“Third Crusade” 820th Anniversary Series: Richard the Lionheart Sacks Messina October 4, 2010Posted by rwf1954 in history, medieval period, Richard the Lionheart, Sicily, the crusades, third crusade.
Tags: Crusades, medieval history, Richard the Lionheart, Third Crusade
(This post is the second of an occasional series of posts following 820th anniversary highlights of what history now calls the “third crusade.” My novel, The Swords of Faith, tells the story of this legendary clash between Richard the Lionheart and Saladin.)
Richard the Lionheart was simply not going to take any more nonsense. He declared his assurances that his troops had come to Messina, Sicily in peace, on his way to perform the fighting pilgrimage to take Jerusalem back for Christianity. He maintained these assurances even after citizens of the city had nearly killed one of his men in a dispute over the price of a loaf of bread, triggering a riot. And this incident had followed other abuses heaped on his troops arriving at Messina before Richard. The abuses seemed to abate when Richard’s main forces arrived, but this was clearly a reaction to Richard’s obvious overwhelming power. In truth, the people of Messina had little respect for the arriving Christian warriors from “north of the Alps.”
Still, at the end of October 3rd, Richard figured he had quelled the friction. He was ready for another round of negotiations with Sicilian officials to set the terms for his stay in Sicily, on his way to the Holy Land/Middle East. After all, the late King William of Sicily had been married to Richard’s sister, and during his reign he had been very helpful to fighting pilgrims on their way to the eastern Mediterranean. The new king Tancred had not been clear about how much of this he would continue, and issues concerning Richard’s sister were also unresolved, but Richard had every intention of resolving those issues in the coming days through peaceful negotiations. Of course, Richard was no fool. He had anticipated possible trouble, and had secured positions nearby to support possible military operations. But negotiations were still his preferred method of settling issues with a fellow Christian sovereign.
On October 4th, the violence started up again and escalated to the point where the citizens closed off the city and fought Richard’s men with stones and crossbows. Richard was in negotiations, still trying to make peaceful arrangements for his stay in Sicily. Messengers came to Richard, advising him of the deteriorating situation. At first, Richard disregarded the messages, hoping to settle the conflicts with negotiations. But more and more alarming messages arrived, messages indicating his men were starting to take serious casualties.
That did it. Richard took charge of the attack on Messina, and with information gleaned from earlier observations, knew just what gate to attack, and stormed into the city. In a flicker of time, Messina came under the control of Richard’s troops, who looted the city, destroying property, and killing resisters. It was the general custom at this time in history that a city taken by storm could expect to be subjected to pillage and slaughter. Richard stopped the killing and destruction after city was completely taken, showing mercy to the inhabitants. But the lesson was clear—Richard was not going to take any more nonsense from the people of Messina. And also, in the ongoing negotiations, Richard’s bargaining position had now been transformed.
This action would foreshadow a similar, but more dramatic and far-reaching clash with an island nation about a half a year later. The incident also raised another issue that would recur throughout the fighting pilgrimage—tensions between Richard, and King Philip II and the French. At the launch of the joint operation from Vézelay, France in July 1190, Philip and Richard had agreed to split the proceeds of their operations. Richard’s banners went up over Messina, and he had certainly profited from the looting of the city. Phillip demanded his share. Richard believed he and his men had won this victory without Philip, and so Philip and the French were not entitled to a share. But Richard agreed, after contacts through mediators, that Philip’s banners could go up over the city with his.
Richard and Philip would remain in Sicily until the following spring, coexisting uneasily for a shared purpose, but with serious tensions rumbling through every aspect of their relationship. Another serious confrontation over whether Richard would marry Philip’s sister Alice would burst to the surface before their departure from Sicily. The friction between them would continue to permeate the entire venture without any true resolution.
Previous 820th Anniversary Posts: