Richard I - Jacob Abbott

The Embarkation

The plan which Richard had formed for conveying his expedition to the Holy Land was to embark it on board a fleet of ships which he was sending round to Marseilles for this purpose, with orders to await him there. Marseilles is in the south of France, not far from the Mediterranean Sea. Richard might have embarked his troops in the English Channel; but that, as the reader will see from looking on the map of Europe, would require them to take a long sea voyage around the coasts of France and Spain, and through the Straits of Gibraltar. Richard thought it best to avoid this long circuit for his troops, and so he sent the ships round, with no more men on board than necessary to manúuvre them, while he marched his army across France by land.

As for Philip, he had no ships of his own. England was a maritime country, and had long possessed a fleet. This fleet had been very much increased by the exertions of Henry the Second, Richard's father, who had built several new ships, some of them of very large size, expressly for the purpose of transporting troops to Palestine. Henry himself did not live to execute his plans, and so he left his ships for Richard.

France, on the other hand, was not then a maritime country. Most of the harbors on the northern coast belonged to Normandy, and even at the south the ports did not belong to the King of France. Philip, therefore, had no fleet of his own, but he had made arrangements with the republic of Genoa to furnish him with ships, and so his plan was to march over the mountains to that city and embark there, while Richard should go south to Marseilles.

Richard drew up a curious set of rules and regulations for the government of this fleet while it was making the passage. Some of the rules were the following:

1. That if any man killed another, the murderer was to be lashed to the dead body and buried alive with it, if the murder was committed in port or on the land. If the crime was committed at sea, then the two bodies, bound together as before, were to be launched overboard.

2. If any man, with a knife or with any other weapon, struck another so as to draw blood, then he was to be punished by being ducked three times over head and ears by being let down from the yard-arm of the ship into the sea.

3. For all sorts of profane and abusive language, the punishment was a fine of an ounce of silver for each offense.

4. Any man convicted of theft, or "pickerie" as it was called, was to have his head shaved and hot pitch poured over it, and upon that the feathers of some pillow or cushion were to be shaken. The offender was then to be turned ashore on the first land that the ship might reach, and there be abandoned to his fate.

The penalty named in this last article is the first instance in which any account of the punishment of tarring and feathering is mentioned, and this is supposed to be the origin of that extraordinary and very cruel mode of punishment.

The king put the fleet under the command of three grand officers of his court, and he commanded all his seamen and marines to obey them strictly in all things, as they would obey the king himself if he had been on board.

The fleet met with a great variety of adventures on its way to Marseilles. It had not proceeded far before a great tempest arose, and scattered the ships in every direction. At last, a considerable number of them succeeded in making their way, in a disabled condition, into the Tagus, in order to seek succor in Lisbon. The King of Portugal was at this time at war with the Moors, who had come over from Africa and invaded his dominions. He proposed to the Crusaders on board the ships to wait a little while, and assist him in fighting the Moors. "They are as great infidels," said he, "as any that you will find in the Holy Land." The commanders of the fleet acceded to this proposal, but the crews, when they were landed, soon made so many riots in Lisbon, and involved themselves in such frequent and bloody affrays with the people of the city, that the King of Portugal was soon eager to send them away; so, in due time, they embarked again, in order to continue their voyage.

In the mean time, while the fleet was thus going round by sea, Richard and Philip were engaged in assembling their forces and making preparation to march by land. The two armies, when finally organized, came together at a place of rendezvous called Vezelai, where there were great plains suitable for the camping-ground of a great military force. Vezelai was on the road to Lyons, and the armies, after they had met, marched in company to the latter city. The number of troops assembled was very great. The united army amounted, it is said, to one hundred thousand men. This was a very large force for those days. The great difficulty was to find provision for them from day to day during the march. Supplies of provisions for such a host can not be carried far, so that armies are obliged to live on the produce of the country that they march through, which is collected for this purpose by foragers from day to day. The allied armies, as they moved slowly on, impoverished and distressed the whole country through which they passed, by devouring every thing that the people had in store. At length, after marching together for some time, they came to the place where the roads separated, and King Philip turned off to the left in order to proceed through the passes of the Alps toward Genoa, while Richard and his hosts proceeded southward toward Marseilles.

