Disaster Averted

William de Warenne and the 2nd Crusade’s Battle of Mount Cadmus
By BOMC member Stu Whitehead

I noticed on the MOC website that one of the recognized crusaders is William de Warenne, 3rd Earl of Surry. I was thinking of doing a vignette of the 2nd Crusade’s, battle of Mount Cadmus. Although it is really just a foot note in most histories, Odo of Deuil mentions Warenne by name in his “De Prefectione Ludovici VII in Orientem”. Warenne was one of king’s nobles/royal guard who, with the king and Knights Templar, were in the rear guard – which charged against the Turks to protect the main body of the army. Warenne was killed (along with many others) and the king survived only after fighting his way through. In many ways this event is symptomatic of problems of disunity that plagued the crusade to its end.


Historians owe monk Odo of Deuil (1110 – 18 April 1162) a debt of gratitude for his firsthand account of the Second Crusade. As the personal chaplain to King Louis VII of France, Odo documented the crusade from France to Antioch in his De profectione Ludovici VII in Orientem or “On Louis VII’s journey to the East”. It is from Odo’s work that we learn of the “forlorn hope” and heroic end of William de Warenne, 3rd Earl of Surrey, as well as King Louis’s brush with death. In the 2nd Crusade’s history, the Battle of Mount Cadmus appears as little more than a footnote and, indeed, de Warenne is only mentioned in passing. As we are often reminded, little events can bear significant consequences. So it is in this article that we examine de Warenne’s brief, but pivotal role in saving an army and perhaps even a king. Yet despite his sacrifice, the ill fated second crusade would end in disarray; an event born of promise, but crippled by regional power politics and selfish leadership.

With Imad ad-Din Zengi’s capture of the weak and isolated Crusader County of Edessa, in 1144, Queen Melisende of Jerusalem requested of Pope Eugene III a new crusade.  However, her emissary, Hugh, Bishop of Jabala, did not reach Rome until the fall of 1145.[1]  In response to Melisende’s request, on 1 December 1145, Eugene III addressed a Papal bull, the “Quantum praedecessores [2], to King Louis VII of France and all his princes, calling for a second crusade to rescue “eastern Christendom and promising…security for their worldly possessions and remission of their sins.”[3] The wheels of the papacy were put into motion.

King Louis VII of France was the Pope’s pick to lead the crusade, but while Louis seemed willing, his Barons were not. [4] As a result, Abbot Bernard of Clairveaux, the spiritual authority of the age, was engaged to persuade the nobles of the righteousness of the cause, and persuade he did. [5]  On 31 March 1146, the Sunday before Palm Sunday, Bernard addressed an assembly at Vézélay, with the intent that those who were divinely inspired would then take up the cross on Easter Sunday.[6] Atop a platform and accompanied by King Louis VII (who was wearing the cross), Bernard had the crowd whipped into a frenzy. Soon the men began to cry for crosses and the supply of cloth, from which the crosses were made, was exhausted. Bernard, noticing the shortage, then offered his own outer garments to be used to augment the supply and remained until dark, helping to sew.[7]

It is at this event that William de Warenne committed to the crusade and to his second cousin King Louis VII of France.[8] William would serve Louis as a member of his guard of nobles, along with the Knights Templar. He was the eldest son of William de Warenne, 2nd Earl of Surrey and his wife Elizabeth de Vermandois. He was also the grandson of William de Warenne, 1st Earl of Surrey, who fought alongside William the Conqueror at the Battle of Hastings and the great-grandson of King Henry I of France.

From a military perspective, the Second Crusade was designed to avoid repeating the mistakes of the First. It was to be better organized, thoughtfully planned, centrally controlled and led by the strongest kings in Europe.[9] But in twelfth century Europe, achieving unity of effort was easier said than done. For example, various nobles already had their own ideas of where to advance Christendom and, as a result, Pope Eugene III confirmed crusade status to the Germans against the Wents (Pagan Slavs) and to Barcelona and Genoa against the Almería in Muslim Spain.[10] Within northern France and the Rhineland, Jews were the target of both zealous monks (like Radulf) and the crusaders. At the request of Archbishop Henry of Mainz (who was appalled by attacks against the Jews), Bernard of Clairvaux journeyed to Germany, shortly after inspiring service for the Second Crusade, to order Radulf back to his monastery. What is more, a northern European fleet was being formed in Dartmouth, England, with the intention of taking the Muslim held city of Lisbon, while en-route to joining the German and French forces near Damascus. All of these expeditions formed a backdrop and context to the Second Crusade.

