Pope Innocent III launched the Fourth Crusade,Fourth Crusade, 1202–1204, which was totally diverted from its original course. The Crusaders, led mostly by French and Flemish nobles and spurred on by Fulk of Neuilly, assembled (1202) near Venice. To pay some of their passage to Palestine they aided Doge Enrico Dandolo (see under Dandolo, family) and his Venetian forces in recovering the Christian city of Zara (Zadar) on the Dalmatian coast from the Hungarians. The sack of Zara (1202), for which Innocent III excommunicated the crusaders, prefaced more serious political schemes. Alexius (later Alexius IV), son of the deposed Byzantine emperor Isaac II and brother-in-law of Philip of Swabia, a sponsor of the crusade, joined the army at Zara and persuaded the leaders to help him depose his uncle, Alexius III. In exchange, he promised large sums of money, aid to the Crusaders in conquering Egypt, and the union of Roman and Eastern Christianity under the control of the Roman church. The actual decision to turn on Constantinople was largely brought about by Venetian pressure. The fleet arrived at the Bosporus in 1203; Alexius III fled, and Isaac II and Alexius IV were installed as joint emperors while the fleet remained outside the harbor. In 1204, Alexius V overthrew the emperors. As a result the Crusaders stormed the city, sacked it amid horrendous rape and murder, divided the rich spoils with the Venetians (who brought much of it back to Venice) according to a prearranged plan, and set up the Latin Empire of Constantinople (see Constantinople, Latin Empire of). The Crusader Baldwin I of Flanders was elected first Latin Emperor of Constantinople, but within a year he was captured and killed by the Bulgarians and succeeded by his brother Henry.
There followed the pathetic interlude of the Children's Crusade,Children's Crusade, 1212. Led by a visionary French peasant boy, Stephen of Cloyes, children embarked at Marseilles, hoping that they would succeed in the cause that their elders had betrayed. According to later sources, they were sold into slavery by unscrupulous skippers. Another group, made up of German children, went to Italy; most of them perished of hunger and disease.
Soon afterward Innocent III and his successor, Honorius III, began to preach the Fifth Crusade,Fifth Crusade, 1217–21. King Andrew II of Hungary, Duke Leopold VI of Austria, John of Brienne, and the papal legate Pelasius were among the leaders of the expedition, which was aimed at Egypt, the center of Muslim strength. Damietta (Dumyat) was taken in 1219 but had to be evacuated again after the defeat (1221) of an expedition against Cairo.
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