Richard I - Jacob Abbott

Progress of the Crusade

The first thing which Richard had now to do, before commencing a march into the interior of the country, was to set every thing in order at Acre, and to put the place in a good condition of defense, in case it should be attacked while he was gone. The walls in many places were to be repaired, particularly where they had been undermined by Richard's sappers, and in many places, too, they had been broken down or greatly damaged by the action of the battering-rams and other engines. In the case of sieges prosecuted by deans of artillery in modern times, the whole interior of the town, as well as the walls, is usually battered dreadfully by the shot and shells that are thrown over into it. A shell, which is a hollow ball of iron sometimes more than a foot in diameter, and with sides two or three inches thick, and filled within with gunpowder, is thrown from a mortar, at a distance of some miles, high into the air over the town, whence it descends into the streets or among the houses. The engraving represents the form of the mortar, and the manner in which the shell is thrown from it, though in this case the shell represented is directed, not against the town, but is thrown from a battery under the walls of the town against the camp or the trenches of the besiegers.

These shells, of course, when they descend, come crashing through the roofs of the buildings on which they strike, or bury themselves in the ground if they fall in the street, and then burst with a terrific explosion. A town that has been bombarded in a siege becomes sometimes almost a mere mass of ruins. Often the bursting of a shell sets a building on fire, and then the dreadful effects of a conflagration are added to the horrors of the scene. In ancient sieges, on the other hand, none of these terrible agencies could be employed. The battering-rams could touch nothing but the walls and the outer towers, and it was comparatively very little injury that they could do to these. The javelins and arrows, and other light missiles—even those that were thrown from the military engines, if by chance they passed over the walls and entered the town, could do no serious mischief to the buildings there. The worst that could happen from them was the wounding or killing of some person in the streets who might, just at that moment, be passing by.

Throwing shells


In repairing Acre, therefore, and putting it again in a perfect condition for defense, nothing but the outer walls required attention. Richard set companies of workmen upon these, and before long every thing was restored as it was before. There were then some ceremonies to be performed within the town, to purify it from the pollution which it had sustained by having been in the possession of the Saracens. All the Christian churches particularly, and the monasteries and other religious houses, were to be thus restored from the desecration which they had undergone, and consecrated anew to the service of Christ.

In the mean time, while these works and performances were going on, the soldiers gave themselves up to indulgences of every kind. Great stores of wine were found in the place, which were bestowed upon the troops, and the streets, day and night, were filled with riotous revelings. The commanders themselves—the knights and barons—and all the other men of rank that pertained to the army, fell into the same way, and they were very unwilling that the time should come when they were to leave such a place of security and indulgence, and take the field again for a march in pursuit of Saladin.

At length, however, the time arrived when the march must be commenced. Richard had learned, by means of scouts and spies which he sent out, that Saladin was moving to the southward and westward—retreating, in fact, toward Jerusalem, which was, of course, the great point that he wished to defend. That, indeed, was the great point of attack, for the main object which the Crusaders proposed to themselves in invading Palestine was to get possession of the sepulchre where Christ was buried at Jerusalem. The recovery of the Holy Sepulchre was the watchword; and among all the people who were watching the progress of the enterprise with so much solicitude, and also among the Crusaders themselves, the progress that was made was valued just in proportion as it tended to the accomplishment of this end.

Richard set apart a sufficient number of troops for a garrison to hold and defend Acre, and then, on taking a census of the remainder of his force, found that he had thirty thousand men to march with in pursuit of Saladin. He arranged this force in five divisions, and placed each under the command of a competent general. There were two very celebrated bodies of knights that occupied positions of honor in this march. They were the Knights Templars and the Knights of St. John, or Hospitalers, the order that has been described in a previous chapter of this volume. The Templars led the van of the army, and the Hospitalers brought up the rear. The march was commenced on the twenty-second of August, which was not far from two months from the time that Acre was surrendered.

