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.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

"Of Mothers, Queens and Daughters" - An Excerpt from "The Last Crusader Kingdom"

The relations between mothers and daughters can be very turbulent even in the best of times. Imagine then the added complications when both women are queens?

An excerpt from "The Last Crusader Kingdom"

  “Mama!” Queen Isabella noticed her mother at last. “What brings you to Acre? When you left after Christmas Uncle Balian” (as a child Isabella had picked up the habit of referring to her stepfather as “Uncle Balian”) “said he didn’t expect to be back until after the sowing was finished.”

“True. We didn’t expect an emergency.”

“Emergency? What’s happened? Have the rains caused flooding—”

Maria Zoë was shaking her head, “No, no. Shall we sit outside in the fresh air?” She indicated the courtyard bathed in morning sunshine.

Isabella slipped her arm through her mother’s, and together they went out into the little courtyard. The sun was pouring in and the surrounding buildings protected it from the wind. They sat down on a plaster bench built against the wall, and Isabella looked expectantly at her mother. “Tell me! What is it?”

“Actually, you must already know,” Maria Zoë started cautiously. Her relationship with Isabella was close, but it had also been stormy at times. There had been tense periods when Isabella had been rebellious and aggressive. “Your brother John rode all night to reach us.”

“Oh!” Isabella gasped and drew back slightly, her face flushing. “You mean Aimery’s arrest? Henri had to!” She defended her husband at once. “He can’t risk him plotting against us for another hour! He promised me he would not put him chains or anything like that, but he had to ensure Aimery could not communicate with his brother or the Pisans!”

Maria Zoë was relieved to hear that Isabella had at least extracted a promise of good treatment; that alone would mean a great deal to Eschiva. More important, it suggested that her daughter was not entirely indifferent to her best friend’s husband. To her daughter she asked simply, “What is this all about, Isabella? You’ve known Aimery all your life. You know he’s sacrificed the better part of his life for Jerusalem. How can you think he might have turned traitor now?”

“He’s a Lusignan, Mama! And you know his brother has never stopped claiming the crown of Jerusalem. Guy did everything he could to prevent me obtaining what was rightfully mine. He even talked Humphrey into telling me I had no claim as long as he lived. And don’t you remember how he tried to ingratiate himself with the Dowager Queen of Sicily, hoping to marry her? He’s still looking for a new wife. If he marries again and has children, he will claim Jerusalem for them!” Isabella hardly stopped for breath as she fervently delivered this monologue.

Maria Zoë knew her daughter’s passionate nature, and nodded before countering in a reasonable tone, “I don’t doubt a word you’re saying, Bella. Guy has been an intriguer, a seducer, and arrogantly blind to his own faults for as long as I’ve known him—which is more than a decade. But Aimery is not Guy—any more than you are Sibylla.”

Isabella had always hated her older half-sister Sibylla, so the argument made her catch her breath and start biting her lower lip. Maria Zoë pressed her point. “I know Aimery backed Guy’s usurpation six years ago, but he has lived to regret that a thousand times over. He’s told me that himself, he’s told your stepfather, and he’s told your brother the same thing. I honestly do not think that he could be involved in any kind of plot against you or Henri, even if—as has not yet be proved—his brother is behind the Pisan pirates preying on our shipping.”

Isabella was frowning and biting her lip in distress. “You’re probably right, Mama. I want to believe you, for Eschiva’s sake if nothing more, but arresting him was a precaution Henri had to take. If he’s innocent, then I’m sure Henri will release him.”

Maria Zoë took a deep breath and concluded this was probably the most she could hope to gain at the moment. Pressing Isabella too hard could easily trigger an angry rejection of “interference.” It would have been easier to back off, however, if she hadn’t spent the night with Eschiva and her children. Eschiva, usually so calm and self-possessed, had broken down and cried in Maria Zoё’s arms. Eschiva had lived with Maria Zoë and Balian as a child, and the ties had never weakened. Maria Zoë loved Eschiva like one of her own daughters, and she knew how much Eschiva had suffered over the years―from Aimery’s infidelities in his youth, from his captivity after Hattin and his absence at the siege of Acre, and more recently from the uncertainties of this last military campaign under the King of England. She and Aimery had only just started to rebuild their lives―and now this.

