Emperor Frederick II, called "enlightened" by historians yet decried as a despot by contemporaries, unleashes a civil war that tears the Holy Land apart. The heir to an intimidating legacy, a woman artist, and a boy king are caught up in the game of emperors and popes. Set against the backdrop of the Sixth Crusade, Rebels against Tyranny takes you from the harems of Sicily to the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem, from the palaces of privilege to the dungeons of despair. This is a timeless tale of youthful audacity taking on tyranny―but sometimes courage is not enough....
It's hard to be the son of a celebrity. We know that from Hollywood and politics in our own time. Yet I hadn't expected to be confronted by the problem -- until I started work on a new series and discovered that the best historical figure to serve as the central protagonist of the new series had exactly the same name as the hero of my last series, the Jerusalem Trilogy. The new series has a totally different focus (civil war in the crusader states) and different themes (absolutism vs. feudalism), but the hero is a grandson of the Defender of Jerusalem, Balian d'Ibelin -- and was named for his grandfather. Despite bearing the same name the historical was a very different man, and so my character had to be too. Here's the opening scene.
John d'Ibelin, son of the legendary Balian, will one day defy the most powerful monarch on earth. But first he must survive his apprenticeship as squire to a man determined to build a kingdom on an island ravaged by rebellion. The Greek insurgents have already driven the Knights Templar from the island, and now stand poised to destroy Richard the Lionheart's legacy to the Holy Land: a crusader foothold on the island of Cyprus.
Heroes, as I have noted in earlier entries, do something exceptional. They show unusual kinds of courage and the help others in some way. But sometimes even the greatest heroes fail....
The villains of a novel may, for plot reasons, play a consistently negative role. That, however, is not the same thing as a character being purely evil or having base motives. In "The Last Crusader Kingdom" the heroes face a fanatical opponent capable, by the end, of kidnapping women and children. Yet he is not simply "evil." To help the reader understand better the motives for his action, I provide a little background.
Those of us privileged enough to have had pets know just how important they have been in our lives. It was no different in times past, and so dogs and horses often have important roles in my novels. In this excerpt, the young squire John d'Ibelin encounters an exceptional dog.
The main female character in all three books of the Jerusalem Trilogy and "The Last Crusader Kingdom" is Maria Comnena, a historical figure. In the course of the four novels she goes from being a reigning queen still in her teens, to a grandmother in her late forties. My introduction to her in each book reflects her changing status and role. In this excerpt from the last of the four books in which Maria plays the leading female role, she is forty-years-old and her oldest son, John, is already in service as a squire.
When writing historical fiction, helping the reader to see unfamiliar environments is always a challenge. I need to tip off the reader about what the environment looks like -- without bogging down the narrative and a slowing the pace of the action. In this sample, I hope the reader can picture the incident without feeling lectured to, yet with enough words so it doesn't sound like a work crew on the nearest interstate. At the same time, I hope the reader can picture the two protagonists as well. Successful?
Because my novels are historical fiction, the setting of the action is often not readily imagined by my readers. I can't say: "At the nearest McDonalds..." Or "It was a typical trailer home..." This means I often need to describe the environment of action more than if the novel was set in our own time. After all, how many of you know what a typical urban dwelling in late 12th century Acre looked like? At the same time, I can't allow descriptions to get in the way of the narrative or I will bore (and so lose) the reader altogether. Here's an example of how I try weave the descriptions into the action.
When Henri de Champagne, the young King of Jerusalem, stepped backwards out of a window to his death in Sept. 1197, no one could afford to give his widow, Isabella, time to grieve. In this scene, Isabella's step-father, Balian d'Ibelin returns from Cyprus to join his wife and step-daughter in their hour of grief -- only to be confronted with political reality.
Although Henri de Champagne had driven Aimery de Lusignan from his Kingdom of Jerusalem on unjustified charges, the two men later reconciled. Champagne's three daughters by Isabella of Jerusalem were betrothed to Lusignan's three sons. In this excerpt, Eschiva d'Ibelin, Aimery's as yet uncrowned queen, has still not fully recovered from her kidnapping.
In one of the more bizarre incidents in history, Aimery de Lusignan's wife, Eschiva, was captured by pirates from Cyprus a little less than a year before he was crowned King. She was taken to a petty tyrant's regime in what is now Turkey, and her release was effected by Leo of Armenia through a combination of threats, diplomacy and audacity. In this scene, Eschiva and her children find themselves in the hands of their rescuers on their way to a place they've never been before.
In 1195, a pirate ship seized the wife and children of the King of Cyprus from a coastal estate. In this excerpt, the King Aimery de Lusignan, who has been frantically awaiting news of his wife and children, receives a stranger at his palace in Nicosia.
It is 1195, and King Henry of Champagne has just offered Balian d'Ibelin an important post in the Kingdom of Jerusalem. But Balian has other options....
The establishment of a crusader kingdom on the island of Cyprus was not just of strategic and maritime importance. It offered tens of thousands of Christians who had lost their homes and livelihoods to Saladin's invasion a place to make a new start. In this excerpt, an apprentice mason, enslaved after the Battle of Hattin, and now working as nothing but a day-laborer, seeks out his former master-builder. The latter lost a hand at Hattin and is now a beggar.
Balian d'Ibelin has married his eldest daughter, Helvis, to a man 20-years his senior in order to secure her future. His younger daughter, Meg, seizing the opportunity following a tournament in which her brother John has competed successfully to broach the subject of her own (future) marriage with her father.
Wealth, title and privilege have their drawbacks too. When young John d'Ibelin falls in love with a local girl, his father the Baron of Ibelin forbids him from seeing her again. Of course, that didn't work with teenager in the Middle Ages any better than it does today. So John ran away with just his horse and his dog to go courting....
Humphrey of Toron was a tragic figure. He is remembered for what he lost: his fief, his freedom and his wife. His wife, heiress to Jerusalem, divorced him to marry a man better able to defend her kingdom for her. Humphrey having lost everything to which he had been entitled by birth and marriage, fades from the pages of history. In this excerpt, I hypothesize what might have happened to him -- and an critical encounter with his former father-in-law: Balian d'Ibelin.
While Aimery de Lusignan struggles to gain control of a rebellious Cyprus, his wife -- isolated among Greek servants -- miscarries a child. She is convinced he will now discard her as once her father discarded her mother. Praying for death, an woman looking very much like the Virgin Mary appears -- and then....
Richard the Lionheart sold Cyprus to Guy de Lusignan, and at the latter's death less than two years later, Guy named his brother Geoffrey his heir. Aimery -- who had brought Guy out to the Holy Land to make his fortune, who had supported his usurpation of the crown of Jerusalem, fought with him at Hattin and suffered captivity with him -- was left out in the cold. In this excerpt from "The Last Crusader Kingdom" Aimery has returned to Acre, broken by his brother's ingratitude.
Aimery de Lusignan has been imprisoned for High Treason by the king of Jerusalem, Henri de Champagne. In this excerpt, he receives a visitor in his prison cell: Balian d'Ibelin. Ibelin brings word that the Champagne is willing to release Aimery -- on one condition.
The magic of castles is nothing new. For most of us today, exploring castle ruins is associated with trying to understand the past. It is a means to discover clues that help us better imagine an age gone by. But for contemporaries, exploring castles was like exploring a battleship or a space station: it was discovering the latest in military technology as well as inspiring the imagination with the great deeds that had -- or would be -- performed here.
Ruling a medieval kingdom was not a matter of doing whatever one liked. Medieval society was extremely legalistic and a king, above all others, was expected to enforce (and so respect) the law of the land. In this excerpt, Henri de Champagne, who has become King of Jerusalem quite unexpectedly, is confronted with the limits to his power set by the laws and customs of his new kingdom.
In this scene, 13-year-old John has just witnessed the arrest of the man he is serving as a squire: the Constable of Jerusalem, Aimery de Lusignan. And the first thing he thinks of doing is going to his father for help. Find out why.
The establishment of Lusignan rule on the Island of Cyprus in the late 12th century was by no means a bloodless and peaceful enterprise. In this excerpt, a Greek Orthodox monk who has witnessed atrocities committed men fighting for Guy de Lusignan, confronts his superior -- and learns a unexpected lesson.
BEST BIOGRAPHY 2017 (Book Excellence Awards) BEST CHRISTIAN HISTORICAL FICTION 2017 ( Readers' Favorite) BEST SPIRITUAL/RELIGIOUS FICTION 2017 (Feathered Quill AwardS) BEST BIOGRAPHICAL FICTION 2016B (Pinnacle Book Awards) Honorable Mention from Foreword Indies Awards 2017 for Military/Wartime Fiction Balian d'Ibelin has survived the devastating defeat of the Christian army on the Horns of Hattin and walked away a free man after the surrender of Jerusalem, but he is baron of nothing in a kingdom that no longer exists. Haunted by the tens of thousands of Christians now enslaved by the Saracens, he is determined to regain what has been lost. The arrival of a vast crusading army under the soon-to-be-legendary Richard the Lionheart offers hope -- but also conflict, as natives and crusaders clash and French and English quarrel.
Heroes usually show some kind of courage, but courage can take very different forms -- as this excerpt illustrates.
Not every antagonist is evil. While the opponents of a cartoon hero may be monsters, such simplistic characters generally detract from a serious novel -- much less historical fiction. The antagonists of historical novels are historical figures, and humans are not monsters but complex beings with both positive and negative characteristics. The historical opponent of the hero in my Jerusalem series was a man who has gone down in history as exceptionally chivalrous. He was certainly an intelligent, rational man, capable of great generosity. In my portrayal of him, therefore, it was important to show not only why he was the antagonist of my hero but also why he is so admired by many historians. Meet Salah ad-Din, the great Sultan Saladin.
One of the most difficult things for a writer of historical fiction is to avoid imposing modern values on our characters living in the past. We often find it hard to accept, that intelligent, likeable people (i.e. our heroes and heroines!) held attitudes or beliefs that are today scorned as silly or condemned as evil. Yet the failure to give characters the beliefs and morals of the age in which they lived turns a work of historical fiction into farce. The point, as I try to do in this seen, is not to give characters modern attitudes but rather to help the reader understand the values of the past.
One of the most difficult tasks for a historical novelist who writes about real historical figures is to make characters out of legends. Some historical figures are so well-known that readers will already have formed an opinion about them. But that opinion may not overlap with the author's interpretation of the character. This was my problem with Richard the Lionheart. Almost anyone interested in the crusades has already formed a picture of him in their minds -- but that picture is based on his role as an ENGLISH King and a crusader. My novel "Envoy of Jerusalem," however, is written from the perspective of the residents of the crusader kingdoms. That is significant. What I did was start with the familiar -- describing Richard as most will already picture him -- and then showing the difference.
The main female character in all three books of the Jerusalem Trilogy and "The Last Crusader Kingdom" is Maria Comnena, a historical figure. In the course of the four novels she goes from being a reigning queen still in her teens, to a grandmother in her late forties. My introduction to her in each book reflects her changing status and role. In this excerpt from the third book in the series, Maria is now 35, the mother of four young children -- and believes she has just become a widow with the fall of Jerusalem to Saladin.
Describing a character's physical attributes is one of the trickiest tasks an author faces. Too little detail, and a reader cannot form any picture in their mind so the character remains an amorphous blob -- a serious disadvantage to winning sympathy! Too much detail on the other hand can just get in the way of the narrative. In the following excerpt, I tried to give all three characters sufficient contours for the reader to start picturing them, without ever actually describing them.
The second book in my Jerusalem Trilogy ended with the surrender of Jerusalem to Saladin in 1187. The reader had been in Jerusalem with the defenders for the last 100 pages of the book, and been shown the aftermath of the surrender on the residents in the Holy City. For the third book in the series, I did not want to just start where I had left off. Instead, I decided to change the perspective and show the impact of the surrender of Jerusalem not on the people who had defended it -- and lost -- but on their families and friends watching events from the outside. Here's what that looked like:
Ibelin's first attempt to negotiate with Saladin on Richard the Lionheart's behalf failed miserably. In this scene, he reports his failure to the English King, who is still recovering from a fever than nearly killed him.
In August 1192, Richard the Lionheart -- facing rebellion at home -- sought peace with Saladin. He send Balian d'Ibelin, known as Ibn Barzan to the Saracens, to the Sultan with a peace proposal -- but Saladin has a counter-proposal.
This excerpt is based on an account of the Battle of Jaffa by the Arab historian and contemporary of Saladin, Baha al-Din Ibn Shaddad. His book, "The Rare and Excellent History of Saladin" is available from the series "Crusades Texts in Translation" in a translation by D.S. Richards.
