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


By this time very serious dissensions and difficulties had arisen in the army of the Crusaders. There were a great many chieftains who felt very independent of each other, and feuds and quarrels of long standing broke out anew, and with more violence than ever. There were many different opinions, too, in respect to the course which it was now best to pursue. Richard, however, contrived yet to maintain some sort of authority, and he finally decided to commence his march from Jaffa.

It was now November. The fall rains began to set in. The distance to Jerusalem was but about thirty-two miles. The army advanced to Ramula, which is about fifteen miles from Jaffa, but they endured very great hardships and sufferings from the extreme inclemency of the season. The soldiers were wet to the skin by drenching rains. Their provisions were soaked and spoiled, and their armor was rusted, and much of it rendered useless. When they attempted to pitch their tents at night at Ramula, the wind tore them from their fastenings, and blew the canvas away, so as to deprive them of shelter.

Of course, these disasters increased the discontent in the army, and, by making the men impatient and ill-natured, increased the bitterness of their quarrels. The army finally advanced, however, as far as Bethany, with a forlorn hope of being strong enough, when they should arrive there, to attack Jerusalem; but this hope, when the time came, Richard was obliged to abandon. The rain and exposure had brought a great deal of disease into the camp. The men were dying in great numbers. This mortality was increased by famine, for the stores which the army had brought with them were spoiled by the raid, and Saladin had so laid waste the country that no fresh supplies could be obtained. Then, in addition to this, the soldiers, finding their sufferings intolerable, and seeing no hope of relief, began to desert in great numbers, and Richard finally found that there was no alternative for him but to fall back again to the sea-shore.

Instead of going to Jaffa, however, he proceeded to Ascalon. Ascalon was a larger and stronger city than Jaffa. At least it had been stronger, and its fortifications were more extensive, though the place had been dismantled by Saladin before he left the coast. This town, as you will see by the map, is situated toward the southern part of Palestine, near to the confines of Egypt, and it had been a place of importance as a sort of entrepôt of commerce between Egypt and the Holy Land. Richard began to think that it would be necessary for him to establish his army somewhat permanently in the strong places on the coast, and wait until he could obtain re-enforcements from Europe before attempting again to advance toward Jerusalem. He thought it important, therefore, to take possession of Ascalon, and thus—Acre and Jaffa being already strongly garrisoned—the whole coast would be secure under his control.

Accordingly, on his retreat from Jerusalem, he proceeded with a large portion of his army to Ascalon, and immediately commenced the work of repairing the walls and rebuilding the towers, not knowing how soon Saladin might be upon him.

Indeed, Saladin and his troops had followed Richard's army on their reteat from Bethany, and had pressed them very closely all the way. It was at one time quite doubtful whether they would succeed in making good their retreat to Ascalon. The Saracen horsemen hovered in great numbers on the rear of Richard's army, and made incessant skirmishing attacks upon them. Richard placed a strong body of the Knights of St. John there to keep them off. These knights were well armed, and they were brave and well-trained warriors. They beat back the Saracens whenever they came near. Still, many of the knights were killed, and straggling parties, from time to time, were cut off, and the whole army was kept in a constant state of suspense and excitement, during the whole march, by the continual danger of an attack. When, at length, they approached the sea-shore, and turned to the south on the way to Ascalon, they were a little more safe, for the sea defended them on one side. Still, the Saracens turned with them, and hovered about their left flank, which was the one that was turned toward the land, and harassed the march all the way. The progress of the troops was greatly retarded too, as well as made more fatiguing, by the presence of such an enemy; for they were not only obliged to move more slowly when they were advancing, but they could only halt at night in places which were naturally strong and easily to be defended, for fear of an assault upon their encampment in the night. During the night, too, notwithstanding all the precautions they could take to secure a strong and safe position, the men were continually roused from their slumbers by an alarm that the Saracens were coming upon them, when they would rush from their tents, and seize their arms, and prepare for a combat; and then, after a time, they would learn that the expected attack was only a feint made by a small body of the enemy just to harass them.

