The First Crusade, 1095-99
BETWEEN 1095 AND THE END of the Middle Ages, western Europeans fought or planned wars broadly understood as being in defense or promotion of their religion throughout the eastern Mediterranean, in the Iberian peninsula, the Baltic, and within Christendom itself. Yet no campaign rivaled the first in impact or memory. Contemporaries and subsequent generations have been astonished and moved by the exploits of the armies and fleets from western Europe that forced their way into the Near East between 1096 and 1099 to capture Jerusalem in distant Palestine. Excited western intellectuals employed the language of theology: for one, “the greatest miracle since the Resurrection”; for another, “a new way of salvation,” almost a renewal of God’s covenant with His people.
The expedition arose out of a specific social, religious, ecclesiastical, and political context. Western Europe was held together by a military aristocracy whose power rested on control of local resources by force and inheritance as much as by civil law. The availability of large numbers of arms bearers, nobles and their retinues, with sufficient funds or patronage to undertake such an expedition, was matched by an awareness of the sinfulness of their customary activities and a desire for penance. For them, holy violence was familiar and Jerusalem possessed overwhelming numinous resonance. The invitation from the eastern Christian emperor of Byzantium (Constantinople), Alexius I Comnenus to Pope Urban suited the new papal policy of asserting supremacy over both Church and State developed over the previous half century. An earlier scheme by Pope Gregory VII (1073–85) to lead an army eastwards to Jerusalem had come to nothing in 1074. This time, Urban II, already a sponsor of war against the Muslims in Spain, seized on the opportunity to promote papal authority in temporal affairs. From its inception, crusading represented a practical expression of papal ideology, leadership, and power.
The opportunity was no accident. Alexius I had been recruiting western knights and mercenaries for years. A usurper, he needed military success to shore up his domestic position. The death in 1092 of Malik Shah, Turkish sultan of Baghdad, was followed by the disintegration of his empire in Syria, Palestine, and Iraq. This offered Alexius a chance to restore Byzantine control over Asia Minor and northern Syria lost to the Turks since their victory over the Byzantines at Manzikert in 1071. For this he needed western troops. For political convenience the pope was an obvious and ready ally to choose. Once he had received the Byzantine ambassadors early in 1095, Urban transformed their request for military aid into a campaign of religious revivalism, its justification couched in cosmological and eschatological terms. The pope himself led the recruitment drive with a preaching tour of his homeland, France, between August 1095 and September 1096 that reached its defining moment at Clermont. With the kings of France and Germany excommunicated, the king of England, William II Rufus, in dispute with the pope, and the Spanish monarchs preoccupied with their own Muslim frontier, the pope concentrated on the higher nobility, the dukes, counts, and lords, while casting his net wide. Recruitment stretched from southern Italy and Sicily to Lombardy, across great swathes of France from Aquitaine and Provence to Normandy, Flanders and into the Low Countries, western Germany, the Rhineland, the North Sea region, and Denmark, although both Latin and Arabic sources dubbed them collectively as “Franks”—Franci, al-ifranji. A recent guess puts the number of fighting men reaching Asia Minor in 1096–97 at between fifty thousand and seventy thousand, excluding the non-combatant pilgrims who used the military exodus as protection for their own journeys.
Medieval Europe and Its Frontiers
The first to set out for the agreed muster point of Constantinople in spring and summer 1096 included forces from Lombardy, northern and eastern France, the Rhineland, and southern Germany. One of their leaders was a charismatic Picard preacher known as Peter the Hermit. Some contemporaries attributed the genesis of the whole enterprise to Peter, who allegedly had been badly treated by the Turkish rulers of Jerusalem when on pilgrimage some years earlier. Although unlikely to have been the expedition’s instigator, Peter certainly played a significant role in recruitment, possibly with papal approval, and was able to muster a substantial army within three and a half months of the council of Clermont. Elements of these Franco-German contingents conducted vicious anti-Jewish pogroms the length of the Rhineland in May and June 1096, before moving east down the Danube. Together, these armies have been dismissed as “the Peasants’ Crusade.” This is a misnomer. Although containing fewer nobles and mounted knights than the later armies, these forces were far from the rabbles of legend and contemporary polemic. They possessed cohesion, funds, and leadership, managing to complete the long march to Constantinople largely intact and in good time. One of the commanders, Walter Sans Avoir, was not, as many have assumed, “Penniless”—Sans Avoir is a place (in the Seine valley), not a condition. However, discipline proved hard to maintain. After crossing the Bosporus into Asia in August 1096, these armies were annihilated by the Turks in September and October, only a matter of weeks before the first of the princely-led armies reached Constantinople.