King Richard came to the relief of Jaffa with just a handful of knights. After driving off the Saracens with a surprise amphibious assault, he camped outside the city. But Saladin now rallied his forces and, after re-grouping during the night, made a surprise dawn attack on the exposed crusaders. Here's how it looked through the eyes of Aimery de Lusignan, Constable of Jerusalem....
August 1, 1192 While Richard the Lionheart and the rest of the Frankish forces prepared an offensive against the territory north of Acre, Saladin struck in Richard's rear. His army rapidly gained control of the city of Jaffa, and the garrison was trapped inside the citadel when Richard arrived by sea with just 57 knights and a thousand Genoese archers. Undetered, Richard ordered an assault on the beach held by thousands of enemy.
Christmas Eve 1187 In the city of Tyre, the last city still in Christian hands after the defeat of the Frankish army at Hattin, the survivors gather to celebrate Christmas. Eschiva d'Ibelin finds herself sitting with one of her uncle's knights, Sir Bartholomew. Sir Bartholomew's daughters and grandchildren fell into Saracen hands after the Christian defeat and are now slaves.
Isabella of Jerusalem was just 20 years old - and pregnant - when her second husband, Conrad de Montferrat, was assassinated and died in her arms. But she had no chance to grieve. As the ruling Queen of Jerusalem she was required to marry again at once -- to the man the High Court of Jerusalem chose for her. In this episode, Henry Count of Champagne, the High Court's choice for Isabella's next husband, has just received the permission to accept the crown from his uncle, Richard the Lionheart.
In 1192, after the assassination of her husband Conrad de Montferrat, 20-year-old Isabella of Jerusalem was pressured by the Bishop of Beauvais to submit to French "protection." It was a transparent attempt to seize control of her kingdom -- and checkmate the French king's hated rival: Richard the Lionheart. In this scene, Isabella has just returned from her husband's funeral when she is confronted by the Bishop of Beauvais.
She had been separated from her mother at 8 to live imprisoned in a border fortress. She had been married at 11 to the man her brother chose for her. She had been torn from her husband's tent against her will at the age of 18 and convinced to divorce her first husband in order to take a man more suitable to the High Court. At 20, pregnant with her first child, she learned that the King of England had finally ended his objections and recognized her and her second husband as the rightful Queen and King of Jerusalem. And then there was a knock on the door.....
It is 1192. King Richard is in the Holy Land, but is younger brother has allied himself with his worst enemy, King Philip of France, and is threatening to steal his entire inheritance. Meanwhile, the barons of Jerusalem have just elected his opponent Conrad de Montferrat King of Jerusalem. And now the Master of the Knights Templar, Robert de Sable walks in and says....
The King of England has come to the Holy Land to liberate Jerusalem but it is proving more difficult than anticipated. As the winter closes, he looks for a negotiated settlement -- and turns to the leading local baron: Balian d'Ibelin -- a man his army has mocked as a traitor because he supports Conrad de Montferrat rather than Richard's own candidate for King, Guy de Lusignan.
It was a common practice of the Suljuks to capture or purchase young boys and train them to be elite soldiers - Mamlukes. In this excerpt, one such captive has been sent to spy on his former lord. The impact is to make his grandfather doubt himself.
During Richard the Lionheart's early negotiations with Saladin, Arab sources claim a proposal was made to marry Richard's sister Joanna, the dowager queen of Sicily, to Saladin's brother al-Adil. In this excerpt, Joanna discusses the proposal with Eschiva d'Ibelin, one of her ladies.
In this excerpt, Balian d'Ibelin has gone to the Sultan Saladin with a peace proposal from one of the two claimants to the Throne of Jerusalem, Conrad de Montferrat. The situation is made awkward by the fact that the Saracen Sultan now occupies the palace that had once belonged to his brother. This incident is based on history. It was Ibelin's attempt to negotiate a peace treaty with Saladin for Montferrat that aroused the ire of English chroniclers and made them call him traitor.
The Battle of Arsuf was the first confrontation between Richard the Lionheart and Saladin across a battlefield. It was a hard-fought battle with an ambivalent conclusion. Read an excerpt from awarding-winning "Envoy of Jerusalem" -- recipient of the Book Excellence Award for Biography and the Readers' Favorite Award for Christian Historical Fiction and more.
Although she reigned for 15 years, Queen Isabella I of Jerusalem is usually portrayed in history and literature as a pawn - a woman without a will of her own. I think that portrayal is flawed. The attached scene describes a real incident: the attempt of the French crusaders to take control of Tyre after the assassination of Conrad de Montferrat. It was foiled by Isabella's determination -- and the loyalty of Montferrat's men to her.
In 1190, Isabella of Jerusalem was dragged from the tent of the man she had viewed as her husband ever since her marriage to him seven years earlier at the age of 11. She taken in custody by the Church, and an ecclesiastic tribunal headed by the papal legate was convened to investigate the validity of that marriage. Behind this dramatic move, was the High Court of Jerusalem. With the death of her sister Sibylla, they recognized Isabella as their rightful queen, but vehemently refused to acknowledge her young husband Humphrey as their king. The High Court had a clear position: Isabella had to be separated from her husband Humphrey -- or she would not wear the crown of Jerusalem. In this excerpt Isabella is a secret witness to the church tribunals proceedings.
Writing about famous historical figures is always a challenge for a novelist, but Richard the Lionheart poses particular problems. He was controversial even in his own lifetime and to this day tends to provoke strong reactions -- both positive and negative. Few of his actions is more widely condemned today than his execution of several thousand hostages after the surrender of Acre in 1191. Most commentators focus on the fate of the Saracen hostages, forgetting that when negotiations broke down the fate of thousands of Christian captives also hung in the balance. Read how I handle this incident in "Envoy of Jerusalem."
Guy and Aimery de Lusignan were brothers. And both would be kings of Jerusalem, but under very different circumstances. Guy alienated the barons of Jerusalem and led them to an unnecessary defeat at the Battle of Hattin. Aimery was elected king by the same barons who had rejected his brother, and did much to restore the kingdom his brother had destroyed. In this excerpt, we see the interplay between the brothers in the critical phase after the loss of the kingdom but before the Third Crusade.
