Thursday, June 22, 2017

The Eighth and Ninth Crusades

Welcome back to Crusades Month, where they, just like the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, only got worse and worse as they continued to churn them out! Here is a history of the last two "numbered" crusades, which came to an end not just due to ambivalence about restoring Christianity to the Holy Land, but also because you were lucky to find someone from the time period that could count any higher than nine.

Fig.1: Even this guy was dead a 
hundred years before the Eighth 
and Ninth Crusades.
By the late 1200s, the crusading spirit had been alive in Europe for nearly two hundred years, and like many other things that are that old, it was really starting to get rotten and moldy. No crusade had seen any long-term military success since the First one, and those guys were long dead (with or without the abbreviated lifespan of the Medieval Age). The Crusader Kingdoms that were left behind were falling apart; the Kingdom of Jerusalem had not even included the city of Jerusalem since 1187, with Acre remaining as the only stable Christian city in the Holy Land. Even the Byzantine Empire that was destroyed by the wayward Fourth Crusade had come back to reclaim Constantinople in 1261, meaning the Crusaders couldn't even hold on to places were Christianity already reigned supreme. Nevertheless, Europeans still longed to see the land they read about (or, let's be honest, accepted their seemingly infallible priest's word about) in the Bible be rid of the scourge of Islam. (Not that I think there's anything wrong with Islam! So please don't hurt me!) And so two more numbered crusades would be called in the late 1260s by two European kings. Unfortunately they would be half-hearted crusades, so they will each be half-heartedly discussed in the same history (hey, if they're not going to put everything they have into this, why should I?).

Once again, let's start with our major players:

Last we checked in to the Crusades, King Louis IX of France was leaving Acre in 1254 after the Seventh Crusade, promising he would return and deliver Jerusalem back to the Christian God (though with all the failures the Crusades had endured, he never once thought that maybe God didn't want that crumby city after all). He would have a little more help than he did before, as...

his brother, Charles of Anjou, promised not to deck out early this time. Though the younger brother of the French king, Charles was a king himself on the island of Sicily off the southern coast of Italy, receiving the blessing of the Pope to conquer it in 1265 (you gotta do what the Pope says you gotta do). Despite the partnership of the sibling kings, taking back the Holy Land would still be rather difficult since...

the Mamluk sultan of Egypt, Baibars, was guarding it very closely. Baibars had already defeated and captured Louis in the previous crusade, as well as even halted the advance of the previously undefeated Mongols in 1260, so he was not a dude to mess with. Luckily the French were not alone, as...

Prince Edward, son and heir to King Henry III of England, agreed to join the crusade as well. Edward was already renowned for halting a rebellion against his father (a rebellion that he supported at first, but nevermind that). Louis and Edward hoped to work better than Philip and Richard, their respective French and English ancestors, did during the Third Crusade, but knowing how well the French and English would get along for the next six hundred years, I wouldn't have high hopes for that.

The Spanish, under King James of Aragon, also agreed to join Louis on the Crusade, but as the Spanish are wont to do, their fleet was destroyed in a storm. Nevertheless, Louis and Charles planned to set sail with their armies in June 1270, with Edward stating he would be fashionably late but get there by autumn. The question remained of where to sail to: should the Crusaders head straight to the Holy Land, or attack Baibars' capital of Cairo in Egypt, or maybe even head over to Constantinople and rough up those Byzantines again before heading south to Jerusalem? In typical SAT fashion, the answer was "None of the above," as Louis announced they would first attack the city of Tunis, capital to a small Muslim kingdom in present-day Tunisia. Why the Crusaders chose to go to Tunis, which was essentially as important as Wyoming in a U.S. Presidential Election, remains a mystery. Did they believe that an easy victory over a weaker Muslim foe would build up their momentum moving forward? Did they think cutting off trade with the Mamluks' neighbors would inflict damage on their ability to defend their territory? Was Charles just looking out for his own kingdom in Sicily, which was within rafting-distance of Tunis? Or did they just want to find a brand new way to screw up another crusade? Well (spoilers), the latter was exactly what was going to happen.

Fig.2: Louis IX's last words of "Jerusalem!" would
lead to an unsuccessful manhunt to find his 
childhood sled with that name.
Louis and his army arrived outside of Tunis in July 1270, setting up camp in the ruins of the ancient city of Carthage (where Hannibal used to run around cursing Rome in the good ol' days). Charles had some "stuff" (as he called it) to take care of in Italy, and promised to get there in a couple of weeks; Louis decided to wait for his brother (well, his brother's army) before laying siege to the city. While it was a tad annoying how the Khalif of Tunis, Muhammad al-Mustansir, sent forces to skirmish with the Crusaders as they waited, that was actually not the worst thing they had to face. As most people know, it sends to get hot in the deserts of North Africa, which only gets worse during a crazy time that people call "summer." And summer during the Medieval Age mostly meant the rampant and unchecked spread of disease, with so much dysentery hitting the Crusaders' camp that it even made the Oregon Trail feel a little uncomfortable. Louis's twenty-year old son John, who was actually born in Egypt during the Seventh Crusade and wanted to impress his daddy by coming along on the Eighth, would succumb to the disease in early August (is there anything worse than having your life bookended by two crusades?). Soon enough, Louis himself would grow weaker and weaker as the hot days passed, and he too would die on August 25, 1270 within his pretty blue tent (fig.2).

