Special issue - The Crusades, from Reconstruction to Memory
History has not been kind to the reputation of Pope Honorius III (1216–27).
The second publication to appear in Routledge’s Rulers of the Latin East series, Simon John’s new book charts the career of Godfrey of Bouillon, a person who was, as the author notes, ‘by any estimation … a significant historical figure’ (p. 1).
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.
For generations of historians, the fall of the Christian-held city of Acre to the Mamluk forces of al-Ashraf Khalil in 1291 brought about the end of the crusading era.
Contemporary interest in the period of the Crusades has intensified in the last decade or so, partly because of the inflammatory invocations of holy war and jihad made immediately after the traumatic events of 9/11.
In comparison with the many recently published one-volume histories of the crusade movement, Malcolm Barber has undertaken a relatively modest task: a history of the crusader states from the time of the First Crusade (1096–1109) to the end of the Third (1187–92).
The main charateristic of Crusade studies in the post-Runciman era has been expansion and diversification (much like the crusading ‘movement’ itself). One of many new ways into the topic is to focus on how crusades and crusading were received, understood and interpreted by different social groupings.
In the Middle Ages a series of Old French knightly-spoken poems known as chansons de geste, devoted to the subject of crusades, took shape in the north of France.
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).
‘I am the Lord thy God, mighty, jealous, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me: And showing mercy unto thousands to them that love me, and keep my commandments’ (Ex. 20:5–6). Medieval crusaders, argues Susanna A.
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.
It is nearly a century and a half since Bernhard Kugler published the last substantial monograph devoted to the Second Crusade (Studien zur Geschichte des zweitenKreuzzugs (1)), a book which was disadvantaged by being printed in gothic typeface as well as academic German.
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.
This special issue was curated by Dr Stephen Spencer, Past and Present Fellow at the Institute of Historical Research. The selections reflect two dominant strands of historical enquiry in crusades-related studies: empirical reconstruction and memory. Arranged chronologically, several bear witness to the value of carefully reconstructing the scope and course of crusading expeditions, the careers of individual crusaders, the complex history of the Latin East, and the policies developed by specific popes. Others illuminate the variety of Muslim responses to the crusades, the persistence of crusading beyond the traditional terminus date of 1291, the incorporation of previously marginalised sources into the mainstream through accessible translations, the importance of treating ‘crusade texts’ within the broader panoply of historical writing, the growing trend of approaching narrative histories as literary creations and shapers of memory, the creation and transmission of dynastic crusading traditions, and the enduring memorialisation and appropriation of the crusades in the modern era.