English Contributions to the Crusades

This is a guest article by co-contributor, Helena Schrader.

When we look back on the Crusades, we are more likely to think of the French, who dominated the Christian crusader kingdoms in “Outremer,” than the English. Alternatively, we might think of the Germans, who contributed huge contingents of troops to the First, Second, Third, and Children’s Crusades, not to mention that the Holy Roman Emperor Friedrich II was supposed to lead the Firth Crusade and, having failed to show up for that, finally launched his own crusade, the Sixth Crusade. Meanwhile, the Spaniards were perpetually “on crusade” at home on the Iberian Peninsula, pushing back the “Moors.” By comparison, the English appear to have been conspicuously absent from crusading. Yet such an assessment is superficial and misleading. In fact, Plantagenet kings and vassals and English knights and nobles played key roles in the history of the crusades. What follows is a brief summary of the English contribution.

Henry II, Hattin and the Saladin Tithe

The most famous of all English crusaders was, of course, Richard I, the “Lionhearted,” but we should not forget that his father too had taken a strong interest in the fate of the crusader kingdoms. Two years before the fateful Battle of Hattin in 1187, Henry promised to support 200 knights annually in the Holy Land as part of his penance for the murder of Thomas of Becket. In consequence, 200 “English” knights fought at Hattin, although sources are unclear as to whether these knights were Englishmen, subjects of Henry Plantagenet, or simply knights financed by Henry II. Regardless of their exact nationality, two hundred knights out of a total of 1200 to 1500 is significant. Furthermore, Henry II personally took crusading vows after the fall of Jerusalem to Saladin. Although many question Henry II’s sincerity – and he certainly had good reasons for thinking he should not leave his vast domains unprotected or his unruly vassals without royal oversight for too long – there can be no doubt that he did introduce a “Saladin Tithe.” These revenues were collected directly by the Knights Templar and were certainly employed to help finance the Third Crusade. Thus, while Henry II did not personally take part in a crusade, he provided something arguably more important at this juncture in time – the means to outfit, transport and sustain many other fighting men.

The Third Crusade: 1189 – 1192

Significant as Henry II’s contributions were, they pale beside those of his son. Although the Third Crusade was jointly led by the Holy Roman Emperor, Philip II of France and Richard of England, its achievements can be attributed to Richard alone. The Holy Roman Emperor, Friedrich Barbarossa, drowned before reaching Jerusalem and most of his army turned back. Philip II, conscious (and jealous) of being in Richard’s shadow, returned to France after the first victory of the campaign, the re-capture of Acre. The fact that the Third Crusade failed in the stated objective of re-capturing Jerusalem has misled many to see the crusade as a failure. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

In 1191, when Richard I arrived in Outremer, the Kingdom of Jerusalem had virtually ceased to exist. The Kingdom, which had once reached beyond the Jordan and stretched along the Mediterranean coast from Beirut to Ascalon, had been reduced to the city of Tyre – and Tyre was beleaguered. Not only had Jerusalem been lost, the important pilgrimage sites of Bethlehem and Nazareth were also in Saracen hands. Tiberius, Nablus, and Toron had fallen within days of the victory at Hattin, after which Saladin had rolled up the coast taking Ascalon, Jaffa, Caesarea, Haifa, Acre, Sidon, and Beirut, while his subordinate commanders subdued all resistance further inland both on the West Bank and beyond the Jordan. The great crusader castles had surrendered one after another until practically only the Templar stronghold of Tortosa and the Hospitaller’s great fortress Krak de Cheveliers still held out. An estimated 100,000 Latin Christians had been taken captive during this campaign, and the captives included the King of Jerusalem and the Grand Master of the Knights Templar. Although there was still a Christian County of Tripoli, and a Christian Principality of Antioch, the Kingdom of Jerusalem had effectively been wiped off the map.

When Richard I left the Holy Land roughly a year after his arrival, the entire coastline of Palestine had been restored to Christian control and a viable Kingdom had been re-established that was to endure another 100 years. Although the new borders were drawn just short of Jerusalem and Bethlehem, they did include sufficient hinterland to create a continuous if narrow territory that stretched along the coast. Furthermore, that narrow kingdom had been made sustainable by another of Richard’s deeds: the capture of the Island of Cyprus.

