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Europe during the Crusades era

Reading time: 16 minutes

Nehru’s 63nd letter to his daughter in “Glimpses of world history”

Letter date: June 20, 1932

“In my recent letter, we saw material about the conflicts that took place between Christianity and Islam in the eleventh, twelfth, and thirteenth centuries. At that time the thought of the Christian community developed in Europe and since then Christ religion has dominated all of Europe. The last groups to convert to Christianity were the Slavic peoples of Eastern Europe, the Russians and others.

There is an interesting story that I do not know how true it is. According to this story, the Russians began to discuss and change their religion and accept a new religion, before they became Christian. The two new religions under discussion and confrontation with them were Christianity and Islam. To this end, as is customary now two delegations from Russia have been sent to countries where the two religions were prevalent, to study and report on this matter. It is said that these delegations visited some parts of West Asia where Islam was prevalent and then went to Constantinople and were amazed by what they saw in that city. Because the rituals of the Christian Orthodox religion that were prevalent there are very rich and glorious and are accompanied by many melodies of music and religious songs. Priests and clerics came in beautiful clothes to perform religious rites, and they burned incense at that time.

These great and glorious ceremonies had a profound effect on the simple and semi-civilized representatives who came from the north. In contrast to Islam, there was nothing glorious. So the deputies decided to choose Christianity, and when they returned to Russia, they presented a report in favor of Christianity to their king. In this way, the king and his subjects accepted the Greek Orthodox Christian religion and did not follow the Church of Rome, and since then Russia has never accepted the citizenship of the Pope.

The Christianization of Russia took place long before the Crusades.

Orthodox Christian

It is said that the Bulgarians also noticed Islam and Christianity some time equally, but the fascination about Constantinople was greater and more intense. The King of Bulgaria married a Byzantine princess and became a Christian. (You may remember that Constantinople was the old name for Byzantium or Byzantium.) Other European neighbors, the Russians and the Bulgarians, converted to Christianity in the same way.

Now let’s see what happened in Europe during the Crusades era.

As you can see, some European kings and emperors traveled to Palestine because of the Crusades, and some of them got into trouble there. During this time, the pope issued a decree from his supreme authority, asked Christian believers to jihad and “holy war against the infidel Turks.” Perhaps this was the height of pop power.

I told you how one of the proud emperors of Germany had to walk to “Canossa” in the snow and wait for a while for the pope to forgive him and accept his presence. The pope, nicknamed Gregory VII and formerly “Hildebrand”, created a new order for the election of popes.

Pope Gregory VII

After the Pope, the cardinals had the highest religious authority in the Catholic Christian community. According to the arrangements made by Pope Gregory VII, all the cardinals would gather to determine the new pope, form a “holy community,” and choose a new pope among themselves. This order began in 1159 AD and still continues, perhaps with minor changes and corrections that have been achieved in this situation. Even today, when a pope dies, a “holy community” is immediately formed and gathered in a locked room. No one has the right to enter or leave this room until a new pope is elected. It sometimes happens that the cardinals stay in that room for long hours and cannot decide on the choice of a new pope, although they do not have the right to leave the room. So they are forced to decide what the outcome will be, and as soon as the election is made and finalized, white smoke is sent out of the room heater pipe, and all people who are anxiously awaiting the outcome of the election of the new pope will be informed that the election is over.

Just as the pope was elected for spiritual and religious presidency, the emperor in the “Holy Roman Empire” was appointed by election, but he was chosen by the great feudal lords. These were the great feudal lords of the seven who were called “The prince-electors”. In this way, and by these elections, they apparently prevented the emperor always being appointed from one family, but in practice, often one family was given priority and maintained its influence and dominance in this election for a long time.

Thus, in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, the “Hohenstaufen” dynasty ruled the empire. I think Hohenstaufen is the name of a small town with a large village in Germany, and this family, who were originally from this place, took their name from there.

Hohenstaufen dynasty

Frederick I of the Hohenstaufen dynasty became emperor in 1152. It is the emperor known as Frederick Barbarossa (red beard) who drowned in a river on his way to Palestine for the Crusades. His reign is said to have been the brightest era in the history of the Holy Roman Empire.

For a long time, Frederick Barbarossa was considered by the German people to be an extraordinary hero and a demigod that many legends and stories were told about him. It was even said that he slept in a deep cave in a mountain and some day would come when he would wake up and save his nation from darkness.

Frederick Barbarossa fought a great battle against the pope, but the struggle led to the pope’s victory, and Frederick was forced to bow to him. Frederick was a tyrant. Nevertheless, the great feudal lords who had accepted his citizenship caused him great trouble.

