Post-classical history


The Palestine War 1191–2

The campaigns fought in Palestine between June 1191 and August 1192 determined the survival and nature of a western European presence on the mainland of the Levant. The combat of two charismatic leaders allied to the drama of events persuaded writers on both sides to elevate the struggle into epic. Yet it is easy to exaggerate its international significance. The impact of the Latin conquest of Cyprus and recapture of mainland ports were peripheral to the circumstances of most of the Muslim world. In material terms, it exerted negligible influence on the lives of western Europeans. Even the viability of the Christian conquests depended more on international trading patterns outside the control of political leaders and on the factious internal politics of the Ayyubid empire once the crusaders had departed. Nonetheless, the equivocal outcome of the Palestine war, with neither side achieving their central objectives, ensured the continuance of western involvement in the region, the re-establishment of a distinctive local political, military and diplomatic force, and the incorporation of the negotium Terrae Sanctae, ‘the business of the Holy Land’, as normative in the religious and cultural life of western Christendom.


Richard I’s arrival at Acre on 8 June 1192 precipitated the final act of the siege of Acre. Six weeks’ heavy assault, following the renewed aggression stimulated by the arrival of Philip II in late April, forced the surrender of the garrison on 12 July. The surprise, perhaps, lay not in the crusaders’ success but, as a writer in the Holy Land a generation later had Philip II comment caustically, ‘considering how many noblemen have been at this siege, it is extraordinary how slow they have been to take it.’1 Saladin’s failure to dislodge the Christians in 1189–90, prevent their reinforcement by sea or secure uninterrupted naval supply lines to the city rendered the ultimate outcome almost certain. With the arrival of the western monarchs, he lacked any fresh tactics beyond stepping up raids on the Christian trenches and a systematic scorched earth policy in the surrounding countryside. Even so, the defenders mounted fierce and skilled resistance until overwhelmed by force of numbers and firepower. Such was the tenacity of the besieged that the attackers almost literally had to demolish the defences of Acre stone by stone. Although a damaging blow to Saladin’s carefully constructed warrior image, the manner of Acre’s fall suggested that Jerusalem would be no pushover for the Christian invaders.2

The last weeks of the siege were dominated by the contest of the Christian siege engines, catapults, sappers and scaling ladders against the defenders’ incendiary missiles, stone-throwing machines and counter-sappers. Each Christian commander possessed his own great stone-throwers. The duke of Burgundy, the Templars, the Hospitallers and the Pisans each had one. Philip II had many, his best, called ‘Malvoisine’ or ‘Bad Neighbour’, constantly needing repair as it was a prime target of enemy bombardment. The count of Flanders ran two, which, after his death on 1 June, were taken over by Richard I, who built two more as well as a couple of mangonels and a siege tower. Philip also constructed a protected shooting platform and an elaborate scaling device, although both were destroyed by fire. The common fund, established in the Christian camp at least since the autumn of 1190, paid for its own stone-thrower, ‘God’s Petrary’.3 This display of advanced military technology was supported by manpower. Casualties seemed to be no deterrent to the attackers, a profligacy with human life which negated the garrison’s defensive advantage of the protection of the well-built walls. Saladin’s repeated assaults of the now vast crusader camp never threatened to disrupt the relentless battering against the city. Numbers clearly mattered. There may have been only a few thousand fighters within Acre, while Saladin’s army, despite regular reinforcement, cannot have matched the gathered strength of the Christians, whose army may have numbered by this time well over 25,000 men. Both Philip and Richard were freely able to recruit mercenary knights when they arrived. Realistically, only famine, disease or political implosion could have prevented the Christian victory. As it happened, two of these did threaten the crusader juggernaut.

Within days of Richard’s arrival, both kings were struck down with what contemporaries called ‘Arnaldia’ or ‘Leonardie’, perhaps a form of scurvy or trench mouth, which caused the victims’ hair and nails to fall out.4 Richard almost died. Although both recovered, Richard more slowly than Philip, the effects of the illness remained. Philip, despite surviving another thirty-two years, never entirely lost the traces of this debilitating condition, while Richard’s health remained bad for the rest of his time in Palestine, more than once influencing his conduct of diplomacy and, perhaps, the war itself. Immediately, the sickness of the two kings shook morale. To counter any sense of drift or crisis, once the worst of his illness had passed, Richard had himself carried in a litter to within range of the city walls. There, under the protection of a specially constructed circular hut, he amused himself and inspired his troops by taking pot shots at the enemy with his crossbow.5

Potentially no less debilitating was the rivalry between the two kings. Philip’s sense of grievance at his treatment in Sicily, slighted when Richard seized Messina and insulted by Richard’s repudiation of his sister in favour of Berengaria, was exacerbated at almost every turn. Richard received the allegiance of the Pisans; their competitors, the Genoese, supported Philip. The French king’s demands for half of Cyprus under the terms of the Vézelay agreement were brushed aside. While Philip hired knights at three gold coins a month, Richard offered four. When the count of Flanders died, it was Richard not Philip who acquired his siege engines. Each king attempted to negotiate separately with Saladin over surrender terms for Acre. This partly grew out of their respective support for the opposing claimants to the Jerusalem throne. Philip had formed a close alliance with Conrad of Montferrat, while Richard promoted the interests of Guy of Lusignan, once his vassal in Poitou. Guy, with a small army, had already campaigned with Richard in Cyprus. It says much for Philip’s political weakness and Richard’s practical dominance that, in spite of the French king having the favour of a majority of the important local Outremer barons and with most of the crusade leaders being his vassals, Conrad’s succession remained blocked. Such rivalry at times endangered the military operations, as one side or the other failed to coordinate attacks, which consequently failed. The cumulative effect of this rancour fatally undermined Philip’s commitment to the enterprise. A flavour of the bitterness of the kings’ relations was captured in a nasty little story that circulated in Outremer some years later. This had Richard telling a sick Philip that his only son, Louis, had died. He hoped Philip would die of shock and grief. In fact, Louis was not dead at all. But, the story went on, Philip was so shaken that he immediately arranged to return to the west.6

Above all, Philip may have resented the personal dominance Richard asserted as soon as he reached Acre. With the most treasure and probably the largest number of troops in his pay, Richard was a veteran of proven ability and success. The seizure of Messina and conquest of Cyprus had merely confirmed his reputation, which he delighted in playing up to. He had embarked on crusade with what he claimed to be Excalibur, King Arthur’s sword. A useful prop, he traded it for transport ships and galleys with Tancred of Sicily. The gorgeous apparel, prancing steed, glittering saddle and gold- and silver-decorated sword with which he greeted Isaac Comnenus outside Limassol on 1 May was carefully designed to show ‘he was an exceptional knight’.7 Such visual pyrotechnics proclaimed a direct propagandist message readily understood by observers. When Richard landed at Acre on 8 June, the strenuous celebrations included recitations of stories of ancient heroes ‘as an incitement to modern people to imitate them’. Richard deliberately presented himself as just such an epic warrior, perhaps even in his lifetime earning the nickname ‘cœur de lion’.8 In all that he did, even if not always successful, Richard was formidable, in politics, in administration, in battle, in public relations and in diplomacy.