When he reached Marseilles, Richard found that his fleet had not arrived. The delay was occasioned by the storm, and the subsequent detention of the crews at Lisbon. And yet this was very long after the time originally appointed for the sailing of the expedition. The time first appointed was the last of March; but Philip could not go at that time, on account of the death of his queen, which took place just before the appointed period. Nor was Richard himself ready. It was not until the thirtieth of August that the fleet arrived at Marseilles.

When Richard found that the fleet had not come he was greatly disappointed. He had no means of knowing when to expect it, for there were no postal or other communications across the country in those days, as now, by which tidings could be conveyed to him. He waited eight days very impatiently, and then concluded to go on himself toward the East, and leave orders for the fleet to follow him. So he hired ten large vessels and twenty galleys of the merchants of Marseilles, and in these he embarked a portion of his forces, leaving the rest to come in the great fleet when it should arrive. They were to proceed to Messina in Sicily, where Richard was to join them. With the vessels that he had hired he proceeded along the coast to Genoa, where he found Philip, the French king, who had arrived there safely before him by land.

From Marseilles to Genoa the course lies toward the northeast along the coast of France. Thence, in going toward Messina, it turns toward the southeast, and follows the coast of Italy. The route may be traced very easily on any map of modern Europe. The reason why Messina had been appointed as the great intermediate rendezvous of the fleet was two-fold. In the first place, it was a convenient port for this purpose, being a good harbor, and being favorably situated about midway of the voyage. Then, besides, Richard had a sister residing there. Her name was Joanna. She had married the king of the country. Her husband had died, it is true, and she was, at that time in some sense retired from public life. She was, indeed, in some distress, for the throne had been seized by a certain Tancred, who was her enemy, and, as she maintained, not the rightful successor of her husband. So Richard resolved, in stopping at Messina, to inquire into and redress his sister's wrongs; or, rather, he thought the occasion offered him a favorable opportunity to interfere in the affairs of Sicily, and to lord it over the government and people there in his usual arrogant and domineering manner.

After waiting a short time at Genoa, Richard set sail again in one of his small vessels, and proceeded to the southward along the coast of Italy. He touched at several places on the coast, in order to visit celebrated cities or other places of interest. He sailed up the River Arno, which you will find, on the map, flowing into the Gulf of Genoa a little to the northward of Leghorn. There are two renowned cities on this river, which are very much visited by tourists and travelers of the present day, Florence and Pisa. Pisa is near the mouth of the river. Florence is much farther inland. Richard sailed up as far as Pisa. After visiting that city, he returned again to the mouth of the river, and then proceeded on his way down the coast until he came to the Tiber, and entered that river. He landed at Ostia, a small port near the mouth of it—the port, in fact, of Rome. One reason why he landed at Ostia was that the galley in which he was making the voyage required some repairs, and this was a convenient place for making them.

Perhaps, too, it was his intention to visit Rome; but while at Ostia he became involved in a quarrel with the bishop that resided there, which led him at length to leave Ostia abruptly, and to refuse to go to Rome. The cause of the quarrel was the bishop's asking him to pay some money that he owed the Pope. In all the Catholic countries of Europe, in those days, there were certain taxes and fees that were collected for the Pope, the income from which was of great importance in making up the papal revenues. Now Richard, in his eagerness to secure all the money he could obtain in England to supply his wants for the crusade, had appropriated to his own use certain of these church funds, and the bishop now called upon him to reimburse them. This application, as might have been expected, made Richard extremely angry. He assailed the bishop with the most violent and abusive language, and charged all sorts of corruption and wickedness against the papal government itself. These charges may have been true, but the occasion of being called upon to pay a debt was not the proper time for making them. To make the faults or misconduct of others, whether real or pretended, an excuse for not rendering them their just dues, is a very base proceeding.

As soon as Richard's galley was repaired, he embarked on board of it in a rage, and sailed away. The next point at which he landed was Naples.

