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Monday, August 29, 2022

Resurgent Frankish Presence in the Levant, 1192-1244

 With the wisdom of hindsight, the “second kingdom” of Jerusalem is usually portrayed as fragile, vulnerable and continuously tottering on the brink of collapse. This is a misleading exaggeration that reduces a century of history to a single snapshot taken at the end of that hundred years. In the half century between the departure of the Third Crusade and the catastrophic defeat of the Frankish army at La Forbie in 1244, the re-constituted kingdom experienced a period of comparative prosperity, peace, and territorial expansion. 


 Without question the most important event enabling this remarkable recovery was the death of Saladin in 1193. His death led to the fragmentation of his empire into bickering principalities based in Cairo, Damascus, Aleppo, al-Jazira, Hama, Homs, Ba’albek and the Transjordan. Each of these mini-states was ruled by a different member of the Ayyubid dynasty. Rivalry among the various rulers for dominance over the entire empire was perennial. Although punctuated by periods of comparative calm when one or another of the various princes temporarily came out on top, the competition between the various Ayyubids for dominance frequently sparked open warfare.

Probably to bolster his position vis-à-vis his relatives and rivals, Saladin’s brother al-Adil turned on the crusader states in 1197, attacking Acre in September 1197. Although source material for this campaign is very limited, one contemporary source claims he mustered an army 70,000 strong. Al-Adil was decisively defeated in a day-long battle fought on the plain before Acre by a combined force of Franks and German crusaders.

The Germans had come to the Holy Land as part of a crusade organized by the Holy Roman Emperor Henry VI, who had taken the cross in 1195. Historians estimate that the numbers of crusaders involved in this crusade equaled or exceeded participation in the Third Crusade, and the leaders included some of the most powerful nobles of the Holy Roman Empire. Contingents started to arrive in the Holy Land in the spring of 1197, and the main force sailed into Acre harbor on 22 September 1197, albeit without the Emperor himself.

Trouble began almost at once. The Germans crusaders behaved so arrogantly toward the local population that tensions erupted. The German leadership wisely intervened and removed their troops from the city to camp outside. Meanwhile, having failed to seize Acre, al-Adil turned his attention on Jaffa. Henri of Champagne swiftly tried to collect a force to relieve the beleaguered city only to be killed in a bizarre accident. He either accidentally stepped backwards out of a window or the entire balcony collapsed under him. Either way, this sudden tragedy put an end to the relief efforts and Jaffa fell to al-Adil. The barons of Jerusalem were compelled to find a new husband for their widowed queen, who could command the armies of the kingdom. Their choice fell on the man who had transformed Cyprus from a hotbed of rebellion into a stable monarchy under Frankish rule: Aimery de Lusignan. In January 1198, Aimery married Queen Isabella and was crowned King of Jerusalem.

Even before his coronation, however, Lusignan brought Cypriot troops to the mainland and took command of the forces of Jerusalem in order to conduct an offensive campaign in cooperation with the German crusaders. Rather than attempting to confront al-Adil at Jaffa, Aimery led the army north against the poorly garrisoned cities of Sidon, Beirut, Gibelet and Botron, thereby eliminating the Muslim-controlled enclaves that had separated the Kingdom of Jerusalem from the County of Tripoli.

The Germans next laid siege to Toron, but before they achieved their objective, word reached the Holy Land that Emperor Henry VI had died, living behind a three-year-old son. This news led to the disintegration of the German crusade as the leading nobles hurried home to deal with the inevitable power struggles that would ensue. It was left to the King of Jerusalem to negotiate a truce with al-Adil, which was signed 1 July 1198.

By 1200, al-Adil had successfully established his dominance over his brother’s empire, completely sidelining all of his brother’s seventeen sons. Thereafter, he demonstrated a distinct disinclination to tangle with the Franks. This policy of caution vis-à-vis the crusader states proved a trademark of the entire Ayyubid era (1193-1260). On the one hand it reflected the lesson learned during the Third Crusade, namely: no matter how complete a victory appeared, there were limitless numbers of fanatical Christians willing to come East to reverse it. According to a leading historian of the Ayyubids, ‘the Ayyubids were willing to go to extraordinary lengths in making treaties and conceding territory in order to avoid provoking the arrival of fresh waves of crusaders.’[i]

On the other hand, the Ayyubids had an economic interest in peace. The rulers of Egypt, Syria and Mesopotamia profited immensely from the export of goods through the ports of the Levant to Western Europe. To foster this profitable trade, the Ayyubids were willing to grant Western, predominantly Italian, merchants trading privileges inside their own territories. Yet they also recognized that many more foreign merchants preferred to operate from the Christian-controlled cities along the coast and therefore had no interest in eliminating these important transshipment points. Nothing was more important to the maintenance of that trade than peace. Thus, for the sake of revenues that supported their lifestyle — and their wars with their brothers, cousins and other Muslim rulers — the Ayyubid princes were willing to come to terms with the Franks. In consequence, throughout the Ayyubid period relations with the Frankish kingdoms were characterized by truces, alliances and counter-alliances. When circumstances favored it, these tactical alliances included active cooperation between Franks and Saracens.

