Story of the Crusades - E. M. Wilmot-Buxton

The Loss of Jerusalem

All Europe streaming to the mystic East:

Now on their sun-smit ranks

The dusky squadrons close in vulture feast.

PALGRAVE: Visions of England.

Most famous of the Sons of Islam who fought against Christendom is Saladin, the Saracen general who made himself master of Egypt in the days of Amalric, King of Jerusalem, and who was destined in the near future to be the conqueror of the Holy City.

The time was ripe for such a conquest, for the little kingdom was torn by the jealousy and strife of two deadly rivals, Raymond of Tripoli and Guy of Lusignan.

The former was for living at peace with the Saracens, at least until the coming of a new Crusade should drive the infidel from the borders of the land. The latter, moved by causes far other than religious enthusiasm, was eager to fight at once, hoping thus to obtain the upper hand over his wretched young brother-in-law, Baldwin, the leper king. With him was Reginald of Chatillon, who had spent long years in Saracen dungeons, and was furiously eager for revenge.

The quarrel between Raymond and Guy and their adherents led directly to the Fall of Jerusalem, but in the meantime the details are full of romantic interest.

A certain Gerard, a knight of France, who had come to the Holy Land merely to make his fortune, desired to marry the Lady of Botron, a rich ward of Raymond of Tripoli. But Raymond, as was frequently the case in those feudal days, had his own profit to make by the marriage. He scornfully rejected Gerard, and gave the lady to a wealthy Italian merchant, who was glad to pay for his wife her weight in gold.

In great wrath, Gerard left Tripoli, joined the Knights Templars, and in due course became Grand Master of the Order, and awaited his chance for revenge. This came in 1186, when both the leper and his little son were dead, and Raymond was known to be desirous of occupying the vacant throne.

Hurriedly summoning Sibylla, wife of Guy of Lusignan, and sister of the leper king, to Jerusalem, Gerard and Reginald of Chatillon caused the gates to be shut and the walls guarded, so that none might come in or out. But amongst those inside was a spy sent by the watchful Raymond, who managed to get into the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, where he saw Sibylla sitting with two crowns before her. One of these was handed to her by the Patriarch of Jerusalem, who said, "Lady, you have been proclaimed queen, but since you are a woman, it is good that you have a man to help you in your rule. Take the crown you see before you and give it to him who can best help you to govern your realm."

Then Sibylla beckoned to her husband, Guy, and placing the crown upon his head as he knelt before her, said, "Sire, take this, for I know not where I could bestow it better."

Then was Gerard, Grand Master of the Templars, heard to murmur, "This crown is well worth the marriage of Botron."

Thus did Guy de Lusignan become King of Jerusalem, while Raymond of Tripoli, checkmated for the time, could only refuse him his allegiance and retire in sullen fury to his own city of Tiberias. Rumour indeed whispered that he was on no unfriendly terms with Saladin himself. But it was probably foresight as well as a sense of justice which roused him to deep wrath when Reginald of Chatillon, in time of truce, attacked a wealthy caravan passing from Damascus to Egypt, and "dishonourably carried off the merchants as prisoners, together with all their baggage."

"The taking of this caravan," says the chronicler, "was the ruin of Jerusalem," for from that time dates the implacable hatred of Saladin for those who held the city.

Meantime, urged on by Gerard, the Grand Master. Guy of Lusignan, meanest and weakest of kings, sought to gratify his personal spite against his former rival by besieging Tiberias, and was only prevented by a warning that this might mean an open alliance between Saladin and Raymond against himself.

Raymond's patriotism, however, was greater than his desire for revenge. While absent from his own city with his troops, he heard that the Saracens had crossed the Jordan, and were advancing upon the Holy City. Hastening to Jerusalem, he at once put himself and his men at Guy's disposal in face of this pressing danger.

Meantime Saladin, probably in wrath at this action of one whom he had hoped to make his ally, began to besiege Tiberias; and a message arrived in Jerusalem from Raymond's wife, begging that an army might be sent to her aid. A council was hurriedly summoned to see what could be done to save the city; but Raymond, to the surprise of all, was strongly of the opinion that Tiberias should be left to its fate.

