JOFFA RETAKEN: 31 July-5 August 1192


 I have included this next account of King Richard's behaviour during the Third Crusade, not because his own contemporaries found him to be an exceptional man (which they did) but because he was universally accepted as the knightly crusader role model. The author of the following breathless account is Ambrose a thirteenth century Norman herald and Richard's near personal contemporary, who wrote The History of the Holy War. Ambrose was quoted verbatim by Zoë Oldenburg.[1] I found the account helpful in understanding much of the mediaeval mind and have provided that account here.

Richard has many critics including James Reston Jr, who documented Richard's behaviour in the Third Crusade.[2] Richard was overly proud, vain, irresponsible, often inattentive, a homosexual; and apparently filled with doubt at the key moment of that crusade. After two years of wasting time and dallying in Italy, Cyprus, Acre, and Tyre the crusaders were finally at their forward position at Beit Nuba within striking distance of Jerusalem. Richard was their acknowledged leader just returned from a reconnaissance towards their final goal of Jerusalem. The French contingent had broken away in an earlier disagreement, but had returned. Saladin was evacuating Jerusalem. The weather had been awful but the summer fighting-season had finally arrived. On 24 June 1192, Richard called for a commanders conference and announced that he would not support the final attack. The king stated that Jerusalem was too far from their logistical sea-support, he noted that Saladin had spies who knew their every move, that Saladin had poisoned the water wells around Jerusalem, that the crusaders ought to attack Egypt instead. The attack on Jaffa was the last battle of the Third Crusade. The crusaders were devastated.

Heralds and bards were a means for mass media propaganda and Ambrose was obliged to sing the praises of the Plantagenet kings. However, this account captures a sense of credibility in the quoted admiration of Saladin, of Richard and Richard's heroic acts and inspiration, now accepted as historical fact. The English were physically larger than most of the Turks, wore a better and heavier armour and could therefore sustain an attack longer. This is illustrated by the accounts of Turkish arrows left hanging in the knights' hauberk (made of interlocking rings of hammered steel and made obsolete by the arbalest - a powerful crossbow - which led to the use of plated armour).[3] The hauberk was close woven like today's ski outfit, cost the equivalent of a house today and a major investment. A mounted Christian knight had a big armoured horse and used the stirrup - invented in the East - to take the physical shock of battle while leaving him balanced to continue fighting. Servants, transportation, food and shelter for several years, together with his armour, weapons, heavy war horse and riding horses were all paid for by the knight. This investment cost a fortune. In return his lord might pay the vassal knight.

Richard The Lion Heart was a man of his day and Ambrose illustrates the feudal behaviour that the Scots followed well after most of Western Europe. Many English names are French, because French Normans had only arrived in England a century earlier. (The Arab for European is still Franc.) But Richard had already adapted the Saxon and Norman tactics. In the epic two-day battle of Joffa, against all odds, he took the beach head by stubborn brute force and size, and on the following day, as a defence against the Saracen counterattack, he mixed lances and crossbows. This gave Richard the same strength that Wellington used at Waterloo: a mix of effective unbroken defence against a charging mounted attack, combined with a projected offensive counter force (the long range crossbows) and mobile armoured reserve.[4] Richard was clearly a clever, inspiring leader, moving to tactical weak points while thinking strategically ahead - he may have been an equally bad king, by having abandoned his responsibility to govern. As king, Richard spent less than one year in England!

Ambrose's Account:

..."Meanwhile the host returned to Acre all heavy and disconsolate. All thought now to depart and were going straight to their vessels. King Richard himself had now taken leave of the Temple and Hospital and had looked to his galleys that they might be well preserved. And on the morrow would he go on board to proceed to Beirut and besiege it. Now came a barge full speed toward Acre. And they who came forth of the barge hastened to the king, and they told him that Joppa had been taken and our folk besieged on Toron, and if these were not succoured by him they would all be destroyed and slain. And the king said: 'In sooth will I go thither!' But in no wise would the French obey him. Nevertheless many Templars and Hospitallers and many other good knights made ready and gat them to horse and journeyed by land straight to Caesarea. And the king went in galleys on the sea. Richly had he and his armed themselves. There was the earl of Leicester, and there were Andrew of Chauvigni, Roger of Saci, Jordan of Hommet, Ralph of Mauleon, (who bears a lion on his banner), Aucon of Fai, there were they of Priaux and many others. They were going in God's service, with them of Genoa and them of Pisa....

