Post-classical history

CHAPTER III

FIASCO

‘Take counsel together, and it shall come to nought.’ ISAIAH VIII, 10

When news arrived on 19 March 1148 that King Louis had landed at Saint Symeon, Prince Raymond and all his household rode down from Antioch to welcome him and escort him up to the city. The next days were spent in feasting and merriment. The gallant nobles of Antioch did their best to please the Queen of France and the great ladies in her train; and in the cheerful weather of the Syrian spring amid the luxuries of the Antiochene Court the visitors forgot the hardships through which they had passed. As soon as they had recovered Raymond began to discuss with the French leaders plans for a campaign against the infidel. Raymond hoped for great results from the coming of the Crusade. His position was precarious. Nur ed-Din was established now along the Christian frontier from Edessa to Hama and had spent the autumn of 1147 picking off one by one the Frankish fortresses east of the Orontes. Count Joscelin was fully occupied in holding his own at Turbessel. If the Moslems were to attack Antioch in force the only power that could help Raymond was Byzantium; and the Byzantine troops might well arrive too late and would anyhow insist on a tighter subservience. The French army, though the accidents of the journey had reduced its infantry strength, provided such formidable cavalry reinforcements that the Franks of Antioch would be able to take the offensive. Raymond urged upon the King that they should strike together at the heart of Nur ed-Din’s power, the city of Aleppo; and he induced many of the French knights to join him in a preliminary reconnaissance up to its walls, to the consternation of its inhabitants.

1148: Louis and Eleanor at Antioch

But when it came to the point, King Louis hesitated. He said that his Crusader vow obliged him first to go to Jerusalem before he started on any campaign; but the excuse was made to veil his indecision. All the princes of the Frankish East were demanding his help. Count Joscelin hoped to use him for the recovery of Edessa; for had not its fall set the whole Crusade in motion? Raymond of Tripoli, claiming a cousin’s right — for his mother had been a French princess — sought his help for the recovery of Montferrand. Then in April there arrived at Antioch the Patriarch of Jerusalem himself, sent by the High Court of the Kingdom to beg him to hasten south and to tell him that King Conrad was already in the Holy Land. In the end a purely personal motive made up the King’s mind for him. Queen Eleanor was far more intelligent than her husband. She saw at once the wisdom of Raymond’s scheme; but her passionate and outspoken support of her uncle only roused Louis’s jealousy. Tongues began to wag. The Queen and the Prince were seen too often together. It was whispered that Raymond’s affection was more than avuncular. Louis, alarmed for his honour, announced his immediate departure; whereat the Queen declared that she at least would remain in Antioch, and would seek a divorce from her husband. In reply Louis dragged his wife by force from her uncle’s palace and set out with all his troops for Jerusalem.

King Conrad had landed at Acre with his chief princes in the middle of April and had been given a cordial and honourable reception at Jerusalem by Queen Melisende and her son. Similar honours were paid to King Louis on his entry into the Holy Land a month later. Never had Jerusalem seen so brilliant an assembly of knights and ladies. But there were many notable absentees. Raymond of Antioch, furious at Louis’s behaviour, washed his hands of the whole Crusade. He could not in any case afford to leave his hard-pressed principality for some adventure in the south. Nor could Count Joscelin leave Turbessel. The Count of Tripoli’s absence was due to a sinister family tragedy. Amongst the Crusaders to take the vow with King Louis at Vezelay had been Alfonso-Jordan, Count of Toulouse. With his wife and his children he had travelled by sea from Constantinople and landed at Acre a few days after Conrad. His arrival with a strong contingent had heartened the Franks in the East to whom he was a romantic figure. For he was the son of the old Crusader Raymond of Toulouse and he had been born in the East, at Mount Pilgrim, while his father was besieging Tripoli. But his coming was an embarrassment to the reigning Count of Tripoli, the grandson of old Count Raymond’s bastard son Bertrand. If Alfonso-Jordan put in a claim to Tripoli, it would be hard to deny it; and it seems that he liked to mention his rights. On his way up to Jerusalem from Acre he paused at Caesarea, and there quite suddenly he died in agony. It may have been some acute illness such as appendicitis that caused his death; but everyone at once suspected poison, and the dead man’s son Bertrand openly accused his cousin Raymond of Tripoli of instigating the murder. Others believed that the culprit was Queen Melisende, acting at the behest of her beloved sister, the Countess Hodierna, Raymond’s wife. Nothing was proven; but Raymond in his indignation at the charge abstained from any dealing with the Crusade.