The course which the army was to take was at first to follow the sea-shore toward the southward to Jaffa, a port nearly opposite to Jerusalem. It was deemed necessary to take possession of Jaffa before going into the interior; and, besides, by moving on along the coast, the ships and galleys containing the stores for the army could accompany them, and supply them abundantly, from time to time, as they might require. By this course, too, they would be drawing nearer to Jerusalem, though not directly approaching it.

The arrangements connected with the march of the army were conducted with great ceremony and parade. The knights wore their costly armor, and were mounted on horses splendidly equipped and caparisoned. In many cases the horses themselves were protected, like the riders, with an armor of steel. The columns were preceded by trumpeters, who awakened innumerable echoes from the mountains, and from the cliffs of the shore, with their animating and exciting music, and innumerable flags and banners, with the most gorgeous decorations, were waving in the air. When the expedition halted at night, heralds passed through the several camps to the sound of trumpets, and pausing at each one, and giving a signal, all the soldiers in the camp kneeled down upon the ground, when the heralds proclaimed in a loud voice three times, GOD SAVE THE HOLY SEPULCHRE, and all the soldiers said Amen.

The march was commenced on the twenty-second of August, and it was about sixty miles from Acre to Jaffa. Of course, an army of thirty thousand men must move very slowly. There is so much time consumed in breaking up the encampment in the morning, and in forming it again at night, and in giving such a mighty host their rest and food in the middle of the day, and the men, moreover, are so loaded with the arms and ammunition, and with the necessary supplies of food and clothing which they have to carry, that only a very slow progress can be made. In this case, too, the march was harassed by Saladin, who hovered on the flank of the Crusaders, and followed them all the way, sending down small parties from the mountains to attack and cut off stragglers, and threatening the column at every exposed point, so as to keep them continually on the alert. The necessity of being always ready to form in order of battle to meet the enemy, should he suddenly come upon them, restricted them very much in their motions, and made a great deal of manúuvring necessary, which, of course, greatly increased the fatigue of the soldiers, and very much diminished the speed of their progress.

Richard wished much to bring on a general battle, being confident that he should conquer if he could engage in it on equal terms. But Saladin would not give him an opportunity. He kept the main body of his troops sheltered among the mountains, and only advanced slowly, parallel with the coast, where he could watch and harass the movements of his enemies without coming into any general conflict with them.

This state of things continued for about three weeks, and then at last Richard reached Jaffa. The two armies manúuvred for some time in the vicinity of the town, and, finally, they concentrated their forces in the neighborhood of a plain near the sea-shore, at a place called Azotus, which was some miles beyond Jaffa. Saladin had by this time strengthened himself so much that he was ready for battle. He accordingly marched on to the attack. He directed his assault, in the first instance, on the wing of Richard's army which was formed of the French troops that were under the command of the Duke of Burgundy. They resisted them successfully and drove them back. Richard watched the operation, but for a time took no part in it, except to make feigned advances, from time to time, to threaten the enemy, and to harass them by compelling them to perform numerous fatiguing evolutions. His soldiers, and especially the knights and barons in his army, were very impatient at his delaying so long to take an active and an efficient part in the contest. But at last, when he found that the Saracen troops were wearied, and were beginning to be thrown in a little confusion, he gave the signal for a charge, and rode forward at the head of the troop, mounted on his famous charger, and flourishing his heavy battle-axe in the air.

The onset was terrible. Richard inspirited his whole troop by his reckless and headlong bravery, and by the terrible energy with which he gave himself to the work of slaughtering all who came in his way. The darts and javelins that were shot by the enemy glanced off from him without inflicting any wound, being turned aside by the steel armor that he wore, while every person that came near enough to him to strike him with any other weapon was felled at once to the ground by a blow from the ponderous battle-axe. The example which Richard thus set was followed by his men, and in a short time the Saracens began every where to give way. When, in the case of such a combat, one side begins to yield, it is all over with them. When they turn to retreat, they, of course, become at once defenseless, and the pursuers press on upon them, killing them without mercy and at their pleasure, and with very little danger of being killed themselves. A man can fight very well while he is pursuing, but scarcely at all when he is pursued.

