Listen to Angel Martinez read an excerpt from Men of the Cross
I want to thank Angel for offering authors like me an opportunity to introduce Sir Henry & Sir Stephan to her listeners.
This excerpt is from chapter 17 of the novel, hours after the horrendous massacre of 2,700 prisoners ordered by King Richard I.
The historical setting for Men of the Cross
Men of the Cross (Battle Scars I)
Time period: Medieval – 12th century
Richard the Lionheart. Saladin. Who hasn’t heard these names? I wasn’t a student of medieval history back in high school or college, but I knew of these two men. Sadly, I would not have been able to tell you they lived in the 12th century and were involved in the Third Crusade. Those were things I learned around 2007 when a BBC Robin Hood series placed them in context for me, and subsequently led to my overwhelming need to write a novel set during that war.
But first, I had to do a lot of reading and research! So let me take you back to the 12th century, to the time of the Third Crusade…
A Time of Conquest
Throughout the 1170s and 1180s, the ruler Salah ad-Din Yusuf ibn Ayyub, also known as Saladin, unified Muslim factions from Egypt to Syria. His army defeated forces of the Kingdom of Jerusalem at the Battle of Hattin in July 1187. Nearly every Christian stronghold in the region, including the major coastal port cities of Ascalon, Jaffa, and Acre, fell to Saladin and he set siege to the city of Jerusalem. When word arrived in Rome in late October of the devastating loss at Hattin (where Saladin had also captured remnants of the True Cross), Pope Gregory VIII issued the call for a holy crusade. The city of Jerusalem had surrendered to Saladin in early October, but that news had not yet reached the Christian West.
For many Christian princes, kings, and nobles, the call to crusade meant putting aside regional conflicts. Among them, Henry II of England and Philip II of France had fought on and off in the 1180s in what is present-day France, but agreed to lay down arms. Unfortunately, Henry’s son Richard, Duke of Aquitaine – the man who came to be known as Lionheart – had become incensed when Henry would not recognize him as his heir unless Richard relinquished Aquitaine to his younger brother John. Richard responded by pledging loyalty to King Philip, and the conflict between Henry and Philip with Richard continued until Henry died in July 1189. At that time, Richard and Philip agreed to a peace and began to make plans to go to the Holy Land. Richard was crowned King of England in September 1189, and he and Philip met in Vézelay (in present-day France) the following April to begin the arduous journey to the Holy Land.
Richard and Philip had little love for each other, and as history would prove, Philip could not be trusted. Richard arrived in the Holy Land in June 1190 and joined Philip and other forces involved in the siege of Acre, including those of another future enemy, Leopold of Austria. Taking back Acre would be a critical step in the campaign to secure Jerusalem.
Religion and the Church
The Church dominated the lives of Christian peoples in medieval times. Secular rulers in the West answered to the Pope’s authority (though throughout the period, political struggles did exist). The call for the Third Crusade that came from Rome promised salvation for any person who “took the Cross.” It may have motivated many to this pilgrimage (as it was called then) to Outremer to wash away sins. Sin was also forgivable through confession – penances and/or a coin or two in clerics’ pockets would do the trick – and even the worst of sins could be forgiven. The idea of Heaven and Hell were very real.
Men of the Cross
This sets the background for my novel Men of the Cross. The young knights Henry de Grey and Stephan l’Aigle join the thousands of men in spring 1190 on the pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Henry is a devout Catholic and a naive, inexperienced warrior. Stephan is a battle-hardened knight who is cynical about the Church. The events of the novel and the developing relationship of the two fictional main characters takes place over the period March 1190 – March 1193, from Henry’s first meeting with Stephan and boarding a boat in Southampton to rendezvous with King Richard in Tours for the journey East until their return to England.
The reader becomes part of Richard’s army through the eyes of Sir Henry and Sir Stephan – they observe their king’s struggles first-hand. Life in a medieval army is not filled with flowery chivalry. These men cross great distances over land and sea, survive the elements, see the horrors of war, nearly lose their own lives in fights against the Saracen army, and come to question their beliefs about love and war. Henry struggles with his growing feelings for Stephan knowing that sodomy was a mortal sin in the eyes of the Church. Political intrigue abounds as Richard’s allies become enemies. Through it all, the knights’ loyalty remains with Richard.
They will endure battles in Messina, Sicily, the siege and massacre at Acre, the coastal march south with skirmish after skirmish, the Battle of Arsuf, Jaffa, and the march east to Jerusalem – twice – the truce with Saladin – sailing home – the harrowing flight through Bavaria where King Richard is captured – and back to England. You will be there.
Historical setting notes were published as part of an 8 author historical fiction promotion: https://charlenenewcomb.com/2015/11/30/holiday-historical-fiction-blowout/
Charlene Newcomb is the author of the Battle Scars series, 12th century historical fiction filled with war, political intrigue, and a knightly romance of forbidden love set during the reign of Richard the Lionheart.
Char also writes science fiction. Echoes of the Storm was published in July 2020.
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