In this excerpt, Reginald of Sidon, who has been the Sultan Saladin's "guest" during negotiations over the surrender of his castle Belfort, reports back to Balian d'Ibelin his impressions and insights.
In 1187 the Armies of Saladin overran the crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem with the exception of the City of Tyre. The city was besieged by land and sea until January 1188, when the Sultan's armies withdrew, but it remained an isolated and vulnerable outpost. Survival depended on relief and reinforcements from the West. When, in the summer of 1188, a large fleet of approaching ships was sighted, the citizens swarmed to walls -- fearing a new Saracen blockade and praying for help from the West.
After the fall of the Kingdom of Jerusalem, tens of thousands of Christian women and children were enslaved. Most were widows and orphans, but some had fighting men, who had escaped the debacle at Hattin yet been unable to rescue their loved ones. This scene focuses on one such man, Sir Bartholomew.
As the defenseless Kingdom of Jerusalem fell city-by-city, the civilian inhabitants were largely allowed to withdraw with the moveable goods to the last remaining Christian bastion: Tyre. But what did women and children, who had lost their "bread-earner," do there? In this excerpt, Maria Comnena (disguised as a widow) interviews the young woman that her husband's squire wishes to marry. As the girl will join her household, she wants to know more about her character.
Between to fall of the Kingdom of Jerusalem and the arrival of the Third Crusade, Tyre clung tenaciously to its precarious independence. This excerpt describes the every-day reality for those Christians striving to survive in a transformed world -- and a medieval father-son relationship.
At the end of 1187, the armies of Saladin completely enclosed the last city in the Holy Land still in Christian hands, Tyre. The city, flooded with refugees, was cut off by land and sea. The defenders were far too few to take on Saladin's vast army, but it was clear the city would be starved into submission unless the naval blockade could be broken. That was when the Marquis of Montferrat devised a clever trick. This excerpt describes this true historical event through the eyes of my character Ernoul.
In December 1187, Tyre was the last city in the Holy Land still in Christian hands -- and it was besieged by land and sea by the Saracens. Supplies were running low, and the Frankish forces inside Tyre had to find a way to break the blockade.... In this scene, the Baron of Ibelin seeks out unusual allies in a tavern by the port.
Eschiva d'Ibelin, the wife of Aimery de Lusignan, was the co-founder of the dynasty that reigned Cyprus for 300 years, but historians treat her as nothing more than a link in a genealogy table -- a critical link between two families that allegedly hated one another. But Eschiva was a flesh and blood woman, a woman with feelings, loyalties, dreams and doubts. I have tried to give her a voice in my novels. Here is a scene after the fall of Jerusalem, when her father is in self-imposed exile, her husband in Saracen captivity, and her uncle Balian her only hope.
The fall of Jerusalem to Saladin in 1187 shocked Christendom -- and ignited a new crusade. While the main body of troops came out under the Kings of England (Richard I) and France (Philip II), many crusaders came out on their own. In this episode, Balian d'Ibelin and his eight-year-old son encounter some of the early, independent crusaders: Norsemen.
After crushing the Christian army at the Battle of Hattin, Saladin's army went on to capture the rest of the Kingdom of Jerusalem until only a few fortresses and a single city - Tyre - held out. The defense of Tyre was commanded by Conrad de Montferrat, but the Sultan had taken his father, William de Montferrat captive at Hattin. The Sultan thought he had the means to force Tyre's surrender.....
When Balian d'Ibelin agreed to remain in Jerusalem to take command of the defense of Jerusalem against Saladin in 1187, he did not expect to survive. His wife and young children were sent to safety in Tyre, the only other city in Christian control. In this scene, after negotiating a surrender of the Holy City that allowed the bulk of the Christians to buy their freedom, Balian is himself reunited with his small children.
Refugees, the victims of war, are often not welcome. We see that today. It happened too after the fall of Jerusalem in 1187. In this excerpt, the Baron of Ibelin reaches the last remaining city of the kingdom still in Christian hands after leading a refugee column for eleven days. He finds the gates of the city where they had hoped to find refuge closed.
The psychological manipulation of prisoners is not a modern invention. Medieval man might not have used the same clinical terms, but they understood how to exploit the vulnerabilities of those in their power. In this excerpt, the young Frankish nobleman, Humphrey de Toron, has been in a dungeon for months following the defeat at Hattin. Unexpectedly, he is removed from prison and taken to meet a Saracen lord.
In this excerpt, the Queen of Jerusalem reveals to her husband that she is with child. While normally this would be a source of joy, both are currently in Saracen captivity: King Guy a prisoner of war since the Battle of Hattin, and Queen Sibylla ever since she voluntarily put herself in Saracen hands in order to be reunited with her husband.
In this excerpt we get inside Saladin's tent and hear his views of the novel's protagonist, Balian d'Ibelin (Ibn Barzan), and also his assessment of the overall situation following the surrender of Jerusalem.
Jerusalem has fallen to Saladin, but in the city of Tyre wait many of the families of Jerusalem's defenders, including the wife -- or is it widow? -- of Balian d'Ibelin. In this scene Maria Comnena, daughter of the Byzantine Imperial family, once Queen of Jerusalem returns to her temporary home late at night. She has been at church after receiving the news that Jerusalem, where her husband commanded the defense, has fallen.
This is the opening scene of "Envoy of Jerusalem." It's October 3, 1187 in the coastal city of Tyre -- the last remaining stronghold of the Kingdom of Jerusalem.
WINNER of the John E. Weaver Award for Medieval Fiction, the Feathered Quill Silver Award for Spiritual/ Religious Fiction, Readers' Favorite Silver Award for Christian Historical Fiction. This book, the second in the series, follows Balian as he struggles to reconcile warring factions within the Kingdom of Jerusalem while fighting the ever-stronger Saladin. It describes the fateful battle of Hattin and the defense of Jerusalem with an army of refuges, children and women that followed.
"Heroes" are people who do something exceptional and beneficial for another being. That can be something monumental like saving a city from destruction (as Balian d'Ibelin did at Jerusalem) but it can also be something much, much simpler. The hero of this scene is an orphaned serving girl.
Negative characters are essential to every novel -- and not all of them are male! While the historical record often glosses over women and their feelings, an understanding of human nature tells us that there were bitter rivalries and vicious struggles between women -- particularly when they shared a love of the same man. In this scene, Eschiva d'Ibelin, the young bride of Aimery de Lusignan must face her husband's former lover and a jealous princess.
