Walter Scott, The Talisman, the Crusades, Richard I of England and Saladin: Myths, Legends and History
by Ibn Warraq
Part 1 / Part 2 / Part 3 / Part 4 / Part 5 / Part 6 / Part 7 / Part 8 / Part 9 / Part 10 / Part 11 / Part 12 / Part 13 / Part 14 / Part 15 / Part 16 / Part 17 / Part 18
Scott did make an effort to get the details of the Western costumes, arms and armour right, for which he was aided by the antiquarian researches of Joseph Strutt [1749-1802] and Samuel Meyrick [1783-1848]. Strutt was a distinguished engraver whose meticulous research in the reading room of the British Museum resulted in beautifully illustrated volumes such as The Regal and Ecclesiastical Antiquities of England, and Manners, Customs, Arms, Habits of the People of England. Meyrick’s A critical enquiry into antient armour as it existed in Europe, but particularly in England, from the Norman conquest to the reign of King Charles II, with a glossary of military terms of the Middle Ages  was particularly important for arms and armour. Otherwise Scott’s knowledge of the Crusades was derived from Charles Mills [1788-1826], a solicitor turned historian whose works included History of the Crusades for the Recovery and Possession of the Holy Land , History of Mohammedanism, and History of Chivalry -- the latter was much influenced by Scott’s novels. Scott also helped Mills with some references from Scottish chronicles for the History of the Crusades.  I have already mentioned Scott’s reliance on Anna Comnene for his novel Count Robert of Paris, but he must surely have had access to the same sources as Edward Gibbon, the first volume of whose history came out in 1776. And yet Scott got the history wrong, or else consciously took great liberties with it.
Other literary influences on Scott are well summarised by Robert Irwin: “Scott’s vision of chivalry was influenced perhaps by the Gothic novel and certainly by [Edmund] Spenser [1522-1599] and [Sir Thomas] Malory [1405-1471]. When in the opening of The Talisman Sir Kenneth rides across the desert towards the Dead Sea, he is re-enacting the ride of the Red-Cross Knight in the opening of Spenser’s The Faerie Queene, Canto I :
A Gentle Knight was pricking on the plaine,
Y cladd in mightie armes and siluer shielde...
Irwin continues, “As for Scott’s reading of Malory’s Morte d’Arthur , this resurfaced in The Talisman in such elements as the strange vision of the ladies in the chapel, the dwarf and the samite arm [Chapter V]. George Ellis’ Specimens of Early English Romances in Metre (1805) fuelled Scott’s medievalism. Folklore also played a part in the shaping of the novel and the central device of the talisman was inspired by legends attached to the Luck of the Lockharts of Lee”. 
The Germans taking part in the Third Crusade come off the worst in Scott’s novel. They are described as essentially and irremediably barbaric:
The Germans, though still possessing the martial and frank character of their ancestors, who subdued the Roman empire, had retained withal no slight tinge of their barbarism. The practices and principles of chivalry were not carried to such a nice pitch amongst them, as amongst the French and English knights, nor were they strict observers of the prescribed rules of society, which among those nations were supposed to express the height of civilisation. Sitting at the table of the Archduke, Conrade was at once stunned and amused with the clang of Teutonic sounds assaulting his ears on all sides, notwithstanding the solemnity of a princely banquet. Their dress seemed equally fantastic to him, many of the Austrian nobles retaining their long beards, and almost all of them wearing short jerkins of various colours, cut and flourished, and fringed, in a manner not common in Western Europe.
Given that Scott’s focus is on the Crusaders and their internecine bickering, which had a historical basis, and the fact that Saladin is always presented as the reasonable, honorable and cultivated Saracen in contrast to the barbaric Germans and coarse Franks, Scots and Englishmen, the overall and overwhelming impression can only be that the Crusaders were fanatical, expending needless energy on a futile enterprise, and the Muslims were patient, forbearing, tolerant of other religions, and simply defending their homelands.
 Robert Irwin. Saladin and the Third Crusade in ed, Michael Bentley. Companion to Historiography, London: Routledge, 1997 p.141.
To be continued.