THE FIFTH CRUSADE 1217 - 1221  (H3)




xxxxxTo reduce support for the Muslims in the Holy Land and to cut off their grain supplies, the Fifth Crusade, led by the King of Hungary, attacked Egypt in 1217. It failed to take Cairo, however, and the expedition was abandoned. As we shall see, the next crusade in 1228 was to prove more successful.

xxxxxThe Fifth Crusade, beginning in 1217 and led by Andrew II, King of Hungary, was directed towards Egypt. It was argued that if Cairo could be captured and then control secured over the Sinai peninsula, the Muslims to the north would be cut off from the support and - equally important - the vital grain supplies that they received from Egypt. It was doubtless a sound strategy, but the Crusaders were too weak to put it into practice. They failed to take Cairo, and when promised reinforcements never showed up, they were forced to surrender Damietta (illustrated), captured earlier, and abandon the expedition. As we shall see, it was left to the next crusade, launched in 1228, to gain some measure of success for the Christian cause.


Map (Egypt): licensed under Creative Commons - Capturing Damietta: by Dutch painter Cornelis Claesz van Wieringen (1580-1633), c1625 – Frans Hals Museum, Haarlem, Netherlands.

xxxxxYou will recall that the First Crusade was called for in November 1095 (W2) and proved a resounding success. Deeply troubled by the advance of the Seljuk Turks in the Middle East and the loss of Syria and Palestine to the infidel, the Christian kingdoms of Western Europe amassed a large army and by July 1099 had recaptured the Holy City of Jerusalem and set up four Christian states in the area, the largest being the Kingdom of Jerusalem. This was the high-tide of Christian success and it was never to be reached again over the next 800 years and more.

xxxxxThe Second Crusade got off to a promising start in 1147 (ST), led by the French and German kings, but it ended in failure and humiliation. The German army was virtually annihilated on reaching Anatolia, and the French force, having suffered heavy loses on the way, failed to capture Damascus and decided to return home.

xxxxxBy the time of the Third Crusade in 1189 (R1), the Muslims had become united under the leadership of their able leader Saladin and were a force to be reckoned with. When Jerusalem fell to the Muslims in 1187 it was inevitable that the West would send a military expedition. On the face of it, this force was a powerful one, led by the kings of Germany, France and England. But what they had in strength they lacked in unity. The Germans went their own way and returned home when their king, Frederick Barbarossa, died in Anatolia. The French and English argued over strategy until Philip Augustus, more concerned with the defence of his own territories in Europe, took his army back to France. By negotiating a peace settlement with Saladin, Richard I did manage to retain a Latin Kingdom in a slither of land along the Palestinian coast, but Jerusalem remained firmly in the hands of the Muslims.

xxxxxThe Fourth Crusade was a crusade in name only. It started out with high hopes in 1202 (JO) but, becoming embroiled in Venetian politics, it ended up attacking and sacking Constantinople and replacing the Christian Byzantine Empire with a Latin Kingdom. This survived for less than sixty years and made no contribution to the cause of the Crusaders.

xxxxxIn 1209 (JO) a crusade was launched within Europe. Directed at the Albigensians (or Cathars), a religious sect in southern France which posed a threat to orthodox views, thousands of these heretics were killed and much damage was done to the local economy during a campaign which lasted for more than twenty years. Those who did survive eventually became victims of the Inquisition. And it was during this campaign that the tragic event known as the Children's Crusade 1212 (JO) took place.