Story of the Crusades - E. M. Wilmot-Buxton

The Story of Dandolo the Blind Doge; or, the Fourth and Fifth Crusades

Oh for one hour of blind old Dandolo!

Th'octoyenarian chief, Byzantium's conquering foe.

BYRON: Childe Harold.

Richard the Lion-Heart had returned to England in 1194. The next three years of the dying century saw an attempt at an expedition sometimes known as the Fourth, more often as the "German " Crusade.

Its story contains little of interest. Saladin had died before the release of Richard, and his brother Saphadim reigned in his stead, when Henry, Emperor of Germany, hoping to win the favour of his disapproving subjects, sent an expedition to the Holy Land.

The Christian lords who yet held rule in Palestine had found things run so smoothly under the hand of the Sultan during the long truce, that they were in no hurry to break the peace. But the Germans did not mean to wait for their assistance, and while they were marshalling their forces, Saphadim drew first blood by a sudden and successful attack upon Joppa, once so ably held and fortified by Richard.

The German Crusaders retaliated by a victory or rather a series of victories, which restored to them Joppa and many other coast towns, and augured well for the future. All this, however, was undone by their own cruelty and thirst for blood.

On their triumphant march to Jerusalem they were besieging a certain castle, and had succeeded in tunnelling passages through the rock upon which it stood. Hopeless of escape, the Moslem garrison offered to surrender on condition that they were allowed a safe passage into their own territory. To this the Crusaders agreed, but a certain number of them were loud in their disapproval, and began to threaten the Saracens to such an extent that the latter lost faith in the promises that had been given. Declaring that they would die rather than submit, they lined the newly-cut rock-passages and prepared to sell their lives dearly.

The Crusaders, furious at their defiant message, dashed into the dark tunnels, only to fall by thousands at the hands of their unseen and desperate foes. Nightfall saw them repulsed and utterly dismayed at the unexpected resistance; discipline was gone, none knew what to do next. Then followed a disgraceful breach of honour. Their leaders stole away under cover of the darkness, and the German soldiers found themselves left at the mercy of the foe.

Fortunately for them, the Saracens were too exhausted to pursue their advantage, and the Germans, leaving their baggage and even their weapons behind them, fled in disorder to Tyre.

The news of the death of their Emperor recalled most of these faint-hearted Soldiers of the Cross to Germany.

The remainder made one last endeavour to fortify Joppa and entrench themselves within it; but, in the November of 1197, the city fell before a furious attack of the Saracens, and the greater part of the inhabitants were slaughtered.

This was the sad and disgraceful end of the Fourth Crusade, which left the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem a kingdom only in name.

The Fifth Crusade is remarkable for the fact that it began in an outburst of keen religious enthusiasm, and ended in a riot of cruelty, bloodshed and profanity, without ever reaching the Holy Land at all.

Two very different men were responsible for stirring up this Crusade in Europe. Innocent the Third, one of the youngest, most energetic and most ambitious of popes, thought to find in it an opportunity of increasing his "temporal" as well as spiritual power. It had long been the custom for princes, going forth on perilous adventure, to leave their lands in charge of the Holy Father; and even if this were not always done, the Crusades gave many a chance of interfering with the affairs of kingdoms and dukedoms whose people were engaged in the great religious war.

Apart from this, the young Pope was, like all enthusiasts in religion, deeply affected by the idea of the unhappy state of the Holy Land, and sincerely desired to stir the hearts of the princes of Europe to do their part towards restoring it to Christendom. But the princes of Europe had had enough of Crusades and they turned a deaf eai to the call. It needed another Peter the Hermit, or at least another St Bernard to stir the hearts of rich and poor to march forth once more upon a quest that had cost them already so dear.

Then the right man appeared upon the scene. A certain French priest, Fulk by name, in atonement for a life of carelessness and sin, began to preach the duty of taking up the Cross in the Holy War. A mere village curd, he was content at first to teach and speak only in his own neighbourhood, but his reputation increased, he became noted as a worker of miracles, and rumours about him ere long reached the ears of the Pope. Innocent III. quickly saw in him the instrument he needed. Throughout the streets and slums of Paris, in castle and in cottage, Fulk was encouraged to make his way, calling upon men to repent of their sins and to atone for them by taking up arrns for the Cause of Christ.

As usual, "the common people heard him gladly," while for a time the nobles ignored him.

