Skip to content

Response to Review no. 193

I am grateful for the opportunity to respond to Dr Michael Brett’s review of my book, The New Crusaders. Starting with the historiography of the period, on which much of his review focuses, I certainly agree that the crusades did not attract much attention from the first rank of British historians in the nineteenth century and indeed make this point in my analysis of crusade historiography in this period (p. 9.). For example, although he expressed an interest in the subject and edited some important sources such as the Itinerarium regis Ricardi for the Rolls series, the influential historian of the Middle Ages William Stubbs’ main treatment of the crusades was in one of his Lectures on Medieval and Modern History and seems to have been inspired by contemporary events, in particular the Cyprus Convention and the Turkish massacres of Bulgarian Christians. A wide range of authors however did take up their pens to write in more detail about the crusades. Whilst the quality of their work is certainly very variable, from those who had read and analysed the primary sources to others who were more influenced by Tasso’s Gerusalemme Liberata and the historical novels of Sir Walter Scott, their histories were widely read by contemporaries and played a part in developing the popular image of the crusades. They therefore need to be discussed, rather than dismissed, in any treatment of this subject. In fact, there seems to have been a history of the crusading movement in most of the major nineteenth century popular series. Each author brought their own perspective, from apologists of medieval chivalry such as the popular historian G.P.R. James, who argued that it was wrong to apply the standards of his own day to the Middle Ages, to the young and idealistic Charles Mills, who struggled with the violence of the crusades, even if he admired individual acts of heroism. And, although one can identify some evolution of historiography in the course of the century, the same decade could see very different analyses, depending on the standpoint of the author in question and the publisher or series responsible for its production.

If Britain did not produce a crusading Wilken or Rohricht, I think it is an overstatement to argue that crusade historiography in Britain was isolated and well behind the mainstreams of scholarship at home and abroad. If he (or she) chose to pursue an interest in the crusades, the educated reader would not have been unaware of crusade scholarship elsewhere in Europe. Reviews of such works appeared in widely read journals such as The Athenaeum, are quoted in footnotes and the originals and editions (or translations) of primary sources would have been available through booksellers and in major public and private libraries. For example, Heinrich von Sybel’s analysis of sources for the First Crusade and his 1855 Munich lectures on the crusades were published in an English translation in 1861 as The History and Literature of the Crusades and ran to several editions. Publishing history and library catalogues however tell only one part of the story and a subject which I want to pursue further is the extent to which individual crusade histories were borrowed, by whom and when.

As Dr Brett notes, with the exception of the chapter on historiography, in writing The New Crusaders I decided to follow a thematic (he prefers the term taxonomic) approach. This was because I wanted to tap a wide range of sources and material and thereby highlight lime very diverse use of time crusade image. The subject has not previously been addressed in any detail and my thesis in the book was (and remains) that the different images helped to form piece by piece, rather like a jigsaw, a popular picture of the crusades. Thus an image from a child’s history book might have been joined later by a painting of a crusade subject, recollections of a novel by Scott and perhaps a production of an opera or oratorio about lime crusades.

Taking this approach, one can see some common themes, such as the popularity and romanticisation of the Third Crusade and Richard the Lionheart and the strong influence of Tasso and Scott At the same tune, these are interwoven with more individual and often idiosyncratic interpretations of the events of the crusades.

A wholly chronological approach would have restricted this sort of analysis. I accept however that there is more work to be done on the evolving interest in the crusades in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and how they were used by contemporaries. And my chapters on Crusading Warfare (which includes examples of the use of crusade imagery and language during the Crimean War), the First World War and Crusade Miscellany (which looks at other social and religious campaigns) take some steps in this direction.

As I point out in my Conclusion, if one were to draw two graphs, illustrating the development of the popular image, both in historical writing and various artistic medium, and events in the East, there would be few points at which the two coincided. There was inevitably some cross over as travel to the East increased and events such as the Turkish massacre of Bulgarian Christians became live and contentious political issues, the subject of popular pamphlets, parliamentary debates and extensive media coverage, The popular image of the crusades, from research into crusading ancestors to poems, novels, painting and opera, however had a life of its own and its legacy lingers today.