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  • Daniel Van Fossen

The Battle of Jaffa: Richard and Saladin's final contest

Updated: Feb 6, 2023

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Many of us know the names of Richard the Lionheart and Saladin - Richard the valorous king of England plays an important role in most retellings of Robin Hood. Saladin the chivalrous Sultan captures the imagination with his famous magnanimity and conquest of Jerusalem. Together they provide one of the best known instances of rivalry in popular history. Yet despite this, the battles they fought against each other are often glossed over. In Richard’s case retellings tend to focus on his significant role in the history of Europe: such as his early conflicts with his father Henry II, or his return from the Holy Land and subsequent imprisonment as it relates to the legend of Robin Hood and the internal politics of England. In Saladin’s case, emphasis is given to his signal achievements, the battle of Hattin and the capture of Jerusalem (as in the movie Kingdom of Heaven), both of which happened before Richard’s arrival. Even when mention is made of the battles themselves, Richard’s impressive victory at Arsuf receives attention rather than the final deciding battle at Jaffa - the battle that ended the third crusade.

An Unlucky Crusade

The Third Crusade, called as a response to the loss of Jerusalem after one hundred years of Crusader rule, promised to be the largest and most effective crusade in history, with the kings of England and France as well as the Holy Roman Emperor all taking the cross. Yet it was plagued with misfortune from the start. The Emperor Frederick, after entirely defeating the Anatolian Turks, died in Armenia attempting to cross the Saleph river. This, followed by a terrible plague, all but ended that powerful German contingent. King Richard of England and King Phillip II of France both arrived at the ongoing siege of Acre. With their help the city was finally captured, but dissension between the two kings sent an enraged Phillip back to France. Alone and short on manpower, Richard managed to lead the weakened crusade on an unlikely string of victories. He retook the vital coastline of the Holy Land and drove Saladin inland towards Jerusalem. Though he marched several times on the Holy City, Richard decided against taking it, in keeping with the advice of his local Christian allies and the Military Orders. Yet, despite all this success, Richard would need to return home eventually, and when he did Saladin would be ready. Unless Richard could force a truce from Saladin, there was little chance the Christians could hold their recovered lands after the Lionheart left for Europe. Saladin on the other hand aimed to prolong the war until either Richard departed or let slip his seemingly impenetrable guard. It would be at the battle of Jaffa that both plans came to a head.

Our two main sources for the Battle of Jaffa are Baha Al-din and the author of the Itinerarium. Baha Al-din was a close confidant of Saladin and traveled with the Saracen army during the third crusade. He was an eyewitness to many battles and events. Afterwards he put together a biography of Saladin, which gives a detailed Muslim perspective on this final battle. The author of the Itinerarium is anonymous. Nothing is known concerning him other than what can be gleaned from the work itself. All we know is that he traveled with Richard’s army in a minor capacity and either saw with his own eyes, or spoke with those who did, most of the events of the third crusade.*

The Lightning Siege

After Richard’s failure to attack Jerusalem, the Christians were demoralized. Richard himself, with more bad news coming in from Europe, was preparing to return. None of this was lost on Saladin. It was the perfect moment to strike back and retake the land Richard had wrested from him. He quickly gathered a large army, in the tens of thousands, and marched on Jaffa. The city of Jaffa was defended by a small garrison of about a thousand Franks. Saladin’s attack was blisteringly swift. Due to the size of his army, Saladin was able to completely surround the city, his lines stretching from shore to shore. Immediately he began the construction of massive trebuchets and other stone throwing machines and tasked sappers with undermining the walls. The Muslim army was confident that the beleaguered city would fall with little trouble, but as Baha Al-din wrote, “they showed such firm and determined resistance as undermined the morale of our men.”¹ The garrison, seeing that without help there was little hope of ultimate victory, “sent two emissaries, a local Christian and a Frank, to ask for and discuss terms.”² The Christians asked for a ceasefire lasting a few days, at the end of which, if no help had arrived, they agreed to surrender. Saladin refused the truce and continued his attack on the city. Though Saladin’s sappers worked hard and skillfully to undermine the walls, the garrison defended themselves with countermines, fire and direct sorties, leading Baha Al-din to further exclaim,

“My God, what fighting men they are! How strong they are and how great their courage! Despite everything, they had not closed any gate of the town and they continued to fight outside the gates.”³

When this exhausting day finally ended, Saladin began to regret his refusal of terms, but was determined to finish the siege the following day. During the night he set up a total of five trebuchets, and in the morning began pummeling the weakened walls. Finally the outer wall collapsed and the Muslims surged forward. Despite this the defending garrison fought back ferociously and with incredible discipline.

