The Holy Lance: A Review

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This is a review of Author Andrew Latham’s latest release, The Holy Lance.

Review written by Helena Schrader.

Finally! A book that describes the Templars as they really were: devout Catholic fighting men, rather than as fantasy creatures and costumed, modern myths.  Andrew Latham has with this comparatively short, action-packed book done the much-maligned Order of the Poor Knights of the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem a worthy service by pulling them out of the realm of mystery and romance and putting back into a historical context and perspective.

The book does not attempt to paint a panorama of the Third Crusade much less the Holy Land at the end of the 12th century. Instead, it follows a single Templar troop (or banner, as Latham calls it) on a fictional but completely plausible mission to try to recover from deep inside enemy territory a controversial relic found during the First Crusade: the “Holy Lance,” i.e the lance that pierced Christ’s side before the crucifixion.

Historically this relic, discovered by a priest in Antioch, inspired the Christians of the First Crusade, who were besieged in Antioch and suffering intense privation at the time, to successfully sortie out against the numerically superior enemy. Within the first decade after the establishment of the crusader states, however, the Holy Lance had been discredited and replaced by the True Cross as the most holy relic of Christendom. At the time of this novel, July/August 1191, the True Cross had been captured by the Saracens at the disastrous Battle of Hattin, and the crusader states reduced to the cities of Tyre, Tripoli and Antioch. It is completely plausible, therefore, that Richard the Lionheart and other Christian leaders would remember the Holy Lance and want to secure possession of it. A relic, even a dubious one, would have been kept in a monastery, and so the recovery of the relic would inherently have entailed crossing into enemy controlled territory that once belonged to the Christians.

Based on this plausible mission into enemy-held territory, Latham has built a great war-story similar in structure to “Saving Private Ryan” about a small band of men on a dangerous mission with a guide of uncertain trustworthiness and unexpected enemies in their own ranks. Latham keeps his story focused and moving, with completely realistic situations and challenges, never once falling into the temptation of fantasy, legend or romance. His characters are fighting men: some of them mercenaries, others former mercenaries. They can be violent and brutal, but they remain men (not monsters) and they are grounded firmly in the 12th century with 12 century motives and beliefs.

Latham is a master of suspense, not so much in the overall plot as in his ability to tease out each new danger and make the reader really sweat it out with the protagonists. The way time gets stretched to unbearable infinity when one is in danger or approaching danger is brilliantly conveyed. The dialogue is also convincing and comfortable, with neither unnecessary anachronisms that shatter the sense of time and place nor with stilted, artificially old-fashioned speech. The use of Latin is excellent as an anchor to the period, but always translated so the reader is not left feeling like the author is talking down to him. The descriptions of equipment, landscapes, clothing etc. reflect the author’s meticulous research which is by far the best description of Templar daily routines I have ever seen in a work of fiction. I particularly liked the fact that he has given the Turcopoles and Sergeants of the Knight’s Templar a significant role, reflective of their significance in historical Order but almost always ignored in works of fiction that feature the Templars.

To create more dramatic tension, Latham portrays Conrad de Montferrat more negatively than history justifies. However, compared to the character assassination and whole-scale historical inaccuracies found in other novels set in this period, Latham is on the whole restrained and correct in his depictions of historical personalities.  My biggest criticism is that, although he has created several intriguing and sympathetic characters, I didn’t feel he had fully explored or revealed them. At least not in this book. I hope he goes deeper into the hearts and souls of his characters in the next book of the series that I look forward to reading.

 

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Roger’s Victory

Aleppo was in a state of disarray in the second decade of the 12th century. The Sultan of Baghdad, seeing that as an opportunity to enhance his power in the Middle East, funded a new invasion into Frankish Syria. This time, he placed a Persian warlord, Bursuq of Hamadan in command of the army.

Luckily for the Franks, the feuding Muslim leaders of Syria felt threatened by Baghdad’s quest for more power. Tughtegin allied with his son-in-law, Il-ghazi of Mardin, the leader of the Artuqid dynasty. The two men seized control of Aleppo and then sent messages to Antioch to negotiate a peace treaty with Roger.

At first, Roger didn’t trust Tughtegin’s motives, but it seems that one of his leading vassals, Robert Fitz-Fulk the Leper had cultivated a close friendship with Tughtegin. On Robert’s advice, Roger accepted Tughtegin’s request for friendship. An alliance with Tughtegin and Il-ghazi worked to the Franks’ advantage because it acted as a buffer against their enemies. It also gave them a measure of time to prepare for the latest Turkish invasion.

Bursuq marched on Aleppo with the intention of using the city as a place from which to launch an invasion into the Principality of Antioch. However, he discovered that it was closed off to him. Tughtegin and Il-ghazi refused entry to him. So, he sought support from Shaizar for an attack on Antioch’s southern frontier (Asbridge, 157).

Meanwhile, Roger assembled an army of about 2,000 men and, accompanied by Baldwin of Edessa and Tughtegin, they marched to Apamea. There they set up camp and held their position until they were joined by the remaining forces of the Grand-Frankish alliance (known then as the Frankish-Muslim coalition). Tughtegin’s force of 10,000 men greatly enlarged the Frankish army, evening out the odds with their enemy.

