Richard I - Jacob Abbott

The Old Man of the Mountains

One of the greatest sources of trouble and difficulty which Richard experienced in managing his heterogeneous mass of followers was the quarrel which has been already alluded to between the two knights who claimed the right to be the King of Jerusalem, whenever possession of that city should by any means be obtained. The reader will recollect, perhaps, that it has already been stated that a very renowned Crusader, named Godfrey of Bouillon, had penetrated, about a hundred years before this time, into the interior of the Holy Land, at the head of a large army, and there had taken possession of Jerusalem; that the earls, and barons, and other prominent knights in his army had chosen him king of the city, and fixed the crown and the royal title upon him and his descendants forever; that when Jerusalem was itself, after a time, lost, the title still remained in Godfrey's family, and that it descended to a princess named Sibylla; that a knight named Guy of Lusignan married Sibylla, and then claimed the title of King of Jerusalem in the right of his wife; that, in process of time, Sibylla died, and then one party claimed that the rights of her husband, Guy of Lusignan, ceased, since he held them only through his wife, and that thenceforward the title and the crown vested in Isabella, her sister, who was the next heir; that Isabella, however, was married to a man who was too feeble and timid to assert his claims; that, consequently, a more bold and unscrupulous knight, named Conrad of Montferrat, seized her and carried her off, and afterward procured a divorce for her from her former husband, and married her himself; and that then a great quarrel arose between Guy of Lusignan, the husband of Sibylla, and Conrad of Montferrat, the husband of Isabella. This quarrel had now been raging a long time, and all attempts to settle it or to compromise it had proved wholly unavailing.

The ground which Guy and his friends and adherents took was, that while they admitted that Guy held the title of King of Jerusalem in the right of his wife, and that his wife was now dead, still, being once invested with the crown, it was his for life, and he could not justly be deprived of it. After his death it might descend very properly to the next heir, but during his lifetime it vested in him.

Conrad, on the other hand, and the friends and adherents who espoused his cause, argued that, since Guy had no claim whatever except what came in and through his wife, of course, when his wife died, his possession ought to terminate. If Sibylla had had children, the crown would have descended to one of them; but she being without direct heirs, it passed, of right, to Isabella, her sister, and that Isabella's husband was entitled to claim and take possession of it in her name.

It is obvious that this was a very nice and delicate question, and it would have been a very difficult one for a company of gay and reckless soldiers like the Crusaders to settle if they had attempted to look at it simply as a question of law and right; but the Crusaders seldom troubled themselves with examining legal arguments, and still less with seeking for and applying principles of justice and right in taking sides in the contests that arose among them. The question for each man to consider in such cases was simply, "Which side is it most for my interests and those of my party that we should espouse? We will take that;" or, "Which side are my rivals and enemies, or those of their party, going to take? We will take the other."

It was by such considerations as these that the different princes, and nobles, and orders of knights in the army decided how they would range themselves on this great question. As has already been explained, Richard took up the cause of Guy, who claimed through the deceased Sibylla. He had been induced to do so, not by any convictions which he had formed in respect to the merits of the case, but because Guy had come to him while he was in Cyprus, and had made such proposals there in respect to a conjunction with him that Richard deemed it for his interest to accept them. In a similar way, Conrad had waited upon Philip as soon as he arrived before Acre, and had induced him to espouse his, Conrad's, side. If there were two orders of knights in the army, or two bodies of soldiery, that were at ill-will with each other through rivalry, or jealousy, or former quarrels, they would always separate on this question of the King of Jerusalem; and just as certainly as one of them showed a disposition to take the side of Guy, the other would immediately go over to that of Conrad, and then these old and half-smothered contentions would break out anew.

Thus this difficulty was not only a serious quarrel itself, but it was the means of reviving and giving new force and intensity to a vast number of other quarrels.

It may seem strange that a question like this, which related, as it would appear, to only an empty title, should have been deemed so important; but, in reality, there was something more than the mere title at issue. Although, for the time being, the Christians were excluded from Jerusalem, they were all continually hoping to be very soon restored to the possession of it, and then the king of the city would become a very important personage, not only in his own estimation and in that of the army of Crusaders, but in that of all Christendom. No one knew but that in a few months Jerusalem might come into their hands, either by being retaken through force of arms, or by being ceded in some way through Richard's negotiations with Saladin; and, of course, the greater the probability was that this event would happen, the more important the issue of the quarrel became, and the more angry with each other, and excited, were the parties to it. Thus Richard found that all his plans for getting possession of Jerusalem were grievously impeded by these dissensions; for the nearer he came, at any time, to the realization of his hopes, the more completely were his efforts to secure the end paralyzed by the increased violence and bitterness of the quarrel that reigned among his followers.

