Crusades Project: Twentieth and Twenty-First Century Literature
Plays and Operas
This section includes works from the twentieth and twenty-first century that concentrate in significant ways on the crusades. While the focus of The Crusades Project currently remains on works written in English, I have chosen to include here certain texts that were originally written in other languages because of their influence on the representation of the crusades in British and American literature.
The texts, theatrical productions, films, and games mentioned in this section are representative of a vast corpus of crusades-related fiction. As such, this portion of the project will be periodically updated as I discover additional items to include. Readers of The Crusades Project are always welcome to submit recommendations to the general editor at email@example.com.
The crusades were frequently treated in the literature and performing arts of the twentieth century, and this popularity endured and increased in the twenty-first century in the wake of 9/11. While the texts included in this project treat the crusades in rich and varied ways, certain themes and points of interest do emerge. The Albigensian crusade, tales of the Knights Templar, and the Children’s Crusade hold considerable cultural purchase during the twentieth century, and while the earlier part of the twentieth century witnessed the production of sensational, heroic, and/or orientalist stories of crusaders, the later decades of the twentieth century and the years that followed 9/11 gave rise to more subversive portraits of the European crusaders and their campaigns. Many of the texts written during this later period cast crusaders—or at least certain contingencies of crusaders — as villains, and there exists a distinct tendency (as we see in the film Kingdom of Heaven and in the play Richard I) to portray the Muslim opponents as the refined and gentile counterparts to their European enemies. As is the case with in other eras, the crusades are also consistently repurposed and used as a vehicle for contemporary political commentary. In this respect, such works reveal far more about contemporary matters than they do about the medieval campaigns themselves.
Adrian, Lara. Black Lion’s Bride. Bartlett, NH: Lara Adrian LLC, 2012.
A romance novel set during in the Holy Land during the crusades. The story revolves around the romance between Sebastian of Montborne, a crusader, and Zahira, a Muslim assassin.
Anderson, Poul. The High Crusade. New York: Doubleday, 1960.
A novel meshing themes of holy war and alien invasion. An alien spaceship lands near the English town of Ansby in 1345. Sir Roger, who is aiding Edward III in recruitment efforts for the war against France, storms the ship with several followers and kills all but one of the aliens. Sir Roger decides to use the ship first to help the English win the war against France and then to reclaim the Holy Land. The entire town of Ansby decides to travel with him, and they name the ship Crusader. The alien pilot, however, puts the ship on a course for an alien colony known as Tharixan. Sir Roger and company conquer one of the local fortresses, destroying the ship in the process. Talks are arranged between Sir Roger and the leader of the Tharixans, called Huruga; Sir Roger tries to intimidate the alien leader with exaggerated accounts of his accomplishments, which include the conquering of Constantinople. Tensions escalate between the human and alien camps, but Huruga is eventually forced to abandon his attempts to defeat the humans. Sir Roger decides to defeat the entire alien empire, and the religious figures who journeyed with him eventually establish a branch of Roman Catholicism.
Courtenay, Bryce. Sylvia. Toronto: McArthur, 2007.
The novel tells the story of Sylvia, a young peasant girl who is a gifted singer and who can mimic the voices of birds and humans alike. When her mother dies, she is left alone with her drunken father, who sexually abuses her, explaining to her that all of his sins were forgiven when he went on crusade years ago, and that he can get all of his sins forgiven again if he goes on another crusade. She eventually kills him and is banished from her town, and takes up with a Pied Piper figure, Reinhardt — a flutist who can charm rats. Sylvia spends time as an entertainer in a brothel and as a novice in a harsh nunnery before becoming a leader of the ill-fated Children’s Crusade of 1212.
Eco, Umberto. Baudolino. Translated by William Weaver. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2003.
During the sacking of Constantinople in 1204 (i.e. the Fourth Crusade), the protagonist rescues Niketas — a court official and historian — from marauding crusaders and tells him his story, which comprises the bulk of the narrative. Baudolino is a gifted story-teller and an equally gifted liar. While little of the novel involves the crusades save the frame tale, Baudolino claims to be the adopted son of Frederick Barbarossa, the German king who joined forces with Richard I and Philip Augustus for the Third Crusade. Baudolino and his friends also decide to go off in search of Prester John, the mythical proto-Christian monarch to whom many in medieval Europe looked as a potential savior of the Holy Land. In the world of the novel, those legends are partially created by Baudolino himself.
-----. Foucault’s Pendulum. Translated by William Weaver. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1989.
Eco plays elaborately with the long-standing legends of the Knights Templar in this novel. The story begins with editors from Milan creating a hoax they call “The Plan,” in which the Knight’s Templar are connected with other occult groups throughout the ages. They input pieces of information into a super computer, which proceeds to produce a map directing them to the very point where the power of the earth can be harnessed: Foucault’s Pendulum in Paris, France. The men become rather obsessed with their fake conspiracy theory, and they draw the unfortunate attention of other (genuine) conspiracy theorists who come to believe that the editors have discovered the Templar’s treasure.
Eisner, Michael Alexander. The Crusader. Colorado Springs: The Doubleday Religious Publishing Group, 2001.
This novel weaves a story of a Spanish knight’s misadventures while on crusade and of a monk’s attempts to help him recover his soul upon his return. The frame tale is set at the monastery of Santes Creus and is narrated by Brother Lucas, the monk tasked with the exorcism of his friend and former acolyte Francisco de Montcada who recently returned from the Holy Land allegedly possessed by demons. Brother Lucas records Francisco’s confessions and account of his journey, which make up the rest of the narrative, and which culminate in the fall of Krak de Chevalier in 1271. Crusaders are depicted in a variety of ways in the novel, which emphasizes their cruelty and barbarity. The so-called “infidels,” by contrast, are consistently portrayed more favorably.
Gay, Laverne. Wine of Satan: A Tale of Bohemond, Prince of Antioch. 1949.
