Post-classical history


The Defence of the Holy Land 1221–44

The failure of the Damietta campaign did not end the great crusading enterprise Innocent III had initiated in 1213. Eleven days after the city was returned to Ayyubid control, Peter des Roches bishop of Winchester was taking the cross in England.1 The summer of 1221 saw Cardinal Ugolino methodically recruiting crusaders and mercenaries from the lords of northern Italy, using church funds as incentives.2 As far as Honorius III was concerned, Frederick II’s obligations still stood. They formed a central practical as well as symbolic element in papal – imperial negotiations, a process of preparation and a guarantee of sincerity. Frederick reiterated his commitment in 1223 and 1225. Philip II of France bequeathed 150,000 livres to the project in 1223, perhaps out of a guilty conscience. The crusade continued to be used as a means of resolving political disputes, as in Marseilles in 1224, as well as an expression of private devotion.3 A Parisian couple, Renard and Jeanne Crest, crucesignatus and crucesignata, made their pious and financial dispositions in 1224–5 before departure.4 Stories of the Egyptian debacle of 1218–21 by witnesses such as James of Vitry and Oliver of Paderborn were circulated widely. The messy legal ramifications surrounding absent, deceased or presumed dead crusaders’ property kept the reality of crusading painfully alive by engaging the energies of their squabbling neighbours, relatives and local law courts in some cases for over fifteen years.5 Contributions were still forthcoming. In England in 1222 a tax was levied on behalf of the kingdom of Jerusalem, proceeds of which were supposed to subsidize crusaders to the east. John of Brienne, king of Jerusalem visited the west in 1223, trying to drum up aid. Papal legates and local bishops continued to preach and round up crucesignati; Master Hubert, recruiting in England in 1227, kept a written register of those who had taken the cross.6 For the first time the new preaching order of the Dominican friars was employed in England under the patronage of Peter des Roches.7 Within a few years they and the Franciscans came to dominate the verbum crucis, the word of the cross.

More generally, the decades after 1221 saw the ‘business of the Holy Land’ embedded into the religious culture of western Christendom. Away from specific campaign appeals, the special prayers, liturgy, bell-ringing, processions and invitations to donate alms that had been established since 1187 assumed habitual places in the devotional round of the faithful laity. The democratization of penance after the Fourth Lateran Council through oral confession, the improvement in the educational standards of the clergy and the extra-parochial presence of friars and, for the prosperous, private confessors was matched and reflected by a growing prominence of lay spirituality expressed in religious confraternities, which sprang up across Europe, most obviously in towns, and in the personal lives of lay dévots. Stress on the spiritual life and moral behaviour of individuals recognized the validity and value of personal and collective lay religious observance. The crusade epitomized just this sort of secular commitment, a number of contemporary observers likening crucesignati to converts or even a religious order, a religio.8

Crusading perceptions and practices altered in the thirteenth century. Taking the cross signalled inner spiritual commitment not limited to specific military endeavour alone. The crusade became braided with personal religious identity in a system of practical spirituality channelled through regular devotional exercises; confession, penance, alms-giving, prayer and conduct. Louis VII of France had been a pious monarch and crusader, but the role crusading played in his spiritual life, as far as external appearances are any guide, pales beside its importance to his great-grandson Louis IX. For the younger Louis, the crusade occupied a central place in his life, a means to achieve personal and spiritual emancipation, self-expression and fulfilment. Similar prominence of the crusade in a broader spiritual life of puritanical seriousness was demonstrated by another leading thirteenth-century dévot, Simon of Montfort the Younger. Son of the leader of the Albigensian crusades, himself a crucesignatus and campaigner in the east in 1240–41, it was entirely in character that in the great crisis of his life, the civil wars in England of 1263–5, Simon called on the images of crusading to sustain his cause.9 Even for a lukewarm crusader such as Simon’s opponent, Henry III, the cross became an accepted way of displaying religious credentials, almost regardless of whether he embarked. Henry took the cross on at least three occasions (1216, 1250 and 1271). Neither the first or last occasion represented a serious decision to campaign. The first signalled the newly crowned boy-king’s renewal of the papal protection vital to the survival of his dynasty. Fifty-five years later, the old ailing king’s gesture spoke of rededication of a soul mindful of salvation and troubled by the unfulfilled commitment of two decades before. For Henry’s uncle, Richard I, crusading had been a much more specific ambition, no less intense perhaps, but less central to his regular spiritual life or religious observances. A century on, the crusade had become, as F. M. Powicke remarked, inseparable from the air men breathed.10

In the years after the evacuation of Damietta, the flow of crucesignati to the Levant never entirely ran dry, even if the 40,000 names allegedly on Master Hubert’s roll of 1227 cannot be credited. No less telling of this diffuse commitment, the stock figures of the armchair crusader, nicknamed ‘ashie’ because he stayed by his hearth, and the décroisié, the man who had redeemed or abandoned his vow, entered literary vocabulary and convention.11 This pattern of constant, often low-key activity of raising men, awareness and funds set the pattern of western engagement for the rest of the century and beyond. Periodically, the involvement of one of the great lords of western Christendom lent focus to such efforts, leading to the organization of large crusading expeditions, in 1227–9, 1239–41, 1248–50 and 1269–71. Some enterprises, as in 1248 and 1269, were ostensibly sparked by a crisis, the loss of Jerusalem or Antioch. Others owed more to the political moods or demands in western Europe rather than any threat to Outremer. Contact with the east was maintained at a number of different levels, trade, pilgrimage, even diplomacy. Both Frederick II and Henry III of England maintained diplomatic relations with Ayyubid rulers, the English king using as his ambassador a Genoese entrepreneur one of whose lines was to supply the English court with crossbows.12


The crusade that coalesced around Frederick II in the late 1220s has tended to be dismissed as a sideshow, a self-indulgent and politically inept expression of the hubris of a ruler scarcely bothered by the motives that drove most crusaders, an expedition contradictory in genesis and barren in result. This view distorts. Polymath, intellectual, linguist, scholar, falconry expert and politician of imagination, arrogance, ambition and energy, Frederick II was no less sincere in his crusading ambition than Richard I. The cause took a central place in Frederick’s policies for almost a decade and a half, its implementation risking disaster at home and defeat abroad. Only in the hindsight of the decline of the kingdom of Jerusalem after the 1240s and the simultaneous parting of the ways between papacy and empire in the west did the events of 1227–9 come to appear futile, eccentric or irrelevant. At the time, for all his political jockeying, Frederick’s actions exposed an ambition inexplicable without a conventional religious purpose.13

Although attracting large numbers of recruits, the organization, leadership and military core of Frederick’s expedition depended on the tight control imposed by central finance in the form of royal or ecclesiastical subsidies to individual leaders as well as lay and clerical taxation. As such, it probably constituted the most professional expedition to the Holy Land to date in the sense that many, perhaps most of the troops involved were paid as well as transported by their employers. Although conceived as an exercise in papal–imperial cooperation, Frederick’s failure to depart as promised in 1227 caused the new pope, Gregory IX, to excommunicate him, even though the reason for delay, illness, was genuine. Frederick’s determination to proceed regardless in 1228 in turn placed the pope in a false position as his ban failed to deter thousands of crusaders and had minimal impact in Outremer. The scene of the Christian emperor wearing his crown in the church of the Holy Sepulchre in March 1229 while hotly pursued by clerics eager to place the Holy City itself under an interdict was hardly edifying. Neither were papal efforts to prevent a church crusade tax being raised in Frederick’s lands, which papal armies were invading. However, Jerusalem was restored by treaty, without bloodshed. What Richard I had failed to win by force and the Fifth Crusade had rejected as unworthy or unworkable, Frederick achieved through dogged negotiation, in the teeth of the pope’s enmity. The three holiest sites, Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Nazareth, were restored to Christian hands; the kingdom of Jerusalem given a new viability with increased territory and strengthened fortifications in cities and castles. If Frederick’s campaign marked the culmination of Innocent III’s crusade, it also marked the greatest challenge to Innocent’s vision of papal monarchy. At least in the emperor’s eyes, it seemed to vindicate the independent imperialism of a Hohenstaufen empire that Frederick had bullyingly tried to impose on the states of Outremer. Frederick’s campaign possessed a Janus-like quality, harking back to crusading precedent while offering fresh diplomatic, political and logistic solutions. One of the expedition’s more bizarre consequences certainly caught echoes of Innocent’s crusade while casting auguries for the future. At the moment of Frederick’s triumphal appearance in Jerusalem, his southern Italian lands were being attacked by papal forces under the joint command of John of Brienne and Cardinal Pelagius.14 In the event, the reunion of these two sparring partners of the Fifth Crusade in an attempt to dismember the power of a current crusader was no more successful than their previous association.

