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Thursday, March 15, 2018

Frankish Fashion and Clothes in the Crusader States

The perishable nature of clothing inhibits our ability to know exactly or in great detail how the residents of Outremer dressed.  We have to rely on the textile and garment fragments that have been found, contemporary artistic depictions and literary descriptions. Of these sources, depictions and descriptions both suggest that the fashion in crusader states was set in Paris more than Damascus, but this does not mean that modifications were not made to accommodate the weather and other conditions in the Holy Land. Dr. Schrader provides a brief overview to help us visualize crusaders.

Least impacted by circumstances and so least unique were the armor and arms of the military elite.  The armor and weapons of Western knights had proved superior to the protective armor and weapons of the Saracens from the time of the First Crusade. That fundamental advantage continued throughout the period of Latin rule in the eastern Mediterranean. This is not to say that there was no development. On the contrary, arms and armor underwent dramatic changes in the two hundred years from 1099 to 1291, and again before the fall of Cyprus to Venice in 1473.  The evolution of arms and armor, however, was common to the entire West, with local variation to be sure, but any major innovation that provided significant advantages was rapidly adopted by a ruling elite that was remarkably mobile given the means of transportation. 

There was, however, one innovation which is widely attributed to crusading, and this was the evolution of the “surcoat” a cloth garment worn over armor.  The argument for attributing the emergence of the surcoat in the 12th century is that fighting in the intense sun of the Middle East would have made chainmail dangerously hot; by covering it with a thin, loose and flowing cloth, however, the chainmail could be kept comparatively cool. With the surcoat came the opportunity to wear colors and so also to wear distinguishing devices or “arms” as well. Hence the evolution of heraldry goes hand-in-hand with the emergence of the surcoat as an integral part of a knight’s battle dress.

Off the battlefield, the men of Outremer may have been tempted to adapt some of the clothing customs of native inhabitants.  It seems logical (at least to us) that at least during the hot summer months, men at leisure might have preferred loose flowing robes to hose, padded garments such as gambesons, much less fur-lined cloaks and hoods. There is, however, little to no evidence to support this. The depictions of barons and knights in manuscripts, sculpture or seals consistently show men of the military elite in military regalia. Kings are often depicted in voluminous robes, but these are identical to the robes of kings from the West. This has led some scholars to suggest that it was a matter of class pride not to adapt the fashions of the natives. Such an interpretation, however, is more consistent with earlier assumptions about “colonial” attitudes than recent evidence of inter-marriage and close cooperation with native Christian elites. In short, we do not know how the men of Outremer dressed “off-duty” and in private settings. 

We know even less about what the women in the crusader states wore.  They are depicted less frequently in art, and if so almost always in conventional Western garb. We know for certain that they did not adopt Muslim customs of going about completely veiled. The evidence for this comes from Muslim sources that both decry the lack of “modesty” displayed by crusader women―and admire the allure of women so exposed to the eyes of strange males.  That said, I also suspect that women will have found some means of protecting their skin from the ravages of the Middle Eastern sun, and this may have included veils worn over their faces while out of doors. Or it may have entailed wide-brimmed hats that cast a shadow.  Yet both ideas are pure speculation.

Furthermore, although the style of clothing may not have differed significantly from what was the latest fashion in Paris, Cologne, Pisa and Rome, the materials used could have made a significant difference to the effect of the clothes. The same surcoat or gown will fall, fold, billow and sway differently if made of heavy woolen or stiff linen compared to cotton gauze or silk. Many of the fabrics of Outremer were sheer, translucent or semi-transparent. Depending on how such fabrics are employed, they could have created enticingly provocative (or in the eye of clerics and conservatives vulgar and immodest) garments without ever deviating from the fashions wore in London or Paris. Likewise, a gown that is simple in cut and form can be transformed by silk brocade or a weft of gold into something stunning, luxurious and so (depending on your ideology) something self-indulgent and extravagant.

