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The Massacre at Acre: Mark of a Blood-thirsty King?

The Massacre at Acre: Mark of a Blood-thirsty King?

By Jared Stroik

Oshkosh Scholar, Vol.5 (2010)

Abstract: The Crusades began in 1095 as an effort to resist the spread of Muslim forces into Asia Minor, present-day Turkey, and to prevent Muslims from moving into Christian Europe. The Third Crusade, during the end of the twelfth century, was also known as the Kings’ Crusade because the Christian forces were led by some of the most important and powerful kings of the time. One of these was Richard I, King of England. In 1191, Christian forces successfully took the city of Acre, in present-day northern Israel, after a long siege. Following the siege, however, many unarmed Muslim prisoners were killed. Some modern scholars contend that the massacre of these prisoners was ordered by Richard I as a blood-thirsty and ruthless act. This study draws on primary sources and the analysis of modern scholars to determine the validity of these claims against Richard I. Through a synthesis of primary sources, I argue that the massacre, although unfortunate, was not the act of a blood-thirsty killer, but rather a strategic last resort.

The Christian forces in the Holy Land during the mid- to late-1100s had, for many years, requested assistance to maintain their dwindling and increasingly challenged control in the Holy Land, but no help came. The tenuous rule of Guy of Lusignan, King of Jerusalem, in the mid-1180s, led to further internal conflict. The lack of military support, however, would soon change.

The Third Crusade was called in 1187 by Pope Gregory VIII after the disaster of Hattin earlier that year. At Hattin, Saladin, the now-famous Muslim leader and military commander, lured the Christian forces led by King Guy out through the desert and to battle in the area known as the Horns of Hattin. There Saladin surrounded and attacked the Christians and essentially destroyed the Christians’ military forces. According to Thomas Madden, “the Horns of Hattin marked the greatest defeat in crusading history.” Subsequent victories by Saladin led to an almost total reclamation of the Holy Land by the Muslims, including the city of Jerusalem. The news of the defeat was so powerful that Pope Urban II, the leader of the Roman Catholic Church, died of grief on October 20, 1187. His successor, Gregory VIII, issued Audita tremendi, a papal bull that created a seven-year-long truce throughout Europe so that the Christians of Europe could focus on contributing to the crusades.

The Third Crusade, which was intended to re-conquer the Holy Land from Saladin, was the height of the Crusading Movement. Many important figures took the cross, the donning of a cloth cross on one’s clothing or some other method of signifying that one intended to make the pilgrimage to the Holy Land. A few notable individuals included King William II of Sicily, Holy Roman Emperor Frederick Barbarossa, King Henry II of England, and King Philip II of France. William II, Frederick, and Henry II died, however, before making the pilgrimage to the Holy Land. After Henry II’s death, his son Richard I became king of England.

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