In 1199, Pope Innocent III, new to the post, wanting to make a name for himself, called for a new crusade, but it fell on deaf ears of European monarchs. England, France and Germany were at war at the time.
Count Thibaut of Champagne, was the appointed leader of the crusade, but sadly he died before it had even started, and his replacement was Count Boniface of Montferrat.
In October of 1202, some 200 ships set sail from Venice. Flags flying in the wind, bearing the Lion of Venice or Coats of Arms, of French noble houses.
The fleet was led by Duke Doge Enrico Dandolo, of the Venetian Republic, who was more than eighty years old, and almost blind.
The Fourth Crusade was to reclaim the City of Jerusalem, which had been captured by crusaders in the First Crusade, lost during the Second Crusade to the Muslim leader; Saladin. This crusade, was to strike at the heart of Muslim power in the east; Cairo in Egypt.
They would never reach Egypt, a bizarre twist of fate would see these crusaders take an unexpected course of action, laying siege to the Christian city of Constantinople.
Six appointed knights had negotiated with Duke Doge Enrico Dandolo for the supply of ships.
In Venice, an agreement was made for the provision of ships to transport some 30,000 men and 4,500 horses. The cost of this armada was 85,000 silver marks and Venice became a partner in this crusade. For a half-share, Venice would provide 50 fully manned war galleys.
When the crusading army arrived to collect their ships, the Venetian’s demanded payment in full for the ships. Some 85,000 silver marks, which they didn’t have in full. These cunning Venetian’s used the situation, and turned it to their own advantage. Capture the port of Zara on the Dalmatian coast of the Adriatic, which had been previously taken from them, in return for payment.
These crusaders agreed, but truthfully they had no other option, otherwise they would be prisoners of the Venetians. So it was, a force of 15,000 crusaders and a few thousand venetians, sailed into the sea port of Zara on the 10th November, which surrendered after a fourteen day siege. An enraged Pope Innocent III excommunicated the Venetians, for the attack upon Zara.
Not all crusaders took part, believing the fight was not with the Christians of Zara, but the Muslim forces of the East. Simon de Montfort was one of these, who deserted his post. His son also named Simon de Montfort won fame as Father of Parliament in England.
In the spring of 1203, the crusade set out from Zara, after spending the winter in the city. They came across crusade ships off the southern part of Greece that had left the Holy Land, as the plague had taken the lives of fellow warriors.
On the 24th June 1203, the fleet passed beneath the walls of Constantinople. On the 17th July, the fleet laid siege to the Christian city of Constantinople, which would take nearly a year to capture.
Was it the love of the fight, that they disobeyed their Pope’s plans to attack Egypt, or the greed; spoils go to the victorious.
The capture of Constantinople, the Christian city of the East, where thousands of monuments, paintings, manuscripts were destroyed or stolen. Parts of the city destroyed and fellow Christian inhabitants slaughtered.
Actions by crusaders, supposedly warriors for God, would leave a bad taste among European monarchs, as their lack of interest in future crusades would show.
Following the pillage, crusaders returned home with their spoils of war.