National/Personal Rivalries in the Third Crusade: Richard I goes tête-à-tête with Philip II Augustus

The Third Crusade captured the imaginations of its contemporaries and has continued to be perhaps the most famous of all the crusades in the public mind. When you think of crusaders, to most people the image of Richard the Lionheart immediately spring to mind, perhaps Philip Augustus and Frederick I as well. So why did a military expedition involving the most powerful monarchs in arguably all of Christendom ultimately fail to recapture Jerusalem from Saladin? Rivalries and divisions, while not being the only factors that undermined the crusade, are certainly the foundations upon which the others, save Frederick I’s unfortunate and untimely death, were ultimately built. However, the term ‘national divisions’ is an unhelpful term; the idea of Anglo-French rivalry is too simplistic a lens through which to examine the rivalry that plagued the crusade. A Norman in the ‘English’ Angevin contingent of Richard did likely not see himself as English. That’s not to say there were no national divisions, to use Normandy as an example once more, the Normans and French had been at each other’s throats almost since the conception of the duchy in 911 (the Vexin border region being a source of near constant contention between the two). Yet were these in fact national, or were they the result of the personal rivalries stemming from disputed patrimonies, troublesome borders and so forth. The latter seems a more realistic appraisal of the situation, but while this is not to say there was no ‘friction’ between different ‘national’ contingents, the most plausible reason is that this stemmed from the rivalries of their leaders.

The first place to look when searching for rivalries is England and France. Since the conquest of England by William I, every successive king of the respective kingdoms had certainly been rivals due to the simple fact that William and his successors were all nominally Dukes of Normandy therefore, argued the French, they were subservient to the French crown. Naturally this was a stance that did not sit well with the kings of England and was the primary source of disputes until Edward III decided to claim the French throne. The cracks between the French and English, or rather Philip Augustus and Richard, that would fundamentally undermine the Third Crusade began to manifest in Sicily however. Richard had been betrothed to Philip’s sister, Alice, and had kept promising that he would indeed marry her, except this was when Richard’s relationship with his father Henry II was not exactly one of idolisation and love. But despite being firmly on the throne and committed to the crusade, he now had to pretend or else the crusade would disintegrate and he would be forced to defend himself against the attacks of a thoroughly furious French king. Yet as early as 1188 a song by Bertran de Born loudly (and repeatedly) reminded Philip of the shame he had to endure now that Richard was betrothed to Berengaria, daughter of Sancho VI of Navarre. That alone would have been enough to threaten the spirit of cooperation between the two kings as Richard had effectively humiliated Philip. Not content with just passing over Alice in favour of Berengaria, Richard then decided to deal with the troublesome Messinesi when they rioted with force. Gathering his soldiers, he stormed the town and solved the problem once and for all. In its place, he left another problem though; Philip had been staying in Messina and so when he saw the English banners hanging from the walls and above the towers, he must have been furious and, more dangerously, humiliated again. His presence surely will have led the populace to believe that this guaranteed their safety. The Gesta Regis Ricardi described how the ‘king of France was so violently shaken by this that he conceived a lifelong hatred for the king of England’.Amrboise believed that the quarrel over the banners ‘which in the French King did create, Envy that will ne’er abate. And herewith was the warring born Whereby was Normandy sore torn.’ For Ambroise then, a contemporary of Richard, the incident at Messina was the root cause for the French attacks on Normandy after the Third Crusade, while the phrase ‘warring’ may not just be interpreted as warfare, but also fighting and disagreements between the two kings. But it was not just these two examples of rivalry alone that undermined the crusade, with either the issue being put to rest or, more likely in light of Philip being the shrewd political operator that he was, temporarily set aside, due to Richard giving him a third of all the money he received from King Tancred of Sicily.

