Louis IX and the last crusade

While the Crusade was primarily an undertaking decided by the Pope, the repeated failures of Innocent III seem to have dealt a fatal blow to Rome's influence in the war pilgrimage. The crusade of Frederick II who, despite his excommunication, still recovered Jerusalem by treaty, is a good example. The Crusades from the future Saint Louis drive the point home.

The situation is deteriorating in the East

The departure of Frederick II left the Latin states in a worrying state of instability, despite the Treaty of Jaffa and the restitution of Jerusalem and a few other territories, which gave the kingdom a semblance of cohesion. The emperor's good relations with the Ayyubids are not to the taste of the local barons, and even less of the military religious orders, Templars in the lead. Tensions are then exacerbated between the Syrian barons, allied with the regent of Cyprus John of Ibelin, and the men of Frederick II, like Ricardo Falengieri; the latter must leave Tire in 1243. New Crusaders arrive in 1239; Indeed, the crusade of Frederick II was not legitimate since he was excommunicated, and moreover he had recovered Jerusalem without a fight, the appeal of Honorius III was still relevant. D

First led by the Count of Champagne, Thibaud IV, then by Richard of Cornwall, this new crusade was a failure. The first, supported by the Templars, fights then tries to negotiate with Damascus the restitution of certain places of Galilee, in exchange for an alliance against the Sultan of Egypt; then he negotiates with the latter for the return of Frankish prisoners! He made his pilgrimage to Jerusalem, then embarked again from Acre on September 15, 1240. The second, relative of Frederick II, followed his policy by negotiating with the Ayyubid sultan to renew the truce signed in 1229 ... The Latins have recovered some regions additional, but the situation is not necessarily better and the safeguard of the “new” kingdom of Jerusalem not assured.

The loss of the Holy City

Internal problems continue to plague the Ayyubid dynasty, which is increasingly threatened, including outside. Indeed, a new peril looms from the east, the Mongols! The latter push people to flee to the Mediterranean, with among them the Khwarezmiens (or Korasmiens), originating in the region of the Caspian Sea. Sultan al-Salîh then decides to use them against his enemies, in particular the Crusaders. He sends them to Jerusalem, left practically defenseless by Frederick II and his successors; the city fell on August 23, 1244! Worse, perhaps, most of the Frankish army was destroyed on October 17 of the same year by a joint force of Egyptians and Khwarezmians. The sultan, on his momentum, gets rid of his rival from Damascus, and recovers most of the regions ceded to the Franks in previous years: Acre is directly threatened, and the divisions within the Latin states worse than ever.

Louis IX decides to take the cross

The Capetian king would have decided to cross in 1244, if he survived the disease. But, in Europe, the problems of the East and the ideal of the crusade seem far removed! The fight between the Empire and the Pope has resumed with a vengeance, England is also struck by divisions and disputes against Henry III. Certainly, Innocent IV called for the crusade in 1245, but the choice of Louis IX was already made on his own, against the advice of his mother Blanche of Castile.

It is for the future holy king to respect his ideal of chivalry and piety, and nothing can prevent him from keeping his promise. Saint Louis rehabilitates the spirit of the crusade as a penitential pilgrimage, far from the "imperialist" drifts which marked most of the previous expeditions. He also benefits from the good health of his kingdom, soothed and rich, and his preparation goes smoothly. This crusade will be only French.

Louis IX in the Holy Land

A port was built at Aigues-Mortes especially for the departure of the crusade, which took place on August 25, 1248. The crossed fleet headed for Cyprus, where it arrived in mid-September, and the king organized his army for an attack on Egypt . Once again, the Crusaders manage to take Damietta, we are on June 6, 1249. The Muslims were surprised, but it was decided to wait for reinforcements before going to Cairo to deliver the coup de grace; fortunately, the Ayyubid sultan dies, which undermines the morale of the Egyptians who try to negotiate. But as in the Fifth Crusade, the Crusaders refuse the proposals, despite one of them which would have been to restore Jerusalem again! The French army then moved towards Mansourah at the end of the year 1249, and found it difficult to cross the Nile; violent fighting began, including those in Mansourah where Robert d'Artois, brother of Louis IX, was massacred with his knights on February 8, 1250 by the Mamluks, commanded by a certain Baybars. The Egyptians have reconstituted their forces around Sultan Turan Shah, and they cut off Damietta's Crusader Army. The king must order the retreat, and finally capitulate on April 6, 1250; he is taken prisoner.

