INTRODUCTION TO THE TALISMAN
[ix] The Betrothed did not greatly please one or two friends, who
thought that it did not well correspond to the general title of
The Crusaders. They urged, therefore, that, without direct
allusion to the manners of the Eastern tribes, and to the
romantic conflicts of the period, the title of a Tale of the
Crusaders would resemble the playbill, which is said to have
announced the tragedy of Hamlet, the character of the Prince of
Denmark being left out. On the other hand, I felt the difficulty
of giving a vivid picture of a part of the world with which I was
almost totally unacquainted, unless by early recollections of the
Arabian Nights' Entertainments; and not only did I labour under
the incapacity of ignorance—in which, as far as regards Eastern
manners, I was as thickly wrapped as an Egyptian in his fog—but
my contemporaries were, many of them, as much enlightened upon
the subject as if they had been inhabitants of the favoured land
of Goshen. The love of travelling had pervaded all ranks, and
carried the subjects of Britain into all quarters of the world.
Greece, so attractive by its remains of art, by its struggles for
freedom against a Mohammedan tyrant, by its very name, where
every fountain had its classical legend—Palestine, endeared to
the imagination by yet more sacred remembrances—had been of late
surveyed by British eyes, and described by recent travellers.
Had I, therefore, attempted the difficult task of substituting
manners of my own invention, instead of the genuine costume of
the East, almost every traveller I met who had extended his route
beyond what was anciently called "The Grand Tour," had acquired a
right, by ocular inspection, to chastise me for my presumption.
Every member of the Travellers' Club who could pretend to have
thrown his shoe over Edom was, by having done so, constituted my
lawful critic and corrector. It occurred, therefore, that where
the author of Anastasius, as well as he of Hadji Baba, had
described the manners and vices of the Eastern nations, not only
with fidelity, but with the humour of Le Sage and the ludicrous
power of Fielding himself, one who was a perfect stranger to the
subject must necessarily produce an unfavourable contrast. The
Poet Laureate also, in the charming tale of Thalaba, had shown
how extensive might be the researches of a person of acquirements
and talent, by dint of investigation alone, into the ancient
doctrines, history, and manners of the Eastern countries, in
which we are probably to look for the cradle of mankind; Moore,
in his Lalla Rookh, had successfully trod the same path; in
which, too, Byron, joining ocular experience to extensive
reading, had written some of his most attractive poems. In a
word, the Eastern themes had been already so successfully handled
by those who were acknowledged to be masters of their craft, that
I was diffident of making the attempt.
These were powerful objections; nor did they lose force when they
became the subject of anxious reflection, although they did not
finally prevail. The arguments on the other side were, that
though I had no hope of rivalling the contemporaries whom I have
mentioned, yet it occurred to me as possible to acquit myself of
the task I was engaged in without entering into competition with
The period relating more immediately to the Crusades which I at
last fixed upon was that at which the warlike character of
Richard I., wild and generous, a pattern of chivalry, with all
its extravagant virtues, and its no less absurd errors, was
opposed to that of Saladin, in which the Christian and English
monarch showed all the cruelty and violence of an Eastern sultan,
and Saladin, on the other hand, displayed the deep policy and
prudence of a European sovereign, whilst each contended which
should excel the other in the knightly qualities of bravery and
generosity. This singular contrast afforded, as the author
conceived, materials for a work of fiction possessing peculiar
interest. One of the inferior characters introduced was a
supposed relation of Richard Coeur-de-Lion—a violation of the
truth of history which gave offence to Mr. Mills, the author of
the History of Chivalry and the Crusades, who was not, it may
be presumed, aware that romantic fiction naturally includes the
power of such invention, which is indeed one of the requisites of
Prince David of Scotland, who was actually in the host, and was
the hero of some very romantic adventures on his way home, was
also pressed into my service, and constitutes one of my dramatis personae.
