The Third Crusade

The Third Crusade

The Third Crusade originated in 1187. During 1187, the Christian kingdom of Jerusalem was surrounded. Muslim forces, led by the formidable Saladin, started closing in on the Christian crusaders. On July 4, Saladin’s army engaged in the Battle of Hattin with the crusaders. During the battle, 20-40,000 Muslim soldiers fought against 18-20,000 Christians. Due to their superior numbers, the Muslims decimated the Christians.

After the battle concluded, only 200 crusaders managed to escape. Muslim soldiers swiftly executed any captured Christians. Demoralized by their defeat, the remaining crusaders retreated to Jerusalem. They believed that the kingdom’s walls would prevent Saladin from achieving further success. However, the crusaders would be proven wrong.

In October, Saladin and his army arrived outside of Jerusalem. After a prolonged siege, Saladin once more emerged victoriously. As a result of his victory, Jerusalem came under Muslim control. 15,000 Christians were captured and sold into slavery. Fearing for their lives, Christian refugees fled to Antioch, Tyre, and Tripoli for safety.

Beginning of the Crusade

Jerusalem’s fall reached Europe quickly. Distressed by the news, Pope Gregory VIII issued a bull that called upon Christians to reclaim Jerusalem. Thus, the Third Crusade had begun. In response to the pope’s bull, three of Europe’s most powerful rulers pledged their support. Henry II of England and Philip II of France agreed to go crusading. After being persuaded by Gregory, Holy Roman Emperor Frederick I also committed himself to the crusade.

Richard I of England

Richard I of England
Richard I of England

On July 6, 1189, Henry II of England died. In his place, the king’s successor, Richard I, committed to the crusade. The new king spent vast amounts of money assembling troops, gaining supplies, and creating a massive fleet. Upon securing his kingdom, Richard left England the following year.

Philip II of France

Philip II of France
Philip II of France

Similar to his English counterpart, Philip II diligently prepared for the Third Crusade. The French king also assembled a large fleet to travel to the Holy Land. Before he departed France, Philip met with Richard I. Both men swore an oath to one another before separating at Lyons. Philip’s force headed towards Genoa, while Richard’s traveled towards Marseille.

Frederick I

Holy Roman Emperor Frederick I
Holy Roman Emperor Frederick I

Although initially at odds with the papacy, Frederick I nonetheless heeded the pope’s call. Seeking to prove his devotion as a Christian, Frederick assembled the most massive army in Europe. As he headed east, the emperor recruited more soldiers from Hungary. Unlike Richard I and Philip II though, Frederick opted to travel on land rather than by sea.

Problems Arise

As all three rulers and their respective forces traveled, each man began to encounter problems. Although allies, Richard I eventually came into conflict with Philip II. In Italy, Richard spurned Philip’s sister, Alice, and instead married Berengaria of Navarre. The English king further alienated Philip with his arrogant leadership.

Since Frederick I traveled by land, the emperor had to pass through the Byzantine Empire. Due to bad experiences with crusaders in the past, the Byzantines refused to allow Frederick passage. Instead, the emperor and his army had to march through the Turkish territory of Seljuk. Although the Turks offered safe passage for a large sum, Frederick stubbornly decided to fight. As a result, the emperor’s army was continually harassed by the Turks.

Arrival in the Holy Land

  On April 20, 1191, Philip II arrived in Acre, a port city in the Holy Land. Upon his arrival, the king immediately took part in the siege of the city. Since Richard I still hadn’t arrived yet, Philip took command of the crusaders. After analyzing the situation, the French king came up with a plan. Philip ordered that siege engines be built and focused on assaulting Acre’s walls.

On June 8, 1191, Richard I finally landed in Acre. Although he annoyed Philip II with his late arrival, Richard was much-needed support. Both kings would subsequently lead an assault on Acre’s walls. The English king attacked from the north, while Philip attacked from the east. Through their combined might, Acre fell, and the remaining Muslim soldiers surrendered.

Unlike Philip II and Richard I, Frederick I never made it to the Holy Land. As the German army crossed the River Saleph, the old emperor drowned on July 10, 1190. After burying Frederick’s corpse, the army was left in a state of confusion. Due to this, the majority of the emperor’s army abandoned the crusade and returned to Europe.

Commander Richard

After the capture of Acre, Richard I and Philip II’s relationship soured. Fed up with the English king’s arrogance and concerned with problems in France, Philip decided to leave the Holy Land. On July 31, the French king departed. However, before he left, Philip agreed not to break his truce with Richard while he crusaded.

Upon Philip II’s departure, Richard I effectively became the de facto commander of the Third Crusade. The king had a disciplined army of 14,000 infantry and another 4,000 knights. As Richard marched south along Palestine’s coast, Saladin and his Muslim force followed. The crusaders eventually settled near the forest of Arsuf.

On September 7, 1191, Christian and Muslim soldiers clashed. During the pitched battle, Richard I demonstrated his military genius. By the end of the battle, the Muslims had suffered heavy losses and retreated from Arsuf. On the other hand, the crusaders had only minor losses of life. Because of their devastating loss, Saladin never again engaged in open battle against Richard.

Further Success

After Arsuf, Richard I decided to capitalize on his victory. The crusaders recaptured Jaffa and began securing the coastline. Afterward, Richard and his troops marched towards Jerusalem. Despite coming close to the city, the crusaders were unable to capture it. Having realized that he would be unable to hold Jerusalem if captured, Richard wanted to attack Saladin’s base in Egypt instead. However, his decision proved widely unpopular and was abandoned.

End of the Third Crusade

After returning to France, Philip II abandoned his truce with Richard I. Seeking to regain English controlled territory, the French king began attacking Richard’s lands. When Richard learned of Philip’s betrayal, the king decided to return home. Before he left the Holy Land, Richard concluded a three-year peace agreement with Saladin on September 2, 1192. Shortly after, the English king departed on October 9.


Despite failing to recapture Jerusalem, the Third Crusade proved successful in other ways. Richard I’s military victories gave Christian’s control of Acre, Jaffa, and the coastline. The English king’s peace agreement with Saladin also proved invaluable. Although Saladin died in March 1193, his successors chose to continue honoring the agreement. As a result, peace between Christians and Muslims endured until the beginning of the 13th century.


Captivating History. (2019). The Crusades: A Captivating Guide to the Military Expeditions During the Middle Ages That Departed From Europe With the Goal to Free Jerusalem and Aid Christianity in the Holy Land.

Cartwright, M. (2018, August 27). Third Crusade. Retrieved June 18, 2020, from

Madden, T., Dickson, G., & Baldwin, M. (2019, October 25). Crusades. Retrieved June 19, 2020, from


Andy Tree

I'm a European history enthusiast who seeks to share his passion with others. I hope to inform and inspire readers with my posts!

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