My Trip to Outremer

Its history goes back almost to the dawn of time and it has been known by different names down through the ages.  It was called the Land of Israel in the biblical era.   The Babylonians knew it as the Kingdom of Judah. The ancient Greeks called it Palestine.  As a Roman province, it was Syria Palaestina.  It has been called Canaan, the Levant, the Promised Land.   Since 1948, it has been the State of Israel.  But in the twelfth century, it was known throughout Christendom as the Kingdom of Jerusalem, the Holy Land, and Outremer, a Norman-French term that translates as “The land beyond the sea.”

I’d always been fortunate enough to visit the places I write about.  While it might not have been absolutely necessary, especially in the age of the Internet, I think I benefited by walking the peaceful pastures that had once been bloody battlefields, by exploring the haunting ruins of once- powerful medieval castles, and by following in the footsteps of Welsh princes, Yorkist kings, and a remarkable Duchess of Aquitaine.  It helped, of course, that these trips were tax-deductible for me!

Lionheart was the first book in which this pattern was broken.  I managed to visualize the places I was writing about, thanks to videos and YouTube.  For example, while looking for information about Arsuf, I was delighted to discover that paragliding is a favorite sport in the area, and there were quite a few videos that offered excellent views of the cliffs of Arsuf.  But I still felt cheated at being denied the opportunity to see these cliffs, cities, and castles for myself, and vowed that I would find a way to do on-site research for my novel about the Kingdom of Jerusalem.

The trip seemed snake-bit from the first, though, for the timing was not good.   This past spring, I did a book tour for A King’s Ransom, and while it was great fun, it was also exhausting.  My heart does not even start beating before nine AM on most days, so you can imagine how much I enjoyed having to get up in the middle of the night to catch a dawn flight.   Sleep is always in short supply on book tours and by the time I got home, I was ready to hibernate till the summer.  Instead, I came down with pneumonia, most likely a souvenir from one of my ten flights during the tour; ever since I caught whooping cough, of all ailments, on a flight from London last year, I’ve begun to view planes as flying petri dishes.   The pneumonia flattened me for more than seven weeks and after my doctor told me that it would be foolish to attempt another strenuous, demanding trip in the span of five months, I reluctantly cancelled our second Richard III tour scheduled for September.  That was quite disappointing, but I eventually realized that I should still be able to make the trip to Israel, for I would be able to set the pace, to avoid any obscenely early mornings, and to go back to my hotel to rest if need be, none of which I could do on book or travel tours.

I’d planned to make the trip to Israel with a Colorado friend, Enda Junkins, and when we learned that our Australian friend, Paula Mildenhall, would be in the US in October, I invited her to join us.   For the first time, it began to look as if the trip would really happen—and then war broke out.   We could only wait and watch and hope for a cease fire—not just for us but for all of the Israelis and Palestinians caught up in this maelstrom.  When a cease-fire finally held, we decided to make the trip even though the US State Department was still advising against all non-essential travel.  Since so many people expressed concern about our trip, I want to stress that we felt perfectly safe the entire time we were there, although after we returned home, there was another tragic outbreak of the violence that so often stalks this part of the world.

We arrived at Ben Gurion Airport in late afternoon on October 8th, and reached Jerusalem as twilight was settling over this ancient city, sacred to three of the world’s major religions.   On our first evening, we discovered the café that would become a favorite for the rest of our stay. The Etz Café is non-profit, run by a Jerusalem charity, Voice of Many Waters.  The food was excellent, their lemonanas were great thirst-quenchers, the staff was young and enthusiastic, and the weather was warm enough to eat at one of their outside tables; Jerusalem has as many outdoor cafes as Paris!   Here is the Facebook page for the Etz Café for any of you planning a trip to Jerusalem or simply curious about a non-profit restaurant.
The café also had what we at first took to be a mascot, a friendly, skinny little cat who greeted us as if he were the host; he kept jumping up on empty seats only to be gently shooed off  by one of the staff, but he’d hop right back as soon as the waiter went inside again.   It turned out that this confident little guy was a stray, one of dozens that we saw during our stay in the city.  They were remarkably friendly for strays, not at all skittish or wary, probably because many Israelis put out food for them, and they were everywhere—even in the courtyard of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre!

We hadn’t realized that we’d be arriving at the start of a holiday called Sukkot, a joyful festival that commemorates the forty years wandering in the desert.  We soon noticed small structures in the city, obviously temporary, and were quite curious until our Israeli friends explained that Leviticus states that “all natives of Israel shall dwell in booths,” as their ancestors did in the wilderness.   They said that today it is enough to eat meals in these sukkots; many families erect them in their own backyards, others are set up for apartment dwellers, and the ones we saw were provided for those who did not have access to sukkots of their own.   I found this quite interesting, so I am including a link here for those of my readers who’d like to know more about this festival. It did create a few problems for us as some places were closed or had limited hours, but if we hadn’t come during Sukkot, we might not have gotten to see our friend, Koby Itzhak, who is serving in the Israeli army; armies the world over tend to be stingy about giving soldiers much free time.   So it was well worth a few minor inconveniences to be able to meet Koby in Jaffa, Akko/Acre, and Sepphoris.

Tower of David

Tower of David

None of you will be surprised to hear that we spent our entire time in Jerusalem in the Old City.  At the top of my To See List was the Tower of David, also known as the citadel.  It is now a museum and their website shows why it is not to be missed for anyone visiting Jerusalem. It dates back to the second century BC, is over two thousand years old!   Naturally it changed as it passed into the hands of the various conquerors of the city; the present structure dates primarily from the 14th century. It became known as the Tower of David during the occupation by the Byzantines, who thought it was the site of the palace of King David.  The citadel was briefly a royal residence after the city fell to the Christian crusaders in 1099, but their kings soon built a large palace to the south of the citadel; sadly, no trace of this royal palace remains.

