Richard the Lionheart and the Third Crusade

What were the circumstances of the Third Crusade, and how was it organised?
The Third Crusade was called because in 1187 the army of the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem, which had held [the city] for the Latin West, was totally destroyed at the Battle of Hattin, and there was a great sense of shock. The Pope of the day is said to have died of shock when he was told of the defeat. Therefore there was a great call for another crusade, but it took a surprisingly long time to organise because although the German Emperor [left] fairly quickly, he took an over-land journey which was very slow. The kings of England and France were bitter rivals – Henry II died almost immediately after taking the cross, so Richard I had to bed himself in as king and settle things with his French rival before the two of them could depart. So the Third Crusade takes a long time to get going nad in a certain sense it’s the last of the ‘classic crusades’. The First Crusade was a dash to Jerusalem and that’s the template for what followed in the 12th century and everybody going – with the exception of Richard – set out simply to seize Jerusalem but that became very difficult. What you have to understand about Richard was that he had a sense of strategy, he knew what he wanted and he had a means to go about getting it – he didn’t get it but nonetheless he had a strategy and he was prepared to be reasonably flexible with how he went forward.


What qualities do you think stood Richard apart as a soldier and general compared with his contemporaries?


I think what contemporaries were deeply impressed by was that here was a man who led from the front. Richard really did [personally] fight and in an age where personal relationships amongst the elite were very important here was a man who was prepared to put his life on the line for the causes that he espoused and people respected him for that reason. Also, he was a very shrewd soldier and [he] always won. From a young age he had fought many times – not big battles, but when he fought, either in siege or a battle, he had won. So here were two very good reasons for thinking this was a very able man. A third reason, which wasn’t much emphasised at the time, was that he was very good on logistics. He thought carefully about how his armies could be fed, and how they could move to their destinations and acted accordingly. This meant his armies were in good heart and strength when they arrived for battle. So he was a first-rate soldier – by the standards of the age quite an exceptional soldier.


Is it significant that Richard stands out even among the French and Germans at the time, despite the fact England is a relatively weaker power in this period?


[Richard] ruled England and much of Wales, but you have to remember that Richard was born a Frenchman and he ruled in one way or another almost half of France including Toulouse which he asserted his power over. So he had a gigantic empire and he was therefore very wealthy, which also gave him great prestige. Prestige for the French monarchy is always very great – it’s somewhat overshadowed by the German Empire, but Richard is very strongly respected as a very powerful and very able monarch. The Arabs chroniclers knew that he was very important – they said that Phillip was the greater king, in rank, but Richard was his equal in power.


What fighting methods were used by Christian and Muslim armies in battle and how did they differ?


The armies of the Middle East at this time were essentially Turkish, and Turks are not a Middle-Eastern people – they come from the steppe lands. Their primary striking force was cavalry – the Middle East’s open plains very heavily favoured cavalry warfare. The Turks were light horsemen, who were very good at shooting arrows from horseback – so you have a very fluid style of war coming from the steppe, based essentially on manoeuvre. Confronted with an enemy, you shoot arrows at them, you try and envelope them, pick away at their formations, and you don’t go to the close-quarter battle until their formations are broken up.


In time, during the period of the early Crusades, the Turks realised that this method had a big drawback [in that] they were fighting armies whose strike force was heavy cavalry. The elite of the Western troops are mounted, very heavily armoured (with mail) and have big horses. They are used to working together, at least in groups, and their clumsy, rather slow style of warfare is designed around the charge of these very heavy cavalrymen. So the Western style of warfare is to go to for the close-quarter battle immediately. When you see your enemy, that’s what you want to do, you want to grapple with him, because at close-quarters these heavy cavalrymen are at a tremendous advantage. In the end, you can shoot as many arrows as you like, but you really do have to close to close-quarters.


The Turkish response to this problem is to stand off, manoeuvre around the flanks, try and cut down their horses with arrows and therefore weaken their army. The Western tactical response to this is to surround the cavalry with infantry, to throw the infantry forward at a distance that they can hold off the Turks sufficiently so that they cannot shoot down the horses of the knights. So you have on the one had a fluid, highly mobile, fast-moving style of war, up against a rather solid, slow-moving style of war, because the Franks’ horses can only make one charge, because they’re carrying heavy men – especially in the climatic conditions of the Holy Land.

So you have a fascinating contrast of methods and it poses difficulties for both sets of commanders. The Turks increase the number of heavily armed men in their ranks – they’re never as heavily armed as the knights, but they’re pretty heavily armed and they continue to be archers. Saladin had about 9,000 of them around him, acting as his special guard.


