Eighth Crusade

gigatos | June 25, 2023


The Seventh Crusade was an “armed pilgrimage” in 1270 that ended after only a few months following an unsuccessful siege of Tunis and the death of its leader, King Louis IX of France.

The original goal of the crusade was to relieve the distressed crusader states, which since 1263 had been facing incessant attacks from the Egyptian-Syrian Mamluk Sultan as-Zahir Baibars and had already lost several castles and cities to him, especially Antioch (1268). Baibars was about to eliminate the last remnants of the Christian rule in the Holy Land established as a result of the First Crusade (1099). However, for reasons that have never been clearly explained, the crusade was first waged against the North African city of Tunis, where it ended abruptly.

Especially in the historiography of the German-speaking countries this crusade is counted as the “seventh”, because here usually the crusade of Damiette (1217-1221) and the crusade of Emperor Frederick II (1228-1229) are counted together as the “fifth”. King Louis IX of France himself led the Sixth Crusade between the years 1248 and 1250. In French and English literature, however, the “seventh” is listed as the “eighth crusade,” since there the crusades of Damiette and that of the emperor are counted separately.

Since the failure of Louis IX’s first crusade in 1250, things had changed in the Near East: After the Mamluks had taken power in Egypt in 1250, they were able to usurp rule in Syria as well following their decisive victory over the Mongols at the Battle of ʿAin Jālūt (1260), thus effectively taking over the entire former Ayyubid Empire. Consequently, the Mamelukes thereby advanced to become the greatest threat to the last Christian princes in Outremer, who, moreover, weakened themselves among themselves in the War of Saint-Sabas between Venice and Genoa.

In the following years, one Crusader fortress after another fell into the hands of the Mamelukes. The militarily highly gifted Sultan Baibars had most of the cities and fortresses razed, and the population was killed or enslaved. The Crusaders appealed to the rulers of Europe for help, but received reluctant support. In 1268, he finally conquered and destroyed the once-rich Antioch, the capital of the Principality of Antioch, and now threatened the County of Tripoli. Meanwhile, King Hugh III of Cyprus, who was nominally also king of Jerusalem, attempted to reorganize the defense of what remained of the Kingdom of Jerusalem.


Since the Mamelukes attacked the Christian possessions in the Levant, Pope Clement IV had preached the Crusade throughout Europe. After the Templar castle of Safed fell in 1266 and the crusade appeals met with little response, he intensified them, directly addressing the monarchs of France and England. In late 1266, King Louis IX of France declared to the Pope his willingness to participate in the Crusade and finally took the cross with his sons in Paris on March 24, 1267. Already since his first failed crusade, the French king had envisaged another crusade. For this purpose, he had already stationed a permanent regiment of French knights in Acre during his first stay in the Holy Land, which he regularly supplied with personnel and weapons. Within the French nobility, however, there was no great enthusiasm for another costly and time-consuming campaign in the Holy Land, especially in view of the loss of the Crusade against Egypt (the Sixth Crusade) twenty years earlier. For this reason, the bulk of the French crusader army this time was mainly made up of the king’s closest personal and courtly circle, while the majority of the feudal nobility refrained from taking part in the crusade. In return, however, Louis IX received promises of personal participation from his brother Charles of Anjou, who in the meantime ruled as king in Sicily, the Catalan king James I, and the English crown prince Edward Plantagenet, along with their own contingents.

In August 1269, Louis IX received Prince Edward in Paris to plan with him the organization of the crusade. The port of Aigues-Mortes was set as the rallying point for the fleet and August 15, 1270 as the date for departure for the Levant. On the occasion of this crusade, the French king had his own ships built for the first time, whereas twenty years earlier ships from Genoa and Marseilles had been used to transport the army. While Louis IX was still busy building his fleet, King James I of Aragon set sail from Barcelona with his ships on September 1, 1269. But while still near the coast he was caught in a storm and his fleet was forced back to the coast, whereupon he already ended his crusade. Only one squadron, led by two of Catalan’s bastard sons, made it to the open sea and reached Acre in December 1269, where they immediately engaged in successfully repelling a Mameluke attack.

Contrary to his self-imposed deadline, Louis IX set sail with his fleet as early as July 2, 1270, without waiting any longer for Prince Edward, who, by the way, was delayed in setting sail. First, Louis IX headed for the Sardinian port of Cagliari, where he announced the first target of attack to his followers. As in his first crusade, he had kept the official announcement of the crusade goal secret until the very end in order to deprive the Muslim opponent of the opportunity to plan an adequate defense and to have the advantage of the element of surprise on his side. Unusual this time, however, was the very early chosen time for the revelation as well as the place of the goal. For instead of attacking Egypt or Syria, i.e. the domain of the Mamelukes, the attack was to be launched against the Sultanate of Tunis in North Africa.

