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‘The Evil Genius of the Third Crusade’: Conrad of Montferrat, stereotype and scapegoat

Gilchrist, Marianne



Mike Horswell

Kristin Skottki


In popular historical representation of the crusades, one of the figures most badly served has been Conrad of Montferrat, King of Jerusalem (d. 1192). Anglo-Angevin chronicle and romance traditions favourable to Richard I have coloured later narratives.

The key text in shaping his image in the past two centuries has been Walter Scott’s 'The Talisman' (1825), which drew heavily on the fourteenth-century metrical romance 'King Richard' and on influences from the Gothic novel, notably the ethnic stereotyping of Italians. Conrad was assimilated to the twin stereotypes of the Machiavellian Italian nobleman and the flamboyant ‘popinjay’ cavalier servente.

Numerous stage, film, and television adaptations of 'The Talisman' up to the 1980s have perpetuated Scott's image of Conrad, shaping his depiction at the hands of later novelists and historians. Maurice Hewlett's 'The Life and Death of Richard Yea-and-Nay' (1900) further distorted Conrad's career, placing him in France when he was already defending Tyre, and makes him plot Richard's assassination. Together with 'The Talisman', it seems to have served as an uncredited influence on Cecil B. DeMille's film epic, 'The Crusades' (1935).

DeMille, in turn, influenced Conrad's depiction as a scheming traitor in later historical novels, such as Ronald Welch's children’s novel 'Knight Crusader' (1954) and Youssef Chahine's 1963 Egyptian film, 'Saladin the Victorious', which combined Scott-derived characterisations with Nasser-era Arab nationalism. Welch's interpretation was partly based also on Steven Runciman's 'A History of the Crusades' .

Essentially, what emerged from the 1950s onward was a literary and film/television image rooted both directly and indirectly in Scott, from 'The Talisman' and from Runciman. In Graham Shelby's 'Kings of Vain Intent' (1970), his Gothic villainy is given a sexual dimension, with rape and flagellation scenes.

In his homeland, Conrad was the tragic hero of the neo-classical drama 'Corrado, Marchese di Monferrato' (1772) by the architect and dramatist Francesco Ottavio Magnocavallo, Count of Varengo (1707–88). Only a small number of positive depictions of Conrad emerged, notably in Nino Berrini's 1922 play 'Rambaldo di Vaqueiras (I Monferrato)', in which he is a minor character in a romantic drama. Luigi Gabotto's 'Corrado di Monferrato: Racconto Storico'(1968), a vie romancée published by the Rotary Club of Casale Monferrato, had a more limited circulation.

However, currently, his main popular representation is thinly disguised under his father's name, William, as an unsympathetic target for assassination in the computer game 'Assassin's Creed' (2007).


Gilchrist, M. (2020). ‘The Evil Genius of the Third Crusade’: Conrad of Montferrat, stereotype and scapegoat. In M. Horswell, & K. Skottki (Eds.), The Making of Crusading Heroes and Villains (60-74). London: Routledge.

Online Publication Date Feb 28, 2021
Publication Date Jul 1, 2020
Deposit Date Oct 11, 2022
Publicly Available Date Oct 13, 2022
Publisher Routledge
Pages 60-74
Series Title Engaging the Crusades
Series Number 4
Edition 1st
Book Title The Making of Crusading Heroes and Villains
Chapter Number 4
ISBN 9780367264444 ; 9780367535308
Keywords crusades, Conrad of Montferrat, Kingdom of Jerusalem, Monferrato, Montferrat, historiography, historical fiction, literature, historical film, Steven Runciman, Walter Scott, Cecil B DeMille, Maurice Hewlett, Ronald Welch, Graham Shelby, Judith Tarr
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