The Third Crusade (1189-1192)

It has been almost a century since Urban II launched the Crusade to liberate Jerusalem, when it was reconquered by Saladin in 1187. The Latin States were weakened, the county of Edessa was even destroyed and a previous crusade, however taken by two major rulers of the West, has failed miserably. The situation is therefore critical when a new crusade is proclaimed by Pope Gregory VIII; then begins the Third crusade, perhaps the most famous, because it pits great kings of the West, including Richard the Lionheart, against the already legendary Saladin.

The Crusade for Peace in the West?

The situation is actually much more complex, and the papal decision to call for the crusade is probably not due solely to the fall of Jerusalem and of the main Latin places in the Holy Land. Indeed, the West is in the midst of a war between Capetians and Plantagenets! For the former, Philippe Auguste has consolidated his power in the kingdom of France, and can now turn to the already hereditary enemy who has very important possessions on the continent, such as Anjou and Normandy. The Plantagenets, them, are taken by Henri II but this last knows very serious problems with his sons, in particular Richard and Jean. The King of France did not hesitate to support them during the years 1186-88, and a weakened Henry II had to bow despite his reconciliation, for a time, with Richard. He succeeded him on his death in 1189.

As early as 1187, however, Henry II had promised to respond to the call for the crusade of Gregory VIII (renewed by his successor Clement III); Richard must take over. This does not bother him at all, for he has little interest in the kingdom of England and instead wants to make himself known through his military exploits; he too had promised to take the Cross at the end of 1187. This did not prevent him from persuading Philippe Auguste to accompany him, probably to prevent his French rival from attacking him in the back once he left for Earth. Holy. The son of Louis VII obviously cannot refuse to make this pilgrimage ...

The two sovereigns prepare for a departure in 1190. In England, Richard manages to impose the "saladine tithe" to finance his crusade, but Philip Augustus has to do without, which will then cause a lot of problems for the royal finances. The two kings meet in early 1190 to sign a non-aggression pact, which does not prevent new tensions and the postponement of the departure; This one intervenes all the same on July 4, 1190, from Vézelay, from where Philippe Auguste and Richard the Lionheart finally take the road towards the Holy Land.

The other great sovereign: Frédéric Barberousse

It would take too long to explain the circumstances of Frederick of Hohenstaufen's arrival on the imperial throne, but it should be remembered that we are following the Quarrel of the Investitures. Barbarossa has thus been in conflict with the papacy since the 1150s, and this continued until the 1180s, mingling especially with the rivalries in Italy between Hohenstaufen and Guelfe, not to mention the Normans of southern Italy and the Sicily! He also participated in the struggles between Plantagenets and Capetians, most often supporting Henry II.

In the early 1180s, the Emperor settled his affairs with the Lombard League at the Peace of Constance (1183), and definitively pacified the rivalries within the Empire at Pentecost 1184, where his power was recognized by the essential of the Great. He decided to take the Cross at the Diet of Mainz in 1188.

The Imperial Army is by far the most impressive of the three royal armies leaving for the Holy Land, talking about 100,000 men, including 20,000 knights! Frédéric Barberousse did not hesitate to provoke a duel with Saladin, and he advanced very decidedly towards Jerusalem, without waiting for Richard and Philippe. Problems arise however quickly because of the ill will of the other emperor, that of Constantinople, Isaac II Angel, who would have made agreements with Saladin and imprisoned a German embassy. Barbarossa then decides to ravage Thrace and push his Eastern rival to cooperation; the basileus must give in and help cross the Dardanelles in March 1190. After a difficult crossing of Asia Minor and two victories over Muslim armies, the emperor drowns while crossing the River Selef! The great imperial army disappears with him, except for a few contingents who manage to reach Antioch.

Richard and Philippe in Sicily

The English army would have counted 850 knights, and the French army a little more than 600. If the two rival kings left together from Vézelay, they then take a different path: Philippe Auguste takes to sea in Genoa, while Richard chooses Marseilles. The King of France arrived in Messina on September 16, 1190 and stayed in the royal palace; Richard made a grand entrance six days later, and the rivalry between the two men was already making itself felt. This does not prevent them from staying six months in Sicily! Tensions appear between the two armies, but also with the local population, but in any case it is the King of England who takes advantage; it would be following these events that he would have been nicknamed "the lion", and Philippe "the lamb" ... To this is added a love problem, the main subject of which would be Jeanne, Richard's sister whose Philippe would have fallen in love, and the main stake the succession in Sicily. Tancred, cousin of the late William the Good, then master of the island and rival of Joan, takes advantage of the situation to consolidate his position by pitting the two kings against each other. This led to the sack of Messina by the English army in October 1190, and Philip took great offense when he saw his vassal's banners floating on the city walls; it is said that this is where he later decided to seize Normandy ...

