Helena P Schrader

Literature & Fiction

Author Profile

Helena P Schrader

For readers tired of clichés and cartoons, award-winning novelist Helena P. Schrader offers nuanced insight to historical events and figures based on sound research and an understanding of human nature. Her complex and engaging characters bring history back to life as a means to better understand ourselves. Particularly, her Jerusalem Trilogy, set in the Holy Land in the late 12th century, has won critical acclaim. Envoy of Jerusalem: Balian d’Ibelin and the Third Crusade won Best Biography 2017 from Book Excellence Awards, Best Christian Historical Fiction 2017 from Readers’ Favorites, Best Spiritual/Religious Fiction 2017 from Feathered Quill Book Awards, Best Biographical Fiction 2016 from Pinnacle Book Achievement Award and an Honorable Mention for Wartime/Military Fiction at the Foreword INDIE Awards. Defender of Jerusalem, won six literary accolades including the John E. Weaver Award for Best Historical Fiction: Middle Ages. Visit http://www.helenapschrader.com or follow her blog: http://schradershistoricalfiction.blogspot.com for updates on current works, recent reviews and excerpts.


Where Eagles Never Flew: A Battle of Britain Novel

Literature & Fiction

Based on actual events and eye-witness accounts, "Where Eagles Never Flew" shows you the Battle of Britain from both sides of the Channel through the eyes of pilots, controllers, ground crews - and the women they loved. RAF Battle of Britain Ace Wing Commander Bob Doe called it "The best book about the Battle of Britain I have ever seen!" USAF General Heaton noted: "This is a great book that any pilot or would-be-pilot will love. The description of the flying scenes is so accurate, I can easily imagine myself in all of the air-to-air battles." Summer 1940: The Battle of France is over; the Battle of Britain is about to begin. If the swastika is not to fly over Buckingham Palace, the RAF must prevent the Luftwaffe from gaining air superiority over Great Britain. Standing on the front line is No. 606 Squadron. As the casualties mount, new pilots find a cold reception from the clique of experienced pilots, who resent them taking the place of their dead friends. Meanwhile, despite credible service in France, former RAF aerobatics pilot Robin Priestman finds himself stuck in Training Command -- and falling for a girl from the Salvation Army. On the other side of the Channel, the Luftwaffe is recruiting women as communications specialists -- and naïve Klaudia is about to grow up.

Book Bubbles from Where Eagles Never Flew: A Battle of Britain Novel

Leadership and Charisma

Air Chief Marshal Lord Dowding was without doubt one of the most important leaders of WWII. His role was absolutely critical in winning the Battle of Britain, and the Battle of Britain was pivotal in long-term Allied survival and success. Yet part of the reason Dowding has been forgotten was that --although brilliant and conscientious -- he did not have charisma. He simply did not have the kind of personality that enabled him to connect readily with his young pilots, the political leadership or the general public In this excerpt from "Where Eagles Never Flew," Squadron Leader "Robin" Priestman, commanding a frontline Hurricane squadron at the height of the Battle of Britain has been caught on camera kissing a famous socialite -- and he doesn't think it is going to go down well with the C-in-C of Fighter Command...

The Enemy Within

During the Battle of Britain pilots on both sides of the conflict were increasing young and inexperienced. Arriving at frontline squadrons with less than a score of hours on the operational aircraft they were supposed to fly, they were often more focused on flying than fighting -- a factor that often cost them their lives. In "Where Eagles Never Flew" I wanted to emphasize both the inexperience of many pilots and remind readers that flying isn't easy. It is not a skill like riding a bicycle that any and everyone can pick up in a few hours. In my next two book bubbles I'm going to feature young pilots with flying issues. Today's bubble is set in northern France where Luftwaffe Jagdgeschwader 23 is engaged in flying escorts for German bombers raiding England in July 1940.

Women on the Front

Women played a key role in the armed forces during World War Two. In my last book bubble, I highlighted WAAF in the Battle of Britain. Notably, ii was in exactly this same period that the Luftwaffe, too, expanded its reliance on female volunteers that served in the women's auxiliary to the Luftwaffe. In this scene, two teenage recruits t -- Luftwaffehelferinnen Rosa and Klaudia -- arrive at their first wartime assignment. It is the summer of 1940, and Nazi Germany seems utterly invincible.

Readers and Writers

While my creative writing springs from internal inspiration that is utterly unrelated to "market forces" and "popular demand," that does not mean that readers have no role or no influence. On the contrary, while I can only write what is in me, the responses of readers to my books profoundly influences the creative process at a secondary level. An excellent example of this is my recent release "Where Eagles Never Flew." This book was originally published 14 years ago, but the enthusiasm of readers -- including veterans of the Battle of Britain -- inspired me to undertake a new edition with photos and to engage in active marketing of the book. In honor of the WAAF who did so much to encourage me, an excerpt featuring WAAF.

Generational Conflict isn't New

Recent events have highlighted serious generational conflict with young people supporting Democrats and democracy by far higher margins than their parents, many of whom favor fascism and a Trump dictatorship. It's easy in tense times to think that such generational contrasts are exceptional. Yet even in the Second World War, a period when one would have thought common views prevailed, some families were still politically divided. This excerpt looks at one such family -- and introduces the female lead in the book, Emily Pryce.

Claims and Kills

In the air war during World War Two, victories claims on all sides were greatly exaggerated. In one famous case, USAAF gunners on B-17s during a raid claimed to have shot down 101 Luftwaffe fighters. Luftwaffe records which became available after the war show that the Luftwaffe lost exactly one (1) fighter that day. Yet the exaggerated claims were rarely a function of outright lies. Aerial combat was fast-paced and highly confusing, leading to many false and multiple claims. This excerpt from "Where Eagles Never Flew" is intended to highlight the issue.

Venus and Mars

As John Steinbeck observed in "The Moon is Down," armies are made up of young men, and young men have a compelling interest in young women. No political system or national emergency has ever managed to eradicate that -- even when they wanted to. The pilots of Fighter Command during the Battle of Britain, despite facing incredible pressure and huge casualties did not lose interest in the opposite sex. Flight Lieutenant Robert "Robin" Priestman was injured flying in the Battle of France and in this excerpt is on convalescent leave with is widowed mother and maiden aunt.

Carpe Diem or Living Every Second

Akin to hope are other coping mechanisms that humans have evolved for dealing with terrifying situations that temporarily block our view of the future. During the Battle of Britain, RAF squadrons on the front line (No 11 Group) suffered 50 - 70% casualties. The pilots coped by not acknowledging the losses (no shows of grief, no mourning), by living frenetically, and by consuming abnormal amounts of alcohol. In this excerpt, No 606 (Hurricane) Squadron celebrates the squadron's 100th victory - that is the 100th Luftwaffe aircraft shot-down since the start of the war by a pilot of 606 squadron.

New Beginnings

At the start of a new year, we often make New Year's resolutions about 'turning over a new leaf' or 'starting anew' with something. Other times, circumstances put us in a new situation -- e.g. going to college or starting a new job. It can be very frightening. In this excerpt, two young men have just reported to their first operational fighter squadron after a year in training. Both are Sergeant pilots joining an elite Auxiliary Squadron, and the date is late June 1940. The Battle of France is over, and the Battle of Britain is about to begin....

Time to start praying...

Christmas has become such a secular feast -- a time of "jiggle bells," snowmen, bright lights, Santa Claus and reindeer, Christmas trees and decorations and, of course, consumption -- that the religious origins are largely lost. I wonder what percent of the population actually prays at Christmas. We are more likely to pray in a crisis -- when we feel threatened and overwhelmed. In this excerpt, a young man in the midst of a chaotic war -- The Battle of France 1940 -- is reminded of the need for prayer.

Envoy of Jerusalem: Balian d'Ibelin and the Third Crusade

Literature & Fiction

BEST BIOGRAPHY 2017 (Book Excellence Awards) BEST CHRISTIAN HISTORICAL FICTION 2017 ( Readers' Favorite) BEST SPIRITUAL/RELIGIOUS FICTION 2017 (Feathered Quill AwardS) BEST BIOGRAPHICAL FICTION 2016B (Pinnacle Book Awards) Honorable Mention from Foreword Indies Awards 2017 for Military/Wartime Fiction Balian d'Ibelin has survived the devastating defeat of the Christian army on the Horns of Hattin and walked away a free man after the surrender of Jerusalem, but he is baron of nothing in a kingdom that no longer exists. Haunted by the tens of thousands of Christians now enslaved by the Saracens, he is determined to regain what has been lost. The arrival of a vast crusading army under the soon-to-be-legendary Richard the Lionheart offers hope -- but also conflict, as natives and crusaders clash and French and English quarrel.

Book Bubbles from Envoy of Jerusalem: Balian d'Ibelin and the Third Crusade

Hoping for a Better Future

At the turn of the year, we frequently look to the future and hope that things will be better "in the new year." Given the challenges that 2020 posed for most of us, that longing for a new start and a "better year" is particularly strong right now. This excerpt focuses on an even more intense yearning -- that of prisoners for release. The setting is the dungeon of Aleppo, where Frankish noblemen have been confined for months after being taken captive (POWs) at the Battle of Hattin.

Christmas Traditions -- in Exceptional Times

Christmas in many families is traditionally a time for gathering the family. My mother used to start baking Christmas cookies a month in advance. The tree went up and was decorated on St. Nicholas. Thereafter, everyone in the family started placing their beautifully wrapped presents under the tree so we could all snoop about and speculate on what they were. As a college student, coming home for Christmas -- to a house decorated and smelling of Christmas was the best time of the whole year. Yet this year many families will not be able to gather -- or not in large numbers. There will be fewer Christmas cookies and fewer presents in many homes. Hard times make for hard Christmases. In this excerpt, a few of the Christians to have escaped the ravages of Saladin's army gather in the besieged city of Tyre...

History is always my Inspiration

I write historical fiction -- not novels set in the past with a cast of entirely fictional characters but novels based on historical events and populated by a mix of historical and fictional characters. Almost every novel I have ever published was inspired by the accomplishments of real people. I have discovered these people through travel to locations where history was made and by reading about history. Few historical figures have inspired me more than Balian d'Ibelin, a twelfth century nobleman who intelligence and compassion equaled his courage. I've devoted a four-part biographical novel to his story. Here the opening scene of the climatic third volume that covers the Third Crusade.

"Hysterical" Women -- or Women in Politics

Women in politics are still judged by different standards than men. If men show understanding for their opponents they are "wise" and "diplomatic," women are "weak." If men speak with passion, they are "decisive," women are "strident" or "shrill." If a man loses his temper, he's "forceful" and "energetic," whereas a woman is "hysterical." Always and again, "hysterical." In this scene a female politician, 20-year-old Queen Isabella of Jerusalem has just lost her husband in an assassination and the leader of the French crusaders insists on offering his "protection."

Reader Love can Shape Novels

At the end of "Defender of Jerusalem," the Baron of Ibelin pays the ransom for a man and his crippled son. It was an important scene for what it said about Balian d'Ibelin. But having introduced the character, I couldn't just abandon him, so I wrote him into "Envoy of Jerusalem" too -- and had him encounter a different kind of refugee. It was a tad self-indulgent, really, as the character was born full-grown in my imagination and I hadn't planned her at all. I even considered cutting her -- until one of my test readers wrote to say she "loved" Mariam "best of all." I left her in and I'm glad I did. Meet Mariam...

Today we will have weather

Yes it's cold out there -- at least for a lot of us. Fortunately, the bulk of usalso have central heating, insulated buildings, and modern, wind-and-water proof outer garments when needed. But it wasn't always like that. Here's a short excerpt describing a real historical incident -- the violent rain and sleet that beset Richard the Lionheart's army on it's first attempt to reach Jerusalem.

The Inspiration of Music

Music has always had the power to influence our emotions. Music can comfort, calm, cheer and irritate. Indeed, the same music, depending on the instruments used and the pace at which it is played, can have a different emotional impact. This excerpt is set in a tavern in the City of Tyre on the day news reaches the Christian refugees there that Jerusalem has fallen to Saladin. Tyre thereby has just become the very last city still in Frankish control and surrounded by the forces of Saladin.

Heroes Great and Small - Part III

Heroes usually show some kind of courage, but courage can take very different forms -- as this excerpt illustrates.

Buy Guys, Villains and Antagonists

Not every antagonist is evil. While the opponents of a cartoon hero may be monsters, such simplistic characters generally detract from a serious novel -- much less historical fiction. The antagonists of historical novels are historical figures, and humans are not monsters but complex beings with both positive and negative characteristics. The historical opponent of the hero in my Jerusalem series was a man who has gone down in history as exceptionally chivalrous. He was certainly an intelligent, rational man, capable of great generosity. In my portrayal of him, therefore, it was important to show not only why he was the antagonist of my hero but also why he is so admired by many historians. Meet Salah ad-Din, the great Sultan Saladin.

Anachronistic Values

One of the most difficult things for a writer of historical fiction is to avoid imposing modern values on our characters living in the past. We often find it hard to accept, that intelligent, likeable people (i.e. our heroes and heroines!) held attitudes or beliefs that are today scorned as silly or condemned as evil. Yet the failure to give characters the beliefs and morals of the age in which they lived turns a work of historical fiction into farce. The point, as I try to do in this seen, is not to give characters modern attitudes but rather to help the reader understand the values of the past.

Writing about a Legend

One of the most difficult tasks for a historical novelist who writes about real historical figures is to make characters out of legends. Some historical figures are so well-known that readers will already have formed an opinion about them. But that opinion may not overlap with the author's interpretation of the character. This was my problem with Richard the Lionheart. Almost anyone interested in the crusades has already formed a picture of him in their minds -- but that picture is based on his role as an ENGLISH King and a crusader. My novel "Envoy of Jerusalem," however, is written from the perspective of the residents of the crusader kingdoms. That is significant. What I did was start with the familiar -- describing Richard as most will already picture him -- and then showing the difference.

Introducing the Leading Lady - III

The main female character in all three books of the Jerusalem Trilogy and "The Last Crusader Kingdom" is Maria Comnena, a historical figure. In the course of the four novels she goes from being a reigning queen still in her teens, to a grandmother in her late forties. My introduction to her in each book reflects her changing status and role. In this excerpt from the third book in the series, Maria is now 35, the mother of four young children -- and believes she has just become a widow with the fall of Jerusalem to Saladin.

Beauty is in the Eye of the Beholder

Describing a character's physical attributes is one of the trickiest tasks an author faces. Too little detail, and a reader cannot form any picture in their mind so the character remains an amorphous blob -- a serious disadvantage to winning sympathy! Too much detail on the other hand can just get in the way of the narrative. In the following excerpt, I tried to give all three characters sufficient contours for the reader to start picturing them, without ever actually describing them.

Starting at the End

The second book in my Jerusalem Trilogy ended with the surrender of Jerusalem to Saladin in 1187. The reader had been in Jerusalem with the defenders for the last 100 pages of the book, and been shown the aftermath of the surrender on the residents in the Holy City. For the third book in the series, I did not want to just start where I had left off. Instead, I decided to change the perspective and show the impact of the surrender of Jerusalem not on the people who had defended it -- and lost -- but on their families and friends watching events from the outside. Here's what that looked like:

Failed Envoy

Ibelin's first attempt to negotiate with Saladin on Richard the Lionheart's behalf failed miserably. In this scene, he reports his failure to the English King, who is still recovering from a fever than nearly killed him.


In August 1192, Richard the Lionheart -- facing rebellion at home -- sought peace with Saladin. He send Balian d'Ibelin, known as Ibn Barzan to the Saracens, to the Sultan with a peace proposal -- but Saladin has a counter-proposal.

The Sultan was Enraged -- Battle of Jaffa 3

This excerpt is based on an account of the Battle of Jaffa by the Arab historian and contemporary of Saladin, Baha al-Din Ibn Shaddad. His book, "The Rare and Excellent History of Saladin" is available from the series "Crusades Texts in Translation" in a translation by D.S. Richards.

Battle of Jaffa - Phase II

King Richard came to the relief of Jaffa with just a handful of knights. After driving off the Saracens with a surprise amphibious assault, he camped outside the city. But Saladin now rallied his forces and, after re-grouping during the night, made a surprise dawn attack on the exposed crusaders. Here's how it looked through the eyes of Aimery de Lusignan, Constable of Jerusalem....

The Battle of Jaffa - Phase I

August 1, 1192 While Richard the Lionheart and the rest of the Frankish forces prepared an offensive against the territory north of Acre, Saladin struck in Richard's rear. His army rapidly gained control of the city of Jaffa, and the garrison was trapped inside the citadel when Richard arrived by sea with just 57 knights and a thousand Genoese archers. Undetered, Richard ordered an assault on the beach held by thousands of enemy.

"That is what this feast is about...."

Christmas Eve 1187 In the city of Tyre, the last city still in Christian hands after the defeat of the Frankish army at Hattin, the survivors gather to celebrate Christmas. Eschiva d'Ibelin finds herself sitting with one of her uncle's knights, Sir Bartholomew. Sir Bartholomew's daughters and grandchildren fell into Saracen hands after the Christian defeat and are now slaves.

A Queen's Choice

Isabella of Jerusalem was just 20 years old - and pregnant - when her second husband, Conrad de Montferrat, was assassinated and died in her arms. But she had no chance to grieve. As the ruling Queen of Jerusalem she was required to marry again at once -- to the man the High Court of Jerusalem chose for her. In this episode, Henry Count of Champagne, the High Court's choice for Isabella's next husband, has just received the permission to accept the crown from his uncle, Richard the Lionheart.

A Young Queen Defends Herself

In 1192, after the assassination of her husband Conrad de Montferrat, 20-year-old Isabella of Jerusalem was pressured by the Bishop of Beauvais to submit to French "protection." It was a transparent attempt to seize control of her kingdom -- and checkmate the French king's hated rival: Richard the Lionheart. In this scene, Isabella has just returned from her husband's funeral when she is confronted by the Bishop of Beauvais.

The Fate of Princesses

She had been separated from her mother at 8 to live imprisoned in a border fortress. She had been married at 11 to the man her brother chose for her. She had been torn from her husband's tent against her will at the age of 18 and convinced to divorce her first husband in order to take a man more suitable to the High Court. At 20, pregnant with her first child, she learned that the King of England had finally ended his objections and recognized her and her second husband as the rightful Queen and King of Jerusalem. And then there was a knock on the door.....

A Fateful Decision

It is 1192. King Richard is in the Holy Land, but is younger brother has allied himself with his worst enemy, King Philip of France, and is threatening to steal his entire inheritance. Meanwhile, the barons of Jerusalem have just elected his opponent Conrad de Montferrat King of Jerusalem. And now the Master of the Knights Templar, Robert de Sable walks in and says....

King of England, King of Jerusalem?

The King of England has come to the Holy Land to liberate Jerusalem but it is proving more difficult than anticipated. As the winter closes, he looks for a negotiated settlement -- and turns to the leading local baron: Balian d'Ibelin -- a man his army has mocked as a traitor because he supports Conrad de Montferrat rather than Richard's own candidate for King, Guy de Lusignan.

A Boy sent to do a Man's Job

It was a common practice of the Suljuks to capture or purchase young boys and train them to be elite soldiers - Mamlukes. In this excerpt, one such captive has been sent to spy on his former lord. The impact is to make his grandfather doubt himself.

A Curious Proposal

During Richard the Lionheart's early negotiations with Saladin, Arab sources claim a proposal was made to marry Richard's sister Joanna, the dowager queen of Sicily, to Saladin's brother al-Adil. In this excerpt, Joanna discusses the proposal with Eschiva d'Ibelin, one of her ladies.

We Meet Again

In this excerpt, Balian d'Ibelin has gone to the Sultan Saladin with a peace proposal from one of the two claimants to the Throne of Jerusalem, Conrad de Montferrat. The situation is made awkward by the fact that the Saracen Sultan now occupies the palace that had once belonged to his brother. This incident is based on history. It was Ibelin's attempt to negotiate a peace treaty with Saladin for Montferrat that aroused the ire of English chroniclers and made them call him traitor.

Arsuf! Richard the Lionheart confronts Saladin

The Battle of Arsuf was the first confrontation between Richard the Lionheart and Saladin across a battlefield. It was a hard-fought battle with an ambivalent conclusion. Read an excerpt from awarding-winning "Envoy of Jerusalem" -- recipient of the Book Excellence Award for Biography and the Readers' Favorite Award for Christian Historical Fiction and more.

Pawn or Queen?

Although she reigned for 15 years, Queen Isabella I of Jerusalem is usually portrayed in history and literature as a pawn - a woman without a will of her own. I think that portrayal is flawed. The attached scene describes a real incident: the attempt of the French crusaders to take control of Tyre after the assassination of Conrad de Montferrat. It was foiled by Isabella's determination -- and the loyalty of Montferrat's men to her.

Your Husband or Your Crown

In 1190, Isabella of Jerusalem was dragged from the tent of the man she had viewed as her husband ever since her marriage to him seven years earlier at the age of 11. She taken in custody by the Church, and an ecclesiastic tribunal headed by the papal legate was convened to investigate the validity of that marriage. Behind this dramatic move, was the High Court of Jerusalem. With the death of her sister Sibylla, they recognized Isabella as their rightful queen, but vehemently refused to acknowledge her young husband Humphrey as their king. The High Court had a clear position: Isabella had to be separated from her husband Humphrey -- or she would not wear the crown of Jerusalem. In this excerpt Isabella is a secret witness to the church tribunals proceedings.

The Controversial "Lionheart"

Writing about famous historical figures is always a challenge for a novelist, but Richard the Lionheart poses particular problems. He was controversial even in his own lifetime and to this day tends to provoke strong reactions -- both positive and negative. Few of his actions is more widely condemned today than his execution of several thousand hostages after the surrender of Acre in 1191. Most commentators focus on the fate of the Saracen hostages, forgetting that when negotiations broke down the fate of thousands of Christian captives also hung in the balance. Read how I handle this incident in "Envoy of Jerusalem."

Brothers -- not Friends

Guy and Aimery de Lusignan were brothers. And both would be kings of Jerusalem, but under very different circumstances. Guy alienated the barons of Jerusalem and led them to an unnecessary defeat at the Battle of Hattin. Aimery was elected king by the same barons who had rejected his brother, and did much to restore the kingdom his brother had destroyed. In this excerpt, we see the interplay between the brothers in the critical phase after the loss of the kingdom but before the Third Crusade.

The Wiles of the Sultan

In this excerpt, Reginald of Sidon, who has been the Sultan Saladin's "guest" during negotiations over the surrender of his castle Belfort, reports back to Balian d'Ibelin his impressions and insights.

Friend or Foe?

In 1187 the Armies of Saladin overran the crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem with the exception of the City of Tyre. The city was besieged by land and sea until January 1188, when the Sultan's armies withdrew, but it remained an isolated and vulnerable outpost. Survival depended on relief and reinforcements from the West. When, in the summer of 1188, a large fleet of approaching ships was sighted, the citizens swarmed to walls -- fearing a new Saracen blockade and praying for help from the West.

A Father's Desperation

After the fall of the Kingdom of Jerusalem, tens of thousands of Christian women and children were enslaved. Most were widows and orphans, but some had fighting men, who had escaped the debacle at Hattin yet been unable to rescue their loved ones. This scene focuses on one such man, Sir Bartholomew.

The Fate of Refugees

As the defenseless Kingdom of Jerusalem fell city-by-city, the civilian inhabitants were largely allowed to withdraw with the moveable goods to the last remaining Christian bastion: Tyre. But what did women and children, who had lost their "bread-earner," do there? In this excerpt, Maria Comnena (disguised as a widow) interviews the young woman that her husband's squire wishes to marry. As the girl will join her household, she wants to know more about her character.

Fathers and Sons

Between to fall of the Kingdom of Jerusalem and the arrival of the Third Crusade, Tyre clung tenaciously to its precarious independence. This excerpt describes the every-day reality for those Christians striving to survive in a transformed world -- and a medieval father-son relationship.

A Trick that Saved Tyre

At the end of 1187, the armies of Saladin completely enclosed the last city in the Holy Land still in Christian hands, Tyre. The city, flooded with refugees, was cut off by land and sea. The defenders were far too few to take on Saladin's vast army, but it was clear the city would be starved into submission unless the naval blockade could be broken. That was when the Marquis of Montferrat devised a clever trick. This excerpt describes this true historical event through the eyes of my character Ernoul.

The Usual Odds -- 10 to 1

In December 1187, Tyre was the last city in the Holy Land still in Christian hands -- and it was besieged by land and sea by the Saracens. Supplies were running low, and the Frankish forces inside Tyre had to find a way to break the blockade.... In this scene, the Baron of Ibelin seeks out unusual allies in a tavern by the port.

Turning a Genealogical Link into a Person

Eschiva d'Ibelin, the wife of Aimery de Lusignan, was the co-founder of the dynasty that reigned Cyprus for 300 years, but historians treat her as nothing more than a link in a genealogy table -- a critical link between two families that allegedly hated one another. But Eschiva was a flesh and blood woman, a woman with feelings, loyalties, dreams and doubts. I have tried to give her a voice in my novels. Here is a scene after the fall of Jerusalem, when her father is in self-imposed exile, her husband in Saracen captivity, and her uncle Balian her only hope.

Crusaders from the Land of the Vikings

The fall of Jerusalem to Saladin in 1187 shocked Christendom -- and ignited a new crusade. While the main body of troops came out under the Kings of England (Richard I) and France (Philip II), many crusaders came out on their own. In this episode, Balian d'Ibelin and his eight-year-old son encounter some of the early, independent crusaders: Norsemen.

A Father's Value

After crushing the Christian army at the Battle of Hattin, Saladin's army went on to capture the rest of the Kingdom of Jerusalem until only a few fortresses and a single city - Tyre - held out. The defense of Tyre was commanded by Conrad de Montferrat, but the Sultan had taken his father, William de Montferrat captive at Hattin. The Sultan thought he had the means to force Tyre's surrender.....


When Balian d'Ibelin agreed to remain in Jerusalem to take command of the defense of Jerusalem against Saladin in 1187, he did not expect to survive. His wife and young children were sent to safety in Tyre, the only other city in Christian control. In this scene, after negotiating a surrender of the Holy City that allowed the bulk of the Christians to buy their freedom, Balian is himself reunited with his small children.

Refugees Not Welcome

Refugees, the victims of war, are often not welcome. We see that today. It happened too after the fall of Jerusalem in 1187. In this excerpt, the Baron of Ibelin reaches the last remaining city of the kingdom still in Christian hands after leading a refugee column for eleven days. He finds the gates of the city where they had hoped to find refuge closed.

Good Cop -- Medieval Style

The psychological manipulation of prisoners is not a modern invention. Medieval man might not have used the same clinical terms, but they understood how to exploit the vulnerabilities of those in their power. In this excerpt, the young Frankish nobleman, Humphrey de Toron, has been in a dungeon for months following the defeat at Hattin. Unexpectedly, he is removed from prison and taken to meet a Saracen lord.

An Inconveniet Child

In this excerpt, the Queen of Jerusalem reveals to her husband that she is with child. While normally this would be a source of joy, both are currently in Saracen captivity: King Guy a prisoner of war since the Battle of Hattin, and Queen Sibylla ever since she voluntarily put herself in Saracen hands in order to be reunited with her husband.

Through the Eyes of the Enemy

In this excerpt we get inside Saladin's tent and hear his views of the novel's protagonist, Balian d'Ibelin (Ibn Barzan), and also his assessment of the overall situation following the surrender of Jerusalem.

Those left behind

Jerusalem has fallen to Saladin, but in the city of Tyre wait many of the families of Jerusalem's defenders, including the wife -- or is it widow? -- of Balian d'Ibelin. In this scene Maria Comnena, daughter of the Byzantine Imperial family, once Queen of Jerusalem returns to her temporary home late at night. She has been at church after receiving the news that Jerusalem, where her husband commanded the defense, has fallen.

Jerusalem is lost!

This is the opening scene of "Envoy of Jerusalem." It's October 3, 1187 in the coastal city of Tyre -- the last remaining stronghold of the Kingdom of Jerusalem.

Balian d’Ibelin: Knight of Jerusalem by Helena P. Schrader

Literature & Fiction

A landless knight, a Byzantine princess and a leper king— The story of Balian d’Ibelin in the years before his fame. Balian d’Ibelin saved thousands of women and children from slavery and brokered peace between Richard I and Saladin. Arab chronicles described him as “like a king,” and his descendants dominated the history of the Holy Land for the next century. Yet he inherited neither land nor titles and we know nothing of his youth. What made him the man he would become? In this comprehensive revision of the first book in the Jerusalem Trilogy, Schrader evokes the underlying currents and powerful personalities that shaped the history of the Kingdom of Jerusalem. She weaves history with hypotheses to create a credible, if fictional, backstory for a hero: Balian d’Ibelin.

Book Bubbles from Balian d’Ibelin: Knight of Jerusalem by Helena P. Schrader

Restoring Hope to the Devastated

My goal as a novelist has always been to inspire people to go on living. Yet, writing historical fiction entails writing about many ugly things because the record of mankind is filled with much barbarity, misery, and despair. Serious historical fiction does not disguise, distort or hide these aspects of history. Rather, it uses the darkness skillfully and selectively to highlight positive features of human nature itself. Tragically, rape has been a fact of life in all ages and societies. In this excerpt, a child victim of rape has tried to kill herself and a girl her own age and an older woman combine forces to give her back the desire to live.


It is still commonplace to people to allege that women in the Middle Ages were "chattels" -- an utter idiocy without any basis in fact. Medieval women were actually very powerful -- none more so that dowagers, who retained control over large, inalienable properties, controlled troops and castles and could not be forced to re-marry. Here is a dowager queen exercising her influence at a crucial moment in history -- and all based on a true incident recorded in primary sources. Maria Comnena, Dowager Queen of Jerusalem, 1177.

Strange Bedfellows

Politics can make strange bedfellows. We see that every day. Not only does the President of the United States cuddle up with socialist dictators, Evangelicals "Christians" embrace corrupt liars and philanderers, preferring greed over compassion and charity. Well, things weren't so different in the Middle Ages -- they certainly weren't any WORSE. In this scene the pious, restrained and rational William Archbishop of Tyre finds himself on the same side as the notoriously impious, violent and passionate Reynald de Chatillon.

Unsavory Characters

Loathsome characters that any decent person finds repulsive and an insult to mankind are not new to politics. While the last four years have been an ordeal for anyone with a shred of moral integrity, the reality is that corrupt, egotistical madmen litter the pages of history. Reynald de Chatillon was one such man. Here we see him as he emerges from fifteen years in a Saracen prison.

Nepotism or Merit?

With a flick of his pen the current occupant of the White House destroyed the principle of "advancement by merit" in our civil service. In its place, he maliciously erected "patronage" -- a euphemism for corruption. The system of rewarding friends and relatives -- because of their alleged greater "loyalty" -- is ancient. Here's an example of how it works. The queen mother advises her 15 year old son on who to appoint to positions of power and influence.

Inspiration comes from Life

As a writer I am often asked where I get the inspiration for my works. The answer is: life itself. Being a writer of history and historical fiction, all my books are based directly on the human experience. I don't have to invent plots or characters -- simply take the bare bones fossilized in the historical record and bring those real people "back to life." What that means is that I extrapolate -- and if necessary invent -- the thoughts, emotions, motives and psychology of my characters. I do the latter based on my personal experience with humans living today. I hope many readers will be able to relate to this excerpt describing the awkwardness of the early stages of a relationship -- when status, jobs and misunderstandings often get in the way of one's dreams.

Strange Spies

We tend to think of espionage as a "modern" phenomenon -- Enigma, MI5, the CIA, the KGB. Yet gathering information about one's enemies is as old as war itself. In the Kingdom of Jerusalem, surrounded by hostile neighbors and always outnumbered on the battlefield, intelligence was particularly important. Yet, spying is by nature clandestine and rarely finds its way into the history books unless something goes spectacularly wrong -- for one side or the other. In this scene, the young king Baldwin IV discovers he has an intelligence network he didn't even know about.

Weak Women

It is often presumed by modern novelists that women in the Middle Ages were weak and powerless. Indeed, it is still common to refer to them as "chattels" --- an absurd notion that I have debunked repeatedly in various publications. In fact the opposite was true. Women could be rulers, lords, abbesses and guild masters. They could inherit and own land and businesses. Women of the feudal class were very powerful, and widows particularly so. Sometimes they exercised power directly as feudal lords commanding men, defending castles and the like. Sometimes their influence was more subtle, often as intermediaries and advisors. In this excerpt, the dowager queen of Jerusalem visits her step-son, King Baldwin IV, after a year away from court.

Doors close, doors open

Change can come gradually or abruptly. Sometimes we hardly notice that we have drifted off course. At other times, change is forced upon us by a cataclysmic event. When the foundations on which we have built our future, suddenly collapse, he have no choice but to rebuild elsewhere. When the road we have been traveling is abruptly cut off by a landslide, we must seek a different route. These apparent catastrophes sometimes offer opportunities that we are thankful for in retrospect.... In this excerpt, a 19-year-old suddenly finds herself a widow. With her husband's death, she has also lost her status. She is no longer the reigning queen. Yet other doors are about to open...


When I was a teenager "popularity" was hugely important. I wasn't at all popular, so I tried to tell myself it wasn't all that important to be "popular" at school. Yet friends mattered. We often use the number of friends we have as an indicator of our likability. Nowadays there is even a tendency to confuse Facebook "likes" with friendship --but that is a totally different topic. The point here is that while young people in the Middle Ages might not watch their daily count of "likes" on Facebook, they still wanted to be liked. Some had it harder than others. Take the example of this teenage queen....

The Right Amount of Rebelliousness

I was one of those horribly boring kids, who obeyed the rules. I didn't cut class. I didn't talk out of turn. I raised my hand, and I did my homework. Dull, dull, dull. It was the kids who smoked, and talked-back who were cool. Of course, if you were too cool, you might get into real trouble and then drop out and.... well, probably wouldn't end up with a great job and a good income. Adolescence is a age of rebelliousness and we don't want to squash it entirely -- just keep things under control a bit. That was particularly true when the teenager was a king...

Dangerous Liaisons

Who you know or are seen with can be dangerous even in our own time. It is not advantageous to a respectable career, for example, to associate with dubious characters or anyone suspected of crimes or drugs. In some circles or communities, the wrong religion or political affiliation will lead to social isolation, if not worse. Race remains a barrier to equal opportunity. In the Middle Ages, when government was personal, personal ties and relationships were everything. In this excerpt, I look at the subtle -- and not so subtle -- ways relationships affected access to power, and life itself. The excerpt is a dialogue between the powerful Baron of Ibelin (Barry) and his landless younger brother Balian

Finding the Meaning of Life

Some of us think we know why we are here on earth. I know of people who were called to medicine or religion certainly and relentlessly. For me, I realized I had to write since grade school. I don't mean I "wanted to be writer," I mean if felt compelled to write. I do not write for the sake of writing, but because a force beyond me insists that I tell certain stories. I don't know why. I often don't even understand the internally salient points of my writing until it is finished. When I write I am a messenger more than a creator. I am receiving a message from one world and transmitting it to his world via the written word. But not everyone is so lucky as to know what their life is about. Many people don't feel they know -- until some traumatic experience shatters their world and makes them re-examine themselves. In this excerpt, a year in Saracen captivity has taken a toll on the young Aimery de Lusignan, but he is about to discover more about himself.

The worst form of government...

Elections can be very tiresome -- particularly when they seem to be eternal as in the U.S. And even with out elections there is the constant party rivalry and intrigue, the plotting and planning for regime change. There are times when it is easy to think things would be simpler with an old-fashioned hereditary monarchy. At least they had the advantage of being stable, right? After all, kings (or queens) could live for 30, 40 even 50 years, and the succession was theoretically established by primogeniture. Of course, things are rarely as simple as they seem. Kings could die quite suddenly and sometimes the succession was not as clear as it seemed.

Social Distancing -- in the 12th century

With no cure for COVID19 yet available, we can only protect ourselves by what we call "social distancing." The process is not so different from what the victims of the once incurable disease of leprosy suffered in centuries past. In the Middle Ages, a person with leprosy was "socially distanced" from family and friends. Even -- or especially -- a king's son found himself cut off from human contact, hidden, and almost completely isolated. Baldwin IV of Jerusalem endured that "social distancing" from the age of 8. In this scene, however, he finds someone willing to risk contact with him....

Seeing behind the facade...

Kathy pointed out that with so many people working from home and using video conferencing, we are being given glimpses into each other's homes. The line between private and professional spheres is blurring. While this seems like something new, in earlier ages people often lived immediately above or behind their place of work. Families -- including young children -- worked together. In the Middle Ages -- before such concepts as the "Divine Right of Kings" and the pomposity of the baroque age -- royalty too was more accessible and integrated with their own household. That had its advantages and disadvantages. In this excerpt an look inside a royal household in 12th century Jerusalem.

Overcoming the Doubts of Others

With four thousand new books appearing on amazon each day, it takes courage and inner conviction not to become discouraged about publication. Every author hears words of "advice" from countless well-meaning friends and colleagues warning that it is impossible to get noticed "out there." Oh, no one means to disparage your work, much less you as a writer, but we're told to "be realistic." What chance does any one of us have to be found, reviewed, and read? Yet if you have story to tell -- a story you care about -- you persist. Not only is Balian's story one of those I am determined to share, he too started life with nothing -- but the doubts and disparagement of his older brother.

Not the Hollywood Balian

The name Balian d’Ibelin may be familiar to readers from the Ridley Scott film "The Kingdom of Heaven." Although a brilliant piece of cinematography, the film was full of historical inaccuracies, including almost every about the character Balian played by Orlando Bloom. The historical Balian was much more interesting than the Hollywood version. Yet while the historical record provides many facts about the mature Balian, it tells us very little about his youth. This novel, the first in a series of four, sets the stage for what will come in the later volumes. It imagines what made Balian the kind of man he would become in those critical years 1177 – 1192. It takes the known facts and weaves a plausible story around them.

The Emperor Strikes Back: Frederick II’s War Against His Vassals By Helena P. Schrader

Literature & Fiction

BEST HISTORICAL FICTION 2020 -- FEATHERED QUILL BOOK AWARDS Emperor Frederick II has restored Christian control of Jerusalem, but the Sultan brags he will “purify” Jerusalem and drive the Christians out as soon as the ten-year truce expires. The common people of the Holy Land show their contempt for the Emperor and his treaty by pelting him with offal, while the barons resist Frederick’s absolutism and demand rule of law. Filled with resentment and bitterness toward his impertinent subjects, the Emperor vows to destroy the family that embodies the independent spirit of Outremer: the Ibelins. While the Emperor’s deputies will stop at nothing to fulfill their orders, the Ibelins must gain allies at almost any cost. Yet with the Pope now on the side of the Emperor, Balian’s marriage becomes a spiritual weapon turned against his father.

Book Bubbles from The Emperor Strikes Back: Frederick II’s War Against His Vassals By Helena P. Schrader

Crusader Art -- An Oxymoron?

It will probably come as a surprise to many that the "crusaders" produced some of the most exquisite art of the Middle Ages. Sculpture, mosaics, frescos, miniatures, icons and more -- all distinctive and revealing cultural influences from France, Italy, Byzantium, Armenia, Syria and Egypt and more. Even more surprising, although illuminators were anonymous, we know that women worked in scriptoriums and ateliers. A female artist in the crusader states? I give you Eschiva de Montbelliard! In his scene she is showing her work to the Patriarch of Jerusalem in her atelier -- and showing the power of art to capture our emotions.

What's in a name -- or a title?

Words can be descriptors, or labels or titles. They can tell us about the material and immaterial facets of the object described. Words together can tell us entire stories -- and sometime one single word is enough to convey a world of meaning. In this excerpt the Lord of Beirut arrived in the town of Casal Imbert after his army, led by three of his sons, has suffered a humiliating defeat.

Any Way Out in "Lock Down"

For some of us, quarantine during the Covid19 Pandemic has been a lot like being under siege. We couldn't go anywhere, the enemy was "out there" threatening to break in to our safe world, and the risk of supplies running out was always in the back of our mind. The opportunity to get away from our home -- even at the risk of encountering the enemy -- was usually welcomed with open arms -- at least by some of us. In this excerpt, the citadel of Beirut has been under siege for months, and the need to know what is going on outside outweighs the risk -- at least for some.

What's in a Picture

Modern writing often neglects description. Perhaps it is because of the speed of communications and the sense of hurry? We have become used to 'tweets' and 'sound bites' -- no time for anything but the essentials. So, many modern novels don't take the time or space to set the scene -- unlike works of the 19th century, where descriptions could last for pages. For me, the key is finding a balance between evoking an image and keeping the story moving. Critical to the effective use of description is the relevance of the data provided. Yes, it is about an image and helping the reader see where your characters are, but it is also about setting a mood and the interplay between environment and character. This excerpt is, I believe, self-explanatory.

Narratives are partisan

The same set of facts told from different perspectives can look completely different. As everyone knows, one man's "terrorist" is another's "freedom fighter." Perspectives -- and so narratives -- are shaped by subjective factors: our values, our expectations, our ability to identify with protagonists, but also our own goals and desires. Sometimes we see what we want to see rather than what is objectively there. In this scene, two brothers fight over the correct response to an event -- until the motives of the one are revealed by the other.

Small Gestures

In times like these it is easy to get wrapped up in our own worries. It is easy to forget to tell people what they mean to us. Yet it is precisely in times like these that we should make the extra effort. Small gestures can mean a lot. In this scene a squire takes leave of his knight on the eve of battle.

Creative Thinking takes many forms....

Sometimes we compartmentalize "creativity." We think of it as "art" and forget that we need it in our daily lives as well -- whether it is to make a special meal or surprise our partner with an unexpected sign of affection. Yet arguably, there is no human endeavor in which creativity is more essential than in the "art" of war -- especially when one is out-numbered and the terrain favors the enemy. Then it is only the creative genius of a commander that can turn a seemingly inevitable defeat into a victory. In this expert, a young man whose father and king are about to engage in a desperate battle, is looking for a creative way to change the shape of the confrontation to come.

Learning from our mistakes

We all too often worry about things we can't change. What we can do, however, is make sure we don't repeat our mistakes. If I'm worried about not doing well on an exam, I study harder. If I'm worried about getting sick, I take care of myself. In other words, avoiding unnecessarily trouble comes from anticipating it and learning from past mistakes. That's what this scene is all about.

Confronting our Helplessness

There is a child within me that has a temper tantrum when suddenly forces beyond my control interfere in my life. This was to be my first London Book Fair and I had a full-page catalogue entry -- all for nothing now! A complete wash out! Scream! A good reminder that no matter how much we think we are in control of our lives, much remains beyond our control. In this excerpt, a young king is also confronted with developments beyond his control and he has to face his helplessness.

Difficult Choices

I have a nephew who has been working on the same novel for the last 16 years. I'm sure that when he finally releases it the entire literary world will stand still with awe -- or not. Chances are, he will never publish because there is always just one more improvement that will make it "perfect." On the other hand, I rushed "Knight of Jerusalem" to press for reasons that seemed good at the time. Now I have a book on the market that is weak and flawed -- so much so that I'm working on a complete rewrite. Every writer struggles with the inherent tension between the search for perfection and the need to let go. We can't have our cake and eat it too. We have to make choices. In this excerpt a young man faces a very different kind of choice -- but one that is just as difficult, if not more so.

Self-Pity will get you no where.

We all have a tendency to feel sorry for ourselves when we aren't feeling well. In my experience, men are the worst -- a little sniffle and a cough and suddenly they act as if they are on the brink of death and can't lift a finger in household or office. No doubt they see it differently. Seeing a common cold as a dire illness, however, is a self-indulgence that many people, past and present, could not afford. So much worse could happen to them as this excerpt -- based on historical events -- makes clear.

It's the secondary characters ...

My main characters are real historical figures whose character is recorded to a greater or lesser degree by their actions, words and commentary of contemporaries. All I can do is bring these character to life by giving them greater contours, more depth, interpolating between events and generally trying to get inside their minds to understand and explain why they did may have done what they did. It is the secondary characters, the supporting cast, which are based on people I have known and met personally. Eskinder is very much a product of my encounters with stern fathers in Ethiopia.

Being True to Yourself

Asked about "what it takes" to be a successful author in today's market, I can only answer: A lot! It takes persistence, obviously, and commitment, a willingness to invest time not only in writing but in marketing and social media. It takes courage -- being willing to publish rather than waiting to "be discovered." It takes hard work, long hours, a thick skin, a sense of humor....Perhaps the most important thing, however, is being able to distinguish between constructive criticism (that enables you to write better) and destructive advice (that leads to chasing the latest fad.) In this excerpt my female protagonist is asked to make a choice...

Missing what is gone

It is a tragic feature of human nature that we often do not fully appreciate something -- or someone -- until they are gone. A major component in the grief many feel at the death of a loved one is regret -- regret for not knowing them better, not spending more time with them, for not valuing them as, in retrospect, we realize we should have done. In the excerpt, the Lord of Beirut has received news that his army has been ambushed at night, while he was in Acre negotiating a peace settlement. Three of his sons were with the army and their fate is unknown. He sets out to find out what happened.

A Maturing Experience

Sometimes we have to grow up very fast. Kathy Meis mentioned going abroad at an early age, and for many of us that experience of being taken from our familiar surroundings and put in a new environment is singularly maturing. At fifteen, my parents moved to Portsmouth, England, but the closest international school was in London. I went to live in a boarding house, and was only home with my family on weekends. In the Middle Ages, youth was expected to grow up faster. At fifteen, many girls were already married while in many kingdoms (Holy Roman Empire, Jerusalem) youths came of age at 14 or 15. In this excerpt, Guy d'Ibelin, aged 15 just like I was in London, has a -- rapid -- maturing experience.

Sisterly Love

Relations between siblings are unique and complex. Depending on age differences, the number and kind of shared experiences, and a variety of other factors we can have exceptionally close and enduring relationships -- or be virtual strangers. The most dangerous and deceptive aspect of sibling relationships is that because of shared childhood memories, we often fail to recognize changes -- or simply assume that we know our sibling better than we actually do. Yet at their best, siblings can be the truest friends we have, precisely because they learned to love us regardless of who we have become since. In this excerpt, a brother and sister are reunited after being separated by a siege -- and other events that have changed them both.

False Friends

We are most easily deceived by our own hopes. What I mean, is that if someone offers us something we want, we are rarely as skeptical or as cautious as we should be. That's why promises of tricks to "get rich quick" always find suckers no matter how patently ridiculous. It's why an entire industry has grown up around authors desperate to sell their books.... In this scene, the Lord of Beirut is tempted by what he wants most: peace.

Picturing the Future

Sorry, I don't like picturing the future precisely. I've learned that there are far too many factors that impact our lives to enable us to envisage out situation a year from now. Maybe other people have more predictable lives. I don't. Likewise, my characters -- all historical figures -- demonstrate how futile it is to plan too far in advance. The actions of distant emperors and popes and the fortunes of war drove their fates in wild and unpredictable zig-zags. For example, in this scene the heir to the wealthy barony of Beirut is confronted with the unexpected: his year-old marriage has been decreed invalid by the pope and he finds himself abruptly excommunicated. Something the wealthy son of privilege would certainly not have expected a year earlier....

Be careful what you wish for...

At this time of year, we are wont to reflect on what we have achieved or failed to achieve in the previous 12 months. We often make "New Year's Resolutions" about what we want to accomplish -- or at least do better -- in the year ahead. As we go through this healthy exercise, however, it is wise to remember that we need to be careful what we wish for -- just in case our wishes come true! In this excerpt, Bella d'Ibelin has been besieged in Beirut for four months by Sicilian mercenaries loyal to the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II. She is holding out with an inadequate garrison in hope of relief from her father, the Lord of Beirut. Suddenly, Bella's prayers for rescue appear to have been answered....

Tradition doesn't always fit

The traditions of my childhood were imported from Denmark. We celebrated Christmas Eve rather than Christmas Day. We had a beautiful, formal dinner at my grandmother's. The women wore formals, the men tuxedos, and the only lighting was from candles. There was no radio or TV: we sang the carols ourselves. But as an adult, moving around the world as a diplomat who knew the carols of my childhood? And how relevant was a candlelight dinner in the tropics with fireworks going on outside and African music in the streets? In the excerpt, two men in a castle under siege debate the value of a tradition.

The Stress of Christmas...

... is a luxury. It is for the comparatively rich and secure who have "holidays" and money for presents and big meals and decorations. For many people around the world there are other priorities -- like putting food on the table or staying safe. Historically, many Christmas' were marred by famine, flood, killing cold, or war. In this excerpt, the Ibelin landing in Syria at or around Christmas 1231 is described.

Looking back

This past year, my first in retirement, has been one of change and astonishing promise. In the last four months I have landed two important book deals with commercial publishers. The first was with a Greek publisher for the translation and release of my biography of Leonidas of Sparta on the 2,500th anniversary of the Battle of Thermopylae. The second was with Pen & Sword for not one but two books about the crusader states. But not all years are so good and sometimes we look back with regret or mixed feelings -- as the hero of "The Emperor Strikes Back" does in this excerpt.

Friends in Deed

It is in our darkest hour, when we feel lost and helpless, that true friendship shines like a light. How often, when all seemed lost, has a friend reached out a hand and helped? Maybe just with advice or a shoulder to cry on, but by showing concern, understanding and solidarity making it possible to get up and keep going. In this scene, the Lord of Beirut had just learned that his only daughter is trapped in his castle of Beirut, while the castle is under siege from the Imperial Marshal Riccardo Filangieri.

It is a very poor mind indeed...

... that can't think of at least three ways to spell every English word. -- Benjamin Franklin. I do not suffer from a "poor mind" by that definition! Spelling has never been my strong point, which is why I spend a fortune to have two editors look over all my manuscripts before submitting them. And there are words like "disseize" -- or was that "dissieze"? The illegal confiscation of a medieval fief, which forms the very core of the conflict between Emperor Frederick II and the Lord of Beirut in my current series of novels. Oh, well, I try to avoid the word when I can find alternative ways of speaking about the issue....

A non-negotiable goal

Goals can be short-term or long-term. We can attempt to cover a certain distance on a jog or read a certain number of pages, or visit someone particular on a given day. Or we can plan to get a PhD, or to become a doctor, or walk on the moon. Sometimes in the pursuit of these long-term goals we make mistakes.... The hero of "The Emperor Strikes Back" has several long term goals, and one of them is securing papal approval for his marriage which is technically within the prohibited degrees of kinship. Here he speaks with the Papal Legate and Patriarch of Jerusalem, who had issued him a dispensation that has since been challenged.

Light at the end of the storm

The light of dawn is usually something we can count on. We know exactly the time each day the sun will rise at any location on earth. Yet there are circumstances when that light is not so certain after all. One of those is when a sailing ship is damaged in storm at sea. Such a situation often tests our strength, patience and faith as in this excerpt, while rescue is like the breaking of a new day.

Taking Chances

Courage has many faces and going beyond one's comfort zone takes many forms. As a historical novelist whose works are based on historical events, I'm always hesitant to "go too far" with interpretation and invention. When the city of Beirut fell to the forces of Emperor Frederick in 1231, Beirut and all his sons were in Cyprus. Only a skeletal garrison remained in the citadel -- and this alone held out against the vastly superior forces of the Emperor. But where was Beirut's daughter? The historical chronicles are silent on the subject. I decided to give Bella a role....

Taking a stand

There are times in our lives when we have to take a stand -- for or against something -- whether it is in our "best interests" or not. If something -- a principle, an institution or a person -- is important enough to us, we have to stand up for them -- or regret it the rest of our lives. When the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II sent a large army to intimidate and force the submission of his vassal the Lord of Beirut, the baron chose rebellion instead. His three eldest sons, all youths barely out of their teens, stood by him. It may not have been a difficult choice, but it took courage nevertheless.

The Sailor's Return

Three years after the wreck of his ship, a sailor returns home. He knows that he was presumed dead, and he travels now under an assumed name with a fake identity. But he has returned to Acre because it was where he left his bride -- who believes herself to be his widow.

Being prepared

Being prepared isn't always a matter of being prepared for the weather, lost baggage or a missed flight. It can also mean being prepared for the consequences of your actions. Humans being what they are, we are often blinded by our ambition, our dreams, our hopes -- and a too optimistic assessment of our own capabilities and influence. In this scene, a man's younger brother tries to warn him that what he is about to do could have negative long-term consequences, but he is far too sure of his own cleverness to listen.

Celebrating too soon

We like to celebrate our victories -- both large and small. I'm no exception. A new award? Bring out the champagne! A new release? Let's go out to dinner! Indeed, I've learned to celebrate precisely because life sends us setbacks and defeats as well as victories. So we must celebrate the positive gifts before the bad times hit us again. Yet I have also learned not to celebrate too soon. Sometimes victories that seem just around the corner don't materialize at all. In this scene, the young Balian d'Ibelin has celebrated and consummated his marriage -- only to run into a little snag...

The Rule of Law

A major theme of "The Emperor Strikes Back," as in the first book in this series "Rebels against Tyranny," is the right of subjects to defend themselves against arbitrary government. Throughout the series, the Lord of Beirut is pitted against an autocrat that attempts to take his titles and his lands from him without bringing charges of wrong-doing much less giving him the right to defend himself against the charges. In this excerpt, the Lord of Beirut puts his case to the highest court in the kingdom, the High Court composed of the entire knightly class, and defends his rights. Unfortunately, the Holy Roman Emperor doesn't care about the judgement of the court and continues his attacks -- the actions that form the rest of the novel.

What I want to be when I grow up...

Do you remember your childhood dreams of "growing up"? When you were ten or eleven did you know what you wanted to "be" when you grew up? Were you true to your dreams? I had a cousin who always knew he wanted to be an architect -- and is. For as long as I can remember I wanted to write novels. Yet most of my siblings and cousins took different paths from the ones imagined at 10 or even 20. And even those of us who remained true to our childhood dreams often had moments of doubt like Bella in this excerpt.

What if....

...you are about to be married to the man of your dreams, but you are still deathly afraid? Eschiva is an heiress, a widow and desperately in love with the man she has promised to marry now. Yet there is something that terrifies her....

Nature - Or the Judgement of God

Modern man has learned to measure the force of nature. We have different categories of hurricanes and measure earthquakes on the "Richter Scale." Furthermore, while we still cannot tame them, we can explain and sometimes even predict natural catastrophes -- like the course of a hurricane. In contrast, for our ancestors in the 13th century, nature was far more intimately and directly related to the Will of God.


Anthropologists tell us that the concept of family is one of the most universal features of human society. Indeed, we share the concept with other primates and animals. For humans, the definition of family unit may vary greatly from small units consisting of man, wife and children, to larger "clans" including more than three generations and cousins of all kinds. Likewise, authority within a family may vary greatly, but the sense of belonging is fundamental to all. In this excerpt an abandoned child finds a home.

A Time for Every Purpose under Heaven

I think all of us know that life is like the seasons. Just as there is a time for strawberries and a time for cider, a time for the fire and a time for the beach, there are times to be sociable and times to be alone, times to learn and time to teach. Knowing the right time to get married is one of the most important moments in life. In this excerpt, the young heir to the lordship of Beirut needs to convince his father that this is the right time too.

