VI. THE THIRD CRUSADE: 1189–92

The retention of Tyre, Antioch, and Tripolis left the Christians some strands of hope. Italian fleets still controlled the Mediterranean, and stood ready to carry fresh Crusaders for a price. William, Archbishop of Tyre, returned to Europe, and recounted to assemblies in Italy, France, and Germany the fall of Jerusalem. At Mainz his appeal so moved Frederick Barbarossa that the great Emperor, sixty-seven years old, set out almost at once with his army (1189), and all Christendom applauded him as the second Moses who would open a way to the Promised Land. Crossing the Hellespont at Gallipoli, the new host, on a new route, repeated the errors and tragedies of the First Crusade. Turkish bands harassed its march and cut off its supplies; hundreds starved to death; Frederick was drowned ignominiously in the little river of Salef in Cilicia (1190); and only a fraction of his army survived to join in the siege of Acre.

Richard I of the Lion Heart, recently crowned King of England at the age of thirty-one, resolved to try his hand on the Moslems. Fearing French encroachment, in his absence, upon English possessions in France, he insisted that Philip Augustus should accompany him; the French king—a lad of twenty-three—agreed; and the two youthful monarchs received the cross from William of Tyre in a moving ceremony at Vézelay. Richard’s army of Normans (for few Englishmen took part in the Crusades) sailed from Marseille, Philip’s army from Genoa, for a rendezvous in Sicily (1190). There the kings quarreled and otherwise amused themselves for half a year. Tancred, King of Sicily, offended Richard, who seized Messina “quicker than a priest could chant matins,” and restored it for 40,000 ounces of gold. So solvent, he embarked his army for Palestine. Some of his ships were wrecked on the coast of Cyprus; the crews were imprisoned by the Greek governor; Richard paused for a moment, conquered Cyprus, and gave it to Guy de Lusignan, the homeless king of Jerusalem. He reached Acre in June of 1191, a year after leaving Vézelay. Philip had preceded him; the siege of Acre by the Christians had already lasted nineteen months, and had cost thousands of lives. A few weeks after Richard’s arrival the Saracens surrendered. The victors asked, and were promised, 200,000 gold pieces ($950,000), 1600 selected prisoners, and the restoration of the True Cross. Saladin confirmed the agreement, and the Moslem population of Acre, excepting the 1600, were allowed to depart with such provisions as they could carry. Philip Augustus, ill with fever, returned to France, leaving behind him a French force of 10,500 men. Richard became sole leader of the Third Crusade.

Now began a confused and unique campaign in which blows and battles alternated with compliments and courtesies, while the English King and the Kurd Sultan illustrated some of the finest qualities of their civilizations and creeds. Neither was a saint: Saladin could dispense death with vigor when military purposes seemed to him to require it; and the romantic Richard permitted some interruptions in his career as a gentleman. When the leaders of besieged Acre delayed in carrying out the agreed terms of surrender, Richard had 2500 Moslem prisoners beheaded before the walls as a hint to hurry.35 When Saladin learned of this he ordered the execution of all prisoners thereafter taken in battle with the English King. Changing his tune, Richard proposed to end the Crusades by marrying his sister Joan to Saladin’s brother al-Adil. The Church denounced the scheme, and it was dropped.

Knowing that Saladin would not stay quiet in defeat, Richard reorganized his forces and prepared to march sixty miles southward along the coast to relieve Jaffa, which, again in Christian hands, was under Moslem siege. Many nobles refused to go with him, preferring to stay behind in Acre and intrigue for the kingship of the Jerusalem which they trusted Richard would take. The German troops returned to Germany, and the French army repeatedly disobeyed the orders, and frustrated the strategy, of the British King. Nor were the rank and file ready for renewed effort. After the long siege, says the Christian chronicler of Richard’s crusade, the victorious Christians,

given up to sloth and luxury, were loath to leave a city so rich in comforts—to wit, the choicest of wines and the fairest of damsels. Many, by a too intimate acquaintance with these pleasures, became dissolute, till the city was polluted by their luxury, and their gluttony and wantonness put wise men to the blush.36

Richard made matters more difficult by ordering that no women should accompany the army except washerwomen, who could not be an occasion of sin. He atoned for the defects of his troops by the excellence of his generalship, the skill of his engineering, and his inspiring valor on the field; in these respects he excelled Saladin, as well as all other Christian leaders of the Crusades.