Throughout the Third Crusade, Richard’s political objective was unequivocal: the restoration of Outremer, and especially the kingdom of Jerusalem, at least to its pre-Hattin extent. However, within days of landing, Richard opened channels of negotiation with Saladin, primarily though the sultan’s brother al-Adil. These he never entirely closed during his seventeen-month stay in the Holy Land. His conduct at Acre and after showed willingness to fight and to kill, but also to talk and to reach accommodation. As in the west, Richard used force as a means to an end. If Saladin could be threatened or intimidated into granting Richard’s demands, then battles and sieges were not necessary for their own sake. However, if Saladin refused terms, then Richard was prepared to force them from him. This elaborate and often delicate diplomatic dance, performed to the accompaniment of hard military campaigning, characterized the Palestine war of 1191–12, setting a precedent for subsequent crusades in the east. The struggle for advantage between Richard and Saladin was dominated by the mounting military and political problems each faced, yet it was far from the crude slogging match between enemies blind to each other’s interests or character that some portrayals of crusading, including those by contemporaries, imply. Richard was not alone in seeking a negotiated settlement; according to one eyewitness, Philip was involved in the early approaches to Saladin.9 However, according to Ibn Shaddad, who was also there, the policy proved controversial, at least before Acre fell, meeting with opposition from other Christian leaders. This was hardly surprising as, at the time, the events of the Third Crusade were depicted spiritually as a test of religious faith and temporally as a global contest, infidel Asia and Africa ranged against Christian Europe, the siege of Acre a new Trojan War. According to Ibn Shaddad, Richard brushed aside any criticism in typical style: ‘The reins of power are entrusted to me. I rule and nobody rules me.’10

The negotiations, which began on 17 June, probed each side’s aims and vulnerability. Gifts were exchanged and initial bargaining positions staked out. Roger of Howden shrewdly identified Saladin’s irreducible insistence on retaining Jerusalem and Transjordan, the one the propaganda totem of his empire, the other the vital land bridge that held its Syrian and Egyptian halves together. However, Richard saw no need to compromise when the military situation increasingly favoured him, with the Christian siege machines maintaining an incessant bombardment of Acre’s walls. Saladin’s attacks and scorched earth policy failed to impede progress. Christian optimism was sustained by the traditional accompaniment of divine visions and stories of individual heroism. More prosaically, with neatly judged psychology, Richard offered to pay for every stone removed from the city walls, starting at two gold coins each but rising to four, a popular move with soldiers ‘as greedy for glory as for gain’.11 By extending his hiring of mercenaries, Richard was adding cohesion and direction to the siege. With no let-up in the attacks, it soon became apparent to the garrison commanders that they were facing an unpleasant but unavoidable choice: surrender or death. Saladin was reluctant, but his commanders in Acre capitulated on 12 July. The terms agreed, apparently negotiated mainly though the mediation of Conrad of Montferrat, spared the lives of the defenders, their wives and children, in return for a ransom of 200,000 dinars, the release of over 1,500 Christian prisoners, and the return of the relic of the True Cross taken at Hattin. Conrad received a hefty negotiating fee of 10,000 dinars. The entire contents of Acre, Saladin’s main armaments depot in the Holy Land, with provisions, artillery and perhaps as many as seventy galleys, were handed over to the Christians. The loss of much of his navy was as damaging militarily to Saladin as the fall of the city was to his prestige, Ibn Shaddad remembering that he ‘was more affected than a bereft mother or a distracted lovesick girl’.12 Now Saladin could only withdraw, prevaricate over the details of the surrender agreement and wait on events, perhaps hoping, not unreasonably, that in victory Christian rivalries would re-emerge to undermine their hard-won success.

If so, he almost had his wish. As the two kings set about dividing Acre between them, those in the army attached to neither protested. Despite their contribution to the siege, they were to receive nothing. Duke Leopold of Austria seems to have felt especially aggrieved that his claims to a share of the booty had been brusquely rejected. Some said that, on Richard’s orders, Leopold’s banner had been thrown down after the entry into Acre to signal the denial of his claim to the spoils. Leopold and others left the Holy Land in disgust.13 Although Richard received most of the blame for this policy, both kings clearly agreed to it. It fulfilled the assumptions that lay beneath the Vézelay accord and, more widely, recognized the special position of authority the barons of Jerusalem had for years been prepared to afford western monarchs in the Holy Land. As it was, both kings displayed a sense of this responsibility by sending help to Antioch. However, this unity proved deceptive. As Richard laconically wrote a few weeks later to his unpopular chancellor and viceroy in England, William Longchamp bishop of Ely, ‘within fifteen days the king of France left us to return to his own land’.14

Even Philip II’s most ardent apologists found his sudden abandonment of the crusade hard to justify. It was easy to explain. The death of Philip of Flanders at Acre on 1 June activated a series of rearrangements to the lordships of the territories between the royal lands around Paris and the county of Flanders, which were vital to Capetian security. Philip stood to gain the strategically and economically important region of Artois and be able to manipulate the contested Flemish succession to his material advantage. But he needed to be present to ensure the process went smoothly. His own health, fears for that of his infant son, the need for him to find a new wife as well as the persistent humiliations, real or imagined, he had to endure from Richard added to Philip’s conviction that he must return home immediately. His departure, especially as he left most of his troops behind, may not have displeased Richard unduly as it consolidated his control over the enterprise.

The speed with which Philip acted after the fall of Acre suggests he had already made up his mind but, with characteristic circumspection, had successfully concealed his intention, not least from his own allies, particularly Conrad of Montferrat, whose prospects were closely bound up with the French king’s presence and support. Having already declined to commit himself to remaining in the Holy Land for three years or until Jerusalem was captured, on 22 July Philip announced his decision to leave. This went down very badly with most of his followers. But when a hardly serious request to be given half of Cyprus in return for a commitment to stay was refused by Richard, the die was cast. On 28 July, after a two-day hearing on the merits of the claims of Guy and Conrad to the throne of Jerusalem, the two kings announced a compromise that reflected Richard’s ascendancy. Guy was to remain king for life, but the succession would devolve after his death on Conrad and Isabella and their heirs. The revenues of the kingdom were to be divided equally between Guy and Conrad, while the latter was granted a lordship in the north based on Tyre. To balance this, Guy’s brother Geoffrey was to receive the county of Jaffa and Ascalon if and when it was recaptured. There were echoes of the deal done in 1153 that transferred the English royal succession to Richard’s father, Henry II, but allowed the anointed King Stephen to retain the crown until his death. Guy, too, was an anointed monarch, but only by virtue of his now deceased wife. Unlike the 1153 agreement, the arbitration of July 1191 failed to stick.