Then it came to pass that young Count Theobald of Champagne held a great tournament, at which assembled two thousand knights. Into the midst of that gay throng appeared on a sudden the inspired face of Fulk the priest, dressed in his threadbare cassock. His burning words carried conviction to the hearts of the knights, and Theobald himself was the first to take up the Cross. Others followed-amongst them Simon de Montfort, father of the famous "good Earl Simon" of English history-and finally nearly all that great band of knights were enlisted as Crusaders.

Everywhere the same result was seen. Great sums of money were raised for the enterprise. Louis, Count of Blois, and Baldwin, Count of Flanders, joined the band of leaders, and while preparations went on apace in France, Baldwin mindful of the chief reason for past failures, sent a message to Dandolo, the blind Doge of Venice, asking him to supply flat-bottomed boats in which for a certain sum of money, the Crusading armies might be transported to the Holy Land.

One of those sent upon this mission was Geoffrey de Villehardouin, Marshal of Champagne, who tells the story of this, the Fifth Crusade, so vividly.

"The Doge of Venice," says he, "whose name was Henry Dandolo, and who was very wise and very valiant, did them (the envoys) great honour, and entertained them right willingly, marvelling, however, what might be the matter that had brought them to that country. The envoys entered the palace, which was passing rich and beautiful, and found the Doge and his council in a chamber.

"There they delivered their message after this manner. 'Sire, we come to thee on the part of the high barons of France who have taken the Sign of the Cross to avenge the shame done to Jesus Christ and to reconquer Jerusalem, if so be that God will suffer it. And because they know that no people have such great power to help them as you and your people, therefore we pray you by God that you take pity on the land oversea, and the shame of Christ, and use diligence that our lords have ships for transport and battle.'

"'And after what manner should we use diligence?' said the Doge.

"'After all manner that you may advise and propose,' rejoined the envoys, 'in so far as what you propose may be within our means.'

"'Certes,' said the Doge, 'it is a great thing that your lords require of us, and well it seems that they have in view a high enterprise. We will give you our answer eight days from to-day, for it is meet so great a matter be fully pondered.'"

So eight days later, when the covenant had been proposed and accepted by the council and the envoys, a "mass of the Holy Ghost was celebrated in the chapel of St Mark, 'the most beautiful chapel that there is.' To this gathered 'well ten thousand of the people,' and immediately afterwards the French envoys were bidden 'to humbly ask them to assent to the proposed covenant.'

"Villehardouin himself was spokesman before that multitude, and said unto them. 'Lords, the barons of France, most high and puissant, have sent us to you, and they cry to you for mercy, that you have pity on Jerusalem, which is in bondage to the Turks, and that for God's sake, you help to avenge the shame of Christ Jesus.

"And for this end they have elected to come to you, because they know full well that there is none other people having so great power on the seas as you and your people. And they commanded us to fall at your feet, and not to rise till you consent to take pity on the Holy Land which is beyond the seas.'

"Then the six envoys knelt at the feet of the people, weeping many tears. And the Doge and all the others burst into tears of pity and compassion, and cried with one voice, and lifted up their hands, saying: `We consent! We consent!'

"Then was there so great a noise and tumult that it seemed as if the earth itself were falling to pieces.

"And when this great tumult and passion of pity— greater did never any man see—were appeased, the Good Doge of Venice, who was very wise and valiant, went up into the reading-desk, and spoke to the people, and said to them

"'Signors, behold the honour that God has done you, for the best people in the world have set aside all other people, and chosen you to join them in so high an enterprise as the deliverance of our Lord."'

Thus comes on the stage upon which was played the story of the Fifth Crusade, that curious and interesting figure, the blind old Doge, Henry Dandolo, who, for all intents and purposes, may be regarded as the leader of that expedition, so completely did he sway its designs by his counsel and action.

Years before, or so the story goes, he had been sent on an embassy to Constantinople, and there had been seized and treacherously ill-used so that he became practically blind. Whether this is true or not, the fact remains that Dandolo hated the Greeks with a bitter hatred, and was ready to use any means towards their hurt or downfall.

So the treaty was made, and the Crusaders promised to pay the whole expenses of the expedition, a sum amounting to eighty-five thousand pieces of silver, on condition that they were provided food and transport. And to show their goodwill, the Venetians added fifty armed galleys to the fleet, "for the love of God."

Then the envoys returned rejoicing, only to meet with one piece of ill luck after another.

