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Europe during the Crusades: Overview

What was happening in Europe during the two hundred years of the Crusades? A great deal, for this is the period usually called the High Middle Ages. The term strictly means nothing more than the time after the Early and before the Late Middle Ages, but this period is also when medieval civilization was at its height. When you think of stone castles, knights in armor, tournaments, Gothic cathedrals, noble ladies with the tall pointy hats . . . this is the time period you are thinking of.

Contries covered in the paragraphs below are England, France, Germany, and Italy.


England was no great power in the Middle Ages. The country was small, poor, backward, lacking in natural resources, and on the edge of the European community. Its kings during the Crusading centuries tended to regard it as a source of men and money to be tapped while going about more important business in France, for the English king at this time was also a French baron of importance.

Wales was not a part of the realm of England, nor was Scotland (or Ireland, for that matter). Both, however, made war on the English frequently. The English kings dealt with these as best they could and with varying success, but their real attention was focused on the Continent.

From 1066 on, right through the end of the period we are studying, the King of England was also the Duke of Normandy (there were a couple of lapses). For much of the time, he was also the Count of Anjou, the Duke of Gascony, and held various other titles that made him the vassal of the French king. The need to govern these lands, to defend them against encroachment and rebellion, coupled with the uneasy to downright hostile relations with the King of France, caused the English kings to spend much of their energies, wealth and time across the Channel.

Only one English king, Richard I, ever went on crusade, though Edward I did so before he became king. As in other nations, nearly every monarch took the crusading vow, especially after 1181, but they never seemed to get around to going. This contrasts sharply with the French and German monarchs, though it should be noted that few Spanish or Scandinavian kings went, either, nor did kings of Hungary and other countries.

Even though the country was small and comparatively poor, it was able to produce a disproportionately large army, thanks in large part to the efforts of some strong kings. This allowed the English to be serious competition to the French. It also meant that there were a goodly number of English knights, and many of these went individually, in groups, or in the service of foreign lords, off on crusade. But the English presence in Outremer was always miniscule.


William II (1087-1100)

In 1095, England was ruled by William Rufus, son of the Conqueror, who had died in 1087. William I had not been well-liked, but he had been greatly feared. William II was openly despised and was not feared much at all. He had quarreled with the Church and was under the ban of excommunication in 1095 (as were Henry IV and Philip I). His barons liked his brother Robert, Duke of Normandy, better than they did their own king, but Robert went off on Crusade.

William was killed in 1100, shot by an errant arrow while hunting. Within three days, Henry of Anjou was being crowned the new king in London. Henry had been in the hunting party with William and had moved with remarkable speed, arriving in the city to stake his claim the same day William had died. William was childless and there were no other direct heirs (Duke Robert had died on Crusade). Some modern historians have like to see conspiracy in this, but the records make no such speculation, even those unfriendly to Henry.


Henry I (1100-1135)

Henry technically should not have been king; the elder claim belonged to Robert of Normandy. But Robert was still on his way back from the First Crusade and Henry was on the spot, so he seized his chance. In order to seal support, he issued a proclamation at his coronation on August 5, 1100 making a number of promises. He promised the Church its liberty (without being overly-specific) and made a number of fairly specific promises to the barons of England. While he proceeded to ignore these promises as it suited him, his proclamation was cited a hundred years later at the time of the Magna Carta. For Henry, it was likely no more than an expedient, but later generations turned it into a precedent.

Probably the development for which Henry's reign is most famous lies in the area of law and royal administration. Under Henry developed the institution of itinerant justices--royal judges who toured the countryside, holding courts in every town and judging cases that affected the Crown. Another example is the Exchequer. Although this probably began under William Rufus, with Henry the Exchequer became something like a national office of the Treasury. The term refers to the checkerboard cloth that was spread over a table on which money was stacked, each square representing a different area of income. For the Exchequer was concerned mainly with the gathering of royal revenues. In other words, with Henry we begin to see royal government beginning actually to keep books on its income. This is further attested to by the fact that the Pipe Rolls first appear in 1130. The Pipe Rolls are the earliest surviving official government archives for the Middle Ages.

The Investiture Struggle that was playing out in Germany had its echoes in England. Henry quarrelled with Anselm, the Archbishop of Canterbury. The quarrels were mainly over minor matters, but they ended with Anselm taking refuge in France. He finally returned in 1107 and Henry acquiesced by giving up his right to invest bishops with the ring and staff.

Robert of Normandy never accepted Henry's rule. He rebelled, but in June 1106 at Tinchebrai Henry dealt Robert a resounding defeat. Robert was captured and kept a prisoner until his death in 1134. Thus did Henry re-unite England and Normandy, keeping England with an interest in the Continent. This, naturally, brought him into conflict with France, and Henry defeated Louis VI at Brémule in 1119.

Henry's son William was married to the daughter of Fulk of Anjou. Besides the king of France, the count of Anjou was Henry's main rival, so the marriage was an attempt to secure Normandy against a dangerous enemy. But William was drowned returning to England in the White Ship in 1120, leaving Henry with only one child, his daughter Matilda. She was married to Emperor Henry V. The Emperor died in 1125, though, and Matilda returned to England. Henry then married her to Geoffrey Plantagenet, another of Fulk's sons, in 1128.

Fulk left Anjou in the spring of 1129, to marry Melisende, the heiress to the Kingdom of Jerusalem. Almost at once, Geoffrey began scheming to take Normandy. In 1135, the year Henry died, Geoffrey invaded.

Stephen (1135-1154)

Henry had made the barons swear an oath to regard Matilda as his one true heir. Upon King Henry’s death, England was faced with choosing between a daughter married to a foreign prince (Geoffrey of Anjou) who was not very well liked, and a male with a more distant claim. The barons chose Stephen of Blois, son of the crusader and grandson of William the Conqueror (his mother was Adèle). Stephen landed within a month of Henry's death and was pretty generally accepted, though there were some significant hold-outs.

The hold-outs fomented rebellion at every turn, and they did not lack for allies of convenience. For his part, Stephen seemed unable to project the strength of will and resources needed to put an end to the rebellions. The result was that he would no sooner put out one revolt here than another would break out there. Except for its final year, Stephen's reign was one of almost continual civil war.

Geoffrey's invasion of Normandy in 1135 failed, but he was back again in 1138. He was supported by Robert, Earl of Gloucester, who was Matilda's half-brother and the principal leader of the anti-Stephen faction. England itself was invaded by Matildine forces in 1139, and Gloucester linked up with them. Together, they were able to capture King Stephen in 1141 and Matilda entered London in triumph. It was short-lived, however, for Robert of Gloucester was captured the same year, and the king was freed in an exchange of prisoners. Geoffrey, meanwhile, was content to remain in Normandy, which he received as a duchy in 1144.

Gloucester died in 1147. With her main support gone, Matilda had to leave England the following year. Her 16-year old son invaded in 1149, but go nowhere, though he was invested with Normandy by his father. Stephen's son, Eustace, died in 1153. With his passing, Stephen seemed to lose his will to carry on the long struggle. Henry invaded again that same year and Stephen came to an agreement rather than fight. He would rule as king for this rest of his life, but upon his death, Henry would become King of England. Peace came at last. Stephen died in October 1154.

