One crusading disaster after another

Seventh Crusade
Seventh Crusade

Meanwhile Louis was having a worse time of it overseas. He had carefully prepared for his crusade, amassing a huge war chest and nearly two thousand ships to ferry an army to Egypt. He had decided to subdue Cairo first, where the real power in the region was wielded, before marching gloriously into Jerusalem. His march down the Nile River Valley was sheer agony for his men as disease, hunger and harassment took their toll. The Saracens pressed home their advantage and destroyed his army at Fariskur. Louis was captured and ransomed for half a million pounds, which took a whole two days to weigh out. Ashamed to go back, Louis spent the next four years in Palestine, most of that time as a pawn for the warring Muslim factions. Not that he could help either side much. Of the 2,800 knights who accompanied him to Egypt, less than 100 left with him. The disaster rocked France, where his mother Blanche of Castile had to contend with another crusade. A mad monk from Hungary known as “the Master” declared that the Virgin Mary had given him instructions, balled up in his fist, that called for him to lead an army to Palestine to free the king. Flocks of shepherds heeded the call, joined by riffraff of all sorts. At first Blanche thought they might just succeed and gave them her support. Then they started raiding French towns and villages and bullying the clergy until she was forced to order their destruction. A butcher put an axe in the head of the Master while Simon ordered another threatening mob to be gone from Bordeaux lest they be “cut to pieces.”

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  1. Blanche died in 1252, worn out by the mess her son created. The crusade also claimed her son Robert of Artois, who drowned after fleeing a battle he recklessly started. Her third son Alphonse of Poitiers was struck by paralysis after his return to France, and the fourth, Charles of Anjou, was so disgusted that he played craps the whole time until Louis threw his dice overboard. One overlooked casualty was Hugh Lusignan, the eldest of the Lusignan brothers, who had succeeded their father, the disgraced Hugh, as the count of La Marche. Despised and ostracized by his fellow noblemen, he was the first of their ilk to fall after wading ashore.

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