An embellished account of the life of Bohemond (one of the leaders of the First Crusade) and, more broadly, the Norman rulers of southern Italy. Much of the novel focuses on Bohemond’s exploits in the Mediterranean and the Holy Land, but the plot is also driven by the fictional love triangle involving Bohemond, Zoe Ridelle, and her husband Mihera Falloo.
Holland, Cecelia. Antichrist: A Novel of the Emperor Frederick II. London: Hodder General Publishing Division, 1970.
Alternate title: The Wonder of the World: A Novel of the Emperor Frederick II. The novel tells the story of Frederick II’s crusade to Jerusalem. The sixth crusade is rarely treated in fiction, which makes this novel rather remarkable. Here, the Templars are cast as Satanists, a move in keeping with the longstanding (but fictional) connections of the Order to the realm of the occult.
-----. Jerusalem. New York: Tom Doherty Associates, 1997.
The novel takes place in 1187, the time just prior to Saladin’s conquest of Jerusalem. The main character, Rannulf Fitzwilliam, is an experienced member of the Knights Templar, having taken his vows many years before in order to atone for his sins. Rannulf is close to both Boudouin IV (the leper king) and the king’s sister Sybilla. The story of political intrigue, of the fracturing of Christian unity in the Latin Kingdom, and of various battles between Christian and Muslim are told from his perspective, and we see him in conflict with his fellow Templars and struggling to maintain his vows in spite of his feelings for Sybilla. The novel reaches a climax at the Battle of Hattin.
Howard, Linda. Son of the Morning. New York: Pocket Books, 1997.
A romance novel set in both contemporary and medieval times. Grace St. John, a medievalist who specializes in manuscript studies, discovers a series of overlooked documents that the reveal the location of the Holy Grail and other significant relics protected during the Middle Ages by the Knights Templar. Her discovery attracts the unwanted attention of a killer who wishes to use the powers of the treasure for evil. He kills her husband and her brother, and Grace is forced to travel back to the fourteenth century to seek out the help of the last Guardian of the Treasure: Black Niall.
Howard, Robert E. The Lord of Samarcand and Other Adventure Tales of the Old Orient. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 2005.
A collection of short stories — both finished and unfinished — set against the backdrop of the Levantine crusades. Written by the creator of Conan the Barbarian. Each story focuses on knights pitted in some way against an array of Eastern enemies. Many of these tales first appeared in periodicals and magazines, such as Oriental Stories.
Jakes, John. King’s Crusader. New York: Kensington Publishing Corporation, 1977.
Blondel, Richard I’s legendary minstrel, is the central figure of this novel, but he is cast here as a robust warrior. He sets off on a quest to find and rescue his imprisoned master and king, and a variety of adventures ensue.
Johansen, Iris. Lion’s Bride. New York: Random House, 1996.
A romance novel set mostly in the Holy Land. The heroine, Thea of Dimas, is a servant indentured to a silk merchant. Saracens destroy her caravan and leave her the only survivor, and she is rescued by Lord Ware, who takes her to Dundragon, his Levantine castle. Ware has run afoul of the knights Templar, however, and his conflict with the Order gives rise to an array of adventures.
Laird, Elizabeth. Crusade. London, Ontario: Pac Macmillan, 2008.
Set against the backdrop of the third crusade, the novel alternates between the stories of two boys: Selim, the son of an Acre-based merchant who becomes the apprentice to a Jewish physician, and Adam, a young peasant who becomes a squire to a knight on the Third Crusade. The two boys have very fixed ideas about each other’s cultures at the outset of the novel, but through a series of chance encounters they come to a much more nuanced understanding of each other’s cultures.
Lamb, Harold. Durandal. Hampton Falls, NH: Donald M. Grant, 1981. Originally published in Adventure (1926). Published by Doubleday with its sequels in 1931.
The young knight Sir Hugh of Taranto finds himself and his fellow knights betrayed by their Byzantine allies and are set upon by the Turks. An unknown knight rescues Hugh and presents him with Roland’s legendary sword: Durandal. The Byzantine Emperor tries to seek him out and kill him so that the story of the betrayal will die as well, and Hugh finds himself forced further and further East as a result. He is eventually captured by Chinnghis Khan.
-----. The Grand Cham. Rockville, MD: Wildside Press, 2003. Originally published in Adventure (1922).
The story is unusual in its treatment of a late crusade: The Battle of Nicopolis. The story begins at Bayezid’s camp a few years prior to the battle, and the first few chapters involve the character Michael Bearn’s late arrival at Nicopolis, just in time to witness the resounding defeat of the crusaders by the Turkish emperor and to get word that ten thousand of his fellow crusaders are going to be executed by Bayezid’s army. He is eventually captured, tortured, and crippled by Bayezid, but escapes and vows revenge. He escapes and journeys to Venice and, eventually, to the camp of Tamerlaine.
Lawhead, Stephen R. The Iron Lance (The Celtic Crusades). New York: HarperCollins, 1998.
Gordon Murray, a lawyer in Victorian Scotland, attempts to join a mystical organization founded after the Holy Lance was discovered at Antioch. The lawyer receives a vision of his ancestry during his initiation process. In it, he sees Murdo, the youngest son of the family, left behind to manage his family’s lands and to care for his mother when his father and brothers go off on crusade. When a nearby nobleman seizes the land, Murdo embarks on a journey to the Holy Land to find his father in order to secure their holdings. He journeys through Constantinople and Antioch to Jerusalem and is ultimately tasked by an order of monks with the finding of the so-called “Iron Lance.”
-----. The Black Rood (The Celtic Crusades). New York: Harper Collins, 2001.
This is the second book in the Celtic Crusades trilogy; it is the story of Duncan — the son of Murdo, the protagonist of The Iron Lance. Against his father’s wishes, Duncan travels to Jerusalem in order to find the Black Rood — a remnant of the cross on which Christ died and which is allegedly held by the Knights Templar. Padraig, a Celtic priest, and Prince Roupen of Armenia (who is trying to make his way back to his homeland) join Duncan on his journey. As Duncan searches for the Black Rood, he becomes entangled in the complex web of the Knights Templar.
