The Second Crusade

For some time the leaders of the crusader states had been telling anyone who would listen that they needed help, not just money, but manpower. The response was slow until the fall of the city of Edessa to the Seljuk atabeg Zengi in 1144. Edessa was the first of the crusader states to be settled. It had always been a Christian town and was still populated mostly by Eastern Christians. It was also the farthest east of the crusader lands, in an area difficult to defend and far from aid.

The shock of losing Edessa seemed to come at the right time to push the king of France, Louis VII, then in his mid twenties, to declare that he would take the cross. A couple of years before, in an altercation with Thibaud, count of Champagne, Louis had been carried away with youthful energy and set fire to a church in the town of Vitry. That was bad enough, but the church happened to be full of the townspeople, who had gone there for refuge.1 About thirteen hundred people were burned alive.

Louis was a sensitive person and this weighed on his conscience. “Some say that the king, touched by pity and flowing with tears ... soon decided on undertaking a pilgrimage to Jerusalem.”2

Of course, Louis didn’t act on this at once. But when Edessa was taken, and Pope Eugenius III issued a bull calling for the West to come to the aid of the Latin kingdoms, Louis was the first one to sign up. At his Christmas court in Bourges in 1145, he told his followers that he was going to answer the call.

The response was a big yawn and a return to holiday fun.

Louis didn’t have the charisma to convince his friends to leave their homes for an arduous journey east. He needed someone to fire up the troops.

Pope Eugenius wanted to be the one to do it. He hoped to come to France and preach the crusade as his predecessor, Urban II, had done in 1095, but he was having some trouble with the population of Rome, who had thrown him out and reestablished the Senate, so the pope turned to his mentor, Bernard of Clairvaux.

So, on Easter of 1146, Louis and his court gathered at the Church of Mary Magdalene at Vézelay, France, to hear Abbot Bernard preach the crusade. Pope Eugenius had gladly sent along the requisite papal letters promising the remission of sins for any who went with the king and also protection for the families who stayed behind.3

Bernard’s well-known gift of persuasion worked. The crowd was so thick that they knocked over the platform the king and abbot were standing on but, miraculously, no one was hurt. The enthusiasm was such that even the queen, Eleanor of Aquitaine, took the cross along with the wives of many of the nobles and at least one of Louis’ unmarried female cousins.4

As preparations began for the great expedition, Abbot Bernard learned that another time-honored crusading custom was being observed: the massacre of Jews in the Rhineland. He rushed to Germany to put a stop to this. While he was there, he managed to convince the Holy Roman Emperor Conrad III of Germany to mount his own expedition. 5 In his fifties, Conrad was originally not interested in a trip to Jerusalem; he’d already been there.6He also had enough problems in his own land. But Bernard was too publicly insistent.

Templars were most involved with the French army. The master of the Temple in Paris, Everard de Barres, was prevailed upon to help with organizing the expedition. By April 1147, just before the king and his army left, Everard had gathered together 130 Knights of the Temple, “wearing the white cloaks” to accompany the king and queen.7 That means there were at least three times as many sergeants and servants of the Temple in Paris at the time, as well. That may have been the largest number of knights in one place outside of the Latin kingdoms and it must have been an impressive sight.

The Templars received donations great and small at this time, but not as many as one might think. In one charter, Bernard of Balliol gave the order land in England that he had received from Henry I. That was a good haul. But the only other charters from this time recorded in Paris are from Bartholomew, a dean of Notre Dame, who gave the Templars sixty sous, and from a woman named Genta, who gave them a mill, but only after she was dead.8She lasted a long time.

