“Third Crusade” 820th Anniversary Series: Richard the Lionheart Orders the Executions of the Acre Hostages August 20, 2011Posted by rwf1954 in Acre, Acre hostages, Acre ransom, crusades, history, medieval period, Middle Ages, Richard the Lionheart, Saladin, the crusades, third crusade.
Tags: Acre, Acre hostages, Acre ransom, Crusades, killing of Acre Hostages, medieval history, Middle Ages, murder of Acre hostages, Richard the Lionheart, Saladin, slaughter of Acre hostages, Third Crusade
(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.)
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:
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