Tunis as a destination

Even contemporary historians were unclear about the reasons why Louis IX had chosen Tunis, of all places, as the destination of his second crusade. Even the crusade companion of Egypt and biographer of the king, Jean de Joinville, did not want to give any further details about the crusade to Tunis in his subsequently written Vita (Vie de Saint Louis), because he had not personally participated in it. Joinville had personal contacts to the veterans of Tunis, who could have given him information about the motives of the king in the thirty years until the writing of his work. Due to the lack of a surviving personal statement by the king, as well as more detailed testimonies of the crusade, historical research to this day can only speculate about the reasons for the attack on Tunis. The only thing that is widely agreed upon is that Tunis was only an intermediate stage on the way to Outremer.

It is possible that Louis IX was convinced that his military might could persuade the Muslim ruler of North Africa from the Hafsid dynasty, Muhammad I al-Mustansir, to convert to Christianity. The sultan had in fact previously made known his will to change his faith by means of a diplomatic legation both at the court of Charles of Anjou in Naples and before Louis IX himself in Paris. His good diplomatic and above all economic relations with Christian powers such as Aragon and finally also with Hohenstaufen Sicily seemed to give his declarations of intent a credible character. However, this was primarily a diplomatic confusion on the part of the sultan, who was in fact an enemy of Charles of Anjou because he offered supporters of the Hohenstaufen (Ghibellines) an exile at his court and had continued to sever his tributary relationship with Sicily since Anjou ruled there. In order to escape the constant threat from Anjou, Sultan Muhammad may therefore have suggested to the French king a concession open to Christianity in order to be able to unite him against his brother. For as long as Louis IX was alive, Charles of Anjou had aligned his actions as far as possible with his instructions, and his participation in the crusade was solely out of a sense of duty to his older brother, rather than out of genuine conviction. With a French king who was well-disposed towards him, Sultan Muhammad could feel relatively safe from the king of Sicily. However, the fact that Louis IX actually appeared before Tunis with a large army may be seen as a diplomatic miscalculation on the part of the sultan.

On the other hand, Charles of Anjou is also said in historical literature to have had the decisive influence on the “rerouting” of the crusade to Tunis. After he had destroyed the Hohenstaufen and taken over the rule of Sicily in 1268, he made possible for Louis IX completely new perspectives for the implementation of a crusade. Sicily, with its favorable geographical position, offered, along with Cyprus, an ideal starting point for an attack on the Muslims in the Levant. It is possible that Louis IX felt obliged to a debt of obligation to his younger brother, after the latter had committed himself to the crusade with his strong Sicilian fleet and even made his new kingdom available as a base of operations. A subjugation of the apostate vassal of Sicily, who was moreover a militarily weak infidel, would not have represented a particularly heavy burden for Louis IX on his way to the Holy Land.

In the meantime, historical research only excludes the thesis, already established in the Middle Ages, that Louis IX committed his attack on Tunis out of geographical ignorance, mistakenly assuming that this city was located in the immediate vicinity of Cairo and thus represented an ideal point of attack on the center of the Mameluke Sultanate.

Death of the king

On July 17, 1270, the Crusader fleet reached the coast of Africa just off Tunis. Sultan Muhammad immediately massed his forces in his capital, where he barricaded himself. That same day, Louis sent out a reconnaissance detachment under Admiral Florent de Varennes to explore the harbor entrance of Tunis. Contrary to his orders, the admiral landed on a spit of land in front of the harbor and took control of the harbor entrance in a surprise attack, thus gaining a favorable starting position for the final conquest of the city. To the incomprehension of his immediate entourage, however, Louis IX immediately ordered the admiral to vacate the position and return to the fleet. The following day, the entire army finally went ashore, unhindered by the enemy, on the same headland on which the admiral had landed the day before.

Instead of immediately besieging Tunis, which was only weakly defended, Louis IX moved with the army to nearby Carthage, which he captured after a short battle. Here he established the camp from which the attack on Tunis was to start. However, before the army could begin the siege, it was attacked by a dysentery epidemic (dysentery), which was apparently caused by drinking water that had gone bad. The entire military leadership was affected by the disease, the king himself as well as his sons and his brother Alfonso of Poitiers. Although those around him tried to keep it a secret, Louis IX learned of the death of his son John Tristan before he himself died on August 25, 1270. According to legend, his last words were, “We will enter Jerusalem.”

