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From Miniatures of French History, by Hilaire Belloc, New York: Harper & Brothers Publishers, 1926; pp. 104-151.

Miniatures of French History
Hilaire Belloc

Part  III.


(March 21, 1152)

EASTER came early in the year 1152, and that Lent was cold.

In the week before Palm Sunday, the middle week of March, the sodden roads of the great plains to the north and to the east of Orleans had trains upon them of men and wagons making all for Beaugency, two days below Orleans down the river — Beaugency, the little town at the opening of its shallow valley, standing upon the north bank of the Loire and facing the poor sun of this winter end.

There stood in the town of Beaugency, near the stream, a strong and simple castle, flanked with huge round towers. Many men have passed into possession of it, have rebuilt, and changed, and blazoned, and pulled down its stones in seven hundred years, but some of those towers still stand. It was, in this year 1152, Church land. It held of Amiens; and hither the Archbishop of Sens had summoned the Court and the king, Louis, and his queen, Eleanor, many lawyers and many barons, and the great prelates like 105 Himself — of Rheims, of Rouen, of Bordeaux. Their tenants for assessors, their squires and hosts of serving men and troops of horse and mules came crowding into the little place, turning for a moment this half-forgotten town into a capital; and the innkeepers were still dreaming of gold, and every house was making itself a sort of crowded hostelry; every barn was a stable.

The matter upon which this writ of the archbishop’s had gone out to his king and the Court, to the Queen Eleanor, and all their train, and to his fellow bishops, and to the barons of France and of Aquitaine, was the great divorce. For now that Louis, the king, had come back shamefully defeated from the Crusade (tortured by rumours that were more than rumours of the queen’s contempt and unfaithfulness, heavily warned that no son had been born of her to continue the Capetian line), he was for ridding himself of his burden. And this, although that burden meant the mastery of half the south, and rule direct from Paris over whatever lay between the Pyrenees and the garden of the Loire; between the mountains of Auvergne and the sea. For Eleanor had Aquitaine for her dower.

The king was a man of thirty. He was the heir to that constant effort of the monarchy to turn 106 province by province from a proud fief into an immediate possession of the Crown. No wider sweep of that net had been thrown than when, in his boyhood, there had been brought to Rheims, as a wife for him, the girl who was heiress of all Aquitaine. He could also remember how, so many years before, that marriage had filled all his thoughts and all his heart in the new discovery of the south coming upon his cloistered mind. But life had turned sour.

*             *             *             *             *

The chapel of the castle, round-arched and broad, with very deep windows in its thick walls, and a faded fresco on its roof, was barely lit by the early light of the March morning. All were assembled for the great decision. Mass had been said. The ornaments of the place were veiled gloomily, as is the Lenten custom. The king’s throne was set facing the bench where the bishops and their assessors sat; but the queen, with her women and her advocates, the tonsured clerks in her cause, and her barons of Aquitaine, sat apart on the Gospel side of the nave, she also crowned and robed, she also expecting the release. Her tall figure, strong and too large in its rich draperies, suited her 107 heavy, long face, over massive in the jaw, too steady and uncaring in the level of its high brow. Her kerchief fitted close, under the golden circle, to her now scanty hair.

The issue of this suite, which was predetermined, she strongly desired. She had said in her latest and angriest revolts: “I have married a monk and not a man!” And this, her thirtieth year, was for her also a culmination. She would bear the thing no more. For seven years she had had no child; when the children came they were daughters. She was not the mother of an heir. And the priests, by whom Louis VII. was himself so closely bound, offended her. She had hardly hidden her chance desires in the East, on the Crusade — a Greek, a noble, a Saracen slave. She had not hidden at all her contempt and her weariness. But there was more than that. She had now another choice.

Ten years, twelve years younger than herself, there was a lad into whose hands had tumbled, like ripe fruits from every side by converging inheritance, all the west: Brittany and Normandy and the Maine and Anjou from his father (for he was the Angevin), and from his mother England itself — for his claim to which crown he would fight and conquer, she knew. This lad, 108 red-headed, passionately willed, and to be the master of such great domains, she had fixed down in her mind for a quarry. He would not fail her — for she would bring him Aquitaine. He should be lord over all the western seas from the hills of Cumberland right away to the Biscayans and Navarre. He was that young Henry of Anjou and Normandy, of Maine: and of England to be: a glorious young Lord, just past his nineteenth year. All these things the Queen Eleanor held in her heart that morning, masked behind her heavy, impassive face.

The loud, confused cries of hundreds talking in groups, of the lawyer-priest spreading their crackling parchments, and of serving men passing in and out of the doors, ceased to a sharp order from the archbishop’s serjeant and the ringing of his pike upon the stone floor of that church. There were only a few hurried whispers passing between the clerks of the queen, and these also fell when the archbishop rose and gravely put his question, whether any one present desired to come forward on the plea of the king and of the queen that their marriage, being contracted within the degrees forbidden to Christian men and women, should be made null and of no effect. But if such consanguinity were not established, 109 then let them preserve the sacrament of their marriage in God’s name.

When he had sat him down again, those who stood ready behind the king — his relatives, and witnesses of his rolls and archives — came forward one after the other, and each stretched forward his right hand open, palm downwards, over the relics, taking the oath assigned. Such and such was the degree of consanguinity between Eleanor of Aquitaine and Louis VII, of that name, King of the French and Duke of Aquitaine. Eleanor, upon her throne apart, heard in those proud royal formulæ titles hardly greater than her own. She had behind her generation after generation of the great dukes, her fathers, of whom she came, the sole heiress, summing up in her presence the story of the Roman south, and Poitiers on its hill, and Bordeaux and Bayonne, and the vineyards of Angoulême. She would take good care into whose hands all those hundred miles of countryside should go. She foresaw the wars.

