The Second Crusade

MUSLIM CHRONICLERS later looked back on the destruction of Edessa as the start of the jihad that would drive the Franks from the East. In the West the loss of Edessa touched off the Second Crusade, a huge campaign by sea and land, this time led by two European kings. But the crusade might never have reached the Holy Land at all had it not been for the Templars, which did not stop them being made scapegoats when the expedition unexpectedly failed. Yet against the gathering forces of the Muslim jihad Outremer could not have survived, as it did, for another hundred and fifty years without the conviction, sacrifice and military prowess of the Knights Templar.

All through 1145 pilgrims had been returning from the East with news of the fall of Edessa, and emissaries had been sent to the West from Armenia, Antioch and Jerusalem. Pope Eugenius III was moved by the terrible events and on 1 December issued a call to arms in the form of a papal bull known from its opening words as Quantum Praedecessores: ‘How much our predecessors the Roman pontiffs did labour for the deliverance of the oriental church . . .’.1 The bull went on to grant the remission of sins to all who took part in the crusade. Yet there is no record of a response to it from any quarter; the pope’s call seems to have fallen on deaf ears.

Whether King Louis VII of France knew of the bull is not clear, but he too would have had news from the East, and at Christmas 1145 he summoned his barons and told them of his desire to go to the aid of the Christians in the East. But he made no reference to the pope nor to a crusade with its various inducements, including the remission of sins; instead Louis was saying nothing more than had been said sixteen years earlier, when the first Grand Master of the Templars, Hugh of Payns, came to France to raise fighting men for the attack on Damascus. In the event Louis’ barons were indifferent to his call, and Abbot Suger of St Denis, the senior statesman in Louis’ court, opposed the venture outright, arguing that the king’s business was at home.

Louis hardly had the makings of a war leader. Following the death of his older brother, he had come unexpectedly to the throne seven years earlier, when he was only seventeen. As the younger son of Louis VI he had been intended for the Church; he was austere and pious, and the high-spirited Eleanor of Aquitaine, whom he married when she was fifteen, complained that she had expected to marry a king but found she was married to a monk. Louis and his barons agreed to put the matter to Bernard of Clairvaux and then convene again at Easter 1146 at Vézelay in Burgundy.

Bernard refused to decide for Louis and his nobles, saying that it was a matter for the pope, and so Louis sent an embassy to Eugenius, who gladly enlisted the young king in the papal crusade. Eugenius authorised Bernard to preach the crusade in his place, but at the same time, on 1 March 1146, the pope underlined the papal role by reissuing Quantum Praedecessores, repeating what it had said before.

        How much our predecessors the Roman pontiffs did labour for the deliverance of the oriental church, we have learned from the accounts of the ancients and have found it written in their acts. For our predecessor of blessed memory, pope Urban, did sound, as it were, a celestial trump and did take care to arouse for its deliverance the sons of the holy Roman church from the different parts of the earth.2

In summoning the memory of Urban, the bull deliberately looked back for inspiration to the First Crusade.

Meanwhile Eugenius and Louis arranged that Bernard of Clairvaux should speak at the great abbey church of Vézelay, powerful for harbouring the bones of Mary Magdalene. The abbey, refounded in the ninth century after an Arab raid had destroyed an earlier convent on the spot, stood astride a major pilgrimage route across France to Santiago de Compostela in north-western Spain, a forward station in the war against the Muslim occupation of the Iberian peninsula. Not only was Bernard the friend of popes and kings (Eugenius had been a monk at Clairvaux, and the king’s brother had recently joined the Cistercians there), but his asceticism, conviction and eloquence combined to make him the most formidable spiritual figure of the age. At word that Bernard would speak, such a crowd of aristocrats and admirers from all over France was drawn to Vézelay that, as at Clermont when Pope Urban had called for the First Crusade, the vast basilica of St Mary Magdalene was not big enough to contain the throng and a platform was erected in the fields outside the town.

