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Monday, September 26, 2022

The Barons' Crusader 1239 - 1241

 After nearly a decade of fraternal fighting, al-Ashraf had died in 1237, leaving al-Kamil the victor in the Ayyubid power-struggle — until he died a year later. The Ayyubid empire at once disintegrated again into warring factions, this time with the brothers, sons and nephews of al-Kamil at each other’s throats just as Frederick II’s truce with al-Kamil expired in 1239. A golden opportunity had just opened up for crusades-minded knights and nobles in the West. 

(Below a stained glass portrait depicting the English crusader Simon de Montfort, Sixth Earl of Leicester)

Since the end of Frederick II's truce had been anticipated for some time, large contingents of crusaders started to arrive to resume hostilities almost at once. These included a substantial army under a number of prominent French nobles, the most senior of which was Thibaut, Count of Champagne and King of Navarre. The factions within the Kingdom of Jerusalem temporarily overcame their differences and joined these forces to confront the Ayyubids. The latter, meanwhile, re-occupied the defenseless Jerusalem in December.

Despite a defeat at Gaza in November (caused by crusaders foolishly ignoring the advice of the Masters of the Military Orders and their own senior commanders), Navarra took advantage of infighting among the Ayyubids to obtain a highly advantageous treaty with al-Kamil’s brother al-Salih Ismael. This restored to Christian control the hinterland behind Sidon, the castles of Beaufort, Belvoir, and Safad, the towns/castles of Toron and Tiberias, along with obtaining promises of the surrender of Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Nazareth, and Galilee to Frankish control in exchange for Frankish help in defeating Ismael’s cousin Da’ud, who had taken control in Damascus. The crusaders rapidly re-establishing control in the northern territories and started to raid into Galilee. Da’ud came under enough pressure to likewise make concessions to the crusaders in exchange for peace. In late summer 1240, he signed an agreement that ceded to the crusaders nearly everything that had belonged to the Kingdom of Jerusalem in 1187, except the region around Nablus (which was predominantly Muslim) and the Transjordan. The treaty may, however, have included dangerous clauses about providing assistance to Da’ud in a war against his cousin Ayyub, who had recently seized power in Egypt.

Meanwhile, in October 1240 an English force composed of 800 knights led by Richard, Duke of Cornwall, sailed into Acre. Cornwall was not only the brother of King Henry III of England, he was the new brother-in-law of Frederick II since the marriage of his sister Isabella to Frederick in July 1235. He was accompanied by another brother-in-law, the husband of his sister Eleanor, Simon de Montfort, Earl of Leicester. Cornwall rebuilt the citadel at Ascalon and opened the lines of communication to Da’ud only to discover the latter no longer needed crusader assistance and was not inclined to honor the terms of the agreement he’d signed with Navarre. Cornwall promptly switched tack and accepted a deal offered by Ayyub of Egypt that included a prisoner-exchange, including prisoners captured at the fiasco at Gaza the previous year. Cornwall demonstratively sided with Frederick II in his conflict with the rebellious barons of Outremer and handed over Ascalon to Frederick’s representatives before departing the Holy Land on 3 May 1241 bound for England via Sicily.

Significantly and enigmatically, however, he carried with him a proposal signed by Balian of Beirut and other leading rebel barons, which put forward a proposal to end the dispute between the barons and the Emperor. The rebel barons laid out conditions for reconciliation as follows: 1) a full pardon for all rebels including the Ibelins, 2) the appointment of a baillie acceptable to them who would hold power in the entire kingdom until Conrad came to the kingdom in person, and 3) the promise that the interim baillie swear to uphold the laws and customs of the kingdom. In exchange, the lords and burgesses of Jerusalem would swear to obey Frederick’s baillie. Most important, the letter identified by name the Imperial baillie they were willing to accept, namely, Frederick’s brother-in-law Simon de Montfort. Frederick ignored the letter and no more is heard of the proposal.

We can only speculate on what Montfort had done or said to win the support of the rebel barons, but it is undoubtedly significant that he shared a cousin with the leader of the rebel barons, Balian of Beirut. More intriguing, in light of Simon de Montfort’s later role as the leader of a baronial revolt in England, it appears that Balian of Beirut and his spirit of rebellion against arbitrary royal authority impressed Simon de Montfort as much as the other way around.



The bulk of this entry is an excerpt from Dr. Schrader's comprehensive study of the crusader states.

Dr. Helena P. Schrader is also the author of six books set in the Holy Land in the Era of the Crusades.