When the long and formal business of that Court was over (the depositions inscribed, signed and sealed, the pleas of either party heard, the documents declared, the relationship established), the bishops consulted for their verdict, 11 and gave it in corporate form, so that the great clerics outside their body — the Pope, their chief, and even great St. Bernard himself (the spiritual master in Christendom) — said nothing more. They gave their verdict upon the undoubted text of the Canon Law. They declared this marriage of fifteen years now null. And their solemn sentence was delivered, the silence broke again for a moment, and once again the serjeant of the archbishop, with the pound of his pike upon the stone floor, commanded silence. The queen took from her head the gold circle of the woman’s crown and set it down in symbol of the change. She had another crown before her eyes, and one that should be greater in Europe for fifty brilliant years than the crown of the Capetian. She was to be mistress of the Angevin, and to command in her own fashion, through so many wars, so great a government.

She was free now. She rose, not waiting to see whether the king should rise first from his throne apart. She withdrew with all her train, standing high at the head of those high lords, and moving towards the eastern doors. She went southward, and away to her own land.

These things were done before Easter, the 111 cold and leafless Easter of that year. The spring broke, and by Pentecost this woman had married the Angevin: young Henry of Anjou, of Maine, of Normandy, of England to be. And his honour also she broke at last.


(August 23-25, 1179)

LOUIS, King of France, the seventh of that name, had no son. Two wives had borne him four daughters. Their alliance confirmed his house, but the Capetian foundation was imperiled. It had established itself by an unshaken chain of circumstance and will, son succeeding father, and crowned in youth before the father’s eyes. It had been a process of power hidden in the mind, a thing gradually more and more conscious for two hundred years, since first Robert the Strong had come, no one knew whence, into the Court, and obtained his government in the west; since Hugh had been crowned. It was now grown to full statue, and knew itself: a thing formed — the kingship of France; and from that seed, now a tree, was to grow the full kingdom and the re-establishment of the Gauls. But now the advance was halted, for Louis, already in middle age, had no son. Four years had passed since his last marriage.

He was a pious man, full of doubt and intuition. He prayed secretly to God, and there is 113 record of his prayer, “I beseech Thee, O God . . .” For the great times that were to come depended upon its answer. He prayed secretly to God for a son.

When the time of the queen’s delivery drew near, the king summoned Hugh, the bishop, and said to him, “Tell no one till I am dead, but I have dreamed a dream which some survivor should know. I have dreamed that what shall be born stood holding a golden cup full of blood, and that the nobles of France came around and drank of it in turn.”

In the night of the 21st of August, the vigil of the Octave of the Assumption in the year 1165 from the Incarnation of the Lord, the child was born in a castle to the south. It was a boy, and they gave him the name of Philip, but for the populace a second name, “Adeodatus,” the gift of God — so necessary was he to the Crown, and so strangely had he come in answer to a prayer. Later he was to be the Augustus, to fight great and glorious battles all his life, to break the Angevin and the German, and to rule all up to the coasts of the sea.

Then for years the king watched over the child, and cherished him as he grew: not so strong in 114 body as he should have been. All turned upon his life.

When the lad was already in his fourteenth year, the king summoned a great council in the spring time and said to the great lords and bishops there assembled, “I will, if it is your will, that my son be crowned at Rheims, and allegiance sworn to him by all while yet his father lives, as is the custom of our House, and this on the Assumption of this very year.” This was the year 1179. For he felt his age coming upon him, though he was but in his sixtieth year. Already had he feared paralysis, and known the symptoms of its coming. His council acclaimed him and his will.

As the Feast of the Assumption drew near, which is also the memory of Roncesvalles, the 15th of August, Louis, the king, came with all his Court to the castle of Compiègne, on the edge of the great woods, there to stay till they should set out on the two days’ march to Rheims, and the young prince, Philip, was with him.

But just in the days before this journey was due, the prince went out one morning with his men to hunt the boar in the forest at the gates of the castle. They gave him a swift horse, perhaps too mettlesome, and he rode out with his 115 men in the morning, with their hounds and their horns, till, in the depths of this high wood, they unleashed, and next found a great boar; and him they pursued, scattering round, by this narrow path and that, through the thick undergrowth, and making round by the right and the left to come up with the hounds at last when they should pull the great boar down. But as his horse went furiously, and got off too far from the rest, the prince heard the horns more faintly, and, when he tried to rally to them, took false turnings, till at last he heard them no more. Then he knew that he was lost. He had not eaten, and the day was done, and he became afraid. Before it was dark he checked his tired mount and stood in doubt, looking all around and seeing nothing in the woods nor hearing any sound of men. Then he prayed to Our Lady and his Lord St. Denis, who is the strong protector of the Kings of France, that he might be saved out of the high wood; and looking round again to his right, he saw in the gloaming a charcoal burner, rough and forbidding, all grimy with his trade, and bearing on his shoulder an axe.

The child was frightened at that figure; but he took it for a sign, and summoning his courage he walked his horse up to the charcoal burner and 116 accosted him very courteously, and told him that he was the Son of France lost in the high wood, and in peril, and weak with long fasting. This story the man believed, and he led the prince by ways he knew all through the miles of forest in the darkness, till, by morning, they had come to the castle of Compiègne, and the prince was delivered safe to his father. But the strain had thrown the boy into a fever, and it seemed he would die. Thus for the second time was the line of France in peril, and King Louis near despair.