Of bullies and self-defense

The German military-philosopher Carl von Clausewitz pointed out that wars are not the result of aggression -- but rather the RESISTANCE to aggression. Any bully is happy NOT to fight -- as long as he gets his way. It is only when we stand up to bullies, that we have conflict. The problem is, even if only defending one's self, conflict has consequences that aren't pretty. In this excerpt the daughter and eldest son of the Lord of Beirut clash over how to respond to injustice.

The Luxury of Going Back to School

Going to school may be the common experience of American kids today, but it wasn't always that way. Through much of history there were no public schools and education was a privilege of the rich. In the same way, through much of history, unwanted children were simply driven out of their homes, or dumped on the side of a road. In this opening scene from "The Emperor Strikes Back" a priest draws the attention of one such child to a wealthy benefactress, hoping she will take an interest in the child as an act of charity.

Book Launch!

Launching a new book is always a risky business. No matter how hard you try to get everything "right" and no matter how much you believe in your own book -- once a book is launched it is the readers and reviewers that decide its fate. "The Emperor Strikes Back" was released this past week. The prologue sets the stage. Here the Master of the Teutonic Knights, Herman von Salza, confronts the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II -- and the later reveals his plans.

Rebels Against Tyranny: Civil War in the Crusader States

Literature & Fiction

SILVER (2ND Place) for HISTORICAL FICTION, FEATHERED QUILL BOOK AWARDS 2019. FIRST IN CATEGORY (FINALIST) CHAUCER AWARD FOR HISTORICAL FICTION 2018. BRAG MEDALION HONOREE. Emperor Frederick II, called "enlightened" by historians yet decried as a despot by contemporaries, unleashes a civil war that tears the Holy Land apart. The heir to an intimidating legacy, a woman artist, and a boy king are caught up in the game of emperors and popes. Set against the backdrop of the Sixth Crusade, Rebels against Tyranny takes you from the harems of Sicily to the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem, from the palaces of privilege to the dungeons of despair. This is a timeless tale of youthful audacity taking on tyranny―but sometimes courage is not enough....

Book Bubbles from Rebels Against Tyranny: Civil War in the Crusader States

The More Things Change....

...the more things stay the same. Most kinds of human behavior -- from jealousy and greed to intrigue and altruism -- have been around as long as humans Donald Trump wasn't the first pathologically dishonest, corrupt, and delusional leader in the history of the world. Nor was he the first to think he was "the greatest" in everything he did. In the 13th Century, Frederick II Hohenstaufen was so convinced of his amazing greatness that he called himself "The Wonder of the World." As now, so too in the 13th century, the loyal followers of "der Fuehrer" believed his self-serving “facts” (read: lies). In this scene one of the Emperors' staunch supporters, the Marshal of the Teutonic Knights, runs in to resistance from men not blinded by "der Fuehrer's" concocted MAGA-style arguments and still committed to the rule-of-law.

Subjective Worlds

Good novels focus more on the subjective than the objective world of their characters, telling not only what happens but also exploring the feelings, fears, hopes, and ambitions of the character. Furthermore, a good novelist doesn't merely tell the reader what a character is feeling, they evoke in the reader the same mood. There are various methods for this, but I find a selective description of the environment surrounding the character is one useful tool. In this excerpt the task was complicated by the fact that the main character's mood contrasts with that of those around him. I had to depict the main character's melancholy amidst a feast enjoyed by his companions.

Learning from Fellow Writers

This past week the world lost one of the best contemporary writers of historical fiction: Sharon Kay Penman. One of the things I liked best about Penman's books was her attention to character development starting in childhood. Too many books present characters as if they were all Venus -- formed whole and perfect from the foam of the sea. But people are often fundamentally formed by childhood circumstances and events. Penman showed us this brilliantly with her Richard III and Edward IV. Here, I show the childhood of another king: Henry I of Cyprus. Henry would later be one of Emperor Frederick II's most tenacious enemies. The seeds of his hostility, I believe, go back to when the Emperor held the thirteen-year-old Henry a virtual prisoner during the Emperor's sojourn in the East.

A Humbling Experience

The past year was a humbling experience for me. I thought I was on the brink of a great "break through." For the first time in my life, my titles were to be represented at the London and Frankfurt book fairs. Even more exciting, the release of my biography of Leonidas in Greek was to coincide with a host of official events marking the 2,500th anniversary of Thermopylae. I was scheduled to participate in panel discussions and give talks in various locations. It was not to be. COVID19 closed both book fairs and all the public events marking the anniversary of Thermopylae. I have been humbled. Today's excerpt describes an historical event that humbled two young noblemen. It is seen through the eyes of their father.

The Nature of Art

It is easy to dismiss "art" as a superfluous luxury, an unnecessary waste of time and resources. As an artist, I have often questioned the point of what I was doing. At times I felt the need to apologize for taking "time" for my work. Indeed, carving out time for creative writing meant sacrificing something else -- time with family and friends, time informing myself about current affairs, time advancing my career. Yet most of the time the compulsion to create proved more powerful than my doubts, and I persisted. In this excerpt, an artist undergoing a crisis of doubt about her value is encouraged to continue creating.

The Loyalty of Beasts

Throughout most of the age of chivalry, a knight was only effective if he was mounted on a sound and well-trained war horse. Contemporary records attest to the fact that the relationship between a knight and his horse -- and between squires and grooms and the horses they tended -- could be intense and powerful. There are accounts not only of humans grieving for the loss of their trusted horse but vice versa, of horses becoming despondent with grief at the loss of a beloved rider. The following excerpt is based on a 13th century account of judicial combat in Cyprus written by the philosopher, poet and knight Philip de Novare.

Long Live Non-Violent Protests!

Common people fighting injustice have found many ways to protest over the centuries. Violent rebellions might make a larger mark in history, but they were not necessarily more effective than non-violent methods. Non-violent protests often communicated displeasure and forced change more effectively than open rebellion -- they are simply less likely to be remembered in the general history books. This excerpt is based on a true incident. It would be wrong to say it sparked a civil war, but the attitude of the people of Acre -- so eloquently expressed by pelting the Holy Roman Emperor with offal and entrails -- encouraged some barons to defy the hated emperor.

The New Normal -- It Depends...

...on where you are and what you've experienced. I'm lucky. I'm living in a country that cares about people -- even old people -- and about saving lives rather than the economy or the 'freedom' to endanger others. Not everyone was that lucky. Some people lost loved ones. Unnecessarily. Because of failed government and brutal selfishness on the part of fellow citizens. Because hatred and selfishness have been made 'respectable' and 'presidential.' So today my excerpt is about death and its consequences, because for those that lost someone the 'new normal' is about coping with death and sometimes economic devastation as well.

The Comfort of Books -- Especially for Women

Book sales, we are told, have increased almost 800-fold in the midst of the Corona Virus pandemic. We are lucky. Books are readily available today and can be delivered electronically to our e-readers. In the Middle Ages, books had to be meticulously copied by hand. They were correspondingly fewer in number and expensive to acquire, while literacy was likewise significantly lower than today. For those in the echelons of society that could read and afford books, however, they offered as much of an escape from our "real life" worries as they do today. In this scene a noble maiden in the service of an emperor remembers the importance of books -- especially for women.

It's not a hobby

For an artist, art is not a hobby. It is not something to do "for fun" in your "spare time." It is an obsession and a necessity. It is something you make sacrifices for -- no TV, less social life, less social media, less demanding jobs, fewer kids... I have been writing since I was in the second grade. I have never had a phase in my life when I was not writing. I cannot STOP writing -- even when I am depressed and frustrated by lack of commercial success. Lack of success only compels me to work harder, to look for better ways to reach my readers -- because I CANNOT stop. The day I stop writing, is the day I die -- if not physically than spiritually and intellectually. In this excerpt from "Rebels against Tyranny" an artist in crisis is helped by a young man she hardly knows -- and this, more than his other virtues, is what wins her heart.

Liberty or Death

The American Revolution was viewed by its leaders as a rebellion against a tyrannical government. Many of the issues that concerned the colonists then continue to concern us today -- the right to due process before the law, representation in the legislature, fair distribution of taxes. It was the discovery that many of these same issues sparked an early rebellion against tyrannical government that attracted me to the history of the Crusader States in the early 13th century. This scene is, I think, self-explanatory.

Different Faces of Tyranny

All of us have known "tyranny." Not necessarily the political kind with a capital "T," but we have been tyrannized by perfectionist bosses, or by the "popular" clique at school, or by the expectations of a family that does not like or respect our choices. People are tyrannized every day -- for their race, their sexual orientation, or simply for the way they dress. In this excerpt, a young German Templar is set upon by knights of the Holy Roman Emperor simply because he is German and -- in the minds of his attackers -- he is a "traitor" to the Emperor because the Knights Templar oppose the Emperor's policies.

Hearing Words

I have always been a very "audio" person. I learn something better when I hear it, than when I see it. I remember what I hear better than what I simply see. At university, I couldn't afford to miss a lecture like other students did. Maybe this explains why I hear my novels as I write them. For me, the way what I write sounds is almost as important as the content. I love alliteration, and I love the rhythm you can give a sentence -- or a whole paragraph. Obviously, make text sing is easiest when writing descriptions since speech has to be reflective of character and most characters are poets or troubadours. Here's a random sample -- read it out loud to appreciate it most!

Summer Memories

We all (I hope!) have memories of someplace special we used to go in summer. For my family, it was my grandmother's house on the coast of Maine -- wooden clapboard painted white, black shutters, sagging a little with age, and surrounded by the cawing gulls and the hammering in the boatyard out back. Boy kings experienced summers a little differently....

Enchanted Islands

Most of us have experienced it -- a vacation to someplace "exotic" like a Caribbean Island -- and suddenly not only our surroundings but our feelings are transformed. Inexplicably, those around us are more attractive and exciting -- and so are we. In this excerpt, the "cold, boring and plain" (Emperor Frederick II's assessment) Eschiva de Montbelliard is returning to the Holy Land by ship. After being confined to her cabin for days, she is allowed on deck for a meal of fresh fish when the ship puts into the Venetian-controlled, Greek island of Kythera.

Lighting a single lamp

It is well known that our environment impacts our mood -- a sunny day, for example, can lift spirits and make us more optimistic. Yet in periods of severe crisis, the reverse is also true: our mood can alter our response to the world around us. The heroine of this scene, a manuscript illuminator, has been rescued from a shipwreck in which she lost her step son -- and all her illustrations of the last year. Her world seems very dark and purposeless...

The Hints of History

The 13th century legal scholar and historian wrote in his autobiography that he was tipped off about an assassination attempt by one "whom cared not whom it might displease" -- a sentence too sparse for historians to even speculate. Yet the would-be assassins were none other than the Emperor's regents for the under-aged King Henry I -- and the latter was their prisoner. He was privy to their decisions, yet his heart was with their enemies and the would-be victim. For a novelist that's good enough to make a storyline....

Man's Best Friend

My husband always promised me I could have pets when I retired from the Foreign Service and stopped moving around the world every two to three years. That date came in December and in March we adopted two dogs from the same liter. They have enriched our lives beyond measure. They will also undoubtedly find their way into one of my books one day because the relationship we have with animals is nothing new or unique to the modern world. Men have lived together with dogs as far back as the stone age. In the Middle Ages too there were very much a part of daily life -- some spoiled, some working, some loved, some abandoned. This episode tells of a special dog....

Inspiring Travel

It was a trip to Cyprus more than 20 years ago that sparked my interest in the crusades. Indeed, one could say that the castles of St. Hilarion and Kantara together so captured my imagination that I'm STILL writing about them. They both feature in my current series of books -- quite actually as they were historically significant in the early 12th century and played important roles in the struggle between the Holy Roman Emperor and the barons of Outremer. This excerpt tries to put into words the way St. Hilarion looks -- but I conceded a single photo is probably more effective. (But for that you'll have to go to my blog at: https://www.blogger.com/blogger.g?blogID=8683681702039130081#editor/target=post;postID=8736322548062587556;onPublishedMenu=allposts;onClosedMenu=allposts;postNum=21;src=link)

Fear of Falling

In 1228, Balian d'Ibelin, the youngest son of the Lord of Beirut was held hostage for his father's good behavior. According to a contemporary account, he and his brother were "put in pillories, large and exceedingly cruel; there was a cross of iron to which they were bound so that they were able to move neither their arms nor their legs..." They were not released for weeks, by which time they were "so miserable that it was pitiful to behold." That kind of treatment leaves scars -- both mental and physical. In this scene, after a year of avoiding physical activity that might cause damage to his tortured back, Balian demands a joust with his brother.

Understanding ourselves by Understanding the Past

For readers tired of clichés and cartoons, I offer nuanced insight to historical events and figures based on sound research and an understanding of human nature. My aim is to deliver complex and engaging characters that bring history back to life -- as a means to better understand ourselves. A perfect example of this is Emperor Frederick II. He is widely eulogized as a "remarkable" monarch, "ahead of his time," a liberal, tolerant man, who obtained Jerusalem by treaty rather than war -- as if there hadn't been 109 other treaties with the Saracens in the course of the previous 130 year! His eulogists ignore his dark side. Here I try to give Frederick contours by getting inside his head at his moment of triumph.

Means of Communication

We all communicate in different ways and different styles. Some of us are more "wordy" than others. In this excerpt, the Lord of Beirut is brought a letter from his younger son, who is on Cyprus while the rest of the family is in Syria. Beirut reads the letter aloud to his other children. His heir, Balian, has another letter too -- from the woman he loves. She too is on Cyprus.

I Wouldn't Have Dared....

As a novelist, I never would have dared dream up an incident like this. It's so bizarre that were it not recorded historical fact, any reviewer would be justified in calling it "absurd." Yet it IS recorded fact. This is how the Holy Roman Emperor -- the Wonder of the World -- left the city of Acre after making a treaty with the Sultan of Egypt that served the Emperor's purposes rather than those of his subjects in the Kingdom of Jerusalem.

