This blog is dedicated to discussing the Crusader Kingdoms of Jerusalem and Cyprus. I will post information about the history and legacy of these remarkable kingdoms, as well as post reviews of books relevant to the crusades and the Crusader Kingdoms.
I have joined the Real Crusades History team and will posting simultaneously to the Real Crusades History Blog.
Friday, October 14, 2016
War by Other Means: Diplomacy of the Third Crusade – Part I: Testing the Limits
The German military
philosopher, Carl von Clausewitz, famously described war as “the continuation
of politics by other means” and as “an act of force to compel the enemy to do
our will.” Diplomacy on the other hand is the attempt to obtain political
objectives without the use of force. War and diplomacy, however,
are intimately related because every military leader seeks to obtain his
objectives (both military and political) with the minimum casualties. A diplomatic
victory that delivers an important military objective bloodlessly ― whether it’s as small as a bridge or as big as a kingdom ― is always preferred over a bloody battle or all out war.
Thus, both methods of
obtaining political objectives (war and diplomacy) are as old as history
itself. The crusades ― despite often being characterized as acts of mindless
barbarism ― were no exception. In addition to the battles familiar to
most students of the crusades, there were frequent, complex and often highly successful
diplomatic maneuvers as well.
The Third Crusade was
the first (but not the last) of the crusades that ended with a truce, and as
such was concluded diplomatically rather than militarily. It is therefore an interesting
case-study in diplomacy at the interface between Christendom and the Dar
al-Islam. It is particularly interesting because the principle actors, Richard
the Lionheart and Salah ad-Din, are more famous as men of war than men of peace.
In two entries I wish to examine the diplomacy of the Third Crusade. Today’s
entry looks at diplomacy in the first six months of the crusade; a period in
which both sides were probing the other more than seeking agreement.
The political objectives
of the Third Crusade were crystal clear: the restoration of Christian rule over
the Holy Land. The later was defined roughly as the land in which Christ had
lived and died, most especially the site of his execution, burial and
resurrection: Jerusalem. All the crusaders that embarked upon the Third Crusade
understood this as their goal ― and Saladin knew it. His political objective
was quite simply to defend the status quo: Muslim control over the territory
coveted by the crusaders.
The Christian forces
making up the Third Crusade first encountered the forces of Salah ad-Din at
Acre. The choice of venue was not strategic and had not been chosen by any of
the commanders. Rather, it was imposed on both parties by Guy de Lusignan’s questionable
decision to lay siege to Acre two years earlier (See Siege of Acre). (One can’t
help but speculate what Richard the Lionheart’s choice venue for an assault
would have been if the siege of Acre had not already been in place; I suspect
Jaffa or Ascalon.)
After nearly two years
of stalemate, the arrival of the fleets commissioned and commanded by the
powerful European kings Philip II of France and Richard I of England
immediately tipped the scales at the siege of Acre in favor of the crusaders. I
say the fleets and not the armies because it was ultimately the airtight
blockade of the city of Acre that forced the Egyptian garrison of Acre to seek
So the first diplomatic
move in the Third Crusade was made by the Saracens (the garrison of Acre)
seeking very generous terms of surrender. The newly arrived crusaders, still
fresh and cocky, rejected the terms. Instead, they continued their assaults and
finally forced the garrison, which was now quite desperate, to surrender on
less favorable terms. The terms included the return of the relic captured at
the Battle of Hattin and believed to be a piece of the cross on which Christ
was crucified (True Cross), a large payment in gold (200,000 gold pieces) and
the liberation of a large number of Christian captives, most probably a number equal to the number of hostages. Two-thousand five hundred hostages (by
some accounts more, but a number equal to the captives to be released) from the garrison were surrendered to the crusaders as surety for the
fulfillment of the terms of the treaty. In short, the first round of diplomatic
maneuvering went to the Christians.
Salah ad-Din, however, had
either not been involved in the negotiations at all, or only at the last moment, when the desperate garrison begged him to sanction the
terms they had already obtained. He was almost certainly not pleased with the
terms, which may well have placed him in an awkward position. Salah ad-Din’s
problem was that he: 1) may not have had the True Cross in his possession (Islam
considers reverence for objects idolatry and had little reason to keep the
Christian relic intact), 2) may have been short of ready cash, and 3) would
have needed to buy back the captive Christians from the men who had captured them or
purchased them since. In short, Salah ad-Din may have had difficulty fulfilling the
terms of the agreement. Equally or possibly even more important, Salah ad-Din had
every reason to drag out the
fulfillment of the agreement. The campaign season in the Holy Land lasts only
through the summer and ends when the rains start in November or
December. It was already July when Acre surrendered. The longer Salah ad-Din
dragged out the negotiations, the less time the crusaders would have to make an
assault somewhere else.
