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

King Richard at Messina

Although Richard came down to the Italian shore, opposite to Messina, almost unattended and alone, and under circumstances so ignoble—fugitive as he was from a party of peasants whom he had incensed by an act of petty robbery—he yet made his entry at last into the town itself with a great display of pomp and parade. He remained on the Italian side of the strait, after he arrived on the shore, until he had sent over to Messina, and informed the officers of his fleet, which, by the way, had already arrived there, that he had come. The whole fleet immediately got ready, and came over to the Italian side to take Richard on board and escort him over. Richard entered the harbor with his fleet as if he were a conqueror returning home. The ships and galleys were all fully manned and gayly decorated, and Richard arranged such a number of musicians on the decks of them to blow trumpets and horns as the fleet sailed along the shores and entered the harbor that the air was filled with the echoes of them, and the whole country was called out by the sound. The Sicilians were quite alarmed to see so formidable a host of foreign soldiers coming among them; and even their allies, the French, were not pleased. Philip began to be jealous of Richard's superior power, and to be alarmed at his assuming and arrogant demeanor. Philip had arrived in Messina some time before this, but his fleet, which was originally an inferior one, having consisted of such vessels only as he could hire at Genoa, had been greatly injured by storms during the passage, so that he had reached Messina in a very crippled condition. And now to see Richard coming in apparently so much his superior, and with so evident a disposition to make a parade of his superiority, made him anxious and uneasy.

The same feeling manifested itself, too, among his troops, and this to such a degree as to threaten to break out into open quarrels between the soldiers of the two armies.

"It will never answer," thought Philip, "for us both to remain long at Messina; so I will set out again myself as soon as I possibly can."

Indeed, there was another very decisive reason for Philip's soon continuing his voyage, and that was the necessity of diminishing the number of soldiers now at Messina on account of the difficulty of finding sustenance for them all. Philip accordingly made all haste to refit his fleet and to sail away; but he was again unfortunate. He encountered another storm, and was obliged to put back again, and before he could be ready a second time the winter set in, and he was obliged to give up all hope of leaving Sicily until the spring.

The two kings had foreseen this difficulty, and had earnestly endeavored to avoid it by making all their arrangements in the first instance for setting out from England and France in March, which was the earliest possible season for navigating the Mediterranean safely with such vessels as they had in those days. But this plan the reader will recollect had been frustrated by the death of Philip's queen, and the delays attendant upon that event, as well as other delays arising from other causes, and it was past midsummer before the expedition was ready to take its departure. The kings had still hoped to have reached the Holy Land before winter, but now they found themselves stopped on the way, and Philip, with many misgivings in respect to the result, prepared to make the best arrangements that he could for putting his men into winter quarters.

Richard did in the end become involved in difficulties with Philip and with the French troops, but the most serious affair which occupied his attention was a very extraordinary quarrel which he instigated between himself and the king of the country. The name of this king was Tancred.

The kingdom of Sicily in those days included not merely the island of Sicily, but also nearly all the southern part of Italy—all that part, namely, which forms the foot and ankle of Italy, as seen upon the map. It has already been said that Richard's sister Joanna some years ago married the king of this country. The name of the king whom Joanna married was William, and he was now dead. Tancred was his successor, though not the regular and rightful heir. In order that the reader may understand the nature of the quarrel which broke out between Tancred and Richard, it is necessary to explain how it happened that Tancred succeeded to the throne.

If William, Joanna's husband, had had a son, he would have been the rightful successor; but William had no children, and some time before his death he gave up all expectation of ever having any, so he began to look around and consider who should be his heir.

He fixed his mind upon a lady, the Princess Constance, who was his cousin and his nearest relative. She would have been the heir had it not been that the usages of the realm did not allow a woman to reign. There was another relative of William, a young man named Tancred. For some reasons, William was very unwilling that Tancred should succeed him. He knew, however, that the people would be extremely averse to receive Constance as their sovereign instead of Tancred, on account of her being a woman; but he thought that he might obviate this objection in some degree by arranging a marriage for her with some powerful prince. This he finally succeeded in doing. The prince whom he chose was a son of the Emperor of Germany. His name was Henry. Constance was married to him, and after her marriage she left Sicily and went home with her husband. William then assembled all his barons, and made them take an oath of allegiance to Constance and Henry, as rightful sovereigns after his decease. Supposing every thing to be thus amicably arranged, he settled himself quietly in his capital, the city of Palermo, intending to live there in peace with his wife for the remainder of his days.

