Saturday, August 6, 2011

The Third Crusade

The second crusade was largely perceived as a failure and saw a shift of power to the Muslims. People quickly lost interest in further expeditions of this nature.

In 1146 Zengi was assassinated and his son, Nur al-Din, continued nibbling away at the Crusader states, taking Damascus in 1154 and was even acclaimed ‘king’ by the caliph in Baghdad at the time. He took Egypt shortly afterwards, a country vulnerable to the crusaders due to its isolation under the Fatimid dynasty and indeed the crusaders had made several attempts to invade the country.

After Nur al-Din's death the mantle of Islamic leadership fell on a Kurdish officer named Salah ed-Din, or Saladin as he is commonly known in the West. Saladin was arguably the greatest of Muslim generals, although by no means his undisputed successor, and possessed an appealing and admirable character. Using his Egyptian base he took control of Syria from his Zangid rivals and by the time he was poised to crush the crusader states, Saladin had acquired Damascus, Aleppo (1183) and Mayyafariqin (1185).

In 1187 Saladin caught the entire army of the Kingdom of Jerusalem at the mountain known as the Horns of Hattin, near the Sea of Galilee, and annihilated it. Within a few months he held the entire Kingdom except for the seaport of Tyre and a nearby castle.

Tyre was heavily defended, almost impregnable to Saladin. However, in hindsight, his failure to capture the city was a major strategic error which would put all his conquests in jeopardy in the years to come. But in the two years that followed the battle of the Horns of Hattin, he had taken over 50 crusader castles and the Christians had lost nearly all of the kingdom of Jerusalem.

The loss of Jerusalem on 2nd October 1187 and the crushing defeat of the Christian army at Hattin provoked a massive reaction in the West. Pope Urban III is said to have died of shock at the news. His successor, Gregory VIII issued a new call to arms on 29th October in that year, and once again the West came to the aid of the Crusader states by mounting the Third Crusade. Led by Richard of Poitou, King Philip II Augustus of France, and Emperor Frederick Barbarossa the following spring, it managed to recover much of the lost territory. William II of Sicily sent a fleet which helped relieve the remaining Christian outposts of Antioch, Tripoli and Tyre.

Emperor Frederick set out first at the head of a massive army. They marched across Europe and into Asia Minor where disaster struck. Frederick accidentally drowned when swimming in a river. Some of the army carried on, taking Frederick's body, pickled in vinegar, with them. But the German crusade was really over, the meagre remnants of his army reaching Acre in October 1190.

In July 1190 the English and French kings set out together and an advance guard was sent to Acre. Philip II sailed directly to Acre whilst Richard turned to wrest Cyprus from its Byzantine ruler Isaac Comnenus before landing at Acre on 8th June.

The crusaders continued by attacking Acre, taking the city in July 1191. Richard then moved south, with his army under constant attack from Saladin and his forces. Supported by a fleet offshore supplying his troops and with strict divisions of horsemen to defend against any attacks from land, they continued south and managed to drive away the Muslims at a site south of Rochetaillee, near Arsur.

Richard reached his first objective of Jaffa on 10th September 1191 and captured the city. Advances were made to within a few miles of Jerusalem. After Saladin attempted to retake Jaffa, a battle which was lost, a treaty was signed on 2nd September 1192, allowing Christians to retake control of the coast between Acre and Jaffa and the crusaders were allowed to visit the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.

Richard never reclaimed Jerusalem in the way he had obviously envisaged, but he had many victories along the way. Both Richard and the local barons agreed that unless the powerbase of Egypt was in friendly hands, Jerusalem could not be kept even if it could be captured.

In October 1192, after a period of illness, he sailed for home. But he was not to reach there easily. Some of his actions during the crusade had angered other rulers in Europe and he was captured and imprisoned by Leopold of Austria. He spent nearly two years in prison before a ransom was paid and he was able to return to England.