It is true I had already brought upon the field him of the lion
heart. But it was in a more private capacity than he was here to
be exhibited in The Talisman:then as a disguised knight, now in
the avowed character of a conquering monarch; so that I doubted
not a name so dear to Englishmen as that of King Richard I. might
contribute to their amusement for more than once.
I had access to all which antiquity believed, whether of reality
or fable, on the subject of that magnificent warrior, who was the
proudest boast of Europe and their chivalry, and with whose
dreadful name the Saracens, according to a historian of their own
country, were wont to rebuke their startled horses. "Do you
think," said they, "that King Richard is on the track, that you
stray so wildly from it?" The most curious register of the
history of King Richard is an ancient romance, translated
originally from the Norman; and at first certainly having a
pretence to be termed a work of chivalry, but latterly becoming
stuffed with the most astonishing and monstrous fables. There is
perhaps no metrical romance upon record where, along with curious
and genuine history, are mingled more absurd and exaggerated
incidents. We have placed in the Appendix to this Introduction
the passage of the romance in which Richard figures as an ogre,
or literal cannibal.
A principal incident in the story is that from which the title is
derived. Of all people who ever lived, the Persians were perhaps
most remarkable for their unshaken credulity in amulets, spells,
periapts, and similar charms, framed, it was said, under the
influence of particular planets, and bestowing high medical
powers, as well as the means of advancing men's fortunes in
various manners. A story of this kind, relating to a Crusader of
eminence, is often told in the west of Scotland, and the relic
alluded to is still in existence, and even yet held in
Sir Simon Lockhart of Lee and Gartland made a considerable figure
in the reigns of Robert the Bruce and of his son David. He was
one of the chief of that band of Scottish chivalry who
accompanied James, the Good Lord Douglas, on his expedition to
the Holy Land with the heart of King Robert Bruce. Douglas,
impatient to get at the Saracens, entered into war with those of
Spain, and was killed there. Lockhart proceeded to the Holy Land
with such Scottish knights as had escaped the fate of their
leader and assisted for some time in the wars against the
The following adventure is said by tradition to have befallen
He made prisoner in battle an Emir of considerable wealth and
consequence. The aged mother of the captive came to the
Christian camp, to redeem her son from his state of captivity.
Lockhart is said to have fixed the price at which his prisoner
should ransom himself; and the lady, pulling out a large
embroidered purse, proceeded to tell down the ransom, like a
mother who pays little respect to gold in comparison of her son's
liberty. In this operation, a pebble inserted in a coin, some
say of the Lower Empire, fell out of the purse, and the Saracen
matron testified so much haste to recover it as gave the Scottish
knight a high idea of its value, when compared with gold or
silver. "I will not consent," he said, "to grant your son's
liberty, unless that amulet be added to his ransom." The lady
not only consented to this, but explained to Sir Simon Lockhart
the mode in which the talisman was to be used, and the uses to
which it might be put. The water in which it was dipped operated
as a styptic, as a febrifuge, and possessed other properties as a
Sir Simon Lockhart, after much experience of the wonders which it
wrought, brought it to his own country, and left it to his heirs,
by whom, and by Clydesdale in general, it was, and is still,
distinguished by the name of the Lee-penny, from the name of his
native seat of Lee.
The most remarkable part of its history, perhaps, was that it so
especially escaped condemnation when the Church of Scotland chose
to impeach many other cures which savoured of the miraculous, as
occasioned by sorcery, and censured the appeal to them,
"excepting only that to the amulet, called the Lee-penny, to
which it had pleased God to annex certain healing virtues which
the Church did not presume to condemn." It still, as has been
said, exists, and its powers are sometimes resorted to. Of late,
they have been chiefly restricted to the cure of persons bitten
by mad dogs; and as the illness in such cases frequently arises
from imagination, there can be no reason for doubting that water
which has been poured on the Lee-penny furnishes a congenial
Such is the tradition concerning the talisman, which the author
has taken the liberty to vary in applying it to his own purposes.
