Joined: Aug 2010
The German Crusade of 1197
The German Crusade of 1197 remains a rather obscure event; at best it is considered an end note to the more spectacular and dramatic Third Crusade 1189-92, or a convenient prologue for the life and career of the Stupor Mundi Frederick II Hohenstaufen. Its relative failure has likewise condemned it to the footnotes of many a piece of research.
The German Emperor Henry VI, having succeeded in his conquest of the Kingdom of Sicily by 1195 and produced a male heir Frederick in 1194, turned his attentions eastwards. His father, Frederick I Barbarossa, a veteran of the Second and Third Crusades, had died while crossing the River Salef on his way to the siege of Acre in 1190. The considerable force of Germans, having trekked across the Balkans and Turkey had been seriously depleted as a military force. The death of Barbarossa exacerbated the matter and the army began to disintegrate rapidly. A paltry force finally arrived at Acre, playing a relatively minor role in its events, the other sons of Barbarossa, Frederick of Swabia, succumbing to disease by 1191. Their most lasting effect was the foundation of a field hospital, which would later expand to become the Teutonic Order. Henry VI was, for the sake of family pride and honour, to set out and accomplish what the Lionheart, recently his prisoner, could not. He would recapture Jerusalem. As the Emperor of the West, the protection and security of the Holy Places of the East was matter of prestige. As Christendom’s foremost magnate, it was his duty, mirroring tales of Charlemagne, and his illustrious forebears Barbarossa and Conrad III to act.
Pooling the wealth of Sicily with the manpower of Germany, he assembled an army and a fleet at Messina, comprising of some 4000 knights. He immediately dispatched a vanguard under the command of his Chancellor to make the crossing to Outremer and establish operations there, while Henry finished matters in the recently conquered Sicily. Henry VI had recently received word from Aimery de Lusignan, the ruler of Cyprus, requesting the donation of a crown so that he might be King of Cyprus. In return for this coronation Cyprus would be a vassal state to the Empire. Leo II of Armenia likewise petitioned Henry for a crown and he too was rewarded as such. The arrival of the German Chancellor saw their respective coronations.
The King of Jerusalem at that time was Henry II, Count of Champagne, who had been put in place in 1192 following the assassination of the previous King of Jerusalem by the Assassins. Henry had married the heiress of the Kingdom, Isabella, and he was her third husband. The arrival of a significant number of troops encouraged Henry II to act. The Peace treaty established in 1192 had lapsed and the Ayyubid realm following Saladin’s death in 1193 was in relative turmoil, as his brother Al-Adil and sons fought for dominance. Thus in the summer of 1197 Henry of Champagne assembled a combined army of native Franks and Germans and began raiding across the River Jordan into Muslim held territory capturing livestock and taking prisoners. Al-Adil in response to this act from his base at Kerak attacked the Christian held port of Jaffa, putting it under siege in late September. Henry of Champagne gathered his returning troops in the capital of Acre and prepared to march south to relieve the siege. Unfortunately whilst he was negotiating with the Pisan envoys he leant backwards, falling out of a window in the palace to the courtyard below. His dwarf attempted to save him but was pulled out along with him, both falling to their deaths.
Indecision ensued. With Henry of Champagne dead, there was no clear and obvious leader for the crusading force in the Latin East until the Emperor himself arrived. Likewise Henry of Champagne had left no male heir in the Kingdom of Jerusalem, three daughters were left behind. The Haute Cour of the Kingdom met in Acre and discussed what was to be done. At the prompting of the German Chancellor Aimery de Lusignan was selected to marry the again widowed Isabella and take the crown of Jerusalem. Aimery was certainly experienced in the Latin East, having arrived there in the early 1170’s and having occupied official positions as Count of Jaffa and Constable of the Realm until his exile to Cyprus in 1193. He had been a right hand man to his brother Guy de Lusignan rule 1186-92. With the acquisition of another crown by Aimery the German Chancellor potentially saw a benefit to the Empire, perhaps expecting the mergence of the two realms and that Jerusalem might become of vassal state also. This would have been propaganda victory for the Staufen Emperors against the Papacy if nothing else.
Aimery was thus married to Isabella and crowned King of Jerusalem in the city of Tyre in October 1197. The delay though had seen the fall of Jaffa, its populace enslaved. Aimery thus turned his attention to the city of Beirut to the North. It had since its capture by Saladin in 1187 been used as a base for piracy against Christian shipping. Aimery’s crusading army marched northwards and put the city under siege. Treachery by Christian citizens from within the city against their Muslim masters ensured a relatively quick victory. The city itself was then granted to the Ibelin family, Aimery’s in-laws as the half siblings of his wife Isabella. Aimery then set out, as Henry of Champagne had before him in raiding and devastating the area, capturing livestock and other goods. Yet further campaigning was soon curtailed as news arrived in the Latin East of the Emperor Henry VI’s death from disease in Messina in September. The bulk of the crusading army had yet to embark for the Latin East, intending to come over in the autumn passage, but the death of the Emperor and the spectre of civil war in Germany had caused the army to dissolve. This news had the same effect upon the German Crusaders who had made it to Outremer. Aimery thus found himself with a dwindling army. With no desire to antagonise the neighbouring Ayyubids further, certainly without the prospect of western assistance, he began to negotiate peace terms. Jaffa had been lost but Beirut gained. In early 1198 peace was ensured until 1201. The German Crusade was over.
Territorially speaking it had accomplished little, Jaffa had been lost but the city of Beirut and its environs had been secured and a piratical threat removed. The failure of Henry VI to make it to Outremer has condemned the Crusade to a tenebrous situation, it is conveniently skipped over. Yet the German Crusade is important for what it represents. It was the first of a new brand of Crusades, which would become more prominent in the later 13th Century. It was a national crusade, dominated by one realm and one commander who equipped and transported men and materials to the east. It was more professionalised and more prepared, lacking the heavy handed involvement of the Church in its affairs, though backed and supported by the Papacy. Such a system would become exemplary under Louis IX in the Seventh and Eight Crusades 1248-54/1270, the Crusades of Thibault of Champagne and Richard of Cornwall 1239-41 and even the excommunicated Frederick II on the Sixth Crusade 1227-29. The ragtag assemblages of personalities and troops from across Christendom, with conflicting commanders that had characterised the First, Second and Third Crusades would be done away with. Even the Fifth Crusade while still resembling the first three in many respects, was expectant of the arrival of a German/Sicilian army under Frederick II to lead them and direct the campaign as a single overarching entity. While it contributed little to Outremer, the German Crusade has perhaps been ignored too much, obfuscating its real impact to the Crusading movement.