The anarchy of Stephen's reign is notorious. In truth, it affected some areas of England severely for short periods of time, while other areas were all but untouched. Certainly, royal authority was not enhanced, and royal government made no progress during Stephen's reign, but at the same time, nothing seems to have been lost permanently. For the next king put England back in order very quickly.


Henry II (1154-1189)

Henry II was the most important English king of the period, in almost every respect. During his reign, England became a major producer of wool, acquired extensive holdings in France, and became the most centralized monarchy in Europe. Not all these things came about solely due to Henry, but he certainly played an important part.

Becket--Henry was crowned king in December 1154. By January he had appointed his long-time friend Thomas à Becket as his chancellor. The act was significant in two respects. First, it symbolizes a new trend in English government, with the king relying on non-noble servants as his advisors. Second, despite their long friendship, Becket and Henry eventually found themselves on opposite sides of the conflict between Church and State. When the old Archibishop of Canterbury died, Henry was free (by the terms of the agreement of the first Henry with Anselm) to nominate a candidate as successor. He nominated Becket. Thomas accepted the job somewhat reluctantly, but once he became Archbishop, he became an ardent defender of the interests of the Church.

Becket was made Archibishop in 1162. By 1163 he was defying the king. Henry made a number of demands over which they disagreed, but the most notorious was the status of "criminous clerics" -- that is, members of the clergy who had committed civil crimes such as assault, theft and murder. Henry claimed they should be tried in royal courts. Thomas insisted they could be tried only in clerical courts. The disagreement grew so heated that in 1164, like Anselm before him, Becket sought refuge in France.

Through the auspices of Pope Calixtus III, King and Archbishop were reconciled in 1170, and Thomas returned to England. No sooner had he returned, however, than the two fell to quarelling again, for neither would yield on their principles. Then, late in that same year, three knights went to Canterbury and murdered Thomas while he knelt in evening prayers. They later claimed that the king had said he wished someone would rid him of that "troublesome priest." Henry claimed to be heart-broken, and perhaps he was. He was pardoned by the pope in 1172 and did penance at Becket's tomb in 1174.

The Becket affair is highly colored by the personal relationship between the two men (there's a famous play and movie "Becket" based on it). But it also illustrates just how powerful the Church was, even in a land where the king was exceptionally powerful. At the same time, it shows that, in the end, the monarch was the ultimate ruler in his own land. This lesson would be learned in different (and less colorful ways) in every European kingdom.

The Angevin Empire--Henry was a consummate dynast. He himself had married Eleanor of Aquitaine, recently divorced from Louis VII of France, in 1152. This marriage greatly increased his estates, for Aquitaine was one of the greatest duchies of France. He first settled England on his son, William. After William died, the crown went to Prince Henry, along with Normandy and Anjou. The Prince was actually crowned co-king in 1170. Richard (Queen Eleanor's favorite) was given Aquitaine in 1167. Geoffrey got Brittany. John became Lord of Ireland in 1177, but he did not receive any actual fiefs, so he got nicknamed John Lackland. Henry's daughters married well, too: Matilda to Henry the Lion of Saxony; Eleanor to King Alfonso VIII of Castile; and Joanna to King William of Sicily (note the Norman connection).

English law--The English legal system took shape in the 12th century. Henry I made the first steps, but Henry II made even greater contributions. He's the one who created Justices of the Peace, who travelled about the realm enforcing royal justice. English common law was formalized under Henry for the first time, and here too we see trial by jury becoming a permanent part of the legal system. It was Henry who made the local sheriff (=shire reeve) into a royal official, thus setting the stage for the wicked Sheriff of Nottingham (smile). All this was mainly so Henry could enforce his will in the countryside, but his successors retained and extended his work.

Henry and the Crusades--Henry had a complicated relationship with the Crusades. Part of his penance for the murder of Becket was that he gave a huge amount of money to the Templars, to be held against the day he could go to the Holy Land. He may have taken the vow in 1177 with Louis VII, but the evidence isn't clear. In 1183, when the Patriarch of Jerusalem was in Europe begging for help, he talked about going on crusade but pleaded circumstances. When Jerusalem fell, the Templars gave to King Guy the money Henry had given to them (some of that money eventually went toward freeing 7,000 from the hands of Saladin at Jerusalem). But even after the fall of Jerusalem, Henry himself never set out. By that time, though, he was fully engaged in a serious civil war with his own sons.

Henry and his family--Henry had a violent temper, and he had a violent relationship with his sons. Eleanor gave him five sons and three daughters. Three sons--William, Henry, and Geoffrey, predeceased their father. Geoffrey was one of the key plotters against his father, rising twice in rebellion. John and Richard also rebelled against their father. In every case, it was a matter of the sons thinking their father was not giving them the power and honor they deserved. In the later years, the king of France was Philip II, who proved a cunning opponent, so Henry's last years were spent trying doggedly to hold on to what he had built. At his death, he was forced to recognize Richard as the next king, and Richard was probably the son he liked least.


Richard I (1189-1199)

Richard was a factor in England well before he was king, mainly as a rebel against his father. Once he became king, however, he did very little. Every history book will point out that Richard spent a grand total of six months in England, but he was nevertheless king for a full decade. A king cannot reign for ten years and have no effect.

Ironically, even though Richard was endlessly in rebellion against his father, once he became king he perpetuated his father's regime. True, he replaced various counsellors, but the administrative, legal and financial changes instituted by Henry II were kept in place and exploited by Richard. This is not surprising, for both men were motivated to this by their great need to finance wars abroad. England was for Richard a source of men and money; it otherwise was to be a source of as little trouble as possible, and the men the king appointed were to see to this.

Because Richard was so successful in his wars, and because he was genuinely liked and admired by much of the baronage, his rule met with little opposition in England. Not that his exactions were welcome, but no one dared, and few were inclined, to challenge Richard. Henry had had his opponents, but few dared to challenge that fierce old man.

Most of what opposition there was centered around gaining influence at court. These men tended to gather around Richard's younger brother, John. They did not expect John would inherit, for Richard was still a young man when he died, but they hoped through John to gain influence. This is why, when Richard was away on Crusade, John virtually ruled England--he was supported in his amitions by nobles outside the centers of power.

When Richard died unexpectedly in 1199, then, there were plenty of barons ready for change. One faction simply wanted into power; these rode in with John. Another faction, somewhat overlapping the first, were tired of what they viewed as the excesses of the Plantagenets and wanted a return of their "liberties." They didn't really think John would grant this willingly, but at least they hoped for some compromise.


John (1199-1216)

John is very often portrayed as a bad king, largely because of the influence of certain chroniclers and later historians. He is portrayed as either incompetent or wicked, or both. Yet, he seemed strong enough early in his reign.

John was his father's favorite son. He received a number of assignments and commissions under Henry, none of which kept John from joining Richard in rebellion at the end of Henry's life, but the assignments gave John experience in military command and in governing. Then again, while Richard was away, John took a hand (sometimes too strong a hand) in ruling England. All this meant that John was well experienced when he became king, and that he had a circle of supporters and advisers whom he trusted.

