The First Crusade

There was curiously little pacifism in the High Middle Ages. St Augustine, already by the fourth century, had formulated a theory of just war (bellum justum), and subsequent clerics interwove his theory into a wider ideology of Christian kingship. The ideal Christian king tried to avoid war or, if war was unavoidable, tried to find honourable ways to re-establish peace (‘Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God’, Matthew 5:9). The Christian prince whose lands were invaded without legitimate reason or whose subjects were imperilled by the forces of a rival prince or by rebellion would necessarily use war as an instrument of policy and could do so legitimately.

War had rules – in time this elaborate set of rules became known as chivalry. In the late eleventh century, it was widely accepted in elite circles that non-combatants were not licit targets, unless they were spies or harboured or supplied the enemy. Under special protection were those considered as the most vulnerable non-combatants: women and children in general, but especially widows and orphans, as well as priests, monks, nuns, the aged and the infirm.

The just wars of the biblical past, for which the book of Joshua provided textual proof, openly received the blessing of God. Had He not made the sun stand still so that Joshua’s victory might be assured? (Joshua 10:12). In the most extreme statement of the case, it was said that wars against non-believers who had attacked the people of God were waged by the direct will of God. Apart from direct illumination from the Almighty, how better to determine the will of God than to have a priest, preferably the high priest, sanctify the war?

Jesus’s rebuke to Peter, who tried to defend him when he was being taken prisoner in the Garden of Gethsemane on the eve of his crucifixion, was the proof here: ‘Put up thy sword into the sheath’ (Matthew 26:52). The sword of physical retribution was not to be wielded by the spiritual descendants of St Peter – the clergy – but lordship over the sword still remained with the clergy: ‘Put up thy sword.’ It therefore rested with the Church, according to some ecclesiastical theorists, to determine how and under what conditions secular rulers could legitimately unsheathe and wield the sword of physical retribution. This was not in conflict with the older ‘doctrine of the two swords’ – one, spiritual (humiliation, malediction, excommunication, interdict), to be employed by the Church to coerce open but recalcitrant sinners; the other, temporal (physical force), to be employed by secular rulers. Rather, it clarified the traditional doctrine of the two swords by explaining the Church’s superintendence of temporal authority.

There was a centuries-old liturgy of war that emphasized certain other aspects of the intimate relationship between the clergy and righteous military violence. Ideally there was general fasting before battles were waged, and the clergy present in the entourage of the army celebrated votive masses, asking for victory and promising eternal devotion to God. The priests blessed the commanders and their troops and gave sermons of exhortation, the spiritual equivalent of the secular commanders’ harangues. They led the faithful in hymns and responsive readings like Psalm 20 (Vulgate 19), with the famous verse, ‘Some trust in chariots, and some in horses: but we will remember the name of the Lord our God. They are brought down and fallen: but we are risen, and stand upright.’

Also drawing on the stories in the biblical Book of Joshua of the conquest of the Promised Land, the clergy and the commanders commemorated victory, suggestive if not self-evident testimony, when and if it came, of the justness of their cause. They did so in part by following the example of the ancient Hebrews, who, at God’s command, despoiled their beaten enemies during the conquest of the Promised Land (e.g., Joshua 8: 26–27). They also obliged the army to hear mass, to rededicate itself to the vows of devotion with which the soldiers had prepared for battle, and to honour the weapons of war in the cult of military relics.

So, already in the eleventh century elite thinkers and other high-born people knew what a just war was and how it should be fought, even if they did not live up to their ideals. The Peace and Truce of God had done much to disseminate and popularize some of these ideals, but a particular set of events in the late eleventh century helped to create a more remarkable type of just and holy war – the crusade.

There was, it has been argued, a significant strain of millenarian feeling in eleventh-century western European society. This was perhaps slightly more characteristic of the earlier part of the century, but it may be that millennial and apocalyptic movements of a more or less popular character were in train throughout the century. The idea of a decisive colossal confrontation between the forces of good and the servants of evil was at the prophetic centre of several of these movements.

Jerusalem and its liberation, and more particularly the deliverance of the Holy Sepulchre, the Tomb of Christ, from pagan domination, loomed large in apocalyptic discourse. (In the eleventh and into the twelfth century Christians in northern Europe tended to regard Muslims as pagans.) Jerusalem was being used as a first name for girls in the West (Riley-Smith, 1997, p. 33), evidence of the penetration of its image into popular consciousness; and pilgrimages to Jerusalem from the West, relatively uncommon from the seventh to the tenth century, began to increase in frequency in the tenth. They became fairly common in the eleventh and also on occasion enormously large. In 1054, one band of such pilgrims numbered 3,000. Seven thousand Germans are said to have joined together to make the Jerusalem pilgrimage in 1064–5.

Reports of various Muslim victories over Near Eastern and Spanish Christians and of the gestures that sometimes followed fuelled the smouldering hatred and desire for vengeance by western Catholics. In October 1086, the Muslim victors at the battle of Sagrajas in Spain had the heads of the Christian victims gathered up into wagons and in a gruesome procession the wagons made their way down the peninsula and thence through North Africa with their rotting trophies. Pope Gregory VII himself, a decade or so before, seems to have envisaged the papacy’s retainers, the fideles of St Peter, as a possible army, to be accompanied by him, for delivering eastern Christians from the onslaught of their Muslim enemies and also for redeeming Jerusalem. Because of the Investiture Controversy and perhaps lingering doubts about the appropriateness of direct papal involvement in fighting, the fantasy never became reality, and important features of genuine crusade ideology, such as the penitential vow of the troops, were lacking in his vision, but Gregory’s musings helped inspire and sustain other images of a just war of liberation in reform circles.

After his election in 1088, and being obliged to vie with the imperial anti-pope Clement III for backing, Pope Urban II cast about for support in numerous ways. In part owing to the Peace Movement a close relationship had emerged between local aristocracies and a number of powerful monasteries, especially in France. Focusing on prayer – the prayers of the monks for the ancestors and living members of these aristocratic lineages – the relationship implicitly and sometimes explicitly raised the hope of these aristocrats’ salvation because of the good work they did in protecting the monastic life, the highest form of the Christian life and, by extension, Christendom in general. In practice, protection was ordinarily achieved by persuasion or the threat of force rather than by the actual use of force against would-be malefactors. But when persuasion and threats failed, the application of force against those who attacked monks and other vulnerable Christians was believed to be righteous in itself.

Force in the service of retributive justice (the bellum justum) was carefully distinguished from the fury and chaos attending ‘petty’ disputes among lords, the acts of internecine violence (guerrae, the origin of our modern word ‘war’) that had plagued the Central Middle Ages and helped excite the Peace Movement in the first place and which were still thickly woven into the fabric of social life in the late eleventh century. But Urban II or one of his advisers, drawing on the legacy of Gregory VII and inspired by pleas for help from eastern Christians, took another decisive step in the development of the idea of the crusade. The same lords who protected monks could protect Christendom east and west by directing their violence against the Muslim invaders and conquerors of the eastern Mediterranean, including the Holy Land.

There is some uncertainty as to the rewards the pope promised these would-be soldiers in his famous sermon at the Council of Clermont in southern France on 27 November 1095. But there is no doubt that the idea of fighting to regain the Holy Sepulchre or to help fellow Christians in the east was in the air and met a genuinely enthusiastic response. Although the mutual excommunications of pope and patriarch of Constantinople in 1054, emphasized so much in traditional interpretations, had exacerbated tensions between the western and eastern churches, they had not set them in malignant combat or reduced all mutual feelings of respect to nothing.

At the Council of Clermont shouts went up of ‘God wills it! God wills it!’ in response to the pope’s words. He appealed to lords and lordlings to put aside their petty strife, which would lead them to hell, and instead to take up the Cross, to offer their lives to save threatened Christians. Would there be sin in killing their enemies in what was clearly conceived of as a just and holy war? No. Would there be remission of sins in some wider sense, a wiping clean of the slate or immediate entrance into paradise if one died in the effort? The pope might have been carried away and uttered ambiguous words on this occasion or on any of the many subsequent occasions on which he gave similar speeches in favour of an expedition to the east. Certainly some of his audience that first day and many others later on believed that faithfully fighting in such an expedition would be rewarded with full forgiveness of all past sins and that death in such fighting was equivalent to martyrdom. Although learned churchmen understood and stressed the penitential nature of crusading, they were far more insistent on the limited nature of the forgiveness that joining or dying on a crusade might entail.

The pope recognized from the moment he addressed the crowds in Clermont that he had touched a well-spring of militant devotion. He continued in future sermons to make the same plea and to urge those lords who responded to make firm plans for an expedition in the spring of 1096. It may well be that some of the enthusiasm at subsequent councils and rallies in late 1095 and early 1096 was scripted, with supporters of the pope’s plan strategically planted in the crowds to get the chanting of ‘God wills it!’ started. It may also be the case that the genuine enthusiasm of the moment sometimes ebbed in the weeks that followed, as lords came to recognize the dangers and expense of the long and otherwise unpredictable journey they were going on. Fear of dying in a far-off place when one’s expectation had been to be buried in the choir of the family church, or at least in Christian soil, troubled their souls. It would later be stipulated that the flesh could be buried but the bones of dead crusaders had to be brought back for separate burial in their native lands.

All these apprehensions notwithstanding, the crusading movement, once started, grew exponentially in territories like France, the southern Low Countries, and those parts of Italy where the legitimacy of Urban’s pontificate was recognized. And, given its later successes, attributed to the intervention of God (He simply worked through the Franks), it raised disturbing questions about the evident lack of imperial sponsorship for the project. Emperor Henry IV was well aware of this, for at one point he offered to join the crusade himself. But as he would not yield on the point of lay investiture, his offer came to nothing.

Pope Urban II encouraged those who took the vow to prepare conscientiously, and the principal leaders, including many Flemish, Rhine-land, northern French and Provençal barons – though in the end no king – ultimately settled on 15 August 1096, the Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin, as the date of departure. However, it was difficult to co-ordinate and control efforts that were taking place all over northwestern Europe, and what is sometimes known as the Peasants’ Crusade or Popular Crusade – the expeditions of several dispersed groups under the leadership of various itinerant preachers and knights – set off in the late spring. A small group at Rouen in Normandy helped set the violent and almost anarchic tone of these early expeditions by massacring several Jews in the city. Another of these groups, somewhat better commanded by a knight known as Walter the Penniless (Sansavoir), left France and travelled through Germany and Hungary, making it to the outskirts of Constantinople by July. A third group, led by the charismatic preacher, Peter the Hermit, arrived there by the end of July, but on their way these poorly disciplined troops provoked any number of bloody and, for them, humbling skirmishes with Hungarian and Byzantine soldiers.

Many of the earliest crusaders never made it, even to Constantinople. The disorder and depredations of one group, whose leader was a priest by the name of Gottschalk, provoked the Hungarians, through whose lands they were marching, to destroy them. An otherwise unknown preacher named Volkmar led his followers to a similar fate in Nitra on the Hungarian border with Bohemia, but only after they had violently attacked the Jews of Prague. The most notorious of the bands was led by the Swabian Count Emich of Flonheim. He and his followers, inspired in part by the desire to loot but mainly, it seems, to force the Jews’ conversion, carried out a series of violent attacks in the Rhineland, repercussions from which would reach down the centuries.

Before they left Germany on their way to the east and were themselves cut down by Hungarian forces, Emich’s men and other bands ravaged the Jewish communities of Speyer, Worms, Mainz, Cologne, Trier, Metz and Regensburg. In some cases, like Mainz, the entire Jewish population of these towns was annihilated; at others (Regensburg is an example) nearly every Jew was forced to convert to Christianity. Even where Christian authorities, especially bishops, intervened to protect the Jews, the situation continued to be ferociously dangerous. Occasionally, for example, Jews were dispersed into the countryside to prevent the crusaders from besieging them en masse, but search parties hunted down the refugees in villages and hamlets. On other occasions, churchmen promised protection at the price of conversion. Most arresting, perhaps, was that in several places Jewish resistance to the crusaders’ demands for conversion assumed the form of voluntary suicide. Many Jewish women led the way, urging the men of their communities to take their own lives rather than convert. Parents also slaughtered their children as a supreme act of devotion.

There had been rare instances of mass suicide earlier in the history of Judaism, but in 1096 and later years rabbis were troubled as to the moral legitimacy of the suicides. In the end, they came to accept them and subsequent ones as legitimate responses to the threat of forced conversion, and generations of poets would celebrate the heroism of the martyr suicides and the martyred children. Many of their names would be inscribed in memorial lists. The poetry celebrating their sacrifice entered the liturgy of the synagogue, so that the memory of the events of 1096 and of the martyrs and victims in later crusades and at other crises would never be forgotten.

Oh, how the children cried aloud!

Trembling, they see their brothers slaughtered;

the mother binding her son, lest he profane the sacrifice by shuddering;

the father making the ritual blessing to sanctify the slaughter.

Compassionate women strangle their own children;

pure virgins shriek bitterly;

brides kiss their bridegrooms farewell –

and all rush eagerly to be slaughtered.

Almighty Lord, dwelling on high,

in days of old the angels cried out to You to put a halt to one sacrifice.

And now, so many are bound and slaughtered –

why do they not clamour over my infants?

(Carmi, 1981, pp. 372–3)

Relations between Christians and Jews were affected in at least one other way by the horrendous incidents of 1096. A fissure developed in the Jewish community between those who seem to have developed a more restricted understanding of proper Jewish life and those who went back to the way of life they knew before. It is probably unfair to see the movement or sect attributed to these hasidim or pietists of the Rhineland only as a reaction to the crusade massacres, but that slaughter must have had an enormous impact in sustaining the rigorous beliefs of those survivors who insisted on a more pious way of living and an even greater avoidance of social and religious contamination by contact with non-pious Jews, let alone Christians. The sect disappeared in time; its ideas, embedded in an important body of texts, especially the Sefer Hasidim (‘Book of the Pious’), have repeatedly inspired revival movements among European Jews.


Although most of the contingents of the Peasants’ Crusade never reached Constantinople, those commanded by Walter the Penniless and Peter the Hermit did. The Byzantine emperor, Alexius, and his commanders were suspicious of these rag-tag troops and, rather than have them bivouac for a protracted length of time on the outskirts of the imperial capital, they transported them across the straits to Asia Minor on 6 August. There the crusaders split into several groups, largely along linguistic lines. A few early raids were successful, but a large band of German crusaders was isolated and defeated near Nicea and forced to convert to Islam and be deported eastwards or, if they refused, to die. By 21 October, the main body of crusaders, chastened by the slaughter of their comrades but still not coordinating their operations competently, and with relatively ineffective military intelligence, came face to face with overwhelming Turkish forces and were annihilated.

Meanwhile, back in Europe, the Princely Crusade was in the final stages of preparation. Powerful aristocrats commanded the various units, and in each case the commander knew that his retinue had honed their skills in battles at home. Long-standing and strong personal loyalties bound many of the units as well. It is a myth that the crusaders were composed of landless young knights; they tended to be mature and experienced men who left considerable properties behind. The prominence of loyalty among these warriors did not mean that there was always harmony within the units or that the various units themselves coordinated their efforts effectively. Nevertheless, there was a military ethos that informed the Princely Crusade in a way that it did not the Peasants’ Crusade. Moreover, the new units were relatively better supplied than their predecessors. Partly this was because the great aristocrats had much more cash and credit at their disposal to buy equipment and other supplies. Partly, however, it was a matter of timing: having departed at a later date, the new crusaders had more liberty to plan, while also having the opportunity to benefit from the harvests of 1096.

The chief princes and their crusader retinues began to arrive in Constantinople in November and continued to arrive until May 1097, and were steadily ferried across the Bosporus in anticipation of engagement. Most of the commanders promised that, if they were successful, those lands they conquered which had once been part of the Byzantine Empire would revert to the Empire, a necessary concession if Byzantine troops were to complement their efforts, as in fact they did for a time. According to the best estimates, the crusade could count on more than 40,000 troops.

