Stories from the Crusades - Janet Kelman

How the Kings Fought for Glory and not for Christ

After Godfrey died many kings reigned in Jerusalem, but amongst them all there was not one who was like him. The head of the Christian Church in the Holy Land was called the Patriarch of Jerusalem. There was great power in his hands, and often he and the king were enemies. Instead of trying to help one another to make the Christian power strong, they used each to try to get all the power away from the other. If it had not been for two great orders of knights, the Moslems would soon have swept the new kingdom away.

Long before the first Crusade, a hospice had been built near the Holy Sepulchre. The Brothers who lived there welcomed pilgrims and were kind to the poor. At the time of the taking of Jerusalem, they gave such ready help to the armies of the Cross that many crusading knights joined their brotherhood. These men promised always to fight against the Saracens and also to seek no wealth for themselves. They were called the Knights Hospitallers. They wore a long black robe with five white crosses on it in time of peace, but in time of war they wore an upper robe of red with a silver cross on its shoulder. The knights of the other order were named Templars. They wore a long white mantle with a red cross on the shoulder. In battle they carried a flag, half white and half black. It meant that they were simple and frank to Christians, but dark and fearsome to Moslems. The Templars were so proud of their vow of poverty that their seal was two knights on the back of one horse. But though they boasted of it they often forgot it in daily life.

If King and Patriarch, Hospitallers and Templars, had remembered that white-and-black banner, and had always been frank and simple to Christians, nothing could have stood against them. Instead of that, they often fought amongst themselves and said bitter things about each other, and weakened the kingdom they had vowed to strengthen.

In Europe there had been many changes. The Crusade had done far less for the Christians in the Holy Land than Peter had dreamed it would do. But it had done much for the countries to which the Crusaders belonged. It had made people think for themselves.

But every one did not think that that was a good thing. Bernard, who preached the second Crusade, did not think so. He wished the power of the Church to rule everything and every one. He was a very great man, and while he lived kings and emperors obeyed him, as if they had been little children. The Pope himself used to ask him to tell him what he must do. Bernard always knew what he wished, and he quickly found the best way to gain his ends, for his heart was simple, and he coveted no earthly honour nor wealth for himself. He had become a monk when he was very young. Though he had been brought up in great comfort, he only ate coarse bread soaked in warm water. He was as unwilling to give pleasure to his mind as to his body. One time some friends came to see him and made him smile. He thought this was a great sin, and he lay before the altar for twenty-five days praying for pardon.

When any one wished to enter his order, he said to them, 'You must leave your body outside, only spirits can enter here.'

Yet though Bernard was a great and strong man, the Crusade he planned ended in failure. Thousands of knights and soldiers died in Asia, and the leaders came back to Europe with only a handful of the men who had followed them in the wars.

Not very long after the return of these fighting men, a lad named Saladin went to Egypt from Damascus. Saladin liked pleasure and idleness, and he was very unwilling to leave his happy home in the north to go to Egypt to fight under his uncle. When he was told that he must do this, he said, 'I go, but with the despair of a man led to death.' The ruler of Egypt had many men around him who wished for more power and honour than they had, and he was afraid that one of them would kill him and take his place. He saw Saladin, and noticed that he seemed careless about making a name for himself, and yet that he was a very great fighter when he was roused by battle. This made him wish to have him always with him, and so Saladin was made ruler of the forces.

But then a strange change came over Saladin. He no sooner had charge of men than he ceased to be a thoughtless lad, and became a serious leader of armies. Instead of growing slowly, as most people do, he seemed to change all at once from a playful, self-willed child to a strong man, who could bear all hardships to gain his end. Soon the ruler of Egypt died, and Saladin reigned in his place. Ere long he was Lord of Bagdad too, and that meant that he had power over the whole Moslem world.

During all this time the kings of Jerusalem were weak, powerless men. At first Saladin wished to make a truce with the one who reigned when he became Lord of Bagdad. This was not because he had any kind feeling towards him. He only wished to get time to make his own kingdom strong ere he fought for the little belt of Syrian land that belonged to the Christians. It was the only bit in all that part of the world that he did not rule.

But a noble of the kingdom of Jerusalem, named the Lord of Carac, broke the truce. He robbed caravans and killed Moslems whenever he could. Saladin was very angry. He could wait no longer, but decided to fight for Jerusalem at once.

In the Holy City, jealousy and bitterness were making strife amongst those who ought to have been friends. Red cross knights hated white cross knights. When they did uphold each other it was not in order to fight the foe, but to fight the priests. They even shot arrows at them in the streets of Jerusalem. The priests gathered up the arrows, laid them out under the open sky, and prayed that God would punish the knights. And when the time came to face Saladin, it was not possible to get the Christian army to fight as one man.