Kings can be Prisonders Too

King Henry I of Cyprus was only 18 months old when his father died. His mother chose to remarry, abandoning him to the care of "baillies." Based on subsequent actions, Henry was fond of his first baillie, Philip d'Ibelin. However, roughly a year after Philip's death, he found himself in the hands of the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II Hohenstaufen. Henry would later rebel against the Emperor and use his entire army and treasury to rid himself of Hohenstaufen influence. In this scene, however, he is still a helpless child.

The Loyalty of Beasts

This incident is recorded in a 13th Century Chronicle. I have done little more than "translate" late it into more familiar phrases and syntax for the modern reader. It illustrates both how very exciting history is (no need for dragons and fairies in my book!), -- and also the eternal loyalty of our equine friends.

Introducing the Leading Lady

The heroine of "Rebels against Tyranny" is another one of those women in history who has left very little more than a name. We know her parentage -- her mother was a Princess of Cyprus, her father the Regent by right of his wife. We know the names of her husbands, and her eldest son. We have a single sentence from a chronicle describing a highly exceptional deed -- but that doesn't happen until the next book in the series, so no spoilers here. And we know that her husband endured excommunication and defied his father rather than set her aside. Otherwise she was a blank sheet of paper. Meet my Eschiva de Montbelliard.

A bit like Shakespeare's Young Prince Hal

"Rebels against Tyranny" has just won Silver (2nd place) in the 2019 Feathered Quill Book Awards and a major reason was the leading character, Balian d'Ibelin (the younger). Feathered Quill wrote: "The heir to the Ibelins is a great character for the reader to “walk beside” as dungeons and palaces are entered ...This thrilling hero is, as always when it comes to Schrader’s works of art, one of unforgettable strength." KIRKOS reviews too singled him out for praise, writing: "The well-meaning but flawed Sir Balian is a great central figure—a bit like William Shakespeare’s portrayal of the young Prince Hal." Only his father wasn't so convinced. Meet Balian:

Writing to Learn

Writing to learn likely strikes many as putting the cart before the horse. Surely one doesn't write about something unless they already know about it? True. But that is precisely the point. If I am intrigued by a topic (period, culture, event etc.) enough to want to write about it, then I am setting myself on a course of study. In order to be able to write about this topic, I will have to do my research. I'm not someone who can just dash off a short-story based on a casual thought or a snippet of information I've stumbled across. I envy those who can write like that! But I'm at heart a historian and I can't write even a short story without knowing about things like how people dressed, kept warm, what they ate, how they traveled, what their religious beliefs were likely to be etc. etc. So it was a spark of curiosity that gave birth to my latest book "Rebels against Tyranny." It was the question about how could there have been a crusade condemned by the pope, led by an excommunicate, that recovered Jerusalem -- yet earned the leader of the crusade only hatred from his own subjects?

New Beginnings

Just as day follows night and spring follows winter, darkness and death are often the heralds of new life. The death of those close to us inevitably alter the circumstances in which we life and so open opportunities for making changes to our lives. In this excerpt from "Rebels against Tyranny," Eschiva de Montbeliard has just buried her husband, killed unexpectedly in the Battle of Nicosia. Her maid asks her want comes next.

Charisma - and Manipulation

Living in America today it's easy to get cynical about politicians. We have all seen enough examples of orchestrated events in which one party or the other fires up their "base" with speeches and promises. It's easy to bemoan this as degeneration from the "good old days" when politics was honest and politicians selfless. In fact, very little has changed over the millennia. No one was better at manipulating a crowd than the orators of ancient Athens. But today I share a scene of political manipulation from the 13th century. It is, as always, a matter of responding tot he demands of the base, and of directing those demands and taking leadership of the "movement."


Christmas is a time when Christians try to be together with family. It is a time to celebrate together -- and create memories that we will cherish of our loved ones when we are apart or separated by the grave itself. It is a time that reminds us of the importance of families. In this excerpt, other circumstances have reminded the powerful Lord of Beirut of the importance of his sons.

Character Development

Nothing is more fundamental, important or more difficult than character development. Good characters that EVOLVE in the course of a novel are what distinguish a book of quality (dare I say literature?) from a book of light (or dark) entertainment. That's why I was so thrilled that Kirkos Reviews wrote: "Sir Balian is a great central figure—a bit like William Shakespeare’s portrayal of the young Prince Hal..." That is to say he is realistically flawed, particularly to start with, but he grows into his role. In this scene, Balian's absence from a siege has almost ended in disaster - and his demanding father has just arrived on the scene.

Season's Greetings?

The modern world has turned formerly religious holidays into frenzies of consumption. Black Friday, Cyber Monday -- or is it Cyber week? Soon we'll not be able to open any page of anything print or electronic that doesn't tell us how few days there are until "Christmas" -- by which they men "D-Day" for buying presents. The "Christ" has long ago been taken out of "Christmas" by a pretense of respect for other religions that is really only an adulation of shopping, spending, buying -- and, oh, and maybe giving a little too. It wasn't always that way. Religious holidays were once times for reflection, as my main character does here.

How do you thank someone for your life?

Now at Thanksgiving we are all reminded of how much we owe others and God for the good things in our lives. Yet some of us must also thank others for life itself. That is the situation of my hero in "Rebels against Tyranny." Released at last from Imperial captivity (where he was badly abused) he discovers more about who was behind his rescue.


While the historical record forms the road map of my novels, determining the over-all direction and important milestones, my novels are enriched just as a map is made more complete, by the secondary "roads" and byways -- the subplots. In the history of the baronial revolt against Emperor Frederick II, the "highway" (main plot) is dictated by the actions of the leading rebels: John d'Ibelin, Lord of Beirut, and his sons. Yet historically the Ibelins did not stand alone; they were strongly supported by the Genoese of Outremer. Yet we know almost nothing about individual members of that community. So I invented some! Meet Giovanni Gabrieli and his daughter Cecilia.

Supporting Cast

When writing historical fiction about real characters, an author is heavily dependent on a fictional supporting cast. The biography of the historical character provides the skeleton of the character and historical events determine the main contours of the plot, but to flesh out the historical figures, interaction with characters that the author completely controls -- i.e. fictional characters -- is often extremely useful. These characters help an author explore the blank spaces left by the historical record. For novels set in the medieval period, squires are an obvious candidate for this device. We know they existed, and they had to work hand-in-glove with their lord. They knew their "principal" intimately, but we know nothing about them. Meet Rob, Balian d'Ibelin II's squire!

Sisterly Love

In earlier excerpts I've looked at fathers and sons, and the often stormy relations between brothers close in age. Today's excerpt focuses on sisters and brothers and the misunderstandings they can have. Bella is Balian's only sister, and she wants to help one of her best friends...

Good Son, Bad Son

Brothers close in age are often as much rivals as friends. That hasn't changed over the centuries. My characters Balian and Baldwin d'Ibelin are just a year -- and a world of temperament -- apart. The "good" son Baldwin has just found his "bad" brother Balian dicing in a tavern.


As I mentioned in my last bubble, intra-family relations are some of the most fascinating components of good fiction. This excerpt exposes both a father's feelings for his sons and his acute insight into the relationship between them.

Fathers and Sons

One of the things I love writing about in my novels are intra-family relationships. Its one of the things that doesn't seem to change much over time or across cultures. Yes, of course, the power-relationships could be different. In some societies fathers (or mothers) have much more power, but I've found in my many travels and interviews that the complex mix of feelings is less impacted by external factors than personalities. In this scene, the son and heir (Balian) has had a clash with his father and his younger brother comes to find him and bring him home. I hope many readers will find the feelings and responses familiar if not from their own lives than from the lives of friends.

Giving the Forgotten a Face

One of the things I love about writing historical fiction is that it gives us (authors) a chance to give historical figures, who have become nothing but a name in a history book, a face -- a voice -- feelings. Yes, what we write is speculative, but it can hardly be worse than a blank silence. So it is with Yolanda (also Isabella II) of Jerusalem, the second wife of Emperor Frederick II. She was married at the age of 12 and dead before she was 16. Her husband humiliated her on her wedding night by preferring to seduce one of her ladies. He was said to abuse her so badly that she lost a child.. She certainly miscarried the baby she had at age 14, and she died in childbed at 15 -- giving her husband an heir which he used to tyrannize her kingdom. Thus, although she was technically an "Empress," her fate was hardly better than a slave's. We know almost nothing about her. Although she has only a cameo role in "Rebels against Tyranny" I wanted it to be a memorable. I hope I succeeded!

Motives for a Murder

It is historical fact that Sir Amaury Barlais hated the Ibelins with a blind, visceral emotion unrelated to mere politics, but the reasons for that history have been lost in the mists of time. As a novelist, however, I needed to understand him better. In the following scene I get inside Amaury's skin as he sits in a dungeon after being arrested for attempted murder.

Fact better than Fiction

I can't tell you how many times people have told me "history is boring." Or they justify reading fantasy because its "more exciting." I can't understand either attitude because I have always found history full of amazing, exciting and inspiring events. The scene below is based very literally on the account of a 13th century historian. In that sense, it's fact, not fiction.

Sons of Famous Fathers

It's hard to be the son of a celebrity. We know that from Hollywood and politics in our own time. Yet I hadn't expected to be confronted by the problem -- until I started work on a new series and discovered that the best historical figure to serve as the central protagonist of the new series had exactly the same name as the hero of my last series, the Jerusalem Trilogy. The new series has a totally different focus (civil war in the crusader states) and different themes (absolutism vs. feudalism), but the hero is a grandson of the Defender of Jerusalem, Balian d'Ibelin -- and was named for his grandfather. Despite bearing the same name the historical was a very different man, and so my character had to be too. Here's the opening scene.

The Last Crusader Kingdom: Dawn of a Dynasty in Twelfth-Century Cyprus

Literature & Fiction

FINALIST FOR THE ERIC HOFFER AWARD FOR HISTORICAL FICTION, 2019, FINALIST FOR BOOK EXCELLENCE AWARD, HISTORICAL FICTION, 2018 John d'Ibelin, son of the legendary Balian, will one day defy the most powerful monarch on earth. But first he must survive his apprenticeship as squire to a man determined to build a kingdom on an island ravaged by rebellion. The Greek insurgents have already driven the Knights Templar from the island, and now stand poised to destroy Richard the Lionheart's legacy to the Holy Land: a crusader foothold on the island of Cyprus.

Book Bubbles from The Last Crusader Kingdom: Dawn of a Dynasty in Twelfth-Century Cyprus


In my experience the most difficult transitions are not the exterior ones like new places or jobs but interior ones like growing up or growing old. One of the most difficult of all is watching children grow up while we feel unchanged. In this excerpt, a father has to let his son take an important step toward independence an adulthood.

Pieces of a Puzzle

A complex novel always resembles a puzzle. It is composed of a variety of story-lines focused on different characters that interact with one another in complex ways yet must present a coherent picture to the reader. When complete, it all makes sense. When disassembled, it can seem rather chaotic -- at least to the author trying to keep all the balls in the air without letting reader interest drop or getting the reader confused. I've found that the hardest scene to write is usually the first because I have so much in my head that it is hard to know which elements to highlight. A beginning needs to meet so many different criteria! It must capture attention and interest, introduce characters, set the scene and hint at the issues at stake. Here's one of my favorite first scenes:

Accepting fate -- and fighting just the same

This was supposed to be my break-through year. My Leonidas trilogy was to appear in Greek in Athens on the 2,500th anniversary of the Battle of Thermopylae. Not only that, I had a literary agent for the first time, who was going to represent me at the London and Frankfurt Book Fairs. None of it happened. The book fairs were canceled -- as were all the events surrounding the 2,500th anniversary of Thermopylae. It's disappointing -- but its not going to stop me from writing and publishing. In this excerpt, a young widow has to accept both her loss and her need to keep on living.

Compassion is not Pity

When we see people suffering or in need, we are often moved to pity and charity. That is good -- but it is different from compassion. The foundation of compassion is understanding and empathy, which entails respect rather than pity. In this excerpt, Humphrey has long felt looked down upon by his former father-in-law Balian. The offer of assistance and help triggers a reaction that surprises both men.

The Beauty of Thought

It often seems as if finding time to think -- really think -- is one of the most difficult tasks in an age of instant communication. Our phones follow us everywhere. SMSs and emails peep their presence at the convenience of the sender, not ours. Yet if we don't find the peace to think, we are condemned to react rather than act and will always be chasing after events rather than shaping them. Thought is also essential for self-reflection and analysis. At their most profound, thought connects us with the divine. In this excerpt, an isolated prisoner is forced to confront himself.

Humor -- and a tribute to dogs

This week we're supposed to share a joke. I have two: After a week of lock-down a man looked at his dog and his dog looked back and said: NOW do you understand why I chew your shoes? A friend suggested we have all turned INTO dogs: "We pad around the house all day looking for food, we're afraid of visitors, and we get wildly excited if we get to go for a drive." In tribute to 'man's best friend' this excerpt in which John d'Ibelin, a fourteen year old squire serving Aimery de Lusignan, gets a little help from the stray he's rescued.

Falling in Love with a Place

My novels are very character-centric with the main focus on character development and interaction. It is not surprising, therefore, that most of my novels are inspired by people. Yet places, too, inspire the imagination. I firmly believe that my interest in history and historical fiction started at the age of four when my father took me to the Coliseum in Rome. “This,” he told me, “is where the Romans fed the Christians to the Lions.” Now that was fascinating to a four-year-old! I spent the rest of the afternoon trying to imagine where they had kept the lions? where the Christians? Was there no way to escape? What if a lion got loose among the spectators? You see how rapidly this can become a novel? Of course, at four, no novel evolved, but the process of thinking about the places I visited as the site of historical events and the stage for personal drama had started. The view from the Castle of Kantara was one such place that inspired me. In this excerpt, the wife of Aimery de Lusignan has just spent her first night on the island of Cyprus. She has had a bad night in an unfurnished chamber at the run-down castle of Kantara. She is frightened of the future but is attracted by a stairway.

Mothers and Daughters

The relationships between mothers and their teenage daughters is full of complications, emotions and tensions. I know I wasn't an easy teenager for my mother, and watching my friends try to deal with teenagers of their own is an never-ending soap-opera which I prefer observing from the outside! So now image that your teenage daughter is a ruling queen and her husband has just arrested one of your husband's best friends.... Welcome to Maria Comnena's world.


