Helena Schrader's Historical Fiction

Dr. Helena P. Schrader is the author of 24 historical fiction and non-fiction works and the winner of more than 53 literary accolades. More than 34,000 copies of her books have been sold. For a complete list of her books and awards see: http://helenapschrader.com

For readers tired of clichés and cartoons, award-winning novelist Helena P. Schrader offers nuanced insight into historical events and figures based on sound research and an understanding of human nature. Her complex and engaging characters bring history back to life as a means to better understand ourselves.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Next Year in Jerusalem....

Last week I spoke about my current project, a biographical novel of Balian d'Ibelin.

Balian, the Baron (or Lord) of Ibelin, played an important role in the politics of the crusader kingdoms in Palestine throughout the reigns of Baldwin IV and Guy de Lusignan and during the Third Crusade. He is most famous for defending the city of Jerusalem against Salah ad-Din (Saladin) in 1187. He spent the bulk of his life in what is now Israel and southern Lebanon, but was then the Kingdom of Jerusalem.
If I am going to write about Balian -- as I am! -- I need to go to places were he was born, grew up, fought, and played a role in history. So next year, 2014, is the year of my pilgrimage to Jerusalem.
It is exciting to follow in the footsteps of other pilgrims -- and also be in the company of other pilgrims, because Ethiopia is a Christian country with a long tradition of ties to Jerusalem. Indeed, there were Ethiopian churches and an Ethiopian community in Jerusalem when Balian defended it. The fall of Jerusalem so distressed the Ethiopian king at that time, that he built a New Jerusalem here in Ethiopia, in a place now named for him: Lalibella. There churches were carved out of bedrock in amazing demonstration of technical know-how and the place is still quite magical. But it can't replace the historical Jerusalem, so nowadays Ethiopian Airlines offers daily flights to Tel Aviv to accommodate the Ethiopian pilgrims to Jerusalem.
I look forward to being among them -- and then following in Balian's (as well as Christ's!) footsteps as I visit the key sites. Wish me well!

Friday, December 20, 2013

Reflections on the Year 2013

Dear Followers and Friends,
This past year has been dominated by transition.
The early months were focused on preparing my departure from Leipzig, completing projects and tasks I had set myself, winding down operations that could not be continued, preparing the way for my successor, and, of course, preparing for our move.  Mentally and then physically dividing up our goods into those that should be stored in our house in Greece, and those that we would take with us to Ethiopia took a great deal of mental and emotional energy.
Then came the move in stages. The pack-out of our best things for transport to Greece, the pack-out of our things for Addis, the farewells and departure from friends and places in Germany.  Training in Washington followed before the month of home leave in Maine.
But even in Maine it was a period of transition as I faced the sad fact Herbert and I were getting too old to manage the sailboat that has been so much a part of my life for almost 40 years. In addition to selling The Flying Dragon, we had to plan on making major renovations in our 200 year old farm house.
And then came Africa -- the long flight, the re-fuelling in Khartum and finally the arrival in Addis Ababa. Since then, every day has been a day of discovery in this land so rich in history and culture, yet growing and developing at a dramatic rate as well.
All of the above has left me less time for writing that I would like, and must admit that in the first half of the year the inspiration was missing as well. The Leonidas Trilogy had been such an important part of my life for so long that it left a vacuum in its wake.
I filled that vacuum by re-working older manuscripts that I had set aside more than a decade ago as "unpublishable." In the age of ebooks and KDP, where I can be my own publisher, however, I saw no reason not to release these books -- to the extent that they are good stories, simply not books with a huge potential market.

Herbert created for me the website: www.talesofchivlary.com to market the total of nine books set in the Age of Chivalry that I had written over the years. These are three Tales from the Languedoc (A Widow's Crusade, The Disinherited, and The Devils Knight - not yet released); The Templar Tales (St. Louis' Knight, The Templar of St. John, --neither of which have been released yet -- and The English Templar), and The Lion of Karpas Trilogy, a long ways from release, but one of my best novels.
Abruptly, sometime during the stay in Maine, I felt the stirrings of a new idea. Suddenly it wasn't nine "tales of chivalry" that I wanted to publish, but ten. The tenth tale is a biographical novel of Balian d'Ibelin, the defender of Jerusalem against Saladin in 1187. He is a fascinating historical figure (and uncle of the hero of the Lion of Karpas Trilogy) and the more I learn about him the more excited I have become about this novel. Indeed, I can't remember being this inspired and absorbed by a novel since the early days of Leonidas. I've started a Facebook page dedicated to the book where I will be posting regular updates based on my research and about my progress, Balian d'Ibelin - Defender of Jerusalem , for any of you interested in following my work on this new biographical novel.
So as the year closes I have settled into a new, challenging job, in a fascinating new country and have an exciting new writing project to work on in 2014. That seems a good way to end the year!
I wish you all a Merry Christmas, a Happy New Year, and success, health and many good times with good friends in 2014.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Authenticity vs Accuracy - The Historical Novelist's Dilemma