I was especially interested in seeing what is today called Phasael’s Tower; the original had been built by King Herod, who named it after his brother, Phasael.  It was very important during the crusader period, and it appeared on the royal seal of the Kingdom of Jerusalem; it was here that the terrified citizens took refuge when they feared Jerusalem might be attacked by Saladin in 1177.   I’d already set a key scene in my novel, Outremer, here, as the High Court members gathered to elect a new king after the unexpected death of King Amalric in 1174, so you can imagine how gratifying it was to visit the tower for myself.  The view of the Old City from the roof is absolutely spectacular.  We were fortunate enough to attend one of the Light and Sound shows that are performed in the citadel’s courtyard several evenings a week.   It rained briefly, but it was so warm we didn’t mind, and the show was great fun; it looked as if the crusader knights were going to ride their steeds right into the audience!    You can download a free audio guide of the museum to your computers or other devices; just go to the website link above, click onto Audio Guide and follow the instructions.

The following day was the first of our meetings with one of our Facebook friends.  Elke Weiss is a young American who holds dual citizenship; she is currently working for the Israeli government and she generously offered to give us a personal tour of the Old City.   We got to stroll the narrow, crowded streets of the Muslim, Jewish, Christian, and Armenian quarters, some of them covered just as they were in the MA.   These modern souks (markets) evoke atmospheric echoes of their medieval counterparts.  In fact, the Muslim and Christian quarters comprise one large souk, with some of their streets devoted to specific wares: David Street for tourist souvenirs, Christian Quarter Road for more upmarket goods, the Muristan for leather, and the Via Dolorosa for religious items.   And yes, we succumbed to the courteous but persistent entreaties of the vendors and did some shopping.  Paula, in particular, did much to energize the Israeli economy.   I think it is safe to say that our families and friends can expect many Jerusalem-themed gifts for Christmas.

I tend to be laser-focused when I travel and hone in on sites that will surface in my books, which means the modern world gets short shrift.   Although I have probably been in London at least 25 times over the years, I have never watched the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace and am not likely ever to do so.  But I can’t count the number of times I’ve been to the Tower or Westminster Abbey.     So we paid several visits to Jerusalem’s citadel. We admired the magnificent Damascus and Jaffa Gates, erected on the sites of the medieval gates.  We visited the Western Wall, built by King Herod and Judaism’s holiest site, and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which is believed to be where Jesus was crucified, buried, and resurrected.

The first basilica dates from the 4th century.  It was rebuilt at various times in the centuries that followed, greatly enlarged by the crusaders in the years between 1114 and 1170, becoming the burial place of the kings of Jerusalem, but it suffered considerable damage in a 1808 fire and an earthquake in 1927. It has always been a holy pilgrimage site for Christians and was very crowded the day that we were there, with people waiting patiently for hours to be able to enter Christ’s Tomb and view the rock upon which Jesus’s body is believed to have been lain.   The church was fought over by various Christian sects until an Ottoman decree in 1852 divided its custody among the Armenians, Greeks, Copts, Roman Catholics, Ethiopians, and Syrians, and today Jerusalem has four patriarchs, those of the Greek Orthodox, Armenian, Greek Catholic, and Latin or Roman Catholic churches.  Remarkably, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is ceremonially unlocked every morning by a Muslim Key Holder, Wajeeh Nuseibeh, whose family has been entrusted with this duty for hundreds of years; one tradition dates it from the 7th century, while another one traces it to 1192, when Salah al-Din (known to the West as Saladin) and Richard Coeur de Lion agreed that Christians would be permitted to worship again in the city.  Here is a link to a fascinating story about the current Key Holder.

Israeli Sunset

Israeli Sunset

We were not able to see all that was on my list, although we did get to celebrate Paula’s birthday during our stay, having dinner at the Rooftop Restaurant, which gave us a dazzling view of the Old City.  But we had to prioritize since we had such limited time in Jerusalem.  We were not permitted to visit the Dome of the Rock, the  magnificent mosque that dates back to the 7th century, for the huge esplanade known as the Temple Mount and Haram esh-Sharif, Arabic for the “Noble Sanctuary,” was off-limits to non-Muslims because of security concerns.  And unfortunately, my back problems flared up after two days and I had to take frequent breathers for the pain eases up when I sit down; all those Jerusalem outdoor cafes definitely came in handy.  I would have loved to see the 12th century crusader Church of St Anne, which was turned into a Muslim theological school by Saladin.  But I was in so much discomfort by then that I had to give up; Elke kindly offered to visit the church on my behalf and take photos for me.

I was looking forward to walking the ramparts and so it was very disappointing when they were closed on Saturday for what we assume were security threats.   Elke volunteered to take Sunday morning off to accompany us and we decided to delay our departure for Jaffa, hoping they would be open then, as they were.   The walls date from the 16th century, built mainly upon the site of the medieval walls; two sections are open to the public, from the Jaffa Gate to St Stephen’s Gate and then from Jaffa Gate to the Dung Gate—yes, that is actually its name, for medievals liked to call a spade a spade.  There were some very steep steps and it was such rough going in patches that guide books cautioned it was not for the elderly or the infirm, which I thought was a good description of me by the time I hit the half-way point.   It was well worth the effort, though, for it was easy to gaze from the ramparts and imagine Balian d’Ibelin doing the same thing, looking down upon the Saracen army and knowing that he and he alone stood between the terrified citizens and death or slavery. How many men throughout history have been able to save thousands of lives?  You’d think Balian would get more credit for his heroics, but instead he got obscurity and even worse, The Kingdom of Heaven.