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Monday, September 19, 2022

Civil War in the Crusader States

 Although Frederick II Hohenstaufen spent only a few months in the Kingdom of Jerusalem, his impact on the kingdom was arguably fatal. With the wisdom of hindsight, we can see that the civil war that he ignited and the policy of absentee monarchy that his dynasty adopted doomed the kingdom more certainly than the actions of Saladin or the Mamluks.


The opening volley in this war occurred incongruously at a banquet shortly after Frederick’s arrival in Cyprus on his way to Acre for the Sixth Crusade. Frederick invited his ‘dear uncle,’ the acting regent of Cyprus and former regent of Jerusalem, the Lord of Beirut, to a banquet. The Emperor used extremely friendly and flattering language and explicitly requested that Beirut bring ‘his children’ to the banquet. Furthermore, the Emperor provided robes and requested that Beirut’s eldest sons serve him at table, all gestures designed to simulate the greatest affection and respect. Under cover of darkness, however, the Emperor brought troops into the venue and hid them. At Frederick’s signal, these armed men came out of their hiding places and surrounded the unarmed guests.

Frederick then proceeded to demand that Beirut surrender his lordship — without stating a reason much less proving any wrong-doing — and also repay all the funds he had allegedly embezzled from the Cypriot treasury during his own and his brother’s tenure as regents. Despite the obvious threat of violence, Beirut responded by saying he held Beirut by right and that neither he nor his brother had ever embezzled a penny of the revenues of Cyprus.

While historians have rightly suggested that the latter is hardly credible, the issue here was not which of the two men was ultimately right but rather the fundamental principle of due process. A eye-witness account written within twenty years of the event puts the following words into the Lord of Beirut’s mouth: “I will furnish you proofs by the usage and by the court of the Kingdom of Cyprus; but be certain that for fear of death or of prison I will not do more unless the judgement of the good and loyal court requires me to do.”[i] While this is unlikely to be a verbatim quote is neatly summarizes the issues at stake. Beirut was able to walk out of the banquet alive with the bulk of the Cypriot knights and barons at his back not because his record as regent was impeccable, but rather because he demanded no more than what his contemporaries viewed as right and just: the right to a trial before his peers. The Emperors response was to threaten violence, to demand hostages, and to allow these to be mishandled while in his custody.

A temporary compromise was worked out in which the Emperor agreed to release the hostages and bring the charges against Beirut in the respective High Courts in exchange for Beirut surrendering the castles of Cyprus to the Emperor’s men and joining his crusade. While Beirut, his adult sons, nephews, and vassals were in Syria, however, the Emperor sent the Count of Cotron to Cyprus to lay waste the lands of Beirut, his family and supporters. Furthermore, Frederick attempted to arbitrarily bestow the lordship and castle of Toron on his clients the Teutonic Knights, ignoring the claims of the hereditary heirs thereby alienating another powerful family in Outremer. He likewise attempted to seize control of the Templar castle of Athlit by force. By all these actions, Frederick demonstrated that he had no interest in the laws or constitution of the kingdom, that he respected no one’s rights but his own, and was perfectly willing to use force against his own subjects to get his way.

When Frederick departed the Holy Land via Cyprus, he sold the regency for the still under-aged King Henry of Cyprus to five Cypriot noblemen. They were ordered to ensure Beirut and his supporters never again set foot in the island kingdom. This demonstrated that all his signed promises to bring his charges against Beirut before the High Court were worthless. He then sailed away never to return.

The ‘five baillies’ of Cyprus (as they have gone down in history) began a rapacious regime that undermined their popularity. In consequence, when Beirut retuned with what must have been a small force, he was able to land at Gastria and advance to the outskirts of Nicosia. The five baillies called up the feudal army of Cyprus and met Beirut’s army at the Battle of Nicosia on 14 July 1229. Although the victory went to the Ibelins, all five baillies escaped to the mountain castles. Beirut was forced to besiege both Kantara and St. Hilarion.  Not until shortly after Easter 1230 did the baillies surrender St. Hilarion in exchange for a full amnesty.

Frederick II, however, had not achieved his objectives. So, in the autumn of 1231 he sent the Imperial Marshal Richard Filangieri with a fleet of thirty-three ships loaded with mercenaries to enforce his rule in the kingdoms of both Cyprus and Jerusalem. In the former, Fredrick issued orders to King Henry in his capacity as the “Overlord of Cyprus.” In Jerusalem, Frederick named Filangieri his “baillie” or deputy.

Filangieri anchored first off Cyprus and sent the Bishop of Melfi ashore as Frederick’s envoy. In Frederick’s name, the bishop ineptly demanded that King Henry of Cyprus expel the Lord of Beirut and all his relatives from his realm. Henry blandly pointed out that he could not comply with the Emperor’s orders because he was himself a relative of Beirut. He further noted that it was a lord’s duty to defend his vassals — not hound them out of their fiefs without cause or trial.

