Conrad of Montferrat, who became king of Jerusalem during the Third Crusade, was widely regarded as one of the most impressive men of his generation. “Conrad was vigorous in arms, extremely clever both in natural mental ability and by learning, amiable in character and deed, endowed with all the human virtues, supreme in every council, the fair hope of his own side and a blazing lightning-bolt to the foe,” wrote one chronicler. But by that point, Conrad was also dead.
For Conrad, the spring of 1192 was dominated by a bitter feud with Richard I of England over the throne of Jerusalem. On 24 April, secure in his fortress at Tyre, Conrad heard the news that he had been elected king. Only four days later, however, the Assassins struck.
It was lunchtime, and Conrad was returning home from the house of his friend Philip, Bishop of Beauvais when he was accosted by two men, who plunged their daggers into his body. Death almost certainly came very swiftly. One of the murderers was killed on the spot; the other, wounded, was put to torture. It turned out that he was a member of the infamous Assassins, a Nizari Shia sect led by the ‘Old Man of the Mountain’, who supposedly encouraged them to gear themselves up for murder with copious amounts of hashish.
In reality, many of the lurid stories associated with the Assassins were probably invented. The real author of the plot to kill Conrad was almost certainly somebody much closer to home: Richard the Lionheart. Indeed, when Richard was later imprisoned by Leopold of Austria, Conrad’s murder featured heavily on the charge sheet.
Dominic Sandbrook is a historian and presenter. His new series about Britain in the 1980s is due to air this summer on BBC Two.