Donald J. Kagay

title.none: Lower, Baron's Crusade (Donald J. Kagay)

identifier.other: baj9928.0609.010 06.09.10

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Donald J. Kagay, Albany State University,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2006

identifier.citation: Lower, Michael. The Baron's Crusade: A Call to Arms and Its Consequences. Series: The Middle Ages Series. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2005. