After the success of the first crusade, many crusaders fulfilled their vows and completed the journey to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. Many stayed though, building what is referred to as Outremer, old French for ‘across the sea’, known otherwise as the four Crusader States. However, the second crusade proved to be a fiasco; a long and arduous march across hostile lands, finishing with a demoralising withdrawal.
One of the new settlers’ main contributions to history was the formation of the military religious order, or "military order", in the early part of the twelfth century. These orders, a fusion of the monastic and knightly callings, were both a response to the desperate need for manpower in the East, and an example of the way the Church was attempting to tame and even monasticize the warrior class.
As the Muslims began to recover from disruptions caused by Turkish invasions, major Muslim leaders began to emerge. They wished to reunite the Islamic world under one ruler and quickly realised that one option to gain prestige as an Islamic ruler was to win conflicts against the Christian Franks. Through this, the Islamic Counter-Crusade arose, a form of Jihad which roughly parallels the Christian doctrine of Holy War.
On Christmas Eve 1144, the Muslim ruler of Aleppo, Imad al-Din Zangi captured Edessa, the oldest crusader state, which had been in Latin hands since 1098. The West reacted strongly to this news and in December the following year, the then pope, Eugenius III, called for a new crusade. His letter outlining the request gave details of spiritual and material privileges to be offered to the crusaders. The immediate response to this was muted however Eugenius reissued his request on 1st March 1146 and a more concerted recruitment effort began.
Eugenius’ main contribution was to appoint St Bernard of Clairvaux as the main crusader preacher. He was a leading spiritual figure of his time and was later canonised. He appealed directly to individual hopes of salvation and was no stranger to knights’ spiritual and martial aspirations, having encouraged the idea of Templars as knights dedicated to serving God. For Bernard, the second crusade was more than just a military operation; it was the perfect opportunity for personal and collective redemption.
There were two main forces bound for the East; the French under Louis VII and the Germans under Conrad III. They moved closely across Europe, reaching Constantinople in the autumn of 1147. Many crusaders sailed directly to the Holy Land, including groups of French and Italians. With large armies on Byzantine territory, it seemed that the crusaders were poised to attempt their original objective: the recapture of the city of Edessa.
The German crusaders divided when they reached Asia Minor, the non-combatant pilgrims moving off to the Holy Land under Conrad’s half-brother, Otto of Freising. Conrad himself led an army into battle with the Turks near Dorylaeum in October 1147 but was heavily defeated. He then fell ill and returned to Constantinople. The remnants of his army joined the French who were already suffering from heavy losses following a battle at Mt Cadmus by Turks in January 1148. However, the newly established Templars rallied around and imposed strict discipline and they reached Adalia, a city at the edge of the Byzantine empire and close to the borders of the Seljuk Turks. Disaster struck again when the Byzantine fleet to take them to Syria was insufficient in size and Louis had to abandon his original plan of taking Edessa, leaving behind many of his army who later died trying to reach Tarsus en route to Edessa.
With Conrad III returning to the cause in spring of 1148, the main crusader parties had assembled in Palestine. At a council at Acre on 24th June 1148, the crusaders agreed to attack Damascus together, with Louis still vowing to liberate Jerusalem. The assault was launched in late July and led by King Baldwin III. It was to be a disastrous attempt with heavy losses. The crusaders captured the orchards to the south west of the city but then moved after encountering heavy resistance to the east of the city walls, where the defences seemed less formidable. The area was open and waterless though. The crusaders were harried by Arab cavalry and faced local forces from the north, forcing them to make an ignominious withdrawal. The mutual recriminations that ensued soured relations between the west and the crusader states for many years to come.