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

Louis IX’s First Crusade

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

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

Geoffrey of Sergines

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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