Gateway to the Classics: Stories from English History, Book I by Alfred J. Church
Stories from English History, Book I by  Alfred J. Church

King Richard's Crusade

T HE Crusades were expeditions undertaken by Christian nations at various times between the years 1095 and 1268, for the purpose of recovering out of the hands of its Mahometan conquerors the city of Jerusalem. The name Crusade  is derived from one of the words which mean cross.  This is in Latin crux,  and in one kind of Old French crois,  as in Modern French it is croix.  Those who went on these expeditions were said to "take the cross," because they wore this as a badge, to show that they were going to redeem from the power of the unbelievers the city where Christ suffered on the cross.

The First Crusade was announced by the Pope in 1095. A monk called Peter the Hermit, in the following year, set out with a great number of men to the Holy Land. They were not prepared for the expedition, and nearly all perished before they got there. There were three other attempts of the same kind in that year, all of which failed, but in August 1096 the real Crusade, under Godfrey, Count of Bouillon, set out. Nearly three years afterwards, Jerusalem was taken, and Godfrey was made king.

The Second Crusade began in 1146 and ended in 1149. In 1187 Saladin, Sultan of Egypt, took Jerusalem. To recover it again out of his hand the Third Crusade was resolved upon in 1188 by Henry II., King of England, and Philip, King of France, who were joined by Frederic, Emperor of Germany. The war with Saladin was begun by the siege of Acre. This was the Crusade which Richard of England joined soon after the death of his father, Henry II. (July 1189).

There were six other Crusades. I shall tell you about the ninth and last in the story of Prince Edward.

When King Richard—who was called Cur de Lion, or Lion's Heart—put the army which he had gathered together on shipboard that they might go to the Holy Land, he made rules for their good behaviour, and set punishments for such as should offend. These were—

1. If a man slay his comrade on shipboard, let him be bound to the dead man and cast into the sea.

2. If a man slay his comrade on shore, let him be bound in the same way and be buried alive.

3. If a man draw his knife to strike another, or strike him so as to shed blood, let him lose his hand.

4. If a man strike another with his open hand, let him be dipped three times in the sea.

5. If a man revile another, let him pay an ounce of silver for each reviling.

6. If a man be found guilty of stealing, let him be shaven, and boiling pitch poured on his head, and feathers be shaken from a pillow on the pitch, and he be put ashore as soon as may be, that all may know him for a thief.

The King took his pilgrim's staff and scrip from the hands of the Archbishop of Tours. They say that when he leant on the staff, it immediately broke under him. He lingered long on his way, first in Sicily, and afterwards at Cyprus, to which island he went seeking the lady to whom he was about to be married, for the ship in which she sailed had been carried thither by a storm.

In the meanwhile they who had been besieging the city of Acre had suffered much from war and disease and famine. They began to besiege it on the 22nd day of August. Six weeks or thereabouts after this came Saladin, Sultan of Egypt, with a great army, desiring to drive away the Christians from before the town. A fierce battle was fought. At first Saladin was driven back, losing his camp, and not a few of the best of his soldiers, while the Christians also lost many. But before the day was over, Saladin recovered himself and drove back the Christians in their turn to their camp. There the Grand Master of the Temple was slain with eighteen of his knights. As for Saladin, he lost his eldest son and his nephew, and many others.

After this, there came fresh soldiers to the army of the Christians. These now fortified their camp, for they were in no small danger. On the one side was the city of Acre, with a strong garrison that was always prepared to sally out against them, and on the other side was Saladin the Sultan, having an army such as had never before been gathered together in that land, so far as any living man could remember. They were also in great need of provisions, for nothing could be brought to them except by way of the sea. So it happened that, as winter came on and the weather grew bad, and the number of men in the camp was very large, the famine was sore. A loaf that had been sold for one shilling before the coming of the new soldiers was sold for sixty, and the price of a horse was more than forty pounds of English money. Some were slain by the enemy in the siege, and some taken prisoners, but a greater number by far perished with hunger and disease.

At last, on the fifth day of June in the year 1191, King Richard sailed from Cyprus on his way to Acre. Two days after, he met on the sea, not far from the harbour of Beyrout, a great ship. The King, doubting to whom it belonged, sent one of his officers in a boat, to inquire who commanded it. He brought back word that it belonged to the King of France. But when the King approached, he could hear no word of French, nor see any Christian banner or token. It was a very large ship, and very strongly built, having three great masts, and its sides covered with green and yellow hides. One of the sailors said that he had been at Beyrout when the ship was loaded, and that he had seen the cargo which had been put into her, namely, a hundred camel-loads of arms of all kinds, bows, spears, and arrows, together with machines for the throwing of darts and stones. There was also, he said, a great store of provisions, and a number of men, eight hundred chosen Turkish soldiers, and seven Saracen commanders. Besides these stores and men, there was, he said, a great store of Greek fire, and two hundred deadly serpents.

The King, hearing this, sent another messenger. This man brought back the answer that the strangers were men of Genoa bound for Tyre. While he was doubting what this contradiction might mean, one of the seamen confidently declared that the ship belonged to the Saracens. "Cut off my head, or hang me on a tree, if I do not prove this beyond all doubt. Send a galley to follow them without any word of greeting, and see what they will do."

Thereupon the King sent a galley after the strange ship at full speed. When it came near without offering any greeting, the sailors began to hurl arrows and darts at the crew. When Richard saw this, he commanded that a general attack should be made upon it. But this was no easy matter, so well was the strange ship manned, and with such force did the missiles fall upon the Christians, being hurled from a vessel of so great a height. Our men, therefore, began to falter, and to relax their efforts. The King, seeing this, exclaimed, "What! will you let that ship escape unharmed? After winning so many victories, will you give way like cowards? Verily you will all deserve to be hanged on gallows if you suffer these enemies to escape."

Thus encouraged, our men leapt into the sea. Some of them bound the helm of the strange ship with ropes, so that it could no longer be steered. Others climbed up the sides, and scrambling over the bulwarks fell upon the Turks. At one time they had driven them into the forepart of the vessel, but others coming up from the hold drove the boarders back, killing some and compelling the rest to leap overboard.

And now the King, seeing that the ship could not be taken, with its stores and crew, without great loss, ordered his galleys to charge the enemy and pierce it with their beaks. Accordingly, drawing back a space, they drove against it with all their might, and pierced its sides with their iron beaks. The ship was stove in and began to sink. Thereupon the Turks leapt into the water, where many were slain and many drowned. But the King spared some thirty-and-five of them, namely the officers, and such as were skilled in the managing of engines of war. All the others perished; all the stores were lost, and the serpents were drowned. Verily, if that ship had got into the harbour of Acre, the town would never have been taken.

Certain Saracens, who had been watching what took place from the hills, carried the news to Saladin the Sultan. He, in his rage, plucked the hairs out of his head, crying, "Now I have lost Acre." Through all the hosts of the Saracens there was great weeping and wailing, for in that ship all the flower of their youth had perished.

The next day King Richard came to Acre. When the news of his coming reached the garrison they began to talk of giving themselves up, for they knew how great a warrior he was. Saladin too was willing to make peace, and he sent to the two kings—for the King of France was there also—pears of Damascus, an abundance of other fruits, and other presents. He would willingly have made peace with them, but Richard was resolved to have Jerusalem given to him, and this Saladin would not do.

At this time a certain Christian sent messages, written in Greek and Latin and Hebrew, from within the walls, from which the besiegers learnt much about the counsels of the enemy, but who this Christian was they did not know, either then or after the taking of the town.

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