Helena Schrader's Historical Fiction

My biographical novel of Balian d'Ibelin in three parts is complete, but the saga continues. Follow me to Cyprus, where Lusignans and Ibelins struggle to put down a rebellion and establish a durable state. Watch for excerpts and updates here.

Friday, November 29, 2013

The Last Crusades

There were to be four more crusades, but all of them were, each in their own way, dismal failures, mere echoes of the First and Third Crusades, and none could halt the inevitable end of the crusader kingdoms. Nevertheless, the Seventh Crusade was notable for being led by a man who would later be sainted, King Louis IX of France. I will deal with them all in this, my last entry, on the history of the crusades.

The Fifth Crusade: 1218-1221

The fate of the children sent a new shock through the courts of Europe, and a new attempt was made to rally political support for a military campaign to rescue Jerusalem. Pope Innocent III called officially for a new crusade in 1215, but the forces gathered were too weak for a direct assault. The leaders, none of whom were prominent, chose instead to put pressure on the Sultan of Egypt by laying siege to the Egyptian coastal city of Damietta. Although Damietta fell to the crusaders in 1219, this minor victory had no impact on the situation in the Holy Land. Two years later the crusaders withdrew.

The Sixth Crusade: 1228-1229
The Sixth Crusade was led by Emperor Friedrich II of Germany, however, the Emperor’s motives were largely secular. He laid claim to the title of King of Jerusalem by right of his wife, and wanted to establish his control over the Kingdom (such as it was) and furthermore exert his claim to overlordship of the Kingdom of Cyprus. He was, furthermore, under a ban of excommunication at the time he undertook the crusade, which made it difficult for the Knights Templar or the Knights Hospitaller to support him. In the end, he negotiated a treaty that returned Jerusalem and Bethlehem to the Christians for 10 years, but denied the Christians the right to fortify the city. This outraged the local nobility and the militant orders, who recognized that the Saracens would be able to retake Jerusalem at whim – and that they would be expected to bleed and die in the attempt to save it long after Friedrich had departed for Germany.

The Seventh Crusade: 1248-1254
 

 
 
As had been foreseen, Jerusalem was soon seized and sacked by Saracen forces (in 1244). That same year, King Louis IX of France was on his deathbed in Paris. With his family and barons gathered around to hear his last wishes, he had a vision of Jerusalem, and when he recovered seemingly miraculously from his illness, he was convinced that God had restored his health so that he could lead a new crusade to free Jerusalem. Not since the Third Crusade had there been a ruling monarch who took the cross out of religious fervor. Louis IX overcame the reluctance of his nobles and assembled a considerable force, said to have numbered 2,000 knights. He sailed for Outremer in 1248 from Aigues-Mortes in southern France, accompanied by his three younger brothers – the Counts of Artois, Poitiers, and Anjou – and by his queen.
 
 

After staging in Cyprus over the winter, Louis’ army embarked for Egypt and captured Damietta after a battle before the gates (but without a siege) in June 1249. The crusaders collected their forces in Damietta, and then in early 1250 started up the Nile with the objective of capturing Cairo. In February 1250 their advance was halted by a large Muslim force holding the fortified city of Mansourah. A rash attack by the vanguard, led by the Count of Artois, resulted in heavy losses, including the Count of Artois and nearly all the Knights Templar on the expedition. Meanwhile the Sultan’s forces had succeeded in cutting off the crusaders’ supplies from Cyprus and the Holy Land, and the French were soon suffering from hunger, dysentery, and scurvy.
In April, King Louis, along with all his surviving knights and men, was taken captive. The wounded were slaughtered, as were most of the priests and any of the captives considered too weak to make good slaves. The commoners were given the choice of conversion to Islam or death. Only the wealthy knights and noblemen were held for ransom.
 
 
Louis’ queen and consort, nine months pregnant and in Damietta with only a weak guard, rejected the advice to flee for her safety, wisely recognizing that Damietta was her husband’s most valuable bargaining chip. Within only a few weeks, a deal had been struck, by which Damietta was returned to the Sultan of Egypt in exchange for King Louis’ release, and a huge ransom in gold was paid by the King of France for all the rest of the surviving crusaders in Egyptian hands.
The Sultan with whom this deal was made, however, was murdered before Louis’ eyes before the deal could be implemented. The murderers of the Sultan were rebellious Mamlukes, technically slaves, who formed the backbone of the Sultan’s military leadership and his bodyguard. The Mamlukes cut the Sultan’s heart out of his chest in full view of the French king, then came aboard King Louis’ galley and held it out to him, demanding to know what he would give them for the heart of his “enemy.” Louis was (to his credit!) speechless. The Mamlukes next threatened the Christians with execution, and most of them confessed their sins to one another (because the priests had already been slaughtered by their captors), and prepared to die. In the morning, however, the Mamlukes consented to the agreed ransom. After Damietta was turned over and the first installment of the ransom paid, King Louis, his surviving brothers, and the most important noble captives – but not all the knights nor any of the commoners – were released.
King Louis – against the advice of his nobles – remained in the Holy Land for another four years, and engaged in sophisticated diplomatic maneuvering with the Sultan of Damascus (a descendant of Saladin, appalled by the Mamlukes’ murder of his cousin), the Mongols, and the Assassins. When his mother, left in France as his regent, died in 1254, however, he returned to France. By that time he had secured the release of at least 3,000 prisoners and had signed treaties that stabilized the fragile status quo in the Christian territories.
The Eighth Crusade: 1270
Although the Mongols captured Baghdad in 1258 and took Aleppo and Damascus in 1260, by 1265 the new Sultan of Egypt, the Mamluke general Baibars, had put them on the defensive, and he soon felt strong enough to focus his attention on eliminating the remaining Christian strongholds in the Holy Land. In 1265 he captured Caesarea and Arsuf. In 1266 he took Safed and Galilee. In 1268, Baibars took Jaffa, Antioch, and Sidon.
King Louis IX, although now 66 years old and very ill, “took the cross” again. He gathered an army and sailed for North Africa, where he laid siege to Tunis, but his army was soon decimated by sickness and demoralized by the death of King Louis himself on August 25, 1270. This was the ignominious end of the last official crusade.
Edward of England in the Holy Land: 1271-1272
Prince Edward of England, later Edward I, was in the Holy Land in 1271-1272, but despite tactical successes he had insufficient military strength to make a lasting impact on the imbalance of forces.
The End of Christian Palestine
Baibars’ successor, Kala’un, another Mamluke emir who murdered his way to power, was determined to eliminate the remaining Christian strongholds on the coast. Breaking a truce he had made with the Christians, he captured the Hospitaller fortress of Marquab in 1285. In 1289 he took the Christian city of Tripoli, slaughtering all the males and flooding the slave markets with the women and children. In 1291, the last Christian outpost, the city of Acre, was besieged and captured. The military orders withdrew from their remaining fortresses without a fight and re-established their headquarters on Cyprus. The Christian kingdoms established in the Holy Land by the First Crusade had been extinguished and there wound never again be an armed pilgrimage by Christians to recapture the sites of Christ’s passion.
 
 
 

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