Lord Edward’s Crusade II

9th Crusade Emund Crouchback & St George.

From Slave to Sultan: Baibars I.

Ultimately, however, reason and moderation averted the need for further bloodshed. Cardinal Ottobuono, having negotiated his way out of the Tower, played a major role, persuading the English clergy to contribute to a relief fund for the Disinherited. But the real heroes of the hour were Richard of Cornwall and the other moderate magnates who had condemned the harsh treatment of the rebels over eighteen months earlier. Under their auspices, a new agreement was reached, which saw a crucial amendment to the Dictum of Kenilworth. Henceforth, it was announced, rebels who agreed to redeem their lands would obtain repossession immediately, rather than (as had formerly been the case) at the end of their term of repayment. This had been Gloucester’s chief demand, and having obtained it he agreed to stand down his men. In mid-June the earl withdrew from London, allowing Henry III to enter a few days later and proclaim his peace. It remained only to bring the rump of rebels at Ely to heel, a task that fell to Edward, and that he accomplished the following month.

At long last, the disturbances of the past decade had come to an end. They would, of course, have ended far sooner had the victors of Evesham not embarked on their understandable but ill-judged policy of retribution. Instead, the battle had been followed by two more years of unnecessary violence and destruction. England, already in a terrible state of confusion at the time of Montfort’s death, had been reduced to total chaos. In almost every corner of the kingdom lordship and landholding were in dispute, and nowhere had escaped the repeated waves of destruction. During the recent occupation of London, even Henry III’s precious Palace of Westminster had been sacked, the looters making off with windows, doors and fireplaces.

But the work of reconstruction and regeneration could now finally begin, and the heavens themselves seemed to be in sympathy. Back in 1258, when the revolution had broken, the weather had been appalling, and in consequence a terrible famine had stalked the land. In 1267, by contrast, the bad times had clearly passed, and the air was filled with hope. One Londoner writing that summer noted with satisfaction the richness of the woods and the spinneys, the gardens and the cornfields, and concluded ‘this year was more fruitful than any in times past’.

‘Moreover,’ added another of the capital’s contented inhabitants, ‘an enormous amount of Gascon wine was imported.’

In these days of renewed optimism, there was no greater cause for hope than the character of the heir to the throne. More than any other individual, Edward had been transformed by the tumultuous events of the past ten years. The swaggering youth whose irresponsible excesses had been lamented by the late Matthew Paris was gone; in his place was a man who, at twenty-eight, had proved his ability on almost every relevant score. The civil war, culminating in the two great battles of Lewes and Evesham, had shown that he possessed a general’s skill and a lion’s courage. The hard-won peace that had eventually followed had allowed him to demonstrate his flair for persuasion and to repair his associated reputation for panther-like duplicity. Without question, Edward had emerged as the most powerful figure in English politics. More than ever before, he looked like a king in waiting.

And yet who knew how long he would have to wait? Henry III, at almost sixty, was old but hardly ancient; despite his tendency to complain of ill-health, he might soldier on for several years to come. In such a scenario, Edward would have to assume a much more subdued role than the one he had been playing of late. He could, of course, assist his father in the business of government, but for the next few years government promised to be a tedious business of settling land disputes. Equally, he could attend to his own estates, but here too there was little prospect of genuine excitement. The one arena that would have presented a challenge was Wales, but Edward’s concerns there had lately been ceded to others. His lands in south Wales had been transferred to his younger brother in 1265; those in the north had been lost to Llywelyn ap Gruffudd in the summer of 1263, when the castles of Dyserth and Deganwy had finally fallen, and there was no question, given England’s exhaustion and instability, of recovering them at any point soon. Accordingly, in the late summer of 1267, Henry and his sons travelled to the Welsh border and granted Llywelyn a permanent peace.

What Edward and his friends craved was fresh adventure. Their desire for further opportunities to prove their martial prowess is clear from the numerous tournaments they organised in the autumn of 1267. But counterfeit combat was no substitute for the real thing, to which recent events had made them accustomed; these young but experienced warriors now required an altogether larger stage for their ambitions. The answer to their predicament was therefore obvious – the natural next step for knights in search of renown. Edward and his friends should go on crusade.