Such policies inevitably drew the censure of the Muslim religious elites who dominated the literate class recording history. It is through their lens that we are shown the princes of Islam abandoning jihad in order to pursue pleasures and sport. Yet trade benefitted the economy at large, not just the princes, and so did peace. It would be wrong, therefore, to infer widespread discontent with Ayyubid policies, despite the disapproval of Islamic clerical chroniclers.  

The Ayyubid’s counterparts in the crusader states were likewise more detached from crusading ideology than ever before.  During the thirteenth century, the popes greatly expanded the concept of crusading to include wars against heretics (Albigensians), pagans (the Baltic crusades), and political rivals (the ‘crusades’ against the Hohenstaufens). In addition, the papacy increasingly stressed the penitential nature of crusading, thereby de-emphasizing the importance of concrete results. The Franks of Outremer, in contrast, were focused on survival and prosperity. For the inhabitants of the crusader kingdoms, recovery of lost territory, including Jerusalem, remained a priority less for emotional and religious reasons than for the material benefits they brought. Regaining control of the fertile agricultural hinterland behind the coastal cities was important to economic autonomy, while re-establishing more defensible, forward borders such as the Jordan and the Dead Sea contributed significantly to security. The Franks wanted results, but the Western crusaders, it became clear, were more interested in their own souls (and benefits) than in the Holy Land.

In 1204, forces initially raised for a campaign to regain Jerusalem were diverted by Venice to attack commercial rivals. After a complicated series of events, the former crusaders (now Venetian mercenaries) seized Constantinople. While the sack that followed outraged contemporaries from Rome to Mosul, it resulted in the establishment of a Latin ‘Empire’ on the Greek peninsula and straddling the Bosporus and stretching along the northern shore of the Mediterranean. It was flanked by territory still held by Greek Orthodox forces in western Greece and what is now Anatolia.

The impact of this new Frankish entity on the existing crusader states is controversial to this day. Many argue that the existence of a Latin Empire based in Constantinople diverted Western resources that might otherwise have flowed to the older crusader states, but such ‘lost opportunities’ are hard to quantify. Ultimately, the losses may not have been significant simply because the different states attracted different kinds of men. Even during the original campaign, as much as one third of the crusaders refused to be diverted to Constantinople and continued to the Holy Land. Here they joined an army under King Aimery that raided into the Galilee, prompting al-Adil to conclude a new six-year truce on terms highly favorable to the Franks. If the Fourth Crusade had gone ahead as planned, on the other hand, these knights would have been engaged in an assault on Egypt with far more dubious benefits for the existing crusader states. Furthermore, the establishment of the Latin Empire of Constantinople gave the Franks near complete mastery of the Eastern Mediterranean, including the creation of a comparatively stable Frankish state in the Peloponnese. Last but not least, a surge in new mercantile activity on the part of the Italian city-states followed the conquest of Constantinople.

Meanwhile, Christian Armenia was also gaining in strength. The Armenian leaders agreed to a (more nominal than substantive) reconciliation with the Church in Rome, and thereby facilitated closer ties with the crusader states. Inter-marriage with the Princes of Antioch led to dynastic conflict, but throughout this period Christian-controlled territory extended from what is now Alanya on the Turkish Mediterranean coast to Antioch, and then again down the coast of the Levant to Jaffa.

However, bad luck continued to plague the Kingdom of Jerusalem with respect to its dynasty. In late March 1205, Aimery de Lusignan died of food-poisoning after a meal of bad fish. He was followed within weeks by Queen Isabella. The Kingdom of Cyprus passed to Aimery’s six-year-old son Hugh, while the Kingdom of Jerusalem was inherited by Isabella’s oldest surviving child, Marie, her daughter by Conrad de Montferrat, then aged twelve or thirteen. For both children, regents were required. In Cyprus the High Court elected the husband of Hugh’s elder sister Burgundia, Walter de Montbéliard. In Jerusalem, the High Court chose Isabella’s maternal half-brother, John d’Ibelin, Lord of Beirut.

While upholding and renewing truces with the Ayyubids to ensure stability, Beirut’s principal task was finding a suitable husband for Queen Marie, who would replace him at the helm of the kingdom. As so often in the past, the High Court turned to the King of France, requesting a suitable candidate. John de Brienne, a minor nobleman from the Champagne, was selected in 1208, but before coming east he sought to raise funds and troops to enable a military offensive upon his arrival. Thus, Brienne did not reach the Holy Land until 1210. Here he immediately married Marie de Montferrat and was crowned king alongside her in Tyre. He was accompanied by just 300 knights, a force insufficient to alter the balance of power in the Holy Land. Despite raids in Galilee and up the Nile, he enjoyed no significant military successes. So, like his predecessors, he sought yet another six-year truce with the Ayyubids.

