Post-classical history


‘The Spirit of the Pilgrim God’: Fighting the Second Crusade

The enthusiasm for holy war generated in the summer of 1147 reminded Otto of Freising of a prophecy promising victory in the east to the king of France that talked of ‘the spirit of the time of the pilgrim God’. While suggesting that belief in such predictions owed much to ‘Gallic credulity’, Otto nonetheless described the Christian armies ‘inspired by the spirit of the pilgrim God’. Others fashioned events in more concrete terms. After describing the circumstances as ‘new and astonishing’, the Saxon priest Helmold from Bosau, on the Baltic Slav frontier, writing twenty years later, depicted the military operations of 1147 as part of a measured plan: ‘It seemed to the initiators of the expedition that one part of the army should be sent to the east, another to Spain and a third against our neighbours the Slavs.’1 Hindsight and local interest produced a neat version of the past. Contemporary witnesses appeared less struck by Helmond’s ‘universal labour’. At the Diet of Frankfurt in March 1147, Bernard of Clairvaux legitimized the Saxon foray in the context of the eastern expedition, a move confirmed by Eugenius III and recorded by Otto of Freising, who was there. Yet Otto wrote nothing about the course of the Baltic operation and later confused the capture of Almeria by the Genoese with that of Lisbon, not associating the latter as the third limb of the 1147 holy war. Henry archdeacon of Huntingdon, a cousin of one of the commanders at Lisbon, saw the Portuguese adventure as the naval arm of the land expedition east while ignoring the Baltic raids entirely. The various eyewitnesses to the siege of Lisbon took a similar view. The pope, from yet another perspective, distinguished between the eastern campaign, the Slavic war and the continuing reconquista in Spain, all holy enterprises in papal eyes meriting Jerusalem indulgences, yet all different in motive and inception; Eugenius mentioned the Lisbon fleet not at all. Few other contemporaries drew any parallels at all, certainly not those clerics who drafted the land charters by which departing crusaders endowed religious houses in return for ready cash. Bernard’s association of different theatres of holy war, possibly including Spain as well as the Baltic, appears essentially reactive rather than intentional or planned; for the pope such links merely followed policy sanctioned in use for a generation.2 For all Bernard’s bluster at Frankfurt about the Baltic army protecting the columns bound for Jerusalem, organizers and participants were bound by no calculated grand strategy embracing all Christendom’s frontiers. Rather, holy warriors, inspired by much less tangible emotions, found themselves through expedience fighting at the same time at the three corners of Europe.


Of all the Christian fronts, that in the Baltic most obviously offered fulfilment of self-interest: for the secular rulers of Holstein and Saxony, reinforcements and legitimacy to their quickening efforts to spread their authority and vassals into neighbouring Slavic lands; for the squabbling kings of Denmark, a further chance to secure their southern approaches; for churchmen, an opportunity to ally force to missionary work in the hope of a permanent extension of Christendom. Viewed as a holy war, the Baltic crusade of 1147 failed; seen as larger than usual summer raids to acquire booty and to extend increasingly porous local political frontiers, the campaigns achieved limited but tangible results.

At the Diet of Frankfurt, the Saxon muster had been fixed for 29 June, the Feast of SS Peter and Paul, at Magdeburg. In April, the pope appointed Anselm bishop of Havelburg as his legate to the expedition; he also probably sent letters to the Danish Archbishop Eskil of Lund, a friend of Bernard, to encourage the participation of the warring Kings Canute V and Sweyn III whose predecessor, Eric the Lamb, may have been approached by a papal legate to join the Holy Land expedition the previous year. Further incentive came in June with the provocative pre-emptive strike on the recently re-established Christian port of Lübeck by the Wendish Prince Niklot of the Abotrites, who previously had cooperated with Adolf of Holstein in the recent German penetration of his western provinces, Wagria and Polabia. The confusion of the shifting frontier found little space for rigid political division based on religion; competition revolved around forts protecting settlements producing agricultural rents, control of trade and access to slaves. The Frankfurt holy war offered a chance to establish a military coalition to extend German authority eastwards; submission not conversion represented the central aim, despite the papal prohibition on truces and treaties with the pagans and Bernard’s call for their baptism or annihilation. Canon law forbade simple war of conquest. Yet the consequences of repeated border raids, temporary annexation and repeated missions along the Saxon/Slav borderland left many pagans open to the charge, however misleading, of apostasy, such as Niklot’s allies on the island of Rügen, who had briefly been ruled by the Danes in the 1130s. As apostates rather than pagans they were fair game, as were any infidels who hindered the holy war to Jerusalem, the fragile justification promoted by Bernard.3

Politics got the better of piety. For Henry the Lion, the enterprise allowed him to win his spurs in reasserting ducal leadership over the push eastwards, Helmold idealistically disapproving of his mercenary motives.4 In Denmark, the holy war provided a suitably honourable good cause behind which the parties in the civil war could be persuaded to unite. In mid-July, with the archbishop of Bremen and an old Welf ally, Conrad of Zahringen, a recruit of Bernard’s the previous winter, Duke Henry advanced into Abotrite country to besiege Niklot’s newly fortified outpost at Dobin at the same time as a combined Danish army and fleet descended on this remote fortress from the north. Danish resolve was soon undermined, a sally from Dobin inflicting considerable damage on their army while their fleet was attacked by Niklot’s Rügian allies. The consequent ravaging of the area by some besiegers alarmed Saxon crusaders hoping for territorial gain: ‘Is not the land we are devastating our land?… Why are we… destroyers of our own incomes?’5 Despite the defiant words of the spring, to extricate themselves from a militarily forlorn and politically self-defeating exercise, the crusaders soon negotiated a treaty with the Abotrites under which the garrison at Dobin accepted baptism and released Danish prisoners while Niklot agreed to return to his alliance with Adolf of Holstein and pay tribute. The terms amounted to a scanty fig leaf to allow the Danes and Saxons to withdraw, the former to resume their civil war, the latter to business as usual. The treaty fooled no one, least of all a highly critical Helmold of Bosau, who described the supposed Wendish conversion as false; Niklot’s rule stayed intact with his and his people’s paganism; the idols, temples and sanctuaries remained, as did the able-bodied Danish prisoners who swelled the Wendish slave market. In the context of the propaganda of Frankfurt, nothing had been achieved.

The main army of possibly some tens of thousands assembled at Magdeburg early in August under the legate Anselm of Havelburg, its religious veneer displayed by the presence of six other German bishops although the adherence of powerful Saxon marcher lords led by Albert the Bear proved more significant for its conduct. The regent Wibald of Corvey asserted the dimension of imperial leadership of this revived Drang nach Osten, the failure of the king’s representative and the duke of Saxony to make common cause underscoring the unresolved political tensions lurking beneath the banners of the cross. Operating well away from Duke Henry’s foray to Dobin, part of the legate’s army battered its way over a hundred miles into Wendish territory to Demmin on the river Peene, possibly as a prelude to an assault on the strategically important island of Rügen, attacked by the Emperor Lothar a couple of decades earlier. Despite the iconic destruction of the pagan temple and idols at Malchow to the south, the siege of Demmin proved fruitless, Wendish resistance forcing a stalemate from which the Christians lamely withdrew early in September. The failure before Demmin owed much to the division of the German army. Persuaded by rapacious local margraves, the bulk of the Christian force turned further east to besiege Stettin in Pomerania, a major trading station on the Oder estuary. The difficulty in this lay in the fact, soon transmitted to the besiegers by the townsmen hanging crosses on their walls, that Stettin had already accepted ‘the German God’, as locals called Him, a point reinforced by a delegation from the city led by its bishop of many years, Adalbert, who pointedly suggested that if the crusaders genuinely intended to promote faith this was best achieved by preaching not fighting. He struck a nerve; as a well-informed Bohemian commentator noted, the Saxons were more interested in land than religion and so quickly agreed a truce with the bishop and the Christian prince of Pomerania, Ratibor.6 The Wendish crusade begun with such acclaim at Frankfurt, and attracting recruits from as far afield as Moravia, Denmark and the southern Rhineland, petered out in a failed Saxon land grab.

If of little immediate tangible importance except to participants and victims, the precedent of the Wendish crusade added a new dimension to the bleak warfare across Christendom’s Baltic frontier. The tacit acceptance that conversion and violence served the same end of promoting the Word of God and securing the souls of the pagans now began to be formalized. In the eyes of the Czech commentator Vincent of Prague, the bishop of Moravia had taken the cross in 1147 to convert the Pomeranians.7 That they had already been converted by Bishop Otto of Bamberg twenty years earlier proved embarrassing but did nothing to undermine the principle which thereafter became a regular prop to campaigns of territorial aggrandizement and ecclesiastical imperialism. Conquest became the precursor to conversion and, as such, easily attracted the status of holy war and, increasingly, the legal trappings of a war of the cross. The campaigns of 1147 did not invent religious warfare in the Baltic, for Germans or for Danes; nor, thereafter, were all wars of expansion legitimized by papal grants of Jerusalem indulgences. However, the legacy of 1147 reconfigured how such wars came to be articulated and justified and, on occasion, recruited.


