Walter Scott, The Talisman, the Crusades, Richard I of England and Saladin: Myths, Legends and History
by Ibn Warraq
Sir Walter Scott, under the influence of the Scottish historian William Robertson, who had perpetuated the Enlightenment myth of the superiority of Islamic civilization, continued the theme of the vain and avaricious Christian Crusaders in contrast to the chivalrous and honorable Saracens. Jonathan Riley-Smith summarizes Scott’s influence on the entire Romantic movement and their attitude to the Crusades:
Four of Scott’s novels involved crusades and crusaders. Count Robert of Paris  was set in Constantinople at the time of the First Crusade; the other three were set during the Third Crusade. Ivanhoe  and The Betrothed  were concerned with events on the home front, while the plot of The Talisman  was set in Palestine and centered on the friendship between a Scottish knight and Saladin, who appeared in a bewildering array of disguises, including that of a skilled physician who cured King Richard of England. The novels painted a picture of crusaders who were brave and glamorous, but also vainglorious, avaricious, childish, and boorish. Few of them were genuinely moved by religion or the crusade ideal; most had taken the cross out of pride, greed, or ambition. The worst of them were the brothers of the military orders, who may have been courageous and disciplined but were also arrogant, privileged, corrupt, voluptuous, and unprincipled. An additional theme, the cultural superiority of the Muslims, which was only hinted at in the other novels, pervaded The Talisman.
Edward Said, in fact, chose the one novel of the crusades which explicitly extolled the virtues of the Saracens and the superiority of their culture, and not the contrary, as he claimed in Orientalism. I shall come back to The Talisman, once I have gone through the other three novels involving crusades or crusaders.
The Betrothed, and Count Robert of Paris.
Sir Walter Scott wrote four novels that refer in one way or other to the Crusades; the first two were published together in 1825 under the general heading Tales of the Crusaders, The Betrothed, and The Talisman, the other two novels being Ivanhoe  and Count Robert of Paris .
Let us dispose of The Betrothed first. Although parts of it were incorporated into Francesco Maria Piave’s libretto for Giuseppe Verdi’s 1857 opera, Aroldo, The Betrothed is of little literary interest, and is virtually unreadable; Scott’s biographer Hesketh Pearson wrote, “The Betrothed was clearly composed in a somnolent if not stertorous condition, and would score high marks in a competition to decide which was the dreariest and stupidest book ever produced by a writer of genius.”  It has very little to do with the Crusades as such: the tale unfolds in the Welsh Marches during the reign of Henry II after 1187. One of the characters in the tale, Sir Hugo de Lacy, the Constable of Chester, disappears on a crusade for three years, but the Crusades play no part in the plot.
Count Robert of Paris  is a far more interesting novel, and though it is set in Constantinople at the time of the First Crusade, it works best as a novel of ideas, since it constantly contrasts the manners, principles, goals and actions of the Frankish knights on their way to the Holy Land with those of the values and goals of the Greco-Roman Classical society of Byzantium. Along the way, Scott is able to discuss religion, politics, and the internecine squabbles and grievances amongst the Europeans and the dangers the latter pose to the stabililty of the Byzantine Empire.
One of Scott’s principal sources for the First Crusade and Byzantium in general, and hence the novel Count Robert of Paris, was Anna Comnena or Komnene’s The Alexiad. One of the foremost authorities on the First Crusade and Byzantium, Peter Frankopan, Senior Research Fellow at Worcester College, University of Oxford, wrote, “The Alexiad is perhaps the most famous of all the vast range of Byzantine texts. Written in the mid-twelfth century by a princess, the beautiful and fiercely intelligent Anna Komnene, daughter of Emperor Alexios I Komnenos (reigned 1081-1118), it is a stylish and colourful account of the defining period in the formation of modern Europe. The text covers the time of the First Crusade, the establishment of a Turkish state in Asia Minor, the decisive schism of the eastern and western churches, and ultimately, the separation of the east and west Mediterranean”. 
 Hesketh Pearson. Walter Scott: His Life and Personality, New York: Harper & Brothers, 1954, p. 54.
 Peter Frankopan. Introduction in Anna Komnene The Alexiad. London: Penguin Books, Revised Edn. 2009, p.ix.
To be continued.