The Story of the Seventh Crusade
N. GRIMALD: The Death of Zoroas, 1550.
T HE ten years' truce made by Frederick II. with the Sultan Camhel was by no means scrupulously kept by either side.
The smaller Moslem states did not hesitate to attack the Christian towns whenever they saw an opportunity of so doing, and the Templars, who had been from the first entirely against the terms of the truce, continued to fight against the Sultan until, in a pitched battle, they lost their Grand Master and nearly all their adherents.
This occurrence was seized upon in Europe as the opportunity to stir up a Seventh Crusade. A leader was soon found in the person of Theobald, Count of Champagne and King of Navarre, a renowned "troubadour" and one of the most skilful minstrels and accomplished knights of his day.
Theobald had begun his career as a rebel to the child-king, Louis IX. of France, and aspired to become the leader of that large number of discontented barons who hoped to obtain their independence of the royal power. But the heart of the rebel was touched by the womanly devotion and courage of the young Queen-mother under these trying circumstances. He became her true and loyal knight, and, in obedience to her desire, assumed the Cross and prepared for a Crusade. All his wealth, all his influence was used for this purpose, and many of the rebellious barons were prevailed upon to follow his example.
Just as Theobald and his company were prepared to start from the town of Lyons, a message arrived from Pope Gregory, urging them to give up their project and return to their homes that they might hold themselves in readiness when he should call in their aid in affairs more pressing than those of the Holy Land. The chief of these was the defence of Constantinople, now ruled by Baldwin, son of John of Brienne, who had implored his aid against the attacks of Greeks and Bulgarians; another, scarcely less important, was the violent quarrel between himself and Frederick.
But the French Crusaders were little in sympathy with the ambitious projects of Gregory. They had taken up the Cross with a definite aim, and remembering what had happened in the days of the Fifth Crusade, they would not be deterred by side issues.
They left Europe torn with fierce political and religious conflicts only to find Syria in the same condition. The Saracen princes were waging war upon each other as well as upon the Christians, and the unhappy people of both religions had to bear the brunt.
Hearing that the Sultan had already seized Jerusalem, some of the Crusaders determined to revenge themselves by an attack upon the territory round Gaza. In vain Theobald urged them to act together and not to waste their strength; they pushed on until they came to a region shut in by barren sand-hills, where they alighted to rest. Suddenly the silence of the desert was broken by the shrill notes of war-music, and the shouts of the foe. Beset on all sides, a few managed to escape; the rest remained to sell their lives or freedom dearly, and incidentally to weaken the forces of Thcobald of Navarre by their loss.
The blow was a crushing one, and Theobald seemed now to lose all heart. A vain attempt was made to negotiate a treaty which both sides would accept. All was in confusion, and during the turmoil Theobald quietly retired from the scene with his men, and went home, confessedly a failure.
The position of the Sultan himself, however, was little less difficult. He was beset by civil strife within his dominions, and when a more dreaded adversary appeared upon the scene he was in no condition to offer effective resistance. The new-comer was Richard, Earl of Cornwall, a namesake and nephew of Richard Lionheart, whose name was still a terror to the children of Islam. The reputation of the English Earl as a redoubtable man of war had preceded him, and the Sultan showed great anxiety to come to terms. He offered almost immediately to surrender all prisoners and the Holy Land itself, and to this Richard readily agreed.
For the third and last time the Latin kingdom of Jerusalem was established, and for the next two years it remained in Christian hands. Then, just as Pope Innocent IV. succeeded Gregory IX., came a terrible rumour of a new and more dangerous foe than the Saracens.
"In the year 1240," says Matthew of Paris, "that human joys might not long continue, an immense horde of that detestable race of Satan, the Tartars, burst forth from their mountain regions and making their way through rocks almost impregnable, rushed forth like demons loosed from hell; and over-running the country, covering the face of the earth like locusts, they ravaged the eastern countries with lamentable destruction, spreading fire and slaughter wherever they went."
Descending upon the region of the Caspian lake, they drove out the no less savage shepherd people of that district, and these hurled themselves upon Syria.
"Whatever stood against them was cut off by the sword or dragged into captivity; the military orders were almost exterminated in a single battle; and in the pillage of the city, in the profanation of the Holy Sepulchre, the Latins confess and regret the modesty and discipline of the Turks and Saracens."
Such is the gloomy picture painted by Gibbon of this terrible invasion. Christians and Moslems for the first time fought side by side against the foe they had in common, but they could do nothing. The army left to guard Jerusalem, as well as all the inhabitants, save the old and sick, fled at sight of the savage hordes, who, nevertheless, by a cruel trick obtained their fill of slaughter.
Entering the city they hoisted the Cross and the flags of the Crusaders upon the walls of the Holy City, and rang the bells of the different churches all at once.
The Christians heard, paused in their headlong flight, and seeing the red cross flag streaming from the citadel, cried, "God has had mercy on us and has driven away the barbarians."
Thousands of them at once returned, and directly they had entered their homes, the foemen rushed upon them from secret hiding-places and killed or threw into prison every person they found.
In a great pitched battle fought near Gaza the allied armies of the Moslems and the Christians were almost entirely destroyed. Amongst the prisoners was the Prince of Joppa, who was forthwith led before the walls of his own city, placed upon a cross, and threatened with instant death if he would not command his people to surrender. But this brave man only cried to the men upon the walls, "It is your duty to defend this Christian city, and mine to die for Christ," and so, rather than surrender, he suffered death at the hands of a howling mob.
Nevertheless, Joppa was taken, and every other Christian city; and not until the rulers of Egypt and Syria united with each other as well as with the few Christians left, was there any hope of driving the invaders from the land. But even when this was at length accomplished the Holy City remained in the hands of Islam, and all that the Seventh Crusade had accomplished was entirely swept away.