Isabella of Jerusalem is shown here wearing "cloth of gold."
Archaeologists have uncovered thousands of fabric fragments dating to the crusader era. While it is impossible to know if these were locally produced or imported, used by natives or the Latin elites, they do demonstrate the variety of textiles available. They included silk, cotton, linen, felt, wool, and cloth woven from goat hair. They also include a large number of hybrid fabrics composed of a warp of one kind of yarn and weft of another, such as silk and wool, linen or cotton.

We also know for a fact that some of the finest cloth known to the medieval world originated in the Near East. Egyptian cotton and linen, both renowned for their quality, were exported through the ports of the Levant as was silk from Damascus. Words familiar to us as types of cloth such as muslin, gauze, and damask derive their names from the cities that first produced them in export quantities, namely Mosul, Gaza and Damascus. Other fabrics no longer in use, such as siqlatin (silk woven with gold), were also known to have been traded through the ports of the crusader states and so were certainly in use there.

Nor did these textiles just pass through the ports of Outremer. There is documentary and archaeological evidence that textiles were produced in the crusader states. There were, for example, some 4,000 silk weavers in the County of Tripoli.  Tyre was famous for its white silk. Beirut exported both silk and cotton fabrics, while cotton was grown around Acre, Tiberias and Ramla.  

Almost as important as the material from which clothes were made are the dyes used to color it.  Here again, the crusader states sat near the source of many materials coveted for dying. Saffron, turmeric, and indigo ― not to mention the muscles found only off Tyre and the Peloponnese needed for a rich purple dye ― were all more readily available and cheaper in the crusader states than in Western Europe. This makes it probable that they were used more widely and more generously used, producing much brighter colors than was common in the west. 

And then comes the decoration. Weaving with different color threads, block printing and embroidery were all means of creating patterns and prints on the cloth fragments from this period.  Silk brocade and stitching with spun gold were particularly expensive and coveted forms of decoration for clothing that are known to have been exported, if not produced, in the crusader states.
Byzantine fashions influenced the crusaders more than Arab fashion. Note the elaborate decoration and the silk brocade used for the gown itself.
It was probably the combination of fine cloth and the use of vivid colors in decoration that made the clothing of Latin elites in Outremer seem exotic to visitors from the West. It was often commented upon by crusaders that the lords of Outremer were very rich and luxury loving. Some of that reputation came from a proclivity for bathing, and the use of sweet scents and perfume, but some was undoubtedly the apparent extravagance of dress that came from being able to afford for everyday materials that in the West were saved only for special occasions. 

Dr. Helena P. Schrader holds a PhD in History.

She is the Chief Editor of the Real Crusades History Blog.
She is an award-winning novelist and author of numerous books both fiction and non-fiction. Her three-part biography of Balian d'Ibelin won a total of 14 literary accolades. Her most recent release is a novel about the founding of the crusader Kingdom of Cyprus. You can find out more at: http://crusaderkingdoms.com 
Daily life, including clothes and fashion, is depicted as accurately as possible in Schrader's award-winning novels set in Outremer:

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Thursday, March 8, 2018

Saracen Society in the Early Twelfth Century

Now that the lengthy excursion on the role of the Knights Templar has concluded, Dr. Schrader returns to the main focus of this blog: the crusades and the crusader states. A short essay on the world surrounding the crusader states seemed like a good transition back to the main topic. Today's entry is based primarily upon the article "Arab Culture in the Twelfth Century" by Nabih Amin Faris of the American University of Beirut.*

By the time the first crusaders arrived in the Middle East to re-take Jerusalem and re-establish Christian rule over the territories know in the West as "the Holy Land," Arab domination of the Levant had lasted roughly 450 years.  More important, driven by religious fervor, the Arabs had conquered North Africa, most of the Iberian peninsula, the islands of the Mediterranean, and had spread Islam to the Caucuses and Persia as well. (For a timeline of Muslim conquests see: Jerusalem Forgotten?)

