Author's Notes-King's Warrior
There is so much history connected with the real-life events of King’s Warrior, I wanted to share some of it with any fellow history nerds out there.
The Real-Life Assassins
One of the coolest things I got to research was the history of the Hashashin, the real, original Assassins.
The Assassins were a Nizari sect of Islam that formed in 11th century, lead by the “Old Man of the Mountain.” They were a military order, but conducted high-level espionage and political murders through one class of their order, the “fida’i.” These were young men, intelligent, highly educated and highly trained in various warrior arts and skills, including combat, linguistics, and of course, espionage.
Although they certainly conducted extremely public murders of high-ranking political figures to terrifying effect, they also worked covertly, in secret and quiet, assimilating into their targets’ social milieu, sometimes for weeks or months on end.
They were immensely fond of daggers, both as weapon and threat. They were legendary for sneaking into the tents of political opponents at night and leaving behind one of their daggers and a note, right next to the leader they’d stood beside, undetected, in the dark.
The message was clear, but in case it wasn’t, they often followed up more overtly.
For instance, one of their exploits: In 1092, upon his coronation, the new sultan of the Seljuk empire rebuffed a Hashashin ambassador. Bad idea.
One morning soon after, he woke up to find a dagger plunged into the ground beside his bed. Terrified, he didn’t say anything about it–who wants to announce a weakness like that? A little while later, a messenger from the Assassins arrived, saying, “Did I not wish the sultan well, that the dagger which was struck in the hard ground would have been planted on your soft breast.”
Gotcha. That one was pretty effective. For decades after, there was a ceasefire between the Seljuks and the Nizari.
Saladin, the Crusaders most worthy and chivalrous opponent, was repeatedly targeted by the Assassins. He finally came to terms, as did many Crusading leaders. In fact, almost a hundred years after the time period of King’s Warrior, Prince Edward—later to become King Edward I of England, the ’Hammer of the Scots’—was wounded by a poisoned Assassin’s dagger in 1271 while he was crusading.
The Assassins were also responsible for the murder of the crusader prince Conrad of Montferrat, two days before he was to be crowned King of Jerusalem. Conrad was publicly stabbed by two Assassins disguised as monks.
This real-life drama forms the basis of plot of King’s Warrior.
The Assassination of Conrad of Montferrat
Conrad of Montferrat was elected King of Jerusalem by the other crusader leaders in 1192, although he’d ruled as de facto king as a result of his marriage in late 1190.
England’s King Richard was quite unhappy about this bonhomie among the other crusading leaders. Richard had lobbied hard for his own candidate to be selected, Guy of Lusignan, one of his own vassals. More specifically, one of his own troublesome vassals, in the even more troublesome duchy of Poitou. Richard was extremely motivated to hoist this independent-minded, belligerent vassal off on the Holy Lands where he would trouble Richard no more.
Alas, the English king was outvoted by the other crusader kings.
I’ll go out on a limb and say this wasn’t something the strong-willed Richard appreciated.
Then tragedy–or opportunity–struck. Two days before he was to be crowned, the highly competent & well-regarded Conrad of Montferrat was murdered by two Assassins disguised as monks. One of the fleeing Assassins was killed, but under torture, the surviving one confessed King Richard had contracted them for the kill.
Medieval crazy sauce.
Now, whether or not King Richard was actually involved in the assassination, and whether it was direct or indirect, the rumors persisted throughout Europe, driven in large part by the French king’s enthusiastic support of them.
Oh how King Philippe wanted Richard to have done this deed. Or at least be thought to have done it.
Richard was Philippe’s beloved enemy, and his better in almost every way: politically (Richard had more lands); militarily (Richard was a more potent, decisive, and effective leader); and personally (Richard was more charismatic, for all that he was a difficult, arrogant, domineering, & generally merciless man.) Ergo, Richard was the perfect medieval king. At the time, Philippe was less so, and it irked horribly. (Don’t worry, Philippe came into his own later, so much so that he became known as Philippe Augustus–Philippe the Great.)
Our worry thus abated, I’ll get us back on track.