Once king, he was faced at once with challenges to his authority (from his brother Geoffrey), which he met successfully. He continued Richard's policy of heavy taxation and an ambitious foreign policy, but he could never pull it off. He was faced with a formidable foe, one who was probably even more clever than he--King Philip II of France. He fell afoul of Pope Innocent III and so could not turn to the Church for support. And, finally, he lost the support of his barons. Always ready to be rebellious, the English barons could forgive much if their king were successful in war. But John proved to be spectacularly unsuccessful.

France succeeded in driving the English out of Normandy, Maine and Anjou--the very heart of the Angevin Empire--by 1204. John undertook a long and very expensive plan to recover these territories, involving him in ever-increasing taxations. In order to win back papal favor, he went so far as to make England a papal fief (a gesture that had few practical consequences but which was symbolic of his "weakness"). He did this in 1213, in preparation for his new military campaign in France.

That campaign involved a double invasion, from England and from Germany. John was actually successful on his part, but the Germans were so soundly defeated at the Battle of Bouvines in 1214 that John was forced to return to England empty-handed.

All the taxation, all the defeats, all the outrages and humiliations finally proved too much for the English barons. They rebelled in 1215 and John was unable to defeat them. The result of the rebellion was a document, the Magna Carta, in which the barons asserted their rights against the crown. Later historians make much of this document, but at the time it really meant very little. As before, each English king's authority extended just so far as he could force it and no farther. But by the time of Edward I, it had become customary for the new king at his coronation to confirm that he would honor the provisions of the Magna Carta, and from that time onward, the document was elevated to an almost mythic status. And, of course, King John was necessarily portrayed as the bad guy in the drama.

John died in 1216, unmourned by most. His son was only nine years old, and so England, defeated on the Continent, was ruled by a regency--one controlled by those very same rebellious barons.

Henry III (1216-1272)

The minority--Henry struggled for years to assert his authority, as various guardians jockeyed for power. He was sixteen before he was allowed to use his personal seal on documents, and then only because he'd appealed to Pope Honorius III for support. He had to get a letter from Pope Gregory IX declaring his minority at an end before he was able to face down all of his "guardians." He was twenty years old at the time.

Foreign affairs--Henry was every bit as unsuccessful as his father was, and paid for it in much the same fashion. His invasion of Brittany in 1230 failed, and so did his invasion of Poitou in 1242. As John had done, Henry governed largely on his own authority with selected advisors, without consulting the barons. As his father had done, Henry feuded with the papacy.

Henry and the barons--His failures came to a head in 1258, when the barons, led by the Earls of Gloucester and Norfolk, forced Henry to sign the Provisions of Oxford. By these Provisions, Henry was required to govern in consultation with a council of fifteen barons, who would have authority over the judicial system. These fifteen would meet three times a year with twelve other barons in a Parliament. A real Parliament was decades away yet, but the Provisions of Oxford form an important precedent.

The Provisions demonstrated not so much that Henry was weak as that there were limits on how far a king of England could go in ruling on his own. The barons, predictably, overplayed their hand and the king was soon able to ignore many of the Provisions. There was one more baronial revolt, led by Simon de Montfort, but Henry was unlike his father for once: he was victorious in the field (Battle of Evesham, 1267) and ended the rebellion by force. As part of the settlement later that same year, Henry confirmed his adherence to the Magna Carta.

Henry and the Crusades--Henry III did not go on crusade, but he took the crusading vow in 1250. He bought his way out of it by putting forward his son Edmund as a candidate to become King of Sicily, all part of an elaborate papal scheme to pry the Hohenstaufen out of southern Italy. That plan was an expensive failure, and then Edmund died. But his second son, Edward, took the crusading vow and actually went to the Holy Land in 1270, where he managed to do some good despite a diminutive army.

Both John and Henry were utterly preoccupied with affairs in France and, closely related, with their own internal troubles. Both took crusading vows with the clear understanding that they would go only when things at home had settled down. Things never settled down.

Many English knights went to the Holy Land. The Templars had a large presence in the land. But England as a nation was both unwilling and unable to come to the aid of Outremer.


Edward I (1272-1307)

Edward's crusade--The young prince arrived at Acre in 1270 at the head of a small army, fully expecting to be joined by the French. Only then did he learn that King Louis had been diverted by his wily brother, Charles of Anjou, to a campaign in Tunis. Without the French army, Edward could do little. His presence was enough to deter Baibars from delivering a death blow, but he could do little offensively. Bitterly disappointed, headed for England in 1271. By the time he arrived, his father was dead and he was king.

Edward's career falls mainly outside the parameters of our course. As with most medieval kings, he spent the first portion of his reign dealing with rebellions and external enemies. The first few years he campaigned in Wales, earning the nickname "Hammer of the Welsh." This occupied him until 1282. He then turned his attention to France, particularly to Gascony, and events there occupied him through 1291 and after.

Edward's accomplishments were many. He did not make much progress in Gascony, but he fought France to a standstill and brought both Wales and Scotland under direct English rule. His legal and constitutional activities were extremely important, but most fall outside our period, and so I will pass over them in silence.


France was a rich and powerful nation, but the French king was not a rich and powerful monarch. At the beginning of the 12th century, he was hardly more than one baron among many, who simply happened to have hereditary claim on a prestigious title that brought more obligations than benefits. By the end of the 13th century, however, the situation had changed dramatically. The French king was certainly predominant within France, and the French court was the leading court of Europe.

In 1095, though, the king controlled only the middle section of the Seine River valley, an area known as the Île-de-France. The area did include the city of Paris, but Paris did not dominate France in the way London dominated England; in fact, the city was but one of several towns of importance, much the same as the French king was but one of several important lords in the realm.

All the French dukes and counts owed homage to the crown, including all the great Crusader homes: Toulouse, Aquitaine, Anjou, Normandy, Champagne. But every one of these was richer than the king and most commanded larger armies. Sometimes they fought against the crown, sometimes they fought for it, and much of the time they fought their own wars with complete indifference to the crown. When the king summoned his lords, the response would vary widely, depending on circumstances and on the king himself. And they were as unreliable in contributing money to the crown as they were in contributing men.

The French king had one great strength, however: family. No matter how meager its power, from the 10th century until the 14th century, one family ruled as king—the Capetians. Their remarkable success in producing male heirs meant that the crown was never contested and the realm never fell into civil war. Moreover, the Capetians were even free of the father-son rivalries that so plagued England and Germany and other monarchies. This allowed the crown to grow steadily, if slowly, in power.

Role of France in the Crusades
France was in every respect the leader of the Crusades. While the First Crusade was led by lords who would not have regarded themselves as French, from the Second Crusade onward, French kings played a prominent role in all but the Fourth and the Sixth. Moreover, French knights made up the largest part of the steady flow of reinforcements throughout the two-hundred-year span. French knights also comprised the majority in both the Hospital and the Temple. The Templars, in particular, held huge commanderies throughout France and by the 13th century were the principal bankers for the French crown. Finally, the French occupied the premiere position in the songs of the troubadors, which served as a kind of popular press. That is to say, in the minds of many, the French were the leaders of the crusading movement; indeed, the usual Arab name for all crusaders, regardless of nationality, was Franj.