The fleet that sailed out of the Dart estuary on 23 May 1147 numbered between 150 and 200 vessels drawn from the Rhineland, Brabant-Limbourg, Flanders, Boulogne, Normandy, Lincolnshire, East Anglia, London and the major ports of southern England, including Dover, Hastings, Southampton and Bristol, with other contingents from Scotland and possibly Brittany, their destination Jerusalem.8 The English force alone may have comprised about 4,500 men, the whole army perhaps 10,000. The muster of this polyglot armada completed a complicated process of recruitment and planning. Those from imperial lands acknowledged the leadership of Count Arnold III of Aerschot, a nephew of Godfrey of Bouillon, and so connected with the ruling house of Jerusalem as well as the aura of the First Crusade. However, the imperial crusaders had travelled separately, those from Cologne embarking on 27 April arriving at Dartmouth on 19 May to find Count Arnold from Brabant-Limbourg already waiting. The Anglo-Norman contingents displayed marked regional diversity, reflected in their being organized into four groups: those from Norfolk and Suffolk under a local landowner, Hervey of Glanvill; the men of Kent under Simon of Dover; the Londoners; and the rest led by Saher of Archel, a lord with lands in Lincolnshire. Additionally, a distinct camaraderie existed among those from Southampton and Hastings who had been part of a similar expedition that had failed to capture Lisbon in 1142; on the 1147 campaign they and their spokesmen, the cross-Channel merchant Veil brothers, together with men from Bristol, proved awkward companions even though Saher of Archel and Hervey of Glanvill remained mutually supportive. While those from coastal Flanders and Boulogne, under Christian of Gistel, Count Arnold’s men and the Germans tended to coalesce, to the extent of fighting together and later sharing texts narrating the events at Lisbon, the Fleming priest Arnulf copying the account of Winand from Cologne, the Anglo-Normans remained fissiparous. Disputatious relations between the main linguistic groups – Anglo-Norman and Germano-Flemish – persisted to the end.

Despite the precariousness of its unity, the gathering of such a heterogeneous force at the same time in the same place cannot have been coincidental. Its lack of great princes or counts as leaders and its chronic search for booty make what cohesion there was more impressive. Apart from Count Arnold and Saher of Archel, described as ‘lord’, other leaders came from the lesser landed aristocracy, such as Christian, castellan of Gistel, and Hervey of Glanvill, or merchant and urban elites: the Viels of Southampton and Caen; Simon of Dover; Andrew of London. Town origins appeared as prominently in eyewitness descriptions of the expedition as regional affiliations: Cologne; Boulogne; London; Hastings; Bristol; Southampton; young men from ‘the region of Ipswich’ (de provintia Gipeswicensi).9 Such groups had been assembled by forces beyond simple social hierarchies, reflecting a complexity of relationships typical of the economically prosperous regions around the North Sea and English Channel. Without kings or great counts, the organizational impetus suggests largely hidden processes of rural and urban local self-awareness and communal action, if only in hiring and equipping ships and raising money. It may be no chance that many of the leading figures came from the prominent trading centres or some of the most densely populated areas of north-west Europe, where the ease of transmission of news and ideas was matched by a sense of community and a tradition of corporate action. Some members of the fleet were veterans of the attack on Lisbon in 1142; some may have previously been crusaders to the east. Others had felt the power of Bernard’s oratory or, like Christian of Gistel, who met the abbot in August 1146, his conversation. Among the Anglo-Normans, many may have seized the opportunity to escape the conflicts and compromises of civil war; the Veils of Southampton, heavily involved in the Channel ferry and cargo business, were partisans for Matilda. Like others, they also had ready access to shipping.10

Some in the leadership may have anticipated fighting the Moors of Iberia. Afonso Henriques (1128–85), who was carving out an independent principality of Portugal along the Atlantic seaboard south from the rivers Mino and Duero, had maintained close links with the papacy in his as yet unsuccessful attempts to receive recognition as king. His designs on Lisbon were no secret; the crusader fleet included veterans of his failed attack on the city in 1142. In April he had captured the strategically vital stronghold of Santarem, the key to the lower Tagus valley, its investment providing an essential prerequisite for an assault on Lisbon downstream. The arrival of the crusade fleet had been anticipated by the Portuguese; an advance flotilla of five ships sailed directly from Dartmouth to Lisbon, apparently in five days, where it awaited the main fleet after its leisurely and laborious progress of more than a month. While Peter Pitoes, the bishop of Oporto, expended much eloquence and hard bargaining to attract the support of the Anglo-Normans and Rhinelanders after they arrived at the mouth of the Duero on 16 June, the Flemings under Christian of Gistel and the others from the Low Countries under the count of Arschot were still at sea. However, less than a fortnight later immediately on arrival at Lisbon the Flemings agreed to Afonso’s terms to join his attack on Lisbon whereas contingents from the Anglo-Norman realms needed much persuasion. It is possible that some of those recruited from areas and by lords associated with Bernard during his Flanders tour of late summer and autumn 1146 may have agreed to cooperate with the Portuguese before setting out, although a letter from Bernard to Afonso that exists is probably not genuine.11 The rest of the force gathered at Dartmouth came round to the idea only gradually. The idea of such action cannot have appeared entirely alien. The thrust of such action fitted the prevailing general justification for the holy war as proclaimed in 1146–7 by the pope, Bernard and, in his awkward way, Radulf. Although Eugenius III seems not to have specifically authorized the Lisbon enterprise, in April 1147 he had extended his approval to other Iberian battles against the Moors. As recorded by a member of his audience, the bishop of Oporto echoed the rhetoric of his northern European colleagues by calling for vengeance on the infidels oppressing Christians and occupying their land: ‘shall it be permitted to the adversaries of the cross to insult you with impunity?… the praiseworthy thing is not to have been to Jerusalem, but to have lived a good life while on the way’, a criterion fulfilled by expelling the Muslims from Lisbon.12 However, this ‘just war’ did not replace the vows of the Holy Sepulchre. Jerusalem remained the ultimate objective; seizing Lisbon merely a righteous act of meritorious obedience to the will of God fully in keeping, declared one of the army chaplains, with the crusaders’ ‘new baptism of repentance’.13

Thus militarily and ideologically the Lisbon campaign sat easily within established conventions, expectations and experience of fighting infidels to which the preaching and recruitment of 1146–7 had lent special urgency. A contemporary vernacular song explicitly linked the Saracens in the east with the Almoravids in Spain.14 Even so, anxiety over the propriety of expending time, effort and lives surfaced. During violent storms in the Bay of Biscay, there was terrified talk among the seasick of their being punished for the conversio, the change or alteration, of their pilgrimage, perhaps referring to an already agreed plan to join the Portuguese reconquista. The elaborate and comprehensive arguments deployed at length by the bishop of Oporto implied resistance to the idea of diverting the expedition, while, at Lisbon itself, elements in the fleet still argued for an immediate continuation of the journey to Jerusalem, even if for reasons more of material self-interest than single-minded piety.15 In the event, the success at Lisbon justified the endeavour in the eyes of participants, even if the achievement received remarkably scant attention from observers elsewhere in western Europe.

The lack of unitary leadership exacerbated the tensions between the different regional groups and within each contingent, the statutes agreed at Dartmouth providing a forum for dissent as well as a structure for unity. Yet sufficient discipline was retained and agreement hammered out between the various groups to ensure enough cohesion to pursue a strenuous and precarious siege. Although leaving Dartmouth together on 23 May, the fleet was soon separated, straggling into the mouth of the Duero and the city of Oporto between 16 and 26 June, the Anglo-Normans and Rhinelanders having visited Compostela on the way; the count of Aerschot arrived last. At Oporto, Afonso’s plan to hire the crusaders for an assault on Lisbon was presented to the Anglo-Normans and Rhinelanders by Bishop Peter but only after the full fleet reached the Tagus on 28 June did detailed negotiations on terms for military assistance begin. While the Flemish immediately signed up, some of the Anglo-Normans, led by William and Ralph Veil from Southampton, argued that greater profits could be gained in sailing directly to the Holy Land by preying on shipping in the Mediterranean. The dissidents from Southampton, Bristol and Hastings were abetted by veterans who remembered being left in the lurch by Afonso during the 1142 attack. Although the debate revolved around payment and booty it also raised serious questions about the unity of the whole expedition. Soon after the crusaders had established a bridgehead on the beach to the west of the city, those from Flanders, Boulogne and the Rhineland, presumably having accepted Afonso’s offers, moved to positions on the east of the city, where they remained a semi-detached force for the rest of the siege. The Anglo-Normans were left to thrash out their differences in a full, ill-tempered council where accusations of bad faith were hurled at the small but experienced minority – comprising eight ships, perhaps as little as 5 per cent of the fleet – who held out against serving Afonso. Apparently, only a passionate but diplomatic appeal to honour, unity and faithfulness to the Dartmouth-sworn contracts by the East Anglian commander Hervey of Glanvill persuaded the Veil faction to cooperate, and even then only after assuring them of adequate provisions and pay. The religious gloss put on events by Hervey of Glanvill’s chaplain Raol, who wrote the most detailed surviving account of the expedition, cannot disguise the national and regional tensions or the anxieties over supplies, profits and possibly the justice of the whole operation.16 That the main opposition to joining an attack on Lisbon came from hardened seamen with experience of Iberian warfare, portrayed as piratical and mercenary gold-diggers, indicated military and political risks in the enterprise that the more optimistic or more naive elements discounted.

Afonso’s determination bordering on desperation to reach agreement with the crusaders was reflected in generous terms. The Portuguese ruler needed victory at Lisbon to exploit the temporary disunity among the Moorish princes of southern Iberia in the wake of the collapse of the previously dominant Almoravid power in north Africa. Securing the Tagus frontier, Afonso would reinforce his credentials as a Christian warrior worthy of papal recognition as king and further assert his independence from his nominal overlord, Alfonso VII of León-Castile. Afonso offered the ‘Franks’, as the treaty had it, the entire booty from the captured city and the ransoms of all the inhabitants they rounded up. Once it had been thoroughly ransacked, Afonso would then allocate property in the city and surrounding countryside to the Franks, who would also enjoy exemption from certain commercial tolls. To encourage trust, Afonso promised not to desert the siege or try to twist the treaty provisions. Additionally, guarantees for supplies and pay were presumably settled with the dissident Anglo-Normans. The whole deal was confirmed by oaths and the exchange of hostages. Thus Afonso partly hired and partly allied with the Christian fleet.17

The new allies invested Lisbon on all sides. Ships lay in the river to the south of the city; Afonso and the Portuguese occupied high ground to the north with the Anglo-Normans on the west and the Flemish and Germans on a hill to the east. After a fruitless formal parley with the enemy further to reinforce the legitimacy of the attack, on 1 July, following a confused melee in the steep, narrow streets of the western suburb, the besiegers managed to drive the defenders back behind the walls of the main city, in the process uncovering a vast cache of food supplies concealed in cellars. There followed a bitter attritional conflict. The small Muslim garrison, with large numbers of civilians, including refugees from Santarem, faced a grim prospect. Denied the supplies hoarded in the western suburbs, with little prospect of relief, they were reduced to reliance on the strength of the city walls, the difficulty of the hilly terrain for siege engines, crude psychological warfare in the form of abuse aimed at insulting their attackers’ religion and the fidelity of their wives, and frequent costly sorties as much to undermine Christian morale as in the realistic hope of militarily forcing a withdrawal. Once attempts to persuade the governor of Evora to send help failed, the main Muslim strategy appeared to be to wait for something to turn up, most likely the disintegration of Christian harmony and the raising of the siege as in 1142. These tactics showed prospects of success when, in early August, concerted assaults from east, west and the sea by large and elaborate siege engines, including rams, trebuchets, towers, one reputedly ninety-five feet high, and precarious ‘flying bridges’ mounted on pairs of ships, failed utterly, with most of the machines fired, stuck in the sand or damaged by Muslim artillery. Five times men from Cologne unsuccessfully tried to undermine the walls.

With casualties mounting, the besiegers faced a major crisis. The destruction of the siege engines left the attackers ‘not a little demoralized’ while with the failed mining operations, the East Anglian priest Raol remembered: ‘our forces again had cause for deep discouragement and, murmuring much among themselves, they made such complaints as that they might have been better employed elsewhere.’18 Now the dividends of the hard-fought battles of May and June to maintain unity and a chain of corporate command became apparent. Stories of the hunger, privations and desperation of the Muslims circulated. To quell talk of abandoning the siege, the leaders hauled some ships on to the beaches and ‘lowered the masts and put cordage under the hatches, as a sign that they were spending the winter (hyemandi signum)’.19 Successful foraging expeditions around Lisbon garnered rich pickings and heavy Muslim casualties as well as securing the besiegers from any threats to their supply lines. In the new mood of optimism, even the withdrawal of most of the Portuguese forces, leaving only Afonso and his military household with the bishop of Oporto, failed to cause a panic. As September arrived, instead of seeking an excuse to leave, the besiegers sensed their advantage as more and more of the besieged crossed the lines to surrender, bearing tales of the horrors within the city. According to a Rhineland witness most were so desperate that they accepted baptism; possibly these were in fact Mozarab Christians whom the northerners could not distinguish from Muslim locals; the cultural gulf remained unbridged: some of these unfortunate refugees ‘were sent back… to the walls with their hands cut off, and they were stoned by their fellow citizens’.20 Perhaps this incident merely underscores the sadism inspired by prolonged close-contact warfare; perhaps it dimly echoes the blurred rhetoric of conquest and forced conversion heard by the Germans from the lips of the abbot of Clairvaux.

The final stages of the siege revolved around perfecting the mechanics of undermining or overtopping the stubborn city walls conducted in more or less security, as the defenders’ ability to launch sorties had subsided in the face of starvation and a massive sustained fusillade by the Anglo-Norman trebuchets firing at a rate of more than eight stones a minute. During September, while the Germano-Flemish dug a huge galleried mine under the eastern walls, the Anglo-Normans, directed by a Pisan engineer, constructed a new eighty-three-foot tower on the western beach. The final assaults, though protracted, appeared coordinated. The eastern mine was fired on the night of 16 October, causing a large section of the walls to collapse, although the pile of rubble in front of the breach prevented the attackers from forcing an immediate entry into the city. On 19 October, after the ritual dimension of warfare had been observed with the blessing both of the siege tower and the troops, the tower began to be manoeuvred into place before the south-western corner of the walls. So narrow was the level area of beach that the tower became surrounded by water, cutting it off from the main force. Throughout the night of 19 October and the whole of 20 October, the garrison of 100 Anglo-Norman and 100 Portuguese knights led support troops in a desperate defence of the tower, from fire, salvoes of missiles and sorties from the walls. Seven young men from Ipswich played a crucial part in dousing the flames that threatened to destroy the engine during the night of 19–20 October. Christian casualties mounted, the Pisan engineer was wounded by a stone and the Portuguese fled, the tower garrison only being relieved on the evening of 20 October.21 Next day saw the final assaults from both east and west. Seeing they would be overwhelmed, rather than be massacred the Muslim defenders asked for surrender terms. Negotiations became protracted, inciting restless elements in the crusader army to mutiny against the leadership, whom they suspected of selling out their rights to plunder and booty; the Anglo-Norman camp was wrecked by a group of 400 sailors led by a priest from Bristol, and the Portuguese camp threatened by a Germano-Flemish mob. Unsurprisingly, the Muslims temporarily withdrew their peace overtures until order had been restored. The treaty finally agreed on 23/4 October allowed the governor alone to retain food and property, while on 24 October 140 Anglo-Normans and 160 Germano-Flemish were peacefully to occupy the citadel and organize the despoliation of the city and its citizens. In the event the Germans and the Flemish smuggled in 200 more and the orderly occupation soon turned into looting, rape and pillage. The governor was captured; the Mozarab bishop had his throat cut.22 Having achieved immediate gratification, the Flemish and Germans then submitted with the other crusaders to the orderly ransacking of the city and expulsion of the citizens, which lasted five days (25–29 October). To the familiar accompaniment of rotting corpses, religious processions, racketeering and refugees, Lisbon returned to Christian rule.

Given the time of year, there was no prospect of an immediate resumption of the journey to Jerusalem. Afonso was eager to entice colonists and settlers, agreeing to the appointment of Gilbert of Hastings as the new bishop of Lisbon in a signal display of cultural imperialism.23 With the Mozarab bishop conveniently murdered, there was no question of another local; equally Afonso may have hoped to encourage settlement and to display to the papacy his orthodox international ecclesiastical connections: Bishop Gilbert introduced the Salisbury breviary and missal into his cathedral and, a few years later, returned to England to recruit more soldiers and settlers. Others remaining included the priest Raol, to whom is attributed the most detailed account of the siege; he maintained his contacts with home, some years later sending a copy of his narrative to a Suffolk clerk, Osbert of Bawdsey. Such settlement witnessed the effective end to the unity so hard won and preserved since Dartmouth. While the thirst and competition for booty had both imperilled and inspired the assault on Lisbon, the lure of profitable and privileged colonization broke up the crusader army. In early February, part of the fleet embarked for the Mediterranean to fulfil their vows separately, per varia discrimina, as a Rhineland crusader put it. Before passing through the Straits of Gibraltar, one group, probably Flemish and German, attacked the port of Faro, without success, an attempt to extract protection money from the Muslims proving a messy failure. Once in the Mediterranean, some contingents sailed directly to the Holy Land.24 Others, mainly Englishmen but also Flemings and Germans, who may have lingered at Lisbon until April, tried their luck with the papally blessed Christian campaigns in eastern Iberia, culminating in the Genoese-Catalan-led siege of Tortosa on the Ebro on the southern border of Catalonia (July to December 1148), after which a few continued to Palestine while their comrades, as at Lisbon, settled. One such, Osbert ‘Anglicus’, the Englishman, only honoured his Jerusalem vow after two decades waxing rich in the new Christian enclave.25

The success of the crusaders at Lisbon confirmed the fears of the doubters. It had brought out the best and worst in them, the heroism of the young men from Suffolk, the obsessive, violent greed for a valuable horse shown by Arnold of Aerschot in the division of the spoils. The numbers and strength of the fleet became dissipated through casualties, subsequent diversion and settlement in Portugal and Catalonia. The survivors who reached Outremer in time to join the abortive siege of Damascus in July 1148, probably mainly Flemish and Germans who would have found their overlords Count Thierry and King Conrad in Jerusalem, represented only a fraction of the 10,000 who had sailed from Dartmouth in May 1147. Many of the leaders survived, including Hervey of Glanvill and Christian of Gistel, although, judging by the tone and omissions of his priest Raol’s account of events, the former may not have reached the Holy Land, while the latter almost certainly did. For the development of Portugal, the capture of Lisbon, with that of Santarem a few months earlier, marked a significant as well as symbolic advance. For the reconquista it provided new heroes and fresh opportunities. For the cause of the Holy Land, the fall of Lisbon proved at best an irrelevance, at worst a distraction. Most of the rest of Europe ignored it.


