Failure of the Third Crusade

Though the failure of the Third Crusade may at first seem strange, its causes are perhaps not difficult to understand. The defection of Philip, the quarrel for the crown, the national rivalries that had gone far to wreck the two previous Crusades, all precluded vigorous action. Had Richard been able to advance on Ascalon some weeks earlier, as he doubtless intended to have done, the whole coast south of Acre would probably have fallen into his hands without a blow; so disheartened were the Saracens at the fall of this city. Probably a second tactical mistake was also made in not pushing on for Ascalon at every hazard after the battle of Arsuf. Such at all events seems to have been the opinion of so capable a general as Conrad of Montferrat who, according to Ibn Alathir, reproached the king keenly for this neglect : at the very rumour of its projected destruction, he urged, Richard ought to have hurried up and saved a town which the Sultan could not defend, and which, if once destroyed, Richard must well have known he would have to rebuild. * By Christ's truth,' concluded Conrad,  had I been near thee, Ascalon would be in our hands this day and that without the loss of a single tower.'

Again there seems to be little doubt that had Richard marched Boldly on Jerusalem in the early part of June, 1192 it would have fallen. But it is more doubtful whether he would have been able to retain it. The great crowd of warriors, having fulfilled their vows and worshiped at our Lord's tomb, would have hurried home, taking no thought for the defenceless land. Nor could the Holy City have itself held out long after their departure. The feudal polity which, five years before, had proved too weak to defend the state could not have been reorganized in a few weeks or months. It was a sound instinct which taught the Crusaders that the true way to the reconquest of Palestine was across the Delta of the Nile. Their ancestors had acquired the Holy Land and held it at a time when Damascus and Cairo were at variance ; directly the valleys of the Orontes and the Nile acknowledged one lord the Latin kingdom of Jerusalem fell. Whether any Crusading force could have been mustered strong enough not only to conquer but to garrison Egypt while its fellows pushed on against Jerusalem is uncertain ; but so long as the wealth, the fertility and the fleet of the Lower Nile were at the disposal of the Sultan of Damascus, Aleppo and the further East, no Christian power could hope for the permanent possession of Jerusalem.