Hooks to draw the reader into a novel don't come naturally to me. I much prefer developing characters and relationships carefully and thoughtfully to throwing them at the reader like a cartoon. Likewise, my novels are based on historical events, and the very point of writing about history is to explain it -- the antecedents of events, the complexity of relationships and the breadth of impact -- not things that readily lead to a simple into of dead body and the question "who done it." No, I'm not fond of the "snapshot" approach to life or books, but I have learned to use a "Prologue" that tells of an event that the book will explain or expound upon. Here's the opening "hook" for "The Last Crusader Kingdom."

Heroes Great and Small - Part IV

Heroes, as I have noted in earlier entries, do something exceptional. They show unusual kinds of courage and the help others in some way. But sometimes even the greatest heroes fail....

Bad Guys, Villains and Antagonists - Part IV

The villains of a novel may, for plot reasons, play a consistently negative role. That, however, is not the same thing as a character being purely evil or having base motives. In "The Last Crusader Kingdom" the heroes face a fanatical opponent capable, by the end, of kidnapping women and children. Yet he is not simply "evil." To help the reader understand better the motives for his action, I provide a little background.

Man's Best Friend

Those of us privileged enough to have had pets know just how important they have been in our lives. It was no different in times past, and so dogs and horses often have important roles in my novels. In this excerpt, the young squire John d'Ibelin encounters an exceptional dog.

Introducing the Leading Lady -- IV

The main female character in all three books of the Jerusalem Trilogy and "The Last Crusader Kingdom" is Maria Comnena, a historical figure. In the course of the four novels she goes from being a reigning queen still in her teens, to a grandmother in her late forties. My introduction to her in each book reflects her changing status and role. In this excerpt from the last of the four books in which Maria plays the leading female role, she is forty-years-old and her oldest son, John, is already in service as a squire.

A picture is worth a thousand words -- but what if

When writing historical fiction, helping the reader to see unfamiliar environments is always a challenge. I need to tip off the reader about what the environment looks like -- without bogging down the narrative and a slowing the pace of the action. In this sample, I hope the reader can picture the incident without feeling lectured to, yet with enough words so it doesn't sound like a work crew on the nearest interstate. At the same time, I hope the reader can picture the two protagonists as well. Successful?

Setting the Scene: How much is enough?

Because my novels are historical fiction, the setting of the action is often not readily imagined by my readers. I can't say: "At the nearest McDonalds..." Or "It was a typical trailer home..." This means I often need to describe the environment of action more than if the novel was set in our own time. After all, how many of you know what a typical urban dwelling in late 12th century Acre looked like? At the same time, I can't allow descriptions to get in the way of the narrative or I will bore (and so lose) the reader altogether. Here's an example of how I try weave the descriptions into the action.

No Time to Grieve

When Henri de Champagne, the young King of Jerusalem, stepped backwards out of a window to his death in Sept. 1197, no one could afford to give his widow, Isabella, time to grieve. In this scene, Isabella's step-father, Balian d'Ibelin returns from Cyprus to join his wife and step-daughter in their hour of grief -- only to be confronted with political reality.

The Queen's Last Dance

Although Henri de Champagne had driven Aimery de Lusignan from his Kingdom of Jerusalem on unjustified charges, the two men later reconciled. Champagne's three daughters by Isabella of Jerusalem were betrothed to Lusignan's three sons. In this excerpt, Eschiva d'Ibelin, Aimery's as yet uncrowned queen, has still not fully recovered from her kidnapping.

Armenian Rescue

In one of the more bizarre incidents in history, Aimery de Lusignan's wife, Eschiva, was captured by pirates from Cyprus a little less than a year before he was crowned King. She was taken to a petty tyrant's regime in what is now Turkey, and her release was effected by Leo of Armenia through a combination of threats, diplomacy and audacity. In this scene, Eschiva and her children find themselves in the hands of their rescuers on their way to a place they've never been before.


In 1195, a pirate ship seized the wife and children of the King of Cyprus from a coastal estate. In this excerpt, the King Aimery de Lusignan, who has been frantically awaiting news of his wife and children, receives a stranger at his palace in Nicosia.

A Difficult Choice

It is 1195, and King Henry of Champagne has just offered Balian d'Ibelin an important post in the Kingdom of Jerusalem. But Balian has other options....

A New Beginning

The establishment of a crusader kingdom on the island of Cyprus was not just of strategic and maritime importance. It offered tens of thousands of Christians who had lost their homes and livelihoods to Saladin's invasion a place to make a new start. In this excerpt, an apprentice mason, enslaved after the Battle of Hattin, and now working as nothing but a day-laborer, seeks out his former master-builder. The latter lost a hand at Hattin and is now a beggar.

Fathers and Daughters

Balian d'Ibelin has married his eldest daughter, Helvis, to a man 20-years his senior in order to secure her future. His younger daughter, Meg, seizing the opportunity following a tournament in which her brother John has competed successfully to broach the subject of her own (future) marriage with her father.

Courting -- with a Watchdog

Wealth, title and privilege have their drawbacks too. When young John d'Ibelin falls in love with a local girl, his father the Baron of Ibelin forbids him from seeing her again. Of course, that didn't work with teenager in the Middle Ages any better than it does today. So John ran away with just his horse and his dog to go courting....

...as we forgive those who trespass against us.

Humphrey of Toron was a tragic figure. He is remembered for what he lost: his fief, his freedom and his wife. His wife, heiress to Jerusalem, divorced him to marry a man better able to defend her kingdom for her. Humphrey having lost everything to which he had been entitled by birth and marriage, fades from the pages of history. In this excerpt, I hypothesize what might have happened to him -- and an critical encounter with his former father-in-law: Balian d'Ibelin.

A Visit from the Virgin?

While Aimery de Lusignan struggles to gain control of a rebellious Cyprus, his wife -- isolated among Greek servants -- miscarries a child. She is convinced he will now discard her as once her father discarded her mother. Praying for death, an woman looking very much like the Virgin Mary appears -- and then....


Richard the Lionheart sold Cyprus to Guy de Lusignan, and at the latter's death less than two years later, Guy named his brother Geoffrey his heir. Aimery -- who had brought Guy out to the Holy Land to make his fortune, who had supported his usurpation of the crown of Jerusalem, fought with him at Hattin and suffered captivity with him -- was left out in the cold. In this excerpt from "The Last Crusader Kingdom" Aimery has returned to Acre, broken by his brother's ingratitude.

The Constable's Choice

Aimery de Lusignan has been imprisoned for High Treason by the king of Jerusalem, Henri de Champagne. In this excerpt, he receives a visitor in his prison cell: Balian d'Ibelin. Ibelin brings word that the Champagne is willing to release Aimery -- on one condition.

The Magic of Castles

The magic of castles is nothing new. For most of us today, exploring castle ruins is associated with trying to understand the past. It is a means to discover clues that help us better imagine an age gone by. But for contemporaries, exploring castles was like exploring a battleship or a space station: it was discovering the latest in military technology as well as inspiring the imagination with the great deeds that had -- or would be -- performed here.

Learning to be King

Ruling a medieval kingdom was not a matter of doing whatever one liked. Medieval society was extremely legalistic and a king, above all others, was expected to enforce (and so respect) the law of the land. In this excerpt, Henri de Champagne, who has become King of Jerusalem quite unexpectedly, is confronted with the limits to his power set by the laws and customs of his new kingdom.

Sons of Famous Fathers

In this scene, 13-year-old John has just witnessed the arrest of the man he is serving as a squire: the Constable of Jerusalem, Aimery de Lusignan. And the first thing he thinks of doing is going to his father for help. Find out why.

A Monk's Just Cause

The establishment of Lusignan rule on the Island of Cyprus in the late 12th century was by no means a bloodless and peaceful enterprise. In this excerpt, a Greek Orthodox monk who has witnessed atrocities committed men fighting for Guy de Lusignan, confronts his superior -- and learns a unexpected lesson.

Defender of Jerusalem: A Biographical Novel of Balian d’Ibelin

Literature & Fiction

WINNER of the John E. Weaver Award for Medieval Fiction, the Feathered Quill Silver Award for Spiritual/ Religious Fiction, Readers' Favorite Silver Award for Christian Historical Fiction. This book, the second in the series, follows Balian as he struggles to reconcile warring factions within the Kingdom of Jerusalem while fighting the ever-stronger Saladin. It describes the fateful battle of Hattin and the defense of Jerusalem with an army of refuges, children and women that followed.

Book Bubbles from Defender of Jerusalem: A Biographical Novel of Balian d’Ibelin

Greatest Inspiration: People

The greatest inspiration for my writing comes from people -- people who have done NOT what was in their best interest, but in the best interest of those around them, people who lifted up the down-trodden, inspired the hopeless, provided aid, inspiration, comfort, or protection to the weak, the sick, the abused, and the forgotten. It is because history if full of TRUE stories about REAL people doing inspiring things, that I started writing historical fiction. My books seek to honor those people who have done exceptional deeds in the past and so inspire those alive today. The historical event described in this excerpt was what inspired me to write a four-part biographical novel about the protagonist: Balian d'Ibelin.

Health Care Professionals Through the Ages

Witnessing today the self-sacrifice of our health care professionals is inspiring and humbling. I know I could not do what they are doing. I'm not proud of that, just realistic. I am someone who can hardly deal with a household accident! You would not want me looking after you after an accident! People with the gift of dealing with injury, illness and death inspire me with awe. And they have existed all through the ages. This excerpt is very short, but it honors the women who served with the Knights Hospitaller. In this scene they are trapped in the city of Jerusalem, which is surrounded, assaulted and bombarded by the armies of Saladin.


Maybe it is because I write historical fiction based on the historical record -- which means there aren't any surprises in what actually happened -- but my greatest surprises often come from the secondary (read: fictional) characters. When writing about Saladin's siege of Jerusalem in 1187, it was very clear what was going to happen to Balian, Maria, their children and also the Patriarch of Jerusalem etc. Yet, I wanted to show too what the siege was like for ordinary people -- the people who would pay the ultimate price that queens and archbishops almost always avoided paying. I wanted a worker, a craftsman, and suddenly I had an entire family and a plot-line that yielded some of the most powerful scenes of this entire trilogy. Meet Godwin Olafsen.

Heroes Great and Small - Part II

"Heroes" are people who do something exceptional and beneficial for another being. That can be something monumental like saving a city from destruction (as Balian d'Ibelin did at Jerusalem) but it can also be something much, much simpler. The hero of this scene is an orphaned serving girl.

Bad Guys, Villains and Antagonists - Part II

Negative characters are essential to every novel -- and not all of them are male! While the historical record often glosses over women and their feelings, an understanding of human nature tells us that there were bitter rivalries and vicious struggles between women -- particularly when they shared a love of the same man. In this scene, Eschiva d'Ibelin, the young bride of Aimery de Lusignan must face her husband's former lover and a jealous princess.

Introducing the Leading Lady II

The main female character in all three books of the Jerusalem Trilogy and "The Last Crusader Kingdom" is Maria Comnena, a historical figure. In the course of the four novels she goes from being a reigning queen still in her teens, to a grandmother in her late forties. My introduction to her in each book reflects her changing status and role. In this excerpt from the second book in the series, Maria is now a young wife, married to the man of her own choosing, the Baron of Ibelin.

A picture is worth a thousand words -- but what if

As a novelist I must use words not images to describe my characters. Here is an example, a description of the "Leper King" Baldwin IV of Jerusalem. My intention with this description, of course, is to help the reader see the youth -- and also sympathize with him.

How do you write a beginning in the middle?

When writing a series, such as my Jerusalem Trilogy, writing the first scene of the later books presents an additional challenge: the author has to assume that some readers will already be familiar with the characters, and other not. For both, the first scene needs to set the scene and catch the reader's attention -- while not boring readers already familiar with the overall story from the earlier book(s). Here's how I approached the second book in the series.

The Price of Principle

When Guy de Lusignan usurped the crown of Jerusalem in 1186, most of the knights and barons of the kingdom submitted to his rule despite inner reservations. But not all were so docile. In this scene based on an historical account, the Baron of Ramla has been summoned by Guy de Lusignan to Acre to take the oath of homage.

So is this where the kingdom starts to crack?

In 1185, the Count of Tripoli acting as regent for the eight-year-old King Baldwin V of Jerusalem sought a truce with Salah ad-Din (Saladin). In this excerpt, the Sultan discusses with his brother, son and nephew the offer -- and the messenger, Balian d'Ibelin (known to the Saracens as Ibn Barzan).

Squires - An Often Overlooked Element

Everyone vaguely familiar with the Middle Ages have heard of them, but few people nowadays appreciate just how essential squires were to medieval warfare. In this excerpt, the Lord of Ibelin's squires look after his horses on the eve of the Battle of Hattin -- and discuss the situation.

A Child Prisoner of A Notorious Brute

At the age of eight, Isabella of Jerusalem was taken from the only home she had ever known and placed in the care of a man already notorious for torturing churchmen, plundering peaceful, Christian territory, and breaking truces: Reynald de Chatillon. She shared her fate with her future husband, Humphrey de Toron. Both children bore the psychological scars of their years with Chatillon the rest of their lives. In this episode, Isabella is determined to force Chatillon to release her and Humphrey from their desert prison, the notorious border fortress of Kerak on the edge of Sinai.

Devoted Wife, Disastrous Queen

Sibylla of Jerusalem was devoted to her second husband, Guy de Lusignan -- so much so that she never showed a flicker of responsibility to her subjects. In the following excerpt, set in Jerusalem after the destruction of the Frankish army at the Battle of Hattin but before the Saracen siege, the Patriarch seeks out the dowager queen, Maria Comnena -- because Queen Sibylla is not able to help him.