Those who settled in the Holy Land have a different response to the problem of mobility and the problem that they’re always outnumbered – the fighting march. Faced with an enemy, they tend to break their cavalry up into three squadrons each surrounded by infantry to hold the horsemen at bay. They can then move into the enemy or away from them as they wish, and if the opportunity provides itself they can also deploy for a charge.


What equipment was used on the Third Crusade and how much had military technology developed since the First Crusade?


Very little changed. Technological change is not a big issue in medieval warfare. In the First Crusade they wore hoburks, mail shirts usually split at the groin and then loosely tied around the legs like cowboys’ chaps. They tended to be short-sleeved, sometimes with a hood and the knights always wore a steel cap. That equipment goes on [from the First to the Third Crusade] and it has the advantage of being comparatively light because in the West you have increasingly long-sleeved hoburks and the use of chausse, which are essentially male stockings and shoes – they tended not to use this armour in the Middle East because it was so hot. To protect themselves [the knights] also carried a six-foot shield. The helmet changed a bit in that the pointed helmet with the nose piece began to give way in the later 12th century, certainly by the time of the Third Crusade.


Wealthier men would wear helmets that gave them face masks of steel or even big pot helms – a pot that sat on your head with eye slits and breathing holes, though these were not common and were the equipment of the very elite because they were terribly expensive…


Looking at the weight of the heavy cavalrymen’s total equipment, he’s wearing a hoburk of 25 pounds, a steel helmet weighing about 4 pounds, and a shield weighing 12-30 pounds. [They also carried a] long spear and a sword – roughly 80 centimetres long – which was an effective slashing weapon.


The Turks didn’t have curved swords, as you always see represented – their sabres were fairly straight. Their real striking weapon was the composite bow, [the core of which was bone] which resists compression and on the outside… was sinew to resist stretching. So in a relatively small bow, no more than 4 foot, which a mounted man could use, you get great power comparable to a long bow being used in the West.
This technology doesn’t change much because the world doesn’t move on much in terms of weaponry, and that explains why the close-quarter battle is so important. Richard made very lavish use of crossbows, and they are very effective but slow-loading, while bows are fairly effective but the average soldier isn’t always going to hit the target , and this was true of both sides. You’re looking at fighting that is taking place within 80 metres.


The only technology that really changes is that of siege engines. There was a weapon called a traction trebuchet – a beam resting on a superstructure with a team of 5-8 men pulls down on one end and a sling attached to the other rises and throws a stone – an anti-personnel weapon. About the time of the Third Crusade you have a heavier piece of equipment with a 2.5 ton load on the front.


Was Richard’s army exclusively English or did it include soldiers from his French domains and elsewhere?


It was not exclusively English at all. The crusade was never preached in England, though it was certainly preached in Wales because we have an account of it. It may have been preached as part of the general teaching in his French possessions and some of the upper class went with him on crusade because political relations dictated they should. Most of his army seems to have been mercenaries – Richard seems to have taken paid men and we hear a good deal during the Siege of Acre about ‘paying’ men.


Richard seemingly preferred to use professional mercenaries rather than to rely on mere enthusiasts. This meant that his comparatively small army was nonetheless very efficient and it would have been perhaps been a 1 to 5 cavalry to infantry ratio. The strike force was the cavalry, with the infantry defending them.


[In terms of nationality, these mercenaries] would have been absolutely anybody. The biggest source of mercenaries at this time are people from the general vicinity of Brussels and the low countries, but Richard undoubtedly had people from Northern Spain, who were also famed as mercenaries, and Frenchmen and doubtless Englishmen – it would have been a multi-national army.


How important was Richards’s conquest of Cyprus to the crusade and what methods did he use to defeat the island’s ruler?

The conquest of Cyprus has been the subject of some interest recently. The traditional story is that Richard’s big fleet was scattered as it approached the eastern Mediterranean. He had brought his fiancé with him, and after they were scattered her 2-3 ships put into harbour at Limouson. Cyprus itself had been seized by its Governor who proclaimed himself Byzantine Emperor, but he couldn’t get enough support to win the empire at Constantinople, so he was the tyrant of Cyprus. The Governor seems to have tried to lure the ladies onto Cyprus so that he could hold them to ransom, but they stayed in their ships.


When Richard landed he was at first very reasonable in his dealings with the tyrant, but then turned on him, defeated him in battle near to Nicosia and captured him. It’s said that by the terms of his surrender, the tyrant asked Richard that he not be bound by chains of iron – Richard agreed to that and bound him with chains of silver.


The reality is that Richard was a very shrewd person and he knew a lot about the Middle East. You have to remember that Guy, King of Jerusalem, was actually a member of a family who were vassals to Richard, and that Richard’s family, the Angevins were closely related to the royal family of Jerusalem. He would have known that Cyprus was no longer a part of the Byzantine Empire, that it had broken away, and the suspicion is that he always had it in his sights, though we can’t prove that either way.


