Describing and interpreting the Christian holy wars now known as the crusades began with the earliest Western accounts of the First Crusade (1096-1099) in the first decade after the fall of Jerusalem in 1099, such exegesis forming part of the phenomenon itself. From the early twelfth century, images and morals drawn from the history of previous expeditions were employed to incite enthusiasm and devotion for new campaigns. Such early historiography, part homily, part adventure story, proved, like much subsequent study, mutable and partisan, as with the emergence only after 1200 of the primacy of the story of Peter the Hermit, transmitted from Albert of Aachen via William of Tyre and James of Vitry.
The later Middle Ages witnessed no cessation of attention to a glorious crusading past in the quest to bring about a glorious crusading future. By the fifteenth century, appreciation of crusade history underpinned all serious discussion of crusading, such as Jean Germain’s Discours du voyage d’Oul- tremer (1452). Provoked by immediate political concerns, such studies tended to polemic and self-interest, unable to distinguish the past of legend from the past of evidence. Only with humanist scholarship and theological hostility could a historiography emerge independent of the phenomenon it was trying to assess, even if still contingent on the interests of the historians themselves. Thus, the Florentine humanist scholar and civil servant Benedetto Accolti’s extensive history of the First Crusade, based on William of Tyre, operated as part of attempts to drum up support for the crusade of Pope Pius II (d. 1464).
In the sixteenth century, study of the crusades received encouragement, urgency even, from the two major crises that tore Christendom apart: the advance of the Ottoman Turks and the Protestant Reformation. Traditional wars of the cross seemed to offer military and spiritually penitent and redemptive solutions to the problem of the recrudescent Infidel. Yet such wars also stood as symbols of papist superstition and corruption of the pure religion of the Faithful. The continuous dialogue between present and past was lent added vitality by the new technology of printing. Later medieval libraries were littered with manuscripts of crusade chronicles and romances, not all of them unread. Printing encouraged examination of their significance, topicality, popularity, or suitability as polemic.
While the Turkish wars sharpened interest (some of it, as in the case of the humanist Erasmus, critical) in holy war as a political option, the Reformation inspired different concerns in crusading. Protestants claimed to be returning the church to pristine purity. Consequently, they needed to sift acceptable elements from the past and to identify where the Roman Church had sullied or corrupted the faith. The crusades provided an excellent case study of what the English martyrologist John Foxe described in his History of the Turks (1566) as papal idolatry and profanation. In this context, war against the infidel was laudable; crusading, dependent on the doctrines of papal power and indulgences, was damnable, especially when directed against religious dissidents within Christendom. Conversely, certain Roman Catholic writers looked to the crusades as providing precedents for dealing with heretics. These distinctive confessional strands of historiography shared certain features. The crusaders, whatever their leaders’ faults of ideology and sin, appeared as sincere; their cause, when fighting infidels, just.
Increasingly, both Roman Catholic and Protestant displayed an uneasiness at regarding war as a religious exercise, preferring wars for territory rather than faith, a secularization that revived juristic ideas of just war to which Lutherans and Calvinists, as well as Roman Catholics, could subscribe. Indulgences were increasingly marginalized in Roman Catholic tracts on fighting the Turks. In the writings on secular international laws of war by Alberico Gentili (1552-1608) and Hugo Grotius (1583-1645), religion was discounted as a legitimate cause, although such views competed with more traditional behavior: popes persisted in issuing crusade bulls for generations.
