The Pseudo-Baldwin and the ‘Master of Hungary’

The gigantic enterprise of the crusades long continued to provide the background for popular messianic movements. In the official crusades secular politics bulked ever larger. Already in the Third Crusade, which started on its way in 1189, the political interests of the secular states — the Empire and France and England — found open expression. And the Fourth Crusade, in the opening years of the thirteenth century, ended as a purely lay war waged for purely political ends – an expedition in which the commercial ambition of Venice combined with the territorial ambitions of French and German princes to bring about the capture of Constantinople and the conquest and partition of the Eastern Empire. In such a crusade there was no longer any room for the pauperes — they were not wanted and would not have been interested. But they had not abandoned the old ideal of the liberation and defence of the Holy City, nor the old eschatological hopes. On the contrary, now that the barons had given themselves up altogether to worldliness, the poor were even more convinced than before that they and they alone were the true instruments of the divine will, the true custodians of the eschatological mission.

In 1198 for the first time there seems to have appeared a propheta who summoned the poor to a crusade which should be theirs and theirs alone. Fulk of Neuilly was a typical ascetic miracle-worker whose immense popular prestige owed much to his supposed ability to heal the blind and the dumb. And what he envisaged would seem to have been nothing less than an independent army which would be as rigorously insistent on its poverty as, it was said, the horde of King Tafur had been. The crowds set in motion by Fulk perished miserably on the coast of Spain; but within a few years they were succeeded by the Children’s Crusades. In 1212 armies of children set out to recapture the Holy City, one army from France and another, much larger, from the Rhine valley. Each was headed by a youth who believed himself chosen by God and who was regarded by his followers as a miracle-working saint. These thousands of children could be held back neither by entreaty nor by force; their faith was such that they were convinced the Mediterranean would dry up before them as the Red Sea had dried up before the Israelites. These crusades too ended disastrously, with almost all the children either drowned in the sea or starved to death or sold into slavery in Africa. Nevertheless these mass migrations had inaugurated a tradition; for more than a century autonomous crusades of the poor continued to occur from time to time, and with consequences which were no longer disastrous to themselves alone.

Meanwhile in Flanders and Hainaut the Fourth Crusade itself gave rise, indirectly and after an interval of a generation, to a movement which appealed strongly to the messianic hopes of the masses, even though its origin lay in a political intrigue. When the crusaders captured Constantinople in 1204 they installed Baldwin IX, Count of Flanders, as Emperor of Constantinople and suzerain of all the princes from the West who were now carving fiefs for themselves out of the territories of the Eastern Empire. Baldwin’s state was however very vulnerable and within a year the Emperor was captured by the Bulgarians and put to death. At home Baldwin’s daughter Joanna became Countess; but as she could not effectively oppose that resolute and able politician Philip Augustus of France her lands of Flanders and Hainaut fell under French domination. It was an unwelcome domination and on the death of Philip in 1223 it was only lack of a leader that prevented a general rising. At this point the age-old phantasy of the Sleeping Emperor reappeared in a form adapted to the hour. In virtue of his extraordinary history Baldwin had become in the popular imagination a figure of superhuman dimensions, a fabulous creature, half demon and half angel. Gradually a whole legend was elaborated. It was rumoured abroad that the Count was after all not dead but, having sinned greatly, was still discharging a penance imposed on him by the Pope. For many years he had been living in obscurity as a wandering beggar and hermit; but his expiation was now almost completed and he would very soon be returning in glory to free his land and people.

In 1224 a stranger passed through the country around Tournai, distributing largesse and announcing that Baldwin was about to return. A few months later there appeared between Tournai and Valenciennes a begging hermit, in appearance a typical propheta, of imposing stature, with long hair and flowing beard. He was traced to a nearby forest, where he was found to be living in a hut made of branches; and at once the rumour began to spread that he was no other than the missing Count. It has never been decided whether the hermit suggested this role for himself or simply accepted it when it was proposed to him. What is certain is that, having insisted on spending another year in the forest to complete his penance, he used the time to provide himself with counsellors and to organize a secret court. He was visited by the nobility; a nephew of Baldwin really believed that he recognized his uncle in him; the leaders of the Flemish resistance to France at least claimed to recognize him so that they could adopt him as their man. Fortified by this support the hermit announced that he was indeed Baldwin, returned home from the East after terrible sufferings. Great crowds streamed out from Valenciennes to see him and in April 1225 brought him back to the town on horseback, clad in a scarlet robe, amidst scenes of wild jubilation.

Accepted by most of the nobility and towns of Flanders and Hainaut, the hermit assumed sovereign powers. But when the Countess Joanna invited him to come to her court to be recognized and acclaimed, he refused to go. Instead, he prepared to establish his position by force; while Joanna on her side, having interviewed crusaders who had known her father, denounced the hermit as an impostor. The towns were in a turbulent mood, not only because they saw a chance to extend their liberties by throwing off the suzerainty of the King of France but because they really believed that their true lord had been restored to them. Now they rose in arms and deposed Joanna, who only narrowly escaped capture. Civil war broke out; and the hermit, at the head of a powerful force, devastated Hainaut from end to end, pillaging and destroying every centre of resistance and setting fire to churches crammed full with people. This was no ordinary war but (as a modern historian has described it) a war of religious exaltation, a crusade against the Countess Joanna – who was now detested not merely as the ally of France but as an undutiful and rebellious daughter. And the leader of the crusade was no ordinary commander but a holy prince, a being so revered that people kissed the scars which bore witness to his long martyrdom, fought for a hair of his head or a scrap of his clothing and drank his bathwater as an earlier generation had drunk Tanchelm’s.

In May the hermit was crowned, probably at Valenciennes, as Count of Flanders and Hainaut and Emperor of Constantinople and Thessalonica, in a ceremony in which the splendours of western and of eastern ritual were combined. The new monarch at once created knights, distributed fiefs and benefices and largesse and set off on a state visit to his towns. Clad in imperial purple, borne in a litter or mounted on a noble palfry, surrounded by the banners of his domains in the East and West and preceded by the cross which traditionally preceded the successors of Constantine — yet still wearing the long beard of a holy hermit and carrying the white wand of benevolence instead of a metal sceptre, he must indeed have seemed the messianic Emperor, come at last to fulfil the old Sibylline prophecies.

The popular enthusiasm was overwhelming. Headed by abbots and monks, long processions of townsmen and peasants came everywhere to meet him; towns such as Lille and Ghent and Bruges offered him not only their keys but money as well, praising God for a return so miraculous that it seemed a rebirth; people dropped on their knees as he passed by. As a contemporary observer significantly remarked: ‘If God had come down to earth, he could not have been better received.’ Yet the enthusiasm was not equally great in all classes. While the rich tended to look askance at the new sovereign, the poor were all convinced that it was indeed Baldwin who had appeared amongst them. Although modern historians have tended to ignore the fact, the original sources show clearly enough that it was the urban poor, and especially the workers in the great textile industry, who adopted the man as their messiah. According to the same observer, ‘the poor folk, weavers and fullers, were his intimates, and the better-off and rich people got a bad deal everywhere. The poor folk said they would have gold and silver … and they called him Emperor.’ The comment seems all the more significant when one realizes that in that year of 1225 Flanders and Hainaut were in the throes of an appalling famine, such as had not been seen for generations.

Politically the hermit had become a force to be reckoned with, for he had not only established his authority at home but was winning recognition abroad. Neighbouring princes sent ambassadors to his court and Henry III of England offered a treaty of alliance, directed of course against France. To all this the French king Louis VIII replied by concluding a treaty of alliance with the Countess Joanna, at the same time hinting that he himself might recognize the claims of the new ruler if the latter would visit him in person. The hermit accepted the invitation and made his way in magnificent state to the French court at Péronne. This turned out to be a fatal blunder. In conversation with Louis the hermit proved unable to recall things which the real Baldwin must certainly have known. Very soon he was identified as one Bertrand of Ray in Burgundy, a serf who had indeed taken part in the Fourth Crusade as a minstrel in the suite of his lord and who in later life had become notorious as a charlatan and impersonator.

Unmasked, the impostor lost his nerve and fled overnight from the court, while his suite of a hundred knights, hitherto his devoted partisans, dispersed in utter disillusionment. He might still have saved his life, for Louis had granted him a three-day grace in which to leave French territory; but instead of availing himself of this safeguard he made his way to his old headquarters at Valenciennes. His arrival threw the town into uproar. The rich burghers tried to arrest him but were prevented by the popular fury. Instead, some of the rich were themselves taken prisoner and held to ransom, while the rest fled from the town. The common people deposed the old administration and proclaimed a commune amidst scenes of hectic festivity. They also lodged their messiah in the town fortress and set about strengthening the town walls. And Valenciennes was indeed about to be besieged by the French when the pseudo-Baldwin again lost his nerve and fled, taking with him a large sum of money. Recognized and captured, he was paraded with great ignominy through the towns which had witnessed his triumph. In October he was hanged in the market-place at Lille, some seven months after he had first declared himself Count and Emperor.

Before his execution Bertrand of Ray described himself as a poor devil who had been led astray by the evil counsel of knights and burghers. But nothing could break the hold which he had obtained over the popular imagination. The towns had to beg forgiveness of the King of France, but at heart the common people remained true to their lost lord. Although the Countess Joanna ruled her dominions with prudence and courage, for many generations after her death she continued to be execrated as a parricide, while the figure of Baldwin, the Latin Emperor of the East who for a few weeks had appeared amongst the Flemish masses as their messiah, took his place (as Count Emico of Leiningen had taken his) amongst the sleeping monarchs who must one day return. Again in the words of the contemporary observer, ‘at Valenciennes people await him as the Bretons await King Arthur’; one might add, as the common people everywhere had long awaited the resurrected Constans. Brief though the episode had been, it had inaugurated an epoch of social turbulence which was to continue for a century and a half.

In France messianic expectations centred on the Capetian dynasty, which during the twelfth and the thirteenth century came to enjoy a quasi-religious prestige of peculiar intensity. Already at the time of the Second Crusade Louis VII had been regarded by many as the Emperor of the Last Days. By the beginning of the thirteenth century the common people were at one with the king and his official apologists in claiming for the French monarchy an absolute primacy over all other monarchies. The King of France was anointed from the sainte ampoule, which had been brought by a dove from heaven; his standard was the oriflamme, which had also descended from heaven; he himself possessed miraculous powers, particularly as a curer of disease. Philip Augustus – whose very title was modelled on the semper augustus of the imperial title — saw himself as a second Charlemagne, appointed by God to be the leader of all Latin Christendom. On the day of the battle of Bouvines in 1214, which by smashing the coalition of England, Germany and Flanders went far towards gaining him that leadership, Philip actually assumed the role of priest-king and, like Charlemagne in the Chanson de Roland, blessed his army as a host which was fighting for the true faith.

In those same years there were sectarians in Paris who saw in the Dauphin, the future Louis VIII, a messiah who would reign for ever under the dispensation of the Holy Spirit over a united and purified world. If in the event Louis VIII distinguished himself by his shrewdness and determination rather than by any spiritual gifts, his successor was indeed a secular saint. Louis IX – St Louis – set a new standard for kings throughout Christendom. Together with his rigorous asceticism, the genuine solicitude which he extended to the humblest of his subjects earned him an extraordinary veneration. What miraculous happenings were expected, one wonders, when this radiant figure set off on the Seventh Crusade? Certainly when he was defeated at Mansura in 1250 and led into a captivity which was to last four years it was a terrible blow to all Christendom. The disillusionment was so great that many in France began to taunt the clergy, saying that after all Mohammed seemed to be stronger than Christ.

It was in response to this catastrophe that there sprang up the first of the anarchic movements known as the Crusades of the Shepherds. At Easter 1251 three men began to preach the crusade in Picardy and within a few days their summons had spread to Brabant, Flanders and Hainaut – lands beyond the frontiers of the French kingdom, but where the masses were still as hungry for a messiah as they had been in the days of Bertrand of Ray a generation earlier. One of these men was a renegade monk called Jacob, who was said to have come from Hungary and was known as the ‘Master of Hungary’. He was a thin, pale, bearded ascetic of some sixty years of age, a man of commanding bearing and able to speak with great eloquence in French, German and Latin. He claimed that the Virgin Mary, surrounded by a host of angels, had appeared to him and had given him a letter — which he always carried in his hand, as Peter the Hermit is said to have carried a similar document. According to Jacob, this letter summoned all shepherds to help King Louis to free the Holy Sepulchre. God, he proclaimed, was displeased with the pride and ostentation of the French knights and had chosen the lowly to carry out his work. It was to shepherds that the glad tidings of the Nativity had first been made known and it was through shepherds that the Lord was now about to manifest his power and glory.

Shepherds and cowherds — young men, boys and girls alike — deserted their flocks and, without taking leave of their parents, gathered under the strange banners on which the miraculous visitation of the Virgin was portrayed. Before long thieves, prostitutes, outlaws, apostate monks and murderers joined them; and these elements provided the leaders. But many of these newcomers too dressed as shepherds and all alike became known as the Pastoureaux. Soon there was an army which – though the contemporary estimate of 60,000 need not be taken seriously — must certainly have numbered some thousands. It was divided into fifty companies; these marched separately, armed with pitchforks, hatchets, daggers, pikes carried aloft as they entered towns and villages, so as to intimidate the authorities. When they ran short of provisions they took what they needed by force; but much was given freely for — as emerges from many different accounts – people revered the Pastoureaux as holy men.

Soon the Pastoureaux were behaving exactly like the hordes which had followed Tanchelm and Eudes de l‘Étoile. Surrounded by an armed guard, Jacob preached against the clergy, attacking the Mendicants as hypocrites and vagabonds, the Cistercians as lovers of land and property, the Premonstratensians as proud and gluttonous, the canons regular as half-secular fast-breakers; and his attacks on the Roman Curia knew no bounds. His followers were taught to regard the sacraments with contempt and to see in their own gatherings the sole embodiment of truth. For himself he claimed that he could not only see visions but could heal the sick – and people brought their sick to be touched by him. He declared that food and wine set before his men never grew less, but rather increased as they were eaten and drunk. He promised that when the crusaders arrived at the sea the water would roll back before them and they would march dryshod to the Holy Land. On the strength of his miraculous powers he arrogated to himself the right to grant absolution from every kind of sin. If a man and a woman amongst his followers wished to marry he would perform the ceremony; and if they wished to part he would divorce them with equal ease. He was said to have married eleven men to one woman – which rather suggests that he saw himself as a ‘living Christ’ requiring ‘Disciples’ and a ‘Virgin Mary’. And anyone who ventured to contradict him was at once struck down by the bodyguard. The murder of a priest was regarded as particularly praiseworthy; according to Jacob it could be atoned for by a drink of wine. It is not surprising that the clergy watched the spread of this movement with horror.

