All content on this blog is protected by copyright.
Content used elsewhere without attribution constitutes theft of intellectual property and will be prosecuted.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

The Curious Course of the So-Called Sixth Crusade

After delaying for more than a decade, Frederick finally embarked on his crusade only after he had been excommunicated. Thus, although the campaign in the Holy Land led by Frederick II Hohenstaufen is usually included in the list of numbered crusades, it was not sanctioned by the Pope and was not technically a crusade at all. Furthermore, despite modern historians’ adulation for a "victory" allegedly obtained by diplomacy rather than violence, in reality, Frederick II's victory was pyrrhic at best and at worst little more than a hoax. 
Below is a short analysis of the crusade and its impact.

Despite being excommunicate, in June 1228 Friedrich II set sail for the Holy Land, arriving at Limassol on Cyprus on July 21. There, after some difficulties establishing his authority (the subject of separate entries), he continued to Tyre, arriving September 3.   

His arrival was by no means as welcome as he had expected. On the one hand, he had made powerful enemies already by asserting his absolute rights as monarch (although he was only regent).  His claims to absolute authority were in sharp violation of the laws and customs of the Kingdom of Jerusalem, in which the High Court exercised powers over appointments, fiefs and more. (See High Court).  On the other hand, and more significantly, al-Mu’azzam was dead. Al-Kamil no longer needed the assistance of any Christian ruler. To top it all off, Friedrich had hardly arrived in the Holy Land before he learned that the pope had raised an army (commanded by his late wife's father among others), and was preparing to invade the Kingdom of Sicily with the declared intent of deposing him. 

Like Richard the Lionheart before him, Friedrich needed to return home as rapidly as possible. Not being the strategist or commander Richard had been, Friedrich II put his faith in negotiations. On February 18, 1229, after five months of secret negotiations, a treaty was signed with al-Kamil.

Modern historians like to call Friedrich’s preference for diplomacy over warfare “enlightened,” or attribute it to greater "subtlety" and even genius. The modern German historian Heiko Suhr, for example, claims in his essay “Friedrich II von Hohenstaufen: Seine politischen and kulturellen Verbindungen zu Islam” (Friedrich II von Hohenstaufen: His Political and Cultural Ties to Islam, GRIN Verlag, 2008, p. 17), that the treaty demonstrated his “willingness to compromise and his diplomatic skills.” Historian David Abulafia, in his biography of Friedrich II, claims that Friedrich “performed magnificently.” (Friedrich II: A Medieval Emperor, Oxford University Press, 1988, p.184)  Friedrich’s success is usually contrasted to the failures of all other crusades (except the First). A popular website, for example, claims Friedrich “accomplished what four previous crusades failed to do: recover the Holy Land. Even though he was excommunicated, he accomplished more than the Second, Third, Fourth and Fifth crusades combined.” (Medieval Times and Castles)

The fact that Friedrich failed to win contemporary praise ― indeed was pelted with offal by the common people of Acre when he made his way to his ship to depart and was widely criticized by princes of the church and the local barons ― is put down to the “bigotry” of the church and “blood-thirsty” character of his contemporaries. Friedrich, it is argued, was simply “ahead of his time.”  Or, as the German historian Jacob Burckhardt Recht claims: “a modern man.” In short, Friedrich was an enlightened man of peace and his unpopularity in the Holy Land (and elsewhere) was entirely attributable to the backward, unenlightened, implicitly barbaric nature of his contemporaries. 

There is a problem with this viewpoint (aside from the obvious arrogance of those “modern” people who look down on their medieval predecessors): Friedrich II did NOT secure Jerusalem, and he did NOT accomplish more than the Third or Fourth Crusades (both of which saw territorial expansion by the crusaders). His diplomatic skills appear meager when contrasted with those of Richard the Lionheart. 

