Friday, June 08, 2012

Richard Coeur-de-Lion and the massacre of Acre

I skipped the release of 2010’s Robin Hood (with Russell Crowe and Cate Blanchett), but had it on as background noise recently. When I heard the following lines, though, I became more interested…well, for a few minutes anyway. Rarely does a version of Robin Hood portray Richard Coeur-de-Lion in this light:
King Richard The Lionheart: What is your opinion on my Crusade? Will God be pleased with my sacrifice?

Robin Longstride: No, he won't.

King Richard The Lionheart: Why do you say that?

Robin Longstride: The massacre, sire.

King Richard The Lionheart: Speak up!

Robin Longstride: When you had us herd two and a half thousand innocent men, women, and children together; the woman at my feet, with her hands bound, she looked up at me. It wasn't fear in her eyes, it wasn't anger. It was only pity. She knew that when you gave the order, and our blades would descend upon their heads, in that moment: we would be godless. All of us. Godless.

(from the site)

For more on the evolution of the script of this movie from the original Nottingham, read here. Fascinating stuff, even if you aren’t interested in the movie.

I have been listening to The Crusades by Zoé Oldenbourg and had heard this section that same day:

Then Philip Augustus [Philip II of France], whose state of health was giving rise to the most acute anxiety, decided to leave the insalubrious land of Syria and return to France. It is only fair to say that his departure was by no means a desertion: he left his entire army behind him, entrusting its command to Hugh III, Duke of Burgundy, and specifying that every stronghold that was conquered with the help of the French should belong to Conrad of Montgerrat. This shows how far Richard’s behavior had annoyed him. Nevertheless, whatever the King of England’s faults, the army at that time clearly needed a single strong leader, and Richard was the only man capable of filling the role.

The departure of the King of France left a certain uneasiness in the camp, especially among the French and the vassals of the crown. Richard’s popularity among the troops increased, and his arrogance with it. Less than six weeks after the capitulation of Acre, Richard ordered all the prisoners to be beheaded because Saladin was slow in sending him the 200,000 dinars and the True Cross. The massacre took place outside the city, on the open space facing Tel Keisan, where a part of Saladin’s army was still encamped. The victims numbered three thousand (2700 according to Ambroise who, however pro-English, does not seem proud of it). This was the first time the Crusading armies had indulged n such a cold-blooded slaughter of prisoners, and there is no doubt that Richard was responsible, because the crime was carried out on his express orders.
(pages 456-7)

Update (11 Nov 2012): Ah, I just watched Richard Lester’s Robin and Marian again and had forgotten this part

Marian: “I don't know how I look to you, but I'm not your Marian. I can't imagine living in the world again, or even for a minute wanting to. Come morning, I'm going to the Sheriff.”

Robin Hood: “What's the sense? Who would it serve?”

Marian: “There's always God. You went crusading, didn't you?”

Robin Hood: “There are some things worth dying for.”

Marian: “They had souls, too, the heathen that you killed. If I should die in prison-and I'd rather not, but if it comes-it's for a reason. I'll have stood for something, and I won't have taken another life to do it. What will you do now? Fight the Sheriff? More corpses? Aren't you sick of it?”

Robin Hood: “On the twelfth of July, 1191, the mighty fortress that was Acre fell to Richard, his one great victory in the Holy Land. He was sick in bed and never struck a blow. On the twentieth of August, John and I stood outside watching while every Muslim left alive was marched out in chains. King Richard spared the rich for ransoms, took the strong for slaves, then he took the children—all the children-and had them chopped apart. When that was done, he had their mothers killed. When they were all dead, three thousand bodies on the plain, he had them all opened up so their guts could be explored for gold and precious stones. Our churchmen on the scene-and there were many-took it for a triumph. One bishop put on his mitre and led us all in prayer. And you ask me if I'm sick of it.”

Complete change of subject: For anyone interested in reading more Portuguese literature, there are two new English releases of José Saramago's books translated by Margaret Jull Costa.

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