Post-classical history


To the Siege of Acre

While preaching and recruitment followed similar patterns across Christendom, the nature and timing of military and naval responses were determined by local circumstances. In 1188, William II of Sicily, unlike his northern fellow monarchs, was able to despatch a fleet to the east comprising about fifty ships and 200 knights under the resourceful admiral Margarit of Brindisi, soon nicknamed ‘Neptune’ or ‘king of the seas’.1 Reinforced from Sicily in 1189, to Saladin’s irritation this squadron protected Tripoli and Antioch while maintaining a piratic patrol along the northern Syrian shore. However, the death of King William in November 1189 ended Sicilian aid with the recall of the admiral, whose next involvement with the holy war found him trying to defend Messina from Richard I’s crusaders in October 1190.

The other Italian maritime powers of Pisa, Genoa and Venice held commercial fleets in the Levant on permanent rotation. In March 1188, those in Alexandria were reputedly forced by the Egyptian authorities to take on board Frankish captives and refugees from the fall of Outremer before being allowed to leave port.2 A Pisan fleet under Archbishop Ubaldo, a papal legate, embarked from the west at the end of 1188 and, after wintering in Sicily, provided support for Christian land operations in 1189. By 1190, a Genoese fleet was also assisting at the siege of Acre; in 1191 another was contracted to carry Philip II of France and his military entourage east. The retention of Tyre in 1187 proved crucial in providing such fleets with a base, although it is striking that the Venetians, who had held a third of Tyre since its capture in 1124, played an almost invisible role in the attempt to restore Outremer in 1188–92, perhaps because they initially feared their rights in Tyre had been overborne by the city’s saviour and protector in 1187–8, Conrad of Montferrat.

By contrast, recruits from the rest of western Christendom had to plan their transport from scratch, even where equipment and supplies were readily available, as with shipping around the North Sea. As a consequence, the Third Crusade constituted a series of distinct but associated expeditions that reached the Holy Land in irregular and uneven waves. Apart from the Sicilians and Pisans, some westerners, such as Geoffrey of Lusignan, King Guy’s brother, landed in Palestine and Syria in 1188 or early 1189. Substantial fleets from northern Europe only began to arrive in Palestine in the summer of 1189, followed over the next two years by a more or less constant stream of reinforcements, all, except for the vestigial German force in 1190, by sea. The largest armies were those organized by the monarchs of the west, Frederick Barbarossa, who set out by land in 1189, and Richard I and Philip II, who left together in 1190 using the sea route. The target was Acre. In July 1187, the city had capitulated to Saladin in two days; from August 1189 it took the Christians two years of hard pounding to regain it.3


By the winter of 1187–8, Frankish Outremer lay shattered at Saladin’s feet, the few remaining fortresses of the interior without hope of relief and the surviving ports vulnerable to assault, siege and naval blockade. Most were mopped up in the new campaign of 1188. Of the major Frankish cities, only Tripoli, Tyre and Antioch survived in Christian hands. Two of the last castles to hold out, Belvoir and Montréal, surrendered in January and May 1189, leaving Tortosa, Margat and Crac des Chevaliers in the county of Tripoli and, temporarily, Beaufort in northern Galilee outside Saladin’s grasp. Although Saladin commissioned works on the jihad, such as that by his future biographer Baha’ al-Din Ibn Shaddad in May 1188, and constantly reminded his coalition of followers of the transcendent significance of his conquests, his approach was pragmatic.4 At Antioch in September 1188 he agreed a truce with Bohemund III. On a military and political level he treated the remaining Frankish resisters as he would any other opponent. Confident in his overwhelming supremacy, Saladin was prepared to negotiate their surrender. If diplomacy failed, crushing force was at hand.

However, this strength was not absolute. Crucially, after failing to capture Tyre in July 1187 because of the unexpected arrival there of Conrad of Montferrat from Byzantium, Saladin was unable to press home the siege he began in November 1187. Accompanied only by a single ship’s company of knights, a few score at most, Conrad brought leadership, determination, energy and optimism to the defence of Tyre. Saladin’s move northwards at the start of 1188 left a vital Palestinian port in Christian hands, a haven for Frankish refugees and a base for the naval squadrons that were beginning to arrive from the west. Elsewhere, conquest and occupation were patchy. Each castle, town or city that chose to resist, even in the face of apparently certain defeat, presented a separate problem. The capture of one castle did not secure a region. While whole Frankish populations seemed to have been removed from cities such as Jerusalem and Acre, the fate of the rural Frankish population may have been less clear-cut. Some, like the Frankish woman encountered by the German pilgrim Thietmar at Montréal in 1217, may have stayed on as servile tenants or slaves.5 Where Frankish farmers had mixed with the local Syrian Christian peasantry, it is not inconceivable that some continued to work the land unmolested. Frankish administrative units may have survived the conquest intact. Certain settlements quickly resumed their previous legal identity after the Christian reconquest, as at Casal Imbert near Acre, restored in 1191. Whether or not pockets of Frankish settlers survived under the Muslim interregnum of 1187–91, the nature of the conquest did not require annihilation or complete deportation. Palestine was a long-settled land of many different communities, some ancient, some recent. The new Kurdish imperialists hardly altered that. Saladin’s conquest, despite the startling triumphs of 1187, belied the apocalyptic simplicity encouraged by his own and his enemies’ propagandists.

This was vividly illustrated by the fate of Beaufort.6 For four months from April 1189 Saladin, camped outside the castle, was persuaded not to attack by a series of negotiating ploys from its quick-witted, Arabic-speaking lord, Reynald of Sidon. Despite careful surveillance, Reynald managed to use the time to reinforce the castle’s defences. His repeated promises of surrender made to Saladin in Arabic were contradicted by his orders in French to his troops inside the castle to resist. The Franks’ move towards Acre in August 1189 caused Saladin to lift the siege, retaining Reynald as a captive. In April 1190, a new round of negotiations ended in the simultaneous surrender of the castle and release of Reynald. This pattern of threat and negotiation, coupled with Saladin’s habitual caution in committing his troops to action, marked the campaigns in 1187–9, during which he was happy to bargain surrenders of castles for safe-conducts and the release of prisoners. One unsympathetic observer, the Iraqi historian Ibn al-Athir, blamed this tactic for allowing the Franks to regroup.7 This reliance on negotiation not just brute force carried forward into Saladin’s handling of the Frankish reconquest from August 1189. Implicitly, the policy recognized that, however strategically victorious, only his or his generals’ local physical presence with their troops denied Franks space to manoeuvre. At least from the summer of 1188, small Frankish armed bands were able to travel between the northern enclaves of Antioch and Tripoli and Tyre despite Saladin’s continued operations further inland. Provided some of their outposts remained, Christian recovery was possible.

In Saladin’s essentially political rather than ideological or fanatical approach to his conquests lay both his success and his failure. The iconic, theatrical killing of Reynald of Châtillon after Hattin proved an exception to his usual dealings with important Frankish enemies and captives. While Christian resistance continued, Saladin pursued the traditional pre-1187 policy of accommodating Frankish nobles as prisoners and using their release for tangible, costless rewards. Thus Montréal was exchanged in May 1189 for Humphrey of Toron and Beaufort in 1190 for Reynald of Sidon. During his second attack on Tyre, in the last weeks of 1187, Saladin tried unsuccessfully to use old William of Montferrat as a bargaining chip to persuade his son Conrad to surrender the city. Less obvious were his reasons for releasing most of the surviving defeated Jerusalem leadership in the early summer of 1188, including King Guy, his brother, the Constable Aimery, and the Master of the Templars, Gerard of Ridefort. If he had hoped to undermine Conrad of Montferrat at Tyre or sow dissension in the thin Frankish ranks, he was not immediately rewarded. Gerard of Ridefort promptly led the successful defence of the Templars’ citadel at Tortosa in July 1188. Guy immediately repudiated the oath he had sworn to gain his freedom, by which he had promised to abandon the struggle in Outremer. Initially, he did not attempt to challenge Conrad of Montferrat’s control of Tyre, preferring to reassemble his family and supporters at Antioch and Tripoli. One direct and possibly intended consequence of the stubbornness of the castle garrisons of the interior was that Saladin was distracted and his forces stretched. The Iraqi intellectual, diplomat and lawyer Baha’ al-Din Ibn Shaddad, who met Saladin and entered his service in the spring of 1188, has left a telling account of the sultan’s necessary restlessness simply to hold his newly created empire together let alone extinguish the embers of Frankish opposition.8

While he was attempting to reduce Beaufort in August 1189, Saladin received the startling news that King Guy was marching south, apparently intent of besieging Acre. The richest port on the Palestinian coast, after its surrender a few days after Hattin Saladin turned Acre into one of his main garrison towns and arms depots. The sultan’s eagerness to secure Beaufort delayed his response, allowing Guy to negotiate the awkward coastal march to begin what proved to be the start of the Christian counter-attack. It is often said that King Guy’s attack on Acre demonstrated, in Runciman’s phrase, ‘desperate foolhardiness’.9 Outnumbered, isolated and exposed, Guy’s force, perhaps only a few thousand strong in all, was pitted against a well-protected walled city defended by a substantial garrison probably larger than the initial besieging army. At Guy’s rear lay a hostile Christian rival, Conrad of Montferrat, controlling the only serviceable friendly port, and a significant, battle-hardened Ayyubid army under Saladin himself only a couple of days’ march away. Yet Guy’s attack on Acre may not have been so rash, surprising or unexpected. Both Arabic and western sources record the building-up of Frankish forces in and around Tyre and in the county of Tripoli in 1189. Skirmishing and raiding from Tyre increased in intensity. The gathering pace of reinforcements from the west, as well as the release of the Jerusalem leaders, demanded some form of action, if only to provide occupation for the growing crowds of arms-bearers congregating in Tyre and Tripoli. Saladin’s forces had been reduced to save money and ease the political tensions involved in maintaining a large coalition army in the field for long periods without plentiful new supplies of booty. Successful conquest left the sultan’s victorious army unable to plunder newly won territories now controlled by their own leaders. With their strength increasing, a Frankish advance was inevitable. Early in July 1189, an attempted foray towards Sidon was repulsed after some sharp exchanges.

By this time, the military options of the Frankish leadership had become mired in political conflict. In the early spring of 1189, Guy led his small army south from Tripoli to Tyre to reclaim the last remnant of the kingdom he had lost two years before. Conrad of Montferrat refused to countenance Guy’s restoration and forbade his entry to Tyre. Conrad’s grounds, depending on the account followed, rested on a sort of right of conquest argument. He wrote to Archbishop Baldwin of Canterbury of his achievements: ‘for the salvation of the Christian people… I have preserved and am preserving Tyre’, a fact ‘grievous and insupportable’ to Guy. Arabic sources have Conrad claiming regency in Tyre on behalf of the monarchs of the west, who would eventually settle all claims to kingship, an echo of the succession schemes floated in Jerusalem in 1184–5.10 Conrad could have learnt of these from the refugees who fled to Tyre after Hattin, including Raymond III of Tripoli, a central figure in the succession crisis of 1183–6 and the leading opponent of Guy. Although he died soon after, Raymond was still alive in Tyre in August 1187, weeks after Conrad’s arrival.

