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date: 03 October 2022

Lord Edward's crusadefree

(act. 1270–1274)

Lord Edward's crusadefree

(act. 1270–1274)
  • Henry Summerson

Lord Edward's crusade (act. 1270–1274), brought together the future King Edward I and an important group of mostly English barons and knights in a well-documented enterprise that forged or consolidated links among its participants which subsequently helped to shape the political and administrative development of late thirteenth-century England.

A crusade was an act of religious devotion, very similar to a pilgrimage, but essentially military in its proceedings. Sanctioned by an elaborate theory of just war, it was undertaken primarily to win back the holy places in Palestine from Islam. The background to Edward's crusade was the civil war between his father, Henry III, and English barons led by Simon de Montfort, earl of Leicester. Following Montfort's death in the battle of Evesham on 4 August 1265, efforts to restore peace were led by the papal legate Ottobuono, whose mission also included the preaching of a crusade. A few ex-Montfortians took the cross, notably Nicholas of Seagrave and John de Vescy, but nearly all their eventual comrades were former royalists, and many of them had been close followers of Edward. The Savoyard Otto de Grandson, for instance, was his lifelong friend. In fact Edward's own participation remained uncertain for some time; there were many, from the pope downwards, who believed that the heir to the throne should stay in England, and who would have preferred to see the English contingent led by his younger brother Prince Edmund. But Edward was determined to go, and in the end both princes set out.

Finance was long a problem. In 1268 Henry III began to negotiate a parliamentary grant of taxation to fund the crusade, but this was agreed only in 1270, and in the meantime Edward borrowed money from Louis IX of France. Efforts to obtain a similar grant from Scotland were resisted by King Alexander III, though a number of Scots did join the expedition. One of them was Robert (V) de Brus, who probably went because his sons failed to do so. Preaching a crusade involved raising money as well as recruits, and eventually enough came in from various sources to finance the contracts whereby barons and knights each undertook to participate with a specified number of followers. Thus Edmund agreed to provide 100 knights in return for 10,000 marks (£6666 13s. 4d.) and the necessary shipping, while for £2000 marks (£1333 6s. 8d.) William de Valence, earl of Pembroke, undertook to supply nineteen knights. The personal piety of the crusading leaders can hardly be doubted. The Yorkshire baron William Latimer, first Lord Latimer, for instance, later also went on pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela. But the contingent that travelled to the east was nevertheless ultimately made up of several smaller contingents that had been recruited by individual leaders for money.

Edward, Edmund, and several other leading barons formally vowed to go on crusade at Northampton in June 1268. But not everyone who made such a promise kept it. Some could not be permitted to go, because their services were needed at home. Prominent among these was Robert Burnell, later chancellor of England, who played a vital part in the government of the realm in Edward's absence. Personal quarrels, too, sometimes prevented participation. Thus William de Munchensi refused to travel to the east alongside William de Valence, his enemy during the civil wars, though there can be no doubt of Munchensi's personal commitment to the crusading cause—in his will he left the very large sum of 1000 marks (£666 13s. 4d.) 'in aid of the Holy Land'. Others had more intimate reasons for staying in England, on the evidence of one of the few surviving works of the poet Walter of Bibbesworth. Walter went on the crusade, but Henry de Lacy, fifth earl of Lincoln, did not, kept at home, according to the poet, by his love for a lady.

The company that finally left England in 1270 was inevitably predominantly masculine and military. The most important ecclesiastic present was Anthony Bek, later a warlike bishop of Durham. None the less there was also a female presence, since Edward's wife, Eleanor of Castile, accompanied her husband. It was planned that the expedition should sail to the Mediterranean to join the crusading army which was already there under the leadership of Louis IX, but when the English forces reached Tunis in August they found Louis recently dead and his troops ravaged by plague. Edward directed his cousin Henry of Almain to attend the French king's corpse on its journey home, but the journey ended in tragedy when Henry, despite the protection given by the church to crusaders, was murdered in Viterbo on 13 March 1271 by Simon de Montfort's sons Guy and Simon.

Edward and his companions continued to Palestine, arriving there on 9 May 1271. They were joined there in August by Edmund and his men, but their united forces were insufficient to make any significant impression on the Egyptian mamelukes who now increasingly controlled the Levant. Edward had the satisfaction of becoming a father for at least the fifth time, when early in 1272 Eleanor gave birth to a daughter, Joan, traditionally known as Joan of Acre. And although raids from the Christian base at Acre achieved nothing, beyond at best briefly stabilizing a deteriorating situation, Edward nevertheless received proof that he was regarded as an enemy worth putting out of the way, when an attempt was made on his life in June 1272 by an assassin with a poisoned dagger. Later legend made this episode famous as an example of wifely devotion, relating how Eleanor saved the life of her husband, who had been stabbed in the arm, by sucking the poison from his wound. But contemporary accounts say nothing of this, recording only how Eleanor was led weeping from the room before a surgeon successfully cut the corrupted flesh from Edward's arm.

Edward and his company finally left Palestine on 24 September 1272 and made their way slowly north through France to England. Henry III died on 16 November that year, and Edward was crowned king on 19 August 1274. He came home heavily in debt, owing perhaps as much as £100,000. Yet despite the costs he constantly hoped to go on crusade again, and even formally took the cross in 1287, but commitments in Britain always prevented his departure. He retained a close interest in eastern affairs, however, and in 1290 or 1291 sent an embassy to Persia, in the hope of arranging an alliance with its Mongol ilkhan against the mamelukes. The embassy was led by Sir Geoffrey Langley, a Warwickshire knight who had accompanied Edmund to the east in 1271, an exemplar of the landed gentry whom the magnates had then recruited to their contingents. Langley travelled as far as Tabriz, but found that the ilkhan to whom he was accredited had died, and he returned from his successor without an alliance, though with a leopard for the king.

In his life of Edward I, Michael Prestwich has commented that 'His friendship with those who accompanied him must have been deepened by the close companionship of the expedition' (Edward I, 81). This is borne out by the subsequent fortunes of the crusaders, which collectively constituted one of the most significant results of Edward's crusade. Former antagonists like John de Vescy now enjoyed a place at the heart of the court and government, while old friends and allies won further promotion and patronage. Luke de Tany had turned aside even before the returning crusaders reached England to become seneschal of Gascony. Thomas de Clare became an Irish magnate. Geoffrey de Geneville, who originated in Champagne, was active in Wales and Ireland, served many times as a diplomat, and stood firmly by Edward in the political crisis of 1297. Robert Tiptoft, Lord Tiptoft, became one of the principal royal officials in Wales. William de Valence and the king's brother Edmund remained loyal to Edward throughout their lives, and each was eventually buried in Westminster Abbey. His crusading commitment had earned for Edmund the nickname ‘Crouchback’, meaning ‘crossed back’. Eleanor of Castile is splendidly commemorated by her tomb effigy in the abbey, though to this day she is probably better remembered for her supposed role in saving her husband's life after the attempt to murder him in Palestine. It is ironic that a crusade which in purely military terms achieved very little should be largely remembered for an incident that never happened, while its domestic impact, which was considerable, has been almost entirely forgotten.


  • J. Riley-Smith, ed., The Oxford history of the crusades [new edn] (2002)
  • C. Tyerman, England and the crusades, 1095–1588 (1988)
  • S. D. Lloyd, English society and the crusade, 1216–1307 (1988)
  • M. Prestwich, Edward I (1988)