Save Your Beloved, Conquer a Country, Get Married – a busy May 1191 for Richard I

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 Richard the Lionheartknowing 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.)

Berengaria of Navarre
Berengaria of Navarre

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 ( or CC BY-SA 3.0 (, Wikimedia Commons.


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Writing historical fiction: researching the Third Crusade

Acre (Akko) The pisan port
Acre – photo by yanivba – used under CC BY-SA2.0

“Did Queen Berengaria and Queen Joan (or Joanna as she’s sometime referred to) depart Cyprus for Acre on the same galley as King Richard?”¹

You’re dying to know, right? Isn’t everyone? Ah, the joys of historical research!

Donna Gillespie at Pen in Hand writes “Research helps you shape your story, and on a good day it can even suggest a nifty plot complication, fully formed, little assembly required.” Yes, exactly! That’s what I look for while trying to work out the plot lines for my novella Battle Scars.

All I’d planned to do was make reference to a cool minor character teaching a few card tricks to Berengaria, who then bested her husband, the Lionheart. But if they weren’t all on the same boat, my bit of comic relief wouldn’t work – at least not in that particular spot in the story.

Hey, average Joe/Joanna: would you care? would you even know if I’d gotten the history wrong?

On the other hand, the Third Crusade aficionado might close the book on me – literally – if I messed with the historical record.

It’s important to me to get it right. Or, to do the best I can to track down the little details to keep my fiction consistent with actual events of the time. I do love the research. I was always the kid who saw something on television or in a movie or a book and had to go look up more information about it in the old World Book Encyclopedia or at the library.

I’m using Scrivener for this novella. It has some fantastic tools: a “binder” to upload research notes, images, or other documents, a document notes feature and synopsis for each scene or chapter. I have 15 scenes storyboarded in my rough draft for part 2 of the novella, which covers June 1191 through October 1192. Each scene has a corresponding notes section highlighting many of the actual events of a particular day or month. This allows me to keep the facts straight while I weave my fiction around them. I can look for opportunities: where will my next scene take place? At the Battle of Arsuf? In Jaffa (or Joppa – what spellling should I use?), in Beit Nuba?

My list of reference materials continues to grow. Nicholson’s Chronicle of the Third Crusade provides the basis of my research material. It’s a translation from an official chronicler, reporting events while accompanying Richard’s army. Richard the Lionheart: the Mighty Crusader by David Miller provides some nice details, and “Battle of Arsuf: Climatic clash of cross and crescent,” an article by Mark L. Evans in the journal Military History analyzes the strategies of Richard and Saladin. I’d mentioned a few other books on my reference pile in earlier posts here and here. And I haven’t even had a chance to check out many of these:

middle ages books at the library

How do you keep track of your research notes?

¹No. 🙂