The idea of an English crusade had hung fire since the mid-1250s, at which point Henry III’s half-baked plan of leading an expedition had finally collapsed. To some extent the king’s dalliance in this highly emotive area of foreign policy had been the cause of his domestic crisis. Having initially vowed to fight in the Holy Land, he had subsequently fallen in with the pope’s suggestion that the kingdom of Sicily would make an equally legitimate target. Alas for Henry, his subjects had begged to differ, and ultimately overcome his bull-headed intransigence on this and other issues by depriving him of power. As a result, the only holy war that Englishmen had experienced had been a kind of ironic parody. In 1263 Montfort and his youthful devotees had decided that their cause was so righteous that it constituted a crusade; a little later the papacy had thrown its weight behind the royalists and conferred crusade status on their struggle to overthrow Montfort. Both sides, it seems, had ridden into battle at Evesham with crosses stitched to their surcoats.

By this time, however, the papacy had reverted to its original tune and placed the Holy Land back at the top of its military agenda. In 1263 a new call to arms had been issued to the princes of Europe, exhorting them to go east. Needless to say, it had fallen on deaf ears in war-torn England, but the subsequent coming of peace had encouraged the pope to renew his efforts. Promoting the new crusade was a major part of Cardinal Ottobuono’s remit as papal legate; with the help of the English clergy, he had begun a propaganda drive soon after his arrival. To some extent, it sat well with his other aim of bringing reconciliation. From the time of the First Crusade onwards, preachers of the cross had urged Christians to stop sinfully fighting against each other, and to head east instead, so that they could righteously slaughter the infidel.

But in the fraught atmosphere after Evesham, not everyone was convinced. In February 1267 the rebels in Ely had responded with scorn to the suggestion that they should leave the country at the pope’s say-so. To them Ottobuono’s presence was simply a reminder of the disreputable schemes concocted by the Crown and the papacy a decade earlier; his message was clearly a cynical plot to remove Englishmen from England so that their lands might be given to foreigners. Even once peace had been restored, such attitudes proved hard to dispel. The cardinal preached the cross in London immediately after Henry III had reoccupied the city, but few of those who responded to his call were former rebels.

Among royalists, by contrast, the response was rather more encouraging. Those receiving the redemption fines imposed after the peace were obviously in a better financial position to go on crusade than those obliged to pay them. Moreover, apart from sheer kicks, there were two additional factors that gave the king’s supporters greater motivation. First, and most obviously, there was a strong religious imperative. The victors of Evesham would have felt a great debt of gratitude to God, as well as the need to atone for the exceptional level of bloodshed. Secondly, and probably no less importantly, there was once again the matter of Anglo-French rivalry. In March 1267 Louis IX had announced his intention of taking the cross for the second time. This had been the essential breakthrough as far as the papacy was concerned, but for the English royal family, their friends and relatives, it merely drew attention to the unfulfilled vows they had sworn in 1250. To hesitate again could only magnify their existing embarrassment on this score.

What made sense to royalists in general, however, seemed altogether less sensible in the case of the heir to the throne. Edward was the best guarantor of stability and guardian of the Crown’s interests; were he removed, even for a short time, the kingdom might again descend into chaos. Henry III, for all his religious conviction, was clearly appalled at the prospect of losing his eldest son, and many others must have shared in his concern. Representations were evidently made to the pope, who responded in early 1268 by reiterating them in a letter to Edward and urging him not to go. A little later, recognising that Henry remained anxious to have his venerable vow fulfilled by proxy, the pope suggested that his second son, Edmund, would make a more suitable substitute.

But Edward was undeterred by such objections. In his mind it was an equally unconscionable thought that his friends should go without him. His household, although composed for the most part of Englishmen, still contained some high-ranking French knights, several of whom had travelled to the East with Louis IX a generation before and who must have been particularly influential. The same was true of Louis himself, who had become close to Edward, his nephew, as a consequence of their frequent contact during the 1260s. The French king’s encouragement and the example of his countrymen evidently counted for more than the admonitions of Henry III and the pope. By the end of 1267, if not before, Edward had resolved to go.

