Episode 78 – A Crusade without Crusaders

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This is a story I was looking forward to telling for quite some time. It has everything – mindless fighting, stubbornness, and fake armies as well as elaborate diplomacy, cultural awareness and stunning success. It is the story of the crusade of Frederick II, that has no parallel, for one because Frederick did undertake it whilst excommunicated by the pope and further, because he brought Jerusalem back under Christian control for one last time, without a shot being fired. The latter had not been achieved since the First Crusade and will not happen again before modern times.


Hello and welcome to the History of the Germans: Episode 78 – A Crusade without Crusaders

This is the second recording of this episode. I don’t do that very often, but this time I had to. The previous version sounded incredibly rushed and there was a mistake in it. I kept saying the year 1217 when I meant 1227. So I did it all again. If you have listened to the previous version and did not abandon the podcast, thank you. If you gave up halfway through this version will be better. So without further ado – here we go.

This is a story I was looking forward to telling for quite some time. It has everything – mindless fighting, stubbornness, and fake armies as well as elaborate diplomacy, cultural awareness and stunning success. It is the story of the crusade of Frederick II, that has no parallel, for one because Frederick did undertake it whilst excommunicated by the pope and further, because he brought Jerusalem back under Christian control for one last time, without a shot being fired. The latter had not been achieved since the First Crusade and will not happen again before modern times.

Before we start just a reminder. The History of the Germans Podcast is advertising free thanks to the generous support from patrons. And you can become a patron too and enjoy exclusive bonus episodes and other privileges from the price of a latte per month. All you have to do is sign up at patreon.com/historyofthegermans or on my website historyofthegermans.com. You find all the links in the show notes. And thanks a lot to Christoph, Claire and Jaume who have already signed up.

We left off last episode with Frederick II’s magnificent coronation in Rome. This was the last step in a string of rituals that established his legitimacy as emperor. The price he had to pay for all this had however been steep. He had to

  • recognise the territorial gains the papacy had made in central Italy,
  • relinquish control of the imperial church,
  • vow to go on crusade and finally
  • promise not to seek a union between the empire and the kingdom of Sicily.

Given these heavy commitment Frederick does what his father and grandfather had done once they had been crowned by the pope, he instantly forgot all about them.

As for the union between Sicily and the empire, he had sort of finagled this already. He had made his son Henry first king of Sicily as had been requested by Innocent III.  And in step 2 he had then made the same child king of the Romans on the grounds that he was about to set off on crusade and the imperial princes had urged him to organise his succession. With that Henry was both king of Sicily and elected Holy Roman Emperor. But Henry being just 8 years-old, the de facto ruler of both Sicily and the Empire was Frederick II, and the pope could do nothing about that.

Frederick left the city of Rome 3 days after his coronation to go home. And home was the kingdom of Sicily. It was the kingdom of Sicily he really cared about. The imperial crown was something he took on, more to protect his beloved south than for any great ambition to exercise power north of the Alps. Nothing makes that clearer than the way he organised the administration of his domains. He himself would reside in Southern Italy for almost all of his remaining reign. He will journey north only when his presence there becomes absolutely mandatory. In total he will spend just 2 of his remaining 30 years on the throne in Germany. Germany he leaves for his son Henry  to rule, first under a regency council and once he has grown up, in his own right as king of the Romans.

Fredericks next few years from 1220 to 1228 are taken up by further tightening his hold over Southern Italy. You may remember that when he left in 1212 his position had been extremely precarious. Various factions had been fighting for domination of the kingdom. There were the German Ministeriales his father had brought over, then what remained of the former royal family, the descendants of the usurper Tancred plus the barons of Puglia, the cities of Pisa and Genoa, the Muslim inhabitants of the island and the chancellor Walter of Pagliara – all of them plotting and fighting.

It is nothing short of a miracle that when Frederick comes back in 1220 that there is a kingdom left there at all.  He can even call a royal assembly and pass a number of laws designed to rebuild royal power and reverse the Encastellation of his dominion.

How is that possible? I could not find much detail about what happened in the kingdom during the 8 years he was away in Germany. All we are told is that Frederick had put his queen, Constance of Aragon in charge as regent for his son. She was supposed to hold things together, a task he, as the legitimate heir to the throne had struggled with ever since he had been declared of age. Whatever Constance did, it must have been successful since the kingdom is in reasonable order, or at least had not risen up and chosen a new ruler. It seems to me that Constance of Aragon was a much more astute politician and administrator than sources give her credit for. Another one of those female medieval protagonists worth of further investigation.

Whether she was a competent ruler or not, she is unlikely to have enjoyed married life very much. Frederick II is the first of the medieval German emperors with a voracious sexual appetite. During their marriage he fathered six children with 4 different women, some daughters of aristocrats in Germany or Italy, others with less exalted lineage. How much is true of the stories that he maintained two fully equipped harems in his main residences and a mobile one that followed him on his journeys remains unclear. Papal propaganda has a habit of ascribing the seven deadly sins to emperors who fall foul of the church. In case of Frederick the accusations were Lust, Sloth and Pride. Ecclesiastical writers painting a picture of him as the Sultan of Lucera, living like an eastern potentate in a palace dripping with gold, surrounded by dancing girls and eunuchs.

Even if that was not the case, Constance could not count on the constancy of her husband. In 1222 she died and is buried in Palermo cathedral in a Roman marble sarcophagus once made for a man. The inscription says: Queen of Sicily was I, Constance, Wife and empress, now here I lie and am Frederick forever yours. Her treatment by Frederick sounds callous but is nothing compared to her successors in the marital bed.

In the 1220s Fredrick’s entire focus was on rebuilding the political institutions of his kingdom of Sicily. A kingdom that under his grandfather was famously tightly managed. We will spend most of the next episode discussing this in detail. What matters for today’s story is that lroblems in southern Italy left Frederick with little or no capacity to fulfil his pledge to go on crusade.

The prioritisation of domestic matters rubbed pope Honorius III up the wrong way. As I mentioned before, Pope Honorius III was a much more conciliatory man than his predecessor Innocent III. But there was one thing he really, really cared about, and that was the recovery of Jerusalem. And Frederick delaying and delaying his departure on crusade was not aiding that objective.

Let us take a quick look at where things stand in the Holy Land by 1217. Following the Third Crusade, which is the one with Barbarossa, Richard Lionheart and Philippe Auguste, the kingdom of Jerusalem had recovered to the point that it did hold a string of cities and fortifications along the coast of Palestine, Lebanon and Syria. The de facto capital was Akkon, modern day Acre just north of Haifa.

After the Third crusade not much progress was made. The 4th crusade was a dud as far as Jerusalem was concerned. Instead of aiding the beleaguered kingdom of Outre-Mer the crusaders had sacked Constantinople on behalf of their Venetian paymasters. That – if anything – made things worse since  the Byzantine empire fragmented into multiple smaller states, some like Constantinople and parts of Greece held by Latin crusaders and others by former Byzantine generals. None of them able to hold back the Seldjuk Turks.

Meanwhile the great Near eastern leader Saladin had consolidated his position. His empire now stretched from Eastern Turkey through Syria and Jordan to Egypt as well as along both shores of the Red Sea down to Yemen.

Simply put, the thin line of crusader cities was surrounded on all sides by one of the most powerful Muslim states ever created. A state that wants to drive them back into the sea at the first opportunity.

As a consequence, the Kingdom of Jerusalem was on a near permanent war footing. Everything was geared up to fight the next Muslim army that would come across the hill. The Knights Hospitallers and the Templars were the closest thing to a standing army the Middle Ages had produced. The military orders were garrisoned in some of  the largest military fortifications of the 13th century. Have a look at the Krak des Chevaliers in Syria which at its height held a force of 2000 knights and attendants. They were an important and independent voice at court since they were directly responsible to the pope, not the king. Then there are the great barons of the kingdom who had come with the First crusade. They owned large estates and strong castles manned by an ever-changing guard of crusaders from back home.  These soldiers would come down to Outre-Mer usually for a limited time period, a sort of chivalric gap year helping out the locals. The key difference was that they did not build schools for the locals but focused on burning down madrasas.

All that had made a lot easier since transport links between the west and Outre Mer had improved significantly. The maritime republics of Venice, Genoa and Pisa had established staging posts along the route to Akkon where ships could be repaired and victualed. Venice in particular had acquired a string of safe harbours along the Dalmatian coast and the Peloponnese as well as landing rights in Rhodes and Cyprus. Their galleys would travel back and forth, transporting crusaders east and returning with the luxury goods from Persia, India and China. The latter they would pick up not in Akkon, but in Alexandria where they had a factory, courtesy of that enemy of the crusaders, Saladin. Venetian merchants become immensely rich in the process.