We could not have had a better tour guide than Elke, and I am so glad that we were able to meet—thanks to the magic of Facebook.   Over the years, I have heard some marvelous stories from friends and readers about their experiences reading my books.   One of my favorites came from a woman who wrote that she was about half-way through The Sunne in Splendour  when it all came together for her; she said she shot upright in bed and screamed, “Oh, my God!   This is the Richard III!”  Her husband, who’d been peacefully sleeping beside her, was less than thrilled.    I heard from an Australian reader who wrote to tell me that she’d loved Sunne but could not enjoy Here be Dragons because Llywelyn reminded her too much of a former lover.    A friend confided that after reading the scene in which Llywelyn and Joanna consummated their marriage, she went upstairs and—in her words—“gave my husband the best night of our marriage.”     But I don’t think it is possible to top Elke’s story.

She read Sunne when she was only eight years old, which surely sets a record in itself.  But because she was so young, she’d never heard of Richard III or the Wars of the Roses.  So can you imagine what a horrible shock it was to her when she reached the chapter at Bosworth Field?     She told me that she came to her mother in tears, wanting to know why I’d let Richard die!     She did forgive me in time, and Sunne has remained one of her favorite books despite those psychic scars it inflicted upon her eight-year-old self, and when we were in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, she said a prayer for Richard’s soul, which touched me deeply.

We left Jerusalem with regret, for it is truly one of the world’s great cities.  Because my back pain was still rather bad, we arranged with our hotel for a taxi since that would be easier for me than public transportation.   During our stay, we found the Israelis to be very friendly and willing to go out of their way to help hapless tourists, as was proved when we arrived in Jaffa, which is today a suburb of Tel Aviv.  A red flag went up when our taxi driver had trouble finding the hotel and when he finally located the address, it was closed up, with no signs of life.   He sought help from passers-by, to no avail.  I’d rented a phone for our visit and of course it wasn’t working; my dead zone apparently recognizes no borders.  With some assistance from our driver, Paula was able to reach a hotel representative, and we learned that there was no one on the premises and we should have been sent codes to allow us to enter the building and then our apts, none of which was mentioned on the website.   We did eventually get in, and were very pleased with the spacious accommodations; I would definitely go back—as long as the entrance codes were provided in advance.  But we were grateful to our good-hearted taxi driver, for he could easily have shrugged and left us to fend for ourselves; even the passers-by waited around to be sure we’d not be stranded.

There is not much left of medieval Jaffa; the crusader castle has long been dust on the wind.  But I wanted to walk in the Old City, to see the harbor, and envision how it was during the heyday of the kingdom of Outremer.  I’d never really seen the Mediterranean before, just a glimpse of a distant blue haze from a train through the south of France, so I enjoyed our “cruise” up the coast toward Tel Aviv and then back to Jaffa, although it took more imagination than I possessed to put us into a medieval galley, sailing with Richard’s small fleet as they desperately sought to reach Jaffa before it fell to Saladin.

For us, the highpoint of our time in Jaffa was getting to meet my friend Koby, who’d been my cyberspace pen-pal for several years.  We spent an afternoon exploring the Old City with Koby as our guide; he was in uniform and attracted quite a few smiles from passersby for soldiers are highly respected in Israel. We had fun discussing medieval events and battles, although Koby did also try to convince us that those cute, cuddly koalas in Paula’s Australia are actually dangerous stealth ninjas who like to pounce upon people from tree camouflage.

On the following day, I rented a car and we drove up the coast to Acre, known now to the Israelis as Akko.  Enda offered to drive and I gladly took her up on that, for we’d have been returning to Jaffa after dark and my night vision is…..well, let’s just say that I could benefit from a seeing eye dog while driving at night on unfamiliar roads.   I was excited about visiting the subterranean crusader city buried beneath 18th century Akko, which was rebuilt by Daher el-Amar after lying in ruins for centuries.  Excavations that began in 1954 revealed and restored some of the halls in what had been the Hospitaller compound, and I’d been looking forward to seeing them.   But upon our arrival in Akko-Acre, we found that it was closed to the public for the Akko Festival of Alternative Israeli Theatre was holding a four day festival and this was where their plays were being performed.    Here is a link to a website that shows some of the photos of the excavated knightly halls, so you can see why we were disappointed.

Aside from this unexpected setback, our day was filled with laughter and memories in the making.   We were able to connect with Koby again, and this time we also got to meet some of his family–his mother, Susan, who grew up on Long Island, and his younger sisters, Kinneret and Merav.  They share his love of history, so the 21st century receded into the distance as we talked enthusiastically about the past.  Akko is a historian’s gem, more than four thousand years old, with one of the world’s oldest ports, and during the crusader period, it was notorious for its diverse population, its raucous vitality, and its multitude of opportunities for bad behavior.  It is surprising how many famous men found their way to Acre—Alexander the Great, Marco Polo, St Francis of Assisi, St Louis, Napoleon, who suffered a rare military defeat there.  We smiled to see a street named after Salah al-Din.    There is one named after Richard the Lionheart, too, which I am sure would please him, although I doubt he’d be happy to know that his nemesis, the French king, also has a street of his own.

After a leisurely lunch with Koby’s family, they departed and he and Paula, Enda, and I strolled through the narrow streets of the Old City down to the harbor, where we took another brief cruise, thinking of all the conquerors and would-be conquerors who had crowded to the prows of their ships, eager for their first sight of the city called Akka by the Egyptians, Ptolemais by the Greeks, Romans, and Byzantines, Akka  again after the Muslim conquest, and St Jean d’Acre by the crusaders.

Our last day in Israel was, for me, the most memorable.  Another of our Israeli Facebook friends, Valerie Bendavid, had offered to drive us out to see the battlefield at the Horns of Hattin, where Saladin had destroyed the army of the Kingdom of Jerusalem. Valerie suggested we make a few stops on the way, so we got to see the impressive ruins of the Hospitaller Castle of Belvoir, which is the best-preserved crusader castle in Israel, and another site that I’d already written about in an early Outremer chapter.  After Hattin, it held out against a siege by Saladin for a year and a half, and that is easy to understand after studying its plans, for it was in effect two castles, with  rectangular outer walls, reinforced with square towers, that surrounded a  square inner enclosure that also had four corner towers.  In the 12th century, it was poetically described by Muslim historians as “a nest of eagles and the dwelling place of the moon.”