Salah ad-Din as portrayed by a artist in the West
Salah ad-Din chose to play
for time, missing at least two deadlines for the delivery of the True Cross,
the captives and the gold. This inaction on the part of Salah ad-Din now put
Richard of England in the awkward position of having to respond. The campaign
season was ticking away, his troops were getting fractious, the Saracens hostages
were consuming food and required guards. Most important of all: Salah ad-Din
appeared to be mocking and belittling him. Aside from the fact that Salah
ad-Din appeared to have made a fool of him in the eyes of many of his own
followers, Richard had to wonder what Salah ad-Din would think of him if he
meekly accepted the excuses and delays. The military objective, the surrender
of Acre to the crusaders, had already been achieved. What was now at stake were
only secondary, not to say marginal objectives: money, the symbolic True Cross,
and captives, who were not Richard's own men but natives of Outremer, men that Richard
at this time may have more-or-less looked down on.
Since Salah ad-Din had
not fulfilled the terms of the agreement, Richard was completely within his
rights to execute the hostages according to thecustoms of war at this
time. His decision to do so, however, had little to do with what was his “right,”
and more to do with what impact he thought his action would have. The execution of the
hostages was of negligible military value; 2,500 men were a drop in the bucket
of what Salah ad-Din could conscript or recruit. The execution of the hostages
served, rather, the diplomatic objective of increasing Salah ad-Din’s respect
for Richard as a negotiating partner.
The diplomatic message was: this English king is not to be trifled with.
Whether we like it or not, Richard got his message across.
Significantly, it was
Richard that made the next diplomatic move. Shortly after the crusading army
had left Acre and before the battle of Arsuf, Richard sought a meeting with
Salah ad-Din. His apparent objective at this time appears to have been no more
than meeting him face-to-face so he could take the measure of him. Richard,
remember, had up to now fought men he knew well ― his father, his brothers,
his vassals, his would-be brother-in-law Philip of France. Salah ad-Din was
known to him only from hear-say and it is understandable that he wanted to
Richard I's Tomb at Fontevrault
Salah ad-Din rebuffed
him. He said kings only met after an agreement has been hammered out. (The
same is true today: treaties are negotiated at the working-level, and only
signed ― when ready ― at summits.) Richard lost this round.
After the Battle of
Arsuf, Richard made a renewed attempt to open diplomatic channels and Salah
ad-Din agreed to let his brother al-Adil meet with Richard. Richard opened
the negotiations with a demand that Salah ad-Din turn over all territories that had ever belonged
to the Kingdom of Jerusalem (i.e. even territory lost decades earlier) and,
furthermore, do homage to the restored Christian King of Jerusalem for Egypt.
The fact that al-Adil mildly characterized these demands as “excessive” but
indicated willingness to continue talking is highly significant.
At the same time that Saladin was negotiating with Richard, he was also negotiating with
Conrad de Montferrat. Conrad’s initial proposal was that the Sultan recognize
him as Count of Tyre and in addition restore Sidon and Beirut, with their surrounding
territory, to him in exchange for Montferrat recognizing the Sultan’s
right to everything south of Tyre (i.e. from Acre to Ascalon and including the
heartland of the former Kingdom of Jerusalem ― Nazareth, Galilee and
Jerusalem.) While on the surface this offer was a hundred times better than Richard's, Salah ad-Din called Conrad’s bluff by pointing out that he could not
give away what he did not control. This diplomatic exchange is significant
because it exposed Conrad the Montferrat’s greed and weakness. Thereafter, the
Sultan knew that his only serious opponent was Richard the Lionheart and he
focused his attention on driving Richard out of the Holy Land.
But “driving him out”
did not have to be by military means and so he pursed the diplomatic contacts
established by Richard. What followed were a series of meetings, the exact
number and date of which we can no longer reconstruct, between Richard and/or
his representatives and al-Adil as Salah ad-Din’s ambassador. At one of these,
al-Adil put forward the preposterous idea that he marry Richard's sister, Joanna Plantagenet, Dowager
Queen of Sicily. (SeeA Curious Proposal) Both sides, however, treated the
proposal as a joke. By the end of November it was clear that the negotiations with
Richard were going nowhere and had yielded nothing concrete. The diplomatic
back-and-forth broke down and was replaced by a renewed military offensive
directed at Jerusalem.
Yet the diplomatic
contacts established in 1191 were not unimportant. They laid the groundwork for
successful negotiations the following year. If nothing else, they enabled
Richard and al-Adil to establish a degree of trust and rapport that had been
singularly lacking at the start of the summer, when Richard had felt he had to
execute thousands of prisoners to demonstrate his resolve. While the exchange
of gifts should not be exaggerated into “friendship,” they were nevertheless an
indication of a degree of “normalization” of relations that kept the door to a
diplomatic solution open.
d’Ibelin was directly involved in much of the diplomatic maneuvering, serving
in one instance as Conrad de Montferrat’s envoy. The diplomatic game is a major
plot factor in “Envoy of Jerusalem.”