Jacob’s army went first to Amiens, where it met with an enthusiastic reception. The burghers put their food and drink at the disposal of the crusaders, calling them the holiest of men. Jacob made such a favourable impression that they begged him to help himself to their belongings. Some knelt down before him ‘as though he had been the Body of Christ’. After Amiens the army split up into two groups. One of these marched on Rouen, where it was able to disperse a synod which was meeting there under the Archbishop. The other group proceeded to Paris. There Jacob so fascinated the Queen Mother Blanche that she loaded him with presents and left him free to do whatever he would. Jacob now dressed as a bishop, preached in churches, sprinkled holy water after some strange rite of his own. Meanwhile the Pastoureaux in the city began to attack the clergy, putting many to the sword and drowning many in the Seine. The students of the University – who of course were also clerics, though in minor orders — would have been massacred if the bridge had not been closed in time.

When the Pastoureaux left Paris they moved in a number of bands, each under the leadership of a ‘Master’, who, as they passed through towns and villages, blessed the crowds. At Tours the crusaders again attacked the clergy, especially Dominican and Franciscan friars, whom they dragged and whipped through the streets. The Dominicans’ church was looted, the Franciscan friary was attacked and broken into. The old contempt for sacraments administered by unworthy hands showed itself: the host was seized and, amidst insults, thrown on to the street. All this was done with the approval and support of the populace. At Orleans similar scenes occurred. Here the Bishop had the gates closed against the oncoming horde, but the burghers deliberately disobeyed him and admitted the Pastoureaux into the town. Jacob preached in public, and a scholar from the cathedral school who dared to oppose him was struck down with an axe. The Pastoureaux rushed to the houses where the priests and monks had hidden themselves, stormed them and burned many to the ground. Many clergy, including teachers at the University, and many burghers were struck down or drowned in the Loire. The remaining clergy were forced out of the town. When the Pastoureaux left the town the Bishop, enraged at the reception that had been accorded them, put Orleans under interdict. It was indeed the opinion of contemporaries that the Pastoureaux owed their prestige very largely to their habit of killing and despoiling priests. When the clergy tried to protest or resist they found no support amongst the populace. It is understandable that some clerics, observing the activities of the Pastoureaux, felt that the Church had never been in greater danger.

At Bourges the fortunes of the Pastoureaux began to change. Here too the burghers, disobeying their Archbishop, admitted as many of the horde as the town could hold; the rest remaining encamped outside. Jacob preached this time against the Jews and sent his men to destroy the Sacred Rolls. The crusaders also pillaged houses throughout the town, taking gold and silver where they found it and raping any woman they could lay hands on. If the clergy were not molested it was only because they remained in hiding. But by this time the Queen Mother had realized what sort of movement this was and had outlawed all those taking part in it. When this news reached Bourges many Pastoureaux deserted. At length, one day when Jacob was thundering against the laxity of the clergy and calling upon the townsfolk to turn against them, someone in the crowd dared to contradict him. Jacob rushed at the man with a sword and killed him; but this was too much for the burghers, who in their turn took up arms and chased the unruly visitors from the town.

Now it was the turn of the Pastoureaux to suffer violence. Jacob was pursued by mounted burghers and cut to pieces. Many of his followers were captured by the royal officials at Bourges and hanged. Bands of survivors made their way to Marseilles and to Aigues Mortes, where they hoped to embark for the Holy Land; but both towns had received warnings from Bourges and the Pastoureaux were caught and hanged. A final band reached Bordeaux but only to be met there by English forces under the Governor of Gascony, Simon de Montfort, and dispersed. Their leader, attempting to embark for the East, was recognized by some sailors and drowned. One of his lieutenants fled to England and having landed at Shoreham collected a following of some hundreds of peasants and shepherds. When the news of these happenings reached King Henry III he was sufficiently alarmed to issue instructions for the suppression of the movement to sheriffs throughout the kingdom. But very soon the whole movement disintegrated, even the apostle at Shoreham being torn to pieces by his own followers. Once everything was over rumours sprang up on all sides. It was said that the movement had been a plot of the Sultan’s, who had paid Jacob to bring him Christian men and youths as slaves. Jacob and other leaders were said to have been Moslems who had won ascendency over Christians by means of black magic. But there were also those who believed that at the time of its suppression the movement of the Pastoureaux had broached only the first part of its programme. These people said that the leaders of the Pastoureaux had intended to massacre first all priests and monks, then all knights and nobles; and when all authority had been overthrown, to spread their teaching throughout the world.



With Tturanshah’s bloody heart at Louis’s feet and his body dumped in the Nile, life was draining out of the Ayyubid dynasty. It was the Mamluk regiment created by al-Salih that had massacred the Christians at Mansurah and saved Egypt. This professional military corps had become the power behind the throne, and during the 1250s, they took it. It was a convoluted process that lasted ten years and involved puppet rulers and a contest between different Mamluk factions. They were the source of discord in Cairo. Its citizens came to fear the Turkish presence in their midst. Aqtay, leader of the Bahriyyah regiment, was murdered by a rival, Qutuz, and in 1254, the Bahriyyah, with Baybars increasingly influential, were forced out of Egypt. For the rest of the decade, Baybars honed his leadership and fighting skills on behalf of different Ayyubid princelings in Syria. In Egypt, Qutuz manipulated claimants to the throne and then declared himself sultan in 1259.

Louis, to his great credit, did not shirk the consequences of his failed crusade. Instead of returning to France, he stayed in the Holy Land for four years, ransoming prisoners from the Egyptian debacle and fortifying the remainder crusader footholds at Acre, Caesarea, Jaffa, and Sidon at considerable personal expense. He established a permanent French regiment in Acre, a small but valuable professional force, and also set about seeking out potential allies against Islam.

For a long time, distorted echoes of the advance of the Mongols had been reaching the Christian West—and with it the hope that their kings might become, or even be, Christians. The evidence was otherwise. By the 1240s, eastern Europe was being shattered by Mongol raids. In 1249, while in Cyprus preparing to launch his crusade, Louis had received envoys from the Mongols in Persia. In reply, he dispatched two Dominican friars (one of whom, André de Longjumeau, spoke relevant languages) to encourage their adherence to the Christian faith and “to show and teach the Tartars [Mongols] what they should believe.”1 The missionaries displayed some imaginative insight into the nomadic condition of their potential converts by taking with them a portable tent chapel, embroidered with scenes from the life of Christ, along with chalices, books, and everything needed for the friars to perform mass. The trip took two years and a journey into the heart of central Asia to the Mongol court. Longjumeau returned to find Louis at Caesarea, overseeing refortification of the city after his failure on the Nile. Longjumeau’s somewhat garbled report contained a brisk corrective to any blithe optimism. The friars had witnessed devastation: ruined cities, great heaps of human bones. They had been sent back with the warning that the Mongol khans put all opponents to the sword: “We point this out to warn you that you cannot have peace unless you have peace with us. So we advise you to send us enough gold and silver each year for us to keep thinking of you as friends. If you do not do this we will destroy you and your people as we did those others we mentioned before.” Submit or die: it was a choice that would soon confront the whole of the Middle East. Louis did not reply.

In 1253, Hülegü Khan, brother of the ruler Möngke Khan and a grandson of Genghis, was ordered to advance west with his army, “as far as the borders of Egypt.” The aim was to crush Islam as a step to Mongol world domination. By 1256, Hülegü was in Persia.

Two years later, the Mongols delivered a shattering blow to the Islamic world, one that echoed down the centuries. In January 1258, Hülegü laid siege to Baghdad, seat of the Abbasid Caliphate for half a millennium, repository of scholarship and culture, intellectual center of the Islamic world. With the aid of Chinese siege engineers, Baghdad’s walls were breached in early February. Surrender made no difference. The city was put to utter destruction; mosques, palaces, libraries, and hospitals destroyed. Estimates of the dead have ranged wildly between 90,000 and 800,000. The Tigris ran black with the ink of thousands of books hurled into the water, their leather covers torn off to make sandals. The last Abbasid caliph was rolled in a blanket and trampled to death by Mongol horsemen. The sack of Baghdad shook Islam to its roots.

In September 1259, Hülegü crossed the Euphrates on pontoon bridges with an enormous army, perhaps 120,000 men, his sights set on Syria. The Christian kingdoms of Outremer were in a quandary. Hethoum I, the Christian king of the principality of Cilician Armenia in southwestern Turkey, accepted the overlordship of the Mongols; it was known that Hülegü’s general Kitbuqa had been converted by Nestorians to Christianity, and Hethoum naively believed that the Mongols wanted to recapture Jerusalem for the Christians. He attempted to persuade other Christian enclaves to join the Mongols; only his son-in-law, Bohemond VI, ruler of the small principality of Antioch and count of Tripoli, responded. When Aleppo fell, the Muslims were put to the sword; Armenian Christians burned the great mosque to the ground. Damascus saw what was coming and just opened its gates to the Mongols in March 1260. The city’s Eastern Christians rejoiced intemperately at the discomfiture of their Muslim neighbors: they rang their bells and drank wine during Ramadan—humiliations that would not be forgotten. Soon, almost all of Syria was in Mongol hands. Most of the Ayyubid princes capitulated, and the Mongols were raiding south to the borders of Egypt. The Islamic world was facing collapse.

Acre was also in turmoil. During the late 1250s, it became the epicenter of the growing commercial rivalry between Genoa and Venice that culminated in a full-blown contest in the city, known as the War of St. Sabas. Ostensibly over ownership of the monastery of that saint, which lay on the boundary between the two Italian communes, the war was a reflection of a wider struggle for trading supremacy across the Mediterranean and the Black Sea. The competition sucked in almost all the city’s factions and those of surrounding crusader states. The Pisans sided with the Genoese before switching allegiance to Venice; the Hospitallers were for the Genoese, the Templars and the Teutonic Knights for Venice; the powerful barons of Outremer similarly took sides. The year-long contest included sea battles, blockades, and siege warfare on an intimate scale. Within Acre, the two sides bombarded each other at close range with catapults, hurling rocks over the walls of fortified enclosures into their neighbors’ quarter. The chronicles record that during 1258, “all that year there were at least sixty engines, every one of them throwing down onto the city of Acre, onto houses, towers and turrets, and they smashed and laid level with the ground every building they touched.… This meant that nearly all the towers and strong houses in Acre were destroyed, except for religious houses. Twenty thousand men died in this war on one side or the other… the city of Acre was utterly devastated by this war as if it had been destroyed in warfare between Christians and Saracens.” Allowing for the probably exaggerated death toll, the contest wrecked large parts of the city. Houses, warehouses, ships, and defensive towers were destroyed before the Genoese were finally expelled and their quarter flattened. They moved up the coast to Tyre. Acre required major reconstruction; its trade had been damaged, its factional divisions exacerbated, and its manpower diminished.

At the same time, the kingdom of Jerusalem was also starting to feel pressure from the Mongol advance. Hülegü’s true intentions were expressed in an order to a commander in 1257 to “advance as far as the coasts of the sea, and wrest those countries from the hands of the children of France and England.” Acre had resisted Hethoum’s urging to join the Mongol cause. That year, it received a blunt demand to submit. The determination, as expressed by the military orders, was resolute: “Let therefore these Tartars [Mongols]—these demons of Tartarus—come on, and they will find the servants of Christ encamped and ready to do battle.” In February 1260, Hülegü’s general Kitbuqa peremptorily ordered them to dismantle their walls. The leading council in Acre ignored him and strengthened their fortifications, going so far as robbing outlying cemeteries of tombstones in a search for suitable building material. There was no reason to feel positive about voluntary submission or alliance. Both Armenia and Antioch had been reduced to vassal status. When the lord of Sidon launched an intemperate raid, Mongol forces sacked the city and razed it to the ground. The Mongol contempt for other groups was absolute. Calls were sent to Europe for aid, not only out of fear of the Mongols but also with the hope that with Islamic power waning and the Mongols increasingly focused on Egypt, there might actually be opportunities to expand. The claim was that

we duly believe that Jerusalem and the whole kingdom of Jerusalem could, with God’s aid, be obtained easily if those who are called Christians were swiftly and manfully to make ready to assist us. For the Saracens, for the most part, are now gone. And as for the Tartars, if they meet with resistance on the part of the Latins, we believe that the more [opposition] they fear they will find, the sooner they will sheathe their bloodstained swords.

But no crusading ventures resulted. Acre played a distrustful and waiting game.

When the Mongol blow did fall, the crusader states were mere onlookers. In early 1260, Mongol ambassadors arrived at Cairo with a familiar message:

From the King of Kings of the East and West, the Great Khan. To Qutuz the Mamluk, who fled to escape our swords.

You should think of what happened to other countries… and submit to us. You have heard how we have conquered a vast empire and have purified the earth of the disorders that tainted it. We have conquered vast areas, massacring all the people. You cannot escape from the terror of our armies. Where can you flee? What road will you use to escape us? Our horses are swift, our arrows sharp, our swords like thunderbolts, our hearts as hard as the mountains, our soldiers as numerous as the sand. Fortresses will not detain us, nor arms stop us. Your prayers to God will not avail against us. We are not moved by tears nor touched by lamentations. Only those who beg our protection will be safe.

Hasten your reply before the fire of war is kindled.… Resist and you will suffer the most terrible catastrophes. We will shatter your mosques and reveal the weakness of your God, and then we will kill your children and your old men together.

At present you are the only enemy against whom we have to march.

Qutuz had only seized power three months earlier. His regime was fragile but his response resolute. He chopped the Mongol ambassadors in half and hung their heads from the city gates. He prepared to go out to fight rather than await a siege. The lesson of Baghdad had not been forgotten.

The army that Qutuz could potentially raise was massively outnumbered by a factor of ten to one, but luck was on his side. In August of the preceding year, Möngke, the Great Khan of the Mongols, died, exposing one of the structural flaws in the Mongol Empire. Each succession contest inevitably required a return of the leading khans to central Asia. When word reached Hülegü in Syria, he prepared to withdraw the bulk of his men, perhaps 100,000, leaving his general Kitbuqa with a holding force of 10,000 to 12,000. In a letter sent to Louis IX, Hülegü himself claimed that the withdrawal of the bulk of his army, with its tens of thousands of horses, had been a logistical necessity. The fodder of northern Syria had been used up, and it was the Mongol custom to withdraw to more temperate lands in summer. The possibility that the Mongols, once across the Euphrates, were campaigning at their operational limit was a vulnerability the Mamluks would later exploit.

The Mongol advance into Syria had displaced many Muslim refugees and Ayyubid soldiers, who now rallied to Qutuz. And these included Baybars and the Bahriyyah Mamluk contingent, battle-hardened by a decade of fighting for and against various factions in the fragmentation of Syria. Among these ventures had been raids and invasion attempts against Egypt itself. There was long-standing enmity between the Bahriyyah and Qutuz over the murder of their leading emir, Aqtay, but the differences were, for the time being, shelved. The Mongol threat created a coalition of rivals. Baybars obtained a guarantee of safe conduct from Qutuz and brought his Mamluks to Cairo to confront the gathering storm. His troops were a welcome addition.

