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Reign of Richard I. Part 1

Reign of Richard I. - The Siege of Acre - Progress of the Crusade - The Battle of Jaffa - Truce between Richard and Saladin - Termination of the Third Causade.
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Philip set sail for Acre on the 30th March, 1191; and Richard, at the same time, proceeded to Riggio, on the coast of Calabria, where he took on board his young bride, with the Queen Eleanor, and carried them to Messina. The season of Lent being not yet over, the marriage was deferred; and Eleanor, having confided her charge to the care of her own daughter, Joan, returned to England.

Within a few days afterwards the English fleet was ready for sea, and passed with a stiff breeze through the Straits of Messina. More than 200 vessels were there, some of largo size, with three masts, and all well appointed, and gaily decked with the banners of the Crusaders. Never before had so gallant an armament been seen in those waters; and as the brilliant pageant moved away, the Sicilians gathered in multitudes on the shore with cries of admiration. In those days war was, with half the world, the business of life; women did not hesitate to share the dangers of those they loved, and the smile of beauty was at once the incentive and the reward of valour. Joan and Berengaria accompanied the expedition, and Richard, with a delicacy which belonged to his chivalrous character, fitted up a splendid galley, which was allotted to their separate use.

The fleet was not destined to proceed far in such gallant trim. Within a few hours a heavy storm arose, and many of the ships, dismasted and at the mercy of the waves, were cast on shore and broken to pieces. Richard himself narrowly escaped shipwreck, and was compelled to put into the Island of Rhodes, not knowing what had become of the vessel of his bride. While he lay there in the greatest anxiety of mind, he learnt that two of his ships had been wrecked on the coast of Cyprus, and that his people had been plundered and cast into prison by the natives. Vowing vengeance, Richard collected all the vessels which had arrived at Rhodes, and immediately proceeded to the succour of the captives. On approaching the harbour of Limasol, in Cyprus, he fell in with the galley of Joan and Berengaria, who, like himself, had escaped from the storm, but who had hesitated to trust themselves nearer to the shore.

The Island of Cyprus was at that time colonised by the Greeks, under the rule of a prince of the race of the Comneni, named Isaac, who called himself "Emperor of Cyprus." This mighty monarch of a score of square miles seems to have known little of the character of the English king, for when Richard demanded satisfaction for the injuries done to the crusaders, he returned an arrogant refusal, and drew up his soldiers in battle array upon the shore. Coeur-de-Lion immediately landed a body of troops, who put to flight the half-naked men of Cyprus, and took possession of the city.

Isaac now sent in his submission to the conqueror, and on a plain near Limasol a conference took place between them. Richard demanded, not only an indemnity in money, but also that the "Emperor of Cyprus" should do homage to him, and should accompany him to Palestine with a thousand of his best warriors. The daughter and heiress of Isaac was to be placed in Richard's hands as a hostage for the good faith of her father. The Greek, with that mixture of shrewdness and deceit characteristic of his race, consented to these terms, and on the same night he escaped from the guards placed over him by Richard, and organised new plans, which proved as vain as before, to resist the invaders.

Leaving a garrison at Limasol, Richard sailed round the island, capturing all the ships of the Cypriots, and taking possession of their towns. Nicosia, the capital, surrendered with little resistance, and among the prisoners who fell into his hands was the young princess, the daughter of Isaac. The "emperor" loved his child, and when he heard of her capture he made no further resistance; but quitting a monastery in which he had fortified himself, he placed himself at once in the power of Richard, fell at his feet, and prayed that his daughter might be restored to him. Coeur-de-Lion refused the request, and committed him to prison, directing that, in consideration of the rank he assumed, he should be bound with chains of silver instead of iron. It is difficult to understand how any rational being should have derived satisfaction from such a distinction; but it appears that the "Emperor of Cyprus" did so, and expressed himself much gratified by the honour done him.