The Saracens took the town of Tiberias on the Lake of Galilee. The news of this was brought to the King of Jerusalem as he rode out to meet Saladin. Count Raymond, in whose land Tiberias was, rode beside the king. The Count's wife and children were in the town, but yet Raymond said:

'This army is all we have: if we lose it, the Holy City will be lost. Let us go to some place where Saladin will have to attack us, where we shall hold the fortress instead of attacking him. I would rather lose this country and all that I possess, if by that I might save the Holy City.'

But the other knights made the king believe that Raymond said this because he was really on Saladin's side, and wished him to win. The king yielded to them, and the army marched forward to Tiberias. When they reached the town, they found that all the heights on the hills round it were fortified. For two days a terrible battle raged. The Moslems even were astonished at the brave way the crusading army fought to save the wood of the true Cross which they had carried into the fight. They said that 'the knights flew round it like moths round a candle.'

But at last the bishop who bore it was killed, and the Cross was carried to Saladin's camp. When the Crusaders raised the body of the dead bishop they found that he had worn a coat of mail under his robe, and they thought that it was because of his want of faith that they had lost the battle, for always before, the bearer of the Cross had gone unarmed into battle.

When the Cross was taken, the crusading army lost all courage. One after another of the leaders was taken prisoner. Count Raymond escaped, but soon he died of misery for a lost cause and a lost home.

When the king and the Lord of Carac were brought before Saladin the Moslem welcomed the king kindly. He offered him a great goblet full of cool wine. The king was hot and faint from battle. The wine was pleasant to him, and it made him hope for kindness from Saladin.

The king drank. Then he passed the goblet to the Lord of Carac, but Saladin seized his arm

'That traitor shall not drink in my presence,' he shouted.

The count looked at him with scorn, and made his rage hotter by acting as boldly as if he had been a free man in his own castle.

'Choose between the Moslem faith and death!' said Saladin. Carac had not been true to the truce, but he would not give up his loyalty to the Crusaders in order to save his life. Quick as thought the scimitar of a Turkish soldier severed the head of the count from his body, which fell lifeless at the feet of the king. Then the captive knights were led in.

'Slay every one his man. I will rid the earth of these unclean races,' said Saladin to his warriors. They hung back. The knights were prisoners of war and unarmed, and the Moslem soldiers did not wish to butcher them. But Saladin would not listen even to his own soldiers when they asked him to spare his captives. They had to do his will, and knight after knight fell dead before the king.

After these terrible days Saladin went with haste to Jerusalem. He sent this message to the Christians in the city:

'I, as well as you, count Jerusalem to be the house of God; I will not defile it with blood if I can gain it by peace and love. Give it up, and I will give you freedom to go where you will, and as much land as you can till.'

But they answered:

'We cannot yield the city in which our God died. Still less can we sell it to you.'

By and by, when they saw that they could not hold out against Saladin, they offered to agree to what he had said.

'It is too late,' replied Saladin; 'look at my yellow banners floating from the wall!' He did not know how brave the men were. When they heard his answer they sent this message:

'Very well, we will destroy the city. Your mosque and the stone of Jacob which you worship shall be made into dust. Five thousand Moslem prisoners shall be slain. Then we will kill our wives and our children, and march out to you with fire and sword. Not one of us will die till ten Moslems lie slain by his sword.'

When Saladin heard these threats, he said he would let each citizen who could pay for his ransom go free.

On the day on which the Christians were to leave Jerusalem, Saladin sat on a throne and watched the stream of people press out of the gate. First came the priests. They bore the Communion vessels and the ornaments of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Then the queen came, and with her a band of nobles, and then the great crowd of people. They were very sad. They were leaving their homes and their city, and some of them were leaving friends for whom no ransom money could be found. Now and again the line was broken and some one took courage to fall before the Sultan to beg for the freedom of husband or of children who had been left behind. Saladin and his brother paid the ransom money for thousands, and only a small band stayed to be the slaves of the Moslems.

The saddened Christians were gone from the streets of the Holy City, and a crowd of joyous and excited people surged everywhere. Jerusalem was nearly as sacred to the Moslems as to those they had conquered. They hurled down a great cross from the dome above which it stood. They washed the mosque of Omar within and without with rosewater, that no Christian dust even might lie on the walls or floors. Allah is the name by which Moslems speak of God, and Saladin was welcomed everywhere as 'the bright star of Allah.'

