Guest Post: To Shine With Honor

This is a guest post; the first chapter from author Scott Amis’ new release, To Shine With Honor. To Shine With Honor is the first of a three-part series that begins in France in the 11th century before the First Crusade began.


7 April 1086, the town of Grand-Forêt, southeastern France

Galien de Coudre drew a sharp breath. Beneath a shield-shaped sign painted with crossed swords, his father, his brother Martin, and his sister Alisende waited, but Thierré wasn’t with them. Galien clenched his fists and gritted his teeth. His unspeakable eldest brother could have at least shown him the honor of joining the family for his day of coming of age.

As he walked between the rows of cottages, Galien set aside his bitter thoughts. His family greeted him warmly. He pushed his hair back and straightened his gambeson, and stepped up into the armorer’s workshop. The proprietorJacques laid a bundle on the table and rolled away the deerskin to reveal a superbly crafted belt and scabbard with a hilt showing. Galien reached out, uneasy, only touching the pommel. Henri de Coudre put a hand on his son’s shoulder and said, “Go ahead, draw it.”

Galien did as his father bade. The leather grip felt just right in his hand. He turned round to study the newly-forged weapon. No better sword was to be had, of singular purpose and fit for a knight of great prowess: thirty-eight inches from point to top of weighty domed pommel, broad thirty-two inch blade with two cutting edges, of elegantly tapered proportion, not adorned save small crosses of inlaid silver. At two-and-a-half pounds in weight, a perfectly balanced sword that could strike off an arm with a keen edge and punch through a hauberk with the hardened steel point. Galien held it up before his face. With the plain nine-inch steel handguard set between blade and grip, it made for a distinctive reminder of the Cross of Christ.

He looked at his father. “It’s wonderful, but I’ll not need it at cathedral school. You surely spent three livres to get me a knight’s blade.”

Henri chuckled. “Galien, you know I make certain each of my sons has the best sword I can buy at his coming of age and knows how to wield it, become he knight, priest, or diplomat.” With this, Henri reached into his belt purse, took out a heavy silver seal ring, and slid it onto the forefinger of Galien’s right hand. “You’re a man now and fully fit to take your place beside your brothers.”

Galien stood, red-faced, as his father buckled the sword belt round his waist and stepped back, smiling with pride at his third son. Martin de Coudre, at sixteen, two years Galien’s senior and a young man bound for knighthood, shook his hand and embraced him; Alisende, already tall and pretty at twelve years, hugged his neck and kissed his cheeks.

A man-at-arms stepped up from the lane. “Sir Henri, Baron Alphonse would have you come to the fortress, right away.”

“Is Bayard starting more trouble?”

“My lord, it’s not Count Bayard this time. Peter de Villiers has blocked the road to Vézelay with a force of mercenaries, and Baron Alphonse needs your counsel.”

Henri sighed. “I’d hoped to spend the day with you, but a knight’s duties too often bear no regard for family.”

“Father, I ought to come along,” Martin said.

“No, son. I’d not deprive Galien and Alisende of your good company. All of you enjoy this fine day together.” Henri handed Galien a green leather bag bulging with coins, and turned to walk away with the man-at-arms.

Galien and Martin each held one of Alisende’s hands in their own as they strolled at their ease. Alisende said “I’m hungry!” and Galien gave her a denier, bidding her buy herself a sweet. The brothers watched her trot toward the center of Grand-Forêt, circled with thatch-roofed buildings and cottages, crowded with people of the Barony of Mirefleurs come for the market fair held in the week after Easter. Galien took a seat on the grass, his back against the trunk of an old oak tree. With his new sword and scabbard over his knees, he absently toyed with the bronze chape at the end of the belt. After a quiet minute, he heard Martin say, “What troubles you?”

“I’m so not sure I want to go into the Church.”

Martin looked at him, surprise on his face. “You’ve never told me that before, and you’ve always been so pious.”

“With cathedral school near, I’ve been thinking more.”

“Has that sword got you to thinking of the knight’s life?”

Galien drew his sword a halfscore inches from the scabbard and lovingly ran a finger over the blade. “Perhaps it has.”

“Maybe you ought to ask father if he’ll let you become a knight instead.”