All that Friedrich II secured with his treaty was Christian access to some of Jerusalem and a couple other cities, such as Bethlehem, for a limited period of time. The treaty explicitly prohibited Christians from setting foot on the Temple Mount and prohibited the Franks from building walls around Jerusalem. The truce Friedrich signed ensured that the Franks could not defend Jerusalem or its environs. It retained Muslim control over all the strategic castles such as Kerak and Montreal. As Muslim sources stress, all the truce did was give the Christians “some churches and ruins” for a decade (Ibn Wasil.) Indeed, the Arab sources stress that al-Kamil quite openly bragged that “when he had achieved his aim and had the situation in hand he could purify Jerusalem of the Franks and chase them out.” (Ibn Wasil, Arab Historians of the Crusades. Translated by Francesco Gabrieli [Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1957] 271)

In short, Friedrich II’s “crusade” did NOT restore Jerusalem to Christian control.  It gave Christians a precarious access to Jerusalem for just over ten years. It is no wonder that contemporaries, concerned about Christian control of Jerusalem (not mere access) were bitterly disappointed. Furthermore, the residents of Outremer, the people living surrounded by the Saracen threat, recognized the truce as worthless to their security.  It is easy to sympathize with those who threw offal at the Emperor who -- despite all his wealth, power and troops -- left them with nothing substantial or material.

The truce reveals the degree to which Friedrich’s entire “crusade” was about his power struggle with the Pope rather than Jerusalem or the Holy Land. While leaving the residents of Outremer to deal with the consequences of his worthless truce, he made a great show of wearing the Imperial crown in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. This was clearly a way of thumbing his nose at the Pope. It was his way of demonstrating his belief that he was God’s representative on earth and did not need papal approval. Having had his day in Jerusalem (and ostentatiously telling the Muslims they should continue their call to prayers even in his presence), he departed the Holy Land never to return.

Neither his son nor his grandson, despite being titular kings of Jerusalem, ever set foot in the kingdom. It was left to other kings, such as Louis IX, to try to reclaim Christian control of the Holy City and secure the Holy Land.

The Sixth Crusade is the backdrop and subject of:

Buy Now!

Dr. Helena P. Schrader holds a PhD in History.
She is the Chief Editor of the Real Crusades History Blog.
She is an award-winning novelist and author of numerous books both fiction and non-fiction. Her three-part biography of Balian d'Ibelin won a total of 14 literary accolades. Her most recent release is a novel about the founding of the crusader Kingdom of Cyprus. You can find out more at:

Thursday, October 18, 2018

The Sixth Crusade - Pledges and Promises

The so-called Sixth Crusade was one of the most confusing of all the numbered crusades. It was explicitly condemned by the Pope and was led by a man who had been excommunicated, yet it temporarily restored Jerusalem to Christian control. It was a bloodless campaign that ended with the leader of the crusade laying siege to the Templar headquarters in Acre -- and being pelted by ofal by the furious residents of Outremer. In short, while historians generally praise this bloodless crusade, contemporaries -- from the Pope to the common people -- were critical of it.  Furthermore, while the crusade itself was bloodless, it was the spark that set off a bloody civil war in the crusader states. In two essays, I examine the Sixth Crusade starting today with the events leading up to it.

Friedrich II Hohenstaufen first “took the cross” and vowed to lead a new crusade to regain Christian control of Jerusalem at his coronation as “King of the Romans” in Aachen on July 25, 1215.  He renewed his crusading vow at his coronation as “Holy Roman Emperor” by the Pope in Rome on November 22, 1220―by which time 5th Crusade had already bogged down at Damietta and was in clear need of reinforcements and stronger leadership.  Although unable to depart immediately due to the need to restore order in his Kingdom of Sicily, Friedrich II sent financial and material aid to the beleaguered crusaders and promised to set out himself in 1221. Unfortunately, the Muslim insurrection on Sicily turned out to be more tenacious than anticipated, and Friedrich got bogged down in the fighting until 1223; the Pope was understanding and agreed he could postpone his crusade until 1225.

In mid-1225 Friedrich II married the heiress to the Kingdom of Jerusalem, Yolanda (also sometimes referred to as Isabella II). Yolanda was the grand-daughter of Isabella I, sole child of Maria de Montferrat and her husband John de Brienne. Maria had died giving birth to Yolanda, and John ruled as regent for his daughter, taking the title King John. The marriage of the Queen of Jerusalem to the Holy Roman Emperor was considered a master-stroke because it gave Friedrich II a material incentive for recapturing Jerusalem.  In addition to the spiritual motive of restoring Christian rule over Christendom’s most sacred site, Friedrich now had a personal and dynastic interest in making his Kingdom of Jerusalem as large, strong and prosperous as possible, and securing for any children by Yolanda an inheritance worthy of him. From the point of view of the High Court of Jerusalem, the marriage ensured the military and financial support for the kingdom from the most powerful Christian monarch in the world.

