Heroes Every Child Should Know/Richard the Lion-Hearted

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Heroes Every Child Should Know by H. W. Mabie
King Richard the Lion-Hearted

King Richard, with his chief nobles, disembarked at Acre an hour before noon on the 8th day of June, 1191. I had the good fortune to see him without difficulty, by the favour of one who has a charge in the ordering of the harbour. Nor was this a small thing, for there was such a press and crowding of men.

The King was as noble a warrior as ever I have seen. Some that I have known were taller of stature, but never one that bore himself more bravely and showed more likelihood of strength and courage. They that are learned in such things said that his arms were over- long for the height of his body; but this is scarce a fault in a swordsman, another inch of length adding I know not how much of strength to a blow. He was of a ruddy complexion, his eyes blue, with a most uncommon fire in them, such as few could dare to look into if his wrath was kindled, his countenance, such as befitted a ruler of men, being of an aspect both generous and commanding.

Some ten days after his coming to the camp King Richard was taken with sickness. This was never altogether absent, but it grew worse, as might indeed be looked for, in the heats of summer. The King sickened on the day which the Christians celebrate as the Feast of St. Barnabas. [Footnote: The longest day according to the old calendar. So the old adage has it: "Barnaby bright, Barnaby bright; Longest day and shortest night."] I was called to see him, having, as I have said, no small fame as a healer. Never have I seen a sick man more intractable. My medicine he swallowed readily, I may say, even greedily. Had I suffered it, he would have taken it at intervals shorter by far than I ordered. Doubtless he thought that the more a man has of a good thing, the better it is for him. (So indeed many believe, and of other things besides medicine, but wholly without reason). But in this I hindered him, leaving with those who ministered to him sufficient for one dose only.

He was troubled about many things, about the siege, which, as he justly thought, had already been too much drawn out, about King Philip of France, whom he loved not nor trusted, about his engines of war, of which the greater part had not yet reached the camp; the ships that bore them having been outsailed by the rest of the fleet. His fever was of the intermittent sort, coming upon him on alternate days. On the days when he was whole, or as nearly whole as a man sick of this ague may ever be, he was busy in the field, causing such engines as he had to be set in convenient places for the assault of the town, and in other cares such as fall to a general. When he was perforce shut in his pavilion by access of the fever, he suffered himself to take no rest. Messengers were coming and going from morning to night with news of the siege--he could never hear enough of the doings of the French King--and there were always near him men skilful in the working and making of engines. One would show him some new thing pictured upon paper; another would bring a little image, so to speak, of an engine, made in wood or iron. Never was a child more occupied with a toy than was King Richard with these things. I am myself no judge of such matters, but I have heard it said by men well acquainted with them, that the King had a marvellous understanding of such contrivances. But these cares were a great hindrance to recovery. So at least I judged, and doubtless it had been thus in the case of most men. But the King was not as others, and, as it seemed to me, he drove away his disease by sheer force of will.

On a certain evening when King Richard was mending apace of his fever one carne to his tent--an English knight, Hugh Brown by name-- who brought the news that the King of the French had commanded that a general assault should be made on the town the very next day. The King would fain know the cause of this sudden resolve. "Well," said the English knight, "it came about, as I understand, in this fashion. The Turks have this day destroyed two engines of King Philip on which he had spent much time and gold." "Aye!" said King Richard, "I know the two; the cat and the mantlet. They are pretty contrivings the both of them, but I set not such store on them as does my brother of France." And here I should say that the cat was like to a tent made of hides long and narrow and low upon the ground, with a pointed end as it might be a ploughshare, which could be brought up to the walls by men moving it from within, and so sheltered from the stones and darts of the enemy. As for the mantlet, it was made in somewhat the same fashion, only it was less in size, nor was it to be brought near to the wall. King Philip loved dearly to sit in it, cross-bow in hand--the French, I noted, like rather the cross-bow, the English the long-bow--and would shoot his bolts at any Turk that might show himself upon the walls.