The principal supporters of the cause of Conrad were the French, and they formed so numerous and powerful a portion of the army, and they had, withal, so great an influence over other bodies of troops from different parts of Europe, that Richard could not successfully resist them and maintain Guy's claims, and he finally concluded to give up, or to pretend to give up, the contest.

So he made an arrangement with Guy to relinquish his claims on condition of his receiving the kingdom of Cyprus instead, the unhappy Isaac, the true king of that island, shut up in the Syrian dungeon to which Richard had consigned him, being in no condition to resist this disposition of his dominions. Richard then agreed that Conrad should be acknowledged as King of Jerusalem, and, to seal and settle the question, it was determined that he should be crowned forthwith.

It was supposed at the time that one reason which induced Richard to give up Guy and adopt Conrad as the future sovereign of the Holy City was, that Conrad was a far more able warrior, and a more influential and powerful man than Guy, and altogether a more suitable person to be left in command of the army in case of Richard's return to England, provided, in the mean time, Jerusalem should be taken; and, moreover, he was much more likely to succeed as a leader of the troops in a march against the city in case Richard were to leave before the conquest should be effected. It turned out, however, in the end, as will be seen in the sequel, that the views with which Richard adopted this plan were of a very different character.

Conrad was already the King of Tyre. The position which he thus held was, in fact, one of the elements of his power and influence among the Crusaders. It was determined that his coronation as King of Jerusalem should take place at Tyre, and, accordingly, as soon as the arrangement of the question had been fully and finally agreed upon, all parties proceeded to Tyre, and there commenced at once the preparations for a magnificent coronation. All the principal chieftains and dignitaries of the army that could be spared from the other posts along the coast went to Tyre to be present at the coronation, the whole army, with the exception of a few malcontents, being filled with joy and satisfaction that the question which had so long distracted their councils and paralyzed their efforts was now at length finally disposed of.

These bright prospects were all, however, suddenly blighted and destroyed by an unexpected event, which struck every one with consternation, and put all things back into a worse condition than before. As Conrad was passing along the streets of Tyre one day, two men rushed upon him, and with small daggers, which they plunged into his side, slew him. They were so sudden in their movement that all was over before any one could come to Conrad's rescue, but the men who committed the deed were seized and put to the torture. They belonged to a tribe of Arabs called Hassassins. This appellation was taken from the Arabic name of the dagger, which was the only armor that they wore. Of course, with such a weapon as this, they could do nothing effectual in a regular battle with their enemies. Nor was this their plan. They never came out and met their enemies in battle. They lived among the mountains in a place by themselves, under the command of a famous chieftain, whom they called the Ancient, and sometimes the Lord of the Mountains. The Christians called him the Old Man of the Mountains, and under this name he and his band of followers acquired great fame.

They were, in fact, not much more than a regularly-organized band of robbers and murderers. The men were extremely wily and adroit; they could adopt any disguise, and penetrate without suspicion wherever they chose to go. They were trained, too, to obey, in the most unhesitating and implicit manner, any orders whatever that the chieftain gave them. Sometimes they were sent out to rob; sometimes to murder an individual enemy, who had, in some way or other, excited the anger of the chief. Thus, if any leader of an armed force attempted to attack them, or if any officer of government adopted any measures to bring them to justice, they would not openly resist, but would fly to their dens and fastnesses, and conceal themselves there, and then soon afterward the chieftain would send out his emissaries, dressed in a suitable disguise, and with their little hassassins  under their robes, to watch an opportunity and kill the offender. It is true they were usually, in such cases, at once seized, and were often put to death with horrible tortures; but so great was their enthusiasm in the cause of their chief, and so high the exaltation of spirit to which the point of honor carried them, that they feared nothing, and were never known to shrink from the discharge of what they deemed their duty.

The stabs which the two Hassassins gave to Conrad were so effectual that he fell dead upon the spot. The people that were near rushed to his assistance, and while some gathered round the bleeding body, and endeavored to stanch the wounds, others seized the murderers and bore them off to the castle. They would have pulled them to pieces by the way if they had not desired to reserve them for the torture.

The torture is, of course, in every respect, a wretched way of eliciting evidence. So far as it is efficacious at all in eliciting declarations, it tends to lead the sufferer, in thinking what he shall say, to consider, not what is the truth, but what is most likely to satisfy his tormentors and make them release him. Accordingly, men under torture say any thing which they suppose their questioners wish to hear. At one moment it is one thing, and the next it is another, and the men who conduct the examination can usually report from it any result they please.

