King Louis sailing from Cyprus about the 24th day of May, 1249, came with a fair wind to Egypt in some four days, having a great fleet of ships, numbering in all, it was said, some eighteen hundred, great and small. And now there fell upon him the first stroke of misfortune. There arose a strong wind from the south which scattered the fleet, so that not more than a third part remained with the King. As for the others, they were blown far to the north, even to the town of Acre, and, though none were cast away, it was many days before they could return. Now the King’s purpose was to lay siege to the town of Damietta, a town which is built on the midmost of the seven mouths of the Nile. It was commonly agreed that whoever should hold possession of this said town of Damietta might go whithersoever he would in the whole land of Egypt, and further, that whosoever should be master of Egypt could do what he would in the land of Palestine.
When the King came with what was left to him over against the city of Damietta there was much debate between him and his counsellors as to what might best be done. “I have no mind,” said he, “to turn back, having, by the grace of God, come so far. Say you that I should do well to wait for those who have been separated from us? That I would gladly do, for it grieves me much that they lose, so far, their share in this great enterprise. But two reasons constrain me to do otherwise. First, it would put the infidel in great heart if they should see me so delay to make trial of them; and, second, there is here no harbour or safe anchorage where I might wait. Nay, my lords, it is my purpose to attack the enemy without delay, for the Lord our God can save by few or by many.”
The King being thus steadfastly resolved to have no more delay, his nobles and knights could not choose but obey him. This being so, they strove among themselves who should be the first to come to blows with the enemy. There were small boats with the larger of the ships, and these were filled with men and rowed to the shore. This was not done wholly without loss, for some slipped as they descended from the ships, or missed their feet, the boat moving from under them with the motion of the waves, so that some were drowned and others hardly saved.
Meanwhile they took the great flag of Saint Denys, from the ship in which it was, and carried it to the shore. But when the King saw the flag on the shore he would tarry no longer, but leapt into the sea, accoutred as he was, and the water came up to his armpits. When he saw the Saracens, he said to the knight that followed him, “Who are these?” And the knight answered, “These, sir, are the Saracens.” When he heard this he put his lance in rest, and held his shield before him, and would have charged them, but his counsellors would not suffer it.