Retreat from Holy City

After all attempts at peace have failed, the crusaders move out of Jaffa towards Jerusalem

Crusaders See Jerusalem
  • This page reports on the Slow Progress of the crusaders towards the Holy City and how the terrible weather at Beit Nuba eventually forces them to turn back.
  • Dissent grows as the Port of Ascalon Is Rebuilt but Richard can only wait upon the weather.
  • With the coming of Spring and all the quarrels out of the way, a New Spirit of unity and hope blossoms amongst the crusaders, and they push on again towards Jerusalem.
  • Jerusalem Comes Into Sight but because the city is so strongly defended Richard turns his crusaders back to Acre and opens negotiations with Saladin.
Slow Progress

Kept supplied by the fleet, the army had to rebuild all those strongholds along the route that Saladin in his retreat to Jerusalem had destroyed; and the closer they edged toward the Holy City the more patrols Saladin sent out to attack them. Of course, no one could discourage King Richard from taking part in these skirmishes - wherever he saw a fight he rushed into it. 'I sent those men here; if they die without me, I do not wish to be called King any longer,' he explained.

Despite appeals to Conrad of Montferrat, who still held the town of Tyre and claimed to be the King of Jerusalem, he gave no support to King Richard and his crusaders; in fact, he was negotiating separately with Saladin for the towns of Beirut and Sidon.

When the King and his crusaders reached Beit Nuba, only 12 miles from Jerusalem, the rain began to fall and didn't stop. Flattening tents and soaking clothes, it made everything sodden. Mud was everywhere and water seeped into everything, ruining biscuits, salt pork and flour, even turning their armour red with rust. Men went unfed and horses died.

Despite the awful conditions, the crusaders remained in a jubilant mood - the belief that the Holy City could be in their hands in a matter of days buoyed everyone up. The crusading minstrel cheerfully sang: 'No man felt in any grief or gloom or any shades of sadness, or distress, for all was joy and happiness.'

It came as a bitter blow to them when King Richard, acting on the advice of the Templars and Hospitallers, ordered a retreat. The King believed his order made sense. If they laid siege to the strongly fortified Jerusalem they would be caught between the town's garrison and Saladin's relieving army; and even if they took Jerusalem, those crusaders who had completed their pilgrimage to the Holy Sepulchre would not remain - as soon as they had fulfilled their vows they would return home. Few would stay to defend the city.

So the conquerors of Cyprus and Acre, victors over Saladin at Arsuf, grimly turned back from the gates of Jerusalem; it had all been in vain after suffering hardship, danger and the death of many of their companions. The minstrel changed his tune: 'The army is in a grievous state, sore burdened and disconsolate.'

The weather became even more unbearable and some blamed the King for their misery but the King was 'worn out with grief and toil such as no tongue nor pen can describe.'

Port of Ascalon Is Re-built

The disgruntled French crusaders scattered to the towns of Jaffa, Acre and Tyre while the English contingent retreated to the port of Ascalon which they began to rebuild with the aim of blocking Saladin's supply line from Cairo. Over the next few months they made it the strongest fortress on the coast of Outremer, rebuilding all the five named towers - the Tower of Maids, originally built by damsels; the Tower of Shields built by knights; the Tower of Blood built from fines for crimes; and the Emir and Bedouin Towers.

In nearby Acre, fighting broke out over who controlled the town. The Genoese, backed by the French, attacked the Pisans who were holding the city on behalf of Guy of Lusignan. When the Pisans sent him an urgent appeal, King Richard set off for Acre but the contenders for the Kingdom of Jerusalem, Guy and Conrad, had beaten a hasty retreat by the time he arrived. When Richard eventually caught up with Conrad on the road to Tyre, angry words were exchanged as Conrad adamantly refused to end his feud with Guy of Lusignan, or even help the crusaders at Ascalon.

Dissent amongst the crusaders worsened when the Duke of Burgundy, who backed Conrad of Montferrat, ordered all Frenchmen to leave King Richard's command and serve under Conrad at Tyre.

King Richard could do no more than wait for better weather.

