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Friday, September 26, 2014

"The Leper King" by Bernard Hamilton -- A Review

Baldwin IV as depicted in "The Kingdom of Heaven" 

Bernard Hamilton's The Leper King and his Heirs: Baldwin IV and the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem 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 is 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.

Reynald de Chatillon as depicted in the film "The Kingdom of Heaven"

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 Chronicles of Ernoul, that other historians have followed. Furthermore, Baldwin soon withdrew his favor from Lusignan, while Sibylla remained remarkably loyal to her ineffective husband -- 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 happend 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 undoubted 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 - another image from "The Kingdom of Heaven" -- that brought him more to life than this biography.

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's history unfortunately does not.

Baldwin IV plays a major role in the first two volumes of my three part biography of Balian d'Ibelin:

Book I: Knight of Jerusalem

A landless knight,
                     a leper king,
                                 and the struggle for Jerusalem.

Buy now in Paperback or Kindle format!

Friday, September 19, 2014

Balian d'Ibelin: Knight of Jerusalem

The Kingdom of Heaven, 20th Century Fox film directed by Ridley Scott and staring Orlando Bloom, was based — very loosely — on the story of Balian d’Ibelin, a historical figure.  Although Scott’s film was a brilliant piece of cinematography, the story of the real Balian d’Ibelin was not only different but arguably more fascinating than that of the Hollywood hero.

Balian d’Ibelin was the younger son of Barisan d’Ibelin, an adventurer from Western Europe, who first emerged in history when he was made Constable of Jaffa and then later granted a fief in the Kingdom of Jerusalem in the mid-1140s.  Barisan than did what every self-respecting adventurer did: he married an heiress, the heiress of Ramla and Mirabel. On his death, his eldest son Hugh, evidently by an earlier marriage, inherited the paternal title of Ibelin, while Barisan’s eldest son by his second and richer wife inherited Ramla and Mirabel. The youngest son, Balian, was left empty-handed — a phenomenon unknown in earlier ages but increasingly a problem by the 12th century.

Despite this handicap, Balian rose to such prominence in the Kingdom of Jerusalem that Arab sources describe him as “like a king.” Unusually, and in sharp contrast to his elder brother, he was not merely an outstanding fighting man and knight, effective on the battlefield in offense and defense, but he was a diplomat and peacemaker. Balian played a decisive mediating role between factions within the Kingdom of Jerusalem and between the Kingdom and its external enemies, including negotiations with Saladin himself on two known occasions.

Almost equally astonishing for a younger son, he made a brilliant marriage that catapulted him into the royal family, and, indeed, his descendants would repeatedly intermarry into the royal houses of both Jerusalem and Cyprus. Furthermore, this marriage was as close to a love-match as one could come among the nobility in the 12th century.

Such a man, it seemed to me, deserved a biography — a biography based on all the known facts, not just those that fit into Ridley Scott’s film concept. But while there are many intriguing known facts about Balian, there are many more things we do not know, making a traditional biography impossible. A biographical novel, on the other hand, is a media that can turn a name in the history books into a person so vivid, complex and yet comprehensible that history itself becomes more understandable.

That is my objective with a novel in three parts: to tell Balian’s story and to describe the fateful historical events surrounding the collapse of the Christian Kingdom of Jerusalem in the last quarter of the 12th century. The historical record is the skeleton of this biographical novel, but the flesh and blood, faces, emotions, dreams and fears are extrapolated from those known facts.  I hope I have created a tale that my readers will find as fascinating, exiting and engaging as I do.

A Biographical Novel of Balian d'Ibelin, Book I:

A landless knight,
                a leper king,
                        and the struggle for Jerusalem.

Buy now in Paperback or Kindle format!

Read more about Balian and the Crusader States at: Balian d'Ibelin and the Kingdom of Jerusalem

Friday, September 12, 2014

Outremer by Richard Allibone - a Review

The opening chapter of this book was so engaging and insightful that it perhaps raised my expectations excessively.  The opening scene describes the capture of the True Cross during the Battle of Hattin and captures vividly both the carnage and the emotions of the Christian participants. Unfortunately, Allibone singularly fails to live-up to the promise of this first tantalizing chapter.