On 29 July Philip swore publicly that he would do no harm to Richard’s lands in the west. The next day he appointed the duke of Burgundy as leader of the remaining French troops and gave his half share of Acre to Conrad. The following day the Muslim prisoners were divided between Philip and Richard and on 31 July the French king, with his prisoners and a small entourage, left Acre for Tyre. There he transferred his prisoners to Conrad, thus giving him a share in the promised ransom from Saladin. On 3 August, Philip sailed from Tyre for home. His behaviour attracted almost universal opprobrium, even from normally sympathetic observers. His own followers made their views transparent by refusing to accompany him. Accusations of greed, fear and dereliction of duty compounded the shame heaped on him. Only his later successs in elevating royal authority in France to heights unseen since the Carolingian heyday of the ninth century redeemed his international reputation. Nevertheless, Philip’s actions left a sour taste for generations. At the time, although plainly anxious about the damage a resentful and humiliated Philip could do to Angevin lands in his continued absence, Richard could allow himself some understated sarcasm at the French king’s expense. Describing Philip’s departure, Richard remarked a few days afterwards: ‘We, however, place the love of God and His honour above our own and above the acquisition of many regions.’15


Philip’s absence both simplified and complicated the situation facing the crusaders. Richard quickly moved to assert his influence over the remaining French army by lending their commander Hugh of Burgundy 5,000 marks, presumably until the French share of the Acre prisoners’ ransom was paid. But Conrad of Montferrat actually held these prisoners at Tyre, and only reluctantly handed them over to Duke Hugh on 12 August. Conrad’s independence had been bolstered by Philip’s grant of half of Acre as well as the confirmation of his autonomy in Tyre. Whenever members of the local Jerusalem baronage became disenchanted with Richard, Conrad offered a focus for dissent. More immediate was Saladin’s reluctance to honour the surrender terms. Although the relic of the True Cross had been inspected by Richard’s envoys in the Muslim camp on 2 August,16negotiations stalled, only partly because not all of the prisoners had been returned from Tyre. Saladin evidently hoped that delay would increase the divisions within the Christian army, lower morale and delay Richard’s march south. Withholding the lucrative ransom and the True Cross appeared useful bargaining counters. The Christian desire for the return of the Cross and their leaders’ eagerness for the ransom money seemed to play into the sultan’s hands. With Acre lost, stalemate now served Saladin’s purpose.

On 20 August, ten days after the deadline for the exchange of the first instalment of prisoners and ransom money, Richard called Saladin’s bluff. However much he wanted the relic and the money, Richard knew that further delay would only undermine the preparedness of his army for the tough campaign in prospect. He later described what happened:

On Saladin’s behalf it had been agreed that the Holy Cross and 1,500 living persons would be handed over to us, and he fixed a day for us when all this was to be done. But the time limit expired, and, as the pact which he had agreed was entirely made void, we quite properly had the Saracens we had in custody – about 2,600 of them – put to death. A few of the more notable were spared, and we hope to recover the Holy Cross and certain Christian captives in exchange for them.17

Ibn Shaddad was in Saladin’s camp a few miles away when the massacre occurred. Understandably, his account is more vivid.

When the king of England saw that the sultan hesitated to hand over the money, the prisoners and the Cross, he dealt treacherously towards the Muslim prisoners… He and all the Frankish forces, horse and foot, marched out at the time of the afternoon prayers on Tuesday 27 rajab (20 August). They… moved on into the middle of the plain. The enemy then brought out the Muslim prisoners for whom God had decreed martyrdom, about 3,000 bound in ropes. Then as one man they charged them and with stabbings and blows with the sword they slew them in cold blood.

The stunned Muslim advance guard watched helplessly while they sought orders from the sultan. By the time they tried to intervene, the killing was over. Next day they inspected the corpses and, Ibn Shaddad added, ‘were able to recognize some of them’.18

Richard I’s butchery of his Muslim captives was an atrocity not uncommon in war. It was not an act of random sadism, less so, for example, than Saladin’s own execution of the Templars and Hospitallers after Hattin. It ranks, perhaps, with Henry V’s slaughter of his French prisoners at Agincourt in 1415, except that then the battle was still in progress. Even Ibn Shaddad recognized that Richard’s action contained logic: revenge for Muslim killing of surrendering Christians during the siege of Acre ‘or that the king of England had decided to march to Ascalon… and did not think it wise to leave that number in the rear’.19 Richard and his apologists, and many observers not noted for their sympathy towards him, insisted on the justice of the killings, even their legality. One favourable source declared that, without the agreement with Saladin, the lives of the defeated garrison were forfeit jure belli, ‘under the rights of war’.20 The contrast between the control displayed when Acre fell and the cold-blooded savagery of the mass execution weeks later showed Saladin clearly the sort of adversary he faced. The sultan probably recognized the massacre for what it was, a deliberate act of policy for which his own actions were in part responsible. Over the following weeks he treated captured Christian soldiers with summary execution, occasionally allowing their corpses to be mutilated out of revenge. More seriously for the strategy of the war, he recognized that Richard had raised the stakes for all subsequent besieged Muslim garrisons. To avoid such consequences, Saladin moved quickly in September to dismantle the fortifications of Ascalon, one of Richard’s prime objectives, the key port in southern Palestine and the bastion on the route to Egypt. Yet Saladin understood the game both were playing and, judging from the respectful tone used of Richard by his close colleague Ibn Shaddad, appreciated the king’s skill at it. Whatever his public emotions, only a fortnight later he authorized his brother to resume face-to-face talks with Richard.21

By that time, Saladin’s own options had diminished severely in the face of the Christian advance. Five days after the massacre, on 25 August, Richard had fully assembled his forces and began the march south, along the coast road past Mt Carmel, Haifa, Caesarea and Arsuf to Jaffa. The eighty miles from Acre to Jaffa proved hazardous and exhausting. In the debilitating summer heat, with little shade, the Christians marched for the most part under arms to resist the repeated attacks of Saladin’s troops. The sultan shadowed the host, constantly harrying the line, especially the rearguard. This was entrusted to the Hospitallers. The Templars were in the vanguard. Between them were four separate divisions: the Angevins and Bretons; Guy of Lusignan, his Jerusalem followers and the Poitevins; the Anglo-Normans under the king; and the French, under Hugh of Burgundy and Henry of Champagne. The infantry and archers were divided into two columns, one of which marched on the landward side to provide outer defence for the knights against attack from mounted Turkish archers, while the other accompanied the baggage train on the seaward side. The large Christian fleet shadowed the army offshore, affording rest, food and protection. Before the crusaders lay a scorched landscape, its forts levelled, its crops burnt. Frequent and intense skirmishes cost both sides dear. Richard himself, constantly rallying the lines, was wounded. Progress was slow, barely five miles a day. However, as long as the battered Christian army remained intact it posed an increasingly menacing threat to the ports of Jaffa and Ascalon and thus Saladin’s whole position in southern Palestine even without a direct assault on Jerusalem. Saladin’s loss of sea-power was proving as significant as the land defeat at Acre. Recognizing the urgency of stopping the crusaders’ advance, on 4 September, with the Christians nearing the plain of Arsuf, Saladin agreed to Richard’s request to reopen negotiations. For Saladin it offered a chance to buy time to allow more reinforcements to arrive; for Richard it formed part of his consistent strategy of allying diplomatic with military pressure. On 5 September, Richard, with the jilted Humphrey of Toron as his interpreter, held a private interview with al-Adil which ended in acrimony, with Richard sticking to his demands for a return of the pre-1187 kingdom of Jerusalem.22 Nothing was achieved except to convince Saladin that his only option was to risk a pitched battle. With the failure of diplomacy as well as Fabian tactics, Saladin was compelled to try to convert what should have been the undoubted advantages of a home base, easy access to supplies and manpower, a sympathetic population and local knowledge into an immediate decisive victory.

