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Paul Creswick's With Richard the Fearless: A Tale of the Red Crusade


Paul Creswick's With Richard the Fearless: A Tale of the Red Crusade

Paul Creswick (1866-1947), although relatively little-known today, authored a number of children's books that demonstrate a considerable interest in the medieval period. His name is occasionally listed as (James) Paul Creswick, although I have thus far been unable to confirm the missing first name from independent sources. Although his works for adults are characterized by scandal and tragedy, his children's fiction concentrates on romanticized versions of England's past. These other works include Robin Hood and His Adventures, In Ælfred's Days, Under the Black Raven, Hasting the Pirate, and The Smugglers of Barnard's Head. As this partial listing of Creswick's works illustrates, Creswick's works for children tend to romanticize male adventure and glorify England's past.

In a romance plot that, like Walter Scott's works, draws heavily on disguise and subterfuge for the orchestration of its plots, With Richard the Fearless juxtaposes the traditional heterosexual romance against the demands of loyalty and honor. The narrative train of the novel follows the orphan Peter Donne, a poor, abused apprentice who bears a suspicious resemblance to Richard the Lionheart, as he meets with Blondel—Richard's minstrel—and his sister Nan and gradually gains rank and honor in Richard's armies. Because of his mysterious heritage, Peter is the victim of the vicious Wayland, who, under various disguises, seeks to assassinate both the young knight and the king himself. Richard appears as the victim of a "hand which had moved, unseen, against the Lion Heart, from the moment of his accession to the throne," guilty chiefly of a rash valor that is unable to resist the temptations which his enemies use to undo him: "The gauntlet once flung down, be sure that Richard snatched it up" (257).

The novel's engagement with turn-of-the-century gender concerns is particularly acute: Nan, Peter's sweetheart, assumes boy's clothing along with the name Neale and, early in the novel's plot, becomes Peter's rival for military honors. She catches the eye of Master Denton, who commands the company that Peter and his friends initially join, and swiftly surpasses Peter in the commander's affections: "She made a handsome Crusader; and Denton's keen glance quickly discovered that, despite her lack of size, she rode a horse well . . . Master Neale found herself placed in the front rank" (56). Creswick suggests that the freedom that boy's clothes confer also expands her aspirations: as Nan assures Peter that his desire to command will eventually come to pass, she asserts, if jokingly, a similar possibility for herself: "I believe that I would be knight:”if Denton had his way.—I shall have but to kill one Infidel—and spurs will grow at my heels" (61). This joke soon manifests itself as a reality; when Peter, Nan and another man are sent in search of a hermit who may know the location of the missing King Richard, "Nan was thrust in command of them, and smiled maliciously at Peter when her eyes took his dissatisfied glance." (69). Nan's military aspirations come quickly to an end when Master Denton threatens to cut her hair to make her conform more completely to the company's standards of knighthood and masculinity; she flees for protection to the Princess Berengaria. Nonetheless, in the context of women's increasing advancement beyond the home in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, this brief cross-dressing episode reflects the projection of contemporary concerns about the stability of both masculine and feminine gender roles onto the medieval crusade.

This novel's 1904 publication date places it on the late end of the nineteenth-century spectrum considered in this project. Nonetheless, this work clearly reflects the ideals of Victorian medievalism. In many ways, this novel perfectly exemplifies the emergence of Victorian medievalism in turn-of-the-century children's adventure novels. Richard, to reward Peter for keeping "both my honour and thine own—right valiantly and well," dubs Peter as the "Knight Immaculate," a construction that, although it has no direct roots in Tennyson's language, nonetheless constructs a Galahad-like purity that combines physical chastity with spiritual purity and knightly honor (143).

Creswick describes the Crusaders as "Englishmen, with all the sprit for stubborn resistance which the race has inherited from its Viking fathers," thus creating a patrilineal line of descent that crafts a cohesive racial heritage for England's diverse populations (174). The might of this newly-unified English force appears consistently throughout the text, as in the fictional battle in which, as Creswick relates:
The Crusaders swept the earth of Christendom's foes, who at length realized the power of the enemy they had provoked. Not even the fall of Acre impressed Saladin as did this tremendous battle near Ramleh in the hills, in the heat of summer, fought upon his own ground, and won from him by sheer determination. (237)
This inflated rhetoric is characteristic of nineteenth-century crusades romances for children, which, often regardless of historical accuracy—although the battle of Ramleh did take place, and Richard's armies were victorious, Saladin, contrary to Creswick's assertions, was not captured—secure England's superiority. This passage also resonates with England's imperialist ideologies: Creswick emphasizes the ability of the English knights to master the physical geography of the Holy Land, indicating a successful military and ideological victory. This victory is only consolidated by Richard's release of the captured Saladin: "'I give thee back thy freedom, Saladin," cried he, in his big voice. 'Take it of me, and use it righteously from henceforth. War no longer against the Cross—'tis mightier than us all'" (239). This injunction, and the intervention of Malek Adhul, Creswick indicates, motivates the Treaty of Jaffa and the end of the Crusade, if not the end of Peter's struggles.

