The last rex crucesignatus, Edward I and the Mongol alliance
By Attila Bárány
Annual of Medieval Studies at Central European University, Vol. 16 (2010)
Introduction: This study explores the crusading efforts of Edward I, King of England (1272– 1307), in the last decades of the thirteenth century. It investigates the reason why the Plantagenet ruler was highly respected as the only athleta Christi, on whom all the Christian powers laid their hopes to withstand the Muslims. I would not like to provide a detailed overview of King Edward’s 1270 crusade, but give an analysis of the king’s role and introduce his motives in the mirror of the expectations of the West. Edward I never ceased to support the negotium Terrae Sanctae, and after the fall of Acre he was treated as the apostle of the recuperatio. Edward was the only ruler in Europe to realize how rational it was to ally with the Mongols; therefore here I am examining Edward’s life-long struggle to have the alliance with these pagans acknowledged.
I am not giving an overview of the formation of the Franco-Mongol alliance from the late 1240s. Nevertheless, it has to be noted at the outset that England, and especially her monarch, Edward, had a primary role in the endeavors to establish not only political but strategic and tactical cooperation with the Il-khans of Persia against the Mamluks. The Plantagenets were much concerned with taking a stand in the crusading enterprises and were the first to seek knowledge about the Mongols. They were well aware of the Tatars’ superior military machinery. I will give a few snapshots of how they obtained direct knowledge about the Mongols, for instance, the letters incorporated in Matthew Paris’ Chronica Majora and the Carmen Miserabile of Rogerius, Dean of Várad (Oradea) must also have been known to them through Rogerius’ patron, the English Cardinal John Toletanus, and his circle, the English delegates at the Council of Lyons I.
At the outset, England acted “normally,” as an enemy of the Mongols. In 1241 Pope Gregory IX appealed to Henry III to take up arms against the Tartars plundering Hungary. Gregory agreed to transfer the crusading vows already taken against the Muslims to an enterprise against the Mongols. The crown of England was one of the first to respond positively; when the pope proclaimed a crusade in Eastern Europe in 1253, King Henry and Prince Edward assumed the Cross and enrolled to fight in Hungary. Although Henry III fixed a schedule for his departure (for 1256), due to the negotium Siciliae he did not fulfill his oath. Thus, after the 1259 assault of the Golden Horde, Prince Edward himself was urged to come to the aid of Hungary, as Khan Berke envisaged a great assault against Western Europe. The pope also asked Richard of Cornwall to engage in the defense of the eastern boundaries of Christendom.
See also: The Prince, the Assassin and the Mongols