“No, the soldier’s life is for you and our wretched excuse for a brother. I’ll go into the Church and become a bishop like father wants. Truly though, all I want is a quiet life of study and writing, with a wife who understands me. Right now, I’m making enough silver with my scribe work to think of marrying. Had father given me the coin he paid for this sword and scabbard, I could have a five-acre freehold and a sturdy cottage.”

“Galien, Father and Mother didn’t have you schooled in letters so you could live like a peasant. Besides, how could a charming and good-looking young nobleman like you not rise high in the Church?” Galien only grunted, and Martin nudged him with a grin. “High Church officials don’t lack for women.”

At that moment, Alisende returned, excited to see the sights of the market fair, and Galien said, “We’ll talk more about it later.”

The marketplace, crowded with people of all stations, smelled of freshly-baked bread and pastry, roasting meats, and human bodies. Galien and his brother and sister browsed tents and tables of food and drink, wares, and services of all varieties, tasting of the samples freely offered. With the coin his father had given him, Galien bought a deep-red cap embroidered with intricate golden designs for Alisende and a silver-mounted wine flask for Martin, but had not enough left for a dagger he fancied for himself.

A grimy hunched man in a ragged crimson robe approached them. “Good lords and lady, I’ve just returned from the Holy Land and with me, I carry relics of God’s saints.” He held up a tiny silver vial, whispering through snaggly teeth, “Indeed, the Blood of Our Lord Himself.”

Alisende gasped with wonderment, but Galien said, “The Turks in the Holy Land not let any Christians pass in peace. Take your cat bones and sheep’s blood elsewhere.” Galien stared at the charlatan until he shuffled off to seek his next victim, and Alisende pulled him toward a trio of dogs doing clever tricks. She watched them clapping with delight, and Martin gave their trainer a denier.

Galien saw the stone church across the busy market and handed Alisende the green bag, which yet held twoscore silver deniers. “Sister, go to the priest and fetch the parchment and quills he had made for me.”

“I’ll go if we can draw and do letters tonight, and you’ll give me some wine.”

“We’ll draw and do letters, but I won’t give you wine until you’re fourteen and old enough for Father to let you marry.”

Alisende stuck her tongue out at him. “You only turned fourteen today, and I’ll not marry until I can choose my own man, no matter what Father wants.”

“Fourteen is old enough to serve duty at arms and get killed by Count Bayard’s raiders. Now, go and do as I told you.” Alisende stuck out her tongue again and dashed toward the church, long blond hair flying from beneath her fine new cap.

Martin mused, “Too bad Thierré is on patrol today and can’t be with us.” Galien didn’t answer, and Martin elbowed him.

Galien snorted. “Can’t you see that I’m brokenhearted?” He ground his teeth at the thought of his bullying eldest brother and spoke no more.

Martin broke the tense quiet. “I wish you two could get along.”

“The lout could have left patrol duty to be there when Father gave me my sword and ring. He’s never thought of me as anything but a bookrat.”

Martin smiled, stroking his short dark beard, already heavy at his sixteen years. “You might be a bookrat, but you’re as good at sword and horse as any knight. I’ve never understood why Thierré doesn’t at least show you some respect for that. I’ve given up hope that the bad blood between you will end.”

“It doesn’t matter. He’s a knight now, and I’ll be in cathedral school. We’ll soon be rid of each other until the Last Judgment, but I swear, if he calls me ‘runt’ one more time, I’m going to hit him. I don’t care how big and tough he is.”

“Forget about Thierré for today, Galien. Think of the fine supper that Mother has waiting in your honor.”

“Mother should stay in bed. She’s in no condition to be making a fuss over me.”

“Indeed,” Martin said, nodding gravely. “But no one alive, not even Father, can tell her what to do.”

As Galien and Martin waited for Alisende, friends and acquaintances spoke to them, and Galien graciously accepted the many well-wishes for his coming of age. Shortly, Alisende returned from the church. Galien took his cloth-wrapped writing supplies, smiling to himself. Already, his precocious command of written French and Latin and his neat, artistic Carolingian lettering were putting plenty of silver into his purse while Thierré dumbly hacked away at the pell with his sword.

Martin spoke. “I’ll buy us the best wine at the tavern.”

“Might I have some unwatered wine, Martin?” Alisende said.

“Sister, today we’ll let you have a taste, in celebration. I don’t think Mother would mind.”

