Baldwin’s Captivity and Escape

Baldwin II did not move himself and his family to Antioch, though he assumed control over the principality after the crusaders’ near annihilation at the Field of Blood. In 1120 and again in 1122, he led his army through the territory in outer-Orontes, intimidating the Turkish raiders into retreat from the region.

However, no sooner had one problem been solved, another one arose somewhere else. In September 1122, Jocelin, the Count of Edessa, was captured by the Turkish chieftain Balak and imprisoned inside the fortress of Kharpout in the heart of Aleppo. Since there was no other baron to take Jocelin’s place, Baldwin had to assume control over the County of Edessa until Jocelin could somehow be rescued. His duties as king were stretched to the limit, thus making him more susceptible to falling prey to Turkish sorties who roamed the countryside surrounding the Kingdom of Jerusalem’s northern principalities. In the spring of 1123, while riding to the County of Edessa, Baldwin was captured by Balak — who had been hiding in the surrounding mountains — and joined Jocelin in the “cells of Kharpout” (Rita Stark, 65).

The Kingdom of Jerusalem could have seen the end of its days. Three of its principalities were without strong and prudent fighting leaders: the Principality of Antioch, the County of Edessa and the Kingdom of Jerusalem itself. However, in the midst of all this uncertainty, an incredible thing happened. While Balak rode through the outer-Orontes at the head of his army, determined to re-capture Antioch, he received news that Baldwin and Jocelin had “become the masters of the fortress of Kharpout” (Rita Stark, 65).

How was that able to happen? Unlike his cousin, Baldwin I (of Boulogne) who had oppressed the Armenians, Baldwin II and Count Jocelin had befriended them. It should also be noted that Baldwin married an Armenian woman and they had a marriage based on mutual love and respect. There was no doubt that some of the Armenians within the fortress of Kharpout were connected on some level with Baldwin’s wife, so for that reason, they were willing to help Baldwin and Jocelin escape. How they found a way to communicate with Count Jocelin and the king is unknown, but they were somehow able to send a messenger to Edessa with the message for Jocelin’s friends to come to Aleppo and deliver him.

Fifty men disguised as monks, swords hidden under their cloaks, rode from Edessa to the fortress of Kharpout. They were granted entry by the Turkish garrison on assumption that they were Armenian subjects of the Emirate. Under the cover of darkness, these Armenian men, with the help of their brethren, killed most of the Turkish guards and then set King Baldwin and Jocelin free.

Meanwhile, the Turkish army had “blocked the roads between the Armenian Taurus and the wilderness of the Kurdistan Mountains at the bottom of the lost Valley of Mouradsou” (Rita Stark, 66).

News of this must have gotten back to the Armenians at Kharpout because they decided that it was too dangerous for Baldwin and Jocelin to travel back to Edessa together. So, Baldwin decided that he would stay behind and defend the fortress while Jocelin returned to Edessa.

Once again, in the middle of the night, with the moonlight as their guide, Jocelin, accompanied by three of his Armenian allies, escaped. They made it to Turbessel where Jocelin was greatly relieved to find his wife still alive and well. As quick as he was able to, Jocelin gathered a small force and rode out to Antioch, then from Antioch to Jerusalem, assembling the grand Frankish coalition to aid in King Baldwin’s deliverance from captivity.

Balak, undermining the Franks’ military might, returned to Kharpout, effortlessly re-captured it and re-imprisoned Baldwin. However, when he saw the Frankish coalition approach, he “offered Baldwin II freedom in exchange for the fortress” (Rita Stark, 67). The Franks agreed to these terms; however their Armenian allies at Kharpout were not so fortunate. They were viciously massacred by Balak and his men. Whether King Baldwin and Jocelyn attempted to save them from Balak is unknown.

Sources Used:

Stark, Rita M. Knights of the Cross: The Epic of the Crusades. Bloomington; iUniverse, 2008.


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Birth of a New Religious Order: The Knights Templar

The conquest of Jerusalem in July 1099 and the founding of the crusader states of Tripoli, Antioch and Edessa connected Europe to the new Christian kingdom in the Middle East. Until the fall of Acre in 1291, Europeans flocked to the Kingdom of Jerusalem to see the very sites where Christ had walked, and to follow in His footsteps. Though, in the opening decades of the 12th century, the mountainous pass from the port of Jaffa to Jerusalem teemed with roaming bands of nomadic Bedouin as well as Turkish forces that lived in the north and Egyptians in the south. Quite frequently, pilgrims who grew weary on the road to Jerusalem or those who travelled in unarmed groups were viciously attacked, raped, slaughtered, all the money they had carried with them, stolen. One of the worst attacks took place at Easter in 1119 when a large group of unarmed pilgrims ‘set out from Jerusalem to the river Jordan’ (Michael Haag, p. 95). They were ruthlessly attacked by an Egyptian sortie from Ascalon. ‘Three hundred pilgrims were killed and another sixty were captured to be sold as slaves’ (Haag, p. 95).

Shocked, but probably not surprised, King Baldwin II recognized the urgency for a larger, stronger fighting force: not just men who were capable of bearing arms in battle, but men who could also guard and defend the roads to Jerusalem. That need served to the great benefit of Hugh de Payns, Godfrey of Saint-Omer, two knights from France who had fought in the First Crusade. Sometime in 1118 or 1119, they proposed to King Baldwin II and the Patriarch of Jerusalem Warmund of Picquigny their God given desire to lead what remained of their lives in contemplation within the walls of a monastery. Baldwin instead urged them to ‘save their souls by protecting pilgrims on the roads’ (Haag, p. 96). In the words of one chronicler, ‘they were to take vows of poverty, chastity and obedience but were also to defend pilgrims against brigands and rapists’ (Haag, p.96).