The major sixteenth-century historiographical development revolved around the editing of texts. Prominent, perhaps surprisingly, were Protestants. Foxe’s History of the Turks could rail against faith corrupted, but his themes received more nuanced treatment from the Lutheran Matthaus Dresser (1536-1607), university professor and official historiographer to the elector of Saxony. The only fault of the first crusaders was their credulity in being misled by pope and profane monks. Dresser went behind confessional diatribe in identifying the clash between temporal and spiritual motives; the role of papal policy and self-interest; the driving force of popular piety and ecclesiastical manipulation of common superstition. In particular, Dresser appeared eager to affirm the great deeds performed by those he saw as German, from Godfrey of Bouillon onward, and rejected any crude judgmental link between action and outcome of the sort that permeated so many medieval chronicles. This absence of downright dismissal of crusading by non-Roman Catholic scholars operated as part of a wider cultural enterprise providing a bridge between the papist past and Protestant future through reconciling changed circumstances with proud tradition, a process crucial in the maintenance of a sense of inherited national identity and, ultimately, the creation of a secular concept of Europe transcending confessional divides.
Dresser’s coadjutor Reinier Reineck (1541-1595) played an important role as editor of numerous editions of crusade texts, notably the chronicle of Albert of Aachen, but he was overshadowed by one of the greatest editors of crusade texts, the French Calvinist diplomat Jacques Bongars (1554-1612). In his widely circulated Gesta Dei per Francos (1611), whose two volumes ran to over 1,500 pages, Bon- gars published all the main narrative sources for the First (1096-1099) and the Fifth (1217-1221) Crusades, as well as the chronicle of William of Tyre, the Secreta Fidelium Cru- cis of Marino Sanudo Torsello (1321), and the De recuper- atione Terrae Sanctae by Pierre Dubois (1306). Bongars followed a path away from religious controversy, appropriately for a servant of King Henry IV of France, a Huguenot turned Roman Catholic. Instead of confessional polemic, Bongars emphasized the distinguished roles played by kings of France, to whose successor Louis XIII he dedicated his book.
Such pioneering textual scholars established two dominant themes of subsequent crusade historiography: intellectual or religious disdain contrasted with national or cultural admiration. As crusading ceased to exert more than a technical impact on actual wars, it provided images of noble and often lost causes, as in Shakespeare’s Henry lV, Part ll, or excuses for excursions into chivalric fantasy or the exotic, notably in Torquato Tasso’s Gerusalemme liberata (1580), a reinvention of Godfrey of Bouillon and the First Crusade as a romantic story of love, magic, valor, loyalty, honor, and chivalry. Translated widely and regularly, Tasso’s romance heavily influenced subsequent popular ideas of the crusade. The tradition of moral and religious disapproval was sustained in the influential History of the Holy Warre (1639) by the Anglican divine Thomas Fuller, who added to his theological hostility a lofty condescension: “Superstition not only tainted the rind, but rotted the core of this whole action. Indeed most of the potage of that age tasted of this wild gourd.” [Fuller, History of the Holy Warre (Cambridge: Buck, 1639), 5, c. ix-xvii].
The tradition of national pride and admiration for distant heroism was embodied in Louis Maimbourg’s populist and royalist Histoire des Croisades (1675), its rhetoric of excitement praising this “famous enterprise,” its “heroic actions... scarcely to be outdone,” its scope embracing “the Great Concerns and the Principal Estates of Europe and Asia” [Maimbourg, The History of the Crusade, trans. J. Nal- son (London: Dring, 1685), pp. 2-3, 200-1, 407-10]. Maimbourg and Fuller both brought their narratives into the seventeenth century; both works were internationally popular; both pushed their subject beyond the judgment of religion. The secularization of crusading history increasingly depicted the wars of the cross as features of a distant past, a quarry for good stories or edifying or repulsive models.
By the early eighteenth century, historians had begun to give crusades numbers, some eight, others, like Georg Christoph Müller of Nuremberg in 1709, five (1096-1099, 1147-1149, 1189-1192, 1217-1229, and 1248-1254, i.e., those large expeditions that reached the eastern Mediterranean). With this trend came a narrowing of the chronological and geographical frame. As the living experience of holy wars receded, the historical perception increasingly focused on expeditions to the Levant and the history of the Western settlements in Syria and Palestine within the familiar terminal dates of 1095 and 1291.
