Tuesday, November 20, 2012
That Bastard, Conrad of Montferrat
See, if you read the old chestnuts of English historical fiction like Walter Scott, Conrad's always the baddie. Conniving, evil, wizened, ugly, sadistic, sexually... ahem... experimental... really, they can't find enough nasty things to say about the guy. But if you actually look at the events of his life, you run into some cognitive dissonance.
First of all, he's a hottie. The Byzantine chronicler Niketas Choniates described him as "of beautiful appearance, comely in life's springtime, exceptional and peerless in manly courage and intelligence, and in the flower of his body's strength." (Heck, I'm a straight male, and even I feel a little tingly.)
Second, he's really good at war and politics. Like, he inspires the Byzantine Emperor Isaac (a man not known for courage or ability) to ride out and successfully suppress a rebellion by entering the battle himself without shield or helmet, wearing only the lightest armor, and unhorsing the chief rebel. Like, a man who arrives in the city of Tyre and unites all its citizens in a "commune" that successfully resists that attacks of Saladin himself, at a time when Saladin was on a roll, conquering Crusader towns and fortresses right and left.
Third, people really seem to like him. He inspires the Emperor. He unites the Tyrian townspeople. He's elected King of Jerusalem at the end of the Third Crusade. In fact, the only way to get rid of this guy is to kill him.
So somebody does. Hey, this is the Crusades. Everybody dies.
Just a few days after he's elected king, two Assassins bushwhack him and stab him to death. (By the way, these guys weren't just assassins. They were Assassins, with a capital "A". Look it up.)
And this is where things get a little twisted. See, the most likely candidate for the guy who hired the Assassins is none other than Richard I Lionheart. It all fits together - Richard has the means, the motive and the opportunity. He's got money; and he was backing his own nephew, not Conrad, for the throne.
But if you're a British historical writer, you LIKE Richard. (Well, you used to; people are assessing him a tad more critically these days.) So that means you've got to hate Conrad...and there are a lot more English historical novels out there than ones from Montferrat.