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.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Cast of Characters: Ernoul

Envoy of Jerusalem, being biographical fiction, is populated predominantly by historical figures--from Balian d'Ibelin himself and his wife to Richard the Lionheart. In earlier entries I introduced the most important of these characters such as the Leper King, Guy de Lusignan and his brother Aimery, the queens Sibylla and Isabella etc., providing short biographies. But no novel lives entirely from characters so significant that they left a mark in history. Furthermore, I enjoy writing in characters that I can "control" completely and develop without regard for historical reality. Over the next several weeks I will be introducing the completely fictional "supporting cast" from Envoy of Jerusalem one at a time.  

First, however, I need to explain about two characters that are more fictional than real despite being real people:  Ernoul, Balian's squire, and Eschiva, his niece. While both these characters actually lived and are mentioned in the historical record, very little is known about them beyond their names and station. As a result, I have effectively invented their characters.  Today I will explain about Ernoul.

Ernoul was the author of an account in the vernacular (French) describing the last decades of the 12th century in the Kingdom of Jerusalem. We know his name because he tells it to us in a single passage in which he also describes himself as being in the service and company of Balian d'Ibelin. The circumstances make it most likely that Ernoul was a squire to Ibelin at the time of the incident described (the battle at the Springs of Cresson late 1186). However, we know literally nothing else about "Ernoul" -- which was likely a variant French spelling of the now more familiar name Arnold. 

If the assumption about Ernoul being a squire in 1186 is correct, he was probably from another noble family in Outremer and little more than a teenager at the time of Hattin. The loss of the kingdom would have left him penniless and landless and like many other young noblemen from the former Kingdom of Jerusalem, he would have had to make a new life for himself either in the much-reduced and reorganized Kingdom of Acre or on Cyprus. Margaret Ruth Morgan, a historian who studied the various texts based on his lost chronicle in great depth, has suggested he is the same person as a certain Arnaux/Arnais de Gibelet, who was later an influential person in the Kingdom of Cyprus -- at a time when Balian's eldest son was one of the most powerful barons on the island. 

Furthermore, Ernoul's orginial account of the events surrounding the fall of Jerusalem has been lost. What we have today are fragments of this account incorporated into chronicles copied down by monks in various places in the West. The clerical chroniclers were concerned with recording history by integrating different sources to try to create as comprehensive a picture of events as possible. They did not, in the modern usage, provide footnotes of their sources, nor care much about preserving intact the authentic voice of any of their sources, let alone this comparatively obscure man from Outremer. The chronicles were furthermore revised and corrupted by frequent copying over time. The text gradually became corrupted; whole passages were omitted. In short, we have little more than snippets of Ernoul's original work.

Aside from the one presumed "fact" that Ernoul was a youth from a local, noble family in his late teens in 1186, we know nothing about Ernoul. We don't know when he was born, when he died, if he was the eldest son (heir) or a younger (landless) son, if and when he married, if he had children, if he was later powerful and influential, or -- significantly -- when he wrote his account. The fact that he wrote in French rather than Latin does suggest he was not a cleric, however, at the time of writing, so he is presumed to have pursued a secular career. The assumption of historians is that he wrote several years after the fact, that he had the perspective of the "poulains" (the natives of Outremer), and that he was biased in favor of the Ibelins and so painted Balian in a particularly favorable light.

As a novelist, I wanted to integrate this important historical source into my story, and I decided that if a secular man was literary enough to write a history (albeit in the vernacular) in later  years, he might have been a lover of literature as a young man too. My Ernoul is therefore a youth initially intended for the Church, who only finds himself in training at arms because of the untimely death of his elder brother. Once I'd made Ernoul a bit bookish, I found it easy to make him an amateur musician as well, and so a composer of songs. My Ernoul is, you see, not terribly good at knightly skills and so channels his energies into other fields. (An interpretation supported incidentally by the fact that Arnais de Gybelet, that Morgan believes to have been Ernoul's identity in 1232 was a noted jurist, i.e. still a man of the pen more than the sword.)

The Ernoul of my novels is an artist (composer) rather than a fighter, and he sees the world through an artist's eye. He also provides some of the lighter moments in the book. I hope my readers will like him as much as I do!

 Buy now!                                       Buy now!                                               Buy now! 

1 comment:

  1. Well of course your "fictional" character would be a mistral. Doh!