The Third Crusade, which took place between 1189 and 1192, marked an attempt by the Christians to reconquer Jerusalem from the Muslims.
The crusade began after news reached the Christians in 1189 that Kurdish warrior Saladin had taken Jerusalem and many other castles in the region from them. These crusader states, which were unable to defend themselves, called on western Europe to help them.
Upon hearing the news, Pope Urban III is said to have collapsed and died from shock in October 1187. However, his successor Gregory VIII called for a third crusade to reclaim the Holy Land from the Muslims.
The pope issued the papal bull called ‘Audita Temendi’, which called from a new crusade to the Holy Land and described the horrors that had taken place at the Battle of Harrin, where the True Cross had been lost to Saladin. The Pope openly blamed this loss on the sins of Christians, encouraging people to go to their aid.
“For anyone of sane mind who does not weep at such a cause for weeping, if not in body at least in heart, would seem to have forgotten not only his Christian faith, which teaches that one ought to mourn with all those who mourn, but even his very humanity since every sensible man can surmise the details which we have left out.”
Audita Tremendi, 1187
By this stage in history, crusading was not just considered a religious activity but a knightly activity, labelled as a necessity of the ‘Holy War’. Despite this, the crusade gained widespread support by Christians who were angered by the loss of Jerusalem and felt a need to ‘take up the cross’ in order to achieve Indulgence and have their sins erased in the eyes of God - a promise made by the Pope.
The Third Crusade also became known as the King’s Crusade, as it attracted many of western Europe’s greatest leaders and nobles. In January 1188, King Henry II of England King Philip II of France took the cross, followed by Emperor of Germany Frederick Barbarossa in March 1189. Upon Henry’s death in July 1189, he was succeeded by his son, Richard I.
Barbarossa was the first European leader to set off on the third Crusade, leading in May 1189. At the age of 67 he was considered an elderly leader, but he was also a renowned horseman and strong personality. He took his army on an overland route to Outremer, crossing Hungary, Serbia and Bulgaria on their way to Byzantine territory. It was here that he fought the battle of Iconium, which he promptly won, and plundered the town to get financial rewards. They then continued on towards Jerusalem.
Just one month later Barbarossa met with disaster, drowning while attempting to cross the Saleph River in Southern Turkey. This through his army into chaos, prompting many to return to Germany in mourning. The remaining soldiers, however, followed his son Frederick of Swabia into Antioch, where the emperor’s body was boiled to remove the flesh and then interred in the Church of St. Peters.
At the same time, Richard I was preparing to set off on the crusade. Having made the decision to travel by sea, which was safer and faster, he required more funds. An efficient administrator, Richard generated a huge amount of resources by introducing a new Crusade tax known as the Saladin Tithe. He also worked hard to ensure his army was well-trained and disciplined, which marked a significant change to those that had gone before him.
Richard met with Phillip II of France in Vézelay in they set out together on 4 July 1190. They travelled together as far as Lyon where they parted, agreeing to meet in Sicily. After their parting, Richard headed towards Marseilles and Philip towards Genoa.
Meanwhile, there were Christian knights from Sicily, Denmark, Italy and Holland already arriving in the Holy Land, and the siege of Acre had been going on for nearly a year when Philip and Richard left Europe. By August 1189, the King of Jerusalem (Guy of Lusignan) had gathered thousands of troops and Acre was besieged.
For a year and a half the siege of Acre was at a stalemate, with the Franks camped in trenches between Saladin and the Muslim garrison inside the city. The army was eventually hit with disease and famine, and the city resisted the Christian siege.
However, on 8 June 1191, Richard I landed on the coast not far from Acre and opened negotiations with Saladin, even requesting fresh fruit and water from his camp. Despite the high levels of diplomacy between the two leaders, it was less than a month before the warfare began once more.
At the beginning if July, Richard’s army bombarded the city with stones while Philip used a catapult to target the Cursed Tower at Acre’s north-eastern corner. By 12 July, the city’s defenders surrendered.
Despite their triumph, the western European leaders were soon divided. Following the fall of Acre, Duke Leopold of Austria placed his banner beside the flags of Richard and Philip. However, Richard tore it down, claiming that as a duke he could not claim one third of the spoils of the city.
Leopold was incredibly insulted by this action, and left the city with a number of German knights. Relations between the two kings also began to deteriorate, with Philip departing from Outremer early and leaving Richard with a weak army.
Richard and his army continued to march towards Jaffa, but his cavalry were frequently attacked by skilful archers who would fire a swarm of arrows before making a rapid retreat. As soon as it became clear that these random attacks would not prevent Richard from progressing across the Holy Land, Saladin ordered his army to move within a few miles north of Jaffa in Arsuf in battle formation.
Sadly for Saladin, this decision proved a mistake and resulted in the crusaders crushing the lighter troops with a strong charge. It wasn’t long before Saladin made a full retreat and decided to never again face the Christian armies in a set piece battle.
As a result of disease and desertion, Richard’s army became smaller and smaller, and soon Saladin called for reinforcements from Egypt, Mesopotamia and Syria. Seriously outnumbered, Richard realised it would be impossible for him to keep hold of Jerusalem and, following a year of battles and diplomacy, he signed a three-year truce. This truce stated that Jerusalem would remain under the control of the Muslims but would also allow Christian pilgrims and traders to visit the city without fear of danger.
Richard’s decision marked the last time he would travel to the Holy Land, but it also led to the call for a Fourth Crusade in 1192. Despite this, his victories along the way ensured the survival of a Crusader kingdom around Acre.
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