"The King of Kings shall open, and the king of the land shall come..."
It was the feast of St. Michael the Archangel, the 29th of September, 1224. The warriors waited restlessly in the courtyard, astride their steeds, clad in steel mail and brilliant plate armor. Elaborate silk surcoats, emblazoned with various devices, fluttered loosely in the early morning breeze, and assorted weapons hung from saddles or were belted about lean waists.
The army fell silent as King Fernando suddenly appeared on the staircase. He stood still, grim-faced, appraising with satisfaction the assembled host. Fernando had labored incredibly, struggling for years to bring this day about. He knew that these men had also endured sufferings and labors untold, as had all of Castile for hundreds of years. How many thousands of knights had spilled their blood during those centuries, fighting heroically to defend their homeland from the unjust oppressor, or while attempting to retake what had been stolen from them? How many unnamed men and women toiled as slaves in Moorish lands, serving their masters in shame and fear, finding relief only in death? How many were even, now chained to an oar in the bowels of a Moorish galley, forgotten to all but God, or were forced into servitude in Muslim armies, perishing as they fought to spread the cult of the Infidel?
It had come to an end. This day, the faith and discipline of one man had prevailed over an entire kingdom. Now that kingdom was finally strong enough to strike back."
The greatest Spanish monarch, King of Castile and Leon, St. Fernando III was born in the year 1199 - exactly 100 years after the death of his illustrious ancestor, El Cid. In him would be combined the soul of a knight dedicated entirely to God, the irresistible power of the Cid, and due to his royal heritage, the authority to marshal the might of an entire kingdom against the enemies of Christ. Personally leading his armies into battle, he took back more territory from Islam than any other king in history. First cousin of St. Louis IX of France, he died a saintly death in the year 1252. His incorrupt body can still be seen in the Cathedral of Seville, and his feastday, May 30th, is a holy day of obligation in Spain.
Review from Reader:
Do you love knights and chivalry? Is your blood stirred by tales of heroic deeds gallantly undertaken against overwhelming odds? Does your heart leap at the glory of a victory gained with valor and attributed to the honor of God? If you can answer yes to any of these questions, if you are anyone to whom what is best and highest in Catholic, Medieval warfare and monarchy has irresistible appeal, then take up James Fitzhenry's new book, Saint Fernando III, and be delighted.
Despite being relatively unknown to modern times, the saint, king of a united Castile and Leon in Spain and cousin of St. Louis IX of France, justly deserves our admiration and emulation. Both politically and spiritually, he labored unremittingly for the advancement, both in his realm and abroad, of the kingdom of Christ on earth. He instituted codes of just law, brilliantly directed the Reconquista of Spain from the Moors to some of its greatest, most lasting successes, lived as a faithful husband and dutiful father to a large family, and acted at all times in a manner befitting a champion of Jesus and Mary.
Mr. Fitzhenry presents the king and saint's life and times with a deft hand. Fernando's remarkable character, both knightly and saintly, and his many personal relationships are boldly delineated; the many figures who surrounded and aided him are colorfully portrayed; the numerous battles are recounted with accuracy and consummate panache. The book is not merely an historical account, nor a simple hagiography. Rather the author achieves a nuanced and textured depiction of an entire era in Medieval Spain, drawing persons, stories, faith, morality, philosophy, culture, chivalry and charity into a single tale centered on the magnificent Fernando.