LIONHEARTS by Geoffrey Regan


Saladin, Richard I, and the Era of the Third Crusade
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In this brisk account of the Third Crusade (1189—1192), Regan, author of numerous popular military histories, shines a soft, flattering light on the leaders of the two opposing forces in the greatest of all oxymorons: holy war. Early chapters focus first on the boyhood and rise to power of King Richard I (the Lionheart), then on the analogous biographical aspects of Saladin, the Muslim leader. (Though joined in history, the two principals never met.) Saladin’s capture of Jerusalem in 1187 precipitated the Third Crusade, details of which—preparations, alliances, journeys, strategies, battles—comprise most of the book. A patent admirer of military strategy, technology, and leadership (both Saladin and Richard occupy prominent spots in Regan’s pantheon), of the accomplishments of individual warriors, Regan can manage only a perfunctory condemnation of Richard’s murder of 3,000 Muslim captives after the siege of Acre; almost droll are his descriptions of Richard collecting enemy heads. Nonetheless, Regan’s considerable narrative gifts guide readers gracefully across unfamiliar and unforgiving terrain in company with exotic 12th-century people whose loyalties to one another are startlingly evanescent and whose harsh pieties permit wholesale human slaughter in the names of Jesus and Mohammed. Piquant anecdotes frequently enliven the prose (Frederick Barbarossa drowned in a foot of water on his way to the Holy Land; Richard nearly lost his life when he stole a peasant’s falcon), but general readers will need to scurry to their dictionaries—big ones!—to look up much of the archaic martial terminology (e.g., mangonel, fascine, haqueton, gambeson, and trebuchet). And some might wonder why Regan is so determined to demonstrate that Richard Lionheart was not a homosexual (he raises the issue in three separate places), or why he comments a couple of times on the quality of prostitutes in the Christian encampment. A paean to Richard and Saladin and desert warfare—the clashes of cultures resound as loudly as those of the weapons. (8 pages photos, not seen; 5 maps)

Pub Date: June 1st, 1999
ISBN: 0-8027-1354-8
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Walker
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15th, 1999


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