The Fifth Crusade 1213–21 Part II


By the time Ad Liberandam received the council’s approval on 14 December 1215, preaching and recruitment had been going for over two years. It was to continue intensively for another six years then, more sporadically, for at least a further six. The undertaking was massive, in every province and diocese from Scotland to France to Sweden to Hungary to the Mediterranean and even Acre itself, whose new bishop James of Vitry was despatched east in 1216 to drum up local support. It is the first such campaign that has left detailed evidence of every stage of its operation: the reception and dissemination of papal letters; chronicle and personal accounts of the preaching and its effect; the contents of sermons; the mechanics of spreading propaganda between preachers; accounts of money raised and spent. All indicates the grandeur of Innocent’s design. However, its success depended on innumerable local encounters and individual responses.

The success of crusade preaching depended on skilful manipulation of listeners’ aural, intellectual, emotional and visual perceptions. Evidence from the preaching tours after 1213 shows few opportunities were missed to provide the most receptive circumstances for the papal message. Oliver, scholasticus (i.e. teacher) at the cathedral school at Cologne, later bishop of Paderborn, recorded his experiences preaching the cross to Netherlanders in 1214. At the village of Bedum in northern Frisia he preached after mass to a crowd that overflowed the church into the fields outside, a familiar literary and possibly actual scene. His text, Galatians 6:14 (‘God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ’) exploited the rhetoric of the cross and Christ Crucified in Quia Maior, the language of its special crusade prayer and the liturgy of the Eucharist to emphasize penance, obligation, vocation. On cue, so Oliver reported, a vision of three crosses appeared on the sky, two empty, the one in the centre bearing the image of the crucified Christ. Witnesses, apparently about a hundred drawn from all social and age groups, literally saw the point. One recognized the crosses as predicting the recapture of the Holy Land. Another, who had been following Oliver’s preaching tour for some time, was finally persuaded by this visible evidence to take the cross. Other similar apparitions in Frisia confirmed the message of Bedum. Such celestial manifestations were increasingly common in accounts of crusade preaching and usually credited, as here, with inspiring heavy recruitment. In the Cologne region, the success of John of Xanten was directly attributed to such phenomena. The link between cloud-gazing and the spoken message, in sermon and liturgy, was clear. At Bedum, Oliver recorded, the vision lasted for as long as it took to sing mass. However the effect was contrived during actual sermons, news of such wonders spread by letter to fellow preachers and, from them, to later chronicle descriptions.

Other techniques included prophecy. One circulated after the accession of Honorius III as pope in 1216 told of how in 1187 the future pope had been apprised by a mysterious old man, later presumed to be St Peter, that Jerusalem would be regained during his pontificate. This clutching at straws seemed to provide a necessary adjunct to the official programme of evangelical preaching that the abbot of Rommersdorf kept in his letter book. The use of the supernatural reflected the context of the preaching. In Frisia and the Rhineland in 1214 the emphasis lay on collective, public visions, with reports careful to record details of time and place. A decade later, a mission to Marseilles under the provost of Arles, which claimed to have enlisted 30,000 citizens for the cross, was accompanied by a series of private miracles and personal visions. Women in ecstatic trances saw ‘many secrets of the cross’. Although numerous anecdotes favoured by crusade preachers or poets cast women more often as obstacles to male recruitment, either as wives or lovers, female commitment could be presented as further evidence of universal appeal. At Genoa in the autumn of 1216 James of Vitry managed to attract large numbers of noblewomen to take the cross as a prelude to enlisting their husbands. At Genoa and Marseilles, the preachers were careful to publicize their experiences and to establish that their crusade work formed part of a more general campaign to assert orthodoxy.