Camped not far from the Franks, Bursuq led frequent raids into the Summaq plateau in attempts to provoke the Franks to engage in open battle. Maintaining order and restraint under such circumstances must have been exceptionally difficult for the Christian Knights – even their Muslim allies – to do, especially since they were keen in the destruction of their enemy. However, Roger commanded with an iron fist. He threatened to blind any man who broke his rank and pursued the enemy. Despite every effort of Bursuq to antagonize them, the Frankish-Muslim alliance held steadfast. Exhausted, Bursuq retreated with his army back towards Hama.

Believing that they had triumphed once again, the Frankish-Muslim coalition disassembled.

In the opening days of September, Roger learnt, much to his horror, that Bursuq’s withdrawal was a ruse. Bursuq had waited in Hama until the Frankish-Muslim coalition left Apamea and assumed their every-day activities in their respective counties. Bursuq then descended on the Principality of Antioch, cutting across the northern reaches of the Summaq Plateau and surrounding Antioch. Roger found his principality cut off from his allies, on the brink of being captured by the Turks. Baldwin of Edessa had remained in Antioch with a contingent of his troops, but Edessene presence wasn’t enough to repel the Turkish onslaught.

Roger was faced with the same dilemma as King Baldwin had two years previous: should he wait for the Frankish-Muslim coalition to come to his aid or risk direct confrontation with the Turks? Unwilling to let the Turks pillage Antioch’s south-eastern frontier, Roger chose the latter. He assembled a small army of around 500-700 Knights and between 2,000 and 3,000 infantrymen (Asbridge, 158). His force was small, no match for Bursuq’s numerically superior army. Roger stood a strong chance of being severely defeated and the Principality of Antioch, swiftly captured by the Turks. Roger was not ignorant of those potential consequences, but he pressed on with hot-headed tenacity. From Rugia, his army marched to intercept the Turks. They took with them the Antiochene relic of the True Cross, which was carried by the Bishop of Jabala. Like they had many times before, the Franks put all their faith in the holy relic and prayed – not doubt repeatedly – for divine intervention.

This time, luck was on their side, though military prudence preserved the Franks from near annihilation. As Roger and his army advanced through the Ruj Valley, Roger sent ahead scouts to search for Bursuq’s army. In the middle of September those scouts reported that Bursuq’s army was camped in the valley of Sarmin, not knowing that the Frankish army was nearby. Those scouts must have hid quite well so as not to be seen by Turkish warriors. Also, Bursuq had failed to send his own scouts to search the countryside for the Franks.

Roger launched a surprise attack, sending the Turks in a chaotic retreat to Tell Danith. The loot plundered from the Muslim camp was so plentiful that it apparently took Roger three days to split it amongst his men (Asbridge, 159). No doubt, Roger had enough left over to fill his own coffers.

Roger’s victory over the Muslims boosted his confidence and status amongst his contemporaries. Many historians have even likened him to Richard the Lionheart. Unfortunately for Roger, he would not gain another victory.

 

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Reynald de Châtillon in a Dungeon

This is an excerpt from Helena Schrader’s yet-to-be released novel, Defender of Jerusalem.

Reynald de Châtillon was having more trouble getting his bearings than he was prepared to admit. He abhorred weakness in anyone, especially himself―and so he could not admit to it, but things were happening too fast even for him. Fifteen years in a dungeon had taken from him much of the flesh on his bones and some of his vision as well. He still could not stand naked sunlight, and he instinctively sought shadows or shaded his eyes with a broad straw hat tied over his coif. He might look ridiculous, but Reynald had left vanity behind in the dungeon at Aleppo.

The Wheel of Fortune, he thought to himself, ought to be on his coat of arms. Born to a family of no consequence, he had come out to Outremer in the train of Louis VII of France, but rather than returning humiliated like his master, he had risen to become Prince of Antioch by seducing a sex-starved and stupid widow. Knowing he’d have nothing after her son came of age, he’d tried to take the Island of Cyprus from the Greeks―and he’d succeeded! But then the Emperor sent a fleet and robbed him of the fruits of his labors. After that he’d groveled in the dirt at the Greek Emperor’s feet in a display of abject submission, but the lesson Reynald took away from the incident was only that it was foolish to attack an island without control of the sea. So in subsequent years he’d turned eastward for new conquests―only unfortunately, through no fault of his own, he’d been captured by the Emir of Aleppo and thrown into a dungeon.

The dungeon was deep underground, with no windows to let in daylight. Air came, dank and foul, smelling of death and decay, from long, dark tunnels that led to other cellars, or possibly beyond the walls. Reynald never knew where all the tunnels led, because they were barred to him by iron grilles anchored in bedrock. Only one had seemed important: the one by which he’d entered and―fifteen years later―departed.

In the intervening years, he had lived like the rats in that dungeon: drinking the water that seeped from the walls and collected in dank pools on the stone floor, fighting over the bread and other scraps thrown to them, and shitting where he pleased. He’d seen more than one prisoner die in that dungeon, and he’d contributed to the death of others to be sure that rations never got too short―or when their ravings got on his nerves. Many men went mad in that dungeon; Reynald just became harder.