Like many thirteenth-century rulers, Frederick II was a serial crucesignatus. He first took the cross at his coronation as king of Germany at Aachen in July 1215. There, probably deliberately, he aped his father Henry VI’s ceremony at Worms in December 1195 by personally presiding over the mass distribution of crosses to his new subjects.15 The problems encountered in establishing his rule prevented Frederick honouring this vow, yet the obligation remained indelible. At his imperial coronation in Rome in November 1220, he again received the cross, this time from Cardinal Ugolino, a personal confrontation that bore bitter fruit when the cardinal, as Pope Gregory IX, excommunicated Frederick seven years later. Frederick publicly vowed to help the Holy Land twice more, at conferences at Ferentino in March 1223 and San Germano in July 1225, ten years to the day (25 July) since he had first taken the cross. This proliferation of commitment reflected the reverse of empty bombast. Just as taking the cross in 1215 had associated the young King Frederick with papal approval, and that of 1220 with joint leadership of Christendom, so the vows of 1223 and 1225 marked stages of the development of a detailed crusade plan in response to acerbic criticism of his inaction during the Damietta campaign.

Frederick’s problem lay in his eagerness or insouciance in setting himself precise deadlines for action. In 1220, he promised to go east in August 1221. Instead he merely despatched a fleet and an army under the duke of Bavaria, which reached Damietta just in time for the final debacle. In 1223 Frederick guaranteed departure in 1225; domestic politics intruded. In 1225 the date for his crusade was pushed back to 1227, but this time with the agreed additional sanction of excommunication if he failed to honour his pledge. Given that at Ferentino and San Germano Frederick had committed himself to providing large numbers of paid troops, a fleet and large reserves of cash for the expedition, the precision of the dates may have been designed to convince potential followers, tax payers and bankers of his sincerity. They also helped counter charges of dishonour levelled since 1221. Most important, the promises of 1223 and 1225 appeased the well-inclined but suspicious Pope Honorius III. Frederick needed papal support to consolidate his authority in Germany, Italy and Sicily. Yet these negotiations constituted no imperial surrender. By recognizing Frederick’s command of the crusade, even on the tough, restrictive terms reached at San Germano, the pope was affording him the position in Christendom the emperor had chosen for himself, that of the foremost secular authority under God.

At the same time as he began to raise money, troops and allies for the expedition, Frederick developed his wider eastern strategy. In 1223 it was agreed with John of Brienne that the emperor would marry his daughter, Isabella II, giving Frederick direct claim to jurisdiction in mainland Outremer. The marriage took place in 1225. Frederick promptly relieved his new father-in-law, John of Brienne, of his role as regent, thereby, rather characteristically, making an enemy for life. Despite King John’s bruised feelings, the Jerusalem barons, many of whom attended the wedding in Brindisi in November 1225, accepted the new arrangements even where they harboured reservations on the actual extent and exercise of royal power in Jerusalem. At least on campaign, as king of Jerusalem in the right of his wife, Frederick would hope to avoid the disputes over authority and sovereignty that marred the Fifth Crusade. More widely, the king of Jerusalem being present at the head of a western crusading force rather than acting as a more or less reluctant or enthusiastic local host promised to resolve a tension inherent in all expeditions launched to the Holy Land since 1099. Frederick’s plan offered a new departure for eastern crusading, a unitary model that a century later became very fashionable in circles trying to revive the idea of the recovery of the Holy Land, even though by then Frederick’s pioneering scheme was denied any credit. The crown would allow Frederick to fight the war, acquire conquests and negotiate peace with full, unchallenged legitimacy. Perhaps as early as 1226, Frederick had begun direct and detailed negotiations with Sultan al-Kamil of Egypt (1218–38) over the return of Jerusalem, although he needed the prospect of his appearance in the Levant to persuade the sultan to consider accepting him as an ally.16The royal title also complemented the claim to authority over Cyprus as an imperial fief, Frederick’s father Henry VI having granted Aimery of Lusignan a crown in 1197. The tentacles of Hohenstaufen power were expansive. Henry VI had also granted a crown to Cilician Armenia. Frederick’s new bride was the granddaughter of Conrad of Montferrat, an imperial vassal and a member of a house loyal to the Hohenstaufen in the years of civil war in the western empire after 1197. As heir of the Hauteville kings of Sicily (Roger II was his maternal grandfather), Frederick possessed a wider strategic and commercial interest in Mediterranean politics. The 1225 marriage seemed to bring a step closer the realization of the ambition of a cross-Mediterranean empire of the sort envisaged by Henry VI. It also fed the grander universalist imperial policy and rhetoric inherited from Frederick Barbarossa; his propaganda and acts showed Frederick II was well aware of both. However, the Treaty of San Germano could also be seen as encompassing the cooperation of church and state in the recovery by a Christian monarch, the king of Jerusalem, of his lost territories. Despite his later reputation as a sort of elemental political force, stupor mundi, and despite some of his own posturing, Frederick’s grand designs were founded on often prosaic traditional, immediate and sustainable rights and claims.

Rhetoric did not win wars. Money, men and ships could. At the heart of negotiations with the papacy in 1223 and 1225 lay finance, logistics and recruitment. Frederick’s commitments to subsidize the expedition served to reassure the pope, encourage his own subjects and attract followers beyond his territories. They also guaranteed a measure of imperial control over the whole project, another lesson learnt from the events of 1217–21. After the agreement at Ferentino in 1223, Frederick had agreed to prepare a fleet to carry 10,000 infantry and 1,000 knights east. The treaty of San Germano specified his own military entourage would number 1,000 knights to be maintained for two years, with transport to be provided for a further 2,000 knights, each with three horses, as well as their familia, squires and valets. The muster was fixed for 15 August 1227.17 To underwrite the expenses of this force once in Outremer, Frederick agreed to deposit 100,000 gold ounces for withdrawal at Acre. Over the following two years Frederick extended his commitment by offering free transport and supplies to all crucesignati, however grand. It was clear that his campaign was not going to match the scale of those recruited in 1188, 1202 or 1217, a point reflected in the absence of a general clerical tax, as well as the concurrent distractions of the Languedoc war, campaigns against the Moors in Spain by Ferdinand III of Castile and James I of Aragon and in 1227 a crusade authorizing the king of Hungary to attack dissident Bosnians. Frederick fell back largely on the resources within his Italian and Sicilian kingdom, although he received John of Brienne’s share (50,000 marks) of Philip II of France’s crusade legacy in a moment of rare rapprochement with his father-in-law. Local sources suggest monasteries bore the brunt of a heavy clerical tax, calculated, levied or soon converted into gold, the currency of the eastern Mediterranean. Throughout the 1220s, Frederick appeared eager to increase his gold reserves, insisting that visiting merchants to the kingdom use gold for all financial transactions. While this policy may have been designed to build up stocks preparatory to his bold scheme of producing a gold currency in 1231–2, it may also have been instituted with the crusade in mind. As well as being the currency of the east, the relative value of gold made it far less bulky to transport than the same value of silver. Other crusaders, such as the bishop of Winchester, seemed to share Frederick’s appreciation of gold in financing the journey east.18

The effect of the treaty of San Germano was almost immediate. Earlier attempts after 1223 to raise forces in Germany and elsewhere by John of Brienne and the Master of the Teutonic Knights, Frederick’s close friend and adviser Hermann von Salza, had met with a very cool response. Now the reaction was very different, especially in Germany, Italy and England. Frederick’s commitments were broadcast across western Europe. In England, for instance, a papal nuncio, Otho, circulated copies of the San Germano agreement to each diocese.19 Papal orders to preach the cross were similarly distributed. The promise of imperial aid secured the support of important German magnates, such as the dukes of Thuringia and Limburg, the count of Urach, numbers of imperialministeriales and contingents from traditional crusade centres such as the Netherlands, and the cities of Worms, Cologne and Lübeck. Frederick could also rely on his network of officials and supporters in southern Italy and Sicily, such as Thomas of Aquino count of Acerra. Independent crucesignati were encouraged to associate themselves with the muster fixed at Brinsidi for August 1227.20

One of the more distinct contributions, from England, demonstrated the narrowness of recruitment for the 1227 crusade in comparison with more generally popular expeditions.21 The leading figure was the recently disgraced former Justiciar bishop of Winchester, Peter des Roches, through his support for King John and the ideals and practices of authoritarian kingship, one of the most controversial politicians in England of the first third of the thirteenth century. He had taken the cross in 1221 amid rumours that he had been nominated as archbishop of Damietta. News of Frederick’s plans in 1225 seems to have stimulated des Roches’s preparations. From 1226, he was in direct contact with the emperor, coordinating plans, and probably booking his passage in the imperial fleet. The timing was convenient for the bishop personally, as he had recently been excluded from power. However, the young King Henry III and his advisers were looking to reconquer Angevin ancestral lands in France rather than help the Holy Land or the disgraced former minister. Apart from releasing his debts at the Exchequer, forcing payment of loans owed to him and defending some property rights, perhaps in recognition of his crusader status, the government made no financial contribution to des Roches’s expedition, although the pope allowed him to raise money from his diocese. As the see of Winchester was one of the wealthiest in western Europe and des Roches was privately a very rich man, the absence of official subsidy may have made little difference. On crusade, he appeared amply supplied with funds. However, not a single English magnate accompanied him to Syria. The only fellow crusader of substance was William Brewer bishop of Exeter. Taking the cross in 1226–7, Brewer stood proxy for his uncle and namesake, a veteran civil servant who had taken the cross as long ago as 1188 but had been allowed to postpone fulfilling his vow by the pope. To pay for his nephew’s crusade, the older Brewer deposited 4,000 marks with the Templars at Acre.22