At length, the objectors in England were won over. Cardinal Ottobuono was soon convinced that an English crusade would go ahead only if Edward was its leader, and Henry III was eventually talked round in the early months of 1268. By the start of the summer the stage was set, and a special parliament was summoned to Northampton – a location almost certainly selected because of its spectacular church of the Holy Sepulchre, built by a knight of the First Crusade in imitation of the original he had seen in Jerusalem. There, on Sunday, 24 June 1268 – the feast of St John the Baptist – Ottobuono preached the pope’s message, and Edward, his brother Edmund and their cousin Henry of Almain all responded by taking the cross. Hundreds of others followed their example. For the most part they were royalists, such as Roger Clifford, Roger Leybourne and William de Valence, but a handful of former rebels also joined their company. John de Vescy, the rehabilitated lord of Alnwick, was one. Gilbert de Clare, earl of Gloucester, was another, and by far the most important in terms of portraying the crusade as a pathway to reconciliation. The carefully co-ordinated ceremony was clearly a breakthrough moment, and represented the culmination of Cardinal Ottobuono’s efforts. His mission in England completed, the legate left for home the following month.

With regard to the ceremony at Northampton, two other important points deserve to be noted. First, the exultation that day followed on directly from the joyous scenes of the previous month, when Edward and Eleanor had celebrated the birth of their second son, whom they named Henry in honour of his grandfather. Second, the fact that she was now a mother to two small children in no way deterred Eleanor from taking the cross herself. Women were in general discouraged from going on crusade, but by the thirteenth century it had become quite common for ladies of the highest rank to accompany their husbands eastward. Eleanor de Montfort, for example, had done so in the 1240s, as had Queen Margaret of France. On this occasion the French queen was happily staying behind, but her son Philip was planning to take his wife, Isabel, and Edward’s youngest sister, Beatrice, intended to travel with her husband, the son of the duke of Brittany. Given this context, Eleanor of Castile was almost bound to participate. Indeed, given her closeness to Edward, her well-attested fondness for chivalric pursuits, and also the fact that she was the daughter of Ferdinand III, one of Spain’s greatest crusading heroes, it would have been altogether more surprising had Eleanor elected to remain at home.

As for Henry III in the 1250s, so too now for his son, the question became one of preparation and, more specifically, money. To go on crusade had always been an extremely costly undertaking. From the time of the First Crusade onwards, knights had been forced to mortgage or sell their estates in order to raise the necessary funds to maintain themselves and their dependants during the many months, often running into years, that an expedition might last.

Such personal economies were still in order in 1268, but there were also some alternative sources of funding available. By the thirteenth century, crusading had become a well-organised, centrally managed institution under the direction of the pope. The papacy, in fact, had pioneered many of the fund-raising techniques still employed by international charities today. Collection boxes were placed in churches; people were prompted to leave bequests in their wills. The papacy had even hit upon the neat idea of encouraging the non-military members of society to take the cross, then allowing them to redeem their vows in exchange for a cash payment. Using all the money raised by such methods, the Church was able to subsidise the kind of crusaders that were really wanted – warriors with the appropriate experience and equipment.

In theory, therefore, Edward should have been able to lay his hands on such funds. The problem was that, because of his father’s earlier opposition, his initial application for a grant had been declined. Following Henry’s subsequent volte-face, Ottobuono had endeavoured to reverse this decision, commending Edward to the pope as a doughty leader worthy of financial support. Alas, however, the pope died before he could be prevailed upon to change his mind, and the college of cardinals fell into a protracted argument over who should be his successor. Thus, for the foreseeable future, Edward was unable to count on obtaining funds from what should have been the most obvious source.

Denied money by the Church, Edward determined to raise it instead from the laity. In the autumn of 1268 plans were laid to convince parliament to finance a crusade by means of a national tax. This was nothing if not ambitious. To begin with, the country had only recently emerged from years of devastating civil war. More to the point, that war had been provoked, in part, by the excessive financial demands of the Crown. By the time of the famous Oxford parliament of 1258, the knights of the shire had become so fed up with Henry III’s oppressive government that they had been willing to support its overthrow. Some of them, for the same reason, had subsequently gone on to support Simon de Montfort. The revolution might now have been reversed, and Montfort might have been dead and buried, but the grievances that had given force to both remained very much alive. It had been over thirty years since parliament had agreed to approve a royal request for tax. Unless the complaints of local society were answered, it was a situation that was unlikely to change.