Creswick continues Walter Scott's tradition of idealizing Saladin through Richard's reactions: "[The Lion Heart] realized that in Saladin he had no ordinary foe, no mere blusterer like Tancred, no such treacherous coward as Isaac. This man would prove himself in the campaign, so blithely begun by Guy of Lusignan—prove himself to be worthy of Richard's enmity—and admiration" (175-76). And yet, Creswick labels Saladin as the source of all of England's domestic turmoil, suggesting that England's disunity is due not to a lack of national cohesion, but instead to foreign influences. He writes:
Next instant [Peter] stood eye-to-eye with Saladin. Before him was the great originator of all the mischief in Palestine; but for this thin, hard-featured, astounding man, there had been no third Crusade; no bad blood betwixt Philip of France and Richard of England. No plotting on the part of John, Richard's traitor brother, in England. (235)
Although Creswick immediately mitigates this statement by admitting that there was no love lost among Richard, Philip, and John in any case, this quotation nevertheless ascribes the responsibility for the Crusade and England's ensuing domestic woes to Eastern influence. This transfer of responsibility increases the sense of England's national unity which Creswick develops throughout the novel. Peter's English strength and unity becomes directly responsible for Saladin's surrender: "[Peter's] arm raised his ax, almost unconsciously, to receive and parry the blow. The Saracen's light blade shivered and snapped against the English iron. The young knight leaped forward to seize his enemy” (235). The instinctive, unconscious reaction of Peter's arm in this passage increases the agency and strength of the English steel: while the ax, the icon of England's military power, coheres, Saladin's Saracen blade snaps.

Creswick also demonstrates the perils of a class system that depends entirely upon Richard's whim. Peter, the protagonist, advances swiftly from poor, abused apprentice to knight through bold deeds that catch both Richard's attention and that of Joanna, his young sister. Creswick observes that:
Success often alters a man in appearance very thoroughly. Not only in his fine clothes, and resplendent mail, was the new Keeper of the King's Seal a vastly different person from Peter Donne; but also there was now a dignity and look of strength upon him that became him mightily. (144)
Peter's abrupt transformation from a member of the lower classes to knighthood suggests that Creswick has incorporated a certain degree of upward mobility into the medieval class system. This initial impression, however, is deceptive. Even in the first pages of the novel, Creswick interweaves the mysterious resemblance between Peter and Richard, thus signaling to the reader that his inherent nobility stems, at least in part, from his noble birth. The first direct statement of this likeness comes through Nan, however, and Creswick frames it as an honor: "Nan, that day, unconsciously, paid Peter the greatest compliment of his life.  'He is like you, Master Donne—our great King. Like you, grown old, I had not noticed it before'" (60). This resemblance is marked to such a degree that Saladin actually surrenders to Peter rather than Richard.

Ultimately, however, after Peter unravels the mystery of his birth—he is Richard's son by an earlier marriage—he confirms the novel's class tensions by deciding to decline the honors that asserting his nobility would confer. He repeats to himself Richard's earlier maxim: "'Kings have little power in the days of their princedom'" (297). Moreover, asserting his birthright would disrupt both national stability and romantic felicity: within England's domestic boundaries, the interests of the two merge. He reflects:
To declare himself would be to cruelly injure Berengaria. The whole pitiful story must then be told to her, and it was one that she would resent most naturally. For her sake, then—for his Queen's—Peter must remain silent.
Cunning heart! It was for Nan's sake chiefly that he renounced all that speech might bring. Were Peter a prince, how might he marry with Ninon de Nesle, a maid born out of Royal rank? And Nan was the whole world to him; more dear than riches, rank, than life itself. (297)
Thus, Creswick's crusades romance provides its readers with a nobility that is invested with both hereditary nobility and the inherent virtues which should attend the birthright. Creswick's project seems to be to offer a reformed nobility that, notwithstanding, does not fundamentally alter England's social structures. Richard also takes part in the reformation that offers a semblance of democracy. Held captive by the Duke of Austria, Richard orders Peter: "Go in my place, and tell my people that I will wait. Ask them to pay my ransom, if Austria persists. We have had enough of wars and tumults. I will wait the pleasure of my people" (296).