The kingdom was held together by its titular king, John of Brienne, husband to Maria of Montferrat. John was a minor nobleman from Champagne and a respected military leader. The latter is why the magnates of the kingdom of Jerusalem had asked him to come and marry their queen. It was only through this marriage that he became king of Jerusalem. Formally he ruled only on behalf of first his wife and once she had died on behalf of his daughter, Isabella of Brienne.

This all sounds as if it was a well-oiled machine where new knights would arrive on a conveyer belt from the west, would be put to good use and then replaced with the next set of recruits. Nothing could be further from the truth. The supply of new recruits was extremely volatile. Often times the reinforcements would dwindle down to a mere trickle as conflicts like the civil war between the Welf and the Hohenstaufen or the incessant Anglo-French wars precluded many knights to undertake the journey. At other times, too many would show up, usually led by some mighty king or duke or prince with zero knowledge of the political, military and geographic conditions, keen on one glorious dash and a quick boat home. And the worst of all cases, several of these guys come at the same time and spend most of their efforts at outdoing and insulting each other.

With all that in mind Innocent III had called for a fifth crusade in 1216. Innocent III was convinced that as the true emperor of Christendom he had to lead the crusade in person. Not a completely stupid idea since he was at this point recognised as the superior overlord of all the princes in Europe. Even our Frederick called himself at that time “king by the grace of god and the will of the pope”. With Innocent in the lead there was no risk the Venetians would again turn the crusaders into their private mercenary army.

But the great papal-led crusade never happened because Innocent III died unexpectedly just 55 years-old in 1216. His successor Honorius III was much too old to undertake such a dangerous journey himself.

Hence the fifth crusade ended up with a more familiar setup. King Andrew of Hungary and duke Leopold of Austria were the military leaders at the outset. Honorius dispatched a papal legate as his representative who was to ensure the crusade stayed on the straight and narrow, laser focused on recapturing Jerusalem. Hmmm..

The fifth crusade did try a novel approach to the recapture of Jerusalem. Instead of sending the army straight to besiege the ultimate target, Jerusalem, they decided to attack Egypt.

That was after all not as daft as it sounds. Egypt was the jewel in the crown of the empire the great Saladin had built. Its capital, Cairo was en-route to half a million inhabitants becoming the largest city west of China. Cairo had taken over the role of Constantinople as the great entrepôt between east and west. Goods came up the Red Sea or down via the Silk Road and through Syria to the city of a thousand minarets. From there they would be shipped to a harbour on the Mediterranean to be distributed to Europe and North Africa.

Alexandria had been the great port for exports from Egypt in antiquity. In the 13th century this had changed to a degree. Alexandria was not on the Nile, meaning goods needed to be brought there by road. River transport tended to be safer which meant harbours on the Nile itself began to overtake Alexandria. In 1217 the most important of those was Damietta. Damietta was positioned on the northernmost branch of the Nile and had grown to be a large and well defended city surrounded by strong walls and towers.

The crusaders plan was to take Damietta, choke off the source of Cairo’s and hence the source of Ayyubid wealth and power. This pressure may just get them to a point where the successor of Saladin, Sultan al Kamil would be forced to hand over Jerusalem and all the Holy sites, and maybe some trading privileges to the poor Venetians who had to trade through Alexandria.

And against all the odds, the crusaders did almost achieve their goal. Damietta fell after a 2-year-long campaign that saw the usual combination of internal squabbling, pointless heroism and military ingenuity. When Damietta finally falls, it was almost empty except for the dead and the ill. Disease and dwindling supplies had forced Sultan Al Kamil to take his army home

Having lost the key to the global East-West trade meant Sultan Al-Kamil is ready to negotiate. The Ayyubid is prepared to hand over almost all the crusaders could ask for. The city of Jerusalem as well as the holy sites of Bethlehem and Nazareth. The right to rebuild the defensive walls around Jerusalem and as negotiations drag on, even more territories across Palestine until it encompasses almost all of the old kingdom of Jerusalem.

For any rational observer this should be the end of the crusade. The main military objectives are achieved, and they can enter Jerusalem as liberators. For king John of Brienne and the barons of the kingdom of Jerusalem that is a no-brainer. Let’s take the deal and go home.