The marriage was celebrated by proxy in Acre followed by Yolanda’s coronation as Queen of Jerusalem in Tyre and then Yolanda sailed to Brindisi to marry Friedrich in person in November. Meanwhile, however, the crusade had been postponed yet again, this time until August 1227. Furthermore, this time the Pope added the warning that if Friedrich failed to depart by August 1227 he faced excommunication. Friedrich accepted these terms and then proceeded in very short order to alienate his father-in-law (by dismissing him as superfluous) and was accused (at least by his father-in-law) of humiliating his bride with neglect and a preference for his harem of concubines. 

Nevertheless, a large crusading army with strong German contingents gathered in Apulia in the summer of 1227 ― only to be struck down by some epidemic disease that started killing the crusaders before they even embarked. Under threat of excommunication, if he did not depart, Friedrich doggedly set sail despite being ill. While at sea, the most important of Friedrich’s subordinate commanders, the Landgraf of Thuringia, died of the disease. Friedrich decided that he too was too ill to command a crusade. While ordering the Grand Master of the Teutonic Knights and other galleys under the Duke of Limburg to proceed, he returned to Brindisi. 

The Pope, the vigorous and uncompromising Gregory IX, promptly excommunicated the Holy Roman Emperor. Under the circumstances, the excommunication was hardly justified. Rather, the excommunication was Pope Gregory’s opening volley in an all-out attack on what he viewed as the unacceptable infringement of papal authority by the Holy Roman Emperor. It was the opening act of a power-struggle that would last for decades and pitted conflicting philosophies about the respective role of sacred and secular leadership. That struggle is not the subject of this essay, but the impact of the excommunication on Friedrich’s authority is.  Effectively, with the excommunication, Friedrich’s campaign to the Holy Land lost papal blessing (whether fairly or not), and his campaign could not officially be viewed as a “crusade.”

The situation was further complicated by the fact that in April 1228, Queen Yolanda of Jerusalem died of the complications of childbirth. She left an infant son Conrad as heir to the throne of Jerusalem. With Yolanda’s death, Friedrich II lost his legal right to call himself King of Jerusalem; that title now belonged to his infant son Conrad. The most that Frederick could claim was the right to serve as regent for his son until the boy came of age at 15.

It was now 13 years since he had taken his crusader oath, and his open confrontation with the Pope had a profound effect upon his authority in his vast and complex domains. The excommunication above all gave his many internal opponents and rivals an excuse for insubordination and rebellion.

Friedrich would, therefore, have been well justified in abandoning the campaign to the Holy Land altogether and focusing on defending his birthright. Then again, when fighting an intransigent pope, what better way to undermine papal authority than to liberate the Holy City? The liberation of Jerusalem was bound to appear in the eyes of many (or so Friedrich appears to have reasoned) as divine favor and vindication. Furthermore, Friedrich had good reason to believe he would liberate Jerusalem because he had already been approached by the Sultan of Egypt, al-Kamil, who offered to deliver Jerusalem to him in exchange for the Emperor’s support in his war against his brother al-Mu’azzam. 

What actually happened when Frederick II set sail for the Holy Land is the subject of next week's entry. Meanwhile:

The Sixth Crusade is the backdrop and subject of:

Buy Now!

Dr. Helena P. Schrader holds a PhD in History.
She is the Chief Editor of the Real Crusades History Blog.
She is an award-winning novelist and author of numerous books both fiction and non-fiction. Her three-part biography of Balian d'Ibelin won a total of 14 literary accolades. Her most recent release is a novel about the founding of the crusader Kingdom of Cyprus. You can find out more at:  

Thursday, October 11, 2018

The Crusader States in the 13th Century - Prospering and Flourishing

Last week I pointed out that the crusader states in the 13th century are usually portrayed as fragile, vulnerable and tottering on collapse. Yet as historian Stephen Donachie has argued persuasively in a variety of fora, this is a gross exaggeration that reduces nearly a century of history to a single snapshot taken at the end of that hundred years. The fifty years following the arrival of the Third Crusade until the catastrophic defeat of the Frankish army at La Forbie in 1244, was actually a period of comparative prosperity, peace, security and even expansion.