The creation of a Latin Kingdom on Cyprus ensured that the Kingdom of Jerusalem had a secure source of food, particularly grain. Furthermore, the Latin Kingdom of Cyprus also kept the sea lanes opened, since no Arab fleet could blockade the cities of Palestine as long as Cyprus was controlled by Christians. In short, Richard I of England ensured that the Kingdom of Jerusalem existed 100 years longer than would have been the case without his Third Crusade. In so doing, he ensured that there would be another six crusades to Outremer, not counting the “Children’s Crusade.” Not exactly an insignificant accomplishment in the history of the crusades!

The Last Crusade: Edward of England’s Crusade of 1271-1272

Richard I’s deeds in Outremer were clearly a hard act to follow, nevertheless it was not the end of English involvement in the crusades. Richard’s nephew and namesake, Richard of Cornwall, the able younger brother of Henry III, took the cross, and Richard’s great nephew, a man who would prove his military capabilities against the Welsh and the Scots, also led a crusade. Because the latter was not yet king at the time and had too few resources to affect much, the crusade of Edward I of England tends to get overlooked in crusader history. Nevertheless, it demonstrates that the Plantagenet kings had not lost interest in the Holy Land. Furthermore, despite the overwhelming strength of his opponent, Baibars – a highly successful, ruthless and treacherous Mamluke sultan — Edward obtained a ten year truce. He also reinforced the walls of Acre with an additional tower (and Edward was to prove a master castle builder as his castles in Wales demonstrate), the “King Edward Tower.”

English Noblemen and Knights

But kings alone do not make a crusade, and therefore when considering the English contribution to the crusades, it is important to look at the contribution of noblemen and knights as well as kings. For example, the most famous of all English knights in the 12 Century, William Marshal, is known to gone to the Holy Land and fought with the Knights Templar. His fame was such that his example doubtless inspired countless others to follow in his footsteps and take the cross as well. We know too that William Earl of Salisbury led a contingent of English knights on the Seventh Crusade, and died at the Battle of Mansourah. Likewise, a contingent of English knights under Otto de Grandson took part in the final, futile defense of Acre in 1291. In between, hundreds if not thousands of Englishmen took part in the defense of the crusader kingdoms as Knights Templar and Knights Hospitaller. At least one Templar Grand Master was English, Thomas Berard (1256 – 1273).

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


  • Peter W. Edbury, The Kingdom of Cyprus and the Crusades, 1191 – 1374, Cambridge, 1991.
  • John J. Robinson, Dungeon, Fire and Sword: The Knights Templar in the Crusades, London, 1991.
  • Kenneth Harl, The Era of the Crusades, The Great Courses, Chantilly, 2003.
  • David Nicolle, Hattin 1187: Saladin’s Greatest Victory, London, 1993.
  • Richard Barber, The Knight and Chivalry, Woodbridge, 1995.
  • Andrea Hopkins, Knights, London, 1990


Categories: Commentary | Leave a comment

Baldwin le Bourcq Becomes Baldwin II of Jerusalem

While they were in Egypt, Baldwin I announced his arrangement for his succession before all his vassals. That was at the end of March in 1118, shortly before his death. ‘Baldwin resolved the kingdom should go to his brother Eustace, if by chance he would come. If indeed he was unable because of his age, Baldwin le Bourcq should be chosen,’ Albert of Aachen wrote (quoted in Malcolm Barber, 117).

Much to his fortune, Baldwin le Bourcq arrived in Jerusalem the same time as the bier, carrying Baldwin’s body. Baldwin le Bourcq’s timely arrival is debatable: Both William of Tyre and Fulcher of Chartres said that Baldwin had gone to Jerusalem to consult with the king. Albert of Aechen wrote that he had come to Jerusalem to partake in Easter worship and knew nothing about the king’s death. Given the religious and historical significance of Easter, it is quite possible Baldwin would have gone to the holy city to partake in Easter festivities without knowing of King Baldwin’s death. On the other hand, the two Baldwins maintained a cordial relationship throughout the years, so chances are, Baldwin le Bourcq learnt of his death while travelling to Jerusalem.

Given his relation to Baldwin I, Baldwin le Bourcq was the obvious choice for succession in place of Eustace given that Eustace was in France. Eustace’s decision to return home following the capture of Jerusalem in 1099 demonstrated to the aristocracy in the Holy Land that he had no intention of settling in the Holy Land. Yet, some of the nobles were so fiercely in favor of hereditary succession that they left for Europe immediately following King Baldwin’s death.

