On this date, 8 February, in the year 1250, three of my kin fought in the Battle of Al-Manṣūrah, a key battle of the Seventh Crusade. These ancestors were Louis IX of France (my two-times 24th great-grandfather), Robert I of Artois (my 24th great-grandfather), and William Longespée (my 23rd great-grandfather).
Louis IX of France
On 27 May 1234, Louis married Margaret of Provence. Together, they had eleven children:
- Blanche, born 1240, died in infancy
- Isabella, born 2 March 1241
- Louis, born circa 23 September 1243
- Philip III, born 1 May 1245 (my two-times 23rd great-grandfather, through his son Phillip IV and through his daughter Margaret)
- John, born circa 1246, died in infancy.
- John Tristan, born 8 April 1250 – 3 August 1270), married Yolande of Burgundy
- Peter I, born 1251
- Blanche, born early 1253
- Margaret, born early 1255
- Rober, born 1256
- Agnes, born 1260
Louis IX ruled France from 1226 until his death on 25 August 1270. His reign saw the annexation of several provinces, including Normandy, Maine and Provence. Louis IX was a reformer. He developed French royal justice in which the king is the supreme judge to whom anyone is able to appeal to seek the amendment of a judgment. He banned trials by ordeal and introduced the presumption of innocence in criminal procedure. To enforce the correct application of this new legal system, Louis IX created provosts and bailiffs.
Louis’s actions were inspired by Christian values and Catholic devotion. He decided to punish blasphemy, gambling, interest-bearing loans, and prostitution and bought presumed relics of Christ for which he built the Sainte-Chapelle. He also expanded the scope of the Inquisition and ordered the burning of Talmuds.
According to his vow made after a serious illness and confirmed after a miraculous cure, Louis IX took an active part in the Seventh and Eighth Crusade and died from dysentery while on the Eighth Crusade.
Robert of Artois
Robert I “The Good”, born on 25 September 1216, was the second eldest son of Louis VIII and Blanche of Castile and brother of Louis IX.
In accordance with his father’s will, Robert was named the first Count of Artois in 1237 at the age of 21.
On 14 June 1237, Robert married Matilda, daughter of Henry II of Brabant and Marie of Hohenstaufen. Together, they had two children: Blanche (my 22nd great-grandmother), who was born in 1248, and Robert, who was born in September 1250, several months after his father’s death.
William II married Idoine de Camville, daughter of Richard de Camville and Eustacia Basset. Together, they had four children: Ela, born 1220 (my 22nd great-grandmother); William III; Richard; and Edmund.
William II made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land in 1240 and in 1247. The second time, he proceeded to Rome and made a plea to Pope Innocent IV for support:
“Sir, you see that I am signed with the cross and am on my journey with the King of France to fight in this pilgrimage. My name is great and of note, viz., William Longespée, but my estate is slender, for the King of England, my kinsman and liege lord, hath bereft me of the title of earl and of that estate, but this he did judiciously, and not in displeasure, and by the impulse of his will; therefore I do not blame him for it. Howbeit, I am necessitated to have recourse to your holiness for favour, desiring your assistance in this distress. We see here (quoth he) that Earl Richard (of Cornwall) who, though he is not signed with the cross, yet, through the especial grace of your holiness, he hath got very much money from those who are signed, and therefore, I, who am signed and in want, do intreat the like favour.”
Having gained the Pope’s favor, William II organized a troop to join the Seventh Crusade. In 1248, in order to raise funds for his expedition, William II sold a charter of liberties to the burgesses of the town Poole in 1248 for 70 marks. While on Crusade, William II commanded the English forces and became known for his feats of chivalry.
Tradition says that on 7 February 1250, one day prior to William II’s death, his mother Ela, who was then the abbess of Lacock Abbey, had a vision of her son being received into heaven by angels as a martyr.
In 1252, two years after his death, William II’s remains were conveyed to Acre, Israel for burial at the Church of Saint Cross. In addition, his effigy was placed alongside family members at Salisbury Cathedral, England.
Battle of Al-Manṣūrah
By the mid-13th century, the Crusaders were convinced that Egypt, the heart of Islam’s forces and arsenal, was the primary obstacle to their recapturing Jerusalem, which they had lost for the second time in 1244. Consequently, in 1245, during the First Council of Lyon, Pope Innocent IV gave his full support to Louis IX de France to mount the Seventh Crusade.
In the fall of 1248, the troops of the Seventh Crusade, led by Louis IX’s brothers Charles d’Anjou and Robert d’Artois, sailed from Aigues-Mortes and Marseille to Cyprus, before heading to Egypt.
In 1249, they arrived at Egypt, and the troops disembarked at Damietta. Louis IX then sent a letter to As-Salih Ayyub, the ruler of Egypt.
The commander of the Ayyubid garrison in Damietta retreated, and the denizens of Damietta fled the town, leaving the bridge connecting the west bank of the Nile with Damietta intact. The Crusaders crossed over the bridge and occupied the deserted town.
With the fall of Damietta, troops from across Egypt descended on the area. For weeks, they staged guerrilla warfare against the Christian invaders, and many Crusaders were captured.
With the arrival of Alphonse de Poitiers, third brother of Louis IX, to Damietta, the Crusaders’ numbers were strengthened. The Crusaders began their march towards Cairo.
On 8 February 1250, the Crusaders arrived at the battle site near the canal of Ashmum; on the other side was the Muslim camp. The Crusaders, led by Robert d’Artois, crossed the canal with the Knights Templar. The English contingent, led by William Longespée, launched a surprise assault on the Egyptian camp in Gideila, two miles from Al-Manṣūrah, advancing toward the royal palace.
The Egyptian forces contained the attack and reorganized. The gate to the town was opened to let the Crusaders enter. The Crusaders rushed in, believing the town deserted, only to find themselves trapped. The Egyptian forces besieged the Crusaders from all directions, and the Christian army sustained heavy losses.
Both Robert d’Artois and William Longespée were killed, as were most of the Knights Templar. Only five Templars escaped, retreating to their camp. The name Al-Manṣūrah, Arabic for the victory, dates from this battle.
In the early morning of 11 February, the Muslim forces launched an attack against the Crusaders. On 27 February, the new sultan arrived to lead the Egyptian army. Ships were transported overland and dropped in the Nile behind the Crusader ships, blocking the reinforcement line from Damietta. The Egyptians used Greek fire, destroying and seizing many Crusader supply vessels. Consequently, the Crusaders soon began suffering from disease and famine.
Despite being overwhelmed and ultimately defeated, Louis IX tried to negotiate, offering the surrender of the Egyptian port of Damietta in exchange for Jerusalem and a few towns on the Syrian coast. The Egyptians rejected his offer. On 5 April, the Crusaders retreated to Damietta under cover of darkness, followed closely by the Muslim forces. On 6 April, the Battle of Fariskur, the last major battle of the Seventh Crusade, was fought. The Crusader forces were annihilated, and Louis IX was captured.
Louis IX’s brothers, Charles d’Anjou and Alphonse de Poitiers, were also taken prisoner. Louis IX was ransomed for 400,000 dinars. After pledging not to return to Egypt, Louis surrendered Damietta and left for Acre with his brothers and 12,000 war prisoners released by the Egyptians.
The Seventh Crusade’s defeat in 1250 marked a turning point in the Holy Wars. It was the last major crusade against Egypt, and the Crusaders never recaptured Jerusalem.