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The Sixth Crusade

An Emperor's Vow

The Fifth Crusade had failed to recover Jerusalem or to conquer Egypt. Since this was the first crusade since the crusade of the kings in 1189 that actually tried to rescue the Holy Land, its defeat was a bitter blow. It was even harder to endure because it had begun so well, but worst of all was the conviction shared by many that it would have succeeded if only the German Emperor had made good on his promise to participate in this crusade.

The Emperor in question was Frederick II, a ruler who had far more lands at his command than any other monarch, even though he could not always rely on them. Frederick had taken the crusading vow in 1215 when he was still a youth, evidently carried away by the moment during his coronation ceremonies at Aachen. No crusade was immediately in the offing, and in any case he had to bring Germany to order, so there was no question of him setting out immediately.

But when the Fifth Crusade set out, the pope reminded him of his pilgrim's vow and the timing did seem propitious. Unfortunately, even as he was raising an army, rebellion broke out in Italy. Frederick delayed, hoping to settle matters at home and still be able to fight in the Crusade. But the delay stretched out. The Crusaders sent him urgent messages, begging for assistance. Finally, all he could do was send a fleet with a small force. It was not enough.

A Marriage

Frederick was able to recover his reputation quickly, however. The Kingdom of Jerusalem was currently without a king--John of Brienne had been acting as regent, and his daughter Yolanda was to be Queen. Soon after the Fifth Crusade failed, the Grand Master of the Teutonic Knights, Hermann von Salza, suggested that Yolanda might marry Frederick. It was a momentous proposal, for now the Kingdom would be united with the Empire. John accepted on behalf of his daughter (she was only fourteen); they all went to Italy, where Frederick accepted the proposal. He was thirty-one.

Yolanda and Frederick were married in November of 1225, at Brindisi. It was a sad match. Within days, Yolanda complained to her father that Frederick had seduced one of her cousins. John complained, but Frederick ignored him. Soon after, he sent Yolanda to Palermo where she spent the rest of her short life. At seventeen she gave birth to a son, Conrad, and died six days later.

The marriage was a success in political terms, however, at least as far as Frederick was concerned. He now had a (legitimate) son. And he was the King of Jerusalem. All that remained was for him to fulfill his crusading vow, a vow that was now already ten years old.

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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.