A king denied his kingdom, Guy decided to dig in outside Tyre, presumably in the hope of winning political adherents from the western crusaders, who were beginning to arrive in large numbers. However, after four months, he had made no progress against either Conrad or Saladin. His options were narrowing. Saladin’s army was besieging Beaufort, uncomfortably close to any assault on Sidon, as the raid of July 1189 demonstrated. To survive, let alone regain authority, Guy needed to take action. His lack of alternatives provided him with an opportunity when western reinforcements came on the spring passage from the west, notably the Pisans. Arriving in April under the papal legate Archbishop Ubaldo, they soon fell out with Conrad over competing rights in Tyre. With other western recruits and Outremer Franks alienated by Conrad, they joined Guy outside Tyre. Conrad may have underestimated the effect of the post-Hattin propaganda in the west. Instead of a rank failure, Guy was portrayed as one of the heroic defenders of the cross, a companion of the martyred Reynald of Châtillon. He was also the anointed king of Jerusalem and still married, happily it appeared, to the accepted heiress Sybil. The Templars, whose reputation remained high in the west, continued to give him their support, even though the Hospitallers sided with Conrad. By August 1189, with Saladin still distracted at Beaufort, Guy had amassed the core of a useful fighting force of a few hundred knights, some thousands of infantry and the Pisan fleet.


12. Syria at the Time of the Third Crusade

The timing of his advance south, an extremely risky manoeuvre if Saladin had decided to oppose it, may also have been dictated by events far from the Holy Land. News of the preparations in Europe circulated freely in the Christian camps at Tyre, brought by crusaders and in diplomatic correspondence. It was to take only five months for Saladin to learn of Frederick I’s departure from Germany in May 1189 from Byzantine sources via his son at Aleppo.11 A similar length of time would have been ample for Guy to have heard of the impending descent on the Levant of large fleets from northern Europe in the autumn passage. The German crusade would hardly serve Guy’s interests against those of an imperial vassal, Conrad of Montferrat, unless he had already reimposed his leadership in the field. The prospect of massive reinforcements may have helped persuade Guy that the dash for Acre was not as reckless as it at first seemed. The coincidence of timing is compelling. Guy established his camp outside Acre on 28 August 1189. Before the end of September, he had been joined by large squadrons from Denmark, Germany, Frisia, Flanders and England, as well as a substantial contingent of northern Frenchmen led by James of Avesnes, one of the nobles who had taken the cross with Henry II and Philip II at Gisors in January 1188.12

Even so, despite his following and the prospect of reinforcements, Guy’s was a desperate adventure that avoided destruction only because of Saladin’s characteristic caution. Since its capture in July 1187, the sultan had added to Acre’s defences and improved its harbour. He rejected the option of trying to stop Guy reaching Acre, preferring to rely on its walls and garrison resisting for long enough to permit his full force to assemble and trap the Christian army on the plain outside the city. Saladin reached Acre three days after Guy, by which time the Christians had tried to encircle the city, had launched an unsuccessful assault on the walls and had established a fortified base camp on a tell (or man-made hill) to the east of the city, the hill of Toron, or Tell al-Musallabin. Saladin quickly established contact with the Acre garrison and secured landward access to the city, but a frontal assault on the Christian camp on 15 September failed to dislodge or overrun it.


13. The Siege of Acre 1189

The key battle was fought on 4 October. Guy’s army had grown to more than 30,000 according to one Arabic estimate and now included, alongside the thousands of westerners, a reluctant Conrad of Montferrat and his supporters from Tyre, their presence showing that, politically at least, Guy’s gamble had paid off. Seeing the danger of allowing the Muslim field army to grow while the Acre garrison remained untouched, the Christians decided to try to destroy the sultan’s force or, at least, drive it off. A full-scale assault was launched on Saladin’s camp. After a fierce pitched battle with heavy casualties on both sides, including Gerard of Ridefort, the Christians were bloodily repulsed, but their camp stayed intact. Saladin’s confidant, Ibn Shaddad, claimed to have firm evidence that over 4,000 Christians had been killed on the left wing alone.13 The heaps of rotting corpses set off infection and disease in both camps. Despite the defeat, one Christian objective was achieved when, in mid-October, Saladin withdrew from front-line investment of the Christian positions to await more troops and a fleet from Egypt. The following weeks and months saw both sides receiving reinforcements, but with neither able to press home a decisive military advantage or dislodge the other, a grim stalemate ensued. The two armies dug in; the Christians, only partially encircling the city by land, were themselves partially surrounded by Saladin’s field army. A form of trench warfare began, the Franks constructing a great protective ditch and rampart around their camp. Frequent raids and close-combat skirmishes sparked across the no man’s lands between the camps and between the Christians and the city, with no advantage gained by anyone. With the arrival of Egyptian fleets from late October, the Christian hold of the sea was contested and placed in jeopardy.

The survival of the Christian force at Acre depended almost entirely on the appearance of fleets from the west. Only the large numbers of crusaders sustained a siege that developed into a struggle against disease and low morale as much as with the sapping attritional fighting. While fleets played significant if underreported roles in both the First and Second Crusades, the new enterprise, the great German host excepted, was overwhelmingly dependent on naval transport. For the shipwrights and sea captains from Norway to Dalmatia, the Third Crusade proved both a bonanza and a risk, their services in demand as never before but their payment and profits often a matter of dispute and at the mercy of the elements or the chances of war. The preponderance of sea transport, the variety of vessels available, the certainty of planning and routes, the awareness of naval logistics, the distances covered and the accurate predictions of timing reflected the exponential growth in maritime activity and exchange around the coasts of Europe in the twelfth century. Of this, the traffic of crusading and pilgrimage formed only a part, at once symptom and stimulus. The local pride in these fleets was reflected by glowing accounts preserved by citizens of their home ports, such as London, Bremen or Cologne, as well as by the witnesses and chroniclers of the fighting in the Holy Land. Both demonstrated the large scale of engagement in crusading: these fleets carried thousands of men.

Western and Arabic sources leave no doubt as to the scale of the reinforcements. Christian sources recorded the arrival in early September 1189 of a fleet of Frisians and Danes in fifty cogs, large round cargo sailing ships capable of carrying companies of upwards of a hundred each, apparently commanded by some Danish nobles. The North Sea and Atlantic seaboard had been alive with crusade shipping since early in the year. Sixty ships, including four very large vessels, possibly ‘busses’ capable of carrying 150 crew and passengers provided by the city, had left Cologne in February 1189 with, it was optimistically suggested, 10,000 men. The Cologne squadron left Lisbon in late May or early June. Before sailing into the Mediterranean this fleet captured the small port of Albuferia in the Algarve, after which some of the Cologne crusaders cashed in their booty and returned home. By mid-September the remaining ships had reached Palestine.14

Their landfall was immediately followed by the arrival of a Flemish and northern French squadron, who may have sailed via Italy, under James of Avesnes. A nobleman with an enviable reputation for wisdom, integrity and chivalry, later elevated by his death at the battle of Arsuf in 1191 into an international hero, James apparently assumed leadership of the westerners in the Christian camp, perhaps by virtue of his close connection with the French royal court and his involvement in the discussions on the crusade between the kings of France and England and the count of Flanders early in 1188. By the end of September, these crusaders had been joined by the cousins of the French king, Peter count of Dreux, and his brother, Philip bishop of Beauvais, ‘a man more devoted to battles than books’; the French counts of Brienne and Bar and many lesser French magnates; contingents from the Anglo-Norman-Angevin realms with William Ferrers earl of Derby; and a smattering of Flemish, Italian and Sicilian notables. Before reaching the siege in the last week of September, Louis III, landgrave of Thuringia, at the head of an imperial contingent drawn from Germany and Italy, had put in at Tyre, where he persuaded Conrad of Montferrat to swallow his opposition to Guy and join the Christian army at Acre. This German force earned the contempt of one compatriot, who complained that by taking the sea route rather than following Frederick Barbarossa overland, they had chosen ‘a short voyage that reduced the fear from enemy pagans’.15 Once established at Acre, Louis seems to have joined James of Avesnes as the dominant voices in the crusaders’ high command.

These fleets secured the Christian bridgehead at Acre at a high cost. Casualty rates assumed gruesome proportions. One contemporary tried to convey the losses by claiming that after two years at the siege, out of 12,000 who had arrived in the autumn of 1189, barely 100 survived. Small wonder that morale-boosting tales of heroic martyrdom were concocted for circulation in the camp to reassure those in daily fear and danger of death.16 The desperate and to modern audiences highly evocative nature of the warfare was vividly captured in an account almost certainly compiled by one who had been there, a crusader at Acre in 1191–12 if not before:

The Turks were a constant threat. While our people sweated away digging trenches, the Turks harassed them in relays incessantly from dawn to dusk. So while half were working the rest had to defend them against the Turkish assault… while the air was black with a pouring rain of darts and arrows beyond number or estimate… Many other future martyrs and confessors of the Faith came to shore and were joined to the number of the faithful. They really were martyrs: no small number of them died soon afterwards from the foul air, polluted with the stink of corpses, worn out by anxious nights spent on guard, and shattered by other hardships and needs. There was no rest, not even time to breathe. Our workers in the trench were pressed ceaselessly by the Turks who kept rushing down on them in unexpected assaults. The Turks reduced them to exasperation before the trench was eventually finished.17

The fleets of the autumn of 1189 were followed by possibly even more substantial forces over the following months. The largest of these, which may have reached Acre before the winter of 1189–90 but more likely only the next spring, comprised scores of ships from north Germany, the Rhineland, Flanders and England. One flotilla, including ships from London as well as ports around the North Sea, mustered at Dartmouth in May 1189, where, following the precedent of 1147, they entered into a formal communal alliance before embarking for Lisbon on 18 May. Just over a week later, eleven ships that had embarked from Bremen on 23 April, possibly under their archbishop, after sailing down the English coast from Lowestoft, reached Dartmouth. The two fleets made a rendezvous at Lisbon on 4 July, the twenty-four ships of the Dartmouth commune having arrived on 29 June. Having missed the main German and Flemish force, of fifty-five ships, including the Cologne ships, by a month, this fleet of thirty-five or so ships was hired by the king of Portugal to help capture the port of Silves in the Algarve. Despite their naval supremacy and troops numbering perhaps 3,500, the siege lasted from 17 July until 6 September before the Muslim garrison surrendered. This delayed the fleet, which only left for Palestine on 20 September, passing the Straits of Gibraltar on 29 September before finding its way to Marseilles over the next month. Although associated in some accounts with the other northern European arrivals at Acre of the autumn of 1189, it is more likely that this fleet did not venture further in the winter months, reaching its destination the following spring.18