As the bishops had not previously been linked socially or politically, the coincidence of their crusades did not indicate any great enthusiasm among the ruling classes in England. In 1227, des Roches was accompanied by a suitable clerical and military entourage and acquired a small army, probably mercenaries from England or the Continent. A smattering of other traceable English crusaders accompanied them. A year later Philip of Aubigny, a survivor of the Damietta campaign, took the cross. Yet the figure of 40,000crucesignati given by the St Albans monk Roger of Wendover appears a gross exaggeration.23 However, in the reduced army that embarked from Brindisi in August 1227, the English contingent assumed some prominence, which was confirmed during the crusade’s stay in Outremer. Des Roches became a confidant of the German leadership, and the English force played a major role in the refortification of coastal towns, especially Sidon and Jaffa. The bishops witnessed the Treaty of Jaffa in 1229, which restored Jerusalem, and des Roches supervised the reconstruction of St Stephen’s Gate and the Tower of David. While widely praised in English sources, the bishops’ cooperation with the excommunicated emperor earned them papal censure. This hardly seemed to affect them. At Acre, des Roches transformed an existing English hospital dedicated to St Thomas Becket, which possibly dated from the Third Crusade, into a military order. Within a few years the order had adopted the rule of the Teutonic Knights; it continued as a military corporation for a century and as a religious order for a further two.24 On their return to their dioceses, Brewer in 1229 and des Roches in 1231, they were greeted as heroes. Yet their, and the crusade’s, achievements, while diplomatically startling and politically controversial, were, compared with earlier campaigns, modest.

Until the summer of 1227, Frederick’s preparations had gone smoothly. Recruiting hardly seemed designed to produce a mass response. The context for Frederick’s campaign was limited and precise, focused on the assertion of his royal and imperial rights in Outremer; fulfilling political obligations to the papacy as part of consolidating his power in Italy and Germany; and exploiting the diplomatic opportunity presented by al-Kamil of Egypt. Aware of the emperor’s plan to come east, in 1226 the sultan had sent Emir Fakhr al-Din to Frederick offering an alliance against his brother al-Mu ‘azzam emir of Damascus. Al-Mu ‘azzam was challenging for supremacy in the Ayyubid empire and had recently allied with Jelal al-Din, the ruler of the Khwarazmians, a Turkish federation from the steppes between the river Oxus and the Caspian Sea. Khwarazmian raiders could tip the balance of power in Syria decisively against al-Kamil.25 As a lure, the Egyptian sultan proposed the return of Jerusalem and other towns to the Christians, in effect reviving his offers to the crusaders in 1219–21. Frederick evidently got on well with Fakhr al-Din, apparently even knighting him; in 1249 the emir still bore the emperor’s arms on his banner.26 An imperial embassy travelled to Egypt in 1227 and went on to Damascus, where they were rebuffed by al-Mu ‘azzam. For the treaty with al-Kamil to be realized, Frederick needed to appear in Outremer with an army. However, as the abortive talks in Damascus suggested, Frederick probably wondered how far al-Kamil was in a position to deliver on his promises. The death of al-Mu ‘azzam in November 1227 reconfigured the political map. With al-Kamil and another brother, al-Ashraf, concentrating on trying to annexe Damascus, their need for Frederick ceased. According to Ibn Wasil, a well-informed Ayyubid official of the next generation, Frederick had become ‘an embarrassment’.27 Yet the sultan could not afford to fight him either, as this would deflect from his aim of subduing Damascus. Yet, by honouring his promise to Frederick, al-Kamil risked hardening opposition to his rule from the Damascenes, who regarded Palestine as part of their sphere of influence. When news of the 1229 treaty reached Damascus, it provided al-Kamil’s enemies with a fine propaganda weapon as the city went into public mourning, with preachers and poets fanning a sense of Islamic outrage.28 Thus Fredrick’s Egyptian diplomacy required a far more delicate use of military strength than had initially seemed in prospect.

This was not apparent in the summer of 1227, when the roads from Germany to Apulia were clogged with crusaders.29 The muster at Brindisi attracted many thousands, although the core comprised a force of over 1,000 knights in the emperor’s pay. The crowding and summer heat took their toll as plague broke out in the crusader camps. As victims mounted, some abandoned the journey. The main German fleet sailed in mid-August, probably including the English bishops. Frederick and the landgrave of Thuringia embarked with Sicilian levies on 8 September. Within days, probably from the effects of plague, the landgrave was dead and Frederick incapacitated, forcing him to put in at Otranto to recuperate. As a token of his continuing commitment, he despatched Hermann von Salza and the patriarch of Jerusalem to Syria with twenty galleys to join the main force, whose command he entrusted to Henry, the new duke of Limburg. What in other circumstances would have seemed an unfortunate but unavoidable setback became the pivot around which the crusade was transformed from an enterprise of Christian solidarity into one of confrontation and division. Despite being told the reasons for this further delay, on 29 September Pope Gregory IX excommunicated Frederick for having broken the terms of the Treaty of San Germano.30

The unreasonable vehemence of Gregory’s condemnation and his refusal to accept Frederick’s subsequent restrained defence suggested that the pope had been waiting for a chance to strike against the emperor. Unlike his predecessor, Honorius III, whom he had succeeded only in March 1227, Gregory was not by nature a conciliator. A nephew of Innocent III, an early patron of the friars, a canon lawyer and papal diplomat of wide and long experience, Gregory had come to mistrust Frederick personally and politically. Fearing an extension of Hohenstaufen power across all Italy and suspicious of Frederick’s imperious attitude to ecclesiastical independence within his kingdom, Gregory presumably hoped excommunication would force Frederick into a new submission or overt disobedience. Frederick thought Gregory’s stance a form of papal monarchic extremism that ran counter to and undermined the traditional just order of Christendom. Within a year, the remarkable spectacle arose of an excommunicated crusader sailing to restore Jerusalem, while the pope was organizing armies, one of which was led by the former king of Jerusalem, to secure the crusader’s political overthrow in the west.

Frederick now needed the crusade more than ever to wrong-foot the pope and reassert his credentials for honesty and Christian leadership. He announced his departure for May 1228, began to raise more troops in Germany and Italy, and imposed a tax of eight gold ounces per fief in the kingdom of Sicily. In April 1228, the imperial marshal Richard Filangieri sailed for Acre with 500 knights to add to the 800 knights already there under the duke of Limburg’s command. Frederick himself followed in June with perhaps seventy ships.31 If this figure is accurate, such a fleet could have carried a few thousand men. At Acre, Frederick’s army could only be accommodated in a camp outside the city, at Recordana, behind the coastal sand dunes to the south of the city. One unreliable but knowledgeable source put the number of infantry as high as 10,000.32 If not a mass expedition, Frederick had assembled a significant and cohesive fighting force sufficiently strong to persuade al-Kamil to negotiate and to preside over a substantial refortification programme. The duke of Limburg had begun a rebuilding programme a year earlier. When news of Frederick’s delay caused many immediately to return home, to keep an army intact, Duke Henry marched down the coast to refurbish the defences of Caesaerea and Jaffa. Some of his troops dreamt of an assault on Jerusalem itself. On hearing of the death of al-Mu ‘azzam in November 1227, a separate group of crusaders left in Acre annexed the Muslim-held half of Sidon. During the winter of 1227–8 German crusaders and Teutonic Knights cooperated in constructing a castle on one of the order’s estates at Montfort about twenty miles north-east of Acre in the Galileean hills. This soon became the Teutonic Knights’ headquarters.

The activities of Henry of Limburg and the English bishops in 1227–8 were consciously preliminary to Frederick’s arrival. After an increasingly venomous war of words and despite the risk of leaving his European lands under the threat of papal confiscation, Frederick sailed from Brindisi on 28 June 1228, arriving at Limassol on 21 July. During five stormy weeks in Cyprus, Frederick sought to assert imperial overlordship, attempting to call John of Ibelin to account for his management of the kingdom on behalf of the young King Henry I (1218–53) and install a Cypriot regency more amenable to imperial interests. Only Frederick’s higher purpose prevented an open breach. Both John of Ibelin and King Henry were in the emperor’s entourage when he sailed for Acre on 2 September 1228, arriving five days later. There, for the first time in Outremer, Frederick encountered the inconvenience of excommunication. The pope’s refusal to lift the ban forced the patriarch of Jerusalem into opposition and elicited a rather nervous response to Frederick’s leadership from the Templars and Hospitallers. Frederick had to chart a careful course around Frankish sensibilities, appointing separate nominal commanders of the army’s divisions to avoid pious crusaders having to be seen to obey an excommunicate. The English bishops showed no such qualms and, in practice, the papal ban scarcely restricted Frederick. Even the litigious Jerusalem barons did not try to reject his authority because of the excommunication; they had quite enough to attack him under their existing law code.