In such an agony he bethought him of the saints, and what help he could implore. There was one with whose name all Christendom was alive — St. Thomas, murdered at Canterbury not ten years before by the agents of the Angevin, his rival. The archbishop had been his guest, he had succoured him — through policy and as a lever against the house which was his greatest feudatory, and almost his master; the house of Anjou, against which he had warred in vain. There, in England, its head, Henry, was a great king, his equal. Louis, the king, determined to pray at that shrine. They could not dissuade him. They told him it was perilous to put himself unarmed into his enemy’s hand; they warned him of his failing powers, but his intention 117 stood; and immediately after the Assumption he set out for the sea. His weakness hampered him. He was six days on his journey to the coast. He reached it at Wissant, on the Straits, in the evening of his son’s fourteenth birthday, the 21st of August. On the morrow, the Octave of the Feast, he crossed the Narrows and came into Dover Harbour, an inlet of the hills, and so went ashore, the first King of France to land in this island. Henry, the king, came down to meet him, and they went together up to Canterbury to pray at the shrine. There, in the crypt, at the tomb under the high altar, King Louis prayed for his son’s recovery and for the strength of the Capetian line.

King Louis had upon his finger a certain stone, the most precious and (some said) the greatest in the world; it was called the Royal Jewel, and men knew of it everywhere. All manner of stories were told of it: how it shone in the dark with a smouldering light, how it was worth the ransom of a kingdom, how the saint had claimed it in a vision. But these stories were only tales. The great stone was its own title. This stone King Louis took off as he knelt at the shrine, and offered it to be the saint’s for ever. There they hung it, and later they put a silver angel 118 before it, pointing to it. There the stone shone before the shrine three hundred years and more, displayed whenever the rich cover of the shrine was lifted for the pilgrims, and giving birth to legend upon legend; until, when more than three hundred years had passed, another King of England — another Henry, the Tudor — destroyed that shrine. He, in his turn, took that famous stone and had it set in a ring to wear on his enormous thumb; and after him his daughter Mary had it set in a collar she wore; but what became of it after that, or where it is now, I do not know.

So the king gave the stone, and prayed at the shrine of St. Thomas for his son, who lay between life and death far off in France, the last of such a line.

Louis, the king, also gave to the monastery of Canterbury, sixteen hundred gallons of wine a year for ever, to be taken from the product of his own vineyards at Poissy; a poor, thin, northern wine, but he could give no other, for as yet the southern vineyards were not in any domain of the Crown. And having done these things, and given great alms, his pilgrimage was ended, and on the third day, which was the 25th of August, he set forth back again to the sea coast at Dover, and 119 on the morrow, the 26th, he crossed, reaching the French land.

His task was done. In his journey south to his own the blow fell on him. As he reached Paris all his right side was struck, and he was paralysed. The boy, however, his son, was saved.

On the day of All Saints, Prince Philip was crowned at Rheims with great splendour, in the midst of the twelve peers, and so was the full purpose of his father accomplished. But that father, in his illness, could not see the crowning, and in a little while he died, as well and piously as he had lived.


(Battle of Hattin, Saturday, July 4, 1187)

THERE is a plain full of grass and reedy at the edges. It is sunk deep between high, bare limestone hills. It goes level with the southern edge of that clear lake which is called the Sea of Galilee.

Through this grassy plain to-day the railway to Damascus runs, and through that plain from the earliest of human years the ancient road from Damascus has come falling down from the great dark shelves of the Huran Mountains, standing in a wall thousands of feet high, eastward about the hot gorge of Jordan; beyond there is the desert land.

On the sward of this place lay encamped, with their tents, seven thousand of the Saracen cavalry, a chosen body to whom the Christians, still holding Palestine, would have given the name of “knights” or “nobles.” Their leader (or rather their head, through the favour of his father) was a boy, el-Afdal, some seventeen years old, the son of Saladin.

For Saladin it was who thus lay in wait to 121 destroy our Christian hold upon the Holy Places of Our Lord.

It was the very end of April, when the spring of that land is turning into summer, and already the corn on the fields of the swelling heights to the west, the corn of the bare uplands of Galilee, was ripening. The year was the year 583 of the Hegira, when Mahomet’s mission began — the eleven hundred and eighty-seventh form the Incarnation of our Lord, from which we Christians reckon.

The presence of this camp was singular.

There had never been — save in the crisis of the Crusades — a single issue of Moslem against Christian, of the French tongue against the Arabic, of Europe against Asia. Such issues only show clear in moments of intensity. But the great French feudatories, who between them held the Syrian coast and Palestine, those who had been Lords of the Levant since the First Crusade, three generations before, a small group, immensely rich, touched already (those who were not recently immigrant) by the Orient, inextricably related by marriage and re-marriage — these had between them feuds, alliances, dissolving groups of affection or ambition which made compromise possible with the enemy. So had 122 their opponents over against them (the emirs of great towns, the sheikhs of tribes, the occasional armed leaders of new hordes) their own ambitions, local aims and reasons. These also had their perpetual intrigue. These also had been touched by the West as had the westerners by the East. In the cross-currents of all that swirl, you would find at moments a group of Frenchmen and Arab against a group of Arab and Frenchmen, Christian and Moslem against Moslem and Christian; so it had also been for now four hundred years on the Marches of Spain, two thousand miles away, on the other front of the great fight. There also the Cid Campeador had parleyed with the Moslem lords. The great current of our pouring out against Asia had such eddies on its banks.

On this side Jordan, over against the Saracen camp of cavalry (with its white tents marking the as yet unburnt sward), the land that rose hundreds of feet up to the other limestone hills of the west, the land of Galilee, had for master a man conspicuous among all the Europeans of his time.