In November 1212 misfortune struck again: Marie de Montferrat died giving birth to a daughter. She was just twenty years old, and her infant daughter Yolanda (also referred to as Isabella II) became Queen of Jerusalem at birth. Brienne was recognized as his infant daughter’s regent and, because he was already crowned and anointed, retained the title of king.


[i] Humphreys, R. Stephen. ‘Ayyubids, Mamluks and the Latin East in the Thirteenth Century’, Mamluk Studies Review 2, 10. 

The bulk of this entry is an excerpt from Dr. Schrader's comprehensive study of the crusader states.

Dr. Helena P. Schrader is also the author of six books set in the Holy Land in the Era of the Crusades.


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Monday, August 22, 2022

The Establishment of the Kingdom of Cyprus

 The Kingdom of Jerusalem had survived -- just barely. Yet it is hard to imagine this fragile kingdom, stretching along the coast from Jaffa to Tyre, surviving for long, if Richard the Lionheart had not left another legacy: Frankish control of the island of Cyprus. This formerly Byzantine island had suffered the first Muslim attacks in 649 and in the succeeding centuries been fought over and exploited by both Constantinople and Cairo until firm Byzantine control was re-established in 965. How Cyprus came into crusader hands is the subject of this post.

 In 1185, a renegade from the Comnenus family arrived in Cyprus claiming to have been appointed governor. A year later, after the fall of the Comnenus dynasty, he proclaimed himself the ‘true’ Emperor and began a reign of terror. Contemporary Byzantine chroniclers claim that ‘he defiled himself by committing unjustifiable murders…[and] inflicting, like some instrument of disaster, penalties and punishments that led to death. The hideous and accursed lecher illicitly defiled marriage beds and despoiled virgins.’[i] While we can assume that much of this is polemical exaggeration, the fact remains that Isaac’s rule was viewed in Constantinople and by his subjects as illegal and tyrannical. The bulk of the aristocratic elites abandoned the island for the safety of Constantinople, leaving behind a cowed but discontented urban middle class and rural population.

Isaac was also known for preying on Frankish shipping, so it was not surprising that when three of Richard the Lionheart’s ships washed up on Cyprus in distress that the crews were captured and the cargoes seized. A fourth ship sought refuge in Limassol harbor having suffered severe storm damage. Aboard that vessel were Richard’s sister Joanna, the widowed Queen of Sicily, and his bride-to-be Berengaria of Navarre. Fearing what would happen if they went ashore, the royal women refused Isaac’s invitations to disembark.

On 5 May 1191 Richard sailed into Limassol harbor searching for his lost ships, only to find his bride-to-be and sister aboard an unseaworthy vessel running out of water, but afraid of being held for ransom or worse if they went ashore. Richard sent an envoy to Isaac Comnenus requesting that his men be set free, compensation be paid for the property seized from his wrecks, and seeking permission to come ashore for water and provisions. According to all contemporary accounts, Isaac Comnenus returned an extremely rude reply.

Richard responded as could only be expected of the proud Plantagenet: he attacked.
The exact sequence of events varies according to which chronicle one follows, but there is no disagreement on the results: Richard seized control of Limassol without notable casualties. I
saac Comnenus’ army, however, was still largely intact. Richard had to eliminate this latent threat, so he off-loaded some of his warhorses, exercised them through the night to restore their land-legs, and then attacked Isaac Comnenus’ army at dawn the next day. Richard’s early morning attack caused panic among the despot’s troops. While Isaac took flight, Richard’s men overran the enemy camp, capturing huge quantities of booty — again without casualties. 

Richard returned to triumphant to Limassol. On 12 May he married Berengaria and had her crowned Queen of England. Still in a hurry to get to the Kingdom of Jerusalem, however, he granted comparatively mild terms for Isaac’s surrender. Isaac agreed to reparations for Richard’s ships and treasure, and promised to accompany him on crusade with a force of 1,000 men. In his absence, the strategic castles on the island were to be held by men appointed by Richard.

While these terms were undoubtedly humiliating for a self-styled emperor, they were a far cry from ‘unconditional surrender.’  Had Isaac complied with the terms of the agreement, the last crusader kingdom might never have come into being. Isaac, however, was not interested in the crusade and assumed that Richard was in too great a hurry to get to Acre to come after him.  He fled during the night.  

Perhaps encouraged by the fact that local noblemen, dignitaries and the Italian merchant communities were already doing homage to him, Richard chose to grasp the huge opportunity offered by Isaac’s betrayal and seize control of the entire island. This decision to take Cyprus was not a ‘diversion’ from crusading much less an act of greed. Rather, the conquest of Cyprus was Richard’s greatest contribution to the crusader cause.