Frederick’s challenge was threefold: to insist on his rights as king of Jerusalem; to keep his army together; and to secure the projected treaty with al-Kamil. In the first his position had seriously been weakened by the death of his teenage wife Isabella II, in May 1228 after childbirth. Technically, Frederick could thereafter only wield power in the kingdom of Jerusalem as regent for his and Isabella’s infant son Conrad IV/II, compromising his insistence on exercising regalian rights. More awkwardly, with the removal of al-Mu ‘azzam, al-Kamil had no need to honour his earlier promises over Jerusalem as he and al-Ashraf began military action against Damascus to remove their young nephew, al-Nasir Dawud. Al-Kamil had agreed with al-Ashraf to partition al-Nasir’s territories, keeping Transjordan and Palestine for himself. Any concessions to the Franks might appear superfluous if not risky. However, for Frederick a satisfactory diplomatic outcome was essential, and, with rumours of papal armies attacking his lands in Italy, a speedy one at that. In the footsteps, at times literally, of Richard I three and a half decades earlier, permanent dialogue backed by a show of force was the only option available. However, unlike Richard’s, Frederick’s army was palpably incapable of conquering inland Palestine, still less conducting an effective siege or defence of Jerusalem. The most pressure that Frederick could exert over the Egyptian sultan was as a nuisance in the path of the new Ayyubid settlement.

As soon as he landed Frederick reopened negotiations with al-Kamil. After an initial friendly but empty exchange of gifts, talks proceeded between Frederick and Fakhr al-Din. During these exchanges, Frederick showed himself in his element, skilfully exploiting his cosmopolitan culture to charm the Ayyubid negotiators and persuade them of his sincerity and good intentions. The widespread but largely false accusations by his opponents in the west of his sympathy for Islam and general irreligious scepticism finds a rather more approving parallel in Arabic observers, who liked to depict him as a man of reason and faith, tolerant if not sympathetic to Islam. Frederick enjoyed showing off, from elaborate royal ceremonial to swapping esoteric academic arguments. Accompanied in Palestine by his Arabic logic tutor, with whom he was apparently reading Aristotle, Frederick sent al-Kamil a list of detailed questions on philosophy, geometry and mathematics.33 This kind of intellectual showing off reflected Frederick’s Sicilian education, as did his refusal to engage in crude anti-Islamic posturing once Jerusalem had been restored. He was critical of decisions by the local Jerusalem qadi to suspend the call of the muezzin. While preventing Christian priests insulting Muslim sensibilities by carrying copies of the Bible into holy places in the Haram al-Sharif to which the treaty specified joint access, he allowed his Muslim bodyguards from Sicily to say their midday prayers there. While such behaviour left Arabic commentators favourably impressed, it allowed Latin critics to attack what they perceived as decadence or, worse, a lack of sincere faith. The Patriarch Gerold, uncomfortably placed on the spot but loyal to the papal ban, accused Frederick of enjoying the sultan’s gifts of not just mathematical solutions but ‘singing girls and jugglers, persons who were not only of ill repute but unworthy even to be mentioned by Christians’ (although naturally that did not stop the patriarch doing precisely that). There were stories that Frederick reciprocated by providing his Muslim guests with Christian dancing girls.34 Alleged miscegenation was almost guaranteed to summon the interest if not blood of watching monastic commentators in the west.

However cosy their social relations, Frederick and al-Kamil’s negotiators had no easy task. Al-Kamil felt he needed a settlement with Frederick to free his hands in Syria but was nervous at the price in prestige of a peaceful settlement or surrender, as his opponents would say. He could not be seen as giving too much too freely. On the other hand Frederick, although desperate for a treaty to restore his reputation in Christendom and allow him to return to defend his Italian territories, could not appear as a suppliant. Both had to be cautious but persistent. One member of Frederick’s forces, the poet Freidank, likened the process to watching two misers trying to divide evenly three gold pieces.35 In November 1228, with negotiations deadlocked, al-Kamil moved to southern Palestine. Frederick followed in a show of force, almost a copy of Richard I’s march of September 1191, leading a coalition of local barons, the military orders and the western crusaders down the coast road to Caesarea and Jaffa, ostensibly preparatory to an assault on Jerusalem itself. So as not to appear to be serving under an excommunicated commander, the Templars and Hospitallers followed the main body a day behind. However, on reaching Arsuf they realized the folly of such division and the armies united before reaching Jaffa unopposed. There, supplied by the sea, Frederick completed the refortifications and built up supplies. At the same time, news from the west of papally sponsored invasions of his Italian territories sharpened the emperor’s dilemma. Although he sent for more galleys from Sicily, a winter return passage was hardly feasible for the whole of the emperor’s force.

The stalemate was broken by al-Kamil’s agreement to most of Frederick’s terms. While insisting to his subjects that any territorial concessions could easily be reversed once the crusade army had departed and exaggerating the threat posed by Frederick’s continued stay, al-Kamil’s acceptance of a treaty recognized the priorities of Ayyubid policy.36 Damascus and Transjordan were more important than Judea; peaceful relations with the Frankish masters of the coastal entrepôts more crucial to the rulers of the hinterland than stubborn points of principle. A sign of successful diplomacy, each side was able to gloss the details of the treaty to suit their domestic needs, and critics on both sides could condemn the whole deal as unprincipled. Reminiscent of the 1192 agreement between Saladin and Richard I, the Treaty of Jaffa of 18 February 1229 gave both parties what they immediately wanted.37 The Ayyubids’ priorities concerned political strategy; the Christians’ what could be called religious strategy. Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Nazareth, the sites of the Crucifixion, Nativity and Annunication, were restored to Christian rule, with territorial corridors linking them to the Frankish-held coastal plain. The whole of Sidon was relinquished to the Franks, as was Toron in western Galilee, although with a stipulation that it should not be fortified, a restriction that, despite al-Kamil’s claim to the contrary, did not apply to Jerusalem or elsewhere. Prisoners of war, always a very sensitive issue, from the Fifth Crusade and since, were to be returned. A truce was established that was to last for ten years. Excluded or ignored by the terms were the castles of the Templars and Hospitallers and the lands of Bohemund IV of Antioch-Tripoli, perhaps in revenge for his refusal to swear fealty to Frederick in the summer of 1228. Within Jerusalem, the Temple Mount, al-Haram al-Sharif, was to remain under the jurisdiction of Islamic religious authorities, the Dome of the Rock and the al-Aqsa mosque to remain Muslim places of worship. Christians were allowed free access to these sites, just as Muslim pilgrims were to be protected in their devotions, with their own resident qadi. Otherwise, the Muslim population was evacuated, being replaced by Franks, who immediately began to refortify the city, even though the political capital effectively remained at Acre.

The Treaty of Jaffa appalled sections of the Muslim world, especially al-Kamil’s enemies in Damascus. Even writers sympathetic to al-Kamil acknowledged the distaste provoked by the surrender of Jerusalem, reversing, as one pointedly commented, ‘one of Saladin’s most notable achievements’.38 On the Christian side, the Templars and Hospitallers had few reasons to rejoice, especially as Frederick had so very obviously favoured the Teutonic Knights during his stay. Few were more vitriolic in their condemnation than Patriarch Gerold of Jerusalem, who lambasted Frederick for his temerity, disobedience, deceit, misbehaviour and pride.39 The restoration of Jerusalem posed an awkward problem for local churchmen and their allies in the baronage and military orders. Recovery of territory offered a return of property that, if opposed, could be in danger of being given to another. Alice of Armenia had to appeal to the High Court to prevent Toron remaining in the hands of the Teutonic Knights, to whom Frederick had given it.40 Most pilgrims relished the prospect of fulfilling their vows at the Holy Sepulchre despite not having shed any infidel blood. Denying access to the Holy Places or insisting on violence rather than diplomacy placed churchmen in a tricky situation, especially as some clerics, notably the bishops of Winchester and Exeter, supported Frederick, earning themselves papal censure. Quite quickly, self-interest won over the Templars and Hospitallers to the benefits of reoccupying Jerusalem and the other restored areas. Christian opposition to the 1229 treaty had far more to do with its architect, Frederick, than its content which in essence repeated much of what Richard I had suggested in 1191–2.

