When news of the fall of Jerusalem to Saladin’s forces in 1187 reached the Vatican, Pope Urban
III is said to have been so overwhelmed he had a heart attack and died. While Richard the Lionheart led thousands of men to reclaim it, the capture of the city also fired the imagination of Medieval bards in a way no other event had.
In an era that combined rising literacy with the early flowering of chivalry, an unprecedented burst of historical writing exploded in the Christian West. Numerous histories and epic poems glorified the knights of previous crusades. In his own lifetime, Richard I’s rivalry with Saladin was also mythologised.
These stories have echoed down the ages and have continued to grip the Western imagination, from Sir Walter Scott’s romantic reimaginings in the 19th century to President George W Bush’s disastrous use of the word ‘crusade’ to describe the war on terror after 9/11.
However, what is the true story of the Crusades? While the religious dimension of the conflict can’t be denied, the real story is more complicated, and much more earthly, than most people recognise. Turn to page 30 to discover the roots of the holy wars, and the kings and queens that fought in them.
Take to the skies with our history of flight from page 14
Jack Parsons Editor