Richard conquered Cyprus very quickly, then later used it for political and economic purposes. He destroyed [the tyrant] in a single battle. Richard’s army was very professional, while the Greek army was quite small and [Isaac] was not popular on the Island. Except very rarely the general population don’t count in these encounters, they tend to sit around watching what happens and keeping out of the way.



Had the leaders of the Third Crusade learned any lessons from the military mistakes of previous campaigns in the Holy Land?


Richard had, though the others hadn’t. When he landed, he joined the Siege of Acre. His army was comparatively small and he knew he was relying on King Phillip of France and the other contingents from the crusade… Having seized Acre, Richard immediately starts negotiating with Saladin. So his response to the problem of conquest is to realise that Saladin has got Jerusalem as well as many other cities, which is a big problem to re-conquer. Richard applies military pressure and negotiates all through the Crusade.


The difficulty is that the rest of the army, the French particularly, are not keen on negotiating with Saladin. Richard continues to negotiate, and wins the battle at Arsuf but realises that this isn’t a decisive victory because he hasn’t destroyed Saladin’s army. He is reluctant to advance on Jerusalem because he knows that the whole army will go home afterwards, leaving no one to defend Jerusalem once it is taken. [For this reason] a political settlement with Saladin is desirable and he keeps trying this.


Once he calls off his first march towards Jerusalem, he returns to the coast and takes Ascalon… what he tries to do is cut Saladin off from the coast, creating a secure strip along the coast for the Kingdom of Jerusalem. He then suggests to the army, which is getting increasingly impatient to get to Jerusalem, that instead of going to Jerusalem, they go to Egypt – the heart of Saladin’s power. He would have known, as crusaders had always known, that Egypt has a huge Christian population, often forgotten. At this time Cairo was probably still a Christian city. Richard’s approach to the problems of recovering the Holy Land are somewhat different from his allies, but the French in particular accuse him of not being a true Christian. He himself was a very bad-tempered man, impatient with his allies – they got on very badly and unsurprisingly the final expedition to Jerusalem fails.


What you have is a collision between the ‘Dash to Jerusalem’ approach, and a very sophisticated geopolitical approach to crusading. Interestingly the Fourth Crusade intended to go to Egypt, the Fifth as well [as the crusade] of St Louis went [there] and the Crusade of the Barons in the 1240s also exploited the divisions between Syria and Egypt. So Richard is ahead of his time in the Third Crusade.


What was Richard’s role during the Siege of Acre?


His role was equal with Phillip of France – they had made an agreement to share 50/50 in any conquest or booty they made. That had caused trouble in Sicily where Richard had effectively conquered the kingdom for a while. He obviously didn’t regard Cyprus as covered by this agreement, which caused friction. Phillip was very able as an attacker on the city, but was somewhat eclipsed by Richard. At one stage after the capture of the city, the question of paying knights arises and Richard offers to pay twice as much for every man – there was a great deal of personal friction between the two men.


During the siege, what you have is a series of contingents; two big contingents, the English and the French, as well as dozens of other contingents, including Italians and Germans, many of whom had been in the Holy Land for a long time. [Many of these other contingents] gravitate towards the person who is most successful as a military leader, so Philip finds himself eclipsed because Richard is the military leader and at the end of the siege, the French king returns home.


This leaves Richard as a single commander with no one to rival him. The big problem he has is that Guy is still nominally King of Jerusalem but virtually everybody in the Kingdom, the nobility at least, hate Guy and instead back Montferrat as the ruler – so this is a big problem for unity within the ranks. Many of the French troops resent Richard, many of the Germans and others resent him because he is a newcomer to the Holy Land, but who else is going to leave them? He was the one undisputed king and he was a very good soldier.




Even in the brutal extent of the times, to what extend could Richard’s massacre of Muslim prisoners after Acre be seen as a war crime?


It’s always pointed to, but there were very good reasons for this. Acre had surrendered on terms, which Saladin had agreed to very reluctantly, but nonetheless even his own side said he agreed to, that a ransom would be paid for the garrison of roughly 4,000 including women and children. They had surrendered on a promise that their master would pay a ransom for their delivery. Saladin knew that Richard’s next step would be to march into Palestine proper, marching south. He also knew that crusading armies tended to break up a bit in activity and that time was on his side – the departure of Philip was a big signal to this effect. What Saladin was doing was delaying the crusaders, using the hostages as a means of delaying Richard’s army, keeping it at Acre and causing discontent among the ranks and even causing desertion.