On 7 September, just south of the Forest of Arsuf and north of the town itself, the increased pressure of the Turkish attacks forced Richard to halt the march and turn his column to face the enemy, as Saladin intended. The tactics of each side were clear. Turkish light cavalry would harass the Christian line to provoke a disorganized counter-charge which, by breaking the crusaders’ formation, would open them to piecemeal slaughter by fast-moving mounted archers. Failing that, a series of feints to draw a more concerted charge would have a similar, if riskier effect, exposing the Christians to Turkish counter-attack, provided the Turks avoided becoming trapped by the full force of a concerted enemy cavalry assault. The Christians’ aim was to withstand the Turkish archers, using the screen of infantry to shield the waiting cavalry, until the Muslims were committed to close combat on tiring horses, at which point a mass cavalry charge would be launched to annihilate the enemy and sweep them from the field. The two chief problems for Richard were to survive the hail of arrows and missiles for long enough, without taking too many casualties, to make this effective; and to maintain sufficient control over his separate divisions to ensure that, when it came, the cavalry charged as one to guarantee maximum impact.

Once battle was joined about nine o’clock in the morning, the Christian lines were pounded incessantly for hour after hour but they held. Just as Richard was preparing a decisive encircling attack on all fronts at once, the bruised and battered Hospitallers, on the left (i.e. northern) flank, goaded beyond endurance and worried at the loss of horses, charged, taking with them the French division on their right. Richard immediately grasped the tactical imperative and ordered a general attack that threw the Turks back. As Saladin regrouped, Richard, having kept the Anglo-Norman brigade in reserve as a rallying point around the royal banner, the dragon standard, the ensign of English monarchs at least since Harold Godwinson, managed to restore order to his lines, preventing them breaking up in pursuit of the enemy.23 He was thus able to repulse the Turkish counter-attack and, in the final mêlée, launch a series of renewed charges of his own that eventually forced the Turks from the field. After a brief rest, the Christian army resumed its march, reaching Jaffa on 10 September.

This was no revenge for Hattin. Saladin’s army had escaped destruction. Some accounts, including Richard’s own brief despatch,24 discounted any climactic quality to the battle, portraying it merely as a sharper, more intense contest among many that had marked the Christian march south. One report suggested that the Christians had only lost just over 100 horses. The most prominent crusader killed, or at least the most mourned, was James of Avesnes, who had first arrived at the siege of Acre in September 1189. He later became the star of a secular chivalric cult, a familiar hero of uplifting anecdotes used by crusade preachers, poets and chroniclers in the thirteenth century.25 On the Muslim side, Ibn Shaddad identified only three important casualties. Yet, whatever the emphasis, Saladin had precipitated a direct attack, engaging larger numbers than previously, and he had been decisively repulsed, if not defeated. His object of halting the crusaders’ march to Jaffa, the port of Jerusalem, had failed. Ibn Shaddad recorded how inconsolable Saladin appeared on the evening of his defeat. Although his army remained intact and continued to shadow the Christian advance, it was now seemingly powerless to prevent its progress. After Arsuf, although the Christian army was still isolated in hostile territory, far from its base, its size, confidence, naval support and cohesion meant that militarily Saladin was reduced to reactive tactics; he was unable to dictate the course of events. This led him into uncharted territory with his restless allies, facing the prospect of keeping a field army at a plausible fighting strength for an indeterminate period. Saladin’s success had been based on offering the military askars, or standing armies, of the rulers of the Near East a share in profits: land, revenues, booty. Now he had little immediately to offer but doubt, debt, struggle and prayer.


With the second crisis of the Palestine war surmounted, the Christian army established itself at Jaffa and the surrounding area in the weeks after the battle of Arsuf. The crusaders were now within striking distance of their goal. However, Richard’s grasp of strategy was subtler than many of those he commanded. An intelligent reading even of the history of the First Crusade would have revealed the need to secure as well as capture the Holy City. As with the leaders of the 1090s expedition, Richard, as well as Guy, the local barons and the military orders, understood that Egypt could determine the fate of Palestine. Equally, experience of campaigning in the west demonstrated that the chances of a successful siege increased if the attackers were in control of the surrounding region. For all these reasons, Ascalon occupied a central place in Richard’s calculations. Before he left Acre, he had intended to take the port, probably in order to make it his base for any operations against Jerusalem and Egypt.26 At the very least, occupation of Ascalon would hinder Saladin’s ability to reinforce his field army in southern Palestine. Alive to the danger, Saladin forestalled him by demolishing its fortifications shortly after the battle of Arsuf. Richard’s failure to persuade his allies at Jaffa in mid-September 1191 to prevent this has been seen by Richard’s apologists, then and now, as a crucial tactical error.27

This did not remove the strategic choices. While turning Saladin’s tactics against him by a series of foraging and harrying raids that led the Turkish army to withdraw from the coastal plain around Jaffa, Richard was still faced with alternative policies based on Jerusalem or Ascalon/Egypt. To placate his followers and wrong-foot Saladin, he tried to ride the two horses simultaneously. In October, while still holding out the prospect in a newsletter of taking Jerusalem by mid-January 1192, Richard floated a plan to the Genoese for a joint invasion of Egypt the following summer, which would require more men and ships to accomplish.28 How seriously he meant this scheme is unknowable. It may simply have been a ploy to keep the Genoese sweet while he remained in alliance with their rivals the Pisans. However, suggestions of an invasion of Egypt usefully added to the diplomatic pressure on Saladin. Negotiations with al-Adil intensified. Both sides seemed willing to explore a wide, even bizarre, range of possibilities. In mid-October Richard apparently offered his sister, the widowed Joan, to be one of al-Adil’s wives as part of a deal based on a Muslim–Christian condominium in Palestine ruled by al-Adil and Joan under Saladin’s suzerainty. The Christians would receive the coast, as Joan’s dowry, and free access to Jerusalem, while the Muslims retained nominal sovereignty over the whole and direct rule over the hinterland. Although later claimed by Richard to have been a joke, perhaps because on hearing of the plan his sister flew into a Vesuvial rage so characteristic of her short-tempered family, the suggested terms, the question of marriage and suzerainty apart, outlined a partition very similar to what was finally agreed a year later in the Treaty of Jaffa (2 September 1192). To complicate matters further, at the same time, the disaffected Conrad of Montferrat, who had held aloof from a campaign dominated by his rival Guy’s overlord, began to seek a separate treaty with Saladin, using the sultan’s old adversary, the fluent Arabic speaker Reynald of Sidon, as intermediary. Conrad apparently proposed swapping Acre for Sidon and Beirut, already promised him under the arbitration of July 1191, in order to establish a new Lebanese state for himself. Saladin could afford to keep both camps talking until the serious issues of the war in Palestine were resolved.29

