Letters of the Sixth Crusade: Letter from the Master of the Hospitalers at Jerusalem to Lord de Melaye in I244

To the most potent lord, M. de Melaye, brother G. of Newcastle, by the grace of God, humble master of the holy house at Jerusalem, and guardian of the poor followers of Christ — greeting.

From the information contained in our letters, which we have sent to you on each passage, you can plainly enough see how ill the business of the Holy Land has proceeded, on account of the opposition which for a long time existed, at the time of making the truce, respecting the espousing the cause of the Damascenes against the sultan of Babylon ; and now wishing your excellency to be informed of other events since transpired, we have thought it worth our while to inform you that, about the beginning of the summer last past, the sultan of Damascus, and Seisser, sultan of Cracy, who were formerly enemies, made peace and entered into a treaty with the Christians, on the following conditions ; namely, that they should restore to the Christians the whole of the kingdom of Jerusalem, and the territory which had been in the possession of the Christians, near the river Jordan, besides some villages which they retained possession of in the mountains, and that the Christians were faithfully to give them all the assistance in their power in attacking the sultan of Babylon.

The terms of this treaty having been agreed to by both parties, the Christians began to take up their abode in the Holy City, whilst their army remained at Gazara, in company with that of the aforesaid sultan's, to harass the sultan of Babylon. After they had been some time engaged in that undertaking, the patriarch of Jerusalem landed from the transmarine provinces; and, after taking some slight bodily rest, he was inspired with a longing to visit the sepulchre of our I^ord, and set out on that pilgrimage, on which we also accompanied him. After our vow of pilgrimage was fulfilled, we heard in the Holy City that a countless multitude of that barbarous and perverse race, called Choermians, had, at the summons and order of the sultan of Babylon, occupied the whole surface of the country in the furthest part of our territories adjoining Jerusalem, and had put every living soul to death by fire and sword.

A council was on this held by the Christians living at Jerusalem, and, as they had not the power to resist these people, it was prudently arranged that all the inhabitants of the Holy City, of both sexes and of every age, should proceed, under escort of a battalion of our knights, to Joppa, as a place of safety and refuge. On that same night, after finishing our deliberations, we led the people cautiously out of the city, and had proceeded confidently half the distance, when, owing to the intervention of our old and wily enemy, the devil, a most destructive obstacle presented itself to us; for the aforesaid people raised on the walls of the city some standards, which they found left behind by the fugitives, in order by these means to recall the unwary, by giving them to believe that the Christians who had remained had defeated their adversaries. Some of our fellow-Christians hurried after us to recall us, comforting us with pleased countenance, and declaring that the standards of the Christians, which they well knew, were raised on the wall of Jerusalem, in token that they had defeated the enemy; and they, having been thus deceived, deceived us also.

We, therefore, in our exultation, returned confidently into the Holy City, thinking to dwell there safely, and many from feelings of devotion, and others in hope of obtaining and retaining possession of their inheritances, rashly and incautiously returned, either into the city itself or into the suburbs; we, however, endeavored to dissuade them from this altogether, fearing treachery from these perfidious people, and so went away from them. Not long after our departure, these perfidious Choermians came in great force and surrounded the Christians in the Holy City, making violent assaults on them daily, cutting off all means of ingress and egress to and from the city, and harassing them in various ways, so that, owing to these attacks, hunger and grief, they fell into despair, and all by common consent exposed themselves to the chances and risk of death by the hands of the enemy. They therefore left the city by night, and wandered about in the trackless and desert parts of the mountains till they at length came to a narrow pass, and there they fell into an ambuscade of the enemy, who, surrounding them on all sides, attacked them with swords, arrows, stones and other weapons, slew and cut to pieces, according to a correct computation, about seven thousand men and women, and caused such a massacre that the blood of those of the faith, with sorrow I say it, ran down the sides of the mountain like water. Young men and virgins they hurried off with them into captivity, and retired into the Holy City, where they cut the throats, as of sheep doomed to the slaughter, of the nuns, and aged and infirm men, who, unable to endure the toils of the journey and fight, had fled to the church of the Holy Sepulchre and to Calvary, a place consecrated by the blood of our Lord, thus perpetrating in His holy sanctuary such a crime as the eyes of men had never seen since the commencement of the world.

At length, as the intolerable atrocity of this great crime aroused the devotion of all the Christians to avenge the insult offered to their Creator, it was, by the common consent of all, agreed that we should all, after asking assistance from heaven, arrange ourselves in order, and give battle to these treacherous people. We accordingly attacked them, and fought without resting from early in the morning till the close of the day, when darkness prevented us from distinguishing our own people from our enemies ; immense numbers fell on our side ; but four times as many of our adversaries w r ere slain, as was found out after the battle. On the following (St. Luke the Evangelist's) day, the Knights Templars and Hospitalers, having recovered breath, and invoked assistance from above, together with all the other religious men devoted to this war, and their forces, and the whole army of the Christians, in the Holy Land, assembled by proclamation under the patriarch, and engaged in a most bloody conflict with the aforesaid Choermians and five thousand Saracen knights, who had recently fought under the sultan of Babylon, and who now joined these Choermians ; a fierce attack was made on both sides, as we could not avoid them ; for there was a powerful and numerous army on both sides of us. At length, however, we were unable to stand against such a multitude, for fresh and uninjured troops of the enemy continued to come upon us, as they were ten times as numerous as we, and we wearied and wounded, and still feeling the effects of the recent battle ; so we were compelled to give way, abandoning to them the field, with a bloody and dearly-bought victory ; for great numbers more fell on their side than on ours.

And we were so assisted by Him who is the Saviour of souls, that not a hundred escaped by flight, but, as long as we were able to stand, we mutually exhorted and comforted one another in Christ, and fought so unweariedly and bravely, to the astonishment of our enemies, till we were at length taken prisoners (which, however, we much tried to avoid) or fell slain. Hence, the enemy afterwards said in admiration to their prisoners: " You voluntarily threw yourselves in the way of death; why was this?" To which the prisoners replied: "We would rather die in battle, and with the death of our bodies obtain glorification for our souls, than basely give way and take to flight: such people, indeed, are greatly to be feared."

In the said battle, then, the power of the Christians was crushed, and the number of slain in both armies was incomputable. The masters of the Templars and Hospitalers were slain, as also the masters of other orders, with their brethren and followers. Walter, count of Brienne, and the lord Philip de Montfort, and those who fought under the patriarch, were cut to pieces; of the Templars only eighteen escaped, and sixteen of the Hospitalers, who were afterwards sorry that they had saved themselves. Farewell.