At Limasol there were great stores of provisions of all kinds, and a splendid festival was prepared to celebrate the landing of the Princess Berengaria. Here, at length, Coeur-de-Lion claimed his bride, and the marriage ceremony was performed by the Bishop of Evreux. For a few days the accoutrements of war were put aside, the songs of the minstrels were again heard through the camp, and the sweet wine of Cyprus lent its intoxicating influence to the scene of revelry. Richard, however, was pre-eminently a soldier; martial glory was his true mistress, and he did not long delay the expedition on which he was engaged. In little more than a month after his arrival at Cyprus, the fleet set sail for Acre, and arrived there on the 8th of June.

All the chivalry of Europe were collected before this city, which was regarded as the key to the Holy Land. Hospitallers and Templars, priests and princes, knights of high and low degree, from every Christian country, had flocked to lay down their lives in a cause which they believed to be sacred. For two years before the arrival of Richard the siege had been carried on with all the military skill of the age; but, while thousands (The accounts of different writers vary considerably, but one of the lowest estimates states that nearly 200,000 men, among whom were six archbishops and many bishops and nobles of high rank, perished before the walls of Acre.) of the besiegers fell victims to disease and privation, or to their own desperate valour, the city still held out, and its massive walls defied the force of the mightiest engines of war. Each month brought new reinforcements to the banner of the cross, and thus an army to which Europe could find no equal, maintained its numerical strength while the work of death went on.

Saladin, one of the greatest names in Eastern history, had posted his immense forces upon the heights about Mount Carmel, whence he watched the great armament of Richard, still numbering more than one hundred sail, as it advanced into the roadstead of Acre. The fame of Coeur-de-Lion had gone before him, and the crusaders hailed his approach with shouts of rejoicing. Gay banners flashed in the sun, and trumpets and drums sounded their loudest note of welcome. Philip, however, could not witness without envy the power and splendour of his ally. Not many days elapsed before a quarrel took place between them; and each, refusing to act in concert with the other, made separate attacks upon the town, in the hope of obtaining the exclusive honour of the capture. Both of these ill-judged attempts were unsuccessful, and were attended with heavy loss.

At length the brave garrison of Acre, cut off from all supplies, were compelled to offer terms of capitulation. They agreed to surrender possession of the city, together with all the Christian prisoners it contained, and the wood of the true cross. A sum of 200,000 pieces of gold was to be paid by Saladin within forty days, as a ransom for the lives of the inhabitants, several thousands of whom were retained as hostages for the performance of these conditions.

The army of the cross entered Acre on the 12th of June, 1191, and at the same time Saladin withdrew from the neighbouring heights, and proceeded a short distance into the interior to concentrate his forces. Soon afterwards Philip of France expressed his intention to return to Europe. The reason he gave for doing so was the bad state of his health; and it is not improbable that this prince, who seems to have possessed neither the occasional religious impulses nor the warlike spirit of Coeur-de-Lion, should have found the first approaches of disease sufficient to deter him from the toils and dangers of a journey to the Holy Sepulchre. Other causes were, however, at work. The title of King of Jerusalem was still a subject of dispute among the crusaders, although the city itself was now in the hands of the infidel. The crown had been assumed by Guy of Lusignan, in right of his wife Sybilla, a descendant of Godfrey of Bouillon. During the siege of Acre, Sybilla died; and her sister Isabella, who had married Conrad of Montferrat, Prince of Tyre, put in her claim to confer the title on her husband. While Philip had declared in favour of Conrad, Richard - who seems to have acted merely from the desire of opposing his ally - supported the cause of Lusignan, and acknowledged him King of Jerusalem. In this, as in every other dispute between the two monarchs, Philip was compelled to yield; but he did so with an ill grace, and it was hardly to be expected that the King of France could long submit to such a course of humiliation. He determined to return to his own country, where his will was law, and his power absolute; and where, too, he might have opportunity, during the absence of the English king, to seize upon some portion of his territories, and extend the rather circumscribed limits of the French kingdom.

Richard at first received the news of Philip's intended departure with a malediction, calling down shame upon his Lead for deserting the holy cause in which he was engaged. The feeling of anger seems soon to have given place to something like contempt, for Coeur-de-Lion added, "Let him go, if his health needs it, and he cannot live away from Paris." But the probable designs of the French king were not overlooked; and he was compelled to take an oath that he would make no aggression upon English territories during the absence of Richard in Palestine. He also agreed to leave at Acre 10,000 men, commanded by the Duke of Burgundy, but under the control of Coeur-de-Lion.