“When the curtain wall fell, a cloud of dust and smoke went up and darkened the sky. The light of the day was blotted out. Nobody dared to enter the breach, fearing to confront the fire. When the darkness cleared, spear-points had replaced the walls and lances had blocked the breach. Even looks could not penetrate.”⁴

As the garrison fought to hold off Saladin’s forces at the breach, the Turks aimed their artillery at the massed defenders. Baha Al-din writes how he saw a Christian, who stood in the breach, struck by a stone and thrown back into the city, but he was so quickly replaced by a comrade that “only a sharp-eyed man could tell there was any difference”⁵. Finally the garrison, seeing that their situation was hopeless, asked for a ceasefire from Saladin so that they might discuss terms of surrender. Saladin refused knowing his troops were set on sacking the town. Instead he gave permission for the garrison to withdraw into the citadel, from where they could negotiate a surrender. The garrison, seeing no other choice, accepted. Saladin’s army rushed into the city attacking the retreating garrison and slaughtering the wounded who were too weak to escape. Saladin, having abandoned any hope of controlling the destruction, stationed some of his mameluke bodyguards at the gate. Elite slave soldiers from Egypt, the mamelukes were Saladin’s most loyal troops. These were ordered to take, by force if necessary, the loot from any of his soldiers exiting the city. With the garrison now cooped up in the citadel, Saladin changed his mind and attempted to gather his men to assault the citadel by night. However, he was forced to abandon this plan, as his army was both exhausted from the day’s hard fighting and had their hearts set on pillaging the town. In the morning, trumpets were heard from the sea. Frankish ships had come up during the night and were anchored off the shore.

The King Arrives

Saladin reacted quickly. He immediately stationed troops on the shoreline to prevent the relief force from disembarking. Seeing that time was of the essence Saladin sent Baha Al-din into the city to demand the surrender of the garrison. The Christians inside agreed as the relief force was still small and they had no knowledge that King Richard was on his way. Before they surrendered, one of Saladin’s commanders, Izz al-Din, sought to clear the city of the pillaging Muslim troops in order to avoid any violence that would stymie the surrender. However, try as he might, he was unable to control the chaos and wasted precious time herding the endless swarms of looting soldiers. Finally Baha Al-din convinced him to give up and begin evacuating the garrison. Only a few of the garrison had come out and been disarmed, however, when the surrender stalled. The Itinerarium says that the few soldiers who surrendered were killed by the Turks. Baha Al-din makes no mention of this but, considering the confusion in Saladin’s army, he may simply not have known. Regardless of what actually happened, the garrison appears to have believed themselves betrayed. Baha Al-din gives a vivid description of the confusion as it becomes more and more clear that the Christians are not going to surrender.

“One of their number came out and told me that there was some confusion about what they intended to do. They took their shields and mantelets and climbed on to the walls. … When I saw that the situation had come to this, I descended from the rise on which I was standing adjacent to the entrance of the citadel and I said to Izz al-Din, who was standing with his own troop below the rise alongside a detachment of soldiers, ‘Take care. The enemy have changed their minds.’ It was only just a short time, … before the enemy had mounted their horses and charged out from the citadel as one man.”⁶

Meanwhile, unbeknownst to both the Turks and the garrison, King Richard himself was aboard the largest Crusader galley. As soon as he had heard the news of the siege he sailed out from Beirut with a small force. The rest of the Crusaders including the Templars and Hospitallers followed by land. Now looking over the smoking city, he saw no sign of any remaining defenders. The shore was packed with veteran Muslim troops. He was completely outnumbered and faced with the prospect of an amphibious landing on the well defended beaches. All his knights and retainers advised him to withdraw. Why embark on a suicidal attack for a city already lost, for a garrison already dead or captured? Richard reluctantly agreed.