According to the tradition of the Muslim chronicler Al-Maqrīzī, during the days of the crusade the inhabitants of Tunis had taunted their opponents with mocking songs from the walls. In doing so, he quoted a verse he knew:

Abort and journey home

Charles of Anjou had reached the camp with his troops the same day and was at his brother’s deathbed. Although his nephew and now French King Philip III took nominal command of the army, Anjou drew on his stronger personal authority to take command. After most of the army had recovered from illness, he ordered the siege of Tunis to be taken up, but he approached it only half-heartedly. Anjou did not seem to have seriously considered conquering the city. After Sultan Muhammad signaled his willingness to negotiate, an agreement was reached on October 30, 1270, to seal a peace in writing. The sultan committed himself to granting free trade to Christians and the stay of Christian priests and monks in his kingdom, so that the crusade could be credited with partial success. For Charles of Anjou, the Sultan’s return to his tributary relationship with the Kingdom of Sicily may have been of greater importance. There was no conversion of the Sultan to the Christian faith, which neither Philip III nor Charles of Anjou had insisted upon. On November 10, Prince Edward arrived in Carthage with his English crusaders, and only one day later the crusade left the African continent.

The army wintered in the Kingdom of Sicily in 1271. The French were no longer interested in continuing the crusade and began the march home, Prince Edward of England, however, intended to continue his crusade to the Holy Land. The march of the French through Italy turned out to be a funeral procession of a very special kind. On the one hand, the bones of Louis IX, who was already preceded by sainthood during his lifetime, were greatly venerated by the Italian population, and it is said that the first miracles occurred in several places through which they were carried. On the other hand, other close members of the king’s family died during the procession as a late consequence of the plague outside Tunis. Among the dead to be mourned were the uncrowned Queen Isabella, the king’s brother Alfonso of Poitiers, his wife Joan of Toulouse, the king’s daughter Isabella and her husband, King Theobald II of Navarre. Philip III interrupted his journey home in March 1271 to attend the election of Pope Gregory X in Viterbo, together with Charles of Anjou.

After the French had crossed the Alps by passing Mont Cenis and entered Paris on May 21, 1271, Philip III organized his father’s funeral the very next day. It was not until August 15, 1271, a year after he took office, that he was able to be crowned king in Reims.

Prince Edward of England sailed on from Sicily in the spring of 1271 with a contingent of crusaders to Palestine to fight the Mamelukes. His company is usually listed as a separate enterprise from this point on. Edward’s crusade ended in April 1272 with the conclusion of a 10-year truce with as-Zahir Baibars.

The new Pope Gregory X convened the 2nd Council of Lyon in 1274 to organize a new crusade. However, despite the pledges of the kings of England, France and Sicily, he was unable to arouse sufficient enthusiasm or gain sufficient financial support, so that this crusade did not materialize.

During the peace period negotiated with Baibars, Charles of Anjou took advantage of a discord between Hugh III and the Templars and Venetians to unify the remnants of the Crusader states under his leadership and create a power base for himself. He bought from the Princess Mary of Antioch her claims to the Kingdom of Jerusalem and attacked Hugh, as the latter also claimed the title of King of Jerusalem. In 1277, Roger of San Severino conquered Acre, the capital of the kingdom, for Charles of Anjou. The allied Venetians moved him to direct a crusade against Constantinople, where Michael VIII had re-established the Byzantine Empire. In 1281 Pope Martin IV granted permission; the French took the land route via Durazzo (now Durrës in Albania), the Venetians the sea route. However, due to the Sicilian Vespers on March 31, 1282, Charles of Anjou was forced to abandon this project.

These were the last ventures against Byzantium or the Saracens in the Middle East. In 1291, the last Crusaders were expelled from the Holy Land.


  1. Siebter Kreuzzug
  2. Eighth Crusade
  3. ^ Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). “Conradin”. Encyclopædia Britannica. 6 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. pp. 968–969.
  4. Zu den bekannten Teilnehmern siehe auch: Kategorie:Kreuzfahrer (Siebter Kreuzzug)
  5. J. Le Goff: Ludwig der Heilige. I, § 4 – Guillaume de Saint-Pathus bestätigte diese Legende in seiner Vita
  6. Lokman war der Sekretär des ägyptischen Sultans, in dessen Haus in al-Mansura Ludwig IX. nach dem Scheitern des sechsten Kreuzzuges 1250 seine Gefangenschaft verbracht hatte. Sahil war der Eunuch, der ihn bewachte. Gemäß dem muslimischen Glauben prüfen die Engel Munkar und Nakir die Toten in ihren Gräbern auf ihre Glaubensfestigkeit.
  7. Grousset 1936, p. 576-604.
  8. a et b Richard 1983, p. 506-515.
  9. Grousset 1936, p. 618-638.
  10. a et b Anquetil 1822, p. 357.
  11. 2,0 2,1 2,2 2,3 Riley-Smith 2005.
  12. Riley-Smith 2005, σελ. 209.
  13. Riley-Smith 2005, σελ. 240.
  14. Riley-Smith 2005, σελ. 241.
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