I provided a synopsis of the key events and factors shaping the geopolitical situation in the crusader states between 1190 and 1244 last week. Today I want to look at the economic factors which played a decisive role in the sustainability of the Frankish states in the first half of the 13th century.

Remains of a 13th Century Sugar Factory - One of Cyprus' Source of Wealth
The reason the crusader states of the early 13th century were viable, despite the loss of nearly all the inland territory that had sustained the First Kingdom of Jerusalem, can be summed up in one word: Cyprus. Despite the loss of most of Galilee, Samaria, and Palestine, the crusader states on the coast of the mainland were not weak because they could draw on the rich resources in manpower, foodstuffs and finished products of Cyprus.  In terms of prosperity, if not security, Cyprus more than compensated the Frankish settlements in Syria for the territory that remained in Saracen hands.

First and foremost, Cyprus was the bread-basket of the Frankish states. Cereals, particularly wheat and barley, were the principal crops of Cyprus. They were produced in quantities far in excess of domestic consumption, making cereals a major export commodity.

In addition, Cyprus produced and exported cotton, sesame, and olives.  Olives were used in the production of both oil and soap, an important value-added product that brought high margins, particularly when scented with any of the readily available herbs like rosemary or thyme. Sugar production was another important economic activity and contemporary sources claim the best powdered sugar came from Cyprus.  Other coveted agricultural products produced on Cyprus were beeswax, honey, raisins, wine, and almonds. Cyprus was famous for its wine as well, a product that found favor in the royal courts across Western Europe. Last but not least, timber from the abundant and old forests on the island was highly coveted because lumber was needed to build the Italian ships that now dominated the Mediterranean. These products made the Frankish elite on Cyprus very rich indeed.

While unsuitable for long-distance export, the standard of living of the inhabitants of both Cyprus and the crusader states of the Levant was increased by the cultivation and sale of dietary supplements such as oranges, lemons, limes, bananas, pomegranates, mulberries, figs, apples, peaches, walnuts, almonds, and, of course, grapes. Likewise, although game was limited on the mainland due to the density of population, Cyprus still had deer, wild sheep, and boar, as well as hare and rabbit. Domesticated livestock included cattle, sheep, goats, pigs, chickens, geese, pigeons.  Horses, donkeys, and camels were all used extensively for transport, and horses were among the exports from Latin Greece.

Nor were all exports agriculture in nature. Silk and silk fabrics, particularly material using spun gold either in the weave or embroidered, were produced in the crusader states. Because the rare porphyria snails which produce purple dye were found only off the coast of Beirut and in the Gulf of Laconia (both under Frankish control in the first half of the 13th century), this dye or fabrics produced using it were another important source of income. Another popular luxury good produced in Outremer was glass. Tyre was famous for particularly clear glass, Beirut for red glass. Soap, particularly scented soap, was another popular product exported to the West. 

But not all trade was in products produced locally. Immensely important to the prosperity of the crusader states was the transit trade, i.e. trade in goods that originated beyond the borders of the crusader states and was destined for customers likewise beyond Outremer. Beirut, Tyre, and Acre particularly were funnels for goods bound for Constantinople, Italy, Sicily, and Western Europe from as far away as China and India. The lords of Outremer taxed both imports and exports. They charged anchorage and demurrage fees in their harbors. They taxed the goods passing into their cities from landward as well as seaward, ensuring that they profited from the caravans coming from Aleppo, Damascus, and Ascalon as well as the ships from France, Spain, and the Holy Roman Empire.

The goods passing through were some of the most coveted of the age, ensuring high margins for merchants ― and tax collectors. For example, the famed spices and perfumes of the Orient passed through the ports of the Levant.  So did important pharmaceuticals such as opium. Ivory, incense, and gold were other coveted exports from the lands East of Outremer.  Fur, amber, wool and woolen fabrics, and iron were just some of the products imported from the West and bound for destinations further east. While weapons, to the scandal of Churchmen and Imams alike, passed in both directions.

