After wintering in Messina, Sicily, the fleet of King Richard I finally sailed for the Holy Land in early April 1191 with more than 150 ships. De Hoveden writes, “a dreadful wind arose from the south and dispersed his fleet.” Richard initially landed in Crete not knowing the fate of all his ships, including a buss that carried his betrothed, Berengaria of Navarre, and his sister, the dowager Queen Joanna of Sicily. When it was safe to sail, Richard sent out boats to search for his future wife. (Okay – the ‘beloved’ in my blog post header is an exaggeration. This was an arranged marriage and the couple hardly knew each other. But ‘save your beloved’ sounds so much more romantic, doesn’t it? But Richard, a romantic? Sharon Kay Penman mentions in her author’s note for Lionheart that she doubted Richard had a romantic bone in his body.)
A few days later, Richard learned the buss with Berengaria and Joanna had reached Cyprus, however, its ruler, the Emperor Isaac Comnenus, was more interested in ransom than rescue. The Itinerarium claims the man’s reputation was that of an evil tyrant, “the most wicked of all men.” Per de Hoveden, Isaac had seized goods from other ships wrecked in the storm, imprisoned those shipwrecked, and “in a spirit of more than diabolical cruelty” he refused to allow the queens’ buss to dock in the harbor at Limassol. The Itinerarium presents a slightly different picture: the queens were unwilling to dock despite assurances from the emperor they would come to no harm. While gathering his army, the emperor tried to entice the queens, offering gifts of wine and meat and bread. A ship cannot remain at sea for extended periods without replenishing supplies. The queens were getting desperate.
Emperor Isaac must not have heard that it was a bad idea to piss off Richard the Lionheart. King Richard arrived at Limassol on the 6th day of May. He negotiated for the release of his men and restoration of their property to no avail. Richard led an attack against Isaac’s forces, who withdrew inland. Before daybreak on the second day, and “the army of the king of England came upon them like ravening wolves…. The emperor… made his escape in a state of nudity…”
While trying to bring Isaac to heel, Richard married Berengaria on 12 May 1191 and Berengaria was crowned Queen. The Itinerarium states that “the king was merry and full of delight, pleasant and agreeable to everyone.”
The emperor had little support from his own people and chose to negotiate a peace. Isaac did homage to King Richard, but apparently had a change of heart and stole away. The treaty broken, Richard pursued Isaac. One city after another capitulated. Besieged fortresses fell. Isaac’s daughter was captured. This appeared to break the emperor’s will, and on 31 May, he asked for peace and mercy.
A few days later, Richard, his wife, and his sister, sailed with the fleet for the Holy Land.
Sources: Unless otherwise noted, all quotes are primary source translations from The Annals of Roger de Hoveden, comprising the history of England and of other countries of Europe from A. D. 732 to A. D. 1201. (Henry T. Riley, Trans.). London: H. G. Bohn, 1853.
Nicholson, H., & Stubbs, W., trans. Chronicle of the third crusade : A translation of the itinerarium peregrinorum et gesta regis ricardi. Aldershot, Hants, England ; Brookfield, Vt.: Ashgate, 1997.
Portrait of Richard is from Wikimedia Commons and in the public domain.
Berengaria of Navarre By MOSSOT (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, Wikimedia Commons.
Men of the Cross
Sweeping battles, forbidden love, and 2 knights fighting for Richard the Lionheart
A 2014 B.R.A.G. Medallion honoree and Readers’ Favorite
Available on Amazon
For King and Country (Battle Scars, Book II)
will be published in 2016.