Gateway to the Classics: Richard I by Jacob Abbott
Richard I by  Jacob Abbott

The Fall of Acre

Although the allies failed to reduce Acre by assault, the town was at last compelled to submit to them through the distress and misery to which the inhabitants and the garrison were finally reduced by famine. They bore these sufferings as long as they could, but the time arrived at last when they could be endured no longer. They hoped for some relief which was to have been sent to them by sea from Cairo, but it did not come. They also hoped, day after day, and week after week, that Saladin would be strong enough to come down from the mountains, and break through the camp of the Crusaders on the plain and rescue them. But they were disappointed. The Crusaders had fortified their camp in the strongest manner, and then they were so numerous and so fully armed that Saladin thought it useless to make any general attack upon them with the force that he had under his command.

The siege had continued two years when Philip and Richard arrived. They came early in the spring of 1191. Of course, their arrival greatly strengthened the camp of the besiegers, and went far to extinguish the remaining hopes of the garrison. The commanders, however, did not immediately give up, but held out some months longer, hoping every day for the arrival of the promised relief from Cairo. In the mean time, they continued to endure a succession of the most vigorous assaults from the Crusaders, of which very marvelous tales are told in the romantic narratives of those times. In these narratives we have accounts of the engines which Richard set up opposite the walls, and of the efforts made by the besieged to set them on fire; of Richard's working, himself, like any common soldier in putting these engines together, and in extinguishing the flames when they were set on fire; of a vast fire-proof shed which was at last contrived to cover and protect the engines—the covering of the roof being made fire-proof with green hides; and of a plan which was finally adopted, when it was found that the walls could not be beaten down by battering-rams, of undermining them with a view of making them tumble down by their own weight. In this case, the workmen who undermined the walls were protected at their work by sheds built over them, and, in order to prevent the walls from falling upon them while they were mining, they propped them up with great beams of wood, so placed that they could make fires under the beams when they were ready for the walls to fall, and then have time to retreat to a safe distance before they should be burned through. This plan, however, did not succeed; for the walls were so prodigiously thick, and the blocks of stone of which they were composed were so firmly bound together, that, instead of falling into a mass of ruins, as Richard had expected, when the props had been burned through, they only settled down bodily on one side into the excavation, and remained nearly as good, for all purposes of defense, as ever.

It was said that during the siege Richard and Philip obtained a great deal of information in respect to the plans of the Saracens through the instrumentality of some secret friend within the city, who contrived to find means of continually sending them important intelligence. This intelligence related sometimes to the designs of the garrison in respect to sorties that they were going to make, or to the secret plans that they had formed for procuring supplies of provisions or other succor; at other times they related to the movements and designs of Saladin, who was outside among the mountains, and especially to the attacks that he was contemplating on the allied camp. This intelligence was communicated in various ways. The principal method was to send a letter by means of an arrow. An arrow frequently came down in some part of the allied camp, which, on being examined, was found to have a letter wound about the shaft. The letter was addressed to Richard, and was, of course, immediately carried to his tent. It was always found to contain very important information in respect to the condition or plans of the besieged. If a sortie was intended from the city, it stated the time and the place, and detailed all the arrangements, thus enabling Richard to be on his guard. So, if the Saracens were projecting an attack on the lines from within, the whole plan of it was fully explained, and, of course, it would then be very easy for Richard to frustrate it. The writer of the letters said that he was a Christian, but would not say who he was, and the mystery was never explained. It is quite possible that there is very little truth in the whole story.

At all events, though the assaults which the allies made against the walls and bulwarks of the town were none of them wholly successful, the general progress of the siege was altogether in their favor, and against the poor Saracens shut up within it. The last hope which they indulged was that some supplies would come to them by sea; but Richard's fleet, which remained at anchor off the town, blockaded the port so completely that there was no possibility that any thing could get in. The last lingering hope was, therefore, at length abandoned, and when the besieged found that they could endure their horrible misery no longer, they sent a flag of truce out to the camp of the besiegers, with a proposal to negotiate terms of surrender.