The main female character in all three books of the Jerusalem Trilogy and "The Last Crusader Kingdom" is Maria Comnena, a historical figure. In the course of the four novels she goes from being a reigning queen still in her teens, to a grandmother in her late forties. My introduction to her in each book reflects her changing status and role. In this excerpt from the second book in the series, Maria is now a young wife, married to the man of her own choosing, the Baron of Ibelin.
As a novelist I must use words not images to describe my characters. Here is an example, a description of the "Leper King" Baldwin IV of Jerusalem. My intention with this description, of course, is to help the reader see the youth -- and also sympathize with him.
When writing a series, such as my Jerusalem Trilogy, writing the first scene of the later books presents an additional challenge: the author has to assume that some readers will already be familiar with the characters, and other not. For both, the first scene needs to set the scene and catch the reader's attention -- while not boring readers already familiar with the overall story from the earlier book(s). Here's how I approached the second book in the series.
When Guy de Lusignan usurped the crown of Jerusalem in 1186, most of the knights and barons of the kingdom submitted to his rule despite inner reservations. But not all were so docile. In this scene based on an historical account, the Baron of Ramla has been summoned by Guy de Lusignan to Acre to take the oath of homage.
In 1185, the Count of Tripoli acting as regent for the eight-year-old King Baldwin V of Jerusalem sought a truce with Salah ad-Din (Saladin). In this excerpt, the Sultan discusses with his brother, son and nephew the offer -- and the messenger, Balian d'Ibelin (known to the Saracens as Ibn Barzan).
Everyone vaguely familiar with the Middle Ages have heard of them, but few people nowadays appreciate just how essential squires were to medieval warfare. In this excerpt, the Lord of Ibelin's squires look after his horses on the eve of the Battle of Hattin -- and discuss the situation.
At the age of eight, Isabella of Jerusalem was taken from the only home she had ever known and placed in the care of a man already notorious for torturing churchmen, plundering peaceful, Christian territory, and breaking truces: Reynald de Chatillon. She shared her fate with her future husband, Humphrey de Toron. Both children bore the psychological scars of their years with Chatillon the rest of their lives. In this episode, Isabella is determined to force Chatillon to release her and Humphrey from their desert prison, the notorious border fortress of Kerak on the edge of Sinai.
Sibylla of Jerusalem was devoted to her second husband, Guy de Lusignan -- so much so that she never showed a flicker of responsibility to her subjects. In the following excerpt, set in Jerusalem after the destruction of the Frankish army at the Battle of Hattin but before the Saracen siege, the Patriarch seeks out the dowager queen, Maria Comnena -- because Queen Sibylla is not able to help him.
In this weeks blog post (http://schradershistoricalfiction.blogspot.com) I talk about how difficult I found it to write about Guy de Lusignan because I never came to a full understanding of what made him tick. His historical role was too great to ignore, however. This scene is based on a known historical confrontation between Guy, then Count of Jaffa and Regent of the kingdom, and the invalided King Baldwin IV of Jerusalem, more commonly called "The Leper King." While we know the outcome of the confrontation, no one really knows what was said. Here's my interpretation.
"Defender of Jerusalem" is the winner of five literary accolades, and has won praise from professional reviewers as well as readers.
By September 30, 1187, after a ferocious defense by the Christian inhabitants, the walls of Jerusalem were breached by the Saracen forces led by the Sultan Salah ad-Din (Saladin). The defenders, composed predominantly of women, children and clerics, could expect only slaughter and slavery. But that didn't happen. An excerpt from "Defender of Jerusalem" based on first hand accounts.
In 1187 Jerusalem was defended against the armies of Saladin by just 80 newly-made knights and civilians. The latter were predominantly refugees. Women and children out-numbered men by 50 to one. The men were mostly clerics, priests and monks, with some youths too young and men too old to serve with the army. Yet they held off the full force of Saladin's army for nearly nine days.
Leprosy was endemic in the Holy Land during the 12-14th century, and fear of contagion dictated a segregation of lepers from the rest of society. However, lepers were not despised, but rather lived in organized communities supported by donations and elected their own leaders. (Women, by the way, generally voted along with men as equal members.) In this scene, the leper community of Jerusalem debates what they should do when the armies of Saladin arrive to besiege the Holy City.
The Baron of Ibelin broke his word to the Sultan to remain in Jerusalem and command the defense. He did not expect to survive. His wife and children, however, were granted an escort to safety by Saladin. In this scene Balian takes his last leave of his wife Maria Comnena.
When Balian d'Ibelin made the decision to remain in Jerusalem to organize the defense, he put his wife and children at risk. The conditions of Ibelin's safe-conduct to the city had been that he remain only a single night. Because he broke his word to the Sultan, he could expect no mercy. The price would be paid, he presumed, by his wife and children as well as himself.
The Christian army has been crushed. City after city has fallen to Saladin. Trapped in Jerusalem are 60,000 people, mostly refugees. There are fifty women and children for every man, and only two knights. Yet these people refuse to surrender the holiest city in Christendom, and they have asked the Baron of Ibelin, who has a safe-conduct to take his family out of the doomed city to stay and command their defense. Now he must decide....
September 1187. The Frankish army has been crushed at Hattin. The rest of the crusader kingdom has fallen to Saladin. Jerusalem is flooded with as many as 60,000 refugees. While the Patriarch speaks of martyrdom and Saladin vows to slaughter or enslave the entire population. The women and children trapped in the Holy City have nothing to say about their fate.... John d'Ibelin is eight years old and he too is trapped in Jeusalem when a miracle happens.
Saladin, Sultan of Egypt and Syria, has obliterated the Frankish army at the Battle of Hattin and subdued every city in the Kingdom except Tyre and Jerusalem. In this scene the Sultan is at ease in his siege tent before Tyre, when one of the few Christian lords still at liberty comes under a flag of truce. The man, Balian Baron of Ibelin, makes a -- to the Sultan -- bizarre request.
In 1186, the Kingdom of Jerusalem faced the greatest crisis of its existence. After the usurpation of the crown by Guy de Lusignan, the most powerful of all the barons, the Count of Tripoli, refused to do homage. Indeed, he made a separate peace with the Saracens. King Guy responded by calling up the feudal levees and preparing to attack his own vassal. Almost no one showed up. In this scene the Baron of Ibelin confronts the King.
