The German Crusade of 1197-1198

The German Crusade of 1197-1198

The German Crusade of 1197-1198

By Graham A. Loud

Crusades, Vol. 13 (2014)

Abstract: This article reconsiders the significance of the German Crusade of 1197-8, often dismissed as a very minor episode in the history of the Crusading movement. It examines the results of the expedition and some of the problems which dogged it on its arrival in the east, and which eventually led its abandonment, especially the relations of the Crusaders with the Franks of Outremer. However, this study devotes most attention to the process of calling the Crusade, and to its composition and recruitment, placing this within the context of late twelfth-century Germany. Despite political problems which hampered its recruitment, the eventual expedition was on a considerable scale, and probably not much smaller than that led by Frederick Barbarossa in 1189-90. The genesis of the expedition also throws a revealing light on Staufen rule over Germany, and in particular on the relations of the emperor with his princely subjects, especially in its interaction with Henry VI’s plans for securing the succession for his dynasty. The author also suggests that the Crusade was far more significant to the policy of Henry VI than has hitherto been realised.

Introduction: The German Crusade of 1197-98 has been largely ignored by Anglophone historians, or regarded at best as little more than a minor incident in the aftermath of the Third Crusade. Admittedly, like so many other crusading expeditions, it was in the end something of a damp squib, concluding in confusion and ignominious retreat in the face of an aroused and at least temporarily united Islam, and with most of the participants returning in haste to their homeland in the wake of the death of the Emperor Henry VI. Yet contemporaries did not necessarily agree, considering it to be on a par with the earlier expeditions of Frederick Barbarossa and Richard the Lionheart. And one might suggest that, even in terms of the Holy Land, it was by no means unimportant, for the recovery of Beirut was a considerable success; and while this was apparently counter-balanced by the loss of Jaffa to al-Ādil in September 1197 – shortly before the main body of crusaders arrived in the Holy Land – this was only a temporary set-back, since Jaffa was subsequently regained through diplomacy in 1204. In addition, it was while the German crusaders were in the East that the Teutonic Knights were formally constituted as a military monastic order, at Acre in March 1198.

The recapture of Beirut in November 1197 continued the process begun by the Third Crusade whereby the embattled Christian states in the East were once again established on a viable footing, even if on a significantly smaller scale than before the disaster of 1187. By itself the success at Beirut did not completely solve the problem that the crusader states at the end of the twelfth century comprised a series of coastal enclaves, separated one from another, rather than one continuous, even if narrow, strip of territory. Admittedly the more-or-less simultaneous recapture of Gibelet [Jubail], by the local Franks, once again linked the territory of Beirut with the county of Tripoli, while Bohemond III’s recapture of Lattakiah [Laodiciea] regained an important stronghold in the south of the principality of Antioch. However, between Lattakiah and the county of Tripoli lay Jabala, which remained in Muslim hands, while Beirut was separated from the rest of the kingdom of Jerusalem by Sidon and its territory, which the Franks only regained in 1227. Thus when Jacques de Vitry, the new bishop of Acre, wished to travel northwards to Beirut and from there on to the county of Tripoli early in 1217 he was able to traverse the territory of Sidon only with a large military escort. Here the failure of the German Crusade properly to follow up its success at Beirut was a serious setback, especially given the high hopes with which it had been invested at the time.

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