This enormous army appeared at Nicea on 19 June and overawed the Turkish garrison, which surrendered to the Byzantines. A week later, the crusaders set out for the interior and on 1 July defeated additional Turkish forces at Dorylaeum. Forty-eight hours later they resumed their march, traversing city after city of interior Asia Minor in the weeks that followed, but eventually encountering another major Turkish force at Ereghli in early September. Here, too, the crusading army crushed their enemies and sent the remnants packing.

Two of the leading commanders, Baldwin of Boulogne and a mercurial baron, Tancred, the son of Robert Guiscard, then took contingents eastwards and south-eastwards, where they accomplished the reconquest of the coastal cities of Anatolia, including Tarsus, which they knew as St Paul’s birthplace. Baldwin followed up this success with the conquest of Edessa and, after supplanting its Armenian prince, he set up the first crusader principality there. Pressure was then put on the temperamental Tancred to rejoin the main crusader army, which was engaged in the long siege of Antioch from 21 October 1097 until June 1098.

The successful conclusion of the siege, with only the Muslim garrison of the citadel still holding out, led to the occupation of Antioch, but a few days later a large number of Turkish reinforcements arrived and surrounded the occupied city. At this point, a Byzantine army in reserve a few miles from Antioch and under the direct command of Emperor Alexius might have saved the situation, but the emperor’s military intelligence overstated the size of the Turkish forces and the significance of their early successes. The Byzantines therefore withdrew.

Out of this desperate situation arose the first great sequence of events that would mark the crusade – in the crusaders’ minds at least – as undeniably God’s work. Visionaries among the besieged claimed to have received comfort and inspiration personally from Jesus. The Blessed Virgin’s appearance was reported, as were the appearances of St Andrew and St Peter. And, miracle of miracles, thanks to a poor peasant, a lance was found under the floor of the Cathedral of Antioch which was said to be, though not everyone at first credited the tale, the lance with which the centurion had stabbed the dead Christ on the Cross (John 19:34). The Holy Lance, regarded as a relic, was interpreted as a sign for the crusaders to abandon the relative safety of Antioch’s defences and confront the Turks directly. On 28 June, they did just that. Completely surprised and unnerved by the crusaders’ daring, the Turks fled. Equally surprised by the failure of the Muslim army, the citadel garrison, which until that moment had courageously held out, also surrendered to the crusaders. Antioch, where the followers of Jesus were first called Christians, was now entirely in crusader hands.

The crusaders believed that such success, like finding the Holy Lance itself, was a sign from God, but success also bred strife. The treachery of the Byzantine emperor, as some of the crusaders conceived it, relieved them of the necessity of honouring their promise to return all conquered lands to his authority. Other commanders demurred at forswearing their solemn oaths. Presently disease afflicted the army, felling some of its most gifted commanders and decimating the ranks. But despite this, the bickering persisted: as they continued to debate future plans, what was and was not pleasing to God became painfully and dangerously uncertain.

By January 1099 many of the rank and file were rallying around lesser lords, who intended to bring order to the army by compelling dissident commanders, by force if necessary, to put aside their disagreements and resume the march. Force was necessary, it turned out (in the guise of an attack on the fortifications of Raymond of Saint-Gilles, who favoured holding to the agreement with the Byzantines), but it was followed by a sobering rededication to the expedition. By February most of what was left of the army was on the move, traversing Lebanon and reaching Palestine in May. On 6 June Tancred conquered Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus, and on 7 June the bulk of the army began the siege of Jerusalem. There were now approximately 15,000 troops left to do so.

They moved more quickly than they had at Antioch to end the siege, storming the city on 15 July. The frenzy of the assault and the slaughter were of epic proportions, as the crusaders took control.

Many of the Saracens [Muslims] who had climbed to the top of the Temple of Solomon in their flights were shot to death with arrows and fell headlong from the roof. Nearly ten thousand were beheaded in this Temple. If you had been there your feet would have been stained to the ankles in the blood of the slain. What shall I say? None of them were left alive. Neither women nor children were spared. (Fulcher of Chartres, 1969, pp. 121–2).

A week later the victors elected Godfrey of Bouillon as ruler – not king – of Jerusalem: Jesus was king. But they had learned something from the experience at Antioch. The Muslims would undoubtedly send another force to try to retake Jerusalem, and indeed an enormous Egyptian force invaded Palestine in August. But on the twelfth of the month, crusader forces surprised the Egyptians near Ascalon, on the Mediterranean coast about fifty miles west of the Holy City, and utterly destroyed them.

The First Crusade had reached its emotional high point, and it is customary to claim that the crusade more or less ended at this moment. The setting up of principalities and the evolution of political and religious life proceeded apace, but these hardly appeared to be aspects of the crusade itself. In fact, the crusade was far from over. For the next twenty years, men streamed into the Holy Land and fought any number of actions in the extraordinary attempt to stabilize, expand and territorially consolidate the Crusader States. These actions were the necessary coda of the more spectacular conquest of Jerusalem and are properly considered part of the First Crusade. What this almost continuous warfare ensured was that the political institutions and social arrangements of the Crusader States would be skewed. What has sometimes been said of Spain in the era of the Reconquest can be said even more accurately of the Crusader States: they constituted a society organized almost solely according to the exigencies of war.

One of the more distinctive features of this society was the presence of military orders, well-organized associations of devout Christians who cared for and provided protection for pilgrims, nursed the sick, and ultimately took an active part in the military defence of the Crusader States. Groups of people dedicated to the nursing of pilgrims probably existed before 1099, but there were dramatic increases in the numbers of Christian pilgrims to the Holy City from the time of the Christian reconquest onwards. Pilgrims to Jerusalem characteristically, if not exclusively, were aged or sick; they came to the city not for miraculous cures but in order to die where Christ had died. It was in part due to the pressure of such numbers that the people ministering to them organized themselves into formal orders. The earliest of these seems to have been the Order of St John of Jerusalem, known more familiarly as the Hospitallers. The Order of the Temple of Solomon or Knights Templars came into being in 1119–20, originally to guard the pilgrimage routes.

The Hospitallers ran the great pilgrim hospital in the Holy City, sometimes employing Jewish and Muslim physicians to help minister to the sick. The hospital accepted both Muslims and Jews who needed care. Orphans of war and abandoned children were taken in and put in the charge of female nurses; when they came of age they were invited to join the Order. But, as was typical of the military orders, the Hospitallers, while never losing their original function, came more and more to be identified as a fighting force. The Order’s great hospital, perhaps 1,000 beds or more, was often filled with the wounded from its own battles.

The military orders, in their mature form, came to be composed of knights who took monastic vows and vowed celibacy, priests who carried out the spiritual functions of the order, sergeants from lesser social backgrounds, and nuns who helped nurse women and children and who prayed for the success of the Christian mission. They were international orders who owed direct obedience to the pope and were supported by houses established throughout Europe which both sent funds to the orders in the Holy Land and provided venues for the retirement of older members of the orders. Their work, in the heroic age following the conquest of Jerusalem, was deeply admired. To St Bernard, who wrote in praise of the Templars, they represented a new order of Christian knighthood. King Alfonso I of Navarre and Aragon (d. 1131) wanted to give one-third of his kingdom to the Hospitallers to carry on their work.


The news in Christendom of the fall of Jerusalem and the good work of devoted Christians confirmed, more than almost anything else could, the spirit of renewal that had been articulated in the efforts at papal and popular reform. Of the crusaders who lived and returned home to Europe, few came back rich, and the difficult local conditions that had arisen on their estates during their absence often demanded extraordinary efforts at peacekeeping and restoration on their part. All of these men had lost kinsmen and good friends in great numbers in the deserts and plains of the Near East. Nonetheless, those who returned relished recalling their adventures – stories of their suffering and courage that grew in the retelling into wondrous tales of inspiration for generations to come.

Those who had failed to go on the expedition felt all the more need to prove themselves as time went by. But the specialness of having gone on the First Crusade was never lost. Families assiduously preserved the memory of the participation of their ancestors. Other families who could not count an ancestor on the expedition found it difficult to explain why this was so, since nobility and the defence of Christendom were so closely related in the aristocratic imagination. As time passed, some of these lineages ‘invented’ ancestral participants in the First Crusade by clever misreadings, whether deliberate or inadvertent, of original chronicle reports (Murray, 1998, pp. 38–54). Surely, it might be said, if the family of so-and-so had gone off to war in the East with a great entourage, and this family was closely connected to one’s own, then it was only natural and right to suppose that in that entourage one’s own kinfolk could be numbered. To have served Christendom in this, allegedly the most righteous of its wars, was the crowning achievement of nobility.


The Battle of Mansourah

Before first light on Tuesday 8 February 1250, the king’s plan was put into action. The Templars led the way, closely followed by a party of knights commanded by Louis’ brother Count Robert of Artois, which included the Englishman William Longsword, earl of Salisbury. It soon became clear that the ford was deeper than expected, requiring horses to swim midstream, and the steep, muddy banks on either side caused some crusaders to fall from their mounts and drown. Nonetheless, hundreds of Franks began to emerge on the far shore.

Then, just as the sun was rising, Robert of Artois made a sudden and unexpected decision to launch an assault, charging at the head of his men towards the Ayyubids’ riverside base. In the confusion, the Templars followed close behind, leaving Louis and the bulk of the strike force stranded in the ford. In this one instant, all hope of an ordered offensive evaporated. It is impossible to know what caused Robert to act so precipitously: perhaps he saw the chance for a surprise attack slipping away; or the promise of glory and renown may have spurred him on. As he rode off, those left behind–the king included–must have felt a mixture of shock, puzzlement and anger.

Even so, at first it looked as though Robert’s audacity might win the day. Ploughing into the unsuspecting Muslim camp, where many were still asleep, the count’s combined force of around 600 crusaders and Templars encountered only token resistance. Racing in among the enemy tents, they began the work of butchery. Fakhr al-Din, who was carrying out his morning ablutions, quickly threw on some clothes, mounted a horse and rode out, unarmed, into the tumult. Set upon by a party of Templars, he was cut down and slain by two mighty sword blows. Elsewhere the slaughter was indiscriminate. One Frankish account described how the Latins were ‘killing all and sparing none’, observing that ‘it was sad indeed to see so many dead bodies and so much blood spilt, except that they were enemies of the Christian faith’.

This brutal riot overran the Ayyubid encampment and, had Robert now elected to hold the field, reorder his forces and await Louis’ arrival, a stunning victory might well have been at hand. But this was not to be. With Muslim stragglers streaming towards Mansourah, the count of Artois made a woefully hot-headed decision to pursue them. As he moved to initiate a second charge, the Templar commander urged caution, but Robert chided him for his cowardice. According to one Christian account, the Templar replied: ‘Neither I nor my brothers are afraid…but let me tell you that none of us expect to come back, neither you, nor ourselves.’

Together they and their men rode the short distance south to Mansourah and raced into the town. There the folly of their courageous but suicidal decision immediately became apparent. On the open plain, even in the Ayyubid camp, the Christians had been afforded the freedom to manoeuvre and fight in close-knit groups. But once in among the town’s cramped streets and alleyways, that style of warfare proved impossible. Worse still, upon entering Mansourah, the Franks came face to face with the elite Bahriyya regiment quartered in the town. This was to be the Latins’ first deadly encounter with these ‘lions of battle’. A Muslim chronicler described how the mamluks fought with utter ruthlessness and resolve. Surrounding the crusaders ‘on every side’, attacking with spear, sword and bow, they ‘turned their crosses upside down’. Of the 600 or so who rode into Mansourah barely a handful escaped, and both Robert of Artois and William Longsword were killed.

Back on the banks of the Tanis, as yet unaware of the dreadful slaughter then just beginning in Mansourah, Louis was making a valiant attempt to retain control of his remaining troops, even as squadrons of mounted mamluks began racing forward to counter-attack. One crusader described how ‘a tremendous noise of horns, bugles and drums broke out’ as they drew near; ‘men shouted, horses neighed; it was horrible to see or hear’. But in the thick of the throng, the king held his nerve and slowly fought his way forward to establish a position on the southern edge of the river, opposite the crusader camp. Here the Franks rallied to the Oriflame and made a desperate attempt to hold their ground, while the mamluks loosed ‘dense clouds of bolts and arrows’ and rushed in to engage in hand-to-hand combat. The damage sustained on that day was appalling. One of Joinville’s knights took ‘a lance-thrust between his shoulders, which made so large a wound that the blood poured from his body as if from a bung-hole in a barrel’. Another received a blow from a Muslim sword in the middle of his face that cut ‘through his nose so that it was left dangling over his lips’. He carried on fighting, only to die later of his injuries. As for himself, John wrote: ‘I was only wounded by the enemy’s arrows in five places, though my horse was wounded in fifteen.’

The crusaders came close to routing–some tried to swim across the Tanis, and one eyewitness ‘saw the river strewn with lances and shields, and full of men and horses drowning in the water’. For those fighting alongside the king it seemed as if there was an endless stream of enemies to face, and ‘for every [Muslim] killed, another at once appeared, fresh and vigorous’. But through it all, Louis remained steadfast, refusing to be broken. Inspired by his resilience, the Christians endured wave upon wave of attack, until at last, at around three o’clock in the afternoon, the Muslim offensive slackened. As night fell, the battered Franks retained possession of the field.

Latin sources described this, the Battle of Mansourah, as a great crusader victory, and in one sense it was a triumph. Holding out against horrendous odds, the Franks had established a bridgehead south of the Tanis. But the cost of this achievement was immense. The deaths of Robert of Artois and his contingent, alongside a large proportion of the Templar host, deprived the expedition of many of its fiercest warriors. In any battles still to come, their loss would be keenly felt. And though the crusaders had crossed the river, the town of Mansourah stood before them still, barring their advance.


In the immediate aftermath of the Battle of Mansourah, Louis IX was confronted by a pressing strategic dilemma. In theory the king had two options: to cut his losses and fall back across the Tanis; or to dig in on the south bank, in the hope of somehow overcoming the Ayyubid enemy. Choosing the former would have been tantamount to conceding defeat, for though this cautious tactic might have permitted the crusade to regroup, the chances of mounting a second cross-river offensive, with a now weakened army, were limited. Louis must also have recognised that the shame and frustration of forsaking a bridgehead won through the sacrifice of so many Christian lives would crush Frankish spirits, probably beyond repair. That night, or at dawn the following morning, the king could have ordered a withdrawal, but this act would have signalled the failure of his Egyptian strategy, effectively marking the crusade’s end.

Given Louis’ earnest belief that his endeavour enjoyed divine sanction and support, and the constant pressure placed upon him to uphold the tenets of chivalry and honour the achievements of his crusading ancestors, it is hardly surprising that he rejected any thought of retreat. Instead, he immediately began to consolidate his position south of the river, scavenging materials from the overrun Muslim camp–including wood from the fourteen remaining engines–to improvise a stockade, while also digging a shallow defensive trench. At the same time, a number of small boats were lashed together to create a makeshift bridge across the Tanis, linking the old northern camp and the crusaders’ new outpost. By these measures, the Franks sought to prepare themselves for the storm of war that would surely come. And for now, Louis seems to have clung to the memory of the sudden victory at Damietta, convinced that Ayyubid resistance was about to collapse.

Three days later, the king’s hopes suffered a first blow. On Friday 11 February, the mamluks initiated a massive onslaught, spearheaded by the Bahriyya, which lasted from dawn till dusk. Thousands of Muslims surrounded the crusader camp, intent upon dislodging the Franks through aerial bombardment and bloody close-quarter combat. Christians later declared that they attacked ‘so persistently, horribly and dreadfully’ that many Latins from Outremer ‘said that they had never seen such a bold and violent assault’. The mamluks’ unbridled ferocity terrified the crusaders, one of whom wrote that they ‘hardly seemed human, but like wild beasts, frantic with rage’, adding that ‘they clearly thought nothing of dying’. Many Franks were carrying injuries from the Battle of Mansourah–Joinville, for example, was no longer able to don armour because of his wounds–but, nonetheless, they fought back manfully, aided by raking showers of crossbow bolts unleashed from the old camp across the river. Once again Louis kept his nerve and the Christians held their ground, but only through the sacrifice of hundreds more dead and injured, among them the master of the Templars, who had lost one eye on 8 February and now lost another and soon died from his wounds.

