Most significantly for the course of future crusades, during Bohemond’s stay in Constantinople he took a vow of allegiance to the emperor that resembled very closely a feudal oath of homage. Then he cajoled, bullied and browbeat many of the other princes who had been arriving at the city’s gates since the previous December into doing the same. In some cases this aroused considerable antipathy. Nevertheless, oaths were taken on relics including the Holy Cross and crown of thorns by Godfrey of Bouillon, Hugh of Vermandois, Robert of Flanders, Stephen of Blois, Tancred of Hauteville and many of the lesser lords, all of whom vowed to restore to the empire any Turkish-held towns and strongholds that they might capture along the road to Jerusalem. Even Raymond of Toulouse, who detested the emperor, grudgingly committed not to damage his property. In turn Alexios swore he `would not cause or permit anyone to trouble or vex our pilgrims on the way to the Holy Sepulchre’. He also awarded the crusading princes eye-poppingly large gifts of treasure and expensive religious vestments and dangled the prospect of land-grants far to the east of Asia Minor – assuming the crusaders got there.
Bohemond’s sudden display of subservience towards Alexios confused the author of the Gesta Francorum: `Why did such brave and determined knights do a thing like this? It must have been because they were driven by desperate need.’ Another chronicler marvelled that the mighty Latins had been prepared to bend their knees to `the puny Greeks, laziest of all people’. In fact selfinterest loomed large on both sides. Alexios had invited the armies into his territories and fully intended to see them deployed clearing the Turks from Asia Minor before they disappeared off towards Jerusalem. The crusaders, for their part, could not hope to proceed without the emperor’s goodwill and financial support. Bohemond himself had arrived with the smallest army and lowliest standing among all the princes; he realized there was much to be gained in prestige and power if he could become the man who held the eastern and western leaders together. To that end Bohemond even petitioned the emperor to appoint him as his domestikos – a title which would connote supreme command in Asia Minor – but Alexios demurred; Bohemond could not `out-Cretan the Cretan’, said Anna. Their exchange of oaths, brokered by Bohemond, effectively cemented a relationship that would – for a time – yield spectacular results for both sides.
With Easter celebrated, homage sworn, and tens of thousands of troops – including 7,500 heavy cavalry and perhaps six times as many light infantry – waiting across the Bosphorus on the western tip of Asia Minor, there was little point in wasting time. At the beginning of May Bohemond and the other princes marched their armies south-east towards the first target agreed with the emperor: Nicaea, the Seljuq sultan of Rum, Qilij Arslan’s capital. They arrived and set up camp on 6 May. A week later they laid the city under siege.
Bohemond had attacked plenty of cities in his life, but at Nicaea he encountered formidable defences. Huge walls, punctuated with towers topped with catapults, protected three sides of the city. A large lake called Askania (Ascanius/Iznik) rendered the fourth side inaccessible to the besiegers while allowing resupply of food, firewood, armour and other provisions to the citizens within. Robert the Monk reckoned it `the chief place to which no other is equal in Anatolia’. The princes camped in orderly fashion around the walls (Bohemond’s men took up their position before Nicaea’s main gates) to effect a land blockade while their engineers built siege engines. One eyewitness saw battering rams, mobile sheds to protect sappers known as `sows’, `cats’ and `foxes’, wooden towers and petrariae, or stone-throwing catapults. When these were constructed an exchange of missiles to and from the battlements began, with occasional skirmishing between besiegers and besieged. `The supporters of Christ deployed their forces around the city and attacked valiantly,’ wrote Robert the Monk. `The Turks, fighting for their lives, put up strong resistance. They fired poisoned arrows so that even those lightly wounded met a horrible death.’
Soon, amid the sawing and hewing of half-built war-machines, the crash of stone pelting stone and catcalls from the ramparts, came more ominous shrieks. On 16 May the woods behind the crusaders suddenly sprang to life: a relieving army sent by Qilij Arslan came forth, `exulting in their certainty of victory, bringing with them ropes with which to lead us bound into Khorasan [i. e. as slaves to be taken to Persia]’. They charged the besiegers and a major engagement began outside the city walls.
The relievers may have assumed that one crusading army was much like another, and that the princes’ armies would be as easily dispatched as Peter the Hermit’s followers had been the previous year. They were soon disabused of the notion, beaten backwards by a cavalry charge commanded by Raymond of Toulouse and Bishop Adhémar. Large numbers were killed on both sides, and grisly retribution followed. The crusaders decapitated corpses and flung the severed heads over Nicaea’s walls. The citizens let down grappling hooks from the ramparts, fishing for Latin soldiers, whose bodies they hanged in mockery from the towers.
On 1 June sappers tunnelled beneath one of Nicaea’s towers. That night they set fire to the wooden struts supporting their mine, collapsing it and bringing down a section of the wall above. Now a breach existed where efforts to storm the city could be focused. A daily contest began, in which crusading troops attempted repeatedly to rush the breach, while the defenders inside the city piled up rubble to barricade it. For those involved it was almost impossibly exciting. `I do not think that anyone has ever seen, or will ever again see, so many valiant knights,’ exclaimed a Latin eyewitness.
However, after several inconclusive days of this, the siege was slipping into stalemate. As long as the city could be supplied via the lake, it could tolerate any amount of bombardment. What broke the deadlock was action undertaken not by Bohemond and his Latin allies, but by the emperor they had taken such care to woo. Alexios had held back from the action at Nicaea, having no desire to take part in a fight he had hired foreigners to pick on his behalf. But he had crossed the Bosphorus and hung back a day’s ride away, monitoring events from the safety of a magnificent marquee shaped like a city, with a turreted atrium, which took twenty camels to transport. To represent him among the princes he sent one of his most trusted military advisors, a grizzled, jocular Arab-Greek eunuch by the name of Tatikios, who had fought against Bohemond’s father, Robert, in the 1080s, and who was distinguished both by his exemplary military record and his missing nose, in place of which he wore a golden prosthesis. Even more valuably, Alexios sent a small flotilla of ships, dragged 25 miles (40 km) overland from the shores of the Bosphorus by oxen and men wearing leather straps on their shoulders. These were launched quietly into Lake Askania, in readiness for a major combined assault.
At daybreak on 18 June the flotilla set sail across Askania towards Nicaea’s waterfront. Crewed with heavily armed turcopoles (imperial mercenaries recruited from the same ethnic group as the enemy), the vessels floated slowly and ominously into view of Nicaea’s defenders. On the landward side, a heavy assault by siege towers and catapults was taking place. As Robert the Monk wrote:
[When] those in the city saw the ships, they were terrified out of their wits and, losing the will to resist, fell to the ground as if already dead. All howled, daughters with mothers, young men with young girls, the old with the young. Grief and misery were everywhere because there was no hope of escape.
Having held out for more than seven weeks, the Nicaeans’ spirits were broken. They sued for a truce, and the garrison (along with Qilij Arslan’s wife and children) surrendered to be taken off to prison in Constantinople. As the city fell, there was plunder aplenty: some of the Frankish knights now treasured curved Turkish scimitars, taken from the dead hands of the enemy. The fall of Nicaea had proceeded from a model of co-operation between Latins and Byzantines. `It was Gaul that assured it, Greece that helped and God who brought it about,’ remarked Ralph of Caen, with satisfaction.
In line with the oaths sworn, Nicaea was handed over to Alexios, who showered the Latin princes, including Bohemond, with gifts and handed out alms to the rank and file of the crusader army. Ten days later, having refreshed and revived themselves, and taken counsel from the emperor about the best way to fight the Turks in the field (as well as receiving his gracious permission to leave) the princes packed up their camp and struck out eastwards into the Anatolian interior. They divided their army into two divisions, who were to follow parallel roads towards an abandoned Roman military encampment at Dorylaeum (Dorylaion), about four days’ march away. The first division was led by Raymond of Toulouse, Bishop Adhémar, Godfrey of Bouillon and Hugh of Vermandois. The second was headed by Bohemond, Tancred and Robert Curthose, duke of Normandy. A long and difficult summer march across Asia Minor awaited them. Qilij Arslan would assuredly be rallying his own troops for another attack.
It did not take long for Qilij Arslan’s next strike to come. As Bohemond’s army approached Dorylaeum, which lay at the confluence of two valleys, in the early morning of 1 July, `an innumerable, terrible and nearly overwhelming mass of Turks suddenly rushed upon [them]’. The author of the Gesta Francorum recalled hearing cries of `some devilish word I do not understand’ – surely the Islamic battle cry of Allahu Akhbar (`God is great’). Chroniclers suggested (with poetic licence) that more than a quarter of a million Turks, reinforced with Arab soldiers, descended on Bohemond’s army, forcing them to scramble a defence in which knights repelled the first waves while lighter-armed foot soldiers pitched a defensive camp in which the non-combatants could be protected. This formation held for a while but it was clear that, separated from Raymond, Godfrey and Adhémar’s army, the Latins were badly outnumbered. As the Turks closed in on the camp, every able person was deployed: women shuttling water to refresh men near the front line and cheering encouragement. Despite being outnumbered and occasionally panicked, with leaders including Bohemond contemplating a disorderly retreat, the crusader ranks did not break up. According to the Gesta Francorum, a motivational motto was passed down the line. `Stand fast all together, trusting in Christ and in the victory of the Holy Cross. Today, please God, you will all gain much booty.’
In later years the Battle of Dorylaeum would gain legendary status as the moment the First Crusade truly sprang to life. The writer Raymond of Aguilers, who travelled in the retinue of Raymond, count of Toulouse, reported on sightings within the Latin lines of miraculous, ghostly protectors: `Two handsome knights in flashing armour, riding before our soldiers and seemingly invulnerable to the thrusts of Turkish lances.’ That these sounded remarkably like the heavenly warriors who were said to have protected Judas Maccabeus in ancient times was probably no coincidence. It was certainly the first time that a full-scale battle had been fought against Turkish mounted archers, whose tactics of lightning raids and feigned retreat under a hail of arrows were designed to cause chaos in enemy ranks and drag them apart, inviting cavalry to attempt pursuit rather than holding a disciplined formation. Alexios had sent the goldennosed eunuch Tatikios out with the princes in order to advise them on resisting this stratagem (and the motto of `stand firm’ suggests that his words were heeded). Nevertheless, it was everything that Bohemond and Robert Curthose could do to keep their warriors from abandoning camp and fleeing in confusion, as they sent desperate word to the other princes to hurry across country and reinforce them.
A brutal contest of devastating arrow-shot against butchery at close quarters lasted from around 9 a. m. until midday. For one perilous moment a rout looked possible when the Turks broke through into the middle of the Latin encampment. Raymond of Toulouse charged into the valley with several thousand of his own knights, fresh to the battlefield; the Turks turned tail and fled, hoping to fight another day. The Franks, overwhelmed with relief and puffed up with pride in having survived, celebrated by chanting belligerent verses from the Old Testament (`Thy right hand, O Lord, hath dashed in pieces the enemy’), buried as martyrs all the dead who wore a crusader’s cross, plundered and desecrated the corpses of those who did not, and prepared to continue their march eastwards.
So under the leadership of Bohemond and the other princes, the debacle of the People’s Crusade was gradually forgotten. Robert the Monk later imagined a furious Qilij Arlsan berating Turkish troops he encountered running away from Dorylaeum. `You are totally insane. You have never come up against Frankish valour or experienced their courage. Their strength is not human: it comes from heaven – or the devil.’ Fanciful this may have been, but Qilij Arslan did not attempt to engage the crusader army on the battlefield again. In a way, he did not need to. Buoyed by victory, the princes decided to head for the vast city of Antioch that lay at the gates between Anatolia and Syria. A three-month summer trek through bitterly hostile countryside awaited them. They would have enough problems as it was.
At eleven A.M. on October 19 a single galley came rowing into the Venetian lagoon. A ripple of alarm spread among those standing on the water’s edge of the piazzetta of Saint Mark. The vessel appeared to be manned by Turks, yet it came confidently forward. Nearer, the swelling crowd could discern Ottoman banners trailing from its stern; then the bow guns fired a bursting victory salute. News of Lepanto swept through the city. No one had risked more, played for higher stakes, or experienced such extremes of emotion as the Venetians. They had seen Ottoman warships in their lagoon, watched the ransacking of their colonies, lost Cyprus, and endured the terrible fate of Bragadin. Venice exploded with pent-up emotion. There were bells and bonfires and church services. Strangers hugged in the street. The shopkeepers hung notices on their doors—CLOSED FOR THE DEATH OF THE TURK—and shut for a week. The authorities flung open the gates of the debtors’ jail and permitted the unseasonal wearing of carnival masks. People danced in the squares by torchlight to the squeal of fifes. Elaborate floats depicting Venice triumphant, accompanied by lines of prisoners in clanking chains, wound through Saint Mark’s square. Even the pickpockets were said to take a holiday. All the shops on the Rialto were decorated with Turkish rugs, flags, and scimitars, and from the seat of a gondola you could gaze up at the bridge where two lifelike turbaned heads stared at each other, looking as if they had been freshly severed from the living bodies. The Ottoman merchants barricaded themselves in their warehouse and waited for the city to calm down. Two months later, in an unaccustomed fit of religious zeal, the Venetians remembered the butcher who had taken his knife to Bragadin, and expelled all the Jews from their territories.
Each of the main protagonists reacted to the news in his own way. According to legend, the pope had already been apprised of the outcome by divine means. At the moment Ali Pasha fell to the deck, the pope was said to have opened his window, straining to catch a sound. Then turned to his companion and said, “God be with you; this is no time for business, but for giving thanks to God, for at this moment our fleet is victorious.” None had worked harder for this outcome. When word reached him by more conventional means, the old man threw himself to his knees, thanked God, and wept—then deplored the exorbitant waste of gunpowder in firing off celebratory shots. For Pius, it was the justification of his life. “Now, Lord,” he murmured, “you can take your servant, for my eyes have seen your salvation.” Philip was at church when the news reached him in Madrid. His reaction was as phlegmatic as Suleiman’s after Djerba: “He didn’t show any excitement, change his expression or show any trace of feeling; his expression was the same as it had been before, and it remained like that until they finished singing vespers.” Then he soberly ordered a Te Deum.