Back in the city the garrison desperately fought on. When they saw the relief force delaying they despaired and again sent emissaries to Saladin. This time the newly appointed Patriarch of Jerusalem and the Commander of the fort, Aubrey of Rheims, acted as envoys. However, there was no break in the hostilities and the battle continued to rage within the town. Meanwhile, Baha Al-din, who still remained in the city, saw a singular sight unfold before his eyes.

“One of the garrison entrusted his life to the Messiah and leapt from the citadel to the harbour side, which was sand and therefore did not injure him at all. He then ran at full speed to the sea.”⁷

Seeing only one hope of salvation, a single priest had jumped from the battlements. The soft sand below cushioned his fall. Running across the beach he leapt into the sea and swam until he had reached the king’s galley. Drenched and exhausted he stood before the king and told him how the garrison still held out in the citadel. Hearing this Richard instantly made his decision. Using his favorite oath he exclaimed,

“By God’s calves they will not capture the Christians!”⁸.

Richard slings his shield on his back and, taking up a crossbow and dane-axe, jumps over the side of the ship into the sea. After shooting his crossbow into the enemy ranks he wades in ahead of all his knights wielding the two handed axe.† The Saracen archers unleash a torrent of arrows but the Crusaders press on into their ranks. The King himself is the first to close with the enemy cleaving all before him. Baha Al-din, who saw him with his own eyes, gives this description.

“He was red-haired, his tunic was red and his banner was red, as was his device.”⁹

The Turks were taken off guard by the ferocity of the attack and by the presence of the dreaded Lionheart himself. Though massively outnumbered Richard and the roughly fifty knights that followed him scattered the Turks and found themselves uncontested on dry land. He was quickly reinforced by a few thousand elite Genoese crossbowmen. Seeking to bring aid to the garrison as soon as possible the Crusader’s used a secret passage made by the Templars to enter the city. Bursting in, they fell upon the unsuspecting Turks.

Despite the sally of the garrison and the attack from the sea, many of the Turkish soldiers were still oblivious to their changing fortune. Spread throughout the city, they looted or killed whatever or whoever they came across. Along with the people they killed all the pigs kept inside the town, pigs being considered an unclean animal by the Muslim troops. Piles of corpses, both human and animal, were indiscriminately thrown together and littered the streets. This was the frightful scene that met Richard and his knights.

There was complete chaos among the Saracens. Attacked at once by the garrison and the relief force, and scattered through the city engaged in pillage, they were unable to put up any cohesive resistance. Many were slaughtered in the narrow streets of Jaffa. The disorder of Saladin’s army was so great that some remained oblivious until the very last moment. Baha Al-din relates,

“Some of them, the dregs of the army, remained in one of the churches, busy doing unacceptable things. The enemy pounced on them and slew them or took them prisoner.”¹⁰

The author of the Itinerarium sums it up in these words.

“Why need I say more? All were slain, except such as took to flight in time; and thus those who had before been victorious were now defeated and received condign punishment”

Perhaps adding to the confusion, some of Saladin’s Mamelukes still waited at the gates of Jaffa, collecting all the loot any soldier might have obtained. One can only imagine the confusion at the gate as the now fleeing soldiers thrust past the persisting Mamelukes.

Baha Al-din gives another vivid description of the retreat from his perspective. Returning to Saladin, he found him finalizing terms with the Patriarch and the Commander.

“I was on horseback so I galloped as far as the sultan and gave him this news. The two envoys were with him and he had just taken his pen in his hand to write their guarantee of safe-conduct. I whispered in his ear what had happened, so he stopped writing and kept them busy in conversation. Hardly a moment later the Muslims came fleeing towards the sultan, who shouted to those about him and all mounted their horses. He seized the envoys and ordered the baggage-train and the camp markets to move back to Yazur.”¹²

The rest of the army streamed out over the plain before the city. Richard’s crossbowmen followed, releasing their bolts and shooting the horses out from under them. Saladin fled with his army, before finally reigning in his troops miles away from the city. A trail of bodies stretched behind him - crossbow bolts in their backs.