Since Beirut had rushed to Cyprus with all the men and his sons held the ports, the Emperor’s marshal made the wise decision not to attempt a landing in Cyprus against resistance. Instead, he sailed by night and struck at the undefended city of Beirut. The town surrendered without a fight, but the citadel with only a skeleton garrison held firm for their lord. Leaving the bulk of his forces investing the citadel, Filangieri continued to Acre where he presented his credentials as Frederick’s baillie and was recognized as such by the High Court of Jerusalem. However, the Court objected to his seizure of Beirut on the grounds there had been no judgement by the Court against the Lord of Beirut. Filangieri, who had just sworn to uphold the laws and customs of the kingdom, answered that he needed to ‘take counsel’ with his magnates. He withdrew from Acre, set up his residence in Tyre, and joined his troops to pursue the siege of Beirut citadel with increased vigor. In short, Filangieri had no more interest in the laws and customs of the Kingdom than did his master Frederick II. The Lord of Beirut had been disseized by force without a judgement of the High Court.

Beirut, however, refused to concede defeat. Instead, he made a dramatic appeal to King Henry of Cyprus for aid, and the king responded by personally calling up the entire feudal army of Cyprus. After a dangerous winter crossing, this army landed on the Syrian coast. Here the former Imperial baillies and some eighty knights (roughly 20% of the Cypriot feudal elite) defected from King Henry’s host and rode for Tripoli. The remaining troops under the Lord of Beirut and King Henry advanced down the coast to challenge the Imperial army besieging Beirut. When it became clear that the Cypriot army was insufficiently strong to lift the siege, Beirut smuggled roughly one hundred fighting men through the sea blockade into the citadel, and then withdrew with the rest of the army to Acre in search of additional backing.

Beirut put his case before the High Court. This brought him the direct support of some forty knights, while the High Court sent a high-ranking delegation to Filangieri to remind him of the laws and advise him to end his siege. Filangieri’s referred them back to Emperor Friedrich. His blunt dismissal of the concerns of the representatives of the High Court swung public opinion in Outremer behind Beirut.

Meanwhile, the latter had crucially won the support of the Genoese — who were dogged opponents of the Hohenstaufens in Italy already. In addition, the ‘Commune of Acre’ had been created. This was an ad hoc body with no legal basis or function, which served as a rallying point for opponents of Imperial power from all classes, ethnic groups and religions. The ‘Commune’ elected the Lord of Beirut their ‘mayor.’ With these forces Beirut felt strong enough to risk an attack on Filangieri’s base in Tyre. The threat to Tyre, forced Filangieri to lift the siege of Beirut Citadel, and offer to negotiate. While the Lord of Beirut was negotiating with Filangieri’s envoys in Acre, however, Filangieri’s army overran the Cypriot/Ibelin camp at Casal Imbert capturing ships, horses, tents, equipment and twenty-four knights. King Henry barely escaped in his nightshirt, riding all the way to Acre to bring word of the debacle.

In assessments of this incident, too much attention has been paid to the fact that the Cypriots/Ibelins were caught completely off guard, and too little attention to how the defeat significantly increased popular support for the Lord of Beirut. For the first time the two men appointed by Frederick as baillies on his departure from the Holy Land (i.e. the men who represented Imperial power from May 1229 until Filangieri’s arrival in September 1231), Balian of Sidon and Eudes de Montbelliard, joined Beirut.

Presumably they were swayed by the fact that international law prohibits hostilities during negotiations. Thus, not only were the Cyriots/Ibelins fully justified in not expecting an attack, but Filangieri’s surprise strike was considered treacherous. Like the banquet for unarmed guests in which Frederick hid soldiers and like the Count of Cotron’s attack in Cyprus while Beirut was loyally serving under Frederick in Syria, this attack struck contemporaries as deceitful and dishonorable.  

Meanwhile, thinking the Lord of Beirut and the King of Cyprus were effectively knocked out of action by their humiliation at Casal Imbert, Filangieri took his fleet and army to overrun Cyprus. There could be no pretense of acting in the interests of King Henry because the King had come of age. Had Henry previously been coerced into supporting Beirut, he was now free to take revenge. Instead he requested the papal legate to excommunicate Filangieri so he would be justified in seizing Imperial war galleys still tied up in Acre harbor. The papal legate demurred, but suggested Henry take the ships on his own initiative. He did.