Lepanto was Europe’s Trafalgar, a signal event that gripped the whole Christian continent. They celebrated it as far away as Protestant London and Lutheran Sweden. Don Juan was instantly the hero of the age, the subject of countless poems, plays, and news sheets. The papacy declared October 7 henceforward to be dedicated to Our Lady of the Rosary. James VI of Scotland was moved to compose eleven hundred lines of Latin doggerel. The Turkish wars became the fit subject for English dramatists—Othello returns from fighting “the general enemy Ottoman” on Cyprus. In Italy, the great painters of the age set to on monumental canvases. Titian has Philip holding his newborn son up to winged victory while a bound captive kneels at his feet, his turban rolling on the floor, and Turkish galleys explode in the distance. Tintoretto portrays Sebastiano Venier, gruff and whiskery in black armor, gripping his staff of office before a similar scene. Vasari, Vicentino, and Veronese produce huge battle scenes of tangled fury, full of smoke, flame, and drowning men, all lit by shafts of light from the Christian heaven. And everywhere, from Spain to the Adriatic, church services, processions of victors and captive Turks, weeping crowds, and the dedication of Ottoman battle trophies. Ali Pasha’s great green banner hung in the palace in Madrid, another in the church at Pisa; in the red-tiled churches of the Dalmatian coast they displayed figureheads and Ottoman stern lanterns and lit candles in memory of the part their galleys played on the left wing.
In the wake of all this euphoria there were small acts of chivalry. Don Juan was said to have been personally upset by Ali Pasha’s death; he recognized in the kapudan pasha a worthy opponent. It is an ironic note that these two most humane commanders, bound by a shared code of honor, had contrived such great slaughter. In May 1573, Don Juan received a letter from Selim’s niece—the sister of Ali’s two sons—to beg for their release. One had died in captivity; the other Don Juan returned, along with the gifts she had sent and a touching reply. “You may be assured,” he wrote, “that, if in any other battle he or any other of those belonging to you should become my prisoner, I will with equal cheerfulness as now give them their liberty, and do whatever may be agreeable to you.” This prompted a response from the sultan in person, still, as ever, “Conqueror of Provinces, Extinguisher of Armies, terrible over lands and seas,” to Don Juan, “captain of unique virtue [courage]…. Your virtue, most generous Juan, has been destined to be the sole cause, after a very long time, of greater harm than the sovereign and ever-felicitous House of Osman has previously received from Christians. Rather than offence, this gives me the opportunity to send you gifts.”
Others were harder-hearted. The Venetians understood that naval supremacy rested less in ships than in men. To the pope’s horror, they sent Venier urgent orders to kill all the skilled Ottoman mariners in his power “secretly, in the manner that seems to you most discreet,” and requested that Spain do the same. With such measures they hoped and believed that the maritime power of the Turk had been decisively broken: “It can now be said with reason that their power in naval matters is significantly diminished.”
In time the Venetians discovered that the tough-minded Ottomans were not shattered by this shattering defeat. The tone was set by Mehmet, Ali’s seventeen-year-old son, two days after the battle. In captivity, he met a Christian boy who was crying. It was the son of Bernardino de Cardenas, mortally wounded at the prow of the Real. “Why is he crying?” asked Mehmet. When he was told the reason, he replied, “Is that all? I have lost my father, and also my fortune, country, and liberty, yet I shed no tears.”
Selim was in Edirne when news of the disaster reached him. According to the chronicler Selaniki, he was initially so deeply affected that he did not sleep or eat for three days. Prayers were recited in the mosques and there was fear verging on panic in the streets of Istanbul that, with its fleet destroyed, the city could be attacked by sea. It was a moment of crisis for the sultanate, but its response, under the assured guidance of Sokollu, was prompt. Selim hurried back to Istanbul; his presence, as he rode through the streets with the vizier at his side, seems to have stabilized the situation.
The Ottomans came to use a euphemism for this heavy defeat: the battle of the dispersed fleet. Uluch Ali’s initial report had tried to soften the blow by suggesting that the navy had been scattered rather than annihilated. “The enemy’s loss has been no less than yours,” he wrote to the sultan. As the full scale of the catastrophe sank in, it was received with acceptance, as Charles had taken the shipwreck at Algiers. “A battle may be won or lost,” Selim declared. “It was destined to happen this way according to God’s will.” Sokollu wrote to Pertev Pasha, one of the few leaders to escape with his life (though not with his position), in a similar vein. “The will of God makes itself manifest in this way, as it has appeared in the mirror of destiny…. We trust that-all-powerful God will visit all kinds of humiliation on the enemies of the religion.” It was a setback, not a catastrophe. The Turks even tried to find positives in God’s scourge, quoting a sura of the Koran, “But it may happen that you hate a thing which is good for you.” Yet within the sultan’s domain there could be no clear analysis of the underlying causes. All blame was heaped on the dead Ali Pasha, the admiral who “had not commanded a single rowing boat in his life.” The true reasons for the defeat—the attempt to overmanage the campaign from Istanbul, the struggle for power between the court factions under a weak sultan, the motives for appointing Ali Pasha—these remained hidden. Sokollu himself was suspiciously implicated in these dealings but the subsequent crisis only served to demonstrate his ability and strengthen his grip on power. He moved swiftly and efficiently to manage the situation; orders and requests for information were fired off to the governors of Greek provinces; Uluch Ali was appointed de facto kapudan pasha—all other potential candidates were dead.
By the time Uluch Ali sailed back into Istanbul, he had managed to scrape together eighty-two galleys along the way to make some sort of show, and he flew the standard of the Maltese knights as a battle trophy. This display was pleasing enough to Selim for him not only to spare Uluch’s life but also to confirm the corsair as kapudan pasha—admiral of the imperial navy. And as if to signal a great triumph, the sultan also conferred an honorific name on his commander. Henceforth Uluch was to be known as Kilich (sword) Ali. The knight’s banner was hung in the Aya Sofya mosque as a token of victory. And the Ottoman administration, now under the undisputed control of Sokollu, swung into furious action. Over the winter of 1571–1572, the enlarged imperial dockyards completely rebuilt the fleet in an effort worthy of Hayrettin. When Kilich expressed concern that it might be impossible to fit the ships out properly, Sokollu gave a sweeping reply. “Pasha, the wealth and power of this empire will supply you, if needful, with anchors of silver, cordage of silk, and sails of satin; whatever you want for your ships you have only to come and ask for it.” In the spring of 1572, Kilich sailed out at the head of 134 ships; they had even produced eight galleasses of their own, though they never got the hang of managing them. So rapid was this reconstruction that Sokollu could taunt the Venetian ambassador about their relative losses at Cyprus and Lepanto: “In wrestling Cyprus from you we have cut off an arm. In defeating our fleet you have shaved our beard. An arm once cut off will not grow again, but a shorn beard grows back all the better for the razor.”
And almost immediately the Holy League started to falter. It had recognized the importance of consolidating its victory but proved unable to do so. There was bickering over booty. Then Pius died the following spring. He was spared the gradual collapse of his Christian enterprise. During the campaigning season of 1572, Philip kept his fleet at Messina and Don Juan cooling his heels, preferring a strike in North Africa to further war in the east. Colonna and the Venetians dispatched a substantial fleet anyway to confront the Ottomans off the west coast of Greece, but Kilich was too wily to be caught and did what Ali Pasha should have done: kept his ships in a secure anchorage and let his opponents waste their strength. The following year Don Juan did at least sail to the Maghreb and take back Tunis, but by this time Venice could no longer sustain the fight; in March 1573 they had signed a separate peace with Selim, ceding territory and cash to the sultan on highly unfavorable terms. Philip received the news with “a slight ironical twist of his lips.” Then he smiled to himself. He was blamelessly rid of the expense of the league and the troublesome Venetians; it was their ambassador who was forcibly ejected from the room by the furious Pope Gregory XIII. In 1574 even Don Juan’s triumph at Tunis turned to dust. Kilich Ali sailed to the Maghreb with a larger fleet than either side had mustered at Lepanto and took the city back. He returned to Istanbul with guns firing and captives on the deck; it was like the old days again. The Ottomans were as strong in North Africa as ever; Selim’s mastery of the White Sea seemed to have been fully restored.
Now that the explosive feelings that Lepanto released in Europe have been largely forgotten—the pope returned the Ottoman flags to Istanbul in 1965—some modern historians have tended to play down the significance of the battle. What seemed at the time to be Europe’s iconic sea battle that would determine the contest for the center of the world is no longer viewed as a pivotal event like the Battle of Actium fought in the same waters fifteen hundred years earlier to decide control of the Roman Empire, nor that of Salamis, which shattered the Persian advance into Greece. In modern times Lepanto has been labeled “the victory that led nowhere,” on the Christian side a fluke, on the Ottoman side an aberration soon mended. Like the battlefield itself, the Battle of Lepanto appears to have been swallowed by time and the devouring sea.
Yet this verdict underestimates the sheer terror in which Christendom lived in the middle years of the sixteenth century, and the material and psychological consequences of momentary success. No one standing on the banks of the Golden Horn in August 1573 watching Kilich Ali’s triumphant return from Tunis—the banners, the displayed captives, the cannon shot salutes to the sultan, the nighttime illuminations surrounding the shores of the great city with a ring of fire—could know that Lepanto had sounded the death knell for such Ottoman maritime victories, or that Kilich himself was the last of the great corsair descendants of Hayrettin. In 1580, Philip signed a peace with the sultan that ended the imperial contest for the Mediterranean at a stroke. It was couched in the familiar ringing terms of Ottoman imperial documents and conceded no majesty to anyone:
Your ambassador who is currently at our imperial court submitted a petition to our throne and royal home of justice. Our exalted threshold of the centre of greatness, our imperial court of omnipotent power is indeed the sanctuary of commanding sultans and the stronghold of the rulers of the age.
A petition of friendship and devotion came from your side. For the safety and security of state and the affluence and tranquility of subjects, you wished friendship with our home of majestic greatness. In order to arrange a structure for peace and to set up conditions for a treaty, our justice-laden imperial agreement was issued on these matters….
It is necessary…when it arrives, that is to say after petitioning to our abode of happiness on the basis of sincerity and frankness, that your irregulars and corsairs who are producing ugliness and wickedness on land and sea do not harm the subjects of our protected territories and that they be stopped and controlled….
On the point of faithfulness and integrity let you be staunch and constant and let you respect the conditions of the truce. From this side also no situation will come into existence at all contrary to the truce. Whether it be our naval commanders on the sea, our volunteer captains [corsairs] or our commanders who are on the frontiers of the protected territories, our world-obeyed orders will be sent and damage and difficulties will not reach your country or states and the businessmen who come from that area….
In our imperial time and at our royal abode of happiness it is indeed decided that the prosperity of times come into being. In the same manner, if the building of peace and prosperity and the construction of a treaty and of security are your aims, without delay send your man to our fortunate throne and make known your position. According to it our imperial treaty will be commanded.
It reads like a statement of Ottoman victory; it was certainly no defeat. By this time Philip had defaulted on the crown’s payments to its creditors and his attention was being drawn west and north—to the conquest of Catholic Portugal and a proposed invasion of Protestant England. What the treaty recognized was the hardening of a fixed frontier in the Mediterranean between the Muslim and the Christian worlds. With the capture of Cyprus, the Ottomans had virtually cleared the eastern sea, though Venetian Crete still awaited; the failure of Malta and the disaster at Lepanto had scotched grandiose Ottoman schemes of proceeding to Rome. Conversely, with the strategic recapture of Tunis it was clear to Spain that North Africa was cemented into the Ottoman Empire. Charles’s hopes of Constantinople had also long gone. The year 1580 was the end of the Crusading dream; the end of great galley wars too. The empires of the sea had fought themselves to a standstill.
Yet if Christendom could not win the battle for the Mediterranean, it might certainly have lost it. The year after the battle, old Don Garcia de Toledo was still blanching at the sheer risk of Lepanto. Don Juan had hazarded everything on a single throw of the dice. Don Garcia knew that the consequences of failure would have been catastrophic for the shores of the Christian Mediterranean—and that the margin of victory had been far narrower than its spectacular outcome. With defeat, and the absence of any defending fleet, would have come the rapid loss of all the major islands of the sea—Malta, Crete, the Balearics—a last-ditch defense of Venice, and then, from these launch-pads, a push into the heart of Italy, to Rome itself, Suleiman’s ultimate goal. Southern Europe could have looked very different indeed if Shuluch Mehmet had turned the Venetian wing, if the heavily gunned galleasses had not disrupted Ali Pasha’s center, or Uluch Ali had punctured Doria’s line an hour earlier. As it was, the check at Malta and the victory at Lepanto stopped dead Ottoman expansion in the center of the sea. The events of 1565–1571 fixed the frontiers of the modern Mediterranean world.
And though the Ottomans shrugged off defeat, damage had been done. At Lepanto, the empire suffered its first military catastrophe since the Mongol warlord Tamerlane shattered the army at Ankara in 1402. These were huge psychological gains for Christian Europe. Christendom’s sense of military inferiority had become so deeply ingrained that resigned acceptance had become the normal reaction to each successive defeat. The explosion of fervor in the autumn of 1571 signaled a belief that the balance of power might be starting to tilt. Cervantes put into the mouth of Don Quixote an expression of just what difference the few hours at Lepanto had made: “That day…was so happy for Christendom, because all the world learned how mistaken it had been in believing that the Turks were invincible at sea.”
The battle between Islam and Christianity for the center of the world did not begin with the siege of Rhodes, nor did it entirely end with Lepanto, but between 1520 and 1580 the contest achieved a special definition when religious impulse and imperial power combined to produce a conflict of terrible intensity that was fought on the cusp of two distinct eras of human history. The styles of warfare were at once primitive and modern; they looked back to the visceral brutality of the Homeric bronze age, and forward to the clinical devastation of artillery weapons. At that moment, Charles and Suleiman believed that they were fighting for control of the earth. What Lepanto and its aftermath revealed was that even with shattering victories, the Mediterranean was no longer worth the fight. The middle sea, hemmed in by clustering landmasses, could now not be easily won by oared galleys, whatever the resources available. Both sides had participated in a hugely expensive arms race for an elusive prize. The conflict stressed the human and material reserves of both the protagonists more than they were prepared to admit. Cyprus and Lepanto cost the Ottomans upward of eighty thousand fighting men. Despite their huge population, the supply of skilled soldiers was not inexhaustible, and when the bishop of Dax saw the proudly rebuilt fleet, he was not impressed: “Having seen…an armada leave this port made up of new vessels, built of green timber, rowed by crews which never held an oar, provided with artillery which had been cast in haste, several pieces being compounded of acidic and rotten material, with apprentice guides and mariners, and armed with men still stunned by the last battle…” As the Spanish found after Djerba, the special conditions of naval warfare made specialist skills hard to replace. After 1580, there was a growing distaste for maritime ventures; the Ottoman fleet lay rotting in the still waters of the Horn. The glory days of Barbarossa would never return.
