We first meet Cristian Gilleson in Chapter One of “The King’s Jew” – as a famous knight, companion to a dead King (Edward the First) and aged 68 – a good age for a medieval warrior who has lived in dangerous times, fought many battles and now must last one more night in Westminster Abbey. But what made him the man he is? What exactly set him apart from the men who ruled and lorded it over the masses in thirteenth century England?
The next time he appears is in the arms of his dead mother as a new-born mewling baby in chapter eleven.
How did he get his name?
Well Alain, the monk / scribe to the Lord of Longhurst saw to it that he was baptised and gave him the name Cristian so as to ensure he was just that – a Christian – in the hope that the crime perpetrated by Cristian’s father could be washed away by dedicating another soul to his Christian God.
Was Cristian a bad child?
Remember these events took place over seven hundred years ago and there was a totally different concept of the word ‘child’ in those days. Children were chattels; an addition to the workforce if you were of peasant stock and a trainee man of violence if you were in the knightly class and in those early days Cristian was a peasant.
Yet the first time he meets the future King Edward, when they are both just six, Cristian is embroiled in a fight with the local village bully and his friends. Knives are drawn – yes at that age! – and Cristian, with the help of young Edward, prevails.
How did Cristian cope with the transition from the village of Longhurst to being at the court of King Henry III and companion to young Edward?
Cristian had always been a thoughtful child. Constantly seeking answers to questions that assailed his young mind. Because the local priest had tutored him in reading and writing he was actually better at it than Prince Edward. Indeed at one stage Cristian writes a fairer hand than the Prince but Edward counters this by saying that a future King has no need to write as he will have people to do that for him! – In which he was quite right by-the way (and a future king doesn’t want inky fingers does he?)
Cristian not only learned etiquette but also the art of war and defence from the incomparable Bartholomew Pecche who tutored both boys in the use of arms. This culminated in Edward and Cristian’s journey to take part in the crusades.
So what does Cristian Gilleson look like?
I’m sure you, dear reader, are aware that King Edward the First was also known as ‘Longshanks’(long legged – hence the term ‘shank’s pony’ to walk) as he was over six foot tall. Cristian and Edward were not only born on the same day but were also the same size so Cristian’s public persona was one of power and strength. Add to that the black hair and dark complexion of his mother (you’ll have to read the book for if I tell you more it may spoil the tale) and you’d know not to get on the wrong side of Gilleson.
What differentiated Cristian from his peers?
Mainly the accident of his birth (can’t say any more about that here) and his sense of ‘fair play’ and desire for learning about other cultures and ideas. He always champions the underdog. He has a questing mind (hence his ground-breaking conversations with the Jew, Yehuda ben Moshe) and a love of knowledge, yet cross Cristian and you will make an implacable enemy!
OK, the main reason he has enemies is because of his care and concern for the Jewish community. The Jews suffered greatly in medieval England and were constantly being taxed and persecuted.
Both King Henry III and his son Edward raised money from the Jews (indeed the Jew belonged to the Royal Family. Even though Cristian was companion and friend to Edward he tried to curtail some of Edward’s harsher edicts and he had to do this in a very roundabout way or lose the ear of the king. As it was, many other highborn people sensed Cristian’s agenda and whispered invective in Edward’s ear. Fortunately Edward regarded Cristian as his one true and loyal servant and (in many ways) ignored the rumours from his other courtiers.
Which historical person hated Cristian with a vengeance?
I’m not giving too much away here – but the culprit was Gilbert de Clare. Their paths first crossed when Cristian was fifteen and Gilbert just twelve. This meeting, which was to have such far-reaching consequences, took place in Bordeaux when Cristian caught Gilbert beating up a young Jewish boy (I’d better not say any more – for the boy is pivotal to the plot). I don’t like Gilbert the Seventh Earl of Gloucester for he was a duplicitous person who thought only of himself. Suffice to say that’s enough on the subject of Gilbert here.
Can a medieval fighting man ever find true love?
For those who have read “The King’s Jew” you already have the answer and know how Cristian met a precocious girl child who vowed to marry him one day. Naturally, Cristian being a male of the species, it took him a while to realise what love was all about but once the lady had made her mind up he was reeled in like a lamb to the slaughter. Indeed, King Edward who married a thirteen year old girl when he was just fifteen was also in love and it broke his heart when his Queen Eleanor died. The results of which can be seen to this day in the form of the surviving Eleanor Crosses in England
A man of his time?
Most definitely but I would say Cristian was more a man ‘ahead of his time’. It was only after finishing the books that I realised Cristian was almost a medieval Oscar Schindler in that he tried to save people from annihilation and walked the dangerous line between two implacable forces that opposed him (the church and his enemies).
Why the question mark at the end of the opening line?
You’ll maybe find the answer to this at the end of book three. After all, I’ve told you just a few snippets about the famous Lord Cristian Gilleson except the date of his death. Did he escape his enemies and spend the rest of his life with a certain lady? Or was he cut down in a bloody battle inside Westminster Abbey? The final book three should be available at the end of this year.
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Other links – Yehuda ben Moshe – you can check on Yehuda at this link http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yehuda_ben_Moshe
Gilbert de Clare – learn more about Gilbert here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gilbert_de_Clare,_7th_Earl_of_Gloucester
Eleanor Crosses – learn more here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eleanor_cross