In July 1260, the Egyptian army rode out with a force of perhaps 12,000 men, probably slightly larger than Kitbuqa’s. The Egyptians consisted of a small corps of Mamluks, local Egyptian soldiers, and refugees. As Qutuz moved up the coastal plain toward Acre, he decided to ask for Christian cooperation. Within Acre, there were intense discussions on how to respond. Many were in favor. The sacking of Sidon and the intemperate Mongol threats had rattled the Christians. Qutuz was the third sultan of Egypt in six years; there was no reason to believe that he could provide a threatening stability. They could, at that moment, hardly distinguish this latest ruler from the more easy-going Ayyubids, who had been valuable trading partners. A joint campaign might ease the Mongol pressure too. However, the grand master of the Teutonic Order, Hanno von Sangershausen, argued vehemently against any cooperation and eventually talked the authorities out of it. It was unwise to risk Christian lives, and in the aftermath of a Muslim victory, Qutuz might turn on them; better to conserve their strength and watch two rivals fight it out.

The Christians may have opted for neutrality, but they hedged their bets by granting Qutuz a safe conduct. He could pass through their territory without fear of attack. For three days, the Egyptian army camped in orchards outside the city walls and were provided with provisions. There was nervousness in the town. The leading emirs entered Acre and some kind of compact was made. Among them, according to the Christian sources, was “a great emir called Bendocar, who later became sultan.” The Arabic sources claimed that Baybars came in disguise as a spy to gain information to store against a future opportunity. While camped outside the walls of Acre, Qutuz delivered a powerful speech to his increasingly hesitant collection of troops, now more than wary of the power of the Mongols, to whip up their courage: the future of Islam hung in the balance. Baybars was sent ahead with the vanguard to scout out the disposition of the enemy.

Qutuz and his army met the Mongols at Ayn Jalut—the appropriately named Goliath’s Spring, where David was said to have slain the giant—thirty miles southeast of Acre on September 3, 1260, for a contest that has been claimed as epochal in world history. The central corps of each army, supported by allies and unreliable supporters, was similar. It was a battle between matching detachments of Turco-Mongolian horse archers from the Eurasian steppes, employing similar tactics: mounted attacks, feigned retreat, and mobile encirclement. Baybars led the vanguard charging the Mongols, alternately advancing and retreating. Twice the Mongols came close to crushing Qutuz’s army. At the height of the battle, with the situation critical, Qutuz took off his helmet to show his face to his men and shouted, “O Islam, O God, help your servant Qutuz against the Mongols!” With the red and yellow banners of the Mamluk detachments rallying the men, he was able to stem the rout, regroup, and shatter the enemy. Kitbuqa was killed in the heat of the battle and the Mongols were slaughtered. Those who escaped were pursued by Baybars and beaten again.

It was not the first defeat that the Mongols had incurred nor did it end their ambitions in Syria. Theirs was a relatively small army that had unwisely underestimated an adversary similar to itself. Hülegü considered it a local setback that he intended to redress. The Mamluks had not confronted the full force of Mongol military might; a further riposte was inevitable, yet it had unforeseen consequences. Qutuz’s rallying cry was prophetic of the ability of Turkish-speaking peoples, nomads from the Asian steppes, to unify Islam. The battle of Ayn Jalut conferred prestige and legitimacy on these outsiders.

Qutuz was not destined to enjoy the fruits of victory. Maybe he had made overgenerous promises to his leading emirs—including the offer of the governorship of Aleppo to Baybars—which he failed to keep. In the aftermath of Ayn Jalut, the distrust between the Mamluks of Qutuz and those of the Bahriyyah bubbled to the surface again, and so it was probably just a question of which side struck first. The Bahriyyah had never forgiven Qutuz for the murder of Aqtay. On the way back across the desert to Cairo, Qutuz expressed a desire to stop and engage in his favorite sport of hare coursing. He turned off the road, accompanied by his emirs. When the hare had been caught, it signaled the Bahriyyah contingent to make their move. The most likely version of events is something to the effect that Baybars—or perhaps another emir—approached the sultan to ask a favor. Baybars moved to kiss his hand. This was the signal. Baybars firmly gripped Qutuz to prevent him drawing a weapon. A second emir stabbed him with a sword. Qutuz was finished off with arrows. Baybars did not act alone nor was he most likely the one who struck first; as with the murder of Turanshah, history was possibly rewritten to favor him. In the process of election that followed, Baybars claimed primacy on the basis that he was the one who had struck Qutuz down. Although the position of Mamluk sultan came to depend on a supporting confederacy of leading emirs, Baybars was to set about establishing unfettered personal rule.

From Acre, the murder of Qutuz must have looked like just another sign of the welcome dysfunctionality of the Islamic world—one ruler following another in a bloodbath of fragmenting petty kingdoms. The Christians breathed a sigh of relief. The Mongols were defeated, Egypt and Syria remained divided. What they did not know was that with Baybars, a new Turkish dynasty would unify the Islamic Middle East with an uncompromising commitment to jihad not seen since the days of Saladin, nor that the Mongols, despite sorties, would never return with sufficient desire to provide a counterbalance to Baybars or create the space to play off two more powerful opponents. For Acre particularly, the dislocation caused by the Mongols and the rise of the Mamluks had severe economic consequences. With Baghdad ruined, the long-range trade routes that had ended at Acre and Tripoli moved north. The great days of economic prosperity were over, and the lords of Outremer were no longer so rich. Increasingly, they leased or sold their castles and lordships to the military orders, which would become the only viable defense of the Christian Holy Land. It was Baybars who would slowly squeeze their room to breathe. His stealthy reconnoiter of Acre was to be put to good use.

Baybars himself never forgot the allegiances made by some Christians with the Mongol foes, nor the burned mosques. The remaining crusader states were to confront a stable, unified Islamic dynasty and an unrelenting foe in Baybars, who would rule for seventeen years. The new sultan was said to be short of stature, broad chested, with a powerful voice. In one of his blue eyes there was an unusual white fleck. When he was first sold as a slave, he had fetched a cheap price—one purchaser promptly returned him to the auctioneer as spoiled goods. It was said that there was something evil in his eye. He rarely blinked.

The Castilian Crusade: Quesada and the Conquest of Córdoba

In the summer of 1229, while Jaime I was engaged in the Mallorcan crusade, the Almohads in Morocco engaged in civil war and two competitors for leadership appeared in al-Andalus. Ibn Hūd, who acknowledged the ʿAbbāsid caliph of Baghdad, and ruled Granada, Almería, Jaén, Córdoba, Málaga, and Seville, seemed at first the stronger of the two; he did not control Valencia, where Zayyān seized power from Abū Zayd, nor Niebla in the Algarve where Ibn Maḥfūt asserted his independence. His great rival was Ibn al-Aḥmar (1232–73), the founder of the Naṣrid dynasty that ruled the kingdom of Granada until 1492. Proclaiming his independence at Arjona in 1232, he soon gained recognition in other towns and presented a serious challenge to Ibn Hūd.

Taking advantage of this discord Fernando III seized several castles near Úbeda in 1229, and in the following summer unsuccessfully besieged Jaén, a formidable fortress in upper Andalucía. The death of his father, Alfonso IX, in September 1230 interrupted this campaign, though he was now able to acquire the kingdom of León, separated from Castile since 1157. With the combined resources of both kingdoms he would be able to push deep into the Guadalquivir valley before the middle of the thirteenth century.

While the king was busy securing his new realm, Gregory IX, acknowledging that Archbishop Rodrigo girded himself to “to rip occupied land from the hands of the impious,” in April 1231 conceded the indulgence authorized by the Fourth Lateran Council for the Holy Land to anyone who joined the archbishop or the king in an invasion of Saracen lands “to vindicate injury to the Crucified One;” those who helped to pay the expenses of the expedition would also gain the indulgence. Furthermore, the archbishop was empowered to absolve crusaders who incurred the penalty of excommunication by inadvertently striking clerics in battle. Shortly afterward Archbishop Rodrigo captured Quesada southeast of Úbeda as well as other castles, including Cazorla, about three miles to the north, which became the basis of an archiepiscopal administrative district. In June the pope reiterated his previous concession of the indulgence and the power of absolution. Inasmuch as the archbishop raised an army at his own expense and fortified numerous castles, Gregory IX in 1232 admonished the churches and monasteries of the archdiocese to assist him with an appropriate subsidy payable over three years. Recognizing the necessity of Christians settling in Quesada to trade with the nearby Muslims, the pope permitted them to do so, excepting strategic materials such as arms, horses, iron, and wood. At the king’s request, Gregory IX, in 1234, again allowed the bishops to absolve anyone who set out “to spread Christianity” and accidentally laid violent hands on a cleric. He also permitted the knights of Santiago to use the tercias of their churches to defend the frontier and urged the bishops to support those “athletes of Christ” with victuals and not to cite them before civil tribunals during campaign.

Besides the archbishop, Fernando III’s brother, Alfonso de Molina, together with Álvar Pérez de Castro and the knights of Calatrava and Santiago, devastated the Andalusian countryside. When the master of Calatrava and the bishop of Plasencia attacked Trujillo, about twenty-five miles east of Cáceres, Ibn Hūd made a half-hearted effort to relieve it, but the defenders had to surrender on 25 January 1232. By then, Fernando III was ready to undertake a major offensive and besieged Úbeda, about thirty miles northeast of Jaén, whose possession was essential to the security of Baeza and Quesada. The Muslims surrendered in July 1233 on condition that they be allowed to leave with whatever goods they could carry. Soon after the king made a truce with Ibn Hūd, who promised to pay 1,000 dinars daily as tribute. The Castilian offensive, however, continued in other sectors. In the old Muslim kingdom of Badajoz the Military Orders captured Medellín, Alange, and Santa Cruz in 1234 and Magacela in February 1235. In the spring the king renewed the truce with Ibn Hūd, who, as a sign of vassalage, promised to pay over the next year a substantial tribute of 430,000 maravedís. That done, Fernando III ravaged the lands of Ibn al-Aḥmar, king of Jaén and Arjona, taking several castles north of Úbeda and Baeza.

The Castilian advance reached an unexpected climax toward the end of 1235 when Christian soldiers, called almogávares (from Arabic, al-maghāwīr), abetted by Muslim traitors, broke into eastern quarter of Córdoba and sent an urgent summons to Fernando III to come to their aid. Álvar Pérez de Castro and other royal lieutenants on the frontier hastened to join them. The king was at Benavente in the kingdom of León when he received their message in January 1236. Some among his courtiers tried to dissuade him from taking action because it was mid-winter, when the roads would be impassable because of rain and snow, and it was feared that Ibn Hūd and the Moroccans would come to Córdoba’s aid. “Placing his hope in the Lord Jesus Christ,” Fernando III, a miles Christi, closed his ears to such talk, and resolved that he had to help those who had placed themselves at such great risk.

All the while summoning his vassals to join him, he rapidly moved southward, arriving at Córdoba on 7 February with only 100 knights in his company. To deny the defenders free egress from the city, the king, with 200 knights, occupied the area south of the Guadalquivir opposite the bridge of Alcolea on the road to Écija. Ibn Hūd gathered a force of reportedly 4,000 to 5,000 knights and 30,000 footsoldiers, as well as 200 Christian knights in his service, and came up to Écija, but inexplicably failed to challenge the Castilians and withdrew to Seville. After Easter reinforcements from Castile, León, and Galicia swelled the Christian ranks. As the siege tightened, the defenders perceived the hopelessness of their situation and negotiated a settlement.

However, when they learned that the Christians were short of food and that the Leonese towns intended to depart once their three months service was up, the Córdobans reneged on the agreement. To intimidate them, Fernando III made an alliance with Ibn al-Aḥmar, the king of Jaén, an enemy of Ibn Hūd and of Córdoba. As a consequence the defenders offered to surrender, provided that, taking their movable goods, they would have safe passage out of the city. Some counselled Fernando III to take the city by assault, but he opted to accept the conditions stated and Córdoba surrendered on 29 June 1236. A truce of six years was now concluded with Ibn Hūd, who again promised to pay an annual tribute of 156,000 maravedís.

Thus “the famous city of Córdoba . . . which for such a long time had been held captive, that is, from the time of Rodrigo, king of the Goths, was now restored to the Christian cult.” Abū Hazam, the governor of Córdoba, “delivered the keys to our lord the king and the lord king at once, as a uir catolicus gave thanks to our Savior.” He ordered the standard of the cross and his own standard to be placed on the highest tower of the mosque. At vespers Bishop Juan of Osma, the royal chancellor, and Master Lope who had placed the standard of the cross on the tower, made preparations so “that the mosque should become a church . . . the superstition and filthiness of Muḥammad being expelled therefrom.” When the king, his barons, and people entered the city on the next day, 30 June, the bishops of Osma, Cuenca, and Baeza, and all the clergy in solemn procession received them at the mosque now dedicated as the church of Saint Mary. After the bishop of Osma celebrated mass, the king entered the Muslim royal palace and sat on the throne of glory of the kingdom of Córdoba. Next he compelled Muslim captives to carry back to Compostela the bells that al-Manṣūr had seized nearly three hundred years before and, “to the distress of the Christian people, hung as lamps” in the mosque of Córdoba. Centuries later al-Maqqarī mourned that Córdoba, “that seat of the western Khalifate, repository of the theological sciences, and abode of Islam, passed into the hands of the accursed Christians.”

As the Muslims had evacuated Córdoba, and there was a shortage of food, most of the nobles elected to return home, leaving the king to provide the city with a Christian population. Each of the magnates and the masters of the Military Orders agreed to supply knights for defense of the city; the arrival of 150 knights from Segovia helped as well. Entrusting the defense to Tello Alfonso and his brother Alfonso Téllez de Meneses, the king returned to Toledo. While he fell seriously ill, people unexpectedly began to flock to Córdoba by mid-November 1236. The fall of Córdoba opened the whole of the Guadalquivir valley, where many adjacent towns and castles, including Écija, acknowledged his sovereignty and agreed to pay tribute. The king soon realized, however, that in order to maintain Córdoba he would have to send substantial sums of money and other supplies. Returning to the city in 1240, he spent thirteen months there providing for its defense, organizing the municipal council, overseeing the restoration of the bishopric, and distributing property among those who had collaborated in the conquest. After establishing municipal boundaries, he granted the city a fuero based on that of Toledo, derived in turn from the old Visigothic Code, the Forum Iudicum; the king had commanded that it be translated into Castilian as the Fuero Juzgo. He also renewed his truce with Ibn al-Aḥmar.

The financial drain represented by Córdoba prompted the king to appeal to Gregory IX, who in September 1236 praised him as an “athlete of Christ” and instructed the prelates to provide a subsidy of 20,000 gold pieces annually for three years from both the Castilian and Leonese churches and monasteries in support of the king’s campaigns. On the same day he encouraged the bishops to exhort their people to enlist in the royal army for a year or to pay the expenses of others, in return for which they would receive the crusading indulgence granted by the Fourth Lateran Council. As a further measure of his esteem the pope took Fernando III under his protection and forbade anyone to excommunicate him without papal permission.

