Helena Schrader's Historical Fiction

Understanding Ourselves by Understanding the Past.


My biographical novel of Balian d'Ibelin in three parts is complete, but the saga continues. Follow me to Cyprus, where Lusignans and Ibelins struggle to put down a rebellion and establish a durable state. Watch for excerpts and updates here.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

"The Devil's Knight" -- An Introduction

Of the three novellas that make up my “Tales from the Languedoc,” The Devil’s Knight is chronologically the first. It is set during the year 1210, the year after the crusading army, mustered to suppress the Cathar heresy in the South of France, has withdrawn. 

Simon de Montfort has been named the new Viscount of Carcassone and Bezieres, after the capture, imprisonment and death of the hereditary lord, Raymond Roger de Trencavel. However, while Montfort has been awarded this vast territory by the Pope, he does not control it.  To subdue the rebellious lords of his new lordship, he must muster a mercenary army. The knights who rally to his cause come largely from the north, motivated by the prospect of being granted fiefs by the new Viscount of Carcassone. The problem is that first those fiefs have to be captured and secured by dislodging the southern noblemen who have inherited the castles and lordships from their forefathers and hold them by force. 1210 will turn out to be the year in which some of the most famous sieges in the bitter war against the Cathar heresy took place: notably Bram, Minerve, Puivert and Termes.

As the title suggests, the main protagonist of this novel is a knight in the service of the notoriously ruthless Simon de Montfort. Readers of my other novels and “A Widow’s Crusade” undoubtedly know that my personal sympathies lie on the side of the “rebellious” hereditary lords of the Languedoc -- not with the invading forces under Simon de Montfort. But that is the crux of this novella.

Unlike “A Widow’s Crusade,” that is essentially about the fate of two people and their relationship to one another, “The Devil’s Knight” employs a wider cast of characters to explore a complex relationships between men in the service of a ruthless genius.  Montfort, like many other military leaders of earlier and later generations, was a remarkably effective leader. Almost always out-numbered, with no sympathy from the local population, and without the advantage of inside intelligence, he repeatedly forced the surrender of allegedly impregnable fortress -- castles that too this day seem to defy the very thought of capture.

The focus of the novel is not the conflict between the invaders and the defenders -- that seemed rather too trite, too black and white, and has been the subject of many other books already. Rather, this novella looks at the complex combination of charisma, power, dependency and coercion that kept Montfort’s supporters together. The novella seeks to go beyond the usual cartoon-like depiction of Montfort as the incarnation of evil, and explore the complexity of the motives and responses of his men.  Many of the characters, including my Simon de Montfort, were drawn from people I have personally known.

I will start posting individual entries following my return from a holiday on Cyprus, where I will be doing more research for these novels set in the 13th Century, on January 19.

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