The True Cross being carried into battle at Hattin as depicted in the film "The Kingdom of Heaven."

Indeed, from this first action packed scene, Alibone backs away from his subject and begins to write in a laborious style introducing layers of narrators who spend the first quarter of the book retelling the Battle of Hattin from different perspectives. Even after leaving the regurgitated topic of Hattin, Allibone maintains for the most part (but not consistently) the first person narrative so that the reader is told about events rather than shown them.  Allibone is at pains to describe his narrator as sober and objective, so rather than a lively, first-hand personal account of events, the reader is treated to a scholarly description that sometimes degenerates in to pages and pages of tedious debate.

The book is further marred by abrupt and inexplicable switches in tense — sometimes in the middle of a scene. Bizarrely, for the only scene that describes the principal narrator’s love and marriage — the only really personal scene in the whole book — the author switches from the first to third person narrative.  It all makes for an inconsistent mix in which the story-telling detracts from the story.

Equally irritating is that, despite the very meticulous research, the use of Arab and contemporary terms and lengthy direct quotes from contemporary sources, the book is still filled with significant inaccuracies.  The worst of which is the premise, on which the entire book is based, that peaceful co-existence between the crusader states and their Muslim neighbors was possible.  While it is true that a degree of co-existence had prevailed in the first decades of Christian presence in the Holy Land because the various Islamic states were at war with each other, Nur ad-Din and after him Salah-ad-Din both declared jihad against the Christian states. It was Saladin’s stated intention to utterly destroy the Christian presence. As the Israelis know, you can’t peacefully co-exist with states that deny your right to exist. Saladin was undoubtedly a rational and honorable man. He was not a fanatic. He was capable of generosity, even toward his enemies, and he was willing to make tactical truces with the Christian leaders when it suited his purposes — mostly when his own armies were exhausted and disintegrating or when drought threatened his power base. But at no time did he waver from his goal of destroying the Christian Kingdom of Jerusalem. Thus, peace was not a long-term option.

Likewise, although even his own Arab source for Richard I’s massacre of hostages at Acre only speaks of “fighting men,” Allibone makes a point of having women and children slaughtered — something for which there is absolutely no historical evidence. Likewise, he repeats the myth that the Crusaders killed all inhabitants of Jerusalem in 1099 and makes no mention of the many times when the crusaders also let Saracen garrisons walk away free such as at Ascalon in 1153. 

It is equally baffling why, with so much apparent attention to accuracy, he gives William Marshal a prominent role in Richard I’s crusading army, when it is well known that Marshal remained in England as one of Richard’s trusted justicars.  Or why pretend that the squire of the fictional narrator is a real historical figure and then have him conform in not a single known fact about Ernoul? (In this novel Ernoul is the orphan of low-born crusaders from Gascony of crude of speech, who ends his life in back in France; the real Ernoul was probably the son of a prominent family from Outremer and most certainly served Balian d’Ibelin; he was highly educated — so much so that he wrote a chronicle that is one of the two contemporary Christian sources for the period. He probably ended his life as a leading noble in the Latin Kingdom of Cyprus.)

In short, while the book is on the whole accurate, it deviates significantly on important points, thereby marring its value as a source.  It is furthermore written in a cumbersome and inconsistent style.  The result is that the book both fails to educate and fails to bring to life the exciting events or colorful characters of this fascinating episode of history.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Review of "St. Louis' Knight"

By Katelyn Hensel for Readers’ Favorite

St. Louis' Knight, Book one of the Templar Tales by Helena P. Schrader, is the best book about the thirteenth century crusades that you will ever hope to get your hands on. Lady Eleanor does not respond to the news that France has been overtaken like a normal noblewoman should. She's curious about it, and wants to know more from the herald. The Saracens have beaten back much of the western world and are keeping the French monarch and his brothers hostage. Although the rest of the country mourns, Eleanor rejoices for all the wrongs that she feels the king and the other French nobles have done to her and her family. In order to escape the Cypriot ladies, she embarks on a "pilgrimage" to pray for the king's release, but not everything is as it seems. On her journey, Eleanor learns more about herself than she ever thought possible. 

