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  • Writer's pictureAdrian J. Boas

On Arousing Antagonism

The self-coronation of Napoleon in a painting by Jacques-Louis David

Politics brings out the worst in people. I am sometimes amused and often saddened by the extremity of the reactions people display towards certain political factions, parties and leaders, and I admit to sometimes harbouring such feelings myself, against my better judgement.

Few characters in crusader history have ignited as much antagonism in the Christian camp as did Frederick II. Excommunicated by the pope for dragging his feet in setting off on his promised crusade, excommunicated a second time for finally going on crusade after being excommunicated (it seems nothing would please the pope), clashing with the Templars, favouring the Germans over the French, making a deal with the Muslims - whatever Frederick did appeared calculated to upset someone. Not even the most remarkable achievement of his crusade, the bloodless recovery of Jerusalem, was looked upon favourably. The Templars despised it because it did not include their former headquarters on the Temple Mount which was to remain in Muslim hands. Frederick's departure from the Holy Land was a humiliation. He slinked away, pelted by offal thrown at him by the butchers near the port of Acre. He left behind few admirers and a great many adversaries.

Of the latter, topping of the list was Gerold of Lausanne, the Patriarch of Jerusalem. We can get a sense of the degree of his hostility towards Frederick by reading the letter he wrote to Pope Gregory IX on 26 March 1229.* His pen drips with animosity as he slurs the emperor in every line. You can almost hear him grinding his teeth. Frederick had taken control of Cyprus "through violence and fraud". He had arrived in the Holy Land with a pitiable army of a mere forty knights and no money - "he hoped to sustain himself from local resources". He had shamefully attempted to appease the sultan of Egypt, sending him via an envoy his own armour and sword, "saying that the sultan could do what he wished with the emperor because the latter would never henceforth take up arms against him", to which the sultan did not even deign to reply. And as if this were not bad enough, he had secretly transported weapons to the Muslims. Frederick did not keep his promise to the Hospitallers and Templars that he would refortify Jerusalem. He persecuted the Templars, denied the city provisions, and his followers drove out the Dominicans and Franciscans. And worse was to come. According to Gerold, the emperor was living and dressing like a Saracen. The sultan had even sent him dancing girls who (one can sense him cringing at the thought) sang and juggled!

Gerold derided the emperor's contention that he had restored Jerusalem. How could he claim this while his treaty allowed the Muslims to retain the Templum Domini (Dome of the Rock) and the Templum Salamonis (Al-Aqsa) from where they could publicly proclaimed Islam. He referred to the treaty as "a madcap scheme" that only the Teutons celebrated while everyone else regarded it as "a case of manifest fraud". He seemed to have an endless supply of negative remarks to share with the pope. His criticism was also with regard to the fact that the treaty did not return any of the considerable Church properties outside the city walls. But above all, one senses that what really exasperated Gerold was what he must have regarded as a personal slight. In the church of the Holy Sepulchre, the emperor had the audacity to crown himself king of Jerusalem. This must have been particularly infuriating for the man who saw it as his job to crown Frankish kings.

*Malcolm Barber and Keith Bate, trans., Letters from the East, Farnham and Burlington, 2013, pp. 127-33; Matthew Paris, Chronica maiora 3:179-84; Regesta Regni Hierosolymitani, no. 1015; Revised Regesta -, no. 2127.

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