In one respect, whatever his misgivings and clever schemes, the immediate course of Richard’s policy was determined for him. To the mass of his followers, the attraction of Ascalon, even Egypt, paled before the allure of Jerusalem, less than fifty miles away from their base at Jaffa. Within Richard’s cosmopolitan army there could only be one strategy that would gain majority support: a march on Jerusalem. This was especially true for crusaders from the west who had joined up specifically to answer the call to recover the Holy City. Many of them had been in Palestine for more than a year, some since 1189. The privations of the siege of Acre were for a purpose defined rhetorically and emotionally in traditional, First Crusade terms. With hindsight many sources argued that Jerusalem, even if captured, would have been impossible to hold against Saladin’s undefeated field army. It was argued that the Christians lacked adequate manpower to secure both Jerusalem and Jaffa and the supply lines to Acre, especially as the bulk of crusaders would depart for their homes in the west. For the local veterans, the lessons of the twelfth-century Outremer spoke loudly. Yet, the only reason any of them, Richard included, found themselves in southern Palestine at the turn of the year was the quest to recapture the Holy City. All Richard’s schemes were ultimately directed to that end. The providential nature of the enterprise had been proclaimed and reinforced at every turn by stories of heroism, reports of visions and, from the perspective of September 1191, success. As Saladin could not afford to bargain away Jerusalem, his most iconic triumph, Richard’s attempt to exert pressure by means other than a frontal assault on the Holy City lacked credibility. If there were too few to take or hold Jerusalem, the same was patently true, if not more so, for any attempt to invade Egypt. In fact, this lack of manpower, added to the factional difficulties within the Christian army, the rival negotiations with Conrad of Montferrat and the overwhelming fact that Richard, unlike Frederick Barbarossa, was not intending to devote the rest of his life to Outremer, indicated that the only chance of success, even in the terms Richard envisaged, lay in a military coup that brought Saladin to his knees. The stalemate after Arsuf required a new triumph. So even the logic of Richard’s own policy dictated an attack on Jerusalem. Given the fissiparous nature of the coalition he led, it had to be conducted as soon as possible, even though it was mid-winter and the weather was foul.

Despite being overruled by the council of leaders when he proposed an expedition to Ascalon in September, Richard understood his position. Whatever his instincts as a secular general, this was no ordinary war, at least in its objective if not conduct. If the army was to stay together and his leadership recognized, both prerequisites for the effectiveness of his continuing diplomacy with Saladin, he had to march towards Jerusalem. The manner in which he did so suggested a serious intent; what precisely that was appeared less obvious. After a brief trip by sea to Acre, on 31 October Richard set out from Jaffa on the Jerusalem road. It had taken the First Crusaders a week to march from the coast to Jerusalem. After two months, Richard’s vanguard had only reached Bayt Nuba, on the edge of the coastal plain, still twelve miles from Jerusalem. Along the way, as well as fighting off repeated Turkish attacks, the Christians had rebuilt the castles of the plain ruined on Saladin’s orders. A six-week stop at Ramla allowed for provisions to be stockpiled. Richard spent Christmas at Latrun, still only a day’s ride from Jaffa. To Saladin, the advance seemed worryingly inexorable in its measured pace, although the dreadful weather contributed to its glacial progress. By the beginning of January 1192, Richard had achieved mastery over the coastal plain between Jaffa and the Judean hills. This may have been the limit of his ambition. But such occupation was also crucial if a realistic attack on Jerusalem were to be attempted. Throughout these manoeuvres, Richard kept up his talks with al-Adil, although sticking to his demands for a complete return to the pre-1187 frontiers. Urgency was added when Reynald of Sidon was seen inspecting the skirmishing between the Turks and crusaders while out riding with al-Adil.30 By November the discussions between al-Adil and Richard and their agents, and their friendly tone, were public knowledge, with open exchanges of gifts, mutual entertainment and feasting. This apparently contradictory behaviour for a warrior of Christ shocked many of Richard’s followers. To avoid the taint of appeasement and show that ‘he lacked not loyalty to God and Christianity’, when the negotiations faltered and fighting resumed, Richard compensated by eagerly slicing the heads off Turks and displaying them as trophies around the camp. Such bizarre turns of behaviour did not pass unnoticed even by Richard’s keenest fans.31

Having finally arrived at the feet of the Judean hills, the Holy City in normal conditions just a day’s march away, in the mud and rain of a bad Palestinian winter the crusaders reached the third crisis of the war. The decision over Jerusalem could be deferred no longer. For a week (6–13 January 1192) the fate of the crusade was fiercely debated by the high command. Their dilemma revolved around whether they should gamble all in advancing on the chance of rekindling the glory – and the good fortune – of 1099 or risk the disillusionment and disintegration of the army by adopting a more prudent line. The attitude of the local baronage and the military orders proved crucial. The grizzled veterans of the east argued that an immediate attack on Jerusalem was unwise; the weather was atrocious and worsening. The problem of retaining a captured Jerusalem remained unresolved. The locals advised marching to refortify Ascalon as a base to prevent Saladin reinforcing his army from Egypt and thus exerting a stranglehold on his operations in southern Palestine. This argument fitted exactly Richard’s earlier plan, as the king presumably knew it would. A contemporary Iraqi observer recorded that Richard presented the tactical reasons against a siege himself.32 Rash in battle, cautious in politics but expert in military science, on 13 January, Richard gave the order to withdraw.