Frederick could afford no such doubts. On 17 March, before an interdict could reach him from Patriarch Gerold in Acre, Frederick entered Jersualem. After visiting the Muslim shrines in the company of the local Islamic authorities, the following day he led his followers into the church of the Holy Sepulchre. There, in one of the most memorable pieces of political and religious theatre of thirteenth-century Christendom, Frederick took his crown from the high altar in the great twelfth-century Romanesque nave of the church and placed it on his own head. This was not a Napoleonic self-coronation as king of Jerusalem so much as an imperial crown-wearing, a demonstration of his unique authority, a reminder of his pre-eminent role in the order of the Christian society and, boldest of all, an assertion of his inheritance of the special favour once bestowed by God Himself on King David. One of the most skilled propagandists and self-promoters of his age, Frederick made this very clear in his letter to Henry III of England describing the scene:

we, as being a Catholic emperor… wore the crown, which Almighty God provided for us from the throne of His majesty, when of his especial grace, he exalted us on high among the princes of the world; so that whilst we have supported the honour of this high dignity, which belongs to us by right of sovereignty, it is more and more evident to all that the hand of the Lord hath done all this: and since His mercies are over all His works, let the worshippers of the orthodox faith henceforth know and relate it far and wide throughout the world, that He, who is blessed for ever, has visited and redeemed His people, and has raised up the horn of salvation for us in the house of His servant David.41

During the crown-wearing ceremony, Hermann von Salza read out a statement, once in German and then in French, justifying Frederick’s actions surrounding the crusade and attacking his critics. The Jerusalem ritual was to serve purposes far beyond the Holy Land. The scene in the Holy Sepulchre was woven prominently into Frederick’s self-image. When later in 1229 his armies took the field against those of the pope in his successful attempts to regain his kingdom in Italy, sympathetic writers described them as ‘the army of crusaders (crucesignatorum)’.42 As he reputedly said to Fakhr al-Din, his reason for taking Jerusalem was primarily because ‘I simply want to safeguard my reputation with the Christians.’43 Immediately this seemed unlikely. Only the next day the archbishop of Caesarea arrived to impose the patriarch’s interdict on the Holy City. However, the bird had flown, Frederick decamping for Jaffa that day, eager to return to the west to make sure he did not become an emperor with no empire. Yet even while he had been in Jerusalem, some clergy had accompanied him and others, such as the Dominican Walter, who had preached the cross in England in 1227, celebrated mass for crusaders just outside the city walls. Once the emperor had gone, the bishop of Winchester and the military orders began rebuilding the city’s fortifications and, so one jaundiced English observer noted, clerics from grand prelates downwards crowded back into the Holy City, ‘their churches and old possessions restored to them’.44 However controversial, the restoration of Jerusalem to Christian occupation lasted, with one brief interlude, for fifteen years. There is evidence that it benefited economically from a revived pilgrim trade; at least one new holy site was constructed, the Coeniculum on Mt Zion, the reputed site of the Last Supper. A well-funded, staffed and equipped scriptorium seems to have been established in the Holy City and large sums of money expended on its walls. Its loss briefly in 1240 and permanently in 1244 proved the wisdom of those who, since 1191, had argued for the impracticality of trying to defend Jerusalem without a larger militarized hinterland and control of the castles of Transjordan. As it was, after 1229, there was a Muslim military base stationed a few miles away at al-Bira, site of the former Frankish settlement of Magna Mahomeria. Discounted by subsequent events, nonetheless Jerusalem’s recovery in 1229 was a significant actual as well as symbolic achievement in the context of the emotions, blood and treasure so profligately expended on it since 1187.

Frederick’s haste to depart contributed to a further souring of relations with the clergy and local baronage. As in Cyprus in 1228, Frederick wished to impose a subservient regime in the kingdom, clipping the wings of the Ibelins. On his return to Acre he also found ranged against him the Templars, the patriarch and many of the Italian merchants in the city nervous at Damascus’s extremely hostile reaction to the surrender of Jerusalem. Patriarch Gerold was planning a coup with the Templars to wrest Jerusalem from the hands of imperial agents. Frederick’s attempt to instal Thomas of Acrerra as his – or rather his infant son Conrad’s – bailli met fierce resistance. After trying to browbeat the Templars and the patriarch by force, Frederick admitted defeat. He maintained the imperial presence by leaving a garrison in Acre and securing Montfort for the Teutonic Knights as well as endowing them with as much property as his opponents could not legally challenge. But he had to bow to local pressure and appoint two loyal but Syrian barons as his regents. The future of Hohenstaufen control in Jerusalem or Cyprus was to be resolved by war over the next decade and a half; Frederick’s allies lost.45

The politics of Outremer meant that Frederick’s diplomatic success, still more his grand gesture in Jerusalem, was greeted with widespread derision, on both sides of the Ayyubid frontier. A Damascene contemporary drew a neat literary contrast between Frederick’s political and intellectual pretensions and his unprepossessing appearance. Quoting one of the janitors of the Dome of the Rock, Ibn al-Jawzi noted that Frederick was red-faced, balding and myopic: ‘Had he been a slave he would not have been worth two hundred dirham.’46 The Franks of Acre were even less charitable. As Frederick hurried to embark from the city on 1 May 1229, local butchers pelted him with offal.47 Yet the doubters and critics were wrong. Al-Kamil’s victory over Damascus soon after allayed fears in Acre of a threat to their trade with the Syrian capital. Frederick’s own defeat of papal forces in 1229–30 and the subsequent reconciliation with Gregory IX at the Treaties of San Germano and Ceprano in 1230, secured official ecclesiastical acceptance of the Outremer settlement of 1229. Frederick’s crusade had potentially laid the basis for constructive relations with the Ayyubids in the development of a wider condominium in Palestine. When instability returned to the region on the death of al-Kamil in 1238, the territorial and castle base established in 1229 could have formed a platform for further Frankish advances. Frederick retained an almost proprietary interest in the affairs of Outremer and the need to assist the defence of the Holy Land. Yet the rejection by the Outremer nobles of Hohenstaufen control, the fissures in their own polity and the collapse of imperial – papal relations in the west prevented more than a very modest western response when the 1229 truce expired. However, Frederick never forgot his crusade. When his porphyry tomb in Palermo was opened in 1782, the emperor’s body was found to be wearing, on the left shoulder, his crusader’s cross.48


While the ten-year truce of 1229 focused minds in the west on preparations for a new expedition, political circumstances in the west were hardly conducive to fresh mass recruitment. In England and France, the ending of their kings’ minorities stimulated internal faction and rebellion. In 1230, Henry III of England attempted to recover his ancestral lands in Poitou by force. Relations between Frederick and Gregory IX, chiefly over imperial policy in Italy, slid towards a final parting of the ways in 1239. The monarchs of Iberia were vigorously pursuing their own expansion and consolidation of conquests from the Moors and each other. In eastern Europe, rumours and refugees alerted rulers to a new danger from Mongol advances westwards beyond the Eurasian steppes that culminated in the great campaign (1236–42) by Batu, grandson of Genghis Khan, which brought him first to the marches of Latin Europe then, in 1241–2, to Poland, Hungary and, briefly, the Adriatic coast of Dalmatia. The Latin empire of Constantinople stumbled towards financial and political bankruptcy, despite vigorous leadership from the new co-emperor, the ever available and willing, if now rather shop-soiled, John of Brienne. In the Baltic, the energies of local rulers were engaged in the subjugation of Prussia, the collapse of the Swordbrothers in Livonia (1236) and growing rivalry with Novgorod.

Yet out of this apparently unpropitious setting, a new series of expeditions was fashioned. One collector of heroic tales and good stories, no friend to the emperor, noted that once Pope Gregory ‘realised that Frederick was not going to put forward any plan for freeing the Holy Land from the unbelievers’ he initiated preaching the cross in England and France.49 This was unfair. Frederick continued to take a close interest in plans for a new crusade and, even in 1239, when again excommunicated, retained at least diplomatic hopes of finding a role for himself or his son, Conrad, the absentee king of Jerusalem. However, Gregory saw in the crusade a unique instrument of ecclesiastical and specifically papal authority with wide application. He authorized crusading campaigns against allegedly heretical peasants in the Netherlands and the Lower Weser in the 1220s and early 1230s, and against Bosnians in 1227 and 1234. His commitment to prop up Latin Constantinople produced crusading plans in 1231 and 1236–8. In the Baltic he authorized the Teutonic Knights’ conquest of Prussia and supported them with repeated crusading appeals including, in 1240, war with Novgorod. From 1234, he employed the Dominicans and Franciscans on a regular basis to preach the verbum crucis. Finally in 1239–40 he began the series of crusades against Frederick that marked the start of a thirty-year contest to destroy the Hohenstaufen.50

Yet, in all this holy war, the plight of the Holy Land retained its special resonance.

Any man who will not set off at once
for the land where God lived and died,
any man who will not take the Holy Land’s cross
will have but little chance of going to heaven.51

Although hardly impartial, these verses of Count Theobald IV of Champagne (1201–53, king of Navarre from 1234) marking his own determination to sail for Syria, such sentiments permeated the literature, liturgy and diplomatic rhetoric of the west. By 1234, prospects appeared at least realistic. In Outremer the War of the Lombards had temporarily died down after the defeat of the imperialists in Cyprus in 1232–3. The pope was involved in efforts to gain acceptance of the imperial administration on the mainland. In the west, after Louis IX of France achieved his majority in 1234, the severe political unrest of the previous years gave way to acceptance of the royal regime. In England a sharp political crisis of 1232–4 appeared over and protracted civil war averted. In both countries, just as during the preaching of the Fifth Crusade, the institution of a new expedition to the Holy Land offered a useful political ritual through which disputes and rivalries could be settled and political consensus restored.