-----. The Mystic Rose (The Celtic Crusades). New York: Harper Collins, 2001.
This final installment in the Celtic Crusades trilogy focuses on a female protagonist, Lady Caitriona, who journeys to Constantinople and the Holy Land in order to avenge the death of her father, Duncan (the hero of The Black Rood). She steals a letter from the Templar who murdered her father as a way of seeking revenge, and it reveals the location of the Holy Grail (referred to in the novel as The Mystic Rose). In this way, the novel participates in the longstanding conflation of Templar and Grail legends.
Mott, Michael. The Blind Cross: A Novel of the Children’s Crusade. New York: Random House, 1970.
A novel for young adults in which the protagonist, Alan Fitzalan, finds himself embroiled in both the Albigensian Crusade and, later, the Children’s Crusade, which his brother Matt has decided to join. He follows his brother and is captured and sold to an Arab merchant. He travels with this merchant all the way to Mecca, and is eventually reunited with his brother in Jerusalem.
Oden, Scott. The Lion of Cairo. London: Bantam, 2010.
A novel set largely in Cairo during the twelfth century. Assad, an assasin called the Emir of the Knife, is sent by the Old Man of the Mountain to assist the Caliph of Egypt regain power from his vizier in the midst of battles against Crusaders and rival clans.
Oldenbourg, Zoe. The World Is Not Enough. Translated by Willard A. Trask. New York: Caroll and Graf Publishers, 1948.
Originally written and published in French as Argile et Cendres, 1946. Oldenbourg was known primarily as a medieval historian, and this is the first of a trilogy of novels set against the backdrop of the Second, Third, and Albigensian Crusades. This novel begins with the marriage of two young nobles — Alis and Ansiau of Linnieres — and chronicles the next fifty years of their lives. Ansiau participates in the Second Crusade and in the Third Crusade, taking his grown sons along in the latter. During Ansiau’s time on the Second Crusade, the narrative focuses on the life that Alis leads while he is gone. When he embarks on the Third Crusade with his sons, however, the narrative follows them instead.
-----. The Cornerstone. Translated by Edward Hyams. New York: Carroll and Graf Publishers, 1955.
The sequel to The World Is Not Enough, originally written and published in French as La Pierre Angulaire. The story picks up where the first book leaves off, as the aging Ansiau embarks on a final pilgrimage to the Holy Land. He leaves his baronage to his volatile and brutal son, Herbert. His only son, Haugenier, holds the imaginative foreground of much of the story, which chronicles his love for a married woman and his eventual retreat into a monastery. In the backdrop of the family saga is the Albigensian Crusade brewing in Southern France, a “martyrology” — as Oldenbourg termed it — that will occupy much of the third book in this trilogy.
-----. Destiny of Fire. Translated by Peter Green. New York: Carroll and Graf, 1960.
The final book in Oldenbourg’s trilogy, originally written and published in French as Les Brûlés. It chronicles the lives and unfortunate fate of a noble family embroiled in the Albigensian crusade. The Seigneur of Montgeil and his family are, as the back cover describes, “vassals to the Count of Toulouse and devout adherents of the Albigensian heresy.” Throughout the book they face the horrors of the genocide, “excommunication from the Church and condemnation to death by fire.” The novel paints a searing portrait of these thirteenth century campaigns, sparing few of the horrific details of the genocide of the Cathars in order to show, in the end, their dignity and faithfulness to their beliefs against even the worst of ends.
Patterson, James. The Jester. New York: Little Brown & Company, 2003.
A novel that reflects — in ways similar to the medieval Sir Tryamour — the risks of going on crusade and leaving both valuables and loved ones behind. The story centers around Hugh de Luc, an innkeeper who fights in the First Crusade in an attempt to win freedom from his lord. The first third of the novel involves his march to Jerusalem. Hugh becomes disillusioned along the way, especially after a Turk (who saved his life) is killed by a fellow crusader. He abandons the campaign shortly after this incident and absconds with several relics. Upon returning home, he finds his house burned down, his wife missing, and his infant son killed. Convinced that Lord Baldwin is responsible, Hugh decides to find his wife, and is aided by Emilie, a lady-in-waiting to a woman whose husband has also gone on crusade. She advises him to infiltrate Baldwin’s castle as a jester. He manages to find his wife, but she dies shortly afterwards. Hugh learns that Baldwin is searching for him because one of the relics he brought back is exceedingly precious. He eventually journeys back to his town — which has been ravaged by Baldwin and his henchmen — and convinces his fellow common men and women to revolt against the nobles who oppress them.
Shea, Robert. All Things Are Lights. New York: Random House, 1986.
A novel that centers around Louis IX’s crusade to Egypt as well as the crusade against the Cathars in southern France. The book begins with the fall of Montsegur during the Albigensian Crusade, and follows Roland — a troubadour — and his exploits on Louis IX’s campaign in Egypt.
-----. The Saracen: The Holy War. New York: Random House, 1989.
Out of print and very difficult to find, but an important novel in the genre of crusades fiction because of its rare depiction of a medieval Christian converting to Islam. The protagonist, David, is captured and sold to the Mamluk Baibars as a child. He converts to Islam, taking the name Daoud ibn Abdullah. He becomes an assassin and is eventually sent to Italy to spy on the papacy. His goal is to disrupt a would-be alliance between Christian and Mongol forces.
Shelby, Graham. The Knights of Dark Renown. London: HarperCollins, 1969.
This novel focuses on the events between the Second and Third Crusades, especially the conflicts between Christians and Saladin’s forces. The Christians are divided into two camps: those like King Baldwin IV who want to live in peace with the Muslims, and those like Reynald of Chatillon who prefer to war against them.
-----. The Kings of Vain Intent. London: HarperCollins, 1970.
This book continues where The Knights of Dark Renown leaves off It opens with a Holy Land under Saracen control and focuses on the events surrounding the Third Crusade. While Richard has a significant role, the novel’s action revolves around the complex politics and rival factions among the Christian camps, one of which backs Guy de Lusignan and the other Condrad of Montferrat, who is presented here as a sadistic villain. Richard’s alleged homosexuality is hinted at in the novel, and emphasis is placed on Saladin’s humanity.
