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THE STORY OF THE EMPEROR FREDERICK AND THE SIXTH CRUSADE
Pride in their port, defiance in their eye,
I see the lords of human kind pass by.
GOLDSMITH: The Traveller.
HE story of the Sixth Crusade may be told in
two parts, one dealing with failure, the other
with success. It was the tardy fruit of Pope
Innocent's urgent appeal for another Holy War, a war
which he himself would have led, had not death cut short
Curiously enough, the actual leader of the first part of
the Sixth Crusade was the king of a country whose
people had done their utmost to hinder and prevent the
First Crusaders on their march to the Holy Land.
Andrew, King of Hungary, sailed in 1216 with a large
army to Asia; and with him were the Dukes of Austria
and Bavaria. At Acre they were joined by other
bands of Crusaders, so that in the next year four kings, of
Hungary, Armenia, Cyprus, and John of Brienne, "King
of Jerusalem," in name alone, were met together within
the city walls.
But these later Crusaders, for the most part, were made
of sorry stuff. If Andrew had been a second Geoffrey
 of Bouillon, he might well have restored the kingdom of
Jerusalem. He was, however, half-hearted in the work,
and would perhaps never have undertaken it had not his
dying father laid upon him a solemn obligation to fulfil
his own vow. Famine, too, proved a worse enemy than
the Saracens, and the latter, knowing this too well, did
not attempt to bring about an engagement.
So the Crusaders at first contented themselves with
an advance to the river Jordan, in the waters of which
they bathed, and then made a peaceful expedition
across the plains of Jericho and by the shores of the Sea
Then the soldiers began to get restive, and to ask for
what reason they had come so far from their western
homes; so it was suddenly decided to attack the Saracen
castle on Mount Tabor.
The story of this attempt only serves to emphasise the
weakness and inefficiency of the leaders. The castle
was guarded by rocky passes and steep heights, which the
Saracens defended with their usual skill and courage.
But the Crusaders had actually succeeded in driving them
from their posts and in forcing their way to the very
gates, when panic, inexplicable but complete, seized
hold upon them. They retreated in confusion and
shame, undeterred by the reproaches of the Patriarch of
Jerusalem, who had accompanied the expedition, bearing
with him a fragment of the true Cross. Realising,
perhaps, that he was not destined to be a hero, Andrew
of Hungary returned home, and his example was
followed by many of his fellow-pilgrims.
The hopes of John of Brienne, however, were not quite
dashed to the ground, for fresh troops of Crusaders from
France, Italy and Germany, arrived at Acre during the
 spring of 1218, and to these was soon added a little English
army under William Longsword, Earl of Salisbury.
The combined forces now determined to strike at the
Sultan first through Egypt, and urged thereto by John of
Brienne, sailed up the Nile to attack Damietta, one of the
strong fortresses which guarded that land. The city
seemed impregnable, for it was not only surrounded by
three thick walls, but was also protected by a double wall
on the side facing the Nile, and by a tower built in the
middle of the river, from which was stretched to the
ramparts an enormously strong iron chain.
The story of this siege is intermingled with strange
legends. A high wooden tower had been built upon
two of the Crusaders' ships, from which they hoped to
attack the river fortress, but this was quickly set on fire
by the Saracens, while the banner of the Holy Cross was
seen to drift helplessly down the stream. The terrified
onlookers from the banks flung themselves on their
knees and implored the help of God at this crisis; upon
which it is said that the flames died down, while before
the astonished eyes of the Crusaders the banner was seen
to wave from the top of the tower in the river.
JOHN OF BRIENNE ATTACKING THE RIVER TOWER
Much encouraged, they made a fresh attack with such
vigour that the enemy threw down their arms and the
tower was won.
The legend says that when the chief prisoners were
brought into the Christian camp, they asked to be shown
the troop of white clothed men bearing shining white
swords, the brilliance of whose appearance they declared
to have so dazzled their eyes that they could not see to
fight longer; and so, says the chronicler of these things,
"the Crusaders knew that the Lord Christ had sent His
Angels to attack that tower."
 While the siege of Damietta itself was still in progress,
news arrived of the death of Saphadim, the Sultan, and
of the accession of his two sons. The "Sword of
Religion," as his Moslem followers called Saphadim, had
been a wise as well as a valiant ruler; his successors were
weak and incapable. Aghast at the thought of losing
their famous seaport, and alarmed at the arrival of many
new pilgrims, some hailing from France, others from
England, the two young men at length sent messengers
with an offer wrung from them, they said, "because the
power of God was against them."
They promised, in fact, to give up Jerusalem and the
whole of Palestine to the Crusaders if the latter would
agree to depart at once from Egypt.