Regardless, Baldwin was chosen and consecrated King Baldwin II on Easter Day, April 14th, 1118 (Barber, 118). All of the leading nobles assembled at the Temple of Soloman and Baldwin granted each man a fief, receiving an oath of fealty from each of them in return. He then sent them back home with honor.

Baldwin II centralized his royal authority by taking control over all the key cities: Nablus, Samaria, Jaffa, Haifa, Hebron, Acre, Sidon and Tiberius. He used a portion of the revenue yielded from these cities to reward his most loyal vassals.

Interestingly enough, Baldwin wasn’t formerly consecrated King until Christmas Day 1119 at Bethlehem. The 12th century chronicler, Matthew of Edessa suggested that Baldwin refused the title of King but agreed to rule in Eustace’s place until Eustace arrived in the Holy Land. Baldwin’s decided waiting time, according to Matthew, was one year. When Eustace didn’t arrive within that time, Baldwin assumed the title of King. Historian Malcolm Barber, though, suggests that ‘Baldwin wanted a joint coronation with his wife, Morphia, who was not in the kingdom at the time of his accession (120).

Both accounts are more than likely true, but no one can deny the divisions that existed within the new kingdom’s nobility over Baldwin le Bourcq’s accession to the throne. Those who favored Eustace resented Baldwin II. Unfortunately that left Baldwin in a weaker position than his predecessor, one that would persist throughout the entirety of his reign.


Categories: Baldwin II, The Kingdom of Jerusalem | Leave a comment

The King’s Knight: Balian d’Ibelin

This is an excerpt from Helena Schrader’s historical fiction, Knight of Jerusalem.

“Give me five minutes to prepare him!” Balian begged his brother, who had come with the news that the High Court had agreed to crown Baldwin and had named Tripoli Regent.

“Of course,” Barry answered, glancing over his shoulder at his fellow barons, who were approaching from the far end of the gallery in a gaggle. “Of course. Try to cover up the worst of the ulcers, will you? You can put gloves on his hands, can’t you? So we don’t have to kiss his diseased hands?” Barisan’s face was twisted with revulsion at the mere thought of kissing a leper’s hands.

Balian nodded wearily. “I’ll do my best,” he told his brother, and passed through the heavy doors into the lower chamber of the Prince’s apartments. Here he stopped to collect himself. Barisan might be worried about having to kiss a leper’s hands when he gave the oath of fealty, but Balian had a different worry: Baldwin loved his father.

William of Tyre had heard the knocking on the door that Balian had answered. He stood in the stairway from the Prince’s bedchamber on the floor above and asked anxiously, “It’s over?”

Balian nodded.

William crossed himself. “And the High Court? Have the barons recognized Baldwin or passed him over?”

“They have recognized him, and will be here in just a few minutes to pay homage.”

“Well, thank God for that, at least.” The churchman paused. “Can you keep them here while I break the news to him?”

Balian sighed. “I will try, but I doubt it.”

“Do what you can.”

William of Tyre turned and climbed up the stairs. Balian held his breath, listening. He heard the Archdeacon murmur, “Baldwin, I am afraid I have some very bad news.”

“My father? Is his condition getting worse?” Baldwin’s voice at thirteen was beginning to break, but it quavered now, like a boy’s.

“No, Baldwin, your father is beyond pain and misery. He is with Christ.”

There was dead silence. Then a very tentative, “He―he’s dead?”

The Archdeacon must have nodded, because Balian heard no answer.

After a long silence, Baldwin caught the echoes of a strained voice, “And he didn’t even send for me ….”

Hearing the pain in Baldwin’s voice, Balian mentally cursed the dead King for neglecting to take leave of the boy who loved him so much. But Archdeacon William countered firmly, “Your father named you his heir, my lord. You are now King of Jerusalem. The barons are coming to pay you homage.”

It was at that moment that Baldwin broke down and started sobbing. Balian ordered the guards to admit no one until he gave them permission to do so, and took the stairs two at a time to go to Baldwin. Through his tears, the boy looked up at him with pleading blue eyes. “Balian, how can I―how can I―I don’t want to be King! I don’t want―everyone staring at me―I can’t move the fingers on either of my hands!”