When he emerged from the dungeon, the Arabs had covered their noses and mouths at the stench of him, and even the bath slaves had made faces when ordered to clean him up. They had shaven off his filthy, matted hair, oiled him, and then scraped and scrubbed him until his white, sun-starved skin was as pink as a boiled crab. They had clipped and filed his toenails and fingernails, and then dressed him in a fine white robe with a turban and returned him to the King of Jerusalem.

It was only after he had been delivered to the Hospitaller castle of Krak des Chevaliers that he learned Baldwin III was dead; that was a bad shock. The second shock was hearing that Amalric, his brother and heir, was also dead. But the third shock had been the worst: learning that Amalric’s heir, Baldwin IV, was a boy suffering from leprosy. “So who the hell’s in charge?” Reynald demanded, already wondering if there were a widow to be seduced here as well.

“Tripoli.”

“Raymond?” Reynald asked, incredulous. Then he sniffed in contempt.

The feelings were mutual.

In a gesture of gratitude, the Emir of Aleppo had freed all the Christian prisoners in thanks for the Christian attack on Homs that had forced Salah-ad-Din to lift the seige of Aleppo. The gesture was a generous one, but to the end of his days Tripoli wondered if the Emir of Aleppo had known what he was doing when he released Reynald de Châtillon along with the others. Reynald was to be a thorn in his side until they both died―and he would be the cause of the fall of the Kingdom of Jerusalem.

Meanwhile, Reynald might have been released from the dungeon in Aleppo, but he was welcome nowhere. The Greek Emperor had accepted his groveling years before, but he had not forgiven the ravaging of Cyprus. Reynald thought the Emperor might concoct some justification for a new arrest―or just poison him. In Antioch, now that his wife was dead and his stepson was in control, he was even less welcome; Bohemond was bitter about the alleged “misrule” of his kingdom and the “plundering” of his coffers by his mother’s second husband. Tripoli, meanwhile, had banned Châtillon outright from his own territories, so he was only safe here as long as he was in the care of the Hospitallers. To go to Jerusalem, however, meant doing homage to a leper! Châtillon spat.

But here was this young knight, begging him to leave Krak des Chevaliers for Kerak in Oultrejourdain and attend upon the widow of his old friend Miles de Plancy. “Sylvia’s her name, isn’t it? Or, no,” he snapped his fingers in irritation at his poor memory, “not Sylvia, something with “ie” on the end. Melanie? No, Stephanie, that was her name! No?” Henri d’Ibelin nodded, and Châtillon scratched deeper in the dark corners of his benumbed memory. “She wasn’t much to look at, if I recall rightly.”

“She is not a conventional beauty, my lord,” Henri conceded. “But she has many other qualities.”

“I’m beginning to remember now. Miles said she could curse like a sailor, scream like a fishwife, and scratch like a cat―sometimes in fury and sometimes out of ecstasy when he rode her.” Châtillon laughed to see the young knight blush at his bluntness. “You’re not one of those fools who pledges yourself to a lady and vows chaste love, are you, boy? Let me tell you, chastity will get you nowhere. Rutting in the right place at the right time will.”

Henri flushed a darker shade of red, but replied stolidly: “My lady requests that you attend on her at Kerak, my lord. I have been asked to escort you. I know no more.”

“The hell you don’t!”

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The Nizaris: Reason for Tughtegin’s Alliance With the Franks

Maudud returned to Damascus with Tughtegin early in the Fall of 1113. This turned out to be a fatal decision for Maudud because, while attending prayers at the Grand Mosque with Tughtegin, Maudud was attacked and mortally wounded. The assailant was promptly sought out and executed. However, in the process his identity and association were not revealed. Rumor had it, the assailant belonged to the Nizari sect, a secret Islamic sect that gained power and influence throughout the 12th century through the murder of their enemies*.

The Nizaris gained a strong measure of control over Aleppo during the reign of Ridwan ibn Tutush (of Aleppo), but after Ridwan’s death in 1113, they were driven out of the city (Asbridge, 156). Tughtegin was accused of plotting against Maudud because of his alliance with the Nizaris. Whether he was involved in Maudud’s murder or not is unknown. Regardless, Tughtegin was harassed to the point where he had to choice but to leave Damascus and seek an alliance with Jerusalem.

Tughtegin’s alienation from Damascus gave the Franks the upper hand in strategy. Even so, the near fatal events of 1102 and 1113 taught them never to rush into battle with the Turks. The Muslim threat to the new kingdom was something that could not be stamped out, but it could be held at bay if and only if the Franks remained a unified front. They also adopted a defensive strategy where, confronted by an invading force, they gathered at a defensible location, cautiously patrolled the invaded area, scrutinizing enemy movements and halting enemy advancement while avoiding open battle.

*The Nizaris were a fraction of the Isma’ili branch of Shia Islam, originally from north-eastern Persia. The Nizaris were apparently addicted to Hashish, a potent drug. That’s where the word ‘Assassin’ came from (Asbridge, 156).

 

 

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The Land of Milk and Honey: The Kingdom of Jerusalem

The coastline of Ascalon. It doesn't look nearly as desolate and brown as is depicted in popular film and literature.