The wider political dimensions of the recruitment campaign emphasized the resolution of conflict. Just as in Marseilles, where reception of the crusade acted as a ritual of reconciliation between the church and a city under the ban of excommunication, so Oliver of Paderborn’s tour of western Germany and Netherlands seemed to be aimed at areas supportive of Otto IV, even though the crusade was sponsored by Hohenstaufen partisans such as the Fourth Crusade veteran Bishop Conrad of Halberstadt, as well as by Frederick II himself. James of Vitry’s preaching in Genoa was aimed at securing peace between the city and its enemies. Between 1214 and 1219, disputing factions within Bologna were drawn together to sponsor and join a crusade contingent. Similar procedures characterized the activities of crusade preachers across Tuscany and northern Italy, led, from 1217, by Cardinal Ugolino of Ostia, the future Pope Gregory IX. He helped engineer pacification of disputes at Lucca, Pisa, Padua, Pistoia, Genoa, Bologna and Venice. By 1221, armed with money from the clerical twentieth, Ugolino was easing his diplomatic path with grants of funds to mercenaries for the eastern enterprise as well as crucesignati, a distinction that reflected the changes wrought in crusade recruitment by the relaxation of conditions for taking the cross and the arrangements for central church funding. More prominently, Robert of Courçon, crusade legate in France from 1213, attempted, without success, to resolve the Anglo-French conflict for the sake of the Holy Land. While managing to recruit a few magnates, Robert failed prevent the campaigns in northern France of 1214, which ended in the defeat of King John, or the French invasion of England in 1216–17. John’s adoption of the cross in March 1215 and Prince Louis of France’s crusading jaunt to Languedoc that spring owed nothing to Robert’s efforts.

These different aspects of the function and conduct of crusade preaching and recruitment were reinforced by the sermons’ contents. Playing on the mutually supporting emotions generated by the plight of the Holy Land, personal penitence, corporate guilt and communal anger, preachers’ exempla – uplifting anecdotes – were crafted to match theology and recruitment by encapsulating common assumptions, anxieties and expectations. According to the collection of preaching materials assembled during the raising of the Fifth Crusade in England, known as the Ordinatio de predicatione Sancti Crucis, exempla were designed to attract attention, prevent boredom, inspire contrition and encourage the rejection of earthly vanities. Their form may have been deliberately demotic, punchy vignettes in the French vernacular in contrast to the Latin meditations on the figure of Christ Crucified that comprised the bulk of the Ordinatio. While much of the text explains the significance of the cross and the requirement on the faithful to imitate and follow Christ, a section, ‘The call (or Vocation) of men to the cross’, uses repeated refrains and the exempla to transmit the message to the audience’s memory and arouse immediate engagement through the frisson of almost trance-like emotion, a sort of flexible liturgy. Many exempla involved crusade heroes and heroics, stressing the heavenly reward for those who died. Other anxieties concerning the process of becoming a crucesignatus were addressed: family pressure, difficulty with obstructive spouses, the pain of leaving children, the value of the indulgence. The two strands, heroic and domestic, signified the double battle waged by the crucesignatus, against the enemy within – doubt, luxury, sin, the devil – and the enemy without, the Saracen. While some anecdotes did the rounds of crusade preachers, assuming common currency, others attempted to explain the theology of crusading with more local resonance. The divine guarantee to crucesignati was confirmed ‘as if by charter’, a familiar legal image to the property owners of western Europe.36 One rather charming exemplum, recorded after the Fifth Crusade, was aimed at the sort of Netherlandish audience to whom Oliver of Paderborn preached. Just as people in Flanders pole-vaulted over small canals, so the crusade indulgence allowed crucesignati to pole-vault across purgatory. Elsewhere, gender resistance to crusading was addressed in stories of the consequences – uniformly dire – of women obstructing their spouses from taking the cross, just as later in the century more sympathetic accounts of the involvement of the Virgin Mary and miracles of the Holy Blood were thought to encourage female support. Accounts of local heroes and their martyr’s deaths spoke directly to the practical fears of potential crucesignati as well as to their wider patterns of devotion and belief.

Tapping into popular religious enthusiasm and anxieties at the same time as offering social respectability, the patronage of the church and money appeared to be highly successful. Oliver of Paderborn asserts that his labours among the coastal settlements and islands of the Netherlands netted at least 15,000 fighters, who, with the Rhineland recruits, required a fleet of 300 ships to carry them east. Such a prominent and potentially disruptive church enterprise inevitably did not pass without controversy. In France, the activities of Robert of Courçon ran foul of royal interests and magnates’ rights. Official apologists criticized the whole approach to vow redemption and commutation inaugurated by Quia Maior, a hostility that may have contributed to the toning down of such provisions in the crusade conciliar decree in 1215. Another consequence was possibly less predictable. The wide authority delegated to regional agents allowed for highly devolved recruitment. Despite Innocent III’s conciliar proclamation in November 1215 that the expedition should be prepared to depart on 1 June 1217 from the ports of southern Italy and Sicily, no mechanisms were devised to coordinate the gathering of so many autonomous local, regional or national groups. Innocent knew from his experiences of 1198–1202 and memories of 1187–90 how long a major eastern expedition could take to assemble, so his deliberately long preparation period of four years was prudent. However, the pope’s and the council’s failure to address the issue of unified leadership and planning of the sort seen in 1146–7, 1188–90, 1201–3 and even 1095–6, bequeathed a distinctive character to the Fifth Crusade, at once universal and endemically fissiparous. The scope of papal centralization grated with the complexity of its own devolved operation, producing damaging and potentially fatal political weakness. In the very size and ambition of the project lay the seeds of its failure.