It might seem, at first view, that such a warfare as this would weary and exhaust the pursuers as much as the pursued, but in reality it is not so. In the case of a night alarm, for instance, the whole camp of the Crusaders would be aroused from their sleep by it, and kept in a state of suspense for an hour or more before the truth could be fully ascertained, while to give the alarm would require only a very small party from the army of the Saracens, the main body retiring as usual to sleep, and sleeping all night undisturbed.

At length Richard reached Ascalon in safety, and posted himself within the walls, while Saladin established his camp at a safe distance in the interior of the country. Of course, the first thing which he found was to be done, as has already been remarked, was to repair and strengthen the walls, and it was evident that no time was to be lost in accomplishing this work.

But, unfortunately, the character of the materials of which Richard's army was composed was not such as to favor any special efficiency in conducting an engineering operation. All the knights, and a large proportion of the common soldiers, deemed themselves gentlemen. They had volunteered to join the crusade from high and romantic notions of chivalry and religion. They were perfectly ready, at any time, to fight the Saracens, and to kill or be killed, whichever fate the fortune of war might assign them; but to bear burdens, to mix mortar, and to build walls, were occupations far beneath them; and the only way to induce them to take hold of this work seems to have been for the knights and officers to set them the example.

Thus, in repairing the walls of Acre, all the highest officers of the army, with Richard himself at the head of them, took hold of the work with their own hands, and built away on the walls and towers like so many masons. Of course, the body of the soldiery had no excuse for declining the work, when even the king did not consider himself demeaned by it, and the whole army joined in making the reparations with great zeal.

But such kind of zeal as this is not often very enduring. The men had accomplished this work very well at Acre, but now, in undertaking a second operation of the kind, their ardor was found to be somewhat subsided. Besides, they were discouraged and disheartened in some degree by the results of the fruitless campaign they had made into the interior, and worn down by the fatigues they had endured on their march. Still, the knights and nobles generally followed Richard's example, and worked upon the walls to encourage the soldiery. One, however, absolutely refused; this was Leopold, the Archduke of Austria, whose flag Richard had pulled down from one of the towers in Acre, and trampled upon as it lay on the ground. The archduke had never forgiven this insult.

Indeed, this rudeness on the part of Richard was not a solitary instance of his enmity. It was only a new step taken in an old quarrel. Richard and the duke had been on very ill terms before. The reader will perhaps recollect that when Richard was at Cyprus he made captive a young princess, the daughter of the king, and that he made a present of her, as a handmaid and companion, to Queen Berengaria. Berengaria and Joanna, when they left Cyprus, brought the young princess with them, and when they were established with the king in the palace at Acre, she remained with them. She was treated kindly, it is true, and was made a member of the family, but still she was a prisoner. Such captives were greatly prized in those days as presents for ladies of high rank, who kept them as pets, just as they would, at the present day, a beautiful Canary bird or a favorite pony. They often made intimate and familiar companions of them, and dressed them with great elegance, and surrounded them with every luxury. Still, notwithstanding this gilding of their chains, the poor captives usually pined away their lives in sorrow, mourning continually to be restored to their father and mother, and to their own proper home.

Now it happened that the Archduke of Austria was a relative, by marriage, of the King of Cyprus, and the princess was his niece; consequently, when she arrived at the camp before Acre as a captive in the hands of the queen, as might naturally have been expected, he took a great interest in her case. He wished to have her released and restored to her father, and he interceded with Richard in her behalf. But Richard would not release her. He was not willing to take her away from Berengaria. The archduke was angry with the king for this refusal, and a quarrel ensued; and it was partly in consequence of this quarrel, or, rather, of the exasperation of mind that was produced by it, that Richard would not allow the archduke's banner to float from the towers of Acre when the city fell into their hands.