The coastline of Ascalon. It doesn’t look nearly as desolate and brown as is depicted in popular film and literature.

This is an article by co-contributor Helena Schrader.

The crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem is most frequently depicted in modern literature and film as a desert wasteland dotted with massive castles on barren hills. This image traces its roots at least in part to accounts by crusaders and pilgrims from Northern Europe, who found the Holy Land oppressively hot and comparatively dry. But those images are deceptive.

First, modern students of the crusader states should keep in mind that most pilgrims arrived in the spring, at the start of the warm, dry season, and departed in the fall before the rains.  Crusaders who remained longer in the Holy Land, like Richard the Lionheart, encountered drenching rain and even sleet and hail along with far from tropical temperatures. More, important despite some climate change over the last 800 years, the climate of the Kingdom of Jerusalem was not so very different from the climate of Israel today.

In short, far from being a crucible of heat and sand, the Holy Land under Latin Christian rule was still a highly fertile and agriculturally productive environment. That was what made it so valuable to invaders from all corners of the earth over the millennia!

But the new rulers from the West did not simply take over the existing territory, they increased its productivity substantially. Of the estimated 650,000 inhabitants of the Kingdom of Jerusalem in the second half of the 12th century, roughly 140,000 were “Franks” — Frank being the collective term for the Western Europeans that came to the Holy Land in the 12th and 13th centuries. Of these, roughly half lived in rural villages. These eighty thousand rural “Frankish” settlers lived predominantly, archaeologists believe, in new settlements and so represented a significant influx of new agricultural labor and — even more important — brought more land under cultivation.

Equally important and far too often under-estimated, the Western settlers that came to the Holy Land during the first century of Latin rule, brought new agricultural techniques to the region, which had previously been unknown. They then adapted their agricultural techniques to the new environment so effectively that their presence led to what historian Malcolm Barber calls a “agricultural revival” of the region. Thus, in addition to traditional Mediterranean products such as wheat, barley, olives and grapes, with which they were already familiar, the Western settlers in the crusader states developed commercial production of dates, sugar cane, figs, bananas and citrus fruits. The cities of Outremer — including Jerusalem itself — were not surrounded by barren desert but rather by a blooming agricultural landscape of orchards and plantations catering to the urban population.

The archaeological evidence further suggests that the typical settler village was not walled, did not have a citadel or tall keep or even a defensible church tower as in other “frontier” areas as, for example, Prussia. This discovery strongly undermines the notion that the Franks lived in constant fear of the more populous native population. Rather the pattern of settlement reproduced typical settlement patterns of Southern France adapted architecturally to the climate, and so reinforces the thesis that the Franks in Outremer lived in harmony with their neighbors.  The great castles and walled cities were built to protect the entire population from foreign (Saracen) invasions, not to protect the local lords from their subjects.

It should also be remembered that even the non-Frank workers on the farms and in the factories were not slaves. They were for the most part natives of the region, which meant they were predominantly Christian and their status was similar to that of serfs in Western Europe. They had clearly defined rights and privileges as well as obligations, and they were ruled by local administrators of the same faith, who administered traditional law rather than imposing foreign customs on the population. Even Muslims and Jews retained a strong degree of judicial autonomy in settling family and civil cases.

Far from being the desert battleground of popular literature and film, the Kingdom of Jerusalem — like the Kingdom of Cyprus — were agriculturally fertile, rich kingdoms in a mild, Mediterranean climate. This was the land of “milk and honey” that had seduced — and continues to seduce — conquerors since the start of recorded time.

Learn more about crusader society at: Balian d’Ibelin and the Kingdom of Jerusalem.

 

 

 

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Book Review: Walking Corpses: Leprosy in Byzantium and the Medieval West

This is a book review of Timothy S. Miller’s and John W. Nesbitt’s book,  Walking Corpses: Leprosy in Byzantium and the Medieval West. Review by Helena Schrader.

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This is an important scholarly work on the treatment of lepers in the Middle Ages. It covers everything from theories on the causes of leprosy to the administration of leper colonies. The book is well researched and the theses are well presented, argued and documented.

Given the subject matter, this is not an easy read and is intended more for academics than for the general public. Yet it provides very valuable insights into medieval society that would benefit more casual students of the Middle Ages.  For one thing, Miller and Nesbitt effectively debunk the notion that leper colonies were places of punishment or that lepers were consistently and cruelly expelled from society out of moral revulsion.  On the contrary, they convincingly argue; “ spiritual leaders [shaped] a new ethical imperative to accept lepers as suffering brothers in Christ, not to reject them as ritually impure or as objects of divine punishment.” In Byzantium, leprosy even came to be called “the Holy Disease” and a number of legends associated lepers with Christ, while service to lepers was viewed as particularly holy.

Nevertheless, the fear of contagion was, understandably, enormous and so civil and responsible ecclesiastical leaders sought to separate lepers from society at large.  Leper colonies were thus generally located outside city walls, but close enough for lepers to engage in trade and receive alms and visits from relatives, friends and patrons.

Because the organization of several important leper colonies is documented, we have insight into how the lepers managed their affairs. Miller and Nesbitt highlight the fact that most leper colonies were run by the lepers themselves, who appear to have most often elected their own leaders! Furthermore, women lepers took part in the administration of leper colonies on equal footing with men and in some cases even obtained positions of authority.