But there is a snag. The sultan does not want to and probably cannot hand over key castles that protect the pilgrim route to the Al Aqsa Mosque and the Temple Mount as well as the mosque itself. It is after all the place where Mohammed had ascended to heaven, the third most holy place for all Muslims.

That is not good enough for the hardliners, in particular not for the papal legate, you know the one who is supposedly laser focused on recapturing Jerusalem. The whole of the old kingdom of Jerusalem is what he wants, including the castles and the mosque. The templars and Hospitallers being knightly orders reporting directly to the pope side with the papal legate. The Templar’s have particular interest here as they are named after the Temple of Salomon and had their headquarters there.

Negotiations go back and forth for another 2 years whilst the crusader army remains inside the destroyed city of Damietta. In 1221 Al Kamil ups his offer and throws in more land and holy sites. Again, the legate refuses.

Sultan Al Kamil meanwhile is busy implementing his plan B, should negotiations fail. He is gathers troops and builds defensive positions along the Nile.

The crusaders during that time are almost completely inactive. Their camp is riven with discord. The papal legate is pushing for further military action whilst the opposition does not want to jeopardise the deal that is on the table. Arguments go back and forth, and ever more unusual plans are made to break the gridlock.

In September 1219 Saint Francis of Assisi arrives in Damietta. He thinks he can bring peace by converting Sultan Al Kamil to the true faith. Francis and his followers head out to the camp of the sultan and begin preaching. The experienced soldiers advise against it and when Saint Francis insists, prepare themselves to carry back the bones of a martyr. But, for some reason the sultan believes these unwashed men in beggars’ clothing are emissaries of the crusaders.

Saint Francis is brought before the defender of the holy sites of Mekka and Medina and begins preaching, I guess in either in Latin or Italian. Sultan Al Kamil treated him with respect, lets him finish his sermon and had him led back safely to the crusader camp. Contrary to legend, Sultan al Kamil did not convert, and the military situation remained unchanged.

Finally news arrive that they had all been secretly hoping for. The son of the Prester John, ruler of a mighty Christian kingdom in the east was on his way with a vast army. If we attack Cairo from the west and Prester John from the east, we can create a pincer movement that will wipe the Saracens from the face of the earth. Let us go for glory, for Christ and for the plunder of the richest of Islamic cities.

On July 4th 1221 after a 3-day fast to prepare themselves, the crusader army sets off along the Nile for Cairo, the fabled citadel of Saladin where they still hold the captured shards of the Holy Cross. The road crosses several canals and reservoirs that criss-cross the delta. The Nile was at its crest which allowed the Muslim armies to bring ships up these canals in the crusader’s rear.

Cut off from their supply lines the Christian army tried to move forward but faced resistance from the forts Sultan Al Kamil had built. Being stuck with no way going forward or back they make camp. In the night the Sultan’s soldiers opened the sluices, and the Nile water simply drowned the crusader camp in mud. With horses and men stuck in Nile sludge, no battle needs to be fought; the crusader army capitulated.

Prester John and his mighty army did not come to bail them out, because prester John does not exist. He is a fable, not a real man.

The other one who had not come to their aid was the emperor, Frederick II. Since the crusade had begun, pope Honorius urged Frederick in ever more desperate letters to make good on his crusading pledge and join the army at Damietta. Frederick was however still tied up in his reorganisation of the kingdom of Sicily and could not or would not leave.

He did however send his admiral, Henry of Malta and his chancellor, Walter of Pagliaria with a sizeable troop contingent to Damietta. These troops arrived after the army had already set off on their fateful journey to Cairo.

When news came of the catastrophic defeat, the new leadership in Damietta considered their options. Damietta was still a strong defensible position and now newly garrisoned, so it could hold out for a while. But what then? Will there be more enthusiastic campaigners come to Damietta after the tale of incompetence and pig-headedness has spread across Europe. Probably not.

So they offered a treaty to the Sultan. They would leave Damietta in exchange for the fragments of the Holy Cross Saladin had captured at the Battle of Hattin. This time it is the sultan who is stubborn. Instead of digging up some old bits of wood and let the crusaders go home with their heads held up at least a little bit higher, he just says. Apologies, I could not find these old relics you care for so much. May have ended up on a skip, sorry no can do.

And with that the surviving crusaders leave empty handed. Two weeks later Sultan Al Kamil re-enters Damietta. The fifth crusade is over.