The archduke felt very keenly the indignity which Richard thus offered him, and though at the time he had no power to revenge it, he remembered it, and remained long in a gloomy and resentful frame of mind. And now, while Richard was endeavoring to encourage and stimulate the soldiers to work on the walls, by inducing the knights and barons to join him in setting the example, Leopold refused. He said that he was neither the son of a carpenter nor of a mason, that he should go to work like a laborer to build walls. Richard was enraged at this answer, and, as the story goes, flew at Leopold in his passion, and struck and kicked him. He also immediately turned the archduke and all his vassals out of the town, declaring that they should not share the protection of walls that they would not help to build; so they were obliged to encamp without, in company with that portion of the army that could not be accommodated within the walls.

But, notwithstanding the bad example set thus by the archduke, far the greater portion of the knights, and barons, and high officers of the army joined very heartily in the work of building the walls. Even the bishops, and abbots, and other monks, as well as the military nobles, took hold of the work with great zeal, and the repairs went on much more rapidly than could have been expected. During all this time the army kept their communications open with the other towns along the coast—with Jaffa, and Acre, and other strongholds, so that at length the whole shore was well fortified, and secure in their possession.

Saladin, during all this time, had distributed his troops in various encampments along the line parallel with the coast, and at some distance from it, and for some weeks the two armies remained, in a great degree, quiet in their several positions. The Crusaders were too much diminished in numbers by the privations and the sickness which they had undergone, as well as by the losses they had suffered in battle, and too much weakened by their internal dissensions, to go out of their strongholds to attack Saladin, while, on the other hand, they were too well protected by the walls of the towns to which they had retreated for Saladin to attack them. Both sides were waiting for re-enforcements. Saladin was indeed continually receiving accessions to his army from the interior, and Richard was expecting them from Europe. He sent to a distinguished ecclesiastic, named the Abbot of Clairvaux, who had a high reputation in Europe, and enjoyed great influence at many of the principal courts. In his letter to the abbot, he requested him to visit the different courts, and urge upon the princes and the people of the different countries the necessity that they should come to the rescue of the Christian cause in the Holy Land. Unless they were willing, he said, that all hope of regaining possession of the Holy Land should be abandoned, they must come with large re-enforcements, and that, too, without any delay.

During the period of delay occasioned by these circumstances, there was a sort of truce established between the two armies, and the knights on each side mingled together frequently on very friendly terms. Indeed, it was the pride and glory of soldiers in this chivalrous age to treat each other, when not in actual conflict, in a very polite and courteous manner, as if they were not animated by any personal resentment against their enemies, but only by a spirit of fidelity to the prince who commanded them, or to the cause in which they were engaged. Accordingly, when, for any reason, the war was for a time suspended, the combatants became immediately the best friends in the world, and actually vied with each other to see which should evince the most generous courtesy toward their opponents.

On the present occasion they often made visits to each other, and they arranged tournaments and other military celebrations which were attended by the knights and chieftains on both sides. Richard and Saladin often sent each other handsome presents. At one time when Richard was sick, Saladin sent him a quantity of delicious fruit from Damascus. The Damascus gardens have been renowned in every age for the peaches, pears, figs, and other fruits which they produce, and especially for a peculiar plum, famous through all the East. Saladin sent a supply of this fruit to Richard when he heard that he was sick, and accompanied his present with very earnest and, perhaps, very sincere inquiries in respect to the condition of the patient, and expressions of his wishes for his recovery.

The disposition of the two commanders to live on friendly terms with each other at this time was increased by the hope which Richard entertained that he might, by some possibility, come to an amicable agreement with Saladin in respect to Jerusalem, and thus bring the war to an end. He was beginning to be thoroughly discontented with his situation, and with every thing pertaining to the war. Nothing since the first capture of Acre had really gone well. His army had been repulsed in its attempt to advance into the interior, and was now hemmed in by the enemy on every side, and shut up in a few towns on the sea-coast. The men under his command had been greatly diminished in numbers, and, though sheltered from the enemy, the force that remained was gradually wasting away from the effects of exposure to the climate and from fatigue. There was no prospect of any immediate re-enforcements arriving from Europe, and no hope, without them, of being able to take the field successfully against Saladin.