But to come back to the knight's story. "An hour or so after noon, when the cat had been brought close to the wall, and the mantlet was in its accustomed place, some fifty yards distant, the Turks made an attack on both at the same moment of time. On to the cat they dropped a heavy beam; and when this with its weight had broken in the roof, or I should rather say the back of the cat, a great quantity of brushwood, and after the brushwood a whole pailful of Greek fire [Footnote: A composition, supposedly of asphalt, nitre and sulphur. It burnt under water.]--the machine was over near to the wall, so that these things could be dropped on it from above. At the mantlet they aimed bolts from a strong engine which they had newly put in place, and by ill luck broke it through. And verily before the nimblest-tongued priest in the whole realm of England could say a hunting-mass, both were in a blaze."

What the man might mean by the priest and the hunting-mass I knew not then, but heard after, that when a noble will go forth hunting, the service which they call the mass is shortened to the utmost, and the priest that can say it more speedily than his brethren is best esteemed.

"And my brother of France," cried the King, "how fared he?" "He had as narrow an escape with his life," answered the knight, "as ever had Christian king. His mantle, nay his very hair was singed, and as for his cross-bow, he was constrained to leave it behind." "And he gave commands for the assault in his anger?" said the King. "'Tis even so," answered Sir Hugh.

"My brother of France is, methinks, too greedy of gain and glory; if he had been willing to ask our help, he had done better." But King Richard sorrowed for the brave men, fellow-soldiers of the Cross with him, who had fallen to no purpose. Nevertheless, in his secret heart, he was not ill-pleased that the French King had not taken the town of Acre.

On the second day after the failure of the French assault upon the town, King Richard would make his own essay. He was not yet wholly recovered of his sickness; but it would have passed the wit of man to devise means by which he could be kept within his pavilion; nor must it be forgotten that such restraint might have done him more of harm than of good. So his physicians, for he had those who regularly waited on him (though I make bold to say that he trusted in me rather than in them), gave him the permission which he had taken. He had caused a mantlet to be built for him which was brought up to the edge of the ditch with which the town was surrounded. In this he sat, with a cross-bow in hand, and shot not a few of the enemy, being skilful beyond the common in the use of this weapon. But towns are not taken by the shooting of bolts, howsoever well aimed they may be. This may not be done save by coming to close quarters.

It was on the thirty-fourth day after the coming of King Richard that the town was given up. Proclamation was made throughout the camp that no one should trespass by deed or word against the departing Turks. And, indeed, he who would insult men so brave would be of a poor and churlish spirit. To the last they bore themselves with great courage and dignity. On the morning of the day of their departure they dressed themselves in their richest apparel, and being so drest showed themselves on the walls. This done, they laid aside their garments, piling them in a great heap in the market- place, and so marched forth from the town, each clad in his shirt only, but with a most cheerful contenance.

When the last of the Turks had left the town the Christian army entered. Half of it was given to the French king, who had for his own abode the House of the Templars, and half to King Richard, to whom was assigned the palace of the Caliph. In like manner the prisoners and all the treasure were equally divided.

For one shameful deed the English King must answer. Of this deed I will now tell the story. When the army had had sufficient rest--and the King knew well that no army must have more than is sufficient, suffering more from excess than from defect in this matter--and it was now time to advance, there arose a great question touching the agreement made when the town was given up. There was much going to and fro of messengers and embassies between the English King and the Caliph Saladin, much debating, and many accusations bandied to and fro. Even to this day no man can speak certainly of what was done or not done in this matter. What I write, I write according to the best of my knowledge. First, then, it is beyond all doubt that the Caliph did not send either the Holy Cross or the money which had been covenanted, or the prisoners whom he had promised to deliver up; but as to the cause wherefore he did not send them there is no agreement, the Christians affirming one thing, the followers of Mahomet another. As to the Holy Cross, let that be put out of the account. No man that I ever talked with--and I have talked with many--ever saw it. 'Tis much to be doubted whether it was in being. As to the money, that the Caliph had it, or a great portion of it, at hand, is certainly true. It was seen and counted by King Richard's own envoys. As to the prisoners, it is hard to discover the truth. For my part, I believe that the Caliph was ready to deliver up all that he had in his own hands or could find elsewhere, but that he had promised more in respect of this than he was able to perform. Many of those whom he had covenanted to restore were dead, either of disease or by violence. As for disease, it must be noted that a sick man was likely to fare worse in the hands of Turks; as for violence, there was not much diversity between the Christians and the followers of Mahomet. But this may be said, that one who invades the land of others is like to suffer worse injury should he come into their power than he would have the disposition to inflict upon them. Whatever, then, the cause, the Caliph had engaged in this matter far more than he was able to perform. But he did not fail from want of good faith. I take it that it was from the matter of the money that there came the breaking of the agreement. To put it very shortly, the Caliph said, "Restore to me the hostages and you shall receive the gold"; King Richard said, "Send on the gold and you shall receive the hostages." And neither was the Caliph willing to trust the good faith of the King, nor the King the good faith of the Caliph.