On Christmas Day 1119, Hugh de Payns, Godfrey Saint-Omer and seven other men took their vows before the patriarch in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. They called themselves the Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ. Since the king had built a new palace for himself and his family, he gave the Al-Aqsa mosque to the Poor Fellow-Soldiers. Since the al-Aqsa mosque was built on the ancient site of Solomon’s temple, the Poor Fellow-Soldiers quickly adopted the name, the Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and of the Temple of Solomon. In short, they referred to themselves — as were referred to by everyone else — as the Knights Templar.

Since the birth of Christianity, men who had chosen to devote their entire lives to God and the Church, they were forbidden by the Pope to bear arms and shed blood. The Knights Templar was a religious order, not unlike any other, so why were they permitted to fight while monks from most other religious orders were not granted the same right?

Desperate times called for desperate measures. The Holy Land, so sacred to all of Christendom and militarily fragile, could only survive if it had a strong enough army. Baldwin had every intention of sending delegates to Europe to gain recruits. However, so precarious was the situation in the Kingdom of Jerusalem, he realized that if he didn’t utilize what manpower he already had, it was very possible the Kingdom of Jerusalem would fall to the Muslims before recruits arrived from the west. Building a strong kingdom began with the defense of the roads on which pilgrims travelled.

Europe, on the other hand – with the exception of the Iberian Peninsula (Spain) – faced no immediate threat of Muslim invasion. For that reason, the Pope determined, warfare should be the call of duty to only those men who had chosen to live their lives by the sword.

Sources Used:

Haag, Michael. The Templars: The History and the Myth. New York; London; Toronto; Sydney; HarperCollins, 2009.


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Inspiration for God’s Kingdom

God’s Kingdom is a novel set in the 12th century. It follows the story of Johannes and Wilfred’s adventures in the Holy Land. German baron, Johannes and his adopted son, Wilfred, mortgage their inheritance in Saarburg, Germany off to Johannes’s younger brother, Balderic, the Bishop of Cologne which finances their journey to the Holy Land. Their desire is to fight for the Cross and defend God’s Kingdom. They obtain a degree of wealth and favor from King Amalric I of Jerusalem, but the death of Amalric and the ascension of his leprous son, Baldwin IV to the throne ushers in a new era to the Eastern Kingdom. Johannes and Wilfred find themselves in a game of politics that threatens the Kingdom while struggling to defend it against a fiercely determined Salah-ah-Din who has united the vast Islamic armies against the Christian Kingdom.

My desire to write God’s Kingdom stems from my passion for Crusades History and from watching every season of Vikings. In 2014, I wanted more than anything to see a television series that is set in Israel in the 12th century during the Crusades: something like Kingdom of Heaven, but historically accurate and politically incorrect, or at least produced from a neutral perspective. I figured it would make for a very intriguing show with high ratings. Only thing was; no one seemed to be in the process of writing a screenplay for such a television series. Then it hit me: If no one else would write a non politically correct TV series set during the Crusades, why don’t I be the one to write it and try my luck at pitching it to producers?

I knew exactly who my characters were and where they would end up of course, but at first, I desired the setting of this story to begin in France. Shortly before our family cruise to Alaska in June 2014, I sat down and did a detailed character sketch. Everything came together in that matter, but I struggled to come up with a good beginning to the storyline. I pondered different ideas, but none of them seemed good or even made much historical sense, so I set this story aside.

One year later, two months after my return from my first trip to Europe, new ideas for God’s Kingdom popped into my head. Inspiration for this project was rekindled and it made me come alive with renewed passion and joy. Since Germany was my next destination and since I have a German background, it made perfect sense for me to begin God’s Kingdom in Germany. Where in Germany? I had settled on Koblenz, but decided once I got to Germany, that I would shift the setting to another village and region.

I spent three months, from September to December, in Germany, but it wasn’t until the middle of November, while travelling the country, that I finally figured out the perfect beginning setting for God’s Kingdom: Saarburg, a village neighboring the city of Trier situated on the banks of the Moselle River.

While visiting my friend Angela in Como, Italy, I told her a bit about God’s Kingdom and she mentioned that it would make a good novel and also easier to write it as a novel before turning it into a screenplay. So, once I returned to Germany, I decided to turn God’s Kingdom into a novel.

The moment I saw Saarburg Castle (photo above) from the train on my way to Trier, I knew exactly where the setting for God’s Kingdom will begin. The next day, I took a train to Saarburg and, the first point of interest I went to see was the Saarburg Castle.

Saarburg Castle is located high on a hill, overlooking the village, the Moselle River below, and the rolling hills beyond. This castle, a mere shadow of what it would have looked like in the 12th century, was built in the 9th century. The tower (picture above) indicates that this was a fortified castle that once boasted thick, stone walls. That reason, coupled with the fact that this area is the oldest region in Germany, was the inspiration for me to begin God’s Kingdom in Saarburg.

I spent more than an hour that cool, November afternoon at Saarburg Castle, looking down at the village below, trying to picture what it would have looked like in the mid-12th century. It’s hard to say for sure what Saarburg looked like back then. In fact, Saarburg did not become a chartered town until the late 13th century. Regardless, since a castle had been built there, there must have existed a village. That village would have been small and built near the foot of the hill, close to the castle. It’s quite possible that a section of the land across from the river was cultivated by landholding vassals to the baron who resided in Saarburg Castle. This is just mere speculation on my behalf of course.

The day following my visit to Saarburg, I spent part of an afternoon inside the Trier Dom, a cathedral that was constructed in the 3rd century AD during the reign of Emperor Constantine.

