*Author's Note: As with my previous series, I hope to publish one installment a month for this topic. If any significant delay arises, you, dear reader, will be the first to know. Also, please excuse the change in titles from what I had originally proposed back in June - I like this one better!
As with most epic tales in history, this one begins with a tragedy. It is probably a safe bet that, as the year 1187AD dawned, no one would have guessed that that year would be the year all Christendom would weep. Europe at the outset of 1187 enjoyed a rare state of overall peace and stability as great kings and emperors ruled unchallenged in England, France, and Germany. All across the West, a great cultural blossoming was in full effect and legendary centers of learning, art, and music sprang up in Aquitaine, Provence, Italy, and Spain. Even the situation of the Papacy in Rome looked rosy. Humiliated by his severe defeat at the hands of the pro-Papacy Lombard League at the Battle of Legnano in 1176AD, the turbulent Emperor Frederick Hohenstaufen I (known as "Barbarossa" for his allegedly fiery red facial hair) negotiated a sincere reconciliation with Pope Alexander III in the Peace of Venice the following year, reaffirming the guarantees of Church liberty within the Concordant of Worms and putting a final end to the Investiture Crisis that had for so long disrupted the peace of the Western Church. However, the crowning boast of Christendom that year was that, for nearly a century, the city whose streets were tread by the blessed feet of the God-Man Himself and had seen His Passion and Death - the Center of the World - had been ruled and protected by Christian lords and knights.
|The Crusader States at their greatest extent.|
Since Godfrey of Boullion and the other leaders of the First Crusade had first stormed the walls of Jerusalem in 1099AD and rescued the city from Islamic domination, the protection of the Holy Land - or Outremer, as it was known then - was seen as the combined duty of all Christendom. Crusading zeal was still very much alive throughout the 12th Century and dozens of knights and pilgrims would make their way yearly to the Frankish Kingdom of Jerusalem to visit the city of the Gospels. Some would only stay long enough to visit the Holy Sepulchre, others would stay and offer their services to the Crusader kingdom - a few knights would make the ultimate commitment and pledge their swords and sword-arms to one of the elite religious military orders that had sprung up in the immediate aftermath of the First Crusade. Even though both orders were still relatively young, both the Knights Templar and the Knights of the Hospital of St. John (known colloquially as the Hospitallers) possessed a fearsome reputation on the battlefield, inspiring deep respect from both fellow Christians and their Islamic foes. The Kingdom itself had been blessed with a leader who had been as unlikely as he was bold, pious, and effective. King Baldwin IV of Jerusalem had been struck with the dreaded disease of leprosy when he was only a child and it worsened as he grew older. Despite his condition, he succeeded his father to the throne of Jerusalem at the age of 13 and it was no secret that the young sick boy-king was not expected to live long. However, in one of those ironic twists of history, the young Baldwin defied his physical ailment and not only survived, but displayed a level of leadership acumen and ability that had not been seen since the days of his ancestors amongst the original Crusaders. And just in time, too.
One of the greatest contributors of Western success in the Levant was the systemic division that could be found amongst the various Islamic powers of the 11th Century. In-fighting and tribal warfare was rampant between the various Emirs, Sultans, and warlords that ranged from Asia Minor, Syria, the Fertile Crescent, Egypt, across North Africa, and all the way to Al-Andalus in Spain. The days of the Great Caliphs was past and, after four centuries since its birth in the deserts at the edge of the known world, the unchecked offensives of Islam had finally slowed. Unless, a leader could unite them. That leader became a reality in the 12th Century in the person of Ṣalāḥ ad-Dīn Yūsuf ibn Ayyūb - known to the West as Saladin. Born to a minor Kurdish noble from Tikrit, Salah ad-Din was sent to serve under his maternal grandfather, the skilled and capable Nur ad-Din who had made some of the first effective counter-attacks against the Crusader States. Salah ad-Din showed enormous promise for political and military leadership and rapidly climbed to the top of the Syrio-Egyptian power apparatus. Displaying an incredible ability in political maneuver, Salah ad-Din became the Sultan for both Egypt and Syria in 1171 and 1174 respectively, effectively uniting the two and creating a massive continuous empire that surrounded the Crusader States, which then became the sole focus of his attention.