Alongside these military victories, Arab elites adopted and spread a new Isalmic culture.  This culture awakened a surge of creativity and produced great works of art, literature, mathematics, astronomy and medicine. In urban centers such as Baghdad, Cairo and Damascus there were centers of learning and education, as well as great hospitals, including teaching hospitals where medical practitioners were trained. Great mosques, palaces, fortresses and markets were built. Indeed, the 9th and 10th centuries are often viewed as a "golden age" of Islamic culture.

By the 12th century, however, a number of factors had begun to undermine and shatter that Arab dominance and with it the confidence that had fostered the flourishing of intellectual and artistic achievements. Indeed, the diversity of peoples now united in the Dar al-Islam make the crusader term "Saracen" (which literally just means "easterner") a justifiable description of their foes. Faris notes that "the crusaders, in spite of their various origins, were more homogeneous than the [Saracens], who were deeply divided racially, linguistically, and culturally....The Arab elements...had already lost their hegemony, and were bitterly pitted against such neo-Moslems as the Turks, Persians, and Kurds."

Arguably even more disruptive to Islamic society of the twelfth century was the dangerous strength of two Shia states in the heart of the Middle East.  The largest and most successful was the Fatimid Caliphate, established in Cairo in 969, which had rapidly spread its influence across North Africa and the Levant. The Turks, recent converts to Islam, pushed the Fatamids back into Africa -- but at the price of seizing political control of the Caliphate of Baghdad. Thereafter and for the next two hundred years, the Caliphs of Baghdad were virtual prisoners of their protectors. Meanwhile, a smaller and more fanatical Shia sect established itself in the mountains of what is now Lebanon: the Assassins. Sunni Muslim leaders felt actively threatened by both of these Shia states, and wars against the Shia generally commanded more popular support than wars against the Christians, the former being heretics, the later simply misguided.

Yet this was not the only threat or conflict of the period. Faris summarizes the situation like this: 
The twelfth century witnessed struggles between Moslems and Franks, between Sunnites and Shiites, between Sunnite caliph and Sunnite sultan, between Sunnite princes in the various urban centers and those in the outlying districts, between ambitious dynasts and predatory viziers, and between the mass of the population, mostly Arabs, and the foreign elements, mostly Turks. Each of these struggles was sufficient to disrupt the normal course of life and to ravage the general good of society. Together, they wrought havoc throughout the empire, rendered communications unsafe, increased lawlessness and gave rise to various forms of brigandage. (p. 4)
Indeed, Faris notes further that when in when in AD 1111 the sultan of Baghdad at last answered the pleas for assistance from the Moslem states facing Frankish incursions, "his troops, in the words of a Moslem chronicler, 'spread havoc and destruction throughout the land, far exceeding anything which the Franks were wont to do.'"

The constant conflicts shattered the economy and disrupted trade. Trade with the Far East stagnated and declined at the same time that the Mediterranean came increasingly under Christian domination.  Not surprisingly, declining security and prosperity had an impact on intellectual and artistic development as well.  Faris characterizes the period as one of "preservation rather than innovation, compilation rather than creation." (p. 19) Meanwhile, the threat of the Shia heresy resulted in a more rigid orthodoxy among the majority Sunnis. The space for theological discourse and discussion narrowed, and these states, being theocracies, conflated heresy and treason.

The trends toward greater orthodoxy and intellectual stagnation which affected the elites, had an arguably even more profound impact on the most vulnerable segments of society. According to Faris (p. 16), "...Arab women had lost the greater part of their freedom and dignity. ....[and] the system of total segregation of the sexes and stringent seclusion of women had become general" even before the 12th century, but it was in the 12th century that, feeling threatened, non-Muslim communities became subjected to increased discrimination.  Non-Muslims were expelled from government employment, including employment in hospitals, and forced to wear distinctive clothing. It is important to remember that non-Muslims still represented a very large minority in those parts of the Middle East that had been part of the Byzantine Empire before the Muslim invasions of the 7th century. Historians now estimate that maybe as much as 50% of the population in these areas were still Christian. Certainly, Christians represented at least 30% of the population.

