This book investigates the ways in which the crusades have been observed by historians from the 1090s to the present day. Especial emphasis is placed on the academic after-life of the crusades from the sixteenth to twenty-first centuries. The use of the crusade and its history, by humanists and other contemporary writers, occupied a world of polemic, serving parochial religious, cultural and political functions. Since the Renaissance humanists and Reformation controversialists, one attraction of the crusades had lain in their scope: recruited from all western nations, motivated by apparently transcendent belief systems and fought across three continents. From the perspective of western Europe's engagement with the rest of the globe from the sixteenth century, the crusades provided the only post-classical example to hand of an ideological and military world war. Remarkably, the patterns of analysis of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century have scarcely gone away: empathy; disapproval; relevance; the role of religion; materialist reductionism. Despite the explosion of literary attention, behind the empathetic romanticism of Michaud or the criticism of Mills and Scott, the themes identified by Thomas Fuller, Claude Fleury, David Hume, Edward Gibbon and William Robertson persisted. The idea of the crusades as explicit precursors to modern events, either as features of teleological historical progress or as parallels to modern actions remains potent. The combination of ideology, action, change, European conquest and religious fanaticism acted as a contrast or a comparison with the tone of revolutionary and reactionary politics.
German crusade scholarship precisely mirrored the contrast between methodological innovation and conceptual conservatism. Friedrich Wilken established a narrative that exerted a similar influence in Germany as Joseph-François Michaud's had in France. Leopold von Ranke's pupil von Heinrich von Sybel challenged traditional approaches to reading texts, even if he replaced them with his own somewhat illusory romantic vision of the genesis of narrative sources. German philologists and historians, along with similarly inclined scholars in France, provided a more secure basis for research and writing. Contributors to the Archives included historians from across Europe, including some of the most innovative and influential figures from what had been described as 'the golden age of crusade studies'. One effect of the politicisation of crusade studies was, perhaps paradoxically, the draining of ideological and confessional concern.
Reformation, revision, texts and nations 1500–1700
Printing and new generations of antiquarian scholars revolutionised the availability of crusade texts and hence the range and depth of historical understanding. English writers on the crusades provide a revealing parallel to their French contemporaries in refashioning the medieval conflicts. Late fifteenth- and sixteenth-century England shared the continental tradition of interest in the crusading past. By portraying crusading as a matter of national pride, Jacques Bongars was aping his master's policy of attempting to escape the politically destructive vice of theological debate. Given the equivocal role he judged was played by religion, Etienne Pasquier took a consistently secular view of the impact of the crusades in trying to identify winners and losers. In certain pre-Reformation reformist Catholic circles, the idea that wars could be lawful if possessed of religious motives such as conversion was challenged.
The legacy of the Enlightenment had established the crusades as a reference point for cultural commentary as much on contemporary as on medieval society. Remarkably, the patterns of analysis of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century have scarcely gone away: empathy; disapproval; relevance; the role of religion; materialist reductionism. François-René Chateaubriand and Napoleon Bonaparte initiated two of the most influential nineteenth-century developments in nineteenth-century crusade studies. They are the interest in the crusades as a Christian-cultural mission and a precursor of new direct western European political engagement with the Muslim world and the Near East. For Joseph-François Michaud, the crusades offered a familiar, but apparently apolitical and safely distant subject with which to capture a lucrative audience while promoting his far from neutral ideas about western religion, culture, civilisation and France. Michaud's themes of nationalism and colonialism redefined popular as well as academic debate on the crusades.
This chapter looks at fate of the colonial model. The publication of René Grousset's Histoire witnessed the highwater mark of the Franco-German colonial model. The attacks on the nineteenth-century 'positive' colonial model came from a number of quarters, deriving not only from fresh scrutiny of the evidence but from the ideological and political stances of the historians. Joshua Prawer linked the colonialism of Outremer with the European expansion of the early modern period in Africa, the Atlantic and the Americas. The challenge to colonialism and imperialism mirrored the uneven collapse of European hegemony and self-confidence in the half century from 1914. Only with the establishment of western-style university history departments in the wake of Zionist settlement were the medieval Frankish settlements studied by scholars resident in the same geographic space. Local Arab scholars displayed little interest in serious study of the colonial model crusades.