Frederick Barbarossa

In Italy, large cities were growing and developing, and Frederick tried to deprive them of freedom, but to no avail. In Germany also some large cities were flourishing, especially on the coast and along large rivers, such as Cologne, Hamburg, Frankfurt, and many others. Frederick’s policy took a different form here. Here Frederick strengthened the liberties of the cities and sought to use them to reduce the power of the great feudal aristocracy.

I have told you on several occasions that in ancient India how thought about the monarchy and government. From ancient times, from arrival of the Aryans to India, to the time of “Ashoka”, and from the book of “Arthaśāstra” to the book of “Nitisara”, written by “Sukra Chanakya”, it has been repeatedly emphasized that the king must bow before public opinion and obey the public opinion, and it is the people who are the real and ultimate lords. Although practically the kings of India, like elsewhere, were often tyrannical, Indian thought was such and could be compared to ancient European thought. According to European jurists at that time, the emperor and the king had absolute power, and his will was in accordance with the law. “The emperor is an alive law that exists on earth,” they said. “It’s not up to the people to make a law for the king, they just have to obey his orders,” said Frederick Barbarossa.


As we have seen, the emperor was considered the highest authority on earth in Europe, and it was from here that the idea of the “Divine Right of Kings” arose and grew. Of course, in practice, the king and the emperor were far less than the highest power and authority. Even most of the feudal aristocrats who were obey him became a source of trouble for him, and then gradually, as we shall see, new classes grew up in the cities, claiming a share of power and authority. The pope, on the other hand, claimed to be the highest authority on earth, and naturally, where two people are in top position, there is unrest and confusion.

Frederick Barbara’s grandson was also named Frederick. He became emperor at a young age and was called Frederick II, who was given the Latin title “stupor mundi,” meaning “astonishment of the world”, and went to Palestine for the Crusades, but instead of it he negotiated friendly talks with the Sultan of Egypt. Like his grandfather, he opposed the pope of his time and disobeyed his orders. The pope also confronted him, declaring him an apostate. This action was the old and major weapon of the popes, but it no longer had any effect and influence, and it was rusted and disabled.

Frederick II did not care about the wrath of the pope; and the requirements of the world had changed. Frederick wrote detailed letters to all the kings and rulers of Europe that the pope had no right to interfere in the work of kings. The pope should only be careful about the religious and spiritual condition of the people, and his involvement in politics is inappropriate. In these letters, Frederick also described the corruption of the Christian clergy.

Frederick’s arguments against the popes were much more documented and powerful than the pope’s rhetoric against him. His letters are very interesting because they are the first signs of a new way of thinking and spirit found in the old struggle between emperors and popes.

Frederick II was religiously tolerant and far from prejudiced. Arab and Jewish philosophers came to his court. It is said that the figures and the science of algebra (probably because you remember it came from India at all) came to Europe by him. He also founded the University of Naples and established a large school at the old University of “Salerno”.

Frederick II ruled from 1212 to 1250, ending the reign of the “Hohenstaufen” dynasty over the Holy Roman Empire.

In fact, the era of the empire was practically over. Because Italy separated from it. Germany disintegrated into different parts, and there was a great deal of turmoil and disorder for many years. Bandit knights and various rebels were engaging looting, killing, and plundering, and there was no one to fight with them. The burden of the “Holy Roman Empire” was too heavy for the German government to bear.

Kings gradually consolidated their position in French and England, they diminished the power and influence of the great feudal lords who obeyed them but often caused disruption.

In Germany the king was called emperor, but he was so preoccupied about battle against the pope and the Italian cities that he could not subdue his aristocracy. Germany was proud of itself as being the Holy Roman Empire, but this proud pride came at the cost of internal turmoil, weakness, and internal disintegration. As a result, long before Germany could even become a unified country, France and Britain became united and powerful nations. Hundreds of small princes remained in Germany until a few hundred years later, and it was only about sixty years ago that Germany was able to unite, and even then some kings and little princes remained, until finally the great war of 1914-1918 eliminated these people and put an end to that situation.

After Frederick II, Germany became so disturbed that no empire was elected for twenty-three years. In 1273, “Rudolf”, a Count of the Habsburg region, was elected as emperor. So a new family called the Habsburg came on the scene, and they kept that position until the end of the empire. The reign of this family ended during World War II.


Habsburg dynasty

What we have said about the Holy Roman Empire is enough. France and England were on the west side of the empire, who were often at war with each other. The kings of these countries were more involved in wars with the great feudal aristocracy of their own countries. The kings of these two countries were able to overcome the feudal aristocracy of their country much more and better than the emperor or king of Germany, and as a result, France and England each became a united country, and this unity gave them power.