It was not long before Saladin's army was flying in all directions, the Crusaders pressing on upon them every where in their confusion, and cutting them down mercilessly in great numbers. The slaughter was immense. About seven thousand of the Saracen troops were slain. Among them were thirty-two of Saladin's highest and best officers. As soon as the Saracens escaped the immediate danger, when the Crusaders had given over the pursuit, they rallied, and Saladin formed them again into something like order. He then commenced a regular and formal retreat into the interior. He first, however, sent detachments to all the country around to dismantle the towns, to destroy all stores of provisions, and to seize and carry away every thing of value that could be of any use to the conquerors. A broad extent of country, through which Richard would have to march in advancing toward Jerusalem, being thus laid waste, the Saracens withdrew farther into the interior, and there Saladin set himself at work to reorganize his broken army once more, and to prepare for new plans of resistance to the invaders.

Richard withdrew with his army to Jaffa, and, taking possession of the town, he established himself there.

It was now September. The season of the year was hot and unhealthy; and though the allied army had thus far been victorious, still there was a great deal of sickness in the camp, and the soldiers were much exhausted by the fatigue which they had endured, and by their exposure to the sun. Richard was desirous, notwithstanding this, to take the field again, and advance into the interior, so as to follow up the victory which had been gained over Saladin at Azotus; but his officers, especially those of the French division of the army, under the command of the Duke of Burgundy, thought it not safe to move forward so soon. "It would be better to remain a short time in Jaffa," they said, "to recruit the army, and to prepare for advancing in a more sure and efficient manner.

"Besides," said they, "we need Jaffa for a military post, and it will be best to remain here until we shall have repaired the fortifications, and put the place in a good condition of defense."

But this was only an excuse. What the army really desired was to enjoy repose for a time. They found it much more agreeable to live in ease and indulgence within the walls of a town than to march in the hot sun across so arid a country, loaded down as they were with heavy armor, and kept constantly in a state of anxious and watchful suspense by the danger of sudden attacks from the enemy.

Richard acceded to the wishes of the officers, and decided to remain for a time in Jaffa. But they, instead of devoting themselves energetically to making good again the fortifications of the town, went very languidly to the work. They allowed themselves and the men to spend their time in inaction and indulgence. In the mean time, Saladin had gathered his forces together again, and was drawing fresh recruits every day to his standard from the interior of the country. He was preparing for more vigorous resistance than ever. Richard has been strongly condemned for thus remaining inactive in Jaffa after the battle of Azotus. Historians, narrating the account of his campaign, say that he ought to have marched at once toward Jerusalem before Saladin should have had time to organize any new means of resistance. But it is impossible for those who are at a distance from the scene of action in such a case, and who have only that partial and imperfect account of the facts which can be obtained through the testimony of others, to form any reliable judgment on such a question. Whether it would be prudent or imprudent for a commander to advance after a battle can be known, in general, only to those who are on the ground, and who have personal knowledge of all the circumstances of the case.

While Richard remained in Jaffa, he made frequent excursions into the surrounding territory at the head of a small troop of adventurous men who liked to accompany him. Other small detachments were often sent out. These parties went sometimes to collect forage, and sometimes to reconnoitre the country with a view of ascertaining Saladin's position and plans. Richard took great delight in these excursions, nor were they attended with any great danger. At the present day, going out on reconnoitring parties is very dangerous service indeed, for men wear no armor, and they are liable at any moment to be cut down by a Mìniè rifle-ball, fired from an unseen hand a mile away. In those days the case was very different. There were no missiles that could be thrown for a greater distance than a few yards, and for all such the heavy steel armor that the knights wore furnished, in general, an ample protection. The only serious danger to be feared was that of coming unwarily upon a superior party of the enemy lying in ambush to entrap the reconnoitrers, and in being surrounded by them. But Richard had so much confidence in the power of his horse and in his own prodigious personal strength that he had very little fear. So he scoured the country in every direction, at the head of a small attendant squadron, whenever he pleased, considering such an excursion in the light of nothing more than an exciting morning ride.