Behind Peter’s expeditionary forces came six large armies from northern France, Lorraine, Flanders, Normandy, Provence, and southern Italy. Although the Provençal leader, Count Raymond IV of Toulouse, had been consulted by Urban II in 1095-96 and traveled with the pope’s representative, or legate, Adhemar, bishop of Le Puy, there was no single commander. The most effective field general proved to be Bohemond of Taranto, head of the Normans from southern Italy. Arriving at Constantinople between November 1096 and June 1097, each leader was persuaded or forced to offer an oath of fealty to Alexius I, who, in return, provided money, provisions, guides, and a regiment of troops. After the capture of Nicaea, capital of the Turkish sultanate of Rum (Asia Minor) in June 1097, the campaign fell into four distinct phases. An arduous march across Asia Minor to Syria (June to October 1097) that saw a major but close-run victory over the Turks north of Doryleaum (July 1) was followed by the siege and then defense of Antioch in northern Syria (October 1097 to June 1098). One contingent from the main army under Baldwin of Boulogne established control of the Armenian city of Edessa beyond the Euphrates. As their difficulties proliferated, the depleted western army increasingly regarded themselves as under the special care of God, a view reinforced by visions, the apparently miraculous discovery at Antioch of the Holy Lance that was said to have pierced Christ’s side on the Cross, and the victory a few days later (June 28, 1098) over a numerically much superior Muslim army from Mosul. From June 1098 until January 1099, the Christian army remained in northern Syria, living off the land and squabbling over the spoils.
The final march on Jerusalem (January to June 1099) was accompanied by reports of more miracles and visions, increasing the sense of the army being an instrument of Divine Providence. However, the crusaders may have been single-minded, pious, and brutal, but they were neither stupid nor ignorant. Their advance had taken account of local politics at every stage, notably the chronic divisions among their Muslim opponents that prevented united resistance. Amicable negotiations with the Egyptians, who had themselves conquered Jerusalem from the Turks in 1098, lasted for two years before collapsing only a few weeks before the westerners reached the Holy City. The final assault on Jerusalem (June to July 1099) was crowned with success on July 15; the ensuing massacre shocked Muslim and Jewish opinion. Western observers described it approvingly, in apocalyptic terms. Their triumph secured by defeating an Egyptian relief army at Ascalon (August 12), most of the surviving crusaders returned to the west. By 1100, as few as three hundred knights were left in southern Palestine. Of the upwards of one hundred thousand who had left for Jerusalem in 1096, and of those who had caught up with them during the following three years, perhaps no more than fourteen thousand reached Jerusalem in June 1099. Urban II had been right: the war of the cross had proved a very severe penance indeed.
This detail from an 1840 J. Robert-Fleury painting shows Baldwin of Boulogne triumphantly entering the Armenian city, Edessa, in February 1098.
The Twelfth Century and the Second Crusade, 1145-99
After the First Crusade’s establishment of bridgeheads at Antioch in Syria and Jerusalem in Palestine, four principalities were carved out on the Levantine mainland: the kingdom of Jerusalem (1099–1291); the principality of Antioch (1098–1268); the county of Edessa (1098–1144); and the county of Tripoli (1102–1289). Collectively these territories were known as Outremer, the land overseas. The eastern crusades were directed at expanding, defending, or restoring these conquests. In the first half of the twelfth century, with Jerusalem in Christian hands, the pilgrim trade exploded, while campaigning in the Holy Land became part of chivalric training for some high-born nobles as well as a martial accessory to pilgrimage. A number of modest expeditions helped conquer the ports, plains, and immediate hinterland of the Syrio-Palestinian coast (for example, those of King Sigurd of Norway, 1109-10; Fulk V of Anjou, 1120 and 1128; and the doge of Venice, 1123-24). Increasingly, the model of penitential war was used on other Christian frontiers, such as Spain, and against papal enemies within Christendom.