The rumors about Richard’s involvement in the assassination of Conrad grew so pervasive and persistent that Richard was obliged to supply proof of his innocence to the Holy Roman Emperor while he was being held captive there. (Seriously Richard’s life is the adventure to end all adventures.) Clever fellow that he was, Richard went straight to the source–he asked the Hashashin–the Assassins themselves–for a letter absolving him of any guilt in the matter.
Said ‘proof’ came in the form of a letter, delivered to the Duke of Austria, and purportedly signed by the leader of the Assassins, Rashid Al-Din Siñan. It claimed the Assassins had their own reasons for killing Conrad, which involved a shipping dispute, and the assassination had nothing to do with Richard.
The reasons outlined in the letter were suspect even at the time–Siñan was dead at the time of the letter, making it difficult for him to have signed anything, and no one had ever heard of the Assassins being involved in any sort of shipping before this–but nevertheless, nothing was ever proven, and eventually, the rumors faded away.
England paid a staggering ransom to get her king back, Richard visited England for approximately 15 minutes to send his regards, then he went to his homelands–France–and spent the rest of his life building astonishing castles and fighting King Philippe, until Richard died, in 1199, after being struck by a crossbow bolt during a siege. More pressing matters took hold of England and France and the rest of Christendom for that matter, and no one really had time to care much about the deeds or misdeed of a dead king.
So in the end, no one really knows…did he or didn’t he?
But one wonders…what if there had been proof?
The Capture of King Richard the Lionheart
King Richard was indeed captured at an inn outside of Vienna four days before Christmas, 1192, just as described in King’s Warrior. And by all accounts, he was indeed hiding in the kitchens, disguised as a servant, stirring a pot of stew.
He and a small group of men had started home from the Holy Land months earlier, sticking to secretive and circuitous routes, hoping to throw off any scent of Richard’s whereabouts from the many, many, many people who were jumping up and down in glee at their chance to capture this arrogant English king, crusader vows notwithstanding (No one was supposed to harm a crusader or his lands or family while he was on crusade, or traveling to or from it. The Pope would be very, very angry with you if you did such a thing.)
Apparently, though, threats of excommunication did not compare with the sheer thrill of capturing the arrogant, imperious and staggeringly wealthy King of England, because captured he was.
Perhaps embarrassment was the fuel that lit the fire that would make a man risk excommunication, for Richard had a special knack for pissing people off. Powerful people. He had done so royally throughout his time in Jerusalem et al. In fact, there were a whole lot of noblemen eager for a piece of Richard’s royal hide.
And so, throughout their long, circuitous trip home from the Holy Land–a journey filled with crazy adventures, from shipwrecks to pirate capture, and more–the king of England posed as a merchant to avoid detection.
Unfortunately, Richard made a terrible merchant. He simply wasn’t born to the station. He was a king from the rings on his fingers to the tone of his very loud voice, and his liberal spending and generally royal approach to everything made subterfuge, and anonymity, difficult.
It was a circuitous, torturous, fever-filled flight across central Europe. The king and his loyal band of men traveled stormy seas and hostile lands and snow-packed mountains, traversing the lands of enemies.
At various points, members of Richard’s small, brave party were left behind, siphoned off as decoy, rear-guard, and any other stratagem the men could think of to draw the pursuers off.
It didn’t work.
Richard was finally tracked down, somewhat like a fox, to an inn in Vienna. There were only two companions at his side when he was finally taken by the soldiers on orders of Duke Leopold of Austria.
Side note: Remember how I said Richard had a knack for pissing off important people? Well, Duke Leopold was one of those important persons. Richard had insulted the duke back in the Holy Land, when he tossed Leopold’s banner down off the walls of Acre in a fit of royal pique. Richard’s message was intentional and clear to all the soldiers and noblemen who saw him do it: Duke Leopold did not help win this city. Oh Richard…
One wonders if, in retrospect, Richard thought perhaps this had been a bad idea.
In any event, the duke was tipped off to Richard’s presence at the inn (in King’s Warrior, I had the tip-off come through the villain), and boom, a king’s ransom was ensured.
When he was captured, Richard was wracked with a fever that would not leave, stirring a pot of stew in the kitchens, disguised, quite poorly one must imagine, as a servant. Perhaps he was wearing some of his royal, gem-studded rings. Oh Richard…
The full story of the incredible journey of Richard his his loyal men is an astonishing story of real-life adventure and peril. It’s, quite literally, unbelievable. Except it all happened.
If you’d like to know more, I highly recommend The Troubadour’s Song, by David Boyle.
There are also many websites that discuss it, including: http://www.angus-donald.com/history/king-richards-return-imprisonment-and-ransom/
King Richard’s travels took him to Sicily (his sister was being held captive there; Richard freed her within days, a deed King Philippe had not been able to accomplish in months), then onward to Crete, Rhodes, and Cyprus.
Another interesting side note (Richard’s life is full of the stuff): a ship carrying Richard’s betrothed as well as his newly-freed sister was shipwrecked in Cyprus, along with a large portion of Richard’s treasury. Perhaps understandably, the king of Cyprus saw this as a rare opportunity. When he, oh so politely, declined to return Richard’s money, or the women, Richard unleashed on him.
Suffice it to say, things did not go well for Cyprus.
Richard really was an incredibly potent king and warrior.
Richard finally arrived in the Holy Lands at Whitsun 1191. He did not travel to Venice, as was implied in the story.
A couple timeline notes:
Prince John’s claims about Richard’s death
Prince John (Richard’s brother, one day to be come the e-e-evil King John of so many legends) really did claim his brother King Richard was dead. (John did so many, many brazen, awful things, even for a medieval royal, I’m reduced to the trite statement: it’s unbelievable.) John began such claims long before January 1193, though. In King’s Warrior, I bumped this timeline a bit.
English crusaders had been returning home throughout the summer of 1192, but there was no sign of Richard. Christmas passed, and still no sign of the king. He and his small part had simply disappeared.
Then, after Christmas, the French king received word from the Holy Roman Emperor himself: Richard was his prisoner. The emperor had paid a significant transfer fee (aka: purchased) the king from Duke Leopold of Austria, and soon the news was spreading like wildfire across Christendom: the brave Lionheart was captured, and it would cost England a king’s ransom to have him back again.
(Yet another interesting aside: Leopold used the the money from this ‘transfer fee’ to, in part, build the first defensive wall around Vienna. And thus, even in capture, Richard was a powerful, impactful figure.)
When King Philippe & Prince John sent armies to England
As noted above, the first person in the West to get word of Richard’s capture was the French king, Philippe, via a letter from the Holy Roman emperor himself. Philippe was delighted by the news, and the first person he told was his constant co-conspirator, Prince John of England. In King’s Warrior, I showed William the Marshal delivering the French king’s message to Prince John.
Craven Prince John traveled to Paris in January 1193 to conspire with Philippe, although it wasn’t until March that he actually returned with a host of mercenaries, and launched (yet another) rebellion. In King’s Warrior, I compressed this timeline.
Some Irish Words
Na Scealaga: Skellig Islands
A rúnsearc /uh ROON-shark/: Secret love, beloved. Heavy on the passion.
mo shíorghrá /muh HEER-ggrah/: My eternal love, soul mate.
filleann an feall ar an bhfeallaire /fill-en an fyal er on vee-yowl-er-eh/: Treachery returns to the betrayer; bad deeds return on the bad-deed doer; colloquial “what goes around, comes around.” As stated by Daltaí na Gaeilge (www.daltai.com), “…it is best delivered with a curled lip and menace in the voice.”
dia ár sábháil /JEE-ah awr sawv-oy-il/: God save us; colloquial equivalent to “Are you f*cking kidding me?” or even ‘WTF’ Go on, try it in mixed company. It’ll be okay.
amainiris /ARM-an-erish/: The name of the barony created for Tadhg. Means “the second day after tomorrow.” To me, it feels like everlasting hope. The thing around the next corner…just keep looking ahead.