Despite the fact that Roger of Sicily had offered ships to take the French to the Holy Land, Louis and his army decided to take the land route, as the First Crusade had done. They left Paris on June 11, 1147, and arrived a few days later in Metz, where the general muster took place.9


The Germans under Conrad had gone on ahead of the French crusaders and that created some problems for Louis and company, as the inhabitants of the lands they went through were running out of supplies and goodwill by the time the French arrived. Odo of Deuil, a monk from St. Denis who accompanied Louis, complains that the money changers cheated them and that the citizens refused to sell goods at a fair price. “Therefore, the pilgrims, unwilling to endure want in the midst of plenty, procured needed supplies for themselves by plunder and pillage.”10

Master Everard de Barres wasn’t present when this happened. He had been sent ahead to Constantinople, with other ambassadors, to help smooth the way for the demanding pilgrims.11

It was a difficult task. Odo blamed the Greeks for being greedy and treacherous but I imagine that even readers in his own time might have wondered what they would do if overrun by armed “pilgrims” who were furious at not being fed and sheltered at what they considered a fair price.

Everard won a great deal of praise for his calming of the situation when the French were attacked as they approached Constantinople. The emperor, Manuel, was smart enough not to let the crusaders inside the city but allowed them to camp outside and set up a market for them. He did invite Louis and Eleanor and few nobles in for an audience but was clearly relieved when the expedition left.


Once the French left Constantinople the Templars formed the front and rear guard for the army.12 Everard must have felt that he was herding cats. It wasn’t just Queen Eleanor and her women, although a later chronicler blamed them for coming along at all. “The wives could not manage without their maids, and thus in that Christian army, where chastity should have prevailed, a horde of women was milling about.”13

There were also hundreds of hangers-on among the soldiers: pilgrims, craftsmen, families of the soldiers, camp followers, and others. These people, including the young and rowdy knights, had no discipline and many were weakened by illness and the weather, which was turning cold and rainy as winter approached.

The worst of the early setbacks occurred in January 1148 at Cadmus Mountain, in what is today western Turkey. If anyone still supposed that a pilgrimage was a good way to evade punishment for their sins, this would have convinced them that purgatory could provide nothing worse. They may have thought it easier to spend a few centuries there than endure another day on the crusade.

The army was already weakened by cold, lack of food, and disease when they came to Cadmus. The vanguard of the army crossed the mountain and began to set up camp on the other side. The rest followed, slowed by pack animals and panicky noncombatants. They climbed a narrow ridge up the side of the mountain with a steep drop on one side. Odo of Deuil describes the scene.

Here the throng became congested while ascending, pushed forward, then crowded close together, stopped, and, taking no thought for the cavalry [equo, perhaps the horses] clung there instead of going ahead. Sumpter horses slipped from the steep cliffs, hurling those whom they struck into the depths of the chasm. . . . Moreover, the Turks and Greeks, their arrows preventing the fallen from rising again, thronged against the other part of our army and rejoiced at this sight, . . . They crossed against us, since they no longer feared the vanguard [that was already on the other side of the mountain] and did not yet see the rear guard. They thrust and slashed, and the defenseless crowd fell like sheep.14

One can imagine the horror of this, the rain making the path slick, the people pushing at each other, screams of horses and humans as they fell into the abyss. Added to this was the terror of the arrows flying toward them in the dimming January light.

Odo was sent back to find King Louis and tell him what was happening. The king and his men rushed to help but had to pass through the enemy in order to do so. Louis lost his horse and barely escaped. It was not a good day for the French.

It was generally considered that Geoffrey of Rancon, who was leading the vanguard, was responsible for the disaster. He had been told not to cross the mountain pass but to protect the body of the army.15 Geoffrey was one of the queen’s men, so she was also criticized and some said it was she who told Geoffrey to go on so that she and her ladies could settle in for the night. This is something that we’ll never know the truth of. I imagine that everyone did what made sense to them at the time without realizing what might happen.

Actually, the only ones who came out of the episode looking good were Everard de Barres and the Templars. “The Templars and the Master of the Temple, Lord Everard of Barres, who should be revered for his piety and who furnished the army an honorable example . . .

protected the people as courageously as possible.”16Actually, at the time, Everard was only master of the Temple in Paris. Robert of Craon was still master in the Holy Land. But as far as Odo was concerned, Everard was the one calling the shots.