In these ships, the Cypriot/Ibelin army returned to Cyprus. They dramatically wrecked the expropriated ships on an coastal island, crossed over a ford only passable at low tide, and took Famagusta from the rear without a fight as the Imperial forces fled in the night. Henry was able to re-occupy his capital without bloodshed. However, Filiangieri still commanded a much larger army of Imperial mercenaries. He also had the support of the eighty knights who had defected at the start of the year. Furthermore, the king’s sisters were trapped in the castle of St. Hilarion, which was besieged by Imperial forces, and supplies were running dangerously low.

The latter forced Henry and Beirut to attempt the relief of St. Hilarion, thereby risking a confrontation with the Imperial forces drawn up on the flank of the mountain ridge separating the Cypriot army from St. Hilarion. The Cypriot/Ibelin army was so small, that in over-confidence the Imperial knights charged down upon it, abandoning their strong position. In the ensuing Battle of Agridi fought on 15 June 1232, the Cypriot/Ibelin force decisively defeated Filangieri’s men. The battle is remembered for the role played by the infantry, largely composed of local troops who came out in support of their king. These reportedly killed unhorsed Imperial knights, while helping Cypriot/Ibelin knights back into the saddle. Imperial casualties were huge by the standards of the day, namely sixty knights. Nevertheless, Filangieri was able to withdraw with the bulk of his troops to the coastal castle of Kyrenia.

From here Filangieri appealed to Antioch, Armenia, and the Emperor for help; he received none. He and those Cypriots who had sided with the him sailed away to safety, while a garrison held Kyrenia for almost a year before surrendering to royal Cypriot forces. Frederick II never again tried to interfere in Cypriot affairs, and in 1246 the pope solemnized the de facto situation by formally absolving King Henry of all oaths of vassalage to the Holy Roman Emperor. Thereafter, the Kingdom of Cyprus was fully independent.

Frederick’s claim to be King of Jerusalem and to rule without the consent of the High Court, however, had not been resolved — and nor had his determination to humiliate the Lord of Beirut. The latter, however, continued to enjoy the solid backing of the bulk of the politically active elements in the Kingdom of Jerusalem, including the Knights Templar, the Genoese and the Commune of Acre. On the other hand, the Teutonic Knights were staunchly Imperial in their loyalties, and the Hospitallers tended to the Imperial side. In addition, a significant minority of knights and burgesses, concentrated in Tyre, remained loyal to the Holy Roman Emperor. Thus, the kingdom was effectively split into two entities.

Recognizing that the use of force had failed in the short-term, Frederick II put forward a ‘compromise’ proposal which entailed a general amnesty for everyone who had (in his opinion) committed treason — except the Ibelins. He also recognized the de-facto division of the kingdom into two halves, proposing that henceforth the north of the kingdom would be ruled from Tyre by his baillie Filangieri, while the south of the kingdom with the intransigent Acre would be ruled by a new baillie who he again appointed without the approval of the High Court. The proposal shows just how little the Emperor understood the rebellion. The problem was not one of personnel but principle. The opposition challenged his right to appoint any baillie without the consent of the High Court and objected to his attempts to disseize one of their number without a judgement of the High Court.

In April 1234 the pope became involved in seeking a settlement between the Emperor and his rebellious subjects in the Holy Land. The terms he proposed amounted to unconditional surrender by the rebels, recognition of the Emperor’s right to appoint whoever he liked, dissolution of the Commune of Acre, and no pardons for the Ibelins. The rebels shrugged and ignored the offer, bringing down papal wrath, which included not only excommunication for the Lord of Beirut and his supporters but interdict on the city Acre. By October, the pope was frantically rescinding the interdict because so many Franks were simply turning to the Orthodox churches. At last recognizing that one cannot negotiate an agreement by listening only to one side, the pope asked the rebels to send representatives to Rome to discuss terms.

The men sent to Rome appear to have been intimidated and bullied into accepting disadvantageous terms because on their return they were nearly lynched. New envoys were sent back to the pope, arriving in April 1236. By now, despite the death of the Lord of Beirut (who was still in full possession of his fiefs and wealthy enough dispense largess with both hands on his deathbed), the pope’s relationship with Frederick II was deteriorating again. Pope Gregory IX suddenly discovered that the rebels might have some valid points after all. Thereafter, he made no further attempt to intervene, and the stalemate continued.