|A dirham depicting Salah ad-Din minted during his reign.|
However, Salah ad-Din's ambitions against the Kingdom of Jerusalem were rudely checked when, in November of 1177AD, both he and his army were caught by surprise on a field called Montgisard near Ramla by the 16 year-old King Baldwin and a hastily assembled force of 500 Templars and some Crusader volunteer infantry. Despite being vastly outnumbered by Salah ad-Din's force of over 20,000, King Baldwin personally led the 500 brother-knights of the Temple in a well-timed and sweeping charge that obliterated the Egyptian infantry lines. The Frankish charge was so effective that Salah ad-Din's entire bodyguard was slain and he only survived by abandoning his army on the back of a racing camel. Although he would return to raid and skirmish along the frontier the following year, the Sultan's vaunted reputation as a military commander was irreparably dented and he fostered a sincere, if begrudging, respect for the young leper-king. However, a new chance came in 1185AD when, at long last, Baldwin finally succumbed to his illness and died at the age of 24. Since his physical condition made producing heirs impossible, Baldwin had never married and his crown passed to his 8 year-old nephew, Baldwin V, who died the very next year. Ultimately, the crown of Jerusalem settled on Baldwin's problematic sister, Sibylla. Overly attached to her husband, Guy of Lusignan, and possibly emotionally unfit for any real leadership role, Sibylla elevated her husband to the throne of Jerusalem. This action triggered enormous internal resistance from the nobility within the Kingdom, many of whom felt Guy to be ill-equipped to effectively defend Outremer, him being too easily influenced by problematic figures like Reynald of Chatillon and Gerard de Ridefort. With the Crusader States torn by internal division, Salah ad-Din realized the tables had turned and now was the time to strike. In May of 1187AD, the Sultan raised his largest army yet, around 30,000 men, and laid siege to the city of Tiberias.
As Salah ad-Din had hoped, Guy took the bait. In a desperate attempt to earn credibility in the eyes of his newly acquired subjects, King Guy rapidly assembled a large relief army which included sizeable contingents of the military orders and even the relic of the True Cross from the Holy Sepulchre. However, Guy was relatively inexperienced with warfare in Palestine and, ignoring the advise of his more experienced nobles, made the colossal mistake of advancing straight to the Saracen position through territory that had little to no water in July heat, all the while leaving his force exposed to harassment by Salah ad-Din's skirmisher cavalry. By the time Guy could confront the Sultan's main force at a rock formation known as the Horns of Hattin, his army was nearly dead from thirst and heat exhaustion. It was then that the Saracens struck. Raymond, Count of Tripoli, charged the Muslims first, but his division was absorbed into the Saracen host and was nearly slaughtered to a man. The great chronicler, William of Tyre, tersely summed up the magnitude of the disaster that befell the Kingdom of Jerusalem that day:
"After this division (Count Raymond's) had been defeated the anger of God was so great against the Christian host because of their sins that Saladin vanquished them quickly; between the hours of terce and nones he won the entire field. He captured the king, the Master of the Temple, Prince Reynald, the Marquis William, Aimery the Constable, Humphrey of Toron, Hugh of Jubail, Plivain lord of Botron, and so many other barons and knights that it would take too long to give the names of all of them. The Holy Cross also was lost."