Feudalism was built on bonds of loyalty -- vassals to lords, and barons to the king. But what if the king was a usurper, unfit to rule, or both? This was the dilemma faced by the barons of Jerusalem after Sibylla seized the throne in a coup d'etat and crowned her unpopular and incompetent husband Guy de Lusignan as her consort. In this passage, the young lord Humphrey de Toron, who is husband of the other legitimate claimant to to the throne (Isabella), breaks ranks with his fellow barons.
The young nobleman, Humphrey de Toron, was one of the Frankish lords taken captive after the annihilation of the Christian army at Hattin. This excerpt describes how he experiences the defeat.
The Christian army under Guy de Lusignan was obliterated on the Horns of Hattin, July 4, 1187. This is how the situation would have looked for the civilian population of the Kingdom of Jerusalem.
In this excerpt, the Baron of Ramla, half-mad with grief after the death of his wife and son, senses the doom about to envelop the entire Kingdom of Jerusalem. It is an ominous premonition....
Medieval noblewomen were expected to defend their castles in wartime. No, they didn't put on armor and they couldn't use swords or bows, but they commanded the men of their garrison. In this excerpt, the army of Saladin has swept down on the unwalled city of Nablus while the lord and all his knights are away defending the border. The Lady of Ibelin is in the citadel with the few fighting men left behind -- and the entire civilian population of the city.
In this excerpt (based on historical fact), the guests for a royal wedding are gathering when some uninvited guests arrive. The wedding is being held at the border castle of Kerak, south of the Dead Sea, and the bride is the 11 year old Princess Isabella of Jerusalem. When the scene opens, she is trying on her wedding gown with her mother and aunts.
Invalids are at the mercy of their care-givers -- even when they are kings. And those caring for a king do not always have their patient's best interests in mind. In this excerpt, King Baldwin IV, a young man slowly dying of leprosy, recovers from a fever to discover his most loyal servant is no longer with him -- and why.
In this excerpt three leading barons of the Kingdom of Jerusalem get a glimpse of what kind of leader their future king -- the new husband of the heiress to the throne -- is. It isn't reassuring....
Isabella of Jerusalem was taken from her mother at the age of eight and forced to live under the roof of one a notoriously brutal man: Reynald de Chatillon, the Lord of Oultrejourdain. Her only friend in his barren border fortress of Kerak was her future husband, Humphrey. But as this scene shows, when it came to confronting their "guardian" (read jailor) it was Isabella who was more courageous.
Ambitious men can be brutal and unscrupulous in any age or society. In this excerpt Balian d'Ibelin comes face to face with his young brother, who has led naval raids against unarmed Muslim pilgrims on the Red Sea for the sake of the rewards offered.
Princesses in the 12th Century lived in comparative luxury, enjoyed a good education, and had prospects of future power, but they were first and foremost pawns in the politics of their guardians. In this scene Princess Isabella of Jerusalem, who has been taken from her mother and beloved stepfather on the orders of the King, finds out more about why -- and decides how to face her fate.
Aimery of Jerusalem set aside his wife, Agnes de Courtenay, in order to become king of Jerusalem. He subsequently married the Byzantine Princess Maria Comnena. But when Aimery died, it was Agnes' son Baldwin who followed his father on the throne. Agnes became the power behind the throne, and one of her first acts was to seize control of Maria's young daughter Isabella. In this scene Maria, who has been denied the right to even see her child for two years. confronts Agnes.
In the Middle Ages -- as in poor countries today -- the treatment of animals, particularly "beasts of burden," could be heartless. In this scene Beth, a Muslim girl who was the victim of gang rape during the sack of the town of Ibelin, recognizes a fellow victim in a donkey. For the first time in her life stands up to a man -- and discovers an unexpected friend.
Leprosy was common in the Holy Land in the Middle Ages, and a large leper hospital was located just outside the walls of Jerusalem. But lepers were not abhorred or outcast from society because the disease was considered "holy" -- and because one of the Kings of Jerusalem, Baldwin IV, was himself a leper. In this scene, a young knight suffering from the early stages of leprosy is offered a new opportunity.
Peace has always been fragile in the Middle East, and outbursts of violence are often sparked by individuals with dubious motives. In this scene the King of Jerusalem confronts the Lord of Outlrejourdain for breaking a peace treaty. The rogue Frankish baron has enriched himself by plundering a Saracen caravan, but he refuses to pay compensation--with the inevitable result of escalation.
In the 12th Century, children were often betrothed very young and the bride-to-be often moved in with her future in-laws. Usually the arrangement helped the young couple get to know and like one another. But when the bride-to-be was a princess, and the betrothal arranged not by her parents but the king, the motives could be different. In this scene, Maria, widowed Queen of Jerusalem, reveals her fears for her daughter of her first marriage, Princess Isabella, to her second husband. Isabella has been taken from her by the woman who hates her most: the current Queen Mother Agnes.
The marriage of Princess Sibylla of Jerusalem with the landless knight Guy de Lusignan was arguably one of the most disastrous love-matches in history. Guy would lead the Christian army to an unnecessary but devastating defeat that ultimately resulted the complete loss of the Christian Kingdom of Jerusalem. In this scene, Sibylla's brother, King Baldwin IV is manipulated by his mother into consenting to the marriage--despite his own profound doubts about Guy's capabilities.
A bath after a journey was a medieval luxury recorded in many miniatures and romances. It was often a moment of rare intimacy between husband and wife -- as here when Balian is reunited with is wife Maria Zoe after the Battle on the Litani.
In the 12th century marriages were about alliances and children were pawns. Parents often arranged marriages for children that were still very young. The bride in child marriages sometimes remained with her own family until she was mature enough to consummate the marriage. Eschiva d'Ibelin, daughter of Baldwin, Baron of Ramla, was married at the age of eight to the already adult Aimery de Lusignan. She remained in the household of her uncle Balian. In this scene, Aimery returning from the Battle on the Litani stops at Ibelin. He has not thought about his bride for years.
Throughout the High Middle Ages it was customary for men of means to be held for ransom (rather than killed) if they fell into their enemy's hands. Ransom demands were usually steep, but they could also be crippling, impoverishing the man's family. In this scene, an emissary from Saladin brings word to Balian of Ibelin that his elder brother is now a prisoner of the Sultan and names the ransom.