Bernard’s speech has not been handed down, but his letters, which he circulated immediately afterwards, undoubtedly catch the passion and repeat the themes of what he said that day. This was an age like no other, Bernard told the crowd. God had found new ways to save the faithful. The fall of Edessa was a gift from God. It was an opportunity created by God to save men’s souls. ‘Look at the skill he is using to save you. Consider the depth of his love and be astonished, sinners. [. . .] This is a plan not made by man, but coming from heaven and proceeding from the heart of divine love.’3 Amid the roars of ‘Deus le volt!’ so many came forward to take the cross that Bernard had to tear his own habit into strips. King Louis, who was beside him as he spoke, was the first among them, followed by his barons, many of whom were the sons and grandsons of original crusaders. Bernard was able to write a few days later to the pope: ‘You ordered; I obeyed. I opened my mouth; I spoke; and at once the crusaders have multiplied to infinity. Villages and towns are now deserted. You will scarcely find one man for every seven women. Everywhere you see widows whose husbands are still alive.’4

Bernard broadcast his message farther, travelling into the north of France and to Flanders, and addressing a letter to the people of England, explaining that Jesus, the Son of God, was losing the land in which he had walked among men for more than thirty years. ‘Your land’, Bernard told the English, ‘is well known to be rich in young and vigorous men. The world is full of their praises, and the renown of their courage is on the lips of all.’ Do not miss this opportunity, he implored. ‘Take up the sign of the Cross and you will find indulgence for all the sins which you humbly confess. The cost is small; the reward is great. Venture with devotion and the gain will be God’s kingdom.’5

Among those who pledged themselves to the crusade were Louis’ own wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine (whose uncle was Raymond of Antioch), several bishops and numerous nobles and knights from France, Flanders and England, and also a group of Templars led by Everard des Barres, master of the Knights Templar in France and future Grand Master. A year was then allowed for preparations and for advising foreign rulers of the approach of the crusade.

As news of the crusade spread among the populace of northern France and Germany, it touched off anti-Semitic pogroms, but nothing on the scale of the First Crusade, thanks largely to the efforts of Bernard, who hastened through France and along the Rhine to condemn the atrocities on the spot. ‘The Jews’, he said, ‘are not to be persecuted, killed or even put to flight.’ His reason for protecting Jews, however, was to throw into relief the triumph of Christian salvation. The Jews ‘are living signs to us, representing the Lord’s passion. For this reason they are dispersed into all regions, that now they may pay the just penalty of so great a crime, and that they may be witnesses of our redemption.’6

Redemption was the key to the Second Crusade. The First Crusade had successfully liberated great numbers of Christians in the East as well as the holy places from Muslim occupation. For all the emotional response to the fall of Edessa, the city was not a particularly holy spot in Western eyes, and all the rest of the Holy Land was still safely in the hands of the Franks. And so the purpose of the Second Crusade, from the very beginning, was not so much liberation of lands across the sea as redemption of Christians’ souls. As Bernard himself expressed it, ‘I call blessed the generation that can seize an opportunity of such rich indulgence as this, blessed to be alive in this year of jubilee, this year of God’s choice. The blessing is spread throughout the whole world, and all the world is flocking to receive this badge of immortality.’7 There was no doubt in Bernard’s mind that the expedition would succeed, that God would perform miracles for its soldiers just as he had done for the heroes of the First Crusade. But this emphasis on redemption would mean that when the incomprehensible happened, when the Second Crusade failed, the fault could only be explained as a punishment from God for man’s spiritual poverty and his sins.

To control and give direction to popular feeling along the Rhine, Bernard made a point of preaching the crusade to the reluctant King Conrad III of Germany himself. Bernard had already asked the king in November 1146, but Conrad had flatly refused. Yet now a month later, on 27 December, Bernard was at the king’s court, where during daily Mass he unexpectedly insisted on delivering a sermon, directing its final words to Conrad not as a king but as a man. Dramatically he presented Conrad standing in judgement before Christ, who enumerates all the king’s pieces of good fortune: his wealth, wisdom, courage, his bodily vigour, and the kingship itself. And then Christ says to Conrad, ‘O man, what is there that I should have done for you and did not do?’ Shamed at his own ingratitude, Conrad cried out, ‘I am ready to serve Him’, and those with him cried out the same, whereupon Bernard gave the king the banner from the altar to lead his army to the Holy Land.8 But Conrad’s conversion to the crusade may not have been as sudden as it seemed. Diplomatic exchanges between Germany and Constantinople had been going on throughout 1146, ever since Manuel I Comnenus, the Byzantine emperor, had sent an emissary to Conrad imploring his help against the revived Turkish threat in the East. By the same route Conrad may also have received news of the second fall of Edessa on 3 November, confirming Bernard’s warning that this was just a prelude to an attack on Jerusalem.