Rivalry was not just the preserve of Richard and Philip by any means. Prior to either of them arriving in Outremer further divisions that would undermine the Crusades efforts and progress were plain to see. Guy de Lusignan, anointed king of Jerusalem and loser of the Battle of Hattin, found himself in 1189 being refused entry to the port-city of Tyre by Conrad of Montferrat. Furthermore, it is evident that Guy was not the only one having issues with Conrad: many Outremer Franks and even Western recruits fell out with the Marquis, the most notable of whom were the Pisans who found cause for disagreement over competing rights in Tyre itself. It just so happened that Guy was camped outside the city walls, resulting in those who had fallen out with Conrad leaving the city to join his motley, but growing, army. Alternatively the Gesta Regis Ricardi described how the Pisans had in fact launched ‘a commendable revolt in support of the king’s [Guy’s] rights’. The fall out between these two great men also drew in the Templars and Hospitallers, who supported Guy and Conrad respectively. Guy then made a decision that, on the surface, seemed utterly suicidal, or at least entirely desperate: he marched his army down to the Muslim held port-city of Acre and had established his camp on 28 August 1189. Yet this decision may not have been entirely in Guy’s hands, at least, not if he wanted to remain King of Jerusalem. The German crusaders under Frederick I had set off in May, and they would hardly serve Guy’s interests over those of Conrad, who was an imperial vassal, unless Guy managed to reimpose his leadership in the field. As it turns out, by starting the siege at Acre Guy may have actually helped the crusade as the city endured a long siege, but fell shortly after the arrival of Richard. What it does show is that the dispute between Conrad and Guy was, without fail, going to draw in the arriving monarchs into a fight not just for the recapture of Holy City, but also for who was on its throne. Regardless, by the end of September that same year Guy had been joined by squadrons of men from Denmark, Frisia, Germany, Flanders and England, along with a substantial northern French one led by James d’Avesnes. Interestingly, a rather unenthusiastic Conrad and his supporters even turned up which suggests that, at least as far as the politics of Outremer were concerned, Guy’s gamble had paid off for now. Do not let for one minute think that this meant the hatchet had been buried: Conrad by all accounts was essentially dragged to the siege by Louis III, landgrave of Thuringia, at the head of an imperial contingent.

Disaster struck when Guy’s wife, Sybil, and their two daughters died sometime in October 1190 from the disease ravaging the crusader camp. Guy himself was not of the royal line of Jerusalem, his wife was and without her or their children, some people saw that his tenuous grip on the throne had at last been severed. As such the way was open for Guy’s opponents, notably Balian of Ibelin and his wife Maria Comnena who was mother to the new heiress, Isabella, to promote the proven record of Conrad. Following the death of Archbishop Baldwin of Canterbury who had come with an English contingent, Isabella’s marriage to Humphrey III de Toron was annulled and she married Conrad. The Gesta Regis Ricardi describes Maria Comnena as ‘steeped in Greek filth from the cradle, she had a husband whose morals matched her own; he was cruel, she was godless …’. The passage goes on but it is clear to see what the author thought of the political legerdemain that had been pulled against Guy. Despite all of this Guy still insisted that he was the rightful king, with emotions only being calmed when Conrad and Isabella withdrew to Tyre and the epidemic intensified. This was probably not Conrad’s first choice, but with the arrival of Richard at the siege on 8 June 1191, he gave his support to Guy’s brother Geoffrey de Lusignan, who accused Conrad of treason later that month and hence Conrad’s absence. Baha Ad-Din wrote that the split between ‘the Marquis and the Franks was if advantage to the Muslims for he was the strongest and most experienced of their generals, as well as a good governor’. A starkly different opinion to the GRR. Richard’s support of Guy was of no surprise: not only was Philip supporting Conrad, but Richard was also Count of Poitou and Guy was a Poitevin and once Richard’s vassal. Furthermore, the Genoese had sided with Philip, whereas the Pisans were now in Richard’s pocket, as such ‘a complex web of overlapping factions and interrelated disputes looked set to rip the Third Crusade apart’. Somehow such a catastrophic disintegration never happened outside the walls of Acre, but the rivalry between Richard and Philip was ever increasing, at times even endangering military operations with one side or another failing to coordinate attacks, which unsurprisingly then failed. The military effectiveness of the crusade was suffering due to the personal rivalries of the two monarchs.

