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  • Blondie at Cresson October 6, 2011

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Medieval , trackback

    A weird war post today, recommending a twelfth-century act of crusader stupidity to the widest possible audience. 1 May, 1187 one of Saladin’s raiding parties, passed into Christian lands near Nazareth and a party of knights – Templars, Hospitallers and local nobles – were sent out to meet the enemy.

    In the ‘best’ sources we read of about 140 Crusader Knights and a seven-thousand strong raiding party. It is true that these numbers may be ‘slightly’ off. That 7000 is often said to be rather large for a raiding party and 140 knights may have been accompanied by mounted servants under arms and even men at arms. But double the Christian numbers and halve Saladin’s raiders and the issue was never going to be pretty for the Kingdom of Jerusalem.

    It would be easy to have sympathy for the crusaders if they had accidentally ridden into the enemy or if they had been ambushed. But, as it was, it was the Christians spotted the Muslim army first, riding on the ridge towards the Springs of Cresson where the enemy was resting and refreshing itself.

    From the heights there could have been no mistaking the size of the foe and many a crusader blade must have wilted in its sheath as they came to the hill’s edge. But here an unlikely argument broke out between the leaders. The following appears in Runciman’s narrative of the lead up to the Battle of Hattin and the destruction of the Kingdom of Jerusalem.

    As the knights passed over the hill behind Nazareth they found the Moslems watering their horses at the Springs of Cresson in the valley below. At the sight of such numbers both Roger and James of Mailly advised retreat. Gerard [of Ridefort] was furious. He turned scornfully from his fellow Grand Master and taunted his Marshall. ‘You love your blond head too well to want to lose it,’ he said. James proudly replied; ‘I shall die in battle like a brave man. It is you that will flee as a traitor.’ Fired by Gerard’s insults the company charged down into the mamelukes. It was a massacre rather than a battle.’

    When Beachcombing thinks of this absurd argument he enjoys most imagining the cathartic ride down the hill towards the impossible numbers below. There must have come a moment about a third of the way though that James and Gerard realised that they had made a terrible mistake. But this was the twelfth century, not the twenty-first: honourable men did not turn back and so in the spurs went in and up came the sword.

    Gerard ironically was one of the few survivors of this insane, petulant cavalry charge. His survival though did Outremer no good. He contributed to the disastrous strategy at Hattin and showed rather more concern, once taken prisoner by Saladin, with his own survival than his Order’s interests.

    Beachcombing would love to know about the sources behind Cresson: it seems that there are conflicting accounts. Is this story certain? drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com He is also never averse to tales about stupidity in war.