Richard was greatly delighted with the city of Naples, which, rising as it does from the shores of an enchanting bay, and near the base of the volcano Vesuvius, has long been celebrated for the romantic beauty of its situation. Richard remained at Naples several days. There is an account of his going, while there, to perform his devotions in the crypt of a church. The crypt is a subterranean apartment beneath the church, the floors above it, as well as the pillars and walls of the church, being supported by immense piers and arches, which give the crypt the appearance of a dungeon. The place is commonly used for tombs and places of sepulture for the dead. In the crypt where Richard worshiped at Naples, the dead bodies were arranged in niches all around the walls. They were dressed as they had been when alive, and their countenances, dry and shriveled, were exposed to view, presenting a ghastly and horrid spectacle. It was such means as these that were resorted to, in the Middle Ages, for making religious impressions on the minds of men.

After spending some days in Naples, Richard concluded that he would continue his route; but, instead of embarking at once on board his galley, he determined to go across the mountains by land to Salerno, which town lies on the sea-coast at some distance south of Naples. By looking at any map of Italy, you will observe that a great promontory puts out into the sea just below Naples, forming the Gulf of Salerno on the south side of it. The pass through the mountains which Richard followed led across the neck of this promontory. His galley, together with the other galleys that accompanied him, he sent round by water. There was a great deal to interest him at Salerno, for it was a place where many parties of crusaders, Normans among the rest, had landed before, and they had built churches and monasteries, and founded institutions of learning there, all of which Richard was much interested in visiting.

He accordingly remained in Salerno several days, until at length his fleet of galleys, which had come round from Naples by sea, arrived. Richard, however, in the mean time, had found traveling by land so agreeable, that he concluded to continue his journey in that way, leaving his fleet to sail down the coast, keeping all the time as near as possible to the shore. The king himself rode on upon the land, accompanied by a very small troop of attendants. His way led him sometimes, among the mountains of the interior and sometimes near the margin of the shore. At some points, where the road approached so near to the cliffs as to afford a good view of the sea, the fleet of galleys were to be seen in the offing prosperously pursuing their voyage.

[Illustration] from Richard I by Jacob Abbott


The king went on in this way till he reached Calabria, which is the country situated in the southern portion of Italy. The roads here were very bad, and as the autumn was now coming on, many of the streams became so swollen with rains that it was difficult sometimes for him to proceed on his way. At one time, while he was thus journeying, he became involved in a difficulty with a party of peasants which was extremely discreditable to him, and exhibits his character in a very unfavorable light. It seems that he was traveling by an obscure country road, in company with only a single attendant, when he happened to pass by a village, where he was told a peasant lived who had a very fine hunting hawk or falcon. Hunting by means of these hawks was a common amusement of the knights and nobles of those days; and Richard, when he heard about this hawk, said that a plain countryman had no business with such a bird. He declared that he would go to his house and take it away from him. This act, so characteristic of the despotic arrogance which marked Richard's character, shows that the reckless ferocity for which he was so renowned was not softened or alleviated by any true and genuine nobleness or generosity. For a rich and powerful king thus to rob a poor, helpless peasant, and on such a pretext too, was as base a deed as we can well conceive a royal personage to perform.

Richard at once proceeded to carry his design into execution. He went into the peasant's house, and having, under some pretext or other, got possession of the falcon, he began to ride away with the bird on his wrist. The peasant called out to him to give him back his bird. Richard paid no attention to him, but rode on. The peasant then called for help, and other villagers joining him, they followed the king, each one having seized in the mean time such weapons as came most readily to hand. They surrounded the king in order to take the falcon away, while he attempted to beat them off with his sword. Pretty soon he broke his sword by a blow which he struck at one of the peasants, and then he was in a great measure defenseless. His only safety now was in flight. He contrived to force his way through the circle that surrounded him, and began to gallop away, followed by his attendant. At length he succeeded in reaching a priory, where he was received and protected from farther danger, having, in the mean time, given up the falcon. When the excitement had subsided he resumed his journey, and at length, without farther adventures, reached the coast at the point nearest to Sicily. Here he passed the night in a tent, which he pitched upon the rocks on the shore, waiting for arrangements to be made on the next day for his public entrance into the harbor of Messina, which lay just opposite to him, across the narrow straight that here separates the island of Sicily from the main land.