Despite the obvious tensions between Richard and Philip, they did manage to must enough begrudging cooperation enough of the time to see the siege of Acre to a successful end. There is the famous story of Richard, upon entering the city, having Duke Leopold of Austria’s banner thrown down to signal the denial (or his claim) to the spoils. Leopold, amongst others, consequently left the Holy Land in disgust at their treatment. Despite all the blame for this episode being laid firmly at Richard’s door, it was a policy that both kings consented to. Shortly after the success at Acre though, Philip left the Holy Land and returned to France. Philip of Flanders had died on 1 June, setting into motion a series of rearrangements to the lordships of the territories between royal lands around Paris and Flanders, an area vital to Capetian security. Philip stood not just to gain the strategically and economically important region of Artois, but to also manipulate the Flemish succession. This, fears for his infant son, the persistent illness he contracted shortly after his arrival at Acre, the need to find a new wife and, to whatever extent these were upon his mind, any perceived humiliations suffered at the hands of Richard added to his conviction that he must return home. In Philip’s mind, he was a king first and a crusader second; the interests of his kingdom must come first. Yet despite these, his departure was a further humiliation, with even Richard’s harshest critics in Europe denouncing the French king’s flight. Philip’s envoy to Pope Innocent III referred to the shame he incurred in returning to France; he blamed it on Richard, saying that he compelled him to go by seducing from his allegiance his knights and even his kinsmen. Gillingham wonderfully puts how ‘this was another way of saying that he could not bear the way the combination of Richard’s money and prowess were putting him in the shade…’. Matters were not helped by most of the French aristocracy remaining in the Holy Land, with only Philip de Nevers joining his liege. This suggests that for the rest of the French contingent, piety and seeing the crusade to its bitter end were worth putting aside or suffering any rivalry with the other crusaders and Richard. Indeed, the GRR recounts how when everyone was informed of Philip’s wish to go home ‘the French would have renounced their obedience to his authority and rejected his lordship over them, if it were possible’. Philip’s departure, though, was both a blessing and a curse for Richard and therefore the fortunes of the crusade. Richard had despatched a group of his most trusted followers to shadow Philip back to Europe and warn of his return. Up to this point Richard had been able to focus fully on the crusade, but with Philip gone each day spent in Outremer was a gift for the French king; ‘never again could the Lionheart be so single-minded in the pursuit of the Holy Lands recovery.’ Perhaps with the gift of hindsight, the GRR summed up Richard’s fears when the author described how ‘from the moment he [Philip] returned to his homeland he shook the country and threw Normandy into confusion’. A troubled mind bodes ill for many things, being the sole monarch of a crusade not least among them.