When the news of the fall of Jerusalem reached Europe, the grief was terrible. The Pope died of sorrow. The royal courts went into mourning. The priests veiled the statues in the churches. Songs of love and chivalry were forgotten, and the minstrels sang only of the captured city.

Three great kings vowed to regain the Holy City. They were King Richard of England, King Philip of France, and the Emperor Frederick of Germany. The emperor was the first to set out. He is called 'Barbarossa,' because that means 'red beard,' and he had a great red beard. He had an army of strong warriors. His men loved him, and they did what he bade them without a murmur. He never allowed them to idle away their time or to grow soft and lazy after a victory, but swept them on in perfect order from battle to battle and carried all before him. The news of his great march came to Saladin, and even he feared lest his armies might not be able to face so great a band of warriors. But one day as Frederick rested on the banks of a river that flowed through the country north of the Holy Land, he longed to bathe in the cool stream. He plunged in, but something stunned him, and the great Emperor Barbarossa was drawn up on the bank only to die. He was buried in the Crusader Church at Tyre. But his people in Germany could not believe that he was dead. They made this beautiful legend about him. They said he had been borne from the East by magic, and that he lies in a great hall in Germany and waits there until his country needs him. When her need is greatest he will waken, they say, and burst the doors of his prison and come to save her. But no one has seen the red glow of Barbarossa's beard in the dimly lighted hall, nor has any one found the castle in which he lies.


Barbarossa waits until his country needs him.

Many soldiers in France and England grew weary of waiting for their kings, and hastened to fight under the banner of the King of Jerusalem.

When at length King Philip and King Richard set out, they were stayed by a storm at an island on their way to the Holy Land. They spent the winter there, but they lost much more than time. For years they had been friends, but now that they had set out on the same quest, they quarrelled so fiercely, that though they both did many brave deeds, all were marred by the bitter hatred and jealousy that had sprung up between them.

When Philip reached the Christian armies, he found that they were laying siege to Acre. They were in great danger. Their camp lay round the landward walls of the city. But beyond their tents lay the Moslem camp, and when the knights attacked Acre, bands of their foes could rush on the camp and destroy those who were left to guard it. The sails of Philip's fleet were seen with joy by the crusading army, but when he landed he said he would not fight till Richard came. Even when at length both kings were in the camp, the whole force would not fight together. Richard was so much afraid that Philip's army would be praised for what the English knights had done, and Philip was so much afraid that England would be praised for the brave deeds of the French, that when the one king fought, the other looked on!

Sometimes days and even weeks passed with no fighting. And during those times of peace, the two Christian kings were more friendly with Saladin than they were with each other. Once they both lay ill. Each of them thought that perhaps the other had sent poison to him and caused his illness, but they both took food and doctors from Saladin without fear. In times of peace too, the warriors from the Moslem camp and the crusading knights held tournaments and dances in the open spaces between the tents. And even in battle, signs of the strange friendship were seen, for Saladin rode into the fight with the badge of chivalry on his breast.

The common soldiers did not know what to think. They had come with their lords to fight for the Holy City and to help Christians who were in misery, and their masters seemed far more eager to give gifts to the Moslem leaders and to do great deeds of daring than to take Jerusalem.

But though Richard and Philip forgot to fight only for the relief of Christians, Saladin did not forget that he meant to rid the land of Christians. He admired the brave deeds of Richard, but he meant to drive Richard from his land.

After two years, Acre fell into the hands of the crusading armies. The knights wished to make Saladin promise to give back the wood of the true cross. Those who really cared about winning the land back for the kingdom of Jerusalem, thought that the loss of this precious relic had been the cause of all their trouble. People believed very queer things in those days, and one of the things they believed was that all over Europe, since the wood of the true cross had been taken from the bishop at Tiberias, babies had only had twenty-two teeth instead of thirty-two. But Richard himself did not care very much about the wood of the true cross, so he let the Moslems keep it.

Saladin was very angry when other people did not keep their promises, but he was in no haste to pay the ransom he had said he would give if those who lived in Acre were set free. Richard was so angry at the delay that he slew five thousand prisoners. Philip was longing to go back to France, and he made this cruel act of Richard's his excuse. About this time Richard offended two other warriors. He vexed a noble called Conrade, and he tore down the standard of Leopold of Austria. Philip sailed away, and the other two nobles allowed Richard to stand alone as the leader of the crusading army, but they never forgot his pride and wilfulness.

As he led his forces south towards Jerusalem a host of Saracens met them. There seemed no hope of victory or even of safety, but the thought that the Holy City was near, made the Crusaders fight with all their might, and the foe fled before them. While they were rejoicing in this, another Moslem army swept down on them and all seemed lost, when Richard galloped to the head of his men, and once more the Christians won the field.