As is customary, the pope blamed the failure of the expedition not on the stubbornness and credulity of his legate, but on the hesitancy of Frederick II. If only Frederick had come with a large army as he had promised, Cairo could now be ours. He did not explain how imperial horses could be able to charge Egyptian position over knee deep Nile mud.

As a neglectful crusader blamed for the failure of the great expedition, Frederick was up for excommunication. And that is before all his other misdemeanours such as his personal rule of Sicily in violation of all sorts of golden bulls and solemn oaths.

The reason he for now escapes his punishment is down to the diplomatic skills of a man who will be one of Frederick’s most important advisers, a man who also stands at the beginnings of the state of Prussia, Hermann von Salza, Fourth Grand Master of the Teutonic Knights.

Hermann von Salza born around 1165, came from a family of Ministeriales in the service of the Landgraves of Thuringia. His early years are as so often undocumented. But it seems he had joined the order of the Teutonic knights shortly after its founding.

The Teutonic knights were the youngest of the great military orders. The order had been founded in 1190, so after the fall of Jerusalem, as a field hospital during the siege of Akkon. It took the name of the “German House of St. Mary in Jerusalem” in the hope that one day they would re-open the old hospital for German pilgrims in Jerusalem that had been there since before the First Crusade. Its founders weren’t knights or princes but burghers of the trading cities of Bremen and Lubeck.

It did not take long for the community to transition from providers of medical care to military order. Already by 1193 the German knights were put in charge of part of the defences of Akkon.

The Teutonic knights filled a gap in the crusader military. The Templars were dominated by French knights whilst the Hospitallers mainly took English and Italian nobles. The Germans had been latecomers to the crusader movement as they had so often been detained by conflicts at home. And so they lacked a natural home amongst the military orders in the Holy Land.

To bring these guys in without interfering with the recruitment ground of the established organisations, the statutes of the order contain an unusual requirement:   its members had to come exclusively from German lands. Hence they were known as the German or Teutonic Knights.

The new order grew fast and enjoyed support from both papal and imperial sponsors. But the real boost came when it elected Hermann von Salza as its fourth Grand Master.

The order had been involved in the crusades of Barbarossa and Henry VI and was hence broadly supportive of the Hohenstaufen cause. But when the Fredrick came up to Germany in 1212 and in particular after the battle of Bouvines, the Grand Master and the emperor struck up a close friendship that made the two institutions almost inseparable. There will be a separate season on the Teutonic Knights and the Hanseatic League coming up after this one where we will go into much more detail. But for now it is enough to understand that Frederick II and the Teutonic knights are in a symbiotic relationship. Frederick gives them material wealth and helps them recruit young noblemen to their cause. In return the knights support him in Germany, help organise his crusade and maintain communications lines with the papacy. The latter is most crucial. Fredrick’s father, Henry VI had struggled for years with popes who would simply not answer his letters.

Hermann von Salza enjoyed both the trust of Fredrick II and that of Pope Honorius III. Pope and Grand Master shared the passion for the recovery of the holy sites. During the Damietta campaign Hermann von Salza had assured his Holiness again and again that Frederick would set off very soon.

Salza bridged not just imperial and papal positions but also east and west. He was involved in the siege of Damietta and the subsequent lost battle whilst simultaneously leading the negotiations between Frederick and the pope over his coronation in 1220 and then over his dispensation from the charge of criminal negligence in 1222.

Hermann von Salza’s work isn’t done with the relief from punishment in 1222. Frederick was still pledged to go on crusade. Again von Salza convinces Honorius that Frederick will definitely go. The two sides agree a delay for 2 years to 1224, and then when he still is not ready, a new departure dates is set for 1225.

When Frederick is still refusing to go in 1225 the pope is getting fractious. Even von Salza’s assurances no longer work. He nails Frederick II down to a firm last and final departure date using a carrot and stick approach. The stick is excommunication. If Frederick does not leave for the Holy land by August 1227 with at least 1000 knights that he will keep in the field for 2 years, and provides shipping for a further 2000 knights, and pays 100,000 ounces of gold into an escrow account, he will be automatically excommunicated, his vassals relieved from their oaths of fealty, no ifs, no buts, no excuses. Automatically.

The carrot is Isabella of Brienne, queen and heiress of the kingdom of Jerusalem. Frederick gets to marry her and with it gains the title of King of Jerusalem, on top of already being Emperor, king of the romans and king of Sicily.

