Second Crusade Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

The Second Crusade was launched by Pope Eugenius III and, despite its ultimate failure, provided a model for the preaching of later expeditions. The Second Crusade also expanded the definition of crusade to include holy wars against pagans and other enemies of the Catholic Church.

Summary of Event

While crusades were preached in Europe after the First Crusade of 1096 and while Europeans continued to send reinforcements to the Latin settlements of the East (commonly known as Outremer), it was not until 1145 that a pope called for a large-scale Crusade. The call was precipitated by the December 24, 1144, capture of Edessa Edessa, fall of (1144) by Caliph Zangī (r. 1127-1146) of the Seljuk Seljuk Turks;Crusades and Empire. Edessa had been in Christian hands since the First Crusade, and its fall sent shock waves through Europe. [kw]Second Crusade (1147-1149) [kw]Crusade, Second (1147-1149) Crusades;Second[02] Portugal;1147-1149: Second Crusade[1900] Israel/Palestine;1147-1149: Second Crusade[1900] Europe (general);1147-1149: Second Crusade[1900] Byzantine Empire;1147-1149: Second Crusade[1900] Religion;1147-1149: Second Crusade[1900] Wars, uprisings, and civil unrest;1147-1149: Second Crusade[1900] Eugenius III Louis VII Bernard of Clairvaux, Saint Conrad III Roger II Manuel I Comnenus Eleanor of Aquitaine Raymond of Poitiers

As a result, in 1145, Pope Eugenius III Eugenius III called for a new Crusade to the East in his encyclical Quantum Praedecessores. This encyclical became the model for the formulation of later papal calls to crusade, including a summary of the threat, a call to take the cross, and a list of privileges granted to the Crusaders.

Louis VII Louis VII (king of France) of France was the first to heed the call. Apparently Louis had long planned a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. He announced his plan to take up the cross in December, 1145, to an assembly of nobles gathered for the Christmas Court at Bourges; however, the response to Louis’s call for a crusade was lukewarm.

It was not until Pope Eugenius appointed Bernard of Clairvaux Bernard of Clairvaux, Saint to preach the Crusade that Louis received widespread support. Indeed, contemporary chroniclers report that Bernard’s preaching so moved the crowd at Vézelay on March 31, 1146, that Bernard ran out of the cloth crosses he had brought with him to give to those pledging themselves to the Crusade.

Although Crusade fever gripped France, the Germans were less enthusiastic. In spite of continued urging from the pope, Conrad III Conrad III of Germany was reluctant to take up the cross or to commit his men to the Crusade. It was not until Bernard himself traveled to Germany that Conrad acquiesced.

During the two years of planning, the scale of the Second Crusade expanded to include three distinct arenas: Outremer Outremer , the Wendish lands beyond the Elbe River, and the Iberian Peninsula. Shortly before the departure of Conrad’s German forces for Outremer, a group of Saxons asked to be allowed to crusade against the pagan Wends Wends who lived beyond the Elbe River. The pope granted them permission, and so for the first time, the definition of crusade grew to include war against pagans or enemies of the Church.

The pope also included a call for the reconquest Reconquista of the Iberian Peninsula, and Crusaders who fought in this arena were accorded the same indulgences that Crusaders headed for the East enjoyed. Consequently, when the Anglo-Flemish forces landed in Portugal on their way east in June of 1147, they were persuaded to participate in the siege of Lisbon. The subsequent Crusader victory was the only real success of the entire Second Crusade.

The main thrust of the Second Crusade was the relief of Outremer. Conrad’s forces left Germany in May, 1147, and Louis followed in June. They elected to travel overland, through the Byzantine Empire ruled by Manuel I Comnenus Manuel I Comnenus .

Although both armies had been offered sea passage to Outremer by Roger II Roger II (king of Sicily) of Sicily, neither Conrad nor Louis fully trusted him. Conrad was on especially bad terms with Roger and preferred to negotiate with Manuel for safe conduct through the Byzantine Empire. Although the French were on better terms with Roger, they, too, elected the overland route. Significantly, Roger complicated the situation for the European Crusaders by engaging in a war with the Byzantine Empire.

Initially, the Germans had little problem crossing Byzantine territory. Their refusal to bypass Constantinople, however, as well as Crusader plundering, led to problems. After leaving Nicaea, the German army not only ran out of supplies, but also was ambushed by Turkish forces and routed. The survivors, including Conrad, fled to Nicaea to await aid from Louis.

Louis’s departure from France was in grand style. Like the Germans, he had many noncombatant pilgrims with him. In addition, Eleanor of Aquitaine Eleanor of Aquitaine and her court traveled with Louis’s forces. There are reports that Eleanor and her ladies frequently dressed like a troop of Amazons and rode alongside the troops headed to Outremer.

