The Crusade of Richard I

It’s been awhile since I read a full book on the Crusades.

I picked up an interest in the subject in college after studying the Knights Templar. This was before bookstore shelves sagged under the weight of dubious Templar histories in the wake of Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code. (Though it was after the publication of Brown’s inspiration: Holy Blood, Holy Grail from Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh.)

So, when I saw that NetGalley was giving away review copies of this old history, I picked one up.

By the way, whenever King Richard’s name comes up, Steely Dan’s “Kings” comes to mind:

Now they lay his body down

Sad old men who run this town.

I still recall the way

He led the charge and saved the day.

Blue blood and rain

I can hear the bugle playin’.

We seen the last of Good King Richard.

Ring out the past his name lives on.

Roll out the bones and raise up your pitcher.

Raise up your glass to Good King John!

Review: The Crusade of Richard I, T. A. Archer, 1898, 2016.crusade-of-king-richard-i

A good book, an interesting and very readable compilation of primary sources about the Third Crusade, what we would now call a sourcebook, and I’d recommend it to anyone curious about the subject.

This was part of a 19th century publisher to put together learned but popular histories for the English public, and Archer went on to write several entries in the Dictionary of National Biography.

Archer’s footnotes are valuable in annotating the confusing similarities of names and titles, providing alternate names for places, correcting mistakes in dates, and even trying to locate where certain settlements in Outremer were.

The famous stories from the Third Crusade are all here. Saladin (or his brother Saphadin) really did send Richard a horse after the king lost his at the Crusader assault on Jaffa. Richard did have almost 3,000 Moslem captives beheaded though both English and Islam accounts support the conclusion it was not gratuitous cruelty but impatience over stalled negotiations between Saladin and Richard. (They didn’t call them hostages for nothing.) A few noble emirs were kept alive because both armies were always looking to cash in with aristocrat redemption.

Richard and Saladin did really respect each other, and Crusader and Moslem accounts express similar admiration for the opposition’s leader, and it seems sincere and not the medieval equivalent of resume inflation.

Hospitalers and Templars really did bring a long-term, extensive knowledge of Palestine and its customs and politics that the short-term crusaders from Europe lacked.

And the sincere piety – and grumblings and occasional despair – of the Christian pilgrims comes through, an indication that the Crusades, whatever their faults, were not cynical, insane, moneymaking schemes.

Some of the lesser known bits are just as interesting: the penal code for misbehaving Crusaders, how Richard conquered the whole island of Cyprus en route to Jerusalem, the forged letter put out to quash the rumor that Richard hired the Order of Assassins that killed King Conrad, the tactics of employing crossbows and how dismounted knights used their lances like pikes in extremity, the long negotiations that brought Richard’s crusade to an end, and Saladin and Richard’s final conversation.

Richard comes across as not only charismatic and a skilled warrior in combat but also a keen student of logistics. In his dealings with the French and Christians in Outremer, he had to overcome resistance and internal dissension. For instance, he talked the French out of assaulting Jerusalem – the Crusade never took it – because the Crusaders did not have enough men and Saladin has poisoned the wells for miles around the city so their mounts would have to go off station to be watered.

These days Richard might be referred to as a coalition commander. Saladin faced similar problems on the Moslem side.

The sources for this crusade, says Archer, are numerous. These are the sources that modern historians spin all those thick volumes out of. The main ones are Bohâdin (a confidant of Saladin), Richard de Templo reputed writer of the Itinerarium Regis Ricardi, Roger of Howden, and some Ernoul thrown in for color.

A lot of the book is from the Itinerarium which reaches a crescendo of fulsome praise for Richard when he breaks Saladin’s siege of Jaffa on August 1, 1192:

But what can we think of the king – one man hedged in by many thousand foes: to record his deed would cramp the writer’s finger joints and stun the hearer’s mind. What need for many words? The strength of Antaeus in the story was renewed by contact with the earth; and yet Antaeus perished in the long run. The flesh of Achilles, who had been dipt in the Stygian waves, is said to have been impenetrable to weapons; but he too died, being smitten in his only vulnerable part. Alexander of Macedon, whose ambition prompted him to subdue the whole world, achieved great wars it is true, but it was by an innumerable band of chosen soldiers. The most valiant of men, Judas Maccabeus, of whose doings all people tell, after many wonderful exploits, fell when deserted by his followers, fighting with his scanty host against many thousand aliens. But king Richard, hardened to war from his youngest years, — Richard to whom Roland himself cannot be compared – abode unconquerable and unwounded in accordance with the divine decree.

But most of the rest of the book is more sober and plausible than that. Those competing accounts of the same events unsurprisingly differ in telling details but agree on others.

My review copy was a kindle edition and it was a mess.

Words are slammed together, and footnotes jammed into the text, splitting the text up and making the reader struggle to tell which is which. I think the publisher scanned an old edition without editing the resulting chaos. Plenty of chapter titles in bold but no navigation to individual chapters.

It appears that the edition for sale on Amazon has solved some of these problems though I’m not sure about chapter navigation. [Update: It appears that the kindle edition is only a jumble when read in portrait mode on a handheld kindle. The problems seem to disappear when reading in landscape mode.]

Other reviews of nonfiction books are indexed here.

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