This later fact begs the question: Were leprous women deemed the equals of men, or was medieval society considerably more respectful of women’s intellect and capabilities than is generally assumed? Or was, as Miller and Nesbitt ask at the very end of their work, the role played by women and the “democratic” nature of leper colonies a reason for increasing suspicion and hostility to lepers at the end of the Middle Ages?

 

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Protestant Reformation: Did it End the Crusade Movement?

In the comments section underneath J Stephen Robert’s video on the Second Crusade, someone made this comment: ‘The Protestant Reformation ended the Crusades and made Europe incapable of resisting Islam as a united front.’ This statement hit me like a ton of bricks over my head because it was the last thing I expected anyone to write. I’m not the typical Christian who attends Church every Sunday. I keep my faith and I do my best to live according to Christ’s teachings, but I don’t go to church. Though I can’t ignore my personal history: I grew up in a protestant household and attended a protestant church most of my life. Yet, I must admit that comment made me think about History and about current events on a deeper level.

Did the protestant reformation render Europe incapable of fighting radical Islam on a united front historically? Are Protestants a large reason for the Islam phobia that has plagued Europe and the West at large? The answer is no. Christendom was divided religiously and politically long before Martin Luther nailed his ninety-five thesis’ to a Church door in 1517.

According to Balderic of Dol, a chronicler who recorded Pope Urban’s speech, Pope Urban said the following:

“You, girt about with the badge of knighthood, are arrogant with great pride; you rage against your brothers and cut each other in pieces. This is not the (true) soldiery of Christ which rends asunder the sheepfold of the Redeemer. The Holy Church has reserved a soldiery for herself to help her people, but you debase her wickedly to her hurt. Let us confess the truth, whose heralds we ought to be; truly, you are not holding to the way which leads to life. You, the oppressers of children, plunderers of widows; you, guilty of homicide, of sacrilege, robbers of another’s rights; you who await the pay of thieves for the shedding of Christian blood — as vultures smell fetid corpses, so do you sense battles from afar and rush to them eagerly. Verily, this is the worst way, for it is utterly removed from God! if, forsooth, you wish to be mindful of your souls, either lay down the girdle of such knighthood, or advance boldly, as knights of Christ, and rush as quickly as you can to the defence of the Eastern Church.”

Several different versions of Pope Urban’s speech have been recorded. Whether he said those exact words is unknown but one thing is known for certain: prior to the First Crusade, there was much infighting between the nobles in Western Europe. No doubt Pope Urban addressed that issue in his message at Clermont. The threat Islam posed to the Greek Christians moved the people enough to unite as one and fight the Turks, but also to reclaim the Holy Land for Christ. Not only did Pope Urban start the Crusade movement, the First Crusade halted Turkish advancement westward at least until 1520s.

Not only was Western Christendom torn apart by familial feuds, the great schism between Byzantium and the Latin West provoked an atmosphere of dissention and distrust between Greek Orthodox and Catholic Christians. Yet, desperate times called for desperate measures. The Emperor Alexius put aside any contempt he might have had towards the Catholic West and appealed to them for Military Aid against the Turks. From that moment until the end of the 12th century, the Greeks and the Latins worked together to preserve Christian dominance in the Near East.

Protestantism only made things in the West much more complicated. Indeed, it deepened the divide between Christians. Yet, the Ottoman Empire declined until it was dismantled in 1920 and the Middle East was partitioned after that. Fundamental Islam has existed since the time of Muhammad, yet the West has not witnessed any serious threat from Islam for a few centuries. Now, history seems to be repeating itself: we are facing the spread of radical Islam once again. They are threatening to destroy democracy and Christianity, the two things that make the West the ideal place to live. Yet, the West is too weak to resist it.

So, why is the West so weak? What happened to chivalry, courage and strength? Did the Protestant Reformation end that? No. The real reason the West is unable to resist radical Islam on a unified front is because of the left-wing movement that started with the French Revolution in the late 18th century and endures to this day.

Socialism, as we all know, works well on paper but not in the real world. The ideal of total equality and inclusion is appealing and right. Those ideals are Christ-based. Unfortunately, the leaders who fought hard to end the feudal system in France and establish democracy in its place are the same people who grossly abused those ideals. Sadly, that that tradition of abuse and misrepresentation continues to this day.

The world leaders, media personnel, celebrities and even common people who continue to push left-wing ideology continue to exploit the very thing they claim to uphold and defend: democracy. True democracy: Freedom of speech, freedom of religion, the freedom to pursue and obtain wealth and the freedom (or should I say) the ability to fight terrorism. Yet, the most puzzling and frustrating thing about it all is how strong of a hold left wing ideology has on Western thought even though it has failed miserably.

So, what does this all have to do with the Crusades and Islam? In the 1960s the concept of multiculturalism was born. Left leaning politicians then thought it was a good idea to encourage people from all over the world and from all walks of life to immigrate to Canada, the United States and to Europe. There is certainly nothing wrong with interacting with people from diverse cultures and countries. Those people have made Europe and North America a much more dynamic and vibrant place to live. They have also strengthened Western Civilization economically.