On the same October day that the Christians began the orderly ransacking of Lisbon, 2,000 miles to the east one of the largest armies assembled by a medieval king met with disaster near Dorylaeum in north-west Anatolia, close to the scene of the First Crusade’s victory of 1097. The subsequent retreat westwards towards Nicaea and the coast finished what the battle had begun; losses were horrific; the rearguard wiped out; the commander-in-chief suffering a severe arrow wound to the head. The defeat of Conrad III’s magnificent army, with its echoes not of 1097 but of 1101, placed the whole enterprise in jeopardy, militarily and psychologically. Although within a few weeks, Conrad could describe the traumatic events in the Anatolian hills dispassionately, others saw in them the harsh judgement of God. Veterans later wept at the memory. Louis VII’s army remained in the field, but an aura of besieged failure became established, matched by the mounting practical obstacles against which the French in their turn were broken.26

The scale of later recriminations reflected the size of the armies led eastwards. German, French and Greek observers testified to the magnitude of Conrad III’s forces on its progress to Constantinople, too numerous for Byzantine officials to count.27 Beside the ranks of fighting men, support troops, clerical and civilian camp followers marched substantial contingents of unarmed pilgrims taking advantage of the protection afforded by the military expedition, a group large and inconvenient enough for Conrad unsuccessfully to try to separate them from the fighting units on reaching the Turkish frontier. One veteran lamented that Pope Eugenius had not insisted on the weak staying at home and, instead of banning fancy clothes, falcons and hunting dogs, ‘had equipped all the strong with the sword instead of the wallet and the bow instead of the staff; for the weak and helpless are always a burden to their comrades and a source of prey to their enemies’.28 Fresh recruits joined the German host on its way from Regensburg, down the Danube to Vienna, Hungary and on to the Byzantine border at Branitz, which was reached around 20 July. The size of Conrad’s army may be reflected in its modest rate of progress, especially once it left the Danube and turned south into Bulgaria. At less than ten miles a day, with no opposition, the Germans marched considerably more slowly than the First Crusaders, who had faced resistance.29 The weight of numbers persuaded King Geza of Hungary, Conrad’s enemy of only a year earlier, to pay protection money to ensure a peaceful passage. The hulks of the large German fleet abandoned at Branitz on the Bulgarian border provided locals with plentiful firewood and building materials. Forewarned but alarmed, the Greek emperor Manuel negotiated a German oath not to cause trouble within his territories; in return he promised access to supplies and markets. It says much for Manuel’s power as well as Conrad’s authority that the march from the Danube to the plains of Thrace passed without serious incident, helped by the fruitful season of the year. Once in Thrace, the opportunities for forage and plunder proved irresistible, as did the local wine, the combination provoking a serious affray at Phillipopolis and the loss of drunken stragglers lagging behind the main columns, their unburied rotting carcases posing a health problem for the French coming up behind. With German discipline fraying, Manuel failed to persuade Conrad to divert his march to Asia across the Hellespont rather than the Bosporus. After further violent incidents at Adrianople and a disastrous flash flood on 8 September that hit the German camp on the plain of Choereobacchi, engulfing men, horses and large quantities of equipment, Conrad’s battered and bad-tempered army reached Constantinople on 10 September to find Manuel had placed his capital on full military alert.

Manuel had good reason to be nervous.30 He had closely followed the preparations of 1146–7 and tracked the approaching armies with almost intolerably obsequious diplomats. Yet, despite his repeated offers of cooperation and aid, the emperor faced the most dangerous coincidence of circumstances imaginable. By the time the first western troops arrived at the walls of Constantinople, relations with his erstwhile ally Conrad had deteriorated to the extent that it was believed the Germans were contemplating attacking the city. To meet the challenge from the west, Manuel had been forced to abandon his campaign against the Seljuk sultan of Rum and agree a treaty, news of which, when picked up by the crusaders, aroused suspicion, incredulity and anger. The amount of effective assistance Manuel could provide, especially on and beyond the frontier regions of western Asia Minor, would always fall short of the westerners’ expectations raised by Manuel’s own promises, the awesome scale of his capital, the expensive dress of imperial servants and the deliberately intimidating but gorgeous court ritual and entertainment. If relations with Conrad had turned sour, those with Louis of France promised to be no less bitter. Byzantine attempts to subjugate Cilicia and Antioch had aroused hostility from churchmen, who complained at Greeks ousting Latin clergy, and from lay nobles with close relatives in the principality: Prince Raymond of Antioch was the uncle of Louis’s queen, Eleanor of Aquitaine, and many Franks throughout Outremer still regarded the king of France in some ancestral sense as an overlord. He, in turn, felt a degree of permanent responsibility for them, all of which potentially clashed with Byzantine aspirations in Syria. More ominous still for Manuel, one faction close to King Louis hankered after an alliance with Roger of Sicily, who, at the very time the crusaders were approaching Constantinople, attacked Byzantine Greece: Corfu and Cephalonia were captured; Corinth, Thebes and Euboea plundered. Manuel could have been excused for worrying lest behind these western incursions lay a plot to seize the empire by a new Franco-German-Sicilian coalition.

In the event, by a mixture of aggression, bribery and promises of help, Manuel, whose wife, Bertha of Sulzbach, was Conrad’s sister-in-law, defused any immediate threat from the Germans. Despite sporadic violent clashes and a series of rather tetchy diplomatic exchanges, after almost a month camped outside the walls of Constantinople, the German army crossed the Bosporus on ships supplied by Manuel. Although rejecting a formal alliance with the Greeks, Conrad accepted guides and food before setting out to follow the route of the army of 1097, refusing to wait for the French in his eagerness to press on to Syria. On 15 October, at Nicaea, possibly to quell a threatened mutiny by those outside the nobles’ retinues, his army divided, one part under his half-brother, Otto of Freising, choosing the coastal road southwards through Byzantine-held territory, the bulk of the force embarking south-east on the road towards Dorylaeum and Iconium. For ten days, the main German army advanced so slowly that food ran short, the columns becoming easy targets for Turkish skirmishers. The westerners failed entirely to adapt to Turkish tactics, despite the presence of Greek guides. On 25 October, near Dorylaeum, the German heavy cavalry fell into the classic Turkish trap, drawn away from the main body of the army by a traditional Turkish feint, leaving the infantry unprotected and open to heavy casualties while being mauled themselves. This severe setback persuaded the German high command to withdraw to Nicaea to regroup. As their food supplies were already exhausted, the retreat was slowed and the line broken by the need for forage to sustain men and horses. With increasing intensity, the Turks picked off stragglers and bombarded the main column with a constant barrage of arrows, the Germans’ retreat becoming a rout once the rearguard under Bernard of Ploetzkau was cut off and overwhelmed. The enthusiastic but inept westerners waged an unequal struggle against agile Turkish mounted archers: ‘these active youths… midway in their course, encountered winged death instead of the enemy against whom they were running swiftly and boldly with oft-drawn swords and using sheep-skins as shields’.31 Without archers and increasingly without horses, German resistance let alone counter-attack became impossible beneath the hail of arrows: Conrad himself was hit by two, seriously wounding him in the head. A starving and broken remnant of the once magnificent army struggled back to Nicaea by the beginning of November, where many abandoned the expedition entirely, seeking Byzantine help for quick passage home. Others survived the Turkish arrows only to succumb to starvation.

The army was wrecked. Whatever the casualties, its spirit had been broken as surely as its military capability. Bankrupt, hungry, scarred physically and psychologically, the rump of the German army could do nothing except throw themselves on the mercy of the French, now encamped around Nicaea, who greeted news of the German disaster with astonishment; rumour had told them of the fall of Iconium and the opening of the road to Jerusalem. Scapegoats were identified as the Greek guides, accused of misleading the army, and the Byzantine officials for providing inadequate supplies, although Conrad placed responsibility on himself, his companions and the Turks.32 In truth, the German crusade foundered on poor intelligence, fallible logistics, inappropriate tactics and over-optimistic strategy as much as by lack of Greek support or the skill of Turkish archers. From the rebellious, despised footsloggers and pilgrims to the mounted elite, for all their numbers and weaponry, the Germans proved in all respects except courage singularly ill-equipped for Anatolian warfare or the needs of a contested march.