He was a Capetian, of the French blood royal through the women; through his father he held directly from the first Crusading advance and 123 conquest nearly a century before. His title he held from Tripoli, of which he was the Count. And this square of land between the lake and the sea was his, through his marriage with a woman who had brought it to him as her dower, and who reigned in what was also his capital and chief castle of Tiberias: the old town of Herod, between the inland water and the first spring of the hills. Now this man, at that moment, chief Christian though he was, consented to be, for policy, a man that still parleyed with Saladin, the new and tremendous leader of all that intended the end of the Christian name.

Raymond of Tripoli had reckoned himself of right, by the statute of his kinsman (the last adult King of Jerusalem), to be regent of the whole realm. It was his, not only in his own eyes, but in those of his peers, to administer from Jerusalem all the feudality of the Levant. It had been denied him, and denied him abruptly and recently, by a trick which had put a man incompetent for such office, a chance husband of the dead king’s daughter, upon the throne. Guy of Lusignan, an uncertain man of whom posterity has thought perhaps less than it should, but whom certainly contemporary men despised; florid, perhaps unsoldierly, certainly of a sort which cannot make 124 itself obeyed, he had come, through the intrigue of a court and the will of a very young woman, to be crowned; after her child, the true heir to the throne, had (perhaps mysteriously) died. The Master of the Templars, a man French in speech but from Bideford in Devon, a brave but hasty man, had helped in this, and the degraded Patriarch of Jerusalem, half Oriental, sunk in a harem, had concurred — why we do not know.

The Count of Tripoli, Raymond, in great anger had gone off northward disappointed of the crown, and most of the barons were with him in the quarrel.

The secession was, in a manner, self-defence. Count Raymond called it to himself the restoration of order; legitimacy; the first step to a strong state. But what he did was to make some understanding with Saladin, which popular tradition and the poets (with their sense for the heart of things) have handed all down the centuries for treason.

It was not as though Raymond had made up one of those ephemeral compacts of local truce with the small and changing leaders of the desert which men would soon forget. The compact — or whatever it was — was with Saladin. The shadow of Saladin had increased enormously, 125 rapidly, like the shadow of a great tree at evening, and in such few years that they seemed (to a man then full grown) like so many days.

That son of Job, Saladin, the Kurd from the Tigris, had swallowed up his masters, one after the other, by intrigue, by violence, by that sort of fatality which drives the conquerors, and which has in it so intimate a mixture of enthusiasm, hypocrisy, and terrene desire.

The whole buisness had not covered more than the life of that young son, el-Afdal, seventeen ears old, who lay there encamped beyond Jordan. When Afdal was a new-born child, Saladin was still a servant. To-day he was imperial. It was a space of time no longer than the space between the last two wars of the English (that in South Africa and the Great War). In that little time Saladin had come to be master of the whole vast Syrian and Mesopotamian and Desert and Egyptian spaces which encircled the Christian bastion of the Holy Land.

Saladin was as much a master at Cairo as at Damascus. He was obeyed from the Gulf of Aleppo to the Persian hills; from the Armenian boundaries to the Soudan. This immense power was in the hands of a man whose varied purpose certainly included a fixed desire to trample down 126 the Christian name, not only to the sea, but (if that were possible) beyond the sea. Our little European outpost of The Sepulchre, stronger in blood and faith and tenacity by far than anything around it, had always for a century been abominably outnumbered. Now for the first time in a century it found those numbers all organized under one man, and that man certainly a great soldier, and everywhere also obeyed and everywhere victorious. He was about them to the north, to the east, to the south. He was gathering his armies. The hum of the swarm was heard all over the East.

His parleying with such a force and such a threat — no matter with what excuse of statecraft — could not be forgiven Raymond of Tripoli. He called his diplomacy many names to himself. He called it this, that, and the other. He thought it necessary, perhaps, as an expedient to the Christian society, which was so threatened. He argued, perhaps, for delay. He certainly was moved — thought he might have denied it — by wounded pride. He none the less played a part, as he thought, for Christendom. But he and it were to pay a terrible price for so much intelligence and so little vision.

This white camp of Saracen cavalry, on the 127 sward to the south of the lake, was the match that lit the explosion.

We know what proceeded from it; what we cannot to-day explain is the motive, either upon the one side or upon the other, which led to the fantastic tourney: it was in part a jest or stage play, in part a challenge. It is of a time other than ours — we can only half understand. There are but a few words remaining to guide us.

At any rate there proceeded from el-Afdal and his seven thousand a request (not a demand) that the Saracen horsemen should ride westward into Galilee, through Galilee, and return. That they should pass one day in so riding courteously round through the territory of Galilee.

Raymond of Tripoli returned them a sort of set licence, marked out curiously like the rules of a game: “That they should not mount until the sun had risen, and that they should promise to be back over Jordan before it had set. That they should do no damage or injury; that they should kill none, nor burn nor pillage.”

What caused the request? Why were there terms accepted and observed? We cannot tell. The request was made, and in that form granted and accepted. Whether it was an outward symbol of the truce with Saladin through this favour 128 to his son, or a permission to ride out and seek forage, by agreement; for whatever reason, the request was made granted as I have said; and the 1st of May, 1187, was fixed for so singular an adventure. It was the Feast of St. Philip and St. James.

The Count Raymond sent round throughout his wife’s land of Galilee that on this coming day of the Saracens’ Ride no man should appear in the fields, lest by accident there should be provocation. He feared lest, after that hushed, expectant, toppling mood, which the enormous preparations of Saladin had now imposed upon all the East, there should suddenly be heard the roar of an explosion. All his subjects were to be within their farms, or behind the walls of their towns; all cattle were to be driven within their byres and folds. The seven thousand infidel lances were to ride round through an empty land, and so return.

