The Battle of Cresson was a small battle fought on May 1, 1187, at the springs of Cresson, or 'Ain Gozeh, near Nazareth. It was a prelude to the decisive defeat of the Kingdom of Jerusalem at the Battle of Hattin two months later.
The political situation in Jerusalem was tense. Raymond III of Tripoli, who had previously been regent for the kingdom and was still one of the kingdom's wisest advisors, refused to accept Guy of Lusignan as king, Guy being a recent arrival from Europe. Gerard of Ridefort, master of the Knights Templar, Roger des Moulins, master of the Knights Hospitaller, Balian of Ibelin, Joscius, Archbishop of Tyre, and Reginald, lord of Sidon, were sent to Tiberias to negotiate with Raymond.
Meanwhile, Saladin had sent a small force towards Tiberias led by his son al-Afdal, seeking revenge for an attack on a Muslim caravan by Raynald of Chatillon. Raymond III hoped Saladin would ally with him against Guy, and allowed this force to pass through Tiberias on April 30, although he warned the Christians in Nazareth about the army's presence. Hearing this, Gerard quickly assembled a small army, consisting of the Templar garrisons from Qaqun and al-Fulah and the royal knights stationed at Nazareth, only about 430 knights in total; Balian had stopped along the way at his fief of Nablus and Reginald was also elsewhere. Saladin's force, led by his son, consisted of about 7000 men.Gerard reached Cresson on May 1.
The Muslims feigned a retreat, a common tactic which should not have fooled Gerard; nevertheless, he ordered a charge, against Roger's advice, and the knights were separated from the foot-soldiers. The Muslims easily repulsed a direct Christian attack, killing both the exhausted knights, and, later, the foot-soldiers. Gerard survived but almost all the others were killed. According to the Itinerarium, however, Gerard did not rashly engage the enemy, but was actually caught unaware and was the victim of an attack himself. The Itinerarium also records the exploits of a certain Templar named Jakelin de Mailly, who, after all his companions had been killed, fought singlehandedly against the throng of Muslims until he too fell.
Balian was still a day behind, and had also stopped at Sebastea to celebrate a feast day. After reaching the castle of La Fève, where the Templars and Hospitallers had camped, he found that the place was deserted. He sent his squire Ernoul ahead to learn what had happened, and news of the disastrous battle soon arrived from the few survivors. Raymond heard about the battle as well and met the embassy at Tiberias, and agreed to accompany them back to Jerusalem.
Raymond was finally willing to acknowledge Guy as king, but the damage to the kingdom was severe, and both Gerard and Raynald considered Raymond a traitor. Saladin gathered a much larger army of 20 000 men, invaded the kingdom in June, and defeated Guy at Hattin on July 4; by October he captured Jerusalem itself.
The problem of the sources
The battle is mentioned in a number of contemporary chronicles. These accounts differ considerably, and have never been fully reconciled by historians. Instead historical accounts tend to be dominated by the early interpretations of the Latin De expugnatione Terrae Sanctae libellus. The aforementioned Latin Itinerarium was probably written around 1191 or 1192 by a crusader who had served under Richard I during the unsuccessful Third Crusade. Variations in style and some disorder (especially in the early chapters) indicate that it was patched together from a number of other accounts.
The Old French account of Balian's squire Ernoul gives an account of the immediate aftermath, although Ernoul himself was travelling with his lord and was not present for the actual fighting. Gerard of Ridefort's own report of the battle was the source for a short narrative written by Pope Urban III to Baldwin of Exeter, archbishop of Canterbury. The Arabic chronicle of Baha ad-Din briefly mentions Saladin's expedition but does not refer specifically to Cresson; according to him the advance guard remained in the Hawran while Saladin was in Damascus.
There is no real secondary literature on this battle, which was a minor prelude to Hattin. However, the classic study on crusader warfare of this period is Smail. A useful additional read is Marshall, which covers the armies of the region shortly after the battle of Hattin.
Notes and references
- Tyerman, Christopher. God's War: A New History Of The Crusades. London: Penguin Books, 2007.
- Vinsauf, Geoffrey de. Itinerarium Peregrinorum et Gesta Regis Ricardi, translated by A Classical Scholar. Cambrige: Ontario, 2001.