So there was delay after delay, much talk to no purpose, and the hearts of men, both on one side and on the other, growing more hot with anger from day to day. And there was also the need which increased from day to day, as, indeed, it needs must, for the Christians to be about the business on which they came. They had taken the town of Acre, but that was but the beginning of their enterprise, for they had to conquer the whole land. And how could the army march with a whole multitude of prisoners in their hands? It would need no small number of men to keep watch over them, lest they should escape, or, what was more to be feared, do an injury to the army. What could be worse in a doubtful battle than that there should be these enemies in its very midst? I set these things down because I would not do an injustice to the English King, whom I have always held as one to be greatly admired. Nevertheless I say again, that in the matter of the prisoners he did a shameful deed. For on the 20th day of August he commanded that all the prisoners that were in his hands, whether they had been taken in battle, or delivered up as hostages for the fulfilment of the covenant, should be led out of the city and slain. These were in number between two and three thousand. Some the King kept alive, for whom, as being of high nobility and great wealth, he hoped to receive a ransom; others were saved by private persons, a few for compassion's sake; and others in the hope of gain. But the greater part were slain without mercy, the soldiers falling upon them, without arms and helpless as they were.

It was soon made plain to all that the spirit of the Caliph and his Turks was not broken by the losing of Acre. Rather were they stirred up by it to more earnestness and courage; nor did they forget how their countrymen had been cruelly slaughtered. For a time they were content to watch the King's army as it went on its way, taking such occasion as offered itself of plundering or slaying. If any lagged behind, falling out of the line of march by reason of weariness, or seeking refreshment on the way, as when there was a spring of water near to the road, or a vineyard with grapes--'twas just the time of the ripening of grapes--then the Turkish horsemen would be upon him. Such loiterers escaped but seldom. And for this business the Turks had a particular fitness, so quickly did they come and depart. The Christian knights were clad in armour, a great defense, indeed, against arrows and stones, but a great hindrance if a man would move quickly; the horses also had armour on them. Why do they set men on horses but that they may go speedily to and fro as occasion may call? but these knights are like to fortresses rather than to riders. A man on foot can easily outrun them; as for the Turks who rode on horses from the desert--than which there is no creature on earth lighter and speedier--they flew from the Christian who would pursue them, as a bird flies from a child who would catch it.

All this while the Turks were close at hand, and ready to assault the King's army so soon as a convenient occasion would arise. But they did not take King Richard unaware, for indeed he was as watchful as he was brave.

I will now set forth as briefly as may be the order of the army as it was set out for battle at Arsuf. On the right hand of the army was the sea, its front being set towards the south. In the van were the Templars, and next to these the Frenchmen in two divisions, the second being led by that Guy who called himself King of Jerusalem, and after the Frenchmen King Richard with his Englishmen; last of all, holding the rear-guard, were the Hospitallers. These are ever rivals of the Templars, and it was the King's custom so to order his disposition that this rivalry should work for the common good. On one day the Templars would lead, and the Hospitallers bring up the rear; on another each would take the other's place; and there was ever a mighty contention between the two companies which would bear itself the better. These two posts, it should be said, were the most full of peril; nor was any part of the army save only these two companies suffered to hold either the one or the other. Between the divisions there was a small space, not more that sufficient to mark one from the other: otherwise the soldiers stood and marched in as close array as might be. Also they moved very slowly, travelling less than a league in the space of two hours. And even the King with some chosen knights rode up and down the lines, watching at the same time the Turks, so that whenever they might make assault the army might be ready to meet them.

