Thursday, November 20, 2008

October 1219: Pelagius Removed


I am currently reading The Crusades Through Arab Eyes by Amin Maalouf. It's an interesting take from the POV of the Arabs as to what happened in the Crusades, a rather different take. As with any history book, there are moments when you read it, it screams out what-if x had happened instead! In this particular case, there are several moments, but they are mostly covered by innumerable AH stories such as what-if Frederick Barbarossa hadn't drown, the Crusaders took Aleppo, Saladin buys it in the siege of Alexandria or whatnot. In this case, it deals with strange, strange tale of the Fifth Crusade.

To set the stage, the Fourth Crusade had done its dirty work and the Third Crusade which missed out on retaking the Holy Land despite some very interesting and insane battles with odd results. The POV from the book about Richard and Saladin's relationship is rather different than it is typically portrayed in Western literature on the subject. Saladin had basically won against the Crusaders and the Byzantines were smashed to not really recover (alas). There was a slight uptick for them, but...never to ever get close to a climb up to where they had been. Or could have been. The Crusaders States only held a strip of coastal land. A position that was extremely tenuous.

The Fifth Crusade was kicked off to try, once again, to recover the Holy Land in 1217. Maalouf attributes the start due to John of Brienne, King of Kingdom of Jerusalem (but not the city), besieging the Pope with letters to send another Crusade aroudn 1210. The Pope finally issue a bull is support of it in 1213. This Crusade was to be different though.

One of the huge differences was this Crusade was to be led by a Papal Legate, Pelagio Galvani, often called Pelagius: no kings were to be the leaders of this expedition. Another difference was that the Crusade went after what was seen as the source of strength that was causing the Crusaders to lose time and again the Holy Land: the wealth of Egypt. After an initial success in taking Damietta, he would make several strategic mistakes and lose everything. The Iberian Papal Legate made a huge mistake though: the ruler of Egypt and nephew of Saladin, al-Kamil, offered all of Palestine, including Jerusalem, from the river Jordan to the sea to the Crusaders and the return of the True Cross...if they'd just knock-off their attack in Egypt. Pelagius ignored the offer despite John of Brienne's entreaties.

Now, the offer was somewhat problematic. Palestine was in the hands of al-Kamil's brother, al-Mu'azam, the ruler of Syria and Palestine, and he was unlikely to want to surrender the territory, even if it created a buffer state between the brothers as has been conjectured. It is also likely that the offer was genuine though, because of al-Kamil's surrender of Jerusalem later in the Sixth Crusade to Frederick II without much of a fight.

Sooo...what-if?

In this case, Pelagius croaks at the end of a successful siege of Damietta and John of Brienne is left in charge. al-Kalim still offers Palestine. John takes the offer and the two ride out to clobber al-Mu'azam. From there, we get the reestablishment of the Kingdom of Jerusalem to its near maximum size. So, call the reestablishment a fact by November 1221 after a siege of Damascus. What happens next is pretty important.

I bet that there is a truce. I'd say one lasting around 9 years just for the round date. John's not going to want to give up expanding his Kingdom, but he's getting to be an old man, by the time the truce expires he'll be 60. If OTL is any guide, he'll only last another seven years. He'll pick a few fights, but since al-Kamil now controls most of Syria, he's somewhat boxed in: he'll not want to break the truce without help and he'll probably seek it though. If he attacks anywhere, I bet its Cyprus, but...I have the feeling he'll be too stuck to do it. He'll probably be involved in the politics of the Latin Empire of Constantinople as he did OTL.

As a precautionary move, we'll say he still marry off his daughters to strengthen his position. What he does with Yolande is critical. Technically, John isn't king. He's only regent until he can marry off Yolande whom is the real inheritor from John's wife. OTL, he married Yolande off to Frederick II...and lost his throne. What are the possible other ways he can secure the kingdom using his daughters' marriage and still keep his seat?

Well, I need to wrap this up. Let's up this up. What would John do to hold his throne? Would he, like so many Crusaders screw it all up? How much longer would the Kingdom of Jerusalem last then? Only to the end of the truce? Could he still enroll Frederick to try to take Egypt? Or...?

Thoughts?

5 comments:

Will Baird said...

Well, gosh, this post attracted zilch interest.

Chris said...

Well, it interested me, but I've only just seen it. Let's see. 1260 would be the latest survival date in my guess. That's the year the Mongols conquered the Damascus Ayyubids. A Crusader kingdom just to the south would be tremendously isolated, even if they were technically allied to Byzantium or Egypt, and I suspect the Mongols would simply have had them for dessert.

Whether they could have lasted that long depends on too many variables to judge: how accommodating of the Muslim landowning class would they be? Could they avoid antagonising a more powerful Muslim neighbour? Would a successor to Jean overextend himself? They would need a lot more luck AND judgment than the historical Crusader states ever showed.

I've read Maalouf's book, and I was generally impressed by it. You might enjoy some of his novels.

Will Baird said...

Hey Chris,

Crusaders get smashed in 1260. What happens then? Does anyone try to recover the lands once more? Do the Byzantines? :D Have we aborted the Mamelukes taking over Egypt? No Mamelukes and we get a Mongol Egypt. ouch. Smashed Egypt is...not so good.

I think John/Jean MIGHT have kept the place safe and sound until his death around 1237. After that, it depends on his successor. I'd say a 50% chance of getting a complete nitwit. 25% of a halfwit. 15% chance of a guy that does no harm. 10% chance of an actual good leader.

Chris said...

The Mongols didn't last long in the Middle East in 1260. They did one of their periodic withdrawals to the homeland to sort out the succession, and the residual occupation force was beaten out by the Mameluks.

(I'm no expert on the Mongols, but as far as I can see they kept trying to push west and never succeeded for long. Partly, I guess they were over-extended, and partly, they never brought off the trick they did in China, of persuading a significant part of the Persian or Arab elites to come on board.)

I agree with your quantifications for the chances of the Crusaders producing a competent second generation leader, based on what I know of mediaeval Europe.

Will Baird said...

The Mongols didn't last long but they acted as a significant scourge on the region. If the Mongols did similar damage to Egypt, what would the consequences be? Nontrivial, I would think. If by some miracle that the Crusader state survived, or even a fraction of it did (Acre or Tyre or some such) Then we might see it try to recover the rest again. The smashing of Jerusalem would have some interesting effects too! Albeit more religious in nature than probably political.

I'll double check if the Mongols were in their withdrawl phase or not...