God’s Wolf –
The Life of the Most Notorious of All Crusaders: Reynald de Chatillon
By Jeffrey Lee
Atlantic Books – £20.00
Reynald was the most perfidious and wicked of the Franks. He was the greediest, the most determined to destroy and do evil, to violate agreements and solemn oaths, to break his promise and to lie.
It does make you think – in 2010, a parcel bomb was sent from Yemen by an Al-Qaida operative with the intention of blowing up a plane over America. Luckily the device was intercepted before the wretched plan could successfully manifest; but, what puzzled investigators was the name of the person to whom the parcel was actually addressed: Reynald de Chatillon.
Born in twelve-century France and ultimately bred for nothing other than violence, de Chatilon was a knight who joined the Second Crusade and rose through the ranks to become the pre-eminent figure in the crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem.
Not to mention one of the most reviled of characters in Islamic history.
Indeed, God’s Wolf – The Life of the Most Notorious of All Crusaders: Reynald de Chatillon, dissects and delivers the story thereof, which, unsurprisingly, is as dark and luridly depressing as one might expect: ”[…]tournaments were never enough to sate the desires and energies of medieval warriors. The oversupply of fighting men resulted in chronic banditry and feuding, frequently led by frustrated younger sons. The crusade harnessed this pent-up violence for praiseworthy ends. As the monk Guibert of Nogent wrote:
In our own time, God has instituted a Holy War, so that the order of the knights and the unstable multitude who used to engage in mutual slaughter in the manner of ancient paganism may find a new way of gaining salvation.
It is not fighting but foolery. Thus to risk both soul and body is not brave but shocking, is not strength but folly. But now O mighty soldiers, O men of war, you have a cause for which you fight without danger to your souls: a cause in which to conquer is glorious and for which to die is to gain” (Dead Man Walking’).
Hmm, is it me or is the final line: ”a cause in which to conquer is glorious and for which to die is to gain,” complete and utter bollocks? No wonder such a sham like collection of words appealed to an Al-Qaida lunatic with the (sole) intention of blowing up an aeroplane over America.
Herein lies the fundamental crux of the book in its entirety.
A book that comes replete eight pages of glossy, colour photographs/artwork – a List of Illustrations, Prologue, an Introduction (‘A Monstrous Unbeliever’), Endnotes, Select Biography, Acknowledgements and Index – these twenty-one chapters furnish the reader with everything one might ever need to know about the not so charitable Reynald de Chatillon.
As such, author Jeffrey Lee, who has a first in Arabic and Islamic History from Oxford, has, throughout these 283 pages put together a book that, if nothing else, promotes the (rightful?) legacy of the Crusades unto a sometimes perplexing plateau of the most considered history.
That said, as Carol Hillenbrand, Professor of Islamic History at the University of Edinburgh has since written: ”God’s Wolf is enormously readable. It is written in a very lively style and with vigour and pace […] both scholarly and at the same time accessible to a wider readership.”
That, it most definitely is.