But the East was not the only objective of the crusade. In the spring of 1147 Eugenius gave his blessing to the campaign of Alfonso VII of Castile against the Muslim occupation of Spain, declaring it a crusade. In May crusaders from Flanders, Normandy and Germany joined Scottish and English crusaders at Dartmouth, from where they made for the Mediterranean, but during stormy weather they put in at Oporto, where they were told that the king of Portugal was warring against the Almoravids, a fundamentalist Berber dynasty that occupied all of southern Portugal and Spain, and that he had just laid siege to Lisbon farther down the coast. On 1 July the northerners joined the siege and on 24 October the city fell. Some of the crusaders remained in Portugal, but the others, after wintering there, continued their voyage to the East. The Second Crusade had rapidly become an international campaign against the forces of Islam on both the eastern and western fronts.

Owing to the destruction of the Templars’ archives their earliest activities in Outremer are only very sketchily known, but perhaps that reflects a truth – that until the resurgent Turkish threat the Templars in the East were hardly more than a mounted police force for the protection of pilgrims and others on the roads. But the Templars had been fighting in the Iberian peninsula, and their numbers were strong in the adjacent recruiting ground of France. Certainly the importance of the Templars in the West can be measured by the fact that on 27 April 1147 King Louis VII and Pope Eugenius III came to the Paris Temple – which had become the European headquarters of the order – to discuss plans for the Second Crusade. Also in attendance were four archbishops and 130 Templar knights, with at least as many sergeants and squires.

This was in contrast to Templar numbers in the East. Between 1129, when Hugh of Payns returned from France to Jerusalem, and 1148, when the Second Crusade arrived in Outremer, only nine Templars are mentioned in the surviving charters of the crusader states: Robert of Craon, Grand Master of the order, and William, the order’s senechal, and the brothers William Falco, Geoffrey Fulcher, Osto of St Omer and Ralph of Patingy, all based at Jerusalem, and Goscelin and Drogo at Antioch and Ralph Caslan at Tripoli. Another two can perhaps be added to this list: Odo of Montfaucon, whom William of Tyre recorded as dying in the skirmish near Hebron in 1139, and Andrew of Montbard, probably an uncle of Bernard of Clairvaux, who mentions him in his letters. Set against these few, 210 Templars can be identified in the West during the same period. Possibly more written evidence of the Templars was lost in the East than in the West, but it is also true that the need for warrior Templars was greater in Spain and Portugal than in those early years of peace in Outremer. The Templars’ power base was also in the West, the source of their wealth coming from tithes and grants of land and other donations, especially in Spain, France and England. Now the Templars were called on to project their energy and resources against the renewed Turkish aggression by joining the Second Crusade.

In Paris it was agreed that the Templars would accompany the French army to the East, and it was probably on this occasion that the pope conferred on the Templars the right to emblazon their white robes with the red cross. The pope also appointed the Templar treasurer to receive the tax that had been imposed on all Church goods to finance the crusade. It was the start of a fateful relationship that would last for over a century and a half, with the Paris Temple serving in effect as the treasury of France.

Everard des Barres, the master of the Temple in France, was sent ahead to Constantinople by King Louis to arrange with the Byzantine emperor Manuel I Comnenus for the passage of the French and German armies. Everything seemed set fair in September 1147, when Conrad’s army arrived in Constantinople and was ferried across the Bosphorus, to be followed by Louis’ army a month later.

The first disaster struck in late October. Conrad led his army on the direct route across Asia Minor and straight up against the border of Seljuk territory, where at Dorylaeum on 25 October the Germans were attacked by the Turks. Unlike the First Crusade, which had won a victory over the Seljuks at this same spot, the Germans were almost completely wiped out. The survivors, including Conrad himself, retreated to Nicaea, where they awaited the French and joined them in following the safer coastal route via Smyrna and Ephesus on the Aegean.

But the crusade had no sooner reached Ephesus than Conrad fell ill and returned with the remnants of his forces to Constantinople, while the French, inadequately provisioned by the Byzantines, marched up the Maeander valley and eastwards against the advancing winter. Toiling through the narrow defiles of the Cadmus mountains in early January 1148, the heavily armoured French knights were easy prey for the Seljuks’ light cavalry, with their talent for firing off arrows at full gallop. Rumours spread among the French that Manuel was deliberately trying to weaken the crusade, fed by the knowledge that the Byzantines, who were at war with Roger II, the Norman king of Sicily, had recently agreed a treaty with the Seljuks to cover their backs. To the minds of many of those on the crusade this accommodation with the infidel seemed treacherous, and Louis himself sent letters back to France blaming the Byzantines for many of his problems.

With his army on the verge of disintegration, Louis surrendered his responsibilities to Everard des Barres, who divided the French forces into units of fifty, each under the command of a Templar knight whom they swore to obey absolutely. The Templars arranged the army into an organised formation which reined in knightly impetuosity and protected against Turkish attacks. To keep order in the ranks and not waste energy on fruitless pursuits, the army was taught to attack only when ordered to do so and to return from pursuits the moment the signal was given; also they were taught to maintain an order of march in which each man kept the position given him. The archers on foot were drawn up at the rear to combat the Turkish bowmen, and nobles who had lost their horses and equipment joined this group. On this march through Asia Minor the Templars established the pattern that was to characterise the order’s approach to battle; theirs would become the first institutionalised army in Western Christendom, permanent and disciplined in a way known until then only in the monasteries.

Thanks to the boldness and organisational skills of the Templars, towards the end of January the army was led to safety at Attalia (present-day Antalya) on the Mediterranean. But the Templars could only do so much; the ordeal of the French army was far from over, for the expected Byzantine fleet was too small to take them all to the Holy Land, and storms prevented the arrival of further vessels. Attalia was in Byzantine possession, but the Turks stood beyond its gates; the French were unable to obtain new horses or to pasture the ones they had. The town was crowded with the army; food became short, prices rose, disease set in. Finally Louis decided to embark with his barons on what ships were available, leaving the greater number of his army behind. There the French succumbed to plague or were killed when they tried to break out and march overland to Antioch.

When Louis arrived at St Simeon, the port for Antioch, early in March 1148, he and Eleanor of Aquitaine were warmly and grandly received by Prince Raymond of Antioch, who was Eleanor’s uncle. Raymond had been one of the earliest to send messages to the West calling for aid against the mounting menace from the Turks, and for three years now he had been looking forward to the arrival of Louis’ army. But Raymond’s plan was not to recover Edessa, which had been thoroughly destroyed; rather, he counted on French support for a campaign against Nur al-Din’s strongholds of Aleppo and Shaizar. If these cities could be taken, it would alleviate the Turkish pressure against the northern boundaries of the crusader states. But Louis was not enthusiastic. His forces were depleted, and the cost of supplies and shipping had been so great that he needed to borrow if he was to continue with the crusade. Despatching Everard des Barres to Acre, where he raised enough money from Templar resources to cover the cost of the French expedition – a sum that was more than half the annual tax revenue of the French state – Louis had no immediate thought other than to journey as a pilgrim to Jerusalem.

Finances and piety may have been sufficient for Louis to turn his back on Raymond’s plans and hasten to Jerusalem. But Eleanor of Aquitaine may have been another reason. Raymond had been entertaining his lively young niece with the pleasures and diversions of Antioch. Flamboyant, handsome and cosmopolitan, Raymond was everything that Eleanor’s husband Louis was not. Casting a willing spell upon her, Raymond drew her into his schemes for capturing Aleppo and Shaizar, and also, so the rumours grew, drew her into a passionate and incestuous affair. When Louis rejected Raymond’s Aleppo campaign and announced he would go to Jerusalem instead, Eleanor refused to go and said she would have their marriage annulled on the grounds of consanguinity, of all things (she and Louis were fourth cousins, once removed), to which Louis replied by seizing his wife at her uncle’s palace and taking her by force to Jerusalem.

William of Tyre called Eleanor of Aquitaine a fatuous woman – not that he ever met her when she came to Outremer, as he was studying at Paris and Bologna at the time. Other accounts suggest she was strong-willed and outspoken, and more intelligent than her husband, and that her argument with Louis at Antioch had as much to do with politics and strategy as with a dalliance with her uncle. Eleanor did eventually divorce Louis when the crusade was over and married Henry Plantagenet, duke of Normandy and count of Anjou, her cousin in the third degree and nine years younger. He soon became Henry II, king of England, and to him she bore five sons, three of them future kings of England, among them Richard the Lionheart, the great challenger of Saladin during the Third Crusade. As duchess of Aquitaine in her own right, she was one of the wealthiest and most influential women in Europe; as queen first of France and then of England, she acted as the patron of troubadours and poets. The earliest epic poetry centring on King Arthur and his Round Table emerged at Eleanor’s court. An exciting and passionate woman, her presence lies behind two of the greatest stories to come out of the Middle Ages: the legend of the Holy Grail and the romance of the Knights Templar.

Although the first mention of the Templars in literature came in about 1220, in Parzival, by the German knight and poet Wolfram von Eschenbach, its origins can be traced back to Eleanor of Aquitaine. Eschenbach based his work on Chrétien des Troyes’ romance Perceval, The Story of the Grail, begun in 1181 and left unfinished at his death in 1190. Chrétien’s association with Troyes is significant: it was the capital of the counts of Champagne who played an important role in the founding of the Templars and also in promoting their great champion Bernard of Clairvaux. Certainly Troyes represented a link with the East through Chrétien’s patroness, the countess Marie of Champagne, who was the daughter of Eleanor of Aquitaine, the adventurous queen who had risked the hazards of travelling to the East with the Second Crusade and had stories to tell.

Bernard of Clairvaux, like William of Tyre, did not much approve of the free-spirited Eleanor, whom he found flighty and indecorous. But for a poet she made good copy, and it is not hard to imagine her inspiring Chrétien when he invented the character of Guinevere in his earlier workLancelot, the Knight of the Cart, which he wrote specifically at Marie’s request.

The Grail was invented in the late twelfth century by Chrétien de Troyes: no mention of a Grail had ever been made before. Curiously, there was nothing explicitly religious about Chrétien’s Grail; he did not write about it as the cup or chalice at the Last Supper. For that matter he did not describe it as a cup or chalice at all, but rather as a serving dish, which is the usual and original meaning of the Old French word graal. But there is something wonderful about the Grail’s first appearance in the pages of Chrétien’s story at the beginning of a rich man’s feast, and all the more wonderful and strange because Chrétien never finished his story. This is how it makes its first appearance on the page.

        Then two other squires entered holding in their hands candelabra of pure gold, crafted with enamel inlays. The young men carrying the candelabra were extremely handsome. In each of the candelabra there were at least ten candles burning. A maiden accompanying the two young men was carrying a grail with her two hands; she was beautiful, noble, and richly attired. After she had entered the hall carrying the grail the room was so brightly illumined that the candles lost their brilliance like stars and the moon when the sun rises.9

What is tantalising about this appearance of the Grail is that Perceval, the hero of the romance, knows exactly what it is, but he fails to tell us before the story breaks off (when Chrétien dies). Is the story allegorical? People have argued over that point for more than eight hundred years. And if allegorical, is the allegory religious? That too has never been resolved. But this haunting image was soon inspiring writers to complete the tale – among them Wolfram von Eschenbach, who in Parzival, his thirteenth-century German adaptation, introduced the Knights Templar to literature by making them guardians of the Grail.

Chrétien de Troyes was writing when medieval Western society was opening onto a wider world, the world of the Mediterranean, the world of the East, to worlds of ideas and beliefs that it was discovering or rediscovering, not least on account of the crusades. Writing about the Grail meant writing about this cultural and spiritual quest, and yet, strangely, it has been a genre, regardless of its religious overtones, that has always belonged to secular writers, never to the Church. William of Tyre and Bernard of Clairvaux would most certainly have disapproved – as they disapproved of Eleanor of Aquitaine. But free from doctrine and canon, the Grail and the story of Guinevere, her lovers and her knights, have been endlessly reinvented down to the present time.

