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The Role of the Knights Templar

Allies and Enemies in the Holy Land

The Fall of Acre

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Allies and Enemies in the Holy Land

The Fall of Acre

"...In March 1291 an enormous Mameluke army marched on Acre - 160,000 infantry and 60,000 cavalry. Their artillery was awe-inspiring, including not less than 100 mangonels [catapults]" In defense, "out of a population of fifty thousand, 14,000 were foot soldiers and 800 were mounted men-at-arms." "Turkish engineers were steadily undermining the towers, which began to crumble beneath a ceaseless bombardment from the sultan's mangonels, a hail of enormous rocks and timber baulks. Lighter machines hurled pots of Greek fire or burning pitch which burst when they hit their targets and the sky was ablaze with naphtha arrows. Henri [III] tried to negotiate, but the implacable al-Ashraf would accept nothing but complete surrender. By 15 May the first wall and all its towers had been breached. Filling the moat with the bodies of men and horses as well as sandbags the Saracens swept through the main gate, encouraged by 300 drummers on camels. Charging on horseback down the narrow streets the Templar and Hospitaller brethren drove them out, but by evening the desperate Franks were forced to withdraw behind the inner wall. Next day many citizens put their wives and children on board ship for Cyprus, but unfortunately the weather was too bad to put out to sea."

"Just before dawn on Friday, 18 May 1291, the sultan ordered a general assault, announced by first one great kettle drum then by massed drums and a battery of trumpets and cymbals, 'which had a very horrible voice'. Mangonels and archers sent an endless shower of fire bombs into the doomed city, the arrows 'falling like rain', while Mameluke suicide-squads led by white-turbaned officers attacked through the dense smoke all along the wall in deep columns." "Acre was now lost irretrievably. The terrified population, women, babies and old men, ran to the harbor in frantic despair, though many able-bodied citizens died fighting. King Henri had already sailed for home and there were too few ships. Horrible struggles took place on the crowded jetties and overloaded boats sank....To add to the horror a great storm blew up. The Saracens soon reached the jammed quays to butcher the screaming fugitives."

The surviving Templars held out in the fortified Temple by the sea. "A large number of women and children had fled to them for protection and the Templars showed that they could be generous, putting as many refugees as possible aboard the Order's galleys, and sending them off to join the king's fleet. There was not enough room for everyone, and all the brethren, even the wounded, stayed behind. An eyewitness who saw the ships leave wrote afterwards that 'when they set sail everyone of the Temple who remained raised a great cheer, and thus they departed." After several days al-Ashraf offered good terms, which Fra. Pierre accepted and some Mamelukes were admitted. They hoisted the crescent flag of Islam but then began to rape the women and boys, whereupon the infuriated Templars killed them. The infidel flag was torn down and 'Beau Seant' hauled up again. That night the marshal sent sway the Commander, Tibald Gaudin, by boat with the Temple treasury, the holy relics, and some non-combatants. Next day the sultan once more proposed excellent terms, admitting that his men had got what they deserved, so Fra. Pierre when out to discuss surrender. He was immediately seized and beheaded. Some of the brethren were old men, most of them wounded and all exhausted, yet they decided to fight to the finish. They beat off assault after assault. 'They can fight the battle of the Lord and indeed be soldiers of Christ. Let them kill the enemy or die, they need not be afraid'. But the brethren had no replay to mangonel fire and the tunnels which riddled the foundations. On 28 May, the mines were fired. Part of the massive wall collapsed and 2,000 Turkish troops poured in to meet a bloody reception. The weight was too much for the tottering building, which came crashing down and Saracens and brethren perished together in a flaming hecatomb."

"The Poor Knights' most lasting achievement, their contribution towards the overthrow of the Church's attitude to usury, was economic. No medieval institution did more for the rise of capitalism. Yet the Templars deserve to be remembered not as financiers but as the heroes of Acre, that strange fellowship of death who died for Christ with such disturbing courage." - Desmond Seward, The Monks of War


Acre, Siege of (1291)
The siege of Acre (mod. ‘Akko, Israel) by the Maml‰ks of
Egypt, lasting from 5/6 April to 28 May 1291, resulted in the
Muslim conquest of the city and brought about the end of
the Latin kingdom of Jerusalem.
Following an attack by Italian crusaders on the Muslim
population of Acre in August 1290, the Egyptian sultan
Qal¢w‰n repealed a ten-year truce that had been concluded
with the kingdom in 1283 and moved against Acre, but died
shortly after he had left Cairo (10 October 1290). His son al-
Ashraf Khalªl arrived before Acre on 5 April 1291 with a large
army. Acre had 30,000–40,000 inhabitants, who were joined
in the defense of the city by 700–1,200 knights and
14,000–18,000 infantry, including the Italian crusaders,
members of the military orders, and 200–300 knights
brought in later by Henry II, king of Cyprus and Jerusalem.The Maml‰k forces were considerably larger, and had many
siege machines of varying sizes.
The siege began on 6 April. On its western and southern
side, Acre was protected by the sea, the Templar castle at the
southwestern point, and the harbor fortifications. The northeastern
walls around the suburb of Montmusard were
guarded by Templars and Hospitallers. The northeastern
point and the eastern walls were defended by the troops of
the kingdom commanded by Henry’s brother Amalric of
Lusignan, an English contingent led by Otto of Grandison, a
French contingent under John of Grailly, and troops of
Venice, Pisa, and the commune of Acre. The Maml‰ks concentrated
their attacks on the St. Anthony’s Gate complex
linking Montmusard with the old city and on the northeastern
point, which was fortified by a barbican (King Hugh’s
Tower) and a tower (King Henry’s Tower) at the outer wall
and another tower (the Accursed Tower) at the inner wall.
Sorties by the Templars and Hospitallers in mid-April
failed, resulting in heavy Frankish casualties. King Henry
arrived at Acre on 4 May with reinforcements and asked for
a truce, which Khalªl declined. On 8 May, King Hugh’s
Tower had to be abandoned. King Henry’s Tower and parts
of the outer wall collapsed on 15 May. The following day, as
the Muslims attempted to storm the city, they were fended
off by a sortie of the Hospitallers under the marshal
Matthew of Clermont. On 18 May, the Mamluks attacked the
fortifications between St. Anthony’s Gate and the Accursed
Tower with full force and managed to enter the city. There
were insufficient vessels for the inhabitants to escape by sea.
The Templar Roger Flor supposedly sold the space on a galley
he had seized for outrageous sums of money. King
Henry, his brother Amalric, Otto of Grandison, John of
Grailly, and the Hospitaller master John of Villiers escaped
to Cyprus. The patriarch of Jerusalem, Nicholas of Hannapes,
drowned after he allowed so many refugees on his
boat that it sank. The Templar master William of Beaujeu
and the Hospitaller marshal were killed fighting against the
onrushing Mamelukes.
Those unable to escape found refuge in the Templar castle,
and were offered unhindered retreat in exchange for its
surrender. On 25 May, Muslim troops entered the castle to
supervise the Franks’ departure, but as they supposedly
molested the Frankish women and children, they were killed
by the Templar garrison. When the marshal Peter of Sevrey
went to Khalªl to explain the incident, he was seized and
beheaded. Meanwhile, the Muslims had undermined the castle walls, which collapsed on 28 May, ending the siege.
The fall of Acre marked the end of the Frankish states in
Outremer. The Mamluks’ systematic destruction of Acre and
other coastal cities made any future return of the Frankish
population unviable. – Jochen Burgtorf - The Crusades; An Encyclopaedia





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