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Story of the English - Helene Guerber

Richard and the Saracens

Richard left Cyprus as soon as he had married Berengaria, and sailed on to Acre, a stronghold on the coast of Palestine which the crusaders had vainly besieged for two years. There he was warmly welcomed by the Christian host; but he was so much braver than any of the other princes that they soon grew jealous of him.

Although the city of Acre was very strongly fortified, Richard made such daring attacks upon it that the inhabitants finally promised to surrender in forty days and to give back the cross to the Christians. But, hearing that their famous chief Saladin had come with an army, and that he had hemmed in the Christians around the city, the people of Acre did not keep their word. When the forty days were over, and Richard saw that they had deceived him, he ordered the heads of three thousand Saracen prisoners to be struck off in the presence of their friends on the city walls.

When Saladin heard this, he had as many Christian captives slain, and the war was renewed more furiously than ever. Richard was very brave, but he was neither humane nor gentle, and he soon quarrelled with the King of France and the Duke of Austria. Although they remained with him, these two princes secretly hated him, and tried to hinder him in every way.

For months the fighting went on, and as Richard was always in the thickest of the fight, his name became the terror of the country. Saracen mothers used to threaten naughty children by saying, "Look out; King Richard will catch you; "and when a horse shied, the Saracen warrior would cry, "Dost think King Richard is behind yon bush?"

The Saracens, however, were worthy foes for the Christian knights; and their leader Saladin was just as brave, just as generous, and just as cruel, at times, as the famous Richard himself. We are told that these two leaders once had an interview, in which each showed his skill in handling the sword. While Richard cut a huge bar of iron in two with one mighty stroke, Saladin deftly divided a down and silk pillow and a floating veil of gauzy tissue, which were equally difficult feats.

Once, during the war, Richard fell seriously ill with fever. When Saladin heard that his enemy was sick, he made a truce; and as long as the disease lasted, he daily sent Richard fresh fruit, and ice and snow which were brought down from the top of Mount Lebanon.

The Christians, however, were in the meantime sorely afraid of the Saracens, for the latter had the aid of the chief of the Assassin tribe, called "the Old Man of the Mountain." The subjects of this chief were so devoted to him that they would obey him blindly, and he trained a number of the youngest and strongest among them to go among the Christians and suddenly stab them with poisoned daggers. Because these Assassins never appeared among the Christians except to commit murder thus, their name has become a common term for one who treacherously kills a fellow-being.

Acre was finally taken by the Christians, who now began to quarrel among themselves about the naming of a king for Jerusalem, which they hoped soon to win also. Richard sided with one party, the French king and the Duke of Austria with another. The man chosen by the latter party was murdered by one of the Assassins, but they accused Richard of having had a share in the crime.

The French king, angry and jealous because Richard was reaping all the honours, prepared to return home. Before he left the crusaders he solemnly promised not to make any attempt to take Richard's lands or to do him any harm during his absence. But as soon as he arrived in Rome, he began to complain about Richard to the pope. The pope, however, would not listen to any of Philip's accusations, for he knew that without Richard the crusaders would soon have to give up all hope of taking Jerusalem.

Richard, in the meantime, had won a brilliant victory over the Saracens at Arsuf, where many of the forty thousand slain fell by his powerful hand. He next wished to march on to Jerusalem; but his soldiers were weary of fighting, and refused to go farther.

Richard therefore retreated to Ascalon, where he helped the Christians rebuild their fortifications, carrying stone and mortar with his own hands. This conduct was viewed with scorn by the Duke of Austria, who insolently remarked that his father had not been a bricklayer. Some historians say that it was this remark which caused a final breach between the leaders, and report that Richard resented it by kicking the lazy and impudent duke. Others say that it was a dispute about a flag. However this may be, Leopold of Austria left the army soon after this, and went home, vowing he would be revenged some day.


Front Matter

Early Times
The Druids
The Britons
Caesar in Britain
Queen Boadicea
The Great Walls
The Great Irish Saint
The Anglo-Saxons
Brave King Arthur
The Laws of the Saxons
The Story of St Augustine
Three Great Men
The Danish Pirates
King Alfred and the Cakes
Alfred conquers the Danes
A King's Narrow Escape
The King and the Outlaw
The Monasteries
An Unlucky Couple
St Dunstan
King Canute and the Waves
A Saxon Nobleman
Lady Godiva's Ride
The Battle of Hastings
The Conquest
Lords and Vassals
Death of William
The Brothers' Quarrels
Arms and Armour
The "White Ship"
Matilda's Narrow Escapes
Story of Fair Rosamond
Thomas a Becket
Murder of Thomas a Becket
Richard's Adventures
Richard and the Saracens
The Faithful Minstrel
Death of Richard
The Murder of Arthur
The Great Charter
The Rule of Henry III
A Race
Persecution of the Jews
The Conquest of Wales
A Quarrel with France
The Coronation Stone
The Insolent Favourite
Bruce and the Spider
Death of Edward II
The Murderers punished
The Battle of Crecy
The Siege of Calais
The Age of Chivalry
The Battle of Poitiers
The Peasants' Revolt
Richard's Presence of Mind
A Tiny Queen
Henry's Troubles
Madcap Harry
A Glorious Reign
The Maid of Orleans
The War of the Roses
The Queen and the Brigand
The Triumph of the Yorks
The Princes in the Tower
Richard's Punishment
Two Pretenders
A Grasping King
Field of the Cloth of Gold
The New Opinions
Death of Wolsey
Henry's Wives
The King and the Painter
A Boy King
Lady Jane Grey
The Death of Cranmer
A Clever Queen
Elizabeth's Lovers
Mary, Queen of Scots
Captivity of Mary Stuart
Wreck of the Spanish Armada
The Elizabethan Age
Death of Elizabeth
A Scotch King
The Gunpowder Plot
Sir Walter Raleigh
King and Parliament
Cavaliers and Roundheads
The Royal Oak
The Commonwealth
The Restoration
Plague and Fire
The Merry Monarch
James driven out of England
A Terrible Massacre
William's Wars
The Duke of Marlborough
The Taking of Gibraltar
The South Sea Bubble
Bonny Prince Charlie
Black Hole of Calcutta
Loss of the Colonies
The Battle of the Nile
Nelson's Last Signal
The Battle of Waterloo
First Gentleman of Europe
Childhood of Queen Victoria
The Queen's Marriage
Wars in Victoria's Reign
The Jubilee