They walked toward the tavern, Galien grateful to God for his good-natured brother Martin and his sweet, innocent sister. Two boys of their age, sons of peasant farmers on their father’s sat on a low stone wall at the edge of the market area, taking long swallows from an earthenware pitcher of strong ale; a younger boy sat beside them, not drinking.

“Look, Jules,” one said, sniggering. “The holy man Galien de Coudre is wearing a sword. It’s nearly as long as he is.”

Jules flashed an insolent grin. “And he’s swaggering around like a knight.”

Galien gripped his sword hilt. He let go of Alisende’s hand, walked to the boy, and held up his seal ring. “Yes, Jules, I now bear the authority of my father, and I’ve caught you and Clovis poaching in his forest one time too many.”

Martin took Galien’s arm and grabbed the pitcher from the older boys. He poured the ale onto the ground and said, “Take Galien’s words to be a fair warning. My father’s never had you flogged for your mischief, but you don’t know what his youngest son might do.”

Jules looked at Martin, hostile resentment in his eyes. “What about our ale?”

“You two troublemakers best not drink in public places. But if you want more ale, find yourselves some honest work for a change.” Martin and Galien again took Alisende by her hands. As they walked toward the market, Clovis could be heard to say, “The Devil damn all noblemen to Hell.”

Galien looked back, but the two older boys had vanished into the maze of alleys and lanes between the cottages and buildings. The younger boy, about ten years of age, yet remained. Galien said to him, “Milon, why do you keep following those two around? They’ll only get into trouble and try to cast the blame on you.”

Milon shrugged. “I’m not of a landed family, and I’ll never get to be a knight, so who cares?”

“Milon, my father cares, and yours certainly does. Etien is the most respected man-at-arms in the barony, and you’ll eventually gain the same respect.”

“I know, Galien, but it’s not the same as being a knight.”

“Well, you know you’re always welcome at the house to practice with my father and me.” Milon nodded halfheartedly, Martin tousled his hair, and the Coudre brothers and sister continued their walk to the tavern.

At the tavern, Galien spotted a familiar black and grey stallion in the horse shelter. He turned to Martin and Alisende, scowling. “Thierré’s inside, no doubt drinking more than he should.”

Martin put a hand on Galien’s shoulder. “Let’s at least speak a word with him. Surely, he’ll be decent toward you on your coming-of-age day.”

They didn’t have to go inside. With his three men-at-arms behind, Thierré de Coudre came from the front door of the tavern and walked toward his horse. The nineteen-year-old knight’s head was bare; his handsome clean-shaven face framed with long blond hair falling past his shoulders; his helmet and the mail coif and padding under his left arm.

He looked Galien up and down. “Our little man looks so gallant today, with fine clothes and a sword. Have you finally found yourself a girl?”

“Thierré, you know this is Galien’s day of coming of age,” Martin said. “You need to give him the honor he’s due.”

Galien met Thierré’s stare, smelling the wine on his brother’s breath. Thierré sneered, “Truly, I’d forgotten. But now that the runt’s old enough to serve as my squire, I’ll give him the honor of lacing on my coif, and then he can run along and play with his sister.”

Galien glared back, feeling the Norman blood of his mother come to full boiling fury. He snapped, “Any God-cursed filthy corpse robber would make a better knight than you are, Brother.”

Alisende put her fingers to her mouth. With face red and eyes wide, she gasped, “Galien! How could you say such a thing?”

Thierré took a step forward. At six feet, he stood five inches taller than his youngest brother. He shoved Galien hard. “Mind your mouth, boy!” Galien staggered, but quickly regained his balance. He swung his right hand, punching Thierré squarely in the face. Thierré wiped away the blood running from his nose. Veins bulged at his temples as his blue eyes turned icy. He whipped out his razor-edged dagger, growling, “I’m going to save the Church the trouble of making a eunuch of you.”

A crowd began to gather, drawn by the curses and commotion. Well-dressed nobles stood side-by-side with humbler folk to watch the sons of the honorable knight Henri de Coudre fight their feud before a good many people of the Barony of Mirefleurs; eager boys who would be warriors cheered them on. Thierré took a wide taunting slash at Galien, and a noblewoman cried, “Guardsmen!”

Steel rang as Galien drew his sword. With his mail hauberk gleaming dully in the sunlight, Thierré took fighting stance, waited grinning, and suddenly lunged with the dagger. Galien deftly pivoted aside and stuck out a foot. Thierré stumbled on it but didn’t lose his timing. In one swift motion, he drew his own sword and took position, saying, “So, you want a real fight, boy?”

Galien took the long guard and muttered, “Don’t try me, you drunken fool.”

Men-at-arms in marshals’ colors grabbed Galien from behind and took his sword. Burly veteran sergeant Otto Huber punched Thierré, knocking him off his feet. He grabbed Thierré’s arm and pulled him up. “I’m taking both of you to the dungeon. Make it easy or hard, at your choice.”

Thierré snatched his arm from Otto’s grasp. “I’ll see you flogged, Huber,” he spat.

Otto grabbed him by his hauberk and drew him close. “Take it up with Baron Alphonse and your father. You’ll be getting the flogging, and I’ll be more than happy to lay it on.”

Thierré grew quiet at this fearsome prospect. He stood still beside Galien while the guardsmen manacled their wrists, and walked docilely as they were pushed toward the oak-barred prison wagon.

The wagon bumped and shook on unsprung wheels along the narrow trod-earth road that led through the dense forest between Grand-Forêt and Fortress Mirefleurs, Baron Alphonse’s stronghold and the place of governance for the Barony of Mirefleurs. Galien and Thierré, at last bound as brothers in dread of their father’s wrath and the sure and painful punishment that awaited them, stared at their feet, fearing to talk to one another. Thierré finally spoke above the groaning of wood and rattling of metal. He shook his head ruefully. “You showed a knight’s courage and skill back there, and I must give you honor.”

“To Hell with honor. Did you truly intend to take my manhood?”

“Of course not. I only wanted to scare you. But I must admit, you’re rather quick on your feet and with that sword. Has Father been teaching you?”

“He has. You only come home from the fortress for Sunday supper. I practice with Father in the front court on weekdays, and with the men-at-arms who live on the estate when they come to the house.”

“With all that behind you, you’ll be the best priest-at-sword in the whole Church.”

Galien raised an eyebrow and smiled. “Today, I’m not feeling so eager to take up my destiny in the Church, but ‘priest-at-sword’… I like that idea.” The wagon rounded a bend. Fortress Mirefleurs loomed, massive and grey, at the top of the low hill ahead. The brothers turned pale and fell into silence.


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The Field of Blood: The Aftermath

The crushing defeat at the Field of Blood caused many people to ponder this troubling question: If God was truly on their side, fighting with them, why did He let them suffer defeat? No one in those days realized that the flaws in their own military strategy led to defeat. Rather, all of the blame was pinned on sin. Muslim victory in the crusade of 1101, in the second Battle of Ramla in 1102 and again at the Battle of Harran was the result of Christian transgression. The Franks firmly believed that, in order to maintain God’s favour in their war for the holy land, they had to purify themselves as well as the entirety of the Kingdom of Jerusalem.

The Antiochenes’ defeat at the Field of Blood was no doubt a setback for the Principality of Antioch, but it was the result of Prince Roger’s foolhardy decision to engage the Turks in battle before the rest of the grand Frankish coalition arrived to his aid. Needless to say – and rightfully so – Roger was harshly condemned for their defeat. He also died childless, igniting a succession crisis in Antioch that would endure for several years.

Il-ghazi, high on his victory at the Field of Blood, “exploited Christian weakness and overran all of the Summaq plateau” (Asbridge, 166). He then marched on Antioch at the head of his van-guard, determined to capture that city. Meanwhile, in Antioch, the Patriarch Bernard of Valence disarmed the Greek and Syrian Christians, who were known for their treachery, and organized all Latin men capable of bearing arms into a garrison. He monitored the ramparts day and night, offering prayers and encouragement to all of the men-at-arms. Fortunately Baldwin II arrived before Il-ghazi did. There is no telling how Antioch would have held out against the impending Turkish onslaught, so Baldwin’s arrival was very timely. The King received a hero’s welcome from not only the patriarch and his sister, Hodierne, but by every inhabitant of Antioch (Rita Stark, 64).

