Jennifer A. Price

title.none: Bartlett, God Wills It! (Price)

identifier.other: baj9928.0003.019 00.03.19

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Jennifer A. Price, University of Washinton,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2000

identifier.citation: Bartlett, Wayne. God Wills It! An Illustrated History of the Crusades. New York: Sutton Publishing, 1999. Pp. iii, 288. $39.95. ISBN: 0-750-91880-2.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 00.03.19

Bartlett, Wayne. God Wills It! An Illustrated History of the Crusades. New York: Sutton Publishing, 1999. Pp. iii, 288. $39.95. ISBN: 0-750-91880-2.

Reviewed by:

Jennifer A. Price
University of Washinton

Traditionally, the crusades have been depicted as an enterprise which occupied the younger landless sons of the European nobility at a time in which primogeniture and feudal warfare were on the rise. Supposedly, these young men rode off to the Holy Land in search of adventure and fortune. While elements of this interpretation may be true, the past twenty-five years of scholarship have succeeded in painting a more encompassing picture. Scholars like Jonathan Riley-Smith and Marcus Bull have demonstrated that crusaders were a diverse lot drawn from all walks of life. Furthermore, a great deal of evidence disproves the notion that crusaders were motivated to crusade in the hope of gaining materially. In fact, as Giles Constable has demonstrated, crusading was an extremely expensive undertaking ("The Financing of the Crusades in the Twelfth Century," Outremer: Studies in the History of the Crusading Kingdom of Jerusalem presented to Joshua Prawer ed. B.Z. Kedar, H.E. Mayer and R.C. Smail (Jerusalem: Yad Izhak Ben-Zvi Institute, 1982), p.64-88). A crusader had to draw on all the resources available to him and to his extended family in order to participate. Also, the assumption that the crusade was phenomenon unique to the Holy Land has been replaced gradually by the awareness that crusaders participated in campaigns fought in Spain, Italy, France and the Baltic. It is with some surprise then, that one reads W.B. Bartlett's anachronistic God Wills It! An Illustrated History of the Crusades.

Mr. Bartlett declares that the purpose of his work is to provide the reader with a "consistent narrative" of the crusades. His story tells of those events leading up to the proclamation of the First Crusade in 1095 and from there, of the success of that first endeavor. Then he leads the reader through the various ups and downs of the campaigns fought in the Holy Land up to the fall of Acre in 1291 (xiii). It is the author's hope that the reader (one assumes that the intended audience is one generally unfamiliar with the history of the crusades) will become intrigued by what has been related and so be inspired to read further on this "fascinating and dramatic chapter in history" (xiii).

As a description of what occurred between 1071 and 1291, Bartlett's narrative is captivating and easy to follow. The first three chapters, "The Catalyst", "The Christian World" and "Islam and the East" set the stage for what will be discussed in the following 200 pages. As the author notes, the ability to comprehend the crusades rests on an understanding of human civilization as it was at the end of the eleventh century. The discussion of the Christian world encompasses both the Byzantine Empire and Western Christendom. The usual catalysts of the movement are trotted out in the first chapter (e.g. the defeat of the Byzantine army at the battle of Manzikert, the Peace of God movement, the Spanish Reconquista, pilgrimage, etc.). Chapter 3 relates the status of the Islamic community at this particular moment. Mr. Bartlett should be applauded for the inclusion of such information. Too often, studies of the crusades gloss over or omit the political upheaval experienced in the Islamic East during this period. As the author rightly notes, the "Muslims in the region were too busy fighting each other to notice danger from any incursion from the West." (25) The discussion of why this was this case is informative and helpful in illuminating how developments in the Latin East often are dependent upon the status of political alliances and relationships within the bounds of the Islamic world.

After the events of the First Crusade and the immediate aftermath are addressed the narrative of God Wills It! falls into a distinctive pattern. First, one is given an explanation of what occurred in the Latin East (chapters 9-12, 17 and 20). This is followed by a discussion of the efforts in the West to support the inhabitants of the Kingdom of Jerusalem through the calling of successive crusades (chapters 13, 18 and 21). For those crusades that actually left Europe for the Holy Land, Bartlett gives detailed accounts of their progress (chapters 14-16 and 19). This format allows the reader to form a complete understanding of the way in which the crusade played out over time in both the East and in the West.