By contrast, too, with previous mass expeditions, the Fifth Crusade was not dominated by recruits from the kingdom of France. Many important French magnates took the cross, including the dukes of Burgundy and Brabant and the counts of Bar, la Marche and Nevers, the last a veteran of the Languedoc wars. Recruitment from eastern France and Champagne, traditional areas of crusade enthusiasm, appeared brisk, even though it was complicated in Champagne by becoming entangled in a protracted succession dispute. Anecdotal evidence indicated large-scale adoption of the cross from all sections of society in town and country. However, the Albigensian adventure and Prince Louis’s invasion of England in 1216–17 offered alternative occupation, even to crucesignati waiting to go east. At the same time, a combination of Robert of Courçon’s wider puritanical agenda and the legal and fiscal implications of the papal arrangements aroused conflicting emotions, including resistance. Philip II and some leading nobles objected to what they regarded as papal interference in French customs and the prohibitions on usury loudly endorsed by Legate Robert. Odo of Burgundy objected to the church’s blanket protection given to crusaders and their property, their immunity for repayment of debts and the ban on Jewish credit. There were stories of tensions between lords and the mass of crucesignati and complaints that French crusaders were still being forced to pay taxes, despite earlier promises to them to the contrary. A formal agreement between Philip II and the French episcopacy in March 1215 sought to limit the impact of the fiscal, credit and legal implications of Quia Maior, for example by removing immunity from those charged with capital crimes and certain civil suits concerning obligations to lords. Crusaders’ protection risked disrupting tenurial as well as financial obligations. Negotiated limitations on privileges became a common feature of thirteenth-century crusading, a seemingly important prerequisite for the harmonious cooperation of church and state over the intrusion of canon law into the habitual conduct of secular life and the rights of governments increasingly conscious of their legal jurisdiction. Yet, whatever the reaction to his controversial mission in France, Robert of Courcon, one of western Europe’s leading intellectuals, was to die in the fetid camp before Damietta in the last days of 1218. The crusade depended for its success on thousands of similar commitments.

In England, recruitment was interrupted by the civil war of 1215–17 to which, with ecclesiastical encouragement, some protagonists as well as observers applied the instruments and rhetoric of holy war. Following King John’s reconciliation with the papacy in 1213, his rule was supported by the presence of a succession of papal legates. Preaching the cross was in the hands of a team of academics, Walter, archdeacon of London, Philip of Oxford, a veteran of organizing the Fourth Crusade, John of Kent and, after 1214, William of London and Dean Leo of Wells. The crusade became an important political gesture with the king’s adoption of the cross in March 1215, a precedent followed, on John’s death, by his nine-year-old son and successor, Henry III, immediately after his coronation in October 1216. Both sides in the civil war were led by crucesignati, some of whom were offered commutation of their vows if they fought for the royalist cause while others may even have been induced to take the cross to fight for the king, an early and rather confused example of a crusade with an essentially secular political purpose. Despite attempts to the contrary, in England the crusade not only failed to achieve a political reconciliation, it may have temporarily exacerbated divisions as one side tried to appropriate a cause common to both. Only once the civil war had ended, when magnates from both sides left for the east, did the reconciling aspects of the Holy Land crusade emerge. Between 1218 and 1221, departing crusaders included rebels, such as the earls of Hereford and Winchester and the rebel leader Robert FitzWalter, and royalists such as the earl of Chester, who may, as John’s executor, have been fulfilling his late master’s crusade vow, and the loyalist captain Savaric of Mauléon. Savaric’s contacts with crusading illustrate the futility of judging crusaders’ motives and perceptions, still less the integrity of the institution itself. He fought against Simon of Montfort’s crusaders at Castelnaudary in 1211 and seems to have temporarily commuted his crusader vow in favour of defending the Angevin cause in England in 1216, before joining the Fifth Crusade in Egypt and, finally, accompanying Louis VIII’s crusade to Languedoc in 1226. A professional fighting man, Poitevin lord and royal servant, Savaric seemed attracted to paymasters and respectability. His actions reveal much about the cosmopolitan reach of the western European aristocracy but little of any inner spiritual life.