Unfortunately we’re losing our identity because our governments have relaxed our immigration policies. Worse, there are no boundaries with immigrants. In fact, our leaders and the mainstream media are so eager to accommodate the newcomers, they are afraid to do anything or say anything that would offend these people. In doing so, the West has become Islam phobic. It’s okay for people to persecute Christians and slander Christianity, but God help you if you slander the Prophet Muhammad. Many scholars have revised the history of the Crusades because they feel bad for all the atrocities the Christians inflicted on the Muslims. History is all about putting things in perspective, not revising it. Yes, the Christians committed many atrocities throughout history, but so too did the Muslims.

Socialism has rendered the West incapable of resisting radical Islam on a unified front because it has crippled us with fear. It has even crept into many Christian communities (Protestant and Catholic alike). Fear is a basic human reaction to dangerous or life-threatening events. But there is a time to retreat and there is a time to fight. I pray to God we don’t have to take up arms, but I wonder how long the West will tolerate radical Islam and terrorism. I pray we wake up before it’s too late.

 

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Clash of Queens: An Excerpt From Defender of Jerusalem

“Clash of Queens” is an excerpt from Helena Schrader’s latest work, Defender of Jerusalem, the sequel to Knight of Jerusalem. Defender of Jerusalem is set to be released in September 2015.

A page rushed ahead of the Dowager Queen to announce her, but she was too close on his heels for the Queen Mother or Princess Sibylla to do anything more than look up in astonishment. After all, she had lived in this palace seven years and she knew exactly where she was going, even if she had avoided it since the disastrous Easter court two years ago when Sibylla had married Guy de Lusignan. Certainly she had not set eyes on Agnes de Courtenay since the Queen Mother had connived to steal Isabella away from her.

Maria Comnena had no doubt whatever who had instigated the theft of her child. She knew that the King was not really the originator of the idea, and she was convinced that neither the King nor even Balian, good man that he was, fully understood what was at stake. They both saw in Isabella a potential contender for the throne of Jerusalem who needed to be “controlled,” but Maria Comnena recognized that to Agnes de Courtenay, Isabella was a threat to her children. While Maria Comnena was certain that Baldwin meant his half-sister no harm, she remained convinced that Agnes was plotting Isabella’s death behind her son’s back.

Maria Comnena had made no less than five trips to Kerak in the last two years, but on the last two occasions she had been told that Isabella was “away”—allegedly on pilgrimage in one case and at Montreal on the other. Maria Comnena believed none of it. If it hadn’t been for Dawit’s regular reports on Isabella’s physical health and fierce determination to survive her imprisonment, she would have been frantic enough to take desperate measures. What measures, she didn’t know, but she knew she was capable of doing things no one expected of her.

One of them was walking straight up to the King’s mother and sister and holding out her hand for them to kiss her coronation ring. It was a gesture so haughty that all the ladies in the garden gasped. Maria Comnena knew at some level that such gestures did not make her popular, but she was in no mood to seek the approval of others. This was the ring of Jerusalem that had been placed on her ring finger at her coronation. She was an anointed queen—something neither Agnes de Courtenay nor Sibylla were. Agnes was a baroness, Sibylla Countess of Jaffa; Maria Comnena outranked them both.

Flushing with fury, Agnes just stared at her, while Sibylla threatened, “I will tell my brother about this.”

“Please do!” Maria Comnena answered, turning to look at her coldly. “King Baldwin understands the significance of being an anointed monarch. He will not be pleased by your insult to his Crown.”

Agnes choked on something she wanted to say, and Sibylla leapt up and ran away from this woman, who always made her feel so inadequate, worthless, and small.

That suited Maria Comnena. She was now face to face with her hated rival. “So, Madame, whose child are you planning to steal today?” Maria Comnena asked. Agnes turned even redder but still could not seem to find her tongue. “If it is my niece’s child,” Maria Zoë continued with only the barest glance in Eschiva’s direction, “think again. Aimery de Lusignan is not as susceptible to your poisonous whispers as your poor, pious son. Oh, but then you must know that—since you knew Aimery so very well.”

“How dare you?” Agnes de Courtenay had found her tongue at last and jumped to her feet in outrage, her fists clenched.

“How dare I what, Madame? Draw attention to your morals? But they are common knowledge.” Maria Comnena made a gesture of innocence that included all the other ladies, who gawked at them in shock. Then she added in a voice as hard as steel, for all that it was barely more than a whisper: “Everyone knows you have as much virtue as a bitch in heat.”

Agnes tried to slap Maria Comnena across her face, but Maria was faster. She caught the Queen Mother’s arm before she could strike and held it, her fingers digging into her Agnes’ wrist until she whimpered in pain. “Let me go!”

Maria Comnena dropped Agnes’ arm, and they stared at one another. “Don’t think you have won,” Maria warned. “Isabella may be a child, but she has friends far more powerful than you and your vultures.”

“You can’t mean my ineffectual brother-in-law,” Agnes sneered.

“No, of course not,” Maria Comnena answered, refusing to be provoked. “We both know my husband is too honorable for the games you play.” Maria Zoë was bluffing about having powerful friends. Her great-uncle was dead, her relatives murdered or chased into exile, but she could see the fear that suddenly shot through Agnes’ eyes, and that was satisfying enough for the moment.

