Unforeseen Consequences

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Unforeseen Consequences

Excerpt from Chronicle of the Fourth Crusade and the Conquest of Constantinople (1207)
Originally written by Geoffrey de Villehardouin; Translated by Frank T. Marzials; Published in 1908

Excerpt from Chronica Regiae Coloniensis (1213)
Reprinted in The Crusades: A Documentary History; Translated by James Brundage; Published in 1962

Numerous small Crusades took place throughout the twelfth and into the thirteenth centuries. Quickly after the First Crusade (1095–99), a smaller one was begun in 1101 to bring more troops to the Crusader states established in Palestine, on the narrow seacoast of the eastern Mediterranean Sea. This effort failed, as did several other attempts to send men. But the Crusaders were successful initially because of the internal rivalries among the Muslims. The world of Islam in the Middle East, made up of Arabs, Turks, Egyptians, Kurds, and several other ethnic groups, did not present a united front against the Christian invaders because they were busy fighting one another. In addition to competing ethnic groups, there also were competing branches of Islam. The two major branches, Sunnis and Shiites, were as strong an enemy to each other as they were to the Christians.

Slowly, though, the Muslims began to unite under strong leaders, the first of whom was Zengi, the atabeg, or governor, of Mosul in present-day Iraq. Zengi, a Seljuk Turk, began to gather the Muslims under his leadership and then, in 1144, captured the Crusader state of Edessa. For Zengi, the fight against the Christians was a jihad, or holy war. This defeat for the Crusaders, in turn, brought about a new desire in Europe for a Crusade. Saint Bernard of Clairvaux preached such a new holy war to stop the rising power of Islam. Nobles, including King Louis VII of France and King Conrad III of Germany, took up the cross in the Second Crusade (1147–49), but their effort was a failure. They further damaged relations with the Byzantine Empire, and their complete defeat made the Muslims even bolder as they came to realize that they could beat the Christians.

Zengi was assassinated in 1146, before the Second Crusade, but his son, Nur al-Din, took his place in leading the Muslims of the Middle East against the Crusaders. One of Nur al-Din's generals invaded Egypt, and when he died, his nephew, Saladin, became leader of Egypt and further united the Muslim world. Saladin was perhaps the greatest military leader of the Islamic world, and when he captured Jerusalem from the Crusaders in 1187, he turned the tide against the Europeans. Unlike the aftermath of the Christian victory in 1099, the Muslims did not slaughter the inhabitants of the city. Instead, they let them go under a flag of truce. Though it took another century to drive the Franks out of the Holy Land, Saladin's victory at Jerusalem let the Christians know that it was only a matter of time until the Crusader states would be completely defeated.

As with Zengi's victory at Edessa, Saladin's at Jerusalem inspired a major Crusade. The Third Crusade (1189–91), led by England's Richard I the Lionheart, the king of France, and by the ruler of the Holy Roman Empire, managed to capture the port of Acre, but internal quarrels and too few fighting men led to overall failure. Richard I was able to win only a three-year truce from Saladin, which allowed Christian visitors to see the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.

By the early thirteenth century, Pope Innocent III began calling for yet another Crusade in the Middle East. This time, however, the plan was to hit the Muslims in Egypt and then use the resources of that country to drive toward Jerusalem. The organization of transport was given to the Venetians, a major sea power at the time and one of the largest trading city-states of Europe. Political and business interests drove the Fourth Crusade (1202–04), and when the Crusaders were unable to pay the Venetians the agreed-upon price for their transport, they were forced to become soldiers for hire, capturing Zara, a Christian city on the Yugoslavian coast that was causing Venice problems. This changed the entire direction of the Crusade, for after Zara the Christian army sailed to Constantinople, where, for a price, they agreed to install a young Byzantine prince on the throne of the Byzantine Empire. This action resulted in the sacking of Constantinople and the end of the Fourth Crusade; the Crusaders never got near the Muslims or the Holy Land.

Such unforeseen consequences also happened in 1212 with the two Children's Crusades, in which thousands of boys twelve years of age and younger took to the roads to battle in the Holy Land. The leaders, Stephen, a shepherd from France, and Nicholas, of Germany, were themselves boys and led their followers on an unhappy adventure that ended in misery and death for most.