Philip I (1060-1108)

King of France at the time of the First Crusade was Philip I. He was not a strong king, and he had his hands full with over-mighty neighbors, particularly with Flanders and Normandy. He also had his share of trouble with the Church; in 1095 he was excommunicated by Pope Urban II for marital troubles: Philip had sought to divorce his wife and marry a new one; when the papacy would not grant the divorce, the king went ahead and married anyway, leading to his excommunication.

While Philip was hardly more than first among equals, he did manage to add a bit to the royal demesne, and that as a side-effect of the First Crusade. The Viscount of Bourges (south of Paris) wished to go on the Crusade but lacked the money. King Philip bought the fief. This phenomenon was common throughout the Crusading period, for crusading was a very expensive undertaking. Lords great and small borrowed against their lands, or pawned them, or even sold them outright. Everyone did this, including kings themselves, who were as chronically short of cash as anyone. In this particular case, though, the French crown acquired Bourges and held onto it.

Philip did not participate in the First Crusade. The pope was in no mind to invite him because he had only just excommunicated the king over marriage issues, and in turn Philip had plenty to do at home. At least with Philip's reign, the trend of the previous generations was halted: the crown at least was no longer losing lands to counts and dukes.

Louis VI (1108-1137)

Called Louis the Fat because by middle age he was so large he had to be helped onto a horse, King Louis VI nevertheless managed his realm effectively, given his limited resources, and even managed to waddle into combat himself. He was more ambitious and energetic than was his father, and he was the first king of the Capetian line to have success in compelling obedience from his barons. At least occasionally.

Louis spent much of his reign at war, either with rebellious vassals, or with foreign enemies. He was not always successful in these campaigns, but he never lost disastrously and he was successful often enough that by the end of the reign he, too, had added a bit to the royal demesne. As one example, the counts of Flanders were nominally the vassals of the king, but they had long been independent. In 1127, the Count of Flanders was murdered. Louis acted quickly, occupying the country and installing his own choice as the new count. He then returned to France. His man was soon driven out, but his intervention established a definite French influence and reminded everyone that he was the suzerain of the Flemings. This doesn't sound like much, but it was more than previous kings had managed.

Probably the most significant result of Louis' reign was a marriage. The Duke of Aquitaine had only a daughter, Eleanor. Upon his death, he entrusted her to the king, who arranged her marriage with his son. The duchy of Aquitaine was one of the largest and richest in the kingdom. While Eleanor was to have Aquitaine in her own right, the son of that marriage would inherit both the kingdom and the duchy, doubling the royal holdings.

Louis VII (1137-1180)

The marrige of Louis VII and Eleanor of Aquitaine lasted fifteen years, but it was not a happy marriage and it produced no sons. Aquitaine therefore did not enter the royal demesne; instead, Eleanor married Henry Plantagenet, who soon became the King of England, and the great French duchy became the property of the English, not the French.

Louis enjoyed other successes, however. Not least of these was that he managed to preserve royal territory against a wily and powerful rival, King Henry II of England. He did this not through success on the battlefield but by supporting Henry's opponents and lending support to the many plots against the English king. He also eventually had success in marriage: his third wife was Adèle of Blois, which brought the powerful lords of Champagne onto the side of the crown.

In most other respects, however, Louis met with one setback after another. This was the king who went on the Second Crusade, which resulted only in embarassing failure. In his later years, he fell completely under the influence of the Count of Champagne. He did manage to produce a son, only to see that boy rebel against him at the tender age of fifteen.

Philip II Augustus (1180-1223)

Along with Philip IV, easily the most important of the French kings in the Middle Ages. Philip transformed the royal court, much as Henry II did in England, but he also was able to claim significant military victories as well. His military success is ironic in view of his distaste for war. He was no pacifist, far from it, but he personally did not care for combat and did not revel in the details of campaigning. Nevertheless, he won a series of great victories against the English, most notably at Bouvines in 1214, and ended his reign having more than doubled royal holdings.

Philip spent the first years of his reign battling the Plantagenets. Even his short sojourn on the Third Crusade was hardly more then a desultory diversion before returning to the business of doing in Richard of England. It was Philip who attacked Normandy with no more cause than that Richard was away, and then conspired with John to do even more damage. Alarmed by all this, Richard finally gave up on the Crusade but was captured on his return home. It was money from Philip that managed to keep Richard imprisoned for fourteen months.

Once Richard had been felled by a bolt from a crossbow, Philip began to enjoy success on the battlefield. He allied first with Arthur of Brittany and launched a major assault on Normandy. Although Arthur died in the effort, Philip captured one fortress after another. By 1206, he controlled all or most of Normandy, Maine, Anjou and Touraine. John made one last major effort to recover his losses, but this ended in a catastrophic defeat at the Battle of Bouvines (John didn't lose the battle, Otto of Brunswick did, but the loss meant John could not recover his French lands).

Normandy alone yielded as much revenue as the entire royal demesne had in his father's day; Philip's conquests in total quadrupled crown income. In fact, so great and rapid were Philip's acquisitions that the government was hard pressed to rule them. It was Philip who introduced two royal officers who would become characteristic of French royal administration: the bailli and the seneschal. The baillis were given a portion of a province where they were responsible for collecting royal revenues and for administering royal justice. They were also the principal liaison between the king and the vassal and the vassals local authorities. Most baillis were drawn from the middle class, not from the nobility, and Philip moved them around frequently; this was in order to ensure they stayed loyal to the crown. The seneschals were much like baillis but they were given border territories that required frequent military action. Because the main function of a seneschal was military, he was almost always drawn from the nobility. Since both a bailli and a seneschal needed a staff, with Philip we begin to see the growth of a significant and regular royal bureaucracy.

Louis VIII (1223-1226)

Philip's eldest son barely outlived his father, but he managed to have an impact nevertheless. While still only a prince, Louis led French forces in the Albigensian Crusade in 1215, acquiring large chunks of southern France for the crown. He also sired four sons. Because he had led armies to victory, and because of his winning personality, he continued to enhance the prestige of the crown.

Louis was already old enough to have a son (Louis IX) before he ever became king, but that son was still a child when Louis VIII died and was left in the care of the Queen Mother, Blanche of Castile. This redoubtable woman had a tremendous influence on the boy who would eventually be known as St. Louis.

Louis IX (1226-1270)

Louis IX was widely revered, not only in France but across Europe. Deeply religious, he was later canonized as St. Louis. A titanic, legendary figure in French history, famed for his wisdom, love of justice, courage, and piety. He was so famous for his wisdom that he was asked by other monarchs to arbitrate disputes.

Philip II had given the crown extensive lands to rule. He managed to rule them by force of his own personality. His son was king for only three years, so it fell to Louis IX to deal with the difficulties and adjustments. To oversee his baillis and seneschals, Louis instituted enquêteurs, travelling inspectors-general who were authorized to investigate abuses by royal officials and redress grievances. To deal with the rapidly-increasing number of legal cases being heard, he created a royal court in Paris, which was known as the parlement of Paris. He also first restricted private warfare and then, late in his reign, outlawed it altogether. This did not eliminate private wars, but it cut back on their number, at least for the duration of Louis' long reign.

Louis also enjoyed great financial wealth, for this was the high tide of the medieval economy. He would have enjoyed his wealth even more except that he spent much of it on his two crusades, in 1249 and 1270. The latter crusade was financed almost entirely out of royal coffers, for none of the nobility care to support it.