That caused the first rift since there was already a King of Jerusalem, Isabella’s father, John of Brienne. John knew that should his daughter marry at any point, he would lose his crown, but he may have expected a bit more courteous treatment by Frederick. The relationship between the two kings soured rapidly, though they had been firm friends in the past.

More rifts occurred when Frederick began to row back on another promise he had made to the popes, recognising their ownership of the March of Ancona and the duchy of Spoleto. One of Fredericks vassals had begun a slow land grab in Spoleto which irritated the pope no end. But from Fredericks perspective these lands are crucial as a bridge between his kingdom in the south and imperial Italy in the north. This issue gained even more prominence when Frederick tried to intervene in Lombard affairs but could neither bring an army up from Sicily nor could his son bring down troops from Germany as a newly founded Lombard League blocked the passes.

And then he purges the Sicilian clergy of papal appointees and replaces them with his own men.

Suffice to say that tensions are running high as we are approaching embarkation day, August 1227. Hermann von Salza had been promoting the crusade in Germany but failed to build up much enthusiasm amongst the princes. The disaster of both the fourth and the fifth crusade had drained the air from the crusading spirit. Hence Fredrick had to pay many of them to come along. Only his friend, the Landgrave Lewis of Thuringia did come on his own volition with a large army. As happened before, the crusades comprised not just armed men, but also civilian pilgrims lured by the false promise of free shipping and keen to see the Holy Sepulchre before their death.

All of these people were heading to Brindisi in the summer of 1227. Numbers are hard to gage. Fredrick’s commitment to transport 3000 knights who came with 3 servants each amount to 9,000 souls plus sailors to operate the ships. On top of that you have probably an equal number of pilgrims which means almost 20,000 people camped before Brindisi.

Fredrick had promised shipping for 3000 knights and but sustenance only for his own 1000 knights and their retinue. Not for the other soldiers and certainly not for all of the roughly 20,000 who had piled in. Many suffered hunger and sanitary conditions in the camp deteriorated terribly. In the summer heat disease broke out, most likely Malaria.

Before the first galley cast off it’s lines nearly half of the crusaders were dead or ill. Fredrick and his friend the Landgrave of Thuringia caught the fever too, but still decided to go out to sea. Frederick because he feared the automatic excommunication and Lewis, because he was a friend. 2 days later the landgrave was dead and the emperor gravely ill. The captain of the ship decided to return to Otranto. Fredrick was brought to Pozzuoli where he recovered in the ancient Roman thermal baths that were still operating in the 13th century.

In the meantime Honorius III had died and his successor Gregory IX had none of the forbearance of his predecessor.

Some of you say that I am somewhat biased. Some say that I present the “church as always evil”. It is probably a question of perspective. From where I am standing, I feel I try my best to be neutral. Just to give you an idea how  much more anticlerical historians can be, here is Ernst Kantorowicz talking about Gregory IX:


“His weapons and methods were for the most part unattractive: slight untruths, imputations, calumnies: they were often too transparent and produced an ugly impression, robbing the Pope’s procedure of every shadow of right, especially as no one but himself recognised the deeper necessity of the struggle. The obstinate old man, drunk with hate, pursued his end with singleness of aim to his last hour, indifferent to the fact that he was called a ” heretic,” that he was forsaken by those nearest him, until he became — for all his petty dishonesties — not only a dangerous enemy but a great one.”

I leave that standing here and you can make up your own mind as I talk about what happens next.

Gregory IX wasted no time. Frederick II had disembarked in Otranto half dead on September 12th, 10 days later pope Gregory IX excommunicated him. The fact that Frederick was ill was no excuse, which is indeed true. The treaty said automatic excommunication, no ifs not buts.

Still Frederick appealed to the pope and public opinion. He pointed to his determination to go and the death of his friend claiming extenuated circumstances. But that only upped the ante for Gregory IX. The pope now blamed the disease itself on Frederick. It was the emperor’s idea to leave from Brindisi in August when the risk of Malaria was highest. He claimed the emperor had not paid the 100,000 ounces of gold as promised nor he says has he provided all the shipping required.