"They that were going by land to Joppa, and who thought to go all the way thither, had rested at Caesarea; and scarcely were they come thither when it was told them that Saladin was causing the roads to be guarded, so that they were so good as besieged there; it was the Assassin's son, who lay between Arsul and Caesarea. And on the sea our people were held back by a contrary wind - both the king and the rest that were in the galleys - so that for three days they lay off Caiphas nor moved thence. And the king cried: 'Have pity, O God! Wherefore holdest Thou me here? For 'tis on Thy service I am bent!' And God in His bounty sent them a wind out of the north, which bare him and all his fleet to the port of Joppa on a Friday, late in the night; and on Saturday, at nones, would the truce be expired. Then had the Christians been in evil case and doomed to death and dole, had God not delivered them through the king...

"The brave king and his illustrious men had lain in their galleys through all the night of Friday even until the morning of Saturday; then he armed himself, and his men did likewise. Now shall ye hear of the warrant whereby the safety of the city had been warranted, and of all the treachery that the Turks had contrived against them that thought their safety warranted by the bezants which they had promised. The Saracens demanded that they should pay in the morning, and in the morning they began to make their payments. But even as they made them, the Saracens cut off their heads one by one. And they thought that they were acting very cunningly; but fie upon the faith of a cur! Already had they slain seven and cast them into a ditch, when they that were on Toron perceived it. And they that were there said that then might ye have seen a very pitiful sight upon Toron, before the tower, because of the fear that they had that they were now doomed to death. Then had ye seen many folk weeping, kneeling down and praying, making confession, reciting their mea culpa; whilst they that were without gat themselves within, into the great press of people, that they might put off their dying as long as possible. For every creature, when death close pursueth it, seeketh a little season of respite and delay....

"Then did the Turks perceive the galleys which were already in the harbour. All down to the strand they came, until the shore was so filled with them that they could scarce abide there. Bucklers they bare and targes; and they shot at the barges and clean over the king's galleys. They that were on horseback hurled themselves into the sea, shooting at our men to keep them from getting to land.

"But the brave King Richard drew all his vessels together, for to speak to his company. Then said he to his chivalry: 'Ye gentle knights, what shall we do? Shall we go hence, or shall we get us to land? Or how shall we be able to do this?' Certain ones there were who answered that to their mind it were of no avail to gain the shore or to seize the port, for all thought that surely all the people of the castle already slain. Whilst they were yet enquiring whether they could get them to land, lo, the king of England saw a chantry priest leap suddenly from the shore into the sea, who came a-swimming straight towards the king. And him he took into his galley. Then quoth the priest: 'O gentle king, perished are the folk that here await thee, an God and thou have not compassion on them!' 'How, good friend,' quoth the king, 'are any yet alive? Wither are they gone?' 'Yea, sire, before yonder tower are they all assembled, awaiting death.' And so soon as the king perceived that this was so, no longer did he tarry, but straightaway said: 'God hath caused us to come hither for to endure and suffer death; and since it now behooves us to die, then shame on him who will not go yonder!' Then he bade the galley draw near to the shore and, with his legs unarmed, he leaped into the sea - by good fortune, only up to his girdle - and came apace to dry ground, the second or mayhap the first to land; such was his custom. Geoffrey of the Wood and Peter of Preaux, valiant companion of the king, and all the others leaped in after him and went against the Turks with whom the shore was filled and attacked them. And the brave king in his own person slew many with his arbalest; and his people bold and ready, pursued them all along the strand. The Turks fled before the king, whom they durst not confront; and he laid hand to his brand of steel and went running after them and pursued them in that hour so hard that they had no leisure to defend themselves. They durst no longer await him nor his well proved company, who were smiting them like folk gone mad. And so did these smite and press them that they cleaned the shore of Turks and drave them all back; and after this they took tuns and timbers and great planks and old galleys and barges, and therewith builded they a bulwark across the shore betwixt them and the Saracen folk. And there the king put knights and sergeants and arbalesters, who skirmished with the Saracens. The infidels howled and hooted, but they withdrew perforce in their own despite. Then the king went up by a winding stair which leadeth to the house of the Templars. There entered he the first of them all and gat him by force into the city, and he found there more than three thousand Saracens who were despoiling the castle and carrying away all that was therein. Then Richard, the bravest king in all the world, so soon as he was on top of the walls, caused his banners to be displayed and to be lifted up until the be-leagured Christians saw them. And so soon as they espied them, 'Holy Sepulchre!' cried they all. Their weapons they and did their armor on, nor tarried any longer. Then had you seen the infidel host assailed with fear when they beheld our men descending! Then had you also seen full many a Turk laid low, whom the king struck down to earth none durst await his stroke, lest his life be lost thereby. Then were our folk come clean down into the midst of the streets. So was the town delivered and the Saracens put to great shame.