His army met Saladin’s at Arsuf, and won an indecisive victory (1191). Saladin offered to renew battle, but Richard withdrew his men within Jaffa’s walls. Saladin sent him an offer of peace. During the negotiations Conrad, Marquis of Montferrat, who held Tyre, entered into separate correspondence with Saladin, proposing to become his ally, and retake Acre for the Moslems, if Saladin would agree to his appropriating Sidon and Beirut. Despite this offer, Saladin authorized his brother to sign with Richard a peace yielding to the Christians all the coastal cities that they then held, and half of Jerusalem. Richard was so pleased that he ceremoniously conferred knighthood upon the son of the Moslem ambassador (1192). A while later, hearing that Saladin was faced with revolt in the East, he rejected Saladin’s terms, besieged and took Darum, and advanced to within twelve miles of Jerusalem. Saladin, who had dismissed his troops for the winter, called them back to arms. Meanwhile dissension broke out in the Christian camp, scouts reported that the wells on the road to Jerusalem had been poisoned, and the army would have nothing to drink. A council was held to decide strategy; it voted to abandon Jerusalem and march upon Cairo, 250 miles away. Richard, sick, disgusted, and despondent, retired to Acre, and thought of returning to England.

But when he heard that Saladin had again attacked Jaffa, and had taken it in two days, Richard’s pride revived him. With such troops as he could muster he sailed at once for Jaffa. Arrived in the harbor, he cried, “Perish the hindmost!” and leaped to his waist into the sea. Swinging his famous Danish ax, he beat down all who resisted him, led his men into the city, and cleared it of Moslem soldiery almost before Saladin could learn what had occurred (1192). The sultan summoned his main army to his rescue. It far outnumbered Richard’s 3000, but the reckless courage of the King carried the day. Seeing Richard unmounted, Saladin sent him a charger, calling it a shame that so gallant a warrior should have to fight on foot. Saladin’s soldiers soon had enough; they reproached him for having spared the Jaffa garrison, which was now fighting again. Finally, if we may believe the Christian account, Richard rode along the Saracen front, lance at rest, and none dared attack him.37

On the next day fortune changed. Reinforcements reached Saladin; and Richard, sick again, and unsupported by the knights at Acre and Tyre, once more sued for peace. In his fever he cried out for fruit and a cooling drink; Saladin sent him pears and peaches and snow, and his own physician. On September 2, 1192, the two heroes signed a peace for three years, and partitioned Palestine: Richard was to keep all the coastal cities he had conquered, from Acre to Jaffa; Moslems and Christians were to pass freely into and from each other’s territory, and pilgrims would be protected in Jerusalem; but that city was to remain in Moslem hands. (Perhaps the Italian merchants, interested chiefly in controlling the ports, had persuaded Richard to yield the Holy City in return for the coastal area.) The peace was celebrated with feasts and tournaments; “God alone,” says Richard’s chronicler, “knoweth the measureless delight of both peoples”;38 for a moment men ceased to hate. Boarding his ship for England, Richard sent a last defiant note to Saladin, promising to return in three years and take Jerusalem. Saladin replied that if he must lose his land he had liefer lose it to Richard than to any other man alive.39

Saladin’s moderation, patience, and justice had defeated Richard’s brilliance, courage, and military art; the relative unity and fidelity of the Moslem leaders had triumphed over the divisions and disloyalties of the feudal chiefs; and a short line of supplies behind the Saracens proved of greater advantage than Christian control of the seas. The Christian virtues and faults were better exemplified in the Moslem sultan than in the Christian king. Saladin was religious to the point of persecution, and allowed himself to be unreasonably bitter against the Templars and Hospitalers. Usually, however, he was gentle to the weak, merciful to the vanquished, and so superior to his enemies in faithfulness to his word that Christian chroniclers wondered how so wrong a theology could produce so fine a man. He treated his servants with gentleness, and himself heard all petitions. He “esteemed money as little as dust,” and left only one dinar in his personal treasury.40 Not long before his death he gave his son ez-Zahir instructions that no Christian philosopher could surpass:

My son, I commend thee to the most high God…. Do His will, for that way lies peace. Abstain from shedding blood … for blood that is spilt never sleeps. Seek to win the hearts of thy people, and watch over their prosperity; for it is to secure their happiness that thou art appointed by God and me. Try to gain the hearts of thy ministers, nobles, and emirs. If I have become great it is because I have won men’s hearts by kindness and gentleness.41

He died in 1193, aged only fifty-five.

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