Hodder History Expert Blog

The First Crusade
By Rachel Foster and Kath Goudie
25 Aug
When we were approached to write a textbook on The First Crusade we were excited by the prospect of enabling students to study a wider breadth of medieval history at GCSE, as well as the opportunity to research one of the extraordinary episodes of the eleventh century.
We found the story of the First Crusade at once fascinating and strange: a story of people and events that are utterly alien and yet unnervingly human. 

Some 50.000 to 100,000 people ‘took the cross’ making a solemn vow to complete an armed pilgrimage to Jerusalem. They came from across Latin Christendom, speaking over 20 different languages. Leaving Europe in the summer of 1096 these first crusaders embarked on a perilous 2000-mile journey.  Along the way they endured exhaustion, starvation, disease, terrifying ambushes and brutal, merciless sieges. Their determination and religious zeal, sanctioned by the pope, led to violence that was shocking even by contemporary standards.  Four years later only 20,000 made the journey home.
As one of the most remarkable episode in the medieval period, and one that has enduring and momentous consequences for both Europe and the Muslim world, the First Crusade is a great option for students to study at GCSE. 
  • It broadens the geographical and cultural scope of pupils’ knowledge of the medieval period,
  • It captures the complex nature of the encounters between the Christian and Islamic worlds.
  • It enhances their medieval knowledge built up across Key Stage 3, allowing them to explore and recontextualise the Normans and challenge the view they might have got from a traditional encounter with the Norman conquest of England, usually in Year 7.
For teachers who are inspired to include The First Crusade as part of their GCSE curriculum, but who are new to the topic, we would recommend wider reading:
  • The First Crusade by Thomas Asbridge.  It provides a clear analytic narrative focusing primarily on the experience of the crusaders themselves. 
  • For a contrasting perspective, we would recommend The First Crusade: the call from the east by Peter Frankopan, which explores events from a Byzantine perspective. 
  • For teachers who want to explore questions about interpretations and evidential issues in more depth Jonathan Riley-Smith is a good starting point.  He published widely on the crusades but a good general introduction to his work is The First Crusade and the Idea of Crusading.
Rachel Foster and Kath Goudie


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