Considering that the freeing of the Holy Land from
infidel rule was the only true aim of the Crusaders, we
can only be amazed at finding that the offer was rejected.
John of Brienne, "the King of Jerusalem," was eager
enough to accept it; so too were the Knights Templars
and Hospitallers mindful of their vows. But there
was present in the camp a certain Cardinal Pelagius,
the papal legate, who claimed, as representative of the
Pope, to have the final decision in the matter; and he,
fearing probably that the supreme power would fall
into the hands of John of Brienne, supported by the
French Crusaders and afterwards by the Knights of the
Temple and Hospital, carried the day against the Sultan,
and caused the siege of Damietta to be resumed.
Plague had already done its work within the walls, and
there remained little for the Crusaders to do. Damietta
was theirs, and a sorry triumph it proved.
In spite of the frank opposition of John of Brienne,
 Pelagius now determined to lead the host to the further
conquest of Egypt, and a march on Cairo began. Once
more the terrified Sultan offered them the same terms,
and once more, being, as Philip of France
contemptuously said, "so daft as to prefer a town to a kingdom,"
they refused to give up Damietta, and pursued their way.
Too late repentance came; for the Nile rose with its
usual rapidity, the sluices were opened by the Egyptians,
the camp was surrounded by water, and baggage and
tents were washed away. The unfortunate Crusaders,
caught in a trap, were at the mercy of their foes, and were
thankful when the Sultan, in pity, offered to let them go
free if they would surrender Damietta. They could but
agree, since they knew that it required all the little
authority that the young Sultan had at his command
to prevent his chieftains condemning the whole host to
destruction. As it was, the latter were perishing of
famine, and tears flowed down the cheeks of John of
Brienne, when led as hostage to the Sultan's tent, as he
remembered their distress. With that generosity which
marks the whole family of Saladin, the Sultan, when he
discovered the cause of his grief, at once sent the starving
multitude a large store of food.
Thus in darkness and disgrace ended the first part of
the Sixth Crusade, which so far had gained nothing but
an ill reputation for the Crusaders who had taken part
The leader of the second part of the Sixth Crusade was
made of very different stuff from Andrew of Hungary or
John of Brienne. When Frederick H., grandson of the
great Barbarossa, had been summoned, some eight years
before this time, from the leafy groves of his kingdom of
Sicily, to be emperor in place of the rebellious Otho, he
 had taken the cross and promised to lead an army to the
Holy Land at the earliest opportunity.
But Otho did not take his deposition quietly, and
during the next few years Frederick had his hands too full
in his own dominions to fulfil his vow. After Otho's
death, two years later than that of the ambitious and
energetic Pope Innocent, the new Pope, Honorius,
besought the young Emperor to listen to the bitter cry for
help which once more came from across the sea. At that
time, however, Frederick was completely absorbed in
ambitious schemes for himself and his family.
The Pope's influence was strong, however, and it
seemed clear that his friendship was absolutely necessary
to Frederick's schemes. The position of the Emperor
had never been universally acknowledged in past years,
and it was now proposed that Honorius should publicly
crown Frederick at St Peter's at Rome. This was
done in all good faith and fellowship. "Never did Pope
love Emperor as he loved his son Frederick," said
Honorius as he parted from him after the coronation,
with the promise ringing in his ears that the German
army should be ready to start on the Crusade during the
But Frederick still delayed, for he saw little chance of
winning the glory he coveted under present conditions
in the East. He was not going to send an army thither
merely to put John of Brienne back on the throne of
Jerusalem. Even the news of the loss of Damietta only
served to point the moral that without a huge army,
for which time and money were absolutely necessary,
supreme success could not be achieved.
Then John of Brienne himself landed in Europe to ask
in person for the help that was so long in coming. He
 brought with him his beautiful daughter, Yolande, and
her presence inspired the Pope with new hopes. He now
proposed that the Emperor Frederick should marry the
maiden and go forth to the Holy War as the heir of John
of Brienne. The marriage took place in 1225, more than
eleven years after Frederick's vow as a Crusader had
first been taken. Almost immediately the Emperor
showed his real motive in the marriage by declaring that
as John held his royal rights only through his wife, they
passed on her death to her daughter, through whom they
were now held by her husband, and the Emperor
therefore at once proclaimed himself "King of Jerusalem."
Not even then, after the unavailing opposition of John
had died away, did Frederick start upon the Crusade. In
his beautiful Sicilian kingdom, surrounded by learned
Jews, cultivated Saracens, Norman troubadours and
Italian poets, he had become too easy-going, too tolerant
of all forms of faith or of none, to have any real religious
motive to stimulate his actions. He was, indeed,
inclined to meet even the Sultan of Egypt himself on terms
of the friendliest equality.
