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The Second Crusade

Calling of the Crusade

News of Edessa's fate trickled into Rome in the summer of 1145. Pope Eugenius III had just been elected when he was brought word of the disaster by Bishop Hugh of Jabala. Other delegations arrived over the summer. It was not until late fall, however, that Eugenius finally issued a crusading bull: Quantum praedecessores, addressed to Louis VII and the Gauls, on 1 December 1145.

Louis' reaction was interesting. He had quarreled with the papacy over the appointment of bishops and other matters, but had recently been reconciled. He had perpetrated a massacre at Vitry in which a number of people had been burned to death in a cathedral, and he was looking for an appropriate penance. He knew of the fall of Edessa and the call for help, though he probably did not know of the papal bull. All of these factors made him sympathetic to a crusade, but they did not mean he was going to drop everything and gallop to the rescue.

The situation changed at Christmas, when the royal French court assembled at Bourges. There was still no universal enthusiasm for a crusasde, for no one had forgotten the catastrophes of 1101. But the king spoke in favor of it, and support spread slowly through the winter. Even at Christmas, though, Louis made no reference to the crusading bull, which is why we don't think he yet knew of it.

Eugenius, a little discouraged at the underwhelming response, referred the matter to Bernard of Clairvaux and commissioned Bernard to preach the crusade. He reissued the bull in March 1146.This time, there was a response.

King Louis of France Takes the Cross

In the spring of 1146, the king held a council at Vezelay in Burgundy, where St. Bernard was to preach. Bernard, now an old man, had enormous prestige by this time, was obviously frail, and yet there he was, called by God, giving a rousing sermon. Louis knelt before the holy abbot and received his benediction. Hundreds of knights followed his example. Old enemies reconciled on the spot and joined the sacred endeavor. Bernard tore up his own cloak for cloth for crosses.

The whole event was wildly emotional. Nothing like this had happened before. Urban had spoken only to a common assemblage, and the response of the nobility had come in the months following, but here we had the high nobility of France taking the cross on the spot. No king had ever led a crusade, which added to the excitement and lustre of the undertaking. The sermon had been an event at a royal council, with all the major nobility in attendance.

Even though the pope had enjoined only fighting men to go, many ladies at the court determined to travel upon the pilgrimage as well. Eleanor and some of her entourage appeared before the barons dressed as Amazons, declaring their willingness to fight for Christ. Or so says a legend that is at least not completely out of the realm of possibility. The story of the Amazons was a popular one among the troubadors, and Eleanor came from Aquitaine, where the troubador tradition was strong.

So, as the First Crusade had its genesis at Clermont, the Second truly began at Vezelay. Louis wrote to Emperor Manuel, King Conrad of Germany, Geza of Hungary, and Roger of Sicily, to ensure help and cooperation, mindful of the misfortunes of the First Crusade. They had to have been thinking, this time we'll do it better. We're kings!

The Crusade Expands

Bernard, meantime, was rallying Europe. A brilliant speaker, Bernard was entering upon his last great work. He went north and calmed passions aroused by anti-Jewish preacher Radulf. He followed Radulf to Mainz, where he muzzled him. At Mainz, Bernard tries to persuade Conrad, who was attended a German Diet, to join him. Conrad was unenthusiastic and prevaricated.

Conrad was deep in conflict with the pope, and his barons were unruly. He temporized, delayed, made excuses. Not until Christmas 1146, at Speyer, did Conrad finally agree to take the cross. There, Bernard preached a powerful sermon in which he spoke directly to Conrad. He portrayed the king as standing before Christ. "O man, what is there that I should have done for you and did not do?" The king yielded at last, and, as at Vezelay, a Christian king was joined by many of his nobles in an outburst of religious and martial enthusiasm.

Enthusiasm was not universal, however. A number of his northern barons declared they were unwilling to leave their homes for so long because of a danger much closer to home. The Slavs who lived across the Elbe River had long been a threat, breaking into rebellion numerous times and invading German lands. Since the Slavs were also pagan, the German barons were able to present their case in religious terms. Rather than fight Christ's enemies in distant lands, could they not fight similar enemies close to home?

At Frankfurt, Conrad authorized the Wendish Crusade. Bernard wrote to the pope in support of the project, and Eugenius approved it. Thus, in 1147, there was a crusade, with full crusader privileges, in what is today eastern Germany.

By a similar logic, the Pope gave crusading privileges to the reconquistadores in Spain. Here, he was merely giving indulgences for an activity that was already under way.

The whole movement was emotionally charged, for this time the crusaders knew what they were doing. They had the precedent of the First Crusade, with all its heroes and legends, before them. They knew, too, that the risks were real, as the crusades of 1101 had taught.. These crusaders were fully conscious of their charge. What was it? To rescue Edessa, certainly.

