The Third Crusade

Behind today's door - the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, the tomb of Jesus Christ.

"Oh mighty soldier, Oh man or war, at last you have a cause for which you can fight without endangering your soul; a cause in which to win is glorious and for which to die is but gain … I can offer you a bargain which you cannot afford to miss. Take the sign of the cross … and if you wear it with humility you will obtain the Kingdom of Heaven.”

Bishop Godfrey of Wurzburg, 1188

Richard I and the 3rd Crusade

First, read the 'story' of the 3rd crusade on this page - it's a bit long because it's meant to clarify all the not-quite-baked information some of you felt you had. 

Make a list of events in order, missing out anything that you think doesn't matter.  I guess this is a bit like a timeline.

Highlight or pencil-crayon some events in a "Success" colour and others in a "Failure" colour - feel free to leave some events neutral if you like.

Write a plan for the question: "Richard the Lionheart was a resounding success on crusade". How far do you agree? [16]


A Brief Overview of the Third Crusade: edited from Angus Donald 2010 

The Third Crusade was born out of a catastrophe for Christendom. On a roasting-hot day in July 1187, the great Kurdish warrior Saladin met a huge Christian army under the command of Guy de Lusignan, King of Jerusalem, near an extinct volcano in northern Israel known as the Horns of Hattin. The Christians were exhausted, demoralized and suffering badly from thirst. Saladin surrounded their army and destroyed it utterly. King Guy was captured, and the bulk of the military strength of the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem was annihilated, leaving Saladin, a Muslim, undisputed master of the land where Jesus Christ was born, lived, taught and died.

For nearly a hundred years, since the great success of the First Crusade (1095-99), much of what is today Israel was controlled by heavily armed Christian knights, who built great castles. Saladin was able to capture Jerusalem, Acre, Jaffa and all the major castles of the region and the Kingdom of Jerusalem was reduced to one tiny enclave at Tyre. Pope Clement III called for a new crusade to reclaim the land of Christ’s birth for Christianity. It was received enthusiastically by many of the great nobles and princes of Europe. Crusading fever was whipped up in many a parish church by passionate sermons against all non-Christians. Tragically, this fervour to fight for Christ resulted in many Jews being persecuted including the massacre of the Jews of York in March 1190.

Even in the 21st century, mobilizing a large army and launching it on a military expedition takes a long time, vast sums of money and much painstaking preparation: it took even longer and cost even more, relatively, in the 12th century. In the days before decent roads, motorised transport, and modern methods of preserving food and water, a crusade was an enormous undertaking: a long exhausting journey through potentially hostile, often uncharted territory to the very ends of the Earth.

Although Richard the Lionheart had taken the cross in November 1187, he did not set off until July 1190. When Richard came to the throne in September 1189, at the age of nearly 32, he was an accomplished and highly respected warrior, having commanded men in battle since the age of 16. Immediately after his coronation, he set about raising a large force to take to the relief of the Holy Land. King Henry II had raised a vast sum for this purpose by means of a new “Saladin tax” on all Englishmen, and the country’s money coffers were indeed well stocked when his son inherited the kingdom, but Richard needed more. He auctioned off all the titles, rights and positions that were within his gift. Roger of Howden, a contemporary chronicler, wrote of King Richard: “He put up for sale everything he had – offices, lordships, earldoms, sheriffdoms, castles, lands . . .” Indeed Richard himself said, half-jokingly: “I would sell London, if I could find a buyer.” 

By July 1190, the kings of France and England had assembled their armies at Vezelay. King Richard had about 10,000 men under his command at that time. King Philip had perhaps 2,000 men; fewer soldiers than Richard because, even though he was technically Richard’s overlord, he was much less powerful in terms of territory under his control before. Richard and Philip agreed to meet up, with their full strength, in the city of Messina, on the north coast of Sicily and proceed from there to Outremer together in a vast armada of ships.

The war in the Holy Land had already begun by the time Richard and Philip left Vezelay. Christian knights from all over Europe had been arriving to join the siege of Acre for almost a year by now. King Guy had been released by Saladin after the payment of ransom. The Christian besiegers were themselves being besieged by Saladin’s army – sandwiched between the walls of Acre and the Sultan’s men. This uncomfortable situation at Acre remained – with much loss of life on both sides from disease, hunger and battle – until the arrival in June 1191 of massive Christian reinforcements.

By the time both Philip and Richard’s troops reached Sicily, in September 1190, it was too late in the year to sail onwards, and the two kings decided to overwinter in Messina. The presence of such large numbers of foreign soldiers in Messina caused resentment in the local people. There were fights between crusaders and locals, and rioting, too. Richard decided to show the locals and their King Tancred, who was now boss in these parts, and rammed home his point by sacking the town of Messina (October 1190). However, his actions alienated King Philip of France, who did not enjoy watching Richard throw his considerable weight about but, nevertheless, demanded half the spoils from the sacked town. The relationship between Richard and Philip deteriorated, and the final straw came when Richard announced that he was not going to marry Philip’s sister Alice, to whom he had been betrothed for years, but instead he was going to marry Berengaria of Navarre, a Spanish princess. Philip was extremely angry and he departed for the Holy Land with his troops as early as the sailing season allowed (March 1191).