When he married Joanna, he had given her, for her dower, a large territory of rich estates in Italy. These estates were all together, and comprised what is called the promontory of Mont Gargano. You will see this promontory represented on any map of Italy by a small projection on the heel, or, rather, a little way above the heel of the foot, on the eastern side of the peninsula. It is nearly opposite to Naples. This territory was large, and contained, besides a number of valuable landed estates, several castles, with lakes and forests adjoining; also two monasteries, with their pastures, woods, and vineyards, and several beautiful lakes. These estates, and all the income from them, were secured to Joanna forever.

Not very long after William had completed his arrangements for the succession, he died unexpectedly, while Constance was away from the kingdom, at home with her husband. Immediately a great number of competitors started up and claimed the crown. Among them was Tancred. Tancred took the field, and, after a desperate contest with his rivals, at length carried the day. He considered Joanna, the queen dowager, as his enemy, and either confiscated her estates or allowed others to seize them. He then took her with him to Palermo, where, as Richard was led to believe, he kept her a prisoner. All these things happened a few months only before Richard arrived in Messina.

Palermo, as you will see from any map of Sicily, lies near the northwest corner of Sicily, and Messina near the northeast. In consequence of these occurrences, it happened that when Richard landed in Sicily he found his sister, the wife of the former king of the country, a widow and a prisoner, and her estates confiscated, while a person whom he considered a usurper was on the throne. A better state of things to furnish him with a pretext for aggressions on the country or the people he could not possibly have desired.

As soon as he had landed his troops, he formed a great encampment for them on the sea-shore, outside the town. The place of the encampment was bordered at one extremity by the suburbs of the town, and at the other extremity was a monastery built on a height. As soon as Richard had established himself here, he sent a delegation to Tancred at Palermo, demanding that he should release Joanna and send her to him. Tancred denied that Joanna had been imprisoned at all, and, at any rate, he immediately acceded to her brother's demand that she should be sent to him. He placed her on board one of his own royal galleys, and caused her to be conveyed in it, with a very honorable escort, to Messina, and there delivered up to Richard's care.

In respect to the dower which Richard had demanded that he should restore, Tancred commenced giving some explanations in regard to it, but Richard was too impatient to listen to them. "We will not wait," said he to his sister, "to hear any talking on the subject; we will go and take possession of the territory ourselves."

So he embarked a part of his army on board some ships and transported them across the Straits, and, landing on the Italian shore, he seized a castle and a portion of territory surrounding it. He put a strong garrison in the castle, and gave the command of it to Joanna, while he went back to Messina to strengthen the position of the remainder of his army there. He thought that the monastery which flanked his encampment on the side farthest from the town would make a good fortress if he had possession of it, and that, if well fortified, it would strengthen very much the defenses of his encampment in case Tancred should attempt to molest him. So he at once took possession of it. He turned the monks out of doors, removed all the sacred implements and emblems, and turned the buildings into a fortress. He put in a garrison of soldiers to guard it, and filled the rooms which the monks had been accustomed to use for their studies and their prayers with stores of arms and ammunition brought in from the ships, and with other apparatus of war. His object was to be ready to meet Tancred, at a moment's warning, if he should attempt to attack him.