But for two years now reports and letters had come from Outremer stressing the wider danger. Louis and Conrad were going to save the Holy Land generally defined, and the ultimate goal really wasn't defined more clearly than that.


The first group actually to set out consisted of Flemings, Frisians and English. They left by ship in April 1147, to travel around Gibraltar and across the Mediterranean. They were delayed by storms off Portugal, however, and put in at Oporto.

There, they were met by emissaries of Henry of Portugal, actually a French baron who was about to become the first King of Portugal. The crusaders were persuaded to join the siege of Lisbon, which was held by the Muslims. They accepted largely because they were granted the right to plunder and because they were promised by the Portuguese bishop that they would receive the same spiritual rewards as if they had gone East. Their help was crucial, and the capture of Lisbon was the key element in the creation of the new medieval kingdom of Portugal. The cruasaders spent the winter at Lisbon; some continued to the East, but most either returned home or remained in Portugal.

The events here in Portugal demonstrate plainly that the motives of spiritual and material rewards (remission of sins, plus plunder) were at least as important as the idea of liberating the Holy Land. In papal terms, and in the view of the Palestinian barons, these northern crusaders' job was scarcely begun, for they were to help in the recovery of Edessa specifically and more generally to help drive back the Muslims throughout Outremer. But the crusaders themselves viewed the whole transaction more in terms of a contract. If they fulfilled certain obligations, then they would get certain rewards. The Portuguese provided them the opportunity to fulfill those obligations much closer to home. They had already risked their lives for the Church and they felt justified in going home.

Still, some went on, however few.  These may have been motivated by a sense of duty, but it is equally likely that they wished to visit the holy places, regarding their efforts more in terms of the traditional pilgrimage. They might equally have hoped to win estates and titles and honors in the Holy Land, not wishing to return to their homeland.   But these sort were only a handful.

Conrad's March

King Conrad had a huge army, drawn from the whole empire; maybe 20,000. He left in late May 1147 and followed the route of the First Crusade, up the Rhine River to audio.gif (429 bytes)Ratisbon and down the Danube River. In his company was the future emperor, Frederick I, at the time only a teenager yet already being entrusted by his uncle with official duties.

The Germans arrived at Constantinople in September. They had passed peaceably through Hungary, but in Byzantine territory there were quarrels over supplies and a few incidents of fighting. Once again, the westerners had created an unfavorable impression of themselves, and once again the Greeks had made themselves seem untrustworthy.

At Constantinople there were further incidents, even to the point that Conrad threatened to return from the crusade and take the city by force. In the end, though, the Germans agreed to cross the Bosporus quickly, as the first French contingents were beginning to arrive and quarrels were breaking out on that front, too.

Emperor Manuel gave as a guide to the crusaders the head of his Varangian Guard. At Nicaea, Conrad divided his army, sending most of the non-combatants down the coast, in imperial territory, while he and the main fighting force went through the interior. They set out on October 15 and passed into Turkish territory a few days later.

Defeat and Dispersal

Conrad's army did not provision itself well and was quickly short on water. On the 25th of October, 1147, the army was near Dorylaeum at a small river. The knights had dismounted, to water their horses, when the Turks attacked.

It was a slaughter. The Germans never had a chance to form themselves up for defense, much less for counter-attack. By nightfall, Conrad was fleeing back to Nicaea. He left behind him his entire camp and all its booty, plus nearly all of his army. Those who were not killed were sold by the Turks into slavery.

The German crusade was over. Conrad was still at Nicaea in early November when Louis and the French arrived. After a consultation, Conrad agreed to travel with the French, though he had only a few score knights left to him.

Because he was a king, Conrad continued to play a role in the Second Crusade, but the imperial army was annihilated and the Germans did not contribute significantly to what followed. Englishmen and Flemings would straggle in from Portugal, Germans would participate, but after the loss at Dorylaeum, this was now essentially a French crusade.

Journey to Attalia

With the remnants of the Germans, the French travelled through Pergamum and Smyrna and Ephesus, all cities of renown in Christian history. Provisions were ample and they were well within Byzantine territory, and these days passed in a kind of holiday atmosphere. They reached Ephesus around Christmas time.

While here, Conrad fell ill and he and his household returned to Constantinople. Emperor Manuel personally nursed Conrad back to health and treated him well. When had recovered, Conrad proceeded to the Holy Land by ship. He had had enough of the overland route.

A few days after Conrad left, Louis and his people were flooded out by a storm, their tents and baggage and even some people washed away by a flooding stream. They decided now to go overland, to cut through the southwest corner of Turkey and so shorten the distance to Antioch. The French climbed the great mountains and came finally to Laodicaea at the beginning of January 1148, but this city was stripped of all supplies. They were now about to cross a range of mountains that stood between them and Attalia, with too few supplies and Turks all around them.