The campaign season of 1190 at Acre began with high expectations only to end in depression, disease and threatened disintegration. Both sides knew of the impending arrival of the great German host led by Frederick I. Saladin kept an especially wary eye on the emperor’s progress east. In October 1189, on hearing of Frederick’s departure the previous May, Saladin had despatched his new minister Ibn Shaddad to summon his allies from northern Syria and Iraq ‘for the Jihad’.19 These new contingents reached Acre in May and June 1190, giving Saladin a marked if temporary advantage. The Christians, meanwhile, had consolidated their defensive position around the Tell of Toron. During the winter, food ran short, with control of the sea-lanes challenged by the Egyptian fleet. On land, despite continued skirmishing, stalemate prevailed, to the retrospective annoyance of some Muslim partisans. The Iraqi Ibn al-Athir, never one of the sultan’s unalloyed panegyrists, criticized Saladin’s failure to destroy the Christian defences while they were still being constructed. The well-informed Syrian Abu Shama alleged that the nobles on each side punctuated the desultory round of fighting by fraternizing with each other, exchanging views, even joining together in singing and dancing. There was allegedly even a mock-combat staged between two boys from each side.20 This did not seem to curb the violence on the battlefield, but may have exacerbated the sense, apparent among the Christian rank and file, that their leaders were reluctant to risk their lives in combat. According to Saladin’s secretary, Imad al-Din, less exalted contacts were made at a carnal level, with Mamluks and other troops availing themselves of the opportunities afforded by the large red light district of the Christian camp. So intrigued or shocked was the scholarly and verbose Imad al-Din at the presence of these apparently highly skilled prostitutes that he was moved to pen an extended pornographic descant condemning their charms and erotic athleticism, achieving over twenty-five different metaphors for penetrative sex.21

With reinforcements for both sides beginning to arrive, any element of phoney war began to dissipate amid preparations for offensive action. By March 1190, Conrad of Montferrat had recognized the dangers of his intransigence and agreed to be reconciled with King Guy in return for possession of Tyre and, when reconquered, Beirut and Sidon. Just before Easter (25 March) Conrad reinforced his faithful credentials by returning by sea from a refitting trip to Tyre with food, men and equipment, managing to break a Muslim naval blockade. The survivors of one captured Egyptian galley were dragged ashore to be humiliated, tortured and finally killed by a group of termagant Christian women.22 After Beaufort finally surrendered to Saladin on 2 April, the sultan began to concentrate his forces on what he hoped to be a decisive engagement at Acre. On 28 April, perhaps warned of the impending arrival of more of Saladin’s allies, the Christians launched a concerted assault on the walls of Acre with three great siege engines. While these wooden towers were slowly manoeuvred against the walls of the city, Saladin tried to disrupt operations by attacking the Christian camp. A week of fierce fighting ended on 5 May, when the siege towers were destroyed by Greek fire. With Acre’s walls secured and its garrison relieved by a supply flotilla, Saladin began a series of forays to test the strength of the Christian positions. If his intention had been to provoke the enemy to break out and try the luck of action on the open plain, the plan worked. On 25 July, what may have begun as a fast-moving attempt to turn the Muslim right flank soon became a general engagement between the two armies. Christian sources hinted at a failure of discipline, with the commanders and the patriarch of Jerusalem unable to dissuade a mass of disorganized, leaderless knights from seeking battle. If so, it proved a disastrous collapse of control and unity. The Christians were severely mauled, narrowly avoiding total rout. Western and Arabic sources agreed that over 4,000, and perhaps more than 5,000, Christians were killed.23 If, as alleged, unruly knights and impatient sergeants chafing under the privations of a beleaguered camp and their own leadership’s inaction had precipitated the battle, their folly, and their generals’ wisdom, was confirmed just three days after the battle. On 28 July a very large crusader fleet arrived offshore carrying many of the greatest lords of northern and eastern France under the command of the count of Champagne.

Henry II, count of Champagne since 1181, was one of the wealthiest and best-connected nobles in western Europe, nephew to both Philip II of France and Richard I of England. He led what was effectively the advance guard of the French crusade being prepared by Philip II. Henry had taken the cross with King Philip, the count of Flanders and Henry II of England in January 1188. A later commentator in Outremer remembered that he brought with him to Acre some of the French king’s matériel and siege engines, possibly in prefabricated sections.24 He was accompanied by his uncles, Count Theobald of Blois, seneschal of France, and Count Stephen of Sancerre, with Count Robert of Clermont, constable of France, and a dozen other lords from northern France. In recognition of his status and the men and equipment he brought, Count Henry assumed effective command of the Christian army from Louis of Thuringia and James of Avesnes, a sign that western crusaders far outnumbered the Outremer Franks of King Guy and Conrad of Montferrat. Henry’s arrival raised Christian morale and allowed renewed bombardment of the walls of Acre using the newly arrived French trebuchets.

However, the significance of Henry’s landfall was almost completely overshadowed by news from the north. Saladin had been kept informed of the march of the German army across Asia Minor in the spring of 1190. To meet this threat, the sultan despatched troops from Acre to Aleppo and northern Syria. This meant that, when faced with the crusader reinforcements under Henry of Champagne, Saladin felt compelled to withdraw most of his remaining army to a distant blockade of the Christian lines. But by that time he knew that his northern forces were facing a rather different threat to the one he had imagined for most of the previous year. Some time in late June or early July, Saladin learnt that, on 10 June, while crossing the river Saleph in Christian Cilicia, the German emperor Frederick Barbarossa had died suddenly.25 Although the scale of the subsequent disintegration of the German army only became apparent to the watchers at Acre in late July, the death of Frederick proved disastrous for the prospects of the whole enterprise.


When Frederick I took the cross from the papal legate Henry of Albano at Mainz on 27 March 1188, he confirmed his position as the leading monarch of western Europe. As one contemporary close to the German crusade remarked, Frederick had undertaken ‘the management of Christendom’s affairs’.26 Not only did the ceremony recognize his efforts to translate imperial claims into political authority within Germany, it also represented the consolidation of a new European order based on alliance between empire and papacy after decades of hostility and conflict that had dogged Frederick’s domestic and international policies for most of his reign. Frederick had been negotiating with successive popes in the 1180s to reach a settled accommodation over ecclesiastical jurisdiction in Germany and political influence in Italy. With the exception of the prickly Milanese Urban III, the generally aged and cautious popes were willing, if not eager, to secure a lasting reconciliation with the emperor in order to shore up the papacy’s increasingly desperate financial situation and maintain some element of integrity in its political and territorial position in Italy, where Frederick’s son, Henry, had occupied the papal states in 1186. Henry’s marriage to Constance, aunt and possible heiress to the childless King William II of Sicily, further encouraged papal cooperation. The imperial–papal treaty of Strassburg in April 1189 sealed this successful diplomacy as well as providing a necessary context for Frederick’s departure east.

However, Frederick’s commitment to the Holy Land transcended political convenience. He had played a leading role in the Second Crusade as Conrad III’s chief lieutenant. In the autumn of 1184, responding to the mission from Jerusalem of Patriarch Heraclius, he had promised Pope Lucius III that he would begin immediate preparations for an eastern expedition. Now in his late sixties, having overcome internal opponents, survived defeat by the Lombard cities in the 1170s and established his son, Henry, as his heir in Germany, Frederick could afford to give substance to his chancery’s claims to world authority and simultaneously fulfil personal and imperial ambition. Only the accident of events denied Frederick a central role in the Third Crusade. Although Frederick’s expedition followed the traditions of the past, these proved more robust than hindsight has allowed. In some ways, Frederick was refighting the Second Crusade or even the First; and until 10 June 1190 it looked as though he was doing it rather well.

The influence of history permeated Frederick’s preparations and the management of the enterprise. He was even the recipient of a glossy new edition of Robert of Rheims’s popular and influential account of the First Crusade.27 Frederick’s plans embraced the idealism but avoided the errors of the past. His army was to be adequately funded by participants, well disciplined and very large. Some estimated 20,000 knights and 80,000 infantry mustered under Frederick’s command; others put the fighting force at nearer 85,000. Arnold of Lübeck a generation later claimed that a census taken during the crossing of the Balkans had revealed 50,000 knights and 100,000 infantry. Even if these figures exaggerate, on two occasions the host was recorded as having taken three days to pass a single point.28 The path of this mighty force was paved by careful diplomacy, with the rulers of central Europe, the Byzantine emperor, the Seljuk sultan of Rum and even Saladin. Although the naval option was apparently considered, the land route was more convenient for the bulk of his followers, in terms of access and the ease of supply for such a substantial force, which was, in any case, too large to be transported by sea in its entirety or at the same time. While feasible for the extended military entourages of Louis of Thuringia in 1189, Leopold of Austria in 1190–91, or even Philip II of France in 1190, Italian maritime city fleets did not have the capacity to accommodate Frederick’s host. Nor, probably, did Frederick have the ready cash or the diplomatic clout to secure the necessary contracts. The land route was familiar from the First and Second Crusades, as well as diplomatic and commercial exchanges with Hungary. Henry the Lion, duke of Saxony, had followed the Danube and the Balkan route to Constantinople on his elaborate pilgrimage in 1172, before resorting to the sea for the voyage to Acre.29 By taking the overland route, Frederick could hope to maintain political control both of his army and of his destiny.

As has been described, the ‘Christ’s court’ at Mainz in March 1188 provided a focus and a confirmation of plans and commitments already established. These were extended in the next few months. At Mainz, the muster had been fixed for 23 April 1189. A series of assemblies, courts and diets reaffirmed recruitment and established certain rules, such as the stipulation for crusaders to be able to fund themselves for a year. Just as in 1147, political conflicts were resolved under the aegis of the higher cause and imperial authority was lent added moral force. Henry the Lion, whose youthful ambitions had been temporarily deflected by Conrad III’s crusade, now was presented with a choice of acknowledging his rival’s lordship by joining Frederick on crusade at the emperor’s expense or of accepting imperial judgement by going into exile for three years. Henry chose the less humbling of these two unwelcome options by choosing exile at the court of his father-in-law, Henry II of England (although he was soon back). Ambassadors and letters were despatched along the German’s proposed route, to Bela III of Hungary, Stephen, the ruler of Serbia, and Emperor Isaac II Angelus of Byzantium. A Franconian knight, Godfrey of Wiesenbach, visited Sultan Kilij Arslan II of Rum (1155–92), grandson of the Seljuk sultan defeated by the First Crusade, with whom Frederick had been allied for some time. According to western sources, but not those Arabic writers closest to the Ayyubid sultan, the count of Birstein, Henry of Dietz, was sent to Saladin.30 News of Frederick’s preparations and the huge response to the call to arms seem to have intimidated those living in his projected path. At a diet in Nuremberg in December 1188, representatives from Hungary and the Balkans promised cooperation, as did a delegation sent by Kilij Arslan II. This constructive diplomacy with the Seljuks, and, if not apocryphal, the mission to Saladin, conformed to a consistent pattern evident in German planning and especially during the campaign itself. Throughout, Frederick kept his eyes fixed firmly on the goal of the Holy Land and Jerusalem. He saw himself as a knight of Christ bound to avenge the events of 1187, not an indiscriminate hammer of Islam or anybody else. The Byzantine ambassadors were less convinced, asking that another German embassy be sent to Constantinople to reassure Isaac II that neither he nor any western monarch harboured hostile intentions towards the Greek empire; more shades of 1147. Only when Frederick agreed to continue negotiations by sending the requested new delegation did the Byzantine representatives commit their government to helping the crusaders with guides, markets, security and transport for the crossing to Asia Minor. The German envoys would help coordinate this assistance. Even so, Greek fear was hardly assuaged. So large an army, whatever its motives, would have the material effect of an invasion.