Considerable liberties have also been taken with the truth of
history, both with respect to Conrade of Montserrat's life, as
well as his death. That Conrade, however, was reckoned the enemy
of Richard is agreed both in history and romance. The general
opinion of the terms upon which they stood may be guessed from
the proposal of the Saracens that the Marquis of Montserrat
should be invested with certain parts of Syria, which they were
to yield to the Christians. Richard, according to the romance
which bears his name, "could no longer repress his fury. The
Marquis he said, was a traitor, who had robbed the Knights
Hospitallers of sixty thousand pounds, the present of his father
Henry; that he was a renegade, whose treachery had occasioned the
loss of Acre; and he concluded by a solemn oath, that he would
cause him to be drawn to pieces by wild horses, if he should ever
venture to pollute the Christian camp by his presence. Philip
attempted to intercede in favour of the Marquis, and throwing
down his glove, offered to become a pledge for his fidelity to
the Christians; but his offer was rejected, and he was obliged to
give way to Richard's impetuosity."—[Ellis, Specimines of Early
English Metrical Romances, 1805, vol. ii p. 230.]
Conrade of Montserrat makes a considerable figure in those wars,
and was at length put to death by one of the followers of the
Scheik, or Old Man of the Mountain; nor did Richard remain free
of the suspicion of having instigated his death.
It may be said, in general, that most of the incidents introduced
in the following tale are fictitious, and that reality, where it
exists, is only retained in the characters of the piece.
1st July, 1832
APPENDIX TO INTRODUCTION.
While warring in the Holy Land, Richard was seized with an ague.
The best leeches of the camp were unable to effect the cure of
the King's disease; but the prayers of the army were more
successful. He became convalescent, and the first symptom of his
recovery was a violent longing for pork. But pork was not likely
to be plentiful in a country whose inhabitants had an abhorrence
for swine's flesh; and
"Though his men should be hanged,
They ne might, in that countrey,
For gold, ne silver, ne no money,
No pork find, take, ne get,
That King Richard might aught of eat.
An old knight with Richard biding,
When he heard of that tiding,
That the kingis wants were swyche,
To the steward he spake privyliche—
"Our lord the king sore is sick, I wis,
After porck he alonged is;
Ye may none find to selle;
No man be hardy him so to telle!
If he did he might die.
Now behoves to done as I shall say,
Tho' he wete nought of that.
Take a Saracen, young and fat;
In haste let the thief be slain,
Opened, and his skin off flayn;
And sodden full hastily,
With powder and with spicery,
And with saffron of good colour.
When the king feels thereof savour,
Out of ague if he be went,
He shall have thereto good talent.
When he has a good taste,
And eaten well a good repast,
And supped of the BREWIS [Broth] a sup,
Slept after and swet a drop,
Through Goddis help and my counsail,
Soon he shall be fresh and hail.'
The sooth to say, at wordes few,
Slain and sodden was the heathen shrew.
Before the king it was forth brought:
Quod his men, 'Lord, we have pork sought;
Eates and sups of the brewis SOOTE,[Sweet]
Thorough grace of God it shall be your boot.'
Before King Richard carff a knight,
He ate faster than he carve might.
The king ate the flesh and GNEW [Gnawed] the bones,
And drank well after for the nonce.
And when he had eaten enough,
His folk hem turned away, and LOUGH.[Laughed]
He lay still and drew in his arm;
His chamberlain him wrapped warm.
He lay and slept, and swet a stound,
And became whole and sound.
King Richard clad him and arose,
And walked abouten in the close."
An attack of the Saracens was repelled by Richard in person, the
consequence of which is told in the following lines :-
"When King Richard had rested a whyle,
A knight his arms 'gan unlace,
Him to comfort and solace.
Him was brought a sop in wine.
'The head of that ilke swine,
That I of ate!' (the cook he bade,)
'For feeble I am, and faint and mad.
Of mine evil now I am fear;
Serve me therewith at my soupere!'
Quod the cook, 'That head I ne have.'
Then said the king, 'So God me save,
But I see the head of that swine,
For sooth, thou shalt lesen thine!'
