Richard the Lionheart vs. Cyprus

1191 saw many different battles in the Third Crusade, but one in particular that interests me is the battle between Richard I of England versus the leaders of Cyprus. This battle was not planned by either party, but rather an unforeseen opportunity of conquest brought about by a rather vicious storm while on route to Sicily. This storm wreaked havoc on the kings’ ships, destroying three of them. The survivors of these shipwrecks made their way to the shores of Cyprus, to find the natives peaceful and welcoming. The survivors were brought to a nearby castle by these people, only to be ambushed and placed in custody. This was done so the emperor (Isaac Dukas Comnenus) could decide if they could be trusted to go about the island.

After some time Richard I arrived to free his men from the emperor, who had maintained a peaceful approach for the most part. For some time the king and the emperor went back and forth concerning the treatment of Richard’s men, with Richard demanding their release and compensation, and the emperor promising recompense and then breaking his promises. Eventually Richard had decided that enough was enough and called for his men (who remained free) to arm themselves. This began the next stage of events.

The siege of Cyprus began with Richard attempting to land, as he had remained on his ship while negotiating with the emperor, and the opposing forces being quite apt at repelling the landing parties. However the bravery of Richards’ men seemed to scare the Cypriots into falling back to the castle. Eventually, with the use of several war machines the castle was taken, with the emperor retreating into the surrounding woods. The actions of the emperor must have seemed cowardly to Richard and his men as they turned away from the actions in battle that they had been taught while training to become a knight. The emperor, at least in this telling of the conquest, shows cowardice in all of his actions until his last attempt to defeat Richard, by ambushing him in the forest. This telling of the events that took place on Cyprus even show Richard offering the emperor to end the fight with single combat, a noble action on the king’s part, however the emperor declined this offer, instead opting to sacrifice his own men in an attempt to destroy the crusading army.

It is quite possible that had the emperor simply be peaceful from the beginning, Richard may not have felt it necessary to attack at all, as he was sorely needed in Sicily to continue the crusading effort. It is therefore possible that the actions of the emperor lead to his own destruction and the victorious conquest of Cyprus during the Third Crusade.


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