"The king went out of the city after them, who had already wrought such prowess that day. Only three horses had he; nor ever, even at Roncesvalles, did any man young or old, Saracen or Christian, acquit himself in such fashion as he. For when the Turks beheld his banner they trembled on every side. There had no coward cared to be: for never hath God made snow or rain fall thicker or faster, even when they fall most grievously, than the bolts and arrows which rained down upon the Christians. Then was the news brought to Saladin that his people were so assailed; and he, the accursed infidel, who was worse maddened than a wolf, waxed feverous with fear. Nor durst he tarry longer there but caused his pavilions to be struck, and his tents, and to be carried back into the plains. And the king and his valiant men followed and pursued after them and treading hard upon their heels, with their arbalesters shooting at them and slaying their horses. And so close did they press the Turks and so sorely did they wound them with their arrows that they retreated full two leagues. Then straightaway the king caused his own tent to be pitched in that very place where Saladin had not dared await him. There encamped Richard the Great.

"When that two days fight was ended and when the host of Turks had retreated, then was that host abashed and sore ashamed because they had been driven back by folk on foot, who had but little force against so great a multitude as they were; but God put forth His hand that His people might not come to harm. Then, lo, Saladin called together his Saracens and Turks of highest estate and asked of them; 'Who pursueth you? Is, then, the whole host come back from Acre, that it hath thus put my folk to flight? Are they on horseback, that came down upon you?' Then up spake a certain traitor who knew the matter and had seen the king: 'Sire, never a beast have they with them, neither horse nor mule, save that the king, that doughty warrior, found three steeds in Joppa; so many are there or can be - not another one! And if there be any one here who would fain undertake the thing, then he could seize the kings person with scarce any pains; for he lieth alone in his tent.'

"Now it was on a Saturday (according to the history that I am reciting to you) that the city was delivered from the Saracens, who indeed had wrought marvels there which shall always be spoken of: for they had taken Joppa a second time, and had put to death the sick Christian folk that they found there, and it was proved of a truth that they found so many swine in the city, which they killed and destroyed, that the number thereof was infinite; for it is in sooth known that they eat not the flesh of swine and are therefore very fain to kill them, nor hate they any more any other earthly thing in their despite against the Christians' faith. So they had mingled and laid side by side the dead folk and the swine. But our people, being moved by God to do this thing, took up the bodies of the other Christian folk and laid them all in the earth; but the Saracens that they had slain on the Saturday they cast out together with the dead swine, which stank so that our folk could no longer endure it.

"Then did the king bid them toil on Sunday and on Monday upon the wall of Joppa, and on the Tuesday also, wheresoever they saw it broken; until in the end they had reared it anew so well as could be done without lime or mortar, so be it there were any need of defence. But the host abode without the tents, where they must needs keep straighter watch....