Belvoir Castle

Sharon and Valerie at Belvoir Castle

We got our first view of the famous River Jordan and were surprised to find that it was not at all like the raging torrent I’d always envisioned it to be.  The Sea of Galilee was quite impressive; the largest fresh-water lake in Israel, it is about 21 miles long and 8 miles wide, and yes, I looked that up.  Many of Jesus’s miracles were said to have happened here.  During the years when the Kingdom of Jerusalem flourished, it was the site of an important castle at Tiberias, which would be used as bait by Saladin to lure the crusader army to its doom at Hattin.

Our last stop before the battlefield was another place with multiple names.  Today it is called Zippori, but its original Greek name was Sepphoris; during the period when it was under Muslim control, it was known as Saffiyura, and in the time of the crusaders, it was called Le Sephorie.  It was already a strongly fortified city in 100 BC; Herod the Great had a palace here.  Nero renamed it Eirenopolis Neronias—Nero’s City of Peace; who knew Nero had a sense of irony?   A famous Jewish scholar, Rabbi Judah ha-Nasi lived there c. 200 AD.   We could easily have spent several days in Sepphoris, for there was so much to see.  The remains of the ancient city include the street gridlock, ruins of the Roman theatre and bathhouses, a synagogue, several churches, private dwellings, a crusader fortress.   Here is a brief video on YouTube that shows you what an amazing site it is, a treasure trove for lovers of history or archaeology.

My main interest was the crusader citadel, a two story dwelling that dates from the 12th century, although there were some modifications under the Ottomans.   Le Sephorie was a place of great significance to Outremer, for it is one of history’s most intriguing What Ifs.   The army of the kingdom had gathered here in June, 1187 to discuss Saladin’s invasion.   He was laying siege to the castle at Tiberias, which was being defended by the Lady Eschiva, wife of  the Count of Tripoli.  But the count argued against rushing to her rescue, pointing out that that they’d have to march through a parched territory without water.  He insisted Saladin would not harm his wife, that he was using the siege to lure them into fighting a battle on his terms, on terrain he chose, a battle they were not likely to win.  Their greatest successes had occurred when they adopted a defensive strategy, and he urged them to follow it now, to remain at Le Sephorie and its springs.   For once, Guy de Lusignan, the unpopular king of Outremer, listened to reason, and when the other lords supported the count, he agreed that they would not move on Tiberias.   But later that night, Gerard de Ridefort, the Grand Master of the Templars, paid a stealth visit to Guy, warning him that his manhood would be impugned and he’d become a figure of mockery if he failed to take action against Saladin.

The Templar leader seems to have had the strategic sense of a Benedictine abbess, for this was not the first time he’d urged a military action that would result in disaster.  He was also motivated by malice, by a burning hatred of the Count of Tripoli.  According to chroniclers, the count had promised an heiress to Gerard, and then reneged when a Pisan merchant offered him the lady’s weight in gold.  Gerard stormed off to join the Templars and devoted the rest of his life to revenge.  Guy had a fatal flaw—he would heed the last man to offer him advice, and so he allowed himself to be persuaded by Gerard, announcing the next morning that they would leave Le Sephorie and march on Tiberias, after all.
Quite a few historians have called this one of history’s most boneheaded military blunders, and I totally agree.   The army marched out of Le Sephorie the next morning and the result was the battle at Hattin, which was an overwhelming victory for Saladin, who then took the castle at Tiberias, and chivalrously provided the Lady Eschiva with an escort to her husband’s lands in Tripoli, just as the count had predicted he’d do.    All of the Hospitallers and Templars who survived the battle were executed at Saladin’s command–all save one, Gerard de Ridefort, who was allowed to ransom himself.   Even if Dante did not mention him, I like to think he is roasting in one of the Inferno’s circles of Hell.
While at Sepphoria, we were able to see Koby again and to meet his older sister, Levav.  I can only hope she didn’t think I was rude, for Koby and I got into such an animated discussion of the battle at Hattin that we were soon back in the 12th century and lost all sense of time or place or other people; I doubt we’d even have noticed if we’d encountered a unicorn.

Our last stop was the battlefield.  The Horns of Hattin is an extinct volcano, with twin peaks overlooking the plain of Hattin.   It was here that I experienced a minor miracle of my own.   Despite my back brace (my medieval armor) and setting a measured pace, my back had continued to give me grief.  But when we reached Hattin, the pain suddenly eased dramatically, allowing me to reach the top.   I had not expected the terrain to be so rough, so rock-strewn.  It is a wonder that the legs of the horses did not snap like matchsticks, and it was easy to see why the Count of Tripoli could not have forced his way back up the slope to rejoin the army after his charge failed.

I always find battlefields to be sad places; too many ghosts.  Hattin is particularly bleak and desolate, and it took very little imagination to envision it wreathed in the smoke of the brushfires set by the Saracens, sweltering in the summer heat, the sky darkening with clouds of arrows, the wind echoing with the battle cries and screams of the dying men and horses.  I will never forget the sight of the Sea of Galilee shimmering along the horizon; to men suffering from severe thirst and heat, it must have seemed like a heartbreaking mirage, so close and yet so far.   When it comes time for me to fight this battle in Outremer, I will have some very vivid memories to draw upon.

Sea of Galilee

The Sea of Galilee from Hattin

One final thought on this land often called the cradle of civilization.   I am very glad Paula, Enda, and I were able to make this trip, and I am grateful to Koby, Valerie, and Elke for their advice, assistance, and the pleasure of their company.  When I lived in Hawaii years ago, the word Aloha was multi-purpose, used for greetings and farewell and as an expression of love.    I’d like to end this blog with the beautiful Hebrew word Shalom, which—like Aloha– has various meanings, including a blessing for peace, which we wish for all the Israelis and Palestinians who call it home.
December 8, 2014

PS  My blog is balking again at letting me insert photos; I thought we’d resolved this problem, but apparently not.  I am going to post it as is and then will put up some photos once we exorcise these new demons.