Richard discerned this very clearly and in effect issued an ultimatum which Saladin paid no attention to. Saladin knew what the issue was and his own secretary says that he was partly responsible [for the massacre]. Richard marched the garrison out and slaughtered them in the sight of Saladin and his army. In consequence, when the crusader army marches south towards Jerusalem, Saladin orders that no prisoners be taken. They are both equally complicit in the massacre, admittedly, but Saladin knew he was playing with the lives of his people.



What were the circumstances of the battle of Arsuf and how important was it?


After the siege of Acre, Richard marches south in a column with three blocks of cavalry surrounded by infantry – a fighting march. However, he also has a fleet, so as they’re marching south the infantry can be rotated, so that they get a rest, because they’re close to the sea where the ships can supply them with water. Richard moves down the coast like a battering ram.


Saladin’s strategy was to harass the crusader army’s rear guard, in an attempt to break up the tight formation. At Arsuf he had to [engage in closer combat], as Richard was getting uncomfortably close to his destination, and the coastal plain was narrowing – Arsuf was the last big area where Saladin’s army could manoeuvre and fight in its accustomed style. The battle is the moment of truth for the two men.


The battle was very important, because if Richard had been defeated the crusade would have ended immediately. If Saladin had been decisively defeated, then the crusade would have had a clear run to Jerusalem. As it was, Richard was the victor but Saladin’s army managed to withdraw and therefore it was in a sense an indecisive battle, but he never again openly challenged Richard in battle, and that was very sensible of him. From this time onwards you have a process of harassment and holding Jerusalem, but he’s not going to challenge Richard in the field.
Who was the greater soldier, Saladin or Richard?


On the battlefield, Richard is the better soldier. Saladin was a very shrewd commander – he had won at Hattin by being very sensible and very cautious. His strength was that he was a brilliant politician, and had assembled a big coalition in 1187. However, he made a hash of the rest of the campaign and never really challenged the remaining crusader strongholds, particularly Antioch. Saladin was not a natural soldier, I think, whereas Richard was a soldier through and through.


What were conditions like for the common soldier in Richard’s army?


Bloody awful. The siege of Acre had been going on since 1189 and they’re ensconced in a fortified camp around the city, suffering from disease, the hot conditions and they don’t really know where their next meal is coming from. The troops are very dependent on Western shipping remaining near the coast. If you weren’t a knight, you would have to walk everywhere and you can’t relax for a moment because Saladin’s army is hovering around the camp.


Once they do start to move, Saladin’s army is on them, harassing all the time and the infantry take the brunt of this. One of Saladin’s secretaries says he saw crossbowmen and infantry in Richard’s army marching south with 10 or 12 arrows stuck in them, that would be through the armour and into the padded jackets that they wore.

Conditions would be a mixture of disease, lack of food, a hot climate and constant danger. The losses were probably very high, but we don’t have figures. It’s interesting that immediately after its arrival at the Siege of Acre, the German contingent of the army construct a hospital of tents. That gives rise, eventually, to the Teutonic Order.


What prevented Richard from capturing Jerusalem?


First, that he was not keen to do it, because he knows that even if he captures the city, who is going to garrison it? He spoke to the Hospital and the Temple, the two military orders, and they agreed with him that this was a big problem, and they had no solution to it. So Richard is somewhat half-hearted – he’s very systematic in his approach to Jerusalem, but undoubtedly he was very sceptical of doing it. In the end, there was big arguments in the army and Richard suggests a committee be set up to decide on it – a committee with all his placemen on it. Unsurprisingly they decide marching on Jerusalem is risky – the city is well in-land, in the Judean hills, so to attack it in the presence of Saladin’s army is very dangerous.


There are very good reasons why Richard was sceptical – it was dangerous to do it. Even if they did succeed – and they could have – what’s going to happen to it afterwards? Richard wanted to force Saladin into some kind of political settlement. He is very pragmatic during the crusade, his allies are not. He is a very clever soldier and understands what he’s doing. The problem is that in understanding what he was doing, he was also a bad soldier because the only thing holding the army together was Jerusalem – and his reluctance actually caused friction in the army. Although it was sensible, nonetheless it was a cause of failure.



If the Crusade’s leadership had been more united, could they have taken Jerusalem?


Yes, if they had been more united there’s a very good chance that they could have taken the city. But that would have involved Richard not being himself. People tend to speak about the Crusade as though it was totally doomed, but it wasn’t. All conquests required a political base at this time and the political base of the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem was firstly settlers, but also a large Christian population. People tend to forget that the Middle East at the time was still very a heavily Christian area and therefore there was nothing inevitable – what you see really are two elites; a Turkish Muslim elite, and a Christian elite fighting over the Holy Land, that’s the collision. The conflict is between two alien elites.