THE WOLF AND THE LION: Hildegard of Bingen and Ave Generosa

Two years before the end of the eleventh century, a sickly girl was born to a noble family in the village of Böckelheim, Germany. The girl would go on to become one of the most influential women of the Middle Ages.

Hildegard of Bingen – nun, mystic, composer, writer, prophet and saint – is perhaps most renowned for her spiritual visions, or divine inspirations. The tenth child of a knight, she was dedicated to a life in the Church, as was the common practice of the day. At the age of eight she was taken to a Benedictine monastery where she was to spend most of her life, eventually becoming the abbess. She left at the age of 52 to establish her own monastery at Rupertsberg near Bingen, where she died at the age of 81. She was officially declared a Saint and named Doctor of the Church by Pope Benedict XVI in 2012, the fourth woman in 2,000 years to receive that designation.

Hildegard began having visions at the age of three, possibly associated with migraines. For much of her life she was reluctant to acknowledge them, but at the age of 43 she had a blinding vision to “tell and write” what was being revealed to her by God. Though she had received only a rudimentary education, Hildegard went on to write nine books, including texts on natural healing, medicine, and theology, and invented her own language, which she called Lingua Ignota, literally meaning “Unknown Language”. She also wrote plays, poems, and numerous letters to kings and religious leaders including Holy Roman Emperor Frederick Barbarossa, King Henry II of England and his wife Eleanor of Aquitaine, Pope Eugenius III, and Saint Bernard of Clairvaux.

Hildegard of Bingen self portrait, Awakening, from her first book Scivias, 1151

Hildegard of Bingen self portrait, Awakening, from her first book Scivias, 1151

Hildegard of Bingen is considered to be one of the most important female composers of all time, despite having no formal education in music. She composed over 70 songs, known as plainchants or Gregorian chants.

THE WOLF AND THE LION begins ten years after Hildegard’s death, at a time when her writings and music would have been popular, particularly among crusading knights. Tucked away in my cabin with the winter wind whistling through the leafless aspens and the green pine crackling in the wood stove, I would listen to Hildegard’s music as I wrote. One of her songs was particularly transportive for me; a haunting, ethereal composition about the Virgin Mary called Ave GenerosaAve Generosa carried me off with my lost crusaders, winging me from the valleys of twelfth century France to the white-capped waters of the Black Sea to the windswept rock of the Caucasus mountains, and becoming part of THE WOLF AND THE LION along the way.

“Sometimes when we hear a song we breathe deeply and sigh…the soul has something in itself of this music.”                                                                               Hildegard of Bingen


THE WOLF AND THE LION: The Death of Frederick Barbarossa

One of the most interesting leaders of the Third Crusade has to be Holy Roman Emperor Frederick Barbarossa. What makes Barbarossa unique among crusading monarchs was not his reign, his life, or his deeds, which were all noteworthy, but his death. Frederick’s story is too compelling to leave confined to the dusty pages of history books, so I bring him to life in my debut novel, the THE WOLF AND THE LION, in which he and his tragic death play a lead role in the story of my lost crusaders.

Barbarossa, or Red Beard, ruled the Holy Roman Empire from 1152 to 1190, a lengthy reign of almost four decades. Elected by his fellow noblemen, Frederick Barbarossa set out to unite the warring houses of Germany and bring relative stability to the Empire. At this he was largely successful. It was a lifelong undertaking, and some argue that the aging Frederick led the Third Crusade as a means of unifying, once and for all, the German nobility under his authority.

After Jerusalem fell to Saladin in 1187, Frederick was the first to respond to the Pope’s call for a holy crusade against the Muslims. What makes Frederick’s response so remarkable is not only the speed with which the 68 year old Emperor ‘took up the Cross’, but the fact that for most of his reign he had been embroiled in disputes with the Church. The animosity between Frederick and the Church peaked in 1160 when Pope Alexander the Third had him excommunicated, and Frederick responded by electing his own Antipope. Although there was a formal reconciliation in 1177, relations remained chilly until Frederick unexpectedly announced himself the champion of the Third Crusade.

Frederick led his army of crusaders out of Ratisbon in May 1189, choosing the historic land route of earlier crusaders rather than the new ocean route being contemplated by King Philip and King Richard. Chroniclers said Frederick’s army was over 100,000 men, though contemporary historians place the number closer to 15,000. On route, Frederick allied with King Bela of Hungary, but was not as successful with Byzantine Emperor Isaac Angelus. Blocked in the mountain passes by Isaac’s men, Frederick allied with Serbian rebels and declared war on Byzantium. Frederick defeated the Byzantines in Thrace, setting up a winter camp at Adrianople to continue his pressure on Isaac. Eventually the Byzantine Emperor capitulated, and in the spring of 1190 helped Frederick cross the Bosphorus to continue his march through Asia Minor to the Holy Land. Frederick went on to defeat the Seljuk Turks at Philomelium, and again at Konya.