Despite Frederick’s energetic preparations, the need for haste was loudly proclaimed, not least by Henry of Albano, who lamented the backsliding of some crusaders and the in-fighting of others, which he likened to dogs returning to their own vomit.31 In fact, compared with the kings of England and France, Frederick moved with vigour and drive, at the head of a genuinely popular movement that redirected the lives and funds of nobles, their ministeriales and knights, lesser lords, higher and lower clergy, urban and rural elites and freemen from all parts of Germany. As a sympathetic contemporary noted, Frederick, ‘who had been the last king to make his vow of pilgrimage, hurried to be the first to discharge it’.32 The experience of 1147–8 prompted Frederick to maintain a very tight grip on his huge coalition. Twice on the march to Constantinople, he refined disciplinary ordinances for his disparate troops and non-combatants, establishing a system of justice and punishment sworn by the whole army and, later, dividing the host into self-regulating judicial units within this agreed communal system. In sharp contrast to Louis VII’s ordinances for his crusade army in 1147, Frederick’s were enforced. Loutish behaviour led to loss of hands; theft to execution. Such harsh discipline was coupled with a constant emphasis on the pious nature of the operation. At Vienna, Frederick purged the army of undesirable elements, including the prostitutes. The general effect on morale and military effectiveness stood in marked contrast to the shambles into which Conrad III’s army had descended in Asia Minor in the autumn of 1147. Frederick remembered. His army’s reputation for order and piety became notorious. Ibn Shaddad recorded a possibly genuine letter to Saladin by the Catholicos of the Armenian church in northern Syria, Gregory IV, written in 1190, which testifies at least to the nature and success of German propaganda if not their piety:

They are of varied races and strange ways. Their cause is a great one and they are serious in their enterprise and of prodigious discipline, so much so that, if one of them commits a crime, the only penalty is to have his throat cut like a sheep. I was informed about one of their nobles, that he did wrong to a page of his and beat him beyond the limit. The priests gathered to give judgement and the case by general decision demanded that his throat be cut. Many petitioned the emperor on his behalf, but he paid no attention and had his throat cut. They have forbidden themselves pleasures even to the extent that, if they hear that anyone has allowed himself any pleasure, they treat him as an outcast and chastise him. All this because of grief for Jerusalem.33

The image of a ‘Christian militia’ fostered by Frederick’s later panegyrists may not simply have been a construct of preachers, observers and historians but, as on the First Crusade, an integral part of the army’s own mechanisms of self-regulation and morale. Chroniclers’ comparisons with the Theban legion and the Maccabees may have seemed appropriate to the troops themselves as they struggled across Asia Minor in the spring of 1190. In letters home in the autumn of 1189, Frederick himself described his followers as ‘the army of the Holy Cross’ or ‘of the life-giving Cross’, in clear association with the central image of the recruiting campaign.34 This sense of identity and destiny underpinned the whole enterprise. The tone for the expedition had been set by the careful orchestration of Frederick’s adoption of the cross in March 1188 and his receiving the scrip and staff of a pilgrim at Hagenau in April 1189. However, throughout the German march, the maintenance of morale and a sense of purpose ran in tandem with Frederick’s careful planning and judicious use of force.

The German contingents for the land route mustered, as arranged, at Regensburg on 23 April 1189. On 11 May, the army or, more realistically, armies, moved off down the Danube, the high command in boats, the rest on shore. Progress was rapid and peaceful, past Vienna to Bratislava (Pressburg), where disciplinary regulations were promulgated. By 4 June the Germans reached Esztergom (Gran) on the Hungarian frontier. They were greeted with lavish hospitality by King Bela III and his wife Margaret. Poised between Byzantium and the west, Hungary’s involvement in crusading reflected an eagerness to be associated with Latin Christendom, not least as a means of ensuring independence. Queen Margaret, daughter of Louis VII of France, Frederick’s companion in arms on the Second Crusade, embodied this policy. More immediately, the Hungarians supplied the crusaders with provisions, equipment and access to plentiful if expensive markets. After what appeared, in retrospect at least, a comfortable passage through Hungary, the crusaders reached the Byzantine border at Branitz (Brnjica) on 2 July.

Relations with the Byzantine empire were complicated by Isaac II’s uneasy hold on his Balkan provinces, his need to secure his eastern frontier by a treaty with the Seljuk Turks, past tensions with the Germans in Italy, a tradition of hostility with Sicily, now allied with Frederick, and with the west more generally over Italian trading rights and Antioch.35 There persisted a fear, especially among the Constantinopolitan elites, that all western armies held as an ulterior motive the conquest of the Greek empire. On the westerners’ side, the religious schism sharpened the feeling that the Greeks were poor Christians in their apparent indifference to the Holy Land. Isaac Angelus had acquired the throne in 1185 after a coup marked by mob sadism unusual even in Byzantium, the previous emperor Andronicus I Comnenus, himself a murdering usurper, being torn to pieces in the streets of the capital. Isaac balanced his political weakness with petulant diplomatic bluster. Having promised assistance to the Germans, in the summer of 1189 Isaac suddenly threw the German ambassadors he had asked for into prison. He continued to pursue amicable relations with Saladin, whom he kept informed of the German progress.36 Saladin’s envoys were in Constantinople when the German ambassadors arrived and allegedly received the horses of the unfortunate westerners when they were incarcerated. It is hard to divine the immediate advantage for the Greeks in the Ayyubid alliance, a feature of Byzantine foreign policy after 1182. Isaac may have hoped to counteract any agreement Frederick had reached with the Sicilians or the Seljuks or use it as a lever to engineer recognition of suzerainty over Antioch and other former Greek territories that the crusaders conquered. Yet such hopes were fatally undermined by Isaac’s lack of adequate military strength to exert pressure on the crusaders. More immediately damaging was his failure to prevent the German army from being attacked more or less the entire length of their journey from the Danube to the plains of Thrace. The net result of Isaac’s policy, if such a farrago of myopic expedience and folly can be so described, was to provoke Frederick into contemplating precisely what the Greek feared most, an attack on Constantinople.

From Branitz, the Germans threaded their way to Nish, which was reached on 27 July. Given the awkward terrain and the length of the crusader marching line, the army was divided into four divisions.37 Despite the persistent harassment from locals acting, many believed, on Isaac’s orders, Frederick was reluctant to throw in his lot with Serbian rebels who met him at Nish. The journey though Bulgaria to Sofia increasingly resembled a fighting march, familiar to eastern tactics and from the First and Second Crusades. At Sofia, on 13 August, the Germans found that the promised markets and currency exchange had been removed on imperial orders and that the route to the Maritsa valley and Thrace had been fortified against them. After battering their way through the mountains, on 24 August the crusaders reached Philippopolis, which had been abandoned by its inhabitants and its defences destroyed on Isaac’s orders by the governor of Thrace, the civil servant and historian Nicetas Choniates. Years later, in the shadow of the loss of Constantinople to the Fourth Crusade in 1204, Nicetas painted an intimate but unflattering portrait of Byzantine confusion, duplicity and impotence at this time.38

By the time Frederick entered the deserted Philippopolis on 26 August, he had learnt of the arrest of his ambassadors in Constantinople and of Isaac’s demands for German guarantees of good behaviour and a share of future crusade conquests. Despite a growing problem of supplies, Frederick was in no mood to compromise, especially as he held a clear military advantage. Isaac’s diplomatic tactlessness, such as failing to afford Frederick his proper title in correspondence, soured relations further. While angry diplomatic exchanges continued, the release of the German ambassadors without what Frederick regarded as adequate reparations did little to resolve the central issue of Byzantine assistance in transporting the crusaders across into Asia Minor. Having occupied Philippopolis and the surrounding region, securing food and markets, by early November Frederick had decided on a strategy to force Greek cooperation.

Perhaps mindful of the disastrous crusader advance into Asia Minor in the winter of 1147–8, Frederick, choosing Adrianople as his headquarters, proceeded to occupy Thrace. At the same time, he made contact with provincial rebels in the Balkans and appeared to contemplate an assault on Constantinople. Both the occupation of Thrace and an attack on the Greek capital had been policies proposed to Louis VII in 1147. In mid-November, Frederick wrote to his son and regent, Henry VI, requesting he raise a war fleet from Italian ports to meet the German army in mid-March for an attack on Constantinople. At the same time, signalling that his ultimate goal had not changed, he asked Henry to arrange with his officials and the Venetian banker Bernard the German the transfer of imperial funds to Tyre, ‘since you know that we shall need large amounts because of the unexpected delays facing us’. The money was to come from outstanding sums owing the crown, especially, Frederick mentioned, Ancona, Metz, Bremen and the count of Hanau. Whether this revenue represented unpaid hearth tax, regalian obligations or some other dues is unclear, but Frederick’s demands indicate a substantial financial apparatus and fiscal base for his expedition. How seriously he intended, as he put it, ‘bringing the entire imperial territory under control’ is less certain.39 Five months gave little time in which to hire and equip a war fleet and have it arrive on station. Cities such as Genoa, one of those mentioned by Frederick, were able to supply transport on demand; early in 1190 the Genoese struck a deal to carry Philip II of France’s military entourage the following August. However, German policy in Italy as well as the commercial rivalries between the cities made such alliances difficult. Venice had only recently entered into a new treaty with Byzantium and would refuse to cooperate with Genoa and Pisa. Although unknown to Frederick, at the same moment he wrote to Henry proposing the fleet, one potential maritime ally, William II of Sicily, died, his throne being seized by his anti-Hohenstaufen bastard cousin Tancred of Lecce. Thereafter, Henry VI’s interest in Italy was focused on securing the Sicilian inheritance of his wife Constance, William II’s aunt and heir, rather than supplying ships for his father. Even in Frederick’s instructions of November, the simultaneous arrangements for additional funds to be sent direct to the Holy Land rather than Greece indicates that the proposed conquest of Byzantium was either loud diplomatic sabre-rattling or a sop to the war party within the German high command. By the time envoys from Pisa caught up with Frederick at Gallipoli in March 1190, plans to attack Constantinople had been abandoned.40

Whatever his intentions, Fredrick maintained the pressure on the Greeks by openly negotiating with Serb and Vlach delegations towards an anti-Byzantine alliance. Relations with the Greeks deteriorated as the Germans tightened their hold on Thrace, even where they suspected the local wine, which was not to their taste, of being poisoned as opposed to being merely nauseating. The Byzantine armed forces made no impression on the German garrisons and foragers, undermining whatever credibility Isaac’s regime retained. Seriously alarmed, Isaac reopened negotiations only to break them off on Christmas Eve 1189 just as agreement appeared imminent. Diplomatic inconsistency and military feebleness caused Greek policy to implode. Nicetas Choniates disdainfully recorded Isaac’s flailing vacillation. Without the military capacity to unsettle the Germans, in the end Isaac was forced to capitulate. On 14 February, a treaty was solemnized in the church of Hagia Sophia in Constantinople which repeated the essence of the agreement of Nuremberg of December 1188. As well as various clauses resolving immediate issues of contention that had arisen since August 1189, the treaty guaranteed the crusaders free passage through imperial territory, ships to carry them across the Hellespont at Gallipoli and access to markets at reasonable exchange rates. In return, Frederick promised to avoid Constantinople and refrain from indiscriminate foraging while in Byzantine lands. The whole tortuous episode had delayed the Germans for over six months. Although this may have fortuitously forestalled a winter campaign in Asia Minor, it allowed Saladin, well informed by Isaac, to marshal his defences in northern Syria. For Byzantium rebels and opponents as well as the watching western powers, Isaac’s erratic behaviour exposed his inability to control events. In Nicetas’s hostile view, a profligate sybarite of negligible political acumen, for all his thrashing about and bravado, Isaac had merely accelerated the disintegration of his own empire.41

The Germans crossed the Hellespont between 22 and 28 March, either side of Easter (25 March), before setting out towards Philadelphia, Hierapolis and the Seljuk border. Once again avoiding the errors of 1147, Frederick’s orderly divisions remained in ostensibly friendly Byzantine territory for as long as possible. However, again echoing the crusaders’ experience forty-two years earlier, the locals proved hostile and resentful, reluctant to open their markets and granaries to the westerners just as the hungry months of spring were upon them. At Philadelphia, after four weeks’ march from the Hellespont, the mixture of brawling and banditry spilt into connected violence, a major armed confrontation being only narrowly avoided. Leaving Greek territory in the last days of April, the German host followed the main road via Philomelium (Akshehir) to Iconium (Konya), the Seljuk capital. The march proved a mirror image of the journey across the Byzantine empire, only more strenuous and more deadly.

For more than a year, most recently before the Germans left Adrianople, amicable diplomatic exchanges with the Seljuk rulers of the sultanate of Rum, Kilij Arslan II and his son Qutb al-Din, had produced promises of friendship, unopposed passage and open markets for the crusaders. As in Byzantium, internal tensions, particularly between Kilij Arslan and his son, contradicted any formal agreements. Qutb al-Din was Saladin’s son-in-law. Having effectively usurped his father’s position, he encouraged local Turkish opposition and prepared to confront the advancing Germans. Moreover, Asia Minor swarmed with nomad Turcoman raiders who had been operating in the region since 1185 independent of any Seljuk political authority but eager to profit from the well-equipped if poorly provisioned Christian army as it lumbered through the Anatolian hills. In a sharp encounter near Philomelium on 7 May, Duke Frederick of Swabia’s division repulsed a dangerous ambush, inflicting heavy casualties. Duke Frederick lost some front teeth, knocked out by a stone.42 By now the persistent attacks of the Turks, some prominent casualties, such as the minnesinger (i.e. poet and minstrel) Frederick von Hausen, and the shortage of food and water were beginning to tell. As conditions worsened and losses mounted, some deserted; others merely gave up, collapsing at the side of the march to await death or captivity. Horses and mules killed in the fighting reduced the military effectiveness of the army but were eagerly consumed by ravenous troops.

Despite their weakened state and unrelenting Turkish attacks, the Germans cut their way through to Iconium, protected by military discipline, weight of numbers and lack of alternatives. The encounters with the enemy grew in size and intensity as the Christians closed on the Seljuk capital, which Frederick insisted on capturing rather than leave as an enemy base at his rear. On 18 March, outside Iconium, the Germans encountered Qutb al-Din’s main army in a pitched battle. By dividing his forces into two, with Duke Frederick leading an assault on the city itself while the old emperor faced the Turkish field army, Frederick seems to have wrong-footed his opponents. The city fell easily, suggesting it had been denuded of defenders. After desperate fighting involving the emperor himself, the Turks outside the city were defeated, apparently against the numerical odds, leaving Iconium at the mercy of German pillaging and looting.

The victory at Iconium saved the crusade militarily and restocked it with food, supplies and money. His strategy in ruins, Qutb al-Din was replaced by his father, who resumed his pacific policy by coming to terms with the Germans. After a brief rest, the re-equipped German army left the region of Iconium on 23 May, with important Turkish hostages to guarantee the safety of their march. On 30 May the vanguard reached Karaman on the border with Christian Cilicia. Frederick Barbarossa had achieved what the crusaders of 1101 and Second Crusade could not. In two months since crossing to Asia, he had brought his vast army, depleted but intact, in the face of sustained Turkish hostility, difficult terrain, heavy casualties and shortages of supplies, to welcoming Christian territory. On its own terms, this compared with the most remarkable achievements of the whole Third Crusade. A generation later a writer in Outremer reckoned that Saladin had been so frightened of Frederick’s approach that he dismantled the walls of Syrian ports lest they were captured and used against him by the Germans.43 But Frederick’s effort proved to no purpose. Pressing forward to Antioch, now only a very few weeks ahead, as the German army negotiated the crossing of the river Saleph, Frederick somehow slipped, fell or was thrown from his horse into the river. He may have fallen in because of a heart attack or, having fallen, the shock of the cold water brought one on. Alternatively, and less credibly, he drowned after going for a cooling swim. The sources disagree, some insisting that Frederick survived his ducking only to die some days later. What is certain is that the emperor died on Sunday 10 June 1190 as a consequence of fording the river Saleph and that his death, through heart failure, drowning or other injury, was connected in some way with immersion in the river.44

Practically and symbolically, the shock of Frederick’s death was profound. It cast doubt on his cause. Even in retrospect it was impossible to recast him as a new Moses deprived of the Promised Land, as there was to be no ultimate victory for his people. At the time, his sudden death in such circumstances snapped the army’s morale and unity. Freed from the imminent threat of attack from hostile locals, the great army that had held together for over a year in the face of all vicissitudes began to disintegrate. Elements peeled off to return home from the ports of Cilicia or, later, Syria. Others left the main force to sail from Tarsus for Tyre. The rest continued to Antioch, by land and, with Frederick of Swabia and the funeral cortège of his father, by sea. Duke Frederick reached Antioch on 21 June 1190, where he was joined by his depleted land army. There, disease ravaged the survivors, including a number of significant figures in the high command and royal administration. Frederick Barbarossa’s body was boiled and filleted. The flesh was buried in the cathedral of St Peter in Antioch. The separated bones, now elevated to the status of relics, were destined for the Holy Sepulchre, although they ended in the church of St Mary in Tyre. This scarcely compensated for the lack of his personality and leadership.

His son, while possessing both bravery and military skill, lacked his father’s authority, drive and determination. With diminished resources, Duke Frederick toyed with the idea of establishing himself as a power in northern Syria, being offered by Bohemund III, or, in other accounts, insisting upon control of Antioch.45 This made some strategic sense, as military pressure in the north played on the relative weakness of Saladin’s hold over parts of the region and had the effect of forcing the sultan to divert even more troops from Acre. The Christians’ recovery from the defeat outside Acre of 25 July and the ease with which Henry of Champagne subsequently established himself may have been fruits of Duke Frederick’s Antioch policy. However, Duke Frederick, perhaps because of his diminishing armed force, decided against a northern campaign. Leaving Antioch on 29 August, he led his troops south, picking their way down the coast to Tripoli and Tyre, sustaining further losses to Turkish attacks on the way. Having made contact with Conrad of Montferrat at Tyre, Frederick, with a meagre and bruised rump of the great German host, finally reached the Christian camp at Acre on 7 October 1190.

The scene he found would have inspired little confidence. The siege was locked in a violent stalemate that cost lives and achieved little. Even wives of crusaders joined in the menial tasks of siege warfare, such as filling the city ditch so that siege engines could approach the walls. One of these, mortally wounded by a Turkish arrow, begged her husband to bury her in the trench she was helping to fill.46 The remnants of the German crusade inspired some concerted action against both the city and the surrounding Muslim forces, but they failed to make a difference. Morale was hardly raised by the departure of Louis of Thuringia shortly after Duke Frederick’s arrival. National rivalries simmered dangerously, exacerbated by fresh reinforcements. At about the same time as Duke Frederick, the advance guard of the English royal army landed at Acre, led by Archbishop Baldwin of Canterbury, the recently dismissed justiciar, Ranulf Glanvill, and his nephew, soon the rising star of Angevin government, Hubert Walter bishop of Salisbury. They had left Richard I at Marseilles in August 1190, taking two months to reach Palestine. The English helped with manning the front lines and leading forays against the enemy, but their presence also reinforced a growing political division within the Christian camp in which they were pitted against the Germans.

Some time in October 1190, the disease that appears to have become endemic in the fetid conditions of the Christian camp, carrying off many of the recent arrivals, claimed Queen Sybil of Jerusalem and her two daughters. This threw the Jerusalem succession once more into doubt, as Guy was only king by virtue of being Sybil’s husband. Guy’s enemies among the Outremer baronage, led by Balian of Ibelin and his wife Maria Comnena, mother of the new heiress to the kingdom, Isabella, promoted the proven military success, Conrad of Montferrat, to replace the man who lost Jerusalem.47 To achieve this they needed Isabella to divorce her existing husband, the Arabic-speaking and allegedly effeminate Humphrey III of Toron, and marry Conrad. The childlessness of Isabella and Humphrey made the scheme easier to contemplate. The uncomfortable fact that Conrad already had a wife living in Constantinople, and possibly another in Italy, seemed to have been brushed aside. The Germans, the papal legate, the archbishop of Pisa and the French vassals of Philip II lined up behind Conrad and his marriage to Isabella. Ranged against them were the Patriarch Heraclius, now too ill to act, and the Angevins under Archbishop Baldwin, who supported Guy. Baldwin proved an awkward opponent, and even the docile Humphrey of Toron seems to have briefed Ralph of Tiberias, a noted advocate, to plead his case. However, Baldwin died suddenly on 19 November, and five days later, after Humphrey had been exposed to enormous political and personal pressure and scarcely veiled physical threats, Isabella’s first marriage was annulled and she was summarily married to Conrad by Philip II’s cousin, the bishop of Beauvais, with the approval of the papal legate. To some, the crown of Jerusalem now lay with a couple united only by politics and bigamy. To others, it seemed the most sensible outcome, especially as they produced a child the following year. For the army at Acre, it risked schism, as Guy still insisted he was king. Only the withdrawal of the couple to Tyre and the intensification of the epidemic in the camp calmed emotions.

