God’s Wolf: The Life of the Most Notorious of All Crusaders, Scourge of Saladin, by Jeffrey Lee, Atlantic Books, London, 2016, $27.95
On Oct. 29, 2010, a veiled woman walked into a FedEx office in Sana’a, Yemen, and asked to ship a package to Chicago. The box contained souvenirs, books, a few items of clothing and a laser printer. Fortunately, security officials later received a tip to check the printer’s toner cartridge, which concealed a plastic explosive rigged to explode when the FedEx plane entered American airspace. What puzzled investigators was the name of the person to whom the package was addressed: Reynald Kerak, a pseudonym for Raynald of Châtillon, a medieval French knight who had been dead for 823 years. Born with meager prospects but full of zeal and ambition, Raynald was to become, at least in many eyes, the most notorious of all Crusaders.
In March 1146 Raynald had listened to Abbot Bernard of Clairvaux preach the necessity of a crusade. Two years later the young man reached Antioch and married the granddaughter of King Baldwin II of Jerusalem; many observers were incredulous someone so high-born “should stoop to marry an ordinary knight.”
As Lee vividly recounts, Raynald soon proved far from ordinary. His 1155 raid on Cyprus resulted in a bloodbath for the population and great riches for Raynald. Other battles followed until his capture six years later near Marash in Anatolia. He was released in 1176 in return for the largest ransom paid during the Crusades, but soon returned to campaigning and defeated Saladin as the latter approached Jerusalem on St. Catherine’s Day 1177.
His continued plundering of the pilgrim routes to the holy cities of Islam eventually led to Raynald’s downfall. Captured during a battle in Galilee in July 1187, Raynald refused forced conversion to Islam and was beheaded by Saladin himself. It was, in many ways, a fitting end for the unapologetic Crusader.