Then followed a long negotiation, with displays of haughty arrogance on one side, and heart-broken and bitter humiliation on the other. The Saracens first proposed what they considered fair and honorable terms, and Philip was disposed to accept them; but Richard rejected them with scorn. After a vain attempt at resistance, Philip was obliged to yield, and to allow his imperious and overbearing ally to have his own way. The Saracens wished to stipulate for the lives of the garrison, but Richard refused. He told them they must submit unconditionally; and, for his part, he did not care, he said, whether they yielded now or continued the contest. He should soon be in possession of the city, at any rate, and if they held out until he took it by storm, then, of course, it would be given up to the unbridled fury of the soldiers, who would mercilessly massacre every living thing they should find in it, and seize every species of property as plunder. This, he declared, was sure to be the end of the siege, and that very soon, unless they chose to submit. The Saracens then asked what terms he required of them. Richard stated his terms, and they asked for a little time to consider them and to confer with Saladin, who, being the sultan, was their sovereign, and without his approval they could not act.

So the negotiation was opened, and, after various difficulties and delays, a convention was finally agreed upon. The terms were these:

I. The city was to be surrendered to the allied armies, and all the arms, ammunition, military stores, and property of all kinds which it contained were to be forfeited to the conquerors.

II. The troops and the people of the town were to be allowed to go free on the payment of a ransom.

III. The ransom by which the besieged purchased their lives and liberty was to be made up as follows:

1. The wood of the cross on which Christ was crucified, which was alleged to be in Saladin's possession, was to be restored.

2. Saladin was to set at liberty the Christian captives which he had taken in the course of the war from various armies of Crusaders, and which he now held as prisoners. The number of these prisoners was about fifteen hundred.

3. He was to pay two hundred thousand pieces of gold.

IV. Richard was to retain a large body of men—it was said that there were about five thousand in all—consisting of soldiers of the garrison or inhabitants of the town, as hostages for the fulfillment of these conditions. These men were to be kept forty days, or, if at the end of that time Saladin had not fulfilled the conditions of the surrender, they were all to be put to death.

Perhaps Saladin agreed to these terms, under the pressure of dire necessity, compelled as he was to assent to whatever Richard might propose by the dreadful extremity to which the town was reduced, without sufficiently considering whether he would be really able to fulfill his promises. At any rate, these were the promises that he made; and as soon as the treaty was duly executed, the gates of Acre were opened to the conquerors, while Saladin himself broke up his encampment on the mountains, and withdrew his troops farther into the interior of the country.

Although the treaty was made and executed in the name of both the kings, Richard had taken into his hands almost the whole conduct of the negotiation, and now that the army was about to take possession of the town, he considered himself the conqueror of it. He entered with great parade, assigning to Philip altogether a secondary part in the ceremony. He also took possession of the principal palace of the place as his quarters, and there established himself with Berengaria and Joanna, while he left Philip to take up his residence wherever he could. The flags of both monarchs were, however, raised upon the walls, and so far Philip's claim to a joint sovereignty over the place was acknowledged. But none of the other princes or potentates who had been engaged in the siege were allowed to share this honor. One of them—the Archduke of Austria—ventured to raise his banner on one of the towers, but Richard pulled it down, tore it to pieces, and trampled it under his feet.

This, of course, threw the archduke into a dreadful rage, and most of the other smaller princes in the army, shared the indignation that he felt at the grasping disposition which Richard manifested, and at his violent and domineering behavior. But they were helpless. Richard was stronger than they, and they were compelled to submit.

As for Philip, he had long since begun to find his situation extremely disagreeable. He was very sensitive to the overbearing and arrogant treatment which he received, but he either had not the force of character or the physical strength to resist it. Now, since Acre had fallen, he found his situation worse than ever. There was no longer any enemy directly before them, and it was only the immediate presence of an enemy that had thus far kept Richard within any sort of bounds. Philip saw now plainly that if he were to remain in the Holy Land, and attempt to continue the war, he could only do it by occupying an altogether secondary and subordinate position, and to this he thought it was wholly inconsistent with his rights and dignities as an independent sovereign to descend; so he began to revolve secretly in his mind how he could honorably withdraw from the expedition and return home.