Soon after this a very serious difficulty broke out between the soldiers of the army and the people of Messina. There is almost always difficulty between the soldiers of an army and the people of any town near which the army is encamped. The soldiers, brutal in their passions, and standing in awe of none but their own officers, are often exceedingly violent and unjust in their demeanor toward unarmed and helpless citizens, and the citizens, though they usually endure very long and very patiently, sometimes become aroused to resentment and retaliation at last. In this case, parties of Richard's soldiers went into Messina, and behaved so outrageously toward the inhabitants, and especially toward the young women, that the indignation of the husbands and fathers was excited to the highest degree. The soldiers were attacked in the streets. Several of them were killed. The rest fled, and were pursued by the crowd of citizens to the gates. Those that escaped went to the camp, breathless with excitement and burning with rage, and called upon all their fellow-soldiers to join them and revenge their wrongs. A great riot was created, and bands of furious men, hastily collected together, advanced toward the city, brandishing their arms and uttering furious cries, determined to break through the gates and kill every body that they could find. Richard heard of the danger just in time to mount his horse and ride to the gates of the city, and there to head off the soldiers and drive them back; but they were so furious that, for a time, they would not hear him, but still pressed on. He was obliged to ride in among them, and actually beat them back with his truncheon, before he could compel them to give up their design.

The next day a meeting of the chief officers in the two armies, with the chief magistrates and some of the principal citizens of Messina, was held, to consider what to do to settle this dispute, and to prevent future outbreaks of this character. But the state of excitement between the two parties was too great to be settled yet in any amicable manner. While the conference was proceeding, a great crowd of people from the town collected on a rising ground just above the place where the conference was sitting. They said they only came as spectators. Richard alleged, on the other hand, that they were preparing to attack the conference. At any rate, they were excited and angry, and assumed a very threatening attitude. Some Normans who approached them got into an altercation with them, and at length one of the Normans was killed, and the rest cried out, "To arms!" The conference broke up in confusion. Richard rushed to the camp and called out his men. He was in a state of fury. Philip did all in his power to allay the storm and to prevent a combat, and when he found that Richard would not listen to him, he declared that he had a great mind to join with the Sicilians and fight him. This, however, he did not do, but contented himself with doing all he could to calm the excitement of his angry ally. But Richard was not to be controlled. He rushed on, at the head of his troops, up the hill to the ground where the Sicilians were assembled. He attacked them furiously. They were, to some extent, armed, but they were not organized, and, of course, they could not stand against the charge of the soldiers. They fled in confusion toward the city. Richard and his troops followed them, killing as many of them as they could in the pursuit. The Sicilians crowded into the city and shut the gates. Of course, the whole town was now alarmed, and all the people that could fight were marshaled on the walls and at the gates to defend themselves.

Richard retired for a brief period till he could bring on a larger force, and then made a grand attack on the walls. Several of his officers and soldiers were killed by darts and arrows from the battlements, but at length the walls were taken by storm, the gates were opened, and Richard marched in at the head of his troops. When the people were entirely subdued, Richard hung out his flag on a high tower in token that he had taken full and formal possession of Tancred's capital.

Philip remonstrated against this very strongly, but Richard declared that, now that he had got possession of Messina, he would keep possession until Tancred came to terms with him in respect to his sister Joanna. Philip insisted that he should not do this, but threatened to break off the alliance unless Richard would give up the town. Finally the matter was compromised by Richard agreeing that he would take down the flag and withdraw from the town himself, and for the present put it under the government of certain knights that he and Philip should jointly appoint for this purpose.

After the excitement of this affair had a little subsided, Richard and Philip began to consider how unwise it was for them to quarrel with each other, engaged as they were together in an enterprise of such magnitude and of so much hazard, and one in which it was impossible for them to hope to succeed, unless they continued united, and so they became reconciled, or, at least, pretended to be so, and made new vows of eternal friendship and brotherhood.

Still, notwithstanding these protestations, Richard went on lording it over the Sicilians in the most high-handed manner. Some nobles of high rank were so indignant at these proceedings that they left the town. Richard immediately confiscated their estates and converted the proceeds to his own use. He proceeded to fortify his encampment more and more. The monastery which he had forcibly taken from the monks he turned into a complete castle. He made battlements on the walls, and surrounded the whole with a moat. He also built another castle on the hills commanding the town. He acted, in a word, in all respects as if he considered himself master of the country. He did not consult Philip at all in respect to any of these proceedings, and he paid no attention to the remonstrances that Philip from time to time addressed to him. Philip was exceedingly angry, but he did not see what he could do.

