How should we read the Crusades? The question begs a host of others, not least how do we read them, in the light of how we have read them in the past. Beginning as a historian of how the Crusades were regarded in their own high mediaeval time, Elizabeth Siberry has more recently constituted herself the historian of how they have since been regarded in our own.
Agatha Christie’s 1970 novel Passenger to Frankfurt might seem like an unusual place to start a history of the Children’s Crusade in 1212. To capture the radical youth-culture of the 1960s lying at the heart of her plot, Christie invoked the Children’s Crusade as a familiar symbol of misguided and ultimately dangerous youthful folly.
The writing of history – any history – is shaped by the intellectual environment in which it is written, and by the preoccupations of its writers. As Christopher Tyerman acknowledges in his prefatory remarks, ‘writing history is not a neutral revelation but a malleable, personal, contingent, cultural activity’ (p. xi).
The late 12th century has long been recognised as a ‘golden age’ of medieval English historiography, and in many ways Michael Staunton’s Historians of Angevin England is a study of that age. To be more precise, it is an examination of the flowering of contemporary history writing in the period between the Great Revolt of 1173–4 and the loss of Normandy in 1204.