Thursday, 19 March 2015

cowboys and indians: the fourth crusade or the tale of the two sicilies

The Latin Church, going into another apoplectic shock over the failure of the Third Crusade, with the failure to retake Jerusalem back from the forces of Saladin and what was seen as an unacceptable appeasement—bordering on tolerance—of the Muslims wherein the Crusaders only barely managed to cling to the coastline with the cities of Jaffa, Acre, Tripoli and Antioch, decided to once and for all settle matters by again taking the reins, as happened in the First Crusade, a century beforehand. Pope Innocent III dispatched legates and recruiters to all corners of Christendom, determined to carefully control the quality of holy warriors, skilled and pious knights only with no more of those roadies that the Pontiff blamed for past fiascoes or avarice souls only coming along for material gain. Owing to the untimely death of Richard Lionheart by a stray arrow that led to his little brother John taking the throne, whose sympathetic dealings with the French nobility and general lack of restraint incited a revolt among his own barons and a crisis of succession and civil war that ended with John persuaded to check his own power with by signing the Magna Carta in the field of Runnymede. All these events took far longer to play-out that the two year campaign of the Fourth Crusade to come, so enlistment efforts in England were fruitless. So too were they in neighbouring France, with Louis II unwilling to budge or part with his armies until this matter was resolved.
Even though relations with the Holy Roman Empire under the ambitions of Hohenstaufen Emperor Henry VI was strained, Germany was more responsive to the entreaties of the Pope. Henry VI was hoping to undo the embarrassment of the dissolution of the German contribution to the Third Crusade after order fell asunder when his father, Barbarossa, unceremoniously drowned en route, but this putting on a brave face also carried ulterior-motives. Henry was also a match-maker, tutored in building strategic alliances through matrimony by veteran Eleanor of Aquitaine, and secured loyalties at home before incorporating more and more lands into the empire.
Henry conquered the important naval power of Sicily and had many of the Papal States as well as the buffer kingdoms of Armenia and Cyprus in his corner, and hoped to established an universal empire that stretched throughout Europe and across the Mediterranean to rival Byzantium, if not entice it to merge into a single super-power. Perhaps Henry would have succeeded too and the world would be very different, had he not, like his father, died of malaria in transit. Like with the earlier, disastrous German campaign (whose only legacy was the creation of the imitative Order of the Teutonic Knights to protect the pilgrims who did not retreat), the Crusade careered off course shortly afterward, despite Pope Innocent’s efforts to wrest back control. The Church’s original plan would have the armies of Europe travel to Egypt by ship and launch a conquest on Jerusalem. Fatefully, Henry’s own Sicily was at war with Genoa and Pisa, leaving Venice as the only sea-going city state from which to depart—although some of the English and French volunteers left from Flanders and Marseilles.
Venice had been scheming against Byzantium from sometime and despite having been expelled from the capital of Constantinople along with the other Latin Christian population (depriving the merchants of lucrative trade opportunities) recently found themselves charged with naval protection of the empire’s flank along the Adriatic—the admiralty having dissolved and sold the Byzantine fleet for personal gain. It was this and other lapses of leadership that had caused the people of Byzantium to revolt against the Emperor Isaac II Angelos, who was forced to abdicate and blinded in a palace-coup, and surrender the throne to his brother, Alexios III. The defeated man began plotting against his brother and conspired with the Venetians, persuading them it was time to attack Byzantium and restore him to power. Conveniently, the Crusader armies were on their way, and a detour to Constantinople surely would be tolerated. The Germans acquiesced to the stop over, though presciently Pope Innocent admonished the Crusaders that they were entering fellow-Christian lands as visitors and on the pain of excommunication, forbid any one damaging or pilfering Byzantine property. This command was not well circulated and mostly ignored and the armies, beginning a series of atrocities that goes very nearly unmatched in recorded history, first sacked Zadar and Trieste on the Dalmatian coast, despite the cities both confessing the Roman Catholic rite. And spurred on by this conquest and the allure of even greater booty, the Crusader army put the ancient and wealthy city of Constantinople under siege and proceeded with raids once the port was taking, looting immeasurable wealth, defiling churches, taking holy relics as war-trophies, destroying libraries and other storehouses of knowledge and burning a fifth of the city.
The deposed, blind emperor was restored—as were the free-trade zones and consulates of the thalasso- cracies, but the city and the empire would never recover. Jesus wept.  The Great Schism occurred, the Eastern Orthodox Church splitting with the Latin Church over irreconcilable differences and disgust that been sorely sustained for centuries afterwards. The attack and following civil-unrest, the Greeks not at all pleased with being ruled by a puppet-emperor of Western Europe severely crippled their ability to defend themselves from Ottoman invaders and eventually Byzantium fell, with Turkish territory spanning at its apogee from the Red Sea and Persian Gulf to the suburbs of Vienna, from Baku to Algeria. Only a fraction of the Crusaders reached the Holy Land, those embarking from France and Belgium, and only helped maintain the status quo in the diminished Crusader holdings. Overcome with grief and guilt for the destruction that resulted from the venture, the Latin Church would never again sanction a crusade to the Holy Land—those to follow are the doing of secular powers, but did, after the fall of Byzantium, launch expeditions to beat back the Ottomans and restore the Eastern Empire.