They set out northward after they had crossed Jordan, followed the bank of the lake, challenged, as they passed, the gates of Tiberias; but, true to their compact, they shot no arrow, they threw no javelin. They rode on up to Nazareth, where it slopes to the south on the Galilean hills — Nazareth the chief point of their hatred. They 129 passed under the walls of the little town with insults, but with no act of arms. They rode yet farther, fatiguing their light mounts, until they could look down the hills across the great plain of Esdraelon to the height of Carmel, and even to a glimpse of the sea. They had ridden more than twenty miles deep into Galilee before the leaders turned rein to reach their camp again down in the deep trench of Jordan, to cross the river and to find their tents.

It was already late in the afternoon, but the sun still high in the sky (and their terms therefore strictly kept) when, as they halted their tired beasts near the lake shore under the hills before the crossing of the river, they saw a strange sight.

Less than one hundred mounted men, heavily armoured as was the fashion of the Franks, sitting their larger horses, already deployed as though for battle, came over the last crest and began slowly moving down the slope above them.

They watched the sight curiously. If this unknown band intended battle, it was challenging odds of nearly a hundred to one. But why had they appeared?

The brilliant summer day had been marked throughout by the silence of all that countryside; 130 by the absence not only of soldiery, but even of peasants and their kine. This little line of isolated knights, with nothing in support and no one near, might have seemed a mirage for its futility. But it was real enough against the falling hillside under the westering sun. Since so small, novel, unexpected a force seemed to propose a challenge before the Moslem cavalry could cross the Jordan, that large Saracen force deployed in turn on its small tired horses, and awaited the charge. They took their favourite formation of a shallow crescent — the universal tactic of their time against the weight of a European charge. They drew back the centre from the main blow, and trusted by numbers to develop in the wings. So stood the hundredfold cavalry of the Mahommedans, expecting the shock and their own inevitable victory.

Why had this small Christian force so appeared?

This is what had happened.

The King of Jerusalem had sent two great messengers to Count Raymond of Tripoli. He desired, if it might be, to compose his quarrel. He felt the coming of the storm.

These two messengers were the heads of the 131 great military orders — the Master of the Knights Templar and the Master of the Hospital.

They had come so far upon their journey northward as Nazareth, and lay there upon the night before Afdal’s ride. There, at Nazareth, they had received the message which Raymond had sent round the whole countryside, warning them against provoking Afdal, when that son of Saladin should come outside the walls. Of these two men, one merit’s a particular attention: the Master of the Temple. I have just written of him.

He was a knight, French in speech, Gerard by name, doubtless from Bideford, in Devon. A man of energy and even of violence, of ambition in government, of great courage, too personal in hatred, and alive with the splendid traditions of his Order in arms. He it was who had most supported the young queen in Jerusalem, most helped to make her husband the king, most thwarted the high claims of the Count of Tripoli. All this must be remembered to understand what follows.

This man, Gerard, then, the Master of the Templars, was there in Nazareth that afternoon of the 30th of April, upon the eve of Afdal’s ride. And when he heard Count Raymond’s order, he took it — quite wrongly — for treason.


This is the note of the tragedy that was to come two months later. This is the evil thread running through all the story of our disaster in the East — the legend of Raymond’s treason had taken root.

Raymond of Tripoli had preferred the political way to the direct. He had parleyed with Saladin. And on that account he, by far the greatest soldier of them all, lost direction, and, in spite of his genius, saw Jerusalem and all Palestine go down.

Later he died of shame.

The two Masters, I say, he of the Temple and he of the Hospital, had received Raymond’s order — to keep quiet within walls. This is the way they treated it. They sent at once to such knights of their two societies as were within riding distance of the town. They gathered less than one hundred. They harangued them in the market-place of Nazareth, saying it was foul shame to stand unmounted and with the sword sheathed while the Saracens rode unchallenged through the open country, with their high minaret cries of insult and defiance. The little group of knights was moved; for the whole spirit of their foundation was to risk odds and to sacrifice themselves perpetually. They cared nothing for numbers. With their footmen to serve them, 133 perhaps four hundred (and these seem to have straggled and to have been left behind), they rode out before evening from the northern gate of Nazareth, and so eastwards, following the retirement of Afdal. Hence it was that Saladin’s son had seen them, as I have described, suddenly appearing upon the fall of the hill above them, a handful of armed men upon their larger horses, confronting a force more than a hundred times their own.

The Templars and Hospitallers charged. They were surrounded; nearly all fell; but in the course of the mêlée the execution they did was so great that the day remained legendary with the enemy. One especially, James (who came from Maille, in Touraine, and who was among the last survivors), they thought (did the Saracens) to be St. George himself upon a white horse; for in both armies there was this superstition or vision as old as the battle of Konieh, that St. George was to be seen leading the Christian ranks. His enemies stood round the dead man with lifted hands, the dread of unseen things upon them. They wiped the sweat and blood and dust from his face, and carried him off like a relic, still thinking him something from beyond this world.

When the slaughter was done, and all save, 134 perhaps, some five or six of that little band had fallen (some cut their way out, we know, for we find them in the later battle), Afdal stuck Christian heads on his lances in triumph and rode on, and, with his reduced thousands, crossed Jordan just before the setting of the sun; and such was the end of that day’s foray.

When the news of it came to Tiberias to Count Raymond, he saw at once the enormity of the moment. In numbers insignificant, their action should be forgiven as heroic; but the separate policy, the contempt for his orders, the provocation offered by these few knights, would surely set in movement that great machine, the rumbling of whose wheels all the East was expecting. It was a challenge to Saladin, the very challenge which Saladin thirsted for: and Raymond sweated to delay catastrophe. The challenge had been given prematurely in spite of him, and to the ruin of his plans. It could not now be undone.