Now King Richard's commandment had been that the Christians should on no account break their lines to attack the enemy, but should only defend themselves as best they could. There is nothing harder in the whole duty of a soldier than so to stand; even they who have been men of war from their youth grow greatly impatient; as for the younger sort they often fail to endure altogether. Many a man will sooner throw himself upon almost sure death than abide danger less by far standing still. And so it could be seen that day in the Christian army. The first to fail were the men that carried the cross-bows; nor, indeed, is it to be wondered at that when they had spent their store of bolts, they, having but short swords wherewith to defend themselves, should be ill content to hold their place. Many I did see throw away their bows and fly, thrusting themselves by main force into the ranks of the men-at-arms, who liked not to beat them back, nor yet to suffer them to pass. And they themselves had much ado to hold their ground, for it was a very fierce assault that they had to endure. In the first place there was such a shower of darts and stones and arrows that the very light of the sun itself was darkened, a thing which I had always before judged to be a fable, but saw that day to be possible. The greater part of them, it is true, fell without effect to the ground, for of twenty missiles scarce one served its purpose, but some were not cast in vain. As for the number, they lay so thick upon the ground that a man might gather twenty into his hand without moving from his place.

About noon the Knights Hospitallers themselves, than whom, as I have said, there were no braver men in the whole army, sent word to the King that they could bear up no longer, unless they should be suffered to charge the enemy. But they got small comfort from the King. "Close up your lines," he said to the messenger, "and be patient. Be sure that you shall not miss your reward." A second time did they send to him, the Master of the Company himself going on the errand, but he also came back with nothing done. Now the King's plan was this, that when the Turks should have spent their strength, and should also, through over-confidence and contempt of their adversaries, have fallen into disorder, then the trumpets should sound, and the whole army with one consent and moving all together, so that the whole of its strength should be put, as it were, into one blow, should fall upon the enemy. 'Twas a wisely conceived plan, save in this that there was needed for the full carrying out more than the King was like to find. He laid upon his soldiers a greater burden of patience than they could bear.

As for the King, he was, I can scarce doubt, glad at heart that the season of waiting was over. Certain it is that not only did he not seek to call back his men from the charge--doubtless he knew full well that to do this was beyond the power of mortal--but he himself joined in it with the greatest vehemence; none that saw him but must have believed that the affair was altogether to his liking. If others were before him at the first, but a short time had passed when he was to be seen in the front rank, aye, and before it. Where he rode, it was as if Azrael had passed, for the dead lay upon the ground on either side.

Never had the Caliph Saladin suffered so great a defeat as that which fell upon him in the battle of Arsuf; never, indeed, after that day did he dare to meet King Richard in the open field. Nevertheless, from that very day did the hope of the Christians that they should accomplish the end of their warfare grow less and less. But, if any one ask what was the cause of this falling, and who should bear the blame, I, for one, know not what answer should be made to him. There was not one in the whole army more brave and more generous in this matter than King Richard; yet even he, I hold, had not a wholly single heart. He was ever thinking of worldly things; he desired greatly to win the city of Jerusalem, yet he desired it as much for his own sake, for his own glory and renown, and the increase of his royal power, as for any other cause.

There is no need to tell of all the combats, skirmishes, and the like that took place, how on one day a company of the Templars fell into an ambush, how on another the Hospitallers suffered some damage. For the most part the Christians had the better in these things, and this not a little because of the great skill and valour of the English King. Nevertheless, the fortunes of the army seemed to go backwards rather than forwards.

About this time the King began to have dealings for peace with the Caliph Saladin, sending an embassage to him, and receiving the like from him. But it was ever thus that the King asked more than he looked for the Caliph to give; and the Caliph promised more than he had the purpose to fulfil. There were many courtesies passed between them, and gifts also. King Richard would send a set of hawks, and, indeed, he had not much that he could give; but the presents that came from the Caliph were of exceeding richness and splendour; there was a tent made of cloth of gold, and horses such as Kings only have in their stalls, and rare beasts and birds, and snow from Lebanon, for the cooling of wines, and many other things, both for show and for use, of which it were long to tell. And these things, for all that they were costly, served the Caliph's purpose well, and for this reason, they seemed to show his good will, and all the while he was busy destroying the towns and laying waste the country. Of these things the King heard something, but not all, for in the matter of news he was ill served. And all the while the Turks ceased not to do all the mischief that they could, slaying such as strayed from the camp, yea, and coming into the camp itself, and doing men to death in their very tents, and Saladin, or rather Saphadin, his brother, for he it was who held converse with King Richard, when complaints were made of their deeds, affirmed that they were done by robbers and others who were not subject to him, and paid no reverence to his commands; of which pretence there need be said this only, that these robbers or murderers, whether they were the Caliph's men or no, never harmed any but such as were his enemies.

