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Teaching History with 100 Objects - Richard I and Saladin
Teaching History
with 100 Objects
Richard I and Saladin
These floor tiles were found at the site of Chertsey Abbey in Surrey.
They show the English king, Richard I, spearing the Muslim leader
Saladin with his lance during the Third Crusade. The scene was a
popular depiction in medieval England and is found in wall paintings and
manuscripts as well as on tiles. The Richard I and Saladin tiles form a
good starting point for enquiries about the Third Crusade or the wider
issues of crusading.
Chertsey Abbey,
AD 1250 – 60
Medieval Britain
Length: 17.1 cm
Width: 10.4 cm
British Museum
(Please always check with the
museum that the object is on display
before travelling)
Teaching History with 100 Objects - Richard I and Saladin
Teaching History
with 100 Objects
Richard I and Saladin
About the object
These tiles were found at the Benedictine abbey of Chertsey in Surrey.
They were discovered accidentally in 1852 by the owner of the site,
Samuel Grumbridge, when he uncovered fragments of a large tiled floor.
The tiles depict a combat between Richard I and the Muslim leader
Saladin. Richard and Saladin never actually encountered each other
face to face, although their armies clashed several times during the
course of the Third Crusade. However, since the end of the AD 1100s,
the Third Crusade had been represented as a personal duel between the
two leaders. By the later middle ages, manuscript images, wall paintings
and tiles like those from Chertsey had helped fixed the image of Richard
and Saladin locked in single combat in popular memory.
Other tiles from Chertsey portray scenes from the story of Tristan and
Isolde, which was the subject of one of the most famous popular prose
romances of the AD 1200s. We know that Richard also featured as the
hero of a romance in this period, so it is quite possible that the tiles
were a literary reference. Fragments found close to the Richard and
Saladin tiles contained letters spelling Richard’s name and other words,
suggesting that an inscription surrounded them.
In July 1187, Saladin’s forces defeated the armies of the crusader states
at the Battle of Hattin. By the end of September 1187, Saladin had
achieved his goal: the recapture of Jerusalem. For the first time in nearly
ninety years the Muslims were in control of the Holy City. It was the
shock of Saladin’s victories at Hattin and Jerusalem that prompted the
Third Crusade.
The crusade was led by the three most powerful monarchs in the Latin
West: Richard I of England, Philip II of France and Frederick I of
Germany. This potentially gave the crusade enormous strength, but
things did not go well for the crusaders. Frederick and his armies
travelled on an overland route to the Holy Land; in June 1190, the
German king drowned while crossing a river. By the time Richard and
Philip reached the crusader port of Acre in June 1191, a deep mistrust
had developed between the two kings. They defeated Saladin’s forces at
Acre, but Philip decided to abandon the crusade and returned to France.
It was left to Richard to attempt the re-conquest of Jerusalem.
Following a long and gruelling march in the summer heat of 1191,
Richard’s forces defeated Saladin at the Battle of Arsuf on 7 September.
The way to Jerusalem was now open. Richard made his first attempt to
take Jerusalem during the winter of 1191 – 2, but the king doubted that
his forces would be able to sustain a siege of the city and he abandoned
the attack. The following summer he made a second attempt to take
Jerusalem. Once again, Richard decided that the lack of water, the
difficulty of supplying the army and Jerusalem’s formidable defences
made a successful attack unlikely. On 4 July 1192, the Third Crusade
collapsed. In September, the crusaders and Muslims signed a truce.
Richard I refused to visit Jerusalem and therefore never met Saladin.
Following the stalemate of the Third Crusade in 1192, the Christian West
sent a number of crusades to Palestine, Syria and Egypt. All ended in
failure. By 1291, with the fall of the crusader city of Acre, the Muslims’
victory was complete.
The image on the Chertsey tiles is violent and shocking. This killing of
Saladin by Richard I might be imagined, but it cannot be denied that the
era of the crusades was characterised by periods of terrible conflict
between Christians and Muslims. This is, however, only part of the story.
