Accounts about the Loss of Acre (1291)

SiegeOfAcre1291BNFThe Crusader kingdom in the Holy Land began to collapse in the later part of the thirteenth-century.  The fall (1268) of Jaffa and Antioch to the Muslims caused Louis IX to undertake the Eighth Crusade, Eighth Crusade, 1270, which was cut short by his death in Tunisia. The Ninth Crusade, Ninth Crusade, 1271–72, was led by Prince Edward (later Edward I of England). He landed at Acre but retired after concluding a truce. In 1289 Tripoli fell to the Muslims, leaving Acre as the only major Christian post remaining.  

The Chronicle of St Peter’s, Erfurt

The Chronicle of St Peter’s abbey in Erfurt (Germany) gives an account of the last defence of Acre, focusing on the Templars:

…Also, it is said that a good 7000 people fled to the house of the Templars [in Acre]. Because it was located in a strong part of the city, overlooking the sea shore, and was surrounded by good walls, they defended it for perhaps twelve days after the capture of the city [by the Muslims]. But when the Templars and the others who had fled there realised that they had no supplies and no hope of being supplied by human help, they made a virtue of necessity. With devoted prayer, and after confession, they committed their souls to Jesus Christ, rushed out strenuously on the Saracens and strongly threw down many of their adversaries. But at last they were all killed by the Saracens.

[From: ‘Cronica S. Petri Erfordiensis Moderna’, ed. O. Holder-Egger, Monumenta Germaniae Historica Scriptores, 30, pp. 424-5. Written late summer 1291, before the news of the loss of Sidon and Castle Pilgrim had reached Germany.]

John de Villiers, master of the Hospital

The master of the Hospital, John de Villiers, wrote from his sickbed in Cyprus to William de Villaret, prior of St Gilles, describing the last dreadful hours:

They [the Muslims] entered the city on all sides early in the morning and in very great force. We and our convent resisted them at St Anthony’s Gate, where there were so many Saracens that one could not count them. Nevertheless we drove them back three times as far as the place commonly called ‘Cursed’. And in that action and other where the brothers of our convent fought in defence of the city and their lives and country, we lost little by little all the convent of our Order, which is so much to be praised and which is close to Holy Church, and then came to an end. Among them our dear friend Brother Matthew de Clermont our marshal lay dead. He was noble and doughty and wise in arms. May God be gracious to him! On that same day the master of the Temple also died of a mortal wound from a javelin. God have mercy on his soul!

I myself on that same day was stricken nearly to death by a lance between the shoulders, a wound which has made the writing of this letter a very difficult task. Meanwhile a great crowd of Saracens were entering the city on all sides, by land and by sea, moving along the walls, which were all pierced and broken, until they came to our shelters. Our sergeants, lads and mercenaries and the crusaders and others gave up all hope and fled towards the ships, throwing down their arms and armour. We and our brothers, the greatest number of whom were wounded to death or gravely injured, resisted them as long as we could, God knows. And as some of us were lying as if we were half-dead and lay in a faint before our enemies, our sergeants and our household boys came and carried me, mortally wounded, and our other brothers away, at great danger to themselves. And thus I and some of our brothers escaped, as it pleased God, most of whom were wounded and battered without hope of cure, and we were taken to the island of Cyprus. On the day that this letter was written we were still there, in great sadness of heart, prisoners of overwhelming sorrow.

[From: Cartulaire général de l’ordre des Hospitaliers, ed. Joseph Delaville le Roulx, no. 4157; translated by Edwin James King, The Knights Hospitallers in the Holy Land (London, 1931), pp. 301-2: amended by H. J. Nicholson.]

These two texts were translated by Helen J. Nicholson.  We thank Professor Nicholson for her permission to republish these texts.

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