Calm Before the Storm

Richard exited the city himself and counted his forces. Although joined by the garrison, the Crusader army was still extremely small. Richard’s army consisted of 55 knights, 1000 spear armed infantry, 2000 Genoese crossbowmen and most concerning of all, only 15 horses, many of which were unfit for combat. Opposed to this was a Saracen army still consisting of some 20,000 men, most of them mounted. They were armed with swords, maces, lances, bows and javelins. Though the majority would have been lightly armored, Saladin still possessed thousands of armored cavalry including his elite Mamelukes. Despite his extreme numerical disadvantage Richard encamped his army outside the city. He himself pitched his tent ahead of all his men exactly where Saladin had stood while besieging the walls.

Interestingly Baha Al-din mentions that Richard was quite popular among the young noblemen and Mamelukes of Saladin’s army. Some he had even knighted in former times. Now many of these visited him in his tent and “there was much conversation and merriment between them”¹³.

During this interval Richard was pointed out to Saladin’s brother, Saphadin. He had often acted as a go between for Richard and Saladin and consequently had become friends with the King. Now he devised a plan to test him. He sent one of his Mamelukes with an ill trained horse to give as a gift to Richard. “He charged him to say to the king that it was totally unacceptable that a king should be fighting against the Saracens on foot.”¹⁴ He hoped that when Richard attempted to mount it he would be thrown, hurting the morale of his troops. Richard however was suspicious and told the Mameluke messenger to ride the horse himself. The trick now being obvious, Richard sent the horse back to Saphadin. Saphadin was embarrassed and sent Richard a new good horse, which the King gratefully accepted. Considering how few quality horses Richard had at this juncture, this was probably a greater gift than Saphadin could have guessed.‡

Towards the end of the day Richard summoned before him representatives from Saladin’s camp. He addressed them in a manner “both serious and light-hearted.”¹⁵ He poked fun at Saladin for his defeat at the hands of such a small army, while also praising him for the speed with which he had taken Jaffa. He finished by asking for renewed peace talks.

“This is a matter that must have an end. My lands over the sea have been ruined. For this to go on is no good for us nor for you.”¹⁶

Saladin responded in a similar tone, but little progress was made. The main points of contention were the city of Jaffa and the castle of Ascalon. Ascalon in particular was located in a crucial spot far to the south and threatened to cut off Saladin’s supply lines from Egypt. Richard had retaken both these places and was busy fortifying Ascalon. In the end Saladin refused any compromise. When Richard threatened that if no terms were made he would need to stay another season, Saladin was unfazed. He responded in an almost paternal manner that it would be far easier for him, an old man, in his own country, and surrounded by his family, to play the waiting game than for Richard, “a young man in the flower of his youth and at a time when he seeks his pleasures,”¹⁷.

Indeed Saladin’s position, although he had been defeated by Richard in every major engagement up to this point, was still strong. In general Muslim armies outnumbered their Crusader opponents, but even more importantly they could be quickly replaced following a loss. In the time leading up to the third crusade Saladin had been defeated multiple times by the Crusaders. For example, at the battle of Montgisard he lost almost 90 percent of his army. Yet Saladin could always raise new troops. He had control of the rich lands of Egypt and, especially when campaigning against Crusaders, access to many allies. However, when King Guy of Jerusalem was decisively defeated at Hattin, this one defeat destroyed the entire military of the Crusader States. The only way of recouping their losses was to wait for reinforcements from distant Europe. As Saladin himself wrote in a letter to the Emperor Frederick,

“If you reckon up the names of the Christians, the Saracens are more numerous and many times more numerous than the Christians. If the sea lies between us and those whom you name Christians, there is no sea to separate the Saracens, who cannot be numbered; between us and those who will come to aid us, there is no impediment.”¹⁸

Now again he spoke in a similar vein to Richard, bragging that, “the army that is with me during the winter is different from that which is with me in the summer.”¹⁹ As long as Saladin could prolong the war and keep his army in the field, a single battle could turn what had been a string of defeats into complete victory.

