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Jacob Abbott

The Arrival at Acre

While Richard was thus, with his fleet, drawing near to Acre, the armies of the Crusaders that were besieging the town had been for some time gradually getting into a very critical situation. This army was made up of a great many different bodies of troops, that had come in the course of years from all parts of Europe to recover the Holy Land from the possession of the unbelievers. There were Germans, and French, and Normans, and Italians, and people from the different kingdoms of Spain, with knights, and barons, and earls, and bishops, and archbishops, and princes, and other dignitaries of all kinds without number. With such a heterogeneous mass there could be no common bond, nor any general and central authority. They spoke a great variety of languages, and were accustomed to very different modes of warfare; and the several orders of knights, and the different bodies of troops, were continually getting involved in dissensions arising from the jealousies and rivalries which they bore to each other. The enemy, on the other hand, were united under the command of one great and powerful Saracen leader named Saladin.

There was another great difference between the Crusaders and the Saracens which was greatly to the advantage of the latter. The Saracens were fighting simply to deliver their country from these bands of invaders. Thus their object was one. If any part of the army achieved a success, the other divisions rejoiced at it, for it tended to advance them all toward the common end that all had in view. On the other hand, the chief end and aim of the Crusaders was to get glory to themselves in the estimation of friends and neighbors at home, and of Europe in general. It is true that they desired to obtain this glory by victories over the unbelievers and the conquest of the Holy Land, but these last objects were the means and not the end. The end, in their view, was their own personal glory. The consequence was, that while the Saracens would naturally all rejoice at an advantage gained over the enemy by any portion of their army, yet in the camp of the Crusaders, if one body of knights performed a great deed of strength or bravery which was likely to attract attention in Europe, the rest were apt to be disappointed and vexed instead of being pleased. They were envious of the fame which the successful party had acquired. In a word, when an advantage was gained by any particular body of troops, the rest did not think of the benefit to the common cause which had thereby been secured, but only of the danger that the fame acquired by those who gained it might eclipse or outshine their own renown.

The various orders of knights and the commanders of the different bodies of troops vied with each other, not only in respect to the acquisition of glory, but also in the elegance of their arms, the splendor of their tents and banners, the beauty and gorgeous caparisons of the horses, and the pomp and parade with which they conducted all their movements and operations. The camp was full of quarrels, too, among the great leaders in respect to the command of the places in the Holy Land which had been conquered in previous campaigns. These places, as fast as they had been taken, had been made principalities and kingdoms, to give titles of rank to the crusaders who had taken them; and, though the places themselves had in many instances been lost again, and given up to the Saracens, the titles remained to be quarreled about among the Crusaders. There was particularly a great quarrel at this time about the title of King of Jerusalem. It was a mere empty title, for Jerusalem was in the hands of the Saracens, but there were twenty very powerful and influential claimants to it, each of whom manœuvred and intrigued incessantly with all the other knights and commanders in the army to gain partisans to his side. Thus the camp of the Crusaders, from one cause and another, had become one universal scene of rivalry, jealousy, and discord.

There was a small approach toward a greater degree of unity of feeling just before the time of Richard's arrival, produced by the common danger to which they began to see they were exposed. They had been now two years besieging Acre, and had accomplished nothing. All the furious attempts that they had made to storm the place had been unsuccessful. The walls were too thick and solid for the battering-rams to make any serious impression upon them, and the garrison within were so numerous and so well armed, and they hurled down such a tremendous shower of darts, javelins, stones, and other missiles of every kind upon all who came near, that immense numbers of those who were brought up near the walls to work the engines were killed, while the besieged themselves, being protected by the battlements on the walls, were comparatively safe.

In the course of the two years during which the siege had now been going on, bodies of troops from all parts of Europe had been continually coming and going, and as in those days there was far less of system and organization in the conduct of military affairs than there is now, the camp was constantly kept in a greater or less degree of confusion, so that it is impossible to know with certainty how many were engaged, and what the actual loss of life had been. The lowest estimate is that one hundred and fifty thousand men perished before Acre during this siege, and some historians calculate the loss at five hundred thousand. The number of deaths was greatly increased by the plague, which prevailed at one time among the troops, and committed fearful ravages. One thing, however, must be said, in justice to the reckless and violent men who commanded these bands, and that is, that they did not send their poor, helpless followers, the common soldiers, into a danger which they kept out of themselves. It was a point of honor with them to take the foremost rank, and to expose themselves fully at all times to the worst dangers of the combat. It is true that the knights and nobles were better protected by their armor than the soldiers. They were generally covered with steel from head to foot, and so heavily loaded with it were they, that it was only on horseback that they could sustain themselves in battle at all. Indeed, it was said that if a full-armed knight, in those days, were, from any accident, unhorsed, his armor was so heavy that, if he were thrown down upon the ground in his fall, he could not possibly get up again without help.

Notwithstanding this protection, however, the knights and commanders exposed themselves so much that they suffered in full proportion with the rest. It was estimated that during the siege there fell in battle, or perished of sickness or fatigue, eighteen or twenty archbishops and bishops, forty earls, and no less than five hundred barons, all of whose names are recorded. So they obtained what they went for—commemoration in history. Whether the reward was worth the price they paid for it, in sacrificing every thing like happiness and usefulness in life, and throwing themselves, after a few short months of furious and angry warfare, into a bloody grave, is a very serious question.

As soon as Richard's fleet appeared in view, the whole camp was thrown into a state of the wildest commotion. The drums were beat, the trumpets were sounded, and flags and banners without number were waved in the air. The troops were paraded, and when the ships arrived at the shore, and Richard and his immediate attendants and followers landed, they were received by the commanders of the Crusaders' army on the beach with the highest honors, while the soldiers drawn up around filled the air with long and loud acclamations.

Berengaria had come from Cyprus, not in Richard's ship, although she was now married to him. She had continued in her own galley, and was still under the charge of her former guardian, Stephen of Turnham. That ship had been fitted up purposely for the use of the queen and the princess, and the arrangements on board were more suitable for the accommodation of ladies than were those of Richard's ship, which being strictly a war vessel, and intended always to be foremost in every fight, was arranged solely with a view to the purposes of battle, and was therefore not a very suitable place for a bride.

Berengaria and Joanna landed very soon after Richard. Philip was a little piqued at the suddenness with which Richard had married another lady, so soon after the engagement with Alice had been terminated; but he considered how urgent the necessity was that he should now be on good terms with his ally, and so he concealed his feelings, and received Berengaria himself as she came from her ship, and assisted her to land.