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De Re Militari | Book Reviews

Norman Housley

The Crusaders

(Stroud: Tempus, 2002). 191 pp. U.S.A. $24.99, U.K. £ 16.99. ISBN 0 7524 4.

This book is an excellent starting place for those studying the psychology of the crusaders. Housley draws from four authoritative texts -- the Gesta Francorum et aliorum Hierosolimitanorum, La Conquête de Constantinople, La Vie de saint Louis, and Le Livre des Fais -- blending the information into a very easily readable work. The book is divided into five chapters, the first four of which are based on each of these works, and a concluding chapter.

"The 'Gesta Francorum' and the First Crusade: Pilgrims In Arms" concentrates on the thought prevalent in the crusader's lands of origin as well as those factors that stimulated "taking the cross", as going on crusade was known. The Gesta Francorum is an account of the first crusade that brings to life the thought and behavior, the religious hopes and convictions, as well as the social habits and military techniques of the first crusaders. Here one finds a lively discussion and examination of the daily life and happenings during the crusades. Housley comments that there is none of the tactical sense found in other documents, and instead one finds down to earth views couched in plain language. The concept of a war of liberation of the Holy Land, as promoted in Pope Urban II's call to crusade (p. 13), and the resultant appeal to the would-be crusader, is thoroughly discussed.

An analysis of the social and economic conditions prevalent in Medieval Europe assists in greater appreciation and understanding of the factors leading to people taking up the cross. Here Housley compares the economic and religious motives and weighs their respective merits and their applicability to crusader psychology. He effectively uses examples from the first crusade to stave several of his positions and opinions. The first crusade was groundbreaking work for the crusaders, as they encountered the soldiers of Islam for the first time, and thus the discussion about the differences between Turkish and Christian tactical use of cavalry is of interest, as is the short examination of cannibalism (p. 50), by some crusader groups, such as the Tafurs.

Chapter two, " Villehardouin's La Conquête De Constantinople: Crusading And Conquest", covers the period from after the first crusade until the end of the fourth. It deals mainly with the problems of leadership, and especially that of the royals, that the crusaders encountered. The analysis of the second crusade and the waves of enthusiasm from those who did not go on the first (p.54), show how the crusaders blamed the disastrous failure of the First Crusade on the sinfulness of the crusaders themselves. The discussion of the second crusade examines the legacy of hatred and suspicion of the Byzantine Empire and also the status of the crusaders and the privileges granted to them as outlined in Euyenius' Quantum praedecessores, and Gratius' Decretum (p.58).

Pope Gregory VIII's call to crusade, the "Audita tremendi" (p. 60), led to the third crusade and here one finds a discussion of the entry of European politics into the actions and decisions of the various leaders. This forms the background for the Fourth Crusade, and here Housley concentrates on diversions they encountered, theories about their true motivations and moral criteria (p. 87), and the role these factors played in the eventual sacking of Constantinople. The major change in the way crusading was carried out also receives attention and he discusses the new methods for assembling and financing of a crusade.

In chapter three, "Joinville and the 'Vie De Saint Louis': Crusading And Piety", Housley uses the Vie dedicated to Louis, King of Navarre, to focus on the factors that led up to the Fifth Crusade. As such he discusses the extreme vulnerability and previous lack of military success crusaders enjoyed. He also examines the changes in the basis of taking the cross and the crusaders vows, the difference between crucesignatus and the members of the military orders (p. 106). This leads to a discussion of the penitential and devotional aspects of crusading. When the strategies and tactics employed are discussed, questions concerning Christian-Muslim relations are analyzed as well as the then current arguments against crusading (pp.124-30).

The chivalric biography, the Livre Des Fais of Boucicaut, Marshal of France, presents the basis for the final chapter, subtitled "Crusading And Chivalry". Here the autobiographical nature of the life and experiences of one man and those he encounters provides unparalleled understanding of how and why crusading survived after so many failures. During Boucicauts' time three options available to potential crusaders offered themselves, and Housley analyzes them in detail (p. 144). In addition, the effect of the contraction of the Mongol Empire and the resultant filling of the void by the Mamluks offers explanatory power for Housley. Together with the emergence of a strong Ottoman Turkish Empire, the focus of the crusades moved to Eastern Europe and the Baltic. Housley discusses these alternative crusading areas in view of Wigand of Marbury's accounts of the Winter- and Somerreise and makes comparisons to Chaucer's Canterbury Tales.

In the concluding chapter Housley discusses Christianity's bond with Crusading and concludes that one should replace the legenda negra (the Black Legend, which refers to the act of ascribing the worst traits and acts to a group, such as the Muslims) with views of reality as it was in those days.

As one reads these pages the characters come alive and one gets a much greater understanding of the psychology and thought processes of the crusaders. This 'liveliness' of Housley's writing style will assist any scholar in coming to grips with the concepts presented and a deeper understanding and appreciation of the crusaders and their acts. The use of illustrations, maps, and chronology are well thought out, the glossary and suggestions for further reading are also particularly useful. This book is of value to the new student of crusading philosophy, as well as to the scholar needing a deeper understanding of crusader thought.

Phillip Nel

Montana Tech of the University of Montana <pjnel@mtech.edu>

Page Added: October 2003