Ridley Scott’s “Kingdom of Heaven” is a text-book example of how it is possible to be authentic without being accurate. Scott’s film, depicting the crusader kingdom during the last years of the reign of Baldwin IV and the fall of Jerusalem to Saladin in 1186, is far from accurate, yet it succeeds brilliantly in evoking an age and a society.  While it is possible to question if all his changes to history were necessary, there is no question that on the whole his film delivers historical insight to an often misunderstood age.
As a historian, I tend to be very fussy about getting the facts right. In my own works of historical fiction I try to get all the known facts scrupulously correct and take liberties only with the interpretation of motives, mood, and non-historical supporting cast.  Scott is much bolder – and yet he succeeds in conveying the essential facts in a way that captures the imagination.
For example, the historical Balian d’Ibelin, who defended and surrendered Jerusalem to Saladin in 1187, was the legitimate son of “Barisan” (sometimes also known as Balian the Elder), the Constable of Jaffa, and not an illegitimate son of a childless man as in the film. Nevertheless, the real Barisan was of “obscure” origins, and most probably a younger son of a European noblemen, and Barisan was granted the lordship of Ibelin by the King of Jerusalem.  Thus, the character of Scott’s “Godfrey” d’Ibelin reflects reality and articulates a key aspect of the crusades and the Christian Kingdom of Jerusalem: the ability of men of (comparatively) obscure origins to become powerful and rich in Outremer.  
Scott’s Sibylla is also more fiction than fact, and yet she epitomizes the powerful – and colorful – role played by women in the Kingdom of Jerusalem. They were at once pawns for forging alliances and gaining power, and yet far from powerless, often decisive, notoriously outspoken and anything but prudish.  In fact, the real Princess Sibylla probably had an affair with the real Balian d’Ibelin’s elder brother.  More important, she forced her brother King Baldwin IV to accept Guy de Lusignan as her second husband, despite the king’s (very justified) objections about Lusignan’s suitability, by having an affair with him.  In effect, Scott condensed the stories of several prominent women in the history of the Kingdom of Jerusalem into his fictional Sibylla, and film benefits from Balian being involved with her.  
On the other hand, the portrayal of Saladin in the film is, as far as I know, on the whole accurate, as are the role of Reynald de Chatillon, Guy de Lusignan, and the Templars in this period.  The catastrophe at Hattin, including the scene in Saladin’s tent following the battle and the siege and surrender of Jerusalem, are all for the most part correct, aside from being slightly condensed.  In short, Scott has carefully mixed fact with fiction to produce a great work of art.
Furthermore, with the resources at his disposal, Scott produced images that are magnificent and powerful – truly worth a thousand words!   Indeed, “Kingdom of Heaven” is in many ways an excellent example of the advantages film has over the written word when dealing with unfamiliar environments. It would take pages of meticulous description (that no reader wants to wade through!) to describe the armor of a late 12th century knight, or the decoration of a Saracen palace, or the cramped and crowded streets of Jerusalem.  In a film with a director of Scott’s quality, who brings together the best costume artists and set designers, all those details are simply spread out in color before the viewer’s eyes.  With a single camera sweep, the landscape is laid out in painstaking – and breathtaking – detail. It is when I see a film like this that I wish my novels could be filmed!
Then again, the plot and characters would probably be changed beyond recognition, and I’m not sure I’d want that! Instead, I’ll be content if readers see Scott’s “Kingdom of Heaven” before reading my biographical novel of Balian d’Ibelin so they have all those vivid images of the Holy Land in their head when they start to read about a man whose real life was more interesting and real character more admirable than the hero of Scott's film.

Friday, December 6, 2013

St. Louis and the 7th Crusade -- Two Reviews

Last week I described the 7th Crusade; this week I'd like to talk about two books that deal with it.

Chronicles of the Crusades by Jean de Joinville and Geoffroy de Villehardouin
This is a rare book which offers us two contemporary accounts of the crusades through the eyes of participants -- and not just monkish chroniclers but fighting men.
Although the two accounts are by different authors (Geoffroy de Villehardouin for the Fourth Crusade and Jean de Joinville for the Seventh), they both offer stark, un-romanticized and often critical reports. These men are describing military campaigns not creating works of art. They are both soldiers and statesmen, intimates of the leaders of the respective campaigns, offering an analysis of events rather than poets trying to inspire. The clear, unembellished style is in part attributable to an outstanding modern translation of the medieval French by M.R.B. Shaw, but the descriptions of appalling conditions, fear, brutality, and betrayal are all the work of the original authors.

To be sure, Joinville's stated intention is to pay tribute to his beloved late King and to justify King Louis' reputation for saintliness. Joinville's handling of Louis is, in this sense, unabashedly biased. But this in no way detracts from the authenticity of his account of the Seventh Crusade. On the contrary, Joinville's Louis can only shine if he shows how very dark the surroundings were. I was particularly struck by Joinville's willingness to admit and describe his own fears, uncertainties and mistakes.

These accounts are also invaluable to historians because the narrators explain events in terms they consider self-evident -- but which are often alien to us, reminding us of the great differences in social attitudes between then and now.  Thus, while human emotions, motives and behavior is strikingly similar to today, other aspects of society are strikingly different. Likewise, details like how horses were loaded on ships or how provisions were pre-positioned and stored for the king of France are described lucidly, providing the novelist and historian with invaluable details of medieval military operations.
I highly recommend these accounts -- just don't expect them to be tales of brave knights and fair ladies. These are the accounts of real men about real wars.
Everything is Light by Robert Shea
This is a surprisingly well written tale, with an excellent portrayal of King Louis IX of France. Although the book starts with the fall of the last Cathar fortress of Montsegur in 1244, it provides a historically sound, comprehensible and (again) un-romaticized introduction to the key issues involved in the Albigensian crusades. It avoids the use of magic and mystery, far too common in modern writing about the Cathars, and instead presents complex, believable characters deserving of sympathy but flawed and inconsistent -- as we all are. This is without doubt the best book I have read on this fascinating episode in history.

Friday, November 29, 2013

The Last Crusades

There were to be four more crusades, but all of them were, each in their own way, dismal failures, mere echoes of the First and Third Crusades, and none could halt the inevitable end of the crusader kingdoms. Nevertheless, the Seventh Crusade was notable for being led by a man who would later be sainted, King Louis IX of France. I will deal with them all in this, my last entry, on the history of the crusades.

The Fifth Crusade: 1218-1221

The fate of the children sent a new shock through the courts of Europe, and a new attempt was made to rally political support for a military campaign to rescue Jerusalem. Pope Innocent III called officially for a new crusade in 1215, but the forces gathered were too weak for a direct assault. The leaders, none of whom were prominent, chose instead to put pressure on the Sultan of Egypt by laying siege to the Egyptian coastal city of Damietta. Although Damietta fell to the crusaders in 1219, this minor victory had no impact on the situation in the Holy Land. Two years later the crusaders withdrew.