Philip III (1270-1285)

Philip III is very much overshadowed by his father and his son, two of the most influential monarchs of medieval France. He ruled quietly, without major conflict with external powers, until he was drawn into conflict with Aragon by his uncle, the ubiquitous Charles of Anjou. Charles was contending with the Sicilian Vespers (1282) and with machinations by Peter of Aragon against him. As a partial reply, Charles convinced his nephew to march down to Italy to help him (1284)

But Philip's forces were trapped at Genoa, disease broke out, and they had to return to France. Perhaps from physical illness, and perhaps from illness of spirit, Philip died on the march home in 1285.

Philip IV (1285-1314)

Most of Philip's reign, and the most important parts of his reign, lie beyond the boundaries of this course. This was, along with Philip II and Louis IX, the most important of the French medieval kings, and would require much detail to discuss properly. I will leave that, as they say, as an exercise for the student.

The first few years of Philip's reign were spent in consolidating his position at court, and in dealing with the English. In the 1290s, Philip and Edward would go to war with one another, and that trouble was just beginning to brew properly by 1291.

Philip had little interest in crusading or in the Holy Land. Not only was he tempermentally uninterested, his cousin, the heir of Charles of Anjou, had some direct claims. So Outremer was something that belonged to another branch of the family. Philip's primary concern was crown and country.


By "Germany" I mean the Holy Roman Empire, with a special emphasis on the German regions. Germany simply did not exist in any meaningful political sense at this time. When historians speak of Germany in the Middle Ages, they mean those areas of the Holy Roman Empire where German in one form or another was spoken. At the end of the 11th century, this included the Rhine River valley, Saxony, Bavaria, and not much more. Nothing east of the Elbe River was as yet German.

This Germany was an assemblage of states, each more or less independent of the others. Over all these was a king, usually bearing the title of "King of the Romans", though modern historians will also use "King of the Germans." It was traditional by this time that only this German king could also be crowned Holy Roman Emperor, though this could be done only by the pope or a papal legate. This king also traditionally acquired the title of King of Italy, by which was meant northern Italy, the old Lombard kingdom.

It was not at all established yet whether the position was elective or hereditary. In practice, so long as the current king had a son, the title passed uncontested, but no family was able to produce a consistent line of heirs. When a line failed, the new king was chosen by the German princes. We call this an election, but you should not confuse that with our sort of elections. It was closer to lobbying for a government appointment. Likely candidates tried to line up enough German princes on their side. At some point, the princes assembled and chose a new king (electio literally means selecting out). Which princes got to do the choosing? That, too, was not fully settled during the Crusading centuries, but it always included major lords like the Duke of Bavaria as well as key ecclesiastical princes such as the Archbishops of Trier and Cologne.

The lack of a clear hereditary dynasty, coupled with the influence of the electors on the course of the Empire made political stability in Germany elusive. The situation was further complicated by the interference of the papacy in German affairs. Finally, the German emperors lacked the royal demesne enjoyed by the French and English kings. The Emperor was expected to have his own family lands and to finance his rule from there. Sometimes a lordship fell vacant and reverted to the Emperor. In France, the Capetian kings generally held on to such lands, adding them to the royal demesne. In Germany, however, the custom was to grant the lordship out again quickly, so the German crown was never able to increase.

It gets worse. Because the German emperor was also the King of Italy, he found his attention drawn there frequently. Northern Italy was rich and was a prize not to be lost; at the same time, the Italian city-states resisted every move toward imperial control, and the papacy generally connived with them in this. The result was that we see the German emperors regularly crossing the Alps to try to enforce their will in Italy, rarely successfully.

In short, the great barons ran Germany, or rather, each baron ran his particular corner of it.

The Drang nach Osten

One other political development in Germany should be mentioned: the German expansion into eastern Europe. In 1100, Latin Christendom had barely moved beyond the frontiers established by Charlemagne. Germany beyond the Elbe was inhabited by pagan Slavic tribes who had resisted every attempt to conquer or convert them. Poland and Denmark had both recently converted, Hungary somewhat earlier, but Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania were still pagan, as were Bohemia and Moravia.

Two hundred years later, only Lithuania remained pagan. It was the Germans who accomplished this transformation, and large numbers of German settlers moved into eastern Europe. This of course had profound implications in later centuries, but during our period the movement in significant in two respects: one, because the movement soon appropriated the method of the crusade to aid in the expansion, and crusading against the pagan Slavs became a major sideline in Germany; and two, because the expansion altered the balance of power of German politics (not to mention the politics of the Baltic region) by the creation of whole new territories.

Economic Conditions

The economic growth enjoyed in other parts of Europe came to Germany as well. The expansion eastward brought large areas under cultivation and inaugurated a new trade route, between the east (Livonia and Russia) and western Europe. The main carriers of this trade were German merchants, operating from cities like Hamburg, Lübeck, Bremen and Rostock. They also settled in the eastern towns, forming cultural and social enclaves that (during our period, at least) came to rule both the economy and the politics of those places. From these ports came timber, wheat, furs, amber, pitch, and fish. A second route, overland, grew more slowly, but was responsible for the growth of towns like Frankfurt am Oder.

The Rhine River valley had long been settled, but it now emerged as a major trade route. Cities flourished along its banks, and it was here that most of the economic wealth of Germany was concentrated. Here, too, were most of the great archbishoprics, including the three ecclesiastical electors. Trade goods from the eastern Mediterranean flowed in through Genoa and Venice. From Genoa they tended to go into France, but in the 12th century new passes were opened over the Alps. Commerce flowed from Venice over the mountains and into the upper Rhine region. Thus, as Venice flourished, so did the Rhine. By the end of our period, German merchants formed the largest group of foreign merchants in the city.

Henry IV (1056-1106) and Henry V (1106-1125)

At the time of the First Crusade, Henry IV was still very much preoccupied with his conflict with the papacy and with rebellions in Germany. One of those rebels was his own son and future emperor, who inherited his father's dispute with the popes and who, in his turn, was likewise faced with endless rebellions.

The reign of these two men covered three-quarters of a century, and they established a pattern that would be repeated, in varying forms, in later decades. Faced with titanic struggles outside Germany, the emperors were unable to reduce their barons to obedience. Their most-favored response for dealing with this was to turn instead to the Church for support, rather than to the princes. This is a major reason why the dispute over investiture, an issue in nearly every kingdom, loomed so large in Germany. If the barons could not be relied upon, and the clergy could not be controlled, then how could the kings form a strong government? It turned out that the answer was: they could not, and power in Germany remained decentralized, in the hands of the great princes.

Henry V died without a son to inherit, and for the first time in a century, the imperial succession was open to question. It shouldn't have been, for Henry had designated his nephew, Frederick of Swabia, but too many powerful princes opposed this choice. Instead, they chose Lothair, Duke of Saxony, one of the leaders of the opposition to Henry V.

Lothair of Supplinburg (1125-1137)

Lothair operated under a number of burdens. He was chosen mainly because of what he was not: he was not overly powerful, he was not connected to the Salian house, and he was not likely to be a strong emperor. He spent much of his reign either fighting against Frederick of Swabia, or else trying to assert his authority among those who were supposedly his allies.