Added to all these man-made difficulties, the 12th century also saw repeated epidemics of small-pox, plague and malaria, as well as earthquakes and famines that affected the Muslim world at least, if not more, dramatically than the crusader states. In fact, visitors from Muslim Spain reported that the Muslim subjects of the crusader kings were on the whole better off than their brothers in the Muslim states around them. Food for thought.

Discover the more about the crusader states at: http://crusaderkingdoms.com and in Dr. Schrader's and J. Robert Stephen's novels.

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Dr. Helena P. Schrader holds a PhD in History.
She is the Chief Editor of the Real Crusades History Blog.
She is an award-winning novelist and author of numerous books both fiction and non-fiction. Her three-part biography of Balian d'Ibelin won a total of 14 literary accolades. Her most recent release is a novel about the founding of the crusader Kingdom of Cyprus. You can find out more at: http://crusaderkingdoms.com
* Faris, Nabih Amin. "Arab Culture in the Twelth Century" in Zacour, Norman P. and Harry W. Hazard. A History of the Crusades Volume Five: The Impact of the Crusades on the Near East. University of Wisconsin Press, 1985.

Friday, March 2, 2018

REVIEW: "The English Templar"

Despite what you might think after suffering through "Knightfall" there is actually some very good fiction that depicts the destruction of the Knights Templar without inventing fairy stories. Real Crusades History editor, Helena P. Schrader, wrote her own account of this historical event eleven years ago. The book is still available on amazon, albeit only in paperback: "The English Templar"

Below is a review by novelist Michael Schmicker 

Philip IV was one greedy royal.

Le Roi de fer (the “Iron King”) ruled France with an iron fist, financing his costly, incessant wars by shaking down the Church, Jews, bankers, and the Knights Templar. When Pope Boniface VIII protested His Royal Highness’s heavy tax on the clergy, Philip accused him of heresy and set up a French anti-pope, Clement V, under his thumb. When Lombard bankers who financed his fight with England demanded repayment of their loans, he expelled them from France and seized their properties. In 1306, he drove the Jews from France, then forced their debtors to pay the Crown instead. In 1307, he turned his avaricious eye on the assets of the Poor Fellow Soldiers of Christ and the Temple of Solomon (aka the Knights Templar) – a militant, monastic order created in 1120 to do good by protecting Christian pilgrims visiting the Holy Land. The poor soldiers did very well indeed over the following two centuries; by the time Philip moved against them, the Order owned valuable properties and assets throughout Christendom, including France.

On Friday the 13th October, 1307, Philip fell on them like a falcon on a rabbit.

"The English Templar" is a captivating fictional account of this shameful event, and its disastrous effects on a noble French family brave enough to hide Sir Percival de Lacy, an English Templar caught in Poitiers when Philip pounces.

Author and historian Helena Schrader knows her century and her subject; two of her novels – "Knight of Jerusalem" and "St. Louis' Knight" – were recently named Finalists for the 2014 Chaucer Award for Historical Fiction. They’re among a suite of well-received novels Schrader sets in the so-called “Age of Chivalry.” Barbara Tuchman’s National Book Award-winning work, "A Distant Mirror," exposed the sour truth of a medieval age wracked by senseless, unending warfare that spared no one. Schrader’s "English Templar" echoes the coarse brutality of this calamitous era, while shining a harsh light on a corrupt, morally-compromised, pre-Reformation Church complicit with Philip in applying the dreaded tortures of the Inquisition to destroy the Templars. She wisely balances the horrors of the day with a sweet love story. Young Felice de Preuthune falls slowly but inexorably for the outlaw Sir Percy, and vice-versa. Standing in the way is Umberto di Sante, an ambitious, unscrupulous, young cleric, determined to enjoy Felice as his concubine. The Pope has one; why shouldn’t he?