Raymond of Tripoli forgot, in the common cause, the past and its angers. He hurried south to Jerusalem. He was reconciled to Guy of Lusignan. All the Christian knights became one body. The bravest and most spirited of them all, the high-born adventurer Reginald, who held the strong outpost, Kerak, on the south of the Dead 135 Sea; who had, in raid after raid, harassed the rich caravans of the desert; who, with an amazing energy, had approached, in the height of summer, the Red Sea itself (sending his ships in sections over the desert on camels), and menaced the holy places of the enemy hundreds of miles away — Reginald, whom Saladin hated with a personal hatred for his fearlessness and his unbroken power, at whose castle only that winter he had impotently shaken his spear: Reginald of Chatillon came riding in. The garrisons were withdrawn from the towers of the sea-coast and from the towns — from Askalon, from Gaza, from Acre, from Tyre. Two thousand knights and barons, fully armed, were gathered together, and such a full levy meant, with all their sergeants and their footmen, a force of fifty thousand. They were more; for the Eurasians, called “Turcopoles,” went with them lightly mounted — of no great service save, perhaps, to observe.

A meeting-place was discussed. It was chosen, I think, by the advice of Raymond (for once accepted by his peers), at a point over against the only road whereby the host of Saladin should come — that is, in the very heart of Galilee.

For Saladin, based on Damascus, must strike just to the north or just to the south of the Lake 136 of Tiberias, and almost certainly by the main road south of it — the road that has seen unnumbered armies pass since the beginning of human life upon those hills.

In the choice of this gathering-place, right in the heart of Galilee, you have one of those curious marriages between the symbolic and the real of which history is full. The place chosen (because even in the height of summer it had ample water) was that of the village, the plain, the wells of Sepphoris: which they call to-day “Seffurieh.”

What an arena for the great issue between the rival forces of the world! Not four miles south over the hill was Nazareth; not four miles east was Cana of Galilee. A day’s march beyond Nazareth, over the valley which Nazareth commands, was Nain. The tradition of the Transfiguration looked at them from Mount Tabor, and the plains below had seen Saul creep by night to find the dead at Endor, and had watched the rush of Barak from the mountain slopes against the heathen, and had heard the song of Deborah. Far below them, in the flat, ran the Kishon. A day’s walk to the east was the town of the Magdalen, and the shores of that little inland sea round which is set half the story of the Gospels.

Here to the Wells of Sepphoris they came, 137 then, from all the points of the Holy Land, riding in; and that great fragment of the True Cross, the standard of the Crusades, was sent to be the heart of the host in this last trial.

So they gathered.

Meanwhile the mighty instrument which threatened them was gathering too. Saladin, who had earlier been south in the desert, in the dark hills beyond the Dead Sea, had come back north. He had summoned all his troops from as far as the Tigris, and the Orontes, and the borders of Egypt. Twelve thousand of the knights alone — that it, of men who held rank by what the Christians would have called “noble tenure” — were in his muster; with, perhaps, six or seven or ten times as many — an unknown multitude — of lesser soldiers eager for “Allah’s road”; the holy business of uprooting the Nazarenes: that is, ourselves; Europe; Christendom.

Saladin also had his gathering-place — Ashtaroth, on the great pilgrims’ road in the Hauran, two days’ march east of Jordan, four days’ from Damascus. Thence going a few miles northward (much to where the station of Tesil now stands on the Damascus railway) he reviewed that vast host of varied men.

It was a Friday, the holy day of the Moslem 138 week, on which day the great fanatic loved to begin an enterprise — Friday, the 26th of June, 1187, the fourteenth day of the month of Rabi-el-Aker, in the five hundred and eighty-third year of the Hegira. On that same day, at the hour of public prayer, he began his march, and, going far, encamped his army that night where his son’s cavalry had stood two months before in the plain to the east of Jordan, just south of the Sea of Galilee.

There for a space he halted. His scouts and spies went cautiously westward over the burnt fields and stubble of the blazing summer for news, and brought back the numbers and names of this gathering of the Christian host at the Wells of Sepphoris.

Saladin took counsel with his captains, and it was determined to provoke immediate action, for the superiority of the Moslems was very great.

Upon Monday, the 29th, the host crossed Jordan and entered Galilee, camping immediately upon the hither bank, and making no true march that day. But upon the 30th they advanced westward some seven miles on to the higher land, and stood at Kefr Sabt, astride the direct way between Nazareth and Tiberias, ten miles or so to the east of the Christian camp at Sepphoris.


The Christian host did not move.

Saladin, by one of those actions in which a soldier compels or provokes something military through something political, detached a force to ruin Tiberias. It was Raymond’s capital of Galilee, and there in the stronghold were Raymond’s wife and her children. Hoping that such a provocation would compel a decision, the Sultan, leaving a considerable force at Kefr Sabt, moved the mass of his troops somewhat northward to cover with their camp the main road between Sepphoris and Tiberias; while the third body, dispatched against Tiberias itself, did their work. This second camp of his in Galilee lay on the broad plateau south of a little village called HATTIN. This plateau was the watershed between the gullies (dry at such a season) which run down to the Mediterranean and the streams and fountains fully supplied which take their short course eastward by a fall of many hundred feet into the trench of the Jordan valley and the Sea of Galilee. From Tiberias itself, and the shores of the lake, Saladin’s camp stood but half an hour’s ride away, and meanwhile the force he had detached (and led) to reduce Tiberias was burning the town.