While individual contingents within the Christian host that day bravely resisted (most of them from the military orders fought to the last man), Salah ad-Din's victory could not have been more complete. With nearly every capable leader in Outremer killed or captured at Hattin, the road to Jerusalem was virtually defenseless. Even worse, in a stunning psychological blow that must have reminded Christians of the capture of the Ark by the Philistines in Old Testament Scripture, the treasured relic of the True Cross was now in Muslim hands. Pope Urban III died the very month news of Hattin reached Rome - most chroniclers of the time claim he died of grief. Salah ad-Din wasted no time exploiting his gains and spent the next several months mopping up the various lightly-defended castles between Tiberias and Jerusalem. Finally, after facing an unexpectedly valiant resistance led by the seasoned Balian of Ibelin, Salah ad-Din negotiated the surrender of Jerusalem on 2 October. Many writers, both Muslim and modern, attempt to portray Salah ad-Din as graciously generous in his terms to Christians inside Jerusalem. However, a more thorough reading from sources contemporary to the actual event paint a very different picture. Ever the politician, it was obviously not in Salah ad-Din's best interest to display deliberate cruelty to the Christian inhabitants, but what physical mercy he may have offered them, he demanded staggering financial compensation in return. Balian of Ibelin had to negotiate with the Sultan multiple times to lower the price of ransom for citizens of Jerusalem and even the final price was flat-out extortionate - 30,000 gold bezants for 7,000 men or two women or ten children who equaled one man (the estimated population in Jerusalem was about 50,000 people). Those not included in the ransom agreement were either abandoned to slavery or rescued through the financial generosity of the military orders or leaders back in Europe. Lastly, once the Christians had either been evacuated or enslaved, Salah ad-Din added insult to injury by parading through the streets of Jerusalem with the relic of the True Cross drug behind his horse.
In the aftermath of the events of 1187AD, all Christendom was in shock. Archbishop Joscius of Tyre toured across every kingdom, duchy, and realm in Europe, spreading the news and simultaneously calling for a Crusade to rescue Jerusalem. The next pope, Gregory VIII, immediately called for the leaders of the West to put aside all their differences and heed the call to arms. The response from both noble and commoner alike was resounding. Among those who heard the call was a tall, well-built, 30 year-old Count of Poitou with hair that varied between red and golden depending on how the light hit it. Endowed with long limbs that only better suited him for a life-long career of warfare from the saddle of a destrier, a fiery temper, and a quick, witty sense of humor, this young man seemed destined for the idealized life of a 12th century knight. However, this was no mere knight, but the heir to the great Angevin Empire and the throne of his father, Henry II Plantagent, King of England, Duke of Normandy, Duke of Aquitaine, Count of Anjou, Lord of Ireland, and Protector of Scotland. As the son and heir of one of the most powerful men in Europe, Richard Plantagenet was an ideal addition for the effort to rescue Jerusalem. However, it was this very elevated background that made his involvement fraught with complication.
|Composite sketch of Richard's Great Seal|
As is well known, Richard I hailed from perhaps one of the most dynamic and dysfunctional royal families to ever exist in Western Medieval history. Henry Plantagenet rose swiftly to power after his mother, the famed "Empress" Matilda, negotiated for him to inherit the English throne from the beleaguered King Stephen and finally end the horrifically violent succession crisis that had become known as "The Anarchy." After ascending to the throne of England, Henry further boosted his power by marrying the beautiful and deviously capable Eleanor of Aquitaine. A legendary femme fatale of her era, Eleanor brought her immense territorial holdings in Southern France into her husband's budding empire, making Henry the owner of more French territory than his technical liege-lord, the King of France himself. Together, Henry and Eleanor had eight children, of whom Richard was the third. However, Henry and Eleanor had a relationship that has been best described as "complex" and they often vied with each other for control over the vast empire they had accumulated together. Eleanor was very attached to her sons, most especially to Richard, who became the eldest surviving son after his two older brothers, William of Poitiers and Henry "the Young King" had both died previously. Eleanor even went so far as to instigate and support her sons in various rebellions against their father - Richard himself joined his brothers and the King of France in the "War Without Love" against his father in 1173-1174AD, but was forced to reconcile after Henry successfully outmaneuvered them all politically. Despite the various internal struggles they engaged in, Henry II still designated Richard as his heir after the untimely death of the younger Henry. It was around this time that the word of Hattin and the fall of Jerusalem reached Normandy and England.
|The Angevin Territories during the reign of Henry II|
All throughout his life, Richard had fostered a deep love for all things chivalrous and courtly. Having spent most of his childhood and adolescence growing up in his mother's home country of Aquitaine, he undoubtedly was heavily influenced by the tales and songs of courtly love and chivalrous romance that flourished amongst the fledging troubadour culture that had sprung up there. Adding to this, the young Richard was a natural-born warrior. Nearly every one of his chroniclers, those who sang his praises and those who loathed him, attested to the fact that battle and campaign were his natural habitat. With this type of character, it is easy to see how the prospect of participating in an epic attempt to win back Jerusalem would have resounded within the deepest recesses of his being. It's also a probable bet that he never dreamed he would end up being it's principle leader.