Baldwin immediately set to work, restructuring the political and military framework of Antioch. Aside from quelling the Turkish threat somehow, Baldwin’s main task was to install a governor in Antioch. The only legitimate successor to the principality was Bohemond of Taranto’s son, Bohemond II who was living in Italy. Since Bohemond was only aged nine, neither old nor mature enough to assume full authority over the principality of Antioch, King Baldwin agreed to act as his regent until Bohemond came of age and was fully prepared to assume his duties as governor.

As for the Turkish threat to Antioch; in the early 1120s, it was significantly weakened when Il-ghazi died. For the next couple of decades, the Muslims of the Middle East would continue to be disunited, too preoccupied with their own internecine conflicts to repel the Franks. In a complete reversal of events, Baldwin II took full advantage of Arab disunity, re-captured the Summaq plateau and east of the Belus Hills (Asbridge, 167). The Franks also captured Banyas, a fortified town located strategically between Jerusalem and Damascus. That foothold deeper into the Middle East would strengthen the Kingdom of Jerusalem at least for a few decades.


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To Shine With Honor: A Review


To Shine With Honor: Coming of Age is the first of a trilogy, written by Scott Amis.

Galien de Coudre, scholarly third son in a family of minor nobility, comes of age in the perilous world of late 11th century France, where powerful noblemen massacre the other and innocents in unending petty warfare over lands and silver, despite the efforts of the Church to control their violence.

Galien, educated for the priesthood, trained at arms and horse by his father and older brothers, all knights, finds his once-certain future as a high Church official compromised by family misfortunes. Through a series of wrenching events, he discovers his own destiny as events in France and the distant Holy Land draw inexorably toward the great war of faiths known in history as the First Crusade.

I really enjoyed To Shine With Honor. Scott brought the characters to life. His portrayal of French culture in the late 11th century was accurate. The male characters, who were mostly all knights as was the case in those days, upheld the ideals of chivalry as presented by the Catholic Church of the time. At the same time, when necessity compelled, they were ruthless. Scott did a very good job maintaining that balance with his characters. Though, I did feel that some scenes that could have made this story even stronger if they would have been extended, ended rather abruptly. There were some terminology, for example; the word ‘Architect’ that didn’t exist in the late 11th century. The word didn’t come into being until the 16th century. Other than those minor things, To Shine With Honor was a good read and I recommend it to anyone who is interested in the Middle Ages and who wants to learn more about pre-Crusade France.

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The Field of Blood

Sometime in June 1119, news reached Roger at Antioch that Il-ghazi, the Artuqid Turk, had raised a large army and was marching on the Principality of Antioch. Upon hearing of this news, Roger appealed to Pons of Tripoli and to Baldwin II for aid. Pons and Baldwin II began at once to assemble their armies. They also advised Roger to wait for their arrival. However, the Antiochene landowners living near the Orontes River were under constant attack. Bands of Turks were raiding their land, destroying crops and no doubt, killing and raping the Antiochene Christians. They begged Roger to assemble his army and repel the Turkish army.

Roger himself did not want to wait until the grand Frankish coalition arrived to his relief. So, against the wishes of the Patriarch of Antioch, Bernard of Valence, Roger gathered a small army of about 3,700 warriors, including a corps of Turcopoles* and marched east of the Belus Hills, thinking that would be the best area to launch a surprise attack on Il-ghazi’s army (Thomas Asbridge, 163).

It was an ill fated and completely rash move on behalf of Prince Roger because, unbeknownst to him, Il-ghazi had planned a three-pronged attack on the crusaders. Though, highly confident in his military might and ardently believing he would win a smashing victory against the Turks like he had before, Roger camped his army in a valley located half way from Aleppo. This valley was known as the Bloody Camp. Roger thought this valley was well defended by rocky hills, but he did not know that Il-ghazi had planned to launch his attack in that very area.

On the night of 27 June 1119, “Roger learnt that the Turks had sacked the small village of Arthareb nearby” (Rita Stark, 62). That news greatly disturbed him and the rest of his army, but it was too late to turn back. The next morning, the few scouts who Roger had sent out to spy on the Turkish army, returned with the news that Il-ghazi had camped his army, 40,000 strong, at Athareb and was preparing to launch an assault on the Bloody Camp from three sides.