Both sides were soon afflicted by economic malaise. Philip defaulted on his debts in 1575; the years after 1585 saw fiscal crisis start to rack the Muslim world too. The slogging maritime war, and the particular cost of rebuilding the fleet after Lepanto, increased the steepening gradient of taxation in the sultan’s realms. At the same time, the influx of bullion from the Americas was beginning to hole the Ottoman economy below the waterline, in ways that were barely understood. The Ottomans had the resources to outstay any competitor in the business of war, but they were powerless to protect their stable, traditional, self-sufficient world against the more pernicious effects of modernity. There were no defensive bastions proof against rising European prices and the inflationary effects of gold. In 1566, the year after Malta, the gold mint at Cairo—the only one in the Ottoman world, producing coins from limited supplies of African gold—devalued its coinage by 30 percent. The Spanish real became the most appreciated currency in the Ottoman empire; it was impossible to strike money of matching value. The silver coins paid to the soldiers grew increasingly thin; they were “as light as the leaves of the almond tree and as worthless as drops of dew,” according to a contemporary Ottoman historian. With these forces came price rises, shortages, and the gradual erosion of the indigenous manufacturing base. Raw materials and bullion were being sucked out of the empire by Christian Europe’s higher prices and lower production costs. From the end of the sixteenth century globalizing forces started stealthily to undermine the old social fabric and bases of Ottoman power. It was a paradigm of Islam’s whole relationship with the West.
The Treaty of 1580 recognized a stalemate between two empires and two worlds. From this moment, the diagonal frontier that ran the length of the Mediterranean between Istanbul and the Gates of Gibraltar hardened. The competitors turned their backs on each other, the Ottomans to fight the Persians and confront the challenge of Hungary and the Danube once more, Philip to take up the contest in the Atlantic. After the annexation of Portugal he looked west and symbolically moved his court to Lisbon to face a greater sea. He had his own Lepanto still to come—the shipwreck of the Spanish armada off the coast of Britain, yet another consequence of the Spanish habit of sailing too late in the year. In the years after 1580, Islam and Christendom disengaged in the Mediterranean, one gradually to introvert, the other to explore.
Power started to swing away from the Mediterranean basin in ways that the Ottomans and the Hapsburgs with their overcentralized bureaucracies and their hidebound belief in God-given rights could hardly foresee. It was Protestant seamen from London and Amsterdam with their stout sailing ships financed by an entrepreneurial middle class who started to conjure wealth from new worlds. The Mediterranean of the oared galleys would become a backwater, bypassed by new forms of empire. The life—and death—of the cartographer Piri Reis symbolized the Ottomans’ lost opportunity to turn outward and explore the empirical world. An anonymous Ottoman mapmaker, writing in the 1580s, crystallized an awareness of the threat that new voyages to the Indies would bring. “It is indeed a strange fact and a sad affair that a group of unclean unbelievers have become strong to the point of voyaging from the west to the east, braving the violence of the winds and calamities of the sea, whereas the Ottoman empire, which is situated at half the distance in comparison with them, has not made any attempt to conquer [India]: this despite the fact that voyages there yield countless benefits, [bringing back] desirable objects, and articles of luxury whose description exceeds the bounds of the describable and explicable.” Ultimately Spain would be outflanked too.
After 1580 the corsairs also deserted the sultan’s cause and returned to man-taking on their own account along the barren shores of the Maghreb. The sea at the center of the world would face another two hundred miserable years of endemic piracy that would funnel millions of white captives into the slave markets of Algiers and Tripoli. As late as 1815, the year of Waterloo, 158 people were snatched from Sardinia; it took the New World Americans finally to scotch the menace of the Barbary pirates. Venice and the Ottomans, permanently locked into the tideless sea, would contest the shores of Greece until 1719, but the power had long gone elsewhere.
Mercenaries sometimes appear as the outcasts of twelfth-century society along with Jews and lepers. The Lateran Council of 1179 excommunicated them and their employers, explicitly associating them with heretics of southern France, an association later echoed by Walter Map and Innocent III. The decree promised to all who fought against them some of the privileges of the crusader to Jerusalem, laying the juridical foundation for the later Crusades against heretics. But they were a fact of life. The Council of Anse in 990 mentioned them at about the same time as Richer of Rheims, at the very beginning of our period. They were much used by the Conqueror and his sons, formed an important part of the armies of Henry II, Frederick Barbarossa, Richard the Lionheart, Philip Augustus, John and the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem, and served the Hohenstaufen and the Italian cities in the thirteenth century. Our sources sometimes convey the impression of mercenaries as a people set apart by their brutality and barbarism, killers of the innocent and robbers of churches. They were often called by the names of the places they came from – Aragonese or Basques but most commonly Brabanters, a word which became a synonym for mercenary. The general terms Cotereaux or Routiers were applied to them, recalling their purpose as destroyers and pillagers and their wandering, rootless way of life.
Churchmen excoriated mercenaries because churches were so often attacked. The protests of ecclesiastics, coming from a particularly disturbed area of central France, prompted the Lateran Council decree of 1179. Once this situation was brought to its notice, the papacy was anxious to play to the full its role in establishing social order: it is no coincidence that the same council passed decrees against tournaments and reaffirmed the Truce of God. 15 Noone can doubt that mercenaries were savage and destructive, but there was nothing peculiar to mercenaries about such behaviour. The Chanson des Lorrains, written between 1185 and 1213, describes an army setting out through enemy territory:
The march begins. Out in front are the scouts and incendiaries. After them come the foragers whose job it is to collect the spoils and carry them in the great baggage train. Soon all is tumult . . . The incendiaries set the villages on fire and the foragers visit and sack them. The terrified inhabitants are either burned or led away with their hands tied behind their backs to be held for ransom. Everywhere bells ring the alarm; a surge of fear sweeps over the countryside. Wherever you look you can see helmets glinting in the sun, pennons waving in the breeze, the whole plain covered with horsemen. Money, cattle, mules and sheep are all seized. The smoke billows, flames crackle. Peasants and shepherds scatter in all directions.
Mercenaries were often employed as ravagers, and the very word raptores is used as a synonym for them, but they were not alone in this. William Marshal was a great ravager, and delight in this savage business is often to be found in the Chansons de Geste, which were written for the consumption of the upper class. But although such gentry were also responsible and, as the ultimate commanders of ravaging armies, were at least as guilty as those they commanded, it was difficult for the Church to bring pressure to bear, and its efforts against the great were limited, to say the least. The mercenary was the surrogate for the wrath of the Church, which accepted the violence of the upper class in an effort to control it. Of course, the Church could justify its unequal treatment of the mercenary and his master by reference to intention. The famous penance imposed on the victorious Normans after the Conquest of England fell more heavily on those who served for gain than on those who served by way of duty to a lord, and this was echoed in canon law. But in the end this was an evasion, because all conditions of men fought for gain. Churchmen were prisoners of one of the basic conditions of medieval society. The Church was staffed and run very largely by the upper class; it was part of that immense structure of power which sustained a very small proportion of the population in dominion over the rest. In a sense, ravaging was part of the taxation paid by the clerical aristocracy for the support of their lay colleagues, so there was a limit to criticism; after all, what the mercenary did, his master was usually responsible for.
Our view of mercenaries as deeply hated alien presences in Christian society is derived from particular incidents which have been given enormous prominence. There was alarm in the 1180s when large numbers of mercenaries paid off from the wars of Angevins and Capetians and the conflicts in Languedoc gathered in the Limousin and Auvergne and began to dominate the area. The Church encouraged confraternities of local people – peasants and gentry alike – to resist. A famous body of peasants, the “Capuchins”, was led by the visionary carpenter, Durand, and they played a notable role in destroying the mercenary hordes. For relatively humble men in the form of mercenary bands to take power was entirely unacceptable – it is worth remembering that it was the raising of men of low status under King John that so aroused anger in England against mercenaries. Ultimately, the lords, with the support of the Church, employed the remaining mercenaries to destroy the peasant militias who had acquired a taste for freedom in arms. A century before, when Archbishop Aimo of Bourges had formed a peasant militia to enforce the Peace of God, that too had been destroyed. In the early thirteenth century, Innocent III launched the Albigensian Crusade, denouncing the mercenaries in the pay of the heretics as subverters of the social order. The “Brabanters” were feared and hated, as were all soldiers, but this was given a different dimension when they went into business on their own account. In an armed society, that was a threat to the social order: it is very notable that the English barons complained bitterly about the mercenary leaders of King John, but it was those of low birth who were most hated and most harshly treated.
Underlying feudal society and its celebration of noble chivalry was the blunt fact that armies needed large numbers of lesser men to perform necessary tasks, ranging from feeding horses to operating specialized siege machinery. Yet the arming of the “poor” was to be feared, and permitted only under controlled circumstances. The peasants who joined the peace militias of the early eleventh century ultimately inspired deep hatred, while the contempt of clerical writers for the masses of the “Peasants’ Crusade”, allegedly led by a goose and a goat, is well known. In the mid-twelfth century the movement of Eudes l’Etoile was savagely put down. On the Second Crusade, Odo of Deuil was shocked “For lords to die that their servants might live” when the humble escaped in the partial rout of Louis VII’s army on Mount Cadmus. The peasant militias who helped to defeat the mercenaries of the Auvergne and the Limousin in the 1180s were crushed when the taste of armed freedom went to their heads. On the Third Crusade, the author of the Old French Continuation of William of Tyre expresses satisfaction about the defeat of his own foot, who had become so proud that they had tried to do in war what their betters, the knights, had refused to contemplate – to seize Saladin’s camp. In the thirteenth century the “Childrens’ Crusade” of 1211-12 and the “Pastouraux” of 1251 were put down by main force. In Flanders the affair of the “Pseudo-Baldwin” in 1224-5 precipitated social conflict. In these cities, the militias were reorganized along occupational lines, so that they could the more easily be controlled by the urban patricians, who were increasingly in league with the rural aristocracy.
As long as they did not threaten the accepted social order, mercenaries were such an accepted part of contemporary armies that they were often not clearly distinguished from others: some writers who described the Archbishop of Cologne’s attack on Saxony in 1179 noted the presence of mercenaries, while others simply remarked on the number of foot, or even the total number of armed men. At the same time, there are casual references to them in the armies of Frederick I. It is interesting that medieval writers adopted generic descriptions such as Routiers and regional designations such as Brabanter, rather than use blunter terms which intimately connected such people with money. They did so because so many others, often of gentle origin, were paid for fighting. John of Salisbury refers bluntly to “mercenary knights”, but this is very rare. The plainer terms for mercenary were highly pejorative: mercenarius is the word for the self-serving hireling of John 10:11-14. Marianus Scotus did use the term in a neutral sense to describe the armed followers of an archbishop but, far more typically, Aimo of Fleury applied it to the inconstant Franks of an earlier generation, hiring themselves out to one side or another in royal feuds, while Robert Curthose rebelled against his father who, he claimed, treated him as a mere mercenarius by refusing to give him land to rule. Stipendiarius carried with it the overtones of clerical income and it could imply one who held a fief; its frequent use as an adjective to describe knights suggests honourable connotations, and indeed Peter Cantor tells a very flattering story about story of a miles senex et stipendiarius. However, William of Tyre clearly intended an insult when he so described Reynald of Châtillon, as did Ordericus when he referred to Geoffrey of Anjou claiming Normandy as a stipendiarius of his wife. Robert of Torigni equated stipeniarios et mercennarios with the sole followers of Henry II in the Toulouse campaign. The almost equally blunt solidarius seems to have developed in the later twelfth century. In 1168, Baldwin V of Hainaut sent a force to aid Henry of Namur against Godfrey of Louvain: it consisted of 700 knights, all of Hainaut, except for two mercenaries who were carefully distinguished as duobus suldariis. However, the term enjoyed little popularity until the thirteenth century, when it gave us the English word “soldier” and the French soudoyer. This relatively mild and evasive language is simply a reflection of the fact that, in war, cash relationships were common and extended to the ranks of those considered honourable. Moreover, some mercenaries were mounted, and therefore doubly difficult to distinguish from their social betters. They were accepted to the extent that they could rise high if they were lucky. Mercadier lived to be the famous leader of Richard I’s mercenaries and a baron of the Limousin, but we first hear of him as a leader among the notorious mercenary bands who were attacked by the “Capuchins”, who they were later used to destroy. His association with Richard and his apparent conformity to aristocratic norms seems to have made him acceptable in a way which others were not.
It is clear that the Routiers were peasants, the kind of people who were dragged into war by their lords anyway. What distinguished them was that they were willing to fight. Their regional designations have aroused much attention; our sources offer various lists, but always the most prominent are the Brabanters and other Flemings, closely followed by those from Gascony and Aragon. Overpopulation and the search for a living is a possible explanation, for Flemings were prominent in the colonization of eastern Germany. But what the areas mentioned all have in common is that they are zones of political turbulence, where an armed way of life was probably more than usually necessary. It is worth noting that, in the estimation of the twelfth century, the Count of Flanders could raise more knights than the king of France; this was the fruit of living in a disputed and fragmented border area. For the same reason, there were plenty of armed infantry – because war bred soldiers. Gislebert of Mons probably inflates the numbers of footmen in the armies of the various principalities of the Low Countries, but we can see these as indications of substantial numbers.
Some confusion has been caused in thinking about mercenaries by an undue emphasis on their military qualities and organization. Despite assertions to the contrary, all the signs are that mercenaries throughout this period were recruited as individuals and were somewhat fallible as soldiers. In August 1173, a substantial number of Henry II’s Brabançons were defeated at St Jaques-de-Beuvron by local peasants; in 1176, a peasant militia destroyed another group at St Mégrin, while in the following year those licensed by Richard of Aquitaine to ravage the Limousin were defeated by a local force. A few years later, as we have noted, large mercenary forces were defeated by peasant militias in the affair of the “Capuchins”. Mercenary infantry of this type seem to have had their greatest successes when used with other forces and under proper leadership. For mercenaries were only retained for as long as they were needed, and this must have meant that, like all other forces, they lacked the cohesiveness which only corporate identity over a long period can bring. Everything points to mercenaries being raised as individuals or in small groups. Even in thirteenth-century Italy, where we hear an enormous amount about mercenaries, both infantry and cavalry, they continued to be recruited only to supplement the native forces of the cities and so retained their essentially casual nature. In England and elsewhere, the thirteenth century saw the raising of large infantry armies, but their quality was generally poor. The “Grand Catalan Company” is famous for its conquest of Frankish Greece after 1303, but it was formed in the long war of the Vespers, which came to an end with the Peace of Caltabellotta in 1302 – continuous existence gave it cohesion. It is interesting that the social inferiority of the company seems to have been the main reason why it was so universally hated. In the fourteenth century, with the development and frequent use of Commissions of Array in England, forces which were in some real sense regular began to appear.