As the Ottoman threat evaporated in the eighteenth century, the prevalent intellectual tone, spiced by anticlericalism, was set by disdain for the apparent ignorance, fanaticism, and violence of earlier times, a view expressed by four of the most influential writers of the period: Denis Diderot (1713-1784), Voltaire (1694-1778), David Hume (1711-1776), and Edward Gibbon (1737-1794). Diderot regarded the material effects of the crusades as uniformly dire, its ideology framed by “imbecility and false zeal” for “a piece of rock not worth a single drop of blood” [Diderot, Oeuvres, 26 vols. (Paris, 1821-1834), 14:496, 511]. Hume memorably dismissed the whole enterprise as “the most signal and most durable monument of human folly that has yet appeared in any age or nation” [David Hume, History of England, 2 vols. (London: Millar, 1761), 1:209].
Yet no monolithic orthodoxy emerged. Voltaire, in his internationally circulated Essay on the Manners and Spirit of Nations (1753), tempered his disapproval with admiration for individuals. Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (1776-1788) went further, presenting heroism as a cultural rather than merely personal feature, an active energy that, once freed of savage fanaticism (i.e., religion), offered future advantages to the West. More than is often realized, Gibbon concerned himself with the fate of Byzantium, pointing the contrast between its effete of cultured decadence with the vigor and brutality of its conquerors, crusaders, and Muslims. Adopting the ideas of Joseph de Guignes’s Histoire des Huns (1756-1758) that the crusades opened new horizons for Western trade, manufacture, and technology, Gibbon foreshadowed what became a major concern of the next generation, as he did in evoking the conflict between Christianity and Islam in terms of “the World’s Debate.”
To Gibbon’s contemporaries, that debate appeared to have been won by the West, if not necessarily by Christianity. Fear of the Ottomans was replaced by a patronizing orientalism, by turns contemptuous and fascinated. The Muslims of the Near East became curiosities, their culture exotic, pathetic, comic, or bizarre. Inevitably, the past was rearranged to suit the new commercial, intellectual, and political dominance of the West. This shift required shining the spotlight on the motives and behavior of the crusaders themselves rather than on the outcome of their exertions, on the cultural values rather than the undoubted failure. External stimulus to shifting perceptions came from a growing elite fashion for oriental and Near Eastern artifacts, clothing, and cultural anecdotes.
More direct contact with the Near East followed Napoleon’s campaign in Egypt and Syria in 1798-1799, consolidating the view, especially among Frenchmen, that the crusades primarily concerned the occupation of the Holy Land. Contemporary with the reconfigured interest in the Near East was the popularity of neomedievalism, a different sort of otherness to contrast the self-perceived settled modernity of Enlightenment Europe. In the crusades orientalism and medievalism combined in forms that were lent further definition by political reaction to revolution and the sentimentality of romanticism. The Middle Ages received more positive appreciation, as in Frederick Wilken’s History of the Crusades (1807-1832), which pioneered use of Eastern sources. The new cult of chivalry supplied moral, religious, and cultural buttresses for an aristocratic ancien régime losing much of its exclusivity. The effect on the study of the crusades was profound, although not uniform. Popular literary admirers of chivalry, such as Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832), in his novels Ivanhoe (1819) and The Talisman (1825), or Charles Mills (1788-1826), in his widely circulated History of the Crusades (1820), remained equivocal in their admiration of the ideology and violence of crusading despite the heroism of participants. Hesitation over what Henry Stebbings described as the crusades’ “grand but erring spirit of enthusiasm” [Stebbings, History of Chivalry and the Crusades, 2 vols. (Edinburgh: Constable, 1829-1830), p.1] persisted, especially among Protestant writers. However, in the face of the unsettling change consequent on galloping, indiscriminate industrialization, crusaders and crusading increasingly received the benefit of the doubt from nostalgic or escapist apologists, popular historians, and imaginative travelers returning from the newly popular Levantine package tours.