-----. The Devil Is Loose. London: HarperCollins, 1973.
This novel focuses on the later military career of Richard I, including his imprisonment in Germany and his struggles with his brother John.
Tarr, Judith. Alamut. New York: Broadway Books, 1989.
Set in between the Second and Third Crusades and in the same alternate universe as the author’s Hound and Falcon trilogy. The protagonist, Prince Aiden (who is half elf), goes to the Holy Land to avenge the death of his nephew Gereint and finds himself at odds with the formidable Assassins once there.
-----. The Dagger and the Cross: A Novel of the Crusades. New York: Broadway Books, 1991.
This novel, the sequel to Alamut, is set against the backdrop of Saladin’s conquest of Jerusalem. Aidan and Morgiana — a Saracen assassin introduced in Alamut — are allowed to marry, but they end up fighting on opposite sides. Their love story is overtly intertwined with the desires of both Muslims and Christians to “reclaim” Jerusalem.
Valente, Catherynne M. The Habitation of the Blessed: A Dirge for Prester John, Volume 1. San Francisco: Night Shade Books, 2010.
The first book of a trilogy, Habitation creatively reinvents the legend of Prester John, the mythical Christian emperor in the East who—as it was hoped throughout the high and late Middle Ages— would come to the aid of Western Christendom and enable the reclamation of Jerusalem. Each book in the trilogy contains multiple narrative voices as well as a frame-tale. In the frame, Hiob of Luzerne, a 17th-century monk, journeys to the Himalayas. He and his fellow missionaries stumble upon a town where they find a mysterious tree that sprouts books instead of fruit. The tree’s equally mysterious protector allows him to pluck three books from its branches, and the rest of the book alternates between the narrative voices contained within them and Hiob’s own accounts of his struggle to transcribe them before they rot. The narrators of these books are John (who eventually becomes Prester John), a young man from Constaninople who finds himself in a strange land filled with the beasts commonly seen in medieval Wonders of the East narratives; Hagia, a blemmye who eventually marries John, and who is an excellent scribe and maker of books; and Imtithal, a panotii who is both a friend to John and Hagia and who, in an earlier life, served as a nurse and storyteller to a royal family. Through their stories we learn about John’s attempts to convert the inhabitants of Pentexore (the strange land in which he has found himself), his gradual, but never completed, assimilation into their motley culture, and the machinations that allow him to become their king.
-----. The Folded World: A Dirge for Prester John, Volume 2. San Francisco: Night Shade Books, 2011.
This is the second book in Valente’s Prester John trilogy (the third, currently titled The Spindle of Necessity, is as-yet-unreleased), and it contains even more overt references to crusading than those found in Habitation of the Blessed. The frame narrative is told from the perspective of Alaric, Hiob’s fellow monk who has taken up the task of copying the found books in the wake of Hiob’s illness. He is allowed to pluck three additional books, which provide three different narrators: Hagia (a younger iteration); John Mandeville (of the famous and deeply fictionalized medieval travel narrative); and Vyala the Lion, who is tasked with caring for Hagia and Prester John’s disabled daughter while they are away on crusade.
The novel begins with John’s bastard child arriving in Pentexore with news of a battle brewing in the West (in John’s land). John raises an army, and many of the characters from Habitation of the Blessed decide to journey with him. Along the way to the Holy Land, they encounter a vine with the heads of Christians and Saracens growing from it (the soil in Pentexore is magical, and the dead rise again in the form of plants). The heads incessantly debate and argue with one another. Once on the border of Pentexore and the Holy Land, John and his compatriots discover that only he can cross the body of water separating the territory. They meet Saladin, who treats them all with deep courtesy, and a group of monks in a nearby monastery, who look on John and his followers with a deep distrust that ultimately leads to a tragic end for many of the Pentexoreans. At the same time as this campaign, John Mandeville describes his journeys to the far East and his quasi-imprisonment by Gog and Magog, who appear to him as child-like adults.
Whyte, Jack. Knights of the Black and White (A Templar Novel). New York: Penguin, 2007.
Sir Hugh de Payens is a member of the Order of the Rebirth of Sion, which was established by Jewish families fleeing the Romans centuries prior. Members of the order believe that the Christian faith — in particular, the divinity of Christ — is built upon a myth and that the truth can be found in the Holy Land. Tasked with finding the Order’s treasures — which promise to reveal that truth — Hugh journeys to Jerusalem with the armies of the First Crusade and establishes the Knights Templar in order to mask his attempts to locate the treasure.
-----. Standard of Honor (A Templar Novel). New York: Penguin, 2008.
Set during the time of the Third Crusade, this is the second book in Whyte’s Templar Trilogy. It focuses on the interweaved stories of Sir Henry of St. Clair (a Templar Knight), his son Andre (a member of the Order), and Alexander Sinclair who is one of the few Templar survivors of the Battle of Hattin.
-----. Order in Chaos (A Templar Novel). New York: Penguin, 2009.
The third novel in Whyte’s Templar trilogy. It begins just prior to the dissolution of the Templars in 1307. William St. Clair, a member of the order, escapes with the a few hundred Templar knights (as well as the Order’s treasure) to Scotland, where they find temporary refuge. William and his fellow Templars fight alongside Robert the Bruce at Bannockburn, but William eventually disbands the Order because he realizes its time is past. The novel concludes with William and many of the remaining Templars journeying west in search of a land called “Merica.”
Young, Robyn. Brethren (The Brethren Trilogy). New York: Penguin, 2007.
The first novel of the trilogy, set in London, Paris, and the Levant of the late thirteenth century. The story centers on Baybars — the Mamluk general who historically conquered the remaining Latin kingdoms in the Levant — and Will Campbell, a young knight with hopes to become a Templar. Campbell is eventually beholden to a secret society within the Templar order known as the Anima Templi (also known as the Brethren). When one of the Order’s precious books — The Book of the Grail — goes missing, Will is tasked with retrieving it before its contents, which reveal the heretical plans of the Order, come into the wrong hands. At the same time, Baybars has brought Egypt and Syria under his control, and is making plans to invade the Holy Land to defeat and conquer the remaining Christian states.