35 Responses to “My Trip to Outremer”

  1. Yvonne Connelly Says:

    Such a beautiful account, Sharon. Thank you so much! I look forward to reading the book, and am so grateful you are home healthy and sound!

  2. Yvonne Connelly Says:

    Such a beautiful account, Sharon. Thank you so much! I look forward to reading the book, and am so grateful you are home healthy and sound!

  3. Sherill Roberts Says:

    Sharon - Thank you for taking the time to write this fascinating account. When your book is done, would it be possible to include in the author’s notes (which I know you will write) links to websites with pictures of the places you write about? That would make it even more enjoyable.

    I was in Jerusalem in 1989 with my two little girls (7 and 2) while my husband was attending a scientific convention. The Intifada had just begun, and we were warned to not go into the Arab quarter alone. I wanted to see it so I went there with a tour group, but my girls and I got farther and farther behind the group as the little one stopped to examine every ant crawling on every stone. I was getting nervous, so I took her by the hand and almost dragged her towards the disappearing group. Around the corner came an Arab woman almost dragging her own 2-year-old by the hand. As we passed each other, we exchanged big smiles and rueful looks of understanding. It was a beautiful moment.

  4. Elke Weiss Says:

    On behalf on the people (and cats of Israel), we hope to see you all return soon! Thank you for a wonderful two days, meeting you all was incredible and when I sit down and write my book, I think of how awesome it will be to present you with a copy!

  5. Kasia Says:

    Thank you, Sharon, for sharing your precious Israel memories with us. I would love to go to the Holy Land one day. A pang of envy reading about all the historic sites you visited, but even more I envy you meeting our dear Koby :-) Would I be too daring if I asked what was he like? We only met via your blog and later “Facebook” when I was still a user, but chatting online is not the same as meeting someone face to face, you have to agree :-)

  6. Liz Says:

    A wonderful piece and the perfect travel guide for when I finally get to Israel!

  7. Pamela Kelly Says:

    I have never nbbeen really envious of anyone until now - what a trip of a lifetime. I would love to follow in your footsteps let alone all the footsteps of those who have gone before. You really do live your passion and we, your readers, are forever grateful to you for your books and your ability to connect the past with such passion and love. I commend you to anyone who loves history. With much praise and gratitude, Pam

  8. Sande Says:

    Now I can hardly wait until we can read the book.How exciting for you to finally visit these places. You know that we all want to visit Wales,England and France because of your magical words. Hard for me to imagine wanting to visit Outremer, but the seed has been planted with Lionheart and Ransom, odds are this next book will push that desire over the edge.

  9. skpenman Says:

    Here is the trailer for the new Bernard Cornwell novel, The Empty Throne, which will be published in the US on January 5th; it was published in the UK earlier this autumn. I was lucky enough to get an advance reading copy, one of the perks of being a writer.  I loved it and think Uhtred’s legion of fans will be delighted by his latest adventure. Our hero is aging, of course, and Master Cornwell does not ignore this. Uhtred is aware that he no longer has the exuberant energy of his youth and occasionally he has to rely upon experience and craftiness to carry the day; fortunately he is as crafty as any fox. And in The Empty Throne, two of Uhtred’s children have expanding roles, his son and namesake and his daughter, who is interesting enough to carry a novel on her own. Watch this trailer and then start the countdown!

  10. Mary Glassman Says:

    We’ve been waiting for this blog, and it was fantastic! So many new websites to view. I was in Israel in 1991 and saw some of the places you visited, but am eager to take a look at the other locations you inspected! Of course I would have loved to come with the 3 of you, but am so thankful that you did the research for your book, and eagerly await it’s publication! !

  11. joan Says:

    Sharon, you really have come full circle with this extraordinary & exciting journey. The ghosts of Richard Lionheart & Saladin & so many others would have walked by your side throughout your travels. To finally see the harbor at Acre must have been a special moment too. And how wonderful to spend time with Koby & his family. Thank you for writing such a beautiful detailed account & I would be happy to see the entire post in your AN, for the reasons Pamela Kelly mentions.

  12. skpenman Says:

    If this post seems vaguely familiar, your memories are not playing you false–it is a repeat from last year, for I did not think I could improve upon it.
    December 11th is always a sad day for me, as it was on this date in 1282 that Llywelyn ap Gruffydd was slain at Cilmeri, and with him died any hopes for Welsh independence. There were so many deaths in my books, deaths that changed history, usually for the worst. But few deaths were as difficult for me to write as the death of the man the Welsh would call Ein Llyw Olaf—Our Last Leader. More than twenty years ago, I was driving along a Welsh road as darkness came on, thinking what a challenge it would be to write of Llywelyn’s tragic end. Suddenly it was as if I heard a voice, so clear and vivid that it was almost as if the words had been spoken aloud. A man ought to die with his own language echoing in his ears. When the time came to write that scene, I remembered.
    From The Reckoning, page 534.
    * * *
    “Is it true?” he asked. “Are you the Welsh prince?”
    Llywelyn labored to draw enough air into his lungs. “I am Llywelyn, son of Gruffydd, son of Llywelyn Fawr, Prince of Wales and Lord of Eryri,” he said, softly but distinctly, “and I have urgent need of a priest.”
    The young Englishman seemed momentarily nonplussed. “I’d fetch one,” he said hesitantly, “if it were up to me.” Kneeling in the snow, he unhooked his flask, supported Llywelyn’s head while he drank. “There will be a doctor at the castle,” he said, and then, surprisingly, “I’m Martin.”
    “Thank you, Martin,” Llywelyn whispered, and drank again. He was almost amused by their solicitude, their determination to keep him from dying. He could envision no worse fate than to be handed over, alive and helpless, to Edward. But he did not fear it, for he knew it would not come to pass. He’d be dead ere they reached Buellt Castle, mayhap much sooner. He measured his life now not in hours or even moments, but in breaths, and he would answer for his sins to Almighty God, not the English king.
    Another of the soldiers was coming back. “Here, Martin, put this about him.”
    Martin took the blanket. “He’s in a bad way, Fulk,” he murmured, as if Llywelyn ought not to hear. Fulk picked up the lantern, and swore under his breath at the sight of the blood-soaked snow.
    “Christ,” he said, and then, to Llywelyn, almost fiercely, “You hold on, hear? We’re going to get you to a doctor, for the king wants you alive!”
    Llywelyn gazed up at him, marveling. “Indeed,” he said, “God forbid that I should disoblige the English king by dying.” It was only when he saw that Fulk and Martin were uncomprehending that he realized he’d lapsed into Welsh. But he made no effort to summon back his store of Norman-French. A man ought to die with his own language echoing in his ears.
    The English soldiers were discussing his wound in troubled tones. But their voices seemed to be coming now from a distance, growing fainter and fainter until they no longer reached Llywelyn. He heard only the slowing sound of his heartbeat, and he opened his eyes, looked up at the darkening sky.
    * * *
    When they realized Llywelyn was dead, the English soldiers cut off his head so they would have proof of his death to show King Edward. After they rode away, Llywelyn’s squire Trevor crept out of hiding.
    Page 536.
    * * *
    They’d left a blanket behind, blood-drenched by the decapitating. Trever reached for it, began to drape it over Llywelyn’s body, taking great care. By the time it was done to his satisfaction, he’d gotten blood all over himself, too, but he did not mind, for it was his lord’s blood. Sitting down in the snow beside the body, he said, “I’ll not leave you, my lord. I’ll not leave you.”
    And that was how Goronwy found them, long after the battle of Llanganten had been fought and lost.
    * * *
    Llywelyn’s brother Davydd claimed the crown, vowing to continue the fight against the English. But the Welsh knew it was over. A poetic people, they expressed their grief in anguished elegies, none more impassioned and heart-rending than the one written by Llywelyn’s court bard, Gruffydd ab yr Ynad Goch.
    See you not that the stars have fallen?
    Have you no belief in God, foolish men?
    See you not that the world is ending?
    Even after so many centuries, the pain of that lament transfixes us, allowing us to share their sorrow, their uncomprehending rage, and their understanding that Wales had suffered a mortal blow when their prince had been struck by that English spear. Ah, God, that the sea should cover the land! What is left us that we should linger? That haunting cri de coeur was Llywelyn ap Gruffyd’s true epitaph.

  13. Carol S Says:

    Oh my, Thank You Susan for this wonderful account. Now I simply must visit Outremer!

  14. skpenman Says:

    I’ll be back soon, I hope, to respond to your individual comments. Meanwhile, here is today’s Facebook Note.

    Yet another reason why I love this man!
    On the historical front, Geoffrey, the Archbishop of York, is often said to have died on this date. The symmetry of it is irresistible, after all—12/12/1212. While he did die in December, 1212, some doubts have been raised as to whether it was actually on the 12th. But whatever, RIP, Geoffrey. He died in exile, having infuriated John as much as he’d annoyed Richard, and indeed, he collected an impressive number of enemies during his turbulent years as archbishop, due in part to his unfortunate habit of shooting from the hip and loosing bolts of excommunication lightning at anyone who incurred his displeasure. He excommunicated a convent of nuns at one point, for heaven’s sake! But I always remember how loyal he was to his dying father. Ironically, much of Geoffrey’s unhappiness can be laid at Henry’s feet, for his life would likely have taken a better turn had Henry not been so stubbornly set upon giving him a career in the Church, for which everyone in Christendom except Henry knew he was spectacularly unsuited. I sometimes joke that the Angevins could all have used a few therapy sessions and the men definitely ought to have attended anger management classes, but Henry would also have benefited from some parenting classes.
    Back in our time, I hope all my friends and readers on the West Coast are coping with that nasty storm currently battering California and that those in the East and New England are digging out from the snow left by our latest Nor’easter.

  15. joan Says:

    I just spotted some photos….they’re lovely & such a happy pair sitting on the old stone step. Thanks for adding these, Sharon.

    I’ll be chatting with my niece in CA today.

  16. Veronica Meenan Says:

    What a wonderful description of an amazing trip. I enjoyed it so much and am really looking forward to the new book!

  17. skpenman Says:

    This morning I posted a link to a CNN story about Pope Francis comforting a small boy by assuring him that dogs go to heaven, too. But the link apparently led elsewhere; sorry about the confusion. Anyway, that casual comment by the pontiff has stirred up considerable interest, a lot of approval, and some alarm among traditionalists. That spoilsport, the New York Times, is now correcting its own story, throwing doubts upon what the pope actually said. Here is a link to a story that shows how inconsistent the Catholic Church has been, with Pope John Paul stating unequivocally that dogs have souls and Pope Benedict denying that. I personally think that the dogs I’ve known were more deserving of eternal life than many human beings, but it is not likely the Vatican is going to consult me on this issue. 

  18. Kasia Says:

    I am proud of my great countryman Saint John Paul II. He was a poet, after all, and nature lover, must have believed that animals had souls. I am a lapsed Catholic, but I did love our Papa, still miss him. I admire Pope Francis, too. He has already made his great namesake and patron, St Francis of Assissi proud.