Of course, after going out many times on such excursions and coming back safely, men gradually become less cautious, and expose themselves to greater and greater risks. It was so with Richard and his troop, and several times they ventured so far as to put themselves in very serious peril. Indeed, Richard once or twice very narrowly escaped being taken prisoner. At one time he was saved by the generosity of one of his knights, named Sir William. The king and his party were surprised by a large party of Saracens, and nearly surrounded. For a moment it was uncertain whether they would be able to effect their retreat. In the midst of the fray, Sir William called out that he was the king, and this so far divided the attention of the party as to confuse them somewhat, and break the force and concentration of their attack, and thus Richard succeeded in making his escape. Sir William, however, was taken prisoner and carried to Saladin, but he was immediately liberated by Richard's paying the ransom that Saladin demanded for him.

At another time word came to him suddenly in the town that a troop of Knights Templars were attacked and nearly surrounded by Saracens, and that, unless they had help immediately, they would be all cut off. Richard immediately seized his armor and began to put it on, and at the same time he ordered one of his earls to mount his horse and hurry out to the rescue of the Templars with all the horsemen that were ready, saying also that he would follow himself, with more men, as soon as he could put his armor on. Now the armoring of a knight for battle in the Middle Ages was as long an operation as it is at the present day for a lady to dress for a ball. The several pieces of which the armor was composed were so heavy, and so complicated, moreover, in their fastenings, that they could only be put on by means of much aid from assistants. While Richard was in the midst of the process, another messenger came, saying that the danger of the Templars was imminent.

"Then I must go," said Richard, "as I am. I should be unworthy of the name of king if I were to abandon those whom I have promised to stand by and succor in every danger."

So he leaped upon his horse and rode on alone. On arriving at the spot, he plunged into the thickest of the fight, and there he fought so furiously, and made such havoc among the Saracens with his battle-axe, that they fell back, and the Templars, and also the party that had gone out with the earl, were rescued, and made good their retreat to the town, leaving only on the field those who had fallen before Richard arrived.

Many such adventures as this are recorded in the old histories of this campaign, and they were made the subjects of a great number of songs and ballads, written and sung by the Troubadours in those days in honor of the valiant deeds of the Crusaders.

The armies remained in Jaffa through the whole of the month of September. During this time a sort of negotiation was opened between Richard and Saladin, with a view to agreeing, if possible, upon some terms of peace. The object, on the part of Saladin, in these negotiations, was probably delay, for the longer he could continue to keep Richard in Jaffa, the stronger he would himself become, and the more able to resist Richard's intended march to Jerusalem. Richard consented to open these negotiations, not knowing but that some terms might possibly be agreed upon by which Saladin would consent to restore Jerusalem to the Christians, and thus end the war.

The messenger whom Saladin employed in these negotiations was Saphadin, his brother. Saphadin, being provided with a safe-conduct for this purpose, passed back and forth between Jaffa and Saladin's camp, carrying the propositions and counter-propositions to and fro. Saphadin was a very courteous and gentlemanly man, and also a very brave soldier, and Richard formed quite a strong friendship for him.

A number of different plans were proposed in the course of the negotiation, but there seemed to arise insuperable objections against them all. At one time, either at this period or subsequently, when Richard returned again to the coast, a project was formed to settle the dispute, as quarrels and wars were often settled in those days, by a marriage. The plan was for Saladin and Richard to cease their hostility to each other, and become friends and allies; the consideration for terminating the war being, on Richard's side, that he would give his sister Joanna, the ex-queen of Sicily, in marriage to Saphadin; and that Saladin, on his part, should relinquish Jerusalem to Richard. Whether it was that Joanna would not consent to be thus conveyed in a bargain to an Arab chieftain as a part of a price paid for a peace, or whether Saladin did not consider her majesty as a full equivalent for the surrender of Jerusalem, the plan fell through like all the others that had been proposed, and at length the negotiations were fully abandoned, and Richard began again to prepare for taking the field.