Helena Schrader's Historical Fiction

Dr. Helena P. Schrader is the winner of more than 20 literary accolades. For a complete list of her awards see: http://helenapschrader.com

For readers tired of clichés and cartoons, award-winning novelist Helena P. Schrader offers nuanced insight to 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, March 25, 2016

Cast of Characters 7: The Better King - Aimery de Lusignan

Today I continue my series of short biographies featuring the historical figures who play a role in my biographical novels of Balian d'Ibelin. Two weeks ago, I introduced readers to Guy de Lusignan's elder brother and left him in a Saracen dungeon. Today, I look at the second half of Aimery de Lusignan's life, in which he demonstrated greater competence than his more famous younger brother Guy.

Castle of St. Hilarion on Cyprus

After being rejected as King of Jerusalem by all the barons of the kingdom in 1192, Guy de Lusignan purchased the island of Cyprus from Richard of England and tried to establish Frankish/Latin rule over the Byzantine/Orthodox citizens of the island. Less than two years later he was dead. Notably, he designated his elder brother Geoffrey — not Aimery who had been with him so long and through so much with him — as his heir. The record is far too sketchy to know why, but there may have been tension between the brothers all along. Aimery’s support of his brother, as I noted before, was not necessarily indicative of genuine approval of his policies or actions but rather the imperative of family loyalty and self-interest. Fortunately for Aimery, Geoffrey de Lusignan had no interest in Cyprus. So Guy’s vassals chose Aimery as his successor.

Within three years of becoming the Latin/crusader overlord of Cyprus, Aimery had established peace on the island, set up a Latin ecclesiastical hierarchy alongside the Orthodox one (evidently following the model in the earlier crusader states that allowed the inhabitants to follow their own faith but giving the Latin clergy valuable properties), and raised Cyprus to the status of a kingdom. Thus while Guy de Lusignan was “Lord of Cyprus,” Aimery was “King of Cyprus.” He obtained the dignity of kingship by offering to do homage for Cyprus to the Holy Roman Emperor. This was to cause trouble for his successors and lead to a bloody civil war a generation later, but Cyprus remained a Kingdom for nearly 300 years — ruled by the direct descendants of Aimery de Lusignan.

The Abbey of Bellapais built during the Lusignan rule of Cyprus
Nor was that the end of Aimery's astonishing life. In 1197, his first wife, Eschiva d’Ibelin died having given him six children, three of whom had lived to adulthood. The eldest son of this marriage, Hugh, was now his heir apparent in Cyprus and would in due time inherit the Kingdom. When Henry of Champagne died in the same year, however, Aimery was selected as fourth husband for Isabella of Jerusalem, allegedly with the “almost unanimous” support of the barons and bishops of the rump-state.

Aimery promptly used his Cypriot resources to help strengthen his new kingdom. In the same year that he assumed the crown of the kingdom his brother had squandered, he recaptured the key coastal city of Beirut from Saracen control with the support of German crusaders as well as his Cypriot forces. The following year, he concluded a five year truce with the Saracens that gave the kingdom much needed breathing space to retrench and consolidate itself. It was also the year in which he named Balian d’Ibelin’s son John to his old position of Constable of Jerusalem — an exceptional mark of favor for a young man not yet 20 and one presumes more a gesture of gratitude to his father than a mark of confidence in one so young.  (John was later to swap the constableship for the lordship of Beirut.)

In 1204, with the Fourth Crusade diverted to Constantinople, Aimery concluded a new truce with a six year duration. This gave his kingdom the peace it needed for economic recovery, but he did not live long enough to enjoy it.  In February 1205, his son by Queen Isabella — the only son she ever had — died, and Aimery followed him to the grave within two months, Isabella shortly afterwards.  The crown of Cyprus passed to his son Hugh, and the crown of Jerusalem to Isabella’s oldest surviving child, her daughter Maria of Montferrat.

Aimery de Lusignan was King of Cyprus for eleven years and King of Jerusalem for eight — twice as long as his brother Guy had been. To both kingdoms he had brought stability and peace. His reign was looked back upon by subsequent generations as one of justice and prosperity — in both kingdoms.

Aimery de Lusignan plays a major role in my three part biography of Balian d'Ibelin:

My three-part biographical novel is dedicated to bringing Balian, his age and society "back to life."

 Buy now!                                       Buy now!                                   Buy now (paperback)
                                                                                                                or Kindle!

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Chanticleer Review of "Defender of Jerusalem"

A Review by Chanticleer:

Defender of Jerusalem is the second novel in Helena P. Schrader’s historical series about Balian d’Ibelin, a twelfth century crusader who rose from his position as a landless second son to become one of the most powerful figures in the kingdom of Jerusalem.  In Schrader’s previous novel about Balian d’Ibelin, readers watched his young adulthood and rise to power at the side of the young leper king, Baldwin.