While things were in this state, a great quarrel, which had for a long time been gradually growing up in the camp of the Crusaders, but had been restrained and kept, in some degree, subdued by the excitement of the siege, broke out in great violence. The question was who should claim the title of King of Jerusalem. Jerusalem was at this time in the hands of the Saracens, so that the title was, for the time being at least, a mere empty name. Still, there was a very fierce contention to decide who should possess it. It seems that it had originally descended to a certain lady named Sibylla. It had come down to her as the descendant and heir of a very celebrated crusader named Godfrey of Bouillon, who was the first king of Jerusalem. He became King of Jerusalem by having headed the army of Crusaders that first conquered it from the Saracens. This was about a hundred years before the time of the taking of Acre. The knights and generals of his army elected him King of Jerusalem a short time after he had taken it, and the title descended from him to Sibylla.

Sibylla was married to a famous knight named Guy of Lusignan, and he claimed the title of King of Jerusalem in right of his wife. This claim was acknowledged by the rest of the Crusaders so long as Sibylla lived, but at length she died, and then many persons maintained that the crown descended to her sister Isabella. Isabella was married to a knight named Humphrey of Huron, who had not strength or resolution enough to assert his claims. Indeed, he had the reputation of being a weak and timid man. Accordingly, another knight, named Conrad of Montferrat, conceived the idea of taking his place. He contrived to seize and bear away the Lady Isabella, and afterward to procure a divorce for her from her husband, and then, finally, he married her himself. He now claimed to be King of Jerusalem in right of Isabella, while Guy of Lusignan maintained that his right to the crown still continued. This was a nice question to be settled by such a rude horde of fighting men as these Crusaders were, and some took one side of it and some the other, according as their various ideas on the subject of rights of succession or their personal partialities inclined them.

Now it happened that Philip and Richard had early taken opposite sides in respect to this affair, as indeed they did on almost every other subject that came before them. Guy of Lusignan had gone to visit Richard while he was in Cyprus, and there, having had the field all to himself, had told his story in such a way, and also made such proposals and promises, as to enlist Richard in his favor. Richard there agreed that he would take Guy's part in the controversy, and he furnished him with a sum of money at that time to relieve his immediate necessities. He did this with a view of securing Guy, as one of his partisans and adherents, in any future difficulties in which he might be involved in the course of the campaign.

On the other hand, when Philip arrived at Acre, which it will be recollected was some time before Richard came, the friends and partisans of Conrad, who were there, at once proceeded to lay Conrad's case before him, and they so far succeeded as to lead Philip to commit himself on that side. Thus the foundation of a quarrel on this subject was laid before Richard landed. The quarrel was kept down, however, during the progress of the siege, but when at length the town was taken it broke out anew, and the whole body of Crusaders became greatly agitated with it. At length some sort of compromise was effected, or at least what was called a compromise, but really, so far as the substantial interests involved were concerned, Richard had it all his own way. This affair still further alienated Philip's mind from his ally, and made him more desirous than ever to abandon the enterprise and return home.

Accordingly, after the two kings had been established in Acre a short time, Philip announced that he was sick, and unable any longer to prosecute the war in person, and that he was intending to return home. When this was announced to Richard, he exclaimed,

"Shame on him! eternal shame! and on all his kingdom, if he goes off and abandons us now before the work is done."

The work which Richard meant to have done was the complete recovery of the Holy Land from the possession of the Saracens. The taking of Acre was a great step, but, after all, it was only a beginning. The army of the allies was now to march into the interior of the country to pursue Saladin, in hopes of conquering him in a general battle, and so at length gaining possession of the whole country and recovering Jerusalem. Richard, therefore, was very indignant with Philip for being disposed to abandon the enterprise while the work to be accomplished was only just begun.

There was another reason why Richard was alarmed at the idea of Philip's returning home.

"He will take advantage of my absence," said he, "and invade my dominions, and so, when I return, I shall find that I have been robbed of half my provinces."