The Latins demonstrated immense fortitude in the two dreadful mêlèes endured that week. They also claimed to have killed some 4,000 Muslims in this second encounter. There are no figures in Arabic chronicles with which to confirm this count, but, even if accurate, these losses seem to have done little to dent the Ayyubids’ overwhelming numerical superiority. The crusader army had survived, albeit in a terribly weakened state. From this point onwards, it must have been obvious that they were in no position to mount an offensive of their own. At absolute best, they could hope to retain their precarious foothold on the south bank. And if Mansourah was not to be attacked, then how could the war be won?

In the days and weeks that followed, this question became ever more imperative. The Egyptians carried out regular probing attacks, but otherwise were content to confine the Christians within their stockade. By late February, with no possible hint of progress in the campaign, the atmosphere in the camp began to darken, and the crusaders’ predicament was only exacerbated by the outbreak of illness. This was partly linked to the enormous number of dead piled upon the plain and floating in the water. Joinville described seeing scores of bodies dragged down the Tanis by the current, until they piled up against the Franks’ bridge of boats, so that ‘all the river was full of corpses, from one bank to another, and as far upstream as one could cast a small stone’. Food shortages were also starting to take hold, and this led to scurvy.

In this situation, the supply chain down the Nile to Damietta became an essential lifeline. So far, the Christian fleet had been free to ferry goods to the camps at Mansourah, but this was about to change. On 25 February 1250, after long months of travel from Iraq, the Ayyubid heir to Egypt, al-Mu‘azzam Turanshah, arrived at the Nile Delta. He immediately brought new impetus to the Muslim cause. With the Nile flood long abated, the Mahalla Canal contained too little water to be entered to the south, but Turanshah had some fifty ships portaged across land to the canal’s northern reaches. From there, these vessels were able to sail down to the Nile, bypassing the Frankish fleet at Mansourah. Joinville admitted that this dramatic move ‘came as a great shock to our people’. Turanshah’s ploy was virtually identical to the trap sprung against the Fifth Crusade, and for Louis’ expedition it spelled disaster.

Over the next few weeks Ayyubid ships intercepted two Christian supply convoys heading south from Damietta. Cut off by this blockade, the crusaders soon found themselves in a hopeless position. A Latin contemporary described the awful sense of desperation that now gripped the army: ‘Everyone expected to die, no one supposed he could escape. It would have been hard to find one man in all that great host who was not mourning a dead friend, or a single tent or shelter without its sick or dead.’ By this stage, Joinville’s wounds had become infected. He later recalled lying in his tent in a feverish state; outside, ‘barber-surgeons’ were cutting away the rotting gums of those afflicted with scurvy, so they might eat. Joinville could hear the cries of those enduring this gruesome surgery resounding through the camp, and likened them to those ‘of a woman in labour’. Starvation also began to take a heavy toll among men and horses. Many Franks happily consumed carrion from dead horses, donkeys and mules, and later resorted to eating cats and dogs.46

The price of indecision

By early March 1250, conditions in the main Christian camp on the south bank of the Tanis were unbearable. One eyewitness admitted that ‘men said openly that all was lost’. Louis was largely responsible for this ruinous state of affairs. In mid-February, he had failed to make a realistic strategic assessment of the risks and possible rewards involved in maintaining the crusaders’ southern camp, holding on to the forlorn hope of Ayyubid disintegration. He also grossly underestimated the vulnerability of his Nile supply line and the number of troops needed to overcome the Egyptian army at Mansourah.

Some of these errors might have been mitigated had the king now acted with decisive resolution–recognising that his position was utterly untenable. The only logical choices remaining were immediate retreat or negotiation, but throughout the month of March Louis embraced neither. Instead, as his troops weakened and died all around him, the French monarch seems to have been paralysed by indecision–unable to face the fact that his grand Egyptian strategy had been thwarted. It was not until early April that Louis finally took action, but by this stage he was too late. Seeking to secure terms of truce with the Ayyubids, he seems to have offered to exchange Damietta for Jerusalem (raising yet another parallel with the Fifth Crusade). A deal of this sort might have been acceptable in February 1250, perhaps even in March, but by April the Muslim stranglehold was clear to all. Turanshah knew that he held a telling advantage and, sensing that victory was close at hand, rebutted Louis’ proposal. All that remained now to the Christians was to attempt a retreat north, across the forty miles of open ground to Damietta.

On 4 April orders were passed through the lines of the exhausted Latin host. The hundreds, perhaps even thousands, of sick and wounded were to be loaded on to boats and ferried down the Nile in the vain hope that some craft might evade the Muslim cordon. The remaining able-bodied crusaders were to march overland to the coast.

By this stage Louis himself was suffering with dysentery. Many leading Franks urged him to flee, either by ship or on horseback, so as to avoid capture. But in a valiant, if somewhat foolhardy, show of solidarity, the king refused to abandon his men. He had led them into Egypt; now he hoped to guide them back out to safety. An ill-conceived plan was hatched to escape under cover of darkness, leaving the tents standing in the southern camp so as not to warn the Muslims that an exodus was under way. Louis also ordered his engineer, Joscelin of Cornaut, to cut the ropes holding the bridge of boats in place once the Tanis had been crossed.

Unfortunately the whole scheme quickly fell apart. Most of the crusaders made it back to the north shore at dusk, but a group of Ayyubid scouts realised what was happening and raised the alarm. With enemy troops bearing down on his position, Joscelin seems to have lost his nerve and fled–certainly the bridge remained in place, and packs of Muslim soldiers crossed over to give chase. In the failing light, panic spread and a chaotic rout began. One Muslim eyewitness described how ‘we followed on their tracks in pursuit; nor did the sword cease its work among their backsides throughout the night. Shame and catastrophe were their lot.’

Earlier that same evening, John of Joinville and two of his surviving knights had boarded a boat and were waiting to push off. He now watched as wounded men, left in the confusion to fend for themselves in the old northern camp, started to crawl to the banks of the Nile, desperately trying to get on to any ship. He wrote: ‘As I was urging the sailors to let us get away, the Saracens entered the [northern] camp, and I saw by the light of the fires that they were slaughtering the poor fellows on the bank.’ Joinville’s vessel made it out into the river and, as the current took the craft downstream, he made good his escape.

By daybreak on 5 April 1250, the full extent of the disaster was apparent. On land, disordered groups of Franks were being keenly pursued by mamluk troops who had no interest in showing clemency. Over the next few days, many hundreds of retreating Christians were slain. One band got to within a day of Damietta, but were then surrounded and capitulated. Throughout the host, the great symbols of Frankish pride and indomitability fell: the Oriflame ‘was torn to pieces’ the Templar standard ‘trampled under foot’.

Riding north, the aged Patriarch Robert and Odo of Châteauroux somehow managed to elude capture, but, after the first twenty-four hours, shattered by their exertions, they were unable to go on. Robert later described in a letter how, by chance, they stumbled across a small boat tied up on the shore and eventually reached Damietta. Few were so fortunate. Most of the ships carrying the sick and injured were ransacked or burned in the water. John of Joinville’s boat made slow progress downstream, even as he beheld terrible scenes of carnage on the banks, but his craft was finally spotted. With four Muslim vessels bearing down on them, Joinville turned to his men, asking if they should land and try to fight their way to safety, or stay on the water and be captured. With disarming honesty, he described how one of his servants declared: ‘We should all let ourselves be slain, for thus we shall go to paradise’, but admitted that ‘none of us heeded his advice’. In fact, when his boat was boarded, Joinville lied to prevent his execution on the spot, saying that he was the king’s cousin. As a result he was taken into captivity.

In the midst of all this mayhem, King Louis became separated from most of his troops. He was now so stricken with dysentery that he had to have a hole cut in his breeches. A small group of his most loyal retainers made a brave attempt to lead him to safety, and eventually they took refuge in a small village. There, cowering, half dead, in a squalid hut, the mighty sovereign of France was captured. His daring attempt to conquer Egypt was at an end.


Louis IX’s errors of judgement at Mansourah–perhaps most notably his failure to learn fully from the mistakes of the Fifth Crusade–were now compounded by his own imprisonment. Never before had a king of the Latin West been taken captive during a crusade. This unparalleled disaster placed Louis and the bedraggled remnants of his army in an enormously vulnerable position. Seized by the enemy outright, with no chance to secure terms of surrender, the Franks found themselves at the mercy of Islam. Relishing the triumph, one Muslim witness wrote:

A tally was made of the number of captives, and there were more than 20,000; those who had drowned or been killed numbered 7,000. I saw the dead, and they covered the face of the earth in their profusion…. It was a day of the kind the Muslims had never seen; nor had they heard of its like.

Prisoners were herded into holding camps across the Delta and sorted by rank. According to Arabic testimony, Turanshah ‘ordered the ordinary mass to be beheaded’, and instructed one of his lieutenants from Iraq to oversee the executions–the grisly work apparently proceeded at the rate of 300 a night. Other Franks were offered the choice of conversion or death, while higher-ranking nobles, like John of Joinville, were held aside because of their economic value as hostages. Joinville suggested that King Louis was threatened with torture, being shown a gruesome wooden vice, ‘notched with interlocking teeth’, that was used to crush a victim’s legs, but this is not hinted at elsewhere. Despite his illness and the ignominious circumstances of his capture, the monarch seems to have held his dignity.

In fact, Louis’ circumstances were markedly improved by Turanshah’s own increasingly uncertain position at this time. Since his arrival at Mansourah, the Ayyubid heir had favoured his own soldiers and officials, thereby alienating many within the existing Egyptian army hierarchy–including the mamluk commander Aqtay and the Bahriyya. Keen to secure a deal that would consolidate his hold over the Nile region, Turanshah agreed to negotiate and, in mid-to late April, terms were settled. A ten-year truce was declared. The French king would be released in return for Damietta’s immediate surrender. A massive ransom of 800,000 gold bezants (or 400,000 livres tournois) was set for the 12,000 other Christians in Ayyubid custody.

In early May, however, it suddenly seemed that even the fulfilment of these punitive conditions might not bring the Christians to liberty, because the Ayyubid coup–so long awaited by Louis at Mansourah–finally took place. On 2 May Turanshah was murdered by Aqtay and a vicious young mamluk in the Bahriyya regiment, named Baybars. The ensuing power struggle initially saw Shajar al-Durr appointed as figurehead of Ayyubid Egypt. In reality, though, a seismic shift was now under way–one that would lead to the gradual but inexorable rise of the mamluks.

In spite of these dynastic upheavals, the Muslim repossession of Damietta went ahead as planned and Louis was released on 6 May 1250. He then set about collecting the funds with which to make an initial payment of half the ransom–200,000 livres tournois–177,000 of which was raised from the king’s war chest and the remainder taken from the Templars. This massive sum took two days to be weighed and counted. On 8 May Louis took ship to Palestine with his leading nobles, among them his two surviving brothers, Alphonse of Poitiers and Charles of Anjou, and John of Joinville. As yet, the vast majority of the crusaders remained in captivity.

In adversity’s wake

All Louis IX’s hopes of subjugating Egypt and winning the war for the Holy Land had ended in failure. But in many ways the true and remarkable depth of the French king’s crusading idealism only became apparent after this humiliating defeat. In similar circumstances, shamed by such an unmitigated debacle, many a Christian monarch would have sloped off back to Europe, turning his back on the Near East. Louis did the opposite. Realising that his men would likely remain rotting in Muslim captivity unless he continued to pressure the Egyptian regime for their release, the king chose to remain in Palestine for the next four years.

In this time, Louis served as overlord of Outremer and, by 1252, had secured the liberation of his troops. Working tirelessly, he set about the unglamorous task of bolstering the kingdom of Jerusalem’s coastal defences–overseeing the extensive refortification of Acre, Jaffa, Caesarea and Sidon. He also established a permanent garrison of one hundred Frankish knights in Acre, paid for by the French crown at an annual cost of around 4,000 livres tournois.

Given the ardent self-promotion typical of other crusade leaders–from Richard the Lionheart to Frederick II of Germany–Louis also showed an extraordinary willingness to accept responsibility for the dreadful setbacks experienced in Egypt. The king’s supporters tried their best to transfer the blame to Robert of Artois, emphasising that it had been his advice that led to the march on Mansourah in autumn 1249 and criticising the count’s reckless behaviour on 8 February 1250. But in a letter written in August 1250, Louis himself praised Robert’s bravery, describing him as ‘our very dear and illustrious brother of honoured memory’, and expressing the hope and belief that he had been ‘crowned as a martyr’. In the same document, the king explained the crusade’s failure and his own incarceration as divine punishments, meted out ‘as our sins required’.

Eventually, in April 1254, Louis travelled home to France. His mother Blanche had died two years earlier, and the Capetian realm had become increasingly unstable. The king returned from the Holy Land a changed man, and his later life was marked by extreme piety and austerity–wearing a hair shirt, he ate only meagre rations of the blandest food and engaged in seemingly constant prayer. At one point Louis even considered renouncing his crown and entering a monastery. He also harboured a heartfelt, lingering desire to launch another crusade, thereby, perhaps, to win redemption.

The Egyptian expedition reshaped King Louis’ life, but the events on the Nile also had a wider effect upon Latin Europe. The crusade of 1250 had been carefully planned, financed and supplied; its armies led by a paragon of Christian kingship. And still it had been subjected to an excoriating defeat. After one and a half centuries of almost unbroken failure in the war for the Holy Land, this latest reversal prompted an outpouring of doubt and despair in the West. Some even turned their backs on the Christian faith. In the second half of the thirteenth century–as Outremer’s strength continued to fade and new, seemingly invincible, enemies emerged on to the Levantine stage–the chances of mounting another crusade to the East seemed bleak indeed.

Victory and Defeat at Damietta

They would say of King Louis IX that he was a man who rarely showed emotion, that he maintained in his everyday life the calm of a prayerful man, and that he never spoke ill of anyone unless he was a traitor or an infidel. All this was true of the outer man, who always succeeded in maintaining his royal dignity, but the inner man was in constant turmoil: his desire for sanctity was at war with his desire to be remembered as a warrior and as a prince who governed well.

All the evidence goes to show that he believed the abandonment of Damietta came as a result of his own generalship and in answer to his prayers. He was not surprised or even elated; it was what he had expected all along. What he did not know was that the city was a trap; and he fell into it.

He made his solemn entry into Damietta on June 6. The great gates opened on a city from which everyone had fled. The houses, shops, and palaces were intact; the granaries were filled with wheat, barley, and rice; the armories were filled with weapons; the oil vats were full of oil.

Within a few days Damietta was transformed into a Christian city. The king lived in the sultan’s palace, the papal legate lived in the nearby fortress of the former military commander, the great mosque was transformed into a church, and fifty-three Christian prisoners found in the dungeons were given their freedom. The army was lodged outside the city, because the king feared an imminent attack by the sultan. For a few days there were no attacks except by marauding Bedouin who galloped up to the city at night in the hope of acquiring a few Christian heads, the sultan having promised ten bezants for every head presented to him. But the Christians were on guard, the crossbowmen generally kept the Bedouin at a distance, and, when too many of them succeeded in passing the guards, the king ordered a palisade to be erected around the camp. Later the palisade was transformed into earthworks, and the camp became a small fortress.

The Nile was about to overflow, as it always does in June. Between June and September, fighting in the Nile Delta was very nearly impossible. The king decided to dig in for the long summer and prepare for an attack on Cairo, which was over 100 miles to the south of Damietta. The count of Brittany and most of the barons would have preferred to besiege Alexandria, where there was an excellent port, so that provisions could be brought to the army whenever needed, but Robert, Count of Artois, the king’s brother, was adamant that they should march on Cairo. The king relied heavily on this brother, who regarded himself as the military expert in the family. The decision to march on Cairo would turn out to be suicidal and would lead to the destruction of the entire Christian army.