After the negotiations had ceased, Saladin held a meeting with his officers. His scouts reported that a body of Crusaders was moving by land to reinforce Richard. Not wishing to fight them both together, they debated which to strike first. However when news came that the reinforcements had been delayed at Caesarea, Saladin’s attention shifted towards Richard. Furthermore some of his scouts now reported how the King’s tent was far ahead of the others and was exposed with only a small guard. Saladin saw his chance and took it. He sent ahead a small force to surprise Richard in his tent, and followed with his whole army.


Very early in the morning in the Crusader camp, a certain Genoese soldier was unable to sleep. Going out into the darkness he strolled through the fields before the camp. Suddenly through the blackness he heard the noise of horses moving stealthily and saw the first light of morning glinting on helmets. Immediately he rushed back towards the camp shouting at the top of his lungs. The King himself heard his outcry and began arming himself. Because of this fortunate circumstance Richard had just enough time to marshal his troops.

Richard drew up his infantry in a close packed formation. “each fixing his right knee in the ground, that they might the better hold together, and maintain their position”²⁰. Among these Richard placed his crossbowmen. “Between every two of the men who were thus covered with their shields, the king, versed in arms, placed an arbalester, and another behind him to stretch the arbalest as quickly as possible, so that the man in front might discharge his shot whilst the other was loading.”²¹ Richard stationed his dismounted knights on the flank where the fiercest fighting was to occur. Finally, Richard himself and ten other knights mounted the only horses available. The author of the Itinerarium lists the names of all of them. The most high ranking among them besides Richard was Count Henry of Champagne and Robert Fitzpernel the Earl of Leicester, both of whom had distinguished themselves many times in earlier battles. With this formation, spears bristling and crossbows taut, the Crusaders awaited the Saracen onslaught. With his troops drawn up, Richard used the short time remaining before the battle was joined to address his troops.

“Courage, my brave men,” said he, “and let not the attack of the enemy disturb you. Bear up against the frowns of fortune, and you will rise above them. Every thing maybe borne by brave men; adversity sheds a light upon the virtues of mankind, as certainly as prosperity casts over them a shade; there is no room for flight, for the enemy surround us, and to attempt to flee is to provoke certain death. Be brave, therefore, and let the urgency of the case sharpen up your valour: brave men should either conquer nobly, or gloriously die. Martyrdom is a boon which we should receive with willing mind: but before we die, let us whilst still alive do what may avenge our deaths, giving thanks to God that it has been our lot to die martyrs. This will be the end of our labours, the termination of our life, and of our battles.”²²

Almost as soon as he had finished the first wave of the enemy charged. The Crusader infantry held firm, forcing the Saracens to wheel their horses to avoid crashing onto the braced spear points. Again and again the Saracens charged and as often were forced to withdraw, the whole time unloading arrows and javelins into the ranks of the Crusaders. The Crusaders endured their missiles with very few casualties, their shields protecting them from the majority and their mail hauberks catching the rest.¶ At the earlier battle of Arsuf, Baha Al-din described how effective Frankish mail was at stopping arrows. “I saw various individuals amongst the Franks with ten arrows fixed in their backs, pressing on in this fashion quite unconcerned.”²³ Meanwhile the Genoese crossbowmen unleashed an accurate and sustained barrage into the wheeling Saracen cavalry. The lightly armored cavalry suffered significant losses especially among their horses. When Richard saw the Saracens tiring, he gave the signal to his chosen knights and charged out from the infantry. Crashing into the enemy battalions they killed many with their lances. Eventually they pierced the Saracen lines entirely, scattering all before them. Richard, reining in his horse, took stock of his surroundings. He noticed the Earl of Leicester, knocked from his horse, fighting on foot, unable to remount because of the enemy pressing in on all sides. “No sooner did he see this than he rushed to his rescue, snatched him out of the hands of the enemy, and replaced him on his horse.”²⁴ Soon after, a new wave of foes was drawn to the king’s standard, and a melee began. The King was said to have fought with such ferocity that, “some of them were cloven in two from their helmet to their teeth, whilst others lost their heads, arms, and other members, which were lopped off at a single blow.”²⁵ During the clash he saw one more of his knights felled. Ralph de Mauleon had been unhorsed and captured, and was now being led away prisoner. Richard fell upon his captors and brought Ralph back to the army unopposed.

