Elegant biography of a little-known Frankish crusader who is still a thorn in the sides of Islamists.
South Africa–born, London-based journalist Lee uses the life of Reynald de Chatillon as a way to tell the story of the Second Crusade (1145-1149), a mostly disastrous affair for the Christians that paved the way for Saladin’s subsequent sack of Jerusalem in 1187. Lee portrays Reynald—who was from Burgundy and responded as a young knight-errant to Abbot Bernard de Clairvaux’s call to reclaim the city of Edessa—as the chivalric ideal. A younger son, Reynald had little recourse to economic betterment other than joining the military and hoping to secure riches and fame from the militant, expansionist Christian army spurred by the pope to reclaim the Levant from the Muslims. With his courtly manners and keen sense of potential glory, Reynald was nonetheless trained as a merciless killer, and he was enlisted to aid the defense of the crusader state of Antioch, where he caught the eye and sympathy of the widowed princess Constance, whom he married. Now as a prince of Antioch, Reynald had to continually defend the principality from Muslim raids, but he also invaded and sacked the Christian island of Cyprus “in a piratical fashion,” gaining him the opprobrium of the Byzantium emperor and Muslims alike. Throughout, Lee graphically portrays the gory violence that dominated the era. Captured by the Turks after the battle of Marash in 1161, Reynald spent the next 15 years imprisoned in Aleppo, under the jurisdiction of Turkish leader Nur al-Din. During the last 10 years of his life, Reynald would chastise his nemesis Saladin from the Arabian Peninsula to the Kingdom of Jerusalem. In 1187, he was captured in the Battle of Hattin and executed after refusing to renounce his faith.
A vivid narrative that effectively delineates the era’s courtly spirit and “nightmarish barbarity.”