The combination of expanding borders (i.e. increasing security) and sustained prosperity created an environment in which the inhabitants of the crusader states lived in comparative comfort and, indeed, luxury. Visitors from the West were impressed, not to say astounded or offended, by the lifestyle of the residents. The Lusignan palace in Nicosia inspired admiration and comment for its great throne room, balconies, baths, gardens, menagerie, gold ornaments, tapestries, and clocks. (Hazard, Harry W ed. A History of the Crusades: The Art and Architecture of the Crusader States, p. 175.)  The polychrome marble, mosaics, painted ceilings and indoor fountains at the Ibelin residence in Beirut ignited the wonder of visitors. The hunting dogs, hawks, brightly painted galleys, and livery of the servants and soldiers were other sources of admiration and wonder. In short, wealth and security were the foundation for a cultural flourishing that expressed itself in the construction of magnificent cathedrals, monasteries, palaces and commercial buildings, as well as in the significant writings of the Frankish elite. (See: Baronial Scholars). 

Yet it would be wrong to see the society of the crusader states as fundamentally decadent. The military elites of this society might have enjoyed exceptional luxury of lifestyle, but they remained fighting-men with agricultural holdings (now on Cyprus rather than in Syria) as the foundation of their status and wealth.  They were also engaged in a series of armed conflicts during this period. They actively participated in the Fifth Crusade in Egypt.  After a civil war stretching nearly two decades and involving several military campaigns, they effectively drove the Hohenstaufen Emperors out of Outremer. They participated in the crusade led by Champagne and Cornwall ― and pushed their luck too far in the military operations that ended in disaster at La Forbie.

Far from being a precarious period overshadowed by a sense of doom as most writers would have you believe, this was arguably one of the most pleasant periods in the history of the crusader states. It was not until the rise of Mamluks, with their far more brutal and duplicitous tactics, that the crusader states came again under unremitting and ultimately overpowering attack.

Dr. Schrader's new series is set in the first half of the 13th century. The first book in the series is:

Buy Now!

Dr. Helena P. Schrader holds a PhD in History.
She is the Chief Editor of the Real Crusades History Blog.
She is an award-winning novelist and author of numerous books both fiction and non-fiction. Her three-part biography of Balian d'Ibelin won a total of 14 literary accolades. Her most recent release is a novel about the founding of the crusader Kingdom of Cyprus. You can find out more at:  

Thursday, October 4, 2018

The Crusader States in the Early 13th Century - Resurgant and Expanding

With the wisdom of hindsight, the crusader states in the 13th century are almost universally portrayed as fragile, vulnerable and tottering on collapse. Yet as historian Stephen Donachie has argued persuasively in a variety of fora, this is a gross exaggeration that reduces nearly a century of history to a single snapshot taken at the end of that hundred years. Roughly the first half of that century, from the arrival of the Third Crusade until the catastrophic defeat of the Frankish army at La Forbie in 1244, was actually a period of comparative prosperity, peace, security and even expansion. What follows is a synopsis of the key events and factors influencing the situation in the crusader states between 1190 and 1244.


Between 1187 and 1190, the forces of Salah ad-Din overran the former Kingdom of Jerusalem, destroying or occupying all the major cities including Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Hebron, Nazareth, and Nablus, as well as the coastal ports of Jaffa, Ascalon, Caesarea, Acre, Sidon, Beirut, and Gibelet. As 1190 closed, the sole city of the former kingdom still in Christian control was Tyre. Although the County of Tripoli and the Principality of Antioch remained independent, both were vulnerable and threatened.

In the course of the Third Crusade, the Franks regained control of the critical port of Acre and then extended that control down the coast as far as Jaffa. While this coastal strip lacked sufficient territory to be self-sufficient in grain and other vital food-stuffs, the Third Crusade had brought the island of Cyprus under Frankish rule. Cyprus was comparative sparsely populated and very fertile, thereby replacing the lost inland territories as the bread-basket of the Frankish states on the mainland. Thus, by the end of the Crusade in 1192, the situation of the crusader states had improved markedly over the situation between 1187 and 1190. Furthermore, the negotiations that ended the crusade secured a three-year truce.

