Letters of Conrad III during the Second Crusade

Conrad IIIThe main  focus of the Second Crusade (1145-49) was an attempt by Christian forces to expand the territory held by Christian forces in the Holy Land.  One of the key players was Conrad III, the Holy Roman Emperor, who led the German forces from Europe.  His forces suffered several setbacks, and the crusade eventually ended in disappointment for the Christian pilgrims.  One of the few sources for the events of this crusade comes from two letters written by Conrad for Wibald abbot of Stablo, in 1148.  These letters were written as official bulletins, in order to set before the German people the disastrous events of the crusade in a favorable light to the German particiapants.

1) Conrad, by the grace of God, king of the Romans, to venerable Wibald, abbot of Corvey and Stavelot, his most kind greeting.

Because we have very frequently realized your faithfulness, proven in many trials, to us and to our kingdom, we do not doubt that you will rejoice greatly, if you hear of the state of our prosperity. We, therefore, announce to your faithfulness than when we had reached Nicaea with our army entire and strong, wishing to complete our journey quickly, we hastened to set out for Iconium under the guidance of men who knew the road. We carried with us as many necessities as possible. And behold when ten days of the journey were accomplished and the same amount remained to be traversed, food for the whole host had almost given out, but especially for the horses. At the same time the Turks did not cease to attack and slaughter the crowd of footsoldiers who were unable to follow the army. We pitied the fate of our suffering people, perishing in famine and by the arrows of the enemy; and, by the advice of our princes and barons, we led the army back from the desert land to the sea, in order that it might regain its strength. We preferred to preserve the army for greater achievements rather than to win so bloody a victory over archers.

When, indeed, we had reached the sea and had pitched our tents and did not expect quiet amid so great a storm, to our delight the king of France came to our tents, wholly unexpectedly. He grieved, indeed, that our army was exhausted by hunger and toil, but he took great delight in our company. Moreover, he himself and all his princes offered their services faithfully and devoutly to us and furnished for out use their money especially, and whatever else they had. they joined themselves, therefore, to our forces and princes. Some of the latter had remained with us, and others, either sick or lacking money, had not been able to follow and had accordingly withdrawn from the army.

We proceeded without any difficulty as far as St. John’s, where his tomb with the manna springing from it is seen, in order that we might there celebrate the Nativity of our Lord. Having rested there some days days to recover our health, inasmuch as sickness had seized on us and many of our men, we wanted to proceed; but weakened by our illness we were wholly unable to do so. The king therefore departed with his army, after having waited for us as long as possible; but a long sickness detained us.

When our brother, the emperor of Greece, heard of this, he was greatly grieved, and with our daughter, the most beloved empress, his wife, he hastened to come to us. And, liberally giving to us and our princes his money and the necessities of our journey, he led us back, as it were, by force, to his palace at Constantinople, in order that we might be more speedily cured by his physicians. There he showed to us as much honor as, to our knowledge, was ever shown to any one of our predecesors. Thence we hastened to set out for Jerusalem on Quadragesima Sunday, in order to collect there a new army and to proceed to Rohas.

Moreover, that God may deign to make our journey prosperous, we ask that you and your brethren will pray for us and will order all Christians to do the same. And we entrust our son to your fidelity.


2) Conrad, by the grace of God, king of the Romans, to venerable Wibald, abbot of Corvey and Stavelot, his most kind greeting.

Because we know that you especially desire to hear from us and to learn the state of our prosperity, we think it fitting to first tell you of this. By God’s mercy we are in good health and we have embarked in our ships to return on the festival of the blessed Virgin in September, after having accomplished in these lands all that God willed and the people of the country permitted.

Let us now speak of our troops. When following the advice of the common council we had gone to Damascus and after a great deal of trouble had pitched our camps before the gates of the city, it was certainly near being taken. But certain ones, whom we least suspected, treasonably asserted that the city was impregnable on that side and hastily led us to another position where no water could be supplied for the troops and where access was impossible to anyone. And thus all, equally indignant and grieved, returned, leaving the undertaking uncompleted. Nevertheless, they all promised unanimously that they would make an expedition against Ascalon, and they set the place and time. Having arrived there according to the agreement, we found scarcely any one. In vain we waited eight days for the troops. Deceived a second time, we turned to our own affairs.

In brief therefore, God willing, we shall return to you. We render to you the gratitude which you deserve for your care of our son and for the very great fidelity which you have shown us. And with the full intention of worthily rewarding your services, we ask you to continue the same.


These texts were first published in Translations and Reprints from the Original Sources of European History v.1 n.4 (1894).

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