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.
The attempted assassination of Prince Edward
After just a few short weeks of the signing of the Treaty of Caesarea, Edward was attacked by an assassin sent by a mysterious enemy (probably Baibars but it is unclear if this is true). Luckily for Edward, he was able to overpower his would be killer and escape but, was stabbed by a poisoned dagger and was in grave danger. His Wife, Eleanor of Castile, stayed with her husband with rumours of her sucking the poison out of Edwards wound, saving his life.
Image showing the imagined attempted assignation of the future Edward I of England SOURCE: Public domain
Regardless of whether this happened or not, Edward was able to make a full recovering due in part to the care of his wife, a partner he would continue to love and cherish throughout his life and later as his queen. By September of 1272, Edward and Eleanor left the holy land, feeling that he had done all he could. Edward returned to England as King as whilst he was away his father, Henry III had died making him Edward I of England, topping off a pretty exciting few years.
The fall of Acre and the end of the Crusader states
It is difficult to consider the Ninth Crusade a massive success as Jerusalem and the other major cities of the Levant remained in Muslim hands but, Edward had shown himself as a capable military leader, astute politician and had saved the lives of many of the Christians in Tripoli but before long, all of this work would be for nothing.
By 1289 Tripoli was finally lost and Acre would soon follow in perhaps one of the famous stories from the two centuries of attempted conquest of the Holy land.
The fall of Tripoli to the Mamluks in April 1289 SURCE: British Library (Public domain)
By the summer of 1291, only Acre remained under Christian control and after a long and bloody siege, the city finally fell to Mamluk forces, kicking the Christians out of the Holy land for good (Except for Cyprus which remained Christian for several centuries). The siege of Acre is the final chapter in the numbered crusades to recapture the holy cities, a goal that was considered noble but remained unachievable for a number of reasons. For two hundred years, the Christian Franks had perused the dream of Pope urban II and Alexios Komnenos, to retake the city of Jerusalem and all fo the land and wealth that came with it. Although many came close, a complete victory was never truly possible due in part to a determined and powerful enemy that managed to survive civil war, internal political disputes and a messy slave uprising all the while, beating back attempt after attempt from arrogant, naive but sometimes brilliant Christian kings, princes, barons and even sometimes children and the poor.
The Hospitalier Master Mathieu de Clermont defending the walls of Acre in 1291. SOURCE: Public domain
Although the crusades never officially ended and were never considered in terms of numerical attempts, the fall of Acre in 1291 marks the end for many scholars including myself. The fourteenth and fifteenth centuries saw England and France more focused on fighting each other and before long, a whole new world had been discovered and was ready for religious conversion. Even though the fall of Acre was almost exactly two hundred years before the discovering of ‘the New World’ I believe that the reason no real attempts to retake Jerusalem were made after Columbus’s famous ‘discovery’ was that the natives of the Americas were a far easier target for Christian missionaries and political businessmen to exploit.
Even though the ‘official’ attempts to retake land in the east all but stopped with the fall of Acre, it didn’t stop religious persecution throughout the world and we are still feeling the effects of such some nine centuries later. With all of the crusades, it is very important to remember the human impact and long lasting effects they had. unfortunately, the history of the crusades has been romanticised and the effects have been distorted and in some ways forgotten. The crusades should be considered one of the many stains on western Christendom and extreme religious views in general, viewed as a lessons all history is and the acts of pure cruelty carried out by both sides should never be forgotten.
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Thanks for Reading.
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