The battle of Arsuf/Arsur, a reappraisal of the charge of the Hospitallers STEPHEN BENNETT (QUEEN MARY, UNIVERSITY OF LONDON)
The breakdown of Richard the Lionheart’s careful advance from Acre to Jaffa in late summer 1191 has been attributed to a loss of control by the marshal of the Order of St John of Jerusalem (the Hospitallers) and an ‘English knight’. Screaming, ‘St George!’ the two knights are described as bursting out of formation and leading their troops in a desperate charge against Saladin’s army. 3 In modern accounts, King Richard has been depicted as watching in horror as successive units of crusaders join the Hospitallers, forcing him to reinforce their reckless charge or risk disaster. Indeed, Tom Asbridge has suggested that Richard did not plan to fight that day, but sought to avoid battle and reach Jaffa with his army intact. 4 Whatever his intentions, it would be uncharacteristic for Richard not to have made adequate provision for a potential engagement. 5
This chapter will argue that experienced commanders, who were acting under Richard’s delegated authority, led the charge of the Hospitallers. Rather than a failure in discipline, their charge provides a rare example of how a medieval general might decentralise command to trusted subordinates to act in accordance with his overall intent. This permitted him to overcome the inherent complexities of controlling a large and diverse army without the aid of a reliable and instantaneous communication system.