While the king attended to matters of internal administration he entrusted the defense of the frontier and his new kingdom of Córdoba to his son Infante Alfonso, Alvar Pérez de Castro, Alfonso Téllez, and the Military Orders. In recognition of the ongoing crusade in which the Military Orders had played a prominent role, Gregory IX on 12 April 1238 granted an indulgence to all those who accompanied the knights of Alcántara on campaign and lost their lives in battle. Two years later, on 2 June, the pope acknowledged that because the knights of Calatrava

are placed near to Saracen territory, so that you may be seen as a sign placed for an arrow, it is necessary for you to fight often against them, in which fight many of the faithful following your standard are killed. . . . To those who for the defense of the Catholic faith fought the Saracens . . . we . . . grant to all the faithful who die in this way indulgence of all their sins which they have confessed and of which they are truly contrite.

He also allowed the ordination of persons of illegitimate birth in the province of Santiago de Compostela if they lived on the frontier and wished to take part in the defense of the faith. The wisdom of cooperation in campaigns against the Muslims, even to the extent of placing their Orders under a single command, was recognized by Gómez, master of Calatrava, and Pelay Pérez Correa, master of Santiago, in a pact concluded on 1 August 1243, after the latter’s return from Murcia.

The fall of Córdoba was a blow to the Spanish Muslims, who were unable to join forces in a common defense against the Christian advance, and seemed to foreshadow even worse things to come. Indeed the loss of the city and the increased burden of tribute paid to Fernando III cost Ibn Hūd, who witnessed a rapid decline in his popularity. His assassination by one of his own men at Almería in January 1238 illustrated the disarray of Spanish Islam. While his family was now confined to the kingdom of Murcia, his principal rival, Ibn al-Aḥmar, proclaimed as king in Málaga, Almería, Arjona, Jaén, and Granada, enjoyed an ascendancy over Andalucía. The task facing Ibn al-Aḥmar and the other surviving Muslim lords in Spain was how to avoid being swallowed up by advancing Christian armies.

In the quarter century following the Crusade of Las Navas de Tolosa, several crusades were undertaken as the Christian rulers broadened their frontiers at Muslim expense. Although Innocent III hoped to focus attention on the recovery of the Holy Land, Honorius III and Gregory IX frequently conceded crusading indulgences for the peninsular war against Islam. Once again crusaders intending to take part in the Fifth Crusade collaborated with the Portuguese in capturing Alcácer do Sal. The Portuguese bishops conferred the crusader’s cross on numerous persons while at the same time Alfonso IX of León, Sancho VII of Navarre, and many bishops and nobles took the crusader’s vow. The king of León achieved major goals with the conquest of Mérida and Badajoz which opened the way toward Seville.

Archbishop Rodrigo of Toledo, one of the more active crusaders, carried out military operations in the southeast at a time when Fernando III still maintained a truce with the Almohads. Jaime I of Aragón, as he tells us in his autobiography, took the crusader’s cross, though his attempt to seize Peñíscola ended in failure. A few years later, however, he received the cross from the papal legate before embarking on the crusade that resulted in the conquest of Mallorca. Gregory IX supported that endeavor with crusading bulls on at least two occasions. About the same time Archbishop Rodrigo, aided by crusading indulgences, captured Quesada. Fernando III’s subsequent conquest of Córdoba must also be counted among the crusades because the pope in 1231 offered the indulgence to everyone who collaborated with the king or the archbishop. In 1238 Gregory IX conferred crusading indulgences on the Military Orders and those who joined forces with them. Another important note of these papal privileges is that persons contributing money could also gain the indulgence, though, unfortunately, there is no evidence of how much money was raised in that way.

The Gibraltar Crusade Castile and the Battle for the Strait

Joseph F. O’Callaghan

“Through a meticulous choice and interpretation of Arabic, Catalan, Castilian, English, and Latin chronicles and ecclesiastical, municipal, and royal notarial records, O’Callaghan lays out with consummate care and with great detail the story of the brutal struggle for control of the Strait of Gibraltar—a struggle that would ultimately seal the fate of Spanish Islam.”—The Medieval Review

“[O’Callaghan] does a superb job of sifting through the chronicles of the Christian and Muslim rulers that provide the foundation for this entire narrative. . . . This very interesting book makes it abundantly clear that pragmatism and financial gain had as much to do with the correlation of forces as did religious practice.”—Journal of Military History

“What truly makes this work a prominent addition to the field of Iberian reconquest lore are the Castilian, Latin, Arabic, and English sources O’Callaghan uses with proficient erudition to tell the story of this ‘epic battle’—one that certainly needed to be told.”—Historian

The epic battle for control of the Strait of Gibraltar waged by Castile, Morocco, and Granada in the late thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries is a major, but often overlooked, chapter in the history of the Christian reconquest of Spain. After the Castilian conquest of Seville in 1248 and the submission of the Muslim kingdom of Granada as a vassal state, the Moors no longer loomed as a threat and the reconquest seemed to be over. Still, in the following century, the Castilian kings, prompted by ideology and strategy, attempted to dominate the Strait. As self-proclaimed heirs of the Visigoths, they aspired not only to reconstitute the Visigothic kingdom by expelling the Muslims from Spain but also to conquer Morocco as part of the Visigothic legacy. As successive bands of Muslims over the centuries had crossed the Strait from Morocco into Spain, the kings of Castile recognized the strategic importance of securing Algeciras, Gibraltar, and Tarifa, the ports long used by the invaders.

At a time when European enthusiasm for the crusade to the Holy Land was on the wane, the Christian struggle for the Strait received the character of a crusade as papal bulls conferred the crusading indulgence as well as ancillary benefits. The Gibraltar Crusade had mixed results. Although the Castilians seized Gibraltar in 1309 and Algeciras in 1344, the Moors eventually repossessed them. Only Tarifa, captured in 1292, remained in Castilian hands. Nevertheless, the power of the Marinid dynasty of Morocco was broken at the battle of Salado in 1340, and for the remainder of the Middle Ages Spain was relieved of the threat of Moroccan invasion. While the reconquest remained dormant during the late fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries, Ferdinand and Isabella conquered Granada, the last Muslim outpost in Spain, in 1492. In subsequent years Castile fulfilled its earlier aspirations by establishing a foothold in Morocco.

Joseph F. O’Callaghan is Professor Emeritus of Medieval History, Fordham University. He is the author of The Last Crusade in the West and Reconquest and Crusade in Medieval Spain, both available from the University of Pennsylvania Press.

Jaime I’s Crusades to Peñíscola and Mallorca

Jaime I

While the other Christian rulers were crusading against the collapsing Almohad empire, a ten-year truce with the Almohads concluded in 1214 enabled Jaime I of Aragón to survive a troubled minority. Acknowledging that the Muslims might attack the young king, Pope Honorius III in 1222 offered full remission of sins to those who came to his aid. Still struggling to make himself master of his realm, Jaime I, however, made no move to undertake a crusade at that time. Indeed, he prohibited Gil García de Azagra, a knight of Santiago, who wished to wage war against the Muslims, from purchasing supplies in Aragón, though the pope admonished him to lift that ban.

Once the truce expired Jaime I, then just seventeen, in April 1225 informed the Curia of Tortosa that “we have assumed the cross to attack the barbarous nations.” Proclaiming the Peace and Truce of God, he asked this assembly of Catalan prelates, nobles, and townsmen to give him aid and counsel “to promote the affair of the cross.” This was the first time that he took the crusader’s cross, but other than Honorius III’s bull just cited, no other concession of crusading indulgences appears to be extant. Although the king did not name his immediate objective, he advanced on Peñíscola, a coastal fortress about thirty miles below Tortosa, in the late summer of 1225. The siege ended in failure, as did his plan to invade the kingdom of Valencia in the following year.

Nevertheless, the prospect of an invasion convinced Abū Zayd, the Muslim king of Valencia, to pay a fifth of his revenue as tribute. Probably hoping to preserve his independence of both Christians and Muslims, he informed the pope that he wished to convert to Christianity and to subject his kingdom to the Holy See. After being expelled from Valencia in 1229 by Zayyān ibn Saʿd ibn Mardanīsh, he met the papal legate, Jean d’Abbeville, and became a Christian; he also pledged homage to Jaime I, who agreed to collaborate against their common enemy, Zayyān. Despite that, Jaime I’s first great military success would not lie in the south but rather in the Balearic Islands.

As Almohad rule disintegrated, the islands, occupied by the Almohads in 1203, regained their independence in 1224. Both Alfonso II and Pedro II had contemplated the conquest of the islands, without, however, mounting an offensive. Catalans, who were just beginning to develop a merchant fleet, viewed the islands as a source of piratical raids on Christian shipping and urged Jaime I to take action against them. When Abū Yaḥyā, the king of Mallorca, rejected his demand for restitution of plunder taken from Catalan ships, Jaime I sought support for an assault from the Catalan Curia generalis of Barcelona in December 1228. In response, Guillem de Montcada, viscount of Béarn, one of the most distinguished Catalan barons, agreed to raise 100 knights, as did Nunyo Sanç, count of Roselló, Cerdanya, and Conflent; the count of Empúries pledged sixty. Archbishop Aspàreg of Tarragona, while excusing himself because of his advanced age, promised 1,000 silver marks, 100 knights, and 1,000 sergeants. Bishop Berenguer de Palou of Barcelona and the bishop of Girona offered 100 knights and thirty knights respectively, while the Abbot of San Feliu de Guixols promised four knights and an armed galley. The towns of Barcelona, Tarragona, and Tortosa pledged to provide ships. While the king proclaimed the Peace and Truce of God, the nobles granted an extraordinary tax, the bovatge, to finance the expedition. Although he had received a bovatge at his accession, as a matter of right, this new levy was freely given. He also acknowledged that the aid which the bishops granted “to subjugate the land and the perfidy of the pagans” was given of their own volition. In return he declared his intention to reward his collaborators.

Gregory IX on 12 February 1229 authorized his legate, Jean d’Abbeville, “if an army shall be organized in that region against the Moors,” to “grant the accustomed indulgences.” In the Council of Lleida on 29 March, the legate prohibited the sale to the Muslims of arms and other materials essential to military operations, and condemned anyone who abetted the enemy. He also conferred the crusader’s cross on Jaime I, Bishop Berenguer of Barcelona, and other Catalan clerics and barons, but the Aragonese seem to have held back. They had asked the king to direct the crusade against Valencia, but he refused. The bishop of Barcelona subsequently gave the cross to Guillem de Montcada and other knights. The king renewed his pledge to allot a share in the lands conquered to those participating in the conquest.

After hearing mass and receiving communion, the king and his army of about 800 knights and a few thousand footsoldiers (including prelates, nobles, Templars, Hospitallers, and townsmen) set sail, in a fleet of about 150 ships, from the Catalan ports of Salou, Cambrils, and Tarragona on 5 September. Enroute a great storm came up and the king was urged to turn back, but he declared:

We have undertaken this voyage with faith in God and in quest of those who do not believe in him; and we are going against them for two things: either to convert them or to destroy them, and then to restore that kingdom to the faith of our Lord. And since we are going in His name, we have confidence that He will guide us.

When they encountered another storm as they approached land, he appealed to God, saying: “I am going on this journey to exalt the faith that You have given us and to bring down and destroy those who do not believe in You.”

Three or four days later the fleet reached the bay of Palma; surprisingly the Muslim fleet made no attempt to impede the landing of the crusaders in the port of Santa Ponça, about ten miles from Palma. The bishop of Barcelona proclaimed that “this enterprise . . . is the work of God, not ours; and so those who die in it, die for our Lord and will gain paradise, where they will enjoy everlasting glory. Those who survive will also have glory and honor and will finally come to a good death.” He urged them to “destroy those who deny the name of Jesus Christ,” assuring them that God and his mother would be with them and lead them to victory. After some initial resistance at Monte de Pantaleu and Portopí (where Guillem de Montcada was killed) the crusaders overran much of the island and began the siege of Palma. The Dominican Fray Miguel de Fabra preached to the troops and absolved them of their sins. As the siege dragged on, initial enthusiasm seems to have waned and some apparently thought to return home. To provide continuing support, Gregory IX on 28 November proclaimed the crusade again, instructing the Dominican Ramon de Penyafort and the Dominican prior of Barcelona to preach the indulgence in the French ecclesiastical provinces of Arles and Narbonne.

After attempts to negotiate a settlement failed, Jaime I ordered a full-scale assault on 31 December. Once again the army heard mass and received communion before launching the attack to the cry of “Saint Mary, Saint Mary!” The king reported that a white knight, believed to be St. George, was in the midst of the Christian host. Ibn al-Abbār alleged that 24,000 inhabitants of the town were massacred and that the king of Mallorca (as well as the king of Almería) was captured and died soon after being subjected to torture. Recording the fall of Mallorca, Ibn Abī Zarʿ exclaimed: “May Allāh return it to Islam.”

By Palm Sunday, 31 May 1230, the conquest of Mallorca was completed, although hostile bands were not subdued until two years later. Jaime I returned to the mainland late in the year, but revisited his recent conquest in the following spring in order to repress holdouts in the mountains. Most of the Muslims opted to depart, either for the other islands or North Africa. The king granted franchises to those who would settle there, and inasmuch as most were Catalans the Usatges of Barcelona was established as the fundamental law. The church was endowed, the city of Barcelona was granted commercial rights, and Genoa, Pisa, and Marseille were rewarded with houses and trading privileges. Infante Pedro of Portugal received Mallorca as a fief to be held for life in exchange for his claims to the county of Urgell. During the king’s second visit to Mallorca the Muslims of Menorca recognized him as their sovereign on 17 July 1231, promising an annual tribute and surrendering several strategic castles; but the Catalans did not conquer the island until 1287. After returning to the mainland, Jaime I hastened to defend his conquest in spring of 1232 when he learned that the emir of Tunis was preparing an attempt to recover Mallorca; but the expected assault did not materialize.

Meanwhile, Guillem de Montgrí, the archbishop-elect of Tarragona, and his brother, Berenguer de Santa Eugènia, asked the king to grant them the islands of Ibiza and Formentera in fief; then, after obtaining a bull of crusade from Gregory IX on 24 April 1235, they occupied the islands. The conquest of Mallorca was the first significant step in the development of the Catalan Mediterranean empire.

The First Crusade of Fernando III

Fernando III remained aloof from the crusading efforts of Archbishop Rodrigo and Alfonso IX because he needed to establish himself firmly on the throne, but the crisis of the Almohad regime soon induced him to take up arms against the Muslims. The death of Caliph al-Mustanṣir in January 1224 opened a power struggle among the Almohads in Morocco and encouraged Almohad governors in Spain to seek autonomy. The ensuing struggle over the office of caliph initiated an era of instability, resulting in the neglect of al-Andalus, where several petty kingdoms proliferated once again.