"Sire," said he, "I would give you good advice if you would only trust me." "Speak your mind and fear nothing," they replied, whereupon he counselled them not to send troops out of Jerusalem, even if this should mean the loss of his own fortress.

"If I lose wife, retainers and city," said he, "so be it; I will get them back when I can; but I had rather see my city overthrown than the whole land lost."

Though much astonished by such disinterested advice, the council agreed to follow it, and so dispersed.

But at dead of night there came secretly to the King the mischief-maker Gerard, bidding him "reject the counsel of this traitor count," and hinting that Raymond's advice had been merely to further his own ends. Guy de Lusignan was so much in the hands of the man who had made him king that he dared not refuse to listen to him, and at daybreak the order was given for the army to march out of Jerusalem in order to relieve Tiberias.

In the terrible battle of Tiberias that followed, the portents were all against the Crusaders.

"A fearful vision was seen by the King's chamberlain, who dreamed that an eagle flew past the Christian army bearing seven darts in its talons, and crying with a loud voice, "Woe to thee, Jerusalem."

On a mound outside Tiberias had been placed a portion of the True Cross, and round this the army of Guy, unable to enter the city, rallied again and again as they were dispersed by the followers of Saladin. But heat and thirst played as much havoc as did the enemy, and at close of day, the sacred relic itself, together with the King and Reginald of Chatillon, the truce-breaker, fell into the hands of the infidel.

It is said that Reginald's head was struck off in the presence of Saladin, and possibly by his hand, in revenge for his past perfidy. Guy was thrown into prison, and Raymond, who had made good his escape, died of grief at the loss of all that he had held most dear.

Within two months of this battle of Tiberias, Saladin was master of every important stronghold in the land, save only Tyre and Jerusalem, and these were closely besieged.

The Holy City was indeed in the most perilous condition, for there were now no soldiers within the walls, and no leader to look to in all the land, save only Balian of Ibelin, and he was at this time a fugitive, who had sought protection within the walls of Tyre.

Bereft of a leader, the city had well-nigh lost hope, when Balian, acting apparently in good faith, begged leave of Saladin to conduct his wife and family within the walls of Jerusalem, promising that he himself would stay there but one night, and then return to Tyre.

To this Saladin agreed; but when Balian was once inside the city, the inhabitants refused to let him leave it again.

The patriarch Heraclius, indeed, assured him that he could not keep his promise without committing grave sin, saying, "Great shame will it be to you and to your sons after you if you leave the Holy City in this perilous strait."

So Balian remained and did his best, with only two knights to aid him, and little enough of food to feed the multitudes who came in day by day from the country round, and set up their tents in the streets of the city.

"The priests and clerks," says Geoffrey de Vinsauf, "discharged the duties of soldiers and fought bravely for the Lord's House . . . but the people, alike ignorant and timorous, flocked in numbers round the patriarch and the queen, bitterly complaining and earnestly entreating that they might make terms of peace with the Sultan as soon as possible."

Even when the city was given up on condition that Saladin would accept a ransom for the lives of the inhabitants, there came small consolation to the unhappy people. For some thousands of them could pay no ransom at all, and had nothing to hope for but the miseries of slavery.

When this fact was known, it called forth all that chivalry of the infidel chieftains upon which the chroniclers love to dwell.

Saphadim, the brother of Saladin, and his right hand during the siege, at once begged a thousand slaves as his share of the booty.

"For what purpose do you desire them?" asked Saladin.

"To do with them as I will," replied his brother, upon which the Sultan smiled and granted his request.

As he expected, the unhappy captives were at once given their freedom. Then the Patriarch and Balian, who had been treated with the utmost courtesy, each begged for seven hundred souls; and when those were granted, Saladin said, "My brother has given his alms; the bishop and Balian theirs. Now will I give mine also."

With that he granted freedom to all aged folk within the city, " and this was the alms that Saladin made." Thus did Jerusalem fall once more into the hands of Islam, and the Crescent shone again over the Holy City, in which for eighty-eight years the Cross had reigned supreme.