-----. Crusade (The Brethren Trilogy). New York: Penguin, 2008.
The second novel in the Brethren trilogy. Acre stands alone as the last remaining Latin kingdom, and Will is now both a Knight Templar and a member of the Brethren, whose primary task is to establish peace — however anachronistically — between Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. The novel opens on a fragile peace between Christians and Muslims, one swiftly disrupted by plots in both camps to create turmoil and encourage renewed warfare. Additionally, Prince Edward — a member of the peace-weaving Brethren — has sworn to the Pope that he will lead a new crusade, and the Mongols have begun to invade from the East. The novel culminates with the loss of Acre to Baybars.
-----. Requiem: The Fall of the Templars (The Brethren Trilogy). New York: Penguin, 2010.
The novel begins in 1295, four years after the Fall of Acre. Will has returned to his native Scotland only to find it besieged by King Edward I, a move supported and aided by the Templars. Will chooses to break ties with the Templars and fight alongside his people. Meanwhile, the French king aims to destroy the Templars in order to increase his power.
Plays and Operas
Graves, Gary. Richard the First. First performance on Oct 17th – November 23rd, 2003 in Berkeley, CA. The updated trilogy was staged by Central Works from October 18th – November 18th, 2012 in Berkeley, CA (directed by Jan Zvaifler).
The original 2003 production (Lionheart) was a single play that Graves created in response to the Iraq War and which was partially inspired by George W. Bush’s controversial use of the term “crusade” in a speech made shortly after the attacks of September 11, 2001. In 2012, Graves decided to expand the play into a trilogy in order to treat even more of Richard’s story. Part I involves Richard’s decision to go on crusade and ends with his arrival in Sicily, Part 2 (which contains the majority of Lionheart) focuses on Richard’s campaigns in the Levant, and Part 3 tells the story of Richard’s return home.
While the play focuses on Richard and his exploits, other multi-cultural stories are interweaved as well. In Part I, the character Rachel is introduced — a Jewish woman whose entire family is killed in the anti-Judaic outbreaks that took place shortly after Richard’s coronation. Graves conflates accounts of the massacre after Richard’s coronation with the burning of the York tower to great effect in Rachel’s opening monologue (in Part I), which explains her motivations for wanting to kill Richard. Khalil, Saladin’s brother, delivers the opening monologue of the first play and remains a key figure. His speaking style is far more gentile than that of Richard and his family, a choice that was deliberate on Graves part; he chose to have Richard and his sister Joan speak in Cockney accents in order to emphasize the barbarity of the English versus the nobility and cultural finesse of the Muslims. In so doing, he treats the crusade of Richard in decidedly modern terms, using it as a vehicle for contemporary political commentary. In giving Richard a distinctly English accent, however, the play participates in the long-standing tradition of emphasizing Richard’s English heritage rather than his French in order to identify him as a distinctly English crusader.
Redding, Keith. The Innocents’ Crusade. New York: Dramatists’ Play Service, 1993.
In the play, Bill — an idealistic and unfocused high-school student — is struggling to achieve his goal of attending college after graduation. One school after the other rejects him because of his average academic record. His mother, in an attempt to encourage him, gives him an article about the Children’s Crusade of 1212, and the story inspires Bill to launch a crusade of his own. The goals of this particular venture are hazy at best, but he gradually acquires a colorful group of followers, including Laura — an heiress and Bill’s eventual love interest.
Schafer, R. Murray (composer and librettist). The Children’s Crusade. Premiere: June 9th, 2009 (Toronto).
This opera is loosely based on the events leading up to and involving the Children’s Crusade of 1212. The central figure is the Holy Child, who receives a divine message to lead an army of children to the Holy Land. Their plan is to march to Marseilles where the sea will part, allowing them safe passage to the Holy Land, where they will establish peace with the help of Jewish and Muslim children. The opera ends in tragedy, however, as all of the children drown in the concluding number. The opera premiered in an abandoned warehouse, and audience members walked alongside the singers throughout the course of the hour and half show, an experience that allowed them to travel both literally and figuratively with the characters in the production.
Sirrett, Paul. Crusade. In Plays Two. London: Oberon Books, 2007.
The play, in which a group of Western travellers are stranded in the West Bank, takes place in modern-day Jerusalem and is a reflection on the Middle-East crisis.
Weir, Judith (composer and librettist). Armida. Premiere: December 25th, 2005, Channel 4 (UK).
Based on the love story of the crusader Rinaldo and the Saracen sorceress Armida found in Torquato Tasso’s Jerusalem Delivered (1581), an epic poem about the First Crusade. This version of the story is set in modern-day Iraq. Weir departs from operatic tradition by depicting Armida as a war correspondent rather than as a witch (as she appears in Dvořák’s and Rossini’s versions). She also decided to strip the characters of easily recognized ethnicities; as she said in an interview with The Guardian’s Stuart Jeffries, “No one can say, this is a Muslim or this is a Christian. I wanted to show that I respect all the people in this piece.” In the 2005 production, both of the leads were of African descent, a choice that, as Jeffries observed, might “further annul . . . the eurocentrism of Tasso’s original poem and several later treatments.” The opera begins at an army camp. Armida arrives on the pretense of interviewing the foreign troops while she covertly attempts to thwart their campaign. She falls in love with Rinaldo and takes him to a beautiful and enchanted city. Rinaldo renounces war and cannot be swayed by his fellow soldiers when they arrive and try to rescue him. This refusal is a major departure from tradition, as most versions depict a repentant Rinaldo returning to camp with his fellow crusaders. This rejection of war spreads gradually throughout the army camp and the larger world. Stories of war in the news are replaced with ones of, as Wier says in the libretto, “cultivation and purpose.”
