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 1, 2013

The Second and Third Crusades

After the "excursion" of the last six weeks to the Languedoc and the Albigesian Crusades, I'd like to return to my series of essays on the Crusades to the Holy Land. I left off on September 13 with a description of the Crusader Kingdoms.

 
Here the Crusader Castle of Kerak
 
 
The Second Crusade,1146 - 1148
 



The crusader kingdoms were a remarkable achievement that astonished the contemporary world. But less than a half century after the re-capture of Jerusalem by Christian forces, the new Christian kingdoms suffered their first major set back. In 1144, the Principality of Edessa was captured by Saracen forces. By 1146, the Principality of Antioch was also threatened, and an appeal went out – not to the Byzantine Emperor, who was deemed untrustworthy -- but to the West.  The lords of "Outremer" expected more help from the kingdoms that had taken Jerusalem in 1099 than the Greeks in large part because the ruling elite retained cultural, linguistic and family ties with the West, particularly France.
This call for help elicited an enthusiastic response. This time even kings were persuaded to take the cross (i.e., the crusader vow): namely, the King of France, King Louis VII, and the Holy Roman Emperor, Konrad III. Furthermore, Bernard of Clairvaux, one of the most respected clerics of the age and a gifted orator, preached passionately in favor of the new crusade.



Konrad raised about 80,000 troops and set out first, but his army was so decimated by cavalry attacks, heat, and hunger after crossing into territory held by the Seljuks that he returned with what remained of his army (approximately 7,000 men) to Nicaea to await the arrival of the French. Louis’ army (including his wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine) advanced slowly but with less significant losses, reaching Jerusalem in the spring of 1148 with an estimated 50,000 men.
There the fateful decision was made to try to seize Damascus, presumably to humiliate or weaken the enemy. Although a siege was established, news that a strong relief army was on the way spread so much panic among the crusaders that the crusading army disintegrated. This humiliating failure did profound damage to the support for crusades in the West, because it demonstrated that “God” was not inherently on the side of the crusaders and that victory was not assured. It also restored the confidence of the Saracen leaders.

The Fall of Jerusalem: Crisis in Christian Palestine
Between 1167 and 1174, a charismatic and gifted Kurdish general, Salah ad Din (Saladin), secured succession to the title of Sultan of Egypt and defeated his rivals for the title of Sultan of Syria. With the united forces of these two powerful states, Saladin attacked the Christian Kingdom of Jerusalem in 1177 and tried to capture Jerusalem. Although Saladin was soundly defeated before reaching Jerusalem by forces under King Baldwin IV of Jerusalem, who forced Saladin to retreat, the Christian army was not strong enough to pursue Saladin or deliver a decisive blow against the Kurdish leader. An uneasy truce ensued, while Saladin turned his attention to his Muslim rivals, captured Aleppo, and moved his capital to Damascus. In 1185, King Baldwin IV of Jerusalem died, and the throne passed, after the death of his 8-year-old nephew a few months later, to his sister Sibylla and her husband, Guy de Lusignan, a French noblemen.
 
The violation of a 4-year truce by Reynold of Chatillon, a French adventurer who had married the widow of a powerful baron of Outremer,  led to a full-scale war between the Kingdom of Jerusalem and Saladin in 1187. Saladin invaded with the largest force he had ever assembled, and captured the city of Tiberias in just one hour.  Guy de Lusignan called up his entire feudal host – roughly 1,200 knights, 2,000 native riders, and 10,000 foot soldiers. This Christian host advanced to meet Saladin’s army, but due to a series of tactical errors was decisively defeated at the Battle of Hattin on July 4, 1187. King Guy and many other leading barons were taken prisoner, and – more important psychologically – a relic believed to be the cross on which Christ was crucified, the True Cross, fell into Muslim hands.
 
Saladin then proceeded to capture one after another of the Christian cities and fortresses, and took Jerusalem itself on October 2, 1187. Saladin – unlike the crusaders of the First Crusade – spared the lives of the citizens (in exchange for a ransom) and did not destroy the churches. Within days after he had taken control of Jerusalem, it was safe for Christian pilgrims to return to the city.

The Third Crusade: 1189-1192

The loss of Jerusalem and the True Cross shocked the West. Not only did the Pope call for a new crusade to recapture Jerusalem, but the Holy Roman Emperor, Friedrich I (Barbarossa), King Philip II Augustus of France, and King Henry II of England took crusading vows. Again, the Germans campaigned independently. They rapidly crossed the Balkans and modern Turkey, but Friedrich I drowned crossing a river and his army disintegrated. Meanwhile, Henry II of England had died and been succeeded by his son, Richard I “the Lionhearted.” Richard I was passionately committed to the crusade, and he and King Philip II agreed to campaign jointly, making the radical – and hugely expensive – decision to take their armies to the Holy Land by sea.
In 1190 Richard and Philip reached Sicily, expecting to join forces there with troops supplied by Richard’s brother-in-law, the King of Sicily. Unfortunately, William II of Sicily had died, but he had provided financial support and more ships for the crusade in his testament. Meanwhile, Richard’s and Philip’s armies and fleets collected in Sicily, where they wintered – not without the usual conflicts and tensions between expeditionary troops and local inhabitants. More ominous was the increasing hostility between Richard and Philip. By the spring of 1191, the tension between the two Christian monarchs was so intense that Philip sailed without Richard.  When Richard’s fleet put to sea, it was further delayed by storms, part of which was forced ashore on the Greek island of Cyprus. Richard captured this strategically significant base for crusader operations in just six weeks (I’ll write more about this in a later entry), but it delayed his arrival in the Holy Land until June.

At this point, King Guy (released by Saladin) and what forces he could rally was laying siege to the city of Acre, held by Saracen forces. Just a month after Richard’s arrival, on July 12, Acre capitulated to the Christians, and Philip of France returned to the West, leaving Richard of England in sole command of the Christian forces. Richard promptly moved out to capture Jerusalem, taking control again of Haifa and Caesarea, and confronted Saladin’s army at Arsuf. Richard defeated Saladin in the battle, but Saladin was able to rapidly rally his forces, blocking the route to Jerusalem. Richard therefore proceeded to retake Jaffa and Ascalon.
In 1192 Richard again gathered his forces for an assault on Jerusalem, but as soon as his forces moved inland, Saladin seized Jaffa behind Richard’s back. Richard returned and recaptured Jaffa, but had to face the fact that he did not have sufficient force to hold the coastal cities and recapture Jerusalem.
 
On September 2, 1192, Richard signed a peace treaty with Saladin, one which left the coastal cities in Christian hands and guaranteed Christians the right to pilgrimage in Jerusalem and other holy cities (e.g., Nazareth) still in Muslim hands – for 5 years. Saladin died the following year.


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