Tancred, too, began to be very much alarmed. He wished to know of Richard what it was that he demanded in respect to Joanna. Richard said he would consider and let him know. In a short time he made known his terms as follows. He said that Tancred must restore to his sister all the territories which, as he alleged, had belonged to her, and also give her "a golden chair, a golden table twelve feet long and a foot and a half broad, two golden supports for the same, four silver cups, and four silver dishes." He pretended that, by a custom of the realm, she was entitled to these things. He also demanded for himself a very large contribution toward the armament and equipment for the crusade. It seems that at one period during the lifetime of William, Joanna's husband, her father, King Henry of England, was planning a crusade, and that William, by a will which he made at that time—so at least Richard maintained—had bequeathed a large contribution toward the necessary means for fitting it out. The items were these:

1. Sixty thousand measures of wheat.

2. The same quantity of barley.

3. A fleet of a thousand armed galleys, equipped and provisioned for two years.

4. A silken tent large enough to accommodate two hundred knights sitting at a banquet.

These particulars show on how great a scale these military expeditions for conquering the Holy Land were conducted in those days, the above list being only a complimentary contribution to one of them by a friend of the leader of it.

Richard now maintained that, though his father Henry had died without going on the crusade, still he himself was going, and that he, being the son, and consequently the representative and heir of Henry, was, as such, entitled to receive the bequest; so he called upon Tancred to pay it.

After much negotiation, the dispute was settled by Richard's waiving these claims, and arranging the matter on a new and different basis. He had a nephew named Arthur. Arthur was yet very young, being only about two years old; and as Richard had no children of his own, Arthur was his presumptive heir. Tancred had a daughter, yet an infant. Now it was finally proposed that Arthur and this young daughter of Tancred should be affianced, and that Tancred should pay to Richard twenty thousand pieces of gold as her dowry! Richard was, of course, to take this money as the guardian and trustee of his nephew, and he was to engage that, if any thing should occur hereafter to prevent the marriage from taking place, he would refund the money. Tancred was also to pay Richard twenty thousand pieces of gold besides, in full settlement of all claims in behalf of Joanna. These terms were finally agreed to on both sides.

Richard also entered into a league, offensive and defensive, with Tancred, agreeing to assist him in maintaining his position as King of Sicily against all his enemies. This is a very important circumstance to be remembered, for the chief of Tancred's enemies was the Emperor Henry of Germany, the prince who had married Constance, as has been already related. Henry's father had died, and he had become Emperor of Germany himself, and he now claimed Sicily as the inheritance of Constance his wife, according to the will of King William, Joanna's husband. Tancred, he maintained, was a usurper, and, of course, now Richard, by his league, offensive and defensive, with Tancred, made himself Henry's enemy. This led him into serious difficulty with Henry at a subsequent period, as we shall by-and-by see.

The treaty between Richard and Tancred was drawn up in due form and duly executed, and it was sent for safe keeping to Rome, and there deposited with the Pope. Tancred paid Richard the money, and he immediately began to squander it in the most lavish and extravagant manner. He expended the infant princess's dower, which he held in trust for Arthur, as freely as he did the other money. Indeed, this was a very common way, in those days, for great kings to raise money. If they had a young son or heir, no matter how young he was, they would contract to give him in marriage to the little daughter of some other potentate on condition of receiving some town, or castle, or province, or large sum of money as dower. The idea was, of course, that they were to take this dower in charge for the young prince, to keep it for him until he should become old enough to be actually married, but in reality they would take possession of the property themselves, and convert it at once to their own use.

Richard himself had been affianced in this way in his infancy to Alice, the daughter of the then reigning King of France, and the sister of Philip, and his father, King Henry the Second, had received and appropriated the dowry.

Indeed, in this case, both the sums of money that Richard received from Tancred were paid to Richard in trust, or, at least, ought to have been so regarded, the one amount being for Arthur, and the other for Joanna. Richard himself, in his own name, had no claims on Tancred whatever; but as soon as the money came into his hands, he began to expend it in the most profuse and lavish manner. He adopted a very extravagant and ostentatious style of living. He made costly presents to the barons, and knights, and officers of the armies, including the French army as well as his own, and gave them most magnificent entertainments. Philip thought that he did this to secure popularity, and that the presents which he made to the French knights and nobles were designed to entice them away from their allegiance and fidelity to him, their lawful sovereign. At Christmas he gave a splendid entertainment, to which he invited every person of the rank of a knight or a gentleman in both armies, and at the close of the feast he made a donation in money to each of the guests, the sum being different in different cases, according to the rank and station of the person who received it.

