Thursday, June 18, 2015

The Sixth Crusade

Fig.1: Most of the world's reaction
to the calling of a sixth crusade.
By this point in the early 13th century, Europeans had seen five crusading forces make their way to the Holy Land, only to watch as one by one turned into a bunch of Holy... well... something else. The Fifth Crusade was especially disappointing, as a constant revolving door of troops, squabbling within the leadership, and the ignoring of "flood watch" alerts from the National Weather Service caused the largest force in crusading history to meet its end within the rising currents of the Nile River. So do you think that discouraged anyone from trying to send off yet another crusade? Don't be ridiculous, we're barely halfway through these things! Even though the Christian populous was becoming tired not succeeding, the kings and clergy of Europe felt the need to try try again. Besides, there was one ruler in particular who was well overdue to pickup the crusading tab.

That said, let's check out the major players of this Sixth Crusade, some of whom may be a little familiar:

Hey, there's Frederick II, the Holy Roman Emperor! He had so many important things going on that he missed the Fifth Crusade altogether. In 1225, he promised to head the next crusade, mostly because...

Pope Honorius III threatened to excommunicate him if he didn't get his butt over to the Holy Land. Honorius already saw one crusade go down the toilet, and he was too old to see it happen again. The same could be said for...

John of Brienne, still King of Jerusalem sans the Jerusalem. He pledged to support Frederick's new crusade, and even took a trip around Europe promoting it to as many Christians as he could (culminating with an appearance on Conan). He was ready to take his revenge on...

al-Kamil, the still sulky sultan of the Ayyubid Dynasty. While he was able to team up with his brothers, al-Mu'azzam in Syria and al-Ashraf in Mesopotamia, against the Crusaders in Egypt, they started fighting again when one got a better Happy Meal toy than the others. With all the inter-Muslim fighting going on, al-Kamil grimaced at the idea of dealing with another crusade (preaching to the choir, buddy).

Fortunately for al-Kamil, and unfortunately for Frederick, recruitment for the Sixth Crusade was extremely difficult, with even the most God-fearing of Europeans saying, "I think I'll pass being led aimlessly around the desert this time, thank you." When his June 1225 deadline was fast approaching, Frederick asked Honorius for a two-year delay, explaining that the extra development time would make the crusade even better (yeah, like we didn't hear that with Duke Nukem Forever). In addition, Frederick proposed to marry John's daughter, Isabella, in order gain more interest in the crusade by merging the Holy Roman Empire with the Kingdom of Jerusalem. John was hesitant by this plan, not because of the twenty-year age difference between Frederick and his eleven-year-old daughter (ew), but because he feared this would give Frederick leverage to usurp his throne before he even got Jerusalem back. With the Pope's urging, Frederick crossed his heart, hoped to die, and stuck a needle in his eye that he wouldn't betray John like that, and the wedding occurred in November 1225. Of course, before the priest barely finished saying, " and wife," Frederick proclaimed himself King of Jerusalem anyway! Ain't he a stinker?

Fig.2: Look on the bright side, Frederick: the 
Catholic Church has done worse things to 
other people than excommunicating them.
By 1227, Frederick was finally getting a decent-sized army to help him reclaim Jerusalem for himself (and Jesus too, I guess). Sadly, Honorius wouldn't live to see it, dying in March 1227; he was replaced by Gregory IX, who made sure the crusade went on as planned. The Crusaders left by boat from the Italian coast that summer, but a brutal plague put a damper on all the on-deck activities planned for the trip. Many soldiers died or became brutally ill; among them was Frederick, who couldn't even take a sip of his piƱa colada without gagging it back up. He insisted on returning to Italy so he could recuperate, because cheese and tomato sauce does wonders for an upset stomach. Unfortunately for him, Gregory was a "no excuses" kind of guy, and did what other Popes only threatened to do: he excommunicated the Holy Roman Emperor. That meant unless he repented for his ways, he could not go to mass, receive communion, and most importantly at this point, lead an army of Christians to return the Holy Land back to the Catholic Church. As such, many soldiers refused to fight for a man whose chances for passing through the gates of heaven were marginally worse than Charles Manson (at least he has good taste in music).

