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“Third Crusade” 820th Anniversary Series: Christian Forces Win the Battle of Arsuf September 7, 2011

Posted by rwf1954 in Arsuf, Battle of Arsuf, crusades, history, medieval period, Middle Ages, Richard the Lionheart, Saladin, the crusades, third crusade.
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(This post is the 36th 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, the Battle of Arsuf, one of the most famous of the Crusades, and a key battle of the “Third Crusade,” took place.  Richard the Lionheart prepared for the battle with the same organizational meticulousness that had characterized the march south during late August. His plan was simple—he wanted to level one overwhelming cavalry charge that would devastate Saladin’s lighter armored cavalry. He set bugle call signals for his men. Cavalry charges of western European knights, with huge armored horses carrying armored riders holding lances leveled at anyone in their paths, were feared by any potential enemy that had seen them in action. Richard proposed to time that charge at just the right time.

Saladin’s plan was to harass the western Christian forces with swirling hit-and-run attacks executed by his more mobile cavalry, mounted archers with less armor but with quickness as their advantage. Saladin wanted to provoke a disorganized response to the provocations so the knights could be isolated and overwhelmed by his quicker more numerous forces.

Saladin’s men put their plan into action. His men picked off enemy men and especially enemy horses at an alarming rate, especially in the rear where the Hospitallers fought off constant attacks. They longed to counterattack, to hurl that devastating charge against this gnat of an enemy. They sent repeated messages to Richard, begging him to order the charge. Richard held off—for him the time was not right yet. He wanted the enemy more concentrated, and more tired, before striking the decisive blow. But finally two Hospitaller knights could wait no longer. They broke formation and started after the enemy. The rear of Richard’s formation was moving, coming apart. Richard had wanted to wait a few moments more, but understood that a charge in pieces would not accomplish the devastating hammer blow he sought to win the day. He gave the order for the bugles to sound. He unleashed the charge and led it from the front.

In moments, the Battle of Arsuf transformed. The brief moments of the furious charge decided the battle. Saladin’s forces able to escape destruction retreated into the forest. Richard’s men then chased them to the edge the forest, but did not follow. Twice more, Richard’s knights charged at any resistance forming to contest their possession of the field. Twice more they stopped at the edge of the forest after destroying everything in their path. In past battles, western Christian knights had over-pursued after mounting a successful charge, breaking formation, then subject to swirling counterattacks that would surround and destroy isolated knights. Richard’s men, under his orders, were not going to make that mistake.

Saladin tried to rally his men for each counterattack. There were insufficient men available. They had either fled miles to the rear, or had been killed. Saladin would have to accept this defeat and take measures to resist the next phase of Richard’s operations. He would face important decisions, with Christian forces moving into position to move onJerusalem. He did not have the forces to counter every possible enemy move.

Richard’s forces would move uncontested into the port city of Jaffa, a position where Saladin had already destroyed fortifications. Richard would need to refortify the position, allow his army to recover from the battle, but more from the effects of the grueling August march south, and then set his next move, very possibly a move inland toward Jerusalem. While both Richard and Saladin took stock of their positions and seemed to catch their breaths, real negotiations began between the western Christians and Saladin, negotiations that would take some peculiar twists and turns.

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

August 20th – Richard the Lionheart Orders the Executions of the Acre Hostages

August 22nd – Richard the Lionheart Leaves Acre to Move South Toward Jerusalem

September 5th – Richard the Lionheart Meets with Saladin’s Brother al-Adil

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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