Despite the French losses in Asia Minor, the crusading forces that finally assembled in Outremer were far from negligible. The French forces were augmented by the late arrival of crusaders from Provence; the crusading fleet that had helped take Lisbon had also arrived, and added to these were the survivors of the German army, which had arrived by sea from Constantinople with Conrad. In fact, this was the largest army deployed by the Franks in the East since the First Crusade.

On 24 June 1148 the lords and military leaders then in Outremer attended a great council at Acre. King Fulk had died in a hunting accident in 1143, and Baldwin III, his seventeen-year-old son by Melisende, presided over the gathering, which included the kings of France and England, the Hospitallers and the Templars, and the barons and leading clergy of the kingdom of Jerusalem. Not surprisingly Melisende, with her Armenian ancestry and sympathies, supported Raymond of Antioch’s plan to strike at Aleppo, Nur al-Din’s base in northern Syria astride the route to Edessa, and her general Mannassas agreed. Nor was it a matter of sentiment; despite William of Tyre’s dismissal of the fighting abilities of Edessa’s merchant class, the Armenian population of the county of Edessa had provided many of the best auxiliaries to the Frankish forces, and the loss of this recruiting ground was serious; and although Edessa itself was now ruinous, the capture of Aleppo would extend the north-eastern borders of Outremer against the Turks, perhaps holding them back beyond the Euphrates. But Louis remained adamantly opposed to Raymond’s plan.

Others spoke of Egypt as an objective, but the road south was blocked by Ascalon, still in the hands of the Fatimids and powerfully fortified. The third possibility was Damascus, which, though a sometime ally of the Franks, had long before King Baldwin II’s expedition of 1129 attracted the attention of the Franks. For the states of Outremer, perilously clinging to the Mediterranean seaboard, it was always a strategic necessity to extend their depth, to conquer Aleppo, Damascus or Cairo. Damascus was a venerable and wealthy city whose capture would give the Franks control over the crossroads of commerce and communications in the East, and would separate the Muslim forces in northern Syria and Iraq from those in Egypt, while the vastness of the desert opening up eastwards beyond Damascus would provide the Frankish states with a natural frontier. The capture of either Damascus or Aleppo offered similar strategic advantages, but Damascus was nearer, provided greater defence for Jerusalem, would be easier to hold – and in having biblical associations, which Aleppo did not, Damascus was a more appealing cause for the crusaders from the West. As William of Tyre wrote, quoting Isaiah 7:8: ‘Damascus is the largest city of lesser Syria and is its metropolis, for as it is said, “Damascus is the head of Syria”.’10 If there was an argument that going to war against Damascus would drive it into the arms of Nur al-Din, the answer was that Damascus was already moving in that direction without Frankish help. Since Zengi had demonstrated his destructive powers at Edessa, Muin al-Din Unur, the atabeg of Damascus, had warmed to Nur al-Din, to whom he had married off his daughter; the growing might of Zengi and Nur al-Din and the propaganda of jihad ensured that Damascus was no longer the ally of the Franks it had once been. After vigorous discussion of the various plans of action the assembly came to ‘a unanimous decision’.11 King Louis was in favour, Conrad was in favour, Baldwin was in favour, the barony of Outremer was in favour, and the Templars were in favour of an expedition against Damascus.