The coup of Conrad’s marriage represented a final achievement for Frederick of Swabia. Within weeks he had been struck down by illness, dying on 20 January 1191. He was buried in the cemetery of the field hospital established at Acre earlier in 1190 by citizens from Bremen and Lübeck.48It had been dedicated to St Mary’s, Jerusalem, a reference to the German hospital in the Holy City before 1187. By 1196, this community caring for the sick had been organized as a religious hospitaller order on which, in 1198, was imposed the duty to fight the infidel. The Teutonic Order of St Mary’s Hospital in Jerusalem, the military order of the Teutonic Knights, thus constituted the most important and lasting legacy of the German involvement in the Third Crusade. Ironically, it owed nothing to the initiative and efforts of Frederick Barbarossa. The collapse of the German expedition constitutes one of the great ‘what ifs’ of crusading, indeed of medieval history. If Frederick had brought his army, still tens of thousands strong despite the heavy losses, to Acre in the summer of 1190, the city might have fallen a year earlier than it did. Saladin confessed to serious alarm at the danger. His authority would have been severely weakened long before the arrival of the kings of France and England. In turn their forces would not have been deflected by the need to take Acre. The political rivalries would not have diminished. Frederick was old and imperious. Neither Richard I nor Philip II would have been over-eager to bow the knee to him. However, a joint campaign by such large forces from an already secured base at Acre in 1191 might have placed Jerusalem within Christian reach. As it was, the last great western European land attack on the eastern Mediterranean ended in frustration and almost complete failure.

All that was left for the demoralized crusaders at Acre, as Hubert Walter wrote anxiously from there in the early weeks of 1191 to the mandarin English bureaucrat, Richard FitzNeal bishop of London, was to ‘maintain their efforts and withstand the discomforts of the siege until the coming of our kings’. He hoped they would arrive at Easter (14 April). Perhaps he expected them to. Without them, Hubert prophesied, ‘the hope of worldly consolation will die away’.49 All eyes, Christian and Muslim, were strained westwards, awaiting the appearance of the kings of France and England.


The delay in the arrival of the kings of France and England at the siege of Acre constituted one of the scandals of the age, evidence of Satan at work.50 Frederick Barbarossa was dead before his fellow monarchs had even set out. Chroniclers, chanteurs and clerics united in condemnation of the unseemly politics that enveloped royal preparations in France and England after Henry II and Philip II had taken the cross together at Gisors in January 1188. By the end of March, both monarchs had issued instructions for the Saladin Tithe and details of how crusaders’ privileges would operate. However, unrest, rebellion and war in Richard of Poitou’s lands in Aquitaine distracted attention from the crusade and drew Philip II and Henry II into another round of military thrust and parry. As 1188 wore on, Philip successfully managed to entice Richard into an alliance against his father by suggesting that the old king was planning to disinherit him in favour of his youngest son, John. As John had conspicuously not taken the cross, and so was available to rule the Angevin lands in the absence of Henry and Richard, the idea seemed plausible. Despite repeated attempts at negotiation, tension over the Angevin succession, heightened by Henry’s ill-health in the winter and spring of 1188–9, turned to open warfare between the old king on one side and Philip and Richard on the other. Yet pressure for the crusade continued. At a peace conference on 4 July 1189, the three protagonists, among other things, agreed to muster for the crusade at Vézelay in late February, mid-Lent, 1190. Three days later, Henry II died.51

Given the upheavals and arrangements consequent on a new reign in Angevin lands in France as well as in England, the remarkable feature of the crusade preparations was not delay but their acceleration on both sides of the Channel. Although twice, in November 1189 and in March 1190, the date for departure was postponed, first to 1 April, then to 24 June, both kings set about preparing their realms administratively and politically for their absence and arranging for their transport east. Remarkably, even the deaths in childbirth on 15 March 1190 of Philip’s queen and the twins she was carrying scarcely deflected the king’s resolve. The French succession now rested on a three-year-old child, Prince Louis. Not only Philip, but also possible claimants such as Count Robert II of Dreux, a first cousin, left for the east. Their participation in the crusade echoed that of heir-less Louis VII and his brother Robert I of Dreux in 1147 by imperilling Capetian dynastic security, the rock on which the royal house’s fortunes had rested for two centuries. As for Richard he was unmarried and childless, with a younger brother and nephew who inevitably would (and after 1199 did) compete for his inheritance. In such circumstances, embarkation a year after Henry II’s death was not unduly dilatory. Much criticism of Henry, Philip and Richard appears polemical or wishful. There would have been no participation by the French and English kings of any kind without the resolution of outstanding disagreements over the succession to Angevin lands in France and the honouring of past treaties. More widely, critics underestimated the extent of non-royal crusade activity, especially in France.

By the time Philip II and Richard I finally left Vézelay together on 4 July 1190, thousands of Frenchmen, some vassals of Philip II, some of Henry II, had already reached Acre in the fleets of James of Avesnes and Henry of Champagne, including many of the leading barons of Philip II’s early years, such as the count of Dreux in 1189 and the counts of Blois, Clermont and Sancerre a year later. Englishmen and Anglo-Normans such as William Ferrers earl of Derby, who joined French contingents in northern France in 1189,52 or Ralph Hauterive archdeacon of Colchester, who had travelled with other Londoners by sea in 1189, were already entering the rich folklore of heroes in the crusader camp long before their king had ever reached the Mediterranean. Even in England and Normandy, with their centralized mechanisms of royal administration and control, independent action, based on lordship, town, region or kin, accounted for many departures beyond the ambit of the crown’s preparations. Among the arrivals at Acre in 1189–90 were representatives of the London clerical and commercial elites, including members of the chapter of St Paul’s and civic swells such as Geoffrey the Goldsmith and William ‘Longbeard’ FitzOsbert, who had to raise a mortgage on some of his city property to pay for his journey. In 1190, a significant contingent from Normandy came, probably with Henry of Champagne, linked by kinship as well as regional and lordship ties: Richard of Vernon and his son; Gilbert of Tillières and his military entourage, ‘manu valida bellatorum’, literally, ‘with a strong hand of warriors’.53 Some of these companies may have been modest, Ivo of Vipont on one occasion commanding a mere ten men on a trip from Acre to Tyre.54Archbishop Baldwin was accompanied by an extensive household, domestic servants and, possibly, dozens of fighting men. Other contingents were very substantial, such as the knights of Richard of Clare or the extended Glanvill affinity, which included, as well as the ex-justiciar, his uncle, nephew and steward and their respective military and civilian followers. Less formal associations among the English may be found in the list of Lincolnshire and Yorkshire crusaders who died at Acre in 1190 recorded by their fellow countryman Roger of Howden, who, on arriving with Richard I in June 1191, seems to have made contact with the survivors of this group.55

However, although these Anglo-Norman crusading journeys in 1189–90 paralleled those from the nobility of the rest of France, French and Anglo-Norman, specifically English, experiences of the Third Crusade differed significantly. Despite similar royal attempts in Angevin and Capetian lands to raise the Saladin Tithe and to regulate crusaders’ privileges, especially in relation to debt and financial transactions, Philip II was unable to impose his authority, lacking both the political and bureaucratic tradition to organize or compel on a national scale.56 The level of royal subsidy to any individual or group of crusaders is hard to estimate. In England and probably Normandy, crusaders had access to the proceeds of the Saladin Tithe, collected under the aegis of the government, while their French colleagues had not. More important, once the decision to travel by sea had been reached, a significant proportion of the followers of the Angevin king could travel in ships prepared by royal administrators with royal cash. At every stage of the crusade, from commandeering ships in English ports to Palestine, Richard hired men as well as materials. Most strikingly, while Philip II may have sent some siege engines and troops ahead of him, the force he paid the Genoese in 1190 to be shipped to the Holy Land numbered 650 knights and 1,300 squires. By contrast, Richard equipped his own fleet of more than 100 vessels and hired another small fleet of ten cargo ships and twenty galleys at Marseilles. The army he was transporting, when mustered in Sicily in the winter of 1190–91, including sailors may have numbered as many as 17,000. Not only was Richard ‘the first crusader king to equip and take his fleet to Outremer’, the armada he led remained one of the largest.57


Active crusade preparations had in fact begun under the much-maligned Henry II. The Saladin Tithe was vigorously collected even if, as many assumed, much of it actually went on the wars of 1188–9. Initially, Henry, and therefore Philip, who had agreed to travel with him, toyed with the idea of the land route. Archbishop Baldwin may have been expecting it when he forced his reluctant team to walk rather than ride up steep Welsh valleys in training for the journey to come.58 An embassy was sent in 1188 to Frederick Barbarossa, Bela III of Hungary and Isaac II requesting and receiving promises of safe passage and open markets for the Capetian and Angevin armies. At this stage, Richard of Poitou may already have decided to go his own way, by sea. Perhaps news of the German choice of the land route put Henry off; the precedent of 1147 was not auspicious. It seems that at some point, perhaps to preempt his attention-seeking son, Henry switched his plan and began negotiating with William II of Sicily, his son-in-law. The substance of these negotiations may have been reflected in King William’s will, in which he left Henry treasure, grain, wine and a hundred armed war galleys.59 As William died five months after Henry, these provisions must date from at least the spring of 1189, if not earlier. If so, they indicate the scale of the royal expedition envisaged by Henry; such a fleet was capable of carrying up to 8,000 men.

Government financial accounts for September 1188 to September 1189 suggest activity below that of grand strategy, even if some of it dated from after Henry’s death in July. A separate depository for the Saladin Tithe was established at Salisbury, with a tiny staff of ten tellers. Chroniclers complained of the enormous amounts raised. The highly critical monk Gervase of Canterbury put it at £70,000, while the well-informed Roger of Howden thought that Henry left a treasure, from all sources, worth more than 100,000 marks (£66,666). Even if such witnesses exaggerated Henry’s rapacity, the Salisbury depository did not let the money lie idle. Two hundred marks were sent to Bristol, perhaps for hiring ships, 2,500 marks to Gloucester, perhaps for horseshoes from the of Forest of Dean, 5,000 marks to Southampton, over the following year a major centre of crusade preparations.60 Whatever the contortions of high politics, many Englishmen, Normans and Poitevins conducted their own arrangements with official blessing. For Henry II, domestic and dynastic political calculation had always taken priority over quixotic or pious gestures. This remained the case until the day he died. However, after 1187 help for the Holy Land was no longer an option: it had become a requirement of state.

On his accession Richard I brought to the crusade his experience as a general, his ability to push forward a scheme through administration as well as politics, and a strong personal commitment. Like his father, he recognized there was probably no limit to the treasure needed to finance the planned expedition, especially as it had been decided, possibly before he became king, to equip a massive royal fleet as well as a substantial royal army. However much there remained in Henry II’s coffers, Richard sought more in spectacular fashion. As Roger of Howden observed with only mild exaggeration, ‘he put up for sale all he had, offices, lordships, earldoms, sheriffdoms, castles, towns, lands, everything’. Famously, Richard quipped he would have sold London itself if he could have found a buyer.61 Sheriffs were sacked and fined; their successors appointed at a price; town charters, forest rights, earldoms, high government offices and bishoprics exchanged for cash. The scale of preparations matched this auction. Royal agents scoured the ports of England, Normandy, Brittany and Poitou for vessels, the crown offering to pay two-thirds of the cost of hire and the wages, for a year, of the sailors (2d a day) and steersmen (4d a day). In the financial year from Michaelmas 1189, Henry of Cornhill, the official most involved in arrangements for the fleet, spent more the £5,000. If, as well-informed observers calculated, the fleet collected numbered over 100 ships, the combined bill for wages and hire could have exceeded £14,000, more than half the king’s annual revenue from England. On top of that, each ship carried military equipment, horses, infantrymen, food and barrels of silver pennies for expenses. Royal accounts reveal the scale of the crown’s purchasing: as well as 50,000 horseshoes from the Forest of Dean and 10,000 from Hampshire, 14,000 cured pigs’ carcases from Lincolnshire, Essex and Hampshire, arrows, crossbow bolts, and huge quantities of cheeses and beans. The urgency of such demand drove up prices.