To obtain his goal, Richard divided his army into three parts, and while a small group pursued Isaac over land, the bulk of his army re-embarked on the fleet. This split in two and, moving in opposite directions, systematically secured the surrender of coastal cities and castles. Due to Isaac’s unpopularity, this was achieved bloodlessly. At Famagusta Richard disembarked his troops and advanced on the capital Nicosia. Expecting an ambush, Richard personally commanded the rear-guard of his army. Isaac obliged and Richard handily defeated him a third time. Isaac again escaped, this time to the nearly impregnable mountain fortress of Buffavento.

Perched on the top of a steep, rocky corniche so narrow that it was not possible to build courtyards or wide halls, the castle could be held as long as supplied lasted by a very small garrison. Isaac assumed Richard would not waste time with a siege, but rather continue to Acre, leaving him to re-take his island at leisure. Unfortunately for Isaac, Richard’s fleet had not already taken the castle of Kyrenia and with it Isaac’s only child, a daughter. Fortunately for the crusader cause, Isaac’s love for her was so great that he abjectly surrendered on 1 June. In less than a month and with the loss of only two men, Richard the Lionheart had taken complete control of the rich and strategically important island of Cyprus. 

Cyprus is an island encompassing nearly 10,000 square kilometers of mostly fertile land including extensive forests. It has ample water resources, significant mineral deposits, notably copper, and a mild Mediterranean climate. The port of Famagusta is only 198 kilometers from Beirut and 295 kilometers from Acre.  Furthermore, Cyprus was capable of producing grain, sugar, olives, wine and citrus fruits in abundance. Its location made it an ideal staging platform for future crusades and a strong base for ships to interdict any Saracen warships intent on preying on the coast of the Levant. Cyprus was thus both a breadbasket and a military base for the existing crusader states.

That Richard’s goal in capturing Cyprus was purely strategic (not dynastic) is demonstrated by the fact that he almost immediately sold the island to the Knights Templar for 100,000 pieces of gold. Templar rule on Cyprus, however, was one of the most ignominious episodes in the history of the Order. Fully engaged in the Third Crusade, the Templars sent only 14 knights supported by less than a hundred other men. They were evidently not the best men. Within six months they had provoked riots. On 5 April 1192, a violent mob forced the Templars to take refuge inside their commandery in Nicosia. Greatly outnumbered, the Templars offered to surrender the entire island in exchange for a safe-conduct to the coast. The Greek rebels refused.

The French Continuation of William of Tyre tells happened next.

When … their commander and the brothers realized that the Greeks would have no mercy, they commended themselves to God and were confessed and absolved. Then they armed themselves and went out against the Greeks and fought them. God by His providence gave the victory to the Templars, and many Greeks were killed or taken. [The Templars] immediately came to Acre and explained what had happened to the master and convent. They took counsel among themselves and agreed that they could no longer hold the island as their property, but…would return it to King Richard in exchange for the security that they had given him.[ii]


The Templar surrender of Cyprus coincided almost exactly with the High Court’s election of Conrad de Montferrat as King of Jerusalem. King Richard cleverly offered to sell Cyprus to the deposed King of Jerusalem, Guy de Lusignan. Lusignan accepted the ‘consolation prize’, although it is doubtful he sailed for Cyprus before the end of the Third Crusade since few knights, sergeants or turcopoles would have been likely to go with him as long as Richard the Lionheart was still in the field.  Whatever the exact date of his arrival on Cyprus, Guy was accompanied by a small group of Frankish lords and knights whose lands had been lost to Saladin in 1187/1188 and not recaptured in the course of the Third Crusade. Guy arrived on an island that was either still in a state of open rebellion or completely lawless.

Due to the scarcity of sources recording what happened next, most histories today repeat a charming story which probably originated in the now lost chronicle of Ernoul, a client of Balian d’Ibelin.  According to this source, as soon as Guy arrived on Cyprus he sent to his arch-enemy Saladin for advice on how to rule it. What is more, the ever chivalrous and wise Sultan graciously responded that ‘if he wants the island to be secure he must give it all away.’[iii] Allegedly, based on this advice, Guy invited settlers from all the Christian countries of the eastern Mediterranean to settle on Cyprus, offering everyone rich rewards and making them marry the local women. Accordingly, the dispossessed peoples of Syria, both high and low, flooded to Cyprus and were rewarded with rich fiefs, until Guy had just enough land to support twenty household knights. And everyone lived happily ever after.

