Written by Chris Riley.
Several attempts had been made to recapture the Holy Land since the calamity of the Fourth Crusade (1202-1204), focussing around Egypt and the southern heartlands of the Ayyubid lands, with very few gains being made. The recent 7th Crusade (1248-1254) saw Louis IX of France attack Egypt, seeing Cairo as the key that would unlock the rest of the Near East. The attempt ultimately failed and let to the emergence of the Mamluks, former slaves of the Ayyubids, who quickly set about conquering most of Outremer and by the late 1260’s, the aged Louis was once again baring down on Muslim held North Africa, looking to Tunis as a potential flashpoint for further gains.
England in the 1260’s was a turbulent place to say the least, with Simon de Montfort’s rebellion and subsequent death still fresh in the memories of the kingdom, King Henry III and his eldest son, Prince Edward. Ever the picture of 13th century princedom, Edward (later King Edward I) responded to the call for the Eighth Crusade in 1268, planning on joining Louis IX in his attempt to capture Tunis but due to issues back home with his indecisive father, Edward wasn’t able to leave until August of 1270. By the time that Edward set sail from Dover, Louis’ final hurrah was well and truly underway and before long, Louis and a large part of his invasion force lay dead, suffering from dysentery that had ravaged the crusader camp.
A scene showing the death Louis IX at the Battle of Tunis by Jean Fouquet (1460) SOURCE: Public domain
A change of Plan
Before Edward could even wet his sword in Tunis, news found him that Louis had succumbed to the dysentery that had destroyed his army and Prince Edward found himself as a man without a cause. Not one to turn away from a challenge, Edward and his very small force of just a few hundred knights and foot soldiers, headed out toward the city of Acre, the last Christian held settlement in the Levant. As mentioned before, the Mamluks had sped through most of the Christian held territories such as Principality of Antioch that had fallen in 1268 and were now threatening the now tiny County of Tripoli. Arriving in the Holy Land on May 9th 1271, Edward and his brother Edmund Crouchback set about helping the beleaguered Bohemund VI, Prince of Antioch and Count of Tripoli, who was attempted to relive the siege of Tripoli, managing to force Baibars to retreat and reconsider a siege of Acre.
As Edward had only brought with him some 1,000 men, his ability to wage all out war with the Mamluks was severally hampered, but that didn’t stop him from carrying a series of raids on Muslim strongholds and towns, including the town of Nazareth. Things were going fairly well for Edward and his merry band when his brother Edmund arrived with more troops from Cyprus, reinforcing the army that could now pose more of a threat to the Mamluks, forcing Baibars and his army to reconsider attacking Acre especially considering the arrival of a new enemy.
The Mongols, Cyprus and success?
The mongols had been expanding and decimating their way through the Eurasian Steppe and were now well established in Persia and were now encroaching on the Mamluk’s northern boarders, threatening northern Syria.
Drawing of the Mongol siege of Baghdad in 1258. SOURCE: Bibliothèque nationale de France (Public domain)
The Mongols are known to history as incredibly violent and destructive, a fair assessment but unlike the Christian Franks and Muslim Mamluks, the Mongols cared little for others religions, attacking any who got in their way. As a natural enemy of the expanding Mamluks, the Mongol horde led by Abaqa Khan of the Ilkhanate, made for a ready ally of Edward and his fellow Christians. Agreeing to military support in the autumn of 1271, Abaqa Khan and some 10,000 Mongol horsemen attack all through Syria, sending thousands of muslim refugees south after attacking Aleppo. With added Mongol support, the 9th Crusade was looking like it was on the verge of achieving something, not something every crusade attempt could boast and after Baibars used his fleet to attack Cyprus, things got even better as the inexperience of Baibars sailors and bad weather resulted in a completely wiped out Mamluk Navy. Baibars attacked Cyprus as he assumed that an attack on Egypt was likely and, at the very least, Cyprus was the centre of Christian power in the near east and an attack on it would surely weaken their position.
By early 1272, the Mongol army under Abaqa had since returned to Persia due to political infighting, leaving Edward and his very outnumbered army without many allies. Seeing any further military action as out of the question, Edward pushed for peace between the Christian Levant and the Mamluks of Egypt.
Signed in May of 1272, the Treaty of Caesarea saw a ten year truce agreed, allowing Edward time to both sort out the tumultuous political situation in the now very small Frankish held lands and, head back to Europe to gather a large army, large enough to smash Baibars and his Mamluks. Edward decided to stay in the Holy Land to make sure that the treaty held, a decision that almost cost him his life.