The fear, however, made Agnes bluster, “You are not welcome here. I order you to leave at once.”

“I’ll leave when I want to,” the Dowager Queen countered. “And don’t think your guards—your son’s guards—will lay a hand on me! They know the difference between an anointed Queen and a king’s whore—”

“Get out of here!” It was Sibylla who shrieked this, coming back to defend her mother at last.

“With pleasure,” Maria Zoë answered. “I do not like the company of sluts—or fools.” The latter was directed at Sibylla.

“Baldwin will hear of this!” Sibylla shrieked, louder than ever.

“I wonder whose side he’ll take?” Maria Comnena answered evenly. It was not so much that she seriously believed Baldwin would approve of her calling his mother a whore—much less a bitch in heat—but she was, in fact, so furious with him for letting his mother steal her child that she wanted to hurt him. And perhaps, just perhaps, if he learned what she had done, he would be shocked into understanding just how deeply she had been hurt and how dangerous a mother animal in fear for her young was. Maybe, just maybe, he’d begin to see that his mother was not his best adviser, and that engendering the hatred of those who had loved and served him best was at best stupid—and could be very dangerous as well.

 

Categories: Book Excerpt | 2 Comments

Crusaders Reconsidered: A Look at Who Called them Barbarous and Why

This is an article by co-contributor Helena Schrader.

It has become commonplace (not to say popular) to describe the Islamic states that governed the Holy Land as “civilized” and the crusaders as “barbarians.” This perception rests primarily on two facts: 1) the Greek historian Anna Comnena used the term to describe the participants of the First Crusade, and 2) the alleged atrocities committed by the crusaders when they took Jerusalem in 1099.

Now, it must be remembered that the Greeks used the term “barbarian” to refer to anyone who didn’t speak Greek. This included, in a different age, the highly civilized Persians, Babylonians, Egyptians etc. Second, the Greek Emperors considered themselves the descendants and heirs to the Roman Empire – and viewed the German, French, and Norman crusaders as the descendants of the “barbarian hoards” that had over-run the Western Empire. Because the Byzantine Empire preserved greater continuity with Rome, it also had a very sophisticated bureaucracy and hierarchy that left the Byzantines confused and offended by the lack of formalized command structures and, indeed, the absence of a supreme commander among the crusaders. Anna Comnena certainly saw the crusaders as barbarians. That does not mean that we should.

The sack of Jerusalem was unquestionably a barbaric act – from the modern perspective. It was hardly so in the eyes of contemporaries. The contemporary rules of war were very explicit: a city that surrendered could expect mercy, a city that did not could expect “to be put to the sword.” This had been the rule of war since the sack of Troy. Modern sensibilities are offended particularly by the fact that Christians, allegedly fighting in the name of a peaceful, forgiving and loving Christ, could commit this “atrocity. But it does not make the crusaders “barbarians” in the contemporary context, certainly not when it is clear that most apocalyptic descriptions of the sack are exaggerations on the part of later writers and that thousands of Jerusalem’s inhabitants survived the assault and subsequent sack.

The Arabs, after all, had taken the Holy Land by the sword, not with sweet words and persuasion. In 997 the Muslims sacked Santiago de Compostella, the most important pilgrimage church in the West. In 1009 the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, built by the Byzantines over three hundred years starting in the reign of Constantine the Great (306 – 337), was utterly destroyed. Meanwhile, however, the Muslims had divided into Shiites and Sunnis and engaged in bloody wars in which they murdered, raped, pillaged and burned rival Muslim cities. Zengi, atabeg of Mosul, for example, not only (according to a Muslim source) ordered the “pillaging, slaying, capturing, ravishing and looting” of Edessa, but was feared in Damascus because of “his exceptionally cruel and treacherous behavior” – to his co-religionists.

Attempts to depict the crusaders as illiterate brutes lacking in cultural accomplishments also miss the mark. The “unwashed masses” might not have been very cultivated – but nor were the peasants and common soldiers of the Byzantine Empire or the Turks.  The upper classes in 11th century Europe, on the other hand, had already started to develop arts and architecture to a high degree of sophistication as manuscripts, artifacts and the architectural record shows. Literacy was confined to an elite, and fostered mostly by the clergy – but that was true in the Byzantine and Muslim world as well.  It is fair to say that in certain fields, notably medicine, mathematics and astronomy the Muslim world was ahead of Western Europe. However, in other sciences notably agriculture and shipbuilding the West was far ahead of the East.  The differences are hardly so dramatic or so one sided as to justify calling one culture civilized and the other “barbaric.”

What then made the crusaders appear so “barbaric” to their contemporaries in the East? Two features of Western European feudal society set it apart from the societies in the East which the crusaders intruded upon so suddenly and unexpectedly at the end of the 11th century.

First was the decentralized system of government based on complex, feudal relationships. Both the Byzantine and the Muslim world in this period were intensely hierarchical societies in which the Emperor (in the one) and the Caliph (in the other) had supreme and absolute control over his subjects – at least in theory. True, reality looked different.  By the end of the tenth century the Abbasid Caliphs were virtual prisoners of the Persian Abuyid dynasty, and changed masters when the Seljuk Turks captured Bagdahd in 1040.  Thereafter they were puppets of the Selkjuk sultans, while the Fatimid Caliphs were at the mercy of their viziers.