Understanding Guy

In this weeks blog post (http://schradershistoricalfiction.blogspot.com) I talk about how difficult I found it to write about Guy de Lusignan because I never came to a full understanding of what made him tick. His historical role was too great to ignore, however. This scene is based on a known historical confrontation between Guy, then Count of Jaffa and Regent of the kingdom, and the invalided King Baldwin IV of Jerusalem, more commonly called "The Leper King." While we know the outcome of the confrontation, no one really knows what was said. Here's my interpretation.

Defender of Jerusalem - Chapter 1

"Defender of Jerusalem" is the winner of five literary accolades, and has won praise from professional reviewers as well as readers.

"This is a miracle, my lord!"

By September 30, 1187, after a ferocious defense by the Christian inhabitants, the walls of Jerusalem were breached by the Saracen forces led by the Sultan Salah ad-Din (Saladin). The defenders, composed predominantly of women, children and clerics, could expect only slaughter and slavery. But that didn't happen. An excerpt from "Defender of Jerusalem" based on first hand accounts.

What good is money now?

In 1187 Jerusalem was defended against the armies of Saladin by just 80 newly-made knights and civilians. The latter were predominantly refugees. Women and children out-numbered men by 50 to one. The men were mostly clerics, priests and monks, with some youths too young and men too old to serve with the army. Yet they held off the full force of Saladin's army for nearly nine days.

What Lepers Can Do

Leprosy was endemic in the Holy Land during the 12-14th century, and fear of contagion dictated a segregation of lepers from the rest of society. However, lepers were not despised, but rather lived in organized communities supported by donations and elected their own leaders. (Women, by the way, generally voted along with men as equal members.) In this scene, the leper community of Jerusalem debates what they should do when the armies of Saladin arrive to besiege the Holy City.

Last Farewell

The Baron of Ibelin broke his word to the Sultan to remain in Jerusalem and command the defense. He did not expect to survive. His wife and children, however, were granted an escort to safety by Saladin. In this scene Balian takes his last leave of his wife Maria Comnena.

The Children of a Hero

When Balian d'Ibelin made the decision to remain in Jerusalem to organize the defense, he put his wife and children at risk. The conditions of Ibelin's safe-conduct to the city had been that he remain only a single night. Because he broke his word to the Sultan, he could expect no mercy. The price would be paid, he presumed, by his wife and children as well as himself.

Listening for the Will of God

The Christian army has been crushed. City after city has fallen to Saladin. Trapped in Jerusalem are 60,000 people, mostly refugees. There are fifty women and children for every man, and only two knights. Yet these people refuse to surrender the holiest city in Christendom, and they have asked the Baron of Ibelin, who has a safe-conduct to take his family out of the doomed city to stay and command their defense. Now he must decide....

A Child in Jerusalem

September 1187. The Frankish army has been crushed at Hattin. The rest of the crusader kingdom has fallen to Saladin. Jerusalem is flooded with as many as 60,000 refugees. While the Patriarch speaks of martyrdom and Saladin vows to slaughter or enslave the entire population. The women and children trapped in the Holy City have nothing to say about their fate.... John d'Ibelin is eight years old and he too is trapped in Jeusalem when a miracle happens.

An Incomprehensible Request

Saladin, Sultan of Egypt and Syria, has obliterated the Frankish army at the Battle of Hattin and subdued every city in the Kingdom except Tyre and Jerusalem. In this scene the Sultan is at ease in his siege tent before Tyre, when one of the few Christian lords still at liberty comes under a flag of truce. The man, Balian Baron of Ibelin, makes a -- to the Sultan -- bizarre request.

A House Divided Against Itself....

In 1186, the Kingdom of Jerusalem faced the greatest crisis of its existence. After the usurpation of the crown by Guy de Lusignan, the most powerful of all the barons, the Count of Tripoli, refused to do homage. Indeed, he made a separate peace with the Saracens. King Guy responded by calling up the feudal levees and preparing to attack his own vassal. Almost no one showed up. In this scene the Baron of Ibelin confronts the King.

A Question of Loyalty

Feudalism was built on bonds of loyalty -- vassals to lords, and barons to the king. But what if the king was a usurper, unfit to rule, or both? This was the dilemma faced by the barons of Jerusalem after Sibylla seized the throne in a coup d'etat and crowned her unpopular and incompetent husband Guy de Lusignan as her consort. In this passage, the young lord Humphrey de Toron, who is husband of the other legitimate claimant to to the throne (Isabella), breaks ranks with his fellow barons.


The young nobleman, Humphrey de Toron, was one of the Frankish lords taken captive after the annihilation of the Christian army at Hattin. This excerpt describes how he experiences the defeat.


The Christian army under Guy de Lusignan was obliterated on the Horns of Hattin, July 4, 1187. This is how the situation would have looked for the civilian population of the Kingdom of Jerusalem.


In this excerpt, the Baron of Ramla, half-mad with grief after the death of his wife and son, senses the doom about to envelop the entire Kingdom of Jerusalem. It is an ominous premonition....

City under Siege

Medieval noblewomen were expected to defend their castles in wartime. No, they didn't put on armor and they couldn't use swords or bows, but they commanded the men of their garrison. In this excerpt, the army of Saladin has swept down on the unwalled city of Nablus while the lord and all his knights are away defending the border. The Lady of Ibelin is in the citadel with the few fighting men left behind -- and the entire civilian population of the city.

Uninvited Wedding Guests

In this excerpt (based on historical fact), the guests for a royal wedding are gathering when some uninvited guests arrive. The wedding is being held at the border castle of Kerak, south of the Dead Sea, and the bride is the 11 year old Princess Isabella of Jerusalem. When the scene opens, she is trying on her wedding gown with her mother and aunts.

Invalid King

Invalids are at the mercy of their care-givers -- even when they are kings. And those caring for a king do not always have their patient's best interests in mind. In this excerpt, King Baldwin IV, a young man slowly dying of leprosy, recovers from a fever to discover his most loyal servant is no longer with him -- and why.

Déjà Vu

In this excerpt three leading barons of the Kingdom of Jerusalem get a glimpse of what kind of leader their future king -- the new husband of the heiress to the throne -- is. It isn't reassuring....

The Courage of Girls

Isabella of Jerusalem was taken from her mother at the age of eight and forced to live under the roof of one a notoriously brutal man: Reynald de Chatillon, the Lord of Oultrejourdain. Her only friend in his barren border fortress of Kerak was her future husband, Humphrey. But as this scene shows, when it came to confronting their "guardian" (read jailor) it was Isabella who was more courageous.

Brother from Hell

Ambitious men can be brutal and unscrupulous in any age or society. In this excerpt Balian d'Ibelin comes face to face with his young brother, who has led naval raids against unarmed Muslim pilgrims on the Red Sea for the sake of the rewards offered.

The Princess Pawn

Princesses in the 12th Century lived in comparative luxury, enjoyed a good education, and had prospects of future power, but they were first and foremost pawns in the politics of their guardians. In this scene Princess Isabella of Jerusalem, who has been taken from her mother and beloved stepfather on the orders of the King, finds out more about why -- and decides how to face her fate.

Clash of Queens

Aimery of Jerusalem set aside his wife, Agnes de Courtenay, in order to become king of Jerusalem. He subsequently married the Byzantine Princess Maria Comnena. But when Aimery died, it was Agnes' son Baldwin who followed his father on the throne. Agnes became the power behind the throne, and one of her first acts was to seize control of Maria's young daughter Isabella. In this scene Maria, who has been denied the right to even see her child for two years. confronts Agnes.


In the Middle Ages -- as in poor countries today -- the treatment of animals, particularly "beasts of burden," could be heartless. In this scene Beth, a Muslim girl who was the victim of gang rape during the sack of the town of Ibelin, recognizes a fellow victim in a donkey. For the first time in her life stands up to a man -- and discovers an unexpected friend.

Leper Brothers

Leprosy was common in the Holy Land in the Middle Ages, and a large leper hospital was located just outside the walls of Jerusalem. But lepers were not abhorred or outcast from society because the disease was considered "holy" -- and because one of the Kings of Jerusalem, Baldwin IV, was himself a leper. In this scene, a young knight suffering from the early stages of leprosy is offered a new opportunity.

Rogue Baron

Peace has always been fragile in the Middle East, and outbursts of violence are often sparked by individuals with dubious motives. In this scene the King of Jerusalem confronts the Lord of Outlrejourdain for breaking a peace treaty. The rogue Frankish baron has enriched himself by plundering a Saracen caravan, but he refuses to pay compensation--with the inevitable result of escalation.

Vulnerable Children

In the 12th Century, children were often betrothed very young and the bride-to-be often moved in with her future in-laws. Usually the arrangement helped the young couple get to know and like one another. But when the bride-to-be was a princess, and the betrothal arranged not by her parents but the king, the motives could be different. In this scene, Maria, widowed Queen of Jerusalem, reveals her fears for her daughter of her first marriage, Princess Isabella, to her second husband. Isabella has been taken from her by the woman who hates her most: the current Queen Mother Agnes.

Disastrous Love-Match

The marriage of Princess Sibylla of Jerusalem with the landless knight Guy de Lusignan was arguably one of the most disastrous love-matches in history. Guy would lead the Christian army to an unnecessary but devastating defeat that ultimately resulted the complete loss of the Christian Kingdom of Jerusalem. In this scene, Sibylla's brother, King Baldwin IV is manipulated by his mother into consenting to the marriage--despite his own profound doubts about Guy's capabilities.

Bath Talk

A bath after a journey was a medieval luxury recorded in many miniatures and romances. It was often a moment of rare intimacy between husband and wife -- as here when Balian is reunited with is wife Maria Zoe after the Battle on the Litani.

Forgotten Bride

In the 12th century marriages were about alliances and children were pawns. Parents often arranged marriages for children that were still very young. The bride in child marriages sometimes remained with her own family until she was mature enough to consummate the marriage. Eschiva d'Ibelin, daughter of Baldwin, Baron of Ramla, was married at the age of eight to the already adult Aimery de Lusignan. She remained in the household of her uncle Balian. In this scene, Aimery returning from the Battle on the Litani stops at Ibelin. He has not thought about his bride for years.

A Brother's Ransom

Throughout the High Middle Ages it was customary for men of means to be held for ransom (rather than killed) if they fell into their enemy's hands. Ransom demands were usually steep, but they could also be crippling, impoverishing the man's family. In this scene, an emissary from Saladin brings word to Balian of Ibelin that his elder brother is now a prisoner of the Sultan and names the ransom.

The Sinister Power Behind the Throne

Agnes de Courtenay was the sinister power behind her son, King Baldwin IV of Jerusalem. She used her influence to raise to positions of power her ineffective brother and her former lovers. Yet at no time was her influence more fateful and detrimental than when she convinced her son to allow his sister (and heir) to marry Guy de Lusignan. Guy was both arrogant and incompetent. In less than a decade he had led the army of Jerusalem to a disastrous defeat. Watch her at work here:

Templar Errors

The Templars earned a reputation for being fierce and effective fighting men. They were sometimes the only disciplined force on a battlefield, but their unquestioning obedience to their officers meant that a bad Master could led them to disaster. Such was the case at the Battle on the Litani described here.

The Leper and His Sister

In the film "The Kingdom of Heaven" the relationship between Baldwin IV (the Leper King) and his sister Sibylla is a loving one. The historical record suggests much more tension and strain. In this excerpt, Baldwin is alone with one of his household knights. He is only starting to recover from a fever during which he named Sibylla's husband Guy regent of Jerusalem.


The first chapter, the first paragraph, the first sentence.... It is so important. It has to hook the reader, of course, but also be relevant to the entire book. It has to set the scene, introduce the key characters, and ignite the plot. No easy task. Does this work?

Leonidas of Sparta: A Peerless Peer

Literature & Fiction

Leonidas, the Hero of Thermopylae. In 480 BC he would defy an army half a million strong. But who was Leonidas? As the youngest son of King Anaxandridas, he went barefoot and hungry like the other Spartan boys in the infamous Agoge. Now, a young man, he has only one goal, to be the perfect Spartan citizen, A Peerless Peer. In search of a wife, Leonidas courts a beauty, But another young woman knows she is destined to be his queen: Gorgo This is their story.

Book Bubbles from Leonidas of Sparta: A Peerless Peer


Sparta was elected to lead the coalition of Greek cities opposing the Persian invasion in 480 BC not only on land but also at sea. Compared to Athens and Corinth, Sparta’s navy was small, but Sparta’s naval tradition was considerably longer than numbers suggest, and Sparta’s perioikoi marines may have enjoyed a strong reputation for competence since they often fought alongside the Spartans. Find out what that might have looked like at in this excerpt. The Spartans have been asked by their coalition partner Corinth to provide protection for a fleet of merchantmen bringing grain across the Aeginan during the Ionian Revolt. After a storm, many merchant ships are damaged and barely able to sail. Leonidas is in command of their defense.


An Athenian symposium was very different from a Spartan syssitia, and Leonidas feels like a fish out of water when the "central attraction" arrives.

"You call that freedom?"

There was nothing inevitable about the election of Leonidas leader of the Greek coalition that defied Persia in 480 BC. In my biographical novel of Leonidas, I hypothesize that well before 480 BC he had won a reputation among the Greek city-states for not only military competence but also fair treatment of Allies. In this excerpt from "A Peerless Peer," I show Leonidas in action in a Spartan diplomatic coup: luring the city-state of Mycene out of Argos' sphere of influence and into their own.

A Spartan Girl

One of the most significant differences between Sparta and Athens was in the different treatment of girls. In Athens they were from birth confined to the inside of the house, not allowed to engage in exercise, and not fed the same diet as the brothers. Nor were they taught to read and write. They were then married as soon as they reached puberty. Spartan girls, in contrast, were fed the same wholesome diet as their brothers, took part in sports, and went to school where they learned to read and write. In this excerpt 8-year old Gorgo, encounters her first Athenians.

The Youngest Agiad

Leonidas, the hero of Thermopylae, was the youngest of four Agiad princes. He never expected to be King of Sparta. For the bulk of his life he was just an "ordinary" Spartan, a Peer. In this excerpt, Leonidas is just 21 years old and a new citizen. He has not distinguished himself in any way -- until now.

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