In April 1243, the infant boy whose birth had killed Queen Yolanda turned fifteen. In accordance with the laws of Jerusalem, Frederick II’s regency ended. Yet Frederick continued to call himself ‘King of Jerusalem,’ thereby usurping the rights of his own son. Nevertheless, Frederick knew enough about the laws to send instructions to Acre and Tyre in Conrad’s name. The barons weren’t fooled. They became even more inventive in finding transparently self-serving legal arguments for non-compliance. The most important of these was a fictious claim that when a monarch came of age while absent from the kingdom, his/her closest relative resident in the country held the regency until the monarch appeared in person to take the homage of vassals. By this ploy, Conrad’s great-aunt Alice, the dowager queen of Cyprus, became regent. She demanded the surrender of Tyre to her, and when (as expected) Filangieri refused, Balian of Beirut (John d’Ibelin’s eldest son and heir) seized it by force. Filangieri returned to Sicily where Frederick imprisoned him for his years of loyal service and sent in his stead Thomas of Accera. The later did not dare set foot in the Kingdom of Jerusalem and spent his entire tenure in Antioch instead.  

A colorful contemporary account of the conflict written by Philip de Novare, an opponent of the Emperor, has disproportionately influenced modern understanding of the conflict, reducing it to nothing more than a personal struggle between Frederick II and the Lord of Beirut. This is unfortunate. While Beirut was a highly respected nobleman, he did not enjoy the support of roughly four-fifths of the Cypriot nobility, more than half of the Syrian nobility, the Templars, the Genoese and the Commune of Acre because he was such a nice fellow. Rather, the Emperor’s arrogant, arbitrary and unconstitutional attempt to disseize Beirut met with widespread outrage and finally armed opposition because it was seen as a dangerous precedent; the lords of Cyprus and Jerusalem recognized that if the Emperor got away with disseizing a lord as powerful and well-connected as Beirut, than no one else would be safe from arbitrary Imperial actions.

Stripped of personalities and rhetoric, the underlying issue in this conflict between Emperor Frederick and the rebel barons were incompatible views about the nature of monarchy in the Kingdom of Jerusalem. Frederick II was a proponent of absolutism, who viewed himself as Emperor and King by the Grace of God. He recognized no fetters on his rights to rule ― neither laws nor constitutions, not institutions nor counsels, nor indeed his own promises, as he reserved to himself the right to change his mind about anything. The Kingdom of Jerusalem, on the other hand, was a feudal state par excellence. Furthermore, by this point in time, the nobility of the Kingdom of Jerusalem had already evolved sophisticated constitutional views and legal procedures.

First and foremost, the nobility of Outremer held to the fundamental feudal concept that government was a contract between the king and his subjects, a reciprocal agreement entailing obligations on both sides. Yet Frederick consistently flaunted the laws and customs of the kingdom and especially the High Court. He did so by not recognizing that his right to the crown of Jerusalem derived from his wife and extinguished at her death, passing then to his son. He did so by not recognizing the role of the High Court in naming regents and baillies. He flaunted the High Court again by not bringing his charges against Beirut before it, and likewise flaunted it by not obtaining the advice and consent of the High Court for his treaty with al-Kamil. What’s more, he did all this within less than four years of his coronation. By the time he departed the Holy Land in May 1228, the Emperor had squandered all credibility as a fair and honorable monarch by repeatedly breaking his word and behaving like a despot.

The baronial faction countered by becoming ever more inventive in discovering ‘laws’ and customs that undermined Hohenstaufen rule. If the barons and their legal scholars were by the end so nimble and creative as to verge on ‘a cynical manipulation of law and custom,’[ii] this was because from 1232 onwards the baronial opposition was desperately trying to keep a proven tyrant from gaining greater control of the kingdom. That does not negate the fundamental belief in the rule-of-law as opposed to the rule-by-imperial whim that lay at the core of the baronial opposition to Frederick.

As a tragic footnote to this conflict, on his deathbed in December 1250, Frederick II bequeathed Italy, Germany, and Sicily to his son Conrad, his son by Yolanda, but suggested that Conrad give the Kingdom of Jerusalem to his half-brother Henry, the son of his third wife, Isabella of England. This proves that Frederick utterly failed to recognize or accept that the crown of Jerusalem was not his to give away. Because it derived from his wife it could only pass to her heirs ― not to whomsoever Frederick pleased and furthermore only with the consent of the High Court. This attempt to give Jerusalem away to someone with no right to it is like a final insult to the bride Frederick neglected and allegedly abused. It also demonstrates that to his last breath he remained either ignorant of or indifferent to the constitution of the Kingdom of Jerusalem.

[i] Novare, Philip. The Wars of Frederick II against the Iblins in Syria and Cyprus translated by John La Monte. [New York: Columbia University Press, 1936] xxvii, 79.

[ii] Jotischky, Andrew. Crusading and the Crusader States. [Harlow: Pearson Longman, 2004] 101.


The bulk of this entry is an excerpt from Dr. Schrader's comprehensive study of the crusader states.

Dr. Helena P. Schrader is also the author of six books set in the Holy Land in the Era of the Crusades.


           Buy Now!                                                  Buy Now!                                                    Buy Now!