“That’s really the best I can promise,” Isabella spoke into Maria Zoë’s thoughts, sounding faintly defiant already.

“I know, Bella,” Maria Zoë chose tactical retreat. “That’s all I ask.” She smiled and kissed her firstborn on the forehead and then stood. “I must get back to Eschiva. She’s understandably very distraught and frightened.”

“You must assure her that no matter what comes to light about Aimery, she will always be a sister to me. I promise she’ll never be made to suffer, even if Aimery is found to be a traitor.”

“Ah, but sweetheart, if anything happens to Aimery she will suffer, because she loves him—not as you love Henri, nor indeed as I love your stepfather, but as a woman who has known no other husband since she was eight years old. Aimery is her life, Bella. If you take Aimery away, Eschiva will simply die.” Maria Zoë patted her daughter’s shoulder as if comforting her―but judging by Isabella’s stricken face, her message had gone home. 

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Characters in The Last Crusader Kingdom: Leo of Armenia

Although most of the plot in "The Last Crusader Kingdom" is speculation based on earlier or later developments, one of the most bizarre incidents described, the capture of Eschiva d’Ibelin by pirates, is recorded in the chronicles. While little beyond the name of the pirate (Kanakes/Canaqui) is known, the positive role played by Leo of Armenia gave me an excuse to introduce this fascinating man into the novel ― even if only briefly.

Leo (also Levon) was an Armenian prince who successfully defended and expanded his territories, gained a crown, and through his pro-Latin policies opened Armenia up to increased trade with the Italian city-states, thereby greatly increasing its prosperity.   

He was born in 1150, the younger son of Stephan, the son of Leo I, Lord of Armenian Cilicia. When just fifteen his father was murdered, apparently by agents of Leo’s paternal uncle, who whereupon made himself lord of Cilicia, while Leo and his elder brother Rupin sought refuge with their maternal relatives.

Another assassination, this time of the man who had killed their father, brought Rupin to the throne, with Leo, now 25, acting as his loyal and able lieutenant. In 1183, however, Rupin was taken prisoner by Bohemond III of Antioch. With his brother in captivity, Leo assumed control of Cilicia and set about raising the huge ransom demanded. Four years later, when Rupin returned, he chose (whether voluntarily or not is unclear) to retire to a monastery rather than resume the rule of his principality. Leo became the ruler of Cilicia.

It was, however, now 1187 and the powerful Sultan of Syria and Egypt, Salah ad-Din, had just made an alliance with the Byzantine Emperor Isaac II Angelus. Leo concluded a treaty of expediency with Antioch, acknowledging Antioch’s suzerainty over Cilicia, and then took the offensive against the Seljuk Turks successfully. He also supported the Third Crusade, both by first providing men and supplies to Friedrich Barbarossa and, later, troops for the siege of Acre. He also loaned money to Bohemond of Antioch, although the latter supposedly did not repay it.

In 1191, when Salah ad-Din withdrew from the formerly Templar castle of Baghras, Leo sent troops to seize control of this vital fortress. This brought him into renewed conflict with Bohemond of Antioch, who considered the castle part of his principality. Leo invited Bohemend to Baghras to discuss the situation and promptly took him and his wife hostage. The tables reversed from the situation after his brother’s capture, Leo demanded that Antioch acknowledge Armenian suzerainty over Antioch. 

Bohemond quickly caved in and sent orders for the surrender of Antioch to Leo’s troops. The citizens of Antioch, however, were not prepared to surrender. A riot ensued that overwhelmed the Armenian troops. Bohemond’s eldest son Raymond seized control and was installed as regent until his father’s release could be secured. Raymond of Antioch also appealed to the King of Jerusalem, Henri de Champagne, for assistance. Henri duely undertook a diplomatic mission to Sis, Leo’s capital. In exchange for renouncing his claim to suzerainty over Armenia, Bohemend, his wife and entourage were released without further ransom payments.

