The Egyptians’ humiliating defeat near Ramla was not an end to the threat they posed to the Kingdom of Jerusalem. Al-Afdal had the money to raise another large army and the determination to oust the Franks from Palestine. Sometime in May 1102 an Egyptian army under the command of Al-Afdal’s son, Sharaf al-Ma’ali arrived at Ascalon. Rather than advance on Jerusalem all together, Sharaf sent a contingent of knights ahead of the main army to raid the countryside.
Meanwhile, in Jaffa, King Baldwin was seeing off the surviving participants of the failed 1101 Crusade who had stopped in Jaffa to celebrate Easter before they made the overseas journey back to Europe. Among the 1101 Crusaders were Count Stephen of Burgundy, William of Acquitane, Hugh of Lusignan, Conrad, Constable of Germany and Stephen of Blois, a First Crusader who had abandoned the army during the siege of Antioch in 1098 and returned home, scorned as a coward by many, including his wife. Unfortunately for those crusaders, a storm blew up shortly after they left port, forcing them to turn back to Jaffa.
The time they re-entered the port at Jaffa, Baldwin learnt that another Egyptian force had entered Palestine. What he didn’t know was that the Egyptian force was a large field army. Baldwin falsely believed it was nothing more than a raiding party. Overconfident, Baldwin rode out to the plains near Ramla with only 200 knights, which included members of his household and the survivors of the ill-fated 1101 Crusade.
Much to their greatest dismay, the small Frankish force encountered a large army; modern historians estimate the Egyptian army at 20,000 troops. Baldwin must have been absolutely horrified and somewhat humiliated when he realized the error of his decision. But it was too late to turn back. The moment Sharaf al-Ma’ali spotted the tiny Frankish force, he pounced on them. Only Baldwin and a handful of knights managed to break through enemy lines. They fled to Ramla where they took sanctuary in a small, fortified tower. But they were quickly surrounded by the Egyptians, cut off entirely from all potential help and unable to mount any offensive. Death was certain. Either the Franks surrendered and died or died fighting. However, in the middle of the night, the Arab sheik whose pregnant wife Baldwin had spared and treated well, secretly slipped inside the tower and offered to help King Baldwin escape. For reasons unexplained Baldwin chose only five of his closest and fiercest knights to escape with him. It’s quite possible the men who remained inside the tower chose instead to fight to the death.
Under the cover of darkness, the Arab sheik led the six Franks out a small postern gate. But they were quickly spotted by some Egyptian warriors, hotly pursued and massacred almost to a man. Only King Baldwin managed to escape, but the Egyptians were determined to put him to the sword as well.
What followed was a wild goose chase. Baldwin hid in an overgrown thicket of canes, but the Egyptians set the undergrowth on fire. Baldwin narrowly escaped with minor burns. He then spent the next several days on the run, dodging Egyptian patrols who were riding up and down the rugged Judean countryside, searching for him.
Eventually Baldwin found his way to Arsuf. He entered the city utterly exhausted, hungry, dirty and in emotional distress. There were no doubts in his mind that what remained of his army were all massacred in the small tower at Ramla, but Baldwin feared the worst for the Kingdom of Jerusalem. In the meantime, he was quickly overwhelmed by the urge to fulfill his basic needs, so he ate, drank and slept.
The Kingdom of Jerusalem, though, was not completely under siege. Somehow Hugh of Flachenberg, Lord of Tiberias learnt of the Egyptian invasion. So, he mustered a force of 80 knights and rode out at once to Arsuf, arriving just in time to renew a haggard Baldwin’s confidence.
Before Baldwin had reached Arsuf, the Egyptian army struck out North West and besieged Jaffa. Once again Queen Arda and her subjects found themselves trapped inside the city, surrounded on all sides by the enemy and not knowing what befell the king and his knights.
To strike deeper terror into their hearts, Sharaf employed a ruthless tactic. He had Gerbod of Windeke – a Frank who looked like King Baldwin – slaughtered. Sharaf’s men then cut Gerbod’s corpse to pieces, dressed them in purple robes and paraded them before the city walls, declaring King Baldwin’s death and ordering the Franks to surrender Jaffa.
Just as the Queen and her subjects planned for their escape, a fleet appeared to the north, bearing King Baldwin’s oriflamme. His oriflamme fluttered and shimmered in the bright May sunlight. The very sight of it filled the besieged Franks with hope. With the help of Hugh of Falchenberg, Baldwin saved Jaffa and the Kingdom of Jerusalem from near annihilation once again. At the sight of the strengthened Frankish force, the Egyptian army retreated to Ascalon.
Unfortunately, Baldwin’s prediction about what had happened to his army at Ramla came true. The morning after his escape, the Egyptians stormed the tower and butchered all of the Franks. Among the slain was Stephen of Blois. His bravery and courage finally blotted out the shame of his escape from Antioch four years previous.
It is presumed that the Egyptians took their time in Ascalon, preparing for a third invasion of Palestine. Their efforts gave the Franks time to recoup and reassemble their army. Having nearly lost his life and his kingdom, Baldwin was determined not to repeat that same mistake. Early that summer of 1102, Baldwin rallied troops from across the kingdom, including the Holy City itself. The contingent from Jerusalem brought with them the relic of the True Cross. All believed that it would bring about divine intervention on their behalf. Around the same time, a large pilgrim fleet from the west arrived in the port of Jaffa. They had come to defend the kingdom. King Baldwin was glad for their presence because they greatly strengthened his army. He now had the resources and a sufficient number of troops to launch a counter-attack on the Egyptians.