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Reign of Richard I. Part 1 page 2


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Richard advanced to Jaffa, the Joppa of the Bible, of which city he obtained possession without opposition; but here a delay took place, which proved fatal to the success of the expedition. Some of the chief men of the army alleged that it would be necessary to repair the fortifications of Jaffa, for the purpose of placing it in a condition of defence. The soldiers, remembering the pleasures of Acre, willingly adopted a pretext which afforded a new opportunity of rest and enjoyment; and Richard himself, attracted by the field sports to be obtained in the neighbourhood, appears to have laid aside for a time his customary energy. Saladin, who had recovered from his defeat, and was intent upon vengeance, was known to be in the neighbourhood, with an army even larger than before; but Coeur-de-Lion, undisturbed by this circumstance, rode about the country with a small escort. Many strange adventures are told in connection with these expeditions; and it would appear that Richard was often in imminent danger of being captured - a fate from which his courage, or good fortune, invariably saved him. On one occasion a party of Templars had been taken prisoners. The news being brought to Richard, he sent the Earl of Leicester to their assistance, with the message that he would come himself as soon as he could get on his armour. Before he had done so, however, he learnt that the Earl had also been defeated. Delaying no longer, the Lion Heart seized his battle-axe, and leaping on his war-horse, galloped off to the scene of action, where the effect produced by his presence, and his own extraordinary exertions, caused the Saracens to be put to flight, and the Templars and the Earl of Leicester were rescued. The battle-axe of Coeur-de-Lion had twenty pounds of steel wrought into the head of it, and there is no doubt that in his hands it was a most formidable weapon.

Various negotiations now ensued, which appear to have led to nothing, and were probably devised by the Saracens merely to gain time. The envoy who passed between the two camps on these occasions was Saif-ed-Deen, or Saphadin, the brother of Saladin, who was a man of great ability, and who conducted his missions in such a manner as to gain the favour of Coeur-de-Lion. At length, in the month of November, the fortifications of Jaffa were completed, negotiations were broken off, and the crusaders resumed their march. The sky was black with tempest, and as they crossed the plain of Sharon, where now the rose and lily of the valley bloomed no longer, a violent wind arose, and thick rain began to fall. The heaviest storms are found in those countries where the sun shines brightest, and it was now the commencement of the rainy season. The soldiers of the cross, ill-provided with protection Against such weather, pitched their camp at Ramula, the Arimathea of Scripture; but the streams which descended from the mountains inundated the encampment, and the winds tore up the tents which were their only shelter. Struggling on wearily, they reached Bethany, which was within twelve miles of Jerusalem, but here they found it impossible to proceed further. Famine and disease had decimated the troops, and those who were still able to bear arms were ill-suited to cope with an enemy. Richard was therefore compelled to retrace his steps, and he marched back rapidly to Ascalon, there to recruit his forces.

The fortifications of Ascalon had been dismantled by Saladin; but Coeur-de-Lion, whose energetic spirit no reverses could subdue, set himself immediately to restore the defences, and appeared among his men doing the work of a mason. Novelist or romancer never imagined more striking contrasts than are presented to us in the sober records of the Middle Ages, and thus we find the king who lately was the centre of unexampled pomp and splendour at Messina, now wielding the trowel and the pickaxe upon the walls of Ascalon. The example set by Richard was attended with the best effects; princes and nobles, bishops and their clergy, worked beside him as masons and carpenters, thinking it no shame to do what the King of England had done. The only exception was the Duke of Austria, and on his refusal, it is related that Coeur-de-Lion kicked or struck that prince, and turned him and his retainers out of the town.

Having placed Ascalon in a condition of defence, Richard restored other fortifications destroyed by Saladin along the coast. These works, however, were attended with a vast expense, and Richard's generosity, which appears to have been without stint, whether much or little was at his command, hastened the exhaustion of his finances. The French and other foreign troops attached to his army were kept together by the largesses he gave them; but as the treasury became empty they relaxed in their obedience, and their national animosities found vent in repeated quarrels and disturbances. The dispute between Conrad of Montferrat and Guy of Lusignan for the crown of Jerusalem was again renewed. Conrad, whose character was vacillating and treacherous, was nevertheless a man of considerable ability and of high military renown. Having secured the assistance of the Genoese, he defied the power of the King of England, and a civil war appeared to be imminent among the Christians of Palestine. The Pisans, whose old hatred against the Genoese led them to take the opposite side, declared for Lusignan, and frequent combats took place in the very streets of Acre, between the opposing factions. Richard quitted Ascalon, and succeeded in repressing these tumults. He endeavoured to restore unanimity to the army, and to conciliate the Marquis of Montferrat; but that haughty chief rejected his offers, and entrenched himself in the town of Tyre, with a number of disaffected soldiers of different nations who had joined his standard.

