In the shadow of the Crusades …

Kevin Doonan

As an undergraduate studying history, I took a wide variety of classes but there were a few that really stuck with me.

One especially challenging class I took was class on the Crusades. The course material covered a large swath of time that greatly shaped the world. I was surprised to found out just how relevant a series of events that took place almost a millenium ago still is today; one example being the controversy sparked by President Bush’s use of the word “crusade” during his September 16, 2001 address to the nation.

Another intriguing connection between the modern world and the Crusades occurred in 2010, during the time I was enrolled in the course. A package containing a bomb was sent from Yemen to Chicago, addressed to Reynald Krak, another name for Reynald of Châtillon. Reynald was a brutal knight who rose to eminence in the Crusader states during the latter half of the 1100s. After arriving the Middle East during the second Crusade in 1147, Reynald remained in the Middle East. Over the course of the next 40 years, Reynald made a name for himself as an opportunist, willing to attack anyone regardless of religion or any existing armistice. By 1186, Reynald had become the lord of Krak des Chevaliers, one of the most famous and impressive castles in history still standing located within the borders of modern day Syria.

Reynald is most famous though for his role in instigating the Battle of Hattin in 1187 between the crusader states and the forces of Saladin. Despite an existing armistice between the king of Jerusalem, Reynald’s liege, and Saladin, the founder of the Ayyubid dynasty, Reynald began plundering Muslim caravans traveling near the Krak des Chevaliers. Reynald’s blatant infractions of the armistice resulted in the Battle of Hattin and the monumental defeat of one of the largest Crusader armies ever assembled. Both Reynald and Guy of Lusignan, the Christian king of Jerusalem, were captured along with a great number of the Knights Templar. Reynald was beheaded by Saladin personally and all of the Knights Templar were executed as well. The Battle of Hattin left the Crusader states in such a weakened state, Saladin was able to capture the city of Jerusalem with relative ease. In the end if it wasn’t Reynald of Châtillon, the primary language spoken in Jerusalem today may well have been French (though even if the Battle of Hattin had never happened, that still would have been a long shot).