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

The King of France Goes Home

A FTER these things, the King of France left the Crusade and went to his own country. He said that it was better that there should be one king rather than two to command the army. But some would have it that he went to lay hands on the possessions of a certain great noble that had died during the siege of Acre. He left a part of his troops behind him.

King Richard built again and strengthened the walls of Acre. This done, he marched to Joppa. On the way, Saladin made a fierce attack on his rear-guard, but was beaten with such loss as he had not suffered for forty years before. The King found Joppa deserted by the Saracens. There he had a narrow escape of his life. He walked into a garden about a mile from the town, and falling asleep after his walk, he was attacked by a company of the enemy. Jumping immediately upon his horse, which a squire was holding not far away, he defended himself sturdily against the assailants. But he was in great danger. One of his attendants was taken prisoner, and another killed. One of the two horses, also, which had been taken for his use, was captured and its driver killed. The King fought his way through the enemy, but he left behind him a very costly girdle, ornamented with gold and precious stones. The horse was sent back by Saladin's brother.

After this the King took a great caravan which was coming from Babylon with provisions and arms for Jerusalem. His spies brought him tidings of its coming; so, taking five thousand picked men with him, he fell upon it as it was on its way about sunrise. Nearly all the soldiers that guarded it were killed, and three thousand camels were taken, with four thousand horses and mules, and an immense quantity of booty.

Every battle that the King fought he won, and every town that he attacked he took; but the great thing for which he had come on the Crusade, the delivering of Jerusalem out of the hand of the unbelievers, he could not accomplish. He came near to the Holy City indeed, as near as the village of Bethany, which is but two miles away; but the city itself he did not attempt to take. They say that he would not even look at it, since he could not deliver it, as he had desired. He himself laid the blame upon the King of France, who had drawn back from the work. Nevertheless, there were some who said that he might have done more had he been more steady in his purpose, and that he was in truth weary of the task which he had undertaken.

The King went back to Acre, intending to take ship, and so return to England. When Saladin heard this, he marched with all haste to Joppa, and fell upon the town. This he took, the garrison, and so many of the inhabitants as were able, taking refuge in the citadel. So soon as the news came to the King, he set out to help them. The main part of the army he sent by land, going himself with seven galleys by sea. When he came to Joppa he found the shore covered with enemies, and his knights advised him to wait till the army should arrive. While the council was being held, a priest swam out from the town to the King's ship. They asked him how things were in the town. He answered, "Many of the people have been slain by the unbelievers, but some have fled into the tower, and still hold out." When the King heard this, he cried, "Cursed be the man who will not follow me!" and leapt into the water. Many followed him; nor did the enemy on the shore wait for his coming, but fled, leaving the town.

The next day King Richard led out some three score knights and two thousand foot-soldiers by one of the gates of the town. He commanded the men to kneel with one knee upon the ground; they held with one arm a shield that covered the body, with the other a lance, the end of which was firmly fixed in the ground. Behind the line of the kneeling men were the engines that cast the arrows, each with two men to manage it. One man put in the arrow, another pulled the string. Seven times did Saladin's horsemen charge the line, and seven times were they beaten back. Then King Richard himself charged in turn. Never did a warrior bear himself more bravely. He bore down every champion that came against him. He saved from captivity knights of his own army that had been thrown from their horses and taken prisoner. When the enemy surrounded him, he cut his way out from the midst of them. While he was so fighting, his horse was wounded, and Saladin's brother, perceiving it, sent another one for him to ride.

After this day the enemy gave up the siege of Joppa; but the King fell ill of a fever. So weak did he become, that he was content to ask for a truce, and this Saladin was willing to grant. It was agreed that there should be peace for three years, and Saladin promised that pilgrims should be suffered to visit the Holy Sepulchre without being harmed or hindered.

So soon as his sickness permitted, the King returned to Acre and then took ship. When he was about to pass out of sight of the shore, he turned to it, and stretching out his arms said, "Most Holy Land, I commit thee to the care of the Almighty. May He grant me life, that I may return and save thee from the bondage of the unbeliever!"

After various adventures the King was thrown by a storm on the coast of Austria. He had put on a pilgrim's dress, and had suffered his beard and hair to grow, and so hoped to pass unknown through the country. He knew that the ruler of the land had no good-will to him, for they had quarrelled during the siege of Acre. He sent, therefore, his page to a neighbouring castle with a present to the prince of the place, asking that passports might be given to Baldwin and Hugh the merchant, pilgrims returning home from Jerusalem. The lad took with him a fine ruby, as a gift to the prince. When the prince saw this, he cried out, "This is a king's gift. It is King Richard himself. Tell him that he may come to me in peace." But the King was afraid that some evil might be done, and having bought horses for himself and his companions, he fled in the night. The horses were not sufficient for all; eight of the company remained. The King and seven knights escaped. When they came to the dominions of the next prince—he was brother of him that saw the ruby—a Norman knight that was in the prince's service knew the King, and warned him of his danger. Then the King fled again, taking with him one knight only, and a lad that knew the language of the country. For three days they travelled, neither entering any house nor buying any food; but on the fourth day, all their store being spent, they sent the lad to market. The townspeople, seeing the money that he showed, asked him about his master. "He is a rich merchant," said the lad; "and he will be here in three days." The King was now ill, and could not travel. When the lad went again to the market, the townspeople seized him and tortured him till he told his master's name, and the place where he was. So Richard was caught, Leopold, Duke of Austria, taking possession of him, and putting him into a prison. After a while the Duke sold him to the Emperor of Germany, and the Emperor, when he had kept him in prison for more than a year, set him at liberty, receiving from England a ransom of more than 200,000.

Richard was made prisoner on December 20, 1192, and set at liberty on February 4, 1194, There is a very pretty story of how his favourite minstrel, Blondel by name, found out the place where he was kept in prison. He went about singing the first bar of a song which the King and he had composed between them. When at last he got to Richard's prison, he sang the first bar as usual, and was answered by the King singing the second. But this story seems not to have been written till hundreds of years after King Richard's time; and we may suppose it to be like the British minstrels' stories of Vortigern and King Arthur, partly fanciful, and partly true, for King Richard really was put in prison, and was fond of music and poetry.

Five years after his release, Richard was shot in the shoulder by an archer, as he was besieging a castle in France. The wound was not in itself mortal, but was so ill treated by an unskilful surgeon that the King died.

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