The next day it was decided that the Templars would lead the army the rest of the way and that everyone would obey them, even the king. This worked well enough that the army made it to Adalia on January 20, 1148. To survive, many of the horses were slaughtered for stew. Only the Templars refused to kill their warhorses, although the men were starving. This also proved important, as it meant that the Templars were able to fight off another Turkish attack and convince the Turks that the army was stronger than was really the case. 17

After this adventure, Louis was convinced to finish the journey to Antioch by boat.


Louis and Eleanor’s stay in Antioch doesn’t immediately concern the Templars, but it did affect the course of the crusade and, indirectly, the future of France. They were welcomed to Antioch by Raymond, Eleanor’s uncle, who had been brought from Poitiers ten years earlier to marry Constance, the heiress of Antioch, who was then aged about nine.18Constance, by the way, was Louis’ second cousin, so it was a big family reunion.

Odo of Deuil lets us down as to what happened next; he stopped his chronicle before the arrival at Antioch. John of Salisbury was in Rome at the time and reported the gossip. “The king became suspicious of the familiarity of the prince with the queen and his nearly constant conversation with her.”19Soon Louis decided he had stayed long enough at Raymond’s court and prepared to head on for Jerusalem, but Eleanor had had enough. She told her husband that she’d wait for him in Antioch. Louis, known for having a short fuse, forced her to come with him.20

Although there is no evidence that the queen committed adultery, this story has entered the legend of Eleanor of Aquitaine, a person who is the center of as many myths and legends as the Templars. Personally, I doubt it. Eleanor may well have flirted with her uncle but she would have found it hard to do much more. She was surrounded by servants and companions most of the time. Also this episode was not mentioned three years later when Eleanor and Louis finally divorced. For Raymond’s part, he would have remembered that he only held Antioch through his wife and not wanted to risk losing it. But hormones have often overwhelmed common sense. An affair is possible, but not proven. That didn’t stop the rumors from flying, of course. As with the Trials of the Templars, sex always spices up a story.

Thinking that everything was fine, Everard de Barres left the king and his party and went to Acre to try to get together money to lend to


Louis and Conrad entering Antioch. A late and fanciful depiction of the Second Crusade.
(The British Library)

Louis.21 The king had not counted on losing horses, property, or battles and found himself a bit short on cash. He was forced to write home to Suger, abbot of St. Denis and regent while he and the queen were gone. The letters sound very much like a college student who has just discovered the price of books and beer. “I couldn’t have known how much it would cost in so short a time,” he writes.22

Louis wound up owing the Templars thirty thousand solidos, about half his yearly income.23 And he owed others beside the Templars. A special tax had been levied to pay for the expedition but, as leaders have discovered since, wars always run over budget, especially if you lose. This seems to have been the first time that a king of France entered into an economic arrangement with the Templars. It was the start of a long and, ultimately, fatal relationship.


While Louis was fretting at Antioch, Conrad of Germany was back in Constantinople, recovering from illness. Meanwhile Alphonse Jordan, count of Toulouse, who had been born in the Holy Land, arrived at Acre by ship with his forces.

After he recovered, Conrad arrived in Jerusalem a little ahead of the others. He stayed “in the palace of the Templars, where once the royal house, which is also the Temple of Solomon, was built.”24 After playing tourist for a while, Conrad went back to Acre, where he tried to convince his fed-up knights to stay long enough to attack Damascus. “For he had agreed with the king of that Land [Baldwin III] and the patriarch and the Knights of the Temple to take Damascus.”25

We have accounts as to what happened next both from the Christian chroniclers and from Ibn al-Qalanisi, who was in Damascus at the time. Both sides agree that there was a truce in effect between Jerusalem and Damascus. Nur ad-Din, Zengi’s successor, who had captured Edessa, was Sunni and answered to the caliph of Baghdad, while the majority of people in Damascus were Shi’ite and supported the Fatimid caliphs of Egypt. The Damacenes feared Nur ad-Din as much as the crusaders did. So there is some confusion about why Louis and Conrad were advised to invade the city.