Carl Erdmann's attempt at definition had merely added diversity rather than clarity. The force behind Jonathan Riley-Smith's definition was religious. As Erdmann's pupil Riley-Smith remarked fifty years later, R. C. Smail brilliantly 'foresaw the direction of crusade studies for the next half-century'. The last quarter of the twentieth century was marked by a multifaceted debate on defining what a crusade actually was and, thus, the scope of the subject. Possibly the least predictable development in crusade studies in the past fifty years has been the unmistakable explosion of academic interest and scholarly achievement amongst British medievalists. The reactions to Ridley Scott's lamentable film provide just one demonstration of the unavoidable recent development: the politicisation of the crusades. The crusades were placed more firmly than ever within non-crusading contexts of religion, society and economy.
There have been two reasons for this book. One is that it tries to shed light on how the crusades, one of the prominent historic features of western Europe, have been perceived by literate and academic commentators over the centuries. The academic commentators and writers in print tended to assess the work on its own terms of intellectual and historical merit. Either way, the litmus test was the crudest form of the already crude 'clash of civilisation' theory; it was itself a heated-up version of Cold War propaganda. The debate formed a cocktail of debased Enlightenment positivism, ignorant cultural supremacism and historical illiteracy. The second reason is rawer, more demotic, but possibly more important. It is clear that the crusades, or perceptions of the crusades, now matter beyond the shades of academe.
This introduction presents an overview of the key concepts discussed in this book. The book investigates the ways in which the crusades have been observed by historians from 1090. Especial emphasis is placed on the academic after-life of the crusades from the sixteenth to twenty-first centuries. The book attempts to describe the history of the different opinions, how they have been adopted and their historical contexts. Few events of European history have captured the sentiments of contemporaries and the imaginations of later observers more vividly than the series of Christian wars now known as the crusades. Traditions, ideology and institutions grew up thickly around these wars. The debate in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries revolved around essentially materialist interpretations, the crusades as wars of conquest, motors of economic expansion and expressions of colonialism.
The earliest accounts of the First Crusade adopted a tone of advocacy, a register that never entirely left medieval, and some modern descriptions of crusading. William of Tyre's Historia was the first scholarly crusade history to combine research in earlier chronicles and, contemporary commentary with a considered academic reflection on both. William's image of the charismatic Peter the Hermit suited the emphasis on apostolic poverty, evangelism to the laity and moral rearmament characteristic of the polemics of crusading's second century. Throughout the process of retelling the story of the First Crusade, Latin/clerical invention and interpretive tropes readily cross-pollinated with vernacular literature. The use of the crusade and its history, by humanists and other contemporary writers, occupied a world of polemic, serving parochial religious, cultural and political functions. The fusion of crusade and pilgrimage was rapid.
The origins and impact of chivalry became a matter of controversy when handled by historians and social commentators trying to identify progress from post-classical barbarism to modern enlightenment. Crusade heroes featured prominently in nostalgic accounts which lauded chivalry's supposed virtues of modesty, loyalty, generosity, humility and faith. While accepting the general theme of crusading fanaticism, Voltaire weaves into his disapproval in a discussion of liberty as well as reason. Edward Gibbon's sonorous judgements on the crusades have become something of a historical and literary cliché. Fashionable and influential eighteenth-century intellectuals tended to use the crusade not as a historical study in its own right, but as a tool in conceptual arguments about religion and the progress of civilisation or manners. Maurist monks, who regarded historical scholarship as integral to their religious vocation, gathered an extraordinarily rich library and essayed a series of the grandest scholarly projects.