“My lord, this is God’s will!” the Archdeacon admonished him. “You have no choice.”

Baldwin ignored his tutor to focus on his friend. “Balian! Help me!”

Balian reached up and brushed away the King’s tears. Then he took him by the shoulders and looked him in the eye. “My lord, you do not need the use of your hands to be King of Jerusalem, any more than you need them to ride. You will be King by the force of your mind and the courage of your heart.”

“They’ll scorn me! They’ll revile me―” Baldwin’s face was crumpling up again, all the memories suddenly vivid of his first months after the rumors started to spread about his leprosy.

Balian gripped him more firmly. “No, they won’t! They will not dare―”

A loud pounding on the door below interrupted them. “My lord!” one of the guards called out, alarmed. “The High Court of Jerusalem and the Regent of the Kingdom demand admittance!” The guard sounded intimidated.

“I’ll hold them!” the Archdeacon volunteered, sweeping down the stairs.

Balian turned back to Baldwin. “Your grace―”

“Don’t call me that! We’re friends, remember?”

“Yes, but you are also now my King,” Balian insisted.

“And you can accept that?” Baldwin asked, frowning.

“I do―and so will they. Believe me, they will be astonished when they see you, for you look healthy still. More than that: you are a handsome youth. Your face is utterly untouched, and we will hide your discolored hands in the embroidered gloves Queen Maria Zoë gave you.”

Baldwin swallowed. “You’ll stand behind me, Balian? Right behind me?”

Archdeacon William could be heard loudly scolding the barons for their impatience. “The King has just lost his father. Give him time to compose himself!”

“Yes, your grace,” Balian answered Baldwin. “I will be behind you when the barons come. But before that, let me be the first to take the oath of fealty.” Balian went down on his knees and held up his folded hands.

Baldwin caught his breath. Then he placed his hands on either side of Balian’s and enclosed Balian’s hands between lifeless fingers encased in cotton gloves.

“I, Sir Balian d’Ibelin, pledge my oath as knight to you, my liege lord, King of Jerusalem, to serve you with my honor and my life so long as we both do live.”

“I accept your oath, Sir Balian, and promise to be a good lord to you so long as you keep your faith with me, so help me God!”

Balian rose to his feet and went to fetch the beautiful kid gloves, embroidered with the arms of Jerusalem, which had been a gift from Queen Maria Zoë. He brought them to Baldwin and, finger by lifeless finger, pulled these over the thin cotton gloves Baldwin was already wearing. … In five minutes Baldwin was dressed like a king, and Balian led him down the stairs to the room below. When William of Tyre saw them, he told the guards to admit the High Court of Jerusalem.

The barons burst in, led by Raymond de Tripoli, and then came to a stunned halt as they caught sight of Baldwin. Balian hung back in the shadows of the stair behind the King. He could not suppress a smile when he saw the amazed faces of the barons, as they found themselves confronted by a fair youth standing straight and with great dignity before them in the splendor of royal robes.

Raymond de Tripoli reacted first. He dropped to one knee and the other barons followed his lead, the last to kneel being Barisan, who was giving Balian a curious look.

“Your grace, your father is dead. We have come to offer homage as your vassals.”

“Where is the Lord of Oultrejourdain?” Baldwin answered, and Balian wanted to laugh out loud as the barons gaped at one another in amazement. His eyes met those of William of Tyre across the room, and they shared a moment of pride; Baldwin had immediately and effectively demonstrated that his body might be crippled, but his mind was not.

“Your grace,” Tripoli stammered, “Oultrejourdain was―misinformed. I’m sure he will rethink his decision. May I?” Tripoli held up his folded hands.


Categories: Book Excerpt | 1 Comment

Book Review: ‘The Leper King and his Heirs’ by Bernard Hamilton


Book review by co-contributor Helena Schrader.

This is an excellent, detailed and well-documented account of the crusader kingdom of Jerusalem in the late 12th century. It focuses on the quarter century of Baldwin IV’s life span, 1161 to 1186. This was a particularly critical period in the history of the crusader kingdom, and Hamilton’s book provides details too often skipped over or even blurred together in accounts that try to cover the whole two hundred years of crusader history. Furthermore, Hamilton provides an excellent summary of his sources up front and impresses with his familiarity with not only Latin and Arab, but Greek, Jewish and Armenian sources.

