Dear Readers: I wanted to let you know that fellow SLOB and military history expert Barry Jacobsen will be on Canto Talk this Monday (Jan. 28th) to do part #2 of the Crusades (7 pm Pacific Time/9 Pm Central Time — Click Here for Show link).
The topic will be the big battles and even bigger personalities of the Second and Third Crusades. Some highlights will include:
The Fourth of July, a time for Americans to celebrate their War of Independence from the English in 1776, had an entirely different meaning to medieval Europe. For the Fourth of July, 1187 was to be one of the bloodiest battles of the crusades, the Battle of the Horns of Hattin.
The area is called the Horns of Hattin for the two rocky peaks that rise over the brush covered slopes behind Tiberius on the Sea of Galilee. It was here that Saladin aligned 12,000 of his knights plus an army carrying regular provisions at Tiberius. An army as well mounted and armed as anything that could be assembled by the combined forces of the Templar and Hospitaller orders. On the other side of the battlefield were the crusading forces comprised of 20,000 foot soldiers but only about 1,000 knights. This force, small by comparison, was assembled by depleting the forces of many surrounding cities thus leaving the unarmed cities open to attack.
The Christian army had set out for Tiberius in the early morning hours of July 3rd, leaving in their wake their well-watered camp for the dust and dryness of the desert air. They carried with them that Holy relic so many would die for in coming battles, the True Cross, discovered in 326 CE by the mother of Constantine the Great.
As they made the trek in the hot desert sun they found no water to aid their thirst and in the heavy armor must have been near exhaustion. By evening of July 3rd, the crusading army arrived at a plateau below the Horns of Hattin, which jutted into the air 100 feet above them. Even at this resting spot the Templars and other crusading warriors found no water, as the well was dry and the only stream was blocked.
Fear was among the men and a foreboding sense of doom swept the crusaders. The Count of Tripoli who’s wife was held captive some miles away is said to have jumped from his horse uttering cries of woe to the heavens:
“Lord God, our war is over! We are nothing but dead men-and the Kingdom has come to an end.”
That evening many of the men could not sleep for need of water. Some, in a foolish move, went down from the plateau to quench their thirst only to be captured and beheaded by Saladin’s men. The Muslims, in an act of torment, then set the dry grasses covering the hill ablaze. As the hot flames licked up the side of the hill, soldiers already parched of thirst and hot from their heavy armor to suffer even more fear then they had already felt.
By morning, Saladin’s men had completely enclosed the crusaders. So secure had they trapped them that a chronicler of the event claimed, “not a cat could have slipped through the net.” The tired crusaders were outnumbered by ten to one and as dawn approached, the Muslim horns blew heralding the coming attack. Before the crusaders lay certain death and they fought that way, charging recklessly into the battle. Seeing the Christians charging, Saladin’s army did not meet the attack but instead opened up his forces allowing the crusaders to charge through. Once in Saladin closed the opening, in the process sealing the crusader’s fate.
The Saracen forces then began charging up the hill in endless droves. The Christians fought back silently as more and more of the crusading force met with the death of Saladin’s blades. As the day fought on, there remained but a few hundred Christian knights huddled around King Guy’s tent. Saladin’s son, seeing the small pack of crusaders rallied around Guy’s tent cried out to his father that the infidels had been routed. His father, who said as long as the tent stood the battle had not been won, chastised him. In the tent, the trembling Guy held onto the True Cross. Another Muslim charge soon brought the tent to the desert dirt.
Before relating the major events of the Third Crusade, the backgrounds of both Richard and Saladin must first be examined, especially since Saladin is so directly related to the precipitating events of the crusade. Richard was born in 1157 and was the third son of Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine. He spent much of his youth in Aquitaine, where his mother “imbued Richard with her special code of courtly love”.4 As Richard grew older, he was defiant of his father. Richard was the Duke of Aquitaine, but this title carried no real power, and since he wanted more, he made a pact with the King of France. Despite the rebelliousness of his son, Henry II eventually forgave Richard, and it was after this point that Henry vested Richard with “the power and authority to subdue the rebellious barons of Aquitaine and Gascony and to confiscate the lands of any barons who resisted him”, allowing Richard to hone his military skill.5 Shortly after his father’s death in 1189, Richard succeeded Henry as King of England, Duke of Normandy, and Count of Anjou, and he would soon prepare to set out on the Third Crusade.
Saladin was born into a Kurdish family in 1137 at Tikreet, and he grew up in Baalbek and Damascus. It is sometimes argued that Saladin learned from his education in Damascus to “walk in the path of righteousness, to act virtuously, and to be zealous in waging war against infidels”.6 He began his rise to power in Egypt, where he succeeded his uncle’s command, serving Nur ad-Din, the lord of Syria centered in Damascus. Despite differences between the two men, following Nur ad-Din’s death in 1174, Saladin was able to take control of Syria, and he was pronounced sultan of both Egypt and Syria, ending a division between the two that had lasted centuries.7 This produced a united Arab front against the Christians and led to the events directly preceding the Third Crusade: the Frankish defeat at the Battle of Hattin and the fall of Jerusalem in 1187.
Similarly to the Second Crusade, the Third Crusade was also a response to losses in the East – this time from the defeat at Hattin and the capture of Jerusalem. Following these disasters, Pope Gregory VIII made an appeal for aid in the Holy Land. Frederick Barbarossa, the Holy Roman Emperor, set out for the East in 1189, but he died before he could reach the Holy Land, which was a severe loss for the Europeans near the very beginning of the Third Crusade.8 The two most significant remaining leaders to set out on crusade from the West were Richard of England and Philip of France, who set out by sea separately in 1191. Richard stopped at Cyprus on his way to the Holy Land and conquered the island before meeting up with Philip at the siege of Acre on 8 June 1191. Saladin was unable to break the Christians’ blockade, and the city fell to the crusading kings in a little over a month, after which Philip departed to return to the West and Richard turned south toward Jaffa.
Eleanor of Aquitaine was one of the most powerful and fascinating personalities of feudal Europe. At age 15 she married Louis VII, King of France, bringing into the union her vast possessions from the River Loire to the Pyrenees. Only a few years later, at age 19, she knelt in the cathedral of Vézelay before the celebrated Abbé Bernard of Clairvaux offering him thousands of her vassals for the Second Crusade. It was said that Queen Eleanor appeared at Vézelay dressed like an Amazon galloping through the crowds on a white horse, urging them to join the crusades.
While the church may have been pleased to receive her thousand fighting vassals, they were less happy when they learned that Eleanor, attended by 300 of her ladies, also planned to go to help “tend the wounded.”
The presence of Eleanor, her ladies and wagons of female servants, was criticized by commentators throughout her adventure. Dressed in armor and carrying lances, the women never fought.