Though King Richard was a great warrior, and though sometimes the thought of Jerusalem made him wish nothing so much as that he might win it from the Saracens, he did not always care to be true to his vows. After this victory he made a gay court for himself at a town called Joppa. He rode out to hunt and to seek adventures. Sometimes he was nearly killed. Once he was in the midst of a band of Saracens. They were going to make him prisoner when a French knight who was with him, shouted:

'Spare me! I am the king!'

He only said that to let the king go free. The Saracens rushed at the knight, and the king rode off safely.

Another time Richard saw the enemy come down and attack a small band of knights who had ridden out to seek food for their horses. He saw that they were in danger, and he leapt on to his horse and galloped across the plain. Those who had been with him hastened to follow him, but when they saw how many Saracens there were, they begged him to turn and leave the knights to be taken. He was full of anger and, turning to them, he said:

'How could I ever bear the name of king again if I left my followers to die without help.'

He rushed at the foe. The knights, who had been taken by surprise, felt new courage rise when they saw the king. He and they slashed right and left with their swords, and ere long Richard led the whole party joyously back to the camp at Joppa.

While the Crusaders lived in this gay court, the Christians at Jerusalem, whom they had vowed to help, were hard at work building walls and fortresses, for Saladin wished to make Jerusalem so strong that even Richard could not take it, so he made the Christians who were in his power build the walls that were to keep their friends from helping them.

After feasting at Joppa, Richard led his army to Ascalon. He hoped to capture the town and all the great forts that had been built there, for Ascalon was one of the strongest fortresses in the land. When the army came near the town, the faces of the leaders fell, for Ascalon was only a heap of ruins. Saladin could not spare men to defend it, and instead of trying to hold it he made his men pull down stone from stone, that no one else might find safety within it. It grieved him to do this, and he said that he would rather that one of his sons had died than that the fortress should be thrown down. But he was not like Richard, who sometimes wished one thing and sometimes another. He wished only one thing, and that was that every crusading knight should either die or leave the Holy Land. So though it hurt him to destroy the strong towers and walls of Ascalon, he did it.

When Richard saw the ruins, he cast aside his armour, and set himself to heave the great stones from the heaps where they lay, and to build them again into defences. Knights and soldiers did as they saw their leader do, and soon the walls began to rise again. For a short time all went well, but then some of the nobles grew weary of such heavy work when it had none of the glamour of war to make up for the hardship. The first to throw down his building tools was Leopold, whose banner Richard had torn down at Acre. He turned away with anger, and said:

'I am not a carpenter nor yet a mason.'

Others did as he had done, and looked on with scorn on those who still worked with Richard. Even amongst those who were not idle there were many who longed to hasten on to Jerusalem. They knew that even the great Saladin feared to meet Richard with his armies. The courage of the English king was as highly thought of in the Saracen camp as in his own. It was said that the manes of the Arab horses bristled when Richard's name was spoken, and that, if a rider in the Holy Land felt his horse start beneath him, he would say:

'Dost see King Richard in that bush?'

It was no wonder that the armies, who had suffered so much to win the Holy City, should grieve that Richard would not march upon it. At last he yielded to their wishes, and he and his knights swept across the country towards Jerusalem. All was joyous and cheerful. The heralds shouted the old call, 'Save the Holy Sepulchre!' and it seemed as if once more the Banner of the Cross would wave over the city where Christ died. Saladin withdrew into the city. Each new messenger told of the fear and dread that was in the Saracen camp, and the army of the Cross marched forward with high hopes.

But amongst those who were nearest to Richard, there were some who urged him to turn back. They said that even if Jerusalem were taken by them they could not hold it. Richard listened to them. He wavered. His army looked eagerly towards the city whose towers and domes rose dimly into sight in the distance. He gave one longing look, and turned his back on Jerusalem.

But though Richard turned away towards the sea, he was scarcely less vexed than his army. He was more enraged against the Saracens than he had ever been, and from this time onward he fought with even more reckless courage than before. He took ship from Acre and sailed along the coast to Joppa. But ere his ships entered the harbour, the Saracens seized the town. Richard could not wait till his vessel reached the harbour. He plunged into the water, landed, and rushed at the enemy with his brave knights close behind him. The Saracens fled. Within three days they came back, and Richard was roused from his sleep by the cry,

'To arms!'

There was no time to put on armour. There was scarcely time even to dress. As Richard sprang into the saddle, he shouted:

'Fight like men whose only hope is in courage. Verily, I myself shall sever the head of him who fails in his duty.'

