The Crusade that Never Happened

Richard White is a graduate of Ohio University, Carleton University, Wheaton College and Wycliffe College, Toronto. He has degrees in history, journalism, communication and divinity.

The two monarchs had a common nightmare.  The news of a foreign, blue-coated invader with plumed helmets marching into Europe unsettled them both.  Henry VIII, the King of England, and Charles V, “Holy Roman Emperor” and ruler of most of southern and Eastern Europe may have had their spats in the past, but the blue-coated invaders were about to bring them together.   

 

The monarchies of  16th century Europe were dominated by young, charismatic, and competitive leaders who carried on their business like a bunch of schoolyard bullies. The most notable were Henry VIII, Charles V , and  then there was France’s François I.   François was young and annoying and picked fights with them like an angry terrier.  But the real enemy the two faced came from Turkey, not Europe.  He didn’t look like them, speak like them, or even pray like them. His religion was mysterious.  His reputation was of a battlefield tactician. He didn’t fight like the rest and when he won, he was a generous conqueror.  The Europeans called him Suleiman the Magnificent.  His Middle Eastern subjects called him, Suleiman the Lawgiver.  He was in fact, Suleiman the Invader.

 

Suleiman I  (1494 – 1566) was the tenth monarch in the Islamic Ottoman Empire which had controlled the Middle East out of Istanbul for almost three hundred years.   Whether on sea or land Suleiman’s forces were almost unstoppable.  His navy was led by Admiral Barbarossa,  a seafaring legend who handed Suleiman a  string of victories in the Aegean. 

Suleiman’s army was unlike anything seen on European soil before.  At its core were the Janissaries. The Janissaries were a slave contingent made up of young captured Christians, converted to Islam, and trained in the arts of war.  The Janissaries had taken Belgrade, the Isle of Rhodes, and mowed down the Hungarian cavalry with their fire power. Although slaves, the blue-robed Janissaries with the feathered helmets were treated like princes and paid very well.  With them and Barbarossa,   Suleiman the Invader had a well-oiled war machine.

Meanwhile, one of Europe’s kings was in trouble. In late February 1525, France’s king, François’ I, led a failed attack into northern Italy to seize Naples and Milan.  Charles imprisoned him in Milan.   François’ signed over part of his kingdom and Charles released him in March the following year.  The French king was disgraced.  He had had plenty of time to plot his revenge. Over the next decade he continued a series of failed campaigns against Italy.  Then in 1536 François he dared to do the unthinkable. He made an alliance with Christendom’s enemy – Suleiman –  and the Franco-Ottoman alliance was born.  The Franco-Ottoman alliance would stand as one of the longest alliances in Europe’s history.  

 

From Suleiman’s point of view, such an alliance was strategically vital.  With France as his ally and access to French ports it would be only a matter of time before Ottoman troops were marching through the streets of Europe’s greatest cities.  This all seemed like a gift from God.  Suleiman was a devout Muslim, and as such he   loathed Roman Catholic Europe.  The Catholics were “kafaar,” the derisive term for infidels, unbelievers, and idolaters.  His Faith taught him that Catholics worshipped images , burned incense to statues of Mary as though she was a god, and bowed to a Jesus on a Cross. The Qur’an clearly said that Jesus, a Prophet of God, had not been crucified.   François’ might not have been a solid Protestant, but his conflicts with the Pope and with the Catholic Charles made him an ideal ally.   The 1536 alliance was perfect for both. 

 

By that time Suleiman held much of Eastern Europe in his grip and his navy was badgering  Mediterranean shipping.  With access to French ports, he was able to execute a decisive naval victory in the Aegean in September 1538 against a Catholic alliance headed by Pope Paul III.  Suleiman won numerous Venetian islands and ports in the Aegean, Ionian and Adriatic Seas and 300,000 ducats in gold.   Europe’s Catholics were shaken.

 

Then came 1543.  In August combined French and Ottoman navies successfully attacked the Mediterranean port city of Nice,  territory held by Charles.  As the year drew to a close, François’ invited 30,000 Ottoman troops and sailors to winter in port of Toulon, a neighbouring port.   The citizens of Toulon were ordered to leave the city, turning it into a Turkish port town.  The Toulon Cathedral was refurbished as a mosque and the Muslim call to prayer was heard five times a day.  Christian slaves were bought and sold. This strategic foothold meant the Turks could raid the Spanish and Italian coastlines.  Plus, it could be a landing site into central Europe for Ottoman troops.

The German reformer Martin Luther declared “the Turk is the rod of God’s anger against the apostate church,” which might have seemed true.  Henry had broken with Rome by then, but siding with Catholic Charles was a better option than siding with a Muslim Suleiman. In 1543 the two decided to launch a crusade to oust him from Europe.  

Henry VIII’s goal was to raise 10,000 pounds through voluntary offerings to fund an army.  On July 19, 1543, Archbishop Cranmer sent a letter to all diocesan bishops to implement the king’s policy.  Every Sunday and holy day clergy were to preach about the danger of a full-out Muslim invasion of Europe and the need to collect funds to resist it.  The church wardens’ job was to collect and count the money. Cranmer’s deadline was the end of September.

The collections of 1543 were the first time in England that money was raised for a Christian crusade form over 200 years. The people didn’t respond well.  Clergy were told  to try again. Wardens were instructed to hand over monies directly to the sheriffs of their counties. The deadline was moved to the end of the year.  Less than 2,000 of the needed 10,000 pounds was raised. 

The crusade never occurred.  And why?  There were both insufficient funds and insufficient hunger for financing a war with an uncertain outcome.  By then, an ailing Henry was solidifying his reign over Wales, and negotiating his way to becoming the first English Monarch to rule as King of Ireland.  His forces were busy elsewhere.  For his part, Charles was caught up in battles against the Protestant princes of central Europe every bit as much as Muslims invaders.  His enemies were too numerous.  Besides, he was looking westward and had sanctioned the exploration and conquest of a new territory – South and Central America. 

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