Frederick II’s singular failure to show up for the Fifth Crusade, despite ceremoniously taking crusader vows in both 1215 and 1220, did not go unnoticed across Christendom; he was widely blamed for the failure of the Fifth Crusade. In response, he vowed a new crusade and underscored his commitment to the Holy Land by marrying the heiress of the Kingdom of Jerusalem: Queen Yolanda.
Although the terms of the treaty explicitly recognized Yolanda’s father as King of Jerusalem until his death, it was widely believed that this marriage would motivate the Emperor to undertake a crusade to Jerusalem since any child born of Frederick’s marriage to Yolanda would inherit the crown of Jerusalem. In short, the expansion of the kingdom was now in Frederick’s dynastic self-interest. Frederick solemnly promised to lead a new crusade no later than August 1227, accepting the Pope’s explicit warning that failure to meet this deadline would result in excommunication.
In November 1225, Frederick’s marriage to the thirteen-years-old Yolanda of Jerusalem was celebrated by proxy in Acre followed by Yolanda’s coronation as Queen of Jerusalem in Tyre. Yolanda then sailed to Brindisi to marry Frederick in person. No sooner was the marriage celebrated, than Frederick titled himself ‘King of Jerusalem’ and demanded homage from the barons of Jerusalem who had travelled with his bride to Sicily. This action was a clear violation of the terms of his marriage settlement with John of Brienne, and Brienne immediately protested to the pope. The latter sympathized and gave the deposed king appointments and income, but initially shied away from taking action against Frederick; the latter’s promised crusade was more important to him than in Brienne’s crown.
Frederick duly gathered his forces in Apulia in the summer of 1227, only for an epidemic to strike down thousands of men before they could depart. Frederick put to sea despite being ill in order to avoid excommunication. After the Landgraf of Thuringia died at sea, however, Friedrich lost heart and returned to Brindisi. Pope Gregory IX promptly excommunicated him. Under the circumstances, the excommunication was hardly justified, and in retrospect represented the opening volley in a power-struggle between the papacy and the Hohenstaufens that would last for decades. At the heart of the conflict were conflicting views of the role of sacred and secular authority, a topic beyond the scope of this work. However, as a result of the excommunication Frederick’s planned expedition to the Holy Land lost papal blessing and could no longer be called a ‘crusade.’ Indeed, it was explicitly characterized as an ‘anti-crusade’ by the papacy.
To make matters worse, in April 1228 fifteen-year-old Queen Yolanda of Jerusalem died of the complications of childbirth. She left an infant son, Conrad, as heir to the throne of Jerusalem. With Yolanda’s death, Friedrich II lost the right to call himself King of Jerusalem; that title now belonged to his infant son Conrad. The most Frederick could claim was the regency for his son (as John of Brienne had done for Yolanda) until the boy came of age at 15. Characteristically, Frederick ignored the law of Jerusalem and insisted on calling himself ‘King of Jerusalem’ until the day he died.
Frederick also proceeded with his crusade. His reasoning appears to be that if he succeeded in liberating Jerusalem, this would vindicate his earlier delays and prove that God was on his side in his conflict with the pope. Friedrich had good reason to believe he would liberate Jerusalem because he had already been promised Jerusalem by al-Kamil. The Sultan of Egypt had fallen out with his brother al-Mu’azzam and was looking for allies. He offered to deliver Jerusalem (his brother’s city) to the Emperor in exchange for the Emperor helping him take it away from his brother in the first place. It was rather like the King of France promising to give the Holy Roman Emperor London — just as soon as the later had captured it for him.
The ironies of the deal appear to have been lost on Frederick Hohenstaufen — and many modern commentators! Expecting a rapid diplomatic end to his ‘crusade,’ Frederick took a comparatively small number of fighting men with him, all of whom were drawn exclusively from his own domains since no one else was prepared to join an ‘anti-crusade’ led by an excommunicate. After a stop in Cyprus which will be discussed later, he proceeded to Acre arriving in 10 September 1228. Shortly after his arrival, Friedrich learned that the pope had raised an army to invade the Kingdom of Sicily with the declared intent of deposing him. One of the men leading the pope’s forces was the man Frederick had so callously humiliated: his father-in-law, King John of Jerusalem.