At about the same time (the dates are very vague in the contemporary chronicles), Leo obtained a crown. He appealed to the Holy Roman Emperor, the Byzantine Emperor and the Pope, winning the support of the later by promising to submit the Armenian church to Rome. Although it is doubtful if this was anything more than a ploy, it was sufficient to win Leo a crown. Just like Aimery de Lusignan, he was crowned and anointed by the Imperial Chancellor of Henry VI Hohenstaufen and the Papal Legate, the Bishop of Mainz, in January 1198. Leo reigned until 1219, and much of his later life he was involved in a struggle to impose his great-nephew as Prince of Antioch, but that is long after the events described in The Last Crusader Kingdom and so beyond the scope of this post. 

What intrigued me about Leo beyond the fact that he played a positive role in securing the release of Eschiva d’Ibelin is the tantalizing possibility that he had known Eschiva’s father, Baldwin d’Ibelin.

Baldwin d’Ibelin, Balian’s elder brother, disappears from the history of the Holy Land in 1186, after dramatically refusing to do homage to Guy de Lusignan. He then renounced his titles and wealth in favor of his son and quit the kingdom. The Lyon Continuation of William of Tyre, presumably based on the lost account of the Ibelin squire Ernoul, describes it this way:

After this [Guy de Lusignan] summoned Baldwin d’Ibelin and the other barons to a parliament at Acre…He requested that they pay him homage and fealty as vassals should to their lord… [He] summoned [Baldwin d’Ibelin] three times. But he, being a wise and stalwart man…replied: “My father never did homage to yours, and I will not do it to you…I will quit your kingdom within three days."

Then he took leave of Balian his brother and entrusted his son to him to look after until he reached his majority. After that he got on the road and, setting off with the other knights who had commended their fiefs, went to the Prince of Antioch.  When the prince of Antioch heard that Baldwin of Ibelin and so many knights were coming, he was delighted. He went out to meet them and received them with great joy. (Peter Edbury, The Conquest of Jerusalem and the Third Crusade: Sources in Translation, Ashgate, 1998, p. 28-29. The Old French Continuation of William of Tyre, paragraph 21.)

And he is never heard from again.

To be sure, the chronicle sited above talks about the barons advising King Guy to send to Baldwin of Ibelin and the Prince of Antioch to come to the kingdom’s aid when Saladin invaded, but clearly neither of them did. The Prince of Antioch was soon fighting for his own survival, but we hear no mention of Baldwin d’Ibelin being at his side.

However, the chronicle tells us the following:

When Leo of the Mountain, who was lord of Armenia, came to hear of the outrage that had befallen King Aimery and his lady, he was deeply saddened because of the love that he had both for King Aimery who was his friend and for Baldwin of Ibelin whose daughter she had been.

But how, where and when had Leo of Armenia come to know Baldwin d’Ibelin?

There is no chance that Baldwin and Leo would have met prior to Baldwin’s self-imposed exile from the Kingdom of Jerusalem in 1186. Thus, they could only have come to know and like one another after Baldwin left the Kingdom of Jerusalem, most likely during the short period of truce between Antioch and Armenia, 1187-1193. This was precisely the period in which Leo of Armenia was doing all he could to hold back the Seljuk Turks on one hand, and assist the crusaders and fellow Christian states in the East on the other.

Conceivably, Baldwin d’Ibelin escorted Leo’s brother Rupin back to Armenia after Rupin’s ransom was paid. As this coincided roughly with the Battle of Hattin, Baldwin’s absence in Armenia would explain why he did not follow any appeals sent him, presumably by his brother or former peers, to aid in the defense of his former kingdom.

If Baldwin was in Armenia when news of Hattin arrived, he might also have concluded that all was lost in Jerusalem (as he had allegedly predicted), and have offered his sword to Leo. Leo was about to undertake a daring strike with inferior forces against the Seljuks. And if Baldwin d’Ibelin fought with Leo in the years of his greatest peril, to die sometime thereafter, possibly in battle or of his wounds, it would explain why Leo of Armenia responded so vigorously when he learned of Eschiva’s kidnapping.

While this is mere speculation ― as with so much of The Last Crusader Kingdom ― it is not mere fantasy.  For Eschiva, I believe, it would have been a comfort to learn that her father had, after abandoning her in 1187, come to her aid from beyond the grave by bringing her the assistance of this remarkable prince in her hour of greatest need.

For more about Baldwin d'Ibelin see the Jerusalem Trilogy: 

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