Sunday 15 March 2015

cowboys and indians: acre and ascalon or mesuline and maid marion

With the True Cross lost to the Muslims and Saladin having recaptured much of the Holy Lands, the mission that became known as the Third Crusade, embellished with a stamp of romance and authority that has grown in the imagination over the years—of course, dependent on the current geopolitical fabulists—might be the adventure that many envision when thinking of Europe’s forays into the Middle East.

Latin Christian communities had been entrenched in a handful of major cities for some three generations at this point, in the late twelve century, several monumental crusader castles had been constructed as anchors, there was a professional fighting-force in the orders of the Templars and Hospitallers, the former regional power of Byzantium was on the wane, and though the same problems with infighting amongst the European leadership, the monarchs—not the princes, mercenaries or other understudies, the Crusaders marched to battle under such luminaries as King Richard Lionheart of England, King Philip II of France and Holy Roman Emperor Frederick Barbarossa. Though there was an appeal from the papacy to rally the population, though somewhat fatigued already with the idea and none too impressed with the previous performance, dashing Richard Lionheart’s eagerness to volunteer spurred others to follow suite.
There was not only the desire not to look like cowards or non-believers, there was moreover the matter that the European heads of state were rather natural enemies back at home, and it would be disastrous to dislodge any part of this precariously balanced system of oaths and allegiances without upsetting the whole order and making all lands vulnerable to attack. England and France decided to sail to the Holy Land, an expensive but seemingly prudent and expedient decision, with a large armada across the Mediterranean. Eager to arrive first in the Holy Land, the German armies took the overland route through Anatolia. Although the prospect of a huge German army sweeping through the lands of the Seljuk Turks and onto Syria and the Levant was a terrifying thought and the psychological effects far outlasted the campaign itself (much like the later-day Operation Barbarossa), the aging Emperor chose to try to ford the River Saleph (Gรถksu) on the Anatolian Peninsula instead of crossing at a perfectly good but overcrowded bridge and drowned, never reaching the Holy Land and never finding the legendary Prester John. After this untimely accident, the armies of the Holy Roman Empire splintered and many divisions returned home. England and France got off to a much later start and the passage via Sicily dragged on for some three years. Richard Lionheart pushed on ahead of the French forces and took Cyprus en route to the port city of Acre.
The city was firmly under Muslim control, but the dethroned and feckless King of Jerusalem, Guy of Lusignan, having been released from prison in Damascus, along with his morganatic wife and children, who were the legitimate heirs to the captured kingdom, and King Guy was only elevated by marriage, had a bold plan to lay siege to the city as a way of solidifying his claim. That claim became even more specious in short order when his wife, Isabella of Jerusalem and their children, died while escaping back into Syria from the lands where Saladin had exiled them to, in exchange for his release. Guy’s apparent lack of leadership ability had of course made him unpopular with his former subjects and their was another pretender, cousin Conrad of Montferrat, whom was favoured by the French contingent. Consequently, the French forces did not really care to put themselves out to help Guy of Lusignan with his prestige project. Owing to the fact that the deposed king was not favoured by the French and that they shared a common-ancestor, a certain water-sprite named Melusine (whom according to popular legend was herself the product of a union between a mortal man and the Lady of the Lake, whose Exalibur Richard had reportedly brought into battle but traded to Sicilian merchants in exchange for more ships an loyalty; a later liaison with King Raymond of Poitou had produced ten children who would come to be the lines of the noble families of Europe, but as mortals can never witness the true form of sprites, taken to becoming a mermaid on Saturdays and Raymond’s curiosity finally got the better of him and spied on her alone-time rituals, Melusine transformed into a winged dragon and left Raymond to raise his royal brood by himself), Richard was willing to champion Guy’s cause.
Taking the port of Acre and building a huge encampment outside the city walls, the Crusading army was eventually, against the odds, to capture the stronghold, due to regular supplies and reinforcements that could be safely brought by sea. Victory in the siege was a huge morale-booster for the Crusaders—even the French, who as a concession to Guy’s plan, agreed that he could live out his days as regent of Jerusalem, never mind that it was yet to be conquered, with the kingdom reverting to their candidate, Conrad of Montferrat upon his death, but was not one of particular strategic importance. In fact, as Richard Lionheart realised, now the troops were forced more or less to keep to the coast and captialise on their naval power, rather than venturing inland—where Jerusalem lie.
Disheartened and overshadowed by Richard’s showmanship, Philip II decided to return to France to tend to his own kingdom, leaving the majority of his armies at Richard’s disposal. This proved to be somewhat of a liability, however, as it was difficult to persuade the armies that forging on to Jerusalem directly would be suicidal. The army captured Jaffa, remaining there for months while abortive negotiations took place between the Crusaders and a representative of Saladin, his brother Al-Adil, as Saladin refused to meet with Richard directly for his brutal slaughter of Muslim prisoners after the fall of Acre, and deciding just where to go next. During this long period of hesitation, Saladin ordered the demolition of the port city of Ascalon, wagering it was Richard’s next goal, reasoning that without control of the coast, no attempt on Jerusalem would be made. Winning support back from the French by conceding the throne to the pretender Conrad of Montferrat—who was incidentally murdered by Assassins before the investment ceremony could take place in the single instance of the sect taking any part in Crusader politics, the Crusader army left Jaffa and re-fortified a line of abandoned outposts between Jaffa and Ascalon and began rebuilding that fortress as well.  The rival contender for the crown, Guy of Lusignan, had already been sent off to the island of Cyprus to rule as a consolation prize.  Battle ensued for Jerusalem, and while the Crusaders retreated at the walls of the Holy City, knowing that even if they could breach them, they could not hope to hold Jerusalem without a leader, the armies of Saladin were routed as they attempted to capture the intervening chain of Crusader bases behind the lines and both sides reached a stalemate.
Negotiations were formalised that preserved Muslim control of Jerusalem, while allowing Christian pilgrims and merchants access to the city. Although the goal was not realised, the Crusader forces held control of the seas in the region. Richard Lionheart returned to Europe to try to sort out the mess his little brother John Lackland (ever spurned for being given no significant dukedom by his father Henry II—Ireland apparently did not count) was making in England with his allegiances with the French king. Upon arrival, Richard was imprisoned under suspicion of contracting the killing of his cousin, Conrad of Montferrat (in Austria by a duke that Richard had offended for not recognising his part in the taking of Acre), beginning the intrigues that are the background of Robin Hood and setting the stage for the Fourth Crusade and a Byzantium Renaissance.