Instantly the army’s morale collapsed. ‘Never since the Lord God made the world was such deep grief displayed’.33 The leadership was cursed. Inevitable rumours circulated, telling of the parlous state of the Turks and how easily the Holy City would have fallen, if only… However, contemporary writers, Christian and Muslim, and not just his panegyrists, were, perhaps surprisingly, ready to explain and excuse Richard’s decision. Ibn Shaddad ignored the whole issue. However, pursuing the accountancy of tactics rather than the foolhardiness of piety fuelled divisions between Christian factions and interest groups. While Henry of Champagne remained with Richard, Hugh of Burgundy withdrew, although staying in southern Palestine. Others left for Acre or to join Conrad of Montferrat at Tyre: if diplomacy rather than force were to determine the crusade’s outcome and allocate the winnings, Richard was not the only player with a prospect of success. The retreat from Bayt Nuba also confirmed the flaw in Richard’s own strategy by demonstrating to Saladin the Christians’ military weakness and inadequate manpower. The collapse of his authority in Syria, still less the overthrow of his empire, no longer threatened. All the diplomatic talk from Richard was of condominium. As the crusaders slogged their way back through the rains to Ramla, Saladin gave his army home leave.34

Defenders of Richard’s decision, then and now, praise his sagacity. Yet, alongside his acute understanding of the problems that confronted any attack on Jerusalem, Richard may also have lost his nerve or, rather, the confidence in his own ability to impose himself on events. Alternatively, if he had never intended to attack Jerusalem, and the manoeuvring around the coastal plain was merely to rattle Saladin while showing his own troops how impossibly difficult the project had become, then his cynicism was matched by his miscalculation. His limitations were exposed. Such a physically, politically and psychologically damaging exercise to achieve an abortive diplomatic advantage speaks poorly of his judgement. Assuming them not be wholly capricious, the best that can be said of Richard’s policies and decisions in the winter of 1191–2 is that they allowed him to retain as many options as possible for as long as possible. The verdict of Bayt Nuba closed many of these down and immediately began to restrict further expectations of future success. What would have happened had Richard pressed on up the road to Jerusalem is unknowable. Another Hattin or a repeat of 1099; both were possible. The failure to trust in righteousness probably forced not a few to wonder what, if anything, the westerners were now doing in Palestine. Whatever view is taken of the merits of the decision of 13 January 1192, whether it can be ascribed to shrewdness or loss of conviction at the ultimate test, its consequences reconfigured the contours of Holy War in the east, not just for the following nine months but for the next century and more.

Richard countered the gloom and disillusionment by action. The volte face at Bayt Nuba was portrayed as a tactical withdrawal, not a retreat.35 Never were Richard’s personal qualities as a daring, or, as Saladin himself thought, foolishly rash knight more useful.36The stories of Richard’s exploits increased in inverse proportion to the overall military success of the expedition. By the end of January, Richard had arrived at Ascalon and had set his army to work rebuilding its fortifications on a grand scale, ‘making it the strongest fortress on the coast of Palestine’.37 This strenuous outdoor relief engaged his depleted army for the next four months. But their labours did little to dilute the popular desire to spend their energies reclaiming the Holy Sepulchre. Arguably, all that was achieved was to confirm Richard’s place at the now rather crowded negotiating table by virtue of his command of a still formidable army, control of Jaffa and now Ascalon. Even that was endangered by ferocious fighting between the various factions in Acre, which required Richard’s presence between late February and the end of March 1192.

The absence of Turkish menace or Christian advance allowed free play of the competition for the lucrative port of Acre. Conrad of Montferrat, supported by the Genoese, the French under Hugh of Burgundy and elements of the Jerusalem baronage, contested the authority of Guy of Lusignan, backed by the Pisans and the de facto ruler of Christian Palestine, Richard himself. As Richard had pointedly reminded al-Adil, he too possessed a dynastic interest as King Amalric of Jerusalem’s great-nephew in the male line.38 But he was already envisaging his own departure for his responsibilities in the west. At his camp at Ascalon in early April Richard had learnt of the deposition of his viceroy in England, William Longchamp, and the attempted coup by his brother John. Planning for the future became urgent. Not just the lordship of Acre but the succession of the crown of Jerusalem needed to be settled, especially as Conrad’s disaffection continued to vitiate Richard’s attempts to reach a negotiated settlement with Saladin. Richard’s bullying alone had little effect as Conrad’s support was powerful, obstinate and threatened to break up the crusade. Opinion was hardening that Guy could never provide the stability required to maintain the kingdom after the crusaders’ departure. On the advice of his own army council, Richard, willingly or not, was forced to agree. In mid-April he abandoned Guy and accepted Conrad’s claims to be king, a decision influenced perhaps by his learning that Conrad’s negotiations with Saladin were nearing a successful conclusion. Guy was amply compensated by the lordship of Cyprus transferred to him by Richard from the Templars.

No sooner agreed, the succession deal collapsed. In Tyre on the evening of 28 April, walking home after dining with the bishop of Beauvais, Conrad of Montferrat was stabbed to death by two Assassins. Circumstantial evidence implicated Richard as having bribed the Assassin leader, Rashid al-Din Sinan. Equally plausible cases could be made against Saladin or Sinan himself, uneasy at Conrad’s Lebanese pretentions.39 Conrad’s death caused another brief intense spasm of conflict, with Hugh of Burgundy attempting to wrest Tyre from Conrad’s pregnant widow. However, a new candidate presented himself, literally, when Henry of Champagne arrived at Tyre from Acre. With the blessing of Richard, on 5 May, Henry, now a Holy Land veteran of two years, was married to the twenty-one-year-old Princess Isabella as her third husband (in the end she managed four). The marriage suited almost all parties. Henry, as a grandson of Louis VII and Eleanor of Aquitaine, was nephew to both Richard I and Philip II, his elevation satisfying the honour of each. The opinion of Humphrey of Toron, Isabella’s first husband and currently leader of Richard’s negotiators with al-Adil, was not recorded.

Freed from the succession problem and, for the first time since Acre fell, with united support, Richard pursued his game of two-handed chess in southern Palestine: military action shadowing detailed negotiations. One of Richard’s latest offers included a proposal for a new partition that included a divided city of Jerusalem, the Muslims retaining control of the Haram al-Sharif (Temple Mount) and the Tower of David.40This found no favour. Agreement over the partition of Jerusalem and Palestine was a Sisyphean task. To try to force Saladin into an acceptable deal, Richard laid siege to Darum, one of the few strongholds Saladin had left intact, which fell on 22 May. Next day his army was joined by Henry of Champagne, to whom Richard presented the town, and Hugh of Burgundy with the remaining French troops. This new unity produced an awkward alliance. In late May, the French lords joined with Richard’s own from England, Normandy, Maine, Anjou and Poitou to decide that they would launch an attack on Jerusalem whatever Richard thought, with or without him. By leaking their decision to the army, they totally outmanoeuvred Richard. While the camp rang with celebration, the king sulked, his hostility to the plan – or his anger at being bested – undisguised. It may have been a symptom of his recurrent poor health, but he seems to have sunk into a temporary but deep depression, worried by the prospects for the Jerusalem escapade and ever-worsening news from the west. Apparently it took a confessional pep talk from a priest appealing to Richard’s reputation, knightly prowess and providential destiny to persuade the king to resume positive leadership by promising not to leave the Holy Land until Easter 1193.41

Although the essential strategic arguments against besieging Jerusalem had not changed since January, the fortification of Ascalon, the capture of Darum and the annexation of the whole of the coastal plain north of the Negev desert gave the Christians greater freedom of movement. Saladin’s position was weakened by the problems of maintaining his coalition for yet another campaign season, the sixth in a row (1187–92), as well as the removal of Conrad of Montferrat. The one clear improvement lay in the excellent facilities for gathering intelligence his drawn-out diplomacy had provided. However, the new advance towards Jerusalem was a contradictory and confusing, perhaps confused, affair. The second march to Bayt Nuba presented a complete contrast to the first. Richard remained dubious, if not overtly hostile. The weather was hot. Water was scarce, the more so after Saladin ordered the destruction or poisoning of the Judean water cisterns. The march from Ascalon, begun on 6 June, took five days to reach Bayt Nuba, instead of two months, a sign either that the Christians intended a rapid assault or that they now discounted Saladin’s capacity to cut their supply route to the coast. Yet the Christians then stayed camped at Bayt Nuba from 10 June until 4 July, simultaneously indicating a seriousness of intent and casting doubt on their unity of purpose. The delay allowed Saladin, who had initially been caught badly off guard, to regroup. The advance to Bayt Nuba also seems to have surprised elements of the Christian coalition; from Acre Henry of Champagne only managed to catch up with the host in late June.