The fleet could have carried, on one well-informed estimate, 8,750 soldiers and sailors, with equipment and horses for a further 4,000 or more knights.62 Richard’s own army, which he led to the Mediterranean in the summer of 1190, may have numbered as many as 6,000, including his own military household of perhaps between 2,500 and 3,000 and the contingents under Archbishop Baldwin and Ranulf Glanvill. The combined fleet that left Messina in 1191 may have contained as many as 219 vessels with perhaps 17,000 troops and seamen.63 Although the king had not paid for all his followers, the preparations had enabled such a large force to travel together. The terms of wages indicated a clear central strategic grasp. Richard had budgeted to pay his crews for a year from, at the latest, June 1190. Thus his measured progress to Sicily, his wintering there 1190–11, fitted a prearranged timetable. Although deflected by the storm of April 1191 and his subsequent lightning conquest of Cyprus (6 May–1 June 1191), he reached Acre on 8 June 1191, more or less on schedule.

The progress of the fleet itself provides further evidence of Richard’s control over crusade planning. There were at least three separate elements in Richard’s armada, one that left England from Dartmouth in April 1190; another under Richard of Camville, a knight who was an important English curial official, and Robert of Sablé, a powerful Angevin baron, which left the mouth of the Loire in mid- to late June; and a final squadron of thirty-three ships under the Poitevin William of Fors of Oléron in early to mid-July.64Although drawing on ships and companies from all over the Angevin lands, the bulk of the fleet, as of Richard’s army as a whole, probably came from England. It was placed under strict disciplinary regulations promulgated by Richard I at Chinon in June, when he also appointed justiciars to oversee them. Apparently he also distributed some vessels tocrucesignati from his household while he retained the rest for his own use.65 Although clearly a collaborative venture, the Angevin crusade fleet would not have been assembled in such as well-organized manner without royal subsidy and direction. The first muster point was Lisbon, at the mouth of the Tagus, where members of the first two contingents, comprising sixty-three vessels, found ready distraction from waiting. Fuelled as much by alcohol as religion, they attacked the Muslim and Jewish quarters of Lisbon, extending their rape and plunder to the Christian population before being brought under control, with some difficulty, by King Sancho I of Portugal and their own officers. The whole fleet was united at the mouth of the Tagus in late July. The next agreed rendezvous was with Richard’s army at Marseilles at the beginning of August. This clearly proved impractical, but when the fleet put in at Marseilles on 22 August it had only missed an impatient King Richard by three weeks. Undaunted, after a refit, the fleet sailed on to the final planned rendezvous at Messina, which it reached at much the same time as the king in late September. The ability to organize in advance such an operation involving a huge fleet and a significant land army working in concert over hundreds of miles and without ready communication says as much about the twelfth-century development of the experience of sea travel around the Atlantic and Mediterranean coasts as it does of the ability of Richard I’s government to translate extravagant ambition into efficient action.

The contrast with Philip II’s preparations, while exaggerated by the comparative lack of surviving documentation, appears stark. Failure to collect the Saladin Tithe threw Philip and his nobles on to their own, separate and independent demesnal resources, although before the end of September 1189 the king seems to have received a windfall of 25,000 marks from Richard I in fulfilment of an outstanding debt.66 This may explain the apparently rather modest contract negotiated with the Genoese to transport his force to the east. In February 1190, Duke Hugh of Burgundy was appointed to arrange details with Genoa. For 5,850 marks (whether of Paris weight or the much heavier sterling is unclear), the Genoese would provide a fleet for 650 knights and 1,300 squires, their horses, food for men and beasts for eight months and wine for four.67 This may have represented only Philip’s immediate military entourage. Even though the duke of Burgundy acted as Philip’s agent, it is possible that he made separate arrangements for the transport of his followers, as did Count Philip of Flanders. While the presence with King Philip of these wealthy provincial magnates suggests that the French army was not negligible, very considerable French armies had already left for the east over the previous two years without needing to wait for the king. However large the total French force in 1190, it seems to have put a strain on Genoese resources, as Philip at Genoa in August was already trying to borrow galleys from Richard. That Philip desired to control his vassals is witnessed by his payments at Christmas 1190 in Sicily of 1,000 marks to the duke of Burgundy and 600 marks to the count of Nevers.68 Nevertheless, most sources say Philip was outspent, outnumbered and outmanoeuvred by Richard.

Such was the size and complexity of Richard’s cross-Channel inheritance in July 1189 that he was only crowned king of England at Westminster on 3 September. Richard’s crusade preparations exposed the existence of a wider political community beyond the nobility, knights and urban elites. The combination of fundraising, recruitment and revivalist crusade preaching created wide public involvement with occasionally violent consequences. All coronations acted as rituals of political demonstration and dialogue. In Richard’s case, denying access to the coronation feast to Jews who had come to pay their loyal respects provoked a riot when Jews were discovered in the crowds pressing to witness the banquet. The violence spread to Jewish districts in the city of London, where houses were destroyed and Jews murdered. Rioting soon turned to indiscriminate looting of property regardless of the owner’s religion. The perpetrators included retainers of the nobles gathered for the coronation as well as Londoners. At one point, Ranulf Glanvill and other leading officials unsuccessfully attempted to quell the rioters. This personal involvement of government ministers on one side and a combination of nobles’ households and a cross-section of locals on the other emphasized the link between public policy and popular political action. Some believed they were following royal instructions; others talked providentially of Christian destruction of the ‘enemies of the Cross of Christ’, the very theme of crusade preaching and recruitment campaigns.69

Such manifestations of popular response to precise public policies, even if based on partial misunderstanding, were a feature of crusading. So, too, during the recruitment for the Third Crusade in England in 1190 were attacks on the Jews, especially vulnerable with the king’s campaign for funds, his approaching departure and the immediate financial requirements of the crusaders who converged on English towns, ports and main roads in the early months of the year. In Lent 1190, bands of English crusaders, some motivated by a misguided notion of serving God and the cross, began looting Jewish property in commercial centres such as King’s Lynn and Stamford. The violence reached a ghastly climax at York in mid-March. Well-connected local crusaders led a concerted attack on the Jewish community that culminated in a mass suicide and massacre at the royal castle, now Clifford’s Tower, after which, revealingly, the bloodstained crusaders went to York Minster to destroy the Jews’ bonds of credit stored there.70

The link between royal action and Jewish persecution was direct. In Germany, on news of the imminent crusade, many in the Jewish communities in the Rhineland evacuated to fortified strongholds until the crusading fervour had subsided. Others, in Mainz, stayed even during the ‘curia Christi’ of 27 March 1188, when Frederick Barbarossa took the cross, protected by imperial officials and later imperial edicts supported by the church hierarchy.71 In England, the official and ecclesiastical response was less certain. The message received by the crowds at Richard’s coronation seemed equivocal to say the least. Yet where royal authorities followed official policy, which was to protect Jewish property and lives, as both legally belonged to the king, atrocities were prevented. At Lincoln in March 1190 the threatened Jewish community was able to take secure refuge in the royal castle, in stark contrast to what happened a few days later in York, when the Jews also fled to the royal castle, only to be betrayed to the mob. Richard’s absence from England during Lent 1190 may have weakened official resolve to protect the Jews from cash-strapped crusaders, resentful at what they perceived to be wealthy Jews who may also have been their creditors and inflamed by a possibly sincere belief that they were pursuing their crusading vocation by attacking all enemies of the cross. Whatever else, the Jewish assaults of 1189–90 showed how the crusade could penetrate popular consciousness and group behaviour in ways outside the narrow confines of social control or church precept.

By the time of the Jewish massacres, Richard had long gone from his kingdom, crossing from Dover to Calais on 12 December 1189. The previous month, through the French ambassador, Count Routrou of Perche, he had agreed on a tight schedule with Philip of France to resolve outstanding differences and depart for the east in the spring of 1190.72 He was away for four years, far longer than he had hoped, planned or imagined. However, Richard, although an absent king, was not a neglectful one. Over the two years on crusade he maintained contact with affairs in France and England. He took with him large numbers of officials and bureaucrats; one, the vice-chancellor Roger Maceal, was drowned off Limassol in April 1191 still wearing the royal seal round his neck (later recovered when Roger’s body was washed ashore).73 The crusade saw the royal administration at war as if the king were campaigning in France and not the far reaches of the Mediterranean. A stream of messengers kept Richard in touch with his dominions. In return he sent home newsletters announcing significant events, such as the fall of Acre and the victory over Saladin at Arsuf. Very exceptionally the journey from England to the Holy Land may have taken as little as two to three months.74 If not in control, Richard, like his fellow crusade leaders, was well aware of events at home.

In the spring of 1190, the priority was to bring together the naval, military and diplomatic dimensions of the enterprise. Cooperation between Richard and Philip provided the cornerstone of the operation. Once close allies in prising Henry II’s grip off power, Richard and Philip became increasingly wary of each other’s motives. Richard, the older man (thirty-three; Philip was twenty-five), was the more mercurial and experienced in war. Philip, already into his second decade as king, was only in the early stages of developing what grew into matchless skills of feline diplomacy and political intrigue. A series of meetings between them ensured that arrangements were deftly orchestrated. Each monarch put their dominions in what they hoped would be order. Richard toured Aquitaine in May and June, arriving at Chinon in Anjou on 18 June, then moving on to Tours. There, on 24 June, the date agreed for the beginning of the crusade, he received the scrip and staff of a pilgrim just as, at exactly the same time, Philip did at St Denis, outside Paris, accompanied by the duke of Burgundy and the count of Flanders, a veteran of his own crusade in 1176–7. As arranged, the two kings met at Vézelay on 2 July, a place at once convenient for the march south, in neutral territory, and sanctified by the precedent of Bernard of Clairvaux preaching the Second Crusade. At Vézelay, the kings agreed to rendezvous at Messina in Sicily and, more controversially, to share any acquisitions they made, whether separately or only jointly is, and perhaps was, crucially unclear. For all the gaudy show of unity on display, the Vézelay agreement provided an accurate barometer of mistrust between the two leaders.75