Agnes de Courtenay was the sinister power behind her son, King Baldwin IV of Jerusalem. She used her influence to raise to positions of power her ineffective brother and her former lovers. Yet at no time was her influence more fateful and detrimental than when she convinced her son to allow his sister (and heir) to marry Guy de Lusignan. Guy was both arrogant and incompetent. In less than a decade he had led the army of Jerusalem to a disastrous defeat. Watch her at work here:
The Templars earned a reputation for being fierce and effective fighting men. They were sometimes the only disciplined force on a battlefield, but their unquestioning obedience to their officers meant that a bad Master could led them to disaster. Such was the case at the Battle on the Litani described here.
In the film "The Kingdom of Heaven" the relationship between Baldwin IV (the Leper King) and his sister Sibylla is a loving one. The historical record suggests much more tension and strain. In this excerpt, Baldwin is alone with one of his household knights. He is only starting to recover from a fever during which he named Sibylla's husband Guy regent of Jerusalem.
The first chapter, the first paragraph, the first sentence.... It is so important. It has to hook the reader, of course, but also be relevant to the entire book. It has to set the scene, introduce the key characters, and ignite the plot. No easy task. Does this work?
Hollywood made him a blacksmith; Arab chronicles said he was "like a king." He served a leper, but defied Richard the Lionheart. He fought Saladin to a stand-still, but retained his respect. He was a warrior and diplomat both. This volume follows Balian from his beginnings as a landless knight to his scandalously advantageous marriage to the Dowager Queen of Jerusalem, Maria Comnena.
The heroes of novels, unlike the heroes of cartoons, are not always supermen or even super strong, super handsome, and super clever. The hero of a novel might, as in "Knight of Jerusalem," be small, weak, and sick. Baldwin IV of Jerusalem, one of the heroes of this novel, was a leper -- yet all the more heroic because of it.
No novel is complete, realistic or exciting without negative characters. These can take the form of some supernatural "EVIL" trying to destroy the world (very popular today). Or they can be more realistic, human-beings who -- for very plausible reasons -- happen to find themselves on the opposite side of an issue, conflict or personal relationship from the hero. As a writer of biographical fiction, history determines who the antagonists of my principle characters are, and my characters must reflect the known facts. Fortunately for the sake of a good story, the historical antagonists of my heroes sometime have a very savory reputation indeed! Discover one of the most infamous villains of the crusades: Reynald de Chatillon:
The main female character in all three books of the Jerusalem Trilogy and "The Last Crusader Kingdom" is Maria Comnena, a historical figure. In the course of the four novels she goes from being a reigning queen still in her teens, to a grandmother in her late forties. My introduction to her in each book reflects her changing status and role. In this excerpt from the first book in the series, the reader is introduced to the teenage queen.
The first scene of a novel is supposed to capture the reader's attention and pull them into the novel. It is supposed to have drama, action, and emotions. It should introduce the main protagonist of the novel, raising the questions that will be answered later. It's supposed to provide a promise of conflict, excitement and memorable characters. So here's the opening of "Knight of Jerusalem." Does it meet the requirements?
Long before the discovery of the New World, before the rise from rags-to-riches became the American Dream and before the Statue of Liberty became the symbol of America, another state was the beacon for ambitious young men. There the immigrants revolutionized agriculture, re-populated cities and turned sleepy coastal ports into booming metropolises. Welcome to the Crusader States! In this excerpt, the new constable of Ascalon (Balian d'Ibelin) gets a lecture on the population of the city -- and a reminder of the importance of the "sergeant class."
In no area did Frankish and Saracen culture differ so profoundly as with regard to marriage. Nor did the practice of polygamy impact women alone. In this episode from "Knight of Jerusalem," Balian d'Ibelin and his bride discuss the fate of three young Saracens, who Ibelin had taken prisoner at the Battle of Montgisard and is now holding for ransom.
In this scene, Baldwin IV of Jerusalem, still a youth of 17, discovers his leprosy is spreading. His friend Balian d'Ibelin tries to comfort him.
Princesses, particularly heiresses, did not have the right to choose their husbands. In this scene, the widowed Princess of Jerusalem resists a new marriage, although her brother the king is dying of leprosy.
In the Middle Ages royalty traveled frequently, and when they did they could command the hospitality of any of their subjects. In this excerpt, the discarded wife of the Baron of Ramla and her twelve-year-old daughter are given only short notice that the Queen of Jerusalem is on her way. The situation is particularly awkward because they are living in the castle of Ibelin that was recently attacked while the town around it was sacked and burned by the Saracens.
Saladin's first invasion of the Kingdom of Jerusalem was in November 1177. He succeeded in trapping the young king (he was just 16) in the city of Ascalon with all the knights he had brought to the city's relief. But the "Leper King" ordered a night sortie. The following excerpt describes the decisive moment.
One of the primary purposes of medieval castles was to give refuge to non-combatants during an enemy attack. In this scene, Balian of Ibelin brings knights from the King's army to relieve Ibelin, which is under attack by troops of Saladin's invading force. When Balian arrives the town is being sacked, but many of the citizens are not safely behind the castle walls. Instead, they have sought refuge within the basilica of St. George.
King Baldwin IV of Jerusalem has gone down in history as the "Leper King" because he suffered from leprosy before he came to the throne and died of it at the age of 23. Because the ravages of the disease eventually left him completely disabled, it is often forgotten that as a young man only his arms were affected, and at no time did he lack for courage. In this scene, King Baldwin, aged 16, has just come to the surprise relief of Ascalon, a city now under siege from Saladin.
Medieval warfare was composed of many more sieges than battles. In this excerpt, the city of Ascalon is about to be besieged by Saladin. Father Michael is a young priest who has been helping tend to the refugees who have flooded into the city as the Army of Saladin approaches from the south.
The Christian Kingdom of Jerusalem was surrounded by enemies, but for most of the first century of its existence those enemies were divided among themselves. By 1177, however, the charismatic and clever Kurdis leader, Salah ad-Din (Saladin) had united Egypt and Syria and declared jihad against Jerusalem. In this scene, the Constable of Ascalon with some Hospitaller knights is trying to find out why refugees have suddenly flooded the border town.
Medieval marriage, particularly among the upper class, was about politics, alliances, the acquisition of land, titles and influence. It was only very rarely about love. In this scene the Dowager Queen of Jerusalem proposes marriage to her lover of one night -- very much to his surprise.
