Helena Schrader's Historical Fiction

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, November 25, 2017

Kolossi - Settings for the "Last Crusader Kingdom"

Richard the Lionheart's first rout of Isaac Comnenus allegedly took place at Kolossi. Later it was the site of a Hospitaller Commandery and a magnificent example of crusader architecture of the 15th century has survived to this day. Although this castle did not yet exist at the time in which The Last Crusader Kingdom is set, we know that the current structure was built on foundations of earlier buildings and this inspired an important episode in the novel. Below is a brief history of Kolossi.


Kolossi is located just 10 kilometers (6  miles) west of Limassol on a fertile coastal plain.  In 1191, according to the chronicles, Isaac Comnenus collected his army here, and Richard the Lionheart surprised the camp at dawn, over-running the tents and capturing a huge treasure in equipment and furnishing, while Isaac Comnenus just barely managed to escape on a swift steed. All sources agree that at this time there was no fortress on the site.

In 1210, however, the estate of Kolossi which included some 60 villages, was turned over to the Knights Hospitaller by King Hugh I.  The original castle is believed to date from this period.  Ruins of this castle have been found and exposed by archaeologists:


The land was fertile and the Hospitaller set about cultivating products for export: wheat, cotton, sugar, oil and wine.  Indeed, the wine produced here became famous as "Commandaria" -- a sweet, red wine allegedly preferred by the Plantagenet kings of England.  

Sugar production and export, however, was also a highly lucrative business, and the remains of a 13th century sugar factory are located directly beside the castle. These are erected on the remains of a 12th century factory. 

Sugar production and refining requires large quantities of water and the remains of the sophisticated aqueducts and drains have also been found at Kolossi.

It was this factory that inspired  me to use Kolossi as the venue of an important incident in The Last Crusader Kingdom -- an attack by the rebels against the economic infrastructure of the island. 

Historically, the Hospitallers moved their headquarters to Cyprus (possibly Kolossi) after the fall of Acre in 1291, but mindful of the greed and jealousy of princes, the Hospitallers wisely acquired the island of Rhodes and moved the bulk of their resources there early in the 14th century.  Nevertheless, Kolossi remained an important source of income, and the castle was last refurbished in the 15th century. This last building is what we can see today.  Below are a number of pictures which I took during my most recent visit in 2012.


Left the "Donjon" from the innerward.










Right one of the ground floor chambers presumably used for storage.  



 The interior stairs from the cellars to the first floor.


One of the spacious upper chambers.


 







 A fireplace:

Saturday, November 18, 2017

CHANTICLEER REVIEW of "The Last Crusader Kingdom"



WINNER OF A B.R.A.G. MEDALLION!
The Last Crusader Kingdom: Dawn of a Dynasty in Twelfth-Century Cyprus
Chanticleer Review 



In the Introduction and Acknowledgements section of her fascinating novel, The Last Crusader Kingdom: Dawn of a Dynasty in Twelfth-Century Cyprus, Helena P. Schrader notes that ". . . the historical basis for this novel is very thin," and that the book serves as "a fictional depiction of events as I believe they could have happened." Upon finishing the book, one concludes that only the rare reader would disagree with Schrader's version of the historical events that comprise her narrative. Her comprehensive research and impressive scholarship are evident on every single page. This is a work of historical fiction, admittedly, but Schrader clearly was tireless in exhuming every possible detail to piece together as authentic a history of medieval Cyprus, 1193-1198, as possible.  



The establishment of a Latin Kingdom on the formerly Byzantine island of Cyprus in the late twelfth-century is as engrossing and intricate a chapter in history as possible, one that involved a plethora of cultures, religions, family dynasties, battles, treaties, and, inevitably, human greed and vanity. Schrader addresses both public and private lives and demonstrates how their intertwining shaped history. She considers all classes of society, from barons to beggars. It would be easy to get lost amongst the riveting and numerous details, but the author takes the reader by the hand and offers a guided tour to people, places, and events. The novel includes a Cast of Characters, Genealogical Charts for the Houses of Jerusalem, Lusignan, and Ibelin, as well as historical maps of Cyprus and the Outremer. Her Historical Notes underscore the depth of her research, and she also provides a glossary to orient the reader with historical and regional terms.   



Schrader matches her exhaustive research with a thoroughly captivating narrative. Her prose shimmers with elegant confidence and wit. The story traces how this strategically positioned island, formerly fraught with the greatest animosity between the inept and despised Frankish ruler, Guy de Lusignan, and the Greek Orthodox natives is pacified even after the influx of Latin immigrants.  How all this came about is as exciting and adventurous tale as anyone could imagine. Schrader pays keen attention to how power is grasped, nourished, and maintained, and her tale demonstrates the essential and timeless balance of politics, religion, economy, and public relations. Although the novel takes place in medieval times, much of it could serve as a primer for twenty-first-century global politics and diplomacy.



