Defender of Jerusalem by Helena Shrader

The struggle between Christian and Muslim in the Middle East during the era of the crusades is not in my usual realm of historical interest, but having read Helena Shrader’s masterful trilogy about King Leonidas of Sparta, I suspected that Defender of Jerusalem would be well worth reading, and I was not disappointed.
Defender of Jerusalem is a biographical novel of the Knight Balian d’Ibelin. Balian is a close friend and confidant of Baldwin IV, the young leper king of the Kingdom of Jerusalem, which was established by the crusaders who conquered Jerusalem in 1099 A.D. He is married to Maria Comnena, Baldwin’s stepmother and Dowager Queen of Jerusalem.
Given how few knights and fighting men the crusaders could actually field, compared to the vast hordes of Salah ad-Din, the Sultan of Egypt and Damascus, it seems amazing that the crusader kingdoms held sway as long as they did. Nevertheless, the crusader lands might have proven defensible had it not been for some serious mistakes and misjudgments the leaders made.
Baldwin IV was diagnosed with leprosy at an early age. Nevertheless, he was proclaimed king at eighteen and proved an able leader. Unfortunately, his sister Sibylla fell madly in love with the handsome but feckless Guy de Lusignan. Baldwin IV came to detest Guy de Lusignan, but as his disease progressed and his disability increased, he was compelled to make his sister and de Lusignan regents for his sister’s young son, who became Baldwin V after his uncle died. After the boy dies, Guy de Lusignan becomes king of Jerusalem. They could not have picked a more incompetent leader.
To make matters worse, the six year truce that Salah ad-Din had agreed to is shattered by the privateering and raids on Muslim caravans by Reynald de Chatillon, the Lord of Oultre-jourdain. In revenge, Salah ad-din is determined to reconquer Jerusalem for the Muslims and put an end to the crusader kingdoms.
Balian d’Ibelin watches helplessly as these events unfold. He has no choice but to swear fealty to Guy de Lusignan and accompany him as he blunders into the disastrous battle of the Horns of Hattin. Nearly all of the notable crusader warriors are killed or captured in the battle, including Guy de Lusignan, and Balian’s son-in-law, Humphry de Toron. Only Balian manages to escape Salah ad-Din’s trap, along with three thousand, three hundred survivors.
After the battle of the Horns of Hattin, with nearly all of the other leaders dead or captured, Balian de Ibilin finds himself the de facto leader of the crusader kingdoms. His family and household are still in Jerusalem and he goes to Salah ad-Din with a flag of truce petitioning him to allow him to bring his family to safety. Salah ad-Din grants his request and he goes to Jerusalem. The inhabitants hail him as their leader and, after sending his household to safety, he reluctantly agrees to lead the obviously futile resistance, in violation of his agreement with Salah ad-Din.
Defender of Jerusalem is an exciting and fascinating account of a critical period of world history and I highly recommend it.

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