During the crossing, they saw the bodies of the German non-combatants who had taken this route a few weeks before. The Turks attacked any stragglers and the discipline of the army was beginning to crack. Late in January, during this crossing, the French suffered a severe blow. The leading segment of the army was to set a camp on a mesa, but its commander found more attractive a valley just beyond. On his own command, he led his contingent forward in the failing light and left the main body of the army dangerously exposed. Louis and the rest of the army arrived on the tableland and were immediately attacked by the Turks. The Franks were routed.

The fleeing soldiers fell into ambushes and were slaughtered. Only nightfall saved them. Louis himself had to hide in a tree, his bodyguard all around beneath him. The queen had been with the advance troops, for these were Poitevins and Aquitainians. This debacle brought her great embarassment, for it was one of her own Poitevins who had disobeyed orders. Geoffrey of Poitou, who was the culprit, was ordered home in disgrace.

In the morning, it was decided to have the Templars lead the march. All swore not to flee from battle and to follow the commands of the Grand Master. Under the guidance of the Templars, the army was kept under strict order and at last made its way out of the mountains.

Attalia to Antioch

It was the middle of February when the remnants of the crusader armies arrived at Attalia. Already there were the survivors of the German forces that had divided from Conrad at Nicaea; they, too, had suffered severely.

Louis decided it would be wisest to travel the rest of the way by sea, so he gave orders to the Byzantine governor at Attalia to round up a fleet. The governor did what he could, but there were far too few vessels to accommodate the entire army. Louis took his own household and as many knights as he could, boarded ships, and set off for Antioch, arriving at the port of Saint Symeon on March 19, 1148.

The rest of the army was left behind at Attalia, to await more ships. The city could not hold all the crussaders, of course, so they were encamped beneath the city walls, where the Turks attacked them repeatedly. The crusaders begged to be taken within the city and the governor relented. He desperately tried to find more ships, but there still were not enough.

At this point, the lords whom Louis had left behind to command the foot now decided that they too preferred the sea route. Most of the remaining knights took the remaining ships and sailed for Antioch, leaving the foot soldiers and the pilgrims to shift for themselves. The governor wanted the crusaders to leave, for their presence brought the Turkish raids, but there was no place safe.

In the end, the crusaders decided to set out on foot for Antioch. They were almost immediately set upon by the Turks, nor did the Byzantines come to their aid. The foot soldiers were able to stave off complete annihilation, but fewer than half of them ever reached Antioch, arriving there in late spring.


Louis and Eleanor were finally at Antioch; the remnant of the army was mainly knights -- the noncoms and sergeants had largely been killed or left behind. Eleanor was delighted with Antioch, the first really great city since Constantinople. It was, moreover, ruled by her uncle, Raymond of Toulouse, and Raymond entertained the French in fine style.

Raymond proposed that Louis join forces with him to attack Aleppo, the heart of Muslim power in norther Syria. Joscelin of Edessa heartily agreed with this plan, for Edessa would never be secure so long as Aleppo was strong. Many of the French nobility agreed with Raymond and even engaged in a reconaissance raid on Aleppo.

Louis, however, hesitated. Joscelin wanted an attack directly on Edessa first. Raymond of Tripoli wanted an attack on Montferrand. Louis, a deeply pious man, did not want the crusade sacred purpose subverted to local politics. It would be difficult to choose one proposal without alienating other Christian lords. Moreover, Raymond was a Poitevin, and that faction was distinctly out of favor since the debacle at Pamphlygonia.

Louis did not exactly say no, but he temporized and did not say yes, either. The queen naturally supported her uncle and argued strongly on his behalf, which merely lent all the more impression of factionalism.

Louis continued to temporize, using as his excuse that he was waiting for the infantry to arrive from Attalia. Queen Eleanor spent many long hours with Raymond, who was only a few years older, and rumors began to circulate that the queen preferred the company of her uncle to that of her husband. They spoke the dialect of Languedoc, incomprehensible to the Franks, lending still more fuel to rumor and speculation.

Louis finally made his decision when the Patriarch of Jerusalem arrived in Antioch in April with news that King Conrad was already there. Louis announced his intention of setting out immediately for Palestine.

Raymond was furious and so was Eleanor. In private audience with Louis she raised her objections; Louis remained obdurate. Eleanor declared that she would neverthless remain at Antioch and let it be known she was considering a divorce. That night, Louis gave orders that his queen be taken under guard from the city, and the whole host of the French moved out. Eleanor was not quite kidnapped by her own husband, but from this time on she no longer figures strongly in the course of the crusade.

In early summer, Louis at last arrived in Jerusalem, having passed without incident down the coast. The French were met in the hills by the Patriarch and by a company of Templars. The Second Crusade at finally come to the holy city. And even yet, it was not clear at all what the crusaders intended to do.

Councils at Jerusalem

Raymond of Antioch had refused to march with Louis, and probably could not have afforded to leave even had he wanted to. Likewise, Joscelin of Edessa was preoccupied with defending Turbessel, so none of the major northern princes were present. Naturally, when the time came (24 June) to consider the objectives of the crusader army, the strategy reflected southern concerns.

Many were worthwhile, and many were proposed, but too many seemed to be to bring undue profit to this or that lord. The only target that was politically neutral was Damascus. Some objected deeply, because there was currently a treaty between the two cities, but there were enough minor grievances to allow the treaty to be set aside. A majority favored an attack, for Damascus was plainly the most immediate threat to Jerusalem. This caused some of the crusaders to go home in anger, most notably Duke Welf, but most of the army stayed and agreed to march.

Jerusalem and Damascus

Raymond of Antioch had refused to march with Louis, and probably could not have afforded to leave even had he wanted to. Likewise, Joscelin of Edessa was preoccupied with defending Turbessel, so none of the major northern princes were present. Naturally, when the time came (24 June) to consider the objectives of the crusader army, the strategy reflected southern concerns.

Many were worthwhile, and many were proposed, but too many seemed to be to bring undue profit to this or that lord. The only target that was politically neutral was Damascus. Some objected deeply, because there was currently a treaty between the two cities. This caused some to go home in anger, most notably Duke Welf, but about most of the army stayed and marched on Damascus.

The expedition was botched almost from the beginning. The crusader army was no longer the imposing force that had left Europe and could not even surround the city, though it was still the largest crusader army ever to march in the Holy Land. They arrived in 24 July and encamped in the lush suburbs on the western side of Damascus.

The ruler of the city, the vizier Unur, sent immediately for assistance from Nur ed-Din. Over the next couple of days, the crusaders advanced steadily through the streets and orchards, fighting their way up to the very walls. They were busy cutting down trees to build siege towers, but Muslim reinforcements began to arrive and the crusaders were again driven away from the walls.

The crusaders then moved their army to the east side of the city. They have often been criticized for this because the east side had no water and the position could not be held. Nevertheless, their position on the west side was equally untenable, for the many trees and buildings provided perfect cover for guerilla fighters and the Christian camp could not be made secure. They moved precisely because the east side would provide no such cover, and they knew that they would have to take the city within a very few days, for Nur ed-Din was on the march.

The crusaders moved the army on July 27. The impossibility of their position became immediately apparent, and councils were held that night. Conrad and Louis were dismayed to find that the same barons who had advised the attack on Damascus in the first place were now urging that the expedition be abandoned. Reluctantly, seeing that the army was divided, and enemies rather than allies were advancing, the kings agreed.

The next day, July 28, the army began its march back to Palestine, having spent only four days attacking Damascus. They were harassed all the way back to Christian territory, suffering severe losses. But the demoralization was worse. That so great an expedition, even after all the earlier losses, should have accomplished so little was a dark stain on the honor of the princes who participated. The Second Crusade had ended in humiliation.

Results of the Second Crusade

King Conrad went home almost immediately. He had political trouble at home to tend to, and there seemed to be nothing further he could do. King Louis stayed longer. He took part in some desultory fighting, and stayed long enough to celebrate Easter in Jerusalem in 1149. Then he, too, went home. Almost none of the Crusader knights remained in the Holy Land.

The  Second Crusade was an enormous undertaking. There had been crusades in Spain, activity in Portugal, and a crusade against the Slavs in Germany, all in addition to the main expedition to Palestine. Only the un-planned capture of Lisbon yielded any permanent gains. Kings had raised armies for this. The Church had called upon all its resource, put one of its greatest preachers in the field, and had staked its reputation on the outcome.

When the pitiable results were known, there was a widespread reaction against crusading as a large-scale movement. There were recriminations for everyone, but in truth no one really understood why there had been so much activity for so little result. But they were sure they did not want to go to such lengths again.

Over the next forty years, then, there were no more crusades and few calls for one. The armed pilgrimage had not lost its allure, nor the promise of remission of sins. But now, crusaders went in small bands, led by local nobles on their own initiative. Over and over, representatives came from Jerusalem to beg for large armies. What they got was an army from Brabant here, a fleet from Pisa there, and little more. Nothing coordinated and nothing on the scale needed.

Ironically, "crusading" had become what it was in theory: a pilgrimage of arms. Bands of people came to Jerusalem in order to visit the holy places and to do battle with the infidel, and then to return home again. Once in a while, someone came looking to enter the Templars, or to marry into the local nobility, but most visited for a season and then left. The Palestinian barons came to understand that they must survive largely on their own resources and through alliances with local powers.

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