The long summer itself, after its brilliant beginning, became a nightmare. The tremendous heat, the snakes, the insects, the sense of isolation in a foreign land, all these affected the foot soldiers cooped up behind the earthworks. The knights, of course, could enter the city at will. The lords lived well, the soldiers complained bitterly; by the time the king began to march on Cairo, he was commanding troops whose morale had been shaken by nearly five months of enforced inactivity, boredom, and misery.

Robert, Count of Artois, reasoned that the best way to kill a snake was to smash its head. This statement might have made more sense if accurate maps had been available. The Crusaders did not know how to reach Cairo, the political head. But the capture of Cairo would have been of little use to them, since in any event the real head was the Egyptian army, which was lying in wait for them at Mansourah, and which they would have to destroy before they could reach Cairo. In the plans of the king and his brother there was no element of surprise, no feints, no cunning. The huge, unwieldy Christian army was ordered to move southward among the canals and rivers; it was visible to spies, who were able to report all its movements. As it marched further and further into marshy land, there was the possibility that at any moment retreat would be cut off.

And always, there were delays. Just as they had wasted a winter in Cyprus and a long summer in Damietta, so they allowed the autumn to pass, and it was winter again when they left Damietta, leaving Queen Marguerite and the patriarch of Jerusalem in the walled city with a small garrison to protect them. A few days later they received news that the sultan was dead. They also heard that the sultana and Fakhr ad-Din had assumed power, while waiting for the arrival of the heir to the throne, the sultan’s son Turanshah, who was viceroy in the Jezireh. Turanshah was a long time coming, and this too portended good fortune for the Christian army. King Louis could not bring himself to believe that a woman could rule Muslim country, though he was perfectly content to let his mother, Blanche of Castile, rule over France in his absence.

They left Damietta on November 20, and another month passed before they reached the main defensive positions of Mansourah. There were the usual skirmishes on the way. The king gave orders that skirmishes were to be avoided wherever possible, but when five hundred Egyptian cavalry fell on the Templar vanguard, the Templars in their fury decided to teach them a lesson. Their horses were fresh; the Egyptian horses were already weary; and in the general charge no Egyptians survived, for they were either cut down or they fell into the river and were drowned.

In such forays, involving small numbers, the Templars always gave a good account of themselves. They were assault troops, trained for sudden raids, improvisations, hit-and-run attacks. Their chief fault was that they defied the rules, while the chief fault of the king was that he obeyed the rules even when they were absurd.

On February 8, 1250, in a grey misty dawn, the Templar vanguard, with Robert, Count of Artois, in command, was to cross a ford, thereby outflanking the Egyptian position before Mansourah. The ford had been conveniently pointed out by a renegade Muslim, who was rewarded with fifty bezants for his pains. For once there would be the element of surprise. The knights would make their way over the ford and then wait for the main army under the duke of Burgundy to come up. They were to hold the bank, while the bowmen came running over a pontoon bridge. Until the whole army had crossed over, there must be no movement, no sallies, no attempt to engage the enemy. The king wanted to be sure that the attack against the enemy would be a massive one, carefully choreographed.

The army was now very close to the walls of Mansourah. Robert rode across the ford with the Templars, saw the Egyptian cavalry in front of him, heard the horns and trumpets of the enemy, and with his retinue hurled himself against them. The Templars tried to stop him but, being unsuccessful, they decided to join him in order to protect his life. There was a wild skirmish.

Fakhr ad-Din was in his bath, having his hair dyed with fiery red henna. Hearing the dreadful noise, he jumped out of the bath, threw a robe over himself, leaped on a horse, and charged into battle, soon to be cut to pieces by knights in armor. But the Egyptians had prepared a trap by leaving one of Mansourah’s gates open. The open gate was altogether too inviting. The Templars and the count of Artois charged through it. It was a stupid and dangerous move. They soon lost themselves in the narrow streets, huge beams were thrown down on them, and they were unhorsed. Trying to fight their way out of the city, they were reduced to hand-to-hand combat with swords, maces, and knives, and were overwhelmed by sheer numbers. Three hundred knights and nearly three hundred Templars were killed in the maze of Mansourah’s narrow streets.

The king could be seen fighting between Mansourah and the river, wearing a golden helmet and wielding a sword of German steel, and at one point he was surrounded by six horsemen and escaped by hacking at them with his sword. The French bowmen, for some inexplicable reason, had not yet crossed the river, while the Egyptian bowmen were busily killing off the French horses. The rest of the day passed in heavy skirmishing, until late in the afternoon, when the full force of the Christian bowmen came up and most of the Muslim cavalry retreated behind the walls of Mansourah. The king slept that night in the camp of Fakhr ad-Din, who had died in the battle. This was a victory of sorts, but small skirmishes continued through the night. That evening the king heard about the death of his favorite brother. With the knowledge that Robert of Artois had disobeyed him by his reckless ride into the city, and met a miserable death, all he could say was that God had been exceedingly good to him.

God, however, seemed to have forgotten the Christian army and failed to provide King Louis with military intelligence. A new leader had arisen to take the place of Fakhr ad-Din. This was Baibars al-Bundukdari, now a young Mameluke emir, who had been the officer in charge of the combined Egyptian and Khwarismian forces which had utterly destroyed the Christians at the battle of La Forbie. The defense of Mansourah was now in his hands, and he was more relentless and more pitiless than any Muslim commander had ever been. For the first time since Saladin, the Crusaders were confronted with a military commander of genius.

The king and his army remained outside the walls of Mansourah for eight weeks, hoping that another miracle would happen. It did not. Baibars was conserving his strength, hoping the French would perish of their own perversity. Sultan Turanshah, having at last arrived in Egypt from an extended holiday in Damascus, was nominally in command, but Baibars was already commander in chief of the army, and it seems to have been Baibars who organized the fleet of light ships which suddenly appeared in the waterways between Damietta and Mansourah, thus cutting off the Crusaders’ supply ships. Baibars’s ships were carried on camelback in sections, and were sufficiently well equipped when put together to form another army behind the Christian army.

The king should have fought his way back to Damietta as soon as the first ship appeared. He lost more than eighty ships, and on March 16 a convoy of thirty-two ships was intercepted. Now, the king’s army could neither move backward nor could it move forward. Adding to this in solvable problem, there came famine, and then pestilence. Scurvy, typhoid, dysentery were rampant. The plagues of Egypt had returned.

So many of the knights died that the grooms wore their armor and stood guard at points of danger; and so many priests died that there were not enough of them to minister at the altars. The king himself fell ill. He sent Philip of Montfort to the sultan, offering to surrender Damietta to the Egyptians in exchange for Jerusalem and other places in the Holy Land that had recently fallen into Muslim hands. It was an offer that was too late by two months, for the Egyptians knew that he was in a hopeless position and that his whole army was at their mercy.

On April 5, the king at last gave the order for the retreat to Damietta. The Egyptians were on the alert. They attacked the Christians on all sides, massacring the defenseless, killing the knights weakened by pestilence, making prisoners of those who might be expected to pay heavy ransoms. They claimed afterward that they killed or captured fifty thousand men. The king escaped only because Geoffrey of Sargines, in charge of the bodyguard, succeeded in leading him to an abandoned village. Now very ill, the king lay in one of the village huts, while the chief of his bodyguard kept watch on horseback, charging along the village street at any Saracen who dared to show himself. The king was alone in the hut, and Geoffrey of Sargines was alone in the street: and those two lonely men symbolized the strange alteration that had come upon the great army that set out from Damietta.

A few days later, the king surrendered. At about this time disaster also struck the young Sultan Turanshah. He was weak and self-indulgent; he was afraid of Baibars’s Mamelukes, who had all the important positions in the army, and he was in the process of reorganizing the army and giving high commands to soldiers from the Jezireh when Baibars struck at him. On the night of May 2, while he was entertaining emirs in his tent, he heard a commotion outside, and a moment later Baibars burst into the tent at the head of a small group of army officers. Wounded in the hand, the sultan escaped to a wooden tower beside the river. Some of the emirs came with him.

Baibars and his fellow conspirators followed. Greek fire was hurled at the tower, which burst into flame. Turanshah jumped down and ran along the riverbank, until someone hurled a spear, which caught him in the ribs. Trailing the spear, he threw himself into the river, and the conspirators went swimming after him, while bowmen fired arrows at him. He was already dying when Baibars himself leaped down the bank and plunged a sword into him. The Arab historians who describe the event observed that he died three deaths: by fire, by iron, and by water.

The strange thing was that the death of Sultan Turanshah was observed by John of Joinville and by King Louis, who were being held on a galley moored in the river. A few minutes later a Mameluke general, Faris ad-Din Octai, came on board the galley, his hand blood-stained, for he had just cut out the sultan’s heart. Addressing himself to King Louis, he said, “What will you give me? For I have slain your enemy who, had he lived, would have slain you.” The king answered with a long silence.

A little while later some thirty Mamelukes came on board the galley, drawn swords in their hands and Danish axes hanging from their necks. The prisoners imagined they would be put to death. Instead, they were thrown into the hold where they were packed in tightly.

The next morning most of the prisoners, all of them knights or great officers of state, were released in order to discuss the terms of an armistice. Before King Louis would agree to the treaty, a good deal of time was spent in wrangling about the nature of the oath to be sworn by the Egyptian emirs. It was necessary that the oath should be binding on the Egyptians, and with the help of Nicholas of Acre a curious diplomatic formula was decided upon. The emirs agreed that they would carry out the terms of the armistice or they would be as dishonored as a Muslim who eats swine’s flesh, or goes uncovered on a pilgrimage to Mecca, or leaves his wife and then comes back to her again, for according to Muslim law such a man may not return to his wife unless he has seen her in another man’s arms.

When the terms were arranged to the satisfaction of the emirs, it was agreed that Damietta should be surrendered to the Egyptians and that the Christians should pay 400,000 livres tournois as an indemnity, half to be paid in Damietta, and half when the king reached Acre. The French for their part would receive all their siege engines and all their supplies of salted pork and their ships; the prisoners would be restored to them; and they in turn would surrender the few prisoners in their power. The king asked for Jerusalem in exchange for Damietta, which was held by a small garrison force aided by Genoese and Pisan sailors. Characteristically, the king refused to swear an oath. The Egyptians were incensed, and to punish the king they tortured the patriarch of Jerusalem by tying him to a post and binding his wrists in such a fashion that his hands swelled to the size of his face. The eighty-year-old patriarch faced the ordeal bravely, and at last they untied him and let him go free.

The torturing of the patriarch in front of the king was idle malice, for the Egyptians knew that the king would not change his mind. They were half in awe of him, and they considered giving him Jerusalem. There were even some who thought that, if he were converted to Islam, he would be a worthy sultan of Egypt. All through those confused negotiations we are aware of the king’s calm decisiveness, his passionate self-abnegation.

He had cause for self-abnegation, for he knew that the disaster at Mansourah was due to his own follies, and most especially to his caution, the long weeks and months during which he ordered the army to stay put in Cyprus, in Damietta, and outside the walls of Mansourah. Because of him, perhaps fifty thousand men had died of pestilence or were butchered on the battlefield. A vast treasure had been squandered, and a huge ransom was being paid, equal to the entire yearly revenue of the king of France. The worst was the carnage: the canals swollen with the dead, the fields carpeted with the dying. None of this would have happened if he had been a better soldier. He found consolation in the thought that the dead would be received in heaven by a merciful God, but there were times when he fell into long fits of depression.

He was wretchedly ill, sometimes he had to be carried about by a servant, and for a while, until someone gave him a rough gown to hide his nakedness, he had no clothes. Later the Egyptians gave him a gown of silk and miniver, so that he could attend the meetings of the armistice commissioners in proper attire.

Damietta was surrendered to the Egyptians. There was no difficulty in raising half the ransom money, but the king’s brother, Alfonso, Count of Poitou, had to remain at Damietta as surety for the remaining half of the ransom, which was to be paid in Acre. When at last, early in May 1250, the king and his retinue of knights sailed for Acre, he was carried on board the galley on the same mattress he had used in prison. He was still very ill, but the sea air seemed to revive him. Once, while on shipboard, he saw some knights gambling at backgammon; he was so angry that he threw the board into the sea and gave the knights a sermon on the sin of gambling on a Crusade.

The king, of course, was the greatest gambler of them all. He had gambled with human lives on a prodigious scale, recklessly and imprudently, with little understanding of the enemy or of the geography of the Nile Delta. His monumental ignorance of the enemy and the enemy’s land was fatal to his cause, and in his own way he contributed to the final defeat of the Kingdom of Jerusalem.

Scorn for his misbegotten endeavors imbues this ironic Arab poem:

May God reward you for having brought to death the adorers of Jesus the Messiah.

You came to Egypt with the idea of conquering this kingdom,

And you believed you would meet here only hautboys and cymbals,

But instead by your imprudence you have led your men to the gate of death!

Fifty thousand men, and there is not one of them who is not dead, wounded, or in prison

God be merciful to you for such an enterprise!

The Battle of Acre (June 1258)

Reconstruction of Acre mid-Thirteenth Century

The naval engagement which took place off Acre on or about 25 June 1258 clearly illustrates an indisputable maxim endemic to all warfare: battles are usually complicated affairs in which the outcome is often determined by factors other than numerical superiority. When the Genoese admiral Rosso della Turca arrived at Tyre in the spring of 1258 he had with him his original complement of twenty-five galleys and four navi, plus eight galleys that the commune had hastily added at the last moment when it learned that Venice had sent reinforcements of its own to Oltremare. Waiting for him in the harbour were enough remaining Genoese galleys to give him a total of fifty. In the meanwhile La Serenissima had sent Andrea Zeno with another thirteen galleys, followed by Lorenzo Barozzi with about ten more. Three additional Venetian galleys came into Acre from Crete, giving Admiral Lorenzo Tiepolo a fleet of about forty galleys, four large navi and perhaps ten smaller vessels. So when the Genoese flotilla showed up outside Acre’s breakwater in battle formation in late June, it appeared to enjoy a modest numerical advantage. But, of course, that was not the whole story.

First of all, it seems the Genoese crews were deficient in quality and perhaps even quantity. The Annales Ianuenses indicated that Rosso della Turca’s fleet was hurriedly scraped together only after the republic’s leaders had heard that Venice had already dispatched naval reinforcements to Oltremare. This forced them to enlist ‘Lombards as soldiers [sailors], men who knew nothing of the sea’. In fact, the last eight Genoese galleys were launched ‘sine munitione perfecta’ (‘without being fully armed’ – meaning without a complete crew complement), ‘since in Oltremare they lacked galleys more than men’. The obvious implication is that Della Turca was expected to flesh out his crews with inexperienced Genoese colonists upon his arrival in the Latin Kingdom with little or no time to train them. It was a recipe for disaster – fully preparing a green crew for battle would have taken several weeks, if not months.

Furthermore, the Venetians had a vastly superior manpower pool from which to draw. It turns out that the Genoese were singularly unpopular in the Latin Kingdom. The Pisans, the Provençals, the Templars, the Teutonic Knights, most of the inhabitants of Acre and the overwhelming majority of the kingdom’s nobility all lined up behind the Venetians, while the Genoese could comfortably count on the support of only the Hospitallers and Philip of Montfort, the lord of Tyre. This was, in part, because the Genoese navigated the convoluted currents of Palestine’s politics rather poorly. In February 1258 the very powerful prince of Antioch, Bohemond VI, brought with him to Acre his sister, Queen Plaisance of Cyprus, along with her young son Hugh II, so that they could bid the barony to pay homage to the child ‘as the heir and lord of the kingdom of Jerusalem’. Almost all, including the Venetians and Pisans, agreed, but the Genoese, backed by their Hospitaller allies, refused. As a result, ‘the queen [Plaisance], on the advice of her brother the prince [Bohemond VI],’ recounted the ‘Templar of Tyre’, ‘had all the men of the lordship move to the aid – and into the pay – of the Pisans and the Venetians, against the Genoese, strictly prohibiting them from taking pay with the Genoese’. Bohemond even went so far as to hire ‘800 French troops’ at his own expense ‘to harass’ the Hospitallers and Genoese.