"Lo, in a galley came Count Henry of Champagne from Caesarea, he and his company. For the host had come to Caesarea; but there, despite itself, had it been stayed by the Saracens, who were watching the streams and passes so that the king might get no succor. Nor had he any, of all their company, save only of the count his nephew. Nor had he for to carry him through that day's fighting which had been prepared for him, more than fifty knights, or at the most three score, with sergeants and arbalesters brave and skilful in their business, and men of Genoa and Pisa who had offered themselves in God's service, and other folk about two thousand. Nor even then, after he had rescued the city, had he full fifteen horses, good and bad together; such lack of these had he thereafter that his people had surely perished and been undone if God had not protected him against the Turks and their designs.

"Now shall ye hear a great marvel, whereat all the world marveleth; for certainly had all our people been taken on Wednesday through that complot whereby the enemy thought to seize the king, had not God taken care of him. That night, about the hour of matins, the Saracens mounted and drew up their ranks, then they laced their aventailes and rode forth by the light of the moon. And then did God one of His glorious acts of mercy; and when He doeth such a kindness, fitting it is that it be recounted. Behold them, then, riding adown the plain in serried ranks. Then the Lord God Himself caused a dispute to arise betwixt the Kurds and the Mamelukes, whether of the twain should dismount and await our people on foot so that our men might not be able to retreat into the castle and find shelter there. And each company said: 'Ye shall dismount!' 'Nay, ye shall!' 'Nay, ye yourselves; that is but right, for we are the better horsemen!' So came they, quarrelling among themselves; and the strife of each with the other endured until they saw the daylight clear, even as God had purposed. And the king was yet asleep in his tent.

"Now listen ye to the high adventure of a certain Genoese who had arisen and gone out upon the heath at the very peep of dawn. And as he was turning about to go back he saw the glistening of their helmets. Then straight he bowed his head, but lifted up his voice and cried to our people to do their armor on and rush to arms. And the king was wakened by the cry, albeit he had laboured hard that day. Forth of his bed he leaped upon his feet and donned, I ween, an hauberk white and tough and stout. He bade his companions instantly awake; nor is it any marvel if, in so sudden a surprise, they had much ado to clothe and to arm themselves. And I can well assure you that they had such haste, both the king and many others besides, that with legs unarmed, bare and uncovered save by the shadow of the clouds - yea, some even naked and unbreached - they fought perforce that day, receiving many blows and wounds; and t'was their state that troubled them most of all.

"Now whilst our folk were arming themselves, the Saracens were drawing ever nearer. Then the king mounted, and he had with him not more than ten men on horseback. And the history telleth us clearly that Count Henry of Champagne was there on horse with his company; and Bartholomew of Mortemer was there, mounted, I ween; and there was Ralph of Mauleon, who never had his fill of fighting; and there was Andrew of Cauvigni, stout and valiant in his saddle; and their was Girard of Fournival, on horseback with the king; and there was Roger of Saci, sitting on a sorry nag; and there was Hugh of Neuville, a sergeant bold and noble. And Henry Le Tyois bare the king's banner in the midst of their band.

"And now behold our people drawn up in order against the cruel infidel host, and ranged by battalions, each with its own command. The knights were on the left hand, along the shore, over toward St. Nicholas' Church, fronting the Saracen folk; there was it meet that they should be, for thitherward moved the more part of the Turks, beating their drums and yelling. And before the gardens were set folk of diverse nations; there were the Pisans and there were the Genoese, nor were it now possible to tell or to recount the assaults that these suffered of the hated folk. The Turks began to shoot their arrows, and to hoot and to shout and to yell. There had you seen marvellous fighting and our good folk hard beset. They kneeled upon their knees, setting their targes and their shields upright before them, their lances in their hands. And the king, who was well skilled with arms, caused to be hidden under all the targes, betwixt two men, an arbalester and a man for to bend his bow and give it back to him when he had bent it; and by this means was the host well defended. Thus they were ordered.