Frederick the  tried the age-old strategy of doing penance, as Henry IV and Barbarossa had done. But Gregory IX refused to grant absolution to this penitent. Instead he began rattling off another long list of transgressions, some real, some entirely invented. This is where the stories of Frederick’s sexual and moral deviance begin to circulate. Gregory IX seemingly does not care for the resolution of the conflict in the interest of the crusade. It appears Gregory IX main concern is the encirclement of the Papal lands. He is prepared to let a chance to regain Jerusalem go if it rids him of his excessively powerful neighbour.

What further riles the pope is that Frederick, like his father, was running the crusade as his personal campaign, not as a campaign on behalf of the pope. Hence in the unlikely case that he would be successful, all the glory would go to him, not to the pope. Honorius could accept this in the interest of the higher purpose, Gregory could not.

We are in a catch 22. The pope does not want to release Frederick from the ban until he has fulfilled his crusader vows. But without release from the ban Frederick cannot go on crusade.

Frederick concludes that the only way out is for him to go on crusade anyway. If he can recapture Jerusalem, he will be the great hero of Christendom and the pope will have to relent. On the flip side if he is not successful, then it is all over. The excommunication will stick, his vassals will be released from their oaths and his kingdom will go up in flames. It is a bit like in 1212, there is only one option to be safe and that option is a hare-brained scheme of gaining a kingdom from a much more powerful opponent.

In June 1228 Frederick sets sail for Akkon with a sizeable but not huge army. Those who come along are not crusaders because there is no promised absolution should they die in the endeavour. Mostly they are personal vassals, Teutonic Knights and mercenaries. There is no papal blessing for this journey. Frederick even takes his Muslim fighters, a huge affront to the idea of a religious holy war.

Nobody is more surprised about Frederick’s departure than pope Gregory IX. But he acts quickly. With Frederick out on the high seas and the 100,000 ounces of gold that Frederick had indeed paid safely in the papal coffers, he musters his own mercenary army to invade Sicily. At the same time he subtly encourages the imperial princes to elect a new king to replace the unrepentant excommunicate.

What Frederick II sees beyond the wake of his ships is the total unravelling of his realm. The only way to keep his many crowns is to recapture Jerusalem. That task had been too much for the greatest of medieval warriors, for Richard the Lionheart, for Philippe Auguste, for Leopold of Austria even for his own grandfather the mighty Frederick Barbarossa, they have all failed. He has a smaller army and he hasn’t got time. Jerusalem needs to be his before the papal armies storm into Palermo.

This sounds like a completely loopy scheme, even more foolish than his wild dash to Constance in 1212. But he is no longer 17 and this time he has a plan. A trump card nobody knows about. Since before he left Frederick had been in contact with the sultan Al Kamil of Egypt. Al Kamil was tied up in family quarrels that were so serious he was prepared to renew the old offer he had made before Damietta. Return of the whole kingdom of Jerusalem in exchange for an alliance against his brother, the emir of Damascus. That would involve some military action against the emir, but if the forces of the kingdom of Jerusalem joined his army, a campaign would have a much higher chance of success than anything attempted these last 40 years.

But when Frederick arrives in Akkon he receives news from Al Kamil that blow his entire plan out of the water. As it happens the sultan’s brother, the one he was quarrelling with, had been kind enough to set off for paradise on his own accord. Al Kamil had seized the opportunity, taken over most of his brother’s territory including Jerusalem and was now lying with a large army in Nablus. No longer does he need the help of his brother emperor. He wishes him all the best in his endeavour. And here are some camels, silks and other gifts as signs of my enduring friendship. Most sincerely etc., etc., pp

The emperor’s position is now desperate. Things weren’t helped by a storm that cut his supply lines and his army goes hungry. His negotiations have fallen through. An enemy army is on the march in Sicily and the pope has relieved all his subjects in Italy from their oath of fealty.

But what makes it completely untenable is that Gregory had sent envoys to Outre-Mer getting the patriarch of Jerusalem and all the local clergy to preach against the excommunicated sinner who was planning to despoil the Holy Sepulchre. That meant he could no longer count on the forces of the Templars and Hospitallers or even the local barons. No way he can take Jerusalem by force.

For what happens next is that Al Kamil agrees to give Fredrick Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Nazareth for 10 years. For Why he does that there are two versions.

Modern historians like Hubert Houben claim that Al Kamil was preparing further confrontations with his nephew an-Nasir and hence was keen to sign a peace  agreement with the crusader state. Others like Olaf Rader do not talk about Al Kamil’s motives at all.