If the walls could speak, I can only imagine all the stories they would tell. There is no doubt that many men, who took part in the Crusades, made their vows to defend the Kingdom of Jerusalem in this cathedral.

I haven’t gotten to that part in my novel yet, but Johannes, Wilfred and those who will join them in their journey to the Holy Land, will make their vows in the Trier Dom.

I am so thankful to have been to Germany and to have seen the place where the setting of God’s Kingdom will begin. Israel is next on my destination list although I am still working out the details of when I plan to go.



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Guest Post: To Shine With Honor

This is a guest post; the first chapter from author Scott Amis’ new release, To Shine With Honor. To Shine With Honor is the first of a three-part series that begins in France in the 11th century before the First Crusade began.


7 April 1086, the town of Grand-Forêt, southeastern France

Galien de Coudre drew a sharp breath. Beneath a shield-shaped sign painted with crossed swords, his father, his brother Martin, and his sister Alisende waited, but Thierré wasn’t with them. Galien clenched his fists and gritted his teeth. His unspeakable eldest brother could have at least shown him the honor of joining the family for his day of coming of age.

As he walked between the rows of cottages, Galien set aside his bitter thoughts. His family greeted him warmly. He pushed his hair back and straightened his gambeson, and stepped up into the armorer’s workshop. The proprietorJacques laid a bundle on the table and rolled away the deerskin to reveal a superbly crafted belt and scabbard with a hilt showing. Galien reached out, uneasy, only touching the pommel. Henri de Coudre put a hand on his son’s shoulder and said, “Go ahead, draw it.”

Galien did as his father bade. The leather grip felt just right in his hand. He turned round to study the newly-forged weapon. No better sword was to be had, of singular purpose and fit for a knight of great prowess: thirty-eight inches from point to top of weighty domed pommel, broad thirty-two inch blade with two cutting edges, of elegantly tapered proportion, not adorned save small crosses of inlaid silver. At two-and-a-half pounds in weight, a perfectly balanced sword that could strike off an arm with a keen edge and punch through a hauberk with the hardened steel point. Galien held it up before his face. With the plain nine-inch steel handguard set between blade and grip, it made for a distinctive reminder of the Cross of Christ.

He looked at his father. “It’s wonderful, but I’ll not need it at cathedral school. You surely spent three livres to get me a knight’s blade.”

Henri chuckled. “Galien, you know I make certain each of my sons has the best sword I can buy at his coming of age and knows how to wield it, become he knight, priest, or diplomat.” With this, Henri reached into his belt purse, took out a heavy silver seal ring, and slid it onto the forefinger of Galien’s right hand. “You’re a man now and fully fit to take your place beside your brothers.”

Galien stood, red-faced, as his father buckled the sword belt round his waist and stepped back, smiling with pride at his third son. Martin de Coudre, at sixteen, two years Galien’s senior and a young man bound for knighthood, shook his hand and embraced him; Alisende, already tall and pretty at twelve years, hugged his neck and kissed his cheeks.

A man-at-arms stepped up from the lane. “Sir Henri, Baron Alphonse would have you come to the fortress, right away.”

“Is Bayard starting more trouble?”

“My lord, it’s not Count Bayard this time. Peter de Villiers has blocked the road to Vézelay with a force of mercenaries, and Baron Alphonse needs your counsel.”

Henri sighed. “I’d hoped to spend the day with you, but a knight’s duties too often bear no regard for family.”

“Father, I ought to come along,” Martin said.

“No, son. I’d not deprive Galien and Alisende of your good company. All of you enjoy this fine day together.” Henri handed Galien a green leather bag bulging with coins, and turned to walk away with the man-at-arms.

Galien and Martin each held one of Alisende’s hands in their own as they strolled at their ease. Alisende said “I’m hungry!” and Galien gave her a denier, bidding her buy herself a sweet. The brothers watched her trot toward the center of Grand-Forêt, circled with thatch-roofed buildings and cottages, crowded with people of the Barony of Mirefleurs come for the market fair held in the week after Easter. Galien took a seat on the grass, his back against the trunk of an old oak tree. With his new sword and scabbard over his knees, he absently toyed with the bronze chape at the end of the belt. After a quiet minute, he heard Martin say, “What troubles you?”

“I’m so not sure I want to go into the Church.”

Martin looked at him, surprise on his face. “You’ve never told me that before, and you’ve always been so pious.”

“With cathedral school near, I’ve been thinking more.”

“Has that sword got you to thinking of the knight’s life?”

Galien drew his sword a halfscore inches from the scabbard and lovingly ran a finger over the blade. “Perhaps it has.”

“Maybe you ought to ask father if he’ll let you become a knight instead.”

“No, the soldier’s life is for you and our wretched excuse for a brother. I’ll go into the Church and become a bishop like father wants. Truly though, all I want is a quiet life of study and writing, with a wife who understands me. Right now, I’m making enough silver with my scribe work to think of marrying. Had father given me the coin he paid for this sword and scabbard, I could have a five-acre freehold and a sturdy cottage.”

“Galien, Father and Mother didn’t have you schooled in letters so you could live like a peasant. Besides, how could a charming and good-looking young nobleman like you not rise high in the Church?” Galien only grunted, and Martin nudged him with a grin. “High Church officials don’t lack for women.”

At that moment, Alisende returned, excited to see the sights of the market fair, and Galien said, “We’ll talk more about it later.”

The marketplace, crowded with people of all stations, smelled of freshly-baked bread and pastry, roasting meats, and human bodies. Galien and his brother and sister browsed tents and tables of food and drink, wares, and services of all varieties, tasting of the samples freely offered. With the coin his father had given him, Galien bought a deep-red cap embroidered with intricate golden designs for Alisende and a silver-mounted wine flask for Martin, but had not enough left for a dagger he fancied for himself.

