The Third Crusade (1189–1192) brought together the leaders of Angevin England, France, and the Holy Roman Empire with the goal to recapture the Holy Land. These three states were the most powerful pillars of Western Christianity at the time. However, Jerusalem had fallen under the control of the Ayyubid sultan Saladin in 1187. The Kings of England and France and the Holy Roman Emperor could not allow this.
Due to the failure of the Second Crusade (1147–1149), the Zengid dynasty was in control of a unified Syria. They would then engage in a conflict with the Fatimid rulers of Egypt. Saladin brought both of these forces under his own control. He became the first sultan of Syria and Egypt, founding the Ayyubid dynasty which would last until 1260. With the combined forces Saladin began reducing the Crusader states and went on to recapture Jerusalem in 1187.
A unified response
At the time King Henry II of England and King Philip II of France (known as “Philip Augustus”) were in conflict with each other. However, they set this aside to lead a new crusade because of the loss of Jerusalem. Richard I took command of the English side after Henry’s death on 6th July 1189.
The third leader, the elderly German Holy Roman Emperor Frederick Barbarossa, also agreed to go on the Third Crusade. He led a massive army across the Balkans and Anatolia to reach the Middle East. Frederick was successful, achieving some key victories against the Seljuk Sultanate of Rûm. Saladin had such concerns about this army that he had to send troops from the Siege of Acre. Sadly, Frederick drowned in the Saleph River on 10 June 1190 before he could reach the Holy Land. In their grief from his passing, many of the German Crusaders chose to go home.
When Richard set off to join his fleet at Marseilles, his mother, Eleanor of Aquitaine left for Navarre. Eleanor’s goal was to collect the bride she had chosen for her son; the woman was Princess Berengaria (Berenguella) of Navarre.
On his way Richard made a stop in the Straits of Messina to free his sister, Joan, from the usurper ruler of Sicily, a man named Tancred. Eleanor and Berengaria would reunite with him here.
From Messina Eleanor returned home; she had concerns about reports of the behaviour of her youngest son, John. He had been left to manage England as its Regent, but this was proving to be a bad idea.
Joan and Berengaria would travel together on the crusade and became great friends. Richard and the Basque princess married in Cyprus before continuing on to Acre (Akko).
Victory at the Siege of Acre was one of the most pivotal moments of the Third Crusade. Afterwards, Philip — in company with Frederick’s successor in command of the German crusaders, Leopold V Duke of Austria, left the Holy Land in August 1191. Richard became the sole leader of the Crusader forces.
The Crusaders won another major victory at the Battle of Arsuf. As a result, most of the coastline of the Levant was back under Christian control. Richard and Saladin would sign the Treaty of Jaffa on 2nd September 1192, sealing an end to the crusade. The Treaty recognised Muslim control over Jerusalem, but it meant unarmed Christian pilgrims and merchants were able to visit the city.
Richard would leave the Holy Land on 9 October 1192 to return to England. The successes of the Third Crusade meant that Westerners were able to maintain crucial states in Cyprus and on the Syrian coast.
The failure to re-capture Jerusalem would inspire the subsequent Fourth Crusade of 1202–1204. Once again, the forces did not reclaim the city. It would remain under Muslim control until the Sixth Crusade in 1229. Even then, the Europeans only had control of it briefly.
Read more of Richard and Berengaria’s story and the Third Crusade
Many of the events above feature in the upcoming Berengaria books, due for release later this year. If you want to read more about them and the impact they had on Richard and Berengaria’s relationship, pick up your copies when they arrive on Amazon.