In 1189AD, the old Henry finally died, leaving Richard in the awkward position of having to put his crusading plans on hold in order to attend to the "family firm," as Gillingham refers to the vast and turbulent Angevin Empire. Of greatest concern was how to secure his new realm against his French counterpart, the young Philip II, later to be known as "Augustus." Richard and Philip were nearly the same age and had actually been very close while growing up. Sadly, this relationship has been shamefully distorted by modern historians pathologically obsessed with any form of deviant sexuality and have seized on this childhood friendship as "proof" of homosexual tendencies in Richard despite there being absolutely no supporting evidence for it. Sadly for these "scholars," Medievals were fairly blunt and unashamed when talking or writing about sex, deviant or otherwise, and sodomy would have been a major gossip topic about anyone, noble or common. Although there has been much more written on the topic (John Gillingham's writings are a brilliantly informed response), sadly, we have no time for it here and will just leave it in the dust-heap of postmodern agenda where it belongs. As Richard and Philip grew up and became the heirs of their respective fathers, the old childhood friendship began to give way to one with higher degrees of tension. As a child, Richard had been betrothed to Philip's sister, Alys, but rumors of promiscuity on her part (most notably with his own father!) began to cause Richard to lose interest in her. Whether the rumors were true or not (although not impossible to believe - Henry II was not exactly known as a paragon of marital fidelity), the proposed marriage had vast political consequences as it had been one of the proposals agreed upon between Henry and Philip's father, Louis VII, as a condition for French royal approval for their vast holdings on the Continent. Like a good son, Philip still intended for Richard to make good on his end of the bargain and, after being crowned king of England and Duke of Normandy in September 1189, Philip expected a wedding for Alys. Richard skillfully sidestepped his obligation, however, and even used his Crusading vow as a means to delay it. In response, Richard and Philip both agreed to accompany the other on Crusade - obviously to keep an eye on the other. Richard then raised astronomically high amounts of money (not a difficult task with Crusading zeal at an all-time high) and established a competent collection of regents to manage his empire while away - which deliberately excluded his disingenuous little brother, John "Lackland," much to John's chagrin.
Joining Richard and Philip in this mighty endeavor would be the legendary Emperor Frederick Barbarossa himself, who raised an enormous crusading army (possibly the largest ever assembled) from his German and Italian territories. Although very advanced in age at this point in his life, Frederick was seen as the natural leader for the war to reclaim Jerusalem and, no doubt, he probably saw himself as such. However, Frederick opted to march his army across the overland route to Jerusalem - some say because he possessed a life-long paranoia of death by water. Richard and Philip were in far too great a hurry for such a painfully slow march and headed for the southern coast of France. The target - the vital coastal city of Acre, currently under siege by the remaining Frankish forces scrapped together by the hapless King Guy after being released from Salah ad-Din's captivity. Richard and the other crusader leaders realized that possession of the coast would be essential to any successful reclamation of the Kingdom and the port of Acre was the principal sea hub for the Frankish Kingdom. Going into the conflict, the Christians knew they had one key area of superiority over Salah ad-Din - naval dominance. The Saracens may have controlled the land, but Salah ad-Din had no real maritime power to speak of, whereas the West had vast fleets belonging primarily to the mercantile Italian city-states that effectively created a continuous system of transport and resupply. If the Christians could hold the coast, the restoration of the Kingdom might just succeed. I will cover the beginning of this endeavor in my next post.
To be continued ...
Bahā' al-Dīn, The Rare and Excellent History of Saladin, 1229AD.
Peter Edbury, The Conquest of Jerusalem and the Third Crusade, Ashgate Publishing Ltd., 1998AD.
John Gillingham, Richard I, Yale University Press, 1999AD.
Richard de Templo, Itinerarium Peregrinorum et Gesta Regis Ricardi, 1192AD.
William of Tyre, La Continuation, 1197AD.