Richard and Philip led their armies out of Vézelay on 4 July, three years to the day after Hattin. They began by travelling together, with only their household troops, their armies and the other contingents which were joining them all the time following behind. At Lyons, the armies divided, Philip heading east then south to Genoa while Richard followed the Rhône due south to Marseilles, where he arrived on 31 July. The journey was uneventful after the collapse of a bridge across the Rhône at Lyons beneath the weight of crusaders; Richard had it replaced by a pontoon, the sort of practical and decisive leadership for which he became famous. The arrival of such large forces taxed the capacity of the Mediterranean ports of southern France and Italy to provide shipping, especially outside the central contracts agreed with the kings. Some crusaders had to find passage from as far away as Venice or Brindisi. Nevertheless, the agreed muster point for most if not all of those who travelled south in the early summer of 1190 was Messina. Even those delayed, such as Count Philip of Flanders, who only made his way to Sicily in the early months of 1191, regarded it as such.76

With characteristic impatience, Richard, after waiting a week for his fleet, decided not to delay further in Marseilles. He hired a substantial flotilla, one part of which, under Archbishop Baldwin and Ranulf Glanvill, sailed directly to Acre, which they reached on 21 September. This division of forces may have been prompted by the desire to send immediate help in response to news of Frederick Barbarossa’s death. Alternatively, it may have been designed to conserve Richard’s political interests in the Acre besieging force now dominated by French nobles such as the count of Champagne. For the remainder of his troops at Marseilles, Richard provided ten busses and twenty galleys, probably capable of carrying between 2,500 and 3,000 passengers and crew.77 Again, Richard’s improvisation, backed by clear strategy and cash, confirmed his reputation for firm action. On the leisurely summer cruise down the Italian coast to Sicily that followed, the king behaved equally in character, by turns tricky, aggressive, inquisitive, reckless and showy. He enjoyed robust diplomatic exchanges with Philip II at Genoa; snubbed Pope Clement III by avoiding Rome while bullying his legate; engaged in strenuous sightseeing at Naples and Salerno; and provoked a needless but dangerous fracas with some local Calabrian peasants before performing a grand public entry to Messina on 23 September.

This jaunt allowed the full crusade force to assemble. Philip had slipped into Sicily a week earlier and Richard timed his arrival to coincide with his grand fleet, which had chased him from Marseilles. Although Philip made a rather petulant show of immediately trying to leave for the Holy Land, the season was effectively too late for a crossing before the following spring. The kingdom of Sicily, which included most of southern Italy as well as the island itself, although economically prosperous with a strong maritime tradition, proved an uneasy billet. The death of William II in November 1189 had led to a succession dispute between his cousin Tancred, who had seized the crown, and William’s aunt, Constance, and her husband, Frederick Barbarossa’s eldest son Henry VI, now king of Germany. When the crusaders arrived, Sicily, a polyglot society of Greeks, Normans, northern Italians and Muslims, was a volatile place, nervously expecting Henry VI’s invasion and threatened by a Muslim revolt on the island itself. The crusaders were faced by Tancred’s uneasiness at their military strength, the overt hostility of the mainly Greek inhabitants of Messina and the occupational problem of high food prices. Their stay was marked by intricate diplomacy punctuated by violence as Richard, in particular, sought to impose himself through high-handed aggression.

Riots between locals and his men prompted Richard and his Angevin army to sack Messina on 4 October, ignoring the presence of Philip of France, who was lodged in the city, let alone the fact that the citizens, despite crusaders’ dark comments about miscegenation with Muslims, were Christian subjects of a friendly power. The pressure on Tancred was maintained by building a wooden castle outside the walls nicknamed ‘Mategriffon’, roughly ‘kill the locals’.78 Tancred bowed to the pressure on 6 October by agreeing to pay 40,000 gold ounces in lieu of William II’s legacy to Henry II and the dower of William’s widow, Richard’s sister Joan, who had been under house arrest since her husband’s death. To keep Philip sweet, on 8 October Richard, in the spirit of the Vézelay compact, gave a third of his winnings to the French king, who used some of it to bail out his followers. Thereafter, at a popular level, there were no more disturbances, as the kings worked hard to control prices and imposed new discipline on the crusaders’ behaviour by regulating gambling and repayment of their debts.

During the winter of 1190–91 Richard found time to refit and expand his fleet, to extend rather patronizing largesse to Philip by giving him some ships in February, and to redraw part of the diplomatic map of western Europe. In the October treaty with Tancred, he had promised a marriage alliance between his nephew, Arthur of Brittany, and Tancred’s daughter, as well as help against any invasion of Sicily. Attempts by Philip to cast doubt on Richard’s sincerity came to nothing. For himself, Richard completed arrangements for his own marriage to Berengaria, daughter of the king of Navarre. She arrived in Messina, escorted by the indefatigable septuagenarian femme fatale of the Second Crusade, Eleanor of Aquitaine, at the end of March 1191. By this time Philip, fresh from his failure to turn Tancred against the English king, had reluctantly absolved Richard from his longstanding obligation to marry his sister Alice in return for another 10,000 marks. Armed with this subsidy and the English ships, Philip sailed from Messina on 20 March 1191, arriving at Acre on 20 April. According to a Muslim observer, Ibn Shaddad, Philip came with just six large cargo ships carrying his supplies, horses and retinue. A hostile western source depicted him as sneaking to shore in only one ship, without fanfare. Elsewhere his companions are described as including the count of Flanders, who probably travelled with the count of St Pol, the duke of Burgundy and a group of curial nobles and officials led by Count Routrou. One Muslim witness implied that Philip of Flanders travelled separately.79 The group around Philip II mirrored the structure of Richard’s own force, some great nobles but the core provided by the king’s own household and court, but on a smaller scale and probably lacking infantry. Muslim sources recorded the defenders’ relief at the modest size of the French royal fleet. Once established in the Christian camp, Philip took the lead in pressing forward new attacks on Acre as Saladin brought up reinforcements to combat the new threat of the western monarchs. Whatever Philip’s intentions, the final push for the city waited on the appearance of King Richard.

Having received his future bride Berengaria at Messina, Richard put the finishing touches to his great fleet, which was to carry food, treasure, siege engines and even the dismantled wooden castle of Mategriffon, as well as horses, arms and men. On one plausible set of calculations, the fleet of 219 ships could have carried 17,000 passengers and crew.80 This armada left Sicily on 10 April heading for Crete. Three days later a westerly gale started to blow, scattering the formation. At least twenty-five ships had become detached from the main squadron, including that carrying Richard’s sister Joan and fiancée Berengaria. Waiting at Rhodes between 22 April and 1 May, Richard learnt that some of the missing ships had been blown by the storm as far as the southern coast of Cyprus, where three of them had been shipwrecked and their survivors ill treated by the locals. The remainder, including the princesses’ ship, stood offshore. The independent Greek ruler of the island since 1184, Isaac Comnenus, fearing an invasion, fortified Limassol, sought a treaty with Saladin and tried to entice the princesses into his clutches, perhaps to serve as hostages against an attack by Richard, risky policies in the face of internal opposition and the crusaders’ overwhelming military superiority. Limassol had most likely been fixed as a rendezvous for the fleet from Sicily and Richard may have already contemplated subduing the island to assist the crusaders on the mainland of Palestine with a ready, secure source of supplies. The affray at Limassol and Isaac’sbelligerent behaviour provided Richard with an excuse and a reason to intervene in Cyprus. Richard himself explained three months later that, because of Isaac’s behaviour towards the shipwrecked crusaders, ‘we were spurred to revenge’.81

What may have begun as a rescue soon became a conquest. Richard arrived off the south coast on 5 May. Having forced a landing at Limassol, pressing inland he made Isaac withdraw after a brief skirmish. On 12 May, in the chapel of St George at Limassol, Richard, Europe’s most eligible (and, some hinted, most confirmed) bachelor and Berengaria of Navarre were married. By this time, Isaac had sued for peace terms. Richard also received an embassy from Acre led by Guy of Lusignan, who asked for the king’s support against attempts to replace him as king of Jerusalem by Conrad of Montferrat, who enjoyed the backing of the French. A few days later, French ambassadors joined in urging Richard’s presence at Acre. Meanwhile, the truce with Isaac had broken down and Richard embarked on a systematic investment of the whole island. His fleet sailed round the island capturing strategic ports. From Famagusta, Richard led his troops westwards. After defeating Isaac’s army once more, at Tremetousha, he captured Nicosia unopposed and then Kyrenia on the northern coast after a siege by land and sea. A few days later, Isaac surrendered. Richard had promised not to clap him in irons, so Isaac was bound by chains forged of silver, a characteristic Ricardian touch.

The conquest of Cyprus enhanced Richard’s reputation, filled his coffers with treasure, partly derived from a tax levied on every Cypriot, and provided a source of provisions for his army and for those at Acre. Initially, in his eagerness to exploit Cyprus’s resources for the crusade, Richard retained direct overlordship over the island, appointing Angevin castellans and two administrators, the fleet commanders Richard of Camville and Robert of Thornham. As their rule proved unpopular and provoked resistance, and as his own costs in Palestine rose, within a few weeks Richard decided to sell the island to the Templars for 100,000 Saracen bezants, of which he actually received 40,000. When, in April 1192, the Templars, who also found ruling Cypriots an unacceptably draining experience, surrendered the island back to Richard, he found a new buyer in the recently displaced king of Jerusalem, Guy of Lusignan, who stumped up another 60,000 gold bezants for the privilege.82 Guy, and after his death in 1194 his brother Amaury, established a ruling dynasty in Cyprus, from 1196 as kings, that would last until the late fifteenth century. The island remained in western Christian hands until conquered by the Ottoman Turks in 1571, the most lasting crusader achievement in the eastern Mediterranean. While its annexation had been fortuitous, the result of storm, Richard’s temperament, Isaac’s aggression, unpopularity and incompetence, and a growing realization of how useful to the Christian cause Cyprus could be, the island subsequently provided food, military and naval bases and ultimately a refuge for crusaders and Frankish émigrés from the Holy Land. It also developed its own Frankish political structures and ruling elites, which proved more successful and lasting than those of mainland Outremer.


14. Richard I Captures Cyprus, May 1191

Isaac’s surrender on 1 June freed Richard to complete his journey to the Holy Land after the most decisive Christian military operation in the Levant since the First Crusade. That the victims were fellow Christians dampened the ardour of Richard’s panegyrists not at all. The Cypriots were demonized as treacherous and malign, the conquest another display of Richard’s courage and determination. On 5 June he sailed from Famagusta. Taking the shortest crossing to Syria, he landed at the Hospitaller castle of Margat, where he deposited the unfortunate Isaac. The next day he reached Tyre, where the garrison, on orders from Conrad of Montferrat, refused him entry, forcing him to camp overnight outside the walls. Cruising south the next day with the fleet’s rearguard of twenty-four galleys, Richard fell in with and sank a large Muslim sailing ship from Beirut carrying supplies and reinforcements for the Acre garrison. The loss of this vessel landed a heavy material and psychological blow on Saladin’s forces while further elevating Richard’s already formidable renown.83 Richard finally arrived at the Christian camp outside Acre, to lavish displays of enthusiasm, on 8 June, three and a half years after he had impulsively taken the cross at Tours. The crisis of the crusade had finally been reached.


15. Palestine with the Campaigns of 1191–2

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