The so-called Sixth Crusade was one of the most confusing of all the numbered crusades. It was explicitly condemned by the Pope and was led by a man who had been excommunicated, yet it temporarily restored Jerusalem to Christian control. It was a bloodless campaign that ended with the leader of the crusade laying siege to the Templar headquarters in Acre -- and being pelted by ofal by the furious residents of Outremer. In short, while historians generally praise this bloodless crusade, contemporaries -- from the Pope to the common people -- were critical of it. Furthermore, while the crusade itself was bloodless, it was the spark that set off a bloody civil war in the crusader states. In two essays, I examine the Sixth Crusade starting today with the events leading up to it.
Friedrich II Hohenstaufen first “took the cross” and vowed to lead a new crusade to regain Christian control of Jerusalem at his coronation as “King of the Romans” in Aachen on July 25, 1215. He renewed his crusading vow at his coronation as “Holy Roman Emperor” by the Pope in Rome on November 22, 1220―by which time 5th Crusade had already bogged down at Damietta and was in clear need of reinforcements and stronger leadership. Although unable to depart immediately due to the need to restore order in his Kingdom of Sicily, Friedrich II sent financial and material aid to the beleaguered crusaders and promised to set out himself in 1221. Unfortunately, the Muslim insurrection on Sicily turned out to be more tenacious than anticipated, and Friedrich got bogged down in the fighting until 1223; the Pope was understanding and agreed he could postpone his crusade until 1225.
In mid-1225 Friedrich II married the heiress to the Kingdom of Jerusalem, Yolanda (also sometimes referred to as Isabella II). Yolanda was the grand-daughter of Isabella I, sole child of Maria de Montferrat and her husband John de Brienne. Maria had died giving birth to Yolanda, and John ruled as regent for his daughter, taking the title King John. The marriage of the Queen of Jerusalem to the Holy Roman Emperor was considered a master-stroke because it gave Friedrich II a material incentive for recapturing Jerusalem. In addition to the spiritual motive of restoring Christian rule over Christendom’s most sacred site, Friedrich now had a personal and dynastic interest in making his Kingdom of Jerusalem as large, strong and prosperous as possible, and securing for any children by Yolanda an inheritance worthy of him. From the point of view of the High Court of Jerusalem, the marriage ensured the military and financial support for the kingdom from the most powerful Christian monarch in the world.
The marriage was celebrated by proxy in Acre followed by Yolanda’s coronation as Queen of Jerusalem in Tyre and then Yolanda sailed to Brindisi to marry Friedrich in person in November. Meanwhile, however, the crusade had been postponed yet again, this time until August 1227. Furthermore, this time the Pope added the warning that if Friedrich failed to depart by August 1227 he faced excommunication. Friedrich accepted these terms and then proceeded in very short order to alienate his father-in-law (by dismissing him as superfluous) and was accused (at least by his father-in-law) of humiliating his bride with neglect and a preference for his harem of concubines.
Nevertheless, a large crusading army with strong German contingents gathered in Apulia in the summer of 1227 ― only to be struck down by some epidemic disease that started killing the crusaders before they even embarked. Under threat of excommunication, if he did not depart, Friedrich doggedly set sail despite being ill. While at sea, the most important of Friedrich’s subordinate commanders, the Landgraf of Thuringia, died of the disease. Friedrich decided that he too was too ill to command a crusade. While ordering the Grand Master of the Teutonic Knights and other galleys under the Duke of Limburg to proceed, he returned to Brindisi.
The Pope, the vigorous and uncompromising Gregory IX, promptly excommunicated the Holy Roman Emperor. Under the circumstances, the excommunication was hardly justified. Rather, the excommunication was Pope Gregory’s opening volley in an all-out attack on what he viewed as the unacceptable infringement of papal authority by the Holy Roman Emperor. It was the opening act of a power-struggle that would last for decades and pitted conflicting philosophies about the respective role of sacred and secular leadership. That struggle is not the subject of this essay, but the impact of the excommunication on Friedrich’s authority is. Effectively, with the excommunication, Friedrich’s campaign to the Holy Land lost papal blessing (whether fairly or not), and his campaign could not officially be viewed as a “crusade.”
The situation was further complicated by the fact that in April 1228, 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 his legal right to call himself King of Jerusalem; that title now belonged to his infant son Conrad. The most that Frederick could claim was the right to serve as regent for his son until the boy came of age at 15.
It was now 13 years since he had taken his crusader oath, and his open confrontation with the Pope had a profound effect upon his authority in his vast and complex domains. The excommunication above all gave his many internal opponents and rivals an excuse for insubordination and rebellion.
Friedrich would, therefore, have been well justified in abandoning the campaign to the Holy Land altogether and focusing on defending his birthright. Then again, when fighting an intransigent pope, what better way to undermine papal authority than to liberate the Holy City? The liberation of Jerusalem was bound to appear in the eyes of many (or so Friedrich appears to have reasoned) as divine favor and vindication. Furthermore, Friedrich had good reason to believe he would liberate Jerusalem because he had already been approached by the Sultan of Egypt, al-Kamil, who offered to deliver Jerusalem to him in exchange for the Emperor’s support in his war against his brother al-Mu’azzam.
What actually happened when Frederick II set sail for the Holy Land is the subject of next week's entry. Meanwhile:
Dr. Helena P. Schrader holds a PhD in History.
She is the Chief Editor of the Real Crusades History Blog.She is an award-winning novelist and author of numerous books both fiction and non-fiction. Her three-part biography of Balian d'Ibelin won a total of 14 literary accolades. Her most recent release is a novel about the founding of the crusader Kingdom of Cyprus. You can find out more at: http://crusaderkingdoms.com