Prologue - Part I
The Fourth Crusade
In 1198, Pope Innocent III called for a Fourth Crusade in the wake of the Third Crusade's failure. Jerusalem, the holiest and most important city to the Christian faith was still in the hands of nonbelievers. Innocent III however could not have picked a worse time to begin his new crusade – Germany was in the process of degrading into a lengthy civil war over who would rule the Holy Roman Empire, and further west England and France had been brought into conflict. Inspired and religious leaders such as Frederick Barbarossa, and Richard the Lionhearted were at the time lacking. Without the power of the great monarchs and the money and men they would bring with them, the Fourth Crusade was from the beginning doomed to failure. This however was not to stop the most pious of aristocracy in France from attempting to organize a grand Crusade – the leader of this ill-fated expedition was Count Theobald III of Champagne. Taking control of the Crusade, he and his growing cohort traveling south through France, amassing a significant amount of troops (perhaps as many as four to five thousand, though some sources – notably Geoffrey of Villehardouin – quote the figure far higher).
On the way south from Ecry where the Crusade was proclaimed by Theobald, the two influential leaders of the Fourth Crusade were to almost come to arms over the selection of what city could better provide ships and supplies to the holy land. Theobald himself was keen to march to Genoa and petition the city commune to build them a fleet and supply them food and supplies for a one year expedition to the Holy Land. In terms of numbers, Theobald himself was conservative in his estimates, and Geoffrey claims that he stated the need for enough space for fifteen thousand men and horse. The other influential man holding sway over the Crusade was Boniface of Montferrat, an Italian by birth. While Theobald was keen to embark in Genoa, the Marquess of Montferrat claimed that Venice would be a far better place to embark – owing both to the fact that the traveling time to the Holy Land would be cut by several weeks and that the Doge of Venice was apparently quite keen to help the Crusaders. Both Theobald and Boniface however were unwilling to compromise. When informed of Theobald's decision to inquire with Genoa over the cost of mounting the expedition in early 1200, the last straw had been had by Boniface. Early the next day, he and his small host of no more then twenty men-at-arms, rode out of the Crusader encampment towards Venice in the hopes of assembling an Italian led force.
Pope Innocent III, the architect of the failed Fourth Crusade
Theobald now without the problems that the Italian brought with him, continued south to Genoa where his force of men (now over twelve thousand), awaited the construction of his fleet and the deliverance of his supplies. While waiting in Genoa, he was greeted with a Papal envoy sent by Innocent III himself. The envoy was to deliver the message instructing Theobald to sail at once not towards Palestine and Jerusalem – but instead to Egypt. Egypt, Innocent realized was the power base of the Ayyubid dynasty was and until the Ayyubid menace was subdued, a new Kingdom of Jerusalem could not be successfully put into place. Egypt at the time was ruled by the younger brother of Saladin - Abu-Bakr Malik Al-Adil I – who was known to the Crusaders only as Saphadin. Innocent was to underestimate Saphadin however when instructing Theobald and his force to land in Egypt, like his older brother, Saphadin was both a gifted military strategist and administrator. While the Crusader force could come up with as many as fifteen thousand men-at-arms, archers and knights in the end, they were to land in the most powerful and well established Arab state.
Both Theobald and Innocent III however were unaware of the dangers that awaited the Crusaders when the expedition finally left Genoa in early 1202. In only a few weeks the Crusaders were to land only a few miles from Alexandria and in full sight of the Lighthouse of Alexandria. Their approach and landing near Alexandria had been warned of by several Venetian sailors who valued trade above religion. As a result Saphadin was awaiting the Crusader force with more then forty thousand men. Saphadin himself was to watch the relatively small Crusader force march towards the city from the Lighthouse before he emerged from the building ready to defeat the Fourth Crusade. The two forces met later that day just outside of the city – behind the Crusaders lay the desert and the ships that had brought them to Egypt, and in front of them lay Saphadin and his forty thousand men. All through the day the two forces met and though Theobald despite his disadvantage, was nearly able to break through the Ayyubid line, it was not to be.
The Lighthouse of Alexandria, from which the defeat of Theobald could be seen
News of the defeat and the death of the Fourth Crusade traveled swiftly and from the remaining Crusader states the information slipped back to Europe. In Constantinople, the Byzantine Emperor – Alexius III Angelus – was to learn of the defeat before the rest of Europe. The Crusades themselves, he would remind himself were the result of the Byzantine Empire and his predecessor – Alexius Comnenus – and yet even they had failed to push back the Arab hordes. What hope remained for Byzantium, how without western help could the Empire fight off the heretical followers of the Prophet Mohammed? Unknown to him, and perhaps the rest of the world, it was to be Byzantium which was to push back the Arab horde. Yet that was in the future, the defeat at Manzikert was still sour at the lips of the Emperor and Alexius III was lethargic to the problems which faced the Empire. Indeed, his lavishing of gifts and bribes had drained the state of nearly all its money, leaving what remained under Byzantine hands under little protection. These problems were as we will see, reversed, but they were to occur under a different Emperor.
A man the equal of Justinian and Constantine was fast approaching and with him would come the salvation of the Byzantine Empire. A phoenix was rising.
Historical Notes / Historical Fleshing
1. In a cruel note of irony, Boniface was to arrive in Venice in late 1200 with a force of several thousand Crusaders from northern Italy. Petitioning with Doge Dandolo they were to agree to transport for forty thousand men – a sum which was to never be achieved. Unable to pay the Doge they agreed to capture the Dalmatian city of Zara for Venice in exchange for their debts – an effort that earned Boniface only his death.
2. Theobald historically died in 1200, but for the sake of this history, he's doesn't kick the bucket so early on
3. After the defeat of his force Theobald is captured by Saphadin and later on ransomed off to the remaining Crusader states. I'm of the opinion that around 1203 or so, Theobald would have only been around thirty years old at the most since his son - Theobald IV was only born in 1201. Perhaps he will reemerge in our story later on.