Third Crusade Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

The Third Crusade failed to secure European control of Jerusalem but strengthened Western presence in the Middle East for generations through the acquisition of Acre and Cyprus.

Summary of Event

Between 1096 and 1464, some nine or ten Crusades started from the West to attempt to regain control of the Holy Land. There was a Peasants’s Crusade (1096-1097), a Barons’s Crusade (1096-1204), and a Children’s Crusade (1212), but one of the most colorful was the Crusade of the Three Kings (1189-1192), also known as the Third Crusade. [kw]Third Crusade (1189-1192) [kw]Crusade, Third (1189-1192) Crusades;Third[03] Byzantine Empire;1189-1192: Third Crusade[2090] Turkey;1189-1192: Third Crusade[2090] Israel/Palestine;1189-1192: Third Crusade[2090] Europe (general);1189-1192: Third Crusade[2090] Religion;1189-1192: Third Crusade[2090] Wars, uprisings, and civil unrest;1189-1192: Third Crusade[2090] Saladin Gregory VIII Frederick I Barbarossa Philip II (1165-1223) Richard I Berengaria Leopold V

The Third Crusade was occasioned by the rise of the Muslim warrior Saladin Saladin . Born in Mesopotamia, Saladin became sultan in Egypt and Syria (after 1174), founding the famed Ayyūbid Dynasty Ayyūbid Dynasty[Ayyubid Dynasty] (1169-1250). Determined to expel the Crusaders from the East, Saladin took Acre, Nazareth, and, finally, Jerusalem Jerusalem;fall of (1187) itself on October 2, 1187. Pope Gregory VIII Gregory VIII , who was pontiff for only one year, called for a holy war to redeem Jerusalem. To his appeal, three famed kings responded.

The first of these kings was Frederick I Barbarossa Frederick I Barbarossa , scion of the house of Hohenstaufen from Swabia, who was known for restoring peace and prosperity to his realm. As a youth, Frederick had served with the Second Crusade in 1147. Now, as a man nearing seventy, he desired once more to “take up the cross.” In spite of his previous quarrels with the papacy, Frederick was reconciled to Rome and received favorably the papal legation asking him to march east. Well aware of the dangers he faced, Frederick gathered the largest crusading army yet assembled, a well-disciplined force that left Germany in May, 1189. The army peacefully crossed Hungary but encountered hostility near Bulgaria.

Frederick promptly proposed to the pope that the Crusade be redefined to target both Constantinople and Jerusalem. The Byzantine emperor quickly became more compliant. After wintering in Adrianople, Frederick avoided Constantinople, and in March, 1190, crossed the Hellespont into Anatolia. By May, the Germans had defeated the Seljuk Turks in Iconium, and the land route to Jerusalem was open. On June 10, 1190, while Frederick crossed the Calycadnus (Saleph) River in Cilicia (now Turkey), he drowned. When his troops discovered Frederick’s drowned body in full armor, they lost heart for the Crusade. Many went home to Germany by sea. A much smaller force continued to Antioch under Frederick of Swabia and Duke Leopold V Leopold V of Austria. Here, more discouragement occurred. Frederick’s body was buried in Antioch, and not in Jerusalem, as had been planned. Without their emperor, the Germans suddenly ranked third, after the kings of England and France. A small remnant of the vast German army that had left Regensburg did prove useful in the Siege of Acre Acre, Siege of (1191) in 1191. The German contribution to the Third Crusade was virtually ended.

The second of the three kings was the youthful Richard I Richard I of England. Scion of the late Plantagenet king Henry II, Richard inherited his father’s commitment to go crusading. The thirty-three-year-old “troubadour prince” was a colorful but unstable personality, dramatic but unpredictable. Often in disagreement with his family and engaged in rivalries with the king of France, Richard feared to leave his kingdom. Fortunately for the Crusaders, he did and proved to be an excellent strategist.

The third of the three kings was Philip II Philip II (king of France) , commonly known as Philip Augustus, of the French House of Capet. Although he was not fond of crusading, Philip had recently waged wars with England from 1187 to 1189 in an effort to enlarge his realm. A consummate politician but an inadequate warrior, Philip agreed to meet Richard at Vezelay on July 4, 1190, to move eastward by sea.

