The Eighth and Ninth Crusades, 1270-2

The Mamluk Sultan Baybars had a field day in the Holy Land during the 1260s. War between Venice and Genoa had drawn the remaining Crusader towns into war with each other, exhausting the region one more time. Mamluk forces, which already held Jerusalem, destroyed the cathedral of Nazareth and took Ascalon, Jaffa, Arsuf, Caesarea and Haifa. It was time to call a new Crusade.

The first volunteer was Louis IX, whose religious faith made him truly devoted to the Holy Land cause. He had never stopped trying to guide and support the Crusader states after his family returned to Paris. Now, in 1267, he took the Cross. He was 53 in a time when 60 was a very ripe old age, and his aging process had been sped by past serious illness and austere living. He had nine living children, the eldest now Queen of Navarre, the youngest seven years old. The King of Navarre, son of the leading Barons’ Crusader, also took the Cross. The King of Aragon attempted to join, but storms forced his ships back. The Crown Prince of England, Edward, also planned to join when he could, but he came from a greater distance.

Louis wanted to go straight back to Acre and help win back more cities from the Mamluks, but his brother Charles had become King of Sicily. If Louis went to Sicily, then to Tunis, he could conquer territory that would help Charles and weaken Egypt. It wasn’t a very good plan. Louis may have wished to convert the Muslims of Tunis to Christianity, and he’d already had his fill of Egypt’s obstinacy on that count.

The Pope devoted some of the Church’s income in France and Navarre to funding the royal expeditions, and in July of 1270, the two kings sailed with large fleets to Tunisia, where they camped on the ruins of Carthage. While they waited for the new King of Sicily or the Crown Prince of England to arrive, they call caught dysentery. Jean Tristan, the baby born in Damietta, died, and his father soon after. When the King of Sicily arrived, he negotiated a truce with Baybars. It worked out well for Sicily: trade with Tunis was opened, with a cash payment and Egypt’s promise not to harbor rivals for the Sicilian crown.

Prince Edward of England arrived after all this was over, so he wintered in Sicily but was determined to go on, to Acre, with King Charles of Sicily. This effort became the Ninth Crusade. Meanwhile, Baybars had taken even Antioch, the well-fortified city that had given the First Crusaders so much trouble.  There was not much left of the Latin Holy Land.

The joint force sailed into Acre while Baybars was besieging Tripoli, the last Crusader “state” in existence. The Mamluks backed away from Acre for the time being, allowing the Crusaders to establish a strong camp there. From this camp, Edward and Charles led raids against the Galilee, taking Nazareth in a no-prisoners battle. More men came from England and Cyprus, with Edward’s younger brother. In 1271, the largest Latin force in years was occupying the land, looking about for possible victories to push back Mamluk governance.

One soft target was a group of recent Turkic immigrants who may have come with the Mongols but stayed behind. The Mamluks had given them land and titles, but they did not know the land and could easily be routed by Crusaders. During 1271, Prince Edward sent an embassy to the Ilkhan, Hulegu’s son Abagha. The Ilkhan agreed to an alliance against the Mamluks and sent a new Mongol force of 10,000 horse.

This was good as far as it went, but the Ilkhan was not committed to resettling the land in any way. His cavalry spent one month in the Holy Land and then rode back to Iran with their spoils. When the Mamluks arrived to push them back, they were gone.

Baybars planned one more large attack to get rid of the Christian armies. Disguising some Egyptian ships as Christian, he sent them to Cyprus to make a surprise attack on Limassol. It wasn’t a bad plan, and it would have materially weakened the Christian forces to lose their supply base on Cyprus. However, the Mamluks lost this one.

By now, it was clear to Prince Edward that the biggest obstacle to taking back the Holy Land was that the “native” Christian rulers were too divided. The Jerusalem royals had died out and been diverted into the Hohenstaufen dynasty of Germany, but other smaller families had taken up the power that remained. Hugh III of Cyprus, descended from Hugh of Lusignan, fought continually with the Ibelin family, the last Franks to defend Jerusalem. And it was time for Prince Edward to return home. He negotiated a truce with Baybars, concluding a 10 year truce in 1272.

Before Edward could embark for England, an assassin with a poisoned knife stabbed him. Edward, however, was a strong young man. He killed the assassin and gradually recovered from the toxic wound, staying on Sicily until he regained his strength. By then, his father had died, so the new King Edward returned to England, covered with Crusader glory.

To the people on the scene, it was not obvious that the Crusade was really over. The King of Sicily bought the rights to “King of Jerusalem” from the last survivor of the old family. The last years of the truce were wasted by civil war among factions. Further Crusader energy was squandered on a last attempt to hold onto Constantinople against the Byzantines who were finally winning it back. Can anyone be surprised that in 1291, the city of Acre at last fell to the Mamluks? Even then, small Crusade attempts dribbled along, but no territory was ever won again. In hindsight, Edward’s Ninth Crusade retaking of some towns like Nazareth was the last success the Latin Crusaders would ever see.


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