The army of the Second Crusade, the largest assembled in Outremer since 1099, some fifty thousand cavalry and infantry according to Ibn al-Qalanisi, an Arab chronicler who was an eyewitness,12 marched out from Galilee for Damascus in late July 1148. The army camped in a well-supplied position amid orchards and fresh-flowing water in front of the western walls and prepared for the siege. But the orchards also served detachments of Damascenes, who used their cover to make repeated sorties against the crusaders. Louis and Conrad responded by switching their attack to the eastern walls, where there was open ground and they could deploy their heavy cavalry to greater effect. But the city walls were higher on this waterless desert side, and the siege dragged on as meanwhile Turkish cavalry and infantry from elsewhere in Syria made their way towards Damascus. ‘News reached the Franks from many sources that the Muslims were bearing down on them to attack them and wipe them out,’ wrote Ibn al-Qalanisi, ‘and they felt that their defeat was certain. They consulted among themselves, and decided that the only escape from the trap or abyss that loomed ahead of them was to take flight.’ At dawn after only four days they retreated in ‘miserable confusion and disorder’, pursued by the Turks, who showered them with arrows and killed many of their rearguard and their horses and pack animals as well. ‘Innumerable corpses of men and their splendid mounts were found in their bivouacs and along the route of their flight, the bodies stinking so powerfully that the birds almost fell out of the sky.’ Without even fighting a battle the Second Crusade was defeated, ending in a whimpering fiasco and adding to the Muslim conviction, arising after Edessa, that the Franks could be beaten. ‘This gracious sign of God’s favour brought rejoicing to Muslim hearts, and they gave thanks to the Most High for hearing the prayers raised unceasingly to Him in the days of their distress. For which let God be praised and blessed!’13 Six years later Damascus fell to Nur al-Din, and the encirclement of Outremer by a united Muslim power began.

The withdrawal from Damascus caused a bitterness in relations between Outremer and the West that lasted for a generation. Seen from the perspective of the East, kings Louis and Conrad had neither recovered Edessa nor offset its loss by taking Damascus or anything else; indeed, their bungling placed Outremer in greater peril than before the crusade began.

In the West the failure of the crusade came as a shock and turned large numbers of Western Europeans against the whole notion of crusading; both the papacy and the West as a whole had suffered a setback. In the event the Second Crusade was destined to be the last crusade in which the armies were accompanied by large groups of pilgrims and other non-combatants. In future the crusades would be more strictly military expeditions, like the successful campaigns in Portugal and Spain. The shock was all the greater because the crusade had been led by the powerful kings of Germany and France and had been preached by Bernard of Clairvaux, the outstanding spiritual figure of the age. Some blamed the Franks of the East, supposedly corrupted for previously having been in alliance with the ruler of Damascus. Some German chroniclers, anxious to protect Conrad, blamed the Templars, saying that they had deliberately engineered the retreat; indeed Conrad himself, without naming names, wrote that ‘from a source we did not suspect treachery arrived, for “they” assured us that that side of the city could not be taken. They purposely led us to another side where there was no water for the army and no obvious access’;14 while the anonymous Würzburg chronicler wrote of Templar greed, and of betrayal by taking a massive bribe. The French blamed the Byzantines for letting down the crusaders as they crossed Asia Minor, and Louis felt ‘betrayed and deceived’ at Damascus, wrote John of Salisbury, who may have heard the words at first hand; he was resident at the papal court when Louis visited the pope on his return from Outremer. ‘Some impute the treachery to the Templars, others to those who were moved by a desire to return home: certainly the king himself always endeavoured to exonerate the brothers of the Temple’15– which stands to reason, as it was the Templars who had supported the French expedition throughout. As John of Salisbury makes clear after hearing Louis’ account, it was Conrad himself who early on lent his weight to those who wanted to abandon the siege, and Louis went along with it only later and reluctantly. While there is a strong case for royal bumbling, there is no evidence at all of Templar treachery.

In reality the notion of treachery was born out of incomprehension. The crusade had been undertaken to achieve redemption; it had been guided by God, so how could it fail? No one was more disappointed than Bernard, who would be made a saint within twenty years of his death. The question that he and all Europe asked was, why? Why would God call his knights to the Holy Land to be butchered by the infidels? Why would he bring blame and dishonour on kings attempting to do his will? Bernard’s answer was that the armies of Christendom had failed because of the sins of Europe. The fault was not his nor the pope’s; rather, it was that of every man and woman in Europe who had to cleanse themselves of sin. If the crusades were to succeed, then Europe must purify itself.

The need for moral regeneration had been a theme of the papacy and monastic reformers since at least the mid-eleventh century, as well as proponents of the First and Second Crusades; it was also a chief attraction of the order of the Templars, which offered young knights the chance to seek salvation within a monastic order without turning their backs on a life of action. In this the Templars and the spiritual mood in Europe were at one.

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