Europe and the Mediterranean: Christianity and Its Non-Christian Neighbors
However, the Holy Land retained its primacy as a goal of holy war. The precedent of the First Crusade ensured that a new general summons to arms received an enthusiastic response. In December 1144, the Turkish warlord Zingi, ruler of Mosul and Aleppo (1128–46), captured Edessa, massacring the Frankish inhabitants. In response, Pope Eugenius III (1145–53) launched a fresh crusade with a bull (that is, a circular letter, so called after its seal, or bulla that recited the heroics of 1096–99 as well as explaining the detailed privileges available to those who took the cross. In contrast with Urban II, Eugenius eagerly enrolled monarchs—Louis VII of France (1137–80) and Conrad III of Germany (1138–52). Recruiting lay chiefly in the hands of Abbot Bernard of Clairvaux (1090–1153), the dominant ecclesiastic and spiritual publicist of his generation who conducted a highly effective preaching tour of France, Flanders, and the Rhineland in 1146-47. Bernard’s message of intolerance to Christ’s enemies spilled over into more anti-Jewish violence in the Rhineland, although this was rather disingenuously blamed on a maverick monk called Rudolph. While the pope authorized separate crusading wars in Spain, Bernard allowed a group of disgruntled Saxon nobles to commute their Holy Land vows to fighting on the Baltic German/Slav frontier, which they did without conspicuous success or adherence to holy war in the summer of 1147. One substantial body of recruits from Frisia (a northeastern province of Germany, bordering the North Sea), the Rhineland, Flanders, northern France, and England, traveling east by sea, helped King Alfonso Henriques of Portugal (1139–85) capture Lisbon from the Moors (October 24, 1147) after a brutal four-month siege. Some remained to settle, but most embarked for the Mediterranean the following spring, some finding service in the Spanish siege of Tortosa but the bulk reaching the Holy Land.
The Near East in the Twelfth Century
There they found the remnants of the great German and French land armies. Arriving close together at Constantinople in September and October 1147 after following the land route through central Europe, each was defeated by Turkish forces in Asia Minor. The large German force was destroyed near Dorylaeum in October, King Conrad narrowly escaping but wounded. The French, having earlier rejected an offer of sea transport by King Roger II of Sicily, although badly mauled in western Asia Minor in the winter of 1147-48, managed to reach the port of Adalia, only for Louis VII to abandon his infantry and sail directly to Syria with an army of officers but few men. The subsequent Holy Land campaign failed utterly. Conrad III managed to reconstruct some sort of army from the crusaders who had sailed from Lisbon. With Louis VII and the king of Jerusalem, Baldwin III (1143–63), he led an attack on Damascus (July 23-28, 1148) that ended in a hasty enforced withdrawal as the Christians lacked the resources for a prolonged siege or to protect themselves from Muslim relief armies. The disaster led to bitter recriminations and accusations of treachery that scandalized the west, casting the whole idea of such expeditions in doubt.
The Third Crusade, 1188-92
The four decades after the failed attack on Damascus in 1148 witnessed a gradual erosion of the strategic position of Outremer. The unification of Syria under Zengi’s son, Nur al-Din of Aleppo (1146–74), the conquest of Egypt by his Kurdish mercenary commander Shirkuh (1168–69), and the creation of an Egypto-Syrian empire by Shirkuh’s nephew, Saladin (1169–93), meant that by 1186 Outremer was surrounded. The rhetoric of this new, cohesive Muslim power placed great emphasis on jihad—war against infidels. This coincided with Outremer’s financial weakness, lack of western aid and a descent, in the kingdom of Jerusalem, into debilitation and political instability. The royal succession passed in turn to a possible bigamist (Amalric 1163-74), a leper (Baldwin IV 1174-85), a child (Baldwin V 1185-86), and a woman (Sybil 1186-90) and her unpopular arriviste husband (Guy 1186-92). On July 4, 1187, Saladin annihilated the army of Jerusalem at the battle of Hattin in Galilee. Within a year almost all the Frankish ports and castles had surrendered or been captured; Jerusalem fell on October 2, 1187. Resistance was reduced largely to Tyre, Tripoli, and Antioch.