Edward thus faced a seemingly impossible situation. To persuade men to vote him money, he would have to address their grievances, yet to address their grievances, he would have to ease their financial burden. It was similar to the vicious circle that had defeated his father. Unable to obtain parliament’s consent to taxation, Henry had ordered his sheriffs, foresters and justices to raise more revenues. This, in turn, only made the men of the localities feel even more oppressed, and thus rendered them even less likely to vote the king a tax the next time he summoned a parliament.

Any attempt to conciliate local opinion therefore had to be carefully judged; it would have made no sense to cede the right to any regular form of revenue in the vague hope that this might engender enough goodwill to permit the collection of a one-off tax. What was needed was a targeted concession: something that would ease the demands, not on everyone’s pockets, but specifically on those of the knights in parliament. For this reason, Edward proposed legislation against the Jews.

As the popularity of crusading implies, thirteenth-century England was an aggressively Christian country, and it would not be incorrect to say that Christianity dominated the lives of each and every one of its 3 to 4 million inhabitants. It would be incorrect, however, to claim that the kingdom was entirely uniform in its religious observance, for amid this massive Christian majority lived a tiny number of non-believers. The Jews had first arrived in England shortly after the Norman Conquest, at which point they had established a small community in London. Two centuries later they could be found dwelling in most of the country’s major towns and cities, yet collectively they still accounted for no more than 5,000 people.

As a minority population, marked out as different by their faith and rituals (and to some extent their appearance and dress), the Jews were always liable to be marginalised and persecuted. In one respect, however, difference had given them a distinct advantage. In the late twelfth century the pope had forbidden Christians from practising usury, or lending money at interest. In so doing he effectively created a Jewish moneylending monopoly. From that moment on, any Christian wishing to obtain financial credit, from the humblest local landowner to the king of England himself, had to look to the Jews to provide it.

Needless to say, while being moneylenders made the Jews necessary, it hardly made them any more popular, and they would not have survived for long had they not been protected by the English Crown. Unfortunately, such protection came at a price, and that price was systematic exploitation. Almost as soon as their monopoly of the credit market had been established, it was decided that the Jews were, in effect, the king’s property, much as if they had been unfree peasants living on one of his manors. As such, the king could tax them at will, imposing a so-called ‘tallage’ whenever he felt the need. It also meant that when a Jew died, all his assets went to the Crown, including any outstanding loans he had made that had yet to be collected.

To contemporary Christians, none of this seemed in any way unreasonable: the Jews, it was felt, should be kept in their place, just as unfree peasants were. If anything, the Crown’s treatment was regarded in many quarters – Rome, for instance – as rather too lenient. Put crudely, if the king wanted his Jews to turn a profit, it behoved him to keep his demands moderate, and allow the Jewish community to prosper. For the first part of the thirteenth century, this was by and large what had happened. By the time of Edward’s birth in 1239, thanks to their special relationship with the Crown, England’s Jews were probably the most prosperous in Europe.

But thereafter Henry III, with characteristic incompetence, had contrived to wreck the system. Unable to obtain taxation from parliament to fund his misguided European adventures, Henry had turned to the Jews and tallaged them without mercy. In the two decades after 1240, the king had unthinkingly extorted a total of nearly 100,000 marks, taking twice the annual average that had been customary before this point. As a result, by the early 1260s, the prosperity of the Jewish community had been broken beyond repair.

The financial persecution of a small, infidel minority might have elicited no more than a general shrug of indifference had that minority not also been moneylenders. As it was, Henry’s rapacious harrying of the Jews had knock-on effects that were equally disastrous for many of his Christian subjects. Inevitably, once their own savings had been exhausted, Jewish creditors looked to recover the monies they had loaned to others. It was similarly inevitable, however, that their clients could not offer immediate repayment. Thus, in order to meet the king’s pressing demands for cash, the Jews were forced to take the extreme step of selling their loans on to others at a heavy discount. A debt of £100, for example, might be sold for £50, or even far less, if the need for quick capital was sufficiently desperate.