The Sixth Crusade: 1228-1229
The Sixth Crusade was led by Emperor Friedrich II of Germany, however, the Emperor’s motives were largely secular. He laid claim to the title of King of Jerusalem by right of his wife, and wanted to establish his control over the Kingdom (such as it was) and furthermore exert his claim to overlordship of the Kingdom of Cyprus. He was, furthermore, under a ban of excommunication at the time he undertook the crusade, which made it difficult for the Knights Templar or the Knights Hospitaller to support him. In the end, he negotiated a treaty that returned Jerusalem and Bethlehem to the Christians for 10 years, but denied the Christians the right to fortify the city. This outraged the local nobility and the militant orders, who recognized that the Saracens would be able to retake Jerusalem at whim – and that they would be expected to bleed and die in the attempt to save it long after Friedrich had departed for Germany.

The Seventh Crusade: 1248-1254

As had been foreseen, Jerusalem was soon seized and sacked by Saracen forces (in 1244). That same year, King Louis IX of France was on his deathbed in Paris. With his family and barons gathered around to hear his last wishes, he had a vision of Jerusalem, and when he recovered seemingly miraculously from his illness, he was convinced that God had restored his health so that he could lead a new crusade to free Jerusalem. Not since the Third Crusade had there been a ruling monarch who took the cross out of religious fervor. Louis IX overcame the reluctance of his nobles and assembled a considerable force, said to have numbered 2,000 knights. He sailed for Outremer in 1248 from Aigues-Mortes in southern France, accompanied by his three younger brothers – the Counts of Artois, Poitiers, and Anjou – and by his queen.

After staging in Cyprus over the winter, Louis’ army embarked for Egypt and captured Damietta after a battle before the gates (but without a siege) in June 1249. The crusaders collected their forces in Damietta, and then in early 1250 started up the Nile with the objective of capturing Cairo. In February 1250 their advance was halted by a large Muslim force holding the fortified city of Mansourah. A rash attack by the vanguard, led by the Count of Artois, resulted in heavy losses, including the Count of Artois and nearly all the Knights Templar on the expedition. Meanwhile the Sultan’s forces had succeeded in cutting off the crusaders’ supplies from Cyprus and the Holy Land, and the French were soon suffering from hunger, dysentery, and scurvy.
In April, King Louis, along with all his surviving knights and men, was taken captive. The wounded were slaughtered, as were most of the priests and any of the captives considered too weak to make good slaves. The commoners were given the choice of conversion to Islam or death. Only the wealthy knights and noblemen were held for ransom.
Louis’ queen and consort, nine months pregnant and in Damietta with only a weak guard, rejected the advice to flee for her safety, wisely recognizing that Damietta was her husband’s most valuable bargaining chip. Within only a few weeks, a deal had been struck, by which Damietta was returned to the Sultan of Egypt in exchange for King Louis’ release, and a huge ransom in gold was paid by the King of France for all the rest of the surviving crusaders in Egyptian hands.
The Sultan with whom this deal was made, however, was murdered before Louis’ eyes before the deal could be implemented. The murderers of the Sultan were rebellious Mamlukes, technically slaves, who formed the backbone of the Sultan’s military leadership and his bodyguard. The Mamlukes cut the Sultan’s heart out of his chest in full view of the French king, then came aboard King Louis’ galley and held it out to him, demanding to know what he would give them for the heart of his “enemy.” Louis was (to his credit!) speechless. The Mamlukes next threatened the Christians with execution, and most of them confessed their sins to one another (because the priests had already been slaughtered by their captors), and prepared to die. In the morning, however, the Mamlukes consented to the agreed ransom. After Damietta was turned over and the first installment of the ransom paid, King Louis, his surviving brothers, and the most important noble captives – but not all the knights nor any of the commoners – were released.
King Louis – against the advice of his nobles – remained in the Holy Land for another four years, and engaged in sophisticated diplomatic maneuvering with the Sultan of Damascus (a descendant of Saladin, appalled by the Mamlukes’ murder of his cousin), the Mongols, and the Assassins. When his mother, left in France as his regent, died in 1254, however, he returned to France. By that time he had secured the release of at least 3,000 prisoners and had signed treaties that stabilized the fragile status quo in the Christian territories.
The Eighth Crusade: 1270
Although the Mongols captured Baghdad in 1258 and took Aleppo and Damascus in 1260, by 1265 the new Sultan of Egypt, the Mamluke general Baibars, had put them on the defensive, and he soon felt strong enough to focus his attention on eliminating the remaining Christian strongholds in the Holy Land. In 1265 he captured Caesarea and Arsuf. In 1266 he took Safed and Galilee. In 1268, Baibars took Jaffa, Antioch, and Sidon.
King Louis IX, although now 66 years old and very ill, “took the cross” again. He gathered an army and sailed for North Africa, where he laid siege to Tunis, but his army was soon decimated by sickness and demoralized by the death of King Louis himself on August 25, 1270. This was the ignominious end of the last official crusade.
Edward of England in the Holy Land: 1271-1272
Prince Edward of England, later Edward I, was in the Holy Land in 1271-1272, but despite tactical successes he had insufficient military strength to make a lasting impact on the imbalance of forces.
The End of Christian Palestine
Baibars’ successor, Kala’un, another Mamluke emir who murdered his way to power, was determined to eliminate the remaining Christian strongholds on the coast. Breaking a truce he had made with the Christians, he captured the Hospitaller fortress of Marquab in 1285. In 1289 he took the Christian city of Tripoli, slaughtering all the males and flooding the slave markets with the women and children. In 1291, the last Christian outpost, the city of Acre, was besieged and captured. The military orders withdrew from their remaining fortresses without a fight and re-established their headquarters on Cyprus. The Christian kingdoms established in the Holy Land by the First Crusade had been extinguished and there wound never again be an armed pilgrimage by Christians to recapture the sites of Christ’s passion.

