Saladin Defeated at Jaffa
As soon as King Richard moved his main force to Acre, Saladin brought his army out of Jerusalem and attacked Jaffa.
|Defenders Hold Out
Despite many of the defenders being either ill or wounded, the Jaffa garrison stubbornly held out, but after three days, the Saracens led by Saladin himself, undermined the walls and poured through the breach forcing the defenders back to the citadel. Saladin was unable to hold back his rampaging Saracens who sacked the town before storming the citadel 'where the Christians fought to hold them back with stout defence and bold.'
When King Richard, at Acre, heard news of the Saracens' attack, he dispatched a force of mounted Knights Templars and Hospitallers under Henry of Champagne by road to Jaffa while he himself took to sea with a similar number of knights and crossbow men in thirty-five galleys.
Held up by contrary winds, King Richard's galleys eventually arrived outside Jaffa port just before dawn. When Richard saw Saladin's troops on the beach and manning the walls, he assumed the town had fallen, till a priest jumped down from the walls, swam out to Richard's ship, recognisable from its prow carved like a dragon's head, and informed the King that the garrison was still holding out. 'Fair King, if the Lord and you do not aid the folk who wait here for you, death will be their fate,' he pleaded, according to Ambroise the crusading minstrel.
'God sent us here, tis sure,' the King answered and without waiting to put on his armour, he led his men in a charge ashore. Meanwhile, the beleaguered garrison, in the act of seeking terms of surrender with Saladin, saw Richard's galleys off-shore and began to fight their way out of the citadel. The surprised Saracens never knew what hit them. The king fought so ferociously at the head of his knights, 'whom the King's strokes laid low, no one dared to face his blow,' that the Saracens fled in panic.
Chased by jubilant crusaders, the infidels ran fear-stricken far inland.
In their ferocious attack on the town, the Saracens had killed all sick and wounded crusaders and slaughtered all the pigs they could find. The stench of dead bodies was too much to bear for the relieving crusaders and they had to camp outside the walls. Saladin took this as an invitation to attack before the rest of King Richard's forces arrived – it was vital for Saladin to avenge another humiliating defeat at the hands of 'Malek Rik' in order to restore his prestige.
Before dawn and outnumbering the Christians three to one, Saladin's cavalry stealthily moved up for a surprise attack. A Genoese sentry raised the alarm in time and King Richard quickly drew his men up in a defensive half circle. To repel the Saracen cavalry, they stuck their lances in the ground to form a defensive wall while the crossbow men stood behind in pairs, one to load and one to fire, showering their attackers with deadly arrows.
The Saracens charged right up to the bristling steel 'hedgehog', but under murderous fire from the crossbow men, stopped and veered and wheeled around. They charged again and again, reeling back each time from the deadly lances and arrows. 'The king was a giant in the battle. He was everywhere, now here, now there, wherever the attacks of the enemy were most fierce. On that day his sword shone like lightning.'
By the afternoon Saracen losses were so heavy that Saladin called off his attack. Then, incredibly, even though heavily outnumbered, Richard attacked the Saracens by leading a charge with a small group of knights ahead of his spearmen. 'Among the Turks full tilt he drove, smiting unceasingly and clove them to the teeth with blows so fierce' that they reeled back in disorder and disbelief, convinced that the terrible golden-haired 'Malek Rik' was invincible.
So moved was Saladin by Richard's courage that when the King's horse was killed under him, he ordered a pair of Arab horses under a flag of truce to be led across the battlefield as a present with his compliments.
Richard had to quickly regroup his forces when Saladin's men (pictured top left) desperately attacked the town, forcing some of the Genoese sailors to flee to their ships. Richard galloped into the town at the head of his knights and rallied the small garrison.
The Saracens fell back once more and Saladin had to order a retreat to Jerusalem, leaving their dead where they lay. Saladin was now forced to negotiate peace terms.
Peace Terms Agreed
After the battle at Jaffa, both sides were very tired. 'The King lay sick at Jaffa, spent and worn, in deep discouragement.' Ever since King Richard has arrived in the Holy Land he has suffered fevers that caused his hair and nails to fall out. With little chance of reaching Jerusalem and with trouble at home, the King decided it was time for a truce.
Negotiations took place through envoys though Richard often sent messengers to Saladin asking for sherbet and fruit – all through his illness he had a longing for pears and peaches. The sticking point in any agreement was Ascalon. Saladin could not leave the port in Christian hands since it threatened his road to Egypt; and King Richard could not lose face with his men by giving it up. Neither could the King return to England without a treaty that appeared to give him a victory.
Compromises had to be made and terms were finally agreed that would last for three years. Saphadin signed the treaty on behalf of his brother Saladin while Henry of Champagne (pictured right) signed for Richard who was too sick to even write his own name. The Christians would hold the sea coast while Saladin retained the mountains and hinterland. King Richard had to raze Ascalon to the ground and it would be an open city while Christians would be allowed freedom of pilgrimage into the Holy City.
Under Saladin's safe conduct, Crusaders entered Jerusalem, followed the 'Way of the Cross' from St. Stephen's Gate (pictured below left), kissed the Holy Sepulchre and looked on Mount Calvary. King Richard did not. He could only allow himself to enter Jerusalem as a conqueror – not on conditions laid down by unbelievers.
Gerard of Furnival, husband of Maud, heiress of the Lovetot family of Nottinghamshire, was one of the many pilgrims who visited the Holy City. He had helped defend the King at Joppa when a party of Saracens tried to seize him inside his tent.
Saladin invited Hubert Walter, Bishop of Salisbury, who had helped draw up the treaty, to visit him. The bishop brought gifts and they held a long discourse. Saladin asked the bishop to suggest some gift that he might bestow in return and the bishop requested that two of his priests give evening service and matins at the Holy Sepulchre each day and so remain to serve with the Syrians. Saladin agreed.
Most pilgrims have now boarded their ships and sailed for home. 'Yet many people ill-informed, said in their foolishness that nought of good in Syria was wrought, since they won not Jerusalem – the true facts are not known to them.'
King Richard sailed out of Acre well aware that he was not leaving all his enemies behind – more were waiting to ensnare him during his hazardous journey home.