1148: The Decision to attack Damascus

When all the Crusaders had arrived in Palestine Queen Melisende and King Baldwin invited them to attend a great assembly to be held at Acre on 24 June 1148. It was an impressive gathering. The hosts were King Baldwin and the Patriarch Fulcher, with the Archbishops of Caesarea and Nazareth, the Grand Masters of the Temple and the Hospital, and the leading prelates and barons of the kingdom. With Conrad were his half-brothers, Henry Jasomirgott of Austria, and Otto of Freisingen, his nephew, Frederick of Swabia, Welf of Bavaria and many lesser princes. Lorraine was represented by the Bishops of Metz and Toul. With King Louis were his brother Robert of Dreux, his future son-in-law Henry of Champagne, Thierry, Count of Flanders, as well as the young Bertrand, Alfonso-Jordan’s bastard. We do not know what was the course of the debate nor who made the final proposal. After some opposition the assembly decided to concentrate all its strength on an attack against Damascus.

It was a decision of utter folly. Damascus would indeed be a rich prize, and its possession by the Franks would entirely cut off the Moslems of Egypt and Africa from their co-religionists in northern Syria and the East. But of all the Moslem states the Burid kingdom of Damascus alone was eager to remain in friendship with the Franks; for, like the farther-sighted among the Franks, it recognized its chief foe to be Nur ed-Din. Frankish interests lay in retaining Damascene friendship till Nur ed-Din should be crushed, and to keep open the breach between Damascus and Aleppo. To attack the former was, as the events of the previous year had shown, the surest way to throw its rulers into Nur ed-Din’s hands. But the barons of Jerusalem coveted the fertile lands that owed allegiance to Damascus, and they smarted under the recollection of their recent humiliation, for which their high-spirited young King must have longed for revenge. To the visiting Crusaders Aleppo meant nothing, but Damascus was a city hallowed in Holy Writ, whose rescue from the infidel would resound to the glory of God. It is idle to try to apportion blame for the decision; but a greater responsibility must lie with the local barons, who knew the situation, than with the new-comers to whom all Moslems were the same.

1148: Quarrels in the Christian Camp

The Christian army, the greatest that the Franks had ever put into the field, set out from Galilee through Banyas in the middle of July. On Saturday, 24 July, it encamped on the edge of the gardens and orchards that surrounded Damascus. The emir Unur had not at first taken the news of the Crusade very seriously. He had heard of its heavy losses in Anatolia, and in any case he had not expected it to make Damascus its objective. When he discovered the truth he hastily ordered his provincial governors to send him all the men that they could spare; and a messenger hurried off to Aleppo, to ask for help from Nur ed-Din. The Franks first halted at Manakil al-Asakir some four miles to the south of the city, whose white walls and towers gleamed through the thick foliage of the orchards; but they moved quickly up to the better watered village of al-Mizza. The Damascene army attempted to hold them there but was forced to retire behind the walls. On their victory the Crusader leaders sent the army of Jerusalem into the orchards to clear them of guerrilla fighters. By afternoon the orchards to the south of the city were in the possession of the Franks, who were building palisades out of the trees that they cut down. Next, thanks chiefly to Conrad’s personal bravery, they forced their way to Rabwa, on the river Barada, right under the walls of the city. The citizens of Damascus thought now that all was lost and began to barricade the streets ready for the last desperate struggle. But next day the tide turned. The reinforcements summoned by Unur began to pour in through the north gates of the city and with their help he launched a counterattack which drove the Christians back from the walls. He repeated the attacks during the next two days, while guerrilla fighters penetrated once more into the gardens and orchards. So dangerous were their actions to the camp that Conrad, Louis and Baldwin met together and decided to evacuate the orchards south of the city and to move eastward, to encamp in a spot where the enemy could find no such cover. On 27 July the whole army moved to the plain outside the east wall. It was a disastrous decision, for the new site lacked water and faced the strongest section of the wall; and Damascene sally parties could now move more freely about the orchards. Indeed, many of the Frankish soldiers believed that the Palestinian barons who advised the Kings must have been bribed by Unur to suggest it. For with the move the last chance of their taking Damascus vanished. Unur, whose troops were increasing in number and who knew that Nur ed-Din was on his way southward, renewed his attacks on the Frankish camp. It was the Crusading army, not the beleaguered city, that was now on the defensive.