Now, admittedly, I have very little experience in dealing with books about the crusades. Knowing that Robin of Locksley (yes...Robin Hood) was away on a crusade when his father's lands were taken, causing him to rebel, is about the extent of my knowledge. Helena P. Schrader has helped to open up my eyes somewhat on the matter. I really enjoyed the action and adventure that she portrayed. I know that it was a very violent time and Schrader didn't pull any punches. The story was engaging, and definitely seemed very accurate to the times. It's clear that Helena did her research, as I was particularly taken by some of the intricate detailing she applied to the story and the characters. I enjoyed Eleanor's memories of how her family fell apart. It was thrilling, sad, but gave you a real feel for why she acted the way she did. A very good book and one that many historical fans will go crazy for.

 A crusader in search of faith,
        A lame lady in search of revenge,
                   and a king who would be saint.

To read more: click here!

To buy on click here!

Friday, September 5, 2014

King Henry's Treasure and the Kingdom of Jerusalem

Henry II's Effigy on his Tomb at Frontevralt.
Henry II of England is one of England’s most colorful, fascinating and controversial kings.  He is usually remembered for forging the Angevin Empire, for his tempestuous relationship with his strong-willed and powerful queen, Eleanor of Aquitaine, for the murder of Thomas Becket, and – among more serious scholars – for laying the foundations of English Common Law.
He is not remembered as a crusader. This is because, although he took crusader vows, he never actually went to the Holy Land. Indeed, most historians credit Henry II with disdaining crusading in preference to building an empire at home. Certainly, his refusal to accept the keys of the Holy Sepulchre from the Patriarch of Jerusalem in 1185, reflected a preference for holding on to what he had over seeking glory and salvation “beyond the sea” in “Outremer.”
Yet a focus on Henry’s legacy in the West obscures the fact that his ties to the Holy Land were much closer than is commonly remembered. First of all, his grandfather, Fulk d’Anjou, had turned over his inheritance to his son Geoffrey in order to go to the Holy Land and marry the heiress to the Kingdom of Jerusalem, Melisende. Geoffrey d’Anjou was thus the half-brother of Kings Baldwin III (reigned 1143 – 1162) and Amalaric I (1162-1174) of Jerusalem. This made Henry II first cousin to the ill-fated Baldwin IV of Jerusalem. 
The Arms of the Kingdom of Jerusalem

Baldwin IV suffered from leprosy and could not sire an heir. As his condition worsened and the armies of Saladin drew stronger, he looked desperately for a successor capable of defending his inheritance. He did not see this either in his five year old nephew, or in the husbands of his sisters. It is before this incipient succession crisis, with Saladin beating the drums of jihad at his doorstep, that the mission of the Patriarch of Jerusalem and the Grand Masters of the Knights Templar and Knights Hospitaller of 1185 must be seen. Baldwin IV sent these emissaries to offer the keys to the Holy Sepulchre and the Tower of David first to Philip II of France and then to Henry II of England. By all accounts, Baldwin’s real hopes lay with Henry II – a powerful monarch, who had proved his abilities on the battlefield again and again. The Patriarch’s plea was for Henry II – or one of his sons – to come to Jerusalem and, implicitly, take the crown itself. Baldwin IV, many historians believe, wanted Henry II to end the succession crisis and restore the House of Anjou in the East.
The Tower of David in Jerusalem, Seat of the Kings of Jerusalem

Henry II, as I noted above, declined to follow in his grandfather’s footsteps and surrender his hereditary lands for the Kingdom of Jerusalem. But he was far from indifferent to the fate of his cousin or the Holy Land. As early as 1172, when Henry II had become reconciled with the Church for his role in the murder of Thomas Becket, he had taken the cross and started accumulating “large sums” of money in Jerusalem. This money, historian Malcolm Barber writes in The Crusader States, (Yale University Press, New Haven, 2012) was “intended for use when he eventually travelled to the East.” In 1182, Henry II made a will which left an additional 5,000 marks silver to both the Knights Templar and the Knights Hospitaller for the defense of the Holy Land, and another 5,000 marks was bequeathed for the general “defense of the Holy Land.” That is a total of 15,000 marks silver, an enormous sum, which he intended for the defense of the Holy Land.