Ironically, the French partially reversed the pattern of the German advance on Islam, a fractious march across Byzantium leading to a remarkably effective fighting march against fierce odds through Asia Minor before, in turn, lack of supplies and logistical support forced disintegration.33 From the muster at Metz in June 1147, the French army, tens of thousands strong, crossed the Rhineland in late June or early July, meeting the Danube at Regensburg before following the Germans’ route to Hungary, Bulgaria and on to Constantinople, reached by some units in late September and by the king in the first week in October. In the eyes of Louis’s chaplain, Odo of Deuil, the provision of markets and access to supplies formed a constant anxiety and a prominent theme of his narrative. At Worms, trouble erupted because of the high prices charged by the locals, which hit both the poorer pilgrims and the army’s merchants and moneychangers whose profit margins were threatened. At Regensburg Louis agreed with ambassadors from Manuel to swear not to attack any Byzantine cities or fortresses in return for guarantees of markets and reasonable exchange rates. In Hungary, King Geza provided open markets, ensuring a peaceful passage for the French despite their harbouring of Boris, a pretender to the Hungarian throne. Until the Byzantine frontier was reached at Branitz, the French march passed smoothly, helped by the new bridges constructed by the Germans. Immediately on entering Byzantine territory, problems of exchange rates and inadequate supplies provoked the French to forage for themselves ‘praedis et rapinis’, ‘with plunder and pillage’.34 Although the king’s own retinue were kept well supplied by the Greek officials assigned to his entourage, other divisions of the army continued violent foraging, terrorizing local markets and brawling with German stragglers. As the march progressed, relations with the Greeks deteriorated. French foragers were cut down by Byzantine mercenaries; an advance guard was denied a market and attacked at Constantinople just as Louis’s ambassadors were continuing their delicate negotiations with Manuel over the terms of further Greek assistance. The Anglo-Norman contingent of the bishop of Langres and William of Warenne suffered a severe mauling in Thrace. Elements in the French army increasingly regarded the Greeks as hostile, their religious observances heretical, their social conventions despicable. A siege mentality developed. One member of the king’s closest circle recalled that, a day out of Constantinople, the disaffected, reinforced by news leaking out of Manuel’s treaty with the Seljuks, proposed a radical new strategy: use the huge western army to occupy Thrace; enter into an immediate alliance with Roger of Sicily and, with his fleet, which was already in Greek waters, seize Constantinople.35Although possibly benefiting from hindsight, the story exposes mounting unease at the nature and value of Greek friendship.

As he had consistently since embarking from Metz, Louis rejected any diversion of effort, pressing on to reach Constantinople on 4 October. Any fears he may have held soon dissipated as Manuel, in stark contrast to his brusque treatment of Conrad, went out of his way to shower Louis with attention, granting him a specially favoured audience at which the king was permitted to be seated; personally conducting a guided tour of Constantinople’s shrines for the famously pious monarch; and entertaining him to such a lavish public banquet that some of more boorish and hard-to-please French guests feared poison. Ignoring continued outbreaks of arson and drunken affray by French troops, Manuel provided ample markets and a good exchange rate, leaving the discipline of the unruly elements to Louis, who, typically, proved inadequate to the task. The emperor even organized a joint celebration of the Feast of Louis’s patronal saint, St Denis (9 October), by Orthodox priests and Louis’s own chaplains; even the hellenophobe St Denis monk, Odo of Deuil, remembered the occasion with pleasure, especially the singing of Greek eunuchs.36 Manuel’s tactics of smothering his guest with affection concealed genuine worry at French intentions, hardly assuaged by the approach of contingents from Savoy, the Auvergne and north Italy who had travelled via Brindisi in Apulia, part of Roger of Sicily’s kingdom. The importance of his charm offensive immediately became clear as vocal elements in the French high command, led by the irascible Bishop Godfrey of Langres, urged an assault on the imperial capital, the capture of which would place the whole empire at the westerners’ disposal. The bishop, angered at his treatment at the hands of Greek soldiers, justified his proposal by accusing the Byzantines of heresy and recalling the campaign against Antioch by Manuel’s father, John II Comnenus, the replacement of the Latin patriarch by a Greek and the recent extraction of homage from Prince Raymond.37 The emergence of Antioch as an issue exposes one strand of western policy largely suppressed in the recruitment drive of 1146–7 and by the strenuous diplomacy of the Greeks. Bishop Godfrey’s complaints may well have reflected Bishop Hugh of Jubail’s negotiations in the west in 1145 to which the bishop of Langres may have been a party: he certainly proclaimed the cause of Edessa at Bourges at Christmas 1145 possibly in response to Bishop Hugh’s mission. King Louis appears to have consulted the pope on Antioch before departing for the east.38 This new front of anti-Greek policy was potentially more damaging to Manuel’s relations with the westerners, as it seemed more immediate to the French and less diplomatically awkward than an alliance with Sicily. However, just as in 1146, the question of Antioch subsided in the face of the claims of the Holy Sepulchre. Against Bishop Godfrey were argued the injunctions of the pope, which could not be reconciled with fighting Christians for ambition or money. Manuel, alert to the debates within the French camp, allegedly exerted pressure on the French to cross over the Bosporus by squeezing the flow of supplies, spreading false rumours that the Germans were winning great victories in Asia Minor and providing a hurriedly assembled fleet to transport the French to the Asiatic shore. The rank and file, as often on such expeditions, pushed for the simple strategy of progress towards the Holy Land; Louis agreed and on 16 or 17 October passed over to Asia, conveniently for Manuel a few days before the arrival of the armies that had come via Apulia.

Louis and his army loitered for some days in the region of Nicomedia, negotiating supplies and waiting for the counts of Savoy and Auvergne and the marquis of Montferrat. The embers of the debate over an attack on Constantinople briefly reignited as Manuel attempted to agree a treaty with Louis that would involve homage from the French, as in 1097, the return to the emperor of any captured cities and forts in exchange for supplies and a marriage alliance designed, in conjunction with the offer of a large financial subsidy, to secure the French king’s support against Roger of Sicily.39 The idea of an anti-Sicilian alliance may have been a Byzantine negotiating ploy; in view of the mood in the French camp it was certainly a bold if not cheeky proposal. After protracted and difficult talks, both sides gained their prime objectives. Manuel received the homage of the French barons and agreement over conquered land; Louis received provisions, the right to plunder where no supplies were available, Greek guides and promises of open markets on the road ahead. Manuel was not committed to provide an army; Louis escaped a binding alliance with Byzantium. Honour and politics were satisfied, even if the expedition itself scarcely benefited.

Almost immediately on leaving Nicomedia and Nicaea behind them on 26 October, ominously to some during a partial eclipse of the sun, the French learnt of the true fate of the Germans. From that moment, their march east never lost a sense of crisis, usually borne out by events. After consulting with Conrad, Louis agreed to wait for the Germans to regroup and join him at Lopadium, on the road south. Already markets had thinned and the army resorted to foraging, which soured relations with the Greek locals, who exacted reprisals on the exhausted and battle-shocked Germans struggling to catch up with the French. Too depleted to provide effective protection for the Christian column by themselves, the Germans were placed in the centre of the march, strengthened by the imperial contingents that had travelled separately through Italy, led by the bishop of Metz, who acted as Conrad’s chief interpreter, the counts of Savoy and Bar and the marquis of Montferrat. Some French soldiers could not resist taunting their new comrades with cries of ‘Pousse Allemand’ (literally ‘Push, German…’), which cannot have raised German morale.40 Avoiding the long coastal road taken a month earlier by Otto of Freising, Louis headed towards Philadelphia on what he hoped were easier roads than the more direct route across Anatolia attempted by Conrad. However, reaching Esseron on 11 November, the kings decided to change course, fearful of the winter dearth of supplies in hostile, Turkish-held central Anatolia. The coastal road at least ran within Byzantine territory and offered the prospect of supply by the sea. In reaching the port of Edremit, about fifty miles away, the French army showed a worrying tendency to break up, different units losing touch with each other, a characteristic later to prove near fatal. Rain, rivers in flood, steep passes, short and expensive supplies and curmudgeonly locals conspired to sap morale further. There were reports of soldiers deserting to take service with the Greeks and of others abandoning the march to find ships to lift them off an increasingly desperate shore. It took the westerners a month to arrive at Ephesus, where they hoped to spend Christmas, a distance of about 120 miles as the crow flies.41