On his journey to Champagne, Geoffrey de Villehardouin met a large company of men, amongst whom were several important barons who had taken the Cross, and who were now following Walter of Brienne on an expedition to conquer the land of his wife, the daughter of King Tancred of Sicily.

"Now when he told them the news how the envoys had fared, great was their joy, and much did they prize the arrangements made. And they said, We are already on our way; and when you come, you will find us ready.'"

"But," comments Geoffrey somewhat wearily, for this was but the first of many wasteful and irregular expeditions, "events fall out as God wills, and never had they power to join the host. This was much to our loss, for they were of great prowess and valiant." And then they parted and each went on his way.

The next blow hit Geoffrey very hard. He rode day by day so that he came at length, he says, to Troyes, in Champagne, and found his lord, Count Theobald, sick and languishing, and right glad was the Count at his coming. And when he had told him how he fared, Theobald was so rejoiced that he said he would mount his horse, a thing he had not done for a long time. So he rose from his bed and rode forth. "But alas : how great the pity! For never again did he bestride horse but that once."

Growing worse and worse, the Count began to realise that his part in the Crusade was over. So he divided the money which would have taken him on pilgrimage among his followers and companions, giving orders that each one, on receiving it, should swear "on holy relics, to join the host at Venice."

"Many there were," says Geoffrey, "who kept that oath badly and so incurred great blame."

So the Count Theobald died and was buried, and the Crusaders looked about them for another chief. First they went to Odo, Duke of Burgundy, his cousin, and offered him their faith and loyalty. "But such was his pleasure that he refused. And be it known to you that he might have done much better," is the terse comment of Geoffrey.

Finally, Boniface, Marquis of Montferrat, one of the foremost nobles in that land, a patron of poets and troubadours and a skilled soldier, received the "lordship of the host."

"Whereupon the Bishop of Soissons, and Master Fulk, that holy man, and two white monks whom the Marquis had brought with him from his own land, led him into the church of Notre Dame at Soissons, and attached the Cross to his shoulder."

The death of Theobald was not the last blow that fate had in store for the Crusaders, says Geoffrey. "Thus did the pilgrims make ready in all lands. Alas! A great mischance befell them in the following Lent, before they had started, for another notable chief, Count Geoffrey of Perche, fell sick, and made his will in such fashion that he directed that Stephen, his brother, should have his goods and lead his men in the host. Of this exchange the pilgrims would willingly have been quit, had God so ordered. Thus did the Count make an end and die; and much evil ensued, for he was a baron high and honoured, and a good knight. Greatly was he mourned throughout all lands."

It was soon after the Easter of 1202 that the French Crusaders began their march. Fulk himself, the originator of the movement, did not accompany them, remaining behind, possibly to stir up fresh enthusiasm and supplies of money if not of men. But he was not destined to see with his bodily eyes the failure of the expedition, for he died of fever at Neuilly, while the pilgrims were still at Venice.

The French army marched by way of the Jura Mountains and through Lombardy, where they were joined by the Marquis of Montferrat with his troops of Lombards, Piedmontese and Savoyards, and by a small band of Germans.

At the same time a fleet had started from Flanders, the leaders of which had promised Count Baldwin to join the Crusaders at Venice.

"But ill did these keep the faith they had sworn to the Count, they and others like them, because they, and such others of the same sort, became fearful of the great perils that the host of Venice had undertaken."

Many of the French leaders, too, failed the main body of the Crusaders in the same way; for they avoided the passage to Venice because of the danger, and went instead to Marseilles, "whereof," says Geoffrey, "they received shame and much were they blamed-and great were the mishaps that afterwards befell them."

Meantime, the French army, under the Marquis of Montferrat, had arrived safely at Venice, and was rejoiced to see the fair array of ships and transports waiting to convey it to the Holy Land.

But now an unexpected difficulty arose; for, of all that great number of barons who had sworn to bring their men to Venice, only a very few had arrived; and then came the disconcerting news that many of these pilgrims were travelling by other ways and from other ports.

Consternation ensued among the barons, for the Venetians were naturally determined that the money stipulated for the transports should be paid at once, and this could only be done if all the barons bore their share, as they had agreed to do.

So envoys, amongst whom was again found Geoffrey de Villehardouin, were sent to intercept the various leaders of armies, and "to beseech them to have pity on the Holy Land beyond the sea, and show them that no other passages save that from Venice could be of profit."

These envoys met with only partial success. Count Louis of Blois agreed to accompany them, but many others chose to go their own way. "And then," says Geoffrey, "was the host of those who went by Venice greatly weakened, and much evil befell them therefrom, as you shall shortly hear."

The Venetians had done their part well. They "held a market " for the Crusaders, "rich and abundant, of all things needful for horses and men. And the fleet they had got ready was so goodly and fine that never did Christian man see one goodlier or finer; both galleys and transports; and sufficient for at least three times as many men as were in the host."

The first difficulty arose, naturally, over the matter of payment. Each man had done what he could, but the total sum came to less than half of that which was due.

Earnestly did the barons urge the need of making further payment in fulfilment of their promise. "For God's sake," said they, "let each contribute all that he has, so that we may fulfil our covenant; for better it is that we should lose all that we have than lose what we have already paid and prove false to our promises; for if this host remains here, the rescue of the land oversea comes to naught."

But the other barons and the lesser folk said, "We have paid for our passages, and if they will take us, we shall go willingly, but if not, we shall inquire and look for other means of passage."

"They spoke thus," says Geoffrey, "because they wished that the host should fall to pieces and each return to his own land."

But the finer spirits preferred to face ruin, as far as worldly prospects went, and to go penniless with the host, rather than that the expedition should fail. "For God," said they, "will doubtless repay us when it so pleases Him."

So they began to give and to borrow all that they could. "Then might you have seen many a fine vessel of silver and gold borne in payment to the palace of the Doge." But still a large part of the sum required was lacking.

Then the Doge, seeing their plight, made a proposal to them. To his own citizens he said, "Signors, these people cannot pay more, and in so far as they have paid at all, we have benefited by an agreement that they cannot now fulfil. But our right to keep this money would not everywhere be acknowledged, and if we so kept it, we should be greatly blamed, both us and our land. Let us therefore offer them terms.

"'The King of Hungary has taken from us Zara, in Sclavonia, which is one of the strongest places in the world; and never shall we recover it with all the power that we possess, save with the help of these people. Let us therefore ask them to help us to reconquer it, and we will remit the payment of the rest of the debt, until such time as it shall please God to allow us to gain the moneys by conquest, we and they together.'

"And to this the Venetians and the Crusading host agreed." A striking and pathetic scene followed.

On a very high festival the church of St Mark was thronged with citizens, barons and pilgrims. Before High Mass began, the blind and aged Doge, Henry Dandolo, was led up to the reading-desk, from whence he spoke thus to his people.

"'Signors, you are associated with the most worthy people in the world, and for the highest enterprise ever undertaken; and I am a man, old and feeble, who should have need of rest, and I am sick in body; but I see that no one could command and lead you like myself, who am your lord.

"If you will consent that I take the Sign of the Cross to guard and direct you, and that my son remain in my place to guard the land, then shall I go to live or die with you and with the pilgrims.'

"And when they heard him, they cried with one voice, 'We pray you by God that you consent and do it, and that you come with us!'"

"He was of a great heart," says Geoffrey, comparing him bitterly with those who had gone to other ports to escape danger.

"Then he came down from the reading-desk, and went before the altar, and knelt upon his knees, greatly weeping. And they sewed the cross on to a great cotton hat which he wore, and in front because he wished that all men should see it."

His example sent many of the Venetians to follow in his steps, and at the same time preparations were hurried on for the departure, for September was now nigh at hand.

Just before they started, messengers appeared in their midst with an appeal that was destined to change the whole aim of the Fifth Crusade.

"At that time," says Geoffrey in his terse way, "there was an emperor in Constantinople whose name was Isaac, and he had a brother, Alexios by name, whom he had ransomed from captivity among the Turks. This Alexios 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 his son Alexios. 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 married his sister, and so 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.

"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 oversea. 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.'

"So the young Alexios said he would do this right willingly, and that the advice was good."

Then he sent envoys to the Marquis of Montferrat, chief of the host, and the barons agreed that if he would help them to recover the land oversea, they would help him to recover the land so wrongfully wrested from him and his father. They sent also an envoy with the prince to King Philip of Germany; and in consequence, a goodly number of German soldiers joined the host at Venice and prepared to aid them in their enterprise.

And then, after long delay, the Crusading army set out from the port of Venice in the month of October, 1202.

[Illustration] from The Story of the Crusades by E. M. Wilmot-Buxton