The Knights Templar have fascinated novelists as far back as Sir Water Scott. "Ivanhoe" (1820) showcased a Templar Knight as villain. More recently, Italian author Umberto Eco ("Foucault’s Pendulum") and writer Dan Brown ("The Da Vinci Code") profitably wove the legenday fraternity into best-sellers. Schrader successfully mines the same literary gold, crafting a compelling, expertly researched, and provocative tale of her own.

If the Middle Ages are your dish, don’t miss this delicious literary feast.

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Dr. Helena P. Schrader holds a PhD in History.
She is the Chief Editor of the Real Crusades History Blog.
She is an award-winning novelist and author of numerous books both fiction and non-fiction. Her three-part biography of Balian d'Ibelin won a total of 14 literary accolades. Her most recent release is a novel about the founding of the crusader Kingdom of Cyprus. You can find out more at: http://crusaderkingdoms.com

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Did Crusaders believe "killing infidels" would gain them heaven?

Peter, one of our subscribers on youtube, asks an interesting question: did crusaders of the Middle Ages believe that killing infidels would earn them heaven? He asks this after viewing the scene in Kingdom of Heaven in which a crazed preacher is shown proclaiming that killing infidels is "the path to heaven". But is this idea historically accurate? J Stephen analyzes the issue. 

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Footnote on the Knights Templar: The Surprising Stand of Edward II of England

 As a final footnote to our series on the Truth about the Knights Templar,Dr. Schrader hightlights the surprising stand of Edward II of England at the time of Philip IV's brutal attack on the Templars.
The Effigy of Edward II on his Tomb in Gloucester Cathedral

Edward II has not gone down in history as one of Britain’s greater monarchs.  He lacked the military effectiveness of his brutal father, and suffered the humiliating defeat at Bannockburn. He was openly homosexual in an age when this was widely despised, illegal and a cardinal sin. He indulged his favorites and lavished favors on them – to the outrage of the magnates of the realm, who expected to be the recipients of royal favor. And, of course, he ended his reign ignominiously, abandoned by the bulk of his vassals and subjects, and forced to flee before the invading forces of his estranged queen, her lover and his fourteen year old son.  But, for all his weaknesses and errors of judgment, he was not entirely unscrupulous or heartless, and he should be remembered with respect for his stance concerning the Knights Templar.

On the night of Friday, October 13, 1307, King Philip IV of France’s men broke into the commandaries of the Knights Templar throughout France and arrested everyone they found, whether knights, sergeants and lay-brothers.  The Templars were accused of a catalogue of heinous crimes from idolatry to sodomy. They were alleged to have cremated the bodies of their comrades (a sin in the medieval church) and then consumed their ashes. They were said to have roasted infants alive and eaten them as well.  Compared to these charges, the accusations of devil worship, blasphemy, corruption and deflowering virgins were almost child’s play.
Modern historians agree that the charges were trumped up and motivated by Philip IV’s empty coffers. Philip IV used similar charges to justify confiscation of the property of the Jews and to remove Pope Benedict the XI.  Further evidence that he did not believe the vile charges against the Templars was Philip IV’s close association with them prior to their 
arrest.  Indeed, the day before the mass arrests, the Grand Marshal of the Templars was given a place of honor as pall bearer to the deceased wife of Charles of Valois, the king’s brother -- hardly the place for a man sincerely suspected of devil worship, cannibalism and sodomy, but Philip IV was nothing if not cold-blooded.

All those arrested, including the very men King Philip had treated as friends and advisors only months, days and even hours before, were subjected to brutal torture until they confessed to the catalog of crimes the French King had concocted. The tortures employed included tearing out men’s teeth, burning the soles off their feet (crippling many), suspending men by their wrists after tying their hands behind their backs, tearing off fingernails etc. etc. Between torture sessions, the arrested monks were held in dungeons with little (if any) light or air, given poor rations, and no access to sanitary facilities, so that many became ill, weakening their ability to withstand the torture further. The treatment was so brutal that no less than 36 Templars died under torture in the first week after the arrests. Most of those that did not die, however, eventually confessed to one or more of the charges against them. Only a few held out, while fifty-four Templars, who had the courage to retract the confessions torn from them under torture, were burned at the stake as “relapsed heretics.”