The king, having thus at last settled his quarrels and established himself in something like peace in Sicily, began to turn his attention toward the preparations for the spring. Of course, his intention was, as soon as the spring should open, to set sail with his fleet and army, and proceed toward the Holy Land. He now caused all his ships to be examined with a view to ascertain what repairs they needed. Some had been injured by the storms which they had encountered on the way from Marseilles or by accidents of the sea. Others had become worm-eaten and leaky by lying in port. Richard caused them all to be put thoroughly in repair. He also caused a number of battering engines to be constructed of timber which his men hauled from the forests around the base of Mount Ætna. These engines were for assailing the walls of the towns and fortresses in the Holy Land.

In modern times walls are always attacked with mortars and cannon. The ordnance of the present day will throw shot and shells of prodigious weight two or three miles, and these tremendous missiles strike against the walls of a fortress with such force as in a short time to batter them down, no matter how strong and thick they may be. But in those days gunpowder was not in use, and the principal means of breaking down a wall was by the battering-ram, which consisted of a heavy beam of wood, hung by a rope or chain from a massive frame, and then swung against the gate or wall which it was intended to break through. In the engraving you see such a ram suspended from the frame, with men at work below, impelling it against a gateway.


The Battering-Ram.

Sometimes these battering-rams were very large and heavy, and the men drew them back and forth, in striking the wall with them, by means of ropes. There are accounts of some battering-rams which weighed forty or fifty tons, and required fifteen hundred men to work them.

The men, of course, were very much exposed while engaged in this operation, for the people whom they were besieging would gather on the walls above, and shoot spears, darts, and arrows at them, and throw down stones and other missiles, as you see in the engraving.


The Ballista.

Then, besides the battering-ram, which, though very efficient against walls, was of no service against men, there were other engines made in those days which were designed to throw stones or monstrous darts. These last were, of course, designed to operate against bodies of men. They were made in various forms, and were called catapultas, ballistas, maginalls, and by other such names. The force with which they operated consisted of springs made by elastic bars of wood, twisted ropes, and other such contrivances.


The Catapulta.

Some were for throwing stones, others for monstrous darts. Of course, these engines required for their construction heavy frames of sound timber. Richard did not expect to find such timber in the Holy Land, nor did he wish to consume the time after he should arrive in making them; so he employed the winter in constructing a great number of these engines, and in packing them, in parts, on board his galleys.

Richard performed a great religious ceremony, too, while he was at Sicily this winter, as a part of the preparation which he deemed it necessary to make for the campaign. It is a remarkable fact that every great military freebooter that has organized an armed gang of men to go forth, and rob and murder his fellow-men, in any age of the world, has considered some great religious performance necessary at the outset of the work, to prepare the minds of his soldiers for it, and to give them the necessary resolution and confidence in it. It was so with Alexander. It was so with Xerxes and with Darius. It was so with Pyrrhus. It is so substantially at the present day, when, in all wars, each side makes itself the champion of heaven in the contest, and causes Te Deums to be chanted in their respective churches, now on this side and now on that, in pretended gratitude to God for their alternate victories.

Richard called a grand convention of all the prelates and monks that were with his army, and performed a solemn act of worship. A part of the performance consisted of his kneeling personally before the priests, confessing his sins and the wicked life that he had led, and making very fervent promises to sin no more, and then, after submitting to the penances which they enjoined upon him, receiving from them pardon and absolution. After the enactment of this solemnity, the soldiers felt far more safe and strong in going forth to the work which lay before them in the Holy Land than before.

Nor is it certain that in this act Richard was wholly hypocritical and insincere. The human heart is a mansion of many chambers, and a religious sentiment, in no small degree conscientious and honest, though hollow and mistaken, may have strong possession of some of them, while others are filled to overflowing with the dear and besetting sins, whatever they are, by which the general conduct of the man is controlled.

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