Gregory IX launched his new enterprise in letters to the English (4 September 1234) and French (6 November 1234).52 The plan he devised was a sophisticated if logical development from the experience of 1213–21 and 1227–9. In addition to the crusaders themselves, Gregory proposed the creation of a ten-year garrison (or ‘militia’) funded by lay tax contributions earning non-plenary remission of sins.53 To subsidize the crusaders, the clergy were taxed and the pope instituted a campaign to attract vow redemptions and offered indulgences for material contributions. While the preaching was committed largely to the friars, the moneys raised were held in diocesan depositories from which sums were released by direct papal command or the instructions from a papal legate. The funds were given to the regional commanders of the crusade for their own expenses, those of their followers and for mercenaries. Some recruits, such as Count Amaury of Montfort, had their debts settled, while for others, including the count of Champagne, such subsidies made involvement possible.54 The leading English recruit, Henry III’s brother, Richard earl of Cornwall, stood in a different category. From Cornwall he received huge revenues from the growing tin industry, making him one of the richest men in Europe. Nonetheless, he was eager to supplement his resources to pay for the equipping, maintenance and transport of a small army to the Holy Land. Earl Richard received 3,000 marks levied from the increasingly hard-pressed English Jewish community in 1237. The next year, the pope assigned to him legacies bequeathed for the Holy Land and cash vow redemptions, to be handed over once the earl reached Outremer. In fact, the elaborate funding system encountered severe administrative difficulties. Collection of Earl Richard’s grant of redemptions proved glacial, lasting into the 1250s, but lucrative. As late as 1247, when efforts to settle the account were revived by Pope Innocent IV, one archdeaconry was alleged to have raised 600 pounds. Yet by this time, as critics observed, it was evident that little of the money had been used on the actual crusade. Just as some expressed distaste at preachers’ emphasis on fund raising, so others saw the incongruity of supplying the fabulously wealthy earl with a form of regular pension derived from the payments of the pious, the halt, the lame and the poor.55 In France, bureaucratic confusion led to the same funds from the diocese of Poitiers being assigned simultaneously to two different crusaders, Geoffrey of Argentan and the duke of Brittany, while proceeds from three dioceses in the province of Lyons were directed to the duke of Burgundy, having previously been allocated to Count John of Mâcon.56

In addition to these papally organized levies, crusaders resorted to traditional means to raise capital, chiefly from their own property and their lords’ generosity. Richard of Cornwall cut down and sold off his woods after taking the cross in 1236.57 His brother-in-law and fellow crucesignatus, Simon of Montfort, Amaury’s younger brother and earl of Leicester, received 1,000 pounds from the sale of his wood at Leicester.58 Others were supported by the king, especially the entourage of Richard of Cornwall. The earl’s ‘chief of staff’, the prior of the English Hospitallers, Thierry of Nussa, was lent 1,000 pounds. Royal officials who had taken the cross received advances on their salaries or outright gifts. Other crucesignati were able to obtain mortgages from the crown, Across the English Channel, Louis IX was encouraged by the pope to provide funds for the expedition in 1237.59 The stimulus given to the land market by departing crusaders’ need to raise cash on their landed assets is unquantifiable but everywhere apparent.

Although some contemporaries noted, perhaps formally rather than arithmetically, the participation of large numbers of the ‘mediocrium’ or ‘menu peuple’, the commons or ‘ordinary’ people60 – and there is evidence of involvement by some non-noble or knightly freeholders – the core of the crusade comprised the subsidized entourages of earls, counts and dukes, around whom gathered political and dynastic affinities. Superficially, the French crusaders fell into certain broad groups – royal baronial officials, such as Amaury of Montfort, the constable and the butler Robert of Courtenay – and circles of nobles associated by blood or allegiance with a few great lords who had taken the cross: Duke Hugh IV of Burgundy, Theobald of Champagne and Count Peter of Brittany. The muster, from all parts of the kingdom except the south, represented the most extensive commitment of French nobles since the Fourth Crusade, including the counts of Bar, Mâcon, Joigny, Sancerre, Soissons, Grandpré and Nevers. Yet this conceals the most striking feature of the recruitment. Each of these lords, as well as many of their crusading followers such as the counts of Bar, Châlons and Nevers, had been central to the largely anti-royalist disturbances of the late 1220s and early 1230s. Taking the cross formed part of a process of reconciliation with Louis IX and his mother, the powerful regent Blanche of Castile. It is perhaps significant that in the end the most loyalist baron who took the cross, Humbert of Beaujeu, actually went to defend Constantinople and did not accompany his former adversaries to the Holy Land. Taking the cross afforded former rebels protection and served as a guarantee of future conduct as well as presenting a respectable opportunity for political losers to absent themselves from the kingdom. The government could feel secure and the ex-rebels escape further harassment. A key role of the crusade in secular politics was to assist the process of achieving political consensus, the absence of which rendered any medieval polity ungovernable.

In England, the pattern was similar. The symbolic taking of the cross by the most important political recruits in 1236 represented an attempt to reconcile dissidents with the royal court after the near civil war of 1233–4, in which the king and his foreign advisors, led by the former crusader Peter des Roches, were challenged by a baronial coalition under Richard and Gilbert Marshal. Between 1236 and 1239, the cross was taken by a range of former allies and opponents. By taking the cross together, the alliance between Richard of Cornwall and his brother-in-law Gilbert Marshal was consolidated. The crusade encompassed complex currents of personal and factional hostility, including the outlaw Richard Siward, a longstanding enemy of Earl Richard, and the man who engineered his arrest in 1236, Simon of Montfort. At Northampton in 1239, the crucesignati swore an oath not to be deflected from the Holy Land as the goal of the expedition. They included former dissidents such as Siward and Gilbert Marshal as well as royal captains instrumental in combating the Marshals, such as Henry of Turbeville.61 Those who embarked in 1240 ranged from close allies, servants and relatives of the king to previously fierce opponents such as Robert Tweng or Philip Basset.

Yet although the vows of prominent political figures in England and France, the main areas for recruitment, may have been sworn in the context of the political in-fighting of the 1230s, the structure of the crusading armies that embarked scarcely reflected the urge to unity that their original commitment apparently symbolized. The great English and French lords had mostly taken the cross by the end of 1236. Yet, despite the enterprise being conceived by Gregory IX and even Frederick II as a single operation, there appeared only partial coordination of effort. The main French wave left in 1239. The English contribution was divided into three distinct armies, under Richard of Cornwall, who set off in June 1240 and sailed via Marseilles; Simon of Montfort who left independently and travelled via Brindisi; and William of Forz, who left in 1241. Each attracted a distinctive constituency of followers. With Richard went his own extended familia, courtiers and close relatives and allies such as his cousin William Longspee and half-brother Eudo. Simon of Montfort led a mixed Anglo-French retinue, while William of Forz seems to have been followed by his fellow expatriate Poitevins. Each group retained independence of structure, policy and action once in the east.62 As one of the more bizarre, yet suggestive features of the 1239–41 crusading effort, Richard of Cornwall timed his arrival at Acre just weeks after Theobald had left the city for home.

Yet the French armies were no more unified. After delaying their departure until 1239 out of deference to Frederick II’s opposition to a precipitate breaking of the ten-year 1229 truce, a delay possibly secured by the emperor’s promise to provide Theobald of Champagne with funds once he reached the Holy Land, the French crusaders displayed little cohesion.63 Although most sailed from Marseilles, others used the ports of Apulia. Both before embarkation and in the Holy Land, an apparent primacy was afforded Theobald of Champagne, perhaps in deference to his grand crusading pedigree rather than his diminished wealth or conspicuous lack of political talent. Although Theobald had abandoned the 1226 Albigensian crusade at the siege of Avignon, his father (d. 1201) had been the lost leader of the Fourth Crusade; his uncle, Henry, had ruled Jerusalem 1192–7, and his predecessors and county had been central to crusade enthusiasm since the 1090s. However, on campaign in Palestine, he appeared unable to impose unity within the crusade force despite being recognized as commander of the crusade at an assembly of crusaders and Franks on arrival at Acre. At different times, Peter of Brittany, Hugh of Burgundy and Henry of Bar pursued their own separate tactics. The duke of Burgundy operated throughout as a semi-detached ally, remaining in the east a year after Theobald and most of the French had departed in 1240. When a private raid of Peter of Brittany’s managed to seize a considerable haul of booty, livestock and meat were distributed to other commanders and ‘the poor’, but only as gifts, arousing jealousy and resentment. The duke of Burgundy and the counts of Bar and Montfort decided, disastrously, to forage and plunder for themselves because ‘they were just as powerful as the count of Brittany’ and they would be shamed if they failed to follow his example.64 Attempts by Count Theobald to stop them, even his appeal to the fealty they had sworn him at Acre as leader of the army, failed. Such divisions reflected funding as much as the politics and personalities of the French operation. There was no central fund in the hands of a unified leadership. Each noble had funded himself and his followers and had received individual grants from the ecclesiastical depositories. None of the great lords depended financially on another. No pay; no discipline. One commentator remarked that by the end of his stay in Outremer, in the late summer of 1240, Theobald of Champagne lamented how members of his army disliked him so much that ‘they did not obey his orders, as they had promised to do at the beginning when he landed in Syria’.65