For all this King Richard still strove by all means that he could devise to come to a peaceful agreement with his adversaries. Nor did he refuse any instrument by which he might hope to compass this end.

When a whole moon had been wasted in parleying and the sending of messengers to and fro, the King, seeing that he must accomplish his purpose by force of arms or not at all, led his army towards the Holy City. It would serve no profitable end to tell of the other places where he pitched his camp, or of the days which he tarried in this or that. Let it suffice to say that in a month's time he traversed so much space only as an army well equipped might pass over in a single day's march; and that about twenty-one days after the winter solstice the army of the Christians came to a certain place which is named the Casal of Beitenoble, and which in ancient times was, if I err not, a city of the priests. There it tarried some twelve days, being much troubled by storms and rains, for the winds blew and the rains fell during the whole of this time, in such a fashion as I have never seen. As for the tents, only such as were appointed with ropes and so forth could be kept in their place, so violent were the blasts, so that the greater part of the army lay under the open sky, not a little to the damage of their health. The horses also were in evil case. These creatures, all men know, suffer from much sickness, and multitudes of them perished. Also there was a great scarcity of victuals; for the corn and even the biscuit were spoilt by the rain, and the hogs' flesh grew corrupt.

Though not a few died of sickness, yet did the host daily grow greater. Many who had stayed behind in various cities, their zeal having grown stale, now came back to the camp, judging that they would do well to take part in an enterprise that was now near to success. Also many that had tarried on the march for the cause of sickness now made shift to come to the camp. Some I saw carried in litters, and others that could scarce set one foot before the other crawled painfully along the road. Many of these were slain by the Turks, but not the less did the rest brave the dangers of the journey. And in the camp there was a great furbishing of arms and armour, and trimming of the plumes of helmets, for it was counted an unseemly thing that any man should enter such a place as the Holy City save in his best array.

On a certain evening, some eleven days after the coming of the army to Beitenoble, there was a council held in the tent of King Richard, at which were present the Master of the Templars and the Master of the Hospitallers, and other chief men in the army. About an hour after sunset the council came to an end; darkness had long since fallen, but it chanced to be full moon, and the faces of them that had been present at the council were plain to be seen. Before ever a word was said, it was manifest to all that a great misfortune had befallen them. For the faces of these men were clouded with discouragement. And straightway all the multitude that had been gathered together departed every man to his own place. There needed no proclaiming that neither on the morrow nor on any other day would there be a marching to the Holy City.

On the 8th day of January the army departed from Beitenoble, and on the 20th it came, after much toil and suffering, for the rain and tempest scarcely abated for a single hour through the twelve days, to the city of Ascalon.

For some little time, King Richard and his army dwelt in peace in the city of Ascalon. Nor can it be denied that they gathered strength; the sick, being duly handled by their physicians, were restored to a sound body, and they that were wearied with the labours of long-continued warfare had rest and refreshment. Nevertheless it may be doubted whether the King was able to advance the cause at all which he had in hand, namely, the taking of the Holy City. And the chief cause was this, that the Christians, not having for the present a common foe with whom to contend, began to quarrel among themselves more grievously than ever. So the King and the French, among whom, now that the French King had departed to his own land, a certain Duke of Burgundy was chief, fell out, and this with such heat, that the duke departed from Ascalon to Acre in great haste, and all the Frenchmen followed him.

Now about this same time there came a messenger to King Richard bearing a letter from one that he had set to rule in England in his stead while he should be absent from his kingdom. In this letter there were written many things about the doings of Prince John the King's brother: how he had commerce with the French to the King's damage, and was troubling all loyal men, and had taken all the money that was in the treasury. When the King heard these things he was sore distraught. And indeed he was in a great strait. On the one hand there was the purpose for which he had come on his present journey, the taking again of the Holy City; and, on the other, there was the loss of his own kingdom at home. For in the letter it was plainly written that if he was not speedy in returning, all the realm of England would be lost to him.

