Richard The Lionheart In The Holy Land

King Richard I And The Third Crusade

King Richards Banner At The Hospitallers Fortress

In the twelfth century various orders of knights controlled land and cities along the Mediterranean coast from Tyre in Lebanon to south of Acre in Israel. The major orders included the Order of the Knights of St. John or The Hospitallers, the Order of the Temple of Solomon or The Knights Templar and the Knights of St. Lazarus. In addition to the orders that were commissioned by the Pope, Christian kings answered the Papal call and raised their own armies to go to the Holy Land to regain Jerusalem and protect Christian pilgrims.

Crusader fortresses still dot the Mediterranean coast and in Acre there’s an impressive fortress that belonged to the Hospitallers, also known as the Order of the Knights of Saint John. Military orders consisted of warrior monks a was a new concept created in the time of the Crusaders. The Hospitaller order was founded before the Crusades in order to help pilgrims on their journey to the Holy Land, but because there was a need to protect the pilgrims it evolved in a military order. The Hospitallers were the largest Christian fighting force in the Crusades and their massive fortress in Acre was the orders headquarters.

The Templars Garden Acre

One of the most famous of the Crusader kings was King Richard I, The Lionheart of England. His exploits were legendary and while many were true others evolved and grew long after his passing. The stories of his exploits in battle are mostly fact based and his capture in Austria and ransom is also factual. The legend of Robin Hood, while based on the reign of Richard and his evil younger brother John didn’t appear until one or two hundred years after his death.

The Third Crusade and Richard The Lionheart

In the Second Crusade the great Muslim general Saladin on October 2, 1187, took the City of Jerusalem ending 88 years of Christian control. Crusader strongholds, including Acre, Tiberias, Caesarea, Nazareth and Jaffa also fell to Saladin. He failed to capture Tyre in modern day Lebenon with its coastal fortress to which most of the surviving Crusaders retreated after their loses.

In the wake of Saladin’s capture of Jerusalem, Pope Gregory III called for a new Crusade to recapture Jerusalem. In 1189, forces mobilized at Tyre and launched the Third Crusade, led by three powerful Christian kings: Frederick I “Barbarossa,” the German king and Holy Roman Emperor, King Philip II of France and Richard I “The Lionheart” of England.

The Crusaders laid siege to Acre, finally capturing it in 1191 along with most of Saladin’s navy. Yet despite the military prowess of the Crusader forces, Saladin withstood their onslaught and managed to retain control over most of his empire.

On September 7, 1191, after the Battle of Arsuf, the Crusader army proceeded from Arsuf to Jaffa, which the Crusaders took and fortified. Jaffa, became the base of operations in a drive to reconquer Jerusalem itself. During the winter months, King Richard’s men occupied and refortified Ascalon and in the spring of 1192 the Crusader army made another advance on Jerusalem, coming within sight of the city before being forced to retreat once again because of disagreement among the Crusader leaders.

Hospitallers Fortress In Acre

By July 5, 1192, Richard began his withdrawal from the Holy Land. Having realized that Jerusalem would not be defensible if it were to be captured and learning of problems involving his younger brother back in England. As he began the withdrawal of Crusader forces from the territory, immediately Saladin, still smarting from his recent defeat at Arsuf, saw a chance for revenge. On July 27th, he laid siege to the town of Jaffa which had served as Richard’s base of operations. The defending garrison was taken by surprise but put up a defense before Saladin’s forces proved too great. Saladin’s soldiers successfully stormed the walls after several days with only Jaffa’s citadel holding out as the remaining Crusaders managed to send word of the attack.

Getting word from Jaffa, Richard gathered a small army, including a large contingent of Italian sailors, and hurried south. Upon seeing Muslim banners waving from the walls, he believed the Jaffa to be a losts, until a soldier swam out to his ship and informed him of the citadel’s situation. Richard leaped into the sea and waded to the beach leading fifty-four knights, a few hundred infantrymen, and about two thousand Italian crossbowmen into battle. The Muslim army panicked at the sudden offense by Richard’s force. The Lionheart is said to have fought at the front of his attack, and Saladin’s men were routed. Saladin was unable to regroup his forces until they had retreated more than five miles inland. Toward Jerusalem.

Hospitallers Fortress Grand Hall

After Saladin received reports that more of the Crusaders were coming from Caesarea to reinforce Jaffa, he launched a counterattack to recapture it before additional reinforcements could arrive. On the early morning of August 4, Muslim troops massed around the walled town, concealing themselves in the fields and intending to attack at dawn the next day. Just before sunrise, however, an Italian soldier out for a walk discovered the hidden army and the sentries promptly raised the alarm. Richard quickly assembled his knights, infantry and crossbowmen for battle. He ordered his infantry, including unmounted knights, to form a defensive line of spears by kneeling and driving their shields and the shafts of their spears or lances into the ground. The crossbowmen stood behind the protective wall of spearmen, working in pairs, one firing whilst the other loaded. Richard kept his handful of mounted knights as a reserve in the rear. The lightly armored Muslim cavalry repeatedly charged. However, when it was evident that the Crusaders were not going to break ranks, they veered away from the spears without coming to blows. Each attack lost heavily to the fire of the crossbows. The armor of the Christians proved better able to withstand the arrows of the Saracens while crossbow bolts decimated the Saracens. Having suffered considerably from the crossbow bolts without having been able to dent the Crusader’s defenses, Saladin’s cavalrymen were routed by a charge of the knights, only 10 to 15 of whom were mounted, led by the king himself.

While the battle outside the fortification raged, a group of Muslim soldiers outflanked the Crusader army and entered Jaffa. Before the Muslims could exploit their success, Richard himself galloped into the town and rallied all of its fighting men.

By evening, it had become clear to Saladin that his men had been soundly defeated and he gave the order to withdraw. Saladin’s forces had suffered 700 dead, and lost 1500 horses; the Crusaders lost 2 dead, with many wounded.

This defeat caused Saladin to agree to a truce with Richard the Lionheart in late 1192 that ended the Third Crusade. The truce allowed the Crusaders to control much of the coast and would allow Christian pilgrims to visit Jerusalem in peace. King Richard The Lionheart soon departed for England to re-secure his throne.

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