Richard I - Jacob Abbott

The Campaign in Cyprus

The time at length fully arrived for the departure of the English fleet from Sicily for the purpose of continuing the voyage to the Holy Land. Besides the delay which had been occasioned to Richard by circumstances connected with his marriage, he had waited also a short time for some store-ships to arrive from England with ammunition and supplies. When the store-ships at length came, the day for the sailing was immediately appointed, the tents were struck, the encampment abandoned, and the troops embarked on board the ships of the fleet.

The Sicilians were all greatly excited, as the sailing of the fleet drew nigh, with anticipations of the splendor of the spectacle. The harbor was filled with ships of every form and size, and the movements connected with the embarkation of the troops on board of them, the striking of the tents, the packing up of furniture and goods, the hurrying of men to and fro, the crowding at the landings, the rapid transit of boats back and forth between the ships and the shore, and all the other scenes and incidents usually attendant on the embarkation of a great army, occupied the attention of the people of the country, and filled them with excitement and pleasure. It is highly probable, too, that their pleasure was increased by the prospect that they were soon to be relieved from the presence of such troublesome and unmanageable visitors.

Never was a finer spectacle witnessed than that which was displayed by the sailing of the fleet, when the day for the departure of it at length arrived. The squadron consisted of nearly two hundred vessels in all. There were thirteen great ships, corresponding to what are called ships of the line of modern times. Then there were over fifty galleys. These were constructed so as to be propelled either by oars or by sails. Of course, when the wind was favorable, the sails would be used; but in case of calms, or of adverse winds blowing off from the land when the vessels were entering port, or of currents drifting them into danger, then the oars could be brought into requisition. In addition to these ships and galleys, there were about a hundred vessels used as transports for the conveyance of provisions, stores, tents, and tent equipage, ammunition of all kinds, including the frames of the military engines which Richard had caused to be constructed in Sicily, and all the other supplies required for the use of a great army. Besides these there were a great many other smaller vessels, which were used as tenders, lighters, and for other such purposes, making a total number of nearly two hundred. In the order of sailing, the transports followed the ships and galleys, which were more properly the ships of war, and which led the van, in order the better to meet any danger which might appear, and the more effectually to protect the convoy from it.

Richard sailed at the head of his fleet in a splendid galley, which was appropriated to his special use. The name of it was the Sea Cutter. There was a huge lantern hoisted in the stern of Richard's galley, in order that the rest of the fleet could see and follow her in the night.

The day of sailing was very fine, and the spectacle, witnessed by the Sicilians on shore, who watched the progress of it from every projecting point and headland as it moved majestically out of the harbor, was extremely grand. For some time the voyage went on very prosperously, but at length the sky gradually became overcast, and the wind began to blow, and finally a great storm came on before the ships had time to seek any shelter. In those days there was no mariner's compass, and of course, in a storm, when the sun and stars were concealed, there was nothing to be done but for the ship to grope her way through the haze and rain for any land which might be near. The violence of the wind and the raging of the sea was in this case so great that the fleet was soon dispersed, and the vessels were driven northward and eastward toward certain islands which lie in that part of the Mediterranean, off the coasts of Asia Minor. The three principal of these islands, as you will see by the opposite map, are Candia, Rhodes, and Cyprus, Cyprus lying farther toward the east.

[Illustration] from Richard I by Jacob Abbott

The ships came very near being wrecked on the coast of Crete, but they escaped and were driven onward over the sea, until at length a large portion of them found refuge at Rhodes. Others were driven on toward Cyprus. Richard's galley was among those that found refuge at Rhodes; but, unfortunately, the one in which Berengaria and Joanna were borne did not succeed in making a port there, but was swept onward by the gale, and, in company with one or two others, was driven to the mouth of the harbor of Limesol, which is the principal port of Cyprus, and is situated on the south side of the island. The galley in which the queen and the princess were embarked, being probably of superior construction to the others, and better manned, succeeded in weathering the point and getting round into the harbor, but two or three other galleys which were with them struck and were wrecked. One of these ships was a very important one. It contained the chancellor who bore Richard's great seal, besides a number of other knights and crusaders of high rank, and many valuable goods. The seal was an object of great value. Every king had his own seal, which was used to authenticate his public acts. The one which belonged to Richard is represented in the following engraving.

[Illustration] from Richard I by Jacob Abbott


As soon as the news of these wrecks spread into the island, the people came down in great numbers, and took possession of every thing of value which was cast upon the shore as property forfeited to the king of the country. The name of this king was Isaac Comnenus.

He claimed that all wrecks cast upon his shores were his property. That was the law of the land; it was, in fact, the law of a great many countries in those days, especially of such as had maritime coasts bordering on navigable waters that were specially exposed to storms.

Thus, in seizing the wreck of Richard's vessels, King Isaac had the law on his side, and all those who, in their theory of government, hold it as a principle that law is the foundation of property, and that what the law makes right is right, must admit that he had justice on his side too. For my part, it seems clear that the right of property is anterior to all law, and independent of it. I think that the province of law is not to create property, but to protect it, and that it may, instead of protecting it, become the greatest violator of it. This law providing for the confiscation of property cast in wrecks upon a shore, and its forfeiture to the sovereign of the territory, is one of the most striking instances of aggression made by law on the natural and indefeasible rights of man.

In regard to the galley which contained the queens, that having escaped shipwreck, and having safely anchored in the harbor, the king had no pretext for molesting it in any way. He learned by some means that Queen Joanna was on board the galley; so he sent two boats down with a messenger, to inquire whether her majesty would be pleased to land.

Stephen of Turnham, the knight who had command of the queen's galley, thought it not safe to go on shore, for by doing so Joanna and Berengaria would put themselves entirely in King Isaac's power; and though it was true that Isaac and the people of Cyprus over whom he ruled were Christians, yet they were of the Greek Church, while Richard and the English were Roman, and these two churches were almost as hostile to each other as the Christians and the Turks. Stephen, however, communicated the message from Isaac to Joanna, and asked her majesty's pleasure thereupon. She sent back word to the messengers that she did not wish to land. She had only come into the harbor, she said, to see if she could learn any tidings of her brother; she had been separated from him by a great storm at sea, which had broken up and dispersed the fleet, and she wished to know whether any thing had been seen of him, or of any of his vessels, from the shores of that island.

The messengers replied that they did not know any thing about it, and so the boats returned back to the town. Soon after this the company on board the galley saw some armed vessels coming down the harbor toward them. They were alarmed at this sight, and immediately got every thing ready for setting off at a moment's notice to withdraw from the harbor. It turned out that the king himself was on board one of the galleys that was coming down, and this vessel was allowed to come near enough for the king to communicate with the people on board Joanna's galley. After some ordinary questions had been asked and answered, the king, observing that a lady of high rank was standing on the deck with Joanna, asked who it was. They answered that it was the Princess of Navarre, who was going to be married to Richard. In the reply which the king made to this intelligence Stephen of Turnham thought he saw such indications of hostility that he deemed it most prudent to retire; so the anchor was raised, and the order was given to the oarsmen, who had already been stationed at their oars, to "give way," and the oarsmen pulled vigorously at the oars. The galley was immediately taken out into the offing. The King of Cyprus did not pursue her; so she anchored there quietly, the storm having now nearly subsided. Stephen resolved to wait there for a time, hoping that in some way or other he might soon receive intelligence from Richard.

Nor was he disappointed. Richard, whose galley, together with the principal portion of the fleet, had been driven farther to the eastward, had found refuge at Rhodes, and he set off, as soon as the storm abated, in pursuit of the missing vessels. He took with him a sufficient force to render to the vessels, if he should find them, such assistance or protection as might be necessary. At length he reached Cyprus, and, on entering the bay, there he beheld the galley of Joanna and Berengaria riding safely at anchor in the offing. The sea had not yet gone down, and the vessel was rolling and tossing on the waves in a fearful manner. Richard was greatly enraged at beholding this spectacle, for he at once inferred, by seeing the vessel in this uncomfortable situation outside the harbor, that some difficulty with the authorities had occurred which prevented her seeking refuge and protection within. Accordingly, as soon as he came near, he leaped into a boat, although burdened as he was with heavy armor of steel, which was a difficult and somewhat dangerous operation, and ordered himself to be rowed immediately on board.

When he arrived, after the first greetings were over, he was informed by Stephen that three of the vessels of his fleet had been wrecked on the coast; that Isaac, the king, had seized them as his lawful prize; and that, at that very time, men that he had sent for this purpose were plundering the wrecks. Stephen also said that he had at first gone into the harbor with his galley, but that the indications of an unfriendly feeling on the part of the king were so decided that he did not dare to stay, and he had been compelled to come out into the offing.

On hearing these things Richard was greatly enraged. He sent a messenger on shore to the king to demand peremptorily that he should at once leave off plundering the wrecks of the English ships, and that he should deliver up to Richard again all the goods that had already been taken. To this demand Isaac replied that whatever goods the sea cast upon the shores of his island were his property, according to the law of the land, and that he should take them without asking leave of any body.

When Richard heard this answer, he was rather pleased than displeased with it, for it gave him, what he always wanted wherever he went, a pretext for quarreling. He said that the goods which Isaac obtained in that way he would find would cost him pretty dear, and he immediately prepared for war.

In this transaction there is no question that the King of Cyprus, though wholly wrong, and guilty of a real and inexcusable violation of the rights of property, had yet the law on his side. It was one of those cases, of which innumerable examples have existed in all ages of the world, where an act which is virtually the robbing of one man by another is authorized by law, and is protected by legal sanctions. This rule—confiscating property wrecked—was the general law of Europe at this time, and Richard, of all men, might have considered himself estopped from objecting to it by the fact that it was the law in England as well as every where else. By the ancient common law of England, all wrecks of every kind became the property of the king. The severity of the rule had been slightly mitigated a few reigns before Richard's day by a statute which declared that if any living thing escaped from the wreck, even were it so much as a dog or a cat, that circumstance saved the property from confiscation, and preserved the claim of the owner to it. With this modification, the law stood in England until a very late period, that all goods thrown from wrecks upon the shores became the property of the crown, and it was not until comparatively quite a recent period that an English judge decided that such a principle, being contrary to justice and common sense, was not law; and now wrecked property is restored to whomsoever can prove himself to be the owner, on his paying for the expense and trouble of saving it.

On receiving the demand which Richard sent him, the King of Cyprus, anticipating difficulty, drew up his galleys in order of battle across the harbor, and marched troops down to commanding positions on the shore, wherever he thought there might be any danger that Richard would attempt to land. Richard very soon brought up his forces and advanced to attack him. Isaac's troops retreated as Richard advanced. Finally they were driven back without much actual contest into the town, and Richard then brought his squadron up into harbor and landed. Isaac, seeing how much stronger Richard was than he, did not attempt any serious resistance, but retired to the citadel. From the citadel he sent out a flag of truce demanding a parley.

Richard granted the request, and an interview took place, but it led to no result. Richard found that Isaac was not yet absolutely subdued. He still asserted his rights, and complained of the gross wrong which Richard was perpetrating in invading his dominions, and seeking a quarrel with him without cause; but the effect was like that of the lamb attempting to resist or recriminate the wolf, which, far from bringing the aggressor to reason, only awakens more strongly his ferocity and rage. Richard turned toward his attendants, and, uttering a profane exclamation, said that Isaac talked like a fool of a Briton.

It is mentioned as a remarkable circumstance by the historians that Richard spoke these words in English, and it is said that this was the only time in the course of his life that he ever used that language. It may seem very strange to the reader that an English king should not ordinarily use the English language. But, strictly speaking, Richard was not an English king. He was a Norman king. The whole dynasty to which he belonged were Norman French in all their relations. Normandy they regarded as the chief seat of their empire. There were their principal cities—there their most splendid palaces. There they lived and reigned, with occasional excursions for comparatively brief periods across the Channel. They considered England much as the present English sovereigns do Ireland, namely, as a conquered country, which had become a possession and a dependency upon the crown, but not in any sense the seat of empire, and they utterly despised the native inhabitants. In view of these facts, the wonder that Richard, the King of England, never spoke the English tongue at once disappears.