Now the Baron of Ibelin, a nobleman in his own right, Balian is married to Maria Comnena, the dowager Queen of Jerusalem and King Baldwin’s stepmother.  Balian proves to be a dichotic leader as he was a forged-in-battle warrior and a supremely capable diplomat.

Thus, Schrader’s story becomes one about Balian’s family life, focusing more on an ensemble cast of characters than just on Balian himself. As the Christian kingdom of Jerusalem struggles to maintain order and fend off the advances of Salah-ah-Din’s forces, the characters are scattered throughout the kingdom.  This makes for a more fragmented plotline than in the previous installment, thereby reflecting the internal and external political conflicts of the time along with the clash of cultures.  There are several time jumps and switches in perspective throughout the work that may make it feel less cohesive, but they add to the authenticity of the era’s fractured communications.

The story at the center of the novel is King Baldwin’s desire to find an appropriate heir before his inevitable demise due to leprosy. With no clear path of succession, there is much court intrigue around this decision.  It often comes down to the women in his life to influence his decisions or make their own way, and it is here that Schrader’s work really shines.

The author presents her female characters, notably Maria, her daughter Isabella, and Balian’s niece, Eschiva, as powerful, independent women unwilling to let the constraints of the time keep them from helping the kingdom. Maria even commands troops and keeps her people safe during a siege.  These vibrant women make what could be a strictly dry, historical narrative leap off the page.

Schrader clearly knows her history, so devotees of medieval history will enjoy her occasional indulgence in the details of her research, focusing on troop movements or treaties rather than the characters.  Schrader effectively strikes a balance between the need for historical accuracy and readability in the dialogue.  Nevertheless, her writing deftly portrays the gamut of emotions of this turbulent time.

Defender of Jerusalem is a well written biographical novel about a little known hero of the Crusades, Balian d’Ibelin, as he attempts to maintain power and order in the face of invading armies and the internal conflicts within Christendom.

Schrader brings interesting and vivid historical characters to life by adding emotion and valor to her storytelling. Overall, readers who enjoy learning about the intricacies of the Crusades and prefer serious and well-researched historical fiction will relish Schrader’s novels.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Cast of Characters 6: The Loyal Brother Aimery de Lusignan

Today I continue my series of short biographies featuring the historical figures who play a role in my biographical novels of Balian d'Ibelin. Today I focus on Guy de Lusignan's loyal -- and more competent elder brother Aimery.

Guy de Lusignan is rightly remembered as the king who lost the Kingdom of Jerusalem by his incompetent leadership in 1186-1187. He has accordingly received considerable attention in both serious histories of the crusader kingdoms and fictional treatments of the period. But Guy was not the only Lusignan to make his fortune in the Holy Land. On the contrary, he was following in the footsteps of his older brother Aimery, and it was Aimery, not the feckless Guy, who founded a dynasty. 

Aimery de Lusignan was the third son of a Poitevan nobleman, Hugh VIII de Lusignan, a troublesome vassal of the Dukes of Aquitaine. The Lusignans had been lords of Lusignan since the early 10th century and Counts of La Marche since 1091, but in 1166 they were in revolt against their liege lord (Eleanor of Aquitaine) and siding with the Capets against the Plantagenets. It was in this period that the “Lusignan brothers” — some sources say Geoffrey and Guy, the second and fourth sons of Hugh VIII — attacked and killed the Earl of Salisbury while he was escorting Eleanor of Aquitaine. Since Salisbury was unarmed, unarmored and stabbed in the back, it was a notorious act, which according to some sources forced Guy to flee the continent as persona non grata. Curiously, Aimery’s name is never linked to the murder of Salisbury, yet it was Aimery who first went to the Holy Land.

Aimery was following in the footsteps of generations of young noblemen who sought their fortune “overseas” — in Outremer. In fact, his own family had a distinguished crusading record. Hugh VI had come to the Holy Land in 1101 and died at the Battle of Ramla a year later.  Hugh VII took part in Louis VII’s Second Crusade, and Aimery’s own father, Hugh VIII, had made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land in 1163, taken part in the Battle of Harim, been captured by Nur ad-Din and died in a Saracen prison. In short, Aimery would have heard a great deal about the Kingdom of Jerusalem from his family and their retainers long before he ever set out. Very likely, there were also many men in Outremer who would have remembered his father and grandfather.

Sometime before 1174, Aimery de Lusignan arrived in the Kingdom of Jerusalem and, like his father before him, promptly got himself captured by the Saracens. Fortunately for him, King Amalric was prepared to pay his ransom.  This suggests either that the King felt responsible for the young nobleman – or perhaps just badly that his father had died in prison.  It also suggests that Aimery was an agreeable enough young man not to have alienated the knights and barons of Jerusalem.