  19. skpenman Says:

    On December 13, 1204, the famed Jewish philosopher, physician, and rabbi, Maimonides died. He was a fascinating man and left a legacy that endures to this day. He served as physician to Saladin and I would love to be able to introduce him as a character in Outremer, but from a practical standpoint, that is not likely. Here is a link for those of you who’d like to know more about his life.
    On this date in 1470, fourteen year old Anne Neville wed the young Lancastrian prince, Edward. Since readers of Sunne already know my views about this marriage, I am letting the book speak for itself.

  20. Emilie Laforge Says:

    Sharon, you’ve done it again and made me fall in love with a country I’ve never seen and historical figures long gone. I’m enjoying discovering all I can about King Baldwin IV, Balian, Saladin and countless others and look forward to the day (all in due time of course) when these individuals come back to life through your words. I had never thought of travelling to Israel until now but reading your account of your trip has made me add this destination to my travel bucket list.

  21. skpenman Says:

    Emilie, we’d have had even more fun if you could have come with us.

    It is Sunday, so I’ll spend much of it in front of the television—Fly, Eagles, fly! But I’ll try to stop by from time to time to make sure Stephanie or Ken have not taken advantage of my preoccupation to stage a coup. Meanwhile, here is a very interesting video about Pen Farthing, the soldier who started a rescue for dogs after seeing how badly they were treated during his tour of duty in Afghanistan. He has helped many soldiers desperate to bring home thedogs or cats that they became attached to during their own tours of duty. I am happy to see his selfless efforts on behalf of his fellow soldiers and animals in dire conditions has brought him the acclaim he deserves; he was just chosen as CNN’s Hero of the Year.

  22. skpenman Says:

    I’d hoped to begin my post by wishing my Jewish friends and readers a Happy Hanukkah, but
    the world seems to be caught up in even more horrific violence than usual. First the hostage tragedy in Australia and today I awoke to learn that terrorists had attacked a school in Pakistan, deliberately killing as many children as they could. It is almost impossible to fathom evil like that. I will never understand how someone can kill a child. And it seems grimly appropriate to remember that Saturday was the second anniversary of the massacre of six year olds and their teachers at Sandy Hook. My heart goes out to all who lost loved ones to violence, for they are wounds that never heal.

  23. skpenman Says:

    Nothing medieval that struck my fancy on December 18th, so I moved on to the semi-medieval world of Westeros. This is not exactly holiday fare, but here is a quiz to find out how you’d likely die if you were one of Master Martin’s captive characters. Unfortunately, I’d be barbecued by teenage dragons, which is not encouraging in light of my on-going struggles with deadline dragons. I also learned something fascinating from Rania, that Master Martin sees Dorne as a cross between Wales and Outremer.

  24. Kasia Says:

    Happy Coronation Anniversary to Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine, who were crowned king and queen of England on this day in 1154 at Westminster Abbey. Their second son Henry was there, too, that’s why I daresay he was actually crowned king of England thrice :-)

  25. skpenman Says:

    That is so funny, Kasia, and quite true, actually. Which makes it all the more unfair that he is not counted in England’s role call of kings.

    December 19th is a day of great significance to those of us who are fascinated by the Plantagenets in general and the Angevins in particular, for on this date in 1154, the twenty-one year old Henry Fitz Empress, Duke of Normandy and Count of Anjou, and his thirty year old pregnant wife, Eleanor, Duchess of Aquitaine, were crowned in Westminster Abbey. The dynasty they founded would endure for three hundred years and today they and their Devil’s Brood continue to cast a royal spell. That had to be such a happy day for them. When Christ and his Saints Slept, page 738.
    * * *
    Ranulf had no regrets about what he was leaving behind. After nineteen years of fighting over the English throne, he had no doubts whatsoever that the most dangerous quarry was neither wild boar nor wolf. No hunt was so hazardous as the pursuit of power. Fortunately, his nephew Harry was a skilled huntsman, one of the best he’d ever seen.
    He glanced back once. Henry and Eleanor were still out in the snow-blanketed bailey. They waved as Ranulf turned, and that was to be the memory he would carry into Wales: the two of them, standing together in the bright winter sunlight, smiling, sure that the world, like the English crown, was theirs for the taking.
    * * *

  26. Joan Says:

    Bless you Henry, Eleanor, & your brood. We can’t get enough of you in the 21st century, with Sharon Kay Penman guiding us through your incredible lives & times.

    I’ll wish everyone a very happy & safe holiday & a Merry Christmas….Sharon, Kasia, & all who visit here. I leave soon to spend the holiday with my beloved granddaughters & their parents. Don’t know how I’ll manage at the airport with the pounds of homemade fruitcake I’m lugging (it doesn’t get a bad rap in this family!)

    Joy & blessings in the New Year!

  27. skpenman Says:

    Have a wonderful Christmas, too, Joan. Good luck with the traveling.

    If those beautiful Christmas lights around the world do not put you in the holiday spirit, nothing will. Enjoy. Oh, and go, Eagles!…/sparkling-holiday-lights-brighten-…

  28. skpenman Says:

    I cannot say for a certainty that December 21st, 1192 was the worst day of the Lionheart’s life. He had a lot of bad days during his captivity. And March 26th at Chalus was certainly on the list. But December 19th had to be one of the worst, for it was then that he learned he was not invincible, after all, just as vulnerable as other mortals to the vagaries of fate—or the vengeance of enemies. On this day, he was taken prisoner in the village of Ertpurch by the men of the Duke of Austria. His capture was in violation of the laws of the Church and of war, so he held the high moral ground, but as a German chronicler would observe cynically, that did not do him much good. History was literally changed in that small Austrian hamlet—for the English, the French, the Sicilians, the Austrians, and the Germans—and above all, for Richard himself. It is interesting to speculate what might have happened if he’d been able to get safely through Leopold’s lands; he was only fifty miles from the Moravian border when his legendary luck finally ran out. But speaking as a historical novelist, I can’t help being happy that he did not, for writers are hooked on high drama and his capture and captivity definitely provided that.