The Crusader States of Outremer
An illumination from a fifteenth-century manuscript depicts Saladin’s decisive victory over King Guy of Jerusalem in the 1187 Battle of the Horns of Hattin, Syria.
The response in the west was massive. By March 1188, the kings of Germany, France, and England had taken the cross with many of their leading nobles. King William II of Sicily had sent a fleet east. Preaching and recruitment had begun and campaign strategies carefully developed. A profits tax, known as the Saladin Tithe, had been instituted in France and the British Isles. In 1189, King Guy of Jerusalem, recently released from Saladin’s captivity, began to besiege the vital port of Acre. For the next two years, this became the focal point of Christian military effort. In the same year fleets from northern Europe began to arrive. In May 1189, Frederick Barbarossa, king of Germany and Holy Roman Emperor, set out at the head of an army allegedly one hundred thousand strong. After successfully forcing a passage through the unhelpful Byzantine Empire and the hostile Turkish Anatolia, Frederick’s crusade ended in tragic bathos when he drowned trying to cross the River Saleph in Cilicia on June 10, 1190. Demoralized, his huge army disintegrated, only a small rump reaching Acre.
Although English and French contingents began sailing eastwards in 1189, the kings did not embark until 1190, delayed by political feuding over the succession to Henry II of England (d. July 1189). Given the delicate relationship caused by the English king holding extensive lands as a vassal of the French crown, King Philip II of France (1180–1223) and the new king of England, Richard I (1189–99), decided to travel together. Richard’s skills as a general and administrator of men, ships, and materials and his vast reserves of cash soon elevated him to the central role in the crusade. Deflected not at all by anti-Jewish riots and massacres in English towns, notably York, in 1189-90, the kings departed in July 1190, making their rendezvous in September at Messina in Sicily, where they wintered. While Philip sailed for Acre in March 1191, arriving on April 20, Richard’s larger forces were blown off course to Cyprus. With elements in his army being mistreated by its independent Greek ruler, Richard took the opportunity to conquer the island in a lightning campaign in May. Cyprus remained in Christian hands until 1571. Richard finally arrived at Acre on June 6, 1191. After a further six weeks’ hard pounding, the city surrendered on July 12. On July 31, Philip II abandoned the crusade, pleading illness and pressing business at home but clearly discomforted by Richard’s dominance. Most of his followers showed what they thought of his action by staying. After executing hundreds of Muslim prisoners in his impatience at Saladin’s prevarication over implementing the Acre surrender agreement, Richard began his march south toward Jerusalem on August 22.
The Palestine war of 1191–92 revolved around security. Since overwhelming victory eluded both sides, the only resolution lay in a sustainable political agreement. Richard I used force to try to frighten Saladin into restoring the pre-1187 kingdom of Jerusalem. If diplomacy succeeded, battles and sieges became unnecessary. The conflict was prolonged because neither side achieved sufficient military advantage to persuade the other to make acceptable concessions. On September 7, 1191, Richard repulsed Saladin’s attempt to drive the crusaders into the sea at Arsuf, the major engagement of the campaign. Twice Richard marched his troops to within twelve miles of Jerusalem (January and June/July 1192) only to withdraw each time, arguing he had insufficient men to take or keep the city. These were prudent decisions but jarred with the reason why he was in southern Palestine in the first place. With Saladin failing to take the important port of Jaffa in late July 1192 and Richard unable to develop a scheme to attack Saladin’s power base in Egypt, military stalemate dictated a diplomatic conclusion. Negotiations proved tortuous. Saladin refused to contemplate suggestions of any formal Christian authority within Jerusalem, but was otherwise prepared to accept a measure of Palestinian partition. The Treaty of Jaffa (September 2, 1192) left the Franks in control of the coast from Acre to Jaffa and allowed access to Jerusalem for pilgrims and freedom of movement between Muslim and Christian territories. Ill and eager to return home, Richard sailed from Acre on October 9. Ironically, Saladin died less than six months later (March 4, 1193).