The conference broke up, and both sides prepared for war. Isaac, finding that he was not strong enough to resist such a horde of invaders as Richard brought with him, withdrew from his capital and retired to a fortress among the mountains. Richard then easily took possession of the town. A moderate force had been left to protect it; but Richard, promising his troops plenty of booty when they should get into it, led the way, waving his battle-axe in the air.

This battle-axe was a very famous weapon. It was one which Richard had caused to be made for himself before leaving England, and it was the wonder of the army on account of its size and weight. The object of a battle-axe was to break through the steel armor with which the knights and warriors of those days were accustomed to cover themselves, and which was proof against all ordinary blows. Now Richard was a man of prodigious personal strength, and, when fitting out his expedition in England, he caused an unusually large and heavy battle-axe to be made for himself, by way of showing his men what he could do in swinging a heavy weapon. The head of this axe, or hammer, as perhaps it might more properly have been called, weighed twenty pounds, and most marvelous stories were told of the prodigious force of the blow that Richard could strike with it. When it came down on the head of a steel-clad knight on his horse, it broke through every thing, they said, and crushed man and horse both to the ground.

The assault on Limesol was successful. The people made but a feeble resistance. Indeed, they had no weapons which could possibly enable them to stand a moment against the Crusaders. They were half naked, and their arms were little better than clubs and stones. They were, in consequence, very easily driven off the ground, and Richard took possession of the city.

He then immediately made a signal for Joanna's galley—which, during all this time, had remained at the mouth of the harbor—to advance. The galley accordingly came up, and Joanna and the princess were received by the whole army at the landing with loud acclamations. They were immediately conducted into the town, and there were lodged splendidly in the best of Isaac's palaces.

But the contest was not yet ended. The place to which Isaac had retreated was a city which he possessed in the interior of the island called Nicosia. From this place he sent a messenger to Richard to propose another conference, with a view of attempting once more to agree upon some terms of peace. Richard agreed to this, and a place of meeting was appointed on a plain near Limesol, the port. King Isaac, accompanied by a suitable number of attendants, repaired to this place, and the conference was opened. Richard was mounted on a favorite Spanish charger, and was splendidly dressed in silk and gold. He assumed a very lofty bearing and demeanor toward his humbled enemy, and informed him in a very summary manner on what terms alone he was willing to make peace.

"I will make peace with you," said Richard, "on condition that you hold your kingdom henceforth subject to me. You are to deliver up all the castles and strongholds to me, and do me homage as your acknowledged sovereign. You are also to pay me an ample indemnity in gold for the damage you did to my wrecked galleys. I shall expect you, moreover, to join me in the crusade. You must accompany me to the Holy Land with not less than five hundred foot-soldiers, four hundred horsemen, and one hundred full-armed knights. For security that you will faithfully fulfill these conditions, you must put the princess, your daughter, into my hands as a hostage. Then, in case your conduct while in my service in the Holy Land is in all respects perfectly satisfactory, I will restore your daughter, and also your castles, to you on my return."

Isaac's daughter was a very beautiful young princess. She was extremely beloved by her father, and was highly honored by the people of the land as the heir to the crown.

These conditions were certainly very hard, but the poor king was in no condition to resist any demands that Richard might choose to make. With much distress and anguish of mind, he pretended to agree to these terms, though he secretly resolved that he could not and would not submit to them. Richard suspected his sincerity, and, in utter violation of all honorable laws and usages of war, he made him a prisoner, and set guards over him to watch him until the stipulations should be carried into effect. Isaac contrived to escape from his keepers in the night, and, putting himself at the head of such troops as he could obtain, prepared for war, with the determination to resist to the last extremity.

