It is highly likely that most of us missed this in European history classes, but Medievalists familiar with the Third Crusade and Richard the Lionheart may recall that July 10 is the anniversary of the collapse of a bridge near Lyon in the year 1190. Last year, I’d mentioned that the chronicler of the Itinerarium (that is, Chronicle of the third crusade : A translation of the itinerarium peregrinorum et gesta regis ricardi) does not provide much detail, except to describe the aftermath of what could have been a major disaster for the crusading armies. (What if the Lionheart had died?)
The Itinerarium states that Richard ordered boats tied together across the river to get his army to the opposite bank. (What a sight that would have been!) In The Annals of Roger de Hoveden, the chronicler writes, “the bridge, being thronged with men and women, broke down, not without doing injury to great numbers.” I included a passage from Ambroise, another chronicler who gave the event a few more lines, in the Author’s Note of Men of the Cross and repeat that passage here:
An early turning point for Henry and Stephan in Battle Scars occurs with an incident regarding the first reported fatalities. The armies of Richard and Philip of France had not even departed the European continent when a bridge over the Rhone River at Lyon collapsed in July 1190. Ambroise describes the scene as utter chaos with hundreds of people, animals and wagons plummeting into the rapidly-raging river. The chroniclers report only two deaths (or two bodies recovered per Ambroise) from that mishap. Scholars note that deaths among the “common” people often were not reported.
“But those who in the morning passed
Crowded the bridge so thick and fast
Misfortune did them overtake.…
the arch fell and they tumbled in,
and were shouting, groans and din…
The water there so fiercely surges
That little which falls in emerges.”
–Ambroise, The crusade of Richard Lion-Heart
This event is significant for Sir Henry and Sir Stephan in Men of the Cross. It seemed like a great moment to dramatize, and provided me the opportunity to show the heroic – and harrowing – efforts of my main characters.
Men of the Cross is available on Amazon for print and Kindle.