This statue of King Richard I of England, Richard the Lionheart, stands outside Parliament in London.
While failing to recapture Jerusalem, the Third Crusade determined the pattern for later eastern crusades. Thereafter, support for the reconstituted kingdom of Jerusalem, which lasted until 1291, came exclusively by sea. Cyprus provided a new and valuable partner for the Frankish settlements of the mainland. Diplomacy and truces between Muslims and Christians became standard practice. The subjugation of Egypt adopted center stage in western strategic planning. Preaching and recruitment for crusading became increasingly professional, with finance being arranged by governments or the church through taxation. A more precise theology of violence refined the privileges and obligations of the crusaders themselves. After the failures of 1191–92, even the focus on Jerusalem shifted, the iter Jerosolymitana (Jerusalem journey) became subsumed into thenegotium terrae sanctae (the business of the Holy Land), or simply the sanctum negotium (the holy business).
The Fourth Crusade, 1198-1204
The thin strip of Palestinian coast restored to Christian rule by the Third Crusade proved a commercially viable base for a restored, if reduced, kingdom of Jerusalem over the following century, although the Holy City itself only returned to Christian rule between 1229 and 1244. After recovering much of the coast during the 1190s, the Franks found protection in a sequence of truces with Saladin’s heirs in Egypt and Syria. Until the mid-thirteenth century, western aid came largely on its own terms rather than in response to a specific crisis. The inception of the Fourth Crusade rested with Pope Innocent III (1198–1216), who envisaged all Christians as to some degree obliged to pursue the Lord’s War. This Innocent promoted as part of the general devotional life of the west through preaching and the liturgy. An enthusiast for wars of the cross against a wide range of perceived threats to the church, Innocent regarded the recovery of the Holy Land as a central and urgent objective. One of the first things he did was to proclaim a new eastern expedition in August 1198.
The tomb of Pope Innocent III is in the Basilica of St. John Lateran, in Rome. This pope’s declaration that going on Crusade was every Christian’s obligation was an important force in launching the Fourth Crusade.
By 1201, Innocent’s call had been answered by a group of powerful northern French barons, including Count Baldwin of Flanders, who chose as their leader the well-connected northern Italian marquess Boniface of Montferrat, whose family had a long history of close involvement in the eastern Mediterranean. Egypt was chosen as the target of the expedition. The absence of kings denied the crusaders access to national taxes or fleets, forcing them to seek transport from Venice. Unfortunately, the agreement with Venice stipulated an optimistically large number of crusaders and a commensurately inflated price to be paid. It became apparent in the summer of 1202 that the crusaders, by now gathered at Venice, could not raise the agreed sum. As well as supplying fifty warships of their own, the Venetians had committed much of their shipping and hence annual income to carry the crusade. Realistically, they could neither abandon the enterprise nor cancel the debt. As a solution, the doge, Enrico Dandolo (d.1205), offered a moratorium on the debt in return for the crusaders’ help in capturing the port of Zara in Dalmatia, even though this was a Christian city belonging to a fellow crusader, King Emeric of Hungary. Despite evident qualms and papal disapproval, the crusaders had little option if they wished to pursue their ultimate objective. Zara fell to the Veneto-crusader force on November 24, 1202.