Over the course of his reign, a great rivalry coalesced. On the one side were the partisans of Swabia, whose family was known as the Hohenstaufen. On the other side, adhering to not so much to Lothair personally as to the potential gain he represented, was the Duke of Bavaria and his family, the Welfs. These two factions (for they were more than just families) came to dominate German politics for the rest of the century. Their feud spilled over into Italy, where they were known as the Guelfs (Welfs) and the Ghibellines (Hohenstaufen)., and in that form persisted in Italy long after the feud was ended in Germany.

As for Lothair himself, he died childless and so the succession was again open. As Henry V had done before him, Lothair designated an heir, but as with Henry, his will was thwarted. Lothair had chosen his son-in-law, Henry the Proud of Bavaria. In fact, he had also made Henry the duke of Saxony, so that Henry would have been Duke of Bavaria, Duke of Saxony, as well as King of the Romans.

This was going too far for the other German princes. They blocked the Welf Henry's succession, choosing instead a candidate from the Hohenstaufen side, Conrad of Swabia.

Conrad III (1137-1152)

Conrad had been elected with the support of the papacy and of powerful German archbishops. Despite his close ties, however, Conrad was reluctant to go on the Second Crusade and had to be persuaded by St. Bernard himself. The Second Crusade brought Conrad no glory.

Nor did he win glory at home. He was never crowned emperor, being unable to leave Germany to go to Rome for the coronation. And, just as Lothair had had to contend with the hostility of the Hohenstaufen, now Conrad had to contend with the enmity of the Welfs. Henry the Proud opposed Conrad throughout his life, and the king spent most of his reign simply trying to keep what he had.

These two reigns--Lothair and Conrad--saw a steady loss of imperial power and prestige in Germany, even as German territory was expanding steadily eastward and Germany was flourishing economically. Germany remained a great prize, but it was not at all clear, in 1152, whether anyone would be able to rule it.

Frederick I (1152-1190)

Frederick was one of the most important emperors during our period. He took an empire that was shaky and put it on solid ground. He did so at the price of giving away many rights to the German princes, and the wisdom of that has been much debated by historians, but at the time and for centuries afterward, he was regarded as one of the greatest of monarchs.

When chosen as King of Germany in 1152, he was the Duke of Swabia and of not much else. His family, the Hohenstaufen, had long been rulers in southern Germany but were distinctly of the second rank. Perhaps, when they chose him, the electors hoped they had selected a man who would be too weak to annoy them much. From the beginning, though, Frederick determined he would be a ruler in fact as well as in name.

Crowned emperor in 1154 (Conrad had never managed that), Frederick expanded his personal holdings by marrying the Duchess of Burgundy, bringing that wealthy land into his realm. He was friends with his potentially greatest rival, the young Henry, Duke of Saxony. With Germany relatively secure, Frederick decided to assert himself in the Kingdom of Italy, which is to say in northern Italy; specifically, in the city of Milan, which opposed any attempt to assert royal authority. It was the Italians who gave the invader his nickname, Barbarossa (Redbeard).

The Emperor moved into Italy in 1157. His ally, Pope Adrian IV, died in 1159 and was replaced by Alexander III, who immediately allied with Milan to oppose the Emperor. But Frederick was too strong. He captured Milan in 1162, and seemed to be at the height of his power. With Germany, Burgundy and Italy under his control, much of Charlemagne's empire was again in one pair of hands. And then things began to unravel.

The Italian cities, alarmed by imperial success, joined together in 1167 to form the Lombard League. Supported by the papacy, the League obdurately resisted imperial officials and eventually forced Frederick to return to Italy. But, in the meantime, Frederick had quarreled with Henry of Saxony. Without the support of Henry Welf, imperial forces were defeated at the Battle of Legnano in 1176. Frustrated in Italy, Frederick returned to Germany and dealt with Henry, depriving him of his estates and banishing him to England.

The Emperor returned once again to Italy, to settle accounts with the Lombard League. He didn't achieve total victory, but in 1183 he managed at least a truce. It was just after this that he arranged the marriage of his son, Henry, to Constance of Sicily, setting the stage for endless future complications.

Frederick's rule set the stage in other important respects as well. The quarrel between Frederick and Henry of Saxony was the foundation of a feud between Hohenstaufen and Welf that would last for two centuries. The strategy of giving the German princes whatever they wanted in exchange for their support in Italy would likewise be followed. In fact, the feud itself carried down into Italy, and until well into the 1300s factions could be found in most north Italian towns that called themselves Ghibelline and Guelf--the one imperial, the other the papal faction.

Frederick was the first German ruler to use the term "holy empire" ("Holy Roman Empire"--the term you will find in many history books--was not used until much later). Even as he was creating a truly imperial court, he also was granting away imperial rights to the German princes. To take one important example, he confirmed the practice that any lands escheated to the crown had to be granted again within a year and a day; that is to say, if the lord of a territory died without heirs, the land became the Emperor's, but he was required to grant it to a new lord within one year and one day. This meant that imperial lands could never increase. The emperor had to rely mainly on his family lands. This is in sharp contrast with France, for example, where during these same centuries the French kings were keeping a tight hold on escheated lands.

Still not clear, though, was whether the position of King of Germany (who by this time was by custom the only one who could claim to be Emperor) was an elected position or a hereditary one. Precedents had been set in both directions. Frederick lived to a ripe old age, though, and his son was not only fully grown but was well established as heir when Frederick died while on the Third Crusade in 1190.

[Intervening years are in preparation.]

Rudolf I (1273-1291)

With both Alfonso of Castile and Richard of Cornwall out of the picture, the German princes met in 1273 to choose a new emperor. They settled on a very minor prince who had two attributes they found attractive: he had the support of the pope, and he was poor.

Papal support was important in that they did not want a ruler who would drag Germany into another prolonged conflict with the popes. Rudolf had renounced all claims to the papal states, and that was good enough for the pope.

Rudolf's poverty was attractive because it meant that the emperor could never interfere effectively in the internal affairs of the princes. They wanted someone who would bear the title of Emperor but who would be only a figurehead.

Matters turned out just as the princes hoped. Rudolf was a congenial ruler, seemingly content to enjoy the status his new position brought to his family. The princes were now the effective masters of Germany, which meant that the German Empire would never unite as France and England had done.


It is difficult to speak of Germany as a single entity, but of Italy it is impossible. We will keep our attention focused on the three principal divisions within the peninsula: the Kingdom of Italy (northern Italy), central Italy (the papacy), and southern Italy (the Kingdom of Sicily. The north was the commercial center, not just of Italy but of all Europe. Here were located the largest cities in medieval Europe and the entrepôts that balanced the trade between East and West. In the south was the Kingdom of Sicily, a kingdom that was created during our period and which played an important role in the relations between popes and emperors. In the center were the Papal States. I won't spend much time on them, because they were not important during this time; instead, I'll focus on the papacy itself as an international power and influence.

Italy was second only behind France in its importance for Outremer and the crusading movement. The obvious connection is that it was popes who preached the crusades themselves. And one cannot get very far in reading about the Crusades before seeing how important were Venice, Pisa and Genoa in the success of the First Crusade. But Italy itself, and the fortunes of Italian politics, played a major role behind the scenes. For example, as the popes had their own political agenda, they might encourage or discourage a monarch from going on crusade. As the Kingdom of Jerusalem was ostensibly a papal fief, the popes tried to influence the Kingdom itself, especially in the choice of who would be Patriarch. Papal views of Byzantium and the Greek Orthodox Church were also important.