Friday, November 22, 2013

The Children’s Crusade: 1212

The Fourth Crusade had exposed the corruption of the ruling elites, particularly the greed of the Italian city-states, and had patently failed to achieve the objective of freeing Jerusalem. Yet religious fervor was again on the rise. Genuine grass-roots passion for a new crusade took tragic shape in a movement to free Jerusalem by love rather than force.
A French shepherd boy, Stephan, claimed to have had a vision of Christ dressed as a pilgrim. Almost simultaneously, in Germany, a 10-year-old boy, Nicolas, had a similar vision. The concept of this crusade was that the sins of the earlier crusaders – and the very fact that they sought to use force to achieve their objective – made them unworthy of success. Only the innocent could free Jerusalem – or so the leaders and adherents of this new crusade believed. They expected Jesus to welcome them to his homeland and drive out the Saracen.
An estimated 20,000 children followed Nicolas’ call to free Jerusalem. Allegedly entire villages were emptied of children, and many believe that the legend of the Pied Piper of Hamelin has its roots in this crusade. Most of these children died crossing the Alps, and those who reached Rome were freed from their crusading vow by the Pope.
Meanwhile, Stephan had led his some ten thousand followers to Marseilles, only to discover that merchants and ship owners had no intention of transporting his child crusaders to Outremer free of charge. Eventually, however, some Genoese ship owners agreed to provide passage to the children – and promptly sold them to Arab slave traders.

Friday, November 15, 2013

The Hijacked Crusade

The achievements of the Third Crusade should never be under-estimated. The disaster at Hattin had destroyed the native Christian forces in the crusader kingdoms, and within months nothing was left of the Kingdom of Jerusalem except the city of Tyre. Yet by the end of the Third Crusade, the crusader kingdoms had been re-established, and indeed strengthened by the establishment of a Latin Kingdom on the island of Cyprus that provided the crusader kingdoms with a secure source of food and protection from Muslim fleets.
Castle of Kantara -- just one of the great fortresses on the island
Nevertheless, Jerusalem had been lost, and this inevitably altered the dynamics of crusading in the following century. Saladin had proved that the Christian kingdoms were vulnerable, and this made it easier for subsequent Muslim leaders to inspire to their followers with religious zeal. Meanwhile, in the West, crusaders and crusading had lost the aura of invincibility. Men increasingly doubted God’s Will when it came to the crusades. But the process was slow. Five more crusades – or six depending on how one counts – occurred before the last outpost of Outremer fell to the Saracens in 1291.

The first of these crusades was preached by Pope Innocent III already in 1198. Enthusiasm for this crusade was notably diminished compared to the three earlier ones. No king, nor any important nobleman, was prepared to lead it, and financing was so short that when the crusaders reached the port of embarkation, Venice, they were unable to pay for transport. The Venetians offered to provide the shipping for “free” – in exchange for crusader help in eliminating their (Christian) commercial rival, the city of Zara. Over the vehement protest of many participants -- and the Pope! -- and after much soul-searching, the crusade’s commanders agreed to do Venice’s dirty work, but they were no closer to Jerusalem.
At this juncture, a deposed Byzantine emperor sought the aid of the crusaders, alleging that he would be welcomed with jubilation by the people of Constantinople and offering huge rewards. The crusaders took Constantinople, only to find that the people did not welcome the deposed prince. A coup soon brought another emperor to power, one hostile to the crusaders, and the troops were unpaid and in worse straights than ever. At this juncture, Venice proposed taking the wealthy city of Constantinople on their own account, and on April 13, 1204, the erstwhile crusaders captured and sacked one of the greatest Christian city in the world.

Although this action was repudiated by the Pope and reviled by many devout Christians throughout Western Europe, the damage had been done. Although Western barons held control of Constantinople and much of what is modern Greece for 60 years, all hope of unity between the Eastern and Western churches was destroyed, and the strength of the Byzantine Empire as a bulwark against Islam was broken.

Friday, November 8, 2013

"Saladin and the Fall of the Kingdom of Jerusalem" by Stanely Lane-Poole: A Review