A grimy hunched man in a ragged crimson robe approached them. “Good lords and lady, I’ve just returned from the Holy Land and with me, I carry relics of God’s saints.” He held up a tiny silver vial, whispering through snaggly teeth, “Indeed, the Blood of Our Lord Himself.”

Alisende gasped with wonderment, but Galien said, “The Turks in the Holy Land not let any Christians pass in peace. Take your cat bones and sheep’s blood elsewhere.” Galien stared at the charlatan until he shuffled off to seek his next victim, and Alisende pulled him toward a trio of dogs doing clever tricks. She watched them clapping with delight, and Martin gave their trainer a denier.

Galien saw the stone church across the busy market and handed Alisende the green bag, which yet held twoscore silver deniers. “Sister, go to the priest and fetch the parchment and quills he had made for me.”

“I’ll go if we can draw and do letters tonight, and you’ll give me some wine.”

“We’ll draw and do letters, but I won’t give you wine until you’re fourteen and old enough for Father to let you marry.”

Alisende stuck her tongue out at him. “You only turned fourteen today, and I’ll not marry until I can choose my own man, no matter what Father wants.”

“Fourteen is old enough to serve duty at arms and get killed by Count Bayard’s raiders. Now, go and do as I told you.” Alisende stuck out her tongue again and dashed toward the church, long blond hair flying from beneath her fine new cap.

Martin mused, “Too bad Thierré is on patrol today and can’t be with us.” Galien didn’t answer, and Martin elbowed him.

Galien snorted. “Can’t you see that I’m brokenhearted?” He ground his teeth at the thought of his bullying eldest brother and spoke no more.

Martin broke the tense quiet. “I wish you two could get along.”

“The lout could have left patrol duty to be there when Father gave me my sword and ring. He’s never thought of me as anything but a bookrat.”

Martin smiled, stroking his short dark beard, already heavy at his sixteen years. “You might be a bookrat, but you’re as good at sword and horse as any knight. I’ve never understood why Thierré doesn’t at least show you some respect for that. I’ve given up hope that the bad blood between you will end.”

“It doesn’t matter. He’s a knight now, and I’ll be in cathedral school. We’ll soon be rid of each other until the Last Judgment, but I swear, if he calls me ‘runt’ one more time, I’m going to hit him. I don’t care how big and tough he is.”

“Forget about Thierré for today, Galien. Think of the fine supper that Mother has waiting in your honor.”

“Mother should stay in bed. She’s in no condition to be making a fuss over me.”

“Indeed,” Martin said, nodding gravely. “But no one alive, not even Father, can tell her what to do.”

As Galien and Martin waited for Alisende, friends and acquaintances spoke to them, and Galien graciously accepted the many well-wishes for his coming of age. Shortly, Alisende returned from the church. Galien took his cloth-wrapped writing supplies, smiling to himself. Already, his precocious command of written French and Latin and his neat, artistic Carolingian lettering were putting plenty of silver into his purse while Thierré dumbly hacked away at the pell with his sword.

Martin spoke. “I’ll buy us the best wine at the tavern.”

“Might I have some unwatered wine, Martin?” Alisende said.

“Sister, today we’ll let you have a taste, in celebration. I don’t think Mother would mind.”

They walked toward the tavern, Galien grateful to God for his good-natured brother Martin and his sweet, innocent sister. Two boys of their age, sons of peasant farmers on their father’s sat on a low stone wall at the edge of the market area, taking long swallows from an earthenware pitcher of strong ale; a younger boy sat beside them, not drinking.

“Look, Jules,” one said, sniggering. “The holy man Galien de Coudre is wearing a sword. It’s nearly as long as he is.”

Jules flashed an insolent grin. “And he’s swaggering around like a knight.”

Galien gripped his sword hilt. He let go of Alisende’s hand, walked to the boy, and held up his seal ring. “Yes, Jules, I now bear the authority of my father, and I’ve caught you and Clovis poaching in his forest one time too many.”

Martin took Galien’s arm and grabbed the pitcher from the older boys. He poured the ale onto the ground and said, “Take Galien’s words to be a fair warning. My father’s never had you flogged for your mischief, but you don’t know what his youngest son might do.”

Jules looked at Martin, hostile resentment in his eyes. “What about our ale?”

“You two troublemakers best not drink in public places. But if you want more ale, find yourselves some honest work for a change.” Martin and Galien again took Alisende by her hands. As they walked toward the market, Clovis could be heard to say, “The Devil damn all noblemen to Hell.”

Galien looked back, but the two older boys had vanished into the maze of alleys and lanes between the cottages and buildings. The younger boy, about ten years of age, yet remained. Galien said to him, “Milon, why do you keep following those two around? They’ll only get into trouble and try to cast the blame on you.”

Milon shrugged. “I’m not of a landed family, and I’ll never get to be a knight, so who cares?”

“Milon, my father cares, and yours certainly does. Etien is the most respected man-at-arms in the barony, and you’ll eventually gain the same respect.”

“I know, Galien, but it’s not the same as being a knight.”

“Well, you know you’re always welcome at the house to practice with my father and me.” Milon nodded halfheartedly, Martin tousled his hair, and the Coudre brothers and sister continued their walk to the tavern.

At the tavern, Galien spotted a familiar black and grey stallion in the horse shelter. He turned to Martin and Alisende, scowling. “Thierré’s inside, no doubt drinking more than he should.”

Martin put a hand on Galien’s shoulder. “Let’s at least speak a word with him. Surely, he’ll be decent toward you on your coming-of-age day.”