Richard now resolved to proceed at once to take the necessary measures for the complete subjugation of the island. He organized a large body of land forces, and directed them to advance into the interior of the country, and put down all resistance. At the same time, he placed himself at the head of his fleet, and, sailing round the island, he took possession of all the towns and fortresses on the shore. He also seized every ship and every boat, large and small, that he could find, and thus entirely cut off from King Isaac all chance of escaping by sea. In the mean time, the unhappy monarch, with the few troops that still adhered to him, was driven from place to place, until at last he was completely hemmed in, and was compelled to fight or surrender. They fought. The result was what might have been expected. Richard was victorious. The capital, Limesol, fell into his hands, and the king and his daughter were taken prisoners.

The princess was greatly terrified when she was brought into Richard's presence. She fell on her knees before him, and cried,

"My lord the king, have mercy upon me!"

Richard put forth his hand to lift her up, and then sent her to Berengaria.

"I give her to you," said he, "for an attendant and companion."

The king was almost broken-hearted at having his daughter taken away from him. He threw himself at Richard's feet, and begged him, with the most earnest entreaty, to restore him his child. Richard paid no heed to this request, but ordered Isaac to be taken away. Soon after this he sent him across the sea to Tripoli in Syria, and there shut him up in the dungeon of a castle, a hopeless prisoner. The unhappy captive was secured in his dungeon by chains; but, in honor of his rank, the chains, by Richard's directions, were made of silver, overlaid with gold. The poor king pined in this place of confinement for four years, and then died.

As soon as Isaac had gone, and things had become somewhat settled, Richard found himself undisputed master of Cyprus, and he resolved to annex the island to his own dominions.

"And now," said he to himself, "it will be a good time for me to be married."

So, after making the necessary arrangements for assembling his whole fleet again, and repairing the damages which had been sustained by the storm, he began to make preparations for the wedding. Berengaria made no objection to this. Indeed, the fright which she had suffered at sea in being separated from Richard, and the anxiety she had endured when, after the storm, she gazed in every direction all around the horizon, and could see no signs in any quarter of his ship, and when, consequently, she feared that he might be lost, made her extremely unwilling to be separated from him again.

The marriage was celebrated with great pomp and splendor, and many feasts and entertainments, and public parades, and celebrations followed, to commemorate the event. Among the other grand ceremonies was a coronation—a double coronation. Richard caused himself to be crowned King of Cyprus, and Berengaria Queen of England and of Cyprus too.

The dress in which Richard appeared on these occasions is minutely described. He wore a rose-colored satin tunic, which was fastened by a jeweled belt about his waist. Over this was a mantle of striped silver tissue, brocaded with silver half-moons. He wore an elegant and very costly sword too. The blade was of Damascus steel, the hilt was of gold, and the scabbard was of silver, richly engraved in scales. On his head he wore a scarlet bonnet, brocaded in gold with figures of animals. He bore in his hand what was called a truncheon, which was a sort of sceptre, very splendidly covered and adorned.

He had an elegant horse—a Spanish charger—and wherever he went this horse was led before him, with the bits, and stirrups, and all the metallic mountings of the saddle and bridle in gold. The crupper was adorned with two golden lions, figured with their paws raised in the act of striking each other. Richard obtained another horse in Cyprus among the spoils that he acquired there, and which afterward became his favorite. His name was Favelle, though in some of the old annals he is called Faunelle. This horse acquired great fame by the strength and courage, and also the great sagacity, that he displayed in the various battles that he was engaged in with his master. Indeed, at last, he became quite a historical character.

Richard himself was a tall and well-formed man, and altogether a very fine-looking man, and in this costume, with his yellow curls and bright complexion, he appeared, they said, a perfect model of military and manly grace.

There is a representation of Berengaria extant which is supposed to show her as she appeared at this time. Her hair is parted in the middle in front, and hangs down in long tresses behind. It is covered with a veil, open on each side, like a Spanish mantilla. The veil is fastened to her head by a royal diadem resplendent with gold and gems, and is surmounted with a fleur de lis, with so much foliage added to it as to give it the appearance of a double crown, in allusion to her being the queen both of Cyprus and of England.

The whole time occupied by these transactions in Cyprus was only about a month, and now, since every thing had been finished to his satisfaction, Richard began to think once more of prosecuting his voyage.