Saladin and the Fall of the Kingdom of Jerusalem by Stanley Lane-Poole attracted my attention since I am working on a novel about his adversary at Jerusalem, Balian d'Ibelin.
Unfortunately, the book turned out to be a eulogy rather than a biography. Here's my review:
In his introduction to this book, Lane-Poole claims that “no complete Life of the celebrated adversary of Richard Coeur de Lion” is available in the English language. This may have been true when it was first published at the end of the 19th century, but it is no longer the case. Nevertheless, the price (just $.99 cents) seduced me. Before others make the same mistake, here's my assessment.
While understanding that every biographer is to some extent the captive of his sources, this book is far more than biased: it singularly fails to provide the analysis and context so vital to a good biography. Furthermore, it is based on two false assumptions. First, that Muslims have the right to all territory that was ever ruled by Muslims, and blindly denies both Jews and Christians any right to the territories that was theirs long before the Muslim invasion of the 7th Century AD. Second and more important, Lane-Poole ignores the fact the population of these lands – even at the end of the 12 century – was not predominantly Muslim, much less Sunni Muslim.  The population was completely fragmented into Jews, Greek Orthodox Christians, Armenian Christians, Jacobites, Maronites,  Coptic Christians, Nestorians and Shiia Muslims as well as Sunni Muslims. The latter distinction is very important because Shiite leaders, both the Fatimid Caliphate and the Assassins, made repeated pacts and alliances with the Christians to fight the Sunnis – and Saladin himself -- and the Shiite population in Palestine probably opposed Saladin at least as much if not more than the Jews and some of the Christians.  (For more information on the population of the crusader kingdoms and their relations to their rulers I recommend either Malcolm Barber’s book, “The Crusader States,” or to Professor Kenneth Harl’s excellent series of lectures in The Great Courses series.)
Lane-Poole, however, is clearly not interested in the facts.  Instead, he slavishly follows his pro-Saladin sources without standing back to question or balance these sources with information drawn from other chronicles and historians or – indeed – simple common sense.  For example, he repeatedly mentions that Christian clerics were prepared to absolve Christian leaders of oaths made to non-Christians – but does not once mention that Muslim clerics told their fighting men exactly the same thing only in reverse: that they need not keep their word with non-Muslims.  Likewise, it gets very tedious to have every tactical defeat of a Christian force portrayed as a “humiliating retreat” with the Christians departing “with their tails between their legs” – in one case this was after just one week in the field! -- while every set back Saladin suffered (and he sometimes spent many months in pointless sieges!) is explained away as a wise decision not to pursue a time-consuming campaign or the need to let his troops go home to see their families.  Indeed, Lane-Poole mentions several times how attached Muslims are to their wives and children, but does not credit Christians with the same feelings.  As for Saladin’s defeat at Mont Gisard, where Saladin’s army of 20,000 was put to flight by roughly 500 knights led by a 16 year old king suffering from leprosy, it is glossed over as “inexplicable” and takes up less than two pages of the narrative. A real biographer would have been intent on explaining both how it happened – and what Saladin learned from it; as a historian, the latter point is particularly important as such a bitter defeat (Saladin had to escape on a pack camel and lost almost his entire body guard) surely left its scars on his psyche.
It is likewise the mark of a dilettante rather than a historian to claim that Richard I “was honeymooning” on Cyprus, when in fact he was conquering the island from a tyrant and by so doing secured the lines-of-communication and a breadbasket for the crusader states for the next hundred years. Indeed, the Latin Kingdom of Cyprus outlived the crusader kingdoms by more than 200 years.
The book is also littered with gratuitous and unfounded insults as well. For example, Lane-Poole calls the sailors of the age “timid” because they did not venture into the Mediterranean in winter.  Apparently, Lane-Poole has never seen the fury of Mediterranean winter storms much less considered what it would be like to face them in a fragile wooden vessel without a weather channels, radar, navigational equipment, radio communications etc. etc.
Lane-Poole’s bias is so extreme it is even applied to even little things such as the way the “wooden [sic] bells of the Christians harshly clashed [wood?] instead of the sweet and solemn chant of the muezzin.” (As someone who hears the call to prayers five times a day, I beg to differ with that utterly subjective statement!)
About four fifths of the way through the book, Lane-Poole casts aside all pretense of being a historian and biographer and declares his partisanship in the statement: “But the students of the Crusades do not need to be told that in the struggle of civilization, magnanimity, toleration, real chivalry, and gentle culture were all on the side of the Saracens.” (Chapter XIX) Now, students of the crusade know just the opposite: that there were atrocities, betrayals, cruelties, excesses and also magnanimity, generosity, courage and gentle culture on BOTH sides.
The greatest weakness of this book is that by its excessive bias it detracts from its hero.  Saladin deserves our respect because he was exceptional, not because he was perfect. Saladin stands out as an impressive and attractive example of integrity, tenacity, leadership, piety and generosity – particularly when compared to his successors, such as Baibars. He was undoubtedly a more chivalrous figure than Guy de Lusignan, and even Christians despised and repudiated butchers like Ranaud de Chatillon. But Saladin deserves a real biography that attempts to explain him as a statesmen and a military leader; this book is not it, but I'll keep looking.


Friday, November 1, 2013

The Second and Third Crusades

After the "excursion" of the last six weeks to the Languedoc and the Albigesian Crusades, I'd like to return to my series of essays on the Crusades to the Holy Land. I left off on September 13 with a description of the Crusader Kingdoms.

Here the Crusader Castle of Kerak
The Second Crusade,1146 - 1148

The crusader kingdoms were a remarkable achievement that astonished the contemporary world. But less than a half century after the re-capture of Jerusalem by Christian forces, the new Christian kingdoms suffered their first major set back. In 1144, the Principality of Edessa was captured by Saracen forces. By 1146, the Principality of Antioch was also threatened, and an appeal went out – not to the Byzantine Emperor, who was deemed untrustworthy -- but to the West.  The lords of "Outremer" expected more help from the kingdoms that had taken Jerusalem in 1099 than the Greeks in large part because the ruling elite retained cultural, linguistic and family ties with the West, particularly France.
This call for help elicited an enthusiastic response. This time even kings were persuaded to take the cross (i.e., the crusader vow): namely, the King of France, King Louis VII, and the Holy Roman Emperor, Konrad III. Furthermore, Bernard of Clairvaux, one of the most respected clerics of the age and a gifted orator, preached passionately in favor of the new crusade.

Konrad raised about 80,000 troops and set out first, but his army was so decimated by cavalry attacks, heat, and hunger after crossing into territory held by the Seljuks that he returned with what remained of his army (approximately 7,000 men) to Nicaea to await the arrival of the French. Louis’ army (including his wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine) advanced slowly but with less significant losses, reaching Jerusalem in the spring of 1148 with an estimated 50,000 men.
There the fateful decision was made to try to seize Damascus, presumably to humiliate or weaken the enemy. Although a siege was established, news that a strong relief army was on the way spread so much panic among the crusaders that the crusading army disintegrated. This humiliating failure did profound damage to the support for crusades in the West, because it demonstrated that “God” was not inherently on the side of the crusaders and that victory was not assured. It also restored the confidence of the Saracen leaders.