Although his charge had been successful, the battle still raged up and down the field. The Turks continued to rain an incessant shower of missiles on the Crusader lines. Richard surveyed the battle and received word that some of the sailors had retreated back to their galleys through fear. But before he could react to this, he saw a contingent of Turks breaking off from the main army and making a rush on the ruined gates of Jaffa itself. The King motioned for two of his knights to follow him and himself galloped towards the gate. Finding the Turks just before him he followed them into the city meeting three heavily armed Saracen knights. “Rushing bravely upon them, he slew the riders in his own royal fashion, and made booty of two horses.”²⁶ Quickly driving the remaining Saracens out of the city, he ordered those with him to defend the gate and repair the breaches as well as they could. He himself rode to the galleys and rallied the terrified crews. With these he returned to the battle, where his men still held back the enemy.

As soon as he arrived, without waiting for backup, he drove alone into the midst of the enemy. By this point Richard had gained an aura of invincibility among the Saracens, and few dared meet him face to face. Still, however, they pressed in on him, showering him with arrows. Relying on his and his horse’s armor, Richard pressed on, killing many in his path. He scattered all before him “so that even those who were at a distance and untouched by him, were overwhelmed by the throng of the troops as they retreated.”²⁷ One particularly descriptive passage from the Itinerarium reads “Such was the energy of his courage, that it seemed to rejoice at having found an occasion to display itself.”²⁸ Finally one warrior of rank stood out from the rest of the army. Attempting to rally the Muslims, he charged at Richard, his weapon raised to strike. But Richard was quicker. With a single blow he sheared off his head, as well as his upraised arm. “The Turks were terror-struck at the sight, and giving way on all sides, scarcely dared to shoot at him from a distance with their arrows.”²⁹ In the course of his charge, Richard had advanced even beyond the sight of his own men. Baha Al-Din was not present for this second half of the battle. In his own words “I had moved back with the baggage train and did not witness this battle, thank God, because of an indisposition”³⁰. Still he has this description to give of the end of the battle.

“It was reported to me that the king of England took his lance that day and galloped from the far right wing to the far left and nobody challenged him.”³¹

When Richard returned to his army, his soldiers were overcome with joy. One writer described him and his horse as being so full of arrows, that he resembled a porcupine. Meanwhile Saladin, humiliated by his army's inability to crush such a tiny force, ordered his troops to return to the fight. No one would listen. One noble even insulted him to his face. “Your mamlukes who beat people the day Jaffa fell and took their booty from them, tell them to charge.”³³ This, even more than his losses, was a crushing blow to Saladin. The morale of the Muslims was utterly broken.


This was the last major battle to be fought between Saladin and Richard the Lionheart. Ever since Richard had captured the vital coastal cities, he had been seeking a treaty with Saladin. Now Saladin was forced to give in. In the end Richard kept all the territory he had captured on the condition that the fortifications of Ascalon be demolished. Another condition was that the Crusader army be allowed to complete their pilgrimage and worship at Jerusalem and that Latin priests be allowed to serve at the Holy Sepulcher. When the peace was finally ratified the Crusaders and the Saracens experienced both relief and disappointment. Baha Al-din writes of the aftermath,

“It was a memorable day. Both sides were overwhelmed with such joy and delight as God alone can measure. However, God knows well that the peace was not what the sultan preferred, for he said to me in one of his conversations about the peace settlement, ‘I fear to make peace, not knowing what may become of me. Our enemy will grow strong, now that they have retained these lands. They will come forth to recover the rest of their lands and you will see every one of them ensconced on his hill-top,’ meaning in his castle, ‘having announced, “I shall stay put” and the Muslims will be ruined.’ These were his words and it came about as he said. Nevertheless, he saw the advantage in making peace because the army was weary and showing signs of disaffection.”³⁴

Both men planned to return to the fight after the truce ended. But as the author of the Itinerarium said concerning Richard,

“Alas! how blind are men, whilst they lay plans for many years to come, they know not what to-morrow may bring forth: the king’s mind was looking forward into the future, and he hoped to recover the Sepulcher of our Lord; but he did not ‘Reflect how every human thing hangs pendent on a slender string.’”³⁵

Richard was imprisoned on his return journey and on his release spent his remaining time recovering the territory he had lost to the French. Finally he died of an infection from a crossbow bolt.

The same line from Ovid might be applied to Saladin who died of a disease not long after Richard returned to Europe. It is interesting to theorize what might have happened if Richard had stayed longer. Baha Al-din thought the peace a blessing in disguise.

“The real benefit was in something that God knew of, for a little after the treaty his (Saladin’s) death occurred. Had that happened in the course of hostilities, Islam would have been in peril. The peace was nothing but a providential blessing for him”³⁶.

Though the third crusade had been plagued with disaster from the start, and although the ultimate goal of recapturing Jerusalem was left undone, it would be difficult to call the crusade anything less than a success. Richard had got his terms, and now the Crusaders could rebuild their shattered kingdom. By securing the coast and by his conquest of Cyprus, Richard added another century to the Crusader presence in the holy land. His deeds of arms were celebrated across Europe, earning him the title of Lionheart. Among the Saracens he also left his mark. According to another Crusader knight,

“King Richard's renown terrified the Saracens so much that when their children cried their mothers would scare them with the king of England and say, 'Hush! King Richard is coming!’³⁷ When a Saracen was riding and his mount stumbled at a shadow, he would say to him, 'Do you think the king of England is in that bush?', and if he brought his horse to water and it would not drink, he would say to it, 'Do you reckon the king of England is in the water?’”³⁸

Notes on the Sources

*As stated in the beginning of this article, the main sources I have drawn from are the Itinerarium and Baha Al-din. These two support each other remarkably well, even in small details. At the same time each puts more emphasis on different stages of the battle. Baha Al-din gives a very vivid account of the preceding siege and the first day of the battle. His account is filled with interesting details and is enlivened by his own personal role in the events. The Itinerarium provides a wealth of details on the second day of the battle. The author provides an exciting play-by-play of every stage, following Richard’s movements closely throughout the battle. Interspersed between these accounts I have included details from Ernoul. Although he gives a slightly different and less cohesive account than the other sources, Ernoul goes into more detail than the Itinerarium in several places. His description of Richard disembarking from the ship is especially interesting. He describes Richard's equipment in much more detail and gives us far more believable dialogue than the Itinerarium. Finally I use Ambroise once as his comparison of Richard to a porcupine is more entertaining than the Itinerarium’s comparison to a hunted deer. Ambroise and the Itinerarium are almost identical narratively speaking. I chose to mostly go with the Itinerarium as I don't know Old French and I prefer the style of the Itinerarium. You can find more on the relationship between the Itinerarium and Ambroise here.

†This may be a bit of a stretch. Here I am combining Ernoul and the Itinerarium’s description of Richard’s weapons. Ernoul gives him a two handed axe, while the Itinerarium gives him a crossbow and a sword. I mostly went with Ernoul’s description because it is more detailed, but the crossbow from the Itinerarium was too interesting to leave out. It seems likely enough considering he was known to be a skilled crossbowman.

‡The story of the gifted horse is probably the most famous episode from this battle. Like many stories about King Richard and Saladin it has strayed into the realm of mythology. The most common version I have seen is that Richard was unhorsed in the second part of the battle and Saladin, being the chivalrous fellow he is, gives him a new one on the spot, thus saving his life and allowing the battle to continue. When you look at the full context of the battle, especially how Saladin’s goal was to capture or kill Richard, preferably in his tent, this story tends to make Saladin look more stupid than chivalrous. The basis for the story, as far as I can tell, comes from the Itinerarium. In this story Richard is fighting bravely when, randomly, in the middle of the battle, two servants from Saphadin give him two horses. The story then adds that later Richard said he would have accepted any number of horses from a greater enemy than Saphadin “so necessary were they to him at that moment.”³⁹ Considering how there are multiple horses in question, and that surely Richard being unhorsed would be specifically mentioned, it seems more likely that this refers to his general lack of horses. There is no mention of Saladin being involved in any way. Besides, of all the stories that relate this incident, the Itinerarium’s version seems the least probable. There is another improbable sounding account where Saladin does send Richard a horse but the horse is trained to run off with Richard and carry him back to the Saracen camp. By far the most detailed and reasonable account I have seen is the one in Ernoul. It is likely this story was the basis for the other two which both seem to exaggerate or misunderstand different aspects of the original. For a more in depth and scholarly explanation of these stories click here (73 - 76).