Fernando III may have been spurred on by John of Brienne, the former king of Jerusalem and a leader of the Fifth Crusade, who, after a pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela, visited the king at Toledo in April 1224 and married his sister, Infanta Berenguela, at Burgos in May. A comparison of the oriental and the occidental crusades surely must have taken place. After the wedding, in the presence of his mother and his court, Fernando III expressed his belief that it was time, unless he should seem weak and ineffectual,

to serve God against the enemies of the Christian faith. The gate is indeed open and the way is clear. There is peace in our kingdom while discord and capital hatreds, divisions, and quarrels are newly arisen among the Moors. Christ, God and Man, is on our side, but on the side of the Moors is the unfaithful and damned apostate, Muḥammad. What is there to do? I beseech you, most clement mother, to whom, after God, I hold whatever I have, that it may please you that I should go to war against the Moors.

After consulting the barons, Queen Berenguela agreed that it was time to abandon the truce and to make war. In the Curia of Carrión in July the decision was taken that all should be ready at the beginning of September. None of the sources mentions whether Fernando III and his barons took the crusader’s vow, but it would seem to have been an appropriate time to do so. The phrase “in fulfillment of his vow” (quasi uoti compos) used by the author of the Latin Chronicle suggests that the king took the vow at this time. Archbishop Rodrigo’s statement that the king “wished to dedicate the first fruits of his knighthood to the Lord” also suggests the taking of a vow. Perhaps it was at Carrión that the masters of Calatrava, Santiago, the Temple, and the prior of the Hospital promised to cooperate “against the enemies of the cross of Christ.”

The campaign in the fall of 1224 resulted in the capture of Quesada, about twenty miles southeast of Úbeda, but the Muslims soon reoccupied it. In March 1225 Abū Zayd, the governor of Valencia, kissed Fernando III’s hand in vassalage and his brother, Abū Muḥammad, commonly called al-Bayāsī, the governor of Baeza, did so in June; he also promised to surrender Martos, Andújar, and Jaén, once he recovered them. Thus, while acknowledging the caliph, the two brothers hoped to maintain themselves in the midst of the general confusion. Meantime, Fernando III, “having a firm and irrevocable purpose of destroying that cursed race [the Muslims],” laid waste the region around Jaén and advanced toward Granada whose people, in return for his promise to depart, liberated 1,300 Christian captives. After the king’s lieutenants inflicted a major defeat on Abū-l-ʿUlā, one of the claimants to the caliphal title, near Seville, Córdoba and many other towns acknowledged al-Bayāsī as their ruler.

Among the magnates engaged in this war was Alfonso Téllez de Meneses. Commending him for struggling “manfully against the Saracens in the affair of the Christian faith in Spain,” Honorius III allowed him to use the tercias or third of the tithe in the province of Toledo to defend Alburquerque, a fortress set on a rocky promontory in Extremadura about twenty-five miles northwest of Badajoz near the Portuguese frontier; the pope also commanded the Military Orders to aid Alfonso. Alburquerque was the likely setting for Cantiga 205 relating the siege of a frontier castle by the knights of Santiago and Calatrava, under Alfonso’s command. During the summer of 1225, Alfonso, the bishop of Cuenca, and the urban militias invaded the kingdom of Murcia, controlled by Abū Zayd of Valencia, who had repudiated his vassalage to Fernando III. Archbishop Rodrigo granted remission of sins to all those who helped for a month to fortify the castle of Aliaguilla about fifty miles southeast of Cuenca. Alfonso’s brother, Bishop Tello of Palencia, “fired by zeal for the Christian faith,” and inspired to participate in the “affair being carried out against the Saracens of Spain,” received Honorius III’s permission to use his diocesan tercias for that purpose. The pope also urged the clergy and people of Palencia to provide the bishop with “a moderate subsidy” for the war against the Muslims.

Early in the fall, on 25 September, the pope congratulated Fernando III and remarked:

Although the affair begun against the Saracens of Spain is the business of all the faithful because it pertains to Christ and to the Christian faith, there is no doubt that it pertains especially to you and to the other kings of Spain because they [the Saracens] remain in occupation of your land, to the very grave injury to all Christendom.

As the king, “fired by zeal for the faith,” had “begun to fight vigorously against the enemies of the cross,” Pope Honorius, in response to the royal petition, conceded to everyone who, “having taken up the sign of the cross,” participated in the Spanish wars the indulgence extended by the Fourth Lateran Council to crusaders going to the Holy Land. Designating Archbishop Rodrigo and Bishop Mauricio of Burgos as protectors of “the crusaders of the kingdom of Castile” (crucesignatis regni Castelle), he commanded them to publicize the indulgence. One would assume that if Fernando III had not taken the cross during the Curia of Carrión in 1224, then he certainly would have done so in response to this papal concession of crusading indulgences.

Around the feast of All Saints (1 November), despite the harshness of the weather, the king returned to the frontier, summoning al-Bayāsī to appear before him and to surrender Andújar, Martos, and other castles and to admit a Castilian garrison into the citadel of Baeza to guarantee the transfer of custody. In the following spring, while Fernando III besieged Capilla, about fifty-five miles west of Ciudad Real, the people of Córdoba assassinated al-Bayāsī; as a consequence the Castilians garrisoned in Baeza seized the entire town. The defenders of Capilla, seeing that they could expect no relief, capitulated and were allowed to depart, taking their movable goods with them. The archbishop of Toledo, the bishop of Palencia, and others cleansed the mosque of Capilla “of all the filthiness of the Muḥammadan superstition” and “dedicated the church . . . to Jesus Christ, celebrating mass and the divine office with great joy.” Fernando III then returned to Toledo and would not reappear on the frontier for several years.

Perhaps having agreed to act jointly with his son, Alfonso IX carried out an expedition in the vicinity of Badajoz on the Guadiana River in July 1226. In preparation for that campaign Martín Muñiz, known as Falcón, drew up his will in April, declaring: “I am crossed with the sign of the cross [Cruciatus sum cum signo crucis] in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ and for love of my lord the archbishop and I wish to go with him in the host against the Saracens to serve him and the lord king Alfonso and I wish everything to be in order if perchance I should die.” The new king of Portugal, Sancho II (1223–48), also took the offensive, laying waste the area around Elvas, about twelve miles west of Badajoz, and destroying its walls.

Rising hostility in Spain toward the Almohads, meanwhile, prompted Ibn Hūd (1228–38), descended from the former kings of Zaragoza, to rebel at Murcia. Condemning the Almohads as heretics, he declared that the caliph of Baghdad was Muḥammad’s true successor. In order to contain the uprising, Caliph Abū-l-ʿUlā, probably in November, concluded a truce for one year with Castile promising to pay tribute, but his departure for Morocco in the following year left Islamic Spain to its own defenses.

The new pope, Gregory IX (1227–41), continued his predecessor’s policy of encouraging the crusade in Spain while also attempting to persuade the Spanish clergy and laity to lend financial support to the oriental crusade. When the Castilian clergy protested that Fernando III was taking the tercias for his campaigns, the pope initially ordered him to desist, but later praised his efforts to extend the Christian religion, and advised the bishops to provide the king with financial support. It is also likely that the papal legate Jean Halgrin d’Abbeville, cardinal bishop of Santa Sabina, who convened several councils in all the Christian kingdoms in 1228–29 to promote the reforms of the Fourth Lateran Council, exhorted the Christian rulers to take up arms against the Muslims, as his contemporary, Lucas of Túy, indicated. Gregory IX had, in fact, authorized his legate to grant the usual indulgences to those who did so and to employ ecclesiastical censures against any Christian ruler who invaded the territory of his Christian neighbors.

The Last Crusade of Alfonso IX of León

Indeed, Lucas stated that on that account Alfonso IX, aided by Castilian troops (chiefly knights of Calatrava) besieged and captured Cáceres in the summer of 1227. Nevertheless, the legate had not yet arrived in Spain, so the fall of Cáceres cannot be attributed to his encouragement. The settlement charter given to Cáceres declared that “our Lord Jesus Christ, who never refuses the prayers of the Christian people, gave Cáceres to the Christians. . . . The pagan people were expelled from it and it was restored to Christian society.” No doubt like many others intending to join the king, Fernando Suárez, “wishing to go in the expedition against the Moors,” made his will.

After the knights of Santiago and others took Montánchez, about twenty-five miles southeast of Cáceres, the king in the spring of 1230 besieged Mérida on the Guadiana River, another twenty-five miles directly south. The defenders appealed to Ibn Hūd, who was now widely recognized as king by the Muslims of Seville, Córdoba, Jaén, and Granada. Determined to oppose further Leonese expansion, he advanced to Alange, about eight miles southeast of Mérida, where he was routed by Alfonso IX. According to Lucas of Túy “the blessed St. James visibly appeared in this battle with a host of white knights who valiantly overthrew the Moors.” Once Mérida was taken in March 1230, the king of León moved against Badajoz, which quickly surrendered on Pentecost Sunday, 26 May. Deploring the loss of this region, the seventeenth-century historian al-Maqqarī expressed the pious hope, “may God restore it to the rule of Islam!” Bishoprics were soon established in both Mérida and Badajoz, although the metropolitan status of the former see, dating to Visigothic times, was not restored, its rights having been transferred to Santiago de Compostela.

News of the fall of Mérida prompted the Muslims of Elvas, about twelve miles west of Badajoz, to flee. Portuguese knights, who had been campaigning with Alfonso IX, occupied the fortress and informed Sancho II, who took possession of it, as well as Juromenha about twelve miles farther south. Alfonso IX’s next goal was to move on Seville but he died on 24 September 1230 en route to Santiago de Compostela to give thanks for his triumph. The king who had once been himself the object of a crusade died as a crusader and, no longer excommunicated, was given the honors of Christian burial in the cathedral of Santiago.

Unaware of the king’s death, Gregory IX authorized Archbishop Pedro of Compostela to commute the vow of any Leonese crusaders (crucesignati) planning to go to the Holy Land so that they might participate in the Spanish crusade. Now that the Muslims were put to flight, the pope encouraged the people to help retain the places conquered by giving their personal or financial support. Assuring them that this cause was a matter of eternal salvation, he conferred the indulgence for a term of four years.

The Reconquista 1212–1222

An extraordinary transformation of the political landscape occurred in the nearly forty years following the Crusade of Las Navas de Tolosa. As the Almohads struggled to survive in Morocco, Spanish Muslims asserted their independence, but the Christians, taking advantage of Muslim disunity, demanded tribute, set rival Muslim leaders against one another, and eventually conquered Muslim cities and towns. Once again northern crusaders collaborated with the Portuguese in taking Alcácer do Sal, while the Catalans conquered Mallorca, the Leonese captured Mérida and Badajoz, and the Castilians seized Córdoba, once the seat of the Caliphate.

Innocent III, convinced that the danger posed by the Almohads to Spain and to Christendom had been repulsed and that the Albigensian heresy had been contained, determined to direct western energy to the recovery of the Holy Land. When he convoked the Fourth Lateran Council in 1213, he “revoked the remissions and indulgences granted by us to those going to Spain against the Muslims or against the heretics in Provence,” because of the succ7ess achieved in both regions. The Council, in 1215, launched the Fifth Crusade and also imposed a tax of one-twentieth on ecclesiastical income for three years to support the enterprise. When the Spanish bishops attending the Council asked the pope to extend the crusading indulgence to those fighting the Muslims in Spain, he replied that if a war against the Muslims were undertaken there he would gladly do so.1 In making that response he was no doubt well aware that a decade might pass before any of the Christian kings (except Alfonso IX of León) would be in condition to undertake a crusade against Spanish Islam. The minorities of Enrique I of Castile (1214–17), Jaime I of Aragón (1213–76), and the Almohad Caliph Abū Yaʿqūb Yūsuf II al-Mustanṣir (1213–24) precluded any significant military action and dictated the necessity of seeking a truce and prolonging it until more favorable circumstances.

Pope Innocent’s death in 1216 left this issue as well as the prosecution of the Fifth Crusade to his successor, Honorius III (1216–27), who exhorted everyone who had taken the cross to fulfill their crusading vows.

The Crusade of Alcácer do Sal

The Fifth Crusade, in which the Spanish Cardinal Pelagius served as papal legate, had a direct impact in Spain when a fleet of about 300 ships carrying crusaders from Frisia and the Rhineland reached Galicia in June 1217.4 After making a pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela they sailed to Lisbon, arriving on 10 July. Afonso II of Portugal (1211–23) apparently made no effort to use their services, lest he be seen as violating the truce with the Almohads. Nevertheless, Bishops Sueiro of Lisbon and Sueiro of Évora, joined by the Cistercian abbot of Alcobaça, the commander of Palmela, the Templars, Hospitallers, and magnates tried to persuade the crusaders to collaborate in an attack on Alcácer do Sal on the river Sado about forty miles south of Lisbon. Alcácer had changed hands more than once and had been lost again in 1191. Besides offering to provide food and expenses, the Portuguese attempted to rouse the crusaders by announcing that the Almohads demanded an annual tribute of 100 Christians. Citing Innocent III’s revocation of crusading indulgences in Spain, however, the Frisians departed for the Holy Land with about eighty ships on 26 July. After plundering Santa María de Faro and Rota on the southern coast, they stopped at Cádiz, whose terrified people fled; passing through the Strait of Gibraltar, they sailed up to Tortosa and Barcelona and thence to the orient. Despite that defection, Count William of Holland and Count George of Wied concluded that their presence in the Holy Land would be of limited use, because the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II and many German princes had not yet set out; thus they opted to remain with 180 ships.

The fleet reached Alcácer do Sal on 30 July and the arrival of the Portuguese three days later completed the siege. The bishops preached and imposed the sign of the cross “on almost everyone in our dioceses and indeed in all the dioceses of the realm.” The crusaders attempted to mine the walls but the Muslims impeded them; however, one tower collapsed in part around 24 August. The Muslim governors of Seville, Córdoba, Jaén, and Badajoz attempted to relieve the beleaguered fortress but were thoroughly defeated on 11 September. The crusaders attributed their victory to three miracles: first, the day before the battle, “at evening the triumphant sign of the holy cross appeared in the sky as a sign of victory;” secondly, after mid-night, Pedro Alvítiz, the master of the Temple in Spain, arrived with reinforcements; thirdly, a heavenly host of knights all clad in white appeared in the battle, blinding the Muslims in a shower of arrows. The defenders of Alcácer attempted to hold on, but as no further succor appeared, they had to surrender on 18 October 1217.