The Fall of Jerusalem: Crisis in Christian Palestine
Between 1167 and 1174, a charismatic and gifted Kurdish general, Salah ad Din (Saladin), secured succession to the title of Sultan of Egypt and defeated his rivals for the title of Sultan of Syria. With the united forces of these two powerful states, Saladin attacked the Christian Kingdom of Jerusalem in 1177 and tried to capture Jerusalem. Although Saladin was soundly defeated before reaching Jerusalem by forces under King Baldwin IV of Jerusalem, who forced Saladin to retreat, the Christian army was not strong enough to pursue Saladin or deliver a decisive blow against the Kurdish leader. An uneasy truce ensued, while Saladin turned his attention to his Muslim rivals, captured Aleppo, and moved his capital to Damascus. In 1185, King Baldwin IV of Jerusalem died, and the throne passed, after the death of his 8-year-old nephew a few months later, to his sister Sibylla and her husband, Guy de Lusignan, a French noblemen.
The violation of a 4-year truce by Reynold of Chatillon, a French adventurer who had married the widow of a powerful baron of Outremer,  led to a full-scale war between the Kingdom of Jerusalem and Saladin in 1187. Saladin invaded with the largest force he had ever assembled, and captured the city of Tiberias in just one hour.  Guy de Lusignan called up his entire feudal host – roughly 1,200 knights, 2,000 native riders, and 10,000 foot soldiers. This Christian host advanced to meet Saladin’s army, but due to a series of tactical errors was decisively defeated at the Battle of Hattin on July 4, 1187. King Guy and many other leading barons were taken prisoner, and – more important psychologically – a relic believed to be the cross on which Christ was crucified, the True Cross, fell into Muslim hands.
Saladin then proceeded to capture one after another of the Christian cities and fortresses, and took Jerusalem itself on October 2, 1187. Saladin – unlike the crusaders of the First Crusade – spared the lives of the citizens (in exchange for a ransom) and did not destroy the churches. Within days after he had taken control of Jerusalem, it was safe for Christian pilgrims to return to the city.

The Third Crusade: 1189-1192

The loss of Jerusalem and the True Cross shocked the West. Not only did the Pope call for a new crusade to recapture Jerusalem, but the Holy Roman Emperor, Friedrich I (Barbarossa), King Philip II Augustus of France, and King Henry II of England took crusading vows. Again, the Germans campaigned independently. They rapidly crossed the Balkans and modern Turkey, but Friedrich I drowned crossing a river and his army disintegrated. Meanwhile, Henry II of England had died and been succeeded by his son, Richard I “the Lionhearted.” Richard I was passionately committed to the crusade, and he and King Philip II agreed to campaign jointly, making the radical – and hugely expensive – decision to take their armies to the Holy Land by sea.
In 1190 Richard and Philip reached Sicily, expecting to join forces there with troops supplied by Richard’s brother-in-law, the King of Sicily. Unfortunately, William II of Sicily had died, but he had provided financial support and more ships for the crusade in his testament. Meanwhile, Richard’s and Philip’s armies and fleets collected in Sicily, where they wintered – not without the usual conflicts and tensions between expeditionary troops and local inhabitants. More ominous was the increasing hostility between Richard and Philip. By the spring of 1191, the tension between the two Christian monarchs was so intense that Philip sailed without Richard.  When Richard’s fleet put to sea, it was further delayed by storms, part of which was forced ashore on the Greek island of Cyprus. Richard captured this strategically significant base for crusader operations in just six weeks (I’ll write more about this in a later entry), but it delayed his arrival in the Holy Land until June.

At this point, King Guy (released by Saladin) and what forces he could rally was laying siege to the city of Acre, held by Saracen forces. Just a month after Richard’s arrival, on July 12, Acre capitulated to the Christians, and Philip of France returned to the West, leaving Richard of England in sole command of the Christian forces. Richard promptly moved out to capture Jerusalem, taking control again of Haifa and Caesarea, and confronted Saladin’s army at Arsuf. Richard defeated Saladin in the battle, but Saladin was able to rapidly rally his forces, blocking the route to Jerusalem. Richard therefore proceeded to retake Jaffa and Ascalon.
In 1192 Richard again gathered his forces for an assault on Jerusalem, but as soon as his forces moved inland, Saladin seized Jaffa behind Richard’s back. Richard returned and recaptured Jaffa, but had to face the fact that he did not have sufficient force to hold the coastal cities and recapture Jerusalem.
On September 2, 1192, Richard signed a peace treaty with Saladin, one which left the coastal cities in Christian hands and guaranteed Christians the right to pilgrimage in Jerusalem and other holy cities (e.g., Nazareth) still in Muslim hands – for 5 years. Saladin died the following year.

Friday, October 25, 2013

"The Disinherited" -- Excerpt 4

On October 1, I released "The Disinherited," a novella set in the Languedoc during the Albigensian crusades. It is one of my ten Tales of Chivalry, and part of the sub-series "Tales from the Languedoc." It is, however, a stand-alone novel that can be read without reference to the other books in the series, although some characters overlap.

Here is a fourth excerpt:

Lady Adèle’s screeching voice woke Julienne. From a fitful sleep on her pallet, she roused herself in the pitch dark of the tower room. “Julienne! Julienne!” the old woman screamed, as if she were being assaulted.
          Julienne flung back her covers with a sigh and stood. “I’m coming, my lady.” The tiles were cold under her bare feet. She looked for her slippers, but the old woman was howling more furiously. “Julienne! Come this instant!”
          Julienne abandoned the search for her slippers and went to the high bedside. “My lady?”
          “The bedpan, you stupid girl! Why else should I wake you in the middle of the night?”
          There was no point remarking that she often woke Julienne because she wanted something else: a potion to ease the pain in her crippled legs, or something to quench her thirst, or even a snack. Re­signedly, Julienne took the bedpan from under the bed and held it under the old woman. When she was finished, she emptied it in the chamber pot, washed her hands in the bowl beside the garderobe, and then returned to her thin pallet.
          She listened to the old woman snoring and felt the light of dawn crawl slowly up the eastern sky. Another day was about to begin. It would soon be sixteen years since she had come here. Sixteen years of sleeping on the floor of this woman’s chamber. Sixteen years at her beck and call. Sixteen years of servitude …
          Julienne felt deadly tired. She wished she could go back to sleep, but no matter how she tossed or turned, she found herself on edge and strangely nervous. The stale air in the chamber oppressed her, and she decided that fresh air would do her good. Stealthily she rose and dressed herself. She then took her cloak off a hook on the wall and slipped her feet into soft leather shoes. Carefully she pulled the door open and started down the spiral stairs, past the chamber where their curious guest slept, and out onto the wall walk.
          The sky was now decidedly gray, even faintly pink in the east, and around her the towers stood out in sharp silhouette. Then a part of the wall before her moved and she gave a cry of alarm.
          “Don’t worry; I only rape women after noon.”
          The hair stood up on the back of her neck, and she turned to flee back into the hall.
          “I’m sorry.” His voice followed her, and she stopped and turned back.
          “Why do you say things like that?”
          She could see him shrug. “I only say out loud what people are thinking.”
          “I was just startled. I didn’t even know it was you.”
          Gerard considered her. Her hair had come half out of its braid and hung in soft loops beside her face, with one wisp falling across her cheek. With surprise, he registered that she was not so bad-looking after all. Yes, her nose was pointed and her lips thin, but she had wide-set eyes under arching eyebrows, high cheekbones, and a lofty forehead. “You too are from the Languedoc,” he said at last. “I hadn’t expected that. I thought Thury would have his own people around him, but almost everyone is from hereabouts, it seems.”
          “I am from the Minervois,” Julienne found herself saying. How long had it been since she admitted that, remembered that?
          She saw his head jerk. “Were you at Minerve?”
          She swallowed. Oh, God, why had she started this? Her heart was beating against her chest, and now she remembered she had had the nightmare again. That was why she had slept so poorly. “Yes,” she managed.
          “You were there,” Gerard asked in horror, “during the siege? But you must have been a child.”
          “I was nine.”
          Gerard cursed himself. How could he have mocked her with a threat of rape? “You weren’t―molested―surely not even they―” He couldn’t finish. He knew it had happened. He knew it had happened more than once. But Minerve had surrendered. Its citizens should have been immune ….
          “No,” she managed tightly. “I was―lucky.”