While Philip crossed the Mediterranean and began the siege of Acre in April, 1191, Richard had landed on the island of Cyprus, where his sister, Joan, and his fiancé, Berengaria Berengaria of Navarre, had been shipwrecked and were held by a local rebel prince. Richard simply conquered Cyprus. This was a fateful decision, probably the most significant outcome of the Third Crusade, since Cyprus became a permanent Western outpost in the Mediterranean. Meanwhile, Richard married Berengaria, had her crowned queen of England in the Church of Saint George at Limassol, and had his bride accompany him to Palestine.

Richard landing at Acre.

(F. R. Niglutsch)

Once in the Holy Land, Richard assisted in taking Acre, but he quarreled with Leopold in the process. After Acre fell, Philip believed that he had fulfilled his Crusader’s vow and departed for France. Alone, Richard successfully took Jaffa in 1192, but he decided to negotiate peace with Saladin. On September 2, 1192, a five-year peace treaty was signed, recognizing Western control of the coast from Jaffa north, but acknowledging Muslim control of Jerusalem in exchange for guarantees of Christian access to the sacred sites. Regarding his mission as complete, Richard set out for Europe on October 9, only to be captured and held for ransom by Leopold until 1194. On his return to England, Richard went to war with his old rival, Philip. Richard died of mortal wounds near Limoges, France, in 1199.


A depiction of the relatively insignificant siege of the Châlus castle in Limousin, 1199, where Richard died from an arrow wound after having survived the Third Crusade. From the fifteenth century Chroniques de Normandie.

(Frederick Ungar Publishing Co.)

If measured by its stated goal, the rescue of Jerusalem, the Third Crusade was a failure. Since access to the Holy Sepulchre was the intent of the mission, it could be maintained that this goal was attained by diplomacy, not war. Outremer (the land beyond the sea) was militarily strengthened by the possession of Acre and the Palestinian coast. The occupation of Cyprus was the most important result of the Third Crusade. Not only did it become a powerful kingdom in its own right, but Cyprus also was a Crusader outpost in the East, a base for future campaigns, and a Western foothold in the Mediterranean for almost three hundred years.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Gibb, Christopher. Richard the Lionhearted and the Crusades. New York: Bookwright Press, 1986. This brief, introductory biography of the twelfth century English king discusses the origins of the Crusades and their impact on Muslim-Christian relations.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Hillenbrand, Carole. The Crusades: Islamic Perspectives. New York: Routledge, 2000. Chapters explore Muslim reactions to the Crusades, ethnic and religious stereotyping, daily life, the conduct of war, and more. Bibliography, index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Lane-Poole, Stanley. Saladin: All-Powerful Sultan and the Uniter of Islam. New York: Cooper Square Press, 2002. This is the forerunner of other modern biographies of Saladin, first published under a different title in 1898, and draws extensively on original chroniclers; includes discussions of major campaigns. Illustrations, map, bibliography, index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Lloyd, Simon. “The Crusading Movement, 1096-1274.” In The Oxford Illustrated History of the Crusades, edited by Jonathan Riley-Smith. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999. Places the Third Crusade within the context of the medieval crusading movement, arguing its significance in the history of late medieval culture in the West.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Madden, Thomas F., ed. The Crusades: The Essential Readings. Malden, Mass.: Blackwell, 2002. A collection of previously published articles about the Crusades, including medieval sources, lay enthusiasm, patronage, Byzantium, and the subjection of Muslims. Bibliography, index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Reston, James, Jr. Warriors of God: Richard the Lionheart and Saladin in the Third Crusade. New York: Doubleday, 2001. This history of the Third Crusade presents Saladin as a sophisticated political leader. Richard is depicted as a complex and at times brutal figure. Illustrations, maps, bibliography, index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Riley-Smith, Jonathan. The Feudal Nobility and the Kingdom of Jerusalem, 1174-1277. Hamden, Conn.: Archon Books, 1973. The author examines the constitutional ideas embodied in the Crusader kingdom of Jerusalem. Notes, appendices, bibliography.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Runciman, Steven. A History of the Crusades. 3 vols. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1987. Prepared by a highly respected English historian, this work will long remain the definitive study of the Crusades. Volumes 2 and 3 are especially relevant to an understanding of the Third Crusade. Bibliography, index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Smail, R. C. The Crusaders in Syria and the Holy Land. New York: Praeger, 1973. A fine introduction to the nature of Crusader life in the Levant. Illustrated with seventy photographs, thirty-three line drawings, three maps, and two tables. Bibliography.

Categories: History