The Portuguese then appealed to the pope to permit the northerners to remain for a year “for the liberation of Spain” and “the extirpation of the perfidious cult of the pagans.” In addition they asked that Portuguese crusaders and those who might assume the cross be granted the indulgence merited by persons going to the Holy Land and that the twentieth should be used for their war, as Innocent III had stipulated. Furthermore, crusaders who had been away for too long, or whose infirmity or poverty made it impossible for them to continue to the Holy Land, should be allowed to return home with full remission of sins. Torn between his pledge to go to the Holy Land and the prospect of more victories in Spain, Count William of Holland informed the pope that Alfonso IX of León, Sancho VII of Navarre, and many Spanish prelates and nobles had taken the cross and broken their truces with the Muslims in the hope that the northerners would continue the crusade in the following summer. Though he congratulated them on their victory, Honorius III commanded the northerners to continue to the Holy Land, leaving Alcácer do Sal to the Portuguese; those lacking the means to do so could be absolved of their crusade vow. Thus at the end of March the northern crusaders set sail from Lisbon, arriving at Acre in late April and May 1218.

Alcácer do Sal, whose conquest was the only positive outcome of the Fifth Crusade, was turned over to the knights of Santiago, who made it their headquarters and began the advance further into the Alentejo and the Algarve.

The Crusades of Archbishop Rodrigo of Toledo and Alfonso IX

About the same time as the fall of Alcácer do Sal, Rodrigo Jiménez de Rada, archbishop of Toledo, hoping perhaps to lay hands on the twentieth intended for the Fifth Crusade, resolved to organize his own crusade, in spite of the truce with the Almohads. Appointing the archbishop as his legate, Honorius III on 30 January 1218 authorized him to lead a crusade: “When kings with one accord set out to war against” the Muslims, Rodrigo “like another Joshua will lead you to wrest from their hands the land which they have occupied and where they have profaned the sanctuaries of God.” The legate’s first task, however, was to bring about peace between Castile and León.

After the sudden death of Enrique I of Castile, his older sister Berenguela was acclaimed as queen, but she ceded her rights to her son, Fernando III (1217–52). His father, Alfonso IX of León, from whom she had been divorced because of consanguinity, was determined to recreate his grandfather’s Hispanic empire by reuniting the two kingdoms. The pope, commenting that dissension among Christians encouraged the Muslims who would never leave Spain of their own volition, warned him to preserve the peace and to collaborate with Archbishop Rodrigo in his crusade against the Muslims. Early in 1218 Alfonso IX acknowledged his son as king of Castile and both men pledged to act in unison against all enemies. Fernando III promised, once his truce with the Muslims expired, to collaborate with his father against them. Meantime Castilians wishing to assist the king of León would be permitted to do so.

Inasmuch as Archbishop Rodrigo and certain magnates had “assumed the living cross” and were determined “to rip from the hands of the Muslims the land they held to the injury of the Christian name,” the pope on 15 March 1219 offered remission of sins to those personally participating in the crusade; those who paid the expenses of others or contributed financially would also receive the indulgence. Anyone taking “the sign of the cross” with the intention of going to the Holy Land, with the exception of magnates and knights, unless they were ill or poor, was authorized to fulfill his obligation in Spain. The archbishop was allowed to use half of the twentieth from the sees of Toledo and Segovia for his crusade and to distribute among the crusaders (crucesignatos) a third of the tithe collected in the province of Toledo for three years.

Although Navarre did not have a contiguous boundary with al-Andalus, Sancho VII, “burning with zeal for the Christian faith . . . took the sign of the cross to set out against the Moors of Spain.” The pope commanded Archbishop Rodrigo to protect Navarre against invasion by its neighbors and to admonish Sancho VII not to injure the kingdom of Aragón during his crusade. Quite possibly the king joined the archbishop in an expedition into the kingdom of Valencia in September 1219. Several castles were taken and Requena, about forty miles west of Valencia, was besieged; but after the loss of 2,000 men the siege was abandoned on 11 November.

Pleased with Archbishop Rodrigo’s success thus far, the pope now permitted him to appropriate the entire twentieth from the province of Toledo for use in his crusade during the next three years (4 February 1220). Within five months, however, Honorius III, irritated that conflicts among the Christians were diverting attention from the crusade, revoked his concession, insisting that the entire twentieth should now be used solely for the Fifth Crusade. Despite that, Rodrigo laid siege to Requena again in the summer of 1220, but with no better success. For all practical purposes his crusade had achieved little other than the seizure of several castles. Sancho VII of Navarre, who complained that while he was on the frontier, “having assumed the cross against the Moors,” the Aragonese plundered his kingdom, may also have taken part in this crusade.

Archbishop Rodrigo’s crusade would seem to have been in violation of the truce with the Almohads, but a campaign in the kingdom of Valencia may have been construed as only an indirect threat to the caliph. Violations occurred on both sides, as an agreement between the masters of Calatrava and Santiago in August 1221 makes clear. Promising mutual assistance in case of Muslim attacks, they agreed to fight as a unit and to divide booty equally. For the time being, however, Fernando III was unprepared to break the truce, and renewed it in October.

Meanwhile, in 1217, Alfonso IX, who had taken the crusader’s vow, granted the recently conquered fortress of Alcántara on the Tagus River to the Order of Calatrava. In July of the following year Calatrava ceded Alcántara to the Leonese Order of San Julián del Pereiro, thereby satisfying the king’s desire to create an autonomous branch of Calatrava in his kingdom. The presence on that occasion of the masters of Calatrava and the Temple, and the prior of the Hospital, suggests that a military campaign was discussed. In November the “friars of the Orders of Spain began a crusade” (fizieron cruzada), aided by men from Castile, León, Gascony, and other kingdoms, including Savaric de Mauléon, former castellan of Bedford. They besieged Cáceres, a long-time objective of Alfonso IX, but heavy rains and flooding forced them to withdraw by Christmastime.

Two years later, Honorius III, reacting to a complaint by the master of Calatrava that the kings of Spain—he clearly meant Fernando III—prohibited the Order from responding in kind to Muslim attacks, warned the kings not to impede those wishing to assist the knights. To anyone who helped to defend the Order he extended the indulgence already granted to those combating the Muslims and especially to Alfonso IX, “who has assumed the cross.” In the hope that Spanish Christians might achieve a success comparable to the capture of Damietta by the Fifth Crusade, Honorius III on 13 February 1221 granted absolution of sins to those who joined the king of León in the struggle against the Muslims. The same privilege was offered to financial contributors and to those paying the expenses of others. It seems quite ironic that Alfonso IX, against whom Pope Celestine III had proclaimed a crusade in 1197, should now declare himself a crusader and thus profit from the spiritual benefits that that entailed. He may be the only figure of his time to be both the object of a crusade and the leader of a crusade.

Alfonso IX evidently convened his Curia at Zamora in November 1221 to organize a crusade against Cáceres for the following May. Expressing his desire to “exalt the Catholic faith and suppress the wickedness of the Moors,” Bishop Martín Rodríguez of Zamora declared that “in this year we took care to sign ourselves in God with the sign of cross, so that we might obtain indulgence from Christ, as our sins require.” The king told him to be prepared for war by 1 May. Although these documents are undated, the probability is that the bishop took the crusader’s vow during the Curia of Zamora. A formulaic letter in which an unnamed bishop, perhaps the bishop of Zamora, requested 1,000 gold pieces from an abbot “because we will be with the king of León on 1 May to invade the frontier” is certainly related to this crusade. The same is true for a letter of the master of the Temple “in the whole of Spain” (Pedro Alvítiz), requiring his subordinates to provide him with money, because he intended to set out for Muslim territory around Eastertime (3 April 1222), and did not have the wherewithal to do so. With the help of the Military Orders, Alfonso IX “made a crusade” (fizo cruzada), besieging Cáceres in the summer of 1222. The Christians knocked down towers and seemed on the verge of taking it when the caliph in Morocco offered to pay a substantial sum if Alfonso IX would withdraw; although he did so the caliph failed to fulfill his promise. Apparently Alfonso IX made another unsuccessful attack on Cáceres in the following year.

The Kingdom of Acre

On his return to Italy, Frederick met with greater success in confounding the plans of the Pope than he had in overcoming the opposition of the Pope’s allies in Outremer. The papal army besieging Capua under the two old-timers, John of Brienne and Cardinal Pelagius, retreated and then disintegrated as Frederick marched to relieve the city. John of Brienne was obliged to flee to his native Champagne. The Templars paid a price for their defiance: their houses in Sicily were seized by imperial forces and a hundred Muslim slaves belonging to the Templars and Hospitallers were returned to the Saracens without any compensation being paid to the orders.

Frederick’s bequest to the Holy Land was a liberated Jerusalem, but a Jerusalem so strategically vulnerable that ‘it remained an open city’; and an imperial administration under the Marshal, Richard Filangieri, that was constantly at war with the native barons under John of Ibelin both in Palestine and on Cyprus. The titular King of Jerusalem was Conrad, Queen Yolanda’s son by Frederick II, but even when of age, Conrad did not come east to claim his crown which led the barons to declare it forfeit and oust Filangieri from Tyre. Alice of Cyprus was chosen as regent by the High Court of Jerusalem but the kingdom was in fact ruled by an oligarchy of the Frankish nobility which developed ‘a passionate and even fanatic interest in law and legality. In no contemporary Christian nobility was knowledge of customary law and procedure, and mastery over the intricacies of constitutional law, so cultivated and cherished as in the Latin kingdom.’ There was no university in Outremer and there were no scholars or men of letters apart from William of Tyre. ‘All its intellectual energies appear to have been concentrated in the study of law.’

In this state of pedantic anarchy, the military orders acted with the autonomy of sovereign states. In the north, in the 1220s and 1230s, the Templars tried to expand into the territory of Aleppo from their base at Gaston in the Amanus Mountains, making it ‘a semi-independent territory in which the Templars went their own way, with little reference to their nominal lords in Cilicia’. In Syria and Palestine, too, the Templars’ wealth and power increased because the nobility of Outremer, whose fiefs were now confined to the enclaves around the coastal cities, could not afford to garrison their castles and so handed them over to the military orders: in 1186, for example, Marqab, one of the largest and most powerful fortresses in Syria, was sold to the Hospital because its lord could no longer afford to run it.

Some members of the indigenous nobility flourished, notably the Ibelins, whose luxurious palace in Beirut amazed an envoy from the imperial German court; but the resources that afforded such luxury now came less from the land than from the profits that could be siphoned off from trade. Acre had become a commercial centre on a par with Constantinople and Alexandria: the annual revenue of the kings of Jerusalem from Acre was estimated at 50,000 pounds of silver which was more than that of the King of England at the time. Merchants flocked there from Damascus to deal in sugar, dyes and spices. Much of the sugar consumed in Europe was exported from Acre together with a multiplicity of exotic products which not only supplied but created a market for luxuries in the West. In turn, the 250,000 inhabitants of Outremer provided a market for European exports such as capes and berets from Champagne, and the Muslim hinterland for iron, timber, textiles and fur.

There was also an active market in slaves, either Muslim captives or Greeks, Bulgarians, Ruthenians and Wlachs imported by merchants of the Italian republics. These were sold as Muslims because by law no Christian could be enslaved; but slave traders would disregard this statute and the owners forbid their slaves’ conversion. In the early thirteenth century, a Latin bishop complained that ‘the Christians continually refused their Muslim slaves baptism, although these sought it earnestly and tearfully’; and in 1237 Pope Gregory IX complained of the same abuse to the bishops of Syria and the Grand Masters of the military orders.

Individual conversion of free Muslims did take place, leading to assimilation into the Syrian Christian population. There was a wide choice of Christian churches – Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Maronite, Armenian, Jacobite and Nestorian – but the occasional attempts in Rome and Constantinople to unite them met with success only with the Maronites in Lebanon. Whatever the intentions of the popes, the Latin clergy were only interested in a union with other churches that would ensure their preeminence. Not only did the churches fail to unite, but there was no integration of the different Christian communities. The Latins’ treatment of native Christians was little better than that of Muslims, Jews or Samaritans.

Given the great missionary endeavour of the Catholic Church in the ninth and tenth centuries, it seems puzzling that almost no effort was made by the victorious crusaders to convert the Muslims under their rule. Certainly, conversion was never a crusading objective as such. Although Pope Urban II no doubt wanted to aid the Byzantine Emperor, and perhaps divert the destructive aggression of the Frankish warriors to a noble cause, his principle intentions were, like those of Bernard of Clairvaux, Christian recovery of the Holy Places and the salvation of the crusader’s soul.

It was only at the beginning of the thirteenth century that we find the genesis of a missionary endeavour, not surprisingly in Spain where the success of the Reconquista had brought large numbers of Muslims under Christian control. Significantly, the Spanish Bishop Diego of Osma, and his companion Dominic Guzman, asked Pope Innocent III to let them preach the Gospel not to the Saracens but to the pagans on the Vistula. However, by 1255, Humbert of Romans, the Master General of the Dominicans, called on the friars to study Arabic and commit themselves to the conversion of the Saracens.

Francis of Assisi, in crossing the lines between Christian and Muslim forces at the siege of Damietta to preach to the Sultan al-Kamil in Cairo, set an example which his mendicant friars were to follow, their pacific bearing earning them the privilege of acting as the guardian of the Holy Places when these returned to Muslim control. However, Francis did not disapprove of crusading. He admired the heroes of Roncesvalles as depicted in the Song of Roland, regarded as martyrs those who died fighting the infidel, accepted the Christians’ right to the Holy Land, and felt that it could be deduced from the Gospel that the crusade was a legitimate act of retribution for the Saracens’ forcible conquest of Christian territory and their blasphemies against Christ.

Almost the only Latin bishop to make any attempt to convert the Muslims in the Holy Land was the French prelate, James of Vitry, who was appointed Bishop of Acre. He had a low opinion of his co-religionists in the Holy Land: he wrote to the Pope that the indigenous Christians so loathed the Latins that they would rather be ruled by the Muslims; and that the Latins had gone native, leading indolent, luxurious and immoral lives. The local clergy were greedy and corrupt while the Italian merchants were always at one another’s throats. The only institutions he felt he could respect were the military orders.

Although James of Vitry was unusual in preaching the Catholic faith to the Muslims in Outremer, he did not see this as an alternative to extending the Christian domain by force. He was an enthusiastic crusader, accompanying Cardinal Pelagius to the Nile Delta. He also defended the military orders, in particular the Templars, from the charge that they were disobeying Jesus’s injunction to Peter in the Gospel of Matthew to put up his sword – an argument advanced in Europe not just by heretical Cathars and Waldensians, but also by churchmen like the monk of Saint Alban’s, Walter Map: in one of his extant sermons preached to the Knights of the Temple, James of Vitry tells them not to listen to such reasoning of ‘false Christians, Saracens and Bedouins’.

The very fact that James of Vitry felt it necessary to reassure the Templars in this way suggests that they still felt they were following a religious calling. Although they chiefly appear in the historical records through their role in warfare, or through the political stance taken by their leaders, the ordinary knight seems to have kept to the severe Rule laid down by the Council of Troyes. At a time when the monastic orders are frequently accused of laxity and corruption, no such charge appears to have been made against the individual knights. Living with the odour not of incense, but of horse dung, leather and sweat, they must have been aware of the rate of attrition among those who served in Palestine and have acknowledged that sooner or later they would suffer death at the hands of the enemies of their faith.