While discouragement and murmurs of treachery passed through the Christian army, its leaders openly quarrelled over the future of Damascus when they should capture it. The barons of the kingdom of Jerusalem expected Damascus to be incorporated as a fief of the Kingdom, and had agreed that its lord should be Guy Brisebarre, the lord of Beirut, whose candidature was, it seems, confirmed by Queen Melisende and the Constable Manasses. But Thierry of Flanders coveted Damascus, which he wished to hold as a semi-independent fief, of the same type as Tripoli. He won the support of Conrad and Louis, and of King Baldwin, whose half-sister was his wife. The anger of the local baronage when they learnt that the Kings favoured Thierry inclined them to slacken their efforts. Those amongst them that had always opposed the attack on Damascus won more converts. Perhaps they were in secret touch with Unur. There were whispers of vast sums, paid, it is true, in money that was found to be counterfeit, passing between Damascus and the Court of Jerusalem and Elinand, Prince of Galilee. Perhaps Unur told them that if they retreated at once he would abandon his alliance with Nur ed-Din. This argument, whether or no Unur made specific use of it, undoubtedly swayed the nobles of the Kingdom. Nur ed-Din was already at Homs, negotiating the terms of his aid to Unur. His troops must, he demanded, be allowed entry into Damascus; and Unur was playing for time. The Frankish army was in a difficult position before Damascus. It could expect no reinforcements, whereas in a few days Nur ed-Din’s men could be in the field. If they arrived, not only might the whole Crusading force be annihilated, but Damascus would surely pass into Nur ed-Din’s power.

The Palestinian barons were all now, too late, convinced of the folly of continuing the war against Damascus; and they pressed their views on King Conrad and King Louis. The westerners were shocked. They could not follow the subtle political arguments, but they knew that without the help of the local Franks there was little to be done. The Kings complained publicly of the disloyalty that they had found amongst them and of their lack of fervour for the cause. But they ordered the retreat.

1148: King Conrad leaves Palestine

At dawn on Wednesday, 28 July, the fifth day after their arrival before Damascus, the Crusaders packed up their camp and began to move back towards Galilee. Though Unur’s money may have bought their retreat, he did not let them depart in peace. All day long, and during the next few days, Turcoman light horsemen hung on their flanks, pouring arrows into their masses. The road was littered with corpses, of men and of horses, whose stench polluted the plain for many months to come. Early in August the great expedition returned to Palestine and the local troops went home. All that it had accomplished was to lose many of its men and much of its material and to suffer a terrible humiliation. That so splendid an army should have abandoned its objective after only four days of fighting was a bitter blow to Christian prestige. The legend of invincible knights from the West, built up during the great adventure of the First Crusade, was utterly shattered. The spirits of the Moslem world revived.

King Conrad did not linger in Palestine after the return from Damascus. Together with his household he embarked from Acre on 8 September on a ship bound for Thessalonica. When he landed there he received a pressing invitation from Manuel to spend Christmas at the imperial Court. There was now perfect concord between the two monarchs. Though his young nephew Frederick might continue to bear rancour against the Byzantines, blaming them for the German losses in Anatolia, Conrad only thought of the value of Manuel’s alliance against Roger of Sicily and he was captivated by Manuel’s personal charm and his delightful hospitality. During his visit the marriage of his brother, Henry of Austria, to Manuel’s niece Theodora was celebrated with the greatest pomp. Shocked Byzantines wept to see the lovely young princess sacrificed to so barbarous a fate — ‘immolated to the beast of the West’, as a court poet wrote sympathetically to her mother — but the wedding marked the complete reconciliation of the German and Byzantine Courts. When Conrad left Constantinople in February 1149 to return to Germany an alliance had been made between them against Roger of Sicily, whose lands on the Italian peninsula it was proposed to divide.

While Conrad enjoyed the comforts of Constantinople, King Louis lingered on in Palestine. The abbot Suger wrote to him again and again to beg him to come back to France; but he could not make up his mind. Doubtless he wished to spend an Easter at Jerusalem. His return would, he knew, be followed by a divorce and all its political consequences. He sought to postpone the evil day. In the meantime, while Conrad renewed his friendship with Byzantium, Louis’s resentment against the Emperor increased the more he thought of it. He changed his policy, and sought the alliance of Roger of Sicily. His quarrel with Raymond of Antioch had removed the chief obstacle to this alliance, which would enable him to gratify his hatred of Byzantium. At last in the early summer of 1149 Louis left Palestine in a Sicilian ship, which soon joined the Sicilian squadron cruising in eastern Mediterranean waters. The Sicilian war against Byzantium was still in progress; and as the fleet rounded the Peloponnese it was attacked by ships of the Byzantine navy. King Louis hastily gave orders for the French flag to be flown on his vessel and was therefore allowed to sail on. But a ship containing many of his followers and his possessions was captured and taken as a war-prize to Constantinople. Many months passed before the Emperor would agree to send back the men and the goods to France.