Many a man would have returned home and left the crusade for some other poor sap after being excommunicated, but not Frederick. He insisted on going ahead with his plans, even with just half his army and the feeling of literally being damned. To make things worse for him, Isabella died giving birth to a son, so his hold on the throne of Jerusalem was as wobbly as the world's largest Jell-O mold. Add the fact that King John promised the Pope to foil all of Frederick's plans once he got to the Levant, and this was looking to be a pretty crappy crusade (and that's saying something). Frederick finally arrived in Acre in September 1228, just over a decade later than when he originally promised he'd show up during the Fifth Crusade. He was supported by the German and Italian troops he ruled over as Emperor, but was ignored by key groups, such as the Knights Templar and Knights Hospitaller, as well as the lady at the front desk of his hotel when he tried ordering room service. It was hard enough getting anything done on a crusade to begin with, but this situation was unbearable! Finally, a deal was worked out: the Crusaders would not be fighting for Frederick and his claim of Jerusalem, but for God and Christianity. (Isn't that what they were supposed to be doing anyway?)

Fig.3: Frederick (left) and al-Kamil 
(second left) twenty minutes into their 
staring contest, by far the most intense 
event of the entire crusade.
Thankfully for the mixed up Crusaders, the situation within the Ayyubid Dynasty was nearly as much of a cluster. Al-Mu'azzam died in 1227, and al-Kamil was too busy fighting with his other brother about who should take over Damascus, as well as dish-washing duties on Wednesday nights. As such, al-Kamil really didn't want to waste any energy dealing with the Crusaders anymore than we want to go to the DMV. Sly Frederick knew this, and decided to have his troops march up and down the coast of the Levant to put a little fear into him (since, as any commuter knows, there's nothing scarier than an unexpected parade). By February 1229, al-Kamil decided that he didn't want anything to do with that, and like he did ten years earlier, proposed a deal to the Crusaders. In exchange for a ten-year truce, the Crusaders would be given the Holy Trifecta of Jerusalem, Bethlehem, and Nazareth. The kicker was that the Christians would not be allowed to build a defensive wall around Jerusalem, and that Muslims would still have access to their holy spots in town without so much as an admissions fee. Frederick, feeling a little weary about his possibly disloyal army, and remembering how that Pelagio jerk was still being blamed for brushing aside a similar deal during the previous crusade, gladly met with al-Kamil (fig.3) and accepted.

Once the Crusaders heard they had just won Jerusalem without having to fight a single battle, they roared with approval. But like with anything that seems too good to be true, smiles faded as folks got around to reading the small print. Christians in Jerusalem protested the stipulation that no defenses could be built, arguing that leaving the city undefended with the enemy just across the Jordan River was like trying to stop an oncoming flood with a pizza cutter. Others pointed out that the truce was only valid with al-Kamil, who was just one of the Muslim rulers who called the Middle East home sandy home. And then there was the fact that Frederick, who agreed to the deal, was still banned from the Catholic faith, and wasn't officially crowned King of Jerusalem yet; he tried to rectify this with a coronation ceremony in March 1229, which representatives of the church and crusading knights refused to attend (and not just because the hors d'oeuvres were subpar at best). When some Crusaders in Acre tried to amass an army and win Jerusalem with violence, as was custom, Frederick marched his loyal German troops in and destroyed all of their weapons. Talk about a killjoy!

Fig.4: To be fair, Frederick did act a little 
devilish before he got that first cup of coffee
in his system.
Events in Europe necessitated Frederick's return to Germany: Pope Gregory was undermining his reputation by calling him names like the Antichrist (fig.4), and allowed Former King John to cause havoc within his claimed territories in Italy. In May 1229, Frederick tried to quietly leave Acre under the cover of darkness, but was discovered by kids who were out way after curfew, and was pelted with rocks and rotten meat as he boarded his ship. For the next year he fought a war against the Pope (which was much easier and more honorable than apologizing), after which he was reinstated within the Catholic Church. Fighting also occurred in the Holy Land between those loyal to Frederick and those who found him to be a big fat stupid head (direct quote). As predicted, shortly after the ten-year truce ended in 1239, Ayyubid forces marched right in and took Jerusalem back from the weaponless Christians. Not even that pizza cutter would have saved them.

In a way, the Sixth Crusade could be seen as a mild success. Christians were able to return to Jerusalem without having to fight a single battle (which they would have lost, let's be honest). By talking with Muslim leaders and working out their differences, Emperor Frederick was able to achieve what several of the previous crusades had failed to do, and without bloodshed to boot! Seen in today's peace-loving, happy-go-lucky, save-the-whales-and-trees-and-crap mentality, this was something to be honored. But back then, when slitting the throat of your enemy was the only way progress could be made, Frederick's actions was nothing more than traitorous and pansy-ish. Fighting and losing was better than scheming and making nice. If there was to be another crusade (and you know there will be), they were going to leave it all on the battlefield like they did in the Fifth Crusade. So stay turned for practically a carbon-copy of the Fifth Crusade! (Good thing that one was successful. Oh wait...)

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