The Crusades. 1935. 125 minutes. Directed and Produced by Cecil B. DeMille. Written by Harold Lamb, Waldemar Young, and Dudley Nichols. Music by Rudolph G. Kopp. Cinematography by Victor Milner. Starring: Loretta Young, Henry Wilcoxon and Ian Keith.
A highly fictionalized version of the Third Crusade and the events leading up to it. It opens in a Jerusalem occupied by Saladin and his army, replete with Christian women being sold into slavery. A figure resembling Peter the Hermit (the fiery preacher who helped inspire the First Crusade) publically berates Saladin for his actions and then returns to Europe to generate support for a crusade. At this point a hyper-masculine Richard (interested mainly in jousting and feasting with his men) is introduced. He takes the cross in order to avoid marrying Princess Alice of France. Along the way, he marries Berengaria of Navarre as part of a deal with her father (one that will secure provisions for his men) but sends his sword to stand in for his own person at the marriage ceremony. Berengaria eventually becomes the love interest not only of Richard but of Saladin, who captures her at a later point in the film. Her character is most remarkable, however, for her consistent calls for peace between Islam and Christianity. A series of lavishly staged battles punctuate the film, which concludes with a truce between Richard and Saladin, the culmination of Richard’s romance with Berengaria, and the opening of the gates of Jerusalem to all who wish to visit it. Additionally, Richard appears to have a religious conversion in the final moments of the film, finding a deeper understanding of his journey and his purpose. In this way, the film attempts to cast the truce as both a moral and a martial victory for Richard rather than as a defeat or a concession.
King Richard and the Crusaders. 1954. 114 minutes. Directed by David Butler. Produced by Henry Blanke. Adapted from Sir Walter Scott’s The Talisman by John Twist. Music by Max Steiner. Cinematography by J. Peverell Marley. Starring: Rex Harrison, Virginia Mayo, and George Sanders.
A campy re-telling of Sir Walter Scott’s The Talisman. Rex Harrison stars as Saladin (in brown-face and with a puzzling accent) and George Sanders stars as Richard I. Much of the story centers on the (mis)adventures that Kenneth, the protagonist, has with both of the rulers.
Robin and Marian. 1976. 106 minutes. Directed by Richard Lester. Produced by Ray Stark, Richard Shepherd, and Denis O’Dell. Music by John Barry. Cinematography by David Watkin. Written by James Goldman. Starring: Sean Connery, Audrey Hepburn, and Robert Shaw.
In keeping with many contemporary re-tellings of the Robin Hood legend, this film depicts an aging Robin Hood returning from a crusade and involves his attempts to court Maid Marian and restore justice to his homeland.
Lionheart. 1987. 104 minutes. Directed by Franklin J. Schaffner. Produced by Stanley O’Toole and Talia Shire. Music by Jerry Goldsmith. Cinematography by Alec Mills. Starring: Eric Stoltz, Gabriel Byrne, and Nicola Cowper.
The film blends aspects of the Third Crusade and the Children’s Crusade. The story pits a young knight, Robert Nera (played by Eric Stoltz) against the Black Prince (played by Gabriel Byrne). Robert’s older brother — who had wanted to go on crusade with Richard the Lionheart — dies in a local battle over land rights, and Robert sets out to fulfill his brother’s plans. He journeys through France, and encounters a group of orphans who are hunted by the Black Prince. The Prince is trying to capture them in order to sell them to Arab slavers. The children initially mistake Robert for Richard, and he becomes their leader, managing to protect them and defeat the Black Prince and his forces.
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. 1989. 127 minutes. A Paramount Pictures and Lucasfilm production. Directed by Steven Spielberg. Produced by George Lucas, Frank Marshall, Arthur F. Repola and Robert Watts. Story by George Lucas. Screenplay by Jeffrey Boam. Music by John Williams. Cinematography by Douglas Slocombe. Starring: Harrison Ford, Sean Connery and Alison Doody.
As the third installment in the Indiana Jones trilogy, The Last Crusade focuses on Jones’s quest to find his father, who has vanished while searching for the Holy Grail. The film draws on the longstanding and mythologized connection of the Knights Templar to the Grail in its depiction of “The Knights of the Cruciform Sword”—a fictional organization established during the time of the First Crusade to protect the grail from those who would use its powers for evil. The film culminates in the equally fictional Canyon of the Crescent Moon, where Indiana Jones discovers a lone, seven-hundred-year-old knight guarding the Grail.
Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. 1991. 143 minutes. Directed by Kevin Reynolds. Produced by Pen Densham, Michael J. Kagan, Richard Barton Lewis, and John Watson. Written by Pen Densham (story and screenplay) and John Watson (screenplay). Starring: Kevin Costner, Morgan Freeman, Alan Rickman, and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio.
While the majority of this film takes place in England, it is worth mentioning in concert with other crusades films because of how it begins. Robin of Loxley is introduced as a captured crusader who had fought alongside King Richard. The opening sequence involves his escape from prison with the help of an imprisoned Moor (played by Morgan Freeman). He returns from crusade only to find his father murdered and his entire home and inheritance in ruin (a common theme in contemporary crusades narratives). The rest of the film centers around his attempts to right the wrongs committed while he was gone and to restore a sense of justice to England while King Richard is still away. At the conclusion of the film — as is the case in so many modern version of the Robin Hood narrative — Richard I returns from abroad in time to restore order to his kingdom.
The High Crusade. 1994. 100 minutes. Directed by Klaus Knoesel and Holger Neuhaser. Produced by Roland Emmerich, Ute Emmerich and Thomas Wöbke. Adapted from Poul Anderson’s book (The High Crusade) by Robert G. Brown and Jürgen Egger. Cinematography by Wolfgang Aicholzer. Starring: John Rhys-Davies, Rick Overton, and Michael Des Barres.