Things to Remember While Reading Excerpts about "Unforeseen Consequences of the Crusades":

  • The First Crusade was the only successful Crusade for the Christians in the two centuries of conflict between Europe and the Middle East.
  • Returning from the Third Crusade, Richard I, the Lionheart, was kidnapped by the German emperor and held prisoner until his mother, Eleanor of Aquitaine, could raise enough money from the British for his release. Eleanor was herself a veteran of the Second Crusade.
  • The Crusader states developed much the same feudal structure as Europe had, with nobles staking out large areas of land that would be worked by those who promised loyalty to them. Within the first hundred years of their existence, the Crusader states were competing with one another. Peaceful Muslims found a place in such states, and many of the Europeans adopted Middle Eastern ways of dress and living.
  • Geoffrey de Villehardouin was a knight and historian who took part in the Fourth Crusade, and his history of that event, written in French rather than Latin, is generally considered reliable. The Chronica Regiae Coloniensis is also assumed to be a real text from the time of the Children's Crusade, but many modern historians have questioned whether the participants were really young children or actually adults taking part in just one more failed mission to the Holy Land.

Excerpt from Chronicle of the Fourth Crusade and the Conquest of Constantinople

Now give ear to one of the greatest marvels, and most wonderful adventures that you have ever heard tell of. At that time there was an emperor in Constantinople, whose name was Isaac, and he had a brother, Alexius by name, whom he had ransomed from captivityamong the Turks. This Alexius took his brother the emperor, tore the eyes out of his head, and made himself emperor by the aforesaid treachery. He kept Isaac a long time in prison, together with a son whose name was Alexius. This son escaped from prison, and fled in a ship to a city on the sea, which is called Ancona. Thence he departed to go to King Philip of Germany, who had his sister for wife; and he came to Verona in Lombardy, and lodged in the town, and found there a number of pilgrims and other people who were on their way to join the host [Crusader forces].

And those who had helped him to escape, and were with him, said: "Sire, here is an army in Venice, quite near to us, the best and most valiant people and knights that are in the world, and they are going overseas. Cry to them therefore for mercy, that they have pity on thee and on thy father, who have been so wrongfully dispossessed . And if they be willing to help thee, thou shalt be guided by them. Perchance they will take pity on thy estate ." And Alexius said he would do this right willingly, and that the advice was good.

Thus he appointed envoys , and sent them to the Marquis Boniface of Montferrat, who was chief of the host, and to the other barons. And when the barons saw them, they marvelled greatly, and said to the envoys: "We understand right well what you tell us. We will send an envoy with the prince to King Philip, whither he is going. If the prince will help to recover the land overseas we will help him to recover his own land, for we know that it has been wrested from him and from his father wrongfully." So were envoys sent into Germany, both to the heir of Constantinople and to King Philip of Germany.

The barons consulted together on the morrow , and said that they would show the young Alexius, the son of the Emperor of Constantinople, to the people of the city. So they assembled all the galleys . The Doge of Venice and the Marquis of Montferrat entered into one,and took with them Alexius, the son of the Emperor Isaac; and into the other galleys entered the knights and barons, as many as would.

They went thus quite close to the walls of Constantinople and showed the youth to the people of the Greeks, and said, "Behold your natural lord; and be it known to you that we have not come to do you harm, but have come to guard and defend you, if so be that you return to your duty. For he whom you now obey as your lord holds rule by wrong and wickedness, against God and reason. And you know full well that he has dealt treasonably with him who is your lord and his brother, that he has blinded his eyes and [taken] from him his empire by wrong and wickedness. Now behold the rightful heir. If you hold with him, you will be doing as you ought; and if not we will do to you the very worst that we can." But for fear and terror of the Emperor Alexius, not one person on the land or in the city made show as if he held for the prince. So all went back to the host, and each sought his quarters .…

Now hear of a strange miracle: those who are within the city fly and abandon the walls, and the Venetians enter in, each as fastand as best he can, and seize twenty-five of the towers, and man them with their people. And the Doge takes a boat, and sends messengers to the barons of the host to tell them that he has taken twenty-five towers, and that they may know for sooth that such towers cannot be retaken. The barons are so overjoyed that they cannot believe their ears; and the Venetians begin to send to the host in boats the horses and palfreys they have taken.

When the Emperor Alexius saw that our people had thus entered into the city, he sent his people against them in such numbers that our people saw they would be unable to endure the onset. So they set fire to the buildings between them and the Greeks; and the wind blew from our side, and the fire began to wax so great that the Greeks could not see our people who retired to the towers they had seized and conquered.

It seemed as if the whole plain was covered with troops, and they advanced slowly and in order. Well might we appear in perilous case , for we had but six divisions , while the Greeks had full forty, and there was not one of their divisions but was larger than any of ours. But ours were ordered in such sort that none could attack them save in front. And the Emperor Alexius rode so far forward that either side could shoot at the other. And when the Doge of Venice heard this, he made his people come forth, and leave the towers they had taken, and said he would live or die with the pilgrims. So he came to the camp, and was himself the first to land, and brought with him such of his people as he could.

Thus, for a long space, the armies of the pilgrims and of the Greeks stood one against the other; for the Greeks did not dare to throw themselves upon our ranks, and our people would not move from their palisades . And when the Emperor Alexius saw this, he began to withdraw his people, and when he had rallied them, he turned back.…

Now listen to the miracles of our Lord—how gracious are they whithersoever it pleases Him to perform them! That very night the Emperor Alexius of Constantinople took of his treasure as much as he could carry, and took with him as many of his people as would go, and so fled and abandoned the city. And those of the city remained astonished, and they drew to the prison in which lay the Emperor Isaac, whose eyes had been put out. Him they clothed imperially , and bore to the great palace of Blachernae, and seated on a high throne; and there they did to him obeisance as their lord.Then they took messengers, by the advice of the Emperor Isaac, and sent them to the host, to apprise the son of the Emperor Isaac, and the barons, that the Emperor Alexius had fled, and that they had again raised up the Emperor Isaac as emperor.…

Which Alexius?

Alexius was a name taken by many of the emperors of the Byzantine Empire. Alexius I was the emperor who asked for help from Pope Urban II to fight the Seljuk Turks and thus brought on the First Crusade. That Alexius was a member of what was known as the Comnenan dynasty, the family line that ruled in Constantinople from 1081 to 1185. After the Comnenan dynasty came the Angelan dynasty, starting off with Isaac II, the emperor who was blinded by his ambitious brother. This brother who blinded Isaac became the emperor Alexius III, and he threw Isaac and Isaac's son, his own nephew, into prison to take power. Now this son of Isaac II was another Alexius, the one who escaped and ran off to Europe to get the Crusaders to help restore him and his father to power.

When the Crusaders chased off Alexius III, the new emperor became Alexius IV. (He ruled as coemperor with his father, Isaac, after the Crusaders conquered Constantinople, though he had the true power of the throne.) Soon, still another Alexius came into action, a distant relation to the Comnenan family. There were so many men named Alexius by this time that the Crusaders gave this one a nickname, "Murzuphlus," meaning "someone with thick eyebrows," for this man's eyebrows grew in a single strip over both eyes. Alexius Murzuphlus became Alexius V when he killed Alexius IV and put the poor old blind Isaac II back in prison to die. Alexius V did not maintain power for long; it was only a matter of two months until he was killed. He was the last Alexius to rule in Constantinople.

Excerpt from Chronica Regiae Coloniensis

In this year occurred an outstanding thing and one much to be marveled at, for it is unheard of throughout the ages. About the time of Easter and Pentecost , without anyone having preached or called for it and prompted by I know not what spirit, many thousands of boys, ranging in age from six years to full maturity, left the plows or carts which they were driving, the flocks which they were pasturing, and anything else which they were doing. This they did despite the wishes of their parents, relatives, and friends who sought to make them draw back. Suddenly one ran after another totake the cross. Thus, by groups of twenty, or fifty, or a hundred, they put up banners and began to journey to Jerusalem. They were asked by many people on whose advice or at whose urging they had set out upon this path. They were asked especially since only a few years ago many kings, a great many dukes, and innumerable people in powerful companies had gone there and had returned with the business unfinished. The present groups, moreover, were still of tender years and were neither strong enough nor powerful enough to do anything. Everyone, therefore, accounted them foolish and imprudent for trying to do this. They briefly replied that they were equal to the Divine will in this matter and that, whatever God might wish to do with them, they would accept it willingly and with humble spirit. They thus made some little progress on their journey. Some were turned back at Metz, others at Piacenza, and others even at Rome. Still others got to Marseilles, but whether they crossed to the Holy Land or what their end was is uncertain. One thing is sure: that of the many thousands who rose up, only very few returned.

What happened next…

The Crusaders were able to put Alexius IV on the Byzantine throne, but once there he did not keep his end of the bargain. He had agreed to pay the Crusaders for putting him in power, but the money was not there, and the citizens of Constantinople did not want to pay higher taxes to raise the money. Then another Alexius came onto the scene and seized power in February 1204. He killed Alexius IV and made himself Alexius V and told the Crusaders to go home. The Crusaders were not going to leave without their payment. They needed the money to carry on the Crusade in the Holy Land. In April 1204 they began to attack Constantinople and captured the city, destroying much of it and killing thousands of its citizens. It was the worst destruction the city had ever seen. Then the Crusaders became caught up in forming the Latin Empire of Constantinople and never made it to the Holy Land.

Pope Innocent III excommunicated, or expelled, the Crusaders from the Catholic Church for these offenses against another Christian land, but the Crusader movement did not end with this shameful act. Instead, the energy and desire to fight for the Holy Land were taken up by the common people and by youths all over Europe. The Children's Crusade of 1212 was a result of such interest. Since the nobles did not gather for a new Crusade, the children took up the cause. A young French shepherd, Stephen of Cloyes, went to the French king, telling him he had a letter from God that instructed him to lead a Crusade. The king told the twelve-year-old to come back when he was grown up. But Stephen preached his message for a Crusade to other children in France and soon gathered thousands around him. They marched south toward the Mediterranean Sea and sailed off from the port of Marseilles, never to be heard of again. One later witness said that two of the ships sank and that the others were captured by pirates and the children sold into slavery.

Stephen's Crusade inspired a similar one by a twelve-year-old German boy, Nicholas, who gathered thousands of children but also some adults and marched over the Alpine mountain range to Rome. There, Pope Innocent III told them to go home, but many did not make it back to their homes, dying of starvation on the way. Some historians wonder if all the facts of the so-called Children's Crusade are true, but fact or fiction, this shows that the urge to go on a Crusade was still important in Europe at the beginning of the thirteenth century. The tragic Crusades of 1204 and 1212 would lead to further attempts to free the Holy Land from Muslim domination in three more major Crusades.

Did you know…

  • During the attack on Constantinople, the Crusaders were in part led by the Venetian doge, or ruler, Enrico Dandolo, a man who was in his eighties. He personally led his forces into battle against the Byzantine defenders.
  • Venice was the real winner of the Fourth Crusade, earning money from the Crusaders for transporting them to Constantinople and, at the same time, using the Crusader army to help them win new holdings in Asia Minor and in the Mediterranean as a result of the peace treaty with Constantinople.
  • The Latin Empire of Constantinople lasted until 1261.
  • Stephen of Cloyes's Children's Crusade supposedly had thirty thousand followers, all of whom died or were sold into slavery on their way to the Holy Land. The second group of young Crusaders led by the German, Nicholas, had almost twenty thousand followers. Only one-third of them survived the march to Rome.

Consider the following…

  • What does the sack of Constantinople demonstrate about the motives of many of the Crusaders? Who was the enemy they were supposed to be fighting?
  • The Children's Crusades were supposedly led by children. Discuss some of the arguments that you think these leaders used to recruit their adolescent armies.
  • How old do you have to be to fight? The age for enlistment into the armed forces is eighteen; should younger children be allowed to join? Why or why not?

Ransom: To pay money for the release of a captive, especially a noble during the time of the Crusades.

Pilgrims: Travelers or visitors to religious sites and holy places.

Dispossessed: Had belongings taken away, cast out.

Perchance: Maybe, perhaps.

Estate: Situation.

Right: Very.

Envoys: Messengers or official representatives.

Whither: To the place.

Wrested: To gain by violence or force.

The Morrow: The next day.

Galleys: Ships

Doge: The title of the leader of Venice.

Marquis: A noble title, above a count and below a duke.

Treasonably: Through disloyalty or betrayal, especially in the overthrow of a government.

Palfreys: Saddle horses that are not warhorses.

Wax: Grow larger.

Perilous case: Dangerous position.

Divisions: Military units.

Such sort: Such a way.

Palisades: Fortified areas or enclosures or defensive walls made of wooden stakes.

Whithersoever: Wherever.

Imperially: Royally, with the clothing of a king.

Obeisance: A show of respect by bowing or other gestures.

Apprise: Tell.

Pentecost: Christian festival on the seventh Sunday after Easter.

Imprudent: Unwise.

For More Information


The Crusades: A Documentary History. Translated by James Brundage. Milwaukee, WI: Marquette University Press, 1962.

Hindley, Geoffrey. The Crusades: A History of Armed Pilgrimage and Holy War. London: Constable, 2003.

Mayer, Hans Eberhard. The Crusades. 2nd ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 1988.

Villehardouin, Geoffrey de. Chronicles of the Fourth Crusade and the Conquest of Constantinople. Translated by Frank Marzials. London: J. M. Dent, 1908.

Web Sites

"Chronica Regiae Coloniensis, s.a.1213. The 'Children's Crusade,' 1212." Internet Medieval Sourcebook.http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/source/1212pueri.html (accessed on August 2, 2004).

"The Crusades." The ORB: On-line Reference Book for Medieval Studies.http://the-orb.net/textbooks/westciv/1stcrusade.html (accessed on August 2, 2004).

"Memoirs or Chronicle of the Fourth Crusade and the Conquest of Constantinople." Internet Medieval Sourcebook.http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/basis/villehardouin.html (accessed on August 2, 2004).