In April 1191, Richard left Sicily in a vast fleet of 100 ships and set sail for the Holy Land. Unfortunately a great storm scattered the fleet near Crete, and several ships were lost at sea. The fleet re-assembled in Rhodes, but the ship containing Richard’s fiancée Berengaria was sheltering, badly damaged, near Cyprus. The emperor of Cyprus captured some of Richard’s men, and invited Berengaria to come ashore, but she refused, and instead asked for water and provisions to be sent out to the ship. Emperor Isaac in turn refused, and it was this act, according to some chroniclers, that made Richard angry. He attacked and captured Cyprus.

Finally, Richard was free to sail to the Holy Land and he arrived there in June 1191. A month later, thanks to his huge army and forthright attacking style, Acre had surrendered to his troops, and Saladin had withdrawn into the interior. Philip was annoyed because Richard got all the glory at the last minute when others had been making dogged progress on undermining for months, and Leopold of Austria was annoyed at not being allowed to raise his flag next to Richard's and Philip's in spite of having made a good contribution. So Leopold went off in a sulk (and waited for his chance to capture Richard on his way home!) King Philip of France also decided to go home. He had fallen out with Richard very badly over the past year, and  he saw an opportunity to go home early and acquire Richard's lands in France.

As Richard and his men prepared to march south to attack the city of Jaffa, the nearest port to Jerusalem, there was one considerable fly in the ointment. When Acre had been captured, nearly three thousand Muslims had been taken captive. Under the terms of the surrender agreement, Saladin was expected to pay a huge sum in gold for their ransoms and hand over a part of the True Cross, a sacred relic that he had captured at the Battle of the Horns of Hattin. Saladin stalled; the huge ransom payment would have put a considerable strain on his exchequer, and the True Cross was a valuable bargaining chip. Moreover, while Richard was forced to guard a multitude of prisoners there was no way he could move from Acre, he was, in effect, pinned down there by his captives. So Saladin played for time and spun out the negotiations for the release of the Acre prisoners of war. With characteristic ruthlessness, Richard acted. All 2,700 of them, men, women and children – were executed in front of the walls of Acre, in view of the enemy.

Richard and his army – which was just under 20,000 men strong – marched south from Acre towards Jaffa. On the march, the Christian army was regularly attacked by swarms of Turkish horse archers, whose tactic was to ride in fast, shoot off a cloud of arrows and then ride quickly away. The tactical advantage of the Christian knights lay in the powerful charge of heavy cavalry: large groups of mailed horsemen, armed with long lances, advancing at the charge were almost unstoppable. The main weakness of heavily armoured cavalry was that, in the heat of the Middle East, the horses and men soon became exhausted and easy prey to faster lighter opponents. The Turkish cavalry tactic was to sting the heavy cavalry, and provoke them into making the charge.

As Richard’s army marched south, down the Mediterranean coast, re-supplied on a daily basis with food and drink by their fleet which sailed along beside them – they were almost constantly attacked by Saladin’s men. But the horsemen had strict orders to stay in close formation and not to charge their enemies. When it became clear to Saladin that Richard’s men could not be provoked he drew up his army in battle formation a few miles north of Jaffa near the small town of Arsuf. It was to prove a disastrous mistake for Saladin. By making his army – roughly the same size, or slightly bigger than Richard’s – a static target, he allowed the heavy knights the opportunity to charge and crush his regiments of lighter troops. By the end of the day, after much slaughter, Saladin was in full retreat, his army having taken a dreadful mauling from the Christian knights.

While Arsuf was a victory for King Richard, it was not a decisive one.  Saladin realised that he could never beat the heavy knights in open battle, and so he determined never to face them in a set piece action again: this was a war-winning strategy. From that point onwards, Saladin employed only skirmishing, hit-and-run tactics against the knights and these proved to be extremely successful. Saladin knew that time was on his side. As time passed the Lionheart’s army was slowly dwindling, as disease, fatigue, heat, desertion and battle chipped away at his numbers.

It soon became clear to Richard that, although he might just manage to take Jerusalem, with a superhuman effort, and a huge cost in the lives of his men, he would not be able to hold the city after its capture. Most of his men, having fulfilled their oaths to recapture Jerusalem, would pray at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and then return home. Who would protect Jerusalem, once the crusading army had gone?

A three-year truce was signed between the warring camps in September 1192. Under its terms, unarmed Christian pilgrims were permitted to visit Jerusalem and pray in its churches. Richard was now free to return home. And with his departure in October 1192, the Third Crusade came to its end.

Richard did not achieve the objective of recapturing Jerusalem, and Outremer was still largely in Muslim hands on his departure. Cyprus remained in Latin hands for next few hundred years, and formed a perfect jumping off point for future crusades. Richard managed to capture and hold a string of fortresses on the western seaboard of Outremer, a ribbon of land from Tyre in the north through Acre and Jaffa to Ascalon in the south, which prolonged the life of the Kingdom of Jerusalem for another hundred years.