The English contingent was not negligible but without royal leadership it lacked cohesion in structure or timing of departure. Groups, based around lordship or regional affinities, reached Egypt on each biannual passage from western ports. The earl of Chester, briefly a strong voice in the crusade’s high command, left soon after the capture of Damietta in November 1219 after two years’ stay, while the earl of Winchester had arrived only shortly before. Some, such as Philip of Aubigny, only appeared in eastern waters after Damietta had been returned to the sultan in 1221, while the bishop of Winchester, Peter des Roches, the controversial former justiciar, only took the cross eleven days after the city had, unknown to him, fallen. Repeatedly during the Egyptian campaign, the English presence was noted. The earl of Arundel played a prominent role in acrimonious debates on strategy. It was later recorded that, after the capture of Damietta in 1219, to honour the English presence two converted mosques were dedicated to the national saints Edmund the Martyr and Thomas Becket. The new church of St Edmund was decorated with wall paintings of the martyr’s passion commissioned by an English knight, Richard of Argentan, who during the expedition made himself something of an expert on eastern customs and legends. Whatever their military impact, the English crusaders reignited a habit of involvement in eastern crusading that lasted for generations. Philip of Aubigny, royalist and tutor to the young Henry III, arrived off Damietta in September 1221 to find the Christian evacuation in full swing. His father, Ralph, had died in the Third Crusade. In 1228 Philip again took the cross and, with his nephew Oliver and a significant company of knights, embarked for Palestine in 1235. He died in Jerusalem (which had been restored by treaty in 1229) the following year and was buried outside the church of the Holy Sepulchre in view and under the feet of all who visited. Philip’s tomb slab, bearing his arms, name and inscription ‘May his soul rest in peace’, still survives. In the words of his contemporary, the St Alban’s monk Matthew Paris, it was a grave ‘he had long yearned for in life’.

This process of piecemeal departures, fragmented leadership and almost permanent recruitment stretched across Germany and Italy. From the time he took the cross in 1215 with papal encouragement, Frederick II, king of Sicily as well as Germany, became the putative commander of the crusade. His departure for the east was repeatedly predicted and constantly expected. From his southern Italian ports, Innocent III announced in 1215, the main fleets were supposed to depart. Frederick’s failure to fulfil the vow, which he repeated at his imperial coronation in 1220, deprived his subjects of a focus for engagement. However, given the nature of his kingdoms as well as the role the crusade played in resolving a whole series of local and national disputes, Frederick’s delay, while central to the expedition’s weak leadership, was not crucial to the response, except in the kingdom of Sicily. There, the main contribution came as a direct result of Frederick’s command. When it became obvious he would be unable to travel east in the immediate future, the king despatched Matthew Gentile count of Lesina to Egypt in the summer of 1220 with seventy knights and six galleys and another fleet a year later under Count Henry of Malta. However, these expeditions were sent as tokens of good faith, neither being substitutes for the major Sicilian force that would have accompanied Frederick himself. In his German lands, Frederick’s procrastination inhibited the active involvement of crucesignati among his political partisans. Only in the spring of 1221, after his coronation as emperor at Rome in November 1220, did he send Duke Louis of Bavaria, a crucesignatus since 1215, to represent him on the Egyptian campaign, which was then about to enter its disastrous final phase. Other Italian contingents timed their departures east according to local conditions; Lucca, Genoa and Rome in the summer and autumn of 1218, Bologna a year later, followed by Milan and Venice in spring 1220.

This lack of cohesion was reflected in the time spent in the east. The main campaigns, in the Holy Land 1217–18 and in Egypt 1218–21, lasted four years in total, yet the average length of time lay and clerical aristocrats stayed in the east was about a year, the precedent of Philip II, not Richard I, still less the veterans of the first two great eastern enterprises. Even the expedition of the only western crowned head to embark, King Andrew of Hungary, although oversubscribed when it assembled at Split in August of 1217, fizzled out after its leader left the Holy Land in January 1218, a few weeks after arriving. While such insouciant disregard for the wider interests of the enterprise may have been unusual and Andrew possibly an unwilling crusader, this lack of staying power was typical. Due directly to the fragmented nature of assembly and command, the transient fluidity of tours of service between 1217 and 1221 ensured that the best funded, most widely preached and professionally recruited crusade to date failed to convert numerical popularity into lasting achievement.