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Monday, September 12, 2022

The Sixth Crusade

  Frederick II’s singular failure to show up for the Fifth Crusade, despite ceremoniously taking crusader vows in both 1215 and 1220, did not go unnoticed across Christendom; he was widely blamed for the failure of the Fifth Crusade. In response, he vowed a new crusade and underscored his commitment to the Holy Land by marrying the heiress of the Kingdom of Jerusalem: Queen Yolanda.


Although the terms of the treaty explicitly recognized Yolanda’s father as King of Jerusalem until his death, it was widely believed that this marriage would motivate the Emperor to undertake a crusade to Jerusalem since any child born of Frederick’s marriage to Yolanda would inherit the crown of Jerusalem. In short, the expansion of the kingdom was now in Frederick’s dynastic self-interest. Frederick solemnly promised to lead a new crusade no later than August 1227, accepting the Pope’s explicit warning that failure to meet this deadline would result in excommunication.

In November 1225, Frederick’s marriage to the thirteen-years-old Yolanda of Jerusalem was celebrated by proxy in Acre followed by Yolanda’s coronation as Queen of Jerusalem in Tyre.  Yolanda then sailed to Brindisi to marry Frederick in person. No sooner was the marriage celebrated, than Frederick titled himself ‘King of Jerusalem’ and demanded homage from the barons of Jerusalem who had travelled with his bride to Sicily. This action was a clear violation of the terms of his marriage settlement with John of Brienne, and Brienne immediately protested to the pope. The latter sympathized and gave the deposed king appointments and income, but initially shied away from taking action against Frederick; the latter’s promised crusade was more important to him than in Brienne’s crown.

Frederick duly gathered his forces in Apulia in the summer of 1227, only for an epidemic to strike down thousands of men before they could depart. Frederick put to sea despite being ill in order to avoid excommunication. After the Landgraf of Thuringia died at sea, however, Friedrich lost heart and returned to Brindisi. Pope Gregory IX promptly excommunicated him. Under the circumstances, the excommunication was hardly justified, and in retrospect represented the opening volley in a power-struggle between the papacy and the Hohenstaufens that would last for decades. At the heart of the conflict were conflicting views of the role of sacred and secular authority, a topic beyond the scope of this work. However, as a result of the excommunication Frederick’s planned expedition to the Holy Land lost papal blessing and could no longer be called a ‘crusade.’ Indeed, it was explicitly characterized as an ‘anti-crusade’ by the papacy.

To make matters worse, in April 1228 fifteen-year-old Queen Yolanda of Jerusalem died of the complications of childbirth. She left an infant son, Conrad, as heir to the throne of Jerusalem. With Yolanda’s death, Friedrich II lost the right to call himself King of Jerusalem; that title now belonged to his infant son Conrad. The most Frederick could claim was the regency for his son (as John of Brienne had done for Yolanda) until the boy came of age at 15. Characteristically, Frederick ignored the law of Jerusalem and insisted on calling himself ‘King of Jerusalem’ until the day he died.

Frederick also proceeded with his crusade. His reasoning appears to be that if he succeeded in liberating Jerusalem, this would vindicate his earlier delays and prove that God was on his side in his conflict with the pope. Friedrich had good reason to believe he would liberate Jerusalem because he had already been promised Jerusalem by al-Kamil. The Sultan of Egypt had fallen out with his brother al-Mu’azzam and was looking for allies. He offered to deliver Jerusalem (his brother’s city) to the Emperor in exchange for the Emperor helping him take it away from his brother in the first place. It was rather like the King of France promising to give the Holy Roman Emperor London — just as soon as the later had captured it for him.

The ironies of the deal appear to have been lost on Frederick Hohenstaufen — and many modern commentators! Expecting a rapid diplomatic end to his ‘crusade,’ Frederick took a comparatively small number of fighting men with him, all of whom were drawn exclusively from his own domains since no one else was prepared to join an ‘anti-crusade’ led by an excommunicate. After a stop in Cyprus which will be discussed later, he proceeded to Acre arriving in 10 September 1228. Shortly after his arrival, Friedrich learned that the pope had raised an army to invade the Kingdom of Sicily with the declared intent of deposing him. One of the men leading the pope’s forces was the man Frederick had so callously humiliated: his father-in-law, King John of Jerusalem.

The threat to his core kingdom made a rapid conclusion of his Near Eastern expedition imperative. Frederick immediately opened up secret negotiations with al-Kamil, reminding him of earlier promises. However, al-Mu’azzam had died, and al-Kamil no longer felt he needed the assistance of a Christian ruler to subdue his nephew. Frederick was reduced to begging al-Kamil for Jerusalem on almost any terms at all. Finally, on 18 February 1229, after five months of secret negotiations, a personal treaty was signed between Frederick and al-Kamil, which, significantly, did not include commitments by any of the other Ayyubids.