The great host of the Saracens rushed on. Trumpets pealed, and banners streamed in the air. There seemed no hope for the small band of knights. But the lion-hearted king was with the knights, and victory followed his sword. Men could scarcely believe that he was human, for wherever the battle was hottest Richard seemed to spring from the ground. Once it seemed as if he were lost among the Saracens. Fear filled the hearts of his men, when suddenly Richard rode towards them from the ranks of the foe. He was mounted on a horse they had not seen before. His own had fallen under him, and the brother of Saladin had sent two to him in the midst of the battle, because he thought him so brave and so great a warrior that he could not bear to see him fight on foot. The Crusaders won the day, but as they returned to the camp they found another battle before them. The foe had entered the city. The day had been long and hard, but the spirit of the knights was strong and fearless, and soon they were masters of Joppa again. When all was over they gazed at each other. It did not seem possible even to themselves that they had won so great a victory. Hundreds of Saracens lay dead on the plain and only one knight had fallen.

But Richard was eager to return to England. He wished to make peace. Saladin did not wish for peace. He wished to sweep every Christian from his land. But his officers thought that if Richard would only leave the land they would not fear the other Crusaders, and they thought he would go at once if Saladin made peace with him. When the peace was made, it was agreed that many seaport towns should belong to the Christians, and that all might go to Jerusalem to visit the holy places there. In order that the promises that were made might be as sacred to one side as to the other, they were made in presence of the Bible and of the Koran, for the Koran was as holy to the Saracens as the Bible was to the Christian army.

Richard had been eager to make peace, but when the moment came when he had to leave the Holy Land, it seemed as if his heart would break. Although there were some in the army who did not trust him, and some who envied him, there were many hundreds who loved him so much that they did not care to serve under any other leader. They gathered round him weeping, and watched him step on to the vessel. As the king looked back over the land he had hoped to win, he said:

'O Holy Land! God bless thy people and grant that I may come again to visit and help thee!'

Richard did not care to go through France on his way home, because he had made Philip so bitter an enemy. He tried to make his way across Europe further west and north. Sometimes he dressed as a pilgrim, sometimes as a merchant. But he had been too long a great king to find it easy to act like any one else.

In one place he had to ask a count to allow him to pass from one land to another. He called himself the merchant Hugo, and sent a squire to ask for leave to go on. He told him to offer a costly ruby ring to the count to whom he was sent. But the count was a friend of one of Richard's foes. He had heard much about the wars, and he at once thought that this great ruby ring could only belong to the King of England. He sent back the ring with a kind message, but though he promised to do as he had been asked, he laid plans to capture the merchant Hugo! Richard escaped as a pilgrim, but even after that he would not be wise, for even in a pilgrim's dress he went on wearing a great ring on his finger, and he let his squire go to market-places with a purse full of coins that came from the Holy Land. The lad boasted of them, and showed them to those who gathered round him. Then, when it was too late, he saw what he had done and ran to warn his master, but Richard would not flee. He was taken prisoner by Leopold, whose banner he had torn down from the walls of Acre, and who had been the first to throw away his building tools at Ascalon.

The people of England longed to see him. They had heard how brave he had been in battle. They loved the thought of him, but what could they do to save him? They did not know where he was. The story of the way in which they found out is a strange one. Before the king went to the Holy Land, he and his minstrel Blondel had made a little song which they sang verse about. Blondel loved Richard greatly, and he set out to search for him. He asked where Richard had last been seen. Then he went from village to village. If a castle stood in sight, he asked if any prisoner lay there. If there was one, he tried to find out what kind of a man he was. Once he was in great excitement. The villagers near a castle told him of a prisoner who seemed to be a man like King Richard. But Blondel wished to be certain that he was right before he went back to England. When he was sure that no one saw him he ran to the castle. He looked at all sides of it till he thought he knew where the dungeon was. Then he sang some lines of the old song. His voice was broken and shaky, and when he stopped and waited he could scarcely breathe, he was so eager to know if anything would happen. Something did happen. Richard's voice from within the castle carried on the song.

When Blondel reached England and told where the king lay a prisoner, he soon roused the people to give a great sum of money in return for his freedom.

Before Richard had landed in England, Saladin lay dead. As the Christian pilgrims longed to go to Jerusalem, so he had longed to go to Mecca, for that is the holiest city in the world to those who follow the prophet. But Saladin was too ill to go to Mecca. When he lay dying in Damascus, he sent his heralds out to go through the streets of the city. As they marched, no banners were to stream behind them. Instead of a banner the shroud he was soon to need was borne along beside them, while they shouted as he bade them:

'This, this is all that remains of the glory of Saladin who conquered the East!'