The chief activity in the crusader camp at Bayt Nuba was debate about whether to press on, spiced with regular forays across the surrounding countryside in search of forage, game and Turks. On one such sortie, it was said, Richard caught sight of Jerusalem in the distance, possibly from Montjoie, the hill on the Jaffa road where pilgrims received their first view of the Holy City.42 On another, tipped off by local spies, Richard led an attack on a large Muslim caravan as it was crossing the northern Negev; Saladin regarded its loss as a serious blow. Christian morale was boosted by the discovery of yet another relic of the True Cross. Saladin and his generals began to panic. His tactics had failed to dislodge or much inconvenience the camp at Bayt Nuba or to cut the crusaders’ supply line to Jaffa. With the seizure of booty and camels from the desert caravan, it looked in the last days of June that an attack on Jerusalem was finally imminent. As eyewitnesses testified, memories of the First Crusade were alive in the crusader camp;43 it would not have been forgotten that in 1099 the Holy City had fallen on 15 July. In Jerusalem, Saladin’s high command was as divided as Richard’s, some urging a stand in the city, others the deployment of the army to confront the crusaders in the field. Saladin began to take emergency measures for the security of the city. Despite intelligence reports of the divisions in the Christians, on 3 July it was decided Saladin should leave the city for his own safety. At Friday prayers that day in the al-Aqsa mosque, he wept openly.44

Whether he had good reason to be alarmed is less obvious. Uncertainty was rife in the crusader ranks. The French under the duke of Burgundy were consistent in calling for an attack on Jerusalem, their views being relayed to Saladin by his agents: ‘The only reason we have come from our countries is Jerusalem. We shall not return without it.’45 The spies also reported Richard’s response: the need to forage for clean water would break the besiegers’ formation and invite annihilation. However, the crude logic of the French position attracted the support of the mass of the ordinary crusaders. Relations between the Angevin high command and the rest frayed. The camp divided into national enclaves, groups from one hurling insults at the other. Hugh of Burgundy even sponsored an obscene song about Richard, which was widely sung, provoking Richard, an experienced song-writer, to retaliate with one of his own.46 The situation became unsustainable. The fourth crisis of the crusade had arrived.

To resolve the issue, Richard skilfully used his authority as the undoubted commander-in-chief to convene a supposedly objective committee to decide on whether to attack Jerusalem or pursue Richard’s preferred southern Palestine policy of threatening Egypt. The composition of the committee guaranteed the result of its deliberations: five Templars, five Hospitallers, five Jerusalem barons and five Frenchmen. All except the French were well known to favour caution and, thus, the Egyptian policy. By excluding any of his own vassals Richard could be seen to be acting impartially, but on the side he exerted heavy pressure and moral blackmail. The committee opted for withdrawal. Even so, doubt prevailed until the last moment before, on 4 July, Richard ordered a general retreat to the coast. Disappointment inadequately describes the bitterness recorded even by writers sympathetic to Richard. Saladin watched the disconsolate and acrimonious march down to the plain. It turned out to be a decisive moment. The next hostile western European army to come as close to Jerusalem as Richard’s crusaders was led by General Edmund Allenby in December 1917.

Any semblance of Christian unity now collapsed. Blame was freely flung about, the retreat costing Richard’s reputation dear. The remaining French left in disgust, refusing to follow an Egyptian scheme. In any case, this much-promoted plan was increasingly revealed as at best impractical and at worst wishful thinking. Richard lacked the men, money or ships and was eager to return to the west to save his dominions from the rapacity of John and Philip II. A policy of raids on the Nile Delta or hopes of exploiting possible divisions within the Ayyubid empire after Saladin’s death belonged to a hypothetical future not the circumstances of the summer of 1192. Immediately, the strategic and diplomatic options became clearer. Saladin was safe in Jerusalem: Richard in Ascalon and Jaffa. Richard, directly or through Henry of Champagne as lord of the Jerusalemite Franks, was openly pushing for a quick settlement. He now admitted total victory was beyond his reach. He also judged that Saladin too was in trouble: ‘you and we together are ruined’.47Claims to Jerusalem were abandoned. New, ingenious ideas for partition were proposed, even a post-crusade military alliance. However, Saladin demanded the demolition of Ascalon as the price for any agreement. The balance of power in southern Palestine had to be shifted if either side were to agree to what both desired, the end of the war.

In late July, Richard returned to Acre ostensibly to plan an attack on Beirut in an attempt to lure Saladin away from the new Christian bases in southern Palestine. In Richard’s absence, Saladin launched a surprise attack on Jaffa. If he could take the port, the whole Christian position in the region would be seriously undermined if not destroyed, their conquests split, their shipping vulnerable and the precariousness of Richard’s position exposed. The Turks would reap huge and immediate diplomatic as well as military advantage. The stalemate would be broken. This fifth, final crisis of the Palestine war would determine its outcome.

The Turks began their assault on 28 July. By 31 July, their mangonels and sappers had destroyed whole sections of the walls. The modest garrison agreed to surrender the town, withdrawing to the citadel while Jaffa was sacked. That night, as the garrison prepared to evacuate the citadel under the supervision of Saladin’s agent, Ibn Shaddad himself, Richard appeared offshore with a small fleet. He had learnt of Jaffa’s plight just three days earlier. A relief column hurriedly despatched from Acre under Henry of Champagne had been stopped at Ceasarea. However, despite contrary winds, the king’s flotilla arrived while most of the citadel still remained in Christian hands. On 1 August, after some confusion over whether the Turks had already occupied the citadel, Richard, heavily outnumbered, launched his famous attack, being one of the first to wade ashore from his boats at the head of his small army. Shock, surprise and the power of his crack force gave Richard a highly improbable, if dramatic, victory. Ibn Shaddad, who watched Richard lead his men through the breakers, was impressed: ‘He was red-haired, his tunic was red and his banner was red, as was his device.’48 More significantly, after clearing out the astonished and alarmed Turks from both the citadel and town, Richard consolidated his hold by repulsing a concerted Muslim surprise counter-attack begun on the night of 4/5 August that literally caught Richard and his companions with their breeches down.49 This victory against heavy odds – apparently Richard had only seventeen knights and a few hundred infantry – infuriated Saladin, who must have recognized its importance. The fighting at Jaffa secured more than Richard’s legendary status as a warrior and general. It restored the strategic stalemate. Richard could not take Jerusalem; Saladin could not drive him from southern Palestine. While Saladin’s assault on Jaffa had been brilliantly opportunist, its failure dealt deep psychological as well as military blows. Negotiation became the only option for both sides who increasingly resembled tiring heavyweight boxers slugging it out while dropping from injury and fatigue.