The gruelling march, the winter camp at Adrianople, and the battles with the Turks had taken their tolls, costing Frederick more than half his army. On June 10, 1190, the weakened German army reached the Saleph River in Cilician Armenia, not far from the Holy Land. As Frederick led his men across the shallow but fast-flowing river, he fell into the water and drowned. Barbarossa’s son, the Duke of Swabia, tried to unite what was left of the crumbling German army, but failed. The young Duke continued the march to the Holy Land with only a handful of crusaders and the body of his father pickled in a barrel of vinegar. The German Third Crusade was over.

There is much debate about how the great and virile Frederick Barbarossa came to drown in a shallow river after half a century of victories in battles that spanned half the known world. Some say his horse stumbled and he fell into the water, his heavy armor dragging him down. Others say he was being vainglorious and leapt into the fast moving water and was swept away. Others say he had a heart attack, then fell into the water.

No matter how it happened, Frederick’s death was a bizarre and unexpected end to the life and reign of one of the greatest leaders on both sides of the Third Crusade, and a defining event in THE WOLF AND THE LION.

The Death of Frederick Barbarossa by H.Vogel 19th century (Eon Images)

The Death of Frederick Barbarossa by H.Vogel 19th century (Eon Images)

THE WOLF AND THE LION: King Richard and the Third Crusade

For a great historical novel, context is king. Once I knew I was going to tell the tale of Richard Halliburton’s lost crusaders, I had to decide where and when to start. I chose to set THE WOLF AND THE LION in the Third Crusade (1189 – 1192), though there were at least eight other conventionally classified crusades spanning three centuries to choose from. In this I have sided with Richard Halliburton, who believed the Khevsureti villagers he discovered in Eurasian Georgia in 1935 were descendants of lost French and German knights from the Third Crusade.

Prolifically covered in stories and movies from the Victorian era novel IVANHOE by Sir Walter Scott to the blockbuster movie KINGDOM OF HEAVEN by Ridley Scott, as well as countless novels and movies about Robin Hood, I felt the Third Crusade presented the best opportunity to tell a new and unexpected tale set in a time that many people were already familiar with.

The Third Crusade was the time of King Richard the Lionheart, an enigmatic but timelessly popular crusading king, and Holy Emperor Frederick Barbarossa, a powerfully tragic leader of the 12th century. It was a time when the Knights Templar were expanding their power and influence in Europe and the Holy Land, not yet destroyed by the infamous round-up and execution of their members by King Philip the Fourth of France over a hundred years later. It was also a time when sword and buckler combat was beginning to gain popularity on the field of battle, not unlike the sword and buckler combat witnessed by Halliburton among the Khevsureti warriors 750 years later.

The Third Crusade probably began on July 4, 1187, when the united Muslim forces of the Ayubbid dynasty led by Saladin drew the Army of Jerusalem out to the Horns of Hattin and crushed it. After the battle Saladin executed the surviving members of the Knights Templar, nearly wiping out the Order in the Holy Land, and captured Christendom’s most sacred relic, the True Cross of Christ. Saladin went on to capture the Holy City of Jerusalem, ending nearly a century of Christian rule.

 /* Style Definitions */
	{mso-style-name:"Table Normal";
	mso-padding-alt:0in 5.4pt 0in 5.4pt;
   Crusaders Surrounded by Saladin’s Army, by Gustave Dore, 1877

Crusaders Surrounded by Saladin’s Army, by Gustave Dore, 1877

The losses in the Holy Land could not have come at a worse time for Christendom. The kings of Europe were in conflict with the Church and with each other, their kingdoms threatened by revolt, greed, treason and deaths. The Church needed to unify the fractured Christian kings against Islam if Christendom was to retake the Holy Land.

Pope Urban the Third, hearing of the loss of Jerusalem, immediately died of a heart attack. His successor, Pope Gregory the Eighth, issued a papal bull calling for what is now known as the Third Crusade, then died of a fever. He was succeeded by Pope Clement the Third. Pope Clement did not die, and began earnestly to stabilize the Church, unite the fractured monarchies of Christendom, and urge them to war.

France, England and the Holy Roman Empire would heed the Pope’s calls. Holy Roman Emperor Frederick Barbarossa, nearly 70 years old, was quick to act. While the French and English kings were still negotiating with each other, Frederick assembled a massive army of German crusaders that chroniclers said was over 100,000 men. He left Ratisbon in May 1189, choosing the historic land route of earlier crusaders rather than the new ocean route being contemplated by the French and English kings.

King Henry of England instituted the ‘Saladin Tithe’ to raise funds for the coming crusade. But he died in his bed only two months after Frederick Barbarossa left Ratisbon, bitter and resentful after a long and tumultuous rule which saw him go to war with his sons and imprison his wife, Eleanor. His third son Richard, who had survived the deaths of his two older brothers, and despite having few ties with England, took the throne. Known as Richard the Lionheart, he was a charismatic warrior king who adeptly took over his father’s kingdom, including the preparations for the coming holy war.

The ensuing negotiations with King Philip of France were not easy. Although Richard had sided with Philip against Henry, the two young kings were distrustful of each other and embroiled in conflict over their disputed territories. After Henry’s death, the loyalties of their nobility were uncertain, including those of Richard’s only remaining brother, John. Philip further strained their crusading efforts by failing to implement his own tithe and struggling to get the support of his nobility.

Before Richard and Philip concluded their negotiations, Frederick Barbarossa had already marched his great army out of Germany, across eastern Europe and the Byzantine Empire, and into Cilician Armenia. On June 10, 1190, Frederick was on the threshold of the Holy Land. As he led his army across the shallow River Saleph, he fell into the water and drowned. His army crumbled, and the German Third Crusade was over.

In early July 1190, with castles in the Holy Land continuing to fall and anxious French and English knights taking up the Cross and choking France’s roads and fields, Richard met one more time with Philip in Vezelay, France. Tensions and distrust between the two kings were high, their armies and resources small, and the task ahead of them immense.

As King Richard’s ships set sail for the Holy Land, history and fiction weave together, and the story of THE WOLF AND THE LION begins.

THE WOLF AND THE LION: the Story of the Lost Crusaders

In 1935 American explorer Richard Halliburton travelled to the remote mountains of Eurasian Georgia. What he discovered there would change my life.

Halliburton found a village lost to time, inhabited by people he believed were descendants of 12th century European crusaders who had somehow become lost on their way to the Holy Land. The men dressed in rusted mail armor and carried ancient swords and small round leather shields called bucklers, which were adorned with crusader crosses and inscriptions. The warriors engaged in what appeared to be medieval customs including ritualistic one-on-one sword and buckler combat.

Halliburton’s time with the Khevsureti villagers was brief, but he took notes and photographs before returning to America to write about his discovery. He disappeared in 1939 trying to sail a Chinese junk across the Pacific Ocean, leaving us with not only the mystery of his own death, but a legend of the Khevsureti people that you can either choose to believe or write off as a hoax.

I remember vividly the first time I read of Halliburton’s exploits and saw the grainy black and white photographs from his expedition. The haunting pictures of those Khevsureti warriors resembling stone effigies of entombed European knights deeply inspired me. I wanted to tell their story. Or at least my version of their story. So I set out to write an epic historical novel that would take 12th century crusaders from France, beyond the Black Sea, to the remote mountains of Eurasian Georgia.

What followed was years of research, extensive travels to Europe, Turkey and the Holy Land, and hundreds of pages of manuscript. Many years and 361 polished pages later, THE WOLF AND THE LION was born.

In the 75 years since Halliburton first published his views, there has been much debate about the Khevsureti people and their traditions. Many historians and most locals believe Halliburton was wrong, that the Khevsureti warriors are descended from ancient Georgian warriors and not lost European crusaders. But Halliburton’s western interpretation of the Khevsureti’s story retains its appeal. Some people still choose to believe that the warriors Halliburton met, with their mail armor and battered bucklers and medieval war swords, were truly descendants of lost crusaders.

Richard Halliburton's photo of Khevsureti warriors, 1935.

Richard Halliburton's photo of Khevsureti warriors, 1935.

A Passion for Historical Fiction

Since I was a boy I’ve enjoyed reading stories that transport me to a different time and place. One book that left a deep impression on me was a collection of pirate stories I read while camping with my family on a lake somewhere in Ontario. Although I don't remember the title, the author, or even the name of the lake, I do remember being propelled into a world of scurvied cutthroats and beam-breaking gales and galleons full of stolen gold.

There was a sense of discovery - and a thrill - at being swept away in a dangerous and unbelievable adventure. The combination of history and imagination and good storytelling was intoxicating and all consuming. Novels about King Arthur and the American Civil War soon followed, and I was forever altered. I had discovered historical fiction.

So welcome to, where I plan to share a bit of history, some of my research and writings, and a lot of my passion for historical fiction with you.