Besides all this, Richard was very uneasy in respect to the state of affairs in his own dominions, in England and in Normandy. He distrusted the promises that Philip had made, and was very anxious lest he might, when he arrived in France, take advantage of Richard's absence, and, under some pretext or other, invade some of his provinces. From England he was continually receiving very unfavorable tidings. His mother Eleanora, to whom he had committed some general oversight of his interests during his absence, was beginning to write him alarming letters in respect to certain intrigues which were going on in England, and which threatened to deprive him of his English kingdom altogether. She urged him to return as soon as possible. Richard was exceedingly anxious to comply with this recommendation, but he could not abandon his army in the condition in which it then was, nor could he honorably withdraw it without having previously come to some agreement with Saladin by which the Holy Sepulchre could be secured to the possession of the Christians.

This being the state of the case, he had every motive for pressing the negotiations, and for cultivating, while they were in progress, the most friendly relations possible with Saladin, and for persevering in pressing them as long as the least possible hope remained. Accordingly, during all this time Richard treated Saladin with the greatest courtesy. He sent him many presents, and paid him many polite attentions. All this display of urbanity toward each other, on the part of these ferocious and bloodthirsty men, has been actually attributed by mankind to the instinctive nobleness and generosity of the spirit of chivalry; but, in reality, as is indeed too often the case with the pretended nobleness and generosity of rude and violent men, a cunning and far-seeing selfishness lay at the bottom of it.

In the course of these negotiations, Richard declared to Saladin that all which the Christians desired was the possession of Jerusalem and the restoration of the true cross, and he said that surely some terms could be devised on which Saladin could concede those two points. But Saladin replied that Jerusalem was as sacred a place in the eyes of Mussulmans, and as dear to them, as it was to the Christians, and that they could on no account give it up. In respect to the true cross, the Christians, he said, if they could obtain it, would worship it in an idolatrous manner, as they did their other relics; and as the law of the Prophet in the Koran forbade idolatry, they could not conscientiously give it up. "By so doing," said he, "we should be accessories to the sin."

It was in consequence of the insuperable objections which arose against an absolute surrender of Jerusalem to the Christians that the negotiations took the turn which led to the proposal of a marriage between the ex-Queen Joanna and Saphadin; for, when Richard found that no treaty was possible that would give him full possession of Jerusalem, and the letters which he received from England made more and more urgent the necessity that he should return, he conceived the plan of a sort of joint occupancy of the Holy City by Mussulmans and Christians together. This was to be effected by means of the proposed marriage. The marriage was to be the token and pledge of a surrendering, on both sides, of the bitter fanaticism which had hitherto animated them, and of their determination henceforth to live in peace, notwithstanding their religious differences. If this state of feeling could be once established, there would be no difficulty, it was thought, in arranging some sort of mixed government for Jerusalem that would secure access to the holy places by both Mussulmans and Christians, and accomplish the ends of the war to the satisfaction of all.

It was said that Richard proposed this plan, and that both Saladin and Saphadin evinced a willingness to accede to it, but that it was defeated by the influence of the priests on both sides. The imams among the Mussulmans, and the bishops and monks in Richard's army, were equally shocked at this plan of making a "compromise of principle," as they considered it, and forming a compact between evil and good. The men of each party devoutly believed that the cause which their side espoused was the cause of God, and that that of the other was the cause of Satan, and neither could tolerate for a moment any proposal for a union, or an alliance of any kind, between elements so utterly antagonistical. And it was in vain, as both commanders knew full well, to attempt to carry such an arrangement into effect against the conviction of the priests; for they had, on both sides, so great an influence over the masses of the people that, without their approval, or at least their acquiescence, nothing could be done.

So the plan of an alliance and union between the Christians and the Mohammedans, with a view to a joint occupancy and guardianship of the holy places in Jerusalem was finally abandoned, and Joanna gave up the hope, or was released from the fear, as the case may have been, of having a Saracen for a husband.

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