They didn’t have to go inside. With his three men-at-arms behind, Thierré de Coudre came from the front door of the tavern and walked toward his horse. The nineteen-year-old knight’s head was bare; his handsome clean-shaven face framed with long blond hair falling past his shoulders; his helmet and the mail coif and padding under his left arm.

He looked Galien up and down. “Our little man looks so gallant today, with fine clothes and a sword. Have you finally found yourself a girl?”

“Thierré, you know this is Galien’s day of coming of age,” Martin said. “You need to give him the honor he’s due.”

Galien met Thierré’s stare, smelling the wine on his brother’s breath. Thierré sneered, “Truly, I’d forgotten. But now that the runt’s old enough to serve as my squire, I’ll give him the honor of lacing on my coif, and then he can run along and play with his sister.”

Galien glared back, feeling the Norman blood of his mother come to full boiling fury. He snapped, “Any God-cursed filthy corpse robber would make a better knight than you are, Brother.”

Alisende put her fingers to her mouth. With face red and eyes wide, she gasped, “Galien! How could you say such a thing?”

Thierré took a step forward. At six feet, he stood five inches taller than his youngest brother. He shoved Galien hard. “Mind your mouth, boy!” Galien staggered, but quickly regained his balance. He swung his right hand, punching Thierré squarely in the face. Thierré wiped away the blood running from his nose. Veins bulged at his temples as his blue eyes turned icy. He whipped out his razor-edged dagger, growling, “I’m going to save the Church the trouble of making a eunuch of you.”

A crowd began to gather, drawn by the curses and commotion. Well-dressed nobles stood side-by-side with humbler folk to watch the sons of the honorable knight Henri de Coudre fight their feud before a good many people of the Barony of Mirefleurs; eager boys who would be warriors cheered them on. Thierré took a wide taunting slash at Galien, and a noblewoman cried, “Guardsmen!”

Steel rang as Galien drew his sword. With his mail hauberk gleaming dully in the sunlight, Thierré took fighting stance, waited grinning, and suddenly lunged with the dagger. Galien deftly pivoted aside and stuck out a foot. Thierré stumbled on it but didn’t lose his timing. In one swift motion, he drew his own sword and took position, saying, “So, you want a real fight, boy?”

Galien took the long guard and muttered, “Don’t try me, you drunken fool.”

Men-at-arms in marshals’ colors grabbed Galien from behind and took his sword. Burly veteran sergeant Otto Huber punched Thierré, knocking him off his feet. He grabbed Thierré’s arm and pulled him up. “I’m taking both of you to the dungeon. Make it easy or hard, at your choice.”

Thierré snatched his arm from Otto’s grasp. “I’ll see you flogged, Huber,” he spat.

Otto grabbed him by his hauberk and drew him close. “Take it up with Baron Alphonse and your father. You’ll be getting the flogging, and I’ll be more than happy to lay it on.”

Thierré grew quiet at this fearsome prospect. He stood still beside Galien while the guardsmen manacled their wrists, and walked docilely as they were pushed toward the oak-barred prison wagon.

The wagon bumped and shook on unsprung wheels along the narrow trod-earth road that led through the dense forest between Grand-Forêt and Fortress Mirefleurs, Baron Alphonse’s stronghold and the place of governance for the Barony of Mirefleurs. Galien and Thierré, at last bound as brothers in dread of their father’s wrath and the sure and painful punishment that awaited them, stared at their feet, fearing to talk to one another. Thierré finally spoke above the groaning of wood and rattling of metal. He shook his head ruefully. “You showed a knight’s courage and skill back there, and I must give you honor.”

“To Hell with honor. Did you truly intend to take my manhood?”

“Of course not. I only wanted to scare you. But I must admit, you’re rather quick on your feet and with that sword. Has Father been teaching you?”

“He has. You only come home from the fortress for Sunday supper. I practice with Father in the front court on weekdays, and with the men-at-arms who live on the estate when they come to the house.”

“With all that behind you, you’ll be the best priest-at-sword in the whole Church.”

Galien raised an eyebrow and smiled. “Today, I’m not feeling so eager to take up my destiny in the Church, but ‘priest-at-sword’… I like that idea.” The wagon rounded a bend. Fortress Mirefleurs loomed, massive and grey, at the top of the low hill ahead. The brothers turned pale and fell into silence.


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The Field of Blood: The Aftermath

The crushing defeat at the Field of Blood caused many people to ponder this troubling question: If God was truly on their side, fighting with them, why did He let them suffer defeat? No one in those days realized that the flaws in their own military strategy led to defeat. Rather, all of the blame was pinned on sin. Muslim victory in the crusade of 1101, in the second Battle of Ramla in 1102 and again at the Battle of Harran was the result of Christian transgression. The Franks firmly believed that, in order to maintain God’s favour in their war for the holy land, they had to purify themselves as well as the entirety of the Kingdom of Jerusalem.

The Antiochenes’ defeat at the Field of Blood was no doubt a setback for the Principality of Antioch, but it was the result of Prince Roger’s foolhardy decision to engage the Turks in battle before the rest of the grand Frankish coalition arrived to his aid. Needless to say – and rightfully so – Roger was harshly condemned for their defeat. He also died childless, igniting a succession crisis in Antioch that would endure for several years.

Il-ghazi, high on his victory at the Field of Blood, “exploited Christian weakness and overran all of the Summaq plateau” (Asbridge, 166). He then marched on Antioch at the head of his van-guard, determined to capture that city. Meanwhile, in Antioch, the Patriarch Bernard of Valence disarmed the Greek and Syrian Christians, who were known for their treachery, and organized all Latin men capable of bearing arms into a garrison. He monitored the ramparts day and night, offering prayers and encouragement to all of the men-at-arms. Fortunately Baldwin II arrived before Il-ghazi did. There is no telling how Antioch would have held out against the impending Turkish onslaught, so Baldwin’s arrival was very timely. The King received a hero’s welcome from not only the patriarch and his sister, Hodierne, but by every inhabitant of Antioch (Rita Stark, 64).