The crusade itself began with the armies taking a staggered start along the same route. By May of 1147 Emperor Conrad III of Germany was leading his army on a land route through Hungary. This was because Roger II, King of Sicily, was an enemy of Conrad’s; therefore, to travel by sea put the German forces at risk. The French army followed the Germans, departing from Metz in June, wary of traversing the Byzantine Empire owning to their experiences in the First Crusade. In the mean time, however, Count Joscelin II of Edessa, continued to fight to recapture his lost city, eventually succeeding in October 1146. But with no help from the other Crusader states, Edessa was again lost in November to Zengi’s son, Nur ad-Din. Joscelin would be later captured while on route to                    Antioch seeking help. He was subsequently taken to the city of Aleppo where he was led before a hostile crowd and publicly blinded; eventually he died in the dungeons of the Citadel of Aleppo in 1159.[11]

By 10 September, Conrad reached Constantinople, with Louis arriving on the 4th of October. However, the relationship was strained between the Byzantine Emperor, Manuel I Comnenus, and the two crusading kings, Conrad and Louis. Manuel saw little benefit of a crusade to Byzantine interests; moreover, he mistrusted the French, who he feared may reach an alliance with Roger of Sicily against him. Therefore, Manuel was very keen to send the crusaders quickly on their way and suggested that they travel along the western coast of Asia Minor to the city of Attalia.[12]

Conrad, however, had other ideas. Deciding not to wait for the French, he chose to follow the route of the First Crusade across the Anatolian plateau via Dorylaeum, site of the great crusader victory of the First Crusade.[13] Upon reaching Nicaea; however, Conrad was faced with disagreements among his forces, whereupon it was decided to send the infantry, under the command of Otto, Bishop of Freising, along the coastal route as recommended by Manuel. Conrad retained the knights and his best troops and continued east. In effect, Conrad divided his forces in the face of an unknown enemy, in unfamiliar terrain. The result, although never certain, was also not unexpected. At what would be called the Second Battle of Dorylaeam, 25 October 1147, the Seljuq Turks crushed Conrad’s force, causing him to retreat back to Constantinople under pressure. Conrad, himself, was wounded in one of the skirmishes. To worsen the blow, Otto’s force met a similar fate near Laodicea on 16 November 1147, suffering the majority of his forces either killed in battle or captured and sold into slavery.[14]

While at Constantinople, Louis VII was met with by armies from Savoy, Auvergne, and Montferrat, which had taken the land route through Italy and crossed from Brindisi to Durazzo. Once joined, the entire army was shipped across the Bosporus to Asia Minor and proceeded east. While on the march, the French encountered the remnants of Conrad’s army at Nicaea and learned of Conrad’s defeat. The two kings consulted and, with Conrad joining Louis’s force, they followed Otto of Freising’s route, keeping within Byzantine territory while maintaining contact with the Byzantine fleet. They marched through Adramyttium, Pergamum and Smyrna (modern Izmir) arriving at Ephesus in December.[15] Louis’s army took the lead, with the Germans trailing about a day behind.[16] There they received a letter from Manuel warning that the Turks were on the war path. (Meanwhile Conrad fell sick and returned to Constantinople, where Manuel tended to him personally until he recovered.) Louis, however, paid no attention to the warnings of a Turkish attack and marched out from Ephesus with the French and German survivors. The Turks were indeed waiting to attack; however, in a small battle outside Ephesus, the French were victorious. The French also fended off a Turkish ambush at the Meander River, fighting a pitched, yet ultimately successful, battle at the bridge across the river at Pisidian Antioch, on 1 January 1148.[17]