This was far from apparent in the summer of 1217, the deadline for departure. Despite the pope’s unexpected death on 16 July 1216 at Perugia, where his corpse, stripped by thieves of its rich vestments, was seen by James of Vitry, the momentum of preparations scarcely slackened. A new pope, Honorious III, the aged papal financial expert Cencius Savelli, was quickly elected, commended by his experience, understanding of the fiscal relationships between the Curia and ecclesiastical provinces and his past association with Frederick II, whose tutor he had been. Arrangements for the crusade became his prime concern. Within a year, two great armies gathered at opposite ends of Christendom, in the Adriatic and the North Sea. In August 1217, the armies of King Andrew of Hungary and Duke Leopold VI of Austria assembled at Split in Dalmatia. A longstanding crucesignatus, Duke Leopold’s contingent included partisans of both sides in the recent German civil war. By contrast, King Andrew appears to have been more reluctant, forced by papal pressure to honour the crusade vow of his father, Bela III (d. 1196), his crusade less of a process of pacification than an exercise in expiation. Andrew had rebelled against his brother King Emeric (d. 1204), another crucesignatus, and was accompanied largely by his own supporters from Slavonia and Dalmatia. Their combined forces were substantial. While Leopold sailed for Acre almost immediately, taking only sixteen days to complete the passage, Andrew found difficulty securing adequate transport for his followers. His shipping contract with Venice, secured by the formal ceding of Zara to the city, provided for at least ten large ships, with an unspecified number of smaller vessels, suggesting an expected military complement of perhaps as many as 1,000 knights and 5,000 infantry. In the event, in ironic and diametric distinction with 1202, the number of troops exceeded the Venetians’ immediate capacity to carry them. Surplus local shipping may have been requisitioned by the Germans, who were not covered by Andrew’s agreement, or by a number of other groups who arrived at Split, including some from France. Entering Split on 23 August, Andrew was not able to reach Acre until late September. If, as is just possible, he had been expecting to find or have news of the impending arrival of the great northern fleet, he would have been disappointed. In a failure of coordination that came to typify the whole enterprise, the Germano-Hungarian crusaders found themselves an isolated vanguard of the larger forces massing rather slowly in the west.

In late May and early June 1217, flotillas from Frisia, the Netherlands and the Rhineland left their home ports to rendezvous, like their predecessors in 1147 and 1189, at Dartmouth. Led by William count of Holland and George count of Weid, and carrying their recruiting officer Oliver of Paderborn, the combined fleet may have comprised between 250 and 300 ships, including numerous cogs capable of shipping upwards of 500 people each, implying a force of many, perhaps tens of thousands. Their leaders appeared to regard their expedition as part of the greater design to be led, in due course, by Frederick II, but there was no indication of any direct imperial direction. During a brief stop at Dartmouth they again followed precedent by forming what amounted to a commune under which ‘new laws’ to secure peace within the army were agreed. Although at the same time they appointed ‘communiter’ the count of Weid as ‘lord of the army’, subsequent decisions and disagreements operated within a communal rather than command structure. New arrivals in the fleet were incorporated into this sworn commune, from those who met the main armada off Brittany later in June 1217 to those from Civitavecchia in Italy in March 1218 who joined the Frisian contingent, which had spent the previous winter there. While the commune may have provided the means of maintaining peace and discipline within the fleet, it failed to impose political unity. Reaching Lisbon in late July after a stormy and costly passage of the Bay of Biscay, the fleet split. The main part, under the counts of Weid and Holland, accepted the proposal of local bishops and commanders of the military orders to attack the troublesome Muslim garrison at al-Qasr (Alcazar do Sal). The Frisians under the abbot of Werde refused to join them, insisting that their duty was to press forward to the Holy Land and that, in any case, Innocent III had refused support for such a campaign at the Lateran Council. Leaving Lisbon on 28 July 1217, the eighty or so Frisian ships entered the Mediterranean and, hugging the northern shore, finally wintered at Civitavecchia, where they enjoyed papal protection. Meanwhile the counts, with possibly up to 160 ships, helped in the costly investment of al-Qasr, which fell on 21 October. As in 1147 and 1189, the effort of this act of vigorous fraternal charity seemed adequate service for some, who managed to obtain absolution from their crusader vows. The rest remained in Lisbon until March 1218 before sailing to Acre. In late April and May, the various surviving elements of the great fleet that had gathered at Dartmouth almost a year earlier arrived in the Holy Land. A year from the North Sea to Palestine repeated patterns established on the Second and Third Crusades. As with those earlier campaigns, this northern fleet found that, by accident or design, they had timed their arrival to coincide with the most significant action of the crusade.