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The Fall of Acre, 18 April 1291

I n 1289 Tripoli fell to the Muslims. This was yet another blow in the long series of defeats the Franks had taken. All remaining forces were gathered in Acre, with the result that there may have been 2,000 to 3,000 knights, 18,000 foot soldiers, and up to 3,000 squires, sergeants, and Turcopoles. That Acre would eventually be a target for Muslims was clear in 1289 too, because Papal support was then requested for by a Templar and a Hospitaller sent to Rome.

T he Muslim who was given the honor of driving the Franks into the Mediterranean was called Al-Afdal, a son of Qalawun. When he left Egypt on 6 March 1291, he made sure he had the upper hand - it has been put forward that he may have had 66,000 horsemen and 160,000 foot soldiers in his army. The defenders of Acre had a terrible sight in front of them when Al-Ashraf arrived on 5 April, since he had assembled a hundred siege engines besides the formidable army he had.

W ith no delays the Muslims started bombarding the city and trying to fill the moat, while letting the defenders enjoy a constant hail of arrows. Engineers also attempted to undermine the city walls. For some time the Christians gave a sound response to Al-Ashraf, because they still had supplies brought in by the sea, which they controlled at this stage. Muslims had arrows flying towards them from ships anchored offshore.

W hile the siege was on, the Templars fought with renowned valiance. They were always at the hottest sites, leading attacks and counterattacks. On 15 April they made a daring raid beyond the city walls and into a Muslim camp but sustained heavy losses during it. In the morning of 16 April the Muslims went for St. Anthony's gate, one of the main entrances to the city. A massive battle ensued, the outcome of which was favourable to the Franks only because of the joined efforts of the Templars and the Hospitallers. Guillaume de Beaujeu, Grand Master of the Templars, was wounded in the shoulder and carried to the Templar compound, where he succumbed to the wounds. The battle resulted in the start of evacuations from the city by Venetian ships, but the process only could save a small percentage of all the people in the city.

Map of Acre

W e have the following description of the Templar raid, written by Gerard de Montreal whose source is identified as "The Templar of Tyre".


"There were 66,000 cavalry and 160,000 infantry in the attacking army. In Acre there were only 14,000 infantry and some 800 knights. The Sultan installed four very large siege engines to attack the four towers of the city, and they started from the Accursed Tower.

The Templars thought it necessary to try and set fire to the largest of the siege engines, and Guillaume de Beaujeu ordered a sortie to go out on the evening of 15 April. After breaking out, the knights attempted to reach the siege engine and throw Greek fire at it, but the one charged with the throw couldn't quite make it. The grass around the engine caught fire, but the engine itself was not ignited. The knights killed all Saracens they found that night, with the full moon shining they found many of them, but when they rode back towards safety, their horses tripped on tent wires and fell. [A Muslim source even cites that one knight drowned when he fell in a latrine ditch. With the somewhat faulty buoyancy features of the equipment, small wonder. -scribe] 18 knights were lost altogether, but Saracen losses were much heavier. (The Templar of Tyre is sometimes identified as a staff member of Peter de Sevrey, the commander of the Templar installation at Acre.)


T he city surrendered in 18 April, when it became evident that nothing else could be done. The Templars could not surrender, and they locked themselves up in their church with some Christian citizens to hold out for another week. Al-Ashraf tried negotiations, and offered to allow Templars and all city inhabitants to retreat to Cyprus in response to their surrender. However, the negotiating party of the Muslims began to behave in an uncontrollable manner, and the Templars had no choice but to take their heads and lock up the gates again.

T he Sultan renewed his offer, and Peter de Sevrey, the Marshal of the Order, had no option but to leave the church to negotiate. When he was greeted by the Muslims, he and his party were killed immediately, and a 2,000 strong assault force uncorked the Church barriers. Only a handful of Templars survived, but the Sultan went so far as to fill the harbor with rubble to make sure nothing would resist him any longer.

T he loss of Acre was a crushing blow to all Chistians. It was now generally understood that there was no place for a Lating Kingdom in the Holy Land. To the Templars and the Hospitallers it was also the signal of a period of decline. The Hospitallers were better equipped to manage the change from being a Military Order into being one that did much more charitable work, but the Templars were obstinate and did not grasp some offers that would have made their life purposeful once again. For example, they were offered the rulership over Cyprus, and they even took it for a while, but sold the island of after just a short period. Basically they failed to see that the time was running out on knights and especially on the Orders.

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