But Honorius had been succeeded as Pope by the proud
and domineering Gregory IX., to whom this spirit of
dallying was loathsome. An imperative letter
summoning the Emperor to fulfil his broken vow seemed at
first to have some real effect, and in the August of 1227
a large army assembled at Brindisi. There the men were
seized by fever, and though Frederick actually set sail
with the fleet, it was only to return after three days to the
harbour of Otranto, while the host dispersed. The Pope
was furious, and, paying no heed to the Emperor's plea of
sickness, proceeded to excommunicate, "with bell, book
and candle," one whom he said had been nursed, tended,
 and aided by the Church, only to cheat her with false
hopes and trickery.
A pretty quarrel now arose. Frederick appealed to
the sovereigns of Europe, declaring that his illness had
been real and that "the Christian charity which should
hold all things together is dried at its very source."
Meantime he treated the ban of excommunication
The Pope replied, in the ensuing Holy Week, by putting
every place where Frederick happened to visit under an
interdict, and threatening to absolve his subjects from
their allegiance if this were disregarded. The Emperor
took no notice, but, as though to emphasise the injustice
with which he had been treated, pushed on his
preparations for the Crusade. Setting out to Brindisi, he was
met by papal envoys who forbade him to leave Italy
until he had done penance for his offences against the
Church. His only answer was to send his own messengers
to Rome demanding that the interdict be removed, and
meantime he set sail for Acre.
All other Crusaders had gone forth with the blessing
of the Pope and the Church; this, the most recent of them
all, came as an outcast, with the ban of the Church
upon him; and his position was bound to be affected
thereby. The greater part of his army feared to serve
under him, and he landed with only six hundred knights,
"more like a pirate than a great king."
The military orders, the Knights of the Hospital and
the Temple also refused to acknowledge him, but the
scattered pilgrims, eager for a leader at any price, looked
upon him with favour and rallied to his standard.
But upon these broken reeds Frederick had little
intention of leaning. From the bigoted narrowness of
 Templars and Hospitallers he gladly turned to the
polished and cultivated Sultan, Malek-Camhel, who was
quite prepared to renew friendly terms with one whom
he held in much respect. For some time they dealt with
trifles, comparing their respective skill in verse-making
and in music. Then the Emperor sent Camhel his
sword and cuirass, and the latter responded by a present
of an elephant, some camels, and a quantity of the rich
spices and stuffs of the East.
Becoming aware, at length, that these signs of
friendship were the cause of mutterings of discontent in the
camps both of Islam and of the Crusaders, they at length
agreed upon a truce of ten years on the following
conditions. The towns of Joppa, Bethlehem and Nazareth
were to be given up to the Christians and the city of
Jerusalem, with one important exception.
This was the site of the Temple, where now stood the
Mosque of Omar, which was to be left to the Saracens.
So Frederick, with his knights, went up to the Holy
City, about the season of Mid-Lent, 1229, and entering
the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, took the crown from
the High Altar and placed it upon his own head; "but
there was no prelate, nor priest, nor clerk, to sing or
He next visited the Mosque of Omar, and showed
clearly how little he was moved in all this by love for
his own faith. For when the Saracens, respecting his
supposed feelings, refrained from sounding the muezzin,
or bell that calls to prayer, Frederick stopped the order,
saying, "You are wrong to fail in your duty to your
religion for my sake. God knows, if you were to come
to my country, your feelings would not be treated
with such respect."
 The terms of this treaty enraged both the Moslems
against their Sultan and the Church against the Emperor.
At his entrance into the city, the priests and people
fled from the presence of Frederick as though from a
leper. The very images of the saints in the churches
were draped in black; and the triumphant message of
Frederick to Gregory, claiming the gratitude of the
Church for the restoration of the Holy City, was
received with chilling silence.
Then came the startling news that the Pope had put a
large army under the leadership of John of Brienne, now
the Emperor's greatest enemy, who was about to capture
several of his Italian cities.
Hastening to Acre, and well aware of the hostility of
those who considered themselves defrauded of the chance
of killing the Saracens, Frederick called a great meeting
of pilgrims in the plain outside the city. To them he
spoke strongly against the mischief caused by the clergy
and the Templars in trying to stir up strife, and ordered
all the pilgrims, who had now fulfilled their vows, to sail
at once for Europe.
Frederick returned to his western lands in 1229, and
though he lived till 1250, he never again saw his kingdom
of Jerusalem. He had never been a true Crusader at
heart, and had not stayed long enough to establish his
eastern domain on any firm foundation; but he had,
nevertheless, accomplished within a few months what
others had failed to do in as many years, and that
without any attempt at bloodshed.