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Richard the Lionheart surrenders Jerusalem (1191-1192)

An image of Saladin battling Richard the Lionheart in single combat.
An image of Saladin battling Richard the Lionheart in single combat.

The Third Crusade began in stalemate for the Christians and Muslims. Richard the Lionheart's appearance changed the dynamic. The English king saved the Christians at Acre, defeated the Muslims at Arsuf, and bested Saladin on both occasions. Richard could see his ultimate goal in sight. He went crusading to recapture Jerusalem from Muslim rule. However, the great English crusader never took Jerusalem. His brother, John, threatened to take the crown. As a result, Richard the Lionheart concluded a peace with Saladin and returned to Europe without taking the Holy City.

King Richard defeated the Muslims at Arsuf in 1191. The Crusaders immediately took Jaffa from Saladin. Richard offered to negotiate with the Muslims. He felt his personality and charm could win over even the most implacable foe. Saladin sent his brother, Al-Adil, to parlay with the king. Richard offered his sister Joan to Saladin's brother in a marriage alliance. However, Saladin did not take the offer seriously and declined it much to Joan's relief.

Richard's failure to reach an agreement led to the march on Jerusalem. Saladin faced a disgruntled army while Muslim morale cratered. The Crusaders might have been able to take the city with little resistance. However, they were not fully aware of the scope of Islamic problems and feared being encircled by a relief army. This combined with horrible winter weather stalled Richard's drive.

The king pulled away back his forces to call for reinforcements. Richard contacted Jerusalem's presumptive king, Conrad, for assistance. Richard had recognized another contender for the crown, but events necessitated a change. Conrad declined because Richard supported his rival. He was assassinated before being crowned. Richard's nephew married Queen Isabella to become King of Jerusalem. Richard the Lionheart might have ordered Conrad's death to remove an obstacle.

In the spring of 1192, the Crusaders marched against the Muslims again. They continued to gain ground against their foes. The Christians reached Jerusalem in June, but did not attack the city. Crusader leaders fought amongst themselves and Richard refused to lead the attack. Richard's tantrum led to a general withdrawal. The following month, Saladin captured Jaffa, but lost control of his army. They rampaged through the streets massacring everything in sight. Saladin warned Christians to hide for their lives until he could regain control. Richard arrived to rescue Jaffa from the sea. The amphibious assault shocked the Muslims, Jaffa fell to the Christians, and Richard added the survivors to his force. Saladin launched a failed counterattack, which led to heavy casualties. The Battle of Jaffa secured Crusader positions on the coast.

By this point, Richard wanted to return to England. The king's brother, John, worked to usurp the throne from the rightful monarch. Richard negotiated a treaty with Saladin to free himself to return home. Jerusalem remained in Muslim hands while Christians were allowed entry into the city. Richard the Lionheart left the Middle East in October.

Richard the Lionheart entered the Crusades determined to recapture Jerusalem for the Crusaders. He defeated Saladin and the Muslims at every turn, but failed in his main objective. Richard's efforts secured Crusader holdings, but fell just short of total victory. His brother's treason upended Christendom's best chance at taking the Holy City.

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