The cook saw none other might be;
He fet the head and let him see.
He fell on knees, and made a cry—
'Lo, here the head! my Lord, mercy!'"
The cook had certainly some reason to fear that his master would
be struck with horror at the recollection of the dreadful banquet
to which he owed his recovery; but his fears were soon
"The swarte vis [Black face] when the king seeth,
His black beard and white teeth,
How his lippes grinned wide,
'What devil is this?' the king cried,
And 'gan to laugh as he were wode.
'What! is Saracen's flesh thus good?
That never erst I nought wist!
By God's death and his uprist,
Shall we never die for default,
While we may in any assault,
Slee Saracens, the flesh may take,
And seethen and roasten and do hem bake,
[And] Gnawen her flesh to the bones!
Now I have it proved once,
For hunger ere I be wo,
I and my folk shall eat mo!"'
The besieged now offered to surrender, upon conditions of safety
to the inhabitants; while all the public treasure, military
machines, and arms were delivered to the victors, together with
the further ransom of one hundred thousand bezants. After this
capitulation, the following extraordinary scene took place. We
shall give it in the words of the humorous and amiable George
Ellis, the collector and the editor of these Romances:—
"Though the garrison had faithfully performed the other articles
of their contract, they were unable to restore the cross, which
was not in their possession, and were therefore treated by the
Christians with great cruelty. Daily reports of their sufferings
were carried to Saladin; and as many of them were persons of the
highest distinction, that monarch, at the solicitation of their
friends, dispatched an embassy to King Richard with magnificent
presents, which he offered for the ransom of the captives. The
ambassadors were persons the most respectable from their age,
their rank, and their eloquence. They delivered their message in
terms of the utmost humility; and without arraigning the justice
of the conqueror in his severe treatment of their countrymen,
only solicited a period to that severity, laying at his feet the
treasures with which they were entrusted, and pledging themselves
and their master for the payment of any further sums which he
might demand as the price of mercy.
"King Richard spake with wordes mild.
'The gold to take, God me shield!
Among you partes [Divide] every charge.
I brought in shippes and in barge,
More gold and silver with me,
Than has your lord, and swilke three.
To his treasure have I no need!
But for my love I you bid,
To meat with me that ye dwell;
And afterward I shall you tell.
Thorough counsel I shall you answer,
What BODE [Message] ye shall to your lord bear.
"The invitation was gratefully accepted. Richard, in the
meantime, gave secret orders to his marshal that he should repair
to the prison, select a certain number of the most distinguished
captives, and, after carefully noting their names on a roll of
parchment, cause their heads to be instantly struck off; that
these heads should be delivered to the cook, with instructions to
clear away the hair, and, after boiling them in a cauldron, to
distribute them on several platters, one to each guest, observing
to fasten on the forehead of each the piece of parchment
expressing the name and family of the victim.
"'An hot head bring me beforn,
As I were well apayed withall,
Eat thereof fast I shall;
As it were a tender chick,
To see how the others will like.'
"This horrible order was punctually executed. At noon the guests
were summoned to wash by the music of the waits. The king took
his seat attended by the principal officers of his court, at the
high table, and the rest of the company were marshalled at a long
table below him. On the cloth were placed portions of salt at
the usual distances, but neither bread, wine, nor water. The
ambassadors, rather surprised at this omission, but still free
from apprehension, awaited in silence the arrival of the dinner,
which was announced by the sound of pipes, trumpets, and tabours;
and beheld, with horror and dismay, the unnatural banquet
introduced by the steward and his officers. Yet their sentiments
of disgust and abhorrence, and even their fears, were for a time
suspended by their curiosity. Their eyes were fixed on the king,
who, without the slightest change of countenance, swallowed the
morsels as fast as they could be supplied by the knight who
"Every man then poked other;
They said, 'This is the devil's brother,
That slays our men, and thus hem eats!'