The most influential historian of the crusades in the nineteenth century was Joseph François Michaud (1767-1839) in his Histoire des croisades (1812, revised after 1831) and its companion collection of texts, the Bibliothèque des croisades (1829). Antiquarian and uncritical, Michaud, a monarchist, nationalist, antirevolutionary Christian, allied admiration with supremacist triumphalism, regarding the crusade achievements as “heroic victories . . . astonishing triumphs which made the Muslims believe that the Franks were a race superior to other men,” sapping the spirit of Islam even in defeat. More insidiously, “the victorious Christian law began a new destiny in those far away lands from which it had first come to us,” the “holy wars,” Michaud argued, having “as their goal the conquest and civilisation of Asia.” At a time of nascent European commercial and political colonialism in the Near East, such “precedents” were seized upon, Michaud even describing the crusaders as founding “Christian colonies” [Michaud, Histoire des croisades, 6 vols. (Paris: Furne, 1817-1841), 6:371].
With colonialism as the litmus test of European hegemony, the crusades could be transformed into precursors of that superiority and cultural ascendancy, taking their place in the march of Western progress, at once a defensive shield against alien infidel culture, a harnessing and softening of the primitive military barbarism of the early Middle Ages, and, confusingly, a conduit for the reception of the material and intellectual riches of the East. Michaud’s convenient and seductive vision of crusading cast long and dark shadows. An exasperated T. E. Lawrence at the Versailles Peace Conference in 1919 had to remind Frenchmen claiming control of Syria that “the Crusaders had been defeated; the Crusades had failed” [Margaret Macmillan, Peacemakers (London: Murray, 2001), p. 401].
The French academic tradition of seeing the crusaders as colonial forerunners remained tenacious. In 1917, Louis Madelin described a supposedly beneficent and benevolent Franco-Syrian society inOutremer, an attitude with clear attractions during the French mandates in Syria and the Lebanon after 1919. The lengthiest exposition of this strand of interpretation was almost the last. René Grousset’s three-volume Histoire des croisades (1934-1936) talked of La France du Levant and ended with the comment that “the Templars held on only to the islet of Ruad (until 1302) south of Tortosa through which one day—in 1914—the ‘Franks’ were to set foot once again in Syria” [Grousset, Histoire des croisades, 3 vols. (Paris: Plon, 1934-1936), 3:763]. Even Jean Richard, in many ways a radical revisionist of such interpretations, in 1953 described the kingdom of Jerusalem as “the first attempt by Franks of the West to found colonies” [Richard, The Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem, 2 vols. (Amsterdam: North Holland, 1979), 2:463]. The literal acceptance of the concept of Gesta Dei per Francos had a long history.
Ironically, Michaud’s vision of the crusades set the agenda for Muslim attitudes as well. Until the collapse of the Ottoman Empire and the penetration of European power, the crusades failed to arouse interest among Islamic and Arabic scholars. By the second half of the nineteenth century, this changed. The Christians once again intruded into the Dār al-Islām (“abode of Islam”), intent on rewriting the past. In the first modern Muslim account of the crusades using medieval Islamic sources, Splendid Accounts in the Crusading Wars (1899), the Egyptian Sayyid ‘Ali al-Hariri quoted the Ottoman sultan’s remark that “Europe is now carrying out a Crusade against us in the form of a political campaign” [Emmanuel Sivan, “The Crusaders Described by Modern Arab Historiography,” Asian and African Studies 8 (1972),
112]. The earliest modern Islamic biography of Saladin, by the Turkish Namik Kemal (1872), explicitly challenged the distortions in Michaud’s Histoire, recently translated into Turkish. Much of the subsequent Islamic discourse on Western attitudes to the crusades and to the Near East has been colored by a negative acceptance of the Michaud version of crusade history, as if this version was the immutable Western response. Thus criticisms of the West and the crusades, such as Edward Said’s tendentious Orientalism (1979), tend to operate within as well as against this essentially nineteenth-century Western construct.