But whether the theoretically absolute rulers wielded actual power or not, their powerful “protectors” always ruled in their name; they considered – and called themselves – slaves of their masters. Western feudalism, in which kings were little more than the “first among equals,” was utterly alien to the Eastern mentality, and so was the outspokenness and (from the Easter perspective) impudence of vassals. The Eastern elites saw the inherent dangers of such a fluid system and associated it with primitive tribal structures. Yet it was exactly these feudal kingdoms that gradually devolved power to ever wider segments of the population until (through a series of constitutional crises) they eventually developed into modern democracies. Meanwhile, the Eastern states remained mired in autocracy.

The other feature of Western European society that the Muslims (though not the Byzantines) found disgusting and incomprehensible was the presence of women in public life. The fact that women had names and faces that were known outside the family circle was viewed as immoral and dishonorable (much the way the Athenians viewed Spartan women) by the Muslims of the 12th and 13th centuries. The fact that women not only had names and faces, but a voice in affairs and could play a role in public life including controlling wealth and influencing politics was even more offensive. Yet modern development research shows a strong correlation between societies that empower and enfranchise women and economic growth and prosperity. Societies that insist on muzzling and oppressing half their population are nowadays considered less “civilized.”

Whether you view the crusaders or the Saracens as more civilized will therefore depend less on objective factors than on how you view democracy and women’s rights.

Categories: Fact or Myth | 2 Comments

King Baldwin’s Mistake

Even though the crusader states were united, they could not repel the threat posed by their Muslim neighbours. Maudud of Mosul was determined to oust the Franks from Syria. In the spring of 1113, he raised an army, marched across the Euphrates River and joined forces with Tughtegin, the Atabeg of Damascus, at the High Orontes. From there, the two Turkish leaders invaded the Kingdom of Jerusalem via Galilee. They ravaged Galilee’s Christian inhabitants and took as much treasure and other provisions they were able to carry. No doubt they took Christian prisoners as well to be sold as slaves in Damascus later on.

When King Baldwin learnt of this latest Turkish invasion he sent an urgent appeal to Pons of Tripoli and Roger of Antioch for reinforcements. In the meantime, Baldwin assembled an army that included 700 knights and about 4,000 infantrymen (Rita Stark, 55). Baldwin then had a crucial decision to make: wait for the full Frankish alliance to gather or march on Galilee and confront the Turks. Baldwin would have been wise to wait for his compatriots to arrive with their combined force. Altogether, strong and united, the Franks would have beaten back the Turks, ending their attempts of invasion for the time being. Unfortunately Baldwin chose to march on Galilee with his small force and risk a crushing defeat like he had on the plains near Ramla in 1102. This was one decision that Baldwin was widely criticized for.

Once Baldwin arrived at Sinn el-Nabra on the southwest shores of Lake Tiberius, he set up camp. It was the end of June. Historian Thomas Asbridge suggests that King Baldwin did not realize that the enemy was close by. He also states that Baldwin had no intention of engaging the Turks in open battle. Asbridge underestimates King Baldwin’s capabilities as a military commander. There is no way Baldwin would have camped his forces within range of the Turkish army without knowing of their presence. Baldwin may not have intended to engage the Turks in a pitched battle, but he camped his army close to theirs just so he could intimidate them.

The Turks though weren’t always so easily intimidated and Baldwin, for the second time, misread the enemy. When Maudud and Tughtegin learnt of the Frankish presence nearby from their network of spies, they launched an assault, catching the Franks completely off guard. They slaughtered around 2,000 Franks and captured Baldwin’s tent and royal banner. Thanks to his swift moving horse, Gazelle, Baldwin was able to escape. He fled with what remained of his force to Mount Tabor. There, he was joined by Pons, Roger and their armies.

Humiliated, Baldwin had to apologize to all his compatriots for his mistake while the Turkish army continued to ravage the Jordan valley below. In efforts to make up for his mistake, Baldwin adopted a defensive strategy, keeping his forces in a holding position.

After four weeks passed with no fighting, Maudud and Tughtegin marched back to Damascus with their armies. It was no retreat for them. In fact, it was they who had gained the victory. According to an unnamed Muslim chronicler, Maudud and Tughtegin left “the enemy humbled, broken, defeated and dispirited,” (quoted in Asbridge, 156). To prove their triumph over the Franks, the allied Emirs sent Christian prisoners and the heads of Christian slain to the sultan in Baghdad.

As for King Baldwin, his mistake dealt a blow to his reputation. However, the Turkish victory was far from complete. The Franks had the largest army since the time of the First Crusade. Since it was nearly August, the Franks expected an Italian fleet to soon arrive in the Holy Land for their annual pilgrimage. They anticipated it to be a large fleet. It was enough for the Franks to regroup and reorganize as they had several times since they captured Jerusalem in 1099.

Categories: Baldwin I, The Crusader States, The Kingdom of Jerusalem | Leave a comment