Ibn Warraq: Walter Scott, The Talisman, the Crusades, Richard I of England and Saladin: Myths, Legends and History (Part 45)
“…This first attempt to rescue the holy sepulchre was followed by others equally wild, misguided, and unfortunate. Some of them [the Crusaders] indeed began their evil deeds as soon as they had left their home.. The last of these bodies fell upon the Jews, who are indeed enemies of the Christian faith, but who have now, at least, nothing to do with the question of the holy sepulchre. As soon as they entered into Germany the Crusaders put them to death with horrible torture. Plunder and rapine indeed appeared to be the object of the crusaders. On this as well as on most other preceding bands, their misdeeds drew down the vengeance of the people. At an early period of their march, and as soon as they reached Hungary, the people fell upon them, and put the greater portion to the sword.”
Father Francis then repeats a common explanation for the lack of success of the Crusades, “Doubtless the great misfortunes which have fallen upon the Christian armies have been a punishment from heaven, because they have not gone to work in the right spirit. It is not enough to take up lance and shield, and to place a red cross upon the shoulder. Those who desire to fight the battle of the Lord must cleanse their hearts, and go forth in the spirit of pilgrims rather than knights. I mean, not that they should trust wholly to spiritual weapons- for in truth the infidel is a foe not to be despised- but I mean, that they should lay aside all thoughts of worldly glory, and rivalry one against another”.
As the crusaders prepare to embark on their long journey, Henty cautions us about their motives: “It must not be supposed that the whole of those present were animated by any strong religious feeling. No doubt there existed a desire, which was carefully fanned by the preaching of the priests and monks, to rescue the holy sepulchre from the hands of the Saracens; but a far stronger feeling was to be found in the warlike nature of the people in those days. Knights, men-at-arms, and indeed men of all ranks, were full of a combative spirit. Life in the castle and hut was alike dull and monotonous, and the excitement of war and adventure was greatly looked for, both as a means of obtaining glory and booty, and for the change they afforded to the dreary monotony of life”.
Richard the Lionheart is described as “haughty of his dignity”, though free from personal pride. “He was impatient of contradiction, eager to carry out whatever he had determined upon; and nothing enraged him so much as hesitation or procrastination.” And Henty is critical of Richard”s execution of Muslim prisoners after the siege of Acre, “[Richard] sullied his reputation by causing all the defenders of Acre to be put to death, their ransom not having arrived at the stipulated time”.
When our young hero is captured and brought before Saladin, Saladin gives him a lecture on the bad manners of the Crusaders: “You are brave warriors, and I hear that before you were taken you slaughtered numbers of my people. They did wrong to capture you and bring you here to be killed. Your cruel king gives no mercy to those who fall into his hands. You must not expect it here, you who without pretence of right invade my country, slaughter my people, and defeat my armies. The murder of the prisoners of Acre has closed my heart to all mercy. There, your king put 10,000 prisoners to death in cold blood, a month after the capture of the place, because the money at which he had placed their ransom had not arrived”¦.” This passage at least is a witness to Henty”s imaginative power to hold the “other”s” or the enemy”s point of view.
Saladin is described as “brave in the extreme, and exposed his life as fearlessly as did his Christian rival, and the two valiant leaders recognized the great qualities of each other.”
Another British imperialist, H.Rider Haggard, also wrote a historical novel of the crusades, The Brethren (1904), in which he denounces the folly of the Crusades, and praises Saladin and the Saracens as noble, courageous, and chivalrous.
In his essay already cited, Robert Irwin argues that Sir Steven Runciman was influenced by American historian Marshall Baldwin”s Raymond III of Tripolis and the Fall of Jerusalem (1140-1187), which first appeared in 1936. Irwin further observes that Runciman used novelistic techniques to tell a story, “It is not difficult to read Runciman”s artfully structured and stylish historical trilogy as a novel.”
In an interview, Runciman confessed that his literary style was influenced by Beatrix Potter, author of Peter Rabbit, etc. While Beatrix Potter cited Sir Walter Scott as her model. Walter Scott? Isn”t that where we came in?
To be continued.