This is a fairy tale. Guy did not arrive on an empty island; the population of Cyprus at this time was roughly 100,000. While most inhabitants were apolitical peasants, there were significant urban and ecclesiastical elites still on the island. These had welcomed Richard the Lionheart in order to rid themselves of a tyrant, but rapidly shown their mettle in a revolt against Richard’s administrators and again by their successful rebellion against Templar Rule. The Knights Templars had just abandoned the island because they believed it would be too costly, time-consuming and difficult to pacify.  In short, the large Greek Orthodox population on the island identified themselves as Romans (Byzantines) and most were not waiting to welcome ‘good King Guy’ as their overlord. Indeed, we know the names of two Cypriot patriots, who led continued resistance to Latin rule until nearly the end of the century, namely Isaac of Antiochetta and Kanakes.[iv] We also have references to abandoned villages and population flight in the accounts of the contemporary Cypriot abbot and later saint Neophytos the Recluse.[v] All of this suggests that a period of unrest and violence preceded the ‘happily ever after’ ending of the popular fairy tale.

Guy de Lusignan died either in April or toward the end of 1194 and was replaced as lord of Cyprus by his elder brother Aimery. By the end of Aimery de Lusignan’s reign in 1205, the island had both been pacified and transformed by the steady influx of immigrants from Syria, Antioch and Armenia. Furthermore, Aimery obtained a crown by submitting the island to the Holy Roman Emperor and also established a Latin church hierarchy on the island. Last but not least, Aimery founded the dynasty that would rule a prosperous and independent Cyprus for the next two hundred years.

[i] Galatariotou, Catia. The Making of a Saint: The Life, Times and Sanctification of Neophytos the Recluse. [Cambridge: University Press, 1991] 42.

[ii] The Old French Continuation of William of Tyre, chapter 133, 112.

[iii] The Old French Continuation of William of Tyre, chapter 133, 113.

[iv] Galatariotou, 220.

[v] Galatariotou, 203.


The bulk of this entry is an excerpt from Dr. Schrader's comprehensive study of the crusader states.

Dr. Helena P. Schrader is also the author of six books set in the Holy Land in the Era of the Crusades. The situation in Outremer following the end of the Third Crusade and the creation of the Kingdom of Cyprus is depicted in detail in The Last Crusader Kingdom.


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Monday, August 15, 2022

Re-Establishment of the Kingdom of Jerusalem

  The Third Crusade was over. The Kingdom of Jerusalem now had to survive on its own. That this was possible is largely due to wise moves on the part of King Richard -- and luck.

Henri de Champagne
The foundations of this ‘second’ Kingdom of Jerusalem were laid by Richard the Lionheart not only through the territorial gains of his campaign but by his wise decision to allow the barons of Jerusalem to, in accordance with their traditions, select their next king. After initially siding with Guy de Lusignan, the course of the crusade convinced Richard that Guy would never be able to hold the fragile kingdom together. The issue came to a head when in April 1192, Richard received news that his brother John had allied with Philip II of France and he was at risk of losing his crown and his empire. He announced his decision to return to the West to confront his domestic enemies and asked each man in the army to decide according to his own conscience whether to remain to fight for Jerusalem or not.  The Itinerarium describes what happened next:

When they had discussed this for some time, the wiser of them returned this reply to the royal enquiry: because the country had been devastated by disputes and disagreements, … the most essential thing was to create a new king whom everyone would obey, to whom the country could be entrusted, who would wage the people’s wars and whom the whole army would follow. If this did not happen before King Richard’s departure, they declared they would all leave since they were unable to guard the country by themselves.[i]

 Richard then asked them who they wished to be their king. ‘At once all the people, small and great, went down on their knees and begged and implored him to raise the marquis [Conrad Marquis de Montferrat, Queen Isabella’s husband] to be their prince and defender….’[ii] 
Richard accepted this decision and sent his nephew Henri Count of Champagne to Montferrat in Tyre with the news of his election. The message delivered, Champagne left Tyre but had only gone as far as Acre when the news overtook him that Conrad had been assassinated. Although attempts were later made to pin the blame on Richard, Saladin and even Humphrey of Toron, the most probably explanation is that Montferrat had offended the Assassins. 
Champagne immediately returned to Tyre, probably to verify the truth of this apparently incredible rumor. One version of what happened has captured the popular imagination and been repeated uncritically ever since. Allegedly ‘the people’ of Tyre welcomed Henri with jubilation and proclaimed him king. This has no basis in historical fact. Kings were not elected by ‘popular acclaim’ in the Kingdom of Jerusalem, least of by the citizens of a single city. The High Court, composed of the most important barons and bishops of the realm, elected the kings. The Lyon Continuation of Tyre, which is based in large part on material from Outremer, explicitly states that ‘on the advice of the barons of the Kingdom of Jerusalem,’ Richard nominated his nephew Henri de Champagne as the next king. 
While this is undoubtedly closer to the truth, it still ignores an important point. Queen Isabella had already been recognized by the barons and bishops of Jerusalem as Queen. She was very much alive and, indeed, pregnant. All this ‘proclaiming,’ ‘electing’ and ‘nominating’ actually consisted of finding a suitable husband for the widowed queen. Champagne was a 26-year-old bachelor who had been campaigning in the Holy Land more than eighteen months, having come out before the main forces of the Third Crusade. He was a nephew to both the King of England and the King of France, his mother being Eleanor of Aquitaine’s daughter by Louis VII. This made him a diplomatic choice, assuring support from both the French and English. 
Medieval chronicles agree, however, that Henri de Champagne was initially reluctant to accept the crown. Acceptance meant he would not be able to return home. The kingdom itself existed more in people’s hearts than in reality. It was threatened on all sides by the armies of Saladin. The crusading force that had established control of the coastline was already disintegrating, and the King of England had announced his intention to return home. Furthermore, if Queen Isabella gave birth to a son, this posthumous child of Montferrat would take precedence over Champagne’s own offspring. It did not look like a very promising proposition to the young Count of Champagne. Yet Henri changed his mind abruptly — according to the Itinerarium because Queen Isabella persuaded him by her grace and beauty. 
Whatever the exact sequence of events, on 5 May 1192— just eight days after she had been so unexpectedly widowed — Isabella married the Count of Champagne. Henri’s first act as King of Jerusalem was to persuade his uncle the King of England to remain through the campaign season rather than immediately depart for England. This enabled the crusaders to consolidate gains, and with Richard’s dramatic victory at Jaffa, to bring Saladin to the negotiating table. When Richard departed in October, he allegedly promised his nephew that he would return with a new crusading army to continue where he left off when the truce expired. Meanwhile, Henri and Isabella set about re-establishing regular government from a ‘provisional’ capital in Acre. The institutions of government from the High Court down were reconstituted and started to function again.

[i] Anonymous, Itinerarium Peregrinorum et Gesta Regis Ricardi translated by Helen Nicholson as ‘The Chronicle of the Third Crusade’ (Crusades Texts in Translation) [Aldershot: Ashgate, 1997] book 5, chapter 24, 302-3.

[ii] Itinerarium, book 5, chapter 24, 303.


The bulk of this entry is an excerpt from Dr. Schrader's comprehensive study of the crusader states.

Dr. Helena P. Schrader is also the author of six books set in the Holy Land in the Era of the Crusades. The situation in Outremer following the end of the Third Crusade and the creation of the Kingdom of Cyprus is depicted in detail in The Last Crusader Kingdom.


           Buy Now!                                                  Buy Now!                                                    Buy Now!

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Monday, August 8, 2022

The Third Crusade - Part II

The fall of Acre and the withdrawal of Philip II of France brought the Third Crusade to a new stage -- one dominated by the English King Richard I. Below is a summary of the second half of the Third Crusade.

On August 22, 1191 a crusader army composed of roughly 20,000 fighting men of which 1,200 were knights set out from Acre along the coastal road heading for Jerusalem via Jaffa under the overall command of Richard of England. Although the crusaders were marching through what had been the heart of the Kingdom of Jerusalem, the region had been overrun by Saladin’s forces four years earlier and the inhabitants had been slaughtered, enslaved or driven off. No Saracen settlers had been sent to replace them. The fields lay fallow, the gardens left to go to seed, and the vineyards had been broken down. In short, the army was dependent on provisioning by sea. On the other hand, the horses had ample pasturage and water was plentiful since wells and aqueducts were still functioning. Furthermore, the fleet sailed down the coast keeping pace with the army, carrying food, fodder, supplies, munitions and also offering medical facilities for the wounded.  

The latter was important because the Sultan’s forces controlled the interior and could move and deploy at will. This meant that the crusaders had to advance in battle formation, prepared to fight every foot of the way. Richard adopted the standard tactic of the Franks, the ‘fighting box,’ anchoring his formation on the sea, placing his baggage immediately beside the coast, the knights east/left of the baggage and the infantry on the landward flank of the formation, where they could protect the vulnerable horses. The entire formation advanced at the pace of the infantry.

Richard’s objective was to reach Jaffa, where he hoped to establish a defensible stronghold for the assault on Jerusalem. He had no interest in a full-scale battle with Saladin. Saladin, on the other hand, needed to avenge the slain of Acre and prevent the Franks from gaining control of another coastal city where they could entrench themselves. He wanted to engage the Franks while they were in the open so he could bring his superior numbers to bear. His reputation was at stake.

Richard maintained rigid discipline throughout the march, and despite daily provocation and harassment by Turkish mounted archers, the army made slow but steady progress down the coast. Arab sources report that the Franks kept marching despite having as many as ten arrows embedded in their shields or armor. The Franks, furthermore, had enough troops to regularly rotate between the exposed Eastern flank and the protected Western flank. They passed through the ruins of Caesarea 1 September 1191 and were a day’s march from Arsuf six days later.

