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.

   
  
 
  
    
  
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   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.