Following the march from Acre and the Battle of Arsuf, the crusade slowly but steadily seemed more and more unlikely to achieve its goal. Richard may have always harboured a desire to push further and further along the coast, rather than to Jerusalem, to cut Saladin’s empire in half: it was without a doubt a militarily sound idea, more so than the taking of Jerusalem. But the taking of Jerusalem was why the clear majority of those making up the crusade were there. Richard’s decision to turn back from Jerusalem in October 1191 was a disaster; at Ramla depression and disillusionment ripped the crusade apart, with Hugh of Burgundy and many of the French decamping in disgust. It seemed that the goal of retaking Jerusalem was all that kept the crusade together under Richard, and with that snatched away many of the French contingents under Hugh saw no reason to follow him. In late February 1192 rivalry turned into actual infighting over Acre: the Genoese (likely with the connivance of Conrad and Hugh of Burgundy) tried to take the city and it was only the fierce resistance from Richard’s Pisan allies that prevented them doing so. In regards to the unity of the crusade, things took a turn for the better when, returning home after dinner at the Bishop of Beuvais’ residence in Tyre on 28 April, Conrad was assassinated by two followers of Rashid ad-Din Sinan (also known as the Old Man of the Mountain). Hugh of Burgundy tried to seize Tyre, but was thwarted by Conrad’s widow Isabella, but with more infighting threatening, Henry de Champagne was chosen as a compromise due to him being a nephew to both Richard and Philip. Within a week he had married Isabella and been elected titular monarch of Frankish Palestine. His appointment united the Latin armies in Palestine once more. A lot of the suspicion regarding Conrad’s death, however, fell on Richard, and was the most damaging blow to his reputation in his lifetime. Even Muslim chroniclers thought it likely he had hired the Assassins who struck down Conrad: Imad ad-Din described how Richard took control of Tyre and then conferred it upon Henry as reasoning behind it. Ibn al-Athir wrote about how the Franks blamed Richard, who had set the deed in motion ‘so that he could be sole ruler of Palestine’. Such unity was to prove short-lived. A crisis was brewing in the west: Prince John exiled Richard’s aide William Longchamp, and on 29 May 1192 Richard’s worst fears were realised when a messenger arrived with news that Philip and John were plotting together. The rivalry between the two kings now had a debilitating effect, with Richard driven to inaction in vacillation over England while a group of Latin barons, most likely spearheaded by Hugh, leaked information that they would march on Jerusalem with or without Richard. Richard caved in to the demands for a second advance against Jerusalem instead of manifesting the knowledge that it was not sound military strategy (a conclusion reached with the aid of locals, including members of the knightly orders). Unsurprisingly, again the crusaders withdrew, that last advance proving the final nail in the coffin for the Third Crusade.

It is worth mentioning, however, that one event is inextricably linked with the personal rivalries that plagued the crusade: the death of Frederick I on his way to the Holy Land. His sudden death on Sunday 10 June 1190 was profound for two reasons: firstly, it not only cast doubts on his cause, but it affected the crusade in the long-term not just in the loss of manpower. It snapped the morale of his army and shattered its unity; the entire German venture began to disintegrate with elements returning home from the ports of Cilicia or later Syria, others leaving the main force from Tarsus to Tyre, while some carried on to Antioch. While at Antioch, the emperor’s hastily embalmed body was buried with due solemnities, before what remained of the German contingents carried on to Acre under the command of Frederick of Swabia. In later centuries, one German Renaissance humanist claimed that the failure of the Third Crusade was simple to explain: it failed because only Frederick could have defeated Saladin. While that justification is rather false, his death did undermine the chances of success. Further, had he survived, even with a depleted army, Acre might have fallen a year sooner and crucially, Richard and Philip might not have been so openly resentful of one another. Ibn al-Athir described how on his death and his son succeeding him ‘his companions had lost their undivided loyalty to him … and they too split away from the main party’. It is entirely possible that Frederick could have been the glue that held the entire Crusade together, just as he had been for the German army that went with him.

The interpersonal rivalries present within the Third Crusade were one of the biggest factors that undermined it. The tensions between Richard and Philip were exacerbated by the latter’s departure from the Holy Land, preventing Richard’s focus from being entirely on the business of waging holy war and retaking Jerusalem. Regarding Richard himself, he was (and remains) quite a polarising figure. He was a skilled diplomat and martial king, but as shown by making a rival of Leopold, who subsequently left with his followers, and failing to resolve the succession issue between Conrad, Guy and their respective followers, he allowed or was unable to prevent the personal rivalries of so many important figures to burn unchecked. Had Frederick not died, the crusade might have had a leader with the sheer force of character and will (and the title) to keep everyone else in check. Alternatively, had Richard and Philip not striven to undermine one another, or if Philip had even remained in the Holy Land despite the frequent disagreements with Richard, more might have been achieved. But as stated, the clash of personalities and the rivalries born ever since Sicily for the two kings, or at least since the defeat at Hattin for Conrad and Guy, undermined and sapped the effectiveness of the entire crusade too much.

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