At Ephesus, the army encountered Greek messengers warning of Turkish forces massing to attack the Christians if they advanced further and advising Louis to seek shelter in Byzantine fortresses for the winter. While well meant and accurate, such intelligence hardly compensated for what later struck some crusade veterans as Manuel’s highly cynical policy. He had failed to provide an adequate flow of provisions or a large enough shadowing fleet to succour or transport the western host. Even if impotent to keep Turkish incursions down the valleys of western Asia Minor from attacking the French, Manuel failed to encourage local Greek officials or citizens to show hospitality, welcome or open markets. With the German army destroyed, Manuel’s policy appeared less nervous and thus less supportive, his alliance with Louis now redundant. While not wishing the crusaders ill, Manuel no longer needed to appease or promote their interests, especially if they endangered his own in Anatolia or northern Syria. While the subsequent accusations of Greek perfidy, levelled notably by Louis’s chaplain Odo of Deuil, appear exaggerated and hysterical, especially as criticisms by Louis himself were muted, the king later recalling fondly his relations with Manuel, rumours of Byzantine obstruction persisted even in Greek circles.42 At most, Manuel helped only when and how it suited him; at worst he ensured, if only passively, that the odds were stacked against the westerners disrupting his political and diplomatic arrangements. Circumstances were unpropitious; Manuel did little to ameliorate them. Unlike Alexius I in 1096, he had not called for mass expeditions from the west; he was unsure of their motives, uncertain how best to capitalize on their frankly disruptive presence and unprepared to join a united offensive against Islam. Combating the Sicilian threat in Greece loomed far larger than putative gains in the Euphrates valley. So, when Conrad fell ill at Ephesus, Manuel saw the chance to reverse his diplomacy, abandon the French to their fate, good or ill, and reconstitute the Byzantine–German alliance against Roger of Sicily. Whisking Conrad off to Constantinople by sea, Manuel personally tended to the invalid amidst generous hospitality that the German king must have contrasted with the dry, for bidding welcome he had received at Constantinople only three months before.43 Then, he commanded one of the largest fighting forces ever sent from western Europe; now, he returned a sick old man, nursing wounds to body, spirit and reputation, only too grateful for any comfort offered.

After Conrad’s departure, Louis pressed on. Turning inland from Ephesus, eastwards up the Maeander valley, the French faced a long, difficult march of more than 200 miles over difficult terrain to reach Adalia, a major port on the south coast of Asia Minor within striking distance, it must have seemed, overland to Christian Cilicia or by sea to Syria. Without a supporting fleet, the direct march across country via Laodicaea appeared sensible. It turned out to be harrowing, yet the French coped effectively with sustained Turkish attacks, more so than the German force of Otto of Freising, who, only a few days ahead of Louis’s army, had suffered severe casualties beyond Laodicaea, their unburied corpses bearing witness to the French of their fate. The Turks were defeated outside Ephesus on Christmas Eve and again in a major engagement at a ford across the Maeander further upstream a week later. Given the vivid, at times lurid account of bloody close-contact battle left by the eyewitness Odo of Deuil, the French march from Ephesus to Adalia in December and January 1147/8 has been regarded as heroic, stubborn but disastrous. In fact, despite major losses suffered in the passage of the mountain range south-east of Laodicaea at Honaz Daghi (Mt Cadmus) on 8 January, due to the leader of the vanguard Geoffrey of Rancon losing touch with the rest of the column, the French forces, although depleted, remained intact after a protracted fighting march of the sort that wholly eluded the Germans. In this achievement, Louis shares credit. Although presenting no obvious skill in leadership except personal bravery and skill in arms, Louis sought ways to ensure discipline on the march, for its last stages handing responsibility to the Templars, and consistently took responsibility for ensuring as far as possible that the destitute, the poor and the ‘paupers since yesterday’ received enough sustenance to continue despite the general shortage of food.44 At the fight at Honaz, Louis managed to shield his infantry and non-combatants by charging the enemy with only his immediate retinue of knights, most of whom were killed. The account of Louis’s own escape reads like a scene from a pulp adventure story:

During this engagement the king lost his small but renowned royal guard; keeping a stout heart, however, he nimbly and bravely scaled a rock by making use of some tree roots… The enemy climbed after, in order to capture him, and the more distant rabble shot arrows at him. But… his cuirass protected him from the arrows, and to keep from being captured he defended the crag with his bloody sword, cutting off the heads and hands of many opponents in the process. Since they did not recognize him and felt that he would be difficult to capture… the enemy thereupon turned back to collect the spoils before night fell.45

In the emergency after the reverse at Honaz, Louis handed the organization of the march to the Templars under Everard of Barres, whose authority was secured by all in the army swearing oaths to form a temporary fraternity (fraternitatem), in which the king himself joined. Under tight order, the French fought on, repulsing at least four concerted Turkish attacks. Denied food, so they imagined, by an unholy alliance of local Greeks and Turks, the westerners survived the twelve-day march to Adalia on bread baked on their camp fires and horse meat, the last and most desperate resort of a medieval army.

The ragged army that stumbled into the plain around Adalia on 20 January 1148 had reached the end of its tether. Fatigue, the loss of horses and abandonment of equipment threatened its survival. At similar crises on the First Crusade, western and Byzantine fleets had come to the aid of the soldiers of Christ. Now the absence of such aid imperilled the entire enterprise; the great fleet of May 1147, now wintering in Lisbon, was sorely missed. Instead, reliance had to be placed on the resources of Adalia itself and any assistance procured from the Byzantine imperial authorities, who were well informed of the Frenchmen’s progress and in regular contact with Emperor Manuel. Adalia sat precariously as a Greek enclave surrounded by a Turkish hinterland, neither economically nor strategically ideal as a base from which to relaunch the battered invasion force. While Louis’s priorities were to re-equip his army, in particular with horses, and to organize supplies, Greek military support and, if necessary, transport, in all these respects local resources proved inadequate and expensive. After fierce debate within the army and tortuous negotiations with the city’s governor and the emperor’s representative, an Italian called Landulph, Louis secured the basic food needed for survival, at the cost of renewing the oath to Manuel, and the promise of ships to take his army to Antioch. Despite Louis dipping further into his deep coffers to subsidize the increasing numbers of destitute, including many impoverished knights deprived of mounts and cash, neither the available but expensive provisions nor the number of ships proved adequate. With the weather vile and the Turks continually harassing the Christian camp, morale justifiably sank. After more than a month of wrangling and indecision, in early March Louis bowed to pressure from his nobles and took ship with them and as many knights as room allowed for Syria, leaving behind the sick, the infantry, the rest of the knights and the non-combatants under the count of Flanders and the lord of Bourbon, with money to pay for a Greek escort on the long road to Tarsus in Cilicia. In the event, although the infirm and ill received treatment and care, the plan was wrecked by renewed Turkish attacks, the small number and poor quality of the available horses and Greek reluctance to embark on a hazardous land march that offered little prospect of profit and was certain to inflame their Muslim neighbours, with whom they shared local trade and markets. The appearance of more ships in the port persuaded Thierry of Flanders and Archibald of Bourbon to follow their king’s example and sail directly to Syria. The abandoned infantry, trapped between an unfriendly Greek city facing famine and the Turks, took their chance in the field, only to suffer enormous casualties and the loss of thousands of men to Turkish service or slavery. Some of the survivors remained to take employment with the Greeks; others may have fought, bribed or wandered their way to Cilicia, but probably very few.

Although his chaplain later tried to exonerate Louis’s actions at Adalia, others were undeceived. ‘Here the king left the people on foot and with his nobles went on board ship,’ remarked William of Tyre, a Jerusalem teenager at the time.46 By doing so, Louis almost certainly saved his own skin and preserved a nucleus of a fighting force for the Holy Land. However, his escape lacked nobility, marking the final disintegration of a force he had struggled with great difficulty but considerable success to hold together in the face of terrible odds in war, disease and famine. Unlike the German armies of Conrad and Otto of Freising, the French had not been destroyed in the field, their ultimate failure to reach Syria intact the consequence of bad timing, poor strategy, flawed diplomacy, catastrophic logistics, their prospects undermined by lack of preparation and support in the face of a determined, canny and persistent opponent. Greek indifference, self-interest and occasional hostility further tipped the scales against the westerners. Numbers, faith, courage, even skill in arms could not compensate for such adverse circumstances without a measure of luck consistently absent. While not sealing the fate of the whole enterprise, the destruction of the Christian armies in Asia Minor rang through the Muslim world, one observer in Damascus recording that news of the disasters restored local confidence that the infidel invasion would fail.47


King Louis landed at the port of St Symeon at the mouth of the Orontes on 19 March 1148 after a grim passage from Adalia of more than a fortnight. On landing he was enthusiastically welcomed by Prince Raymond of Antioch, who immediately began to try to involve the French in schemes to attack Aleppo and Shaizar.48 Although now largely an army of officers without men, the French fighting potential had not been extinguished. Other contingents from the west reached the Holy Land during the following few weeks, landing mainly at Acre and Tyre, some, as with a party that came ashore at Sarfend near Sidon, only after being shipwrecked on the beaches. Otto of Freising and what remained of his German army arrived in time to spend Palm Sunday, 4 April, in Jerusalem. Later in Holy Week, King Conrad put in at Acre in Byzantine ships after spending the winter recuperating in Constantinople. From the coast he immediately journeyed up to Jerusalem, where he lodged with the Templars in their quarters in the former royal palace on the Temple Mount in and around the once and future al-Aqsa mosque; after touring the Holy Sites, Conrad marched north to Galilee before returning to Acre. The fleet from southern France led by Alfonso-Jordan count of Toulouse had reached Acre in mid-April. At about this time, too, the veterans of the siege of Lisbon finally achieved their destination.49 Despite the distractions, defeats, desertions and high casualties, the western forces that gathered in Outremer in the spring of 1148 constituted easily the largest Christian army to arrive in Outremer since 1097–9. Not only were their leaderships largely intact, more remarkably, the bulk of the forces had arrived at the same time, roughly a year after the main armies embarked, a timetable strikingly similar to that repeated on the next great European invasion in 1190–91 and possibly deliberately planned. However reduced, the great enterprise had not yet descended into a total shambles.

