Gateway to the Classics: Barbarian and Noble by Marion Florence Lansing
Barbarian and Noble by  Marion Florence Lansing

Richard the Crusader

The story of the struggle between races and peoples in the early Middle Ages is almost finished. Only one chapter remains, and if we look back over the stories, we get here and there a hint of what this last contest is to be. There have been two kinds of conflict in these centuries,—the strife between North and South, and the strife between East and West. The North and South have come together and fought their battles, and then settled down to live side by side in the provinces of Europe, until at last there is no North nor South, but a united Christendom. But the East and West have met and fought and separated. The Huns came over from Asia and tried to conquer Europe but failed; the Moslem peoples came in by way of Spain but were driven back. Whenever armies from the East entered Europe all the western peoples united against them; for they came to see that the differences between themselves were slight, while between them and the men from the East there lay a great gulf of manner and speech and thought and religion,—a gulf so wide that there could be no union.

Thus far in our story the East has come over each time and invaded the West. Now in the eleventh and twelfth centuries Christendom sends her armies into the East in an attempt to win back from the Moslems Palestine, the Holy Land of the Christian faith; and it is with one picture from this long period of the Crusades that our story will close.

Richard of England took part in the third of these Crusades. There was never a king who loved warfare and adventure more than this tall Englishman, "with hair halfway between red and yellow," "with arms somewhat long, and, for this very reason, better fitted than those of most folk to draw or wield the sword," and "with long legs, matching the character of his whole frame." It is no mere chance that in the ten years during which he was king of the English people he spent barely six months on the island which he ruled. The blood of Viking wanderers and Saxon warriors flowed swift in his veins and drove him forth from the narrow limits of his realm.


Just before Richard was made king the news came to Christendom that Jerusalem, which had been ruled by Christian kings since the days of the First Crusade, had fallen into the hands of a new and powerful Moslem prince named Saladin. On the day of his coronation Richard made preparations to set out as soon as possible with his brother in arms, Philip, the king of France, to rescue the Holy City.

Philip and his army went round to Asia by the land route, across Europe and down through the provinces which form modern Turkey, while Richard and his fleet embarked from Spain and Italy and sailed the whole length of the Mediterranean. Here is the picture an Arabic writer drew of the coming of Richard and his huge fleet to one of the ports of Sicily. "As soon as the people heard of his arrival, they rushed in crowds to the shore to behold the glorious king of England, and at a distance saw the sea covered with innumerable galleys: and the sounds of trumpets from afar, with the sharper and shriller blasts of clarions, resounded in their ears: and they beheld the galleys rowing in order nearer to the land, adorned and furnished with all manner of arms, countless pennons floating in the wind, ensigns at the end of the lances, the beaks of the galleys distinguished by various paintings, and glittering shields suspended to the prows. The sea appeared to boil with the multitude of the rowers; the clangor of the trumpets was deafening."

Philip had already reached Palestine and was besieging Acre, the strongest Moslem fortress. As Richard and his fleet were preparing to leave Sicily, "lo! there now went abroad a report that Acre was on the point of being taken: upon hearing which the king with a deep sigh prayed God that the city might not fall before his arrival. Then with great haste he went on board one of the best and largest of his galleys and being impatient of delay, as he always was, he kept right on ahead. And so, as they were furrowing the sea with all haste, they caught their earliest glimpse of that Holy Land of Jerusalem."

Acre had not fallen when Richard arrived. But within a month the Turks were forced to surrender the stronghold. Then the hopes of the Crusaders ran high, and they dreamed that with Richard as their leader they could soon conquer the whole land. But King Philip had grown weary in this month of hearing the praises of the English king sung by every soldier of the army, and in spite of the protests of Richard he declared that he was weary of the war and sailed away home with a large part of his army.