This assessment is reinforced by the fact that, despite being a younger (third) son, he succeeded in marrying into one of the most important and influential of the local baronial families, the Ibelins.  This was not the usual case of a Western adventurer seducing a widow as his bride, Eschiva, was probably only a young girl at the time, and the marriage was concluded with her father.  Furthermore, although at the time of this marriage Eschiva d’Ibelin was not yet her father’s heir, the marriage would have been considered advantageous nevertheless as it made Aimery brother-in-law to the Baron of Ramla, Ibelin and Mirabel, a combined barony holding 80-some knights’ fiefs.

By 1180, Aimery had been named to the immensely powerful and important post of Constable of Jerusalem, succeeding the important local baron Humphrey II of Toron, who had died of wounds received at the Battle on the Litani in 1179. This promotion occurred in the reign of Baldwin IV and according to the Chronicle of Ernoul it was attributable to the influence of Agnes de Courtney, the king’s mother, with whom — again according to Ernoul — Aimery was having an affair. If Aimery was married to a child, there would have been nothing unusual about him having an affair with an older woman, but this was also the year in which his younger brother Guy arrived in Jerusalem and married Princess Sibylla in great haste.

There are a number of versions of Guy’s marriage to Sibylla, one of which includes Aimery traveling to France to fetch Guy for the explicit purpose of seducing Sibylla. This can be dismissed as nonsense simply because at the time of Aimery’s alleged trip, Sibylla was betrothed to the Duke of Burgundy — not the kind of man a Lusignan would risk alienating. Alternatively, Baldwin IV married his sister to the wholly unsuitable Guy to forestall a coup d’etat planned by Raymond of Tripoli, Bohemond of Antioch and Baldwin d’Ibelin -- an equally implausible thesis, in my opinion, because it imputes treasonous intentions to three barons who repeatedly risked their lives as vassals of Baldwin IV. Furthermore, they had many other opportunities to conduct a “coup,” if that had been their intention, but did not. The most plausible explanation of Sibylla’s wedding is quite simply that she fell in love with/was seduced by Guy, and her brother King Baldwin didn’t have the heart to punish her and her lover. Instead, he let them marry despite the fact that their marriage alienated many of his vassals. With his brother Guy married to the heir to the throne, however, Aimery’s future appeared secure, and it is most probable that he was appointed constable due to his influence of his brother rather than that of Agnes de Courtney — whether he was her lover or not.

Regardless of how he came to the post, Aimery acquitted himself well as constable. He would have been the effective commander of the feudal army at the Battle of La Forbelet, because Baldwin IV was by this time confined to a litter. In short, although the King was “in command” and making the strategic decisions, it was his Constable, Aimery de Lusignan, that rode with the royal banner and actually led, rallied, held, inspired and corralled the royal forces. We know he did this effectively because the Christians forced the Saracens to withdraw after La Forbelet — and any failure on Aimery’s part would have been duly noted.

One year later, during Saladin’s invasion of 1183, when his brother Guy managed to earn the enmity and contempt of the entire feudal leadership of his future kingdom, Aimery was the only commander who successfully engaged the Saracens. When Saladin tried to seize control of the important springs of La Tubanie, Aimery — supported by the Ibelins — successfully beat-off the attack. It is notable, that the Ibelin brothers, who were inveterate opponents of Guy de Lusignan, are seen here cooperating closely with Aimery. Aimery was, Guy or no Guy, still Baldwin d’Ibelin’s brother-in-law and ties of blood and marriage were very strong in this period.

Unsurprisingly therefore, Aimery is listed as one of his brother’s closest allies and supporters during Guy and Sibylla’s coup d’etat in 1186.  It was in his interest to support his brother's seizure of the throne and any other behavior would have been highly abnormal. It does not imply, however, that he thought highly of his brother or his brother’s leadership. This was simply a matter of family loyalty.

And it took him to the Horns of Hattin, humiliating defeat and captivity.  He was with his brother when King Guy surrendered, and went with him into Saracen captivity. As the Lusignan brothers and most of the other barons of Jerusalem moldered in a Saracen prison, the entire Kingdom of Jerusalem fell city by city and castle by castle to Saladin until only the city of Tyre and isolated castles still held out. There was now no kingdom from which to raise a ransom, and Aimery’s wife had also lost her inheritance to Saladin’s forces.

As 1188 dawned, Aimery de Lusignan must have expected he would suffer his father’s fate and die in Saracen captivity. It would have been very hard for him to envisage that one day he would be a king and found a dynasty that would last roughly 300 years. (Aimery’s story is continued in my next entry.)