¶The way this likely worked was that the arrow would break through the mail but lose so much of its force in doing so that it lodged harmlessly in the padded armor underneath. This would leave the arrow sticking in the soldier while the soldier himself would remain unharmed.

  1. Yūsuf Ibn Rāfic Ibn Shaddād and D S Richards. The Rare and Excellent History of Saladin, Or, Al-Nawādir Al-Sulṭāniyya Wa’l-Maḥāsin Al-Yūsufiyya. Aldershot: Ashgate 2002, 218.

  2. Ibid.

  3. Ibid., 219.

  4. Ibid.

  5. Ibid.

  6. Ibid., 221 - 222.

  7. Ibid.

  8. Peter W. Edbury, The Conquest of Jerusalem and the Third Crusade. Aldershot: Ashgate 1998, 117.

  9. Ibn Shaddād and Richards, History of Saladin, 223.

  10. Ibid., 222.

  11. Itinerary of Richard I and Others to the Holy Land. Ontario: In parentheses Publications Medieval Latin Series Cambridge, 2001, 264.

  12. Ibn Shaddād and Richards, History of Saladin, 223.

  13. Ibid.

  14. Edbury,The Conquest of Jerusalem and the Third Crusade, 117.

  15. Ibn Shaddād and Richards, History of Saladin, 223.

  16. Ibid.

  17. Ibid., 224.

  18. Itinerary, 25.

  19. Ibn Shaddād and Richards, History of Saladin, 224.

  20. Itinerary, 269.

  21. Ibid.

  22. Ibid.

  23. Ibn Shaddād and Richards, History of Saladin, 170.

  24. Itinerary, 270.

  25. Ibid.

  26. Ibid., 271.

  27. Ibid., 272.

  28. Ibid., 273.

  29. Ibid.

  30. Ibn Shaddād and Richards, History of Saladin, 225.

  31. Ibid., 225 - 226.

  32. Ambroise D'évreux, Merton Jerome Hubert, and John L La. The Crusade of Richard Lion-Heart. New York: Columbia University Press1941, 424.

  33. Ibn Shaddād and Richards, History of Saladin, 225.

  34. Ibid., 231 - 232.

  35. Itinerary, 277 - 278.

  36. Ibn Shaddād and Richards, History of Saladin, 232.

  37. Jean de Joinville, Ethel Wedgwood. The Memoirs of the Lord of Joinville. Electronic Text Center, University of Virginia Library, 28 - 29.

  38. Edbury, The Conquest of Jerusalem and the Third Crusade, 119 - 120.

  39. Itinerary, 271.


Yūsuf Ibn Rāfic Ibn Shaddād, and D S Richards. 2002. The Rare and Excellent History of Saladin, Or, Al-Nawādir Al-Sulṭāniyya Wa’l-Maḥāsin Al-Yūsufiyya. Aldershot: Ashgate.

Itinerary of Richard I and Others to the Holy Land. 2001. Ontario: In parentheses Publications Medieval Latin Series Cambridge.

Edbury, Peter W. 1998. The Conquest of Jerusalem and the Third Crusade. Aldershot: Ashgate Pub.

Jean de Joinville, Wedgwood Ethel. The Memoirs of the Lord of Joinville. Electronic Text Center, University of Virginia Library.

Ambroise D'évreux, Merton Jerome Hubert, and John L La. 1941. The Crusade of Richard Lion-Heart. New York: Columbia University Press.

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