Louis was on less friendly terms with Manuel than Conrad, and French troops had to pass through territory already plundered by the Crusaders from Germany. Consequently, the French had little support from the Byzantines. Indeed, just as the French neared Constantinople, they received word that Manuel had been negotiating with the Turks.

Saint Bernard preaches the Second Crusade.


When the French army reached Nicaea, they met with the remains of Conrad’s army and continued eastward. Provisions grew low, and by the time they reached Antalya, they were in serious trouble, both from starvation and from Turkish harassment. Although Manuel promised ships to take the Crusaders on to Antioch, there were too few ships to transport all of Louis’s forces, and therefore many Crusaders were stranded in Byzantine territory to find their own way home or to Antioch.

Louis finally arrived in Antioch on March 19, 1148, where his troops remained as guests of Eleanor’s uncle, Raymond of Poitiers Raymond of Poitiers . In June, Louis, Conrad, and many Christians from the Latin settlements met and decided to attack Damascus. Contemporary writers alleged that Eleanor’s impropriety with her uncle spurred Louis on to rashly starting out for Damascus; whatever the case, the combined forces met with disaster when they attacked Damascus, thus ending the Second Crusade that had begun so grandly.

Many scholars have speculated on the causes leading to the failure of the Second Crusade. Some point to the large number of noncombatants who certainly drained critical resources. Others believe that the failure of the European forces to act in unity led to defeat; the strength of the European force in the East was diluted by the war against the Wends in Germany and against the Islamic holdings in the Iberian Peninsula. Still others suggest that the war between Roger of Sicily and Manuel led to fatal political maneuvering that cost the European forces important support in the East. Finally, some believe that Eleanor’s alleged dalliance with her uncle, Raymond, led to the disastrous decision to attack Damascus.


In all likelihood, all of the aforementioned reasons contributed to the spectacular failure of the European forces in Outremer. The failure of the Second Crusade led to bitter recriminations among Europeans who variously blamed God’s wrath with the Christian leadership or Byzantine betrayal for the failure. In any event, the morale of the Europeans in regard to Outremer was at an all-time low. No large-scale eastern Crusade was planned for nearly forty years. Further, although the Second Crusade is remembered as the largest, and perhaps most dramatic, of any medieval Crusade, Europeans met success only in the capture of Lisbon and the expansion of German territory into the land east of the Elbe. In the East, the Second Crusade served only to further inspire Muslim unity, ultimately leading to the collapse of Outremer in the following century.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Hallam, Elizabeth, ed. “The Second Crusade.” In Chronicles of the Crusades. New York: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1989. This chapter in a collection of translated letters and documents from contemporary sources provides the student with both well-written introductory material and primary sources.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Hillenbrand, Carole. The Crusades: Islamic Perspectives. New York: Routledge, 2000. Chapters explore Muslim reactions to the Crusades, ethnic and religious stereotyping, daily life, the conduct of war, and more. Bibliography, index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Irwin, Robert. “Muslim Responses to the Crusades.” History Today 47, no. 4 (April, 1997). Presents a rich overview of the Muslim perspective on the Crusades. Provides photographs and a short list of further readings.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Kelly, Amy. Eleanor of Aquitaine and the Four Kings. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1978. A highly readable account of Eleanor’s participation in the Second Crusade.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Lloyd, Simon. “The Crusading Movement, 1096-1274.” In The Oxford Illustrated History of the Crusades, edited by Jonathan Riley-Smith. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999. Places the Second Crusade within the context of the medieval crusading movement, arguing its significance in the history of late medieval culture in the West.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Maalouf, Amin. The Crusades Through Arab Eyes. Translated by Jon Rothschild. New York: Schocken Books, 1984. Drawn from Arab chroniclers of the wars, this book provides an Arab version of the Crusades from 1096 to 1291.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Madden, Thomas F., ed. The Crusades: The Essential Readings. Malden, Mass.: Blackwell, 2002. A collection of previously published articles about the Crusades, including medieval sources, lay enthusiasm, patronage, Byzantium, and the subjection of Muslims. Bibliography, index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">O’Callaghan, Joseph F. Reconquest and Crusade in Medieval Spain. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2002. Discusses how the Papacy in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries regarded the conflict in Spain between Muslims and Christians to be a Crusade. Includes chapters on battles, financing the conflicts, and Crusade warfare in general.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Riley-Smith, Jonathan. The Crusades: A Short History. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1987. This book traces the growth and decline of the crusading movement from 1096 through 1798 and includes discussions of the Crusades in Europe as well as in the East. Also includes nine historical maps, a unique system of transliteration, and an extensive annotated bibliography.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Runciman, Steven. A History of the Crusades. Vol. 2: The Kingdom of Jerusalem and the Frankish East, 1100-1187. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1987. This series has long been considered the standard reference on the Crusades. However, it focuses almost exclusively on Crusades to the East. Illustrations, maps, genealogical table, bibliography, index.

Categories: History