The Capture of Jerusalem, 1244
[TR] The Christians had again prepared their own ruin by a
mistaken policy toward Egypt. The grand master of the Hospitalers
her gives the most graphic picture of the final capture of Jerusalem.
THE MASTER OF THE HOSPITALERS AT JERUSALEM: TO LORD
DE MELAYE, 1244.
To the most potent lord, M. de Melaye, brother G. of Newcastle,
by the grace of God, humble master of the holy house at Jerusalem,
and guardian of the poor followers of Christgreeting.
From the information contained in our letters, which we have sent
to you on each passage, you can plainly enough see how ill the
business of the Holy Land has proceeded, on account of the opposition
which for a long time existed, at the time of making the truce,
respecting the espousing the cause of the Damascenes against the
sultan of Babylon; and now wishing your excellency to be informed
of other events since transpired, we have thought it worth our
while to inform you that, about the beginning of the summer last
past, the sultan of Damascus, and Seisser, sultan of Cracy, who
were formerly enemies, made peace and entered into a treaty with
the Christians, on the following conditions; namely, that they
should restore to the Christians the whole of the kingdom of Jerusalem,
and the territory which had been in the possession of. the Christians,
near the river Jordan, besides some villages which they retained
possession of in the mountains, and that the Christians were faithfully
to give them all the assistance in their power in attacking the
sultan of Babylon.
The terms of this treaty having been agreed to by both parties
the Christians began to take up their abode in the Holy City,
whilst their army remained at Gazara, in company with that of
the aforesaid sultan's, to harass the sultan of Babylon. After
they had been some time engaged in that undertaking, patriarch
of Jerusalem landed from the transmarine provinces and, after
taking some slight bodily rest, he was inspired with a longing
to visit the sepulchre of our Lord, and set out on that pilgrimage,
on which we also accompanied him. After our vow of pilgrimage
was fulfilled, we heard in the Holy City that a countless multitude
of that barbarous and perverse race, called Choermians, had, at
the summons and order of the sultan of Babylon, occupied the whole
surface of the country in the furthest part of our territories
adjoining Jerusalem, and had put every living soul to death by
fire and sword.
A council was on this held by the Christians living at Jerusalem,
and, as they had not the power to resist these people, it was
prudently arranged that all the inhabitants of the Holy City of
both sexes and of every age, should proceed, under escort of a
battalion of our knights, to Joppa, as a place of safety and refuge.
On that same night, after finishing our deliberations, we led
the people cautiously out of the city, and had proceeded confidently
half the distance, when, owing to the intervention of our old
and wily enemy, the devil, a most destructive obstacle presented
itself to us; for the aforesaid people raised on the walls of
the city some standards, which they found left behind by the fugitives,
in order by these means to recall the unwary, by giving them to
believe that the Christians who had remained had defeated their
adversaries. Some of our fellow Christians hurried after us to
recall us, comforting us with pleased countenance, and declaring
that standards of the Christians, which they well knew, were raised
on the wall of Jerusalem, in token that they bad defeated the
enemy; and they, having been thus deceived, deceived us also.
We, therefore, in our exultation, returned confidently into the
Holy City, thinking to dwell there safely, and many from feelings
of devotion, and others in hope of obtaining and retaining possession
of their inheritances, rashly and incautiously returned, either
into the city itself or into the suburbs; we, however, endeavored
to dissuade them from this altogether, fearing treachery from
these perfidious people, and so went away from them. Not long
after our departure, these perfidious Choermians came in great
force and surrounded the Christians in the Holy City, making violent
assaults on them daily, cutting off all means of ingress and egress
to and from the city, and harassing them in various ways, so that,
owing to these attacks, hunger and grief, they fell into despair,
and all by common consent exposed themselves to the chances and
risk of death by the hands of the enemy. They therefore left the
city by night, and wandered about in the trackless and desert
parts of the mountains till they at length came to a narrow pass,
and there they fell into an ambuscade of the enemy, who, surrounding
them on all sides, attacked them with swords, arrows, stones and
other weapons, slew and cut to pieces, according to a correct
computation, about seven thousand men and women, and caused such
a massacre that the blood of those of the faith, with sorrow I
say it, ran down the sides of the mountain like water. Young men
and virgins they hurried off with them into captivity, and retired
into the Holy City, where they cut the throats, as of sheep doomed
to the slaughter, of the nuns, and aged and infirm men, who, unable
to endure the toils of the journey and fight, had fled to the
church of the Holy Sepulchre and to Calvary, a place consecrated
by the blood of our Lord, thus perpetrating in His holy sanctuary
such a crime as the eyes of men had never seen since the commencement
of the world.
At length, as the intolerable atrocity of this great crime aroused
the devotion of all the Christians to avenge the insult offered
to their Creator, it was, by the common consent of all, agreed
that we should all, after asking assistance from heaven, arrange
ourselves in order, and give battle to these treacherous people.
We accordingly attacked them, and fought without resting from
early in the morning till the close of the day, when darkness
prevented us from distinguishing our own people from our eriemies;
immense numbers fell on our side; but four times as many of our
adversaries were slain, as was found out after the battle. On
the following (St. Luke the Evangelist's) day, the Knights Templars
and Hospitalers, having recovered breath, and invoked assistance
from above, together with all the other religious men devoted
to this war, and their forces, and the whole army of the Christians,
it' the Holy Land, assembled by proclamation under the patriarch,
and engaged in a most bloody conflict with the aforesaid Choermians
and five thousand Saracen knights, who had recently fought under
the sultan of Babylon, and who now joined these Choermians; a
fierce attack was made on both sides, as we could not avoid them,
for there was a powerful and numerous army on both sides of us.
At length, however, we were unable to stand against such a multitude,
for fresh and uninjured troops of the enemy continued to come
upon us, as they were ten times as numerous as we, and we wearied
and wounded, and still feeling the effects of the recent battle;
so we were compelled to give way, abandoning to them the field,
with a bloody and dearly bought victory; for great numbers more
fell on their side t on ours.
And we were so assisted by Him who is the Saviour of souls, that
not a hundred escaped by flight, but, as long as we were able
to stand, we mutually exhorted and comforted one another in Christ,
and fought so unweariedly and bravely, to the astonishment of
our enemies, till we were at length taken prisoners (which, however,
we much tried to avoid) or fell slain. Hence the enemy afterwards
said in admiration to their prisoners: "You voluntarily threw
yourselves in the way of death; why was this?" To which the
prisoners replied: "We would rather die in battle, and with
the death of our bodies obtain glorification for our souls than
basely give way and take to flight: such people, indeed, are greatly
to be feared."
In the said battle, then, the power of the was Christians crushed,
and the number of slain in both armies was incomputable. The masters
of the Templars and Hospitalers were slain as also the masters
of other orders, with their brethren and followers. Walter, count
of Brienne, and the lord Philip de Montfort, and those who fought
under the patriarch, were cut to pieces; of the Templars only
eighteen escaped, and sixteen of the Hospitalers, who were afterwards
sorry that they had saved themselves. Farewell.
Translation taken from Matthew Paris' Bohn Edition, Vol. 1, pp.
497 ff. Original text in Rolls Series, M. Paris, Chron.
maj. Vol. IV, pp. 307 ff. Latin. Trans, repr. in Dana C. Munro,
"Letters of the Crusaders", Translations and Reprints
from the Original Sources of European History, Vol 1:4, (Philadelphia:
University of Pennsylvania, 1896), 31-34
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© Paul Halsall December 1997