The commercial cities, too, had their own agendas. Most important here were the rivalries between Pisa, Venice and Genoa, rivalries that pre-dated the Crusades. The Italians brought these rivalries with them to the East, and sometimes these had a major effect on politics in Outremer. They also had a long history of trading with Muslim powers, especially Alexandria, so they had rather a different attitude about how Western powers should behave in the East. Finally, the fact that Byzantium was their principal rival in the East meant that Venice and the others were ever ready to support the schemes of Western lords against the eastern Empire.

Sicily had less of an impact. This might at first seem odd, because southern Italy was in the most obvious geographic position to benefit from relations with the East. But Sicily was under Norman control early on, and when their lords looked eastward it was toward Constantinople, not Jerusalem. Then, an unfortunate marriage alliance that went sour caused the Sicilians to hold a grudge against Jerusalem for most of the middle of the 12th century. By the time that faded into memory, Sicily was falling under the domination of the Hohenstaufen, and southern Italy became a pawn in the battle between Emperor and Pope. The Angevins drove out the Hohenstaufen in the 1260s, and for a brief time Sicily played a more important role, for the few decades left to Outremer.

Sicily under the Normans

Greek, then Roman, then Byzantine, Sicily was conquered by the Arabs in 827. Every one of these layers had centuries of influence on the island when Sicily was conquered by yet another culture. Members of the notorious Hauteville clan appeared first in 1062, though they did not complete the conquest until 1091 (Bari fell in 1071, Palermo in 1072). The main architect of this "other" Norman conquest was Robert Guiscard. He was aided by his brother, Roger. By the time they were done, they had received the title of Duke from the papacy.

Roger died in 1101. He was succeeded by his son, Roger II, who was the first King of Sicily. The elder Roger was married to Adelaide, who ruled until her son came of age in 1112. The following year, she accepted a marriage proposal from Baldwin II, King of Jerusalem. Amid great celebrations, and travelling in high style, Adelaide went east. One of the terms of the marriage was that if the marriage were barren, the young Roger would inherit. The marriage was indeed childless, but it was also a very unhappy one. Baldwin did not receive the political benefits he had anticipated, a new opportunity arose, and the two didn't like each other, anyway. Baldwin repudiated Adelaide in 1117 and she was forced to return, humiliated, to Sicily. This episode so poisoned relations that Sicily simply refused to help Jerusalem up until the city fell in 1181.

Roger II was an ambitious, powerful and effective ruler. As with most such kings, he also had a reputation for cruelty and greed. In his father's day, Sicily was one duchy and Apulia another, though both were ruled by Hauteville boys. Roger took advantage of various opportunities and accidents to expand his rule onto the mainland. He also built an effective navy and expanded into North Africa. In 1128 he was recognized by Pope Honorius II as Duke. The following year, at Melfi, he received oaths of loyalty from his barons. And on Christmas Day, 1130, Pope Anacletus made Roger King of Sicily in exchange for Roger's support against his rival, Innocent II.

Since Innocent eventually won that rivalry and was recognized as the legitimate pope, Roger came to be painted as a usurper and a tyrant. In the 1130s, Pope Innocent, with the help and support of Bernard of Clairvaux, made common cause with Emperor Lothar against Sicily. Lothar attacked Roger in 1136, driving him out of Calabria and Apulia, back to the island. As soon as Lothar went home (1137), Roger returned to the mainland and reclaimed his losses. He was excommunicated in 1139, but defeated a papal army sent against him. Having exhausted all his resources, Pope Innocent finally yielded and recognized Roger as a legitimate king. Nevertheless, the popes continued to regard the Norman kings with suspicion.

Roger's great accomplishment was that he not only survived, he created a successful and thriving kingdom. He kept firm control of his barons and the Church. His court is famous because of the influence of Muslims and Jews, a multi-cultural court that was very rare in western Europe. Throughout the Crusader period, Sicily was a major European power.

Roger's son, William I (1154-1166), was faced with the same problems as his father, plus some new ones. The popes wanted to keep the Regno (kingdom) weak and so fomented rebellion at every opportunity. The Byzantine emperors likewise had reason to fear a strong Norman state and also meddled. In North Africa, the new Almohades dynasty was in the ascendant and took away most of Tunisia in the 1150s. In 1156, with papal armies having again suffered defeat, the pope at last recognized William in all his titles, while Sicily in turn recognized the pope as overlord. In the future, the popes would alternately use the Regno against the Empire, or vice versa, depending on which posed the greater danger.

When William died, his son, William II (1166-1189), was still a boy, so Margaret of Navarre became regent as Queen Mother. The boy reached his majority in 1171. William at last formed better relations with Jerusalem; a Sicilian fleet saved Tripoli from Saladin in 1187. Sicily was at its richest and most peaceful under this king.

William died without heirs. Tancred of Lecce, a powerful baron on the mainland and the illegitimate son of William's older brother, moved quickly to claim the crown. But in Apulia the barons chose Roger of Andria. Tancred was able to conquer most of Sicily, but he discredited himself when he snatched up the large treasury left by William for financing the Third Crusade. He also snagged the dowry money for Queen Joanna, who was marrying Richard of England. It was Tancred who ruled in Sicily when King Philip and King Richard came through in 1190; he and Richard quarreled quite sharply, but eventually made up. Tancred may have been able to establish himself, but he died in February 1194. He left his son, William III, to rule, but William faced a formidable rival: Emperor Henry VI.

As can be seen by the above, despite Sicily's wealth and despite the interest of the Normans in the activities of the East, the Regno did not participate directly in the Crusades except in minor ways. Roger I was too busy to get involved in the First Crusade, though Bohemond of course played a major role. Then Adelaide's marriage fiasco kept Sicily distant for several decades. It would certainly have been involved in a major way in the Third Crusade, but William II died untimely and Tancred was in no position to go off on Crusade.

Sicily under the Hohenstaufen

William II's sister, Constance, was married to the son of Frederick Barbarossa in 1185. The young Henry, King of Germany and Italy, immediately claimed his wife's rights when William II died in 1189. It took him some time to be able to strike against Tancred, but he was in southern Italy when Tancred died and quickly defeated the usurper's son. He captured the boy and had him blinded and castrated.

From 1194, then, Sicily passed into the hands of the Hohenstaufen and became part of the Holy Roman Empire. Even as Henry was campaigning, Constance gave birth to a baby boy, naming him Frederick. Then Henry died in 1197, followed by Constance in November 1198. Little Frederick was four years old, an orphan, and was the heir to the Empire. He was, of course, in a perilous situation. Acting as the overlord of Sicily, Pope Innocent III stepped in to become Frederick's guardian. The Pope saw a tremendous opportunity. If the Church could raise the young eagle, it could perhaps tame him. Frederick would grow to be the strong secular arm in the service of the Church. With papacy and Empire working together, Jerusalem could be recovered, the world would be at peace--the prospects were dazzling.