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Friday, October 18, 2013

"The Disinherited" -- Excerpt 3

On October 1, I released "The Disinherited," a novella set in the Languedoc during the Albigensian crusades. It is one of my ten Tales of Chivalry, and part of the sub-series "Tales from the Languedoc." It is, however, a stand-alone novel that can be read without reference to the other books in the series, although some characters overlap.

Here is a third excerpt:

Lady Celiste directed her attention to Gerard with a flush of eagerness, but her expectations for a dashing knight-errant were instantly disappointed. Gerard was too old, too weathered, and too poor to fulfill her fantasies. As quickly as her interest had flared, it fizzled out. She politely held out her hand for Gerard to kiss and declared with pointed distance, “We are very grateful for the service you rendered our beloved aunt. You can be assured of our gratitude.”
          Gerard’s eyebrows twitched at the contrast between her youth and her tone. Had he been younger, he might have thought her beauty entitled her to so much hauteur, or he might not have noticed it at all in his infatuation. As it was, he found her lofty arrogance a tarnish to her beauty.
          Already Lady Celiste had transferred her attention to Father Florio, who was watching her with benignly critical eyes. “You must be Father Florio. In the last three years Aunt Guilemette has not written a single letter in which she has not praised you, Father. What a pleasure it is to welcome you at last under my humble roof.”
          The word “humble” brought another raised eyebrow from Gerard, who at once glanced around the room, taking in the luxurious furnishings, the hooded fireplace and ribbed vaulting―all plastered and painted exquisitely. As he lowered his gaze his eyes met those of the waiting woman, and he had the uncomfortable feeling she could read his thoughts.
          Lady Celiste had taken Father Florio’s hand between her own, and then with an elegant gesture of her left hand she indicated they should sit themselves in the window seat. “Julienne!” she remem­bered to call over her shoulder to the waiting woman. “See to Sir―” She could not remember his name. “The knight. He can get something to eat in the kitchens and sleep in the squire’s chamber. My husband isn’t due back for another fortnight. Tomorrow I can see about finding him something suitable for his troubles.”
          “My lady.” Julienne dipped a courtesy to her mistress, and then with a forced smile indicated the doorway to Gerard.
          Gerard did not respond at first. He had, despite his notably ignominious career, rarely been treated so contemptuously. He noticed that Father Florio stiffened and even Guilemette seemed on the brink of protesting, but Lady Celiste was helping her up into the window seat and chattering about something. Father Florio looked back at Gerard, and his expression was both apologetic and promising. “I will speak to the Lady Celiste―” he started.
          “Don’t bother!” Gerard snapped, and he was gone.
He clattered down the stairs without waiting for the waiting woman. He descended past the audience chamber down to the ground floor. He strode across the armory, on whose naked walls crossbows, lances, and halberds hung. He ignored the rows of saddles, the shelves with helms, and the quarrels stacked in bundles, and strode purposefully into the cellar under the hall. Here he found himself in a barrel-vaulted chamber with unglazed tiles, and directly beside him was the large, square cistern. Beyond the cistern was a smaller, narrower brick basin built over a cavern in which a fire could be built, and then a drain led from this basin into a pool. It was dry and empty at the moment, but the waiting woman had managed to catch up with him at last, and Gerard announced to her, pointing to the pool: “I want a hot bath. Can you see to that or shall I lay the fire myself?”
          “We will get one of the scullery boys to heat the water for you,” she responded to his apparent anger with stiff dignity.
          “Good.” He continued straight through the wine cellar, past the smoke and salt rooms, into the pantry, and then into the kitchens. In pantry and kitchen, astonished assistant cooks and scullery boys looked up and gaped at this strange knight who had burst in among them. The main meal of the day was over. One boy was busy separating the leftovers into basins (one for reuse, one for the poor, and one for the dogs), while two others were busy washing the plates and cutlery from the high table in a deep stone basin. A cook was gutting and decapitating pike, apparently in preparation for some future meal, and an assistant was tossing bones and other ingredients into a steaming pot over the fire, evidently a soup of some sort.
          Gerard’s eyes professionally scanned the shelves and tables, locating a haunch of pork. Pointing, he said to Julienne, “I’ll have some of that pork, fresh bread, and some of your Abbey de Valmagne rosé―I saw some casks of it as I passed through.”
          Then he returned to the pantry as Julienne quietly gave the orders to make up a platter of pork, bread―and the Valmagne―for the visitor. She also gave instruc­tions to prepare a hot bath. When she caught up with the knight, she was appalled to find he had paused at the foot of the stairway leading up to the hall overhead and taken a goblet from the tray of washed objects waiting to be returned to their shelf. It was a rare gold goblet inlaid with jewels, and he was turning it around in his hand, studying it with an intensity that suggested he was apprais­ing its worth.
          The suppressed amusement with which she had followed him up to now dissipated instantly. In a sharp, piercing voice she called, “Put that back where you found it, sir! You have been promised payment and need not sink to stealing.”
          Gerard swung around on her, all the pent-up anger of the last hour smoldering in his face. “I don’t stoop to petty thievery. If I want something, I smash the place down and take the lot!” With a flick of his wrist he sent the goblet hurling through the air towards her. She gasped in surprise and flung out her hands to prevent it from smashing to the flagstone floor.
          “My God!” she exclaimed as she caught the precious goblet. “Where did a barbarian like you learn the langue d’oc so well?”
          “Don’t kid yourself that we’re any better than they are! If the Pope had offered us all the lands we could grab north of the Loire, we’d have been just as eager and just as thorough.”
          He left her gasping for an answer and started pounding up the spiral stairs. She had no choice but to follow him, carefully replacing the goblet on the tray as she passed.