Soon after Philip quitted Acre, the term of forty days appointed for the ransom of the Saracen captives expired. No ransom had been received. The messengers of Richard, who made their way into the presence of the great soldan, were received with the highest courtesy, and were dismissed with costly presents to their master; but to the demand for money Saladin returned no answer. It was reported among the crusaders that he had massacred the Christian prisoners in his power; and a great excitement arose among the troops at Acre, who called loudly for vengeance. And now took place one of the worst of those atrocious deeds which stain the history of the crusades. On the forty-first day, under the orders of Richard and the Duke of Burgundy, the unhappy Saracen captives were led out beyond the camps, and were there butchered without mercy, some few rich men only being spared, in the hope that large sums would be obtained for their ransom (Roger of Hoveden states that 5,000 infidels were thus destroyed. Other accounts give even a larger number). So blinded were the crusaders by their fanatic zeal, that this massacre in cold blood was regarded by the perpetrators as a righteous deed, acceptable to heaven. Not only so, but the contemporary historians - men bred up in the cloister, whose character, no less than their religion, should have led them to recoil at such a deed - recorded it with exultation, while minstrels celebrated it in their songs. The acts of ferocity which characterised this massacre would be considered to disgrace the most hardened assassin of modern times. The soldiers ripped up the bodies of their victims, in the hope of finding precious stones, which they were supposed to have swallowed for concealment; and it is said that many valuable jewels were, in fact, discovered in this manner. Since the twelfth century the world has made some progress in humanity; but it is matter for speculation whether the people of a future time may not regard the wars and duels of our day with the same feelings with which we read of the crimes of the Middle Ages.

On receiving the news of the massacre, Saladin put to death all the Christian prisoners in his hands. Such an act of retaliation, however it may now be regarded, was in accordance with the usages of the time; and it is hardly to be expected that the Moslem should display more mercy than the Christian. With hands reeking with the blood of their victims, the crusaders returned to the city, where they gave themselves up to debauchery and excess. Many of them would probably have been well disposed to go no farther; but Richard roused them once more into activity, and his will was not to be resisted. He left his young wife and his sister behind him, defended by a strong garrison, and strictly forbade women of all ranks from accompanying the army. He quitted Acre on the 22nd of August, with about 30,000 men, of all the nations of Christendom, and took his way along the sea shore towards Ascalon. Saladin, whose scouts were everywhere, was speedily apprised of the march of the crusaders; and he appeared at a distance with a great army, hovering about them, and keeping them continually in expectation of attack. The troops of Richard,-however, marched fearlessly on; and when, after a day's march across those burning plains, exhausted by the weight of their heavy armour, they reached a halting-place, a herald stood forth from each camp, and cried aloud three times, "Save the Holy Sepulchre!" and the whole army knelt down, and said, "Amen!" Human nature displays the most striking contrasts where the fortunes of men are subject to extremes of vicissitude; and thus the soldiers who one day were engaged in acts of brutal cruelty or sensuality, on the next might be seen marching to the death with a devotion which, if mistaken, was not the less sublime.

When Richard had advanced as far as Azotus, the Ashdod of Holy Writ, he was opposed by the Saracen forces, ranged in order of battle. Saladin, whose skill as a general was scarcely inferior to that of Coeur-de-Lion himself, conducted the attack in person; and, for a time, the Christian troops gave way before him, Richard, who commanded the centre of the army, waited with great coolness until the Saracens had exhausted their arrows; then, placing- himself at the head of his knights, and brandishing the formidable battle-axe which was his favourite weapon, he rushed upon the enemy, slaying with his own hand all who fell within his reach. Many of the feats of valour attributed to him by the chroniclers are wholly incredible; but, after making all reasonable deduction for exaggeration, enough remains to prove that Coeur-de-Lion deserved the proud surname which he bore, and that his strength and valour were alike without a parallel. The Saracen army, numerous as it was, could not withstand the charge of the mail-clad warriors of Europe; and Saladin was compelled to make a hasty retreat, leaving behind him seven thousand dead upon the field.

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