Particularly impressive was Hamilton’s treatment of Reynald de Chatillon. Chatillon is usually depicted as a rogue adventurer, more robber than baron, and often blamed for the war with Saladin. Hamilton, in contrast, effectively defends many of Chatillon’s most controversial actions. While not denying his violent and ambitious character, Hamilton convincingly argues that Chatillon followed sound strategic principles when launching his raids into Sinai, putting Christian warships in the Red Sea, and even when breaking the truce with Saladin to attack a heavily armed caravan.

Hamilton’s treatment of Raymond of Tripoli is less convincing. He tries to paint Tripoli as a treasonous threat to the throne, and even suggests that Sibylla’s marriage to Guy de Lusignan was arranged by King Baldwin in an attempt to prevent a coup by Tripoli. The evidence is very weak for this and contradicted by other accounts, notably the Cronicles of Ernoul, that other historians have followed. Furthermore, Baldwin soon withdrew his favor from Lusignan, while Sibylla remained remarkably loyal — two historical facts that give credence to the more common intepretation of a love-affair between Lusignan and Sibylla forcing the king’s hand. But even here, where Hamilton’s arguments are weak, he presents them cogently and names his sources, leaving the reader in a good position to judge for himself which interpretation of history he finds more compelling.

Where this book falls short of the mark is in the essential biographical function of making the subject come to life. For all his meticulous reporting on what happened during “the Leper King’s” reign, Hamilton singularly fails to get inside the leprous skin of his subject and help us understand him. We are given no inkling of what he was thinking and feeling, why he behaved in certain ways, how he succeeded in winning the undoubtedly loyalty of his subjects despite his illness or what motivated him at critical junctions. We are not even told until the epilogue that he was chaste but not particularly devout.

Baldwin IV of Jerusalem deserves a better biography precisely because, despite his severe handicap he successfully held his kingdom together in a very difficult period, and despite his severe physical handicap he repeatedly defeated Saladin on the battlefield. He also pursued a highly sophisticated foreign policy, which showed profound understanding of the geopolitical position of his kingdom. I would like to read a book that explores the character and psyche of such a man; Hamilton unfortunately does not.

Categories: Book Review | Leave a comment

Crusaders and Chivalry

This is an article by co-contributor, Helena Schrader.

The crusaders have often been accused of barbarism — starting with the Byzantine princess Anna Comnena and the Saracens who faced the Frankish knights, and more recently  by 19th and 20th century historians, not to mention President Obama. Yet the crusaders viewed themselves as both civilized and virtuous. They, like the crusades themselves, were in fact the product of one of the great civilizing movements of the medieval period: chivalry. To understand the crusaders, it is essential to understand that their religious faith was Roman Catholicism, but their secular faith was chivalry.

So just what was or is “chivalry”?

The biographer of William Marshal, one of the most famous knights of the late 12th and early 13th century — often held up as the personification of chivalry — answered the question as follows:

So strong a thing,

and of such hardihood,

and so costly in learning,

that a wicked man or low

dare not undertake it.

That certainly conjures up images of the knights in search of the Holy Grail — but does not help us very much in understand the crusades and the crusaders. Based on the historical sources, including medieval handbooks on chivalry, literature and biographies, this is a (hopefully) more useful explanation:

Chivalry evolved out of the military and literary traditions of antiquity, and emerged at the beginning of the High Middle Ages as a concept that rapidly came to dominate the ethos and identity of the nobility. Chivalry is inextricably tied to knighthood, a phenomenon distinct to Europe in the Middle Ages. There have been cavalrymen in many different ages and societies, but the cult of knighthood, including a special dubbing ceremony and a code of ethics, exists only in the Age of Chivalry.

Chivalry was always an ideal. It defined the way a knight was supposed to behave. No one in the Middle Ages seriously expected every knight to live up that ideal all of the time. Even the heroes of chivalric romances usually fell short of the ideal at least some of the time – and many only achieved their goal and glory when they overcame the baser instincts or their natural shortcomings to live, however briefly, like “perfect, gentle knights.”