Raymond’s own wife was close besieged upon 140 the rocky acropolis of it, threatened every moment with disaster. She sent, as Saladin had hoped she would send, entreaties to the Christian host that they would march east at once and succour her and her garrison. It was she (the daughter of the Lord of St. Omer) who had brought Galilee to Raymond for her dower. Her four children were with her, and death was upon them all.

It was upon Thursday, the 2nd of July, that her passionate letter came in to the Christian camp, at vespers, in the late afternoon of the day. In the great red tent of Guy, the King of Jerusalem, the council was held.

It seemed a clear task to march at once to the relief of the capital; a first day’s march and a battle upon the second should decide the issue — and surely time pressed most urgently.

Then it was that Raymond himself rose in the crowded assembly, under the red light that glared through the hangings of the pavilion, and made a speech which all but changed the story of the world.

Those who had heard of him only by name crowded around Raymond to see so famous a figure. What did they see?

A little, very thin man, scanty of hair, and 141 that hair very flat upon his head. He was dark, abstemious, spare, with brilliant, piercing eyes; older than the run of those knights; a light weight on horseback; hardly (to look at) a strong swordsman, but with the just reputation of soldiership beyond any other man there. His French words rose.

The moment he began to speak it was seen that his advice would run counter to the universal counsel of those lords.

“I shall surprise you,” he said. “I shall prefer the interests of the State to my own. My own country is overrun. It is my people who are suffering death and slavery; my town that is in flames; my wife who is besieged and crying for succour. Everything draws me to relieve Tiberias, except my business as a Christian, which is to serve the common cause at the cost of my own disaster.”

He bade them not attack but stand fast where they were, supplied with ample water. Between them and Saladin’s position, south of Hattin, in this brazen height of the summer, not a drop would be found in the baked gullies. The infidel army covered all the springs and the lake behind them. It was but ten miles, but those ten miles would spell disaster. Let Tiberias go. The Sultan 142 would be compelled to attack very soon. His then would be the fatigue, his this thirst. And his retirement, should he be checked, would be through a hostile country. We even find, in the record of what is told of his speech, some hint of stratagem. It may be that Raymond, with his clear eye for war, had ready some force for watching the passages of the Jordan, and threatening to cut off Saladin’s retirement.

So he spoke, as the evening lengthened, after the time of vespers, upon that Thursday, the 2nd of July. No one believed him. Though none said it in his presence, he felt it in the air around him that he was already, in their legend, the traitor. Whatever he advised, their minds conceived as the trick of something too astute for the loyal man-at-arms. And when his advice had been given there was a murmur and a rumour all round.

But as discussion followed and broadened, the older or more poised men weighed fully what the Count of Tripoli had said. For a time, as night approached, their argument was gaining, and the council was perhaps dispersing (or had dispersed) with the determination to stand fast and await the attack of Saladin. But after darkness had fallen, whether in full council or alone, that 143 man who thought himself the counterpoise to Raymond, and who thoroughly believed in Raymond’s treason, Gerard of Bideford, came to King Guy and urged and urged the folly of listening to any plan coming from a man who, to the public shame, had once bargained with Saladin.

The king, Guy of Lusignan, changed again, and perhaps his council with him. At any rate, he was obeyed, Raymond’s advice neglected; and at dawn the great host began its fatal march and fighting of Friday, the 3rd of July, 1187.

At the head of the column rode Raymond himself and his immediate vassals, the men of Galilee, and those from Tyre and the north, as though to prove at once his discipline in what he now thought a lost cause and his readiness to take the sacrifice. After, with the main body trailing along the road of that upland, through the parched fields, came King Guy himself and the guard round the fragment of the True Cross; while the Knights Templar under their passionate Devonshire leader, in part the cause of so much evil, and their brethren, the Hospitallers, covered the train and baggage at the rear.

The sun rose, the heat immediately struck, and with it struck also here and there, harassing the flanks of the column, forbidding the army elbow 144 room, appearing and disappearing through the thick dust, the hornets of Saladin. Those light horsemen darted, skirmishing on their rapid desert mounts, armed with the long light lance, and pricking, as it were, and goading the cumbersome body, whose surface alone as yet they could irritate, and which yet they could so gravely impede.

The sun still rose; the heat increased; men straggled; there were too frequent delays and uncommanded halts; blocks in the column. And all the while the Saracen swarm grew and grew on either side, almost encircling. Still the long column struggled forward. Before noon began the complaint for water. Of all the gullies crossed in the first slow dusty seven miles or so, not one had so much as a stagnant pool between its hot stones. Such gourds as men had with them were long ago consumed, and of other provisions of water for such a host there was none, and could be none in those days.

They had passed by Cana of Galilee, they had come to the bare upland plateau, where the air danced in the heat over the glaring limestone, and the broad rough track of the earthen road was a fog of scorching dust. It was the early afternoon. The still increasing masses of enemy 145 horse striking and turning again, shepherding in their enemy, almost surrounded the Christians. Already some grave disorder was appearing in that three miles or more of exhausted men. In a halt deliberately called Raymond once more gave his last advice — once more to be wasted. He told King Guy that there could be nothing ahead but disaster for a force which had fallen so suddenly into such a condition — a condition inevitable in attempting such a march through such a country at such a season, and with such forces against such a foe. Moreover, they were threatened with envelopment. One way out remained, and only one. It was to wheel round to the right — that is, south-eastward; to cut their way through to water that night in the valley of the Fejjas brook, and with the morning, refreshed, to hold the passages of the Jordan. Then let Saladin, if he will, come down south against them. Short of breaking their defence, his retreat was cut off, and his great host was ruined. Again Guy of Lusignan hesitated. Perhaps Raymond’s plan would have won; but in the midst of this deliberation, the harassing Mahommedan cavalry took on another aspect, more severe than the last. They came on in full force. They rode round the host. They not only cut into the flanks but into the 146 Knights Templar with their baggage to the rear, and the end of that day of torture and thirst was spent up to nightfall in a full battle against a perfect circle of foes. Many of the stragglers had already fallen out in each episode of confusion, and had passed to death or slavery. The now depleted, fainting column camped that night, still an organized body, but terribly shaken and already doomed. It was a night of agony and of alarm. Long before morning that army of the Cross and Europe was already defeated.