Saladin soon became aware of the dissensions in the Christian army, and he made preparations for striking what he hoped would be a decisive and successful blow. But in the meanwhile he was unexpectedly met by proposals for peace from Coeur-de-Lion, who sent him word that ha demanded only the possession of Jerusalem and the wood of the true cross. The soldan returned for answer that the blessed city (''EL Gootz," or "The Blessed City," is the Arab name of Jerusalem to this day,) was as dear to the Moslem as to the Christian, and would never be delivered up except by force.

The unusual course pursued by Richard was not to be attributed to such an inadequate cause as the disaffection of a part of his troops. He had lately received letters from his mother, Queen Eleanor, and from William Longchamp, whom he had appointed chancellor in his absence, detailing various conspiracies which were fraught with the greatest danger to the throne. It is not necessary to interrupt the narrative for the purpose of relating the particulars of these matters; they will be given in detail when the history returns to the consideration of events in England. It is enough to say that they were of a nature to cause the greatest disquietude, even to the strong mind of Coeur-de-Lion. It is reported that he set on foot new negotiations with Saladin, which continued for some time, and that he even proposed that the contest should be terminated by the marriage of his own sister Joan with Saphadin, the brother of the Sultan. This extraordinary scheme, if it ever really was entertained, was defeated by religious obstacles; the clergy launching the thunders of the Church against all those who should sanction the union between a Christian princess and a chief of the infidels.

During this time we read of numerous acts of courtesy, or, as it might seem, even of friendship passing between Richard and Saladin. The institutions of chivalry had been carried by the Europeans into Palestine, and had commended themselves to favour wherever a true soldier was to be found. In the East, as in the West, they shed a transient gleam of sunshine upon the bloody landscape of war, arousing whatever there is of high or noble to be found in poor humanity. Few historians have done justice to the character of Saladin; it is not easy for us now to cast our minds back, as it were, into that remote age and country in which he lived, and to weigh the acts of his life against the knowledge which was given him to guide them. We read history with more or less of prejudice and intolerance, viewing with the bright light of the nineteenth century those blots upon its page, which lay unseen in the early dawn of Christianity. And yet there is no name (but One) in all the records of the past, which we should dare to bring to the test of abstract virtue. The history of the world is the history of moral as of social advancement; the virtues of one age are the abomination of the next, and this process is continually going on. Thus slowly through the centuries rises the stately edifice of civilisation, whose fair proportions expand and grow in beauty with succeeding generations.

Saladin possessed abilities of a very high order, joined to bodily strength little inferior to that of Coeur-de-Lion himself. He was skilled in the learning of the East, added to which he possessed that refinement of manners induced by the usages of chivalry. The virtues of a warlike age appeared in him pre-eminently; he was brave, generous, and true to his word, preserving his plighted faith with a degree of scrupulousness not often observed by the princes of Christendom.

Descended from the race of the Seljuks, he had warmly embraced the religion of Mahomet, whose doctrines taught him to pursue to utter destruction all the enemies of the Prophet. But Saladin was no bigoted Mussulman, and when the foes he had conquered appeared before him as suppliants, he seldom failed to grant the mercy they implored. It is needless to say that this picture has its reverse, and that the character of the great soldan was not altogether blameless. He was in the highest degree ambitious, and his elevation to the throne was obtained by the unscrupulous shedding of blood. He trampled down whomsoever stood in his way; but, having attained that elevation, he proved himself a wise and just monarch, and his rule, on the whole, was free from tyranny.