The academic study of the crusades was transformed by the publication of Heinrich von Sybel’s Geschichte des ersten Kreuzzuges (1841). A pupil of Leopold von Ranke (1795-1886), Sybel developed his mentor’s suggestion of 1837 that William of Tyre’s account of the First Crusade (accepted as authoritative since around 1200) was secondary. Through close textual analysis instead of mere compilation, Sybel revealed the different stands of narrative, arguing for an appreciation of sources as transmitters of variant stories and legends, not statements of unadorned fact. Sybel’s application of what he called critical method to the history of the crusades and his use of sources other than narrative chronicles ushered in a golden age of crusade scholarship, even if they left the popular image largely unchanged.
The foundations of modern scholarship were laid between the 1840s and the First World War. In France, the main Western texts, as well as Arabic and Armenian texts, were edited in the monumental series Recueil des historiens des croisades (1841-1906). A Société de l’Orient Latin, inspired by the Comte Riant (1836-1888), briefly concentrated publications of new texts in the 1870s and 1880s. New areas of research were explored: Joseph Delaville Le Roulx (18551911) on the Hospitallers and on fourteenth-century crusading; Louis de Mas Latrie (1815-1897) on Latin Cyprus; Riant himself on narrative sources for the Fourth and Fifth Crusades; Gustave Schlumberger (1844-1929) on coins and seals of the Latin East; Camille Enlart (1862-1927) on crusader castles. In Germany, the history of the kingdom of Jerusalem was set on a sound archival footing by another prolific editor of texts, the austere Prussian schoolmaster Reinhold Rohricht (1842-1905), editor of the Regesta Regni Hierosolymitani (1893); and that of the First Crusade by Heinrich Hagenmeyer (1834-1915) through his editions of texts. His Peter der Eremite (1879) established an orthodoxy on the crusade’s origins and course not seriously challenged until the 1980s.
Scholarship does not exist in a cultural vacuum. The crusade remained harnessed to political polemic: of national identity, religious duty, and cultural dominance. In the absence of devastating general conflicts after 1815, nineteenth-century Europe spawned a cult of war that could be projected back onto the crusades, as by Ernest Barker in his brilliant essay on the crusades for the eleventh edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica: “It would be treason to the majesty of man’s incessant struggle towards an ideal good, if one were to deny that in and through the Crusades men strove for righteousness’ sake” [Encyclopaedia Britannica, 11th ed., 29 vols. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1910-1911), p. 550]. The association of just causes and sanctified violence, sealed with the muddled sentimentality of neochivalry, found stark, concrete form in countless war memorials across western Europe after 1918, yet after the horrifying First World War, crusading ceased to attract the positive responses it had enjoyed over the previous century. Not just because he saw the crusades as having willfully destroyed the civilization of Byzantium did Steven Runciman end his highly influential History of the Crusades (1951-1954) with the chilling judgment: “the holy war itself was nothing more than a long act of intolerance in the name of God, which is the sin against the Holy Ghost” [Runciman, A History of the Crusades, 3 vols. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1951-1954), 3:480]. To the mid-twentieth-century West, war may have appeared necessary but never good, still less sanctified or personally redemptive.
Since what is now known as the Wisconsin collaborative History of the Crusades (1969-1989) under the general editorship of Kenneth M. Setton was originally planned in the early 1950s, an explosion of research has cast doubt on the coherence as well as the nature of the subject. Leading this development has been the school of Israeli scholars led by Joshua Prawer. Prawer, in parallel with the Frenchman Jean Richard, rewrote the history of the Latin East through a reexamination of legal practices and institutions to produce a new constitutional history overthrowing the idea of the Latin East as some model “feudal” society or state, notably in the Histoire du royaume Latin de Jerusalem (1969-1970). Prawer and his pupils, informed by their sense of place, revisited the notion of the Latin settlements in the East as protocolonies, an idea Prawer derived from his own mentors of the French school of earlier in the century and maintained in The Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem: European Colonialism in the Middle Ages (1972). Implicitly, Prawer was intent on demonstrating that, unlike the state of Israel in modern times, Frankish settlement was always too limited to promise permanency and that the Franks failed to engage with the local culture or environment; their system he described as apartheid. Much of this model, supported by R. C. Smail, author of a highly influential study of crusader warfare (1956), was aimed at revising the Franco-Syrian construct of Louis Madelin and Grousset.