"But it must not be doubted that they who were in such jeopardy, opposed to the multitude of Turks that they saw, had fear for their own heads. But it is so true that you are now here that the king was amongst them, encouraging them and exhorting the knights; and John of Preaux went with him, likewise preaching to them. And they said: 'Now will it be shown who will strive valiantly so long as God preserveth his life. For now is nought else to do save to sell our lives dearly and to await our martyrdom, since God hath so decreed for us. Now we are in the right way, since He of His bounty giveth us that which we came to seek. Here is found our true recompense.'

"Then the ranks stood fast, and the squadron of Turks came on. And our folk ever kept their legs planted in the sand and all their lances in rest, ready to receive them. Then advanced the battalions of the false Saracen folk with such impetuosity, with such clatter of hoofs, that an our folk had moved at all, the Turks had broken through their line; for there were, an I err not, a thousand in each battalion. But when they were hard upon our men and saw that they moved not, they turned and rode close along our front. Then the arbalesters let fly, and the Turks durst not await them; for they hit both their bodies and the bodies of their horses and overthrew them. But presently back came the squadrons, and yet again were they drawing near, stopping short, and wheeling them about; and thus they did many times. And when the king and his men saw that even though they were so many and were on horseback, the Turks would not do otherwise, then with lance head lowered, each man thrust himself with all his might into the great press of the unbelieving enemy folk; and so violently did they assail them that all the ranks trembled, even unto the third line. Then did the king look about him, and yonder on the left saw he the brave earl of Leicester fall, who had been stricken down from his horse, though valiantly had he fought; but the brave king went and rescued him. Then had you seen so many Turks come charging straight toward the lion banner! Then, lo, was Ralph of Mauleon led off captive of the Turks; but the king put spurs to his noble steed and gat him out of their hands again. Mightily wrought the king in the midst of the press against Turks and Persians; never in one day hath any man, be he weak or strong, performed such deeds of prowess. For he charged into the midst of the Turks, and clave them to the teeth; and so many a time did he charge them, and so many blows did he deal them, and so wore he himself with smiting, that the very skin of his hands cracked.

"Then came a Saracen pricking, outstripping the other Turks, riding a courser swift and nettlesome. This was the valiant Safadin of Arcady, he that wrought such deeds of prowess and bounty and largess. Spurring he came, as I have said, with two Arab steeds which he delivered to the king of England, praying and beseeching him, because of the king's prowess which he knew and the great valour he possessed, to mount them; with this understanding; that if God brought him safe and sound out of this pass wherein he saw him now, the king would grant to him some guerdon. Thereafter had he rich reward for this. The king was very fain to take them; and he said that many another such would he gladly receive from his most mortal enemy, an ever again he were brought to such straits as he was now in.

"Then hotter waxed the fight, never was its like seen before. All the ground was covered with the arrows of that folk perverse, which men gathered up by armfuls. So many wounded were there to see, that the rowers fled back into the galleys from whence they had come forth. He that fleeth in such an hour greatly dishonoreth himself! Then arose a cry from the city that the Turks were coming thither in a body, thinking to take our people by surprise both in the front and in the rear. And the king, with two other knights, rode thither, bearing his banner. And so soon as he was entered therein, in the middle of the street he met three Turks in costly harness; he smote them like a king and gave them so rude an encounter that he straightway gat him two other horses there; and the Turks he slew.