Chivalry was a code of behavior that young men were supposed to aspire to – not already have. The code was articulated and passed on to youths in the form of romances and poems lionizing the chivalrous deeds of fictional heroes. It was also recorded in the biographies of historical personages viewed as examples of chivalry, from William Marshal to Geoffrey de Charney and Edward, the Black Prince. Finally, there were a number of textbooks or handbooks that attempted to codify the essence of chivalry.

So what defined chivalry?

First and foremost, a knight was supposed to uphold justice by protecting the weak, particularly widows, orphans, and the Church. This is why it was so intimately intertwined with the Crusades. No knight could show his devotion to the Church more completely than by abandoning his secular interests to fight for the Holy Land. This is why protection of pilgrims was the primary mission of the Knights Templar, when they were founded. It is why protecting and providing care for the sick and infirm was the core function of the Knights Hospitaller. Chivalry gave knights — noble fighting men — a role that was profoundly Christian in nature and it was this Christian element that made chivalry utterly different from earlier warrior cults that stressed courage, strength and prowess at arms for their own sake. Achilles, remember, didn’t fight for any cause but his own fame, and the same was true of Norse and Germanic heroes before the advent of chivalry.

Second, while the monk-knights of the militant orders devoted their entire lives to the defense of the Church and others in a spirit of humility, secular knights were supposed to pursue a permanent quest for honor and glory, sometimes translated as “nobility.” I was in this secular context that the troubadours introduced for the first time the notion that “a man could become more noble through love.” Thus love for a lady became a central – if not the central – concept of chivalry, particularly in literature.

Notably, the chivalric notion of love was that it must be mutual, voluntary, and exclusive – on both sides. It could occur between husband and wife – and many of the romances such as Erec et Enide by Chrétien de Troyes or Wolfram von Eschenbach’s Parzival revolve in part or in whole around the love of a married couple. But the tradition of the troubadours put love for another man’s wife on an equal footing with love for one’s own – provided the lady returned the sentiment. The most famous of all adulterous lovers in the age of chivalry were, of course, Lancelot and Guinevere, closely followed by Tristan and Iseult.

Likewise noteworthy in a feudal world was the fact that the lover and the beloved were supposed to be valued not for their social status or their wealth, but for their personal virtues, albeit only within the band of society that was “noble.” By definition, the heroes of chivalry are knights, and their ladies are just that: ladies. Stories about peasants, priests, and merchants are simply not part of the genre, any more than lusting after a serving “wench” qualifies as “love” in the chivalric tradition. But within the chivalric class, a lady was to be loved and respected for her beauty, her graces, and her wisdom regardless of her status, and a knight was to be loved for his chivalric virtues, not his lands or titles.

So just what were those “chivalric virtues,” one of the handbooks on chivalry written by the Spanish nobleman Ramon Lull lists the virtues of a knight as: nobility, loyalty, honor, righteousness, prowess (courage), love, courtesy, diligence, cleanliness, generosity, sobriety, and perseverance. Wolfram von Eschenbach in Parzifal, on the other hand, stresses a strong sense of right and wrong, compassion for the unfortunate, generosity, kindness, humility, mercy, courtesy (particularly to ladies), and cleanliness.

I hope readers will agree these are the (ambitious!) virtues of civilized men, not barbarians.

Readers interested in learning more about this fascinating concept can turn to:


Barber, Richard W. 1970, 1974, 1995. The Knight and Chivalry. Woodbridge, Suffolk: The Boydell Press, 1970, 1974, 1995.

Duby, George. 1985. William Marshal: The Flower of Chivalry. New York: Random House, 1985.

Hopkins, Andrea. 1990. Knights: The Complete Story of the Age of Chivalry, from Historical Fact to Tales of Romance and Poetry. London: Quarto Publishing, 1990.

Helena P. Schrader is the author of several novels set in the Age of Chivalry, including “Knight of Jerusalem,” the first book in a three part biographical novel about Balian d’Ibelin. Visit her websites: http://talesofchivalry.com or view the video teaser by clicking Tales of Chivalry Video. Learn more about crusader society atBalian d’Ibelin and the Kingdom of Jerusalem.



Categories: Fact or Myth | Leave a comment

The Holy Lance: A Review


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.


Categories: Book Review | 2 Comments

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.


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

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.


“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!”

Categories: Book Excerpt | 2 Comments

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).



Categories: The Kingdom of Jerusalem | Leave a comment

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.




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