The Third Crusade

By Psycho Dan

The crusader states of Outremer (Land beyond the sea) had been established during the course of the First Crusade (1096-1099), a venture created by Pope Urban II to liberate the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, ostensibly in response to an appeal to the West by the Byzantine emperor Alexius Comnenus. The mainly French inhabitants of these states, known as Franks, in their wars against their Muslim neighbours were able to profit from their disunity. This was changed by the rise of the Turkish ruler Zengi (1085-1146), who in 1144 captured the important city of Edessa and his son Nur al-Din (d.1174). Their successes put the Syrian Franks under increasing pressure which was compounded by the debacle of the Second Crusade. Muslim strength and unity culminated under Nur Al-Din’s successor, Saladin, a Kurd who had been his lieutenant. By 1183 he had succeeded in uniting Muslim Syria and Egypt under his control, thereby becoming the most powerful Muslim ruler in two centuries. At the battle of Hattin in 1187 he was able to inflict a crushing defeat on the army of the Kingdom of Jerusalem led by King Guy of Lusignan. So total was this victory that Saladin was rapidly able to conquer almost all of the cities and towns of Palestine. His only significant setback was the failure to capture the important coastal city of Tyre, saved by the fortunate arrival of the Marquis of Montferrat.

News of the fall of Jerusalem led to the creation of the Third Crusade. This crusade was characterised by a vast array of expeditions from across Christendom, with contingents ranging from Sicily to Scandinavia. A Sicilian expedition under the command of the admiral Margarit played a crucial early role in protecting the cities of Northern Syria in 1187. King Guy after his release from captivity (July 1188) was refused entry to Tyre by the Marquis and instead besieged the important city of Acre. Saladin made an ultimately crucial error by failing to intercept Guy’s army. His delayed response was to establish a camp the other side of the besiegers and on a number of occasions attempted to break the siege. Despite the small size of the Frankish army it was soon reinforced by a steady flow of arrivals from Europe.

Frederick Barbarossa the Holy Roman Emperor, was the first important ruler to set off on crusade in May 1189. His army experienced a difficult passage on the land route across Southern Europe and Anatolia on its journey to Palestine. The death of the emperor in Cilcian Armenia during a river crossing led to the virtual disintegration of the expedition, with his eldest son, Frederick, unable to assert his control over the German nobility. Only a small part of the expedition was able to join the siege of Acre.

The kings Richard Plantagenet of England and Philip Augustus of France set off together on crusade. Despite this Philip was the first to arrive at Acre, where he took command of the siege and was able to revitalise its conduct. Richard took longer to arrive and on route captured the strategic island of Cyprus. The crusader army at this time was divided by the dispute between Guy and the Marquis for the throne of Jerusalem – the latter had under dubious circumstances married Isabella the previous king Baldwin IV’s sister. The two kings mediated a settlement between them, with Philip taking the side of his cousin the Marquis and Richard, Guy, as his family were his vassals in Poitou. The increased strength of the besiegers meant that they were able to place the garrison of Acre under severe pressure. Saladin was unable to break the siege and the garrison surrendered on terms in 1191. Philip after the siege decided to return home, leaving the Duke of Burgundy as commander of the French contingent. Saladin’s failure to meet the terms of the surrender resulted in Richard executing his prisoners.

King Richard was now the sole leader of the crusade and after the siege of Acre marched southwards along the coast. The army was harassed and shadowed by Saladin’s army, culminating in the battle of Arsuf, a clear victory for the crusaders. This was followed by the rebuilding of the fortifications of Jaffa, whose walls together with those of Ascalon had been demolished on the orders of Saladin to deny the Christians strong points on the coast. In the following year the Christian army marched on Jerusalem reaching Beit-Nuba within twelve miles of the city. However, on the advice of the native Franks the attempt was abandoned. The war then continued as a series of skirmishes between the two sides. Until the exhaustion of the participants combined with their own internal disagreements and Richard’s domestic problems led to negotiations. These were interrupted by Saladin’s surprise attack on Jaffa, which was beaten off by Richard’s quick response.

