Richard I - Jacob Abbott

The Battle of Jaffa

When, at last, the state of Richard's affairs had been reduced, by the causes mentioned in the last chapter, to a very low ebb, he suddenly succeeded in greatly improving them by a battle. This battle is known in history as the battle of Jaffa. It was fought in the early part of the summer of 1192.

As soon as he had issued his proclamation declaring to his soldiers that he would positively remain in Palestine for a year, he began to make preparations for another campaign. The best way, he thought, to prevent the army from wasting away its energies in internal conflicts between the different divisions of it was to give those energies employment against the common enemy; so he put every thing in motion for a new march into the interior. He left garrisons in the cities of the coast, sufficient, as he judged, to protect them from any force which the Saracens were likely to send against them in his absence, and forming the remainder in order of march, he set out from his head-quarters at Jaffa, and began to advance once more toward Jerusalem.

Of course, this movement revived, in some degree, the spirit of his army, and awakened in them new hopes. Still, Richard himself was extremely uneasy, and his mind was filled with solicitude and anxiety. Messengers were continually coming from Europe with intelligence which was growing more and more alarming at every arrival. His brother John, they said, in England, was forming schemes to take possession of the kingdom in his own name. In France, Philip was invading his Norman provinces, and was evidently preparing for still greater aggression. He must return soon, his mother wrote him, or he would lose all. Of course, he was in a great rage at what he called the treachery of Philip and John, and burned to get back and make them feel his vengeance. But he was so tied up with the embarrassments and difficulties that he was surrounded with in the Holy Land, that he thought it absolutely necessary to make a desperate effort to strike at least one decisive blow before he could possibly leave his army, and it was in this desperate state of mind that he set out upon his march. It was near the end of May.

The army advanced for several days. They met with not much direct opposition from the Saracens, for Saladin had withdrawn to Jerusalem, and was employed in strengthening the fortifications there, and making every thing ready for Richard's approach. But the difficulties which they encountered from other causes, and the sufferings of the army in consequence of them, were terrible. The country was dry and barren, and the weather hot and unhealthy. The soldiers fell sick in great numbers, and those that were well suffered extremely from thirst and other privations incident to a march of many days through such a country in such a season. There were no trees or shelter of any kind to protect them from the scorching rays of the sun, and scarcely any water to be found to quench their thirst. The streams were very few, and all the wells that could be found were soon drunk dry. Then there was great difficulty in respect to provisions. A sufficient supply for so many thousands could not be brought up from the coast, and all that the country itself had produced—which was, in fact, very little—was carried away by the Saracens as Richard advanced. Thus the army found itself environed with great difficulties, and before many days it was reduced to a condition of actual distress.

The expedition succeeded, however, in advancing to the immediate vicinity of Jerusalem. Early in June they encamped at Hebron, which is about six miles from Jerusalem, toward the south. Here they halted; and Richard remained here some days, weighed down with perplexity and distress, and extremely harassed in mind, being wholly unable to decide what was best to be done.

From a hill in the neighborhood of Hebron Jerusalem was in sight. There lay the prize which he had so long been striving to obtain, all before him, and yet he was utterly powerless to take it. For this he had been manúuvring and planning for years. For this he had exhausted all the resources of his empire, and had put to imminent hazard all the rights and interests of the crown. For this he had left his native land, and had brought on, by a voyage of three thousand miles, all the fleets and armies of his kingdom; and now, with the prize before him, and all Europe looking on to see him grasp it, his hand had become powerless, and he must turn back, and go away as he came.

Richard saw at once that it must be so; for while, on the one hand, his army was well-nigh exhausted, and was reduced to a state of such privation and distress as to make it nearly helpless, Saladin was established in Jerusalem almost impregnably. While the divisions of Richard's army had been quarreling with each other on the sea-coast, he had been strengthening the walls and other defenses of the city, until they were now more formidable than ever. Richard received information, too, that all the wells and cisterns of water around the city had been destroyed by the Saracens, so that, if they were to advance to the walls and commence a siege, they would soon be obliged to raise it, or perish there with thirst. So great was Richard's distress of mind under these circumstances, that it is said, when he was conducted to the hill from which Jerusalem was to be seen, he could not bear to look at it. He held his shield up before his eyes to shut out the sight of it, and said that he was not worthy to look upon the city, since he had shown himself unable to redeem it.

There was a council of war held to consider what it was best to do. It was a council of perplexity and despair. Nobody could tell what it was best to do. To go back was disgrace. To go forward was destruction; and it was impossible for them to remain where they were.

In his desperation Richard conceived of a new plan, that of marching southward and seizing Cairo. The Saracens derived almost all the stores of provisions for the use of their armies from Cairo, and Hebron was on the road to it. The way was open for Richard's army to march in that direction, and, by carrying this plan into execution, they would, at least, get something to eat. Besides, it would be a mode of withdrawing from Jerusalem that would not be quite a retreat. Still, these reasons were wholly insufficient to justify such a measure, and it is not probable that Richard seriously entertained the plan. It is much more likely that he proposed the idea of a march upon Cairo as a means of amusing the minds of his knights and soldiers, and diminishing the extreme disappointment and vexation which they must have felt in relinquishing the plan of an attack upon Jerusalem, and that he intended, after proceeding a short distance on the way toward Egypt, to find some pretext for turning down toward the sea-shore, and re-establishing himself in his cities on the coast.