The ruling elite of the West controlled war. The ethos of decentralized political structures required them to be militarized as the guarantee of their social position. This is the obvious reason why all ruling castes must control the apparatus of war, but what is peculiar about the medieval situation is that the elite were not merely an officer caste. They claimed a monopoly of war, and this was accepted and legitimized by the Church. The system of landholding, by which men held of the great lords and castellans and in return were rendered military service, only worked very imperfectly as a military structure, and throughout this period household and paid knights remained common, while even those who did serve by reason of a tenurial connection came to be paid for their service. The real function of the tenurial system was political – to control the countryside. Its essential military function was to generate a sufficient supply of armed men who shared the honourable concerns of their social superiors. Social mobility meant that the ranks of the cavalry were filled by a wide variety of people who, by one means or another, could afford the right kind of equipment and find employment. From about the mid-twelfth century, the aristocracy increasingly closed ranks, but continued to employ cavalry from the ranks of the gentry below, who were associated with them. Cash was a vital element in the relationship between lord and armed follower, but it was modified by gentility and a common way of life, although the importance of the need for reward on top of it should never be overlooked. The growth of wealth and the development of states, opened to the elite and their followers new paths to fame and fortune; and, increasingly, those who adopted the military life were a specialized group, pre-eminently of the relatively young. But this was a group through which many passed to later eminence in civil life and, in any case, all who were of the elite had to remain militarized to a degree, because that was a mark of status.
This self-conscious military elite needed the services of others. Infantry could provide simple mass, which was at times useful, although they tended to play a more passive role in combat, where the initiative usually lay with the cavalry. Bowmen and crossbowmen added power to any army, while even in this age certain kinds of technicians were needed, to build and operate machines or dig mines. Such ranges and numbers of people could not be provided generally from the entourages and estates of even great lords and so had to be hired when needed. However, the episodic nature of war, and the obvious contempt of the ruling elite for all others, meant that such forces were rarely provided with the continuity that they needed to become coherent forces. Even in the thirteenth century, when royal and princely states waged war on a considerable scale, it was only rarely that units were kept together long enough to realize their military potential. This was largely the result of financial circumstance, but social exclusivity played its part: the Grand Catalan Company was universally hated when it destroyed the flower of the chivalry of Frankish Greece. This period witnessed an aristocratic domination of war, but the official doctrine of a monopoly was a myth. War demands excellence, and this is rarely confined to a convenient social group. By the end of the thirteenth century in England, we find that catch-all term, “man-at-arms” emerging. The wide diffusion of good weapons and the growth of royal arsenals was expanding the range of those admitted to the military elite, but social exclusivity continued to influence armies throughout the Middle Ages.
An international Military Order originally comprised of male nurses devoted to providing succor to Christian pilgrims in the “Holy Land.” It was founded in 1070 by Italian merchants from Amalfi. Following the capture of Jerusalem by the First Crusade the nursing brothers hired a number of knights with crusading experience in Iberia to protect pilgrims journeying to nearby holy sites and shrines, a service already offered by the Knights Templar. The Order of the Hospital was recognized by the papacy in 1113 and was much pampered by successive popes. Its first military action was in 1136, when the Order was given land to fortify and defend at Beit Jibrin, between Gaza and Hebron. In the 1140s the Brethren fended off Muslim raids into the Crusader states, after which more Hospitallers took up arms and accepted contracts to protect Latin castles and pilgrims. Soon this military function overshadowed the original nursing purpose of the Order: by 1187 it held over 20 key strongholds in the Holy Land, including the spectacular Krak des Chevaliers. However, the Brethren always took their hospital duties seriously. Perhaps that was because, unlike the rival Templars, Hospitallers permitted women in the Order. Like other military orders, they had four classes of Brethren: knights, sergeants, serving brothers, and chaplains. They also allowed confrère knights. Any knight catching leprosy was required to leave the main Order to join the Knights Hospitaller of St. Lazarus. Although few in number, the “Lazars” founded many leper asylums in Europe (200 in England alone), supported by commanderies in the Holy Land. In 1134 defense of Aragon itself was left to the Hospitallers and Templars. As Iberian Hospitallers were drawn more into the Reconquista fewer left as Crusader reinforcements for the Middle East. Still, the main concern of the Order remained Outremer.
The Hospitallers in Outremer (to 1291)
Under Roger of Les Moulins (1177-1187), the Hospitallers became more involved in the politics of the Frankish states of Outremer, particularly the succession of Guy of Lusignan and his wife Sibyl to the throne of Jerusalem in 1186. Roger, a supporter of the faction led by Count Raymond III of Tripoli, vied with Gerard of Ridefort, the master of the Temple, who supported the Lusignans. Roger was killed in May 1187, at the battle of the spring of Cresson, leaving the Hospitallers leaderless at the battle of Hattin (4 July 1187). There the order suffered considerable losses, and in the aftermath of the battle lost its castles of Bethgibelin and Belvoir (mod. Kokhav ha-Yarden, Israel), although Saladin did not attempt to besiege Margat and Krak des Chevaliers.
After Hattin, the Hospitallers and Templars became more important as military and political advisors to the Frankish rulers, and their Western resources became essential for the survival of European rule in Outremer. The Hospitallers received money and provisions from their Western priories in addition to income from their properties in Outremer and from their participation in the coastal sugar trade. They contributed substantially to the campaigns of the Third Crusade (1189-1192), serving as senior advisors to King Richard I of England.
The two major military religious orders also assumed some administrative responsibility in the kingdom of Jerusalem, which for much of the thirteenth century was ruled by a series of regents for an absentee monarchy. As Mamlük power increased in the later part of the thirteenth century, the Hospitallers played an important role in making treaties with Egypt. Masters such as Hugh Revel actively acquired properties around the Krak des Chevaliers and adopted an aggressive policy against the Mamlüks. However, the Mamlüks took Krak des Chevaliers in 1271 and Margat in 1285. The Hospitallers left Outremer after the fall of Acre in May 1291, when the master, John of Villiers, was severely wounded during the city’s defense and was evacuated to Cyprus with the remains of the convent.
In 1187 Salāh al-Dîn inflicted a massive defeat on a Crusader army at Hattin, near Tiberias in Galilee. After the battle he ordered all Hospitaller and Templar prisoners killed. On October 3 his troops overwhelmed the remaining defenders of Jerusalem and recaptured the city for Islam. Subsequently, he battered down Crusader castles along the Syrian coast, earning respect among the Latins for his military skill and chivalry.
When Jerusalem was recaptured for Islam in 1187 by the great warrior-prince Salāh al-Dîn, the Knights Hospitaller retreated to Acre. In the Muslim storming and sack of Acre in 1291 every Knight Hospitaller, Lazar, Knight of St. Thomas, and Teutonic Knight (except the Hochmeister) died fighting. Upon the loss of that last Crusader state in 1291, the Hospitallers withdrew to island strongpoints from which their long-established navy continued to fight ascendant Muslim power in the eastern Mediterranean. Along with other defeated Latins, surviving Hospitallers settled on Cyprus (1291) then Rhodes (1306). Although they benefitted hugely from persecution of the Templars, fear of similar treatment confirmed the Hospitallers in their decisions to make Rhodes their headquarters (1310) and to reorganize as a federation of national associations. From Rhodes they remained active as pirates (“Sea Brothers”) against Muslim and Christian ships alike. In 1344, in alliance with Venice, they captured Smyrna. In 1365 they captured Alexandria. In neither case could they hold what they took, and Muslim counterattacks soon retook both cities. In 1440 and 1480 the Hospitallers repelled two Muslim sieges of Rhodes. In 1522 they were finally defeated by the Ottomans; survivors were allowed to depart Rhodes (January 1, 1523). Already well-established and respected in Austria and Germany, in 1530 Charles V granted the Order sovereignty over Malta. It held that island as a Christian outpost in the Muslim eastern Mediterranean for several centuries. A much different and distant outpost was on St. Croix in the Virgin Islands. The Protestant Reformation led to suppression of Hospitaller branches in most Protestant countries, and confiscation of their great estates, although the Lazars continued a quiet, almost underground, existence in France and Italy. Attenuated in all ways, the Hospitallers remained in control of Malta until Napoleon dispensed with them in 1798.
The Fourth Crusade left the Byzantine world in utter confusion. Since the empire had never been a Greek national state and violent successions were nothing new, at first many provincials failed to see that what had happened was a foreign conquest, and not a somewhat irregular revolution. The Crusaders promptly chose an emperor who was to assume control over the Byzantine church, bureaucracy, and provinces as the successor of Alexius IV Although the better-informed Byzantines and Venetians realized that the old empire was gone, not even they knew quite what was going to take its place.
In March 1204, before the Crusaders and Venetians made their final assault, they had agreed to let a college of six Crusaders and six Venetians choose a new emperor. The emperor elected was to receive a quarter of both Constantinople and the empire as his domain. The forces of the Crusaders and the Venetians would each receive half of the remainder to hold 25 fiefs in vassalage to the emperor. If a Crusader was elected emperor, as everyone assumed would happen, a Venetian was to be patriarch of Constantinople. After taking the city, but apparently before electing an emperor, the Crusaders and Venetians divided the land among themselves. In broad outline, the partition put the imperial domain in Asia Minor and some of Thrace, the crusader fiefs in Greece, and the Venetian fiefs in the islands, some ports, and Epirus.
In May the electors did choose a Crusader emperor, but not Marquis Boniface of Montferrat, who had led the Crusade and expected to be elected. Boniface had already moved into the Great Palace, attracted some Byzantine supporters, and arranged to marry Isaac II’s widow Margaret-Maria. He had earlier family connections with both the Angeli and the Comneni, and was a man of energy and ability. But the Venetians wanted an emperor who would be easier to control, and joined with some French and German Crusaders to outvote Boniface’s Italian followers. They selected the thirty-one-year-old Count Baldwin of Flanders, who was duly crowned.
THE EMERGENCE OF SUCCESSORS
At first Baldwin, whom Byzantines called the Latin emperor, held only Constantinople and its immediate hinterland. The rest of the empire was subject partly to its bewildered Byzantine governors, and partly to a bewildering crew of rebels and deposed emperors. Alexius V reigned at Tzurulum in eastern Thrace. The previously deposed Alexius III was at Mosynopolis, from which he controlled western Thrace and the region of Thessalonica. Kaloyan of Bulgaria ruled to the north of the two Alexiuses. The rebel magnate Leo Sgurus held the parts of Greece around Nauplia, Corinth, and Thebes. Crete was apparently held by the men of Boniface of Montferrat, whom Alexius IV seems to have granted it in pronoia during his brief reign.
Rhodes was under another Byzantine magnate, Leo Gabalas. Attalia had been seized by the Italian condottiere Aldobrandini. Three more magnates held the Meander valley: Sabas Asidenus around Priene, the old rebel Theodore Mangaphas around Philadelphia, and in the east Manuel Maurozomes, who had given refuge to the fugitive sultan Kaykhusraw. Northwestern Anatolia was held by Theodore Lascaris, a son-in-law and nominal partisan of Alexius III. The Pontus had just fallen to David and Alexius Comnenus, grandsons of the emperor Andronicus who had been lynched nineteen years before. Alexius Comnenus now proclaimed himself Byzantine emperor at Trebizond.
The Byzantine resistance therefore included three men who claimed to be emperor, Alexius III, Alexius V, and Alexius of Trebizond. Of these Alexius III seemed the most plausible. He certainly hoped to retake Constantinople, and with his son-in-law Theodore Lascaris he could claim footholds in both the Balkans and Asia Minor. But he had been a disappointing ruler and had fled from the Crusaders early on. Alexius V had fled later, but after accomplishing even less. Alexius of Trebizond, descended from a widely detested usurper, was far away in a peripheral province. Although Kaloyan of Bulgaria also called himself emperor and was thinking of bigger things, few Byzantines thought of him as one of themselves. The rebel magnates had purely local ambitions. Byzantium appeared to be smashed beyond repair.
By the same token, the Latin emperor Baldwin had a hard task to create a Latin empire that would be nearly comparable to the Byzantine one his men had wrecked. The Latins had already ruined their new capital by plundering it and giving much of the booty to Venice. The Venetian doge Enrico Dandolo was not even Baldwin’s vassal, though many other Venetians were. Boniface of Montferrat, disappointed at losing the imperial election to Baldwin, remained suspicious of him, though Boniface was consoled with the promise of a vassal kingdom around Thessalonica, then held by Alexius III. After first welcoming the Latin capture of Constantinople as a means of reuniting the Church, Pope Innocent discovered how brutal the conquest had been, and condemned the sack of the city and the Crusaders’ plundering of Byzantine church property.
Once elected, Baldwin found himself one of many adventurers, and only a little stronger than the others. That summer he attacked his most formidable Byzantine enemies, the deposed emperors Alexius III and Alexius V. Fleeing west, Alexius V very reasonably sought an alliance with Alexius III, whose deposer he had after all deposed. Alexius III accepted the offer and married his daughter Eudocia to Alexius V, then had his new ally blinded. This stupid act threw away the best chance fro an early and effective Byzantine resistance to the Latins. As Baldwin marched to Mosynopolis, Alexius III retreated before him.
But the Crusaders could be as pigheaded as the Byzantines. The Latins emperor insisted on marching to Thessalonica, ignoring the protests of Boniface, whose kingdom it was supposed to be. Boniface retaliated by attacking Baldwin’s men around Adrianople. This dangerous dispute was hastily arbitrated by the crusader barons and the Venetians. Boniface agreed to leave Baldwin’s domain and to sell Venice his holdings in Create for a thousand marks, while Baldwin let Boniface occupy Thessalonica and help the Crusaders claim their fiefs in Greece. Toward the end of the summer, the confused Thessalonians received Boniface as their king.
Among the Byzantines accompanying Boniface was Michael Ducas, the cousin of Alexius III who had rebelled against him in 1200. In early autumn, however, Michael left for Epirus to answer an appeal from a local governor related to him. Arriving to find his relative dead, Michael stayed at Arta to organize Byzantine resistance in Epirus. Mountainous Epirus, though not rich, was easy to defend against the Latins, and Michael, though a bastard, had his connection with the Angelus dynasty in his favor, and a driving ambition at a time when many others were uncertain what to do next.
Meanwhile Alexius III retreated to Greece, where he joined forces with the rebel magnate Leo Sgurus. Sgurus married Alexius’s daughter Eudocia, undeterred by Alexius’s treatment of her previous husband Alexius V Alexius V was now dead, having been captured after his blinding and killed by the emperor Baldwin. Before the Byzantine alliance between the deposed emperor and the rebel magnate had taken definite shape, King Boniface of Thessalonica advanced into Greece. He captured Alexius III and drove Sgurus into the Peloponnesus, besieging him in the Acrocorinth, Corinth’s almost impregnable upper town. Thus the two former Byzantine emperors, Alexius III and Alexius V, were put out of contention.
While Boniface expanded his vassal Kingdom of Thessalonica, the emperor Baldwin took over his designated holdings in Thrace and prepared to claim his Anatolian domains from Theodore Lascaris. Theodore, apparently still professing loyalty to his father-in-law Alexius III, had organized an army in the northwest. But Theodore had plenty of Byzantine rivals to his rear. The rebel magnates remained active in the south, while the self-proclaimed emperor Alexius of Trebizond had sent his brother David with an army that captured coastal Paphlagonia. Against this divided Byzantine opposition, the Latins crossed the Hellespont and defeated Lascaris near Poemanenum, south of the Sea of Marmara. They went on to besiege Lascaris’s city of Prusa.