One might expect the medieval world to be dominated by men, yet the author fully addresses the lives of women. Obviously siring male heirs was of importance in the twelfth century, but Schrader does not limit episodes involving female characters to pregnancy and birth. She emphasizes their role as astute advisers to their husbands and other male relations. The women understood that marriages were opportunities for strategic alliances and personal power. Queens and wives of public figures were keenly aware of the critical public relations roles they played in binding their subjects to the ruling families.     



The reader also learns a wealth of information on shipbuilding, irrigation, aqueducts, woodcarving, piracy, on and on.  The Last Crusader Kingdom is not just the story of key families ascending to power; it's also an enlightening overview on the state of technology, the arts, and crime at the close of the twelfth century. The reader trusts Schrader's depiction of events as accurate in large part because her meticulous research makes every scene vivid and memorable.  Schrader matches her exhaustive historical research with a thoroughly captivating narrative.  




Helena P. Schrader is an author who doesn't just bring history to life but one who reminds us that each passing moment is also history. To understand the events reported on the front pages of today's newspapers, there's no greater teacher than the past. The Last Crusader Kingdom is filled with lessons we'd be foolish to neglect.  -- CHANTICLEER REVIEWS

   



             

Sunday, November 12, 2017

"Negotiations with the Devil" - An Excerpt from "The Last Crusader Kingdom"

The German philosopher Carl von Clausewitz rightly noted that war is the continuation of politics by "other" means. Likewise, when the political objectives of a conflict remain illusive -- or the price of conflict becomes too high -- most parties seek to resolve differences by non-violent means. At that point negotiations with "the enemy" -- whoever that may be -- become necessary, and compromise essential.




From the top of the escarpment, Sir Galvin and Ibelin’s other men watched anxiously. They shared Ibelin’s assessment of the sailors, and while they could not see Brother Zotikos’ eyes, they hardly needed to. His every gesture exuded hostility and aggression, so much so that [the dog] Barry lowered his head and curled his lips in a threatening stance. 
Sir Galvin glanced over his shoulder to Sir Sergios. The Maronite Syrian had served the Count of Tripoli at Hattin, but had been fighting under Ibelin’s banner ever since the great armed pilgrimage from the West that had wrested control of the coast back from Saladin. He was a superb archer, and he already had his bow out of its case. His quiver hung from the pommel of his saddle.

Sir Galvin nodded to him, and he fitted an arrow onto the string, lifted the bow, pulled the string back to his ear, and looked down the arrow with narrowed eyes at his target: the Greek monk’s broad chest. He nodded, then gently eased the string back to the uncocked position, yet kept the arrow notched. At this range, he was confident he could kill the Greek monk before he could do any harm to their lord.

None of Ibelin’s men could hear what was being said, but they could see the monk gesturing wildly with his arms. He threw them out wide, then rotated his right arm like a windmill. Then his hands formed fists that he held under Ibelin’s nose. A moment later he thrust out an index finger and jabbed the air in front of Ibelin’s face―eliciting an angry warning bark from Barry, whom John was visibly restraining from attacking.

Throughout it all, Ibelin appeared impassive. His stance was relaxed, his arms akimbo, his weight on his right leg with his left bent and slightly forward. His men recognized he was actually poised to swing his weight forward with his right fist if he needed to. Compared to the apparent flood of words that accompanied the dramatic gestures of the monk, Ibelin appeared to say very little. Once or twice he lifted his head as if to make a short remark. Each time his words provoked a new round of angry gestures from the monk, followed by increasingly violent gestures from Barry.

Once Father Andronikos tried to intervene, only to harvest a series of stabs with an index finger in his direction from the younger monk. John, meanwhile, was having trouble holding his dog, and was clearly distressed, confused, and a little frightened. He looked at his father for guidance, but the elder Ibelin remained calm, signaling for him to restrain the dog.

“I don’t think things are going well,” Sir Galvin observed generally, and Georgios shook his head sadly.

Abruptly, Ibelin turned his back on the monk and started back up the escarpment. The monk shouted furiously after him, making Georgios wince at the crude threat. Sir Galvin looked over, on the brink of asking for a translation, but then thought better of it. On the beach Father Andronikos was evidently trying to reason with the angry young monk, his hand on the latter’s arm. The younger man shook him off, and with a violent, dismissive gesture started striding toward his boat. The sailors were already shoving it back into the water; the stern floated while the bow remained on the sand, ready for Zotikos to re-board.

Ibelin reached the top of the escarpment slightly breathless from the climb, and held out his hand for his sword belt. “Hopeless!” he announced to his men, snatching the belt and wrapping it around his waist to buckle it snugly. “He insists that they will keep fighting until we are either driven from the island like the Templars, or all dead.” He grabbed the reins of his stallion, threw them back over the horse’s head, and gathered them up as he pointed his toe in the stirrup to haul himself into the saddle.

He was so agitated that he swung his horse around and started to ride off before John had had a chance to mount. Then he caught himself and waited, his expression grim.

“So they wouldn’t consider exchanging the abbot for Toron?” Sir Galvin asked, puzzled and disbelieving.

“No. That monk is a fanatic. He is incapable of compromise or negotiation. Saladin was pure reason compared to him!”