A King and the Crusades. In 1095, pilgrims returning from the Holy Land had brought back alarming tales. Palestine had been overrun by the Turks. It was impossible to reach Jerusalem, and the Moslem invaders were carrying out fearful cruelties. The Pope in Rome asked the European kings to mount a crusade.
Spurred on by a French monk named Peter the Hermit, the armies set off for the eastern Mediterranean. In 1099, after fierce fighting, they won back Jerusalem, which was turned into an independent Christian city-state. The pilgrims could return in safety.
Nearly a century went by, In 1187, the Sultan of Egypt – a firebrand named Saladin – marched on the Holy City with his Saracens and retook it. Again, the Pope appealed for a crusade. Among those who agreed to take part was Henry II’s son, King Ricard I – otherwise knows as Richard Coeur de Lion (Richard the Lion Heart) for his courage in battle.
This was just the kind of thing Richard enjoyed. He had little interest in the responsibilities of government. He preferred to spend his time jousting in tournaments, or else fighting on the field of battle. He had come to the throne on Henry’s death in 1189. During his reign of ten years, he spent only a few months in England.
In 1190, Richard I set out for Palestine. On the way, he captured Cyprus. In the following year, he joined ip with the French and Austrian forces, and laid siege to the port of Acre. The garrison surrended. The next target should have been Jerusalem.
But after the fall of Acre, the Crusaders quarrelled. Richard insulted Duke Leopold of Austria, and then almost came to to blows with the French King, Philip Augustus. Leopold and Philip returned in a huff to Europe. Richard was now on his own.
His troops marched through rain and mud to the Holy City. When they arrived, they found that Saladin had strengthened the fortifications and reinforced his army. A siege like that at Acre would have been useless. But even though there was little threat, Saladin agreed to have talks with Richard. As it happened, the two men got on very well together. Saladin agreed that pilgrims might have safe conduct to the Holy Citry – though he refused to give of it up.
In 1192, Richard began his long journey back to England. On the way, he was captured by the now hostile Duke Leopold. Leopold shut him up in the castle at Durnstein in Austria and demanded a ransom of £100,000.
Before departing for the crusade, Richard had put his brother John in charge of Ireland and six English counties. Instead of trying to raise the money for the king’s ransom, John offered to give land to the King of France. In return, the French sovereign should agree to John’s taking over the English throne. The deal misfired. The money was found, and Richard was set free.
But even after this adventure, Richard was not content to stay in England for long. There was always somebody to be fought – this time, the King of France. Like his father, Henry II, Richard was always on the move. He was killed by a well-aimed arrow while besieging the castle at the French town of Chalus in 1199.
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