The sense that the eventual outcome of the venture--as described in Chapter 27, "Armageddon"--was inevitable pervades the entire work. In effect, according to Bartlett, the crusades were doomed to fail from the start. This is because the "idealism of the Crusades was always suspect" and that over time it "became a demonic and warped distortion of the Christianity from which it claimed to stem". (210) And as such "their example is best forgotten" since "no happiness came from them". (267)

God Wills It! has a number of admirable attributes, not the least of which is the author's ability to make the history of the crusades come alive. The richness of the narrative allows the reader to feel as if he or she is experiencing the "human drama" of the crusades firsthand. This feeling of immediacy is aided in no small part by the inspired choice of illustrations that are placed in close proximity to the relevant text. There are a great number of photos of locations associated with the crusades as well as a number of contemporary depictions of important figures and battles. The captions are very concise and informative, as are the maps.

Yet, in spite of the colorful narrative provided in God Wills It!, I would have great reservation about recommending this work to its primary audience, the reader who has little or no familiarity with the subject. The publisher claims on the book-jacket that the author takes into account the "latest scholarly research". I found little to suggest that this is true. Mr. Bartlett's view of the crusades is old- fashioned if not outdated, highly judgmental, and in some places erroneous (for example, the Peace of God movement is confused with the Truce of God movement on p. 10 and the order of the events which launched the Fourth Crusade is mixed-up on p. 201).

The narrowness of Mr. Bartlett's point of view--limiting the definition of crusades to those expeditions to the Holy Land that took place between 1095 and 1271--is rather troubling. This is especially true at a time when it has been determined that those crusades fought in places other than the Holy Land were undoubtedly part of the medieval man's conception of the crusade. The only crusade activity outside the Latin East that the author touches upon, and then only briefly, is the Albigensian Crusade. Unsurprisingly, considering the negative view of the crusades espoused in God Wills It! (at one point the entire movement is characterized as "a bitter experience for all those involved"), Bartlett believes this diversion to the southern provinces of France to be "one of the darkest travesty[s] of the Crusading Ideal". (202, 267) Here, Simon de Montfort is portrayed as a merciless persecutor of the Cathars and their protectors. The author neglects to mention that this was the same man who abandoned the crusade host at Zara during the Fourth Crusade so that he would not have to kill Christians. There is a definite lack of empathy for and understanding of the men and women who took part in the crusades. The author proclaims that without "exception [they were] flawed. Courage took precedence over wisdom and prudence, and honor was too often overshadowed by savagery and selfishness". (267)

In condemning the crusade preached against heretics as a perversion of the whole idea of crusading, Bartlett aligns himself with scholars like H.E. Mayer (The Crusades 2nd edn. Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1988.). Bartlett, and to some extent Mayer, in disapproving of the transference of the crusade to other locations and against other enemies, are ignoring the fact that those who were alive at the time in which this was occurring found it to be perfectly acceptable (see E. Siberry's Criticism of Crusading, 1095-1274, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1985 for contemporary opinion of crusades in this period). More troubling, however, is that in repudiating the crusades which occurred outside the boundaries of the Holy Land, Bartlett is leaving out a great deal of the history of the crusades, a story just as rich in human drama as that presented in God Wills It!

These criticisms should not obscure the fact that W.B. Bartlett's God Wills It! An Illustrated History of the Crusades provides a wonderfully coherent and enjoyable narrative of the crusades which were fought in the Holy Land between 1095 and 1291. However, for the reader who is unfamiliar with the crusades and would like to gain a basic understanding of the movement, I would be more likely to recommend The Oxford Illustrated History of the Crusades ed. J. Riley Smith (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995). The latter work provides an up-to-date and more even-handed look at history of the crusade movement as it is understood by the foremost scholars in the field.