Magazine article History Today

Soldiers of the Second Crusade Leave from Devon

Magazine article History Today

Soldiers of the Second Crusade Leave from Devon

Article excerpt

The departure of over ten thousand crusaders from the port of Dartmouth in May 1147 in a fleet of over 150 ships marked a second-stage initiative to continue the momentum and success of the First Crusade, which against the odds (see History Today's April issue) had captured Jerusalem and carved out crusader kingdoms in the Holy Land.

Maintaining those outposts against Muslim reaction, with a relatively small occupying power and attenuated supply routes, was never going to be easy. The capture of the Frankish stronghold of Edessa by the Muslim ruler Zengi and the deaths of the capable Byzantine emperor, John Comnenus, and Fulk of Anjou, the king of Jerusalem, left the Christian position in the Holy Land by the 1140s dangerously exposed.

The launch of the Second Crusade was therefore designed to shore it up, and initially the omens were good. Active support and involvement came from the highest level: the king of France, Louis VII, pledged his personal participation, as did the Holy Roman Emperor, Conrad III, with his German contingents. Propaganda and ecclesiastical backing was provided by the pope, Eugenius III, and the preaching of St Bernard of Clairvaux, one of the most charismatic figures of the age.

But from the outset there were dangerous disagreements about strategy and objectives. Partly these reflected genuine military differences of opinion, but they were also underlaid by ulterior individual motives and hidden agendas. The new Byzantine emperor, Manuel Comnenus, was insistent that all crusader conquests should be made in his name, and this did nothing to mitigate the traditional mistrust between Eastern and Western Christians. His proposal that the crusaders should take an overland route via Hungary, thus dependent on Byzantine logistics and transport, to the Holy Land, was backed by the French and Germans but opposed by the Norman ruler of Sicily, who wanted to use a sea route that would enhance his own maritime involvement coming via Genoa -- and perhaps act to the detriment of his Byzantine rival.

The Second Crusade therefore got going with divided routes and objectives. The contingent that set forth by sea was largely composed of English crusaders and those from the Low Countries. On the way they were sidetracked, but at least to purposes that fitted in with the overall Crusade objectives: they responded to an appeal for help from the Portuguese Christian king Alfonso, who was attempting to dislodge the Moors from their occupation of Lisbon. …

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