1149: Bernard of Toulouse

Louis landed at Calabria at the end of July and was received by King Roger at Potenza. The Sicilian at once suggested the launching of a new Crusade whose first object should be to take vengeance on Byzantium. Louis and his advisers readily agreed and went on to France telling everyone as they went of the perfidy of the Byzantines and the need to punish them. Pope Eugenius, whom King Louis met at Tivoli, was lukewarm; but there were many of his Curia who welcomed the scheme. Cardinal Theodwin set about finding preachers to promote it. Peter the Venerable lent his support. When Louis arrived in France he persuaded Suger to agree; and, most important of all, Saint Bernard, puzzled by the ways of Providence that had permitted his great Crusade to come to so lamentable an end, greedily accepted Byzantium as the source of all its disasters, and flung his whole energy into the task of abetting divine vengeance on the guilty Empire. But, if the movement were to succeed, it must have the help of Conrad of Germany; and Conrad would not co-operate. He saw too clearly the hand of his enemy Roger and saw no reason to break his alliance with Manuel in order to add to Roger’s power. Vain appeals were made to him by Cardinal Theodwin and by Peter the Venerable; and Saint Bernard himself besought him and thundered at him in vain. The last time that Conrad had taken the Saint’s advice had been over the Second Crusade. He was not to fall into the trap again. With Conrad’s refusal to help, the scheme had to be dropped. The great betrayal of Christendom, urged by Saint Bernard, was postponed for another half-century.

Only one of the princes of the Second Crusade remained on in the East; and his sojourn was involuntary. The young Bertrand of Toulouse, Count Alfonso’s bastard son, could not endure to see the rich inheritance of Tripoli remain in the hands of a cousin whom he suspected as his father’s murderer. He stayed on in Palestine till King Louis left, then marched his men of Languedoc northward, as though he intended to embark from some north Syrian port. After passing across the plain where the Buqaia opens out towards the sea, he suddenly turned inward and seized the castle of Araima. There he defied the troops that Count Raymond sent from Tripoli to dislodge him. It was a well-placed eyrie, for it dominated the roads from Tripoli to Tortosa and from Tripoli inland up the Buqaia. Count Raymond found no sympathy amongst his fellow-Christian princes, so he sent to Damascus for help from Unur. Unur responded gladly and invited Nur ed-Din to join him. He could thus show his willingness to co-operate with Nur ed-Din against the Christians without damaging his attempt to restore good relations with the Kingdom of Jerusalem. Indeed, he would gratify Queen Melisende by helping her brother-in-law. The two Moslem princes descended on Araima, which was unable to hold out long against so great a host. The Moslem victors razed the castle to the ground, after sacking it completely. They then left it for Count Raymond to reoccupy and retired with a long string of captives. Bertrand and his sister fell to Nur ed-Din’s share. He took them to Aleppo where they were to spend twelve years in captivity.

It was a fitting end to the Second Crusade that its last Crusader should be held captive by the Moslem allies of the fellow-Christian prince whom he had tried to despoil. No medieval enterprise started with more splendid hopes. Planned by the Pope, preached and inspired by the golden eloquence of Saint Bernard, and led by the two chief potentates of western Europe, it had promised so much for the glory and salvation of Christendom. But when it reached its ignominious end in the weary retreat from Damascus, all that it had achieved had been to embitter the relations between the western Christians and the Byzantines almost to breaking-point, to sow suspicions between the newly-come Crusaders and the Franks resident in the East, to separate the western Frankish princes from each other, to draw the Moslems closer together, and to do deadly damage to the reputation of the Franks for military prowess. The Frenchmen might seek to throw the blame for the fiasco on others, on the perfidious Emperor Manuel or on the lukewarm Palestinian barons, and Saint Bernard might thunder against the wicked men who interfered with God’s purpose; but in fact the Crusade was brought to nothing by its leaders, with their truculence, their ignorance and their ineffectual folly.

If you find an error please notify us in the comments. Thank you!