All through the short darkness men implored and fought for water, and could not obtain it. Upon so much agony worse came. The Saracens set fire to the dry bushes of that limestone upland, and under a light wind the smoke drove through the Christian camp. Raymond in the van, knew that the dice had fallen. “He called upon God the Lord, and said that the realm was ruined.” It was so.

The dawn of the Saturday broke. Raymond, with the van, took horse, and saw before him, dark against the sunrise, the strange twin saddle peaks which they call the Horns of Hattin, the watch towers of that land. At their foot stood deployed the main body of Saladin; the rest of his followers on either side. The envelopment 147 was complete. There, behind the Saracens, was water, food. The enemy fought refreshed against ghosts of men.

Their armament was stronger too. All the Saracen munitionment was carefully distributed for a certain victory. The camels, with their loads of arrows, were ranged behind the archers, and there was a great reserve as well. It is true that, had the Christian army been by some miracle in condition for strong action, the Sultan’s position was very perilous. He was right on the lake, with very steep falling land only a few hundred yards behind him, and his only road of retreat passed just behind the fronts of the two armies. If those fronts shifted in his disfavour, if his light men broke at the shock of the heavier Franks, that road would be cut. Whether the unfavourable position weighed with him or no, whether he had fully gauged the breakdown of what was now before him, we cannot tell. He seems, up to the very end of the fight, to have had some doubt, tugging nervously at his beard and saying, “It was not yet over!” The historian, with both conditions before him, and knowing what exhaustion now weighed upon the Christians, can have none.

It was again, though on a much larger scale, 148 in that same formation of a shallow crescent, that the heart of the Moslem force — that in front of the head of the Christian host under Raymond — was drawn up. It did not at once attack, perhaps depending upon the sun and the heat as allies; and when it did so, it opened with a violent discharge of arrows. The effect of this was clinched by a general advance of the whole Mahommedan line at the charge. It caught and gripped the Christian body, separated its units, reduced the battle to a great mêlée, in which numbers, a better order, and — far more important than everything else — condition, were wholly upon the side of the enemy. There is no plan possible of this surging business, for no scheme was necessary or attempted. It was a cutting off of large isolated bodies, a cutting down of smaller ones, and a quantity of hand-to-hand fighting between men refreshed and men maddened by thirst; and for the most part the Christian infantry that followed the Christian knights was already in the mood for surrender, or even for accepting death.

Raymond, Count of Tripoli, with his knights, charged at the king’s command right forward into the press. He found against him the Sultan’s nephew, who opened his ranks and closed them after the small body of knights had crashed 149 through. Raymond found himself with his companions cut off far forward. He hacked his way out through the mass of the Arab horses, and rode with his few companions straight for Tyre. There fell upon him a stupor, and later a frenzy, to see Christendom thus ruined. In a few weeks, he was dead.

The footmen, the ill-trained levies from the towns, the half-armed peasantry, had already suffered massacre or surrendered in great groups of thousands. The struggle had not lasted the day long. It was perhaps hardly noon when one small remnant of the Christian host, crowding round the king, still held out. Of the fully armed men there were but one hundred and fifty: with their followers a few score more. The central point which they were guarding was the fragment of the Holy Cross, and what they were defending was a little mound on which there still stood the great red tent of the king. It fell, and the last of the fight was over.

That evening in the tent of Saladin (which he caused to be pitched right in the heart of the battlefield), there took place an encounter of the two spirits of Europe and of Asia — of Western chivalry and of Oriental hate face to face.

This is what happened. The conqueror caused 150 to be seated upon his right the broken King of Jerusalem, half dead with the thirst and the heat of that day. Saladin gave him the first water he had tasted for many hours. There stood also before him Reginald of Chatillon, whom he had so hated with the violence of a religious hate for his audacity, his splendid courage, and, above all, for his threat to the holy cities of Islam. This man was now in his power, and the Sultan acted as Asia acts in such a pass. He abused him violently, reminded him of the unforgivable crime — that he had dared approach Mecca — dragged in the excuse of the raised caravans, and then fell upon the unarmed man himself to murder him, but not before he had heard the knight tell him that he would not save his life at the cost of faith, and answering with the pride of a man completely indifferent to death. This furious and horrible thing was not sufficient. Reginald of Chatillon, Lord of Kerak, was dragged out, still alive, and hacked to death by the guards. Then the conqueror gave orders that the most gallant and the strongest of his prisoners, those most symbolic of the faith which he hated — I mean the Knights of the Hospital and of the Temple — should be massacred. He knew that they always refused ransom. There were two hundred of these men. 151 They were butchered before the victorious army in a public place.

This was the end of the fight which decided the vast affair between our people and those of the East. Thenceforward, point by point, we lost the mastery of the Mediterranean; we admitted the stranger everywhere. We sowed that harvest of tragedy which is to-day the Balkans, the Dardanelles, the isolation of the Slav. Spain only we recovered. And as for the fragment of the Cross, they carried it away to Damascus. Jerusalem was theirs that autumn. Whose is it to-day?


Part  IV.

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