  29. skpenman Says:

    I hope all of my friends and readers who’ll be traveling today get safely to their destinations; the combination of heavy traffic and bad weather is a very stressful and often dangerous one. Henry and Eleanor and their boisterous brood would have wished you all Joyeux Noel. The Welsh princes would have said Nadolig Llawen. I will settle for Merry Christmas. Here is a present for you all, one sure to make you smile. The reunion of the mother elephant and her baby gets to me every time. And I remember the story of the men freeing the whale tangled in fishing nets. They said it circled their boat for at least a quarter hour after it was free, breeching and splashing in a spectacular display that they are convinced was its way of thanking them. Take care, everyone!

  30. Malcolm Craig Says:

    Merry Christmas, Sharon. I had hoped to surprise you with an article from Speculum: early 16th century glass in York, commemorating Thomas Becket. Unfortunately, the on-line site would not let me download the article, as I was able to do in the past. If my inquiry (Why can we not access articles on-line as members who paid for print copy?) bears fruit, I may yet be able to forward a copy of the article to you. While I am at it, I will also wish you and your canine companion a Happy New Year.

  31. skpenman Says:

    Merry Christmas, too, Mac. I’ll keep my fingers crossed that you find a way to outwit Speculum!

    I hope all my friends and readers who celebrate Christmas had as lovely a one as I did. In the medieval spirit of the Twelve Days of Christmas, I plan to keep playing Christmas music and let my Christmas trees continue to glow brightly until at least Epiphany, if not later.. (The longest I ever kept a tree up was until mid-February, but that record was due as much to laziness as a reluctance to turn the page on Christmas for another year.)
    On this date in 1194, Constance de Hauteville, the unhappy wife of the Holy Roman Emperor, Heinrich von Hohenstaufen, gave birth to a son in the small Italian town of Jesi. By now most of you are familiar with her story—at least you are if you read Ransom or my short story, Queen in exile, in the George RR Martin anthology, Dangerous Women! Constance’s unexpected pregnancy at age forty was greeted with considerable skepticism by Heinrich’s legion of enemies, for she was believed to be barren; many insisted the pregnancy was a scam, an attempt by Heinrich to pass off a baby as hers in order to have an heir. When she learned of these rumors, Constance did something both remarkable and courageous. She invited all of the matrons of Jesi to watch her give birth in a large tent she had set up in the center of the town, and nursed her baby son in public a few days later in case there were any skeptics still in need of convincing. Her son would become one of the most colorful and controversial rulers of the Middle Ages, and his enemies did indeed try to claim he was not the true son of Constance and Heinrich, but thanks to his mother’s action, this was a slander that never gained traction.

  32. Malcolm Craig Says:

    Loved your short story about this Constance. I bought Dangerous Women as a 2013 Christmas gift for my friend Sara (the devoted reader whose copy of Sunne you signed for me in Leicester) and read your story before giving it to her. After various missteps, I was able to download the York stained-glass article and send it to you tonight. There are more details in the message to which I attached the file. Happy Boxing Day to you and to our friends who frequent your blog.

  33. skpenman Says:

    Thank you so much, Max!

    Sorry for dropping off the radar screen again, but I got caught up in the post-Christmas craziness. I also bought a new laptop, as Melusine has been living up to her namesake, the Demon Countess of Anjou. I’ve been using my second laptop, Spock, but a backup computer is like a backup QB; they do their best but they are not likely to lead us deep into the playoffs. So Melusine is now relegated to third-string, and a wonderful tech from the Geek Squad came by yesterday to set the new one up and transfer files from Melusine. I am looking forward to starting the new year with a new computer, although I wish Windows 8 were not part of the deal. I was thinking of naming it Merlin—trying the power of positive thinking—but the last time I tried that, it did not work out very well; I ended up have to give Merlin a name better suited to his evil nature—Demon Spawn. Stephanie convinced me I should name the new one Dracarys, High Valerian for Dragonfire, which is not only a cool name but reminds me of my favorite scene in Game of Thrones, where Danni says “Dracarys!” and her dragon incinerates the evil slaver. This may not mean much to some of my readers but all of my fellow Thrones addicts will understand perfectly.
    Unfortunately, I do not know the High Valerian equivalent of “Happy New Year,” so I’ll have to settle for English. I hope the new year will be a better one for us all.

  34. Sharon Kay Penman Says:

    Well, guess how I spent New Year ’s Day? On-line with the Geek Squad, as they tried to exorcise Dracarys’s demons. Yes, my new laptop of one whole day crashed. This is a world record even for me. Apparently malware got past Windows Defender, which is the Windows 8 version of Microsoft Security Essentials, which I’ve used in the past. I’ve been advised to switch to Webroot. Anyone use that? I don’t blame Dracarys; he couldn’t help getting sick, ie, infected. Not the way I planned to spend the first day of 2015, though.
    On the historical front, Henry II learned on this date in 1171 that words have consequences and his careless, angry outburst set in motion the assassination off the Archbishop of Canterbury in his own cathedral. Thomas Becket had infuriated Henry by his Christmas excommunication Henry’s own chancellor, the Bishops of London and Salisbury, and the Archbishop of York, among others, an act of provocation that could hardly be improved upon. But Henry did not say, as is widely believed, “Will none rid me of this turbulent priest?” His actual words were “What miserable drones and traitors I have nourished in my household, who let their lord be mocked so shamefully by a lowborn clerk.” For four knights, that was enough.

  35. skpenman Says:

    Sorry about the silence, but Dracarys is still learning to be a good dragon and it is more time-consuming than we expected. I do have good news for my fellow Bernard Cornwell fans. His new Uhtred adventure, The Empty Throne, will be published in the US tomorrow; it has already been published in the UK and Commonwealth countries, of course. Here is the link. I will have an interview with BC up this week on my blog. I was lucky enough to be able to read an ARC of The Empty Throne, and I recommend it highly—Cornwell at his best, and we know that is very good, indeed.