Baldwin immediately set to work, restructuring the political and military framework of Antioch. Aside from quelling the Turkish threat somehow, Baldwin’s main task was to install a governor in Antioch. The only legitimate successor to the principality was Bohemond of Taranto’s son, Bohemond II who was living in Italy. Since Bohemond was only aged nine, neither old nor mature enough to assume full authority over the principality of Antioch, King Baldwin agreed to act as his regent until Bohemond came of age and was fully prepared to assume his duties as governor.

As for the Turkish threat to Antioch; in the early 1120s, it was significantly weakened when Il-ghazi died. For the next couple of decades, the Muslims of the Middle East would continue to be disunited, too preoccupied with their own internecine conflicts to repel the Franks. In a complete reversal of events, Baldwin II took full advantage of Arab disunity, re-captured the Summaq plateau and east of the Belus Hills (Asbridge, 167). The Franks also captured Banyas, a fortified town located strategically between Jerusalem and Damascus. That foothold deeper into the Middle East would strengthen the Kingdom of Jerusalem at least for a few decades.


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To Shine With Honor: A Review


To Shine With Honor: Coming of Age is the first of a trilogy, written by Scott Amis.

Galien de Coudre, scholarly third son in a family of minor nobility, comes of age in the perilous world of late 11th century France, where powerful noblemen massacre the other and innocents in unending petty warfare over lands and silver, despite the efforts of the Church to control their violence.

Galien, educated for the priesthood, trained at arms and horse by his father and older brothers, all knights, finds his once-certain future as a high Church official compromised by family misfortunes. Through a series of wrenching events, he discovers his own destiny as events in France and the distant Holy Land draw inexorably toward the great war of faiths known in history as the First Crusade.

I really enjoyed To Shine With Honor. Scott brought the characters to life. His portrayal of French culture in the late 11th century was accurate. The male characters, who were mostly all knights as was the case in those days, upheld the ideals of chivalry as presented by the Catholic Church of the time. At the same time, when necessity compelled, they were ruthless. Scott did a very good job maintaining that balance with his characters. Though, I did feel that some scenes that could have made this story even stronger if they would have been extended, ended rather abruptly. There were some terminology, for example; the word ‘Architect’ that didn’t exist in the late 11th century. The word didn’t come into being until the 16th century. Other than those minor things, To Shine With Honor was a good read and I recommend it to anyone who is interested in the Middle Ages and who wants to learn more about pre-Crusade France.

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The Field of Blood

Sometime in June 1119, news reached Roger at Antioch that Il-ghazi, the Artuqid Turk, had raised a large army and was marching on the Principality of Antioch. Upon hearing of this news, Roger appealed to Pons of Tripoli and to Baldwin II for aid. Pons and Baldwin II began at once to assemble their armies. They also advised Roger to wait for their arrival. However, the Antiochene landowners living near the Orontes River were under constant attack. Bands of Turks were raiding their land, destroying crops and no doubt, killing and raping the Antiochene Christians. They begged Roger to assemble his army and repel the Turkish army.

Roger himself did not want to wait until the grand Frankish coalition arrived to his relief. So, against the wishes of the Patriarch of Antioch, Bernard of Valence, Roger gathered a small army of about 3,700 warriors, including a corps of Turcopoles* and marched east of the Belus Hills, thinking that would be the best area to launch a surprise attack on Il-ghazi’s army (Thomas Asbridge, 163).

It was an ill fated and completely rash move on behalf of Prince Roger because, unbeknownst to him, Il-ghazi had planned a three-pronged attack on the crusaders. Though, highly confident in his military might and ardently believing he would win a smashing victory against the Turks like he had before, Roger camped his army in a valley located half way from Aleppo. This valley was known as the Bloody Camp. Roger thought this valley was well defended by rocky hills, but he did not know that Il-ghazi had planned to launch his attack in that very area.

On the night of 27 June 1119, “Roger learnt that the Turks had sacked the small village of Arthareb nearby” (Rita Stark, 62). That news greatly disturbed him and the rest of his army, but it was too late to turn back. The next morning, the few scouts who Roger had sent out to spy on the Turkish army, returned with the news that Il-ghazi had camped his army, 40,000 strong, at Athareb and was preparing to launch an assault on the Bloody Camp from three sides.

The crusaders sounded the bugle horns just as Il-ghazi closed in on them. Roger had scarcely enough time to assemble his troops in the formation ideal for a ruthless counter-attack. At first, victory seemed to be within his reach. The right flank of Roger’s army charged ahead of the rest of the small army and beat back the Turks. However, the Turkish army was so large and well organized, Il-gahzi’s troops effortlessly surrounded the Frankish army.

Historian Rita Stark writes that a strong wind blew up from the north, blowing sand in the Franks’ eyes, temporarily blinding them. This hardly seems a plausible reason for the Antiochene Franks’ bloody defeat because many Turks would have also been halted by the sand being blown in their eyes. In any case, the Antiochene army was utterly crushed at the Bloody Camp.

Roger must have realized in the last minutes of his life that he would never be able to face his comrades and be treated with the same valor and respect as he had before. Nor, could he live with the guilt of the fatal mistake he had just made. Rather than flee the battle scene, Roger charged the Turks. He was killed instantly when a Turkish warrior thrust a sword through his nose and into his brain. Roger fell dead before the fragment of the True Cross, but his death was far from heroic. The priest who had carried the fragment of the True Cross was slain shortly after.

According to 12th century chroniclers, following the death of the priest who had carried the True Cross, the Turks went so mad with greed over the gold and precious stones that adorned the crucifix, they began slaughtering each other (Asbridge, 164). Whether that actually happened is unknown. Most likely the medieval chroniclers of the time propped the disastrous battle up to make it not so catastrophic.

Only a few Antiochene soldiers survived. A Muslim chronicler from Damascus declared the battle as ‘one of Islam’s finest victories’ (Asbridge, 165). It was a defeat like no other. It was so bloody and devastating, the Antiochene’s named the Bloody Camp the Field of Blood.


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Envoy of Jerusalem Book Cover

Author Helena Schrader’s third novel, ‘Envoy of Jerusalem’, is set to be released sometime this summer. I’ve been Helena’s beta reader for almost two years; I’ve helped her with all three Balian novels, but I’m still excited for this new release.

As customary for Helena, prior to each novel’s release, she gets three different book covers made. She then posts them on her blog, Schrader’s Historical Fiction and invites her fans to vote for their favourite book cover image. The image that gets the most votes becomes the book cover!

I cast my vote on the book cover below…

I like the war scene in the background because it’s dramatic — this story is quite dramatic, so this image is quite fitting — and it brings the spirit of the times alive, which as any historian of Crusades History knows, was a spirit of warfare.

This image may not win a majority vote, but we shall find out…


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Interview With Helena Schrader: Author of ‘Defender of Jerusalem’

1. Tell us about your latest release, ‘Defender of Jerusalem’.
“Defender of Jerusalem” is the second book in my three-part biographical novel about Balian d’Ibelin. It covers the historically significant last decade leading up to the devastating defeat of the Christian army at the Battle of Hattin and the fall of Jerusalem in 1187. The book follows Balian and Maria during that crucial period, covering (through them) the Battles on the Litani and at Le Forbelet, the sieges of Kerak and Nablus, the constitutional crises of 1183 and 1186, the death of Baldwin IV and the usurpation of Guy de Lusignan, as well as — of course — Hattin and the defense of Jerusalem led by Balian. This book covers the same period as the film “The Kingdom of Heaven” and so will seem more familiar to readers than “Knight of Jerusalem,” which described Balian’s youth, marriage and the Battle of Montgisard — things not covered in the film.
2. Who is your favorite character and why?
That’s a tricky question for an author. Do you mean which person do I like best in the sense of who would I like as a friend? Or do you mean which character do I think is the most successful literary creation?
If we’re talking about “like” in the sense of admiration and affection, I would note that I personally could not write a biography or biographical novel about someone I didn’t like. I have to like and admire the subjects of my biographies. I’m always a bit suspicious of authors who write about, say, Josef Goebbels, because it seems to me that if you’re going to spend years of your life studying about and trying to get inside someone else’s skin so you can understand and explain them, then you must find something fascinating about them. So obviously I’m fascinated by and admire the real Balian d’Ibelin. 
But, if we look in contrast at which characters I think I did the best job of fleshing out so that he/she is exceptionally complex and fundamentally more human and comprehensible, then it is particularly difficult to judge success in a biography. If Balian is a compelling and attractive character in my novel, how much of that is because the historical Balian was an attractive character and how much of it is because I, as an author, did a good job?  
In terms of what characters do I think I was most masterful in molding, I would say: Reynald de Chatillon, who is usually portrayed as monotonously evil, and Isabella of Jerusalem, who is usually depicted as vapid, bland and spineless. One of my favorite scenes is where the 11-year-old Isabella confronts Reynald about her husband coming of age. I also like my interpretation of Balian’s elder brother, the historical Baldwin of Ramla and Mirabel. He discarded his first wife and mother of his children in order to be free to marry Sibylla, only to be jilted by her in favor of Guy de Lusignan. Then although he fought well under Baldwin IV  and Baldwin V, he dramatically refused to take an oath of fealty to Guy, and abandoned his son and third wife (he married twice after Sibylla rejected him and married Guy) to go to Antioch. That’s a pretty volatile personality — and totally different from the diplomatic Balian, who managed to reconcile Tripoli and Lusignan and negotiated with Saladin so well. So the trick was having two brothers who are very different, but also very close in that they stick by one another through thick and thin. 
3. Who is your least favorite character and why?
Here my personal dislike probably inhibited my ability to write a good character. Sibylla was such a stupid woman and such a disastrous queen (see my article about her at: Sibylla, Queen of Jerusalem ) that I found it extremely difficult to understand her or see things through her eyes — as an author must in order to be able to effectively conjure up a person with words. I simply cannot understand how a woman, who knew from the age of nine or ten onwards that she was going to be queen, could place her personal feelings for a man ahead of the welfare of her kingdom. I despise Sibylla because it was only her selfishness and deceitfulness in crowning Guy de Lusignan king that resulted in the Christians losing almost everything. It was all so unnecessary!