Something happened in the UK at the same time that you may have read about. This event was the signing of the “Magna Carta” (Great Charter) by King John in 1215 AD. “John” came to the throne instead of his brother “Richard the Lionheart”. He was a very ambitious and modest man and at the same time he was weak and he provoked and upset everyone. The English aristocracy forced him to take refuge on the island of “Runnymede” on “the River Thames”, where he was almost forced by the sword to sign the “Magna Carta”.

signing of the “Magna Carta” (Great Charter) by King John

The Charter stipulated that the king should respect certain freedoms for the British nobility and people. This was the first major step in the long struggle for political freedom in Britain. Particularly, the charter stated that the king could not interfere in the property and liberty of any British citizen without the consent of the people. From here the jury and arbitration system formed which was considered a representative of the public judgment.

Thus we see that the power of the king was very soon limited in England. Hypothesis of supremacy and absolute priority of the ruler and king, was common in the “Holy Roman Empire”, was not accepted even in England at that time.

It is interesting to note that this law, which has been respected and enforced in the UK for more than 700 years, is not even respected and enforced in 1932 (the time this letter was written) in India which is under British rule. In India, a person called the “Regent” now has the power to issue any decree, to make any law, and to deprive the people of their freedom and property.

Shortly after the signing of “Magna Carta”, another remarkable event took place in the United Kingdom. Gradually a National Council was formed, which English knights and citizens were sent from different parts and cities to there. This council is in fact the beginning of the work of the British Parliament. The knights and ordinary citizens who came to this council formed “the House of Commons”; the aristocrats and great spiritual leaders also created the “House of Lords “.

This parliament did not have much power at the beginning, but gradually its importance and authority increased, and eventually it came to a point where it had to be determined which of the Shah and the parliament have a higher position and is considered more important. In this struggle, one of the kings of England lost his head and lord and ruler parliament became without a rival. But this final victory came about 40 years later, in the seventeenth century, as we will see in later letters.

In France, too, a council was formed, called the Council of the Three Classes. These three classes were: the aristocracy, the clergy and the common people. The council convened from time to time and whenever the king wished, but its meetings were too short at the time of its formation and it could not gain the power which the British Parliament had gained. But in France, too, a king lost his head before the monarchy was completely abolished, and we will see its description in the events of the great French Revolution.

In Eastern Europe at this time the Eastern Roman Empire was still going on. From the earliest days of its existence, this empire has always been at war on the one hand, and there have often been cases in which its life span seemed to have come to an end, and yet it still did not fail and continued.

At first it was attacked by the northern semi-savage tribes and then by Muslim. Of all the attacks by the Russians, the Bulgarians or the Arabs on the Seljuk Turks against this empire, the most deadly and worse was the invasion of the Crusaders. These Christian cavalry and knights harmed Christian Constantinople more than any other infidel. The Empire of Constantinople and the city of Constantinople itself could never make up for the huge losses by the Christian crusaders.

The Western world of Europe was completely unaware of the Eastern Roman Empire and did not care about it at all. In principle, the West does not consider this empire to be part of the Christian community. The language of the empire was Greek, while the scientific language of Western Europe was Latin. In fact, literary activity and science and knowledge in Constantinople, even during its decline, were much greater than in Western Europe. But this science and knowledge was an old and rotten old culture that no longer had power and creativity, while in Western Europe, although science and culture were at a lower level, it was young and had the power of creation and creativity, and this force soon manifested itself in the creation of beautiful works of art.

In the Eastern Roman Empire, like Rome, there was no difference between the church and the emperor. The emperor held a high position and ruled with tyranny and absolute power there. There was basically no freedom. Whoever was stronger or more vile and deceitful ascended the throne. Kings gained the throne through murder, deceit, conspiracy, and rape, and in the midst of crime and bloodshed, and people obeyed them sheepish. It was as if it did not make difference who ruled over them.

The Eastern Roman Empire was a guardsman to the gates of Europe, protecting it from Asian invasions and successfully maintaining it for several hundred years. The Arabs could not capture Constantinople. The Seljuk Turks, although very close to it, could not conquer the city of Constantinople. The Mongols crossed it and headed north to Russia. “But eventually the Ottoman Turks came and conquered the royal city of Constantinople in 1453, and with the fall of this city, the Eastern Roman Empire came to an end.”Source: Glimpses of World History, by Jawaharlal Nehru, translated by Mahmoud Tafazoli, Amirkabir Publications, Volume One.

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