On September 7, however, Saracen forces massed in such numbers that the crusaders knew they were about to face the onslaught. Richard gave strict orders for the knights not to charge the enemy unless he had personally given the order; his order was to be communicated by trumpet signals. The Sultan, commanding an army roughly twice that of the crusaders, ordered the attack at 9 am, after the Franks had been marching for several hours in the summer heat. He ordered massed infantry attacks for the first time, which pressed in to engage the crusader infantry, inflicting significant casualties. However, these failed to halt the advance.

By noon, the leading crusader units had reached the well-watered orchards north of Arsuf. The Saracens began focusing their attacks on the rearguard formed by the Hospitallers. Casualties among the horses mounted dangerously, and the Master of the Hospital rode forward to Richard requesting permission to attack before all his horses were slaughtered. Richard refused. Returning to the rear, the Master found that his men were pressed so hard that they were marching backwards. Again, the Master rode forward to beg Richard for permission to launch a counterattack. Richard again said ‘no’.

Before the Hospitaller Master could return to the rearguard, the Marshal of the Hospital broke out of the line with the cry of ‘St. George’, lead a Hospitaller charge. This was rapidly reinforced by the knights of Champagne, marching immediately beside the Hospitallers. Richard sounded the trumpet signal, and along the entire line the infantry stepped aside to allow the knights through the infantry screen.

The pro-Richard Itinerarium (and many modern commentators) make much of the fact that the attack was not initiated by Richard and suggest that it was somehow ‘mistimed’ as a result. The eye-witness account of Baha al-Din, on the other hand, describes the Frankish charge as ‘simultaneous’ — showing just how rapidly the Hospitallers had been reinforced — and also calling it superbly timed and well-coordinated. Certainly, claims that Richard might have won a decisive victory here are misleading. With the Saracens in control of the interior of the country, there was no way to pin them down and annihilate them. The only army that might have been annihilated in this engagement was Richard’s since he had his back to the sea.

Significantly, at the moment of the Hospitaller attack many mounted Turkish archers had dismounted to improve their aim. Apparently, after two weeks of failing to provoke a charge, they assumed the Franks would not charge. Equally important, Richard was with the van. In any battle, there are moments with a junior commander close to the action senses opportunity that a distant senior commander cannot. The fact that the charge was initiated by the experienced and disciplined Hospitaller marshal, not some rash young crusader, suggests a rational decision based on calculated risks. The marshal didn’t have time to send to Richard for permission — and did not want to risk another ‘no’ either. He made a command decision, hoping and expecting to be reinforced. His instincts proved correct.

The Hospitaller charge, rapidly reinforced by the rest of the cavalry, achieved the maximum results possible in the situation. While Frankish/crusader casualties were light, the knights inflicted bruising casualties on the enemy that seriously wounded Saracen morale. Ibn Shaddad, who personally fought in the battle, speaks of a ‘complete rout’, while Ibn al-Athir says the Sultan’s forces came close to being destroyed.  Most important, Saladin’s aura of invincibility acquired at Hattin was shattered. Respect for Frankish military potency was restored. Although Saladin successfully rallied his troops, the crusaders were able to complete the rest of their march to Jaffa without significant opposition. Thereafter, Saladin avoided all direct military confrontation with Richard the Lionhearted.

At Jaffa, Richard focused on rebuilding the broken defensive infrastructure of the city and along the route to Jerusalem. While this made strategic sense and testifies to Richard’s grasp of the essential requirements of a successful campaign, it was slow work. Unsurprisingly, Richard made his first diplomatic overtures to Saladin during this time. Like any good general, Richard recognized that it would be madness to fight, if he could obtain his objectives through negotiations.

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. Saladin’s political objective was to defend the status quo: Muslim control over the territory coveted by the crusaders. There was no common ground between these two positions. As long as both sides believed they could win, the pressure for compromise was insufficient to allow for a diplomatic solution.

Richard’s problem was that time was running out. The autumn rains had started, and since Saladin burned and destroyed as he retreated toward Jerusalem, the crusaders were camping out in the open. More important, Saladin was known to have garrisoned Jerusalem strongly, yet still had the resources to maintain a substantial field army. Any attempt to besiege Jerusalem exposed the crusaders to the risk of between trapped between these two forces. Furthermore, victory was nearly as dangerous as defeat because the crusaders did not have enough men to prevent Saladin’s army from severing their lines of communication and supply to the sea. Such circumstances induced the Templars, Hospitallers and local barons to advise against an assault or siege. In an assembly of all crusaders, their reasoning persuaded a majority to vote for withdrawal to the coast. Yet this decision shattered the morale and cohesion of the army.