The Latins were apparently carrying everything before them. Michael Ducas of Epirus submitted to Pope Innocent to protect his fledgling state. Kaloyan of Bulgaria also made an agreement with the pope, accepting the authority of the papacy in return for a royal crown from Rome. As a nominal member of the western church, Kaloyan then offered an alliance to the Latin emperor Baldwin. But Baldwin refused, annoyed that Kaloyan had been taking border territory in Thrace.
The Crusaders seemed to need no allies. In early 1205 Baldwin’s brother Henry led reinforcements into Asia Minor, captured Adramyttium, and defeated the magnate Theodore Mangaphas. In the Balkans King Boniface of Thessalonica conquered Euboea, central Greece, and most of the eastern Peloponnesus, where he continued besieging Sgurus in the Acrocorinth. The western Peloponnesus fell to some Crusaders recently arrived from Syria, who defeated an army apparently brought from Epirus by Michael Ducas.
Rebuffed by the emperor Baldwin, Kaloyan of Bulgaria incited the Byzantines in Latin Thrace to revolt. They expelled the Latins from Adrianople and several other towns. Baldwin, with whatever troops his brother had not taken to Asia Minor, marched on Adrianople and besieged it. In April Kaloyan arrived with his army and attacked the Latin emperor. The Bulgarians routed the overconfident and outnumbered Latins, killing many of them and capturing Baldwin himself. The aged doge Dandolo died soon afterward. After so much rapid success, suddenly the Latin Empire seemed on the verge of collapse.
Baldwin’s brother Henry hurried back to Constantinople to assume the regency of the Latin Empire and call for help from the West. He had to abandon practically all his conquests in Anatolia to Theodore Lascaris. Kaloyan, who already held most of Thrace, turned on the Kingdom of Thessalonica and sacked Serres before King Boniface could arrive from the Peloponnesus. But Kaloyan made the mistake of mistreating and fighting his Byzantine allies, and the Latins profited by recapturing some of Thrace. Since Kaloyan failed to exploit his victory, the main beneficiary of the Latin rout was Theodore Lascaris. The Latins had already broken the power of one of his rivals, Theodore Mangaphas, whom Lascaris soon took prisoner. When Alexius of Trebizond’s brother David sent an army against Theodore, Lascaris defeated it and captured its commander. Probably after this victory, Theodore proclaimed himself Byzantine emperor at Nicaea.
Now that the new emperor of Nicaea had defeated the forces of Alexius of Trebizond, while Alexius III was Boniface’s captive, Theodore had as good a claim as anyone to the imperial title. Aged about thirty-one, with no less ability than his rivals and more vision, Theodore had already built up a functioning successor state in northwestern Anatolia from next to nothing. Later in 1205 the Nicene emperor defeated his two competitors to the south, Sabas Asidenus and Manuel Maurozomes. By early 1206 Theodore made peace with Maurozomes, who kept only the border forts of Chonae and Laodicea as a vassal of the recently restored sultan Kaykhusraw. Theodore tried to secure his claim as the leading Byzantine pretender by inviting the exiled patriarch of Constantinople John to leave the rebel-held part of Thrace for Nicaea. But the patriarch would not desert his embattled countrymen, and in any case died in spring 1206.
The same spring Kaloyan raided Thrace with a ferocity that drove the Byzantine rebels into the arms of the Latin regent Henry. The rebels surrendered Adrianople to Theodore Branas, a Byzantine general in Henry’s service, and allowed Henry and his men to reoccupy most of Thrace. Having learned that his brother Baldwin had died in Bulgarian captivity, Henry had himself crowned Latin emperor. Although the Latin Empire he inherited was gravely weakened, he was a much more gifted leader than his brother and set about regaining what had been lost.
Henry tried to restrain Theodore Lascaris of Nicaea by allying with David Comnenus, the last Byzantine rival bordering on Theodore’s territory. The Nicene emperor was marching on David’s city of Heraclea Pontica when the Latins attacked him from the rear, and he had to turn back to chase them off. In the winter the Latins invaded Theodore’s lands again, capturing Nicomedia and Cyzicus from him. He retaliated by persuading Kaloyan to attack Latin Thrace. In spring 1207 Henry had to withdraw troops from Anatolia to rescue Adrianople from the Bulgarians. To obtain a badly needed truce from Theodore, the Latin emperor agreed to return Nicomedia and Cyzicus to him.
By this time all the surviving combatants were becoming exhausted. The Latins seemed to have Kaloyan at bay, until the Bulgarians ambushed and killed Boniface of Thessalonica in late summer. Kaloyan was besieging Thessalonica when he too suddenly died in the early autumn. Since both Boniface and Kaloyan left only underage sons, a group of rebellious barons took over Thessalonica, and Kaloyan’s nephew Boril usurped the Bulgarian throne. Both Bulgaria and Thessalonica were incapacitated.
By early 1208 the major players eliminated some minor ones from the game and made matters a little less chaotic. Leo Sgurus, cornered on the Acrocorinth by the Latins, committed suicide by riding his horse off a cliff. The sultan Kaykhusraw took Attalia from the freebooter Aldobrandini. Venice and its vassals finished conquering most of the islands except Crete, which had been seized by the Genoese. Theodore Lascaris chose a patriarch, nominally of Constantinople but resident at Nicaea, who crowned him emperor, nominally of the Byzantine Empire but at Nicaea for the present.
That summer the Latin emperor Henry crushed a raid by Boril of Bulgaria, secured Thrace, and took Philippopolis. Henry then marched against the rebel barons of Thessalonica. In the first part of 1209 he suppressed their rebellion by a combination of diplomacy and warfare, installed his brother Eustace at Thessalonica as regent for Boniface’s infant son, and received the homage of the Latin vassals throughout Greece. To avoid trouble with the resurgent Latins, Michael Ducas of Epirus married his daughter to Eustace and made a formal submission to Henry.
After several years of anarchy, the principal powers within former Byzantine territory had established themselves. Except for Genoese Crete, independent Rhodes, and Turkish Attalia, nearly all the lands that had been Byzantine around 1200 were in the hands of four rulers. The emperor of Nicaea Theodore ruled western Anatolia. The emperor of Trebizond Alexius held the Crimea and the northern Anatolian coast, including Paphlagonia under his brother David. Michael Ducas, content to do without a title, ruled Epirus. The remainder of Greece and almost all of Thrace were subject to the Latin emperor Henry and his vassals, who had subdued the Bulgarians and made the Latin Empire the leading state in the region. Though the three main Byzantine successes held about half of what had been Byzantine territory, they remained rivals.
The Latin Empire, Empire of Nicaea, Empire of Trebizond, and the Despotate of Epirus-the borders are very uncertain.
Between 1254 and 1261, the Latin Empire comes to an end, and the Byzantine Empire is restored
Half a century before, Byzantium had splintered into four mini-kingdoms and faded from sight. For a little less than a millennium, Constantinople had been a pivot point of international politics; now, like Kiev, or Braga, or Krakow, it was of vast importance to its immediate neighbors, but little more.
Constantinople now stood as the capital of the “Latin Empire,” a tiny and penniless realm. Immediately after the conquest of the city by the Fourth Crusade, the Latin Empire, under the Count of Flanders turned Emperor, had stretched from Constantinople into the south of Greece, across the Black Sea to encompass the coast of Asia Minor. But under the count’s nephew Baldwin II, who inherited the throne in 1228 at the age of eleven, the Latin Empire had shrunk. The Bulgarian empire, under the ambitious Ivan Asen, mounted constant attacks on its western border; the Empire of Nicaea, under the ruthless John Vatatzes, assaulted it from the east. Baldwin had few troops, and no money to hire mercenaries. A delegation of Franciscan and Dominican friars who visited the city in 1234 reported that city was “deprived of all protection,” the emperor a pauper: “All the paid knights departed. The ships of the Venetians, Pisans . . . and other nations were ready to leave, and some indeed had already left. When we saw that the land was abandoned, we feared danger because it was surrounded by enemies.”
Baldwin spent much of his reign out of Constantinople, traveling from court to court in Europe and begging each Christian king to help him protect the city that had once been Christianity’s crown jewel in the east. Both Louis IX of France and Henry III of England made small contributions to the Latin treasury, but in its king’s absence Constantinople itself grew shabbier and hungrier. By 1254, Baldwin could claim to rule only the land right around Constantinople’s walls. He had already sold most of the city’s treasures and sacred relics: a fragment of the True Cross, the napkin that Saint Veronica had used to wash the face of Christ as he walked towards Golgotha, the lance that pierced Christ’s side on the cross, the Crown of Thorns itself. (Louis IX bought most of them and built a special chapel in Paris to house the collection.) He had borrowed so much money from the Venetian merchants that he had been forced to send his son Philip to Venice as a hostage pending repayment; he had torn the copper roofs from Constantinople’s domes and melted them down into coins.
While the Latin Empire withered, the Empire of Nicaea grew. John Vatatzes, claiming to be the Byzantine emperor in exile, spent most of his thirty-three-year reign fighting: swallowing most of Constantinople’s land, seizing Thrace from Bulgaria and Thessalonica from the third of the mini-kingdoms, the Despotate of Epirus. (The fourth mini-kingdom, the Empire of Trebizond, never expanded very far away from the shoreline of the Black Sea.) By 1254, the Empire of Nicaea stretched from Asia Minor across to Greece and up north of the Aegean.
In February of that year, the sixty-year-old John Vatatzes suffered a massive epileptic seizure in his bedchamber. He slowly recovered, but seizures continued to plague him. “The attacks began to occur altogether more frequently,” writes the historian George Akropolites, who lived at the Nicaean court. “He had a wasting away of the flesh and . . . no respite from the affliction.” In November, the emperor died; his son Theodore, aged thirty-three, became emperor.
But Theodore II soon sickened with the same illness that had killed his father: “His entire body was reduced to a skeleton,” Akropolites says. He died before the end of his fourth year on the throne, leaving as heir his eight-year-old son John.
John’s rule was promptly co-opted by the ambitious Michael Palaeologus, a well-regarded soldier and aristocrat who was also the great-grandson of the Byzantine emperor Alexius III. With the support of most of the Nicaeans (“They did not think it proper,” says Akropolites, “for the . . . empire, being so great, to be governed by a fruit-picking and dice-playing infant”), Michael first declared himself to be regent and then, in 1259, promoted himself to co-emperor as Michael VIII.
From the moment he took the throne, Michael VIII intended to recover his great-grandfather’s city: “His every effort and whole aim was to rescue it from the hands of the Latins,” writes Akropolites. In the first two years of his reign, he prepared for the attack on Constantinople by making peace on his other borders; he concluded treaties with both Bulgaria and the nearby Il-khanate Mongols.
He also equipped himself with a new alliance. The merchants of Genoa had just suffered a commercial catastrophe. In 1256, they had quarreled sharply with the Venetians over the ownership of a waterfront parcel of land in Acre, the last surviving fragment of the Kingdom of Jerusalem. Whoever controlled it could block rival ships from the harbor of Acre, and both of the maritime republics wanted this advantage. “The Christians began to make shameful and wretched war on each other,” says the contemporary chronicle known as the Rothelin Continuation, “both sides being equally aggressive.” The first major sea battle in the war, between a thirty-nine-ship Venetian fleet (reinforced by ships from friendly Pisa) and a fifty-galley Genoan navy, had ended with an embarrassing Genoan loss. Between 1257 and 1258, the conflict ballooned until all of Acre was at war:
And all that year there were at least sixty engines, every one of them throwing down onto the city of Acre, onto houses, towers and turrets, and they smashed and laid level with the ground every building they touched, for ten of these engines could deliver rocks weighing as much as 1500 pounds. . . . [N]early all the towers and strong houses in Acre were destroyed . . . [and] twenty thousand men died in this war on one side or the other. . . . The city of Acre was as utterly devastated by this war as if it had been destroyed in warfare between Christians and Saracens.
The Genoans were the losers. By the end of 1258, they had been forced out of Acre completely; the old Genoese quarter in Acre was entirely pulled apart, and the Venetians and Pisans used the stones to rebuild their own trading posts.
Now Genoa needed another trading base in the eastern Mediterranean. Carefully guarded negotiations between the Genoese statesman Guglielmo Boccanegra and the emperor Michael VIII went on during the winter of 1260, and ended in July of 1261 with the signing of a major treaty: the Treaty of Nymphaion, which promised the Genoese their own tax-free trading quarters in Constantinople, should they help the ambitious emperor to conquer it.
The conquest itself was an anticlimax; Baldwin II was in no shape to resist, and the city was almost defenseless. As soon as the Treaty of Nymphaion was ratified, Michael sent a small detachment to Constantinople to issue a series of threats. The detachment discovered, to its surprise, that most of the remaining Latin army had been sent off to attack a Nicaean-held harbor island near the Bosphorus Strait. Under cover of thick dark, they climbed into the city, quickly overwhelmed the tiny remaining guard, and opened the gates. Baldwin himself, sleeping at the royal palace, woke up at the sounds of their shouts and managed to flee the city, leaving his crown behind him. The Latin Empire was no more.
Michael VIII himself was camped to the north of Thyateira at the time. When news of the capture arrived at his camp, his sister woke him up by shaking him and saying, “Rise up, emperor, for Christ has conferred Constantinople upon you!” According to Akropolites, he answered, “How? I did not even send a worthy army against it.”
Three weeks later, he arrived at the gates of Constantinople himself. He entered the city on August 14 as the first emperor of a restored Byzantium, and found a disastrous mess: “a plain of destruction, full of ruins and mounds.” The royal palace was so filthy and smoke-stained that it had to be scrubbed from top to bottom before he could take up residence in it.
The Genoese, claiming their reward, now had a trade monopoly in Byzantium and held the premier position in the Mediterranean Sea. Baldwin II ended up in Italy, still claiming to be the emperor of the Latins.
Michael’s co-emperor, young John, remained behind in Nicaea. Michael VIII intended to rule the restored Byzantium on his own, founder of a new royal dynasty, without challenge. Four months later, he ordered the boy blinded and imprisoned in a castle on an island in the Sea of Marmara. The sentence was carried out on Christmas Day, 1261, the boy’s eleventh birthday.
The quantity and the quality of blood spilt at Evesham rendered it a decisive victory; the dead can neither negotiate nor stage a comeback. Montfort’s ghost would haunt his killers for some time to come, but his gory end meant that he could trouble them only in the improbable guise of a popular saint. Likewise, the simultaneous dispatch of so many of the earl’s diehard supporters seemed to herald a new political dawn. Edward’s triumph in battle ensured that his father, though physically traumatised, was restored to full and unfettered power. The schemes to limit the king’s authority, begun in 1258 and repeatedly challenged, modified and reinstated thereafter, had also perished. Whatever future the idea of reform might have, it would not be imposed on the Crown by force. God had granted victory to the royalists. Henceforth the monopoly of might lay with Henry and his son.