So far, so uncontroversial: it hardly mattered to Christians if a few Jewish moneylenders went to the wall in this way. The problem for Christians lay in the motives of those who were the purchasers in this new market. Discounted Jewish debts were typically snapped up by the richest individuals at Henry III’s court – William de Valence and Richard of Cornwall were two of the most prominent pioneers in the field. Such men were not concerned to recover the principal of a loan, nor even (as the Jews themselves were) the considerable interest that would accumulate on it. The target on which their acquisitive eyes were fixed was the property against which the loan had been secured. Having obtained a debt, there was nothing to stop an unscrupulous Christian speculator from demanding immediate repayment of the entire sum – repayment that, naturally, the unfortunate debtor would not be able to produce. This being the case, the speculator could simply foreclose on the debt and seize whatever lands had been put up as collateral. A modern analogy would be a bank suddenly deciding to sell its mortgages to an individual who refused to respect the repayment terms, and who began repossessing the properties on which the mortgages had been secured.

Thus the effects of Henry III’s punitive taxation of the Jews had been felt far beyond the Jewish community itself. For a few very wealthy courtiers with capital to spare, it had created a new and easy way to obtain lands. For the majority of lesser landowners, by contrast, it had created nothing but misery and distress. Some, having done nothing more than take on perfectly serviceable debts from the only available source, had found themselves partially or totally disinherited. Others – anyone else who still owed money to the Jews – had in consequence become extremely anxious lest the same should happen to them. Reform had been demanded in 1258, but nothing had been done. In 1260, at the time of Edward and Montfort’s Easter rising, the Jewish exchequer, where records of debt were kept, had been raided and robbed of its rolls. Finally, during the years of civil war violence, attacks on the Jews themselves had begun. Between 1263 and 1267 there were massacres in, among other places, London, Canterbury, Winchester, Lincoln, Bristol, Nottingham and Worcester. Angry, fearful Montfortian knights, already encouraged to be anti-Semitic by their Christian religion, struck down their creditors in the hope of erasing the evidence of their indebtedness. The restoration of peace had brought an end to these attacks, but the problems associated with Jewish credit remained.

It was these problems that Edward proposed to remedy in the hope that he could thereby appease the knightly class, and thus obtain the tax for his crusade. At the start of 1269 he and Henry of Almain pushed for a raft of legal restrictions on Jewish moneylending aimed at curtailing its abuse by rich Christians. Debts to Jews, they suggested, should not be sold to Christians without prior permission from the king; those that were ought not to gather interest. In addition, they advocated doing away altogether with so-called ‘rentcharges’ – a novel device whereby a debtor made annual payments from his property in return for his loan, and another means by which predatory magnates were wont to snap up encumbered estates.

But when these measures were published in the Easter parliament of 1269 they failed to have the desired effect. The knights of the shires had witnessed plenty of well-intentioned but toothless legislation passed in the previous decade; it may well have been that they insisted on seeing these new measures enforced before they would consider the question of money. This, in turn, may have provoked opposition from those great men in attendance who had a vested interest in the existing operation of Jewish credit and who no doubt hoped that the new laws would simply be left to gather dust. Whatever the case, no effort was subsequently made to enforce the restrictions, and no consent was obtained for a grant of taxation.

Edward was running out of options. If neither the clergy nor the laity would grant him financial aid, his crusade was doomed to fail. In the relentless search for funds a certain desperation was already apparent. In the early months of 1269 his father had handed him the custody (and hence the revenues) of seven royal castles, eight counties and the city of London. Later, in April, his brother Edmund was married to a rich heiress, Avelina de Forz, who stood to inherit the earldoms of Devon and Aumale, the Isle of Wight and extensive lands in Yorkshire. Lastly, in May, there was an exceedingly shabby episode whereby both brothers and several of their powerful friends – Henry of Almain and William de Valence chief among them – conspired to deprive the earl of Derby, Robert de Ferrers, of all his property. A former Montfortian, Ferrers was also a foolish young man who had clashed several times with Edward during the course of the war. He should nonetheless have been allowed to stand, like other rebels, to the Dictum of Kenilworth and recover his estates by redemption. That he was not is testimony to the personal animosity Ferrers aroused in both Edward and his fellow crusaders, but above all it underlines their greed: the earl’s estates and titles, extorted from him under duress, were duly transferred to Edmund.

While the magnates of England floundered in their struggle to raise money, in France the crusade was gaining an unstoppable momentum. Louis IX, in his capacity as the expedition’s undisputed captain, had summoned a final council of war to Paris that summer, which Edward dutifully attended in August. The meeting was not without its benefits. The French king took pity on his hard-up nephew and furnished him with a loan of £17,000 (the sum to be repaid over twelve years from the customs revenues of Bordeaux). Although not nearly enough to cover all costs, this was at least a sizeable step in the right direction. In other ways, however, the Paris summit compounded the pressure on Edward. During their debates Louis and the other leaders fixed a firm date for their departure. The crusade would leave from southern France, it was agreed, in one year’s time – whether the English were ready or not.

Part of Edward’s problem was the attitude of his father. Although Henry III continued to pay lip-service to the idea of going on crusade and had dropped his objection to his eldest son’s involvement, his overriding ambition lay in a different (and to some extent opposing) direction. Whereas Edward intended to thank God for his victory at Evesham by going east, Henry wished to celebrate his divine deliverance at home, on his doorstep. The new church at Westminster Abbey, begun in 1245, was still a long way from completion (the east end and the transepts were finished, but the nave was only half-built). Nevertheless, enough had been done for the king to prepare for the reburial of Edward the Confessor, his hero, whose tomb had been removed when construction work had started. Henry’s hopes had evidently been pinned for some time on a dedication service in 1269: that year’s liturgical calendar was a rare, exact match with the calendar of 1163, when the Confessor’s body had last been translated. Ever since his restoration to power, the king had urged on the works relentlessly, ploughing whatever spare cash he could find into finishing the abbey’s ceremonial sections. Everything had to be ready by the feast of St Edward on 13 October; Henry intended it to be the climactic moment of his long and troubled reign.

Edward returned from France in good time to participate. Viewed optimistically, there was a chance that his father’s day of triumph might occasion a breakthrough for the crusade. To witness his supreme moment, Henry had summoned an especially large parliament. If its lesser members were sufficiently dazzled by the spiritual experience, they might well condescend to approve the much-needed tax grant.

Alas, the great day did not go quite as planned. The dedication went ahead, and the saint’s body was reverently moved to its new, not-quite-finished shrine: Henry, Richard of Cornwall, Edward and Edmund carried the Confessor’s coffin in a solemn procession around the church themselves. But before the ceremony there were arguments over precedence between the officiating archbishop of York and the rest of the clergy, and a similar row arose between the citizens of London and Winchester ahead of the feast that followed. Moreover, while the new church was undeniably awesome, and the king’s hospitality excited ‘the admiration and wonder of all’, neither was enough to alter the mood of the knights in parliament. Asked once again to sanction the collection of tax, they once again refused.

Nor was that the only problem. Notably absent from the dedication of the new abbey was Gilbert de Clare, the easily displeased earl of Gloucester. Although he had taken the cross at Northampton the previous year, Gilbert had subsequently become irritated on a number of scores with both Edward and Henry (he had been particularly irked by concessions made in the March of Wales to Llywelyn ap Gruffudd, which hurt his own interests in the region). Isolated incidents seemed like a concerted campaign to get him; the contemptible treatment of his one-time ally Robert de Ferrers cannot have done much to allay his fears. According to one chronicler, the earl now professed to be staying away from court in the autumn of 1269 because he believed that Edward was plotting to capture him.

Far from uniting men in common purpose, the crusade appeared to be deepening the divisions between them. The knights of the shires, still aggrieved with the king’s government, refused to subsidise the adventure. Former Montfortians, burdened by their redemption fines, had mostly declined to take part. From the first the expedition had threatened to drive a new wedge between Edward and his father, and to some extent Henry’s support remained equivocal. Now the earl of Gloucester, the single greatest participant after Edward himself, seemed disaffected to a point that might jeopardise the realm’s fragile peace. None of this boded well for a departure in ten months’ time. And yet, at the same time, the crusade could not be abandoned. Financially, because of his agreement with Louis IX, and spiritually, because of his vow at Northampton, Edward was bound to go.

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