If we look once again at the Rule and the penitentiary that came to be written in the mid-twelfth century, we get the impression of an austere life with strict discipline and severe punishment for any breach of the regulations. Their principal human consolation was probably the companionship of the other knights who came from a similar background. Friendship, as we have seen, was highly esteemed in the Cistercian Order and it would appear from the Rule that, despite the rivalry of the two orders that on occasion broke out into open conflict, the camaraderie of the Templar knights and sergeants was felt for the brothers of the Hospital too. Templars had to get permission from their superiors to eat, drink or visit the lodgings of other religious unless they were Hospitallers: in battle, it was to the Hospital’s banner that a Templar was to rally if he lost sight of his order’s piebald standard; and in 1260, when a Templar contingent were ordered to withdraw from Jerusalem by their superior, their commander would not do so without the Hospitallers who had joined them.

Homosexual relations between knights were regarded as a major breach of the Rule, a crime ‘against nature and against the law of Our Lord’. It is placed in the penitentiary between losing faith in Christ and desertion on the field of battle, all punished by expulsion from the Order. A case study given in clause 573 of the penitentiary describes how, when a case of three brothers at Castle Pilgrim ‘who practised wicked sin and caressed each other in their chambers at night’ was brought to the attention of the Grand Master, he wanted to avoid bringing it before the Temple chapter ‘because the deed was so offensive’. Instead, they were summoned to Acre, made to remove their habits, and put in irons. One of them, called Lucas, escaped and defected to the Muslims; the second tried to escape but died in the attempt; while the third ‘remained in prison for a long time’.

Among the principal vices ascribed to the Templars was their avarice. The wealth generated by the Temple’s holdings where the munificence of pious donors had been exploited by efficient administration, inspired envy and resentment by those in Europe who were unaware of the enormous costs borne by the Order, not just in the Holy Land but throughout Christendom. The Temple, like the Hospital, was a multinational force funded by a multinational corporation fighting the enemies of the Church on a number of fronts. Six Templar knights died fighting the Mongols at the Battle of Legnica in eastern Europe in 1241. The Temple remained a considerable power in Portugal and Spain, though its relative contribution to the Reconquista had declined: when the Christians attacked Mallorca in 1229, the Templars contributed only about four per cent of the force. Even in Aragon it was accepted that the Templars’ principal mission was in the Holy Land: recruits to the Order, horses and between one-third and one-tenth of their revenue, were sent to the East.

In the same way that modern charities build up investments, the Templars used their funds not just to pursue the war against the Saracens but also to expand their estates in the East: when John of Ibelin was desperate to raise funds to fight Frederick II, he did so by selling lands to both the Temple and the Hospital. This reinvestment of the Templars’ income attracted criticism from Pope Gregory IX: ‘many people have been forced to the conclusion’, he wrote to the Grand Master, ‘that your chief aim is to increase your holdings in the lands of the faithful, when it should be to prise from the hands of the infidel the lands consecrated to the blood of Christ’. They were also accused of being soft on the Muslims, entertaining them in their houses and allowing them to pray to Allah in Templar houses: ironically, this charge was made by Frederick II in a letter to Richard, Earl of Cornwall, in 1245.

The Order also spent lavishly on their corporate headquarters in the city of Acre which, repudiating the administration of Frederick’s governor, Richard Filangieri, was ruled by a commune. The different quarters of the city were ‘miniature republics surrounded by walls and towers’, its streets, as described by the Muslim writer Ibn Jubayr, ‘choked by the press of men, so that it is hard to put foot to the ground. It stinks and it is filthy, being full of refuse and excrement.’ The Temple compound was on the seaward spur of the city and formed a pivotal stretch of the city’s defences. ‘At its entrance’, wrote the Templar of Tyre,

was a stronghold very high and strong and its walls were very thick, a block of 28 feet. On each side of the fortress was a small tower and on each a lion passant as big as a fattened oxen, all covered with gold. The price of the four lions, in material and work, was 1,500 Saracen besants. It was marvellous to behold. On the other side, towards the Pisan quarter, was a tower. Nearby, above the monastery of the nuns of Saint Anne, was another huge tower with bells and a marvellous and very high church. In addition there was a tower on the beach. This was an ancient tower, a hundred years old, built by command of Saladin. Here the Templars guarded their treasury. This tower was so near the beach that the sea waves washed it. And many other beautiful abodes were in the Temple, which I will forgo mentioning.

However, many of the charges made against the Templars were contradicted by others. When King James I of Aragon, at the Second Council of Lyons, accused the Templars of dragging their feet over a new crusade against the Moors, the charge was not supported by the other members of the Spanish delegation; and the English Franciscan, Roger Bacon, attacked not the pusillanimity but the aggressiveness of the Templars which he thought prevented the conversion of Muslims to Christianity. Moreover, all the religious orders in this period with the exception of the Carthusians were criticised for their extravagance, and the betrayal of their original charism – the Temple, on the whole, less than the orders of monks and friars. The golden lions were no doubt unnecessary, and Hugh of Payns cannot have envisaged the Master of his Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Jesus Christ living in a palace; but the proportion of resources devoted by the Temple to the purposes of their original foundation would have compared favourably to that of other religious foundations, and even to some charities today. Certainly the popes, though they occasionally chided the Temple, were fulsome in their praise of the military orders in their bulls and continued to defend them by the granting of privileges and exemptions.

It was also clear that the finances of the military orders suffered as a result of inexorably rising costs. The land required to equip and maintain a Burgundian knight in 1180 amounted to around 750 acres; by the mid-thirteenth century this had risen fivefold to almost 4,000 acres: the cost, as well as the military value, made a fully armed knight with his entourage of squires and sergeants the equivalent of today’s heavy tank. Despite the evidence that the Temple often had cash in hand, their running costs were considerable: in the Latin states of Outremer they garrisoned and maintained at least fifty-three castles or fortified staging posts ranging from great fortresses like Castle Pilgrim to small watch-towers on pilgrim routes. At the height of the Order’s fortunes, there were almost a thousand Templar houses in Europe and in the East, and around 7,000 members. The number of non-professed auxiliaries and dependants is estimated to have been seven or eight times that number. The ratio of support personnel to combatants was around 3:2. By the mid-twelfth century the Order had built its own fleet of galleys which transported horses, grain, arms, pilgrims and military personnel. The traditional carriers suffered from this competition for the lucrative pilgrim traffic and in 1234 the city of Marseilles limited the Templars to one shipment of pilgrims per year.

Despite their involvement with the financial, logistical and military aspects of war, the Templars do not appear to have lost sight of their commitment to the defence of the Holy Land and recovery of Jerusalem. One of the earliest translations of scripture from Latin into the vernacular was that of the Book of Judges commissioned by the Temple so that, in the words of its introduction, they could learn of the ‘chivalry’ of the period and see ‘what honour it is thus to serve God and how He rewards his own’. Since most of the knights, squires and sergeants were illiterate, such readings were not just for their enlightenment but to sustain their morale. The Book of Judges was well chosen. While the Book of Joshua describes the Jews’ conquest of the Promised Land in a series of efficient military campaigns, ‘the book of Judges sees it as a more complex and gradual phenomenon, punctuated by partial success and failure’. There was a close and unquestioning identification by the Christians in Palestine with the Israelites of old. The narratives of the Old Testament, unlike the sayings of Jesus in the New, accept that systematic pillage of the enemy is part of war and indeed that it is not only permitted but actually ordered by God.


In 1239, Frederick II’s treaty with the Egyptian Sultan, al-Kamil, was due to expire. Aware of this, Pope Gregory IX preached yet another crusade. This was encouraged by the kings of France and England but neither took the Cross. Instead, as in the days of the First Crusade, lesser Frankish nobles set out for the Holy Land, led by Theobold, Count of Champagne. He was a cousin of the kings of England, France and Cyprus, and saw the crusade as the apogee of chivalrous knighthood: ‘blind is he’, he said, ‘who has not once in his life crossed the sea to succour God’.

The complexity of the political situation in the Holy Land baffled the new crusaders, and the advice they received was contradictory. The Ayyubids were at war with one another and Ismail, the Sultan of Damascus, proposed a pact with the Franks against his nephew, al-Kamil’s son Ayyub, now Sultan in Cairo. In exchange for defending the frontier facing the Sinai Desert, he would give them the fortresses of Beaufort and Safed. Before Hattin, Safed had belonged to the Templars and they were now eager for its return.

The deal was done and as a result the Latin possessions in Palestine were now greater than at any time since Hattin; but the cost was considerable to both parties. Many zealous Muslims among the Damascenes defected to the Egyptians, while in the Christian camp it led to outright enmity between the Templars and Hospitallers who until then had formed a common front against the minions of Frederick II. Ignoring the agreement made with Ismail in Damascus, the Hospitallers signed a treaty with Ayyub in Cairo.

This was the confused situation found upon his arrival in the Holy Land by Richard, Earl of Cornwall, the nephew of Richard the Lionheart, brother of King Henry III and brother-in-law of the Emperor Frederick II. Aged only thirty-one, he had already established a reputation for courage and competence. He came with considerable resources and also the full authority of the Emperor who, after the death of the wretched Queen Yolanda of Jerusalem, had married Princess Isabella of England.

Richard found the Kingdom of Jerusalem in a state of chaos, but with tact and energy reached an agreement with both Damascus and Egypt which resulted in the release of all the Christian prisoners held in Cairo and confirmation of the Latin possession of the recently ceded lands. But no sooner had he set sail for England than this settlement fell apart. The Templar Grand Master, Armand of Périgord, ignored the treaty with Egypt and in 1242 attacked the city of Hebron which had remained in Muslim hands. Subsequently, after a feeble response by the Egyptians, the Templars took Nablus, burned its mosque and killed many of its inhabitants, Muslim and Christian alike.

At around the same time, the imperial bailli, Richard Filangieri, attempted to reimpose Frederick II’s authority on Acre with the help of the Hospitallers. The coup failed, leading to a six-month siege of the Hospital compound by the forces of the leader of Latin barons, Balian of Ibelin, assisted by the Templars. This open conflict between the two military orders scandalised public opinion in Europe, and was blamed on the Templars by chroniclers who favoured the imperial party such as the monk of Saint Alban’s Abbey, Matthew Paris. The Templars, he wrote, would not permit food to be sent into the Hospital compound, or the Hospitallers to bring out their dead. They also ejected the Teutonic knights from some of their holdings: how scandalous that ‘those who had stuffed themselves with so many revenues in order to be able powerfully to attack the Saracens, were impiously turning violence and venom against the Christians, indeed against their own brothers, thus most gravely bringing God’s anger down upon them’.

There can be no doubt that the Temple, under Armand of Périgord, was in the anti-imperial camp, supporting Alice, the Queen of Cyprus, as regent of the Kingdom of Jerusalem and accepting the legality of excluding Conrad, Queen Yolanda’s son by Frederick II, when he came of age in April 1243, on the grounds that he had not visited the Holy Land to claim his crown. In this, they were not alone. The Venetians and the Genoese were of a like mind and in the summer of 1243 joined the barons of Outremer in ejecting Filangieri and the imperialists from Tyre. But this was not necessarily an expression of envy, or of the Order’s pursuit of its own interests. In a letter to Robert of Sandford written in 1243, Armand of Périgord explained the basis of his policy. Templar envoys that had been sent to Cairo were being kept in virtual captivity. The Egyptians could not be trusted and were only buying time. By contrast, the alliance with Damascus had secured not only the return of a number of fortresses and extensive territory, but the eviction of the remaining Muslims in Jerusalem.

To cement the Damascene alliance, the Muslim Prince of Homs, al-Mansur Ibrahim, was invited to Acre and there lavishly entertained in the Temple. The celebrations were premature. To counter the forces ranged against him, the Egyptian Sultan Ayyub called on a wild tribe of mercenary nomads who had settled near Edessa, the Khorezmian Turks. In June 1244, a force of ten thousand Khorezmian cavalry invaded Damascene territory and, bypassing Damascus itself, rode on into Galilee and captured Tiberias. On 11 July, the Khorezmians reached Jerusalem and breached its feeble defences. For a time its garrison held out but on 23 August, on a safe-conduct secured by the Muslim Lord of Kerak, the garrison and the entire Christian population left the city for Jaffa and then, seeing Frankish flags on the ramparts of Jerusalem and imagining that the city had been relieved, turned back, only to be massacred by the waiting Khorezmians. Only three hundred of their number reached Jaffa.

The Khorezmians now sacked the city, disinterring the bones of Godfrey of Bouillon and the other kings of Jerusalem buried in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, and killing the few priests who had remained there before setting the church on fire. Then, evacuating the empty city, they rode down to the coast, joining the Egyptian army of the Sultan Ayyub at Gaza under the command of a young Mameluk officer, Rukn ad-Din Baybars.

On 17 October 1244, on a sandy plain by the village of Herbiya known to the Franks as La Forbie, this Egyptian host was confronted by the joint armies of Damascus and Acre. The Damescene forces were led by the Prince of Homs, al-Mansur Ibrahim, and included a contingent of Bedouin cavalry under the Lord of Kerak, an-Nasir. The Christian army was the most considerable that had been assembled since Hattin. There were six hundred secular knights under Philip of Montfort and Walter of Brienne, and six hundred from the Temple and Hospital led by their Grand Masters, Armand of Périgord and William of Châteauneuf. There were also a number of Teutonic Knights and a contingent from Antioch.

As at Hattin, there was a debate among the allies about whether to attack or remain on the defensive: al-Mansur Ibrahim favoured the latter, Walter of Brienne the former, and it was the view of Walter of Brienne that prevailed. The superior allied army advanced on the Egyptians but the Egyptians held them and the Khorezmian cavalry attacked their flank. The Damascene troops took flight and with them went an-Nasir, the Lord of Kerak. In a matter of hours, the Latin army was destroyed. At least 5,000 were killed and 800 prisoners taken to Egypt, among them the Grand Master of the Temple, Armand of Périgord. The total loss to the Temple was between 260 and 300 knights. Of the knights of the military orders, only thirty-three Templars, twenty-six Hospitallers and three Teutonic Knights survived.

Order of Sword Brothers

The Livonian Brothers of the Sword were a military order established by their second bishop, Bishop Albert of Riga, in 1202. Pope Innocent III sanctioned the establishment in 1204 for the second time. The membership of the order comprised German “warrior monks”. Following their defeat by the Samogitians and Semigallians in the Battle of Schaulenin 1236, the surviving Brothers merged into the Teutonic Order as an autonomous branch and became known as the Livonian Order.

