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In Winning His Spurs, the brief history of the first two Crusades given by Father Francis in Chapter 1 sets the scene for the Third Crusade very well. The successes of the First in gaining territory all down the Mediterranean coast from Cilicia in the north to the edge of Gaza in the south were qualified by internal dissention among the Crusader States of Outremer. The loss of the County of Edessa to the Turkish general Imad ed-Din Zengi on 26 December 1144 shocked Europe into the Second Crusade. This unmitigated disaster, headed up by Louis VII of France and Conrad III with his German contingent, frittered out after the Germans were virtually wiped out crossing Anatolia and the French – instead of reinforcing Antioch and preparing to retake Edessa – slipped away south towards Jerusalem.

 

Zengi had been succeeded by his son Nur ed-Din (see also Saladin), and when he countered the combined armies of Louis and King Baldwin of Jerusalem attempting to attack Damascus in 1149, he put the crusaders to ignominious flight. After the fall of Edessa, internal divisions and political intrigue continued to plague the Crusader States. Although leaders such as Nur ed-Din in Syria ensured that Muslim military power was growing stronger, an equal lack of unity within the Islamic world meant that no full-scale onslaughts were launched to take advantage of the crusaders’ disputes.

 

By 1170, all this had changed. A minor Kurdish warrior increased his power and reputation to the extent whereby he was able to unite Egypt and Syria into one powerful Islamic state. Saladin became the new champion of Islam and began a campaign of re-conquest that demolished the divided patchwork of Outremer. For the first time, under a leader with acute strategic and tactical ability, Muslims had the power to strike back at the Christian invaders and drive the infidels into the sea.

 

The crusaders’ disastrous defeat at the battle of Hattin (1187) crippled their ability to defend themselves and Saladin exploited his victory to the hilt. Within a few years almost all of the crusader strongholds in the region had fallen to Islamic arms – even Jerusalem was once again a Muslim city. Saladin came close to wiping out the crusaders completely, but in the critical moment, a fresh wave of Europeans arrived to save the day – well, partly.

 

A Third Crusade was proclaimed in Europe and its leading nobility took the call to arms to save the remnants of Christendom in the Holy Land. Frederick Barbarossa was the German emperor, while King Philip II of France and King Richard I of England were rivals for power in western Europe – and equally at odds in the Holy Land. While the crusading reinforcements were riven by internal disputes, Richard the Lionheart proved himself the one man capable of stopping Saladin’s onslaught. The stage was set for a clash between the two great military titans of the age.

© 2010–2016 Reckless Books, England

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Europe at the time of the Third Crusade, showing the various routes taken by the crusading parties.

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Prelude to the Third Crusade