Richard’s exertions at Jaffa proved almost more fatal than the weapons of the Turks. His health had been wretched ever since Acre. He now fell dangerously ill. To this was added the growing alarm that his possessions in France were in danger of being lost to the conspiracy between John and Philip II. Urgency to reach agreement transcended all other considerations. With his physical and political energy sapped, Richard capitulated to Saladin’s insistence on the demolition of the walls of Ascalon he had spent so much time and effort constructing only a few months earlier. That obstacle removed, agreement soon followed; the Treaty of Jaffa was formally sworn on 2 September. In return for a three-year truce, which included Antioch and Tripoli, Palestine was to be partitioned. The Christians were to retain their conquests of Acre, Jaffa and the intervening coast; the walls of Ascalon were to be demolished; the coastal plain around Ramla and Lydda was to become a condominium. Freedom of access was guaranteed to members of each faith across the other’s territories.50 Specifically, Christian pilgrims were permitted to visit the Holy Sepulchre unmolested. With a mixture of excitement and understandable unease at the presence of so many Turkish soldiers, many crusaders fulfilled their vows and visited the Holy Places before returning to Europe. Hubert Walter bishop of Salisbury, who led one of the three parties of crusaders to go up to Jerusalem, was even entertained by Saladin, a reminder of the courtly manner in which the diplomatic aspects of what otherwise had been a desperate and bloody conflict had been conducted. Bishop Hubert was shown the relic of the True Cross, which had been a significant omission from the final treaty, and discussed Richard’s qualities with the sultan. More practically, Hubert extracted from Saladin a promise to allow a skeleton staff of Latin clergy to officiate at the Holy Sepulchre, at the church of the Nativity in Bethlehem and the church of the Annunciation in Nazareth. Either from genuine conviction or as a face-saving device, or both, Richard declined the opportunity to fulfil his vows at the Holy Sepulchre, deliberately leaving open the prospect of a return. Thus, he never met Saladin except in the legends and romances that began to be concocted within a few years. The crusade was at an end.

Richard sailed from Acre on 9 October not, as he may have hoped, to a hero’s welcome, nor, as he may have feared, to a political crisis. Instead he found himself in a German prison for over thirteen months. After shipwreck near Venice, he was apprehended at Vienna on 21 December by his enemy Leopold of Austria when trying to find a way back incognito to Normandy and England. A few weeks later he was handed over to Henry VI of Germany, in whose custody he remained until February 1194. It was a remarkable fate for the most famous Christian warrior of his time and provided, as had so many of the events since news of Hattin first reached the west in the autumn of 1187, much food for moralists’ judgementalism. Ironies and bitter chance had coursed the Third Crusade, this final act not least. Earlier in 1192, Richard had vowed to remain in the east until the spring passage of 1193.51 If he had, he would have been on hand when, on 4 March 1193, Saladin died in Damascus.

Contemporary responses to the Third Crusade were as equivocal as its outcome. None questioned the heroism; many seemed to have doubted both the cost and the achievement. A vociferous apologist for the expedition and of Richard as its leader, Ambroise, possibly a Third Crusade veteran himself, acknowledged the criticism:

Yet many people ill-informed
Said in their foolishness that naught
Of good in Syria was wrought,
Since they won not Jerusalem.52

He also admitted the crushing casualties, from disease as much as battle. On the day the Treaty of Jaffa was sworn, Balian of Ibelin told Ibn Shaddad that he reckoned that perhaps as many as 20 per cent of crusaders had died in battle, but many more through illness or drowning. He thought that less than 50 per cent of the total Christian force survived, an impression, if not numbers, confirmed by western sources. William of Newburgh, writing shortly afterwards in northern England, pitched the losses at over 75 per cent: ‘not a quarter returned home’.53 One stock justification of the discrepancy between sacrifice and tangible success was to emphasize, as did William and Ambroise, the celestial ‘other Jerusalem’ these victims had won.54 Not all were convinced. Before the expeditions had even departed some sceptics, with a certain logic, had argued that God ‘could avenge himself without all these soldiers having to cross the sea’.55 After 1192, God’s purpose seemed more clouded than ever. Even if the theology remained unchallenged and human sin lay behind terrestrial failure, the loss of so many invited the charge of waste. Introducing a long list of notable casualties of the crusade, Gilbert of Mons squared this circle of blame by wondering at the extremes of sin that could have resulted in so many fine princes and knights from all parts of Christendom achieving so little: ‘they recovered only the city of Acre’.56

In fact, on the material side of the crusade’s balance sheet, the capture of Acre proved a major triumph, providing the otherwise ateliotic restored kingdom of Jerusalem with a commercial centre of international importance. The effective conquest of significant parts of the coastal plain allowed for the establishment of a territorial state that, with further additions in the decade after 1192, lasted intact until the 1260s, a modest but not the most insignificant player in the increasingly desperate contest for control of the Fertile Crescent from the Persian Gulf to the Nile Valley. The Third Crusade cast a long shadow over the future. The incorporation of Cyprus into Christian Outremer provided a new base and source of wealth and aristocratic opportunity. The Treaty of Jaffa of 1192 acted as a model for future diplomacy. For most of the next seventy years truces determined the relations between the Christian rulers of mainland Outremer and their Muslim neighbours, only unreflective or partisan westerners regarding the practice as irreligious. Every significant crusade that reached the Levant between 1192 and 1254 either sought or was forced to accept treaties with the infidel. The experience of the Third Crusade enshrined the understanding of the significance of sea-power to Christian prospects in the eastern Mediterranean. No new expeditions went by land for another 200 years. Richard’s Egypt strategy quickly became orthodoxy. Partly this resulted from the most glaring failure of the Third Crusade, Jerusalem. The arguments of Richard and his apologists that the key to the Holy City lay in Cairo seemed to have been persuasive. The continued Muslim occupation of Jerusalem supplied another lasting legacy. Unlike in the years 1099–1187, the Holy Land stood as a permanent, unavoidable criticism of Christian sin or disobedience, keeping the negotium Terrae Sanctae at the centre of religious politics and devotional populism for more than another century. Perhaps in that sense, those who argued for the spiritual success of the Third Crusade were right. The limited temporal achievement in Palestine paled beside the effect on the spiritual landscape of western Christendom.

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