Biographers and admirers of Frederick Hohenstaufen are apt to call Friedrich’s preference for diplomacy over warfare ‘enlightened’ or attribute his ‘astonishing success’ to greater ‘subtlety’ and even ‘genius’. It has been claimed, for example, that the treaty demonstrated Frederick’s ‘willingness to compromise and his diplomatic skills.’[i] The fact that diplomacy had been employed by the Franks for more than a hundred years before Frederick’s arrival — and indeed by Richard the Lionheart — is ignored. Furthermore, the fact that Friedrich was vehemently criticized by the Patriarch of Jerusalem, the Templars, the Hospitallers and the local barons as well as the population at large is attributed blithely to the alleged bigotry of the church and ‘blood-thirsty’ character of the Franks in Outremer. Such allegations reflect ignorance of the Holy Land, the Franks, the circumstances of the treaty, and substance of the objections to Frederick’s treaty.

Praise for Frederick’s treaty is almost entirely misplaced given the fact that he did not secure Jerusalem. What Frederick II obtained was temporary Christian control (ten years, ten months and ten days) of some of Jerusalem and a couple other cities, such as Bethlehem. The treaty explicitly prohibited Christians from setting foot on the Temple Mount and prohibited the Franks from building walls around Jerusalem. Rather than defensible borders, the Christians were granted a narrow corridor connecting Jerusalem to Jaffa. This could so easily be severed that it represented a vulnerability rather than an asset. The truce furthermore left the Saracens in control of key strategic castles such as Kerak and Montreal, while prohibiting the Franks from undertaking military campaigns elsewhere. The truce left Jerusalem so exposed that not one religious institution thought it was worthwhile returning their headquarters there.

Furthermore, the superficial success of Frederick bloodless crusade obscures the fact the constitution of Jerusalem reserved to the High Court the right to make treaties. Frederick II Hohenstaufen blissfully ignored this constitutional nicety. He negotiated in secret and presented the barons of Jerusalem with a fait accompli. This, as much as the seriously flawed terms of the treaty, outraged the local nobility. The Arab sources, meanwhile, stress that al-Kamil openly bragged that ‘when he had achieved his aim and had the situation in hand, he could purify Jerusalem of the Franks and chase them out.’[ii]

The terms of the truce reveal the degree to which Friedrich’s entire ‘crusade’ was about his power struggle with the Pope rather than Jerusalem or the Holy Land. While leaving the residents of Outremer to deal with the consequences of his worthless truce, he made a great show of wearing the Imperial crown in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. This was his way of thumbing his nose at the Pope, but it was also ‘an affront to the laws and traditions of the Kingdom of Jerusalem, a blatantly illegal action bordering on sacrilege. It is no wonder, then, that the Christians in the East saw the crusade of Frederick II as a war aimed not at Muslims but at themselves.’[iii]

Having had his day in Jerusalem (and ostentatiously telling the Muslims they should continue their call to prayers even in his presence), Frederick departed the Holy Land never to return. Neither his son nor his grandson, despite being titular kings of Jerusalem, ever set foot in the kingdom. It was left to other kings, such as Louis IX, to try to reclaim Christian control of the Holy City and secure the Holy Land. Meanwhile, the common people of Acre expressed their opinion of Frederick’s ‘anti-crusade’ by pelting him with offal and intestines from their rooftops and balconies as he made his way down to the harbor to embark on his return voyage. Yet by far the worst aspect of Frederick II’s anti-crusade was the legacy it left behind: civil war.

[i] Suhr, Heiko. Friedrich II von Hohenstaufen: Seine politischen und kulturellen Verbindungen zum Islam. [Norderstedt: GRIN Verlag, 2008] 17.

[ii] Ibn Wasil, Arab Historians of the Crusades. Translated by Francesco Gabrieli [Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1957] 271)

[iii] Madden, Thomas F. The Concise History of the Crusades. [New York: Rowman and Littlefield, 2014] 155.


The bulk of this entry is an excerpt from Dr. Schrader's comprehensive study of the crusader states.

Dr. Helena P. Schrader is also the author of six books set in the Holy Land in the Era of the Crusades.


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Monday, September 5, 2022

The Fifth Crusade

  While the Franks regained their footing in the Holy Land, the crusading spirit experienced a revival in Western Europe. In 1212, a youth movement to capture Jerusalem by faith alone shamed the pope into issuing a new crusading appeal in 1213. The youthful King of Sicily and Germany, Frederick II Hohenstaufen, stepped into his grandfather and father’s crusading footsteps, taking the cross at his coronation in Aachen on 25 July 1215. Other kings were also recruited, namely the kings of Hungary, Cyprus, and Jerusalem, but Pope Innocent III was determined to retain control of this crusade, which he considered only one strand of a vast and permanent crusading movement. 