The story of this war between Christian and Moslem is too long to tell here. For a year and a half the Crusaders fought in Palestine, but though they won many victories they were too few to conquer the land. In every battle King Richard's bravery won him new honor, till his feats were the talk of both armies. Not only did his own men call him Richard the Lion-Hearted, but his name was so feared among the Turks that it became a byword with them. A hundred years later an Arab rider would exclaim to his horse when it started in the way and pricked up its ears, "What! dost think King Richard is in front of thee?" and Arab mothers would frighten their children into silence by whispering, "Hush, King Richard is coming."

Richard was twice very ill with fever during these months, and at last, having made terms with Saladin, by which the Christians were to have many rights in the Holy City, he decided to sail away to England, where he was much needed. But as he was on the point of embarking, envoys came to say that Jaffa had been taken by Saladin. They stood before the king in rent garments, beseeching him to come to the aid of the city, and he broke short their words in the middle of their pleading, saying, "God yet lives and with his guidance I will set out to do what I can."

So the remnant of the army set sail for Jaffa, and "a favorable wind blew up from behind and brought the fleet smoothly and safely to the port of Jaffa in the deep gloom of Friday night. Meanwhile, when the Turks learned that the king's galleys and ships were putting into shore, they rushed down to the beach in bands. They did not wait for the newcomers to reach land, but flung their missiles into the sea against the ships; while their horsemen advanced as far as they could into the water for the purpose of shooting their arrows with greater effect. Meanwhile the king, who had been scanning all things with a curious eye, caught sight of a certain priest, who was throwing himself from the land into the sea in order that he might swim up. This man, when taken on board the galley, with panting breath and beating heart spake as follows: 'O noble king, those who still survive are longing for thy arrival. Assuredly they will perish at once unless, by thy means, divine aid reaches them.' On hearing this the king said, 'Then, even though it please God, on whose service and under whose guidance we have come to this land, that we should die here with our brethren, let him perish who will not go forward.' Then the king's galleys were thrust on toward the shore and the king himself, though his legs were unarmed, plunged up to his middle into the sea, and so, by vigorous efforts, gained the dry land; and all the others followed, leaping into the sea, and they boldly set upon the Turks who were lining the beach, and carried on the pursuit till the whole shore was cleared. The king was the first to enter the town, and immediately he had his banners displayed on the highest part of the walls, so that the besieged Christians in the tower might see them. They, on seeing it, took heart, and snatching up their arms, came down from the tower to meet their deliverer."

So Jaffa was saved, and King Richard pitched his tents once more on the soil of Palestine. But here again a sore sickness came upon him, and since none of the princes of the army would stay and guard the land without him, he sent messengers once more to Saladin to make terms for a truce. When the messengers returned, they brought the draft of a treaty by which Jerusalem was to be open to all pilgrims for the space of three years and three months and three days and three hours. They placed the paper in Richard's hands and told him what was in it (for he was very ill), and he answered, "I have no strength to read it, but here is my hand on the peace."

In October Richard sailed away from Palestine. Before he went he sent word to Saladin, his chivalrous adversary, for whom he had a great admiration, and who had shown him during his illness many kindnesses though they were enemies at war, that when the three years' truce was over he would come again to rescue Jerusalem; and Saladin said in answer that if he must lose his land he would rather lose it to Richard than to any man alive.


It was late in the afternoon when Richard's fleet set sail from the Holy Land, and as the vessels weighed anchor all the people wept and lamented, crying, "O Jerusalem, who will protect thee if the truce is broken, now that thou art reft of such a champion." And the king, "looking back with pious eyes upon the land behind him, after long meditation, broke out into prayer: 'O Holy Land, to God do I intrust thee. May he, of his mercy, only grant me such space of life that, by his good will, I may bring thee aid. For it is my hope and intention to aid thee in some future time.' And with this prayer he urged his sailors to display full sail so that they might make a speedier course."

Richard never returned to the Holy Land, and though other kings led Crusades during the, next hundred years, Christendom never enlarged her domain to include Palestine. But though they failed to extend the bounds of Christendom, these Crusades served to strengthen the bonds by which, after the barbarian invasions, Europe was gradually united. They are the sign that out of the Roman Empire and the barbarian kingdoms had come forth Christendom.

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