Manuscript Illustration of a 12th Century King
Since he did not die in 1182, this money never reached the crusader kingdom, but three years later, although Henry felt he dare not leave his kingdom in 1185 (at a time when the French and his sons were trying to tear it apart), he did agree to a special tax (often referred to as the “Saladin Tax”) the proceeds of which were also to go to the Kingdom of Jerusalem.
Finally, when the news reached him in 1187 of the fall of Jerusalem and the desperate straits of the Kingdom, Henry II again took a crusader vow. While many historians (and even more novelists) disparage this as a ploy, it is just as possible that he was sincere – so long as those who coveted his kingdom and threatened his crown, Philip II of France and his son Richard – went on crusade with him! We will never know how sincere his intentions were because he died before the Third Crusade got underway.

Meanwhile, however, his treasure had already played a crucial role in the history of Jerusalem. There are no figures for just how large King Henry’s treasure was, but it was undoubtedly more than the 15,000 silver marks mentioned in his will of 1182 because there had been money deposited prior to this, and the “Saladin Tax” that came afterwards. Significantly, the money had been entrusted to the militant orders for safe keeping. This means that the money could be deposited in London, and paid out in Jerusalem through the networks of the Templars and Hospitallers. Furthermore, based on the testament of 1182, it would appear that Henry carefully distributed the funds between the two militant orders, rather than favoring one over the other. This, unintentionally, resulted in his treasure having two very different uses.
In 1187, as Saladin prepared to launch an all-out offensive against the Christian kingdom of Jerusalem, King Guy had little choice but to call-up a levee en masse to put the largest force possible in the way of the invaders. Against a force of 45,000 including some 12,000 cavalry, King Guy could muster only about 1,000 knights, 4,000 light horse and some 15,000 infantry. In light of this, the Grand Master of the Templars, Gerard de Ridefort, handed over King Henry’s treasure to finance more fighting men. It is unclear from the sources whether these were mercenaries, light troops, or, as some say, the outfitting of 200 additional knights. In any case, Henry II’s money helped contribute to the army that marched out to meet Saladin – and was destroyed on the Horns of Hattin on July 4, 1187.

The Grand Master of the Hospitallers, however, did not release King Henry’s treasure in advance of the Battle of Hattin. The money Henry II had deposited with the Hospitallers for the Holy Land was still in Jerusalem when the city surrendered to Saladin in October 1187. The terms of the surrender allowed the residents 40 days to raise a ransom of 10 dinars per man, 5 dinars per woman and 2 dinars per child. Those who failed to pay the ransom, became slaves by right of conquest at the end of the 40 days.
At the time these terms were negotiated, the Christian defender of Jerusalem, Balian d’Ibelin, knew that there were some 40,000 (some sources say 100,000) Latin Christian refugees in the city.  He knew that many of these were destitute, having lost all they owned to Saladin already. They were in no position to pay their ransom. Ibelin therefore negotiated the release of 18,000 poor for a lump sum of 30,000 dinars. 

Sources differ, however, on where this money was to come from. Some suggest that it came from King Henry’s treasure, but others suggest the initial sum was paid from the treasury of the Kingdom of Jerusalem, but that it soon became evident that there were many more poor in the city than Ibelin had estimated – or had the resources to ransom. (He’d lost all his lands to Saladin already too.) It was at this juncture, they say, that the Hospitallers handed over King Henry’s treasure to ransom as many of the poor as they could. In the end, even Henry’s treasure was not enough and some 15,000 Christians were sold into slavery. Nevertheless, King Henry of England played an important role in ransoming thousands of Christians trapped in Jerusalem, minimizing the number sold into slavery. His son, of course, played an even greater role in rescuing the Kingdom from complete obliteration, but that is another story….