So Richard did all he could to dissuade Philip from returning; but at length, finding that he could produce no impression on his mind, he yielded, and gave a sort of surly consent to the arrangement. "Let him go," said he, "if he will. Poor man! He is sick, he says, and I suppose he thinks he can not live unless he can see Paris again."

Richard insisted, however, that if Philip went he should leave his army behind, or, at least, a large portion of it; so Philip agreed to leave ten thousand men. These men were to be under the command of the Duke of Burgundy, one of Philip's most distinguished nobles. The duke, however, himself was to be subject to the orders of Richard.

Richard also exacted of Philip a solemn oath, that when he had returned to France he would not, in any way, molest or invade any of his—that is, Richard's—possessions, or make war against any of his vassals or allies. This agreement was to continue in force, and to be binding upon Philip until forty days after Richard should have himself returned from the Crusade.

These things being all thus arranged, Philip began to make his preparations openly for embarking on his voyage home. The knights and barons, and indeed the whole body of the army, considered Philip's leaving them as a very culpable abandonment of the enterprise, and they crowded around the place of embarkation when he went on board his vessel, and manifested their displeasure with ill-suppressed hisses and groans.

The time which had been fixed upon for Saladin to comply with the stipulations of the surrender was forty days, and this period was now, after Philip had gone, drawing rapidly to a close. Saladin found that he could not fulfill the conditions to which he had agreed. As the day approached he made various excuses and apologies to Richard, and he also sent him a number of costly presents, hoping, perhaps, in that way to propitiate his favor, and prevent his insisting on the execution of the dreadful penalty which had been agreed upon in case of default, namely, the slaughter of the five thousand hostages which had been left in his hands.

The time at last expired, and the treaty had not been fulfilled. Richard, without waiting even a day, determined that the hostages should be slain. A rumor was set in circulation that Saladin had put to death all his Christian prisoners. This rumor was false, but it served its purpose of exasperating the minds of the Crusaders, so as to bring the soldiers up well to the necessary pitch of ferocity for executing so terrible a work. The slaughter of five thousand defenseless and unresisting men, in cold blood, is a very hard work for even soldiers to perform, and if such a work is to be done, it is always necessary to contrive some means of heating the blood of the executioners in order to insure the accomplishment of it. In this case, the rumor that Saladin had murdered his Christian prisoners was more than sufficient. It wrought up the allied army to such a phrensy that the soldiers assembled in crowds, and riotously demanded that the Saracen prisoners should be given up to them, in order that they might have their revenge.

Accordingly, at the appointed time, Richard gave the command, and the whole body of the prisoners were brought out, and conducted to the plain beyond the lines of the encampment. A few were reserved. These were persons of rank and consideration, who were to be saved in hopes that they might have wealthy friends at home who would pay money to ransom them. The rest were divided into two portions, one of which was committed to the charge of the Duke of Burgundy, and the other Richard led himself. The dreadful processions formed by these wretched men were followed by the excited soldiery that were to act as their executioners, who came crowding on in throngs, waving their swords, and filling the air with their ferocious threats and imprecations, and exulting in the prospect of having absolutely their fill of the pleasure of killing men, without any danger to themselves to mar the enjoyment of it.

The massacre was carried into effect in the fullest possible manner; and after the men were killed, the Christians occupied themselves in cutting open their bodies to find jewels and other articles of value, which they pretended that the poor captives had swallowed in order to hide them from their enemies.

Instead of being ashamed of this deed, Richard gloried in it. He considered it a wonderful proof of his zeal for the cause of Christ. The writers of the time praised it. The Saracens, they maintained, were the enemies of God, and whoever slew them did God service. One of the historians of the time says that angels from heaven appeared to Richard at the time, and urged him to persevere to the end, crying aloud to him while the massacre was going on, "Kill! kill! Spare them not!"

It seems to us at the present day most amazing that the minds of men could possibly be so perverted as to think that in performing such deeds as this they were sustaining the cause of the meek and gentle Jesus of Nazareth, and were the objects of approval and favor with God, the common father of us all, who has declared that he has made of one blood all the nations of the earth, to live together in peace and unity.

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