More fundamentally, the Genoese in Oltremare had apparently acquired the reputation of ‘not working and playing well with others’, earning the enmity of almost everyone. Thus when the Venetians and Pisans attempted to recruit others to their cause at the handsome rate of ‘ten saracenate bezants for the day’, there was no shortage of takers. ‘As a result,’ reported the ‘Templar of Tyre’, ‘they had plenty of men, and they boarded their galleys (forty in number), and equipped other barques, parescalmes and panfiles [various smaller vessels] (of which there were more than seventy), each of which had crossbowmen on board who did the Genoese a great deal of damage and harm.’ In an era when missile exchanges and hand-to-hand combat on the decks of engaged vessels were decisive in maritime warfare, a surfeit of so-called supersalienti (marines) was a distinct advantage.

Lastly there was the question of leadership. The supervision of the Genoese fleet was manifestly wanting. The commune had placed Rosso della Turca in overall command of the armada, but, according to the Genoese annals, had sent with him his son Mirialdo, ‘a staunch and upright man, so that in him, even more than in the father, faith was placed, on account of the old age of the parent’. Clearly, the commune had concerns about the elder Della Turca’s continued vigour. He had previously been Capitano del Popolo and had been mentioned in the Genoese annals as early as 1214 (forty-four years earlier), meaning he was probably in his late sixties or early seventies. Regrettably, Mirialdo died unexpectedly of unspecified natural causes a few days after the fleet reached Tyre. Thus when Rosso della Turca appeared before Acre with his armada that awful summer morning in June, he was not only still recovering from the rigours of the voyage from Genoa at an advanced age, but was also grieving over the loss of his son. He must have felt very old indeed.

The basic plan of the Genoese and their allies was sound. While the Genoese fleet sailed south from Tyre, Philip of Montfort marched overland with eighty horsemen and thirty archers to a place called La Vigne-Neuve, which must have been close enough to Acre to view the oncoming naval engagement. He was to be met there by Brother William of Châteauneuf, Master of the Hospitallers, with as many of his knights and Turcopoles as he could muster. Once Rosso della Turca had drawn out the Venetian fleet and destroyed it, Montfort and Châteauneuf were to penetrate the city through the Hospitaller compound and assist their comrades in the Genoese quarter ‘seize the two quarters of the Pisans and of the Venetians’.153 The two bands of confederates did, in fact, join up at La Vigne-Neuve, but what they saw happen out at sea was not what they had anticipated.

When the Genoese fleet first appeared offshore, the Venetians and Pisans hesitated ‘for fear that the Genoese on land would attack them, and that if they boarded their galleys and the Genoese who were at sea landed, they would lose everything’. They ultimately resolved the quandary by prevailing upon Brother Thomas Bérard, Master of the Templars, to guard their enclaves with his mounted brethren and Turcopoles. This accomplished, the Venetians and their allies boarded their vessels and rowed out to confront their Ligurian adversaries. It was then that the best opportunity for a Genoese victory occurred. A ‘contrary wind’ separated thirteen of the Venetian vessels from the rest as they emerged from the narrow mouth of the harbour.

If Rosso della Turca had positioned his fleet near the point of egress, he would have overwhelmed the divided enemy fleet as surely as his counterpart, Lorenzo Tiepolo, had done to Pasquetto Mallone’s flotilla at Tyre the year before. Instead of attacking, however, Della Turca absurdly proceeded to ‘prandere’ – that is, ‘to take the midday meal’. And, according to the Annales Ianuenses, he continued to do so ‘between Nones and Vespers’ – in other words, from about three in the afternoon to sunset. This gave the Venetian admiral Lorenzo Tiepolo plenty of time to safely egress his entire fleet and arrange it into battle formation with the wind at his back. The consequences for the Genoese fleet during the subsequent battle were nothing short of cataclysmic. Twenty-four of the fifty Genoese galleys were captured and 1,700 of their mariners were either killed or taken prisoner.

Exasperated, Philip of Montfort returned to Tyre. William Châteauneuf, the distraught Master of the Hospitallers, remained in Acre but perished of an un-disclosed illness within months afterwards. The consequences for the Genoese colonists of Acre were, perhaps, the most grievous. ‘When the Genoese, who were holding their quarter and who had defended it for so long and suffered so much and endured such shortages that an egg could hardly be found for a wounded man to eat, saw that their galleys had been defeated,’ wrote the ‘Templar of Tyre’, ‘they abandoned their quarter and took refuge in the Hospital.’ They eventually made their way up to Tyre, which then became the main Genoese entrepot in the Latin Levant. As for the Pisans and Venetians, they dismantled every edifice in the Genoese quarter, including the great fortified tower. Lorenzo Tiepolo personally transported the square pillars from the tower’s base back to Venice, where they stand to this day outside the baptistery of St Mark’s Basilica.


“King Louis IX of France embarks on the Seventh Crusade” Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France MS FR 2813, fol. 298v

Louis IX’s First Crusade

Four years elapsed between Louis’s assumption of the cross in 1244 and his departure for the East in 1248. This delay was not the result of any hesitation on Louis’s part, but of his concern to create the conditions in which the crusade would succeed. He endeavored to achieve peace in the West and unite Christendom in the interests of the expedition and sought to gain spiritual support by righting injustices, soliciting the prayers of the religious orders, and prohibiting those activities that might inspire the wrath of God. He also made meticulous logistical preparations, which included raising money, stockpiling food and arms, and engaging ships to transport the army.

The crusade attacked Egypt and in May 1249 captured the city of Damietta. In April 1250, however, the expedition ended in defeat, and the king and much of his army were captured. After a month of imprisonment, the king was released and made his way to the Holy Land, where he spent four years rebuilding and refortifying its defenses. Recognizing the Franks’ lack of manpower, he left behind a contingent of knights, crossbowmen, and sergeants led by a trusted lieutenant, Geoffrey of Sergines (d. 1269). Louis continued to fund this force until his death in 1270 at a cost of approximately 4,000 livres per year to the royal treasury.

Geoffrey of Sergines

Geoffrey is mentioned in connection with military engagements in Palestine in 1242 and 1244 and the most likely date for his arrival in the East would be 1 September 1239, with a crusade under Count Thibaut of Champagne and Duke Hugh of Burgundy. He returned to France in 1244 and in 1248 travelled East with King Louis IX, to whom he had been closely attached as early as 1236. In his account of Louis’s crusade in Egypt John of Joinville wrote of Geoffrey as one who, like himself was among the king’s closest confidants. He was one of a select band of eight companions who stood guard over the king at Damietta and throughout the crusade he was to be found in the king’s council and entrusted with important duties. On 5 April 1250, as the crusade retired in disorder From Mansurah, he alone stood by and protected the king. Louis was later to say that Geoffrey had defended him against the Egyptians as a good valet swats the flies around his lord. Before he set out for home in April 1254 Louis arranged to leave Geoffrey behind in Acre as seneschal of the kingdom of Jerusalem and captain of a contingent of 100 knights financed by himself, with money to employ additional crossbowmen and sergeants.

The seneschalcy was the most prestigious and demanding of the great offices of the crown of Jerusalem and Geoffrey was to hold it until his death. In the absence of the king or regent, and provided the ruler had not appointed a lieutenant to represent him, the seneschal presided over meetings of the High Court, the most important of the royal courts in which all liege-vassals of the crown had the right to sit and speak. He was, therefore, ex-officio the second man in the judicial hierarchy. He also supervised the secrete, the royal financial office and treasury, which worked according to Muslim methods. Geoffrey’s long period of office must have given him an unrivalled experience of the working of the courts and royal administration. From 1259 to September 1261 and from 1264 to 1267 he governed Palestine on behalf of absent regents and from September 1261 to 1263, and perhaps for a few months in 1264, he was regent himself. With only a few breaks, therefore, he ruled the kingdom of Jerusalem from 1259 to 1267 and he did so well; alone of the governors of the period his reputation for severe though impartial justice was recognized by contemporaries.

Geoffrey was very pious, which would explain why he got on so well with Louis. The popes of the 1260s wrote of him as one who was totally committed to crusading, to the extent of exercising a ministry: ‘devoting himself wholly in the ministry for the Crucified One … the one and only minister in the defence of the Holy Land’.  He was not the only a crusader, of course. His career, and those of several contemporaries, marked the high point of the tradition of the milites ad terminum, the knights who out of devotion offered their services to the defence of the Holy Land.


Only a handful of inland castles still stood, including the headquarters of the Teutonic Order at Montfort and the redoubtable Hospitaller fortress, Krak des Chevaliers. Internal rivalry among the Latins was rife, with various claimants contesting the Jerusalemite throne, the Italian merchants of Venice and Genoa fighting over trading rights and even the Military Orders embroiled in petty politics. Centralised authority had devolved to such an extent that each Frankish city functioned as an independent polity. The shock of Antioch’s conquest in 1268 did nothing to arrest this spiralling descent into disunity and decay.

Sultan Baybars, meanwhile, had achieved major victories against the Christians, manifestly affirming his commitment to jihad. His pitiless approach to holy war had reduced the crusader states to a position of almost prone vulnerability. But the sultan had to be mindful of the continued threat posed by the Mongols. The problems that, for years, had left them paralysed in Mesopotamia, Asia Minor and Russia – including protracted dynastic upheavals and the open hostility between the Golden Horde and the Ilkhanate of Persia – now were starting to diminish. A forceful new Ilkhan, Abaqa, had come to power in 1265 and immediately initiated attempts to secure an anti-Mamluk alliance with western Europe. Another destructive Ilkhanid assault on Islam threatened. Yet, in spring 1270, even as Baybars looked to deal with this northern menace, news reached him in Damascus that the French were preparing again to mount a crusade from the West. Remembering only too well the havoc caused in Egypt by the last Latin invasion in 1249, the sultan immediately returned to Cairo to brace Muslim defences.


Back in Rome, Pope Clement IV was deeply alarmed by the vicious Mamluk campaigning that began in 1265. Recognising that the war for the Holy Land was being lost, in August 1266 Clement started to formulate plans for a relatively small but swiftly deployed crusade. He recruited a band of troops, mostly from the Low Countries – instructing them to depart no later than April 1267 – and opened coalition talks with Abaqa and the Byzantine Emperor Michael VIII. In late summer 1266, however, King Louis IX of France caught wind of this expedition. A veteran of the holy war, now in his early fifties and ever more stringent in his religious devotions, Louis sensed a chance to lay the troubled memories of Mansourah to rest. That September he privately informed the pope of his wish to join the crusade. In some respects, Louis’ enrolment – publicly confirmed by a crusading vow on 25 March 1267 – was a boon, for it promised to result in a far larger and more potent campaign. With this in mind, Clement postponed the smaller endeavour that he had originally envisaged. Somewhat ironically, this delay (the result of Louis’ enthusiasm) left Baybars free to crush Antioch in 1268.

Just as he had done in the 1240s, Louis made careful financial and logistical preparations for his second crusade. Recruitment was not as buoyant for this campaign – the king’s old comrade-in-arms John of Joinville was one who did not enlist. But given the setbacks endured by previous expeditions, and the concerns expressed in some quarters about the papacy’s apparent abuse of the crusading ideal, the number of participants was surprisingly substantial. The most notable figure to take the cross was the future King Edward I of England, then known as the Lord Edward. Fresh from winning the civil war that had threatened the reign of his embattled father King Henry III, Edward committed to the crusade in June 1268 and, putting aside any animosity with France, later agreed to coordinate his expedition with that of King Louis.

In November 1268, however, Clement IV died, and because of divisions with the Church over Rome’s dealings with the ambitious and, by some accounts, untrustworthy Charles of Anjou (Louis IX’s surviving brother and now the king of Sicily), no papal successor was appointed until 1271. During this interregnum, the sense of urgency that Clement had sought to instill in the crusaders quickly dissipated. With momentum lost, the departure was delayed until summer 1270. In the interim, renewed attempts were made to contact the Mongol Ilkhan Abaqa, and in March 1270 Charles of Anjou also took the cross.

After Louis finally embarked from Aigues-Mortes in July 1270, his second crusade proved to be a pathetic anticlimax. For reasons that have never been satisfactorily explained, but may well have been related to the machinations of his scheming brother Charles, Louis detoured from his declared route to Palestine. Instead, he sailed to Tunis (in modern Tunisia), which was then ruled by an independent Muslim warlord, Abu Abdallah. The French king arrived in North Africa seemingly expecting Abu Abdallah to convert to Christianity and collaborate in an attack on Mamluk Egypt. When he failed to do so, plans for a direct assault on Tunis were laid – but the attack never came. In the midsummer heat, disease took hold in the crusader camp and, in early August, Louis himself fell ill. Over the course of three weeks his strength ebbed. On 25 August 1270, the pious crusader monarch Louis IX died, his final act a fruitless campaign far from the Holy Land. Legend has it that his last whispered words were ‘Jerusalem, Jerusalem’. The king’s dreams of recovering that sacred city had come to nothing, but his earnest devotion was unmistakeable. In 1297 Louis was canonised as a saint.

In the wake of Louis’ demise, efforts were made in mid-November to sail on to the Levant, but when a large portion of the fleet sank in a heavy storm, most Franks returned to Europe. Only Charles of Anjou gained from the whole affair, securing a treaty with Abu Abdallah that brought Sicily rich tribute payments. Edward of England, alone of the leading crusaders, refused to be turned from his purpose and insisted on continuing his journey to the Near East with a small fleet of thirteen ships.


In the course of the fourteenth century the main forum of crusading warfare in the eastern Mediterranean became Constantinople and the Balkans, a shift prompted by the remorseless rise of the Ottoman Empire. The Ottomans were a nomadic tribe from northwestern Asia Minor who had emerged under the leadership of Osman, a frontier warlord, at the very start of the fourteenth century. Their origins are somewhat hazy but early on the presence of large numbers of ghazis (volunteers dedicated to the holy war who fought in the expectation of booty and who were treated as martyrs on their death) and Sufi mystics gave them a strong religious drive. A series of victories against Muslim and Byzantine Christian opponents convinced them that God was on their side. By the middle of the century they had established a strong territorial base in northwestern Anatolia and begun to push through the Dardanelles and into southeastern Europe. In 1389 the Ottomans destroyed a Serbian army at Kosovo, another battle that has remained strong in modern regional consciousness. The immensity of the Turkish threat began to concentrate minds in Catholic Europe in a way not seen for decades. Coupled with a rare window of peace in the Hundred Years War, and inflamed by the crusading enthusiasm of John of Nevers, son of the duke of Burgundy, and Marshal Boucicaut, this generated a substantial army ready to turn back the Ottoman menace. Boucicaut’s biographer evoked the spirit in which the French nobility joined the crusade: “he [John of Nevers] was then in the full flower of youth, and wanted to follow the path sought by the virtuous, that is to say, the honour of knighthood. He considered that he could not use his time better than in dedicating his youth to God’s service, by bodily labour for the spreading of the faith . . . several young lords wanted to go along, to escape boredom and employ their time and energies on deeds of knighthood. For it really seemed to them that they could not go on a more honourable expedition or one more pleasing to God.” The results of the expedition were, however, catastrophic.

In July 1396 the French linked up with King Sigismund of Hungary at Buda and a combined army of perhaps fifteen to twenty thousand men began to march down the Danube intent upon the recovery of Nicopolis, a strong defensive site in Bulgaria. After this the crusade planned to move on to Constantinople and relieve the city from a siege led by Sultan Bayezid I (1389–1402), known as Yilderim, or Thunderbolt. Early successes lulled the Christians into a sense of complacency and as they blockaded Nicopolis their camp became a scene of indiscipline and licentiousness; Bayezid, meanwhile, had gathered his troops and was approaching fast. On September 25 the two sides met in battle. The French impetuously hurled themselves against Bayezid’s infantry and light cavalry who were carefully positioned at the top of a hill. Stakes in the ground tore the crusaders’ horses to pieces, but although they fought on foot, so great was their momentum that they succeeded in cutting their way up past the Turkish infantry to face the light cavalry. At this point they discovered Bayezid’s trap: waiting on the other side of the hill, fresh and rested, were his heavy cavalry. The Ottomans charged and the crusaders, from being convinced of their success, collapsed: “the lion in them turned into a timid hare,” commented one contemporary. Thousands of men were killed or taken prisoner, an earlier massacre of Turks was avenged by the summary execution of countless Christians, and Count John and Marshal Boucicaut were imprisoned. The debacle of Nicopolis was a massive blow to crusading morale in western Europe and it gave the Turks free access to continue their conquest of the Balkans. In 1402 their momentum was briefly stalled by defeat at the hands the Turcoman ruler Timur (also known as Tamerlane) at the Battle of Ankara, and a period of dynastic infighting checked their progress further, but within a couple of decades they were looking to expand again.