It was a warm day in late May 1148 when the army set out. King Baldwin III was in the lead, since he knew the way, followed by Louis, with Conrad bringing up the rear.26 They decided to besiege the city by going through the orchard that stretched out for miles to the west and north and up to the city walls. William of Tyre, who was in school in France at the time, says that they picked this route “so that the army would not lack for the convenience of fruit and water.”27

The army had no chance to picnic, however, as it was attacked first by the peasants tending the orchards and then by cavalry from the city. However, the crusaders managed to reach the river and set up camp.28 The next day there was a fierce battle. The end was undecided but the citizens of Damascus seemed to be getting the upper hand.

Now the two chronicles disagree. Ibn al-Qalanisi says that the Christians hid out in their stockades for a day or so because the defense was so strong that they couldn’t go out without being bombarded by stones and arrows. Then, upon learning that Nur ad-Din was on his way to relieve the city, they went home.29

William gives a much more complicated explanation. He says that the citizens of Damascus bribed “certain of our nobles” to convince the army to move to the other side of the city where there was no water or fruit but a plain that was clear of trees and where the walls of the city were not as strong. The kings and the emperor were convinced. But when they got to the plain, they began to run out of food and when they tried to return to the orchard, they found that all the paths had been barricaded. Cut off from supplies, they were forced to return to Jerusalem.30

The end was the same in both versions. Damascus was not taken by the crusaders. Personally, I think that Ibn al-Qalanisi is probably closer to the truth. Baldwin, Louis, and Conrad found themselves outnumbered with rumors of more defenders arriving soon. The story of bribery sounds too much like an excuse. One reason I think so is that there is no record of these nobles who purposely gave bad advice ever being punished.

William doesn’t name names, but someone in the disgruntled army must have decided to blame the Templars for the failure. John of Salisbury heard of it in Rome shortly after. He writes, “Some say that the Templars were responsible; others that it was some who wished to return home; but the king always took pains to exonerate the brothers of the Temple.”31

In 1147, the year before the king of France and the emperor of Germany were beaten at Damascus, English and Flemish crusaders had landed in Iberia and taken the city of Lisbon. The Templars fought with King Alfonso and received both honor and all the church property in the city of Santarem.32 German armies moved eastward into pagan lands with the cross and the sword.33 Both these aspects of the Second Crusade were successful in terms of expanding the borders of Christendom. But what people remembered then, as most do now, was that the two greatest kings in Europe came back without having accomplished anything.

The crusade was a dismal failure so someone had to be blamed. Odo of Deuil felt that the Greeks had sabotaged the kings.34 Others, like William of Newburgh, writing many years later, thought that the crusaders were too weighed down by sin to deserve to win. Henry of Huntington, who wasn’t there either, agreed. He thought that they indulged in “open fornications, and even in adulteries . . . and finally in robbery and all sorts of evils.”35

But it was more satisfying to make someone other than the crusaders guilty of their failure. Conrad was sure it was treachery. He mentioned the Templars, but also Baldwin III or the princes of Syria.36

People seemed to remember the Templars most. For all their hard work, despite their successes in Spain, they were still criticized. Why? I suspect that Bernard of Clairvaux and the Templars themselves had done their propaganda too well. They were the knights of Christ, pure and invincible. They should have been able to surmount any obstacle, even a disorganized and bickering army coming from Europe and feuding families in the East.

The trouble with being a hero is that you’re not allowed an off day.


Yves Sassier, Louis VII (Paris: Fayard, 1991) p. 113.


Guillaume de Nangis, Chronique, ed. M. Guizot (Paris, 1825) p. 25.


