Richard The Lionheart: The Mighty Crusader05 Jan 2004 0
What's in a Name?
Most Americans, when pressed, can name no more than a handful of their presidents. Unsurprisingly, most can name even fewer Kings of England. Richard the Lionheart, however, is probably among the select few who can be easily recalled, though beyond the name the details may be lost. Historians will, of course, know Richard the Lionheart for his leadership of the Third Crusade and its failure to wrest Jerusalem from another famous warrior, Saladin. Military history buffs will want to come to better know Richard the Lionheart as a warrior and a general from David Miller's new book, Richard The Lionheart: The Mighty Crusader.
As a retired general in the British Army and professional journalist and author, David Miller examines Richard through the eyes of a military professional. His subject is examined exclusively in a military context, with the result that the reader gets only a partial biography, albeit a satisfying read. The part of King Richard's life that the reader is given leaves an impression of an outstanding leader and ferocious warrior.
The Heart of the Subject
Spanning 223 pages, Richard the Lionheart begins by briefly introducing the reader to Richard as a person, and then quickly moves on to describe medieval military organization both for the Crusaders and the Saracens, as well as a brief description of historical sources and definitions. The first full chapter is devoted to describing the events leading up to the Third Crusade. The reader is then taken chronologically through the events of the crusade, beginning with Richard's preparations for it (even before he became king), and ending with his departure from the Holy Land. The three final chapters of the book are devoted to the naval fleet which transported King Richard's army, logistical concerns of an army for that period, and a final look at Richard as a military commander. Closing the book is a series of appendices which include excerpts from Vegetius' De Re Militari, the western medieval equivalent of Sun Tzu's The Art of War. Also included are some of Richard's writings, both of which are not to be missed, for they add additional depth to the reader's understanding of Richard.
David Miller does an excellent job in separating a dizzying list of historical figures from his subject. He deftly weaves his way through complicated relationships, alliances, and motivations that characterized western medieval culture, mostly by carving away vast amounts of them. It makes for a much more focused picture of King Richard, though readers seeking a broader and deeper understanding of the events surrounding the Third Crusade will need to look elsewhere. What is left, however, is the most relevant information to the story, which makes the book not only enjoyable to read, but also a fine book to introduce novices to either King Richard, the Crusades, or medieval history.
Miller obviously devoted a significant amount of time to researching the use of horses in the military, and his insight into this area grants an already excellent book even more authority as the depth of the challenge of managing the needs of horses is intermingled with medieval military science. Subjects such as the challenge that Richard faced as he offloaded his horses into a battle after spending months at sea without exercise help the reader to understand the complexity of medieval army logistics. Additional research into the amount of food consumed by both men and their mounts brings the reader a fuller understanding of why logistics played such a significant role in the failure of the Third Crusade to take, and hold, Jerusalem.
The Heart of the Lion
By electing to carefully ignore certain aspects of his subject's life, Miller runs the risk of incompletely describing his subject. All humans have faults, but it seems that contemporary society focuses on the negative aspects of the human personality. The result is a drought of role models. Miller readily acknowledges that his subject was not perfect, and that by focusing exclusively on him as a military leader that the picture is incomplete. That said, the picture which the reader is left with is from which legends are drawn, and I found it refreshing to read about someone without also being reminded of the failings that we know all humans possess.
Miller does an excellent job of introducing us to the warrior and the general who was King Richard. The reader will quickly learn that Richard was brave, considered by some as too brave. Both his own men and Saladin believed Richard put himself in danger too casually. Miller's portrayal of Richard gives the reader a good sense as to why he was thusly considered, and also why the Saracens feared his personal presence on the battlefield as much as they respected his generalship.
The reader will quickly grow to respect Richard's military skills. By the third chapter Miller finds Richard unexpectedly detoured on his way to the Middle East, after a storm scattered his fleet. Discovering a number of ships missing, Richard set off to find them, several of which being found on the island of Cyprus. A rebellious warlord there, Isaac Comnenus, had recently seized power and his cruel and brutal treatment of his subjects will earn him little sympathy with the reader; I found myself eagerly awaiting the justice he would find upon Richard's arrival on the island. What follows in the book is an exciting, enjoyable, and impressive tale of Richard deploying an outnumbered force of crusaders against an army of brutish amateurs. The Cyprus battle is just one example of how Miller educates the reader while making his book an enjoyable read simultaneously.
Making learning a pleasant experience is not an easy task, but Richard the Lionheart does exactly that. It is a focused work which takes an historical microscope over a narrow period of time and concerns itself with a single historical figure. It is successful in achieving its goals. Readers seeking to learn about the specifics of the military situation surrounding the Third Crusade or seeking an understanding of why Richard was called the Lionheart will enjoy this book. It's an easy, enlightening read that will give a greater appreciation for the complexities of managing a medieval army. Miller does an excellent job of making a convincing argument that Richard made the correct decision not to attempt to retake Jerusalem. Medieval armchair generals are not going to want to miss this one when it is released in the Spring of 2004.
Recommended Reading and Gaming
The Crusades: A Short History by Jonathan Riley-Smith
Warriors of God: Richard the Lionheart and Saladin in the Third Crusade by James Reston, Jr.
The Art of Warfare in Western Europe During the Middle Ages by J. F. Verbruggen
Medieval Warfare edited by Maurice Keen
Brassey's Book of the Crusades by David Miller
About the Author
As Editor in Chief for The Wargamer, Jim spends his time fighting the forces of Virtual Evil. Slaying the minions either tactically or individually is his greatest pleasure, though occasionally he will command battles on a larger scale. His hand stays the Ultimate Weapon, however. Smashing his PC to smithereens will, of course, permanently banish his evil foes from this plane of existence. But his wife and kids will look at him funny if he does, and it's unlikely he'll be able to convince them that he needs a new PC if he can't take care of his old one. So the battles continue?