The Turks’ prime target was clearly Constantinople, in part because of its immense wealth and importance to Christianity, in part because it lay directly between Ottoman lands in Anatolia and their possessions in the Balkans. The Greeks had regained the city from the Latins in 1261, but only a pale shadow of past glories survived; that said, it did survive blockades and sieges from 1394 to 1402 and in 1442. So great was the Ottoman menace that Emperor John VIII was persuaded to grasp the nettle of Church unity and in 1439 he led a delegation to Florence where, after centuries of division, the union of the Catholic and Orthodox—with the former as the senior partner—was finally proclaimed. This provoked outrage among some of the Greeks: “We have betrayed our faith. We have exchanged piety for impiety.” John, however, received the reward he was after with a new crusade in 1444. This saw another heavy defeat for the Christians at the town of Varna on the west coast of the Black Sea (in modern-day Bulgaria) when Ottoman troops, fighting under the banner of jihad, entirely crushed their opponents.

In 1451, Mehmet II, known to posterity as Mehmet the Conqueror, became sultan at the age of seventeen (he had held the title briefly between 1444 and 1446). Two years later this remarkable character struck Christendom an enormous blow with the capture of Constantinople. He was a brave, secretive, and utterly ruthless man; he was also a scholar and a superb strategist. He is described as having a hooked nose and fleshy lips, or “a parrot’s beak resting on cherries” as a poet so colorfully expressed it. Two actions early on in his sultanate—one a combination of the private and the political, the other strategic—give a sense of the man. First, as soon as he became ruler, he ordered his infant half-brother to be drowned in his bath (the perpetrator was then executed for murder); thus he enshrined fratricide as a means of preventing civil war. Secondly, he commissioned the construction of the castle of Bogaz Kesa, the Throat-Cutter, a few miles east along the Bosporus. This fine fortress (known today as Rumeli Hisari) has four large and thirteen smaller towers and was completed in a matter of months, testimony to the superbly efficient Ottoman war machine. As the name of the castle suggests, it was designed to block the passage of Christian shipping along the Bosporus and thereby to close the net around Constantinople.

Within the city, Emperor Constantine IX (1449–53) viewed these developments with understandable trepidation. He appealed to the West for help, but other than some support from the Venetians, who still retained an interest in Constantinople long after their part in the 1204 conquest, no major forces arrived. The Genoese held a colony at Galata, just across the Golden Horn, and while they professed neutrality, their men and shipping also came to play a vital role in the defense of the city. Even with such limited outside assistance the sheer strength of Constantinople’s fortifications made it a formidable site. The emperor commanded ditches to be cleared while the dilapidated outer walls were restored and covered with huge bales of cotton and wool to try to cushion them from cannon fire. He also ordered the fabrication of a huge boom, made from massive sections of wood and iron links, to span the Golden Horn and protect the more vulnerable walls on the inlet—the area where the Fourth Crusade had broken into the city. Contemporaries indicate the defenders’ great faith in this construction and their confidence that, in conjunction with the mighty city walls, it would enable them to endure once more.

It is interesting to compare the two great sieges of 1204 and 1453. Aside from the obvious contrast of the latter episode being Muslim against Christian, rather than Catholics versus Orthodox, the size of the opposing forces was strikingly different. In 1204 the crusaders were massively outnumbered by the Byzantines; in 1453, however, the Christian troops in Constantinople totaled perhaps ten thousand. Notwithstanding the defensive efforts of the citizenry—and even monks were pressed into service—in military terms, at over eighty thousand men (plus tens of thousands of laborers) the Ottoman army was a vastly bigger fighting force, mighty enough for a Venetian eyewitness to describe the defenders as “an ant in the mouth of a bear.” The 1453 siege was also more multifaceted with a significant part of the fighting taking place on water. During the earlier campaign the besieging Venetians had enjoyed almost a free hand at sea, but in 1453 an Ottoman fleet of up to four hundred ships frequently tussled with a small but powerful Genoese and Cretan force based around the defensive boom. Finally, technology had moved on: by 1453 the emergence of gunpowder (during the late thirteenth century) meant that cannon came to play a hugely prominent role in the later campaign.

The siege began on April 6. Mehmet’s engineers had constructed a massive palisaded rampart that ran from the Sea of Marmara to the Golden Horn while a similar structure overlooked the city from the Galata side. With siege guns and catapults the Turks soon began to bombard the “queen of cities.” Teams of workmen had strengthened roads and bridges to allow the transportation of several colossal cannon—one required sixty oxen to pull it—from their base at Edirne, 250 miles to the northwest. Most of the firepower concentrated on the gates of Saint Romanus (now known as the Topkapi Gate) and Charisus, both toward the middle of the land walls. The Turks’ largest gun burst, but one of the others remained a monstrous piece of weaponry, capable of firing a shot of almost 550 kilograms. Mehmet had over fourteen batteries of cannon, most of which could launch balls of between 100 and 200 kilograms. Day after day these machines generated a lethal hail of stone that crashed and smashed against the walls of Constantinople, splintering its defenses and demoralizing the defenders. Mehmet was canny enough to continually reposition his cannon to best advantage, and at times he triangulated three guns on a single point to maximize their effect. The Byzantines had artillery of their own but these were far smaller devices and used mainly against troops and siege engines; lack of powder and shot were further restrictions on the Christians’ firepower: by contrast, Mehmet’s biggest cannon consumed 1,100 pounds of gunpowder a day! A contemporary noted: “He devised machines of all sorts . . . especially of the newest kind, a strange sort, unbelievable when told of but, as experience demonstrated, able to accomplish everything.”

Nicolò Barbaro, a Venetian eyewitness, described the debilitating effect of living in continuous anticipation of a major assault. Such tensions were increased by a series of night attacks, usually heralded by the harsh cracking and snapping of castanets, but all were successfully resisted. On April 20, however, the Christians scored an unexpected victory. The appearance of three large Genoese vessels bearing papally sponsored troops and supplies prompted a sea battle. Mehmet’s admiral engaged the galleys but the greater size of the Genoese boats gave them a crucial advantage over the oared Turkish ships and the Christians used their superior height to pour down arrows and small-arms fire onto their enemy. As Mehmet watched from the shore he grew increasingly enraged at the lack of progress and, famously, he mounted his horse and plunged into the sea to bellow inaudible advice to his admiral. Once the wind turned, the Christian vessels were able to reach the safety of the boom and this duly opened to bring them sanctuary. The defeat was a massive blow to Ottoman pride and caused consternation in the Muslim camp. Mehmet was beside himself with rage and summoned the admiral to answer for this failure—the sultan was said to have wanted to execute the man, but his colleagues persuaded their ruler that the loss of rank and a flogging would suffice.

The Christians’ continued trust in the boom seemed well placed, but Mehmet was not to be resisted. Because he could not break the barrier the sultan devised a quite brilliant way to—literally—get around it. As we saw with Reynald of Châtillon’s transportation of kit-form ships from Kerak down to the Red Sea in 1182, it was possible to move vessels overland. Others had followed his example; more recently the Venetians had shifted galleys from the River Adige to Lake Garda. Mehmet accomplished something similar, although on a jaw-dropping scale. His engineers constructed a shallow trench that ran from the shore of the Bosporus, up over the steep hill (through the modern Taksim Square) and then down to the Golden Horn. This carefully crafted ditch was then covered in boards and greased, allowing ships to be laboriously hauled up the slope and then eased downhill behind the boom and into the heart of the Christian harbor. An incredible seventy-two vessels made this journey and once back in the water their sails were rerigged and they could threaten the weakest walls of Constantinople. The creation of a pontoon bridge to link up the troops near Galata with those by the land walls was another sign of technical flair and a hint that a major assault was brewing.

On April 28 the Christians attempted to seize the upper hand with a bid to destroy the main Ottoman fleet. They filled transport ships with sacks of flammable materials—cotton and wool—to set the Turkish boats ablaze, but the flotilla’s commander, “a man eager to win honour in this world,” raced ahead of the escort vessels and drew the full weight of enemy firepower. The Turks scored a direct hit on only their second shot and “quicker than ten paternosters” the ship sank with all hands to ruin the Christian offensive. Soon the Ottomans regained the initiative and in mid-May heavy bombardment of the gates of Saint Romanus and the Caligaria (near the Blachernae Palace in the north) called for the most desperate resistance.

Around this time the Turks started to use yet another stratagem to break into the city—a contingent of specialist Serbian miners began to dig a series of shafts in a bid to get under the walls and to provide an entry point into Constantinople. As usual with Mehmet’s armies the scale of these works was immense—one of the tunnels was over half a mile long—but one night the defenders heard the sound of digging and their own mining expert, a Scotsman named John Grant, located the shaft. He dug out a countermine, set fire to the Turks’ supports, and caused them to collapse and suffocate the attackers.

Throughout the siege, the Turkish artillery continued to pound away at the walls, parts of which were now filled with a patchwork of earth, rubble, and timber barricades. Barbaro noted the demoralizing effect of the mighty cannon: “One was of exceptional size . . . and when it fired the explosion made all the walls of the city shake and all the ground inside, and even the ships in the harbour felt the vibrations of it. Because of the great noise, many women fainted with the shock which the firing of it gave them. No greater cannon than this one was ever seen in the whole pagan world and it was this that broke down such a great deal of the city walls.” A strange fog caused consternation in the Christian camp when what should have been a full moon appeared as a slim, three-day moon, an event seen as a dire omen because a famous prophecy foretold that Constantinople would fall when the planet gave a sign.

Meanwhile Mehmet considered his next move. Some of his inner circle argued in favor of a peaceful solution and they suggested that Constantine could hand over his city in return for control of the Morea. The Byzantine emperor’s response was curt: “God forbid that I should live as an emperor without an empire. As my city falls, I will fall with it.” Rumors of an approaching Venetian fleet and plans for a Hungarian relief force to march to Constantinople probably underlay Constantine’s continued resistance. By the same token, however, fear of this imminent crusade pushed Mehmet into action. Like Saladin before the Battle of Hattin, the sultan’s campaign had built up so much momentum that he needed to bring it all to the boil or else risk losing support of his own people. The danger of running out of supplies—his enormous army had been outside Constantinople for over fifty days and had utterly stripped the countryside of food—was another important consideration.

On May 26 the sultan ordered preparations to be made for the final assault. Huge fires were lit throughout the Turkish camp and the men fasted by day and feasted by night. Mehmet went among his men to raise morale and the imams told stirring stories of the jihad and of Islamic heroes of the past. The prospect of taking Constantinople had a profound spiritual resonance with Muslims because a well-known Hadith promised the capture of the city. The prophecy had powerful eschatological overtones and claimed this would be a definitive Muslim victory, surpassing all others and representing the penultimate defeat of Christianity before the final Armageddon. Here, then, was a chance to fulfill that centuries-old destiny—and with a leader named Mehmet, the Turkish form of Muhammad. Encouraged by these portents, the Ottoman encirclement of Constantinople grew ever tighter. The troops brought up two thousand scaling ladders, they filled in the ditches, and the bombardment intensified further until, in Barbaro’s words, “it was a thing not of this world.” The defenders knew their supreme test was about to come and while Emperor Constantine deployed his troops as best he could, the clergy paraded relics and led prayers and processions around the city.

A couple of hours before daybreak on May 29 a volley of artillery fire announced the start of the attack. The principal focus was the damaged area near the Saint Romanus Gate, although in the course of the day Ottoman forces also engaged the remainder of the land walls and the defenses along the Golden Horn. First to be sent forward were Christian prisoners and subject peoples—the most expendable of all Mehmet’s troops. The defenders’ crossbowmen and light artillery duly slaughtered most of these hapless souls—in any case, had they retreated, then Mehmet’s Janissaries, his crack troops, had orders to kill them. A second, more organized division made a further foray although they too were driven back. All of this drained the defenders’ energy and resources—it also left the Janissaries fresh and rested, waiting for their turn to move. As Mehmet himself watched, these professional warriors advanced with disconcerting slowness toward the Saint Romanus Gate and, unusually for Muslim armies, without musical accompaniment. This sinister new assault was fiercer than ever—they were “not like Turks, but like lions,” related Barbaro. Still the Christians held them off, but the city resounded with the chaos of battle, the Turks “firing cannon again and again, with so many other guns and arrows without number and shouting from these pagans, that the very air seemed to be split apart.” For all the Christians’ valor they were doomed, “since God had made up his mind that the city should fall into the hands of the Turks.”

The Janissaries at last got a foothold in the Saint Romanus barbican but their determination was colored with good fortune too. Several accounts describe the Genoese commander, John Giustiniani Longo, being wounded, although reports of his reaction vary. Some claim that he sought medical help, although in doing so, he caused the emperor to believe he was deserting his post. Barbaro, admittedly a hostile Venetian, suggested that Longo had retreated, shouting “The Turks have got into the city!,” which made everyone abandon hope. This panic, in turn, gave the Janissaries the chance to make a proper opening in the main walls and from there they poured into the city. In the early morning light the flags of Venice and the emperor were torn down and Ottoman banners began to appear on the skyline of Constantinople. As the Christians lost heart, the Genoese and the Venetians attempted to fight through to their vessels on the Golden Horn and flee. While the Italians rushed out, Ottoman troops poured in from every side and for one day the city was given over to the sack. Across Constantinople, the Turks wrought havoc, killing indiscriminately, whether young or old, male or female, healthy or infirm. Women, girls, and nuns were ravaged and many thousands of Christians were captured to be ransomed or sold as slaves. Barbaro luridly conveys the savagery of the moment: “The blood flowed in the city like rainwater in the gutters after a sudden storm, and the corpses of Turks and Christians were thrown into the Dardanelles, where they floated out to sea like melons on a canal.” They tore an inestimable amount of booty from the great religious institutions, as well as from private houses and from merchants. Just as in 1204, the mighty sanctuary of the Hagia Sophia was ripped open and plundered, and Leonard of Chios claimed the Turks “showed no respect for the sacred altars or holy images, but destroyed them, and gouged the eyes from the saints . . . and they stuffed their pouches with gold and silver taken from the holy images and sacred vessels.” Crucifixes were paraded in a mocking procession through the Muslim camp and very soon the Hagia Sophia was turned from a church into a mosque.

The death of Constantine himself is shrouded in mystery. Some writers claimed that as the final onslaught began the emperor begged his courtiers to kill him and when they refused he charged into the fray and died under a hail of scimitars and daggers. Muslim sources indicate that he was close to the walls on the Sea of Marmara, looking to escape by boat, when he was slain by troops unaware of his true identity. Yet once the battle was over Sultan Mehmet did not try to eradicate a Christian presence from his new capital; for a start he realized that the city needed its local population to survive and prosper and soon Muslims, Christians, and Jews mingled freely enough, although the latter two remained subject groups who paid a poll tax according to Islamic law. The sultan even appointed a new Orthodox patriarch, which shows a broad sense of tolerance too.

The loss of Christendom’s greatest city provoked outrage in the West, not least because of the apparent indifference of the major ruling powers. Aeneas Sylvius Piccolomini (later Pope Pius II) wrote: “For what calamity of the times is not laid at the door of the princes? All troubles are ascribed to the negligence of rulers. ‘They might,’ said the populace, ‘have aided perishing Greece before she was captured. They were indifferent. They are not fit to rule.’”