It should have been a relatively straightforward matter to transform this military supremacy into a lasting peace. In the end, Montfort had been a man more feared than loved. Even before Evesham his regime had been close to the point of collapse, hamstrung by a lack of genuinely loyal support. When news of the earl’s death broke, men who had been biding their time during his rule came swiftly back to the king’s side. At Windsor Castle the garrison surrendered at once, as did the troops holding the Tower of London. Only at Kenilworth Castle, to which Simon de Montfort junior had retreated, was stronger resistance expected, and even here there was hope for the royalists in the depth of their enemies’ despair. Young Simon had arrived at Evesham too late, but still in time to witness his father’s head being paraded on the point of a spear – a sight, it was said, that left him unable to eat or drink for days.
The mercy that Montfort had been denied in his final encounter would be the essential ingredient in making a firm peace. If at that instant chivalry had been suspended for the sake of political convenience, it was now imperative that it be revived for the same reason. Edward seems to have been well aware of this. For him, the killing at Evesham, as well as being a means to an end, had also been a cathartic moment. He may not have mourned the passing of his uncle, but he is said to have wept openly for the loss of so many others, including his sometime friend Henry de Montfort, who had died fighting alongside his father. Accordingly, in the aftermath of battle, Edward was minded to be merciful. When several leading Montfortians, including the earl’s former steward, approached him just three days later, he promised them his protection, and assured them that neither they nor their goods would be harmed. They duly agreed to submit, and thus the surrender of two more garrisons – those at Berkhamsted and Wallingford – was secured.
For such men, the fact that Edward’s concessionary attitude extended not only to their persons but also to their property was crucially important. Disinheritance, more so even than death, was the rebel’s greatest fear, for it entailed lasting shame and the end of his family’s fortune. Consequently it was also the offended overlord’s greatest threat, and one that in 1265 Henry III was in a strong position to invoke. In the immediate wake of Evesham the king had authorised the seizure of all lands held by his enemies. Royalists had rushed from the battlefield to occupy the manors of those who were known, or even merely believed, to be Montfortians. The reappropriation was startlingly swift. In a matter of weeks more than a thousand properties were confiscated.
Edward, who had hurried to Chester in order to superintend the recovery of his own estates, appears to have assumed that this nationwide land-grab was a prelude to a bargaining process. During this time, for example, he had letters sent to the garrison at Kenilworth, promising them death and disinheritance unless they agreed to an immediate surrender. The threat was dire, but the corollary was also clear. Those who did submit, by implication, would be spared such terrible penalties.
But by the time Edward had returned south, his father had decided on a different course of action. In the middle of September, during a specially convened parliament at Winchester, Henry proclaimed his peace. Then, the following day, he dropped a political bombshell. The lands lately seized by his faithful subjects, he announced, would not in any circumstances be returned to their former owners; all those who had stood with Montfort to whatever degree were to remain disinherited forever.
As the wiser men in attendance were quick to observe, this was a poisonous prescription. Richard of Cornwall was a man with more reason than most to harbour thoughts of vengeance towards the Montfortians, having only just been released from captivity at Kenilworth, where he had been kept in chains. Yet he was still shrewd enough to appreciate that his brother’s policy could lead only to further conflict, for if former rebels had no hope of recovering their lands, they had no reason to lay down their arms. Along with a few other magnates, the earl washed his hands of the whole sorry business and withdrew from court in protest.
His nephew, however, did not accompany him. Despite his instinctive understanding of the need for settlement, Edward went along with the royalist majority that was bent on revenge. It may be that he felt unable to resist the demands of his own powerful supporters. Roger Mortimer, in the words of one writer, was ‘greedy for spoils’. Whatever the case, Edward took his place among the seventy or so individuals close to the king who were rewarded with a share of the loot. The trouble was that more than four times that number had been deprived of their stake in society.
The next target for the royalists’ vengeance was London. Henry felt particularly venomous towards the capital and its citizens, whom he regarded as Montfort’s willing collaborators. During the earl’s rule, the mayor of London, called upon to swear fealty to his sovereign, had actually dared to couch his oath in conditional terms. ‘We will be faithful and duteous to you,’ the wretched man had said, ‘so long as you will be a good lord and king.’ Henry now set out to deliver London a lesson of his own by way of return. From Winchester he moved to Windsor, to where he summoned an army, and let it be known that he intended to besiege the city.
This news sent London into a panic. A small band of committed Montfortians wanted to man the walls and resist, but the majority agreed that the only sensible course was to throw themselves on the king’s mercy. To this end, the mayor and some forty of the more eminent citizens set out for Windsor in early October in the hope of allaying the royal wrath. They were only partially successful. The planned siege was called off, but the delegates themselves, in spite of the safe-conducts they had received, were cast into prison. Henry then proceeded to enter London unopposed, and celebrated the feast of the Confessor on 13 October in Westminster Abbey, ceremoniously wearing his crown to emphasise his majesty. Meanwhile, in the city itself the indiscriminate redistribution of property continued, and again Edward willingly accepted his share of the spoils. Several of his friends were rewarded with confiscated houses, and he himself was given custody of the mayor and certain other prominent prisoners.
The hostility that the king and his son harboured towards London, of course, arose to a large extent as a result of the attack on the queen in the summer of 1263. Eleanor of Provence had crossed to France soon after that notorious incident and had remained there ever since, masterminding her husband’s return to power. Now, at last, she was expected home, and the court moved into Kent in anticipation of her arrival. On 29 October Edward met his mother off the boat at Dover, and two days later she was reunited with Henry at Canterbury. It had been almost two years since the royal couple had seen each other, and the disagreements that had arisen between them during the struggle with Montfort had long since been forgotten; if anything their affection for each other had deepened. In a letter to Louis IX written some time later, Henry spoke fondly of Eleanor, saying he was ‘cheered by the sight of her, and by talking to her’.
Such amiable companionship had also been denied to Edward, but shortly before his mother’s return he was reunited with his own wife. Eleanor of Castile appears to have been kept with the king during her husband’s year of confinement, and subjected to the same close supervision. Montfort’s rule must have been a deeply distressing time for the young couple, with each of them left for long periods uncertain of the other’s fate. Nor was their misery during these months to be measured solely by the stress of captivity and conflict; family life had also been disastrous. Their daughter Katherine, born at some point after 1261, and at that date their only child, had died in September 1264. Another daughter, born in January 1265 and christened Joan, was dead within eight months (and thus perhaps never seen alive by her father). The benefits of peace, therefore, were anticipated in personal as well as political terms. By the time of the queen’s return in October, her daughter-in-law was once again pregnant.
Also returning to England at this moment, probably with his mother, was Edward’s younger brother, Edmund. Although his youth had precluded him from playing any major role in the tumultuous years leading up to Evesham, Edmund was nevertheless to become the greatest beneficiary of the controversial peace. While the court was still at Canterbury, he received from his father all the lands once held by Simon de Montfort, and in due course he received the late earl’s title too. The counterpart to his elevation, and adding to the general joy among the royal family at their reunion, was the departure of Henry’s sister, Eleanor de Montfort. The widowed countess, who had been holed up at Dover since her husband’s death, had surrendered to Edward just days before the queen’s return, and crossed the Channel into permanent exile.
Amid the comings and goings of familiar faces, there was one individual who stood out as an obvious newcomer. Ottobuono de Fieschi was an Italian by birth, a lawyer by training and, since 1252, a cardinal. Now, in the autumn of 1265, he had arrived in England in his new capacity as a legate a latere – that is, he had been sent from the pope’s side with extensive powers to act in the pope’s name. At the time of his appointment Montfort had still been in power, and Ottobuono had therefore been authorised, if necessary, to invade England with the assistance of the king of France. Evesham, however, had removed this unhappy prospect, and the legate was able to land peaceably at Dover in the company of the queen. He would, of course, still have much work to do, punishing and pardoning on the pope’s behalf, and helping to rebuild the authority of both the Crown and the Church. But the earl’s death and the collapse of his regime must have given Ottobuono reason to imagine that his task would be an easier one than he and his master in Rome had originally envisaged.
If so, he was soon disappointed. The vengeful policy of disinheritance proclaimed at Winchester was already working its pernicious effect. Montfortians who had been deprived of their lands by the king’s decision were taking to the woods and the fens, and preparing to resist his government like so many desperate Robin Hoods. In December the court moved to Northampton in readiness to tackle the rebel garrison at Kenilworth, but the planned assault had to be postponed because of the local risings that were breaking out in other parts of the country. Simon de Montfort junior, the royalists discovered, had already left his father’s castle and gone into Lincolnshire, where other disinherited men were rallying to his banner. The marshy and inaccessible region known as the Isle of Axholme provided them with a natural fortress.
The royalists were therefore obliged to divide their forces, and while Henry remained at Northampton, his eldest son set out to subdue the new rebel base. Left to his own devices, Edward felt free to pursue a more conciliatory line, and he soon brokered a deal with his adversaries. In return for a guarantee of life, limb and liberty, they agreed to submit to the king’s judgement at Easter. Young Simon came to Northampton to stand trial immediately, and was sentenced to a year’s exile.
With equal suddenness, however, these initiatives broke down. Simon took fright, fearing he would not be allowed to leave the country after all, and fled abroad in February. (A few months later, he was followed by his younger brother Guy.) The problem for the royalists, it was becoming clear, was not merely military; they were also struggling against the belief among their enemies that their promises counted for nothing.
What was true in general applied to Edward in particular. In retrospect, one tends to admire Edward’s cunning and courage in the years leading up to Evesham, and indeed in many of his actions contemporaries would have found nothing remiss. To some extent chivalry endorsed guile and deception. The advance into battle with borrowed Montfortian banners, for instance, would have been seen by most as nothing more than a clever ruse. Yet there had been other occasions during the war where Edward’s actions had amounted to perfidy – his escape from the city of Gloucester in early 1264 being especially notorious. On the strength of that episode, the author of The Song of Lewes had famously compared Edward to a leopard (leopardus in Latin, which rhymed with Edwardus). If we divide the word, he explained, it becomes leo (lion) and pardus (panther). To be a lion was good; they were commendably ferocious. Panthers, on the other hand, were apparently shifty and untrustworthy creatures, and that, averred the poet, was Edward’s problem. ‘A lion by pride and fierceness, he is by inconstancy and changeableness a panther, changing his word and promise, cloaking himself in pleasant speech. When he is in tight spot he promises whatever you wish, but as soon as he has escaped, his promise is forgotten.’
Saddled with such a reputation, all Edward could do was continue with his conciliatory stance and hope thereby to disprove his opponents’ negative assumptions. His first notable success in this regard came in mid-March, at which point he joined forces with his old friend Roger Leybourne. At the start of the year Leybourne had been charged with the task of securing the coastal towns of Kent and Sussex. The Cinque Ports, as they are still corporately known, had become a refuge for pirates and Montfortian sympathisers – it had been via the port of Winchelsea that Simon junior had made good his escape. Leybourne had set about reducing them to obedience with his usual flair for military operations, and had already succeeded in taking Sandwich by storm.
What ultimately won over Winchelsea, however, was not simply the combined land–sea assault that Edward and Leybourne proceeded to unleash, but the generosity of the concessions that the former now brought to the table. In return for their submission, the defenders were guaranteed all their lands and liberties, and freely pardoned all their recent crimes. The leniency of these terms seemed most unfair to the London chronicler who recorded them; just two months earlier Henry III had imposed a massive 20,000 mark fine on the capital in return for having a similar pardon. But the calculated clemency of the king’s son was soon seen to be paying dividends. The Cinque Ports remained conspicuously loyal thereafter, and Edward – in his new capacity as their warden – derived a personal profit from the peace he had imposed.
Nevertheless, this success was but a single swallow, not the sudden advent of summer. The royalist plan for April had been to resume the assault on Kenilworth, but the weeks after Easter witnessed a new wave of violence as the king’s opponents – the Disinherited, as they had now been popularly dubbed – failed to keep to the terms of their earlier surrender and instead went on the rampage. One group laid waste to the counties of East Anglia; others began to create similar havoc in the Midlands and in Hampshire. Rumour had it that the sons of Montfort had raised troops overseas and were poised to return. Once again, the royalists were forced to disperse to deal with the hydra that Henry III had ill-advisedly created.
At length, they began to obtain the upper hand. In mid-May Edward’s cousin and companion in captivity, Henry of Almain, scored a signal victory over one band of rebels at Chesterfield in Derbyshire, capturing some of the leaders and putting the rest to flight. A few days later Edward himself defeated another group that had been terrorising the people of Hampshire from their camp in Alton Wood. This encounter, which saw the heir to the throne engaged in hand-to-hand combat with the rebels’ leader, Adam Gurdon, soon became the stuff of legend. Edward was said to have been so impressed with the skill of his adversary that he allowed him generous terms of surrender. The reality was not quite so romantic: although Gurdon was spared, he was afterwards taken to Windsor for imprisonment. Nevertheless, the story shows how Edward’s reputation was beginning to improve. Far from being the duplicitous and bloodthirsty leopard, he was now spoken of as a model of chivalrous clemency.
By midsummer the royalists were again ready to resume their assault on Kenilworth, where the garrison was still determined to resist. The great stone fortress, modified and improved by Montfort, presented a formidable challenge, not least because of the great artificial lake that obstructed its western approaches. Reducing the castle would depend to a large extent on the skill of the king’s engineers, and thus, despite the use of barges from his own lordship of Chester, there was little for Edward himself to do. Command in this instance lay with his younger brother, Edmund, who had commenced the siege some weeks earlier and who, as Montfort’s successor, was also Kenilworth’s new lord.
This lull in Edward’s workload was timely, however, for his wife was approaching the end of her term, and the gap in his known itinerary suggests that he probably went to join her at Windsor. There, on the night of 13–14 July, Eleanor was safely delivered of a healthy baby, which to general rejoicing was a boy. The citizens of London demonstrated their delight by awarding themselves the following day off work, and danced through the streets as they had on the occasion of Edward’s birth twenty-seven years earlier. No doubt the father himself was equally pleased and proud, but the most noteworthy aspect of his response was the decision to call the new child John. At a time of continuing baronial rebellion, it seems remarkably bold, not to say brash, of Edward to have resurrected the name of his notorious grandfather, and to have bestowed it on the son who might one day succeed him.
The rebellion still showed no signs of diminishing. Soon after Edward’s return to Kenilworth – he reappears there in early August – news came of yet another outbreak in East Anglia. John Deyville, a committed Montfortian who had repeatedly evaded capture, had marshalled his fellow malcontents and seized the city of Ely. As with their earlier stand at Axholme, the Disinherited had found themselves another isolated fastness in the Fens, from which they were able to mount devastating raids against neighbouring towns and villages.
