walls to hear them. The Archbishop of Braga addressed the enemy, telling them they had no right there and should go back to the land of the Moors without causing bloodshed The alcayde replied with a bitter tirade. ‘How many times within your memory have you come hither with pilgrims and barbarians to drive us hence? Do your possessions give you no pleasure, or have you got into trouble at home, that you are so often on the move? Surely your frequent coming and going proves your mental instability, for he who cannot control the flight of the body cannot control the mind. This city did, I believe, once belong to your people, but now it is ours. It may be yours in some future time, but this will be decided by the will of God. While God willed, we have held it; when he wills otherwise, we shall no longer hold it. Go away, for you shall not enter the city but by the swords. why should I delay you longer? Do what you can. We will do what God’s will determines.”

Why do I have visions of Monty Python when I read this?

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