Sibylla, Queen of Jerusalem

Biography of Sibylla, Queen of Jerusalem. Daughter of Amalric I, Sister of Baldwin IV (the Leper King), and wife of Guy de Lusignan.
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4. You really brought the Battle of Hattin to life. Your descriptions and your characters’ display of emotions were very vivid. As we all know, the Battle of Hattin and the events that unfolded in the months following was a very dark time for the Christians in the Levant. How did you feel writing that about that scene?
That part of the novel wrote itself. That deep into the novel, I already empathized intensely with my characters, and it really was only a matter of closing my eyes and feeling what they felt. All I had to do was say: OK. Historically this is the next event, and then slip inside my characters and let them tell the reader what it was like. I often feel like a medium for characters more than their creator. Or another way of looking at it is that when I write I’m communicating at or with a spiritual level — the souls of the dead or a divine being — by listening to them. I feel only what they feel/felt and have no reactions or feelings as Helena. 
5. You are writing a third book in the Balian series: ‘Envoy of Jerusalem’. Can you tell us a little bit about it? When do you hope to release it?
“Envoy of Jerusalem” is the third and final book in my Balian trilogy. It will cover the period following the surrender of Jerusalem until Balian’s death.  That includes the siege and assault on Tyre in November/December 1187, the siege of Acre 1189-1191, the arrival of the crusaders under Philip II and Richard the Lionheart, the bitter rivalry between Guy de Lusignan and Conrad de Montferrat for the throne of Jerusalem, and, of course, the campaign fought by Richard the Lionheart for the Holy Land that ended with Balian negotiating a three year truce. But it also covers the establishment of the Latin Kingdom of Cyprus under Guy and — more important — Aimery de Lusignan. Aimery was married to Balian’s niece Eschiva, and then latter to his step-daughter Isabella, and there is good reason to believe that — in contrast to Balian and Guy — Balian and Aimery got along well and respected one another. Guy was given Cyprus by Richard I, but died two years later. It was Aimery who established effective control over the island and founded the Lusignan dynasty  that lasted 300 years. Notably, the Ibelins were the most powerful baronial family in the Levant from the start of the 13th until the 16th cenury, and both Balian’s sons at different times served as regents, John in Jerusalem and Philip in Cyprus. So while the first part of the novel will cover familiar ground to those who have studied the crusades, the second half ventures into lesser known — but fascinating — historical territory. 
6. Where can we find ‘Defender of Jerusalem’?
“Defender of Jerusalem” is available in paperback at both amazon and barnes and nobleAnd, of course, it can be ordered through your local bookstore. I strongly recommend the paperback because of the maps, genealogy tables and glossary that are easier to use in the paperback. However, it is also available in a variety of ebook formats, including kindle and nook.

Defender of Jerusalem: A Biographical Novel of Balian D’…

Available in: Paperback. The Christian kingdom of Jerusalem is under siege. The charismatic Kurdish leader, Salah ad-Din, has succeeded in uniting Shiite
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Thanks very much for this opportunity to talk about “Defender of Jerusalem,” and keep up the good work on this website!
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Baldwin II: Man of God, Man of Reconciliation

William of Tyre described Baldwin II as a just man, pious and God-fearing (Barber, 118). Baldwin II was much like Godfrey of Bouillon and the complete opposite of Baldwin I. Whereas Baldwin I ruled with force, Baldwin II preferred negotiation and gentle persuasion. He also used quirky, yet brilliant strategies that worked for the greater good of the County of Edessa and later, the Kingdom of Jerusalem.

According to William of Tyre, while Baldwin II was still Count of Edessa, he encountered financial problems because the salary of his knights exceeded his revenues. Baldwin had married the Armenian princess, Morphia, daughter of the wealthy count, Gabriel of Malaya. Unlike most marriages of the time, Baldwin and Morphia’s marriage was based on mutual love and respect. Gabriel and Baldwin also shared a close friendship.

Baldwin knew that Gabriel would be able to help him out, but he did not want to exploit Gabriel’s good will. So, Baldwin rode with his knights to visit Gabriel. Gabriel received Baldwin gladly, so Baldwin stayed for a length of time.

One day, while Baldwin and Gabriel were engaged in conversation in the palace hall, one of Baldwin’s knights (staged by Baldwin) entered the hall and demanded payment of a salary. Baldwin then had to admit to Gabriel that he had not enough money to pay his knights, so he promised to let them cut off his beard. In Greek and Armenian culture, men grew their beards as long and as thick as they were able to. It was considered a dishonor to cut it. Gabriel, abhorred by Baldwin’s decision, gave him 30,000 bezants, demanding that Baldwin never cut his beard (Rita Stark, 60).

Edessa, located along the furthest northern edge of Christian Outremer, was more prone to Turkish attacks than neighboring Antioch. That was the main reason why Baldwin constantly ran into financial troubles. In the early 12th century, Edessa suffered a period of famine after bands of Turkish warriors ravaged the countryside. That left Baldwin’s treasury nearly empty.

Meanwhile, Joscelin de Courtenay, who held the fief of Turbessel, a town located on the Euphrates River, had escaped the Turkish invasion. He continued to enjoy the wealth the fertile land of the region yielded. Unfortunately, he had no sympathy for his overlord. In fact, Joscelin arrogantly stated that Baldwin should return to France because he was incapable of holding onto his status (Rita Stark, 60).

Feigning illness, Baldwin summoned Joscelin to his bedside. Joscelin was probably not at all concerned for Baldwin because we wanted to claim Edessa. Nevertheless, he masked his coldhearted greed and asked how Baldwin’s health was. Much to his surprise and probably dismay, Baldwin leapt out of bed and harshly reproached Joscelin for his disloyalty. He then threw Joscelin in prison and stripped him of his fief.

However, in 1118, the two men made reconciliation, a move that would benefit both men greatly. Joscelin ardently supported Baldwin’s claim to the throne probably because he knew his rewards would be great. On the other hand, Joscelin held a deep respect for Baldwin and most likely felt regretful for his earlier actions against Baldwin.

In any case, Baldwin returned Turbessel to Joscelin.

The ruses Baldwin used to save him and his county from destruction never turned into treason. In fact, his actions were always followed by reconciliation. It’s highly possible some of the prominent barons of Outremer thought Baldwin II as a weak and ineffective king and desired a king like Baldwin I, who ruled with an iron fist. Yet, under Baldwin II’s rule, the Kingdom of Jerusalem thrived and flourished amidst the perpetual threat its enemies posed to it.


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