Moving onto the nineteenth century, we have Sophie Cottin’s novel Mathilde, published in 1805, in which the eponymous heroine, sister of Richard the Lionheart, falls in love with Saladin’s brother, Malek-Adel [i.e. al-“˜Ä€dil]. Saladin plays a secondary role, it is his brother who is the paragon of the chivalrous knight: noble, courageous, tender, full of fire and melancholy, physically and morally beautiful. Mathilde, torn between her religion and her profane passion, dare not confess she loves a Muslim until Malek-Adel agrees to convert to Christianity. Saladin is reluctant to fight King Guy in single combat, when he does he fares badly, and is only just saved by his brother Malek-Adel.
The novel was a great success, and led to six librettos being written between 1828 and 1863 for the music of Pacini, Bergonzi, Costa, Poniatowski, Ventura-Sanchez, Loewe.
The historical novels of G.A. Henty, written between 1867 and 1902 aimed at young people, were immensely popular right up to to the 1950s, in England, at least. He wrote over 120 works of historical fiction, which were frowned upon from the1960s onwards, for their imperialism, xenophobia, racism, and reactionary views. But these works written during the heyday of British imperialism are making a surprising comeback among conservative homeschoolers, looking for texts that will build character, courage, resourcefulness, and faith, and teach history at the same time. The historian A.J.P. Taylor, a Fellow of Magdalen College, Oxford, who lectured in modern history at Oxford from 1938 to 1963, wrote that “true history began with Sir Walter Scott; he felt himself back into time”, and also confessed to a passion for the historical fictions of G.A. Henty. He claimed that it was the reading of Henty that gave him confidence to give tutorials on the Thirty Years War.
A glance at some of the titles of his novels indicate their sweep and range: With Clive in India: The Beginnings of an Empire ; With Wolfe in Canada: The Winning of a Continent ; Through Russian Snows: A Story of Napoleon’s Retreat from Moscow ; In Greek Waters: A Story of the Grecian War of Independence (1821–1827) , and of course the work that concerns us here, Winning His Spurs: A Tale of the Crusades (aka Boy Knight) . The influence of Sir Walter Scott on the latter work is evident — both the influence of Ivanhoe and The Talisman. Henty begins the Crusader novel in England and borrows Scott’s themes of the rivalry between the Saxons and the Normans, developed in Ivanhoe. Young Cuthbert accompanies Sir Walter (a homage to Scott?) and Richard the Lionheart to the Holy Land on the Third Crusade. Though accused of, above all, imperialism, Henty in this work does not take an imperialistic or a jingoistic position but adopts rather a realistic or critical attitude towards the Crusades and Crusaders. Father Francis explains to young Cuthbert what the Crusades were all about: “When the followers of the evil prophet took possession of the land, they laid grievous burdens upon the pilgrims, heavily they fined them, persecuted them in every way, and treated them as if indeed they were but the scum of the earth under their feet”¦.
To be continued.