While this was all going on in France, the rest of Christendom was dumbstruck and amazed. Since the Templars were an international organization owing allegiance only to the pope, it was important for Philip IV to gain papal support for his actions, and to convince his fellow monarchs to follow his lead. Tragically, the Pope at the time lived in terror of King Philip IV, who had deposed his predecessor with accusations almost identical to those leveled against the Templars. He preferred to sacrifice the Templars rather than risk confrontation with King Philip. (The pope resided in Avignon at this time and was widely viewed as a prisoner or puppet of the French king.)

Enter Edward II of England, the son-in-law of Philip IV. A month after the arrests in France, Edward’s “dear” father-in-law sent a special envoy to him laden with documents that purported to prove the guilt of the Templars.  Edward’s reaction was to write to the Kings of Portugal, Castile, Aragon, and Sicily, denouncing the King of France. Edward rejected the charges against the Templars as monstrous lies, and reminded his fellow monarchs of the Templars service in the Holy Land and their “becoming devotion to God.” He urged the recipients of his letter to turn a deaf ear “to the slanders of ill-natured men.”

Edward also wrote to the pope urging him to open an independent inquiry, but the pope responded by ordering the arrest of the Templars.  Edward II received these papal instructions on December 15, 1307, but he delayed arresting the Templars until January 7.  This three week delay enabled many English Templars to “disappear,” – and possibly some of their portable wealth with them. But most “wealth” in medieval England was, of course, land and Edward II now made a virtue out of necessity and seized all Templar properties for the crown. One can hardly blame him. 

What I find remarkable and noteworthy is that even now he did not entirely abandon the Templars. When the pope insisted that the arrested Templars (those like the Master of England William de la More, who was determined to defend his Order, or those too old and feeble too escape) be tortured to force confessions, Edward of England blandly replied that torture was not part of English jurisprudence, adding that he didn’t have anyone in the kingdom experienced in such skills. (The English crown had resolutely refused to allow the Dominicans to introduce the Inquisition into England.)

For three years (!), Edward continued to resist demands that the Templars be tortured until the pope threatened him with excommunication – and sent ten of his best torturers to help the backward English crown. (Today we call it "capacity building.")  Edward caved in, but in a last gesture of loyalty he told the torture team they were not to mutilate their victims, leave permanent injuries or cause violent effusions of blood. 

Edward of England enriched himself from the Templars, but, to the extent that he was able, he spared them from cruel and inhuman treatment. It is perhaps only a footnote in an otherwise sad and unlucky reign, but I think Edward still deserves to be honored for his stance on this issue. 

The last Grand Master and Marshal of the Knights Templar, Jacques de Molay and Geoffrey de Charney respectively, were burned at the stake for retracting their confessions, in the presence of King Philip, on March 18, 1314. 

In 2007 the Vatican officially declared the Templars’ innocent based on the evidence still in the Papal archives.


Barber, Malcolm. The New Knighthood. Cambridge, 1994.

Howarth, Stephen. The Knights Templar. New York, 1984.
Robinson. John. The Knights Templar in the Crusades. London, 1991.
Sanello, Frank. The Knights Templar: God’s Warriors, The Devil’s Bankers. New York, 2003.

 Dr Schrader's novel The English Templar is set against the background of the destruction of the Knights Templar.


Dr. Helena P. Schrader holds a PhD in History.
She is the Chief Editor of the Real Crusades History Blog.
She is an award-winning novelist and author of numerous books both fiction and non-fiction. Her three-part biography of Balian d'Ibelin won a total of 14 literary accolades. Her most recent release is a novel about the founding of the crusader Kingdom of Cyprus. You can find out more at: http://crusaderkingdoms.com