The crusaders sounded the bugle horns just as Il-ghazi closed in on them. Roger had scarcely enough time to assemble his troops in the formation ideal for a ruthless counter-attack. At first, victory seemed to be within his reach. The right flank of Roger’s army charged ahead of the rest of the small army and beat back the Turks. However, the Turkish army was so large and well organized, Il-gahzi’s troops effortlessly surrounded the Frankish army.

Historian Rita Stark writes that a strong wind blew up from the north, blowing sand in the Franks’ eyes, temporarily blinding them. This hardly seems a plausible reason for the Antiochene Franks’ bloody defeat because many Turks would have also been halted by the sand being blown in their eyes. In any case, the Antiochene army was utterly crushed at the Bloody Camp.

Roger must have realized in the last minutes of his life that he would never be able to face his comrades and be treated with the same valor and respect as he had before. Nor, could he live with the guilt of the fatal mistake he had just made. Rather than flee the battle scene, Roger charged the Turks. He was killed instantly when a Turkish warrior thrust a sword through his nose and into his brain. Roger fell dead before the fragment of the True Cross, but his death was far from heroic. The priest who had carried the fragment of the True Cross was slain shortly after.

According to 12th century chroniclers, following the death of the priest who had carried the True Cross, the Turks went so mad with greed over the gold and precious stones that adorned the crucifix, they began slaughtering each other (Asbridge, 164). Whether that actually happened is unknown. Most likely the medieval chroniclers of the time propped the disastrous battle up to make it not so catastrophic.

Only a few Antiochene soldiers survived. A Muslim chronicler from Damascus declared the battle as ‘one of Islam’s finest victories’ (Asbridge, 165). It was a defeat like no other. It was so bloody and devastating, the Antiochene’s named the Bloody Camp the Field of Blood.


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Envoy of Jerusalem Book Cover

Author Helena Schrader’s third novel, ‘Envoy of Jerusalem’, is set to be released sometime this summer. I’ve been Helena’s beta reader for almost two years; I’ve helped her with all three Balian novels, but I’m still excited for this new release.

As customary for Helena, prior to each novel’s release, she gets three different book covers made. She then posts them on her blog, Schrader’s Historical Fiction and invites her fans to vote for their favourite book cover image. The image that gets the most votes becomes the book cover!

I cast my vote on the book cover below…

I like the war scene in the background because it’s dramatic — this story is quite dramatic, so this image is quite fitting — and it brings the spirit of the times alive, which as any historian of Crusades History knows, was a spirit of warfare.

This image may not win a majority vote, but we shall find out…


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Interview With Helena Schrader: Author of ‘Defender of Jerusalem’

1. Tell us about your latest release, ‘Defender of Jerusalem’.
“Defender of Jerusalem” is the second book in my three-part biographical novel about Balian d’Ibelin. It covers the historically significant last decade leading up to the devastating defeat of the Christian army at the Battle of Hattin and the fall of Jerusalem in 1187. The book follows Balian and Maria during that crucial period, covering (through them) the Battles on the Litani and at Le Forbelet, the sieges of Kerak and Nablus, the constitutional crises of 1183 and 1186, the death of Baldwin IV and the usurpation of Guy de Lusignan, as well as — of course — Hattin and the defense of Jerusalem led by Balian. This book covers the same period as the film “The Kingdom of Heaven” and so will seem more familiar to readers than “Knight of Jerusalem,” which described Balian’s youth, marriage and the Battle of Montgisard — things not covered in the film.
2. Who is your favorite character and why?
That’s a tricky question for an author. Do you mean which person do I like best in the sense of who would I like as a friend? Or do you mean which character do I think is the most successful literary creation?
If we’re talking about “like” in the sense of admiration and affection, I would note that I personally could not write a biography or biographical novel about someone I didn’t like. I have to like and admire the subjects of my biographies. I’m always a bit suspicious of authors who write about, say, Josef Goebbels, because it seems to me that if you’re going to spend years of your life studying about and trying to get inside someone else’s skin so you can understand and explain them, then you must find something fascinating about them. So obviously I’m fascinated by and admire the real Balian d’Ibelin. 
But, if we look in contrast at which characters I think I did the best job of fleshing out so that he/she is exceptionally complex and fundamentally more human and comprehensible, then it is particularly difficult to judge success in a biography. If Balian is a compelling and attractive character in my novel, how much of that is because the historical Balian was an attractive character and how much of it is because I, as an author, did a good job?  
In terms of what characters do I think I was most masterful in molding, I would say: Reynald de Chatillon, who is usually portrayed as monotonously evil, and Isabella of Jerusalem, who is usually depicted as vapid, bland and spineless. One of my favorite scenes is where the 11-year-old Isabella confronts Reynald about her husband coming of age. I also like my interpretation of Balian’s elder brother, the historical Baldwin of Ramla and Mirabel. He discarded his first wife and mother of his children in order to be free to marry Sibylla, only to be jilted by her in favor of Guy de Lusignan. Then although he fought well under Baldwin IV  and Baldwin V, he dramatically refused to take an oath of fealty to Guy, and abandoned his son and third wife (he married twice after Sibylla rejected him and married Guy) to go to Antioch. That’s a pretty volatile personality — and totally different from the diplomatic Balian, who managed to reconcile Tripoli and Lusignan and negotiated with Saladin so well. So the trick was having two brothers who are very different, but also very close in that they stick by one another through thick and thin. 
3. Who is your least favorite character and why?
Here my personal dislike probably inhibited my ability to write a good character. Sibylla was such a stupid woman and such a disastrous queen (see my article about her at: Sibylla, Queen of Jerusalem ) that I found it extremely difficult to understand her or see things through her eyes — as an author must in order to be able to effectively conjure up a person with words. I simply cannot understand how a woman, who knew from the age of nine or ten onwards that she was going to be queen, could place her personal feelings for a man ahead of the welfare of her kingdom. I despise Sibylla because it was only her selfishness and deceitfulness in crowning Guy de Lusignan king that resulted in the Christians losing almost everything. It was all so unnecessary!

Sibylla, Queen of Jerusalem

Biography of Sibylla, Queen of Jerusalem. Daughter of Amalric I, Sister of Baldwin IV (the Leper King), and wife of Guy de Lusignan.
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4. You really brought the Battle of Hattin to life. Your descriptions and your characters’ display of emotions were very vivid. As we all know, the Battle of Hattin and the events that unfolded in the months following was a very dark time for the Christians in the Levant. How did you feel writing that about that scene?
That part of the novel wrote itself. That deep into the novel, I already empathized intensely with my characters, and it really was only a matter of closing my eyes and feeling what they felt. All I had to do was say: OK. Historically this is the next event, and then slip inside my characters and let them tell the reader what it was like. I often feel like a medium for characters more than their creator. Or another way of looking at it is that when I write I’m communicating at or with a spiritual level — the souls of the dead or a divine being — by listening to them. I feel only what they feel/felt and have no reactions or feelings as Helena. 
5. You are writing a third book in the Balian series: ‘Envoy of Jerusalem’. Can you tell us a little bit about it? When do you hope to release it?
“Envoy of Jerusalem” is the third and final book in my Balian trilogy. It will cover the period following the surrender of Jerusalem until Balian’s death.  That includes the siege and assault on Tyre in November/December 1187, the siege of Acre 1189-1191, the arrival of the crusaders under Philip II and Richard the Lionheart, the bitter rivalry between Guy de Lusignan and Conrad de Montferrat for the throne of Jerusalem, and, of course, the campaign fought by Richard the Lionheart for the Holy Land that ended with Balian negotiating a three year truce. But it also covers the establishment of the Latin Kingdom of Cyprus under Guy and — more important — Aimery de Lusignan. Aimery was married to Balian’s niece Eschiva, and then latter to his step-daughter Isabella, and there is good reason to believe that — in contrast to Balian and Guy — Balian and Aimery got along well and respected one another. Guy was given Cyprus by Richard I, but died two years later. It was Aimery who established effective control over the island and founded the Lusignan dynasty  that lasted 300 years. Notably, the Ibelins were the most powerful baronial family in the Levant from the start of the 13th until the 16th cenury, and both Balian’s sons at different times served as regents, John in Jerusalem and Philip in Cyprus. So while the first part of the novel will cover familiar ground to those who have studied the crusades, the second half ventures into lesser known — but fascinating — historical territory. 
6. Where can we find ‘Defender of Jerusalem’?
“Defender of Jerusalem” is available in paperback at both amazon and barnes and nobleAnd, of course, it can be ordered through your local bookstore. I strongly recommend the paperback because of the maps, genealogy tables and glossary that are easier to use in the paperback. However, it is also available in a variety of ebook formats, including kindle and nook.

Defender of Jerusalem: A Biographical Novel of Balian D’…

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Baldwin II: Man of God, Man of Reconciliation

William of Tyre described Baldwin II as a just man, pious and God-fearing (Barber, 118). Baldwin II was much like Godfrey of Bouillon and the complete opposite of Baldwin I. Whereas Baldwin I ruled with force, Baldwin II preferred negotiation and gentle persuasion. He also used quirky, yet brilliant strategies that worked for the greater good of the County of Edessa and later, the Kingdom of Jerusalem.

According to William of Tyre, while Baldwin II was still Count of Edessa, he encountered financial problems because the salary of his knights exceeded his revenues. Baldwin had married the Armenian princess, Morphia, daughter of the wealthy count, Gabriel of Malaya. Unlike most marriages of the time, Baldwin and Morphia’s marriage was based on mutual love and respect. Gabriel and Baldwin also shared a close friendship.

Baldwin knew that Gabriel would be able to help him out, but he did not want to exploit Gabriel’s good will. So, Baldwin rode with his knights to visit Gabriel. Gabriel received Baldwin gladly, so Baldwin stayed for a length of time.

One day, while Baldwin and Gabriel were engaged in conversation in the palace hall, one of Baldwin’s knights (staged by Baldwin) entered the hall and demanded payment of a salary. Baldwin then had to admit to Gabriel that he had not enough money to pay his knights, so he promised to let them cut off his beard. In Greek and Armenian culture, men grew their beards as long and as thick as they were able to. It was considered a dishonor to cut it. Gabriel, abhorred by Baldwin’s decision, gave him 30,000 bezants, demanding that Baldwin never cut his beard (Rita Stark, 60).

Edessa, located along the furthest northern edge of Christian Outremer, was more prone to Turkish attacks than neighboring Antioch. That was the main reason why Baldwin constantly ran into financial troubles. In the early 12th century, Edessa suffered a period of famine after bands of Turkish warriors ravaged the countryside. That left Baldwin’s treasury nearly empty.

Meanwhile, Joscelin de Courtenay, who held the fief of Turbessel, a town located on the Euphrates River, had escaped the Turkish invasion. He continued to enjoy the wealth the fertile land of the region yielded. Unfortunately, he had no sympathy for his overlord. In fact, Joscelin arrogantly stated that Baldwin should return to France because he was incapable of holding onto his status (Rita Stark, 60).

Feigning illness, Baldwin summoned Joscelin to his bedside. Joscelin was probably not at all concerned for Baldwin because we wanted to claim Edessa. Nevertheless, he masked his coldhearted greed and asked how Baldwin’s health was. Much to his surprise and probably dismay, Baldwin leapt out of bed and harshly reproached Joscelin for his disloyalty. He then threw Joscelin in prison and stripped him of his fief.

However, in 1118, the two men made reconciliation, a move that would benefit both men greatly. Joscelin ardently supported Baldwin’s claim to the throne probably because he knew his rewards would be great. On the other hand, Joscelin held a deep respect for Baldwin and most likely felt regretful for his earlier actions against Baldwin.

In any case, Baldwin returned Turbessel to Joscelin.

The ruses Baldwin used to save him and his county from destruction never turned into treason. In fact, his actions were always followed by reconciliation. It’s highly possible some of the prominent barons of Outremer thought Baldwin II as a weak and ineffective king and desired a king like Baldwin I, who ruled with an iron fist. Yet, under Baldwin II’s rule, the Kingdom of Jerusalem thrived and flourished amidst the perpetual threat its enemies posed to it.


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English Contributions to the Crusades

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

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

Henry II, Hattin and the Saladin Tithe

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

The Third Crusade: 1189 – 1192

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

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

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

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

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

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

English Noblemen and Knights

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

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


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


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Baldwin le Bourcq Becomes Baldwin II of Jerusalem

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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The King’s Knight: Balian d’Ibelin

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

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

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

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

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

Balian nodded.

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

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

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

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

“Do what you can.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Balian turned back to Baldwin. “Your grace―”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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