The first military order in the Baltic region, founded in Livonia in 1202 on the model of the Templars and absorbed into the Teutonic Order in 1237. The order’s original Latin name was the Fratres Milicie Christi de Livonia (“Brethren of the Knighthood of Christ of Livonia”); the more usual modern name Sword Brethren or Sword Brothers (Ger. Schwertbrüder) corresponds to the Middle High German designation Swertbrudere, which derives from the knights’ insignia of a sword beneath a red cross, which they wore on their white mantles.

According to the chronicler Henry of Livonia, the initiative for the new order came from the Cistercian Theoderic, a veteran in the Livonian mission. However, its establishment is often attributed to the newly ordained bishop of Livonia, Albert von Buxhövden (1199-1229), under whose obedience the order was placed. The foundation has to be seen against the background of the disastrous lack of military resources that had cost the life of the previous bishop, Berthold of Loccum (1197-1198). A permanent army in the region to supplement the unpredictable arrival of seasonal crusaders and garrison the castles must have been seen as necessary in order to control the newly converted and conquered territory. In 1204 both Bishop Albert and Pope Innocent III gave their approval of the order. The same year it began to establish itself in its first convent in Riga under its first master, Winno (1204-1209).


The Sword Brethren lived according to the Rule of the Templars. They consisted of three classes: knight brethren, priests, and service brethren. A general assembly of the knight brethren was in principle the highest decision-making body, but in practice the master, elected for life by the assembly, was in charge of the order, with an authority comparable to that of the abbot of a Cistercian monastery. Under him served a vice-master who also deputized for him in his absence. A marshal took care of the order’s military affairs and led it in battle, while a treasurer was in charge of finances. Provincial masters were placed in charge of new castle convents, each of which included a priest and a number of knight brethren, service brethren, and mercenaries. Advocates served as local administrators on the order’s estates and acted as its link to the local population. Also associated with the order were a number of secular vassals who were enfeoffed with lands on its territory. They were mainly recruited from immigrant German nobles, but also, at least in some cases, from among the native nobility.

Even in its heyday, that is from around 1227 to 1236, the order probably had only some 110 knight brethren and perhaps 1,200 service brethren; with approximately 400 knights and soldiers supplied by its secular vassals, the order could at best field an army of some 1,800 men, in addition to local Livonian auxiliaries [Benninghoven, Der Orden der Schwertbrüder, pp. 223-224, 407-408]. During that time the order had a convent in Riga, convent castles in Ascheraden (mod. Aizkraukle, Latvia), Fellin (mod. Vijandi, Estonia), Reval (mod. Tallinn, Estonia), Segewold (mod. Sigula, Latvia), and Wenden (mod. C? sis, Latvia), and also lesser strongholds in Adsel (mod. Gaujiena, Latvia), Wolmar (mod. Valmiera, Latvia), and Oberpahlen (mod. Poltsamaa, Estonia).

Early History: Establishment of the Order

The Sword Brethren had their first experience of local warfare in the winter of 1204-1205, when they joined the Semgallians in an ambush of a Lithuanian force returning from a raid into Estonia. In the following years the order soon proved its worth in battle, not least when it defeated a rebellion of the Livonians, centered on the fortress of Holm (1206).

Despite the obedience it owed to the bishop of Riga, the order was soon able to act on its own initiative, and throughout its short lifespan it continuously struggled to achieve independence from the church of Riga. It was important for the order to secure an independent territorial power base and financial resources, and it claimed part of the territory that was being conquered in conjunction with the forces of the bishop and the seasonal crusaders. This claim soon led to a conflict with Bishop Albert in respect of the division of the conquests and the terms on which the order held its territory, convents, and castles. In this struggle the balance of power constantly shifted, as seasonal crusaders left Livonia and Bishop Albert had to leave for Germany to recruit new crusaders, as occurred approximately every second year.

When Albert returned from Germany in 1207, the Sword Brethren demanded the right to retain a third of all future conquests. This initiative on the part of the order may well have resulted from a stay in Riga of the Danish archbishop of Lund in 1206-1207. The order may have seen a possibility of playing the Danish primate off against Bishop Albert by threatening to acknowledge the primacy of the archbishopric of Lund. Under pressure, Albert reluctantly agreed to assign new territory to the order, but in the case of the lands already conquered he tried to exclude the order from the core region along the river Düna. This was probably not a wise move, since as a result the Sword Brethren now looked north toward Estonia. Soon the order was able to establish its second convent and castle, Segewold, close to the Livish stronghold of Treiden (mod. Turaida, Latvia). A third convent was founded around the same time in Nussburg at Wenden deep in Lettish territory. These foundations enabled the order to push on into Estonian territory in 1208 independently of Bishop Albert. It suffered a momentary setback in 1209, when Master Winno was killed in an internal power struggle, but with the election of Volkwin (1209-1237) as its second master, the order quickly managed to reestablish stability in its leadership.

In the continued struggle for supremacy, both parties appealed to Pope Innocent III, who in October 1210 decreed that in the future the order was to retain one-third of conquered territory. In July 1212 the Sword Brethren received imperial confirmation of this privilege and were also promised free possession of the Estonian provinces of Ugaunia and Sakkala. This was undoubtedly a victory for the order and may be seen as the beginning of its state in Livonia. Bishop Albert received some compensation, when (probably in 1211) the pope authorized his ordination of new bishops in Livonia and soon after refused the order’s request to have the same right in its own territory (1212). However, Innocent III compensated for this in 1213 by confirming the order’s possession of Sakkala and Ugaunia and also authorizing Anders Sunesen, archbishop of Lund, to ordain bishops in these provinces. Albert of Buxhövden’s decision to ordain Theoderic as bishop of Estonia (1211) can only be seen as an attempt to curb the order’s designs in Estonia. Yet the advantage gained was soon lost, when Innocent III in 1213 decreed that Theoderic henceforth was to be subject only to the pope or his legate to the region, who happened to be Anders Sunesen.

The final effort to subdue the pagan Estonians began in 1215, initially with the order as its driving force. Having defeated the Estonians at Fellin in 1217, the order now dominated both the northern part of Livonia and a large part of Estonia. The threat this posed to the position of Bishop Albert prompted him to appeal in person to King Valdemar II of Denmark for help in 1218. The king obliged by sending a large fleet to Estonia the following year. Despite initial difficulties, the Danes managed to conquer the remaining northern provinces of Estonia in the summer of 1219, with the exception of the island of Ösel (mod. Saaremaa, Estonia).

The Danish crusade may have come as a surprise to the order, and in 1220 a diplomatic crisis arose when the order raided Harria. The Danes declared that, according to an agreement with the Livonian church, all of Estonia belonged to them and asked the order to hand over the hostages it had taken. Master Volkwin complied and subsequently decided to enter into an agreement with the Danes, which formally divided Estonia between them: the Danes kept the northern provinces, including the still unconquered island of Ösel, while the order received the southern provinces. In this way the order presumably hoped to avoid handing two-thirds of its conquest over to the church in accordance with the ruling of 1210. There was, however, a certain division of opinion within the order as to the wisdom of this, and later in the year it did decide to allot the church its two-thirds. Yet faced with an alliance between the order and the Danes and a Danish blockade of crusader ships embarking from Lübeck, Bishop Albert in March 1221 found himself forced to recognize Danish overlordship not only in Estonia but also in Livonia. This opened new possibilities for the order to throw off its obedience to the bishop and replace it with a link to the distant Danish king and church.

Order Domination

The scene was now set for a complete Danish takeover in the Baltic region, although this domination was to prove short-lived. After the Danes had gained a foothold on Ösel and established a stone fortress there, Valdemar II left Estonia in 1222; according to Henry of Livonia, he gave up the royal rights in Sakkala and Ugaunia to the order and spiritual rights to Bishop Albert in return for their perpetual fealty. Soon afterward, however, an uprising broke out on Ösel, and the Christian forces were unable to hold the fortress. In the following winter, the Osilians joined mainland Estonians in defeating local Danish forces before unleashing a successful attack on Fellin in January 1223. The order was taken by complete surprise and suffered heavy losses as stronghold after stronghold fell, until only the castle in Reval remained in Christian hands.

To make matters worse, Valdemar II and his eldest son were kidnapped in May 1223 by one of his vassals. They remained prisoners for two years, while the Danish Empire collapsed. To survive in Estonia, the order now had to rely on help from the Livonian church. The situation began to stabilize with the recapture of Fellin by the combined forces of the order and Livonian bishops, and the return of Bishop Albert from one of his recruitment tours with a substantial crusader army. By the end of 1224 the insurgents had to surrender. For the order, however, the events of 1223-1224 meant that the balance of power had changed significantly in favor of Bishop Albert and the Livonian church. With the Danes neutralized, the order had to agree to a new division of Estonia with the bishops, so that the order retained little more than one-third of the territory.

Hoping to perpetuate his ascendancy over the order, Bishop Albert in 1224 asked Pope Honorius III to dispatch a legate to the region to settle the territorial organization of Livonia on the current basis. This, however, proved to be a miscalculation on Albert’s part. When the legate, William of Modena, arrived in 1225 he had no intention of favoring the Livonian church. When Albert’s brother, Bishop Hermann of Leal (mod. Lihula, Estonia), who was now also lord of Dorpat (mod. Tartu, Estonia), together with local vassals seized some of the Danish possessions, William ordered these and the remaining Danish possessions to be transferred to himself as the pope’s representative.

Many of William’s other initiatives were designed to strengthen both the city of Riga and the Sword Brethren, and it was Bishop Albert and his colleagues who were disadvantaged. Now the city was allowed to gather crusaders under its banner, and it was also entitled to one-third of future conquests so that the church, originally allocated two-thirds of conquests, was left with only one-third. At the same time the order received a number of privilegies and exemptions for its church in Riga (the Church of St. George). This allowed the Sword Brethren to play a far greater role in the internal life of Riga, where they could now compete for the favors of visiting and established merchants. William also allowed the Sword Brethren to accept seasonal crusaders into their forces. This was important because many crusaders preferred to fight along with the order rather than the bishop.

These changes made the city of Riga the natural ally in the order’s continued rivalry with the bishops, and in 1226 the order and city formalized their collaboration in an alliance of mutual assistance, whereby brethren became “true” citizens of Riga, while members of the upper strata of burgesses could join the order as confratres (lay associates).

When William of Modena left later in 1226, the territories he had held were transferred to his deputy and vice-legate, Master John. However, when the population of Vironia revolted again, John could only quell the uprising with the help of the Sword Brethren, who then went on to expel the remaining Danes from Reval. When John in turn left the region in 1227, he handed over all his territories to the order, so that it now controlled Revalia, Harria, Jerwia, and Vironia. To strengthen the legitimacy of its possession of the former Danish provinces, the order acquired a letter of protection from Henry (VII), king of Germany, in July 1228. Despite a devastating defeat in 1223 as a result of William of Modena’s first legatine mission, the Sword Brethren had emerged as the leading power in Livonia.

Between Pope and Papal Legate

A new chapter in the order’s history began when the Cistercian Baldwin of Aulne arrived in Livonia in 1230 as vicelegate charged with resolving the conflict that had arisen over the succession to the bishopric of Riga after the death of Bishop Albert in 1229. Soon, however, Baldwin began to involve himself in wider Livonian affairs. He came into conflict with the Sword Brethren over the former Danish provinces, which he claimed the order held illegally; with reference to William of Modena’s earlier ruling, Baldwin demanded that they should be transferred to him. Faced with resistance from the local powers, Baldwin left for the Curia, where, in January 1232, he managed to have himself appointed as bishop of Semgallia (a title created for the occasion) and full legate with far-reaching authority. During the summer of 1233, Baldwin returned with a crusader army with which to bolster his demands. An army was sent to Estonia, where the Sword Brethren were ordered to surrender their territories and castles.

The order was divided over how to react to Baldwin’s demands. Master Volkwin was in favor of yielding to Bald win, but was temporarily deposed and imprisoned. The interim leadership decided to fight the legatine army, which in the ensuing battle in September 1233 was annihilated on the Domberg in Reval. The order speedily dispatched a delegation to the Curia in order to defend its action against the pope’s legate. It succeeded to the extent that in February 1234 Pope Gregory IX decided to recall Baldwin and replace him as legate by William of Modena, who soon persuaded the pope to annul all of Baldwin’s initiatives. But at the Curia Baldwin persuaded the pope in November 1234 to summon all his adversaries to answer a formidable list of charges. The order was accused of having summoned heretic Russians and local pagans to fight against the bishop and church of Leal, a charge that could have made the order itself a target of crusades.

In a trial at Viterbo during the spring of 1236, the order was largely exonerated. However, the king of Denmark had also begun to lobby for the return of the former Danish provinces. On this point Gregory IX supported the Danes and ordered Revalia, Jerwia, Vironia, and Harria to be given back to the Danish king. To comply would seriously have reduced the power base of the Sword Brethren, and it is doubtful whether they were prepared to do so. In the event, the order did not survive long enough for this to become evident.

Defeat and Unification with the Teutonic Order

During the 1230s the Sword Brethren had begun to direct their attention toward Lithuania, now seen as the greatest threat to Christianity in the Baltic region. This was a sentiment shared by the Russians of Pskov, with whom the order now often allied itself. In the summer of 1236, a substantial number of crusaders had arrived in Riga eager for action. Perhaps against its better judgment, the order was persuaded to organize a raid into Lithuanian territory involving both local forces and Pskovians. At a place called Saule (perhaps mod. Siauliai, Lithuania), the Christian forces suffered a crushing defeat on 22 September 1236. Probably only a tenth of the Christian force survived, and among the casualties were Master Volkwin and at least 49 knight brethren. The existence of the order was not immediately threatened. It still held its castles and had a substantial number of vassals, particularly in the northern parts of Estonia. But it was hardly in a position to raise another army for separate actions, and in the south the order had to fear Lithuanian retaliations.

Consequently, the order had to speed up negotiations that were already in progress concerning a merger with the Teutonic Order. With its bargaining power now reduced by military defeat, the representatives of the order had no choice but to accept the terms of a separate agreement reached between Hermann von Salza, grand master of the Teutonic Order, and Gregory IX to restore the former Danish provinces to Denmark. In May 1237 Pope Gregory announced the incorporation of the Sword Brethren into the Teutonic Order in four letters to the relevant parties: the order, Hermann von Salza, William of Modena, and the bishops of Riga, Dorpat, and Ösel. Later in the summer the Teutonic Order in Marburg grudgingly accepted the unification, although this was only carried out in practical terms by the end of 1237, after the arrival of the first contingent of Teutonic Knights in Livonia.


Despite its short lifespan, it was the Order of the Sword Brethren that introduced the military religious order as an institution to the Baltic Crusades. Much more than the seasonal crusaders, it was able to fight and keep fighting according to a chosen strategy. Without its introduction, Christianity might not have survived in Livonia, and it was a sign of its initial success that it was taken as a model for the likewise short-lived Knights of Dobrin. Both orders, however, suffered from the lack of a European network of estates and houses outside their main region of activity that could provide them with financial resources and a secure basis of recruitment. In that sense it was logical that both were absorbed by the Teutonic Order.

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