End of the Siege of Acre (1189-1191)

On July 12 1191, the long siege of Acre (1189-1191) during the Third Crusade was finally over.  The city of Acre offered terms of surrender to the Crusaders, and this time, these terms were considered suitable and were accepted.  The siege had begun when Guy de Lusignan attacked Acre in 1189, and the Crusader army failed to capture the city for more than two years.

The Siege of Acre, from Biblotheque Municipale de Lyon
Outremer, c. 1190, at the inception of the Third Crusade

King Richard the Lionheart arrived in Acre on the 8th of June 1191, with English fleet of 100 ships and an army of 8,000 men.  Richard immediately began supervising the construction of siege weapons to launch the decisive assault on the city.  King Philippe II of France, who was Richard’s ally at the time, had arrived in Acre earlier than Richard on the 20th of April 1191 with a Genoese fleet; meanwhile, Richard had invaded Cyprus along the way to the Holy Land.

Philippe used the time before Richard’s arrival to build some of siege engines.  After Richard’s arrival, the two monarchs sought a meeting with Saladin, but both kings suddenly fell ill with fever.   However, it is possible that the meeting would not have happened even if the two kings were not sick because Saladin never said anything certain about the matter.

Before Philippe’s arrival in Acre and also before Richard’s arrival, the siege machines broke holes into the walls of Acre many times.  However, Saladin’s army attacked the city after every breach, giving the garrison of Acre enough time to repair the damage.  When finally a sufficiently large breach was again created in the walls on the 3rd of July 1191, the besieged Saracen troops sent their emissaries to Saladin, begging for his help, but the sultan accepted surrender.

Roger of Hoveden, a famous 12th-century English chronicler, accompanied King Richard the Lionheart to the Holy Land.  Hoveden left detailed chronicles of the Third Crusade.

Roger of Hoveden says on the 3rd of June when Acre was very close to surrender:

In the month of July, on the third day of that month, being the fourth day of the week, a great part of the walls of the city of Acre fell down, near the tower before-mentioned: upon which, Alberic Clement, the marshal of the king of Prance, ran with a large body of armed men towards the wall, with the standard of the king of France, the marquis Conrad running with the rest towards the wall ; on reaching which, they planted their ladders for the purpose of scaling.”

                 Saladin’s troops, French manuscript, 1337

On the 11th of July, a final bloody battle took place, and the next day, Acre capitulated.  The happy Christians entered the city, taking numerous Muslim warriors prisoner.  The banners of the Kingdom of Jerusalem and of France, of England and of Austria were raised over the walls of Acre, which later would cause an argument between the leaders of the Crusaders.

Roger of Hoveden’s records about the surrender of Acre include:

“On the twelfth day of the month of July, being the sixth day of the week, Philip, king of France, Richard, king of England,  and all the principal men of the Christians, assembled in the morning at the tent, of the Templars, where they were met by  the principal men of the pagans besieged in the city; and, with  the sanction of the army of the Christians, the said kings made  peace with the pagans on the following terms The pagans were  to surrender to the said kings the city of Acre, with everything therein, and to set at liberty five hundred Christian captives who  were there.

They also covenanted with the kings that they would deliver up to them the Holy Cross, and one thousand Christian captives, and two hundred Christian knights who were in  captivity, according as the said kings should make choice from  among all the captives who should be found in the possession of  Saladin ; and that they would give for the use of the kings two  hundred thousand besants. They were also to remain as hostages in the hands of the kings, upon the understanding that, if they should not within forty days then next ensuing comply  with the terms above-mentioned, they should be at the mercy  of the kings for life and limb.

These covenants being made, and these terms being agreed to by both sides, and confirmed by oath, the kings sent their knights and men-at-arms into the city, and selected one hundred of the richest and most noble of the pagans, and placed them in a tower under a strong guard ; while the rest they caused to be guarded in the houses and streets of the city, and supplied them with necessaries, making it a rule that all who should receive baptism and embrace the Christian faith should be set at liberty. Being influenced, accordingly, by their apprehension of death, many of the pagans received baptism ; but, as soon as they possibly could, they forsook the Christian religion and betook themselves to Saladin ; on which the kings gave orders that, from that time forward, no one should receive baptism.

On Saladin hearing of the peace which had been made with the Christians, he pretended that it had not been made with his sanction. On the thirteenth day of the month of July, the king of France and the king of England divided between themselves the city of Acre, and everything that was in it, both the pagans as well as the gold and silver, and all other articles of property ; on which Drogo de Merlou and a hundred knights were named on behalf of the king of France to receive his share ; and Hugh de Gurnay and a hundred knights were appointed on behalf of the king of England to receive his proportion.”

Surrender of Acre after the long siege of the city

Acre was captured just in a few weeks after the arrival of the Lionheart.  King Richard was truly a great warrior king, and the capture of Acre in such a short time proved his reputation of a highly competent military commander and strategist.  No one else could accomplish that.

Soon the Crusaders began to have arguments with each other.  Duke Leopold of Austria left shortly after his quarrel with Richard: as the surviving leader of the German Imperial contingent, he demanded a position equal to those of King Philippe and King Richard, but his demands were ignored, and then his flag was torn down from the ramparts of Acre.

In the struggle for the kingship of Jerusalem, Richard supported Guy de Lusignan, while Philippe and Leopold favored Conrad de Montferrat, who was related to both of them and who was later killed by the Hashashin (the Order of Assassins who lived in the mountains of Persia and in Syria between 1090 and 1275).  Montferrat’s assassins were rumored to have been hired by Richard, although it was never proved, and perhaps this gossip was spread by his enemies.

After slighting the Duke of Austria, Richard departed from Acre.  Months later, Leopold would take revenge upon Richard by capturing the English monarch on the way back from the Holy Land near Vienna.  Very soon Philippe also departed to handle pressing problems in France, leaving about 10,000 French Crusaders and 5,000 silver marks to pay them.  As a result, Richard remained in sole command of the army and could pursue his dreams of conquering Jerusalem.

The end of the siege of Acre was strategically important: it reversed the trend of military losses of the Christian troops in the Holy Land and marked the beginning of their conquests.  The city became the new capital of the Crusader kingdom for three centuries until the Siege of Acre of 1291 resulted in the Crusaders losing control of the city to the Mamluks.

All images are in the public domain.

Text © 2020 Olivia Longueville