Negotiations lead to his release a month later, against a heavy ransom. In the meantime, the Ayyubids have been overthrown by the Mameluks (in Egypt, they keep Syria), their former slave soldiers! The Franks had to evacuate Damietta, but the Sultan granted them the borders of 1248 in the Holy Land. Louis IX did not return to his kingdom upon his liberation, but to Acre, determined to accomplish his duty as a crusader. To do this, he is working to stabilize the political situation in the Latin States and to strengthen certain weakened places. On the other hand, the Capetian is less skilled in international negotiations: he does not manage to take advantage of the divisions between Ayyubids of Syria and Mameluks of Egypt, and cannot prevent their rapprochement requested by the Caliph of Baghdad in the face of the Mongol threat. He left Acre on April 24, 1254, believing that he had done his best for the Holy Land.

The "holy king" dies in the Crusade

The Eighth Crusade is best known for its tragic end, the death of Louis IX. The circumstances which led to this new warlike pilgrimage are more vague; in the East, the Mamelukes led by Baybars are based on weakened Latin states, but no one in the West seems to hear their cry for help. In the Mediterranean, the rivalries between the Italian cities, or even the ambitions of the Angevins (including Charles, brother of the Capetian) against the reconstituted Byzantine Empire, put the problem of the Holy Land on hold… It is perhaps for this, and to wash away the failure of his previous attempt, that Louis IX took the cross again in 1267, once again against the advice of his entourage. This time he has the support, albeit limited, from some of his neighbors such as Prince Edward of England or James I of Aragon; we even mention a possible support of the Mongols of Persia ...

The start was on July 2, 1270, still from Aigues-Mortes. But the target has already changed, it is no longer Egypt! This diversion is explained by the complex relations between Louis IX and his brother Charles d´Anjou; the latter, king of Sicily, had his sights set on the Byzantine Empire, and an expedition to Egypt could thwart his plans. There would seem then to have been a compromise between the two, an expedition against the Hafsids which could be regarded as a crusade, and not fundamentally calling into question a later attack on Egypt. Moreover, the Emir of Tunis himself is said to have called for baptism!

On July 18, the army landed safely in the region of ancient Carthage, but an epidemic decimated it. The king himself is one of the victims, he dies on August 25! The siege of Tunis cannot continue, we hear about Mameluke reinforcements sent by Baybars, and even if the Muslim camp is taken on September 24, Charles of Anjou - who took command - decides to leave for Sicily in November, after a treaty signed with the emir (who did not convert).

This is not the end of the crusade, however: first James I of Aragon sends a fleet to Aigues-Mortes, then to Acre, but his crusaders are defeated by Baybars near Acre. The Prince of England sent an army to Tunis just before the signing of the treaty between Charles and the Emir, but he does not give up despite leaving Tunisia and goes to Acre. It was a failure again, despite a few rides, and he had to return to England in 1272 ...

The results of the Saint Louis crusades are therefore a failure, from a military and political point of view. This failure marks the end of the "great" crusades, those led by Western rulers or on the formal order of the Pope. The ideal of the crusade is just a memory ...

On the other hand, for the Capetian, and despite the disaster, it is an opportunity to prove his sincere faith and his devotion, which will have a large part in his rapid canonization from 1297.


- M. BALARD, Les Latins en Orient (XIth-XVth century), PUF, 2006.

- C. MORRISSON, Les Croisades, PUF, 2006.

- J. RILEY-SMITH, Atlas of the Crusades, Otherwise, 1996.

- A. BARBERO, Stories of the Crusades, Fields of History, 2010.

Video: The French Kings of England (January 2022).