A story gained great credit in the army, and especially among the French portion of it, immediately after the examination of these men, that they said that they had been hired by Richard himself to kill Conrad, and this story produced every where the greatest excitement and indignation. On the other hand, the friends of Richard declared that the Hassassins had stated that they were sent by their chieftain, the Old Man of the Mountain, and that the cause was a quarrel that had long been standing between Conrad and him. It is true that there had been such a quarrel, and, consequently, that the Old Man would be, doubtless, very willing that Conrad should be killed. Indeed, it is probable that, if Richard was really the original instigator of the murder, he would have made the arrangement for it with the Old Man, and not directly with the subordinates. It was, in fact, a part of the regular and settled business of this tribe to commit murders for pay. The chieftain might have the more readily undertaken this case from having already a quarrel of his own with Conrad on hand. It was never fully ascertained what the true state of the case was. The Arab historians maintain that it was Richard's work. The English writers, on the contrary, throw the blame on the Old Man. The English writers maintain, moreover, that the deed was one which such a man as Richard was very little likely to perform. He was, it is true, they say, a very rude and violent man—daring, reckless, and often unjust, and even cruel—but he was not treacherous. What he did, he did in the open day; and he was wholly incapable of such a deed as pretending deceitfully that he would accede to Conrad's claims with a view of throwing him off his guard, and then putting him to death by means of hired murderers.

This reasoning will seem satisfactory to us or otherwise, according to the views we like to entertain in respect to the genuineness of the sense of generosity and honor which is so much boasted of as a characteristic of the spirit of chivalry. Some persons place great reliance upon it, and think that so gallant and courageous a knight as Richard must have been incapable of any such deed as a secret assassination. Others place very little reliance upon it. They think that the generosity and nobleness of mind to which this class of men make such great pretension is chiefly a matter of outside show and parade, and that, when it serves their purpose, they are generally ready to resort to any covert and dishonest means which will help them to accomplish their ends, however truly dishonorable such means may be, provided they can conceal their agency in them. For my part, I am strongly inclined to the latter opinion, and to believe that there is nothing in the human heart that we can really rely upon in respect to human conduct and character but sound and consistent moral principle.

At any rate, it is unfortunate for Richard's cause that among those who were around him at the time, and who knew his character best, the prevailing opinion was against him. It was generally believed in the army that he was really the secret author of Conrad's death. The event produced a prodigious excitement throughout the camp. When the news reached Europe, it awakened a very general indignation there, especially among those who were inclined to be hostile to Richard. Philip, the King of France, professed to be alarmed for his own safety. "He has employed murderers to kill Conrad, my friend and ally," said he, "and the next thing will be that he will send some of the Old Man of the Mountain's emissaries to thrust their daggers into me."

So he organized an extra guard to watch at the gates of his palace, and to attend him whenever he went out, and gave them special instructions to watch against the approach of any suspicious strangers. The Emperor of Germany too, and the Archduke of Austria, whom Richard had before made his enemies, were filled with rage and resentment against him, the effects of which he subsequently felt very severely.

In the mean time, the excitement in the camp immediately on the death of Conrad became very strong, and it led to serious disturbances. The French troops rose in arms and attempted to seize Tyre. Isabella, Conrad's wife, in whose name Conrad had held the title to the crown of Jerusalem, fled to the citadel, and fortified herself there with such troops as adhered to her. The camp was in confusion, and there was imminent danger that the two parties into which the army was divided would come to open war. At this juncture, a certain nephew of Richard's, Count Henry of Champagne, made his appearance. He persuaded the people of Tyre to put him in command of the town; and supported as he was by Richard's influence, and by the acquiescence of Isabella, he succeeded in restoring something like order. Immediately afterward he proposed to Isabella that she should marry him. She accepted his proposal, and so he became King of Jerusalem in her name.

The French party, and those who had taken the side of Conrad in the former quarrel, were greatly exasperated, but as the case now stood they were helpless. They had always maintained that Isabella was the true sovereign, and it was through her right to the succession, after Sibylla's death, that they had claimed the crown for Conrad; and, now, since Conrad was dead, and Isabella had married Count Henry, they could not, with any consistency, deny that the new husband was fully entitled to succeed the old. They might resent the murder of Conrad as much as they pleased, but it was evident that nothing would bring him back to life, and nothing could prevent Count Henry being now universally regarded as the King of Jerusalem.

So, after venting for a time a great many loud but fruitless complaints, the aggrieved parties allowed their resentment to subside, and all acquiesced in acknowledging Henry as King of Jerusalem.

Besides these difficulties, a great deal of uneasiness and discontent arose from rumors that Richard was intending to abandon Palestine, and return to Normandy and England, thus leaving the army without any responsible head. The troops knew very well that whatever semblance of authority and subordination then existed was due to the presence of Richard, whose high rank and personal qualities as a warrior gave him great power over his followers, notwithstanding their many causes of complaint against him. They knew, too, that his departure would be the signal of universal disorder, and would lead to the total dissolution of the army. The complaints and the clamor which arose from this cause became so great in all the different towns and fortresses along the coast, that, to appease them, Richard issued a proclamation stating that he had no intention of leaving the army, but that it was his fixed purpose to remain in Palestine at least another year.