The prospect of seemingly ceaseless insurgency reinforced the argument for offering the rebels more lenient terms, and in August a parliament assembled at Kenilworth to determine precisely what these terms should be. Edward, to judge from his own generosity in the preceding months, is likely to have endorsed the moderate view, but, as at the start of the siege, he seems to have maintained a low profile during the discussions, perhaps deliberately. As it was, the final decision, announced at the end of October, was seen to be the work of Cardinal Ottobuono and Henry of Almain, who had jointly headed the debating committee. In the teeth of opposition from hard-liners such as Roger Mortimer, it was agreed that the rebels would be allowed to recover their lost lands in return for substantial fines – several times the annual rent of the properties concerned, the scale varying according to the degree of each individual’s offence. Since the fines raised from these manors would be paid to their royalist occupiers, nobody stood to lose out entirely. The rebels would eventually redeem their inheritances, and the royalists would still feel that they had been adequately rewarded.
The Dictum of Kenilworth, as this scheme became known, was a major step in the right direction. It induced many minor offenders, whose fines had been fixed at twice their annual incomes, to lay down their arms and accept the king’s peace. But the hardcore Montfortians at Kenilworth and Ely, expected to forego five years’ rent in return for forgiveness, rejected the deal as still too harsh and vowed to fight on. In the case of the Kenilworth garrison this constituted an act of considerable bravado, for their ability to resist was fading fast. In the end, after six months under siege, the prospect of imminent starvation induced them to surrender in the days immediately before Christmas.
At the start of the new year of 1267, therefore, it remained only to deal with the rebels ensconced at Ely, and in February the royalists reassembled at nearby Bury St Edmunds to begin the task. An exchange of messengers between the two camps confirmed that there was no hope of further compromise. Deyville and his colleagues were true disciples of Montfort, convinced of the righteousness of their cause. To Henry’s observation that he would be fully justified in retaining their lands forever, they replied that his redemption scheme was tantamount to disinheritance anyway. Military action was evidently the only option; Edward’s appearance at several coastal towns in January suggests that he was probably mustering the necessary naval support for an attack on the island city.
Yet again, however, as the royalists closed in to suppress what seemed to be the last centre of resistance, another sprang up. News now came from the north of a rising led by John de Vescy, a young and devoted acolyte of the late earl of Leicester (legend has it that he saved Montfort’s severed foot at Evesham and took it home to venerate). Although he had accepted the Dictum of Kenilworth, Vescy had latterly come to regret his decision; for him and others; the sight of their former opponents occupying their ancestral estates had evidently proved too much to stomach. Together they had formed a solemn league, forcibly reoccupied their lands and castles, and vowed to defend them.
On learning of this latest upset, Edward assembled a host of knights and sped north, arriving at Vescy’s castle of Alnwick around the end of March. As in similar confrontations of the previous year, it seems that some serious fighting ensued, and Alnwick was retaken by force. Once again, however, what struck contemporaries was Edward’s magnanimity in victory. ‘Pious and merciful’, enthused one London chronicler, ‘he not only put off vengeance, but offered his pardon to the offender’. It probably helped in this instance that Vescy, although an idealistic adherent of Montfort, had also grown up in the royal household, and it is fair to point out that after his surrender he still remained saddled with a substantial fine. Nevertheless, the swiftness with which Edward had quelled the northern rising was impressive, and neither Vescy nor his neighbours created any troubled thereafter. Indeed, as the same chronicler correctly noted, the young lord of Alnwick became one of Edward’s closest friends.
The king, by contrast, had enjoyed far less success against the stalwart defenders of Ely and was castigated for his inactivity on this score. Having decamped from Bury to Cambridge in order to begin his military operations, Henry had attempted to invade the island with a fleet of boats, but his attempt had ended in failure, and the royalists had been repulsed with heavy losses.
This setback, however, was the least of the king’s worries. Far worse was the alarming split that had arisen within his own ranks. Gilbert de Clare, the young earl of Gloucester, whose role in Montfort’s downfall had proved so crucial, had belatedly come out in support of the remaining rebels. In early April he had led a great number of his own troops to London, and Cardinal Ottobuono, charged with holding the city in the king’s name, had naively (and in spite of the concern expressed by the Londoners themselves) allowed his army to enter. The citizens fears were quickly realised. Once inside the walls Gloucester’s men had seized control, and were soon joined by some of the Disinherited from Ely, including John Deyville. The London mob, quiet since the previous year, had also declared in favour of this new alliance. The legate had fled to the Tower, which in consequence had been placed under siege. Meanwhile, across the rest of the capital, the rebels readied themselves for a final showdown. Great ditches were dug and earthworks raised around the city, as well as around the neighbouring borough of Southwark. This time, London would be ready to resist.
With Gloucester’s backing and the capital’s reoccupation, there was a real chance that sporadic insurgency could escalate into a new civil war. Towards the end of April Edward rejoined his father at Cambridge, bringing with him a large army he had recruited in northern England (and possibly even from the Lowlands of Scotland). Thus reinforced, the royalists marched towards London in early May. At the same moment the redoubtable Roger Leybourne was sent overseas to engage the services of foreign mercenaries, and Eleanor of Provence was stationed at Dover ready to receive them. Local levies and siege equipment were demanded from neighbouring counties in expectation of taking the capital by force.
Ultimately, however, reason and moderation averted the need for further bloodshed. Cardinal Ottobuono, having negotiated his way out of the Tower, played a major role, persuading the English clergy to contribute to a relief fund for the Disinherited. But the real heroes of the hour were Richard of Cornwall and the other moderate magnates who had condemned the harsh treatment of the rebels over eighteen months earlier. Under their auspices, a new agreement was reached, which saw a crucial amendment to the Dictum of Kenilworth. Henceforth, it was announced, rebels who agreed to redeem their lands would obtain repossession immediately, rather than (as had formerly been the case) at the end of their term of repayment. This had been Gloucester’s chief demand, and having obtained it he agreed to stand down his men. In mid-June the earl withdrew from London, allowing Henry III to enter a few days later and proclaim his peace. It remained only to bring the rump of rebels at Ely to heel, a task that fell to Edward, and that he accomplished the following month.
At long last, the disturbances of the past decade had come to an end. They would, of course, have ended far sooner had the victors of Evesham not embarked on their understandable but ill-judged policy of retribution. Instead, the battle had been followed by two more years of unnecessary violence and destruction. England, already in a terrible state of confusion at the time of Montfort’s death, had been reduced to total chaos. In almost every corner of the kingdom lordship and landholding were in dispute, and nowhere had escaped the repeated waves of destruction. During the recent occupation of London, even Henry III’s precious Palace of Westminster had been sacked, the looters making off with windows, doors and fireplaces.
But the work of reconstruction and regeneration could now finally begin, and the heavens themselves seemed to be in sympathy. Back in 1258, when the revolution had broken, the weather had been appalling, and in consequence a terrible famine had stalked the land. In 1267, by contrast, the bad times had clearly passed, and the air was filled with hope. One Londoner writing that summer noted with satisfaction the richness of the woods and the spinneys, the gardens and the cornfields, and concluded ‘this year was more fruitful than any in times past’.
‘Moreover,’ added another of the capital’s contented inhabitants, ‘an enormous amount of Gascon wine was imported.’
In these days of renewed optimism, there was no greater cause for hope than the character of the heir to the throne. More than any other individual, Edward had been transformed by the tumultuous events of the past ten years. The swaggering youth whose irresponsible excesses had been lamented by the late Matthew Paris was gone; in his place was a man who, at twenty-eight, had proved his ability on almost every relevant score. The civil war, culminating in the two great battles of Lewes and Evesham, had shown that he possessed a general’s skill and a lion’s courage. The hard-won peace that had eventually followed had allowed him to demonstrate his flair for persuasion and to repair his associated reputation for panther-like duplicity. Without question, Edward had emerged as the most powerful figure in English politics. More than ever before, he looked like a king in waiting.
And yet who knew how long he would have to wait? Henry III, at almost sixty, was old but hardly ancient; despite his tendency to complain of ill-health, he might soldier on for several years to come. In such a scenario, Edward would have to assume a much more subdued role than the one he had been playing of late. He could, of course, assist his father in the business of government, but for the next few years government promised to be a tedious business of settling land disputes. Equally, he could attend to his own estates, but here too there was little prospect of genuine excitement. The one arena that would have presented a challenge was Wales, but Edward’s concerns there had lately been ceded to others. His lands in south Wales had been transferred to his younger brother in 1265; those in the north had been lost to Llywelyn ap Gruffudd in the summer of 1263, when the castles of Dyserth and Deganwy had finally fallen, and there was no question, given England’s exhaustion and instability, of recovering them at any point soon. Accordingly, in the late summer of 1267, Henry and his sons travelled to the Welsh border and granted Llywelyn a permanent peace.
What Edward and his friends craved was fresh adventure. Their desire for further opportunities to prove their martial prowess is clear from the numerous tournaments they organised in the autumn of 1267. But counterfeit combat was no substitute for the real thing, to which recent events had made them accustomed; these young but experienced warriors now required an altogether larger stage for their ambitions. The answer to their predicament was therefore obvious – the natural next step for knights in search of renown. Edward and his friends should go on crusade.
The idea of an English crusade had hung fire since the mid-1250s, at which point Henry III’s half-baked plan of leading an expedition had finally collapsed. To some extent the king’s dalliance in this highly emotive area of foreign policy had been the cause of his domestic crisis. Having initially vowed to fight in the Holy Land, he had subsequently fallen in with the pope’s suggestion that the kingdom of Sicily would make an equally legitimate target. Alas for Henry, his subjects had begged to differ, and ultimately overcome his bull-headed intransigence on this and other issues by depriving him of power. As a result, the only holy war that Englishmen had experienced had been a kind of ironic parody. In 1263 Montfort and his youthful devotees had decided that their cause was so righteous that it constituted a crusade; a little later the papacy had thrown its weight behind the royalists and conferred crusade status on their struggle to overthrow Montfort. Both sides, it seems, had ridden into battle at Evesham with crosses stitched to their surcoats.
By this time, however, the papacy had reverted to its original tune and placed the Holy Land back at the top of its military agenda. In 1263 a new call to arms had been issued to the princes of Europe, exhorting them to go east. Needless to say, it had fallen on deaf ears in war-torn England, but the subsequent coming of peace had encouraged the pope to renew his efforts. Promoting the new crusade was a major part of Cardinal Ottobuono’s remit as papal legate; with the help of the English clergy, he had begun a propaganda drive soon after his arrival. To some extent, it sat well with his other aim of bringing reconciliation. From the time of the First Crusade onwards, preachers of the cross had urged Christians to stop sinfully fighting against each other, and to head east instead, so that they could righteously slaughter the infidel.
But in the fraught atmosphere after Evesham, not everyone was convinced. In February 1267 the rebels in Ely had responded with scorn to the suggestion that they should leave the country at the pope’s say-so. To them Ottobuono’s presence was simply a reminder of the disreputable schemes concocted by the Crown and the papacy a decade earlier; his message was clearly a cynical plot to remove Englishmen from England so that their lands might be given to foreigners. Even once peace had been restored, such attitudes proved hard to dispel. The cardinal preached the cross in London immediately after Henry III had reoccupied the city, but few of those who responded to his call were former rebels.
Among royalists, by contrast, the response was rather more encouraging. Those receiving the redemption fines imposed after the peace were obviously in a better financial position to go on crusade than those obliged to pay them. Moreover, apart from sheer kicks, there were two additional factors that gave the king’s supporters greater motivation. First, and most obviously, there was a strong religious imperative. The victors of Evesham would have felt a great debt of gratitude to God, as well as the need to atone for the exceptional level of bloodshed. Secondly, and probably no less importantly, there was once again the matter of Anglo-French rivalry. In March 1267 Louis IX had announced his intention of taking the cross for the second time. This had been the essential breakthrough as far as the papacy was concerned, but for the English royal family, their friends and relatives, it merely drew attention to the unfulfilled vows they had sworn in 1250. To hesitate again could only magnify their existing embarrassment on this score.
What made sense to royalists in general, however, seemed altogether less sensible in the case of the heir to the throne. Edward was the best guarantor of stability and guardian of the Crown’s interests; were he removed, even for a short time, the kingdom might again descend into chaos. Henry III, for all his religious conviction, was clearly appalled at the prospect of losing his eldest son, and many others must have shared in his concern. Representations were evidently made to the pope, who responded in early 1268 by reiterating them in a letter to Edward and urging him not to go. A little later, recognising that Henry remained anxious to have his venerable vow fulfilled by proxy, the pope suggested that his second son, Edmund, would make a more suitable substitute.
But Edward was undeterred by such objections. In his mind it was an equally unconscionable thought that his friends should go without him. His household, although composed for the most part of Englishmen, still contained some high-ranking French knights, several of whom had travelled to the East with Louis IX a generation before and who must have been particularly influential. The same was true of Louis himself, who had become close to Edward, his nephew, as a consequence of their frequent contact during the 1260s. The French king’s encouragement and the example of his countrymen evidently counted for more than the admonitions of Henry III and the pope. By the end of 1267, if not before, Edward had resolved to go.
At length, the objectors in England were won over. Cardinal Ottobuono was soon convinced that an English crusade would go ahead only if Edward was its leader, and Henry III was eventually talked round in the early months of 1268. By the start of the summer the stage was set, and a special parliament was summoned to Northampton – a location almost certainly selected because of its spectacular church of the Holy Sepulchre, built by a knight of the First Crusade in imitation of the original he had seen in Jerusalem. There, on Sunday, 24 June 1268 – the feast of St John the Baptist – Ottobuono preached the pope’s message, and Edward, his brother Edmund and their cousin Henry of Almain all responded by taking the cross. Hundreds of others followed their example. For the most part they were royalists, such as Roger Clifford, Roger Leybourne and William de Valence, but a handful of former rebels also joined their company. John de Vescy, the rehabilitated lord of Alnwick, was one. Gilbert de Clare, earl of Gloucester, was another, and by far the most important in terms of portraying the crusade as a pathway to reconciliation. The carefully co-ordinated ceremony was clearly a breakthrough moment, and represented the culmination of Cardinal Ottobuono’s efforts. His mission in England completed, the legate left for home the following month.