The dispute between the Marquis and Guy was resolved with the army deciding that the Marquis should be king. Guy’s position had been considerably weakened by the death of his wife Sibyla and his children during the siege of Acre, as his claim to the throne derived from her being the daughter of King Amalric. Richard however compensated Guy by selling him Cyprus. The assassination of the Marquis by the Assassins, which Richard was widely held responsible for, led to the succession of Count Henry of Champagne, who married Isabella. Peace terms were eventually agreed between Saladin and Richard in 1193, with a truce for three years and with the allocation of the majority of the Palestinian cities of the coast to the Franks.

Historians have differed in their assessments of the relative success of the crusade and whether the attainment of its main objective, Jerusalem, was viable. The re conquest of the coast has been considered a modest achievement by Hans Mayer, who suggests that this lack of success was the reason why subsequent crusades were on a smaller scale. This is a view supported by Steven Runciman who has stated that despite the large scale of the crusade its results were exiguous. This is not a universal assessment and has been disputed by Jean Richard and Sidney Painter who have emphasised that not only did it lead to the reestablishment of the kingdom but stopped Saladin at the height of his power. These differing opinions are based in part on the subsequent history of Outremer as a relatively weak power in the Thirteenth Century and on the military performance of the leaders Richard and Saladin.

Source issues for the Third Crusade

The sources for this crusade differ markedly in type, authorship and in emphasis and have led to varied explanations of events as is reflected in modern historiography of the crusade. Historical interpretations of the Third Crusade have been influenced by the turbulent events preceding and culminating in Saladin’s victorious campaign of 1187 that caused the collapse of the Kingdom of Jerusalem. This is a controversial subject due to the bias of the sources for the period such as the Chronicle of Ernoul, which sought to attribute blame for the defeat. In the reigns of Baldwin IV and Guy the kingdom of Jerusalem had been divided by the rivalry between the supporters of Raymond III of Tripoli and those of Guy of Lusignan. The bias of the main sources for this period such as the Chronicle of Ernoul – written by a partisan of Balian of Ibelin, an important supporter of Raymond – and the history of William of Tyre, who was also ill disposed towards the Lusignan faction, has led historians such as Runciman to accept their version of events and negative views on figures such as Reynald of Chátillon. Bernard Hamilton has convincingly demonstrated that this is a distorted depiction of these historical figures and events. This argument essentially is that the bias of the main surviving source for this period (The Old French Continuation of William) has distorted the portrayal of the years of this period.

On a interesting side note the description of these events by Steven Runciman – in an extremely distorted and grotesque manner – is shown in the film “Kingdom of Heaven”, which portrays Raymond of Tripoli and Balian of Ibelin as the “Goodies” and figures such as Reynald of Chátillon and King Guy as being the “Baddies”. This version of events fails to convey that Baldwin IV relied on Reynald of Chátillon as one of his principal military supporters – hence why he allowed him to make advantageous marriages to wealthy heiresses and entrusted him with strategic fortresses such as Kerak. In addition, it fails to convey the fact that Raymond of Tripoli (in part as he was the closest male relative of the dying king) was distrusted by Baldwin IV as it was believed that he wished to seize the throne and he was considered by many of the Latins and Crusaders to be a traitor due to the alliance he made with Saladin, which played a part in the defeat of the military orders at the battle of Cresson.

Internal conflict has had a profound influence on the portrayal of the Third Crusade by the primary sources. This was exacerbated by the arrival of the Marquis of Montferrat who assumed the position, of the now deceased Raymond, as chief opponent of Guy and by the rivalry between kings of France and England. The Arabic historians of this period were also influenced by the rivalry between the Zangid and Ayyubid dynasties, which continued into the Thirteenth Century. In addition the duration, size and strong personalities of the crusade have contributed to its dramatic portrayal, as can be seen with the characterisation of the main figures involved in the period