Despite attempts at compromise, tensions continued during the first half of the year 1191, like the affair of Guillaume des Barres, a knight who manages to beat Richard in a joust, provoking the fury of the latter who obliges Philippe to part with it! It all ends when Richard is allowed to part with his promise to marry Philippe's sister, Aélis, to marry Bérangère de Navarre, who arrives on the island with Richard's mother, Eleanor of Aquitaine. It seems that with an agreement reached, the two kings reconciled before taking to the road again.

From Cyprus to Acre

The King of France, however, prefers to leave Sicily before the arrival of Eleanor, and this is done on March 30, 1191; he takes over the leadership of Acre. Richard, who is getting married, will not be able to join him until a month later due to a storm. She pushes him to the shores of Cyprus, and the fiery king sees it as a good reason to conquer the island! Since 1184, it has freed itself from Byzantine rule and is an autonomous state. It is run by Isaac Comnenus who, jealous of his independence, does not hesitate to come to terms with Saladin. He goes so far as to threaten Bérangère de Navarre, whose nave has fallen into the hands of his troops and Richard, faced with his refusal to negotiate, decides to confront him in May 1191. He defeats him without difficulty, further increasing his wealth and his fame ...

Barely arrived in front of Acre (taken by Saladin in the wake of his previous victories), Philippe Auguste finds himself at the heart of the rivalries for the succession to the throne of Jerusalem, while the holy city has been reconquered by the Muslims. The rivalry between Guy de Lusignan and Conrad de Montferrat has been going on for the previous year, and the King of France sided with the latter. Richard's army arrived to complete the siege of the city, which fell to the Crusaders on July 12, 1191.

Richard the Lionheart and Saladin

It is first the succession of the throne of the kingdom of Jerusalem that is settled, a time for the benefit of Guy, then for that of Conrad but not before 1192, and for a very short time because he is assassinated. Guy is kicked out in favor of Henri de Champagne, but gets Cyprus from Richard.

In the meantime, Philippe Auguste understood well that he had no place in this crusade, where the omnipresence of Richard gave him too much shade. Rather than continue to give in, and considering his duty accomplished, he returned to France at the beginning of August! The future will prove him right, both against Richard and against his brother and successor, Jean Sans Terre.

Richard, him, continues his crusade, skillfully maintaining his reputation. We begin to talk about his rivalry with Saladin, and this increases with his victory against him at Arsûf in September 1191, then with the reconquest of Jaffa and Ascalon. The end of the year sees the first negotiations between the two men, although they have never met. Hostilities resumed in the following weeks, but each time Richard hesitated to attack Jerusalem directly.

In September 1192, he learned that Philippe Auguste and his brother Jean were plotting behind his back in the West. Faced with an aging and sick Saladin, he obtains a truce of three years and three months, as well as free access to Jerusalem for Christian pilgrims. He left the Holy Land at the beginning of October 1192.

The results of the third crusade

We can say that it is contrasted. While the Crusaders have regained some strongholds as well as access to Jerusalem, it cannot be said that what remains of the Latin states is viable. Moreover, the very image of the crusade, after the failure of the previous one, is hotly contested in the West.

Politically, even for Muslims, the results are relative: yes, they have kept the essentials, and the status quo is to their advantage, but Saladin is increasingly criticized. Weakened, he emptied the coffers of his empire, and put his successors in great difficulty when he died in 1193. Rivalries began again, once again for the benefit of the Crusaders ...

For the West, the consequences of this crusade, however indirect, are significant. First, Richard is captured on his return by Leopold V of Austria; he had participated in the capture of Acre by his side, but had considered himself humiliated when the Angevin refused to let him hoist his colors alongside his own and those of the King of France! Richard is held for two long years, and released with a huge ransom. Meanwhile, his brother Jean plotted against him with Philippe Auguste. He forgives her, however, and resumes war against his lifelong rival; It was during a battle in Limousin that he was hit by a crossbow bolt and died of his wounds in 1199. Subsequently, Philippe Auguste took over Jean who succeeded him ...

The Third Crusade is therefore above all famous thanks to the now legendary figures of Richard the Lionheart and Saladin, but also thanks to the context in the West of rivalry between Capetians and Plantagenets. The status quo obtained from Saladin will certainly prolong the presence of the Latins in the East, but the epic of the Crusades will still see many twists and turns.


- A.M. EDDE, Saladin, Flammarion, 2009.

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