During the 12th and 13th centuries there were long periods of peace.
Trade flourished, ideas were exchanged, and artistic styles were copied
and fused. Some historians have argued that a distinctive Crusader Art
emerged which combined Western, Byzantine and Islamic elements. The
peaceful exchange of knowledge, ideas and artistic styles continued into
the later middle ages.
More information
The Richard and Saladin tiles
A Tristan tile from Chertsey
Richard I’s reign
An overview Richard I’s reign and his involvement in the Third Crusade.
In Our Time from BBC Radio 4
Melvin Bragg and guests discuss the Third Crusade in 2001.
The Long View from BBC Radio 4
The Crusades.
Interview with Thomas Asbridge
Interview with Thomas Asbridge about his book The Crusades (2010).
A medieval source
The capture of the Holy Land by Saladin.
Crusader art
A famous example of crusader art: The Melisende Psalter.
BBC History of the wolrd in 100 objects
Useful information about trading contacts between European and
Islamic worlds.
Article on the Crusades
Article on the Crusades in later western culture.
Teaching History with 100 Objects - Richard I and Saladin
Teaching History
with 100 Objects
Richard I and Saladin
A bigger picture
The Crusades are sometimes depicted as a period of incessant warfare
between Christians and Muslims. However, across the 12th and 13th
centuries, there were long periods of relative peace when trade
flourished and artistic styles were exchanged. This selection of objects
provides evidence of that trade and demonstrates some of the ways in
which Muslim and Christian craftsmen were influenced by each other’s
artistic traditions.
Some figures hold Christian symbols; made in Mosul or Damascus; AD
See more See more:
The seated figures are in Islamic style; the riders are in Christian; style
from Syria; AD 1330 – 50.
See more See more:
Decorated with Christian symbols, but made by a Muslim glassmaker;
made in Syria or Muslim Sicily; AD 1100s.
See more See more:
Horn with Islamic oaverll design, but figures in European style; from
southern Italy; AD 1100s.
See more See more:
Perhaps from Saladin’s building works after his victory over the
Crusaders. Notice the similarities to European Corinthian column
capitals from Jerusalem; late AD 1100s.
See more See more:
Teaching History with 100 Objects - Richard I and Saladin
Teaching History
with 100 Objects
Richard I and Saladin
Teaching ideas
The Richard and Saladin tiles are a ready-made jigsaw. Print
and cut up the tiles along the lines separating individual
pieces. Students can work in pairs to do the jigsaw. This will
force them to look carefully at the tiles and to begin
discussing the different elements.
When students have completed the jigsaw they can play a
‘think of a question’ game in teams of 4 or 5. Each team has a
completed jigsaw or whole picture, if you prefer, a dice, a
large sheet of paper and a marker pen. Within each team,
students take it in turns to shake the dice and to think of a
good question about the tiles beginning with the question
word linked to a particular number: 1. What, 2. When, 3.
Where, 4. Who, 5. How, 6.Why. Ask teams to pick their most
interesting question and share these on the whiteboard. Then
switch the focus to answering the questions. Are students
certain about the answers to any questions? Can they make
some good guesses about others?
Tell students the story of the tiles: what they are, where they
are from, what they show. Briefly explain who Richard and
Saladin were and what happened on the Third Crusade.
Explain that Richard and Saladin never met each other face to
face. Tell students that after 1192 we find lots of images of
Richard I spearing Saladin with his lance – in manuscripts, on
wall paintings as well as on tiles. Look at the example from a
manuscript in For the classroom. Can students suggest a
reason for the use of this image?
Compare the Chertsey tiles with the two examples of combat
scenes made by Muslim artists in For the classroom. Which of
the Muslim examples is most similar to the Cherstey scene?
Explore other famous examples of tiles from medieval
England. Search the British Museum website for tiles from
Byland Abbey and for the Tring tiles. Compare these with the
Chertsey tiles. Find out more about the use of tiles, their cost
and the industry of tile-making.