New Spirit

To cut off Saladin's lifeline to Egypt, King Richard stormed and took the fortress of Darum, 20 miles south of Ascalon: 'Behold now how the gate is shattered and burned by fire, split and battered by the King's mighty siege machine.'

Then disquieting news arrived from England. A messenger pleaded for King Richard to return home, informing him that: 'Strife and warfare were now dividing the whole of England far and wide and Earl John had allied himself with the French King.' It left King Richard unsure and he summoned a council of the leading crusaders, asking them to decide what to do. After deliberation they told him they were pushing on to Jerusalem whatever he decided. At this news the men went mad with delight, dancing and singing around their camp fires until well into the night.

The troubles at home had put the King into a dilemma and for a long time he stayed within his tent, unusually pensive and downhearted. After listening silently to his tearful chaplain who questioned how the King could desert God's cause now after all God had done for him in the past by providing him with victory upon victory, the King came to a decision. He announced to all his lords: 'For no reason on earth would he now consent to go away or leave this land until Easter Day.'

In perfect June weather, King Richard led his crusaders out of Ascalon and within four days they were back at Beit Nuba again, this time suffering only two casualties from snake bites on the way. An Abbot There they waited for Count Henry of Champagne to bring up his reinforcements.

An abbot (pictured right) from a nearby Cistercian abbey helped raise morale. This saintly, shaggy man with a long beard showed them where a fragment of the True Cross was hidden in the sand, having buried it there himself in order to prevent it falling into the hands of the infidel - till the Christians won back the land. 'Men rushed to kiss it, so greatly was the Rood adored.'

Jerusalem Comes Into Sight

Acting on information from his scouts, the King rose at dawn and led a strong party of knights into the desert to surprise a group of Saracens. After killing several, they chased the rest towards Jerusalem, climbed a limestone ridge and came to a halt: there before them, in the distance, beyond the olive trees and cypresses, they could see the walls and towers of Jerusalem - the citadel (pictured top left) of Christian faith and hope. Hastily throwing up his shield to cover his eyes, King Richard begged God, weeping, that he might not look upon the city that he could not deliver. Turkish Cavalry

The men themselves believed that nothing could stop them from conquering the Holy City but King Richard and the army council were not so sure. Jerusalem was extremely strong and Saladin had polluted all the wells and cisterns around the town while his Turkish cavalry (pictured right) attacked the crusader's supply line to Jaffa.

It made better tactical sense to move on to Egypt, cut off Saladin's source of supply and force him to abandon Jerusalem. The French under the Duke of Burgundy were uninterested in tactical reasoning and wanted to besiege Jerusalem. Yet again, to everyone's dismay, King Richard ordered a retreat back to Jaffa to plan an invasion of Egypt. Though the French under the Duke of Burgundy disagreed, wanting to go on to besiege Jerusalem whatever the odds, the majority view of the army council prevailed. 'So now they started their return so downcast, stricken and forlorn' and on their way to the coast antipathy grew within the camp.

As they marched, the French sang an insulting song about King Richard reputedly written by the Duke of Burgundy. The English replied with an equally bawdy song about the nasty habits of the Duke. At night, the English and French pitched their tents apart.

When they reached Jaffa, King Richard re-opened negotiations with Saladin: both recognised that their armies were exhausted. Saladin offered to surrender the Holy Sepulchre and all the towns previously occupied by the Christians with the exception of Ascalon which Richard must destroy. Richard could not agree. Negotiations continue with Saladin but King Richard has marched his main body of crusaders on to Acre, leaving behind a small garrison to guard Jaffa.

King Richard Sets Off
Two Kings in Sicily
Siege of Acre
Marriage Arranged
King Richard Weds
Arrival at Acre
Acre Falls
Battle of Arsuf
Retreat from Holy City
King Richard's Crusade


Saladin Defeated at Jaffa
King Richard Captured
Eleanor of Aquitaine
William Marshall
Earl John
Chancellor Longchamps
Double Dealing
Attack on Nottm. Castle
Sherwood Times