5 Crusades Almost Forgotten by History

The Crusades were developed during the Middle Ages by the Catholic Church as a holy way for participants to receive pardons for their sins. The crusades that took place throughout the Holy Land are all well-known and remembered in tales and film. But there were several other crusades started by the Church that have long been forgotten.

The Battle of Nicopolis

When the Ottomans crossed into Europe the Hungarians became alarmed and called for a crusade. At the time, the Catholic Church was torn between feuding popes in Rome and Avignon. But they agreed to declare a crusade and an expedition against the Turks was organized.

The crusade took place during the brief time when the 100 Years War was on hiatus. There were several young French and Burgundian nobles who volunteered to prove their worth against the infidels. The 24-year old son of the Duke of Burgundy was elected as leader, and the expedition turned into a competition of sorts where wealthy young crusaders could outfit the most opulent retinue.

After they reached the Balkans in 1396. The crusaders attacked the Muslims and Orthodox before they encountered the Army of Sultan Bayezid the Thunderbolt of Nicopolis. The Hungarians tried a defensive approach, but the westerners rejected their cowardly strategy. Instead, the armored knights charged up a steep hill at a fortified position. They were promptly slaughtered, ending the crusade in one stroke.

The Trade Crusade of Alexandria

Peter de Lusignan was King of Cyprus which was effectively the last major crusader state. In the 1360s, he would travel all throughout Europe, seeking support for a crusade against Egypt. He gained the support of the Pope, and thanks to help from the fleets from Venice and Genoa, he was able to attack Alexandria in 1365.

Peter’s initial plan was to conquer Egypt, which seems very unrealistic with the small amount of resources available to him. There have been several historians who argued that he was motivated by economic concerns. Italian merchants had started buying eastern goods directly from Alexandria, and Peter may have hoped to shift the trade routes back through Cyprus by destroying the city.

Regardless of what he may have had planned, after occupying and looting Alexandria, the crusaders withdrew when they heard the main Egyptian army was approaching. Venice and Genoa both made full apologies to the Egyptians for taking part in the crusade against them.

The Waldensian Crusade

The Waldensian Crusade was a small and unedifying battle that was effectively the last crusade of the Middle Ages. The Waldenses were a Christian sect who emphasized the holiness of poverty and were declared heretical in the 12th century. They hung on tenaciously and could still be found in southern France and Northern Italy in the late 1400s.

In 1487, Pope Innocent VIII declared a crusade against the Waldenses in the Dauphine. The Waldenses took refuge in the Alps and fought back, leading to several crusader assaults on fortified mountain caves. Peter Lock sums up this final anti-heretic crusade as “a small-scale event [which was] characterized by violence and rapine and achieved nothing.”

The Aragonese Crusades

Pope Martin IV was effectively a puppet of the French royal family, a branch of which also ruled Naples and Sicily. When Peter of Aragon invaded Sicily, Martin excommunicated him and ordered him to hand the kingdom of Aragon over to a French prince. When Peter refused, the Pope declared a crusade against Aragon.

While it was known as a holy war, the Aragonese Crusade was unanimously a French affair. Phillip III of France marched across the Pyrenees with a huge army and besieged Girona. Yet the Aragonese defeated the French navy, cutting their supply lines. Then dysentery broke out in the French ranks, infecting even the king.

Afraid of dying on a latrine, Phillip III ordered the crusade to retreat across the Pyranees. The Aragonese attacked the malnourished army on a rugged mountain pass, killing many of them. Phillip himself was granted safe passage to Perpignan, where he later died.

Humbert’s Crusade

It was in 1343 when Pope Clement VI organized a crusade by the Venetians and Hospitallers to capture the Turkish city of Smyrna. The attempt went very badly and Clement soon requested a more general crusade, calling on the nobles of the West to march on Smyrna. But no one really wanted to heed his call. In fact, the only volunteer seemed to have been Humbert, the young and excited Dauphin of Viennois.

Humbert was declared the commander of the crusade and sailed for Turkey with around 900 men. In the Aegean, the small crusade was attacked by the Genoese, who suspected Humbert was planning to assault the island of Chios.

Humbert finally arrived in Smyrna in 1346 only to find that the earlier expedition had crumbled into infighting between the Hospitallers and the Venetians. Thoroughly disillusioned, the youth packed his crusade back up and returned home to Europe.