The threat to his core kingdom made a rapid conclusion of his Near Eastern expedition imperative. Frederick immediately opened up secret negotiations with al-Kamil, reminding him of earlier promises. However, al-Mu’azzam had died, and al-Kamil no longer felt he needed the assistance of a Christian ruler to subdue his nephew. Frederick was reduced to begging al-Kamil for Jerusalem on almost any terms at all. Finally, on 18 February 1229, after five months of secret negotiations, a personal treaty was signed between Frederick and al-Kamil, which, significantly, did not include commitments by any of the other Ayyubids.
Biographers and admirers of Frederick Hohenstaufen are apt to call Friedrich’s preference for diplomacy over warfare ‘enlightened’ or attribute his ‘astonishing success’ to greater ‘subtlety’ and even ‘genius’. It has been claimed, for example, that the treaty demonstrated Frederick’s ‘willingness to compromise and his diplomatic skills.’[i] The fact that diplomacy had been employed by the Franks for more than a hundred years before Frederick’s arrival — and indeed by Richard the Lionheart — is ignored. Furthermore, the fact that Friedrich was vehemently criticized by the Patriarch of Jerusalem, the Templars, the Hospitallers and the local barons as well as the population at large is attributed blithely to the alleged bigotry of the church and ‘blood-thirsty’ character of the Franks in Outremer. Such allegations reflect ignorance of the Holy Land, the Franks, the circumstances of the treaty, and substance of the objections to Frederick’s treaty.
Praise for Frederick’s treaty is almost entirely misplaced given the fact that he did not secure Jerusalem. What Frederick II obtained was temporary Christian control (ten years, ten months and ten days) of some of Jerusalem and a couple other cities, such as Bethlehem. The treaty explicitly prohibited Christians from setting foot on the Temple Mount and prohibited the Franks from building walls around Jerusalem. Rather than defensible borders, the Christians were granted a narrow corridor connecting Jerusalem to Jaffa. This could so easily be severed that it represented a vulnerability rather than an asset. The truce furthermore left the Saracens in control of key strategic castles such as Kerak and Montreal, while prohibiting the Franks from undertaking military campaigns elsewhere. The truce left Jerusalem so exposed that not one religious institution thought it was worthwhile returning their headquarters there.
Furthermore, the superficial success of Frederick bloodless crusade obscures the fact the constitution of Jerusalem reserved to the High Court the right to make treaties. Frederick II Hohenstaufen blissfully ignored this constitutional nicety. He negotiated in secret and presented the barons of Jerusalem with a fait accompli. This, as much as the seriously flawed terms of the treaty, outraged the local nobility. The Arab sources, meanwhile, stress that al-Kamil openly bragged that ‘when he had achieved his aim and had the situation in hand, he could purify Jerusalem of the Franks and chase them out.’[ii]
The terms of the truce reveal the degree to which Friedrich’s entire ‘crusade’ was about his power struggle with the Pope rather than Jerusalem or the Holy Land. While leaving the residents of Outremer to deal with the consequences of his worthless truce, he made a great show of wearing the Imperial crown in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. This was his way of thumbing his nose at the Pope, but it was also ‘an affront to the laws and traditions of the Kingdom of Jerusalem, a blatantly illegal action bordering on sacrilege. It is no wonder, then, that the Christians in the East saw the crusade of Frederick II as a war aimed not at Muslims but at themselves.’[iii]
Having had his day in Jerusalem (and ostentatiously telling the Muslims they should continue their call to prayers even in his presence), Frederick departed the Holy Land never to return. Neither his son nor his grandson, despite being titular kings of Jerusalem, ever set foot in the kingdom. It was left to other kings, such as Louis IX, to try to reclaim Christian control of the Holy City and secure the Holy Land. Meanwhile, the common people of Acre expressed their opinion of Frederick’s ‘anti-crusade’ by pelting him with offal and intestines from their rooftops and balconies as he made his way down to the harbor to embark on his return voyage. Yet by far the worst aspect of Frederick II’s anti-crusade was the legacy it left behind: civil war.
[i] Suhr, Heiko. Friedrich II von Hohenstaufen: Seine politischen und kulturellen Verbindungen zum Islam. [Norderstedt: GRIN Verlag, 2008] 17.
[ii] Ibn Wasil, Arab Historians of the Crusades. Translated by Francesco Gabrieli [Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1957] 271)
[iii] Madden, Thomas F. The Concise History of the Crusades. [New York: Rowman and Littlefield, 2014] 155.
The bulk of this entry is an excerpt from Dr. Schrader's comprehensive study of the crusader states.