The title page of Fuller’s Historie of the Holy Warre in For the
classroom offers an opportunity to study how the Crusades
were represented in the AD 1600s. The images and
inscriptions are quite legible and easy to make out.
The Richard and Saladin tiles can be incorporated into different enquires
on the Crusades:
Does Richard I deserve to be remembered as a
great crusader?
Start with the tiles, then introduce students to different
images of Richard I from the middle ages to the 12th century,
all of which portray Richard as crusading hero – there are two
examples in For the classroom. Challenge students to study
the events of the Third Crusade and to make their minds up
about Richard: how far was he the great crusader portrayed in
the images? The enquiry could be structured around: 1.
Richard’s background and his decision to take the cross in
1187; 2. the preparations Richard made for the crusade
including the Saladin Tithe and his decision to travel by sea; 3.
his journey to the Holy Land; 4. the Siege of Acre, march to
Jaffa and battle of Arsuf; 5. Richard’s attempts to recapture
Jerusalem. Students can collect ideas on a great crusader/bad
crusader grid as they study the Third Crusade. The enquiry
could conclude with a debate or a discursive essay.
Challenging simplified history: what made the
Crusades so complex?
Incorporate the Richard and Saladin tiles into a broad enquiry
which introduces students to the crusades and requires them
to explore the complexities of this period of history. Structure
your students’ study of the Crusades in chronological stages
introducing each stage with the statements given below.
1. The motivation of the first crusaders: People joined the First
Crusade to become rich
2. The First Crusade: The First Crusade succeeded because it
had strong leaders
3. Life in the crusader states: Muslims and Christians in the
crusader states were always in conflict
4. The Third Crusade: Richard I was a great crusader
5. Crusades of the 13th century: The crusader states ended
because of Baybars
Ask student to response to each statement with “That’s too
simple!” They can then write paragraphs challenging each
simple statement as they move through the enquiry.
The crusader states: melting pot, medieval
apartheid or messy mixture?
In this enquiry students investigate the nature of the society
that emerged in the crusader states during the 12th century,
and, in particular, the ways in which Muslims and Christians
related to each other. Did the westerners mingle harmoniously
with the indigenous population of eastern Christians and
Muslims? Did they live separately using their laws and military
force to oppress the Muslim population? Or was the reality
more a combination of assimilation and segregation? Students
could investigate these issues by studying settlement
patterns, crusader castles, trade, the writing of Usama ibn
Munqidh and architecture. There could be a particular focus
on works of art such as the Melisende Psalter and some of the
objects in A bigger picture.
Teaching History with 100 Objects - Richard I and Saladin
Teaching History
with 100 Objects
Richard I and Saladin
For the classroom
The Chertsey tiles showing Richard and Saladin
Download this picture
Richard and Saladin in a manuscript; from the AD 1200s.
Visit the site
Battle in front of a town
Painting by an Arab artist showing a battle in front of a town; from
Egypt; AD 1100s.
Download this picture
Carved stone combat scene
Carved stone combat scene; from Konya, Turkey; AD 1100s.
Visit the site
Richard I in combat with Saladin
An 1831 print showing Richard I in combat with Saladin.
Download this picture
Statue of Richard I
Statue of Richard I outside the Palace of Westminster, London.
Visit the site
Title page for The Historie of the Holy Warre
Title page for The Historie of the Holy Warre by Thomas Fuller; first
published 1639. The portraits at the top are of Godfrey de Bouillon, a
leader of the First Crusade, and Saladin.
Download this picture
Map of crusader states in 1190
Visit the site
Epitome of Chronicles
Richard I (top right) and other English kings in Epitome of Chronicles by
Matthew Paris; 1255.
Visit the site
Outside the classroom
Here is a selection of museums with relevant collections.
Chertsey Museum
Visit the site
Royal Armouries, Leeds
Visit the site
British Museum
Visit the site