Recently the Prawer thesis itself has received serious modification if not contradiction from a younger Israeli scholar, Ronnie Ellenblum, whose Frankish Rural Settlement in the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem (1998) argues for a more extensive Latin settlement in the countryside. The work of Israeli scholars and Westerners such as Claude Cahen, especially in his groundbreaking La Syrie du Nord à l’époque des croisades (1940), has established the study of the Latin settlements as features of Near Eastern history, increasingly detached from the concurrent debates about Western responses. Yet Hans Eberhard Mayer, whose Geschichte der Kreuzzüge (1965, English translation 1972) reopened debate about the definition of the crusades, is also the historian of the chancery of the Latin kingdom of Jerusalem and a pioneer in the study of Latin lordships in the East. Jonathan Riley-Smith, a leading disputant on the nature of the crusade in the West, began as a scholar of the Latin East and straddles the two arenas in studies on the actions as well as motives of the earliest crusaders. However, just as crusading in the West has increasingly been integrated into mainstream study of theology, the church, law, popular religion, aristocratic society and values, and politics, the Muslim world’s context of the Western incursions in the Near East has begun to receive serious and distinctive attention from Islamicists such as Peter M. Holt, Robert Irwin, and Carole Hillenbrand.
Among historians of the crusades as a feature of the medieval West, the disdainful judgmentalism of Runciman has given place to attempts to locate crusading within its social, cultural, intellectual, economic, and political context. In common with other medievalists, crusader historians employ wider ranges of evidence, including charters, archaeology, and the visual arts, to supplement chronicles and letters. Local studies have lent precision as well as diversity to previously monolithic generalities, although some scholars still see almost universal significance in the crusade. One contentious issue revolves around the definition of the crusade. As with the very first observers after 1099, the nature of the enterprise excites explanation and definition. All seem to agree with Riley-Smith that “everyone accepted that the crusades to the East were the most prestigious and provided the scale against which the others were measured” [Riley-Smith, “The Crusading Movement and Historians,” p. 9]. However, there is disagreement over whether only those campaigns launched to recover or protect the Holy Sepulchre should be classed as proper crusades (as Mayer and, for different reasons, the French historian of chivalry Jean Flori would have it), or whether all those wars to which popes applied the temporal and spiritual privileges originally associated with the Jerusalem campaign were equally legitimate and respected, as maintained by Riley-Smith and Norman Housley, historian of the Italian wars of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries and of the later medieval crusades. Neither argument places what only appeared as a remotely coherent set of institutions around 1200 in the wider context of Christian holy war from the early Middle Ages, as suggested by John Gilchrist, who insists, against the hugely influential study on the origins of the crusade by Carl Erdmann (1935), that the Wars of the Cross occurred as the result, not of ecclesiastical initiative but of the submission of the church to secular militarism and militancy, a process Gilchrist sees as complete only in the early thirteenth century.
Crusade historians today study all areas of Europe, the Baltic, the Mediterranean, the Near East, even the Atlantic, and all aspects of crusading’s position in and derivation from host and victim societies: Muslim, Jew, pagan, and Christian dissident. Chronological horizons match the geographic, crusades limping into the early modern world. The survival of the Order of St. John on Malta until 1798 has become as much an object of scrutiny as the fall of Acre in 1291. Crusading is now recognized as integral to European culture, therefore both more and less influential than was once understood: one form of legitimate war combining novelty and tradition; one sort of spiritual exercise; one strand in the rich polemic of Christian action, self-justification, and selfawareness, originally elevated by its connection with the liberation of the Holy Sepulchre.