For all the painful effort in reaching the Holy Land, once there, the westerners had no obvious plan of campaign. Writing home from Constantinople in late February, Conrad still looked forward to recapturing Edessa.50 Yet after Nur al-Din had destroyed its fortifications and massacred its Christian inhabitants late in 1146, reconquest became impractical and futile. The realistic choices lay between a northern foray to reinforce the Euphrates frontier and attack Aleppo; an assault, as in 1129, against Damascus, until recently a close ally of Jerusalem but since 1146/7 uneasily allied to Nur al-Din, its lands already a target for the Jerusalemites in 1147; and, finally, an attack on Ascalon, the last port on the coast of Syria and Palestine still in Muslim hands, a base for piracy and Egyptian raids that, since the 1130s, had been circled by fortified Christian settlements designed by King Fulk to neutralize its threat. Each posed military challenges and political complications.

With Edessa no longer apparently an option, the northern strategy appeared less attractive to the westerners. Most of them had sailed to ports in the kingdom of Jerusalem to the south of the frontier with Nur al-Din of Aleppo, the main opponent in any northern campaign. For all of them, fulfilling their vows at the Holy Sepulchre appeared of paramount importance, the first objective of the recently arrived crusaders: Otto of Freising, King Conrad, the Lisbon veterans. Even Alfonso-Jordan of Toulouse, in spite of his close and potentially disruptive interests in Tripoli, after landing at Acre immediately marched south towards Jerusalem, dying suddenly at Caesarea amid rumours of poison implicating his cousin Count Raymond II of Tripoli. Of all the possible schemes, William of Tyre acutely noted, ‘the hopes of the king and people of Jerusalem seemed most likely to be realised’ because of the devotion to the Holy Places and the presence of Conrad.51 Despite his landfall at Antioch, even Louis of France appeared more determined to visit Jerusalem than contemplate military action in northern Syria, rendering redundant an embassy led by Patriarch Fulk of Jerusalem to persuade him south. Some assumed piety drew him to the Holy Sepulchre; others noted that he had fallen out badly with the prince of Antioch; later gossip ascribed this démarche to one of the greatest sex scandals of the age, an alleged affair between Louis’s wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine, and her uncle, Raymond of Antioch. The evidence for this is suggestive but inconclusive and coloured by the hindsight of the royal couple’s divorce in 1152.52 Whether guilty of impropriety or not, Eleanor seems to have tried to persuade Louis to adopt Raymond’s plan for a joint attack on Aleppo, and her husband equally clearly rejected the policy. Despite later lurid speculation and insinuation, Louis’s reasons may have been based on strategic assessment not sexual jealousy. His army was ill equipped for siege warfare, lacking the footsloggers so vital, as Lisbon confirmed, in sapping, building and protecting siege engines, or providing cover for the knights. While relations between Antioch and Byzantium had soured Louis’s diplomacy with Manuel, any gains effected with Prince Raymond would almost certainly be claimed by the Greeks and would raise the awkward question of the French oaths of October 1147 and January/February 1148. Louis may also have realized that, with the other contingents not interested in a northern campaign, Christian success, dependent on numbers, dictated uniting the western armies. From Louis’s decision to march away from Antioch flowed the ultimately failed policy of the crusade; more widely the westerners’ failure to confront directly the growing power of Nur al-Din led indirectly to the death of Prince Raymond at the battle of Inab in 1149, the capture of Joscelin II of Edessa and the subsequent evacuation of the remains of the county of Edessa in 1150.

With the northern campaign excluded, attention settled on the two southern options, especially as the suspicious death of the count of Toulouse and the continued presence of his disgruntled bastard son, Bertrand, excluded any interest Raymond of Tripoli may have harboured for western assistance on his frontiers, for example an attack on Homs, later taken by Nur al-Din in 1149. By the time Louis had completed his pilgrimage to Jerusalem in June, Conrad had already agreed with the teenaged Baldwin III, Patriarch Fulk and his recent hosts, the Templars, to take Damascus. Even before he left Constantinople, Conrad had announced his intention to raise a new army once he reached Outremer; now he did so, perhaps with Greek money, dipping into the pool of potential recruits arrived from the west, almost certainly including the Lisbon veterans, many of whom came from imperial lands in eastern Flanders and the Rhineland.53 On campaign, this new army was to fight efficiently together under Conrad, suggesting its construction had not been entirely random. Its presence certainly lent strength to Conrad’s negotiating position.

A council of western leaders and the local baronage was convened at Acre around 24 June, perhaps after a preliminary meeting of Louis and Conrad between Acre and Tyre.54 After what were remembered as heated arguments, the decision was reached to attack Damascus. The political context for this decision influenced the military rationale. The crusaders had stumbled on a major local constitutional clash, soon to bubble into civil war, between young Baldwin III and his mother, Queen Melisende, who, since her husband’s death in 1143, had, as a crowned queen regnant, exercised power on her own behalf, increasingly jealous of her son’s attempts to establish his authority. For Baldwin, a military adventure would emphasize his role as a field commander, a position denied his mother. When considering the target to attack, Baldwin and his supporters may have preferred Damascus to Ascalon, as the fall of the latter could have benefited the king’s younger brother, Amalric, later count of Jaffa, a close ally of his mother, by providing an obvious fief for him to be given. More generally, despite later recriminations and modern surprise, the choice of Damascus suited the moment. The Franks had attacked it in 1126 and 1129; the treaty of the 1140s had recently collapsed; the capture of the city would not only secure fertile land and a major trading centre, the chief Syrian entrepôt in the commerce that fuelled the ports of Acre and Tyre, but would provide the Christians with the natural frontier of the desert and tilt the balance of power in Syria heavily in their favour and against Nur al-Din of Aleppo, forcing other Muslim rulers in the region to adopt at the least a more accommodating attitude. For a generation, rulers of Jerusalem had tried to control Damascus alternately by alliance or conquest. With Nur al-Din inheriting his father’s ambitions to annexe the city, the attempt in 1148 conformed to traditional Jerusalem policy of asserting its interests. It also did not preclude a subsequent attack on Ascalon.

The tactics of the Christian army indicated a calculation that Damascus would either quickly surrender or succumb without much resistance. Mustering at Tiberias in mid-July, the invasion force reached Damascus in a few days, arriving on 24 July. The speed of march suggests that, although accompanied by a large baggage train and herds of livestock, the Christians had not prepared siege engines, relying on local timber from the orchards surrounding the city to fortify the camp they established to the west of the city after brushing aside the Damascene army. They also appeared to have carried limited rations with them, as food became short after only a few days of the siege. The plan appeared to be to terrify the defenders into submission or to take Damascus by rapid assault rather than to mount a prolonged investment, which, despite the numbers in the besieging forces, put by one eyewitness at 50,000, would be almost impossible given the size of the city.55 In the event, after only two days’ hard skirmishing, with no surrender imminent, the Christians moved to the less well-defended eastern suburbs on 27 July, ostensibly in search of a less well-fortified area to attack. Here, the tactics are hard to fathom. With the new position lacking cover or water, the Christians allowed themselves no time to prepare even the simplest siege engines or missile throwers, as any delay could now prove fatal. In the absence of an immediate assault, options disappeared. The defenders had reclaimed and fortified the orchards and previous camp on the west side of the city; the morale of the citizens had revived after the initial shock; and news came in of large Muslim relief armies led by Nur al-Din of Aleppo and his brother Sayf al-Din of Mosul closing on the city from the north. The retreat was sounded at dawn on 28 July, the march back to Palestine attended by constant Muslim harrying and heavy casualties.