"Their attention was then involuntarily fixed on the smoking
heads before them. They traced in the swollen and distorted
features the resemblance of a friend or near relation, and
received from the fatal scroll which accompanied each dish the
sad assurance that this resemblance was not imaginary. They sat
in torpid silence, anticipating their own fate in that of their
countrymen; while their ferocious entertainer, with fury in his
eyes, but with courtesy on his lips, insulted them by frequent
invitations to merriment. At length this first course was
removed, and its place supplied by venison, cranes, and other
dainties, accompanied by the richest wines. The king then
apologized to them for what had passed, which he attributed to
his ignorance of their taste; and assured them of his religious
respect for their characters as ambassadors, and of his readiness
to grant them a safe-conduct for their return. This boon was all
that they now wished to claim; and
"King Richard spake to an old man,
'Wendes home to your Soudan!
His melancholy that ye abate;
And sayes that ye came too late.
Too slowly was your time y-guessed;
Ere ye came, the flesh was dressed,
That men shoulden serve with me,
Thus at noon, and my meynie.
Say him, it shall him nought avail,
Though he for-bar us our vitail,
Bread, wine, fish, flesh, salmon, and conger;
Of us none shall die with hunger,
While we may wenden to fight,
And slay the Saracens downright,
Wash the flesh, and roast the head.
With OO [One] Saracen I may well feed
Well a nine or a ten
Of my good Christian men.
King Richard shall warrant,
There is no flesh so nourissant
Unto an English man,
Partridge, plover, heron, ne swan,
Cow ne ox, sheep ne swine,
As the head of a Sarazyn.
There he is fat, and thereto tender,
And my men be lean and slender.
While any Saracen quick be,
Livand now in this Syrie,
For meat will we nothing care.
Abouten fast we shall rare,
And every day we shall eat
All as many as we may get.
To England will we nought gon,
Till they be eaten every one.'"
ELLIS'S SPECIMENS OF EARLY ENGLISH METRICEL ROMANCES.
The reader may be curious to know owing to what circumstances so
extraordinary an invention as that which imputed cannibalism to
the King of England should have found its way into his history.
Mr. James, to whom we owe so much that is curious, seems to have
traced the origin of this extraordinary rumour.
"With the army of the cross also was a multitude of men," the
same author declares, "who made it a profession to be without
money. They walked barefoot, carried no arms, and even preceded
the beasts of burden in their march, living upon roots and herbs,
and presenting a spectacle both disgusting and pitiable.
"A Norman, who, according to all accounts, was of noble birth,
but who, having lost his horse, continued to follow as a foot
soldier, took the strange resolution of putting himself at the
head of this race of vagabonds, who willingly received him as
their king. Amongst the Saracens these men became well known
under the name of THAFURS (which Guibert translates TRUDENTES),
and were beheld with great horror from the general persuasion
that they fed on the dead bodies of their enemies; a report which
was occasionally justified, and which the king of the Thafurs
took care to encourage. This respectable monarch was frequently
in the habit of stopping his followers, one by one, in a narrow
defile, and of causing them to be searched carefully, lest the
possession of the least sum of money should render them unworthy
of the name of his subjects. If even two sous were found upon
any one, he was instantly expelled the society of his tribe, the
king bidding him contemptuously buy arms and fight.
"This troop, so far from being cumbersome to the army, was
infinitely serviceable, carrying burdens, bringing in forage,
provisions, and tribute; working the machines in the sieges; and,
above all, spreading consternation among the Turks, who feared
death from the lances of the knights less than that further
consummation they heard of under the teeth of the Thafurs."
[James's "History of Chivalry."]
It is easy to conceive that an ignorant minstrel, finding the
taste and ferocity of the Thafurs commemorated in the historical
accounts of the Holy Wars, has ascribed their practices and
propensities to the Monarch of England, whose ferocity was
considered as an object of exaggeration as legitimate as his
ABBOTSFORD, 1st July, 1832.
Hundreds of additional titles available for
online reading when you join Gateway to the Classics