Within a year of Mehmet’s triumph, Duke Philip the Good of Burgundy, one of the most powerful men in Europe, made lavish promises to launch a crusade to recover Constantinople and to drive back the infidel. The forum for this was the Feast of the Pheasant (February 1454), an event saturated with chivalric behavior and another superb, if slightly late, example of the intimate connection between noble display and crusading. The year 1453 had also marked the end of the Hundred Years War and this seemed the perfect moment to respond to the catastrophe in the East. Philip’s father had led the forces defeated at Nicopolis in 1396 and although held prisoner for six months he had received a hero’s welcome on his return. Philip summoned the Burgundian nobility to the city of Lille in northern France to attend a sumptuous banquet and to hear his plans. Thirty-five artists were employed to decorate the chamber and, to ensure that the world knew of this splendid occasion, the duke ordered official accounts of the feast to be distributed. The report noted:

There was even a chapel on the table, with a choir in it, a pasty full of flute players. A figure of a girl, quite naked, stood against a pillar . . . she was guarded by a live lion who sat near her. My lord duke was served by a two-headed horse ridden by two men sitting back to back, each holding a trumpet. . . . Next came an elephant . . . carrying a castle in which sat the Holy Church, who made piteous complaint on behalf of the Christians persecuted by the Turks, and begged for help. Then two knights of the Order of the Golden Fleece brought in two damsels . . . these ladies asked my lord duke to make his vow. It was understood that if the king of France would go on the crusade, the duke would go.

Philip’s vow was made “to God my creator and to the most virgin His mother, and to the ladies, and I swear on the pheasant. . . . If the Grand Turk would be willing to do battle with me in single combat, I shall fight with him with the aid of God and the Virgin mother in order to sustain the Christian faith.” This entrancing combination of revelry and unrestrained excess shows an almost total absorption of crusading into the chivalric ethos. The contrast between the cavorting of naked women and the impassioned preaching of a man such as Bernard of Clairvaux is self-evident, yet the Holy Church was said to be delighted by Philip’s promise—as well it might, given that many of the guests soon followed his example and assumed the cross too.

Two months later Philip repeated his intention at Regensburg where he spoke of his Christian duty and of “the crisis in which Christianity finds itself. If we wish to keep our faith, our liberty, our lives, we must take the field against the Turks and crush their power before it becomes any stronger.” Centuries of crusading hyperbole had preceded this statement, but it was a rare occasion when the gravity of the threat seemed to match the claims being made. Philip pushed ahead with his plans and engaged in serious and extensive preparations that included the manufacture of new pennons and banners, as well as signing up over five hundred gunners: an indication that Mehmet’s use of heavy artillery had been noticed in the West. Mehmet heard about the crusade and riled the duke with use of his spectacular title: “true heir of King Alexander and Hector of Troy, sultan of Babylon,” and he promised to do to Philip’s army the same as his predecessor had done to the duke’s father at Nicopolis. By the summer of 1456, however, the duke’s enthusiasm had begun to wane. His stipulation that the king of France should crusade remained unfulfilled as national rivalries became ever more important in frustrating the chances of holy war.

Mehmet, meanwhile, inspired by his triumph, advanced toward the Balkan town of Belgrade. In spite of his recent successes the determined resistance of Hungarian troops led by John Hunyadi and the seventy-year-old Franciscan friar John of Capistrano held off the Turks for three weeks and then, in a pitched battle, utterly defeated them. This feat of virtuosity, achieved without the crowned heads of western Europe, did much to stem the Ottoman advance for the next fifty years at least. As the fifteenth century drew to a close, the final large-scale crusading campaign of the medieval period was about to take place in Iberia.

Battle of Płowce

Battle of Płowce, fought between Kingdom of Poland and Teutonic Order. Despite the Polish victory on the field, the battle is traditionally regarded as inconclusive given that the Teutonic Order was not destroyed . Nevertheless, it was an important battle for Poland, which was just regaining its stature as a country on the international scene, and held its own against a powerful military force.

The Battle of Płowce took place on 27 September 1331 between the Kingdom of Poland and the Teutonic Order.

The period of Polish history is known as the Division in the Provinces, and lasted from 1138 to 1320. This long era of fragmentation was characterized by a decline of part-time militias in favour of professional – or at least, better-trained – household and local troops. It was upon these that the rulers of Poland now relied. It was also during this period, from the mid-12th to early 14th century, that a true Polish knightly class emerged as part of a gradually developing feudal system of government and social organization. Furthermore, in 1154-55 the crusading military orders – the Hospitallers and Templars – gained their first footholds on Polish soil. Later in this notably turbulent period the Teutonic Knights joined the older established military orders, arriving on the scene in 1226, almost simultaneously with the foundation of the specifically Polish Brethren of Dobrzyn (Knights of Christ). Then came the Mongol invasions, with raids deep into Europe that culminated in the battle of Liegnitz/Legnica in 1241.

The 14th century saw the reunification of Poland under the rule of King Wladyslaw I Lokietek, who came to the throne in 1320. He was faced with numerous opponents and experienced the ups and downs typical of all medieval power struggles; but the main challenge to the Polish monarchy remained that posed by the Teutonic Order in Prussia and Livonia. This religio-military order, though defeated at the battle of Plowce in 1331, continued to be a significant military power that the Polish kings could not ignore. Consequently, the main aim of Wladyslaw I Lokietek’s son and successor Casimir III ‘the Great’ was to further consolidate the military and economic strength of the kingdom that Wladyslaw had effectively rebuilt. It is worth noting that, despite Casimir the Great’s brilliant campaigns – including the conquest of Galich Vladimir in 1340-66 – he is primarily remembered in Polish history as one of the country’s greatest administrators and fortifiers, and a remarkable number of castles and other strongpoints were constructed during his reign.

As a consequence of his relatively peaceful reign. King Casimir III went down in Polish history as one of the country’s greatest administrators and castle-builders; about 80 strongholds were constructed during his time.

The Battle

The Teutonic Order attempted to take Brześć Kujawski after standing all day in the sun. The German army from the Teutonic Order had 7,000 men, and was opposed by a Polish army of 5,000 men. On 27 September 1331, one-third of the Teutonic Order’s force of knights under Dietrich von Altenburg left the blockaded peasant town of Płowce. The Poles, under Władyslaw Łokietek (Władysław I the Elbow-high) and his son Casimir, immediately attacked in a frontal assault. They were immediately joined by Polish detachments hiding in a forest to the left of the town. Reportedly, during the first phase of the battle Prince Casimir was ordered to depart so as not to deprive the Polish Kingdom of the presumptive heir. Despite this, in three hours the Teutonic knights had been defeated and their leader captured. The Polish forces were victorious in this phase of the battle, took prisoner 56 knights, and freed many Polish captives.

However, upon hearing the sounds of battle from Płowce, rear elements of the German formations rushed to aid their fellow knights, and soon another third of the Teutonic Order’s forces arrived. The long and bloody battle resumed and continued until dark, with high casualties on both sides. Poland scored a clear victory, with Reuss von Plauen, commander of the German army, and another 40 knights taken prisoner by the Poles. After fleeing Płowce, the knights withdrew to Toruń (Thorn).

Despite the Polish victory on the field, the battle is traditionally regarded as inconclusive given that the Teutonic Order was not destroyed . Nevertheless, it was an important battle for Poland, which was just regaining its stature as a country on the international scene, and held its own against a powerful military force.


An estimated over 4,000 men (combined) were said to have fallen on the field of the battle. Of these, 73 were Knight Brothers of the Teutonic Order (the highest-ranking members of the Order). Over one half of the dead were Germans, who had to retreat back to Toruń, their death toll climbing to one third of all their knights taking part in the war. The Polish armies, also suffering heavy casualties, did not follow the retreating Germans.

Teutonic Knights’ War with Poland of 1309-43

Gdansk, 1308; Plowce, 1331; Reval, 1343

Poland called on the Order of the Teutonic Knights to assist in resisting the attack of Brandenburg against the Polish territory of Pomerelia (eastern Pomerania). The knights, who had acquired control of Prussia in the five decade-long TEUTONIC KNIGHTS’ CONQUEST OF PRUSSIA, eagerly entered the conflict, driving the Brandenburgers out of Pomerelia; in 1309, the order seized the territory for itself, including the key port city of Danzig (Gdansk, Poland). In taking Danzig, the knights attacked not only Brandenburgers but also Polish troops and Danzig civilians. To consolidate the claim on Danzig and the order’s control over it, the Teutonic grand master established his principal home and headquarters in a castle, Marienburg, adjacent to the city.

Having warded off Brandenburger occupation of Pomerelia, Ladislas I (1260-1333) of Poland lost the region-the only direct Polish access to the sea-to the Order of the Teutonic Knights. He attempted to persuade the pope-Clement V (1264-1314, reigned from 1305) and John XXII (1249-1334, reigned from 1316)-in whose service the knights had pledged themselves, to intervene. In the meantime, Ladislas concluded an alliance with Lithuania, longtime enemy of the knights. However, in 1331, Bohemian forces threatened Poland, and Ladislas focused his attention there. Taking advantage of the situation, the Teutonic Knights marched into Poland in 1331 and again in 1332. The Poles prevailed against the invaders at the Battle of Plowce on September 27, 1331, but this did not block the knights’ advance. The order continued to raid and ravage territory throughout northwestern Poland. In some areas, the knights seized and occupied territory.

In 1333, Casimier III (the Great; 1309-70) succeeded to the Polish throne on the death of Ladislas I and, 10 years later, concluded the Treaty of Kalisz, by which Poland regained the territory it had lost in exchange for giving the Teutonic Knights control of Pomerelia.

Further reading: Helen J. Nicholson, Templars, Hospitallers, and Teutonic Knights: Images of Military Orders, 1128-1291 (Leicester: Leicester University Press, 1993); Adam Zamoyski, The Polish Way: A Thousand-Year History of the Poles and Their Culture (New York: F. Watts, 1988).


The Battle of Al Mansurah was fought from February 8 to February 11, 1250, between Crusaders led by Louis IX, King of France, and Ayyubid forces led by Emir Fakhr-ad-Din Yusuf, Faris ad-Din Aktai and Baibars al-Bunduqdari.

The Mamluks under Baibars (yellow) fought off the Franks and the Mongols during the Ninth Crusade.

The Sultan Baibars al-Bundukdari was a tall, heavy-set Circassian with ruddy cheeks, brown hair, and blue eyes, and he was born on the shores of the Black Sea. Sold into slavery, he was taken to Damascus where, because he was handsome and powerfully built, he was bought for eight hundred copper coins. As a Circassian, he had no loyalty to the sultans; he carved his way to power by the simple expedient of murdering everyone in his path. He killed Sultan Turanshah and went on to kill Sultan Qutuz, who had refused to make Baibars governor of Aleppo. Qutuz was stabbed in the back. It was an especially unpleasant murder. Immediately afterward, there was a great deal of confusion, with people milling about and not knowing what to do. At last a court attendant pointed to the throne and said, “The power is yours.”

Baibars sat on the throne like a man who had been expecting it all his life. Sultans usually gave themselves titles intended to describe their own characters and the future accomplishments of their reigns. Baibars’s first thought was to call himself “the terrible” or “the one who inspires terror.” He thought better of that, and chose “the victorious” instead. Both titles suited him.

He had a curious white spot in one of his eyes, and a penetrating gaze, both of which inspired fear. He condemned people to death with equanimity. He forbade prostitution—on pain of death. He forbade the drinking of alcoholic beverages—also on pain of death, for the Circassian sultan embraced fundamentalist Islam with fervor. In the camp and in the palace his loud voice could be heard denouncing the evils of his time. His secretary complained that he was always on the move. “Today he is in Egypt, tomorrow in Arabia, the day after in Syria, and in four days in Aleppo.”

Baibars provided Islam with something it had not possessed since the time of Saladin: a core of iron, a relentless determination. But they were men of totally different characters: Saladin was a rapier compared with Baibars’s exuberant battle-ax. Saladin had a conscience; Baibars had none. Saladin could murder in hot blood; Baibars could murder at any time of the day and for any reason or for no reason at all. Baibars did not destroy the last crumbling vestiges of the Kingdom of Jerusalem, but he opened the way.

In the summer of 1266, Baibars appeared outside the walls of Acre with a large and well-armed army. He had spies in the city from whom he learned a good deal of disappointing news. He learned, for example, that the garrison had recently been reinforced from France and was not likely to surrender on any terms. He learned, too, that the double walls with their great towers had been strengthened and that a much greater army than he had, with a vast quantity of powerful siege enginees, would be needed to destroy them. He therefore withdrew from Acre and marched on the Galilee. Here, by a ruse, he captured the castle of Safed, overlooking the Sea of Galilee. Having promised the garrison that it would be allowed to go free, he then reneged on his promise and had them all beheaded as they marched out. His chief weapons were treachery and terror. He gave orders to his army to murder any Christians they came upon; and he marched through the Galilee like a red-hot rake.

Meanwhile Qalawun, the best of his emirs, was fighting in Cilicia. King Hethum of Armenia knew that Baibars’s Mameluke army was advancing, and he hurried to the court of the Ilkhan in Tabriz to seek reinforcements for his army. In his absence, in a series of lightning raids, the Mamelukes captured Adana and Tarsus and sacked Sis, the capital of the Armenian kingdom. The palace was plundered, the cathedral was burned to the ground, and the inhabitants were slaughtered or taken prisoner. King Hethum returned from Tabriz to find his capital in ruins, his son Leo, the heir to the throne, a captive, and another son, Thoros, slain. It is significant that Hethum had with him a small company of Mongols. For the first time the Mongols and the Christians were acting in unison.

Baibars may have thought that his campaign against the Armenian cities of Cilicia had put an end to Hethum’s kingdom. If so, he was mistaken. The Armenians continued to fight and to maintain an alliance with the Mongols, who were now well established in Persia up to the Euphrates and could draw on immense reserves of troops throughout central Asia.

In the autumn of 1266, Baibars sent an army to attack Antioch but failed to penetrate the city’s defenses. He was not present; his generals had gathered so much booty that they felt no need to gather more; and it is possible that the Antiochenes were able to bribe the generals to lift a siege which had lasted only a few days. Baibars was incensed by the failure of the army at Antioch.

In May 1267, he led his army right up to the walls of Acre. He used a ruse that always pleased him. Possessing so many captured uniforms, lances, and banners of the Crusaders, he could outfit thousands of troops to resemble a Crusader army. In this disguise, his troops rode through the orchards around Acre, killing Christians in the nearby villages, and destroying everything in their path. But they could not destroy Acre because the guards in the watchtowers had seen them coming and, realizing that they were Muslims in disguise by the way they rode and by their darker features, had sounded the alarm. The attack was repulsed, and Baibars withdrew to his castle at Safed. When envoys came to Safed to sue for a truce, they found the castle encircled by Christian skulls.

When, occasionally, Baibars’s deceptions failed him, he resorted to terror. Massacre appealed to him, and whenever he attacked a city he always threatened to massacre the inhabitants unless they surrendered immediately. In February 1268, he attacked Jaffa, which resisted heroically for twelve long days. He massacred the inhabitants but allowed the garrison to go free. This unusual event may be explained by the fact that the fortress was well defended and the siege of the stronghold would have cost many Egyptian lives if it had been permitted to continue.

From Jaffa, Baibars marched to the castle of Beaufort, which had passed into the hands of the Templars. After ten days of violent bombardment, the castle was forced to surrender. With unaccustomed mercy, Baibars offered to let the women go free, but the Templars were sold into slavery.

Then it was the turn of Antioch, which had been in Christian hands for more than 170 years. Bohemond VI, Prince of Antioch and Count of Tripoli, had left the city in the care of the Constable, Simon Mansel, who was quickly captured when he led a column of troops against the advancing Mamelukes. Simon Mansel was ordered to command the garrison to surrender. The garrison refused. There was heavy fighting, and on May 18, 1268, Baibars ordered a general assault. The Mamelukes succeeded in breaching the walls, the garrison troops fought bravely, and the inhabitants surrendered. Baibars was encouraged by their surrender to order another general massacre, after closing the gates so that none could escape. Those who survived the massacre were given out as slaves to his soldiers. Christian Antioch vanished, never to be reborn.