The inevitable decision to withdraw derived from unavoidable immediate circumstance. Contemporaries and later writers, both Christian and Muslim, sought more human, accountable agencies than mischance to explain the greatest humiliation of Latin arms in the Near East, worse than any defeat in that the Christian army remained intact. Immediately there were accusations of betrayal. Conrad wrote darkly but vaguely to his regent, Wibald of Corvey, of treachery lying behind the advice to transfer the army from the west to east side of Damascus. A generation later, William of Tyre repeated the rumours that elements in the Jerusalem baronage had been bribed by the Damascenes to engineer a withdrawal. The historian Ibn al-Athir (1160–1233) reported that the governor of Damascus, Mu’in al-Din Unur, had written to Syrian Frankish leaders arguing that they were risking uniting their Muslim neighbours against them for no advantage, as the western leaders intended to keep the city for themselves, an idea echoed in William of Tyre’s account of how at the beginning of the siege Thierry of Flanders extracted promises from Conrad, Louis and Baldwin, as well as some Jerusalem barons, that he would be granted Damascus when it fell. Three decades later, some veterans identified Raymond of Antioch as the culprit, driven by vengeful spite into persuading local barons to sabotage Louis of France’s ambitions. There were rumours concerning the involvement of the military orders. Otto of Freising, a participant in the debate at Acre in June 1148, more generally attributed the Damascus debacle to royal pride, a moralistic view repeated across Christendom in the years ahead.56

Whatever the exact course of events, the charge of betrayal levelled at the local baronage became an accepted version of events, souring subsequent relations between Outremer and the west for the next thirty years, if William of Tyre, an expert witness, is to be believed. Quite why there should have been so sudden a change of heart on the part of the Jerusalemite leaders is less easy to imagine. Conrad’s anger and bewilderment cannot have been unique among the westerners, who had relied on local intelligence and advice in terrain well known to many Jerusalemites. Perhaps the stories of bribery covered a semi-official payment of tribute by Unur to the Jerusalem leadership in return for their withdrawal. It is possible that in contacting the Franks, Unur offered the renewal of the lapsed treaty which actually occurred a year later in June 1149. Supporters of Melisende may have deliberately sabotaged the siege, although such callous indifference to casualties sacrificed on the altar of political feuding would have taken cynicism to new heights even for the fractious baronage of Jerusalem. Alternatively, the ambitions of the count of Flanders, married to Baldwin’s much older half-sister, who accompanied him on the expedition, may have angered the Melisende faction, who apparently had hoped to secure Damascus for a partisan of theirs, Guy of Beirut; they may have feared that Baldwin wanted to use Damascus to build up his own party. The closest Muslim account, by Ibn al-Qalanisi, mentions no plot, instead emphasizing the murderously destructive nature of the Latin raid, the martyrdom of two holy men, and the heroic and vigorous defence put up by Unur. It is possible that the stiffening of resistance by religious leaders andmujahidin scotched any plans of appeasement within Damascus, forcing Unur to dash hopes of accommodation he may have built up with the Franks upon which the Christian strategy may have been based. However, Ibn al-Qalanisi attributed the Christian withdrawal to their fear of being trapped between the city and the advancing armies from Aleppo and Mosul. This practical analysis may be closest to the truth. Preservation of armed forces lay behind one prominent strand of strategic thinking in twelfth-century Jerusalem; faced with a choice between a brave but dangerous assault which, even if successful, ran the risk of encirclement by the relief armies, and an ordered withdrawal, retreat may have appeared the sensible path. Only it was not the path of heroes; the miracle of Antioch in 1098 was not to be repeated.

The failure before Damascus destroyed the Second Crusade. On returning to Palestine, plans were hatched to revive the scheme to attack Ascalon, a muster time and place fixed. When Conrad arrived, he waited for eight days; few joined him and he angrily abandoned the enterprise, accusing the locals of deceiving him once more, and made urgent preparations to depart to the west.57 He embarked from Acre on 8 September bound for Byzantium and the renewal of his alliance with Manuel. Leader of the largest army to set out in 1147, Conrad had lost most and gained least. His nephew, Frederick of Swabia, returning with his reputation enhanced as Conrad’s active and efficient lieutenant at every stage of the expedition, never lost his commitment to the Holy Land: forty-two years later, as Emperor Frederick Barbarossa, he set out once more to restore it to Christendom. For the rest, Conrad’s brother Otto of Freising may have spoken for many when he argued, in pained explanation of God’s purpose in their experiences, ‘although it was not good for the enlargement of boundaries or for the advantage of bodies, yet it was good for the salvation of souls’.58

Louis remained in Outremer until after Easter (3 April) 1149, spending large sums of money he had to borrow to subsidize the defence of the kingdom of Jerusalem. The presence of the French king may have calmed frayed nerves, especially in the continuing feud between Melisende and Baldwin. Finally answering the appeals of Suger for him to return to his kingdom, Louis chartered some Sicilian ships for his journey west, during which one ship was impounded by the Greeks, still at war with Sicily, and even Queen Eleanor was briefly detained by the suspicious Byzantines.59 Lacking tangible success, his achievements of leadership modest, even in the eyes of his chaplain, Louis returned to the west after an absence of two years with enhanced international status and closer personal links with many of the great princely houses of France, including Flanders and Champagne, his reputation for piety now boosted by stories of heroism and fortitude. Only the retrospective rumour derived from the gossip about the Antioch scandal tarnished the image. Although attempts in France to launch a new war of the cross in 1150, in part in response to the Antiochene defeat at Inab in June 1149, fizzled out in a tide of indifference and acknowledged impotence, Louis’s affection for the cause of the Holy Land remained a feature of his public pronouncements and diplomacy; more than once he promised to return. Like many others, his visit to the Holy Land lingered in the mind as an inspiration and ideal, however disagreeable the physical reality had been. In later years, he regularly used to swear ‘by the Bethlehem saints’.60

Elsewhere in Christendom, reactions coupled shock, sorrow and blame. While participants sought scapegoats in the Greeks or the Jerusalemites or even their own tactical naivety, observers, less charitably, condemned the whole enterprise and its leaders and participants for arrogance, lack of humility, immorality, rapacity and ultimate sterility within the traditional analysis of failure caused by sin. The promoters of the enterprise came in for heavy criticism, Eugenius III admitting that the expedition had inflicted ‘the most severe injury of the Christian name that God’s church has suffered in our time’. The English pope, Hadrian IV, writing to Louis VII a decade later, recalled the criticism of the papacy as the author of the crusade, although, with characteristic tactlessness, he suggested the king had undertaken the Jerusalem journey ‘with little caution’.61 Glowing with patriotic enthusiasm, Henry archdeacon of Huntingdon sought to gloss a moral point by contrasting the failure of the proud, wealthy kings with the success of humble ‘ordinary rather then powerful men’ on the Lisbon adventure: ‘the greater part of them came from England’. Some in Germany saw behind the disasters the work of the Antichrist. A monk in Würzburg, witness to anti-Jewish atrocities in 1147, savaged both organizers and recruits: the preachers ‘pseudo-prophets, sons of Belial and witnesses of Antichrist, who seduced the Christians with empty words’, the crusaders mostly novelty-seeking tourists, money-grubbers, debtors, escaped convicts or refugees from harsh landlords.62 Vincent of Prague was not alone in blaming the disaster on the presence of women; sex and holy war did not mix.63 While Otto of Freising delicately suggested that he and the other crusaders, through pride and arrogance, had fallen short of the moralstandards set by Bernard of Clairvaux, others were less charitable towards the abbot, who felt compelled to issue an extended apologia in his own and Eugenius’s defence in a treatise called De Consideratione (completed between 1149 and 1152). Bernard remained publicly regretful but eager to make amends in a new effort, in 1150 quoting approvingly the tag: ‘I go to Jerusalem to be crucified a second time.’ In De Consideratione he admitted the sins of the crusaders and the mercilessness of Divine Judgement. Defending himself from charges of rashness, he claimed due papal authority but accepted that God’s severity scandalized many. To reassure Eugenius, to whom the work was addressed, he cited the example of the Hebrews punished for their lack of faith to wander in the Wilderness, casting himself and the pope in the role of Moses, performing God’s will, however painful. Thus, Bernard hoped, he and the pope could excuse themselves as agents of God’s purpose, adding, in a flourish of self-righteous flagellation: ‘I would rather that men murmur against us than against God. It would be well for me if He deigns to use me for his shield.’64 Bernard’s reputation survived, even if the repute of his expedition did not. King Amalric of Jerusalem used to tell of the night before a battle in Egypt in March 1167, when the long-dead abbot appeared in a dream to chide him for his sins (he was a notorious lecher), which shamed the piece of the True Cross he wore round his neck. Only when Amalric promised to repent did Bernard bless the cross; next day the relic saved the king’s life.65

Yet King Amalric could also have talked of the falling-off of trust between east and west in consequence of the Second Crusade. In the words of William of Tyre, tutor to Amalric’s son, ‘fewer people, and those less fervent in spirit, undertook this pilgrimage thereafter… those who do come fear lest they be caught in the same toils and hence make as short a stay as possible’.66 The searing disappointment and the rumours of treachery and misbehaviour led some to doubt the very concept of holy war and the justice of fighting and killing Muslims. Others merely mocked what appeared as wasteful, self-indulgent folly. The heady enthusiasm so powerfully and convincingly orchestrated by Bernard in 1146 and 1147 produced dust and ashes, as Otto of Freising had it, a time of weeping. For many thousands it had brought death, glorious, mundane, painful, wretched. ‘So great was the disaster of the army and so inexpressible the misery that those who took part bemoan it with tears to this very day,’ wrote one who knew some of thesurvivors.67 All were united in acknowledgement of the personal human cost, thrown more sharply into relief by the lack of any wider material gain. Most people, complained Bernard of Clairvaux, ‘judge causes from their results’.68 Few voices were raised to contradict them; fewer still convinced.

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