In 1193, Saladin died. This set off a succession struggle among his many heirs that lasted fully seven years. While the Ayyubids were fighting among themselves, the Franks had not only a respite from attack, they were able to themselves go on the offensive.  

In 1197, a force of German crusaders came to the Holy Land in advance of a promised crusade by the Holy Roman Emperor Henry VI. The Emperor died in the West, but the German crusaders took the offensive anyway.  Although in the meantime, Jaffa had been lost again to the Saracens, the Germans undertook a campaign north from Tyre. They captured Sidon, Beirut, Gibelet, and Botron, thereby eliminating the Muslim-controlled enclaves that had separated the Kingdom of Jerusalem from the County of Tripoli. For the next roughly seventy years, the Franks retained control of the coastline of the Levant from Arsur in the south to Tortosa in the north.

In 1204 forces initially raised for a campaign to regain Jerusalem were diverted by Venice and, after a complicated series of events, took control of Constantinople. A Latin “Empire” was established that occupied roughly the same territory as modern Greece minus the western half of northern Greece but straddling the Bosporus and extending to the shoreline on the Asian side of the Aegean. It was flanked by territory still held by Greek Orthodox forces in western Greece and what is now eastern Anatolia. While highly controversial to this day, in the short-term the establishment of the Latin Empire of Constantinople gave the Franks near complete mastery of the Eastern Mediterranean. A surge in new mercantile activity on the part of the Italian city-states followed.

Meanwhile, Christian Armenia was also gaining in strength. The Armenian leaders agreed to a (more nominal than substantive) reconciliation with the Church in Rome, and thereby facilitated closer ties with the crusader states. Inter-marriage with the Princes of Antioch led to dynastic conflict, but Christian-controlled territory extended from Antioch along the southern coast of what is now Turkey all the way roughly Alanya.

With the death in 1218 of Saladin’s brother, who had finally defeated his rivals in 1200 and managed to retain most of his brother’s empire, the Ayyubid Empire again entered a period of internal bickering. Al-Mu’azzan, the Sultan in Damascus, was soon at war with his brother Al-Kamil, who ruled in Egypt. Al-Kamil covertly sought the support of the Holy Roman Emperor, offering to restore Jerusalem (which he did not control) to Christian control, if the Christians would help him defeat his brother.

This may have been a major factor in convincing Emperor Frederick II that he could launch a successful crusade. Although al-Mu’azzan inconveniently died, making Christian aid less vital to al-Kamil, Frederich II still managed to capitalize on the divisions within the Ayyubid camp. In 1229, his troops reoccupied Jaffa and by means of negotiation obtained limited Christian control  of Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Nazareth, and Toron. These gains were extended by a crusade (not numbered by later historians but very real nevertheless!) led by the Thibald Count of Champagne and Richard Earl of Cornwall between 1239 and 1241. They extended Frankish control inland from Jaffa, regaining Tiberias and the Sea of Galilee along with the upper Jordan valley.

Thus in 50 years, the Frankish territories had expanded from the City of Tyre to a territory roughly equivalent to modern Lebanon and pre-1967 Israel minus everything south of the Dead Sea. As modern Israel and Lebanon demonstrate, this territory is fertile and not inherently unsustainable or indefensible.

This is the "Outremer" in which my series on the civil war in the Crusader States is set. The series begins with:

Buy Now!

Dr. Helena P. Schrader holds a PhD in History.
She is the Chief Editor of the Real Crusades History Blog.
She is an award-winning novelist and author of numerous books both fiction and non-fiction. Her three-part biography of Balian d'Ibelin won a total of 14 literary accolades. Her most recent release is a novel about the founding of the crusader Kingdom of Cyprus. You can find out more at:

Monday, October 1, 2018

"Rebels against Tyranny" - A Review by Chanticleer Reviews

“A romantic and intricate historical fiction that will entrance - sometimes enrage – but always enlighten readers. Welcome to the 13th century where things aren’t really as different as you may imagine.” – Chanticleer Reviews

Helena P. Schrader lays a beautifully intricate historical fiction at our feet and invites us to feast upon it. Much like her previous novels, Rebels Against Tyranny will not disappoint. And like her previous novels, she supplies the key: See Reviewer’s Note*

Time and place are the essence of Rebels Against Tyranny. While July 14th may commemorate the storming of the Bastille to protest the French monarchy's abuse of power, a momentous event occurred on July 14, 1229, on the island of Cyprus, one that also involved an uprising of people against despotic authority.