As the king of good timing as well as Sicily, Charles of Anjou would arrive in Carthage with his army the very night his brother died. Though Louis's oldest son, Philip, was now King of France, he too had a little dysentery in his system (which was pushing everything else out of his system, if you know what I mean), so Charles took over command of the Crusade. A few small battles were waged against al-Mustansir, but it was clear that Charles really didn't much more heart in fighting the Crusade as I do writing about it (sorry, but I'm sure you've had enough of these things too). By October 1270, Charles and al-Mustansir reached an agreement for the former to pull his troops out of Africa if the latter paid a bunch of money to the Sicilian government. And so the eighth attempt to bring Christian rule back to the Holy Land ended with the brother of the guy who called it getting rich off of a Muslim city 1,500 miles away from that Holy Land. As you could imagine, the soldiers who agreed to join this Crusade were a little peeved about the whole thing, though the ones who would have been really mad were the thousands who died of disease without a single major battle being fought. Nevertheless, the reputation of Louis IX never wavered; in 1297, he was canonized as Saint Louis, with many churches and cities (especially ones who can't hold on to a football team) being named for him in the centuries to come.

Fig.3: For some reason, Charles of Anjou and the Eighth Crusade has been celebrated on currency 
in the South Pacific territory of the Cook Islands, which is less of a reflection of how great the 
crusade was than how much isn't going on in the Cook Islands.

Well that's it for the Eighth Crusade, but there was still a major player who hasn't shown up yet. Prince Edward of England finally got around to joining the French in November 1270, just in time to see Charles of Anjou packing up to return to Europe. The English were a little annoyed about this, but that's akin to complaining about your friends already eating dinner when you decided to show up to their place around midnight. Charles offered to allow Edward and his army to camp in Sicily for the winter before sailing to the Holy Land the next spring; this would be considered the Ninth Crusade by historians (Canned and otherwise), though contemporaries might have seen it as merely a "Plan B" to a Louis-less Eighth Crusade. The Crusaders arrived in Acre in May 1271 and just in time too, as Baibars was laying siege to the nearby town of Tripoli. Nevertheless the arrival of just a measly thousand troops, with many of them being French, did not scare Baibars too much, and he planned to take Acre by the end of the year. Edward planned to throw a wrench in this plan by allying himself with Abaqa Khan, Mongol ruler of Persia. In October 1271, 10,000 Mongol horsemen (which is the scariest 10,000 of anything in 1271 except for plague-infested rats) invaded Mamluk territory in Syria, and caused enough damage to distract Baibars from his famous Baibar-beques (his lamb kabobs were to die for...literally, if you were a Christian). Unfortunately for the Crusaders, they were never able to coordinate a combined attack with the Mongols, and Abaqa Khan eventually got fed up with the Crusade (I hear ya, man) and retreated.

Fig.4: If more stuff like this happened in the
Ninth Crusade, I wouldn't have procrastin-
ated for two years to write this history!
By December 1271, Baibars attempted both a siege of Acre as well as an invasion of Cyprus, which could be used as a naval base to surround the remaining Crusader kingdom. Though both attempts failed, Edward realized that he did not have the manpower or supplies to not be always on the defensive, and therefore his goal of taking Jerusalem would go the way of the previous seven crusades. He eventually mediated a truce with Baibars in May 1272, in which Christians and Muslims promised not to attack each other for exactly ten years, ten months, ten days and ten hours (if you have to have peace, you need to be exact about it). Edward planned to leave Acre the following month, but an assassin broke into his room one night and stabbed him with a poisoned dagger (fig.4). It is unclear who sent the assassin to kill Edward or why, but the English prince deserves a medal for doing the coolest thing anyone ever did on a crusade: he wrested the knife away from his attacker and killed him before any more damage was done (the U.S. government would save a lot of money if they would teach Presidents to do that instead of relying on the Secret Service). There's even a story about how Edward's Spanish wife, Eleanor of Castile, sucked the poison from his wound to save his life, though most historians a reject this as apocryphal and a little icky (and not really in that order). After some time for recovery, Edward and his army left Acre in September 1272, and he would learn on the road that his father was dead (aww) and he was now King Edward I of England (yay). He would eventually acquire the most awkward kingly nickname of all time with "Longshanks," and become better known as the English monarch who tried taking away Scotland's FREEEEEEDOMMMMM!

With Edward's departure, the last official crusade to the Holy Land was at an end. Sure, popes and kings would call for additional crusades, but that was like saying you're going to go to the gym when you know you're just going to stay home and eat a brick of cheese instead. Even when Acre was finally taken by the Mamluks in 1291, which effectively ended the Kingdom of Jerusalem and the Crusaders' power in the region, not a finger (or a cross) was raised in Europe to help. Crusades, many realized, were too expensive, too lengthy, too complex, too stringy. They involved cooperation and teamwork among different groups, which was becoming increasingly difficult as Europe was fracturing into separate political identities with their own interests (mostly land and money, though silly chivalry still counted for something). Believe it or not, there are other "crusades" whose main goal wasn't the capture of Jerusalem and therefore aren't part of the numbered ones (oh, believe me, I'll get to those in the years to come). It would not be until 1917, when the British Army defeated the Ottoman Empire during World War I, that a European power would once again control the holiest city (and then they proceeded to carve everything up in a way that would breed conflict in the Middle East for a far). In the end, the First through Ninth Crusades can be summed up with a famous 19th century painting entitled "The Last Crusader."

Fig.5: This knight's face, which represents the dejection Crusaders felt after repeated
failures in the Holy Land, is quite the opposite of mine now that I'm done writing
about these confounded things! 

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