The soldan and the Christian king, both of whom stood far above their contemporaries in military prowess and ability, had learnt mutual respect, and not all the injuries which each had inflicted on the other had power to subdue this feeling. Great minds can afford to be generous, and the depreciation of the merits of a rival seldom arises from any other cause than a consciousness of inferiority. Saladin and Richard met together many times with interchanges of courtesy, and the soldiers of both armies mingled in the tournament and in other martial exercises. Where the laws of chivalry prevailed, the warrior sheathed his enmity with his sword, and would have regarded it as a foul stain upon his knighthood to doubt for a moment the faith pledged to him by a foeman.

Pilgrims were continually arriving in the Holy Land from Europe, and from each traveller who appeared in the presence of Richard, he learnt news which compelled him to hasten his return to England, although he had sworn never to abandon the expedition so long as- he had a war-horse to eat. In the hope of establishing peace among all parties, he consented that Conrad of Montferrat should be crowned King of Jerusalem, and gave to Lusignan, by way of compensation, the Island of Cyprus. It is probable that the energetic character of Conrad might ultimately have enabled him to obtain possession of Jerusalem, but at the time when he was preparing for his coronation, he was murdered in the streets of Tyre, by two men of the sect of the Assassins. This name, then quite new to the languages of Europe, was applied to those fanatical Moslems who devoted themselves to assassinating the enemies of their faith by surprise, in the belief that they should thus secure admission into paradise. In the mountain defiles of Lebanon there lived a whole tribe of these enthusiasts, under the rule of the Old Man (The Arabic word Scheik, translated by the Crusaders "Old Man," means also the chief of a tribe.) of the Mountain - a mysterious chief, whose name became a sound of terror throughout Europe. They were called in Arabic, "Haschischi," from an intoxicating plant well known in the East, which they made use of to stupefy the brain and excite themselves to their desperate deeds of blood.

It would appear that Conrad was murdered in revenge for certain injuries which he had inflicted upon this extraordinary people. An Arabic writer relates that when the two Assassins were seized and put to the torture, they confessed that they had been employed by the King of England; but this account differs fro m others, and is so completely at variance with all we know of the Assassins, as well as with the character of Richard, that it may be at once rejected as fabulous. Apart from the arguments which may be adduced to show, from the previous arrangements of the king, that he had no anticipation of the death of Conrad, the whole tenour of the life of Coeur-de-Lion serves to prove that he was not the man to strike a foe in secret. The French and German factions, however, at once spread a report that he had instigated the murder, and letters were sent to Philip of France containing the same news. Philip, who contemplated a descent upon the English territory, eagerly seized a pretext for his treason. He applied to the Pope to release him from his oath of peace, and declared that he had received a caution that the King of England had sent some of those dreaded Assassins of the East to murder him. Ostensibly with a view to repel these designs, he appointed a body-guard of armed men to attend him wherever he went, and this institution survived in France for centuries after the name of the Old Man of the Mountain was forgotten.

During the tumult which followed the death of Conrad, Count Henry of Champagne, the nephew of Richard, appeared on the scene, and the people of Tyre placed him in possession of the town, as well as of the other territories held by their late prince. Soon afterwards Henry married the young widow of Conrad, receiving with her hand the title to the imaginary crown, and he was generally acknowledged by the crusaders as King of Jerusalem.

With each succeeding month appeared the greater need for the presence of Richard in England; but he concealed his uneasiness, and, with the view of repressing the growing discontent in his army, he publicly proclaimed his intention to remain for another year in Palestine. Laying aside for a time all considerations connected with affairs at home, he determined to give his whole energies to bring to a successful termination the expedition in which he was engaged. Having at length restored something like unanimity to his troops and brought them into an efficient state, he once more led them on the way to Jerusalem. The army resumed its march in the month of May, and reached the valley of Hebron, which was destined to be the extent of its journey. The circumstances which induced Richard to relinquish his long cherished enterprise cannot now be known with certainty. Various versions are given by the different historians; but we find no occurrence which appears of sufficient importance to have changed the purpose of Coeur-de-Lion. It is certain, however, that a council assembled by the king decided upon the propriety of attacking Cairo, which was the main, store-house of Saladin, rather than to march upon Jerusalem. No sooner was it known among the troops that a counter-march was intended, than they threw aside all discipline: great numbers of them deserted, and Richard was compelled to return to Acre, as the only means of regaining the authority he had lost.

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Pictures for Reign of Richard I. Part 1 page 2

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