Widows in medieval society enjoyed financial independence and personal freedom. They could not be forced into a new marriage against their will, and could decide to remain single or to marry a man of their own choosing. In this scene, the Dowager Queen of Jerusalem pays an unexpected visit on the new Constable of Ascalon -- a man she had previously met when she was still a wife and a ruling queen and he only a landless knight.
King Baldwin IV of Jerusalem suffered from leprosy from a young age. Initially it manifested itself only as a loss of feeling in his right hand, but gradually it led to lameness that spread from his hands to the rest of his body. In the later phases it blinded and disfigured him. In this scene, however, he is just 15 and has just come of age. After years of isolation, he is anxious to meet his half-sister Isabella for the first time.
For court officials without lands of their own, everything depended on the king's favor. In this excerpt, two men who have served Prince Baldwin faithfully find themselves suddenly out in the cold after Baldwin comes of age.
In the Middle Ages adulthood started at 15 for men (12 for women), and this was the age at which a king too attained his maturity and was deemed capable of ruling in his own name. Baldwin IV of Jerusalem came to the throne at the age of 13, but a regent, Raymond de Tripoli, was named by the High Court to rule for him as regent. In this seen, on his 15th birthday, Baldwin IV takes up the reins of government.
He was one of the notorious adventurers of his age: he seduced a princess and became her consort, he tortured the Patriarch of her kingdom to extort money from him, he attacked the peaceful, Christian island of Cyprus for personal gain. And then he fell into Saracen hands and was locked in a dungeon for 15 years. In this scene the infamous Reynald de Châtillon finds himself set free and he has a lot of catching up to do.
Convents in the Middle Ages had many purposes. They were homes for the devout, but also sanatoriums for the ill, prisons for discarded wives and unwanted daughters, and refuges for the politically insecure. In this passage, the Dowager Queen of Jerusalem seeks refuges at an isolated convent to ensure her daughter does not become a pawn of unscrupulous men.
Medieval woman were not weak, helpless nor "chattels" of their men. They enjoyed substantial rights including the right to inheritance and mature heiress and widows could be very powerful indeed. Meet one of the most notorious heiresses of the crusader kingdoms: Stephanie de Milly, who inherited the strategically vital barony of Oultrejourdain on the dangerous southeastern edge of the kingdom.
We may think that becoming king would be something exciting and desirable, but it was also often traumatic. Baldwin IV of Jerusalem was just 13 years old when his father died unexpectedly. He was also suffering from leprosy. This excerpt describes the moment when he gets the news his father is dead.
The death of the king in a feudal society was always a time pregnant with the risk of strife, particularly if the heir to the throne was still a minor. But what if the successor were a not just youth of 13, but a boy stricken with one of the most horrible diseases known to man: leprosy. This was the situation faced by the Kingdom of Jerusalem in 1174.
The daughter of a princely but impoverished family, widowed as a child, she probably thought her second husband beneath her. When he was promptly taken captive by the Saracens, she forsook him for (or some say she was abducted by) the king's younger brother, Amalric. Unfortunately for her, the High Court of Jerusalem did not think her worthy of a crown, and her prince had to set her aside to claim the throne. She returned to her despised second husband - the elder brother of the hero of my novel, Balian of Ibelin. In this scene Balian greets her after his brother's untimely death.
The primary duty of any queen was to produce heirs. If her husband's only son was a boy suffering from leprosy, the pressure was even greater. And if the queen was a foreign princess, a child of Byzantium, brought to Jerusalem at just 13, her situation could be very difficult indeed. This excerpt shows Queen Maria Comnena of Jerusalem after the birth of her first child -- a daughter.
Baldwin IV of Jerusalem has gone down in history as "the Leper King." Unfortunately, most novelists have been far too mesmerized by his later deformity to realize that not only was he a beautiful boy he is also said to have ridden like a centaur -- despite being unable to use his hands. In the first novel of my series, Balian d'Ibelin is a landless knight come to Jerusalem to make his fortune and sent to serve the prince. Here I describe Balian d'Ibelin's first encounter with Prince Baldwin.
Leonidas, the Hero of Thermopylae. In 480 BC he would defy an army half a million strong. But who was Leonidas? As the youngest son of King Anaxandridas, he went barefoot and hungry like the other Spartan boys in the infamous Agoge. Now, a young man, he has only one goal, to be the perfect Spartan citizen, A Peerless Peer. In search of a wife, Leonidas courts a beauty, But another young woman knows she is destined to be his queen: Gorgo This is their story.
Sparta was elected to lead the coalition of Greek cities opposing the Persian invasion in 480 BC not only on land but also at sea. Compared to Athens and Corinth, Sparta’s navy was small, but Sparta’s naval tradition was considerably longer than numbers suggest, and Sparta’s perioikoi marines may have enjoyed a strong reputation for competence since they often fought alongside the Spartans. Find out what that might have looked like at in this excerpt. The Spartans have been asked by their coalition partner Corinth to provide protection for a fleet of merchantmen bringing grain across the Aeginan during the Ionian Revolt. After a storm, many merchant ships are damaged and barely able to sail. Leonidas is in command of their defense.
An Athenian symposium was very different from a Spartan syssitia, and Leonidas feels like a fish out of water when the "central attraction" arrives.
There was nothing inevitable about the election of Leonidas leader of the Greek coalition that defied Persia in 480 BC. In my biographical novel of Leonidas, I hypothesize that well before 480 BC he had won a reputation among the Greek city-states for not only military competence but also fair treatment of Allies. In this excerpt from "A Peerless Peer," I show Leonidas in action in a Spartan diplomatic coup: luring the city-state of Mycene out of Argos' sphere of influence and into their own.
One of the most significant differences between Sparta and Athens was in the different treatment of girls. In Athens they were from birth confined to the inside of the house, not allowed to engage in exercise, and not fed the same diet as the brothers. Nor were they taught to read and write. They were then married as soon as they reached puberty. Spartan girls, in contrast, were fed the same wholesome diet as their brothers, took part in sports, and went to school where they learned to read and write. In this excerpt 8-year old Gorgo, encounters her first Athenians.
Leonidas, the hero of Thermopylae, was the youngest of four Agiad princes. He never expected to be King of Sparta. For the bulk of his life he was just an "ordinary" Spartan, a Peer. In this excerpt, Leonidas is just 21 years old and a new citizen. He has not distinguished himself in any way -- until now.
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