This lack of unity was not entirely the crusaders’ own making. Just as recruiting for the Holy Land was reaching completion towards the end of 1236, Gregory IX complicated arrangements by suggesting a parallel expedition to help defend the ailing Latin empire of Constantinople against a new menacing coalition of Greeks and Bulgars. Despite assumptions by later historians, the Latin empire never attracted much support from the west beyond the relatives of those French nobles who had established themselves in Greece. As reaction to the pope’s new demands in the 1230s confirmed, in no sense did the Latin presence in Greece, or Romania as they called it, deflect western aid for the Holy Land. Rather the reverse; money raised in England for the Latin empire had to be assigned to the Palestine crusade because no English lord would change course for the Bosporus instead of Acre.66 Gregory’s appeal in 1236–8, made in conjunction with the mission to the west of the co-emperor Baldwin II, failed to redirect many crucesignati from the Holy Land. The pope’s strenuous efforts on his behalf failed to disguise Baldwin II’s own poor showing as an impecunious and unimpressive political mendicant with nothing to offer but relics, such as the Crown of Thorns eagerly acquired by Louis IX of France, and the sale of some vestigial western patrimonial lands. More damaging to the Palestine project were the pope’s attempts to persuade or insist that crusaders commute their vows from Jerusalem to Constantinople. His main target in France was Peter of Brittany and his associates, including the counts of Bar and Soissons. Although negotiations drifted on for a couple of years, resistance to the Greek crusade hardened. The counts of Brittany and Bar both explicitly refused to commute their vows to the Greek scheme.67 Of the French barons, only Humbert of Beaujeu and Thomas of Marly went with Baldwin II to Constantinople in 1239; Peter of Brittany and his colleagues went to Palestine. In England, Richard of Cornwall also resisted papal blandishments to commute his vow and divert his crusade money to subsidize Baldwin II’s campaign.

If the papal dalliance with Greece sowed confusion and resentment, his renewed excommunication and subsequent crusade against Frederick II in 1239 provoked open disobedience. For one thing, the breach with Frederick potentially closed various routes to the east, especially the ports in Apulia. At least one army, that of Simon of Montfort, ignored this by using Brindisi. Frederick’s son, Conrad, was titular king of Jerusalem, and the emperor retained agents in Outremer with access to funds and troops useful to any crusade. They held the Holy City itself. Many in France and England did not share Gregory’s paranoia over the Hohenstaufen. Beyond the practical lay the principle. When faced by papal demands for a clerical tax to fund the Hohenstaufen war, the rectors of Berkshire in England repudiated the whole idea of the war, pointing out that Frederick had not been condemned as a heretic.68 More pointedly, if the biased anti-papal Matthew Paris of St Alban’s can be trusted, on 12 November 1239, Richard of Cornwall and other English crucesignati swore an oath confirming their intention to relieve the Holy Land ‘lest their honest vow be hindered by the objections of the Roman Church and diverted to shedding Christian blood in Greece or Italy’.69

While attempt to divert the crusaders and their funds largely failed, they exacerbated the confused and divided nature of the Holy Land enterprise. The absence of a clear command structure, a united army or even a shared strategy contrasted with the financial discipline imposed within some of the contingents themselves. Yet the crusades of 1239–41 showed that the transition from the traditional expeditions of often rather loosely allied military households to those relying on central funding and organization could be more apparent than real. Although each noble contingent had access to a share of the central funds, their viability depended, as had all earlier crusade armies, on pre-existing bonds of clientage, association and dependency. Traditional means of self-finance persisted. One crusader poet, Philip of Nanteuil-le-Hardouin, later complained bitterly from an Egyptian prison that ordinary knights and freemen, once the money they had raised by mortgaging their lands had run out, received ‘no kindness or help or comfort from the great lords’.70 Other evidence reveals how cohesion within noble contingents was based on written contract, specific promises of agreed cash payments rather than less concrete ties of loyalty and expectation of patronage. This may be an accident of evidence. Earlier crusades had contained paid troops and retained knights, even nobles, since the First Crusade. By the mid-thirteenth century, such techniques had developed written records and, perhaps, a greater precision in the process.

The entourage of Richard of Cornwall revealed this combination of the obviously traditional and the possibly new, serving as a balance to the chroniclers’ accounts of support for the crusade in terms of grand political gestures and popular emotion. Richard himself stood as financial guarantor for his followers, many of whom, such as his steward John FitzJohn, belonged to his familia, his paid household, which included knights as well as officials. Three days after landing in October 1240, Richard proclaimed throughout Acre that he would take any crusader into his pay.71 Amongst his followers, similar but more formal contracts were drawn up. Philip Basset, one of Richard’s followers, agreed with another, the king’s forester, John of Neville, that they would travel together, with Philip paying for his own passage with two knights and four horses. Once at Acre, Neville would take Basset and his two knights into his paid familia.72 Such relationships provided the bones to support all the campaigns of 1239–41 as suggested by the cohesion within the different retinues on the French crusade of 1239–40 and the contrasting inability of Theobald of Champagne to weld them into a single unit. Money can bind and sever. After another generation of use, by the 1270s, such contracts were commonplace throughout crusading hosts, as indeed they later became across the armed forces of western Europe.

The subtleties of internal organization and material preparations could not prevent the perfunctory nature and mixed military fortunes of the campaigns. Diplomatic achievements depended on continuing divisions between the Ayyubid rulers of Damascus, Transjordan and Egypt. The death of al-Kamil of Egypt in 1238 had left the succession to be disputed between al-Kamil’s sons, al-Salih Ayyub and al-Adil II, and their uncle, al-Kamil’s brother, al-Salih Isma ‘il. Holding the ring as an important powerbroker stood the ruler of the crucial region around Kerak, al-Nasir, the former ruler of Damascus deposed in 1229, who could negate any settlement made by the others as to the future of southern Palestine. In 1240, al-Salih Ayyub, with the help of al-Nasir of Kerak, ousted al-Adil II from Egypt, having previously surrendered control of Damascus to his uncle al-Salih Isma ‘il. The tensions between these rulers provided the Franks with an opportunity at the same time as making any territorial concessions difficult to guarantee. Within the kingdom of Jerusalem, different factions argued for different alliances. Consistency was impossible in the face of such volatile regime changes in the Ayyubid empire. A large, concerted crusader-Frankish army might have exerted considerable influence in the region. But no such force was assembled and, even if it had been, no obvious strategic plan was available.

The crusade that arrived at Acre under Theobald of Champagne in early September 1239 comprised in some near-contemporary estimates well over 1,000 knights. Most of the fleet had left from Marseilles, others using the southern Italian ports. Well stocked with great lords, the army lacked horses, a potential penalty of sea travel. Some knights were apparently reduced to riding donkeys.73 The total number of non-knights could have reached a few thousand. The diplomatic and military options were complicated. Neither Damascus nor Egypt, the main military threats to the Franks, were in control of Jerusalem and southern Palestine during the crusaders’ stay. At the expiry of the truce in 1239, the Holy City was threatened instead by al-Nasir of Kerak, who eventually occupied it at the end of the year. Yet the council at Acre that accepted Theobald’s leadership agreed a potentially disastrous policy of threatening both Egypt and Damascus. First Ascalon would be refortified to secure the south and perhaps dissuade the Muslims from attacking Jerusalem. Then the Christians would launch a campaign against Damascus. This account of the plan may owe more to subsequent events than to what was decided at Acre.74 However, a policy to unsettle both Damascus and Egypt may have appealed during the unresolved Ayyubid succession conflict. The logic, if any, to this scheme also reflected the divisions and interests within the local baronage. A recent prominent newcomer to Outremer, Walter of Brienne, a vassal of Theobald of Champagne in the west and married to the sister of Henry I of Cyprus, held the county of Jaffa in the right of his mother-in-law, Alice of Champagne. Ascalon traditionally formed part of that county, and Walter held a powerful voice in the local baronage. The concern of many, not least from the merchant community in Acre, lest relations with Damascus be harmed, may also have encouraged a foray southwards, as would the desire of the crusaders to visit the Holy City. Egypt in the winter of 1239–40 may have seemed a softer target than Damascus, while direct assistance for the garrison at Jerusalem would mean aiding the imperialist garrison there. Throughout the proceedings, although Theobald had hoped for a subsidy from Frederick II when he reached Acre, the hostility of the local barons led by the Ibelins ensured that the emperor’s agent in the east, Richard Filangieri at Tyre, would remain excluded from operations.