Aimery de Lusignan plays a major role in the first two volumes of my three part biography of Balian d'Ibelin:

My three-part biographical novel is dedicated to bringing Balian, his age and society "back to life."

 Buy now!                                       Buy now!                                   Buy now (paperback)
                                                                                                                or Kindle!

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Sneak Preview 2: A Excerpt from Chapter 1 of "Envoy of Jerusalem"

The 3rd book in the Balian d'Ibelin series opens in Tyre on the day the news of the fall of Jerusalem to Saladin reaches the city. This scene focuses on the impact of Hattin and the subsequent collapse of the crusader kingdom for the survivors.

Mass ended and the clergy withdrew on slipper-shod feet. A lady kneeling in the side chapel dedicated to St. George, crossed herself, rolled back on her heels and rose. She was shrouded in a dark veil trimmed with a single band of gold embroidery that covered her head and body all the way to her knees. Standing, it was clear that she was both tall and slender. She took a coin from her purse, purchased a thin beeswax candle, lit it and stood it upright in the box of sand. The light from a half dozen candles already burned. They glinted on St. George’s gold mosaic halo as he stood in the stirrups of his white horse to stab his lance down the throat of a green-scaled, red-eyed dragon.

The lady turned and flung the lower right corner of her veils up over her opposite shoulder to partially cover her face, but even so she heard someone whisper in awe, “The Dowager Queen!” as she passed.

On the steps of the church, two beggars closed in on her instantly. One pushed his legless body on a wooden platform with little, hand-wrought wheels that squeaked piteously. The other was more importunate, coming close and whining, “Alms, my lady! Alms! I lost my hand at Hattin.” He held up a stump wrapped in dirty rags.

“You’ll rot in hell for your lies, Peter of Paris!” A gruff voice barked out of the darkness, adding: “You lost your hand for cheating at dice ten years ago!” A tall burley man in chainmail under a voluminous cloak emerged from the shadows. The knight was no longer young. His mustache was completely white, his hair predominantly that color, and his face was deeply lined by life, but the sword at his hip was not decorative and he moved with the vigor a man still capable of wielding it. The beggars melted away before him, and the Dowager Queen gratefully hooked her gloved hand through his offered elbow.

“Thank you for waiting for me, Sir Bartholomew,” she greeted him. “I’m afraid I was longer than intended.”

The old knight growled back, “Plenty to pray for this night, my lady.”

The Dowager Queen stopped in her tracks and looked up at him in sudden understanding. “Your daughters and their children! Do you think they were in Jerusalem?”

“I’ve had no word from them at all,” Sir Bartholomew answered grimly. “None.”

Queen Maria digested that fact as they resumed walking. Sir Bartholomew held a fief from her second husband, the Baron of Ibelin. He had no sons, just two grown daughters, the eldest of which was already a young widow before Hattin, and the younger married to a man who had fallen at the battle. Although Sir Bartholomew had fought his way off the field of Hattin with her husband, he, like the rest of the surviving fighting men, found himself cooped up in Tyre, while the rest of the kingdom fell city-by-city and castle-by-castle to Salah ad-Din. Sir Bartholomew’s daughters and their still small children had been left behind on their peaceful manor just a few miles from Ibelin — land now held by the Saracens.

Sir Bartholomew broke in on her thoughts. “There’s really no reason to think they made it to Jerusalem. More likely they went to Jaffa. It was closer.” But Jaffa had fallen to the Saracens before Jerusalem, and if his daughters had not found their way to Tyre by now, then they were almost certainly captives. Slaves. Queen Maria shuddered and her hand closed around her companion’s elbow in a gesture of helpless sympathy.

“My grief is only a single tear in the sea of misery, my lady,” Sir Bartholomew summarized his situation astutely.
"That doesn't make it less intense," Queen Maria replied simply. They continued in silence through the darkened streets.

My three-part biographical novel is dedicated to bringing Balian, his age and society "back to life."

 Buy now!                                       Buy now!                                   Buy now (paperback)
                                                                                                                or Kindle!

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Cover Choices

The third book in three-part my biographical novel about Balian d'Ibelin has gone to the editor. Use the pole in the side bar to help me choose which of the below cover compositions should be refined and developed farther into a final cover for:

  Envoy of Jerusalem:

Balian d'Ibelin and the Third Crusade

Balian has survived the devastating defeat on the Horns of Hattin, and walked away a free man after the surrender of Jerusalem, but he is baron of nothing in a kingdom that no longer exists.  Haunted by the tens of thousands of Christians now enslaved by Saladin, he is determined to regain what has been lost. The arrival of a vast crusading army under the soon-to-be legendary Richard the Lionheart offers hope—but also conflict as natives and crusaders clash and French and English quarrel.

Cover 1:

Cover 2:

Cover 3: