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Battling the Saracens, 1250
Combat in the Seventh Crusade
The news reached France's King Louis IX as he lay on his sickbed in Paris during the summer of 1244: Jerusalem had again been conquered by the Infidel Muslims. Desperately ill and near death, the King vowed in a prayer that if he got well, he would mount a crusade to recapture the Holy City. The King regained his health, but four years lapsed before he honored his vow and launched what would become the Seventh Crusade. It was a debacle.
In August 1248, Louis and his army sailed with great fervor from France to the island of Cyprus. They spent the next few months there preparing for an assault on Egypt whose conquest would provide grain to feed the army and open the road to Jerusalem. The decisive battle was fought in February 1250 at the town of Al Mansurah in the Nile delta. Louis and his army were utterly defeated by the Muslims and forced to retreat. Louis was ultimately captured and held for ransom along with his brothers and many of the nobles who accompanied the campaign. With payment of the ransom, Louis was released. The king remained in the Middle East encamped at the Christian stronghold at Acre until troubles at home forced his return to France in 1254.
"I gave him a thrust with my lance just under the arm-pits and struck him dead."
Accompanying Louis IX on his crusade was Jean de Joinville, a councilor to the King, who kept a record of his adventures and later incorporated this into a biography he wrote of his sovereign. His experiences provide insight into warfare in the Middle Ages. We join de Joinville’s story as he attacks some Muslims during the early stage of the Battle of Al Mansurah:
. . . I and my knights had decided to go and attack some Turks who were loading their baggage in their camp on our left; so we fell on them. As we were pursuing them through the camp I caught sight of a Saracen on the point of mounting his horse; one of his knights was holding the bridle. At the moment he had both his hands on the saddle to pull himself up, I gave him a thrust with my lance just under the arm-pits and struck him dead. On seeing this, his knight left his lord and the horse, and thrusting his lance at me as I passed, caught me between the shoulders, pinning me down to the neck of my horse in such a way that I could not draw the sword at my belt. I therefore had to draw the sword attached to my horse. When he saw me with my sword drawn he withdrew his lance and left me.
When I and my knights came out of the Saracens' camp we found what we reckoned to be about six thousand Turks, who had left their tents and retreated into the fields. As soon as they saw us they came charging towards us, and killed Hugues de TricMtel, Lord of Conflans, who was with me bearing a banner. I and my knights spurred on our horses and went to the rescue of Raoul de Wanou, another of my company, whom they had struck to the ground.
As I was coming back, the Turks thrust at me with their lances. Under the weight of their attack my horse was brought to its knees, and I went flying forward over its ears. I got up as soon as ever I could, with my shield at my neck and sword in hand. One of my knights, named Erard de Siverey - may God grant him grace! - came to me and advised our drawing back towards a ruined house where we could wait for the king, who was on his way. As we were going there, some on foot and some on horseback, a great body of Turks came rushing at us, bearing me to the ground and riding over my body, so that my shield went flying from my neck.
As soon as they had passed, Erard de Siverey came back to me and took me with him to the walls of the tumble-down house. Here we were joined by Hugues d'Ecot, Frederic de Loupey, and Renaud de Menoncourt. While we were there the Turks attacked us from all sides. Some of them got into the house and pricked us with their lances from above. My knights asked me to hold on to their horses' bridles, which I did, for fear the beasts should run away. Then they put up a vigorous defence against the Turks, for which, I may say, they were afterwards highly praised by all men of good standing in the army, both those who witnessed their bravery and those who heard of it later.
During this incident, Hugues d'Ecot received three wounds in the face from a lance, and so did Raoul de Wanou, while Frederic de Loupey had a lance-thrust between his shoulders, which made so large a wound that the blood poured from his body as if from the bung-hole of a barrel. A blow from one of the enemy's swords landed in the middle of Erard de Siverey's face, cutting through his nose so that it was left dangling over his lips. At that moment the thought of Saint James came into my mind, and I prayed to him: 'Good Saint James, come to my help, and save us in our great need.'
Just as I had uttered this prayer Erard de Siverey said to me: 'My lord, if you think that neither I nor my heirs will incur reproach for it, I will go and fetch you help from the Comte d'Anjou, whom I see in the fields over there.' I said to him: 'My dear man, it seems to me you would win great honor for yourself if you went for help to save our lives; your own, by the way, is also in great danger.' (I spoke truly, for he died of his wound.) He consulted the other knights who were there, and they all gave him the same advice as I had given him. After hearing what they said, he asked me to let go his horse, which I was holding by the bridle; so I let him take it.
He went over to the Comte d' Anjou and begged him to come to the rescue of me and my people. A person of some importance who was with the count tried to dissuade him, but he said he would do as my knight had asked. So he turned his horse's head to come to our help, and a number of his sergeants set spurs to their horses as well. As soon as the Saracens saw them coming, they turned to leave us. Pierre d' Auberive, who was riding in front of the sergeants with his sword clenched in his fist, saw them leaving and charged right into the midst of the Saracens who were holding Raoul de Wanou, and rescued him, sorely wounded
As I stood there on foot with my knights, wounded as I have told you, King Louis came up at the head of his battalions, with a great sound of shouting, trumpets, and kettledrums. He halted with his troops on a raised causeway. Never have I seen a finer or more handsome knight! He seemed to tower head and shoulders above all his people; on his head was a gilded helmet, and a sword of German steel was in his hand.
The moment he stopped, those good knights in his division whom I have already named to you, together with other valiant knights of his, flung themselves right at the Turks. It was, I can assure you, a truly noble passage of arms, for no one there drew either bow or crossbow; it was a battle of maces against swords between the Turks and our people, with both sides inextricably entangled."
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