Leper Knights: The Order of St. Lazarus of Jerusalem in England, C.1150-1544


One of the most unusual contributions to the crusading era was the idea of the leper knight - a response to the scourge of leprosy and the shortage of fighting men which beset the Latin kingdom in the twelfth century. The Order of St Lazarus, which saw the idea become a reality, founded establishments across Western Europe to provide essential support for its hospitaller and military vocations. This book explores the important contribution of the English branch of the order, which by 1300 managed a considerable estate from its chief preceptory at Burton Lazars in Leicestershire. Time proved the English Lazarites to be both tough and tenacious, if not always preoccupied with the care of lepers. Following the fall of Acre in 1291 they endured a period of bitter internal conflict, only to emerge reformed and reinvigorated in the fifteenth century. Though these late medieval knights were very different from their twelfth-century predecessors, some ideologies lingered on, though subtly readapted to the requirements of a new age, until the order was finally suppressed by Henry VIII in 1544. The modern refoundation of the order, a charitable institution, dates from 1962. The book uses both documentary and archaeological evidence to provide the first ever account of this little-understood crusading order.DAVID MARCOMBE is Director of the Centre for Local History, University of Nottingham.