At the first he made no doubt of departing with but as little delay as might be. "I must be gone," he said, "or my kingdom will not be worth a silver penny." But before many days his purpose was changed. 'Twas said that a holy man, a priest of the land of France, took courage to speak to him and set before him his duty in this matter. He said that the hearts of all were sorely troubled by the King's purpose to depart--and this was most certainly true, seeing that they who were most jealous of the King and chafed most at his command were not less dismayed by the news of his departure than were his best friends. "Think too," he is reported to have spoken, "how that you will greatly dim your kingly renown. You have done well, O King, and God has manifestly bestowed His blessings on you. Will you then be ungrateful, and, if your royal grace will suffer me to say so much, unfaithful to Him? Verily there is a great reward laid up for him that recovers the Holy City out of the hands of the heathen, and will you give this up on the bare rumour of mischief that may befall your estate in this world?" So the holy man is reported to have spoken. Such words may have had weight with the King, who was ever greatly moved by eloquent words. But I also believe that when he came to himself he judged that there was no great need of haste in the matter; that the Prince John his brother was not greatly loved, nor was ever like to be; that when the people of England had had a year's trial of his rule, if such should come to pass, they would be the less likely to stand by him; and, moreover, that if Richard should go back to his country in high esteem among all men, as having set up yet again a Christian Kingdom in the Holy City, his enemies would be brought nought by the mere rumour of his coming. Certain it is that, let the cause be what it might, he caused it to be made known throughout the army that they would set out for the Holy City in three days' time.

Again there was great joy in the army; again the sick rose from their beds, and the lame threw away there crutches, that they might go without hindrance on this great journey. Again did the army come almost in sight of the Holy City; again were all things ready for the assault. And then once more the more skilful and prudent of the leaders hindered the matter. It was not well, they said to run into such danger. It might well be that if they should assail the city they would not take it; it was well-nigh certain that even if they should take it, they could not hold it to any good purpose. And so it came to pass that King Richard and the army having once more come to Beitenoble, once more departed, leaving their task unaccomplished.

When the leaders had taken this resolve that they would turn back and the army was now about to depart, there came to King Richard a certain man-at-arms, who was well acquainted with the country, for indeed, he had travelled on foot as a pilgrim from the coast to Jerusalem, and this not once only but twice or thrice. This man said, "My lord King, if you are minded to see the Holy City, you can do so at little pains. If you will ride a mile or so you will come to a hill from whence you can see the walls, and the hill on which the temple was built and other of the Holy places." But the King answered, "I thank you much, nor, indeed, is there any sight in the whole world on which I would more gladly look with my eyes, but I am not worthy of so great a favour. If it had been the will of God that I should see His city, I do not doubt that I had done so, not as one who looks upon some spectacle from far, but as the conqueror in some great battle looks upon the thing that he has won. But of this grace I, by reason I doubt not of my sins, have been judged unworthy." And when he had so spoken he turned his horse's head to the west, as being minded to return yet again to the sea-coast. And this he did.

I have spoken of the King's courage and skill in arms and wisdom in leadership, nor need I say these things again. But one thing I will add, namely, that of all the men that came to this land from the West none left behind him so great a fame as did King Richard. So if a mother was minded to make a crying child hold his peace, she would say, "Hush, child, or King Richard shall have thee"; or if a horse started unaware, his rider would say, "Dost see King Richard in the bush?"

On the 9th day of October, 1192, did King Richard set sail to return to his own country. But it fared ill with him on his journey. For it fell out that he was separated from all his friends, and that when he was in this case a certain duke, with whom he had had a strife, laid hands upon him, and laid him in prison. There he remained for the space of a year and more, fretting much, I doubt not, against his condition, for never surely was a man more impatient of bonds. But he could not escape, nor did his friends so much as know where he was. And when this was discovered by some strange chance, there was yet much delay, nor indeed was he set free till there had been paid for him a ransom of many thousands of gold pieces. Not many years after he was slain by a chance arrow shot from the walls of a certain castle which he was besieging, being then in the forty- second year of his age.