By then, elements in the crusade and Venetian leadership were considering a further diversion to Constantinople in support of Alexius Angelus, son of the deposed Byzantine emperor Isaac II (1185–95). Young Alexius promised to subsidize the crusaders’ attack on Egypt if they helped him take the Byzantine throne from his usurping uncle Alexius III (1195–1203). Many crusaders were disgusted by the plan and withdrew, but the leadership and the bulk of the army sailed with young Alexius and the Venetians to Constantinople, arriving in June 1203. A month later an amphibious assault on the city persuaded Alexius III to flee, allowing for the restoration of Isaac II with his son, now Alexius IV, as co-emperor. Their dependence on loutish westerners alienated Greek opinion, while their inability to honor Alexius’ promise of subsidy and assistance undermined support from the crusaders. In January 1204 they were deposed, murdered, and replaced by Alexius V Ducas Murzuphlus, who began hostile maneuvers against the crusaders. Faced with a crisis of survival, the western leaders decided to impose their will on the Greeks, in March 1204 agreeing to conquer and partition the Byzantine Empire. On April 12–13, the crusaders breached the walls of the city. Alexius V fled and the victorious westerners were allowed three days of pillaging. Although probably exaggerated, this atrocity has rung down the centuries in infamy. Within weeks a Latin emperor, Baldwin of Flanders, had been appointed and the territorial annexation of the Greek Empire begun. A year later, hopes of continuing the crusade to Egypt were abandoned. The Latin empire of Constantinople lasted until 1261; western occupation of parts of Greece for centuries. The precarious state of parts of the Frankish conquests in Greece prompted crusades to be proclaimed against the Greeks from 1231 until well into the fourteenth century.
The capture of Constantinople was not an accident; it had been considered by every major expedition since 1147. Successive popes had voiced disappointment at Greek failure to contribute to the recovery of the Holy Land. In the circumstances of 1202–03, conquest appeared viable; in the spring of 1204 necessary. However, it was never the ultimate object of the crusade, and for Venice marked a new departure into territorial instead of simply commercial imperialism. The diversion was a result of policy not conspiracy, its motives a mixture of pragmatism, idealism, and opportunism that characterized all other wars of the cross.
The Fifth Crusade, 1213-29
More than its predecessors, the Fifth Crusade reflected the institutionalization of crusading in Christian society as envisaged by Innocent III. In the context of a wider process of semi-permanent evangelization, crusading acted as one manifestation of Christian revivalism. The papal bull Quia Maior (1213) launching the new eastern enterprise extended access to the crusade remission of sins, the indulgence, to those who sent a proxy or provided a proportionate sum of money in redemption of their vow. In 1215 the Fourth Lateran Council of the western Church authorized universal clerical taxation to support the cause. A massive and carefully orchestrated campaign of recruitment, propaganda, and finance produced a series of expeditions to the east between 1217 and 1229. The bulk of recruits came from Germany, central Europe, Italy, and the British Isles instead of France, the traditional heartland of crusade enlistment. After early contingents landed at Acre in 1217-18, including one led by King Andrew of Hungary (1205–35), the focus of military operations turned to Egypt when, in 1218, the crusaders attacked Damietta, a port in the eastern Nile Delta. The city fell only after a difficult and costly siege in November 1219. Egyptian proposals to exchange Damietta for Jerusalem were rejected as improper and unworkable by a group led by the Cardinal Legate, Pelagius, whose control of the purse strings gave him considerable authority within the crusade army. Lack of leadership proved more damaging. The westerners refused to accept orders from the king of Jerusalem, John of Brienne (1210–25). However, the commander chosen by the pope, Frederick II of Germany (1211–50), remained in Europe. In the summer of 1221, to prevent the crusade disintegrating through inactivity, the Christian army moved south toward Cairo, only to be cut off by floods, harried by the Egyptians, and forced to surrender on August 30. Damietta was evacuated on September 8, 1221.
Recruiting continued almost unabated despite the setback in Egypt. In 1227, Frederick II finally embarked for the east, only to turn back immediately because of sudden and serious illness. Although Pope Gregory IX (1227–41), a veteran crusade recruiting agent, lost patience and excommunicated him, Frederick, undaunted, sailed to the Holy Land in 1228. Exploiting the rivalries between the rulers of Egypt and Syria, in February 1229 Frederick agreed to a treaty with the sultan of Egypt that restored Jerusalem to the Franks. The city was to be open to all and the Haram al-Sharif, the Temple Mount, to remain under the Islamic religious authorities (not dissimilar to the arrangements in Jerusalem after 1967). However, unpopular for his high-handedness, when Frederick embarked for the west from Acre on May 1, 1229, he was pelted with offal. With a brief interruption in 1240, Jerusalem remained in Christian hands until captured by Khwarazmian raiders, Turkish freebooters in the pay of the sultan of Egypt, in 1244. The city remained under Muslim control until 1917.
The Thirteenth Century
After 1229, eastern crusades progressed from the pragmatic to the optimistic to the desperate. Truces with feuding Muslim neighbors continued to sustain Frankish Outremer until the accession to power in Egypt of the militant Mamluk sultans, members of a professional caste of Turkish slave warriors, who replaced the heirs of Saladin in the 1250s. The Franks’ alliance with the Mongols who invaded Syria in the late 1250s, followed by the Mongols’ defeat by the Mamluks and withdrawal from the region in 1260, left them vulnerable to the new Egyptian sultan, Baibars (1260–77), who was committed to eradicating the Christian settlements. Successive western expeditions under a series of great nobles (the Count of Champagne in 1239; the Earl of Cornwall in 1240; the Lord Edward, later Edward I of England, in 1271) achieved little other than temporary advantage or respite. Rulers, such as the kings of France and Aragon, dispatched occasional relief flotillas or stationed modest garrisons in Acre. Despite the continued popularity of crusading as an ideal and activity, between 1229 and the final loss of the last Christian outposts in Syria and Palestine in 1291, only one international campaign of substance reached the eastern Mediterranean, the crusade of Louis IX of France, 1248-54.
Pope Gregory IX (1227–41), who reigned during the final years of the Fifth Crusade, excommunicated Frederick II of Germany for initially failing to reach the Holy Land.
Louis IX’s crusade proved the best prepared, most lavishly funded, and meticulously planned of all. It was also one of the most disastrous, its failure matching its ambition. Louis intended to conquer Egypt and change the balance of power in the Near East. Taking the cross in December 1244, over the next three years he assembled an army of about fifteen thousand, a treasury of over 1 million livres, and a stockpile of food and equipment stored in Cyprus, where Louis arrived in the late summer of 1248. The following spring, supported by the Outremer Franks, Louis invaded Egypt, capturing Damietta the day he landed (June 5, 1249). The assault on the interior began on November 20, only to get bogged down in the Nile Delta for more than two months. After a hard-fought but indecisive engagement outside Mansourah on February 7, 1250, Louis’s army could make no further progress and became cut off from its base at Damietta. Withdrawal in early April turned into a rout as the Christian army disintegrated through disease, fatigue, and a superior enemy. Louis himself, suffering badly from dysentery, was among those captured, being released in return for Damietta and a massive ransom. Stunned by what he saw as God’s chastisement, Louis remained in the Holy Land until 1254 bolstering defenses (those at Caesarea can still be seen) and shoring up Outremer’s diplomatic relations with its neighbors. Yet while securing his reputation for piety, Louis’s stay did nothing to reverse the verdict of 1250. The best-laid crusade plan had failed dismally.
Following the defeat of the Mongols in 1260, Baibars of Egypt and his successors Qalawun (1279–90) and al-Ashraf Khalil (1290–93) systematically dismembered the remaining Frankish holdings in Syria and Palestine. Antioch fell in 1268; Tripoli in 1289; and, finally, after an heroic but futile defense, Acre in 1291, after which the remaining Christian outposts were evacuated without further resistance. To ensure the Franks would not again return, the sultans leveled the ports they captured. The west watched this collapse with alarm, concern, and impotence. Political rivalries, competing domestic demands, and a more realistic assessment of the required scale of operation conspired in the failure to organize adequate military response. Louis IX’s new projected eastern expedition of 1270 reached no further than Tunis on its way to Egypt. There Louis died on August 25, 1270, and most of his followers went home. Yet after the final loss of Acre in 1291, plans continued to be hatched and raids conducted in the Levant throughout the fourteenth century until the new threat of the Ottoman Turks in the Balkans and the Aegean supervened from the 1350s and again in the mid-fifteenth century, redirecting the focus of holy war.
This c.1899 engraving depicts Louis IX of France, who led a crusade (1248–54) that was well funded and well planned, but ended in disaster.
The Children’s Crusade of 1212 was launched by zealotry directed at freeing the Holy Sepulchre from non-Catholics.