As in 1228–9, the military manoeuvres of Theobald’s crusade appeared chiefly designed to produce a diplomatic solution. This was achieved, but more by internal Ayyubid politics than Christian action. The march to Ascalon began on 2 November, reaching Jaffa ten days later. En route, the count of Brittany conducted a successful raid on a large convoy of herded livestock bound for Damascus, his success supplying the army with necessary food but feeding internal resentment at his independent action.75 Once at Jaffa, news of an Egyptian army approaching from the south provoked a large division of nobles and knights under the duke of Burgundy, Walter of Brienne and the counts of Bar and Montfort, together with other local barons and members of the military orders, to offer battle. Ignoring warnings and pleas for unity from Count Theobald they advanced during the night to pitch camp beyond Ascalon, near Gaza. Omitting to post sentries, by morning this splinter expeditionary force found itself surrounded. Some of the leaders managed to break out and escape. The rest, led by the counts of Bar and Montfort, remained to be overwhelmed by the Egyptians. Henry of Bar was killed; Amaury of Montfort and many others captured. The defeat at Gaza, although modest in numbers lost, seriously undermined any potential diplomatic strategy by weakening the crusader army in repute if not materially. It provided the Egyptians with scores of well-connected aristocratic hostages. Hamstrung militarily and diplomatically, Theobald abandoned plans to rebuild Ascalon and withdrew from Jaffa back to Acre, seemingly waiting for something to turn up.

The activity during the rest of the count’s stay was fashioned by events within the Ayyubid empire. In the autumn of 1239, al-Salih Ayyub had been expelled from Damascus by his uncle, al-Salih Ismai ‘il and imprisoned by his cousin al-Nasir of Kerak. At the turn of the year, al-Nasir occupied Jerusalem. In the early months of 1240, the kaleidoscope received a further series of twists. In the north the change of government in Damascus prompted the emir of Hamah, a supporter of al-Salih Ayyub, to offer an alliance with the Franks against the lord of neighbouring Homs, an ally of the new Damascus regime. This prospect drew Count Theobald north to Tripoli, only for his presence to cause the lord of Homs to ease the pressure on Hamah, whose emir promptly withdrew from the promised alliance with the crusaders. While Theobald was being manipulated by political factions in northern Syria, in Egypt al-Adil II was deposed by a new partnership between al-Nasir and his erstwhile prisoner al-Salih Ayyub, who now assumed the sultanate. By May 1240, with no contribution by the crusaders or Franks, the political landscape had altered significantly from the one that Count Theobald had found nine months earlier. Jerusalem was under the control of al-Nasir of Kerak; his new ally al-Salih Ayyub was installed in Egypt, but retained the Gaza hostages won under his ousted predecessor al-Adil II; and the authority of al-Salih Isma ‘il had been consolidated over Damascus and its northern Syrian dependencies. The diplomatic options facing Theobald were thus dictated for him. If he wished to regain the hostages, a treaty with Egypt was necessary. But to secure territorial concessions further north and appease the mercantile interests in Acre, a Damascus alliance was desirable. To acquire lands west of the Jordan and recover Jerusalem, a deal with al-Nasir of Kerak had to be struck.76

The new ascendancy of al-Salih Ayyub in Egypt inclined a nervous Damascus and the shifty but nimble al-Nasir to reach agreement with Theobald, who launched a brief military foray into Galilee to press his case for a treaty. The details of this and subsequent negotiations remain obscure, victims of highly partisan reporting at the time and later. It appears that Theobald, despite the lack of military success, negotiated a superficially advantageous treaty with al-Salih Isma ‘il of Damascus. Beaufort, the area behind Sidon, much of Galilee, including Tiberias and Saphet, Jerusalem, Bethlehem and, possibly, most of the rest of southern Palestine were assigned to the Franks. Much of this agreement could only be implemented by a parallel treaty that was reached with al-Nasir of Kerak, who was actually occupying Jerusalem and the surrounding region. On completing the treaty with Damascus, Theobald again marched south and possibly visited Jerusalem, manoeuvres which may have persuaded al-Salih Ayyub of Egypt to release some of the Gaza prisoners in August 1240. Without any prospect of further gains, nervous of possible competition for leadership from the impending arrival of Richard of Cornwall and with relations with Damascus fraying, in September 1240 Theobald left Acre for the west, in a hurry, some said.77 He left behind a precarious but viable model of territorial recovery, an imperialist garrison in a restored Jerusalem, the resentment of local barons and the duke of Burgundy, supported by a Champenois garrison, still bivouacked at Ascalon.

A few weeks later, Richard of Cornwall, with a well-equipped fleet, reached Acre. Richard’s crusade marked his coming of age on the international stage as befitted his wealth from Cornish tin and dynastic contacts of birth and marriage. It also provided an opportunity for his distinguished powers of self-publicity. The generally favourable reception of his exploits in the east, trumpeted by sympathetic chroniclers, rested on his own estimation circulated by newsletter on his return to Europe in July 1241, in which he lauded his treaty with Egypt, implicitly denigrating the achievements of Count Theobald.78 In fact, Richard’s brief stay in Outremer from October 1240 to May 1241 remained largely barren of significant results.

Richard possessed some distinct advantages; deep pockets, a close-knit entourage and, remarkably, the approval of both the pope and the emperor. Supported by papal subsidies, Richard had nonetheless kept Frederick informed of his progress and may even have received some sort of imperial accreditation. Although potentially a source of friction with anti-imperialists in Outremer, this imperial connection offered some hope of a compromise in the debilitating political infighting. In the summer of 1241 it was suggested by the baronial faction that Richard’s brother-in-law, Simon of Montfort, be appointed imperial lieutenant.79 More immediately, Richard faced the same choice as Theobald, whether to shore up the Damascus treaty, as supported by the Templars, or ally with Egypt, the Hospitallers’ choice. Again, in the footsteps of Theobald, Richard’s force of about 800 knights, later possibly joined by the contingent of Simon of Montfort (William of Forz’s expedition probably arriving too late to play a part in Richard’s campaign) marched south to Jaffa in November 1240. There he opened negotiations with Egyptian ambassadors before proceeding to join the duke of Burgundy at Ascalon. While the diplomacy continued, Richard supervised the reconstruction of a new fortress in the citadel at Ascalon, building on foundations laid half a century earlier by his uncle Richard I.80 On completion, the new fortress was handed over to Walter Pennenpié, the imperial agent in Jerusalem.81 This represented a balancing act, on the one hand signalling Richard’s acceptance of imperial authority, on the other pursuing what most local barons wanted, a deal with Egypt. Like his uncle, Earl Richard presumably hoped that the re-establishment of a powerful stronghold on the southern Palestinian coast would encourage Egypt to agree terms. If so, the tactic worked. On 8 February a treaty was settled with al-Salih Ayyub. This ostensibly confirmed the territorial settlement of the previous year between Count Theobald, Damascus and Kerak, giving the Franks control of Palestine west of the Jordan, including Galilee but excluding Samaria and Hebron. In fact, Sultan al-Salih Ayyub had no control over the lands he granted to the Christians. His agreement to the treaty asserted a nominal lordship as part of a longer contest to regain his former lands in northern Syria to which the Franks were merely spectators. More important for Richard’s western reputation than notional territorial gains, the treaty secured the release of the remaining prisoners from the battle of Gaza. Richard used the truce to order the interment of the remains of thirty-three nobles and 500 other troops that lay still unburied on that battlefield.82 A pensioner of the pope, a friend of the emperor, this act of charity made him a hero to the French. It did nothing at all to reshape the destiny of Outremer, as the treaty with Egypt was entirely dependent on the good will of al-Nasir of Kerak and the acquiescence of the emir of Damascus.

His gestures and building complete, after the customary tour of the Holy Places, Richard departed, sailing from Acre on 3 May 1241. One unimpressed observer remarked: ‘Thus all these men did almost nothing in the Holy Land that was of any use.’83 Despite restoring the kingdom to its greatest extent since Hattin and consolidating a fortified frontier, the crusades of 1239–41 appeared wholly insignificant compared with the great events that were soon to engulf the region, the displacement of the Khwarazmians and the advent of the Mongols. The crusades failed to resolve, hardly address even, the debilitating internal tensions of Outremer. During a period of intense Ayyubid instability, the crusaders appeared by turns bystanders and puppets, manipulated according to the changing ambitions of competing Muslim princes. Yet in organization and awareness of the modest, incremental possibilities of all campaigns except the most massive of western invasion, the crusades of Theobald and Richard confirmed a pattern in western aid. Gregory IX’s scheme for a permanent garrison sponsored by western money became a reality a decade later, forming a vital element in the final defence of the Holy Land. More ambiguously, the experience of the 1239–41 crusades revealed a new professionalism in how the business of the cross could be organized at the same time as showing how its success could so easily be compromised by this very professionalism. The increased distinction between crusade enthusiasm that could be expressed by donations not service and crusade campaigning that depended on complex systems of military recruitment and funding reduced the uniqueness of such enterprises, if not in ambition then in organization. As crusading became ever more firmly a matter for state governments, this at once offered greater prospects of achievement and greater vulnerability to those governments’ distractions, one of the central paradoxes of Holy Land crusading in the later thirteenth century and beyond. Only where a ruler made the Holy Land his main policy could this tension hope to be resolved. In all the thirteenth century, this applied to one monarch alone.

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