The Blue Cross
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» Coat of Arms of Count Henry of Burgundy
» The Blue Cross: was this the cross bore by the Galicians in the Crusades?
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Henry of Burgundy (1066-1112) was the ruler of the counties of Portucale and Coimbra, which were the southernmost territories of the Kingdom of Galicia in the 12th century, prior to the independence of Portugal. He was the second most powerful earl in Galicia after his cousin Raymond of Burgundy, who ruled in the north of the country.
Count Henry was a great military man who expanded his realm beyond the river Mondego. Besides his military campaigns against the Muslims in neighbouring Lusitania, Count Henry also participated in the First Crusade between 1103-1105 AD.
The heraldic arms of Henry of Burgundy were azure cross (blue cross) on a argent field (white field). When his son Afonso Henriques transformed Portugal from a county into an independent kingdom in 1143 AD the Blue Cross became the first symbol of his new realm.
Four decades before the county of Portugal achieved independence, a troop of Galician knights participated in the First Crusade bearing a cross as a symbol of Christ, as it was customary among the crusaders. Could that cross bore by the Galicians in the Crusades be a Blue Cross?
The Crusades were military campaigns promoted by the Roman Catholic Church during the 11th-13th century with the main purpose of recapturing Jerusalem and the Holy Land from Muslim rule. The First Crusade was launched in 1095 AD by Pope Urban II and ended with the conquest of Jerusalem in 1099 AD. Two years later, in 1101 AD, Pope Paschal II called for a new Crusade to send military reinforcements to the newly established Christian Kigdom of Jerusalem.
German historian, benedictine monk and abbot of the Monastery of Aura, Ekkehard of Aura, was one of the participants in the 1101 Crusade. His famous work Chronicon Universale (World Chronicle) is the main factual source for German historians covering the years 1080-1125, and is also one of the main historical sources about the First Crusade, where he himself participated.
In his account of "The many peoples who took part in the First Crusade", Ekkehard of Aura tells ...centum millia virorum ex Aquitania scilicet atque Normannia, Anglia, Scotia et Hibernia, Britannia, Galicia, Wasconia, Gallia, Flandria, Lotharingia, caeterisque gentibus christianis, quaram nunc minime occurrunt vocabula , which translates as toward one hundred thousand men were appointed to the immediate service of God from Aquitaine and Normandy, England, Scotland, Ireland, Brittany, Galicia, Gascony, France, Flanders, Lorraine, and from other Christian peoples, whose names I no longer retain. It was truly an army of 'crusaders', for they bore the sign of the cross on their garments.
According to Ekkehard of Aura, who was a witness to the events as well as a participant in the First Crusade, we can take two clear conclusions:
1) The First Crusade was a military campaign undertaken mainly by Western European nations, and the Kingdom of Galicia is named among the participants.
2) It was truly an army of 'crusaders', for they bore the sign of the cross on their garments.
We know that the many national groups participating in the Crusades used different colour codes as a national identification system, just in the same way that modern armies from different countries wear different uniforms. Crusading nations would recognise one another on the battlefield by the colour of the cross they bore. Since there were more participating nations than colours available, some countries ended up using the same colour combination, such as Bretons and Germans who both used a black cross over a white field. Thus, in 1188 AD, the Pope decided to regulate the use of colours among the different crusading nations.
We know the Pope gave a red cross to France, a white cross over a red field to England, a green cross to Flanders, a yellow cross to the Italian estates, and a St Andrew's Cross to Gascony, among others. However, there is not a full list detailing all participating nations with their corresponding colours and, as such, we do not have any document describing how did the cross the Galicians bore in the Crusades look like.
Yet, we do know that Count Henry participated in the Crusades between 1103-1105 AD, just after the first contingent of Galicians mentioned by historian Ekkehard of Aura. We also know that on his return from the Crusades Henry was using a Blue Cross over a white field as his coat of arms.
It is indeed possible that the Blue Cross was the colour used by the Galician crusaders (the same way that other nations used other colours) some years before Henry appeared using it as his own coat of arms, which he did after returning from the Crusades.
If the Galicians bore a Blue Cross on the First Crusade it would be logical for Henry to keep using the same blue cross on his participation in the Crusades, for Henry was himself a ruler of the southern counties of the Kingdom of Galicia. Even for some years after Portugal's independence in 1143 AD, Arab historians kept calling the Portuguese "Galicians".
Being himself the second most powerful earl in Galicia after his cousin Raymond, it would be safe to assume that a powerful earl such as Henry did not go alone to the Crusades, but accompanied by a group of fellow knights and countrymen. It would also be right to believe that a man of his rank would be the leader of his troops.
Hence, upon his return from the Crusades in 1105 AD Count Henry continued leading an army against the Muslims in Lusitania under the same Blue Cross that had protected him and his knights against the Muslims in North Africa. Forty years later, Count Henry's son, Afonso Henriques, transformed Portugal from a county into an independent kingdom and the Blue Cross became the first symbol of a new nation.
» Chronicon Universale, World Chronicle, on the "Opening of the Crusades. The many peoples who took part in the First Crusade", by Ekkehard of Aura, 12th century
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