The crusade had been called and men had taken the cross in order to recapture Jerusalem. If that goal was unobtainable, why stay? From this point on, the bickering between factions became pronounced. Large numbers of men drifted back to ‘the flesh pots’ of Acre, while the French increasingly refused to recognize Richard’s leadership.

With what troops he had, Richard re-occupied Ascalon and rebuilt the defences there. By summer, however, popular pressure forced Richard to make a second approach on Jerusalem — with the same result. Meanwhile, Richard had learned that his brother was trying to usurp the English crown with the help of Philip II. Richard realized he must return home. His objective in the Holy Land switched to leaving the Kingdom of Jerusalem in a defensible state. Richard identified the recapture Sidon and Beirut to establish continuous Frankish control of the coast from Jaffa to Latakia as the most strategic use of available resources.

Before he could carry out his plan, however, Saladin struck.  At the end of July 1192, word reached Richard that Jaffa was under attack. With his household of just fifty-five knights and roughly 2,000 Italian archers, Richard sailed in a half-dozen ships in an attempt to stiffen garrison morale long enough for a larger force under the command of the King of Jerusalem to advance down the coastal road to Jaffa’s relief. On arrival, Saracen banners flew from the towers of the town, and Richard thought he’d come too late — until a swimmer flung himself from the citadel into the water and swam out to inform Richard that the citadel was still in Frankish hands. Richard immediately ordered his ships to beach themselves on the shore and, despite thousands of Saracen troops camped at the base of the city walls, Richard led an amphibious assault. The King of England was the first to go ashore with a weapon in each hand. He fought his way through the Saracens on the beach to an unlocked (!) postern gate and led his small force into the city. Within hours, his men had control of the city; the enemy had been too busy celebrating their victory and sleeping off their excesses to realize what hit them.

The ease of this victory is best explained by the fact that Saladin with most of his cavalry was elsewhere. On learning of Richard’s arrival in Jaffa, Saladin returned and at dawn on 5 August attacked Richard’s meager troops. These were camping in front of the city because no one had yet had the time to clear away the corpses (of both sides) rotting inside. Nearly caught off-guard, Richard’s men defended themselves, some of them half-naked, kneeling behind their shields, while the crossbowmen took turns firing. Eventually a dozen nags were rounded up, and Richard led a ‘charge’ of twelve knights against the thousands of horsemen in Saladin’s surrounding army. This astonishing feat is described by the Arab chronicler Baha al-Din based on eye-witness reports. He writes: ‘It was reported to me that the King of England took his lance that day and galloped from the far right wing to the far left and nobody challenged him. The Sultan was enraged, turned his back on the fighting and went to Yazur in high dudgeon.’[i]

Saladin’s abortive attempt to retake Jaffa proved to be the diplomatic turning point. Within less than a month, on 2 September, Richard and Saladin signed a three-year and eight-month truce. Neither side was content with the results. Both remained committed to continuing the fight. Yet both sides had reached the end of their resources for the moment. Imad al-Din, eloquent as always, puts the following words into the mouth of Saladin’s advisors: ‘Look too at the state of the country, ruined and trampled underfoot, at your subjects, beaten down and confused, at your armies, exhausted and sick, at your horses, neglected and ruined. … If they fail to get their truce they will devote all their energies to strengthening and consolidating their position; they will face death with high courage … and for love of their Faith will refuse to submit to humiliation.… During peacetime we shall prepare for war and shall renew the means of striking a blow with point and blade.’[ii] Baha al-Din notes that when the Frankish lords Humphrey of Toron and Balian d’Ibelin went to the Sultan’s camp to conclude the truce they were ‘received with great honor and respect’ adding ‘Both sides were overwhelmed with such joy and delight as only God can measure.’[iii]

As pilgrims had always done, the men of the Third Crusade returned to the West. Richard of Lionheart was one of the last to depart, taking ship on 10 October. He left behind a fragile and vulnerable kingdom that hardly seemed likely to survive beyond the end of the truce. In fact, it lasted ninety-nine years.

[i] Baha al-Din Ibn Shaddad. The Rare and Excellent History of Saladin translated by D.S. Richards. [Aldershot: Ashgate, 2002] 225-226.

[ii] Imad ad-Din. The Conquest of the Holy City. Translated by Francesco Gabrieli in Arab Historians of the Crusades. [Berkeley: University of California Press, 1957] 234.

[iii] Baha al-Din Ibn Shaddad. The Rare and Excellent History of Saladin translated by D.S. Richards. [Aldershot: Ashgate, 2002] 28.


The bulk of this entry is an excerpt from Dr. Schrader's comprehensive study of the crusader states.

Dr. Helena P. Schrader is also the author of six books set in the Holy Land in the Era of the Crusades. The Third Crusade is described from the perspective of the Franks in Outremer (rather than the crusaders) Envoy of Jerusalem.


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