Post-classical history

Crusade of the Lord Edward (1270-1272)

A crusade commanded by the “Lord Edward” (the future King Edward I), eldest son and heir of Henry III of England. Of negligible importance for the survival of the precarious kingdom of Jerusalem, this expedition to Acre (mod. ‘Akko, Israel) simultaneously revealed the continued enthusiasm for the holy war in the East and the difficulty in translating that enthusiasm into tangible results.

The loss of the town of Saphet (mod. Zefat, Israel) in 1266 to the Mamlûk sultan of Egypt, Baybars I, following that of Caesarea and Arsuf the year before, prompted a revival of the crusade recruitment begun by Pope Urban IV in 1263. In the aftermath of the civil war of 1263-1267, the English initially responded with indifference. However, by early 1268, encouraged by the example of King Louis IX of France, who took the cross in March 1267, Edward determined to join the expedition, taking the cross at Northampton on 24 June 1268. Falling in with King Louis’s plans, in August 1269, Edward agreed to serve under him in return for a loan of 70,000 livres tournois (pounds of the standard of Tours).

With preparations moving slowly, Edward embarked only on 24 August 1270, reaching the Mediterranean a month later, bound for Tunis in North Africa, where he was supposed to rendezvous with the French army. However, by the time that Edward arrived in November, Louis IX was dead and a treaty with the Muslim emir arranged. Wintering in Sicily, alone of the leaders of what was in essence Louis IX’s family crusade, Edward proceeded to the Holy Land, reinforced by a few French lords. He reached Acre via Cyprus on 9 May 1271. Joined by his brother Edmund in September 1271, Edward remained in the Holy Land for a year. He attempted to coordinate action with the Mongol Il-Khan of Persia against the Mamlûks and to resolve internal tensions within Outremer, particularly those between Hugh III, king of Cyprus and Jerusalem, and his barons concerning their obligation to serve on the mainland. Edward resisted an attack on Acre by Baybars in December 1271 and also organized two abortive raids into the surrounding countryside. He lacked sufficient manpower to achieve anything, a result of his quixotic insistence on pursuing his crusade to Acre unsupported by other Western leaders.

A truce agreed to by King Hugh with Baybars (May 1272) failed to persuade Edward of the futility of his stay, his opposition to the truce possibly provoking Baybars or his lieutenant the emir of Ramla to order Edward’s assassination in June. Edward survived (whether or not because his wife Eleanor of Castile sucked poison from his wound) but the incident exposed his false position: he was vulnerable and impotent in the East, while his absence risked his inheritance in the West. Probably comprising fewer than 1,000 men, including some 200-250 knights, Edward’s force was tightly centralized around his own and his brother’s affinities, its leaders bound to Edward by written contracts and pay. With the bulk of the cost of more than £100,000 falling on Edward, who received assistance from both church and state, including (in 1269-1270) the first lay subsidy since 1237, neither he nor his followers profited materially from the enterprise, financial disincentive matching political disadvantage. Baronial conflicts persisting, the absence of both of the aged king’s sons on such a dangerous adventure gambled with the stability of England. Yet Edward consistently dismissed obstacles and prudence. Pressed early in 1271 to return to England, where his father had been gravely ill, he swore he would go to Acre, if necessary, with only his groom Fowin for company. Edward’s commitment was pious, brave, popular, rash, futile, and misconceived, his feeble contingent a passing irritant to the rampant Baybars; his heroics satisfied his own self-image and ambition more than the needs of Outremer or Christendom.

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