Odo of Deuil, De perfectione ludovici VII in orientum, ed. and tr. Virginia Ginerick Berry (New York: Norton, 1948) pp. 8-9.


Ibid., p. 76. The unnamed cousin was saved by her relatives from being given in marriage to a Greek lord. This is one of those episodes that I really wish there were more information on.


Adriaan H. Bredero, Bernard of Clairvaux: Between Cult and History (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1996) p. 24.


Hans Eberhard Mayer, The Crusades (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988) p. 98.


Cartulaire Général de Paris, Tome Premier 528-1180, ed. Robert de Lasteyrie (Paris, 1887) charter no. 334, p. 307, “alba clamide inductis.”


Cartulaire Général, nos. 321, p. 297, and 270, p. 265.


Sassier, pp. 162-63.


Odo of Deuil, Book III, p. 41, “Peregini ergo, in rerum abnudatia penuriam non ferentes, praedis et rapinus sibi necssaria conquirebant.”


Ibid., Book II, p. 29.


Malcolm Barber, The New Knighthood (Cambridge, 1996) p. 67.


William of Newburgh, The History of English Affairs, Book I, ed. and tr. P. G. Walsh and M. J. Kennedy (Warminster: Aris & Phillips, 1988) pp. 128-29.


Odo of Deuil, pp. 116-17.


Ibid., pp. 122-23. Well, this is what Odo says.


Ibid., pp. 124-25.


Ibid., pp. 134-35.


Please see chapter 10, Melisande, Queen of Jerusalem.


John of Salisbury, Historia Pontificalis, tr. and ed. Marjorie Chibnall (London: Thomas Nelson, 1956) p. 52, “familiaritas principis ad reginam et assidua fere sine intermissione colloquia regi suspicionem dederunt.”


Ibid., p. 53.


Sugerii Abbatis S. Dionysii, “Epistola” PL Letter 50, col. 1374-1375 “Dilectioni vestrae mandamus quaetenus ea qua Ebrardis magister Templi vobis mandaverit, certa habeatis. Nos siquidem ab Antiocha admuto pecuniam nobis necssariam seto Idus Maii Acaron misimus.”


Sugerii, Letter 58, col. 1378, “Non enim video nec videre possum quomodo etiam per parvi temporis spatium in partibus illis permanere vel moran facere potuissem, nisi eorum praecedente auxilio et sustentations.” There’s more but you get the gist.


Sugerii, Letter 71, col. 1585. For fraction of income see Barber, p. 67.


Otto of Freising, The Deeds of Frederick Barbarossa, tr. Charles Christopher Mierow (New York: Norton, 1953) p. 102.


Ibid. It’s interesting that Otto doesn’t mention Melisande, who was still very much in charge in Jerusalem.


William of Tyre, Book 17, 3, p. 763. “Primusitaque cum suis Ierosolimorum rex, eo maxime quod locorum periciam . . . secundum et medium locum rex Francorum . . . tercium . . . imperator.”


Ibid., Book 17, 3, p. 763, “tum ut expeditionibus fructum et aque non deesset commoditas.”


Ibn al-Qalanisi, The Damascus Chronicle of the Crusades, ed. and tr. H. A R. Gibb (Dover, 2002; reprint from 1832) pp. 283-84.


Ibid., pp. 284-87.


William of Tyre, Book 17, 5-6, pp. 765-67.


John of Salisbury, p. 57, “quod alii Templariis diu imposuerunt; alii vero his quos amor parie revocabat; sed rex fratres Templi semper studiut excusare.”


Quoted in Giles Constable, “The Second Crusade as Seen by Contemporaries,” Tradition Vol. IX (New York: Fordham University Press, 1953) p. 235.


Mayer, pp. 99-100.


Odo of Deuil, pp. 109-45. Actually, the treachery of the Greeks is a thread running through the whole of Odo’s chronicle.


Constable, p. 273.



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