Tagline: “Because a heathen is a heathen . . . .” Based on the eponymous novel by Poul Anderson, The High Crusade centers around a clash between alien invaders and would-be crusaders. The crusaders gain control of the alien ship, and quickly realize that the vehicle might be the means to take back the Holy Land. They attempt to journey to Jerusalem in the ship but end up in an alien kingdom instead. All manner of absurdities ensue. The film differs significantly from the novel, which — in addition to being less comical in nature — revolves more directly around the Hundred Years War and less around crusading.
Kingdom of Heaven. 2005. 144 minutes. Directed and Produced by Ridley Scott. Written by William Monahan. Music by Harry Gregson-Williams. Cinematography by John Mathieson. Starring: Orlando Bloom, Eva Green, and Liam Neeson.
The film focuses on the character Balian of Ibelin, and is loosely based on the events leading up to Saladin’s conquest of Jerusalem. While Balian, Guy de Lusignan, Queen Sybilla, and the ailing Baldwin IV (among others) were all historical figures, their stories are greatly altered and embellished. The historical Balian, for instance, was a prominent nobleman in the Levant, but is here presented as a poor blacksmith and the bastard son of the local lord (played by Liam Neeson) who had departed on crusade. The film depicts Balian’s journey to the Levant and his gradual rise to power, and culminates in his spirited defense of Jerusalem against Saladin’s siege. The film also focuses on the developing romance between Balian and Sybilla, which has no basis in history. The film also features certain anachronistic approaches to religion (both Balian and his friend the Hospitaller are more agnostic than spiritual, for instance), and it repeatedly stresses the need for Christians to coexist peacefully with Islam. While it is true that uneasy truces between Saladin and Baldwin IV did occur, the socio-political landscape of this time was far more complex than it is presented in the film. Kingdom of Heaven, by contrast, lays the blame for the loss of Jerusalem squarely on the Christians who preferred war over peace. The film is, in many respects, a form of commentary on the conflicts between “East and West” in the wake of 9/11. It concludes, in fact, with the following statement: “Nearly a thousand years later, peace in the Kingdom of Heaven remains elusive.”
Crusade in Jeans (Kruistocht in Spljkerbroek). 2006. 125 minutes. Directed by Ben Sombogaart. Produced by Tim Disney, Bill Haney, William Haney, Kees Kasander, Christopher Seitz, et. al. Adapted from Thea Beckman’s novel, Kruistocht in Spijkerbroek, by Bill Haney, Jean-Claude Van Rijckeghem, and Chris Craps. Music by Jurre Haanstra. Cinematography by Reinier van Brummelen. Starring: Johnny Flynn, Stephanie Leonidas, and Emily Watson.
Adapted from a Belgian novel, Crusade in Jeans tells the story of a modern-day boy, Dolf, who attempts to go back in time using his mother’s time machine, in order to “redo” a football match that went awry. He incorrectly enters the date into the machine and ends up in medieval Belgium in the year 1212. Dolf eventually joins the Children’s Crusade led by the boy Nicolaas and Father Anselmus. Anselmus says that he will lead them to Jerusalem via Genoa, but he plans to sell the children to Genoese slavers. Dolf proves very helpful during the journey, using his modern-day skills to assist a number of the children. He eventually uncovers the slave-trading plot, but is returned to the present with the aid of his mother. European versions of the film end with Dolf planning to return to the year 1212 to save Jenne. Plans for a second film were apparently made but never fulfilled. Because of this, the American version of the film includes a final scene where he successfully rescues Jenne and returns to the present day with her.
Valhalla Rising. 2009. 93 minutes. Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn. Produced by Johnny Anderson, Henrik Danstrup, Bo Ehrhardt, et. al. Written by Nicolas Winding Refn and Roy Jacobsen. Music by Peter Kyed and Peter Peter. Cinematography by Morten Søborg. Starring: Mads Mikkelson, Maarten Stevenson, and Alexander Morton.
This film focuses on the story of One Eye, an enslaved warrior who can see the future. Part I: Wrath depicts One Eye’s escape from his captors. In Part II: Silent Warrior, he and the boy he spared from his captor’s camp encounter a group of crusaders making their way to the Holy Land. The leader encourages One Eye to join and atone for his sins. In Part III: Men of God, the small company is stranded at sea in a thick fog with no wind to move them forward. They eventually arrive at an estuary and catch sight of land. In Part IV: The Holy Land, they are surprised to find themselves surrounded by lush forests rather than the arid climate of the Near East that they were expecting. While searching for food, the crew stumbles upon a Native American burial ground, and they eventually conclude that they haven’t reached the Holy Land. The leader announces that he will “show them a man of God has arrived,” and builds a cross out of branches and plants it near the burial ground. Part V: Hell (which could either refer to the Christian Hell or the Hel of Norse Mythology) begins with the crew drinking a hallucinogenic beverage. The missing member of the party returns, and they argue over whether they should stay or leave. The leader argues for them to stay, saying that they have “raised the cross; now we bring the sword. The heathen will be converted, their sins cleansed – a new Jerusalem established!” The argument ends in bloodshed, with One-eye — accused of taking them to Hell — defending himself and killing several of the men. He leaves with the boy, and the leader’s closest friend intends to follow him. The leader stabs him as a result, accusing him of abandoning God by wanting to leave. The act ends with the leader announcing that “only men of faith deserve the riches of my new Jerusalem!” Part VI: The Sacrifice begins with the leader making plans (with the remaining survivor) to place crosses up and down the river and to build cities that will “last a thousand years.” He names his fellow survivor his spiritual advisor for this New Jerusalem. The man laughs, and shortly thereafter an unseen attacker shoots arrows at the leader and kills him. By the end of the film, everyone in the crew, with the exception of the boy, is killed by the indigenous tribesmen.
Season of the Witch. 2011. 95 minutes. Directed by Dominic Sena. Produced by Alex Carver and Charles Roven. Written by Bragi F. Schut. Music by Atli Örvarsson. Cinematography by Amir Mokri. Starring: Nicolas Cage, Ron Perlman, and Claire Foy.
