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“Third Crusade” 820th Anniversary Series: Richard the Lionheart Orders the Executions of the Acre Hostages August 20, 2011

Posted by rwf1954 in Acre, Acre hostages, Acre ransom, crusades, history, medieval period, Middle Ages, Richard the Lionheart, Saladin, the crusades, third crusade.
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(This post is the 33rd of what will be approximately 70 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.) 

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820 years ago today, on the morning of August 20th, 1191, Richard Lionheart gave the order. The men who would carry out the order were chosen carefully, among them knights whose brethren had been executed at the orders of Saladin after the Battle of Hattin on July 4th, 1187. The execution site was set in plain view of Saladin’s forces—Richard wanted them to see what he was doing. Perhaps he wanted to draw them into self-destructive assaults against a well-defended position. More likely, he wanted to demonstrate he was not to be trifled with, as he felt Saladin was doing with the incomplete fulfillment of the Acre terms of surrender. But on that morning, about 2700 prisoners, roped together, dressed in white, were lead out of Acre to the execution site and killed.

This atrocity is featured when historians speak of Christian abuses during the Crusades. It is not easy to defend supposedly chivalrous Richard the Lionheart for this brutal act. His supporters would say that if Acre had been taken by storm, the inhabitants would have been slaughtered. They would argue that Saladin had bluffed with the Acre hostages’ lives by delaying fulfillment of the surrender terms. They would argue that Saladin set the tone by slaughtering Christian knights of the orders, the Templars and Hospitallers after the Battle of Hattin. (In Saladin’s defense, Templars and Hospitallers were sworn to a never-ending battle with Saladin’s forces. They were men who would be nearly impossible to enslave, or ransom, and certain to be on the battlefield again if ever released from captivity.) But by any standard, this act is hard to excuse. For Richard, this has to be considered a dark hour, an ugly side of an often heroic figure.

The act certainly infuriated Saladin. He had been merciful with captured western Christian soldiers before—this ended after the Acre executions. But in what can only be considered a sign of the times, or a sign of expediency, or both, this barbaric act did not prevent negotiations between Richard the Lionheart and Saladin’s brother, al-Adil. However, before that phase of these events, there would be a major battlefield confrontation, a confrontation that would help create the legend of Richard the Lionheart, and put Muslim forces back on their heels.

Previous 820th Anniversary Posts:

July 4th – The 820th Anniversary of the Launch of the “Third Crusade”

October 4th – Richard the Lionheart Sacks Messina

November 3rd – Queen Sibylla Dies

November 11th – Richard the Lionheart Signs a Treaty with King Tancred of Sicily

November 15th – Queen Isabella’s Marriage to Humphrey of Toron is Annulled

November 19th – Archbishop of Canterbury Dies

November 24th – Conrad of Montferrat Marries Queen Isabella

December 25th – Richard the Lionheart Feasts at Christmas

December 31st – Shipwreck at Acre; Muslim Defenders Lose Resupply

January 5th – A Wall Comes Down, Presenting an Opportunity

January 20th – Frederick of Swabia Dies; Leopold of Austria Becomes Top-Ranked German Royalty at Acre

February 2nd – A Playful “Joust” Gets Out of Hand in Sicily

February 13th – Saladin’s Forces Relieve the Garrison at Acre

March 3rd – Richard the Lionheart Settles the Alice Marriage Controversy—Sort Of

March 30th – Philip II Leaves Sicily; Berengeria Arrives

April 10th – Richard the Lionheart Leaves Sicily for “Outremer”

April 20th – Philip II of France Lands at Acre

April 22nd – Richard the Lionheart Lands at Rhodes After His Fleet Scatters

May 1st – Richard the Lionheart Leaves Rhodes to Rescue His Sister and Fiancée

May 8th – Richard the Lionheart and His Troops Storm Limassol

May 11th – Crusaders Opposed to Conrad Visit Richard the Lionheart on Cyprus

May 12th – Richard the Lionheart Marries Princess Berengeria

May 30th – Fighting Intensifies at Acre

June 5th – Richard Leaves Famagusta for the Eastern Mediterranean Coast/Saladin Moves his Camp

June 6th – Richard the Lionheart Refused Admittance to Tyre

June 8th – Richard the Lionheart Arrives at Acre

June 11th – Saladin’s Relief Ship Sinks

June 25th – Conrad of Montferrat Leaves Acre; Saladin’s Receives Reinforcements

July 12th – Acre Surrenders

July 31st – Philip II of France Makes a Promise and Leaves for Home

August 2nd – Envoys Discuss Acre Surrender Terms

August 11th – Date for the First Installment of the Acre Ransom Ends in Stalemate

To review a comprehensive catalog of historical fiction set during the medieval time period, go to http://www.medieval-novels.com:80/.

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