The Fourth Crusade

by Eldert Bontekoe

     This issue's article is a story of good intentions gone bad, of promises made and broken, and most of all a story steeped in irony. The Fourth Crusade was undertaken to free the Holy Sepulcher and defend the Christians against the infidel. But not a single blow was struck against an Islamic foe and it ended with the greatest city in all Christendom largely destroyed. But the Crusaders were not easily deflected from their goal. It took a blind but ingenious ruler in his eighties to pull one of the biggest switches in history. But before I get to that story, let me recap what has happened in the Holy Land since the Third Crusade - for this will be the closest this narrative gets to the Holy Land.

Silver Denier of Bohemund III showing a Crusaer knight -- Lot 510

The Crusader States in Syria After the Third Crusade

     The counties of Antioch and Tripoli united when Raymond III (1152-87) died and left Tripoli to Bohemund III of Antioch (1163-1201) who assigned his son, Bohemund IV, to rule Tripoli (Tripoli: 1187-1233, Antioch: 1201-33). As you recall from the previous Crusades article, Cyprus was sold to Guy (1192-94) and, upon his death, was subsequently ruled by his brother Aimery of Lusignan (1194-1205). Cilician Armenia came into its own under Prince Levon II (1187-98) who took the tile of King Levon I (1198-1218) after his coronation as an Imperial vassal. An interesting silver tram is struck showing his coronation (see lot 522).

Silver tram Levon I of Armenia showing the king enthroned -- Lot 523

     The city of Jerusalem remained in Arab hands throughout the period of this article. The once great Kingdom of Jerusalem was now reduced to several coastal cities. When King Henri de Champaign died in 1197, Isabelle, his widow, married for the fourth time. This time the honor (and the Kingdom of Jerusalem) went to Aimery of Lusignan (1197-1205) who was already King of Cyprus. Aimery ruled as King consort (King by virtue of his marriage to Isabelle, the Queen). When Aimery died, Jerusalem reverted back to Mary of Montferrat (the eldest offspring of Isabella, by her marriage to Conrad). Hugh, Aimery's son, inherited Cyprus but not Jerusalem. John of Ibelin ruled as regent (1205-10) until Mary came of age and married John de Brienne who ruled as King consort (1210-25).

Henry VI's Aborted Crusade

     The failure of the Third Crusade to liberate Jerusalem weighed heavily on all of Christendom. Henry VI (Holy Roman Emperor, HRI, 1190-97) announced his plans to take the cross following his conquest of Sicily. Preparations were made and about one thousand German Crusaders arrived in the Holy Lands. Armenia and Cyprus were raised to Kingdoms in the Holy Roman Empire. But all the preparations were for naught, as Henry would die in Messina, Sicily at the age of 32 before he could begin his crusade.

     His son, Fredrick was far to young to rule and he and his mother Constance and Sicily were put under the care of the new Pope, Innocent III. Henry's brother, Philip of Swabia took control of the lands for the Hohenstaufen. But soon, Otto of Brunswick took up a rival position for the House of Welf. So the Crusader ambitions remained dormant for a few years. Remember Philip, he fits into our narrative a bit later.

Strained Relations between Byzantium and Western Europe

     It is a long standing tradition that before anyone recounts the events of the Fourth Crusade one has to try to explain why it happened or at least some of the motivations that led up to it. One would think that Byzantium (who were called Greeks by the Crusaders) and the Crusaders (who were called Latins) who shared a common enemy and a common religion would be on the same side, but war makes strange bedfellows and the two forces were often allies but rarely friends.

     The events of the First Crusade soured their relations when the two factions undermined each others efforts and argued over the fruits of the conquests. In 1171/2, Emperor Manuel I Comnenus (1143-80) became tired of the special trading concessions that had been granted to the Venetians and had them arrested and seized their goods. Again in 1182 the Greeks turned on the Latins in Constantinople and in a mob action (known as the Latin Massacre) rampaged through the streets killing all westerners they met. Isaac II's alliance with Saladin against Fredrick Barbarossa in the Third Crusade also fueled the Latin's distrust of the Byzantines.

     Of course, the Westerners did their share to aggravate the Byzantines starting with the conquest and vicious sack of Thessalonika by the Normans. Followed by threatened attacks on Constantinople by both Henry VI and Fredrick Barbarossa.

Preaching the Crusade

     The Fourth Crusade began normally. It was conceived by pope Innocent III and preached by Faulk de Neuilly. It was at a tournament in Eciri (Champagne, France) in 1199 where the idea of another crusade first began to jell. The Crusaders thought an campaign against Egypt would isolate Syria from its support and allow the conquest of Jerusalem. Consequently, the Crusaders began to plan to raise an army and make the journey by ship to Syria and eventually overland to Egypt.

     Thibault of Champagne was to be the leader, but he died before the crusade could start. He willed most of his money to his vassals to outfit crusade. Upon his death, Marquis Boniface was elected as the new leader of the Crusaders. The principle Crusaders were Count Baldwin of Flanders and Hainault (1195-1206) and Geoffory de Villehardouin who wrote a first hand account of the crusade. As we will see, Enrico Dandolo Doge of Venice (1192-1205) was also to join the crusade.

The Covenant with Venice and Redirection of the Crusade to Zara

     Any Crusade needed to begin with transport to Syria. But such a crossing was an enormous undertaking. No existing single fleet in Christendom could carry and supply the Crusaders. The Crusaders wanted to travel together so that their army would arrive in mass rather than piecemeal. Venice was the only state that could even consider such a massive undertaking.

     The Crusaders reached an agreement with Venice in April 1201 where they were to pay 85,000 marks of silver (a mark is a unit of account equal to two-thirds of a pound) and Venice would provide transport for 4500 knights (and their horses), 9000 Squires (and their horses) and 20,000 foot soldiers plus 50 warships and nine months supplies. The Crusaders also agreed to share all the spoils of war equally with Venice. All this was to be done in about a year by St. John's Day (June 24, 1202). Despite the enormity of the undertaking, Venice was ready on the appointed day and the Crusaders were unable to pay them.

     It seems that the Crusaders had over-estimated the size of their force at Venice. Many of the Crusaders left directly from other ports (especially Marseilles) to travel to Syria. Whatever the reason, the Crusaders at Venice numbered only 12,000 and they could not pay what they had promised. After each knight paid his portion and they were short of the total, several leaders of the crusade decided to pay all the money which they had. They were still 34,000 marks short and under the terms of the agreement. Venice could keep what had been paid to date and would be under no obligation to transport the Crusaders.

     The Crusade seemed doomed un


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