Arguably the crusader states were tying up a chunk of Al Kamil’s forces which may be a reason for him to seek a more permanent arrangement. But the agreement falls a bit from the sky if that were the only reason. Al Kamil could have made such an arrangement with the crusaders at any point before and seemingly didn’t.

Then there is the “old school” that sounds a bit romantic and improbable, but let me run you through it, again in the inimitable words of Ernst Kantorowicz:

“Frederick treated with Fakhru’d Din, [The Sultan’s envoy] which all goes to indicate how important the personal factor was throughout. The emperor was a past master in the art of discussion. The charm of his personality, his astounding knowledge, his quickness of repartee made him the equal of anyone…[…]

Frederick had complete command of Arabic and was acquainted with the Arab poets; his amazing knowledge of philosophy, logic, mathematics and medicine, and every other branch of learning enabled him to turn any conversation into the philosophical channels dear to the Oriental heart. He had been completely successful in his handling of his Saracen colonists of Lucera, and now he moved amongst the Saracen princes with the perfect savour faire of an accomplished man of the world. So he conversed away with Fakhru’d Din about philosophy and the arts of government, and Fakhru’d Din must have had much to tell his master about the emperor.

Al Kamil was the very man to appreciate such qualities. He was an oriental edition of the emperor, unless indeed it be more correct to call the Emperor an occidental edition of the Sultan. Al Kamil loved to dispute with learned men about jurisprudence and grammar, beloved especially of the Arab; he was himself a poet — some of his verses still survive — and in his mountain castle, as they tell, “fifty scholars reclined on divans round his throne to provide his evening conversation.”

He spent money willingly in the furtherance of learning; founded a school in Cairo for the study of Islamic Tradition, and appointed salaries for jurists. People praised his courteous bearing as much as his stern and impressive dignity. In addition he was an admirable administrator, who checked his own revenues and even invented new varieties of tax.

He had no more fancy than Frederick for aimless bloodshed if the end could be reached by friendly means, and so it came about that their negotiations presently bore fruit.”

And that fruit was the return of the cities of Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Nazareth including a narrow land corridor connecting them to Akkon and Jaffa. All that in exchange for a 10 year peace agreement.

A bromance between the defender of Mekka and Medina and the sword of Christendom had resulted in peace. Somehow the two men had found a way to trust each other enough to sign a compromise that would enrage either of their camps but serve their purposes. It is an astounding and rarely repeated event, if ever.

Frederick II entered Jerusalem on March 17th, 1229, proceeded to the church of the Holy Sepulchre where he walks under the crown of Jerusalem. The pilgrims and soldiers he had brought with him break out in great jubilation. That turns quickly into despair. The patriarch of Jerusalem has put the whole city under interdict. No mass can be said, no sacrament performed no prayers at the Holy Sepulchre will be said. All the pilgrims had come for was suddenly put out of reach. Frederick has to leave his new capital the next day so the interdict can be lifted.

Upon Frederick returns to Akkon, he receives a most frosty reception. As expected the patriarch and the clergy of the kingdom instructed by Gregory refuse to release him from the ban. No release from the ban, no formal coronation. But the barons of the kingdom are disappointed too. He has failed to regain the fertile lands surrounding the cities, making the holy sites largely a financial burden. And the Templars are outraged that the Temple Mount and the Al Aqsa Mosque had remained out of bounds for Christian pilgrims. They wanted their old headquarters back.

When the animosity turns into street fighting does the dejected emperor leave Akkon and sets sail for home. News arrive that papal troops had come as far as Benevento. It is time to go home and save his kingdom.

Jerusalem would remain in Christian hands until 1241. Crusades will continue for another 100 years but never again will crusaders gain control of the Holy sites.

Next week we will take a look at how Frederick reestablishes his  reign in Sicily, expels foreigners, breaks his barons and creates the famous community its of Muslims in Lucera. I hope you can join us again.

Before I go, let me thank all of you who are supporting the show, in particular the Patrons who have kindly signed up on patreon.com/historyofthegermans. It is thanks to you this show does not have to do advertising for matrasses or as I recently heard energy supplements and pension plans. If Patreon isn’t for you, another way to help the show is sharing the podcast directly or boosting its recognition on social media. If you share, comment or retweet a post from the History of the Germans it is more likely to be seen by others, hence bringing in more listeners. My most active places are Twitter @germanshistory and my Facebook page History of the Germans Podcast. As always, all the links are in the show notes.   

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