At any rate, whether it was the original plan or not, such was the result. As soon as the encampment was broken up, and the army commenced its march, and the troops learned that the hope of recovering the Holy Sepulchre, and all the other lofty aspirations and desires which had led them so far, and through so many hardships and dangers, were now to be abandoned, they were first enraged, and then they sank into a condition of utter recklessness and despair. All discipline was at an end. No one seemed now to care what became of the expedition or of themselves. The French soldiers, under the Duke of Burgundy, revolted openly, and declared they would go no farther. The troops from Germany joined them. So Richard gave up the plan, or seemed to give it up, and gave orders to march to Acre; and there, at last, the army arrived in a state of almost utter dissolution.

In a short time the news came to them that Saladin had followed them down, and had seized upon Jaffa. He had taken the town, and shut up the garrison in the citadel, whither they had fled for safety; and tidings came that, unless Richard very soon came to the rescue, the citadel would be compelled to surrender.

Richard immediately ordered that all the troops that were in a condition to march should set out immediately, to proceed down the coast from Acre to Jaffa. He himself, he said, would hasten on by sea, for the wind was fair, and a part of his force, all that he had ships enough in readiness to convey, could go much quicker by water than by land, besides the advantage of being fresh on their arrival for an attack on the enemy. So he assembled as many ships as could be got ready, and embarked a select body of troops on board of them. There were seven of the ships. He took the command of one of them himself. The Duke of Burgundy, with the French troops under his command, refused to go.

The little fleet set sail immediately and ran down the coast very rapidly. When they came to Jaffa they found that the town was really in possession of the Saracens, and that large bodies of the enemy were assembled on the shore to prevent the landing of Richard's forces. This array appeared so formidable that all the knights and officers on board the ships urged Richard not to attempt to attack them, but to wait until the body of the army should arrive by land.

But Richard was desperate and reckless. He declared that he would  land; and he uttered an awful imprecation against those who should hesitate to follow him. He brought the boats up as near the shore as possible, and then, with his battle-axe in his right hand, and his shield hung about his neck, so as to have his left hand at liberty, he leaped into the water, calling upon the rest to come on. They all followed his example, and, as soon as they gained the shore, they made a dreadful onset upon the Saracens that were gathered on the beach. The Saracens were driven back. Richard made such havoc among them with his battle-axe, and the men following him were made so resolute and reckless by his example, that the ranks of the enemy were broken through, and they fled in all directions.

Richard and his men then rushed on to the gates of the town, and almost before the Saracens who were in possession of them could recover from their surprise, the gates were seized, those who had been stationed at them were slain or driven away, and then Richard and his troops, rushing through, closed them, and the Saracens that were within the town were shut in. They were soon all overpowered and slain, and thus the possession of the town was recovered.

But this was not the end, as Richard and his men knew full well. Though they had possession of the town itself, they were surrounded by a great army of Saracens, that were hovering around them on the plain, and rapidly increasing in numbers; for Saladin had sent orders to the interior directing all possible assistance to be sent to him. Richard himself, on the other hand, was hourly expecting the arrival of the main body of his troops by land.

They arrived the next day, and then came on the great contest. Richard's troops, on their arrival, attacked the Saracens from without, while he himself, issuing from the gates, assaulted them from the side next the town. The Crusaders fought with the utmost desperation. They knew very well that it was the crisis of their fate. To lose that battle was to lose all. The Saracens, on the other hand, were not under any such urgent pressure. If overpowered, they could retire again to the mountains, and be as secure as before.

Saladin present


They were  overpowered. The battle was fought long and obstinately, but at length Richard was victorious, and the Saracens were driven off the ground.

Various accounts are given by the different writers who have narrated the history of this crusade, of a present of a horse made by Saladin to Richard in the course of the war, and the incident has been often commented upon as an evidence of the high and generous sentiments which animated the combatants in this terrible crusade in their personal feelings toward each other. One of the stories makes the case an incident of this battle. The Saracens, flying from the field, came to Saladin, who was watching the contest, and, in conversation with him, they pointed out Richard, who was standing among his knights on a small rising ground.

"Why, he is on foot!" exclaimed Saladin. Richard was  on foot. His favorite charger, Favelle, was killed under him that morning, and as he had come from Acre in haste and by sea, there was no other horse at hand to supply his place.

Saladin immediately said that that was not as it should be. "The King of England," said he, "should not fight on foot like a common soldier." He immediately sent over to Richard, with a flag of truce, two splendid horses. King Richard accepted the present, and during the remainder of the day he fought on one of the Horses which his enemy had thus sent him.

One account adds a romantic embellishment to this story by saying that Saladin sent only one horse at first—the one that he supposed most worthy of being sent as a gift from one sovereign to another; but that Richard, before mounting him himself, directed one of his knights to mount him and give him trial. The knight found the horse wholly unmanageable. The animal took the bits between his teeth and galloped furiously back to the camp of Saladin, carrying his rider with him, a helpless prisoner. Saladin was exceedingly chagrined at this result; he was afraid Richard might suppose that he sent him an unruly horse from a treacherous design to do him some injury. He accordingly received the knight who had been borne so unwillingly to his camp in the most courteous manner, and providing another horse for him, he dismissed him with presents. He also sent a second horse to Richard, more beautiful than the first, and one which he caused Richard to be assured that he might rely upon as perfectly well trained.