With regard to the ceremony at Northampton, two other important points deserve to be noted. First, the exultation that day followed on directly from the joyous scenes of the previous month, when Edward and Eleanor had celebrated the birth of their second son, whom they named Henry in honour of his grandfather. Second, the fact that she was now a mother to two small children in no way deterred Eleanor from taking the cross herself. Women were in general discouraged from going on crusade, but by the thirteenth century it had become quite common for ladies of the highest rank to accompany their husbands eastward. Eleanor de Montfort, for example, had done so in the 1240s, as had Queen Margaret of France. On this occasion the French queen was happily staying behind, but her son Philip was planning to take his wife, Isabel, and Edward’s youngest sister, Beatrice, intended to travel with her husband, the son of the duke of Brittany. Given this context, Eleanor of Castile was almost bound to participate. Indeed, given her closeness to Edward, her well-attested fondness for chivalric pursuits, and also the fact that she was the daughter of Ferdinand III, one of Spain’s greatest crusading heroes, it would have been altogether more surprising had Eleanor elected to remain at home.
As for Henry III in the 1250s, so too now for his son, the question became one of preparation and, more specifically, money. To go on crusade had always been an extremely costly undertaking. From the time of the First Crusade onwards, knights had been forced to mortgage or sell their estates in order to raise the necessary funds to maintain themselves and their dependants during the many months, often running into years, that an expedition might last.
Such personal economies were still in order in 1268, but there were also some alternative sources of funding available. By the thirteenth century, crusading had become a well-organised, centrally managed institution under the direction of the pope. The papacy, in fact, had pioneered many of the fund-raising techniques still employed by international charities today. Collection boxes were placed in churches; people were prompted to leave bequests in their wills. The papacy had even hit upon the neat idea of encouraging the non-military members of society to take the cross, then allowing them to redeem their vows in exchange for a cash payment. Using all the money raised by such methods, the Church was able to subsidise the kind of crusaders that were really wanted – warriors with the appropriate experience and equipment.
In theory, therefore, Edward should have been able to lay his hands on such funds. The problem was that, because of his father’s earlier opposition, his initial application for a grant had been declined. Following Henry’s subsequent volte-face, Ottobuono had endeavoured to reverse this decision, commending Edward to the pope as a doughty leader worthy of financial support. Alas, however, the pope died before he could be prevailed upon to change his mind, and the college of cardinals fell into a protracted argument over who should be his successor. Thus, for the foreseeable future, Edward was unable to count on obtaining funds from what should have been the most obvious source.
Denied money by the Church, Edward determined to raise it instead from the laity. In the autumn of 1268 plans were laid to convince parliament to finance a crusade by means of a national tax. This was nothing if not ambitious. To begin with, the country had only recently emerged from years of devastating civil war. More to the point, that war had been provoked, in part, by the excessive financial demands of the Crown. By the time of the famous Oxford parliament of 1258, the knights of the shire had become so fed up with Henry III’s oppressive government that they had been willing to support its overthrow. Some of them, for the same reason, had subsequently gone on to support Simon de Montfort. The revolution might now have been reversed, and Montfort might have been dead and buried, but the grievances that had given force to both remained very much alive. It had been over thirty years since parliament had agreed to approve a royal request for tax. Unless the complaints of local society were answered, it was a situation that was unlikely to change.
Edward thus faced a seemingly impossible situation. To persuade men to vote him money, he would have to address their grievances, yet to address their grievances, he would have to ease their financial burden. It was similar to the vicious circle that had defeated his father. Unable to obtain parliament’s consent to taxation, Henry had ordered his sheriffs, foresters and justices to raise more revenues. This, in turn, only made the men of the localities feel even more oppressed, and thus rendered them even less likely to vote the king a tax the next time he summoned a parliament.
Any attempt to conciliate local opinion therefore had to be carefully judged; it would have made no sense to cede the right to any regular form of revenue in the vague hope that this might engender enough goodwill to permit the collection of a one-off tax. What was needed was a targeted concession: something that would ease the demands, not on everyone’s pockets, but specifically on those of the knights in parliament. For this reason, Edward proposed legislation against the Jews.
As the popularity of crusading implies, thirteenth-century England was an aggressively Christian country, and it would not be incorrect to say that Christianity dominated the lives of each and every one of its 3 to 4 million inhabitants. It would be incorrect, however, to claim that the kingdom was entirely uniform in its religious observance, for amid this massive Christian majority lived a tiny number of non-believers. The Jews had first arrived in England shortly after the Norman Conquest, at which point they had established a small community in London. Two centuries later they could be found dwelling in most of the country’s major towns and cities, yet collectively they still accounted for no more than 5,000 people.
As a minority population, marked out as different by their faith and rituals (and to some extent their appearance and dress), the Jews were always liable to be marginalised and persecuted. In one respect, however, difference had given them a distinct advantage. In the late twelfth century the pope had forbidden Christians from practising usury, or lending money at interest. In so doing he effectively created a Jewish moneylending monopoly. From that moment on, any Christian wishing to obtain financial credit, from the humblest local landowner to the king of England himself, had to look to the Jews to provide it.
Needless to say, while being moneylenders made the Jews necessary, it hardly made them any more popular, and they would not have survived for long had they not been protected by the English Crown. Unfortunately, such protection came at a price, and that price was systematic exploitation. Almost as soon as their monopoly of the credit market had been established, it was decided that the Jews were, in effect, the king’s property, much as if they had been unfree peasants living on one of his manors. As such, the king could tax them at will, imposing a so-called ‘tallage’ whenever he felt the need. It also meant that when a Jew died, all his assets went to the Crown, including any outstanding loans he had made that had yet to be collected.
To contemporary Christians, none of this seemed in any way unreasonable: the Jews, it was felt, should be kept in their place, just as unfree peasants were. If anything, the Crown’s treatment was regarded in many quarters – Rome, for instance – as rather too lenient. Put crudely, if the king wanted his Jews to turn a profit, it behoved him to keep his demands moderate, and allow the Jewish community to prosper. For the first part of the thirteenth century, this was by and large what had happened. By the time of Edward’s birth in 1239, thanks to their special relationship with the Crown, England’s Jews were probably the most prosperous in Europe.
But thereafter Henry III, with characteristic incompetence, had contrived to wreck the system. Unable to obtain taxation from parliament to fund his misguided European adventures, Henry had turned to the Jews and tallaged them without mercy. In the two decades after 1240, the king had unthinkingly extorted a total of nearly 100,000 marks, taking twice the annual average that had been customary before this point. As a result, by the early 1260s, the prosperity of the Jewish community had been broken beyond repair.
The financial persecution of a small, infidel minority might have elicited no more than a general shrug of indifference had that minority not also been moneylenders. As it was, Henry’s rapacious harrying of the Jews had knock-on effects that were equally disastrous for many of his Christian subjects. Inevitably, once their own savings had been exhausted, Jewish creditors looked to recover the monies they had loaned to others. It was similarly inevitable, however, that their clients could not offer immediate repayment. Thus, in order to meet the king’s pressing demands for cash, the Jews were forced to take the extreme step of selling their loans on to others at a heavy discount. A debt of £100, for example, might be sold for £50, or even far less, if the need for quick capital was sufficiently desperate.
So far, so uncontroversial: it hardly mattered to Christians if a few Jewish moneylenders went to the wall in this way. The problem for Christians lay in the motives of those who were the purchasers in this new market. Discounted Jewish debts were typically snapped up by the richest individuals at Henry III’s court – William de Valence and Richard of Cornwall were two of the most prominent pioneers in the field. Such men were not concerned to recover the principal of a loan, nor even (as the Jews themselves were) the considerable interest that would accumulate on it. The target on which their acquisitive eyes were fixed was the property against which the loan had been secured. Having obtained a debt, there was nothing to stop an unscrupulous Christian speculator from demanding immediate repayment of the entire sum – repayment that, naturally, the unfortunate debtor would not be able to produce. This being the case, the speculator could simply foreclose on the debt and seize whatever lands had been put up as collateral. A modern analogy would be a bank suddenly deciding to sell its mortgages to an individual who refused to respect the repayment terms, and who began repossessing the properties on which the mortgages had been secured.
Thus the effects of Henry III’s punitive taxation of the Jews had been felt far beyond the Jewish community itself. For a few very wealthy courtiers with capital to spare, it had created a new and easy way to obtain lands. For the majority of lesser landowners, by contrast, it had created nothing but misery and distress. Some, having done nothing more than take on perfectly serviceable debts from the only available source, had found themselves partially or totally disinherited. Others – anyone else who still owed money to the Jews – had in consequence become extremely anxious lest the same should happen to them. Reform had been demanded in 1258, but nothing had been done. In 1260, at the time of Edward and Montfort’s Easter rising, the Jewish exchequer, where records of debt were kept, had been raided and robbed of its rolls. Finally, during the years of civil war violence, attacks on the Jews themselves had begun. Between 1263 and 1267 there were massacres in, among other places, London, Canterbury, Winchester, Lincoln, Bristol, Nottingham and Worcester. Angry, fearful Montfortian knights, already encouraged to be anti-Semitic by their Christian religion, struck down their creditors in the hope of erasing the evidence of their indebtedness. The restoration of peace had brought an end to these attacks, but the problems associated with Jewish credit remained.
It was these problems that Edward proposed to remedy in the hope that he could thereby appease the knightly class, and thus obtain the tax for his crusade. At the start of 1269 he and Henry of Almain pushed for a raft of legal restrictions on Jewish moneylending aimed at curtailing its abuse by rich Christians. Debts to Jews, they suggested, should not be sold to Christians without prior permission from the king; those that were ought not to gather interest. In addition, they advocated doing away altogether with so-called ‘rentcharges’ – a novel device whereby a debtor made annual payments from his property in return for his loan, and another means by which predatory magnates were wont to snap up encumbered estates.
But when these measures were published in the Easter parliament of 1269 they failed to have the desired effect. The knights of the shires had witnessed plenty of well-intentioned but toothless legislation passed in the previous decade; it may well have been that they insisted on seeing these new measures enforced before they would consider the question of money. This, in turn, may have provoked opposition from those great men in attendance who had a vested interest in the existing operation of Jewish credit and who no doubt hoped that the new laws would simply be left to gather dust. Whatever the case, no effort was subsequently made to enforce the restrictions, and no consent was obtained for a grant of taxation.
Edward was running out of options. If neither the clergy nor the laity would grant him financial aid, his crusade was doomed to fail. In the relentless search for funds a certain desperation was already apparent. In the early months of 1269 his father had handed him the custody (and hence the revenues) of seven royal castles, eight counties and the city of London. Later, in April, his brother Edmund was married to a rich heiress, Avelina de Forz, who stood to inherit the earldoms of Devon and Aumale, the Isle of Wight and extensive lands in Yorkshire. Lastly, in May, there was an exceedingly shabby episode whereby both brothers and several of their powerful friends – Henry of Almain and William de Valence chief among them – conspired to deprive the earl of Derby, Robert de Ferrers, of all his property. A former Montfortian, Ferrers was also a foolish young man who had clashed several times with Edward during the course of the war. He should nonetheless have been allowed to stand, like other rebels, to the Dictum of Kenilworth and recover his estates by redemption. That he was not is testimony to the personal animosity Ferrers aroused in both Edward and his fellow crusaders, but above all it underlines their greed: the earl’s estates and titles, extorted from him under duress, were duly transferred to Edmund.
While the magnates of England floundered in their struggle to raise money, in France the crusade was gaining an unstoppable momentum. Louis IX, in his capacity as the expedition’s undisputed captain, had summoned a final council of war to Paris that summer, which Edward dutifully attended in August. The meeting was not without its benefits. The French king took pity on his hard-up nephew and furnished him with a loan of £17,000 (the sum to be repaid over twelve years from the customs revenues of Bordeaux). Although not nearly enough to cover all costs, this was at least a sizeable step in the right direction. In other ways, however, the Paris summit compounded the pressure on Edward. During their debates Louis and the other leaders fixed a firm date for their departure. The crusade would leave from southern France, it was agreed, in one year’s time – whether the English were ready or not.
Part of Edward’s problem was the attitude of his father. Although Henry III continued to pay lip-service to the idea of going on crusade and had dropped his objection to his eldest son’s involvement, his overriding ambition lay in a different (and to some extent opposing) direction. Whereas Edward intended to thank God for his victory at Evesham by going east, Henry wished to celebrate his divine deliverance at home, on his doorstep. The new church at Westminster Abbey, begun in 1245, was still a long way from completion (the east end and the transepts were finished, but the nave was only half-built). Nevertheless, enough had been done for the king to prepare for the reburial of Edward the Confessor, his hero, whose tomb had been removed when construction work had started. Henry’s hopes had evidently been pinned for some time on a dedication service in 1269: that year’s liturgical calendar was a rare, exact match with the calendar of 1163, when the Confessor’s body had last been translated. Ever since his restoration to power, the king had urged on the works relentlessly, ploughing whatever spare cash he could find into finishing the abbey’s ceremonial sections. Everything had to be ready by the feast of St Edward on 13 October; Henry intended it to be the climactic moment of his long and troubled reign.
Edward returned from France in good time to participate. Viewed optimistically, there was a chance that his father’s day of triumph might occasion a breakthrough for the crusade. To witness his supreme moment, Henry had summoned an especially large parliament. If its lesser members were sufficiently dazzled by the spiritual experience, they might well condescend to approve the much-needed tax grant.
Alas, the great day did not go quite as planned. The dedication went ahead, and the saint’s body was reverently moved to its new, not-quite-finished shrine: Henry, Richard of Cornwall, Edward and Edmund carried the Confessor’s coffin in a solemn procession around the church themselves. But before the ceremony there were arguments over precedence between the officiating archbishop of York and the rest of the clergy, and a similar row arose between the citizens of London and Winchester ahead of the feast that followed. Moreover, while the new church was undeniably awesome, and the king’s hospitality excited ‘the admiration and wonder of all’, neither was enough to alter the mood of the knights in parliament. Asked once again to sanction the collection of tax, they once again refused.
Nor was that the only problem. Notably absent from the dedication of the new abbey was Gilbert de Clare, the easily displeased earl of Gloucester. Although he had taken the cross at Northampton the previous year, Gilbert had subsequently become irritated on a number of scores with both Edward and Henry (he had been particularly irked by concessions made in the March of Wales to Llywelyn ap Gruffudd, which hurt his own interests in the region). Isolated incidents seemed like a concerted campaign to get him; the contemptible treatment of his one-time ally Robert de Ferrers cannot have done much to allay his fears. According to one chronicler, the earl now professed to be staying away from court in the autumn of 1269 because he believed that Edward was plotting to capture him.
Far from uniting men in common purpose, the crusade appeared to be deepening the divisions between them. The knights of the shires, still aggrieved with the king’s government, refused to subsidise the adventure. Former Montfortians, burdened by their redemption fines, had mostly declined to take part. From the first the expedition had threatened to drive a new wedge between Edward and his father, and to some extent Henry’s support remained equivocal. Now the earl of Gloucester, the single greatest participant after Edward himself, seemed disaffected to a point that might jeopardise the realm’s fragile peace. None of this boded well for a departure in ten months’ time. And yet, at the same time, the crusade could not be abandoned. Financially, because of his agreement with Louis IX, and spiritually, because of his vow at Northampton, Edward was bound to go.