The movie begins with Behmen (played by Nicolas Cage) and Felson (played by Ron Perlman) fighting against the Turks and placing bets with each other on who can kill more infidels. They participate in a series of battles —Tripoli (1334), Imbros (1337), and Artah (1339). They abandon their crusading efforts after the battle of Smyrna (1344), where Behmen accidentally kills a female non-combatant. He realizes that many of those killed were innocent civilians rather than armed warriors and — after arguing with the Grandmaster — abandons the campaign and returns to Europe with Felson, where the rest of the narrative takes place. The two are eventually captured and imprisoned for deserting the crusade, but are able to broker a pardon by agreeing to transport a young girl accused of witchcraft to the monastery at Severac.
Robin Hood. Created by Dominic Minghella and Foz Allen. Starring Jonas Armstrong, Lucy Griffiths, and Richard Armitage. Tiger Aspect Productions, BBC, 2006-2009.
In this series, which aired on the BBC, Robin Hood returns to England after fighting for five years in the Third Crusade alongside Richard I. It is revealed in Series Two that Robin has a difficult time talking about his experiences on the crusade because of post-traumatic stress disorder.
Dylan, Bob. The Children’s Crusade. Scorpio, 1966.
While the content of the album does not deal in any identifiable way with crusading, its title may refer to the groups of children he met while touring in Europe or to his numerous groupies who followed him from town to town while he was on tour.
Bowie, David. “Loving the Alien.” From the album Tonight. Virgin Records US, 1984.
The song reflects upon contemporary tensions in the Holy Land (“Palestine the modern problem”) and alludes to the crusades through references to Templars and Saracens in the first lines. The second verse describes to knights bearing “The Cross of Coeur de Lion,” which suggests that the men truly fight for a human king rather than any God. Its chorus reflects upon the futility and sadness of praying for the death of one’s alleged enemy: “But if you pray all your sins are hooked upon the sky. Pray and the heathen lie will disappear. Prayers, they hide the saddest view. Believing the strangest things. Loving the alien.”
Crusader (band). Rise of the Templars. EP, 2011.
An EP from Crusader, a metal band with members from both the UK and Chicago. The album cover illustration depicts an array of sword-wielding Templar revenants rising from their graves. The title song, however, describes an array of evil (and lustful) corpses rising from the dead to wreak general havoc and contains few, if any, references to crusading, aside from the fact that the revenants are referred to as Templars.
Iron Maiden. “Montségur.” On the album Dance of Death. Sony, 2003.
The title of the song refers to the castle of Montségur (located in the Pyrenees). It was a Cathar stronghold during the early thirteenth century, but was eventually besieged and overtaken by crusader armies in 1244. The song is sung from the perspective of a modern day observer, who laments the fact that religion still causes so much divisiveness and destruction in the world. The lyrics reveal a certain degree of knowledge about the events of the Albigensian Crusade. For instance, the line “As we kill them all so God will know his own; the innocents died for the pope on his throne” clearly refers to the alleged response of Arnaud Almaric (a Church leader) to a crusader asking how he should distinguish between Catholics and Cathars. In response, Arnaud allegedly said “Kill them all, God will know his own.” The song treats the Cathars sympathetically while criticizing the “greed and paranoid zeal” of the “Catholics” who killed them. The song assumes a connection between Catharism and the Knights Templar, and also gestures to the legend that Montségur was the last known place to house the Holy Grail.
Saxon (band). Crusader. Carrere, 1984.
Saxon’s (an English metal band) sixth studio album. In its cover illustration, a host of medieval crusaders sit on horseback or march forward, while an array of slain enemies lie in the foreground. The title song, “Crusader,” is sung from the perspective of a member of a crusader army. As a call to arms, it sings in general terms about the need to free the Holy Land, to “fight the good fight” for Christendom, and to destroy the Saracens.
Assassin’s Creed. Created by Patrice Desilets, Jade Raymond, and Corey May. Ubisoft, 2007-.
The story in the Assassin’s Creed franchise revolves around Desmond Miles, a bartender descended from a long line of Assassins. He is sought out and abducted by Abstergo Industries, a company that serves as the front for the Templar Order, which has remained a hidden force of immense socio-political power up to the present day. The Order is searching for important relics — known as the Pieces of Eden — that would allow them to control the world, and they require Desmond’s help in order to find them. Using a virtual-reality machine called The Animus, they force him to experience the lives of his ancestors. Desmond ultimately escapes and teams up with a band of modern-day Assassins, who have their own kind of Animus. Through it, he continues to relive the experiences of his ancestors while helping the team recover the relics and thwart Abstergo. One of his ancestors, Altaïr ibn-La'Ahad, was a member of the Levantine Assassins (The Hashashin) during the Third Crusade.
Crusader Kings. Paradox Interactive, 2004-.
A strategy game that covers the time period between 1066 and 1452. The game contains initial scenes rooted in history and features a variety of historical figures from the time crusading campaigns were waged — including Alexius Comnenus, Frederick Barbarossa, and El Cid. The gameplay, however, encourages the creation of alternate histories, and so players are not necessarily guided through a series of historical events relevant to the crusades. Part II was released in 2012 and includes Saladin and Richard I of England.
Dante’s Inferno. Electronic Arts, 2010.
EA’s wildly reinvented version of the Italian epic poem. Dante is cast as a knight fighting in the Third Crusade at the outset of the game. He serves as a general, and is severely wounded by an assassin during a battle. He fights Death himself, who condemns him to hell for his sins — a verdict that surprises Dante, since he had been told that his sins were forgiven for having become a crusader. Dante defeats Death but abandons the crusade. He stiches the red cross from his tabard onto his chest, and returns home to find his lover — Beatrice — murdered. The rest of the game involves the hero’s descent into hell in order to rescue Beatrice’s soul. The game departs from the Commedia in a variety of respects, and it has garnered criticism not only for its near duplication of the structure of the popular God of War games, but also for its blatant misogyny. It departs in a significant way from the narrative arc of the Commedia by casting Dante as a crusader in the first place; while there are several allusions to crusading and crusaders in Dante’s work, the author himself never embarked on a crusade and was born almost eighty years after the start of the Third Crusade.