Three days later they reached Laodicea on the Lycus (near modern Denizli, Turkey), where they found the town empty of provisions and deserted. In addition to being hungry, as they marched along the route, they saw the dead German pilgrims who had accompanied Otto of Freising. The army became discouraged, tired and with the exception of the Knights Templar, undisciplined. As the force began its descent toward the sea, the advance guard under the command of Geoffrey of Rancon disobeyed the king’s orders to camp on the summit of the pass. Instead, he moved down the hill, thereby losing contact with the army’s main body. At this point, King Louis VII was traveling with the rear guard and was unaware of Geoffrey’s error. This is where Odo of Deuil provides a vivid description of the steep terrain, with horses, wagons and people losing their step and crashing to the valley below, sometimes taking others with them. It was under these conditions that the French forces became vulnerable. Observing the separation of the vanguard from the main body, the Turks took advantage of the situation and attacked. Many of the pilgrims who walked in the main body were particularly in danger. Odo recalls,

“…the king, who had been left behind in peril with certain of his nobles, since he was not accompanied by common soldiers or serjeants with bows (for he had not fortified himself for crossing the pass, which by common agreement he was to cross the next day), careless of his own life and with the desire of freeing the dying mob, pushed through the rear-guard and courageously checked the butchery of his middle division. He boldly assaulted the infidel, who outnumbered him a hundred times and whom the position aided a great deal; for there no horse could stand, I shall not say gallop, but barely stand, and the slower attack which resulted in the weakened knights’ thrust when wounding the enemy. On the slippery slope our men brandished their spears with all of their own might, but without the added force of their horses, and from the safe shelter of rocks and trees the Turks shot arrows. Freed by the knights’ efforts, the mob fled, carrying their own packs or leading the sumpter animals, and exposed the king and comrades to death in their stead….During the engagement the king lost his small but renowned royal guard; keeping a stout heart; however, he nimbly and bravely scaled a rock by making use of tree roots which God had provided for his safety. The enemy climbed after, in order to capture him, and the more distant rabble shot arrows at him. But by the will of God his cuirass protected him from the arrows, and to keep from being captured he defended the crag with his bloody sword, cutting off heads and hands of many opponents in the process…”[18]

So it was that in a situation as desperate as this, King Louis and his royal guard counterattacked the Turks, risking all, in an effort to protect the army’s main body. It was a fight whose outcome was uncertain and perhaps more than any other factor, nightfall allowed the king to escape the enemy and rejoin the rest of the army. But it was not without cost. Odo writes in the “Beginning of Book Seven”:

“Nearby the baggage train was still crossing the pass, because the closer packed it was, the slower it fled over the crags. When he came upon it, the king, who was on foot, secured a horse and accompanied the men through the evening, which had already fallen. At that time breathless cohorts of knights from the camp met him and groaned when they saw him alone, bloody, and tired, for, without asking, they knew what had happened and mourned inconsolably for the missing royal escort, which numbered about forty (to wit, the count of Warenne and his brother Evrard of Breteuil, Manasses of Bulles and Gautier of Montjay and others; but I shall not record the names of all, lest I be considered unnecessarily wordy.)”[19]

One can only imagine the information we would have today had Odo thought differently of his loquaciousness! Regardless, here for posterity was the obituary of William de Warenne, a brave soldier whose final actions helped save the French army at Mount Cadmus and, along with it, perhaps its king or even the crusade itself.

Needless to say, the crusade continued and Louis pressed on; however, he determined that a land route was too dangerous and thus planned for ships to transport his army to Antioch. Unfortunately, only enough ships arrived to transport Louis and his knights. The rest of the army would have to walk after all. Between persistent attacks by the Turks and disease, the army was all but destroyed. [20] Louis arrived at Antioch on 19 March and was welcomed by Raymond of Poitiers, Prince of Antioch and uncle to Louis’s wife Eleanor of Aquitaine.