Pope Innocent III envisaged crusading as a permanent state of warfare against the enemies of the Church, wherever they were and whatever form they took (Moors, pagans, Saracens or heretics). Despite Innocent’s death in 1216, this crusading vision was adopted and pursued by his successor Honorius III, who appointed a papal legate, Cardinal Pelagius, to represent him in the Fifth Crusade. Because the cardinal embodied papal authority in a campaign without a dominant secular leader — and because he had the largest purse — Pelagius wielded undue influence. This experiment with church leadership of a crusade proved utterly disastrous.

The first contingents of crusaders started arriving in Acre in late 1216 and helped push back the borders of the Frankish kingdom marginally before sailing in late May 1217 to lay siege to the Egyptian port of Damietta. The strategy, devised apparently collectively, was to strike a decisive blow against the Ayyubids in their power-base of Egypt in order to force them to surrender not just bits and pieces of territory but everything that had once been part of the Kingdom of Jerusalem. The strategy assumed that an attack on Cairo would threaten the Ayyubids to such an extent that they would concede Jerusalem.

The siege of Damietta lasted nearly two years and was characterized by a lack of unified command as contingents of crusaders came and went independently. In the midst of the siege, August 1218, the Sultan al-Adil died, and his empire broke up.  The two major pieces went to his son al-Kamil, who inherited Egypt, and his son al-Mu’azzam, who inherited Syria, with smaller fragments on the fringes going to other heirs. Shortly after the crusaders captured Damietta in December 1219, al-Kamil persuaded his brother al-Mu’azzam to attack the crusader states in order to divert attention from Egypt. The tactic worked only partially. With King John and most of his knights in Egypt, the Saracens were able to strike deep into the heart of the kingdom, overrunning and laying waste to Caesarea. King John and the knights of Jerusalem rushed back to their homeland to restore the situation. This, however, did not seriously alter the situation in Egypt, since the vast majority of the crusaders remained in position and retained possession of Damietta.

Al-Kamil tried a new tactic: diplomacy. He offered to restore all territories that had formerly belonged to the Kingdom of Jerusalem, with the exception of the castles of Transjordan, in exchange for the crusaders evacuating Egypt. All sources agree that King John and the barons of Jerusalem were wholeheartedly in favor of accepting these terms. For them, this was what the crusade was about. The Military Orders, however, objected to the fact that the castles in Transjordan were not included. The crusaders from the Italian city-states opposed the treaty because they considered Egypt a far more lucrative trading base than inland Palestine. The German crusaders appear to have been reluctant to abort a crusade that their Emperor had vowed to join, even if he was still notably absent. The Papal Legate appears to have seen the offer as a sign of weakness that justified pursuing the crusade with more vigor. For whatever reasons, the majority rejected the offer, and the crusade continued, meaning the crusaders remained in occupation of Damietta awaiting the arrival of Emperor Frederick II.

He never came. He had excuses. Other items on his agenda, such as subduing a Muslim rebellion in Sicily, took priority.

In July 1221, after rejecting a second offer from al-Kamil with roughly the same terms as before, the crusaders marched out with the goal of capturing Cairo. Instead, the Nile flooded and the Saracen army used its better knowledge of the terrain to cut the crusaders off from their supplies and retreat. It was a complete debacle in which Damietta was returned to the Sultan not for Jerusalem but merely for the lives and freedom of thousands of captives. The survivors went home with their tails between their legs.

In retrospect, the truce offered by al-Kamil looks good, yet it was probably always a mirage. Al-Kamil was giving away his brother’s (not his own) territory and it is doubtful if he could have delivered on his promises. Even if al-Mu’azzam had cooperated, and the fact that he destroyed Jerusalem’s fortifications suggests he intended to, the agreement would have been temporary because from the Muslim perspective the maximum validity of any truce signed with non-Believers was ten years, ten months and ten days. The fact that al-Kamil did not fully comply with the terms of the agreement he did sign, likewise suggests that the grandiose offer of restoring the Kingdom of Jerusalem to its former borders was a red-herring designed to sow dissent among the crusaders. Considering the outcome of the advance up the Nile, on the other hand,  the crusaders might have done better to call the Sultan’s bluff.


This entry is an excerpt from Dr. Schrader's comprehensive study of the crusader states.

Dr. Helena P. Schrader is also the author of six books set in the Holy Land in the Era of the Crusades.


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