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Friday, October 11, 2013

"The Disinherited" - Excerpt 2

On October 1, I released "The Disinherited," a novella set in the Languedoc during the Albigensian crusades. It is one of my ten Tales of Chivalry, and part of the sub-series "Tales from the Languedoc." It is, however, a stand-alone novel that can be read without reference to the other books in the series, although some characters overlap.

Here is a second excerpt:

The monk reemerged at the head of the stairs, accompanied by a bent old man leaning on the arm of a gaunt Templar. The Templar was wearing a loose, white, Templar habit belted with a red cord at the waist, rather than armor and surcoat, but there could be no mistaking the soldier beneath the soft robes. Although he paced his normally long strides to the shuffling of the invalid, his sharp eyes, which had so often squinted against the sun that they seemed permanently puckered, rushed ahead to the transept in anticipation.
  Their eyes met, and Gerard felt his heart leap. His blood flooded his veins with warmth. The flush that flooded his brother’s face suggested that he, too, was not unmoved by this first meeting in sixteen years.
  Sixteen years, Gerard counted backwards, wondering if he had aged in that time as much as Everard had. But he must have, considering all that he had gone through. Absently he ran his hand through his hair, remembering that it too was streaked with gray, just as his brother’s once coal-black beard was now softened to salt-and-pepper.
  He stood staring at his brother as he brought their father carefully down the steep stairs, but he did not see him. Instead he was remembering the young man of sixteen years ago. Then, Everard had been lean but not gaunt, tanned but not leathery as now. He had worn the armor, surcoat, and mantle of the Temple that day, his long-fingered hand resting on the simple black belt that held the standard-issue Templar longsword. And they had fought bitterly.
Gerard could still remember vividly the insults and recriminations they had flung at one another that day―insults that had festered and ached like dirty wounds long, long after other, more recent wounds had healed and been forgotten. By contrast, all his own words seemed to have glanced off Everard’s unshakable faith and self-assurance like harmless, childish blows. That was the worst of it, that Everard had been right. Why did he blame him for being right? What weight did those hot, truthful words have against twenty years of sharing the same bed, the same board, the same companions, adventures, and memories?
Everard had reached the bottom of the stairs, and Gerard could read his own thoughts in his brother’s eyes. Two more strides and they could embrace again. But they had forgotten the old man.
The old man drew up abruptly, and the iron grip on his younger son’s arm made the Templar halt with him. Everard had to break eye contact with his brother and look questioningly at his father.
  Father Theobald was bent nearly in two from years of hunching over his books. He no longer needed to shave his tonsure, because he had gone bald except for a fringe of thin, wispy white hair that fell about his ears and on the back of his neck. He had the promi­nent, beak-like nose that Everard had inherited, and thin, bloodless lips. His skin was flecked with brown age marks and sagged in great sacks from his chin and on his throat. But the eyes that squinted up at Gerard were sharp and black―like Everard’s.
Though he trembled with the effort, he raised his hand and pointed a finger at Gerard. “You are my scourge and my damnation! You, with your Godlessness, wantonness, and violence! For a lifetime you have been the instrument of God’s wrath―punishing me for the sin in which you were sired! In the Name of His Great Mercy, can you not cease?” The agony and the anger were so inter­twined, it was impossible to separate them. Together they gave the old man’s voice both strength and pathos. His cry flew up to the vaulted ceiling overhead and cascaded back upon them with lingering reverberations.
  Gerard stared at the bent old man, sensing his brother’s embarrassment in his averted face. He had been told this was his father, and the resemblance to Everard confirmed it, but what did his father know of him? He had last seen him when he was just a few days old, a whimpering infant on a borrowed breast. He had never been there when as a boy Gerard had been lost, lonely, or confused. He had not watched him grow to manhood, had not taught him his letters or his catechism―much less taught him to ride and hunt and fight or presented him with the spurs of knighthood. His father had not once―in all his forty-three years―even sent him a letter inquiring after his health and well-being. Gerard knew that his lifestyle invited criticism, but what right did this stranger have to voice it? “What do you know of me?” he demanded, in a tone of voice that sounded both haughty and scornful.
  “You think I do not know of your misdeeds?” the old man retorted in an outraged croak. “There has not been a single year in which I was not tormented by news of your misdeeds. First it was my own brother who reported to me faithfully all your impudence and transgres­sions. After that I had my network of informers―my fellow Cistercians, Dominic Guzman, as long as he lived, and papal emissaries. You were my scourge, and I was determined to use it regularly for the benefit of my soul. But there has to be an end. I am dying.” His voice, which had started strong and accusatory, ended as a whimper.
  Gerard answered with a shrug that made his brother wince. “You never tried to guide my life before; what right have you to intervene now?”
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