In the meantime, Sicily was falling apart. Barons everywhere rebelled. Genoa captured Syracuse in 1204. The young Frederick was growing up in Palermo. As he got a little older, he made friends with the many different peoples of the city--Muslims, Jews, Greeks, native Sicilians--learning their languages and coming to respect their cultures. The lords of Sicily were quite content to have a boy-king, for they were free to do as they pleased.

Innocent invested Frederick with Sicily in December 1208. He was only fourteen years old, so the kingdom was still governed by regents. Up in Germany, rivals had established themselves. One of these, Otto of Brunswick, invaded southern Italy in 1210, but returned north without venturing to cross to Sicily. It was clear, though, that Frederick would have to do something or risk losing his claim to Germany forever.

In March 1212, Frederick II left Sicily, accompanied only by a handful of friends. Risking everything, he went into Germany to claim the crown. He pulled it off (for details, see the essay on Germany) and did not return to Sicily until November 1220, as a triumphant king.

Once back, he began rebuilding royal authority as it had been under the Normans. But Frederick was more than just King of Sicily, he was Holy Roman Emperor. He always preferred to be in Sicily rather than the other parts of his realm, but that did not keep him from exploiting the Regno for every ounce of his wealth. Sicily formed a reserve of men and money to finance his wars and diplomacy in German and northern Italy.

His need to have Sicily be reliable is behind the Constitutions of Melfi, issued in 1231. This is one of the most detailed and ambitious statements of royal control seen in the Middle Ages. It forms an interesting contrast with Magna Carta, issued only fifteen years earlier.

Sicily under the Angevins

Frederick died in 1250 and was succeeded by Conrad IV. The pope was determined to extinguish the "brood of vipers", as he called the Hohenstaufen. Unable to do so with excommunications and papal armies, he turned to the long-time supporter of the papcy, the kingdom of France. Charles of Anjou was the brother of King Louis IX. Pope Gregory IX offered Charles the crown of Sicily, if only he would bring an army and destroy Conrad. Charles, one of the more remarkable men of his generation, was glad to oblige.

Charles defeated Conrad, but before he could move in and take over Sicily, Conrad died (1254). There was already another claimant to the crown, one Manfred, the illegitimate son of Frederick. Manfred was able to hold his own for several years, but Charles defeated him at Benevento in 1266 and Manfred died on the battlefield there. One more "viper" remained: Conrad's son, technically Conrad V, but only a boy and usually known as Conradin. He came down from Germany with an army and Charles met him in battle at Tagliacozzo in 1268. He defeated and captured Conradin, held him as prisoner for a little while, then executed him.

Charles transformed the Kingdom of Sicily. He drove out the last of the Muslim enclaves (at Lucera) and generally replaced German lords with French ones. He engaged in wholesale confiscation of estates and redistributed them to his followers. He didn't actually change the government itself much. Charles was a very practical man and he recognized the efficiency of the Hohenstaufen regime. He simply placed Frenchmen in charge and continued to exploit Sicily for all it was worth. He also tended to reside more often at Naples than at Palermo; it was the Angevins who were responsible for turning Naples into the capital of the Regno.

Charles, like his predecessors, used Sicily as a source of income for his wars. These were first in Italy, but once he was established, he turned his eye to Byzantium. The Latin Empire had fallen in 1261, and by 1267 he was in alliance with Baldwin II, the Latin Emperor in exile. His plan to invade Byzantium and restore Baldwin was interrupted by the invasion of Conradin. Then his brother, Louis IX, went on his second crusade, again distracting him from Constantinople.

Charles had most of the old Kingdom under his control, but he wanted to recover Tunisia as well. He wanted it for its grain and other agricultural products, its ports, and to complete his hold on the central Mediterranean. He was not strong enough to dare the Emir of Tunis himself, but a crusade was just the ticket. He persuaded a reluctant Louis to divert his crusade and attack Tunis, after which Charles promised to aid Louis in Palestine. It all came to nothing, of course, for Louis died in Tunisia, but Charles completed the operation and obtained very favorable terms.

No sooner had Charles dealt with the Crusade than Emperor Michael Paleologus agreed to a Union of the churches (1274). Charles was again forced to wait, for he could not very well campaign against the Greeks when they had been reconciled with the papacy. Fortunately (to his eyes), the Union quickly unraveled, and Charles again set in motion plans for a great crusade against Constantinople.

His fleets were actually assembling in 1282 when the Kingdom of Sicily exploded in rebellion. Charles, and his French lords, had treated the Sicilians with exceptional contempt and ruthlessness. On March 30, Easter Sunday, a chance insult led to a street fight in Messina. This escalated at once into a full-scale riot and by the next day, all the French in the city were dead. The revolt spread all over the island. Charles was forced to put off his invasion to deal with the rebels. This event, known as the Sicilian Vespers, effectively stopped Charles in his tracks.

His ambitious plans had made enemies of a number of European rulers. These now seized the opportunity of the revolt to support the rebels and to profit from Charles' misfortunes. Most significantly, Peter of Aragon landed in Sicily at the head of a large army in late August and met with great success. Peter had a claim by marriage, and many of the rebels were prepared to recognize him as king. Charles tried repeatedly to re-take the island, but without success. He died in 1285, having realized almost none of his ambitions.

Peter, for his part, was unable to seize the mainland, where French nobles were well entrenched. The Kingdom of Sicily at the end of the century remained divided between the Aragonese in Palermo and the Angevins in Naples. So, in the thirteenth century as in the twelfth, Sicily took little part in the Crusades. Not for want of trying, but because of circumstances and local politics.

The Sicilian Vespers

Charles of Anjou was invited by Pope Innocent IV to destroy the Hohenstaufen. He did so, defeating first Manfred and then Conradin, and became King of Sicily in 1266. Charles' ambitions disrupted many plans. He wanted to conquer Byzantium. He derailed the Eighth Crusade, diverting his brother to Tunisia in 1270. He angered Michael Paleologus. He angered Peter III of Aragon, who was married to a daughter of Manfred. And he angered the Sicilians themselves as he drained the kingdom to finance his schemes.

All of Charles' enemies fed the discontent in Sicily. In 1282, Charles was assembling an army to go against Constantinople. On Easter Monday, around the time of vespers, a disturbance broke out in Palermo. The citizens mobilized and massacred the French garrison. Rebellion spread across the kingdom. Charles gathered his army and the Sicilians promptly offered the crown to Peter III. The Aragonese king responded by landing an army in August.

The war for Sicily lasted twenty years. Once again the Kingdom of Sicily, a natural supporter of Outremer, was preoccupied with internal matters. By the time the war was settled, Outremer had fallen, and the Kingdom was split in two--the island ruled by Aragon and the mainland (southern Italy) by Anjou. The former was still called the Kingdom of Sicily, and the latter was called the Kingdom of Naples.

The Papacy during the Crusades

"The Papacy" is a phrase that indicates two related things: the papacy as a political power in central Italy, ruling over a collection of towns and estates known as the Papal States; and the papacy as the head of an international faith, leader of an organized church. I shall concentrate on the latter aspect here, but from time to time, the interests of the popes as feudal overlords had a significant impact on their decisions and policies in the international sphere.

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Copyright 1999, Ellis L. Knox This file may be copied on the condition that the entire contents, including the header and this copyright notice, remain intact.