The despot was Frederick II of Hohenstaufen, a man with more titles than morals. Unfortunately, he was also the Holy Roman Emperor, the King of the Germans, the King of Sicily and the King of Jerusalem (a title he illegally usurped after marriage to the Kingdom's twelve-year-old heiress), and as if these titles were not enough, he refers to himself as, "Wonder of the World." No, Frederick II of Hohenstaufen did not hold a title in modesty! **

Those rebelling against Frederick the II were his own barons, disgusted and fed up with tax increases, property seizures, required oaths of loyalty, replacement of "baillies" (regents of young rulers), and the general mayhem his men wreaked in Jerusalem and Cyprus. Leading the rebellion was the highly cultured, intellectual, respected and well-connected Ibelin family.

Balian d'Ibelin is the grandson of the "Defender of Jerusalem," a title justly granted to a man who expertly negotiated with Saladin to limit the losses of the Christians following the critical Battle of Hattin. Schrader juxtaposes this chapter of diplomatic history with Frederick's self-serving negotiations to "buy" Jerusalem for the Christians through a treaty that will last only ten years. His wish to avoid battles but reap accolades confirms his narcissism and intellectual failure to consider long-term strategies. It's no wonder that Frederick especially loathes the tall, handsome Balian d'Ibelin and his many highly esteemed relatives. The dynamic jousting between such different personalities supplies much of the novel's drama, and it's made even more colorful with actual jousting scenes and gripping descriptions of epic battles in which horses were every bit as important as their riders. 

Medieval women weren't on the battlefield, but different sorts of battles characterized their lives. Our leading lady, Eschiva de Montbeliard, a cousin of young King Henry I of Cyprus, finds solace in illuminating scriptures, a skill that speaks to her privileged background. But her privileged background will not save her from a loveless marriage.

The Montbeliards and Ibelins are related and have often been rivals. That makes the blossoming romance between Esciva and Balian, cousins, a bit scandalous, but the reader is treated to a love story that incorporates the medieval code of chivalry in splendid fashion.

Although the reader feels completely swept away to the 13th century, Schrader motivates one to see that the more things change, the more they stay the same. The use and abuse of power has characterized political history since the dawn of civilization. A ruler's circle of advisers has serious influence, beneficial or detrimental, on the running of a state. The tug and pull of centralized authority versus the distribution of power will no doubt be debated for the duration of time itself. Helena P. Schrader has full knowledge of these complexities and explores them in this riveting tale of tyranny and rebellion.       

* Reviewer’s Note: Readers familiar with Helena P. Schrader's historical fiction are aware that her novels are the result of monumental and meticulous research. The superb scholarship that characterizes her other Crusades-related novels (Knight of Jerusalem, Defender of Jerusalem, Envoy of Jerusalem, and The Last Crusader Kingdom) also enriches her deeply engrossing novel, Rebels Against Tyranny, Civil War in the Crusader States. 

Before immersing yourself in this fascinating account of the baronial rebellion against Frederick II of Hohenstaufen during the thirteenth century, take time to familiarize yourself with the enormously helpful accompanying materials Schrader provides, including genealogical charts of royal and baronial houses and maps of Cyprus and Outremer at the outset of the 13th century. 

Schrader also gives a detailed list of characters and a glossary that provides fascinating definitions of words used during the Middle Ages (for starters, a "garderobes" was a toilet and "Greek Fire" was an incendiary weapon placed in crockery and catapulted).  Finally, the author shares voluminous information in her historical notes, letting us know the exact sources she consulted when considering character traits of historic people, as well as the decisions she made when sources conflicted. The result is that the reader not only enjoys a wonderfully adventurous account of knights and battles, but also learns a hugely satisfying amount of medieval history and politics.  

** Indeed, Schrader notes that one purpose of her book is to set the record straight on Frederick. Some historians have labeled him a "genius" and a man of "exceptional tolerance," but these mischaracterizations are revisionist history that arose from "centuries of popular approval of absolutism" and the habit of some German scholars exalting a royal forebear.