"And the other infidels drave he by force out of the city. Then passed he on and caused the gate whereby they had entered to be stopped from side to side and top to bottom, and he set guards to guard it. Straight to the galleys he went then went he, wither his people had gone in great fear and distress. And Richard, son of prowess, brought back courage to them all and caused them to row again to land, and gat his people once more together, so that there remained only five men in each galley. And with the rest back came he to the host, which had no repose. Then made he that adventurous charge - none other such was ever made! For so deep he charged into that heathen horde that they swallowed him up, nor could any of his own folk longer see him. And it lacked but little that they had followed after him, breaking their ranks; then had we all been lost. Howbeit, the king was not dismayed; but he smote before him and behind him until with the sword that he held he had made a highway there, withersoever he would go; were it man or horse he smote, he cut them all down. There, at one stroke an I mistake not, he clave off the arm and head of an emir in iron armor, sending him straight to hell. And after this stroke, which the Turks beheld, so wide room did they make for him that he came back, thanks be to God, unharmed. But his body, his horse, his trappings - all were so covered with arrows which the swarthy folk had rivalled in shooting at him that he resembled a hedgehog. So came he back from battle, which endured all that day long from morning until eventide - so cruel and so fierce a battle that if God had not sustained His people, ill had it gone with them. But in sooth He was with us - that saw we, when never a man had we lost there that day, save one or two only [?]. But the Turks lost more than fifteen hundred horses, which were lying on the hills and in the vales, and more than seven hundred men also, who all lay there dead. Nor for all this their travail did they carry off the king, who before the eyes of their hated folk had wrought his great feats of knighthood; so that they were all dumbfounded at the prowess which they saw performed by him and by them that were with him, who put themselves in jeopardy of death.

"When God had thus of His bounty delivered the king and the Christian people from the infidel folk and the host had departed, then were told the words that Sultan Saladin had addressed to the Saracens in his bitter anger at his discomfiture. 'Where,' asked he, 'are they that have taken the king? Where is he that bringeth him hither to me?' And a Turk from a far country made answer: 'Sire, I will tell thee, nor in aught will I lie. Never yet hath such another man been seen - so valiant, so cunning - or one better proved in arms. For every need will he be found ready. Greatly have we travailed and mighty blows have we dealt, but never have we been able to take him; for none dareth to await his stroke, so bold is he and so dexterous.'

"My lords, think it no fable that the Turks knew him right well, or that they would have taken him that time but for God's help and his own great cunning. For many prowesses wrought he that day, and such travail had he and the other brave men that were with him, that they fell sick - being yet nigh to that folk whom may God curse! - both from the labours of that day's emprise and from the carrions wherewith the city was so defiled; and so was their natural strength broken that it lacked but little that they had died - both the king and the others that were there.

"Now whilst the king lay sick and in sore misease, Saladin sent him word that himself and his Saracens would come and take him where he lay, so be it he durst not await their coming. And straight the king sent word back to him that Saladin should know and be assured that he would await him in that very place where he now was; nor ever, in any place, so long as he could stand on his feet or raise himself upon his knees, would he flee one single foot for him. Thus was taken up the gage of war. But God knew well how little ease he had the while he spake thus nobly, Then did he send Count Henry (so saith the tale) back to Caesarea for the French who had come hither afore, and for the other folk that were there, to come now and defend the land...."[5]


1†††††††††††† ZoŽ Oldenburg in The World Is Not Enough, pp 493-500.† Ambrose (also spelled Ambroise) wrote l'Estoire de la Guerre Sainte a Third Crusade chronicle of which this is her translated quote.

2             See James Reston Jr, Warriors of God, Richard the Lionheart and Saladin in the Third Crusade, pp. 313-327. Reston gives the context for the Jaffa affaire and confirms Richard's magnificent behaviour. He notes that Saladin was also impressed and dismayed to see Richard fighting on foot. Saladin, whose own behaviour was truly chivalrous, sent Richard two horses. Saladin sent his own brother to say that 'kings ought to lead on horse'. Because of Richard's behaviour here the defending Arabs and Turks were badly defeated. (Various historians have pointed out that Richard quit this crusade at the moment of victory when Saladin and Jerusalem were virtually defenceless. His defenders note that the real cost of maintaining the remote Jerusalem had only then dawned on Richard.)

3             National Geographic, The Age Of Chivalry, p. 7.

4             David Chandler, Waterloo, The Hundred Days, describes Wellington's tactics at Waterloo.† John Keegan, The Face of Battle, describes the psychological moment and impact of cavalry confronting unwavering armed infantry.

5             In the end all Richard's efforts were for nothing.† The Saracens won the crusades and Saladin was declared the winner: Saladin was even recorded as Chaucer's ... verray, parfit gentil knyght.

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