Because he despised Bohemond VI, Baibars wrote him a strange, taunting letter, which is a masterpiece of venom and invective.


THE GLORIOUS COUNT BOHEMOND, magnificent and magnanimous, having the courage of a lion, being the glory of the nation of Jesus, the head of the Christian church and the leader of the people of the Messiah, who no longer bears the title of Prince of Antioch, since Antioch has been lost to him, but is reduced to a mere count, may God show him the way and give him a good death and help him to remember my words.

. . . We took Antioch by the sword on the fourth hour of Saturday on the fourth day of Ramadan, and we destroyed all those you had chosen to guard the city. All these men had possessions, and all their possessions have passed into our hands.

Oh, if only you had seen your knights trampled by our horses, your houses looted and at the mercy of everyone who passed by, your treasure weighed by the quintal, your women sold in the market-place four for a gold dinar. If only you had seen your churches utterly destroyed, the crucifixes torn apart, the pages of the Gospels scattered, the tombs of the patriarchs trodden underfoot. If only you had seen your Muslim enemy trampling down your altars and holy of holies, cutting the throats of deacons, priests and bishops, the patriarchate irremediably abolished, the powerful reduced to powerlessness! If only you had seen your palaces given over to the flames, the dead devoured by the flames of this world before being devoured by the flames of the next world, your castles and all their attendant buildings wiped off the face of the earth, the Church of St. Paul totally destroyed so that nothing is left of it, and seeing all this you would have said: “Would to God that I were dust! Would to God! Would to God that I had never received the letter with these melancholy tidings!”

If you had seen these things, your soul would have expired with sighs, and the multitude of your tears would have quenched the devouring flame. If you had seen those places which were once opulent reduced to misery, and your ships captured by your own ships in the port of Seleucia—your ships at war with your ships—then you would have realized without the least doubt that God, who once gave Antioch to you, had now taken it away from you, that the Lord who gave you this fortress had withdrawn it from you and wiped it off the face of the earth. You must know that by God’s grace we have regained the castles formerly lost to Islam. Know that we have removed all your people from the country; we took them, as it were, by their hair and dispersed them hither and thither. The only rebel now is the river that flows through Antioch. it would change its name, if it could; its waters are tears, once pure and limpid, now stained with the blood we have shed.

This letter is sent to congratulate you that God has seen fit to preserve you and to prolong your days. All this you owe to the fact that you were not in Antioch when we captured it. If you had taken part in the battle, then you would either be dead, or a prisoner, or riddled with wounds. You must take great joy in being alive, for there is nothing so joy f ul as escaping from a great calamity. Perhaps God gave you this respite so that you could make amends for your former disobedience toward Him. And since no one from your city survived to tell you the news, it has fallen upon us to give you these tidings; and since also no one from your city is in any position to congratulate you on your own survival, this too has been left to us. Nor can you accuse us of saying anything false, nor do you need to go elsewhere to learn the truth.

The spectacle of the victor crowing over his victory is not a pleasant one. What is chiefly remarkable about the letter is Baibars’s enduring rage, his almost incoherent vituperation. Yet there is something in his screaming that suggests that he is the victim, not the perpetrator, of the crime.

The reason for his rage is not hard to discover. To enjoy the vengeance he desired, it was necessary to have physical possession of the prince, to kill him or to torture him, to see him suffering, to see him dead; but the prince of Antioch had escaped his net.

Baibars thought of himself as the man destined to sweep the Christians out of the Holy Land. He had conquered Antioch and Jaffa, he had succeeded in weakening Armenia, he had made a near-desert of the Galilee, and he had wrested the castle of Beaufort from the Templars. But these were small things compared with what he wanted. The once-proud edifice known as the Kingdom of Jerusalem resembled a palace riddled with mortar fire and without a roof, with its cornices blown off and large areas reduced to rubble. He wanted the palace destroyed utterly.

The strange kingdom actually possessed a king. He was Hugh III, King of Cyprus and Jerusalem, who had been crowned in Nicosia on Christmas day, 1267. There were other contenders for the throne, including Maria of Antioch, the daughter of Melisende of Lusignan. Later she would sell her claim to the throne to Charles of Anjou. The following year, Charles executed Conradin, the grandson of Frederick II, who claimed the titles of King of Jerusalem and of Sicily, and Duke of Swabia, and whose crime was that he had attempted to regain his Italian inheritance.

Like Conradin, Hugh III was young, vigorous, and sweet-tempered. He was the grand conciliator, the one man who could ensure that the little princedoms would live at peace with one another. He arranged truces, mollified the more quarrelsome of the vassals, and continually appealed for help from the West. The Templars and the Hospitallers distrusted him, and so did the Commune of Acre, which had no patience with kings. He relied often on the advice of Philip of Montfort, the most accomplished of the barons, and he was devastated when Philip was murdered by the Assassins at the instigation of Baibars.

By his ferocious cruelty Baibars had at first outraged the Crusaders, but soon he inspired a fear that threatened to overwhelm them. They remembered the circle of skulls around the fortress at Safed. The blue-eyed sultan, without a trace of Egyptian blood in him, in love with murder, was more like a destructive force of nature than a man. Having no ultimate loyalties, he destroyed as he pleased.

The Kingdom of Jerusalem was now reduced to a handful of cities clinging to the seacoast. And for the first time we hear a note of total despair in the voices of the Crusaders. We hear it in the letter written by Hugh of Revel, the Master of the Hospital, to his friend, the prior of Saint-Gilles in Provence.


BROTHER HUGH OF REVEL, by the Grace of God humble master of the Holy House of the Hospital of St. John of Jerusalem, and guardian of the poor of Jesus Christ, sends greetings and sincere love to his dearly beloved in Christ Brother Faraud of Borrassio, Prior of St. Gilles, and to all the brethren attached to that priory.

We know not to whom we should complain and show the wounds of our heart, so pierced and so anguished, if not to those who to our knowledge are moved by deep compassion for our sufferings. Nor do we need to describe the hardships we have endured in the Holy Land for such a long period of time nor the magnitude of our losses in property and lives. We believe that almost all of this must be known to you. These sufferings, these losses, do not appear to be coming to an end; instead, they increase and multiply daily. . . .

. . . [Y]ou know very well what comes to us from overseas. We have received nothing from Spain except for a few animals. From Italy and especially from Apulia we expected aid, but our hopes have been shattered by the behavior of Brother Philip of Glis, who used up everything we had for his own purposes as he pleased, and because of this same Brother Philip of Glis everything we possessed in Sicily has been ruined and devastated just because he led the brothers of our Order in armed conflict with those who were fighting Charles of Anjou. The houses we possessed in Sicily were therefore razed to the ground, our fruit trees were cut down, our vines were uprooted, the contents of our houses were stolen. I am sure you are aware of our war in Tuscia and how everything we possessed in that region has been destroyed, and therefore little or nothing is sent overseas to us from Italy. From the priory in France it is impossible to obtain anything useful by reason of the debts contracted by the aforesaid Brother Philip—debts that he promised to settle but failed to do so. The priory of England, which formerly provided considerable aid and assistance, has greatly reduced the sending of revenues by reason of the wars going on there

Consider therefore how we can meet our expenses from the small revenues we receive from your priory and from the priory in Auvergne, which is all that remains to us except for the revenues from England, and there is nothing from Germany. We are not bringing these matters to the attention of the brotherhood for any other reason except to warn you not to be surprised if we inconvenience you by asking for your help. Yet there is another reason: Whatever fate is reserved for our fortresses—let us hope that they are spared the worst fate—or whatever fate befalls our land—and much is spoken about this—you must excuse us for having assumed these responsibilities, we and our house, since only a small number of Christians remain here and we lack the strength to resist the unspeakable power of the Saracens. We are quite certain that the city of Acre could not be properly defended even if all the Christians beyond the seas were here to defend it.

Because of the losses sustained by the Christians and the losses they continue to sustain daily, they are so distressed that they lack confidence in themselves to resist the enemy. This year the city and fortress of Joppa were captured in an hour. The fortress at Caesarea, a great stronghold, held out for only two days when attacked by the Sultan. Safed, the pride of the Templars, gave up after sixteen days. They said the fortress of Belfort was so strong that it would hold out for a year, yet it fell in less than four days. The noble city of Antioch was captured. . . .

Such is the condition of our land, and such is the peril that overwhelms us! God will declare what shall become of us. But for God’s sake be moved to pity us with all your heart. Pray God to grant us as much aid as possible. . . .

Hugh of Revel’s letter is a classic of its kind, at once a desperate plea for help and an acknowledgment that help was beyond hoping for—and that if it came, it would probably come too late.

When Hugh of Revel complained that the West had lost interest in the affairs of the Holy Land, he was speaking in relative terms. In the autumn of 1269, there came the Crusade of King James I of Aragon, who sailed out of Barcelona with a powerful fleet. It had scarcely left the harbor when it was scattered in a storm. The king abandoned the enterprise but sent his two sons with a much smaller fleet. The two sons reached Acre at a time when Baibars was once more attacking the city. The small Spanish army, thirsting to attack the Mamelukes, was prevented from fighting because it was felt the soldiers were untrained and less useful in the field than in the garrison. In a few weeks the Spaniards returned to Spain in disgust.

The English also sent their Crusaders under the command of Prince Edward, son of Henry III and heir to the throne. He left England in the summer of 1271, with only a thousand men. Like the Spaniards he wanted action, and he took part in a daring raid into the Plain of Sharon. He was the first Englishman to send an embassy to the Mongols: Reginald Russell, Godfrey Welles, and John Parker went to the court of the Ilkhan to seek aid, which was promptly forthcoming. A Mongol army swept out of Anatolia and captured Aleppo. Baibars, with a huge army, set out from Damascus to give battle to the Mongols, who withdrew wisely. But the Mongol alliance had been strengthened and there was hope that they would return at a suitable time.

Prince Edward was handsome, restless, fond of jousting, capable of compromise, yet utterly merciless against declared enemies. When he became King Edward I, he attacked Scotland so implacably that he became known as the “Hammer of the Scots.” But in Palestine he was kindly and efficient, and like King Hugh III he attempted to unite the Crusaders, who were so often at each other’s throats. Baibars, who saw him as another Philip of Montfort, a man with the power to dominate and unite, ordered his assassination. An Assassin, disguised as a Christian pilgrim, stabbed him with a poisoned dagger. He had a strong constitution and recovered from the wound; but at about this time he heard that his father, King Henry III, was dying. He returned to England to be crowned. In England, he continued to give long-range support to the Christian alliance with the Mongols.

Baibars continued his depradations. He conquered the Templar fortress called Safita and went on to conquer Krak des Chevaliers, which even Saladin had found impregnable. He invaded Anatolia, brushed against the forces of the Ilkhan, and retired to Syria. Fortunately, and to the satisfaction of the Christians, he died of poison in the summer of 1277, having accidentally drunk from a poison cup he had prepared for someone else. But he was succeeded by his chief general, Qalawun, who was equally determined to sweep the Christians out of the Holy Land. It would be easier, now that Baibars had conquered so many places.

In the last days of the kingdom a madness descended on the Crusaders. Knowing that they must unite against the overwhelming force of the Mamelukes, they fought each other instead, and contrived to weaken each other with conspiracies and treacheries, thus playing into the hands of their enemies. The kingdom was being destroyed from within long before it was destroyed by the enemy. Blindly and voluptuously, the little princes who retained title to the seaports on the Palestinian coast hurled themselves on one another without any purpose except private vengeance.

In January 1282, Guy II Embriaco, Lord of Jebail, outfitted three ships to transport a small army consisting of twenty-five knights and four hundred foot soldiers to Tripoli. He hoped to take Tripoli by surprise and to capture Bohemond VII, who had succeeded his father Bohemond VI in 1274, and put him to death. He left Jebail at night and reached Tripoli before dawn, anchoring his ships near the house of the Templars and coming ashore in the darkness. With all his men, who were mostly Genoese, he entered the house of the Templars. He had his agents there, including the Templar commander Reddecoeur, but for some reason the commander was absent. Perhaps Reddecoeur no longer wanted to take part in the plot, or perhaps there was a simple misunderstanding about the time they would meet. Guy II Embriaco panicked, hastily left the house of the Templars, and took refuge with his knights in the house of the Hospitallers.

Dawn came up. The alarm bells were rung. Bohemond VII was informed about the strange behavior of these visitors from Jebail, who had taken possession of one of the towers of the house of the Hospitallers and threatened to sell their lives dearly. All of Tripoli now gathered at the foot of the tower, clamoring for the death of the invaders. The commander of the Hospitallers offered to act as mediator. Before the tower could be stormed, an agreement was reached that Guy’s life and the lives of all his knights would be spared if they surrendered. Guy would serve a five-year sentence of imprisonment, and at the end of that period all his possessions would be restored to him.

Guy might have known that this was only a ruse to make him descend from the tower, for Bohemond VII had given orders that the Genoese should have their eyes put out. Guy and his brothers John and Baldwin, and his cousin William, were kept in prison for six weeks while Bohemond considered the various forms of punishment suitable for such an occasion. Then they were taken to Nephin, where they were set down in a ditch. A wall was constructed around them, the ditch was filled with earth, and they were left to die of hunger.

John of Montfort, Lord of Tyre, an ally of the lord of Jebail, marched with all his knights to Jebail, hoping to protect the city from the vengeance of Bohemond. He found that the city had already been captured and the fires of victory were burning on the battlemented walls. He returned to Tyre in disgust, realizing that his city might fall to Bohemond before it fell to the Mamelukes.

The Pisans in Acre were overjoyed when they learned the fate of the Genoese expedition to Tripoli. They celebrated with music, dancing, and fireworks. It pleased them especially that Guy II Embriaco had been buried alive; and their pleasure was a sign of the corruption of spirit that affected all these coastal princedoms. None was immune. The Hospitallers hated the Templars, who were also hated by Bohemond VII and by the king of Cyprus and Jerusalem.

Vast triumphs and absolute disaster were close companions in those times. To the north and east, a new power was entering the scene. A huge Mongol army, numbering a hundred thousand men, was preparing, in alliance with King Leo of Armenia and the Hospitallers, to do battle with the Mamelukes. Qalawun commanded the Mamelukes, Mangu Timur commanded the Mongols, and Leo commanded the Armenians. The battle of Hims, which took place on October 30, 1281, was one of the bloodiest ever known. A quarter of a million men took part in it. When the advantage seemed to be going in the direction of the Christian-Mongol forces, Mangu Timur was wounded. He panicked, and gave orders for a retreat. Qalawun’s army had suffered too much to be able to follow the Mongols beyond the Euphrates, so there was neither victory nor defeat. Leo distinguished himself during the long and difficult retreat to Armenia. The Mongols could fight another time and choose their own battlefield.

On the night of March 30, 1282, Charles of Anjou received the greatest shock of his life. The Sicilians, exasperated by the behavior of the French army of occupation, rose up and massacred every Frenchman they could lay their hands on. The Sicilian Vespers came as an inevitable result of Charles’s depradations, arrogance, and incompetence. With this uprising, his dreams of a Mediterranean empire, with himself as emperor of Byzantium and king of Jerusalem, crumbled. Charles would no longer play any role in Crusader affairs.

Meanwhile, Qalawun continued to ravage the Christian outposts in the Holy Land, capturing the great Hospitaller castle at Marqab, but was not yet ready for the final assault on Acre. He watched from a distance while the kings of Jerusalem succeeded one another. King Hugh III died. His eldest son, John, a graceful and delicate boy of seventeen, followed him. John died a year later, and his younger brother Henry was crowned at Tyre on August 15, 1286. His coronation was attended by elaborate festivities. Henry was fourteen, handsome, gracious, very brave, and an epileptic. In less than five years he would see the downfall of his kingdom in the ruins of Acre.