Raymond wanted Louis to join him in an expedition against the Turks who were in control of Aleppo, the gateway to Edessa. However, Louis declined, preferring instead to continue the pilgrimage to Jerusalem. The proximate cause of the crusade and the exhortations of Bernard of Clairveaux to secure Edessa were secondary. By April, Louis arrived in Jerusalem and was met by Otto of Freising and his remaining troops, as well as a recovered Emperor Conrad III. Soon the combined forces were forming and a council was convened to determine the best target for the crusaders. The “Haute Cour of Jerusalem” met on 24 June 1148, at Palmarea (a major city of the crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem, near Acre) with the recently arrived crusaders from Europe.[21] At the conclusion of the council it was determined that the crusader target should be the city Damascus, a former ally which had recently shifted allegiance to the Zengids. Whether the decision to seize Damascus, rather than liberate Edessa (the original goal of the crusade), was a mistake we may never know; reasonable justifications have been made on both sides of the argument. Nevertheless, it was on to Damascus!

Unfortunately for the crusaders, conquest was not to be. Despite Conrad’s personal leadership, leading the attack to the walls of Damascus, arriving reinforcements from Saif ad-Din Ghazi I of Mosul and Nur ad-Din of Aleppo counter attacked the crusaders, pushing them back into an area of orchards where they were subject to ambush. As a result, the crusaders made the disastrous decision to reposition their army onto an open plain away from food and water, in order to continue the attack. However, as Muslim reinforcements continued to pour into Damascus, the crusaders lost the ability to hold favorable terrain and were forced to break off the siege. In the end, after only a week, 23-28 July, the crusade came to an ignoble end and the armies returned to Jerusalem.[22] Ultimate failure had finally been visited upon the crusade.

In the end, the second crusade set the conditions for the future conflict. The Franks would never field forces of a similar size again for subsequent crusades, and distrust between western Christians and Byzantium became almost irrevocable.[23] While the Christian alliance fragmented, the failure of the crusaders emboldened their enemies. Over time, Saladin, a nephew of one of Nur ad-Din’s generals, would gain and consolidate power, attacking north conquering all in his path. And it is this loss, as it was with Edessa, which would initiate the Third Crusade. As for William de Warenne, he left behind a widow, Adela Talvas, and their only daughter and heir, Isabel. As the 4th Countess of Surry, Isabel would first marry William of Blois, second son of King Stephen, and after his death without issue, October 1159, secondly marry Hamelin, half-brother of King Henry II of England, who then became Earl of Warenne or Surrey and took the de Warenne surname. [24]

COL Stuart A. Whitehead is a 29th generation descendant of William de Warenne, 3rd Earl of Surrey, and former U.S. Army armor and cavalry officer. He and his family were once stationed in Izmir, Turkey where they were able to explore millennia of history – including the Crusades.


[1] Runciman, Steven, A History of the Crusades, Vol. II, The Kingdom of Jerusalem and the Frankish East 1100-1187, New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 1987, p. 247.

[2] Tyerman, Christopher (2006). God’s War: A New History of the Crusades. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2006, pp. 273-275.

[3] Jaffé-Wattenback, Regesta, No. 87906, Vol. II, p. 26, in Runciman, p. 248.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Madden, Thomas F. Ed., Crusades, The Illustrated History, Christendom, Islam, Pilgrimage, War. Ann Arbor, MI: The University of Michigan Press, 2008, p. 60.

[6] Odo of Deuil, De Profectione Ludovici VII in Orientem, New York, NY: W.W. Norton and Co., 1948, pp. 8-9.

[7] Ibid., p. 9.

[8] Dalton, Paul and Graeme J. White, King Stephen’s Reign (1135-1154), Woodbridge, UK: Boydell Press, 2008, p. 8

[9] Tyerman, p. 298.

[10] Madden, p. 60.

[11] Nicholson, Robert L., The Growth of the Latin States, 1118-1144, A History of the Crusades, Vol. I, Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press, 1969, p. 533.

[12] Nicolle, DavidThe Second Crusade 1148 Disaster outside Damascus, 2009, London: Osprey, p. 42.

[13] Madden, p. 62.

[14] Nicolle, p. 46.

[15] Runciman, p. 269.

[16] Runciman, p. 270.

[17] Runciman, pp. 270-271.

[18] Odo of Deuil, pp. 119-121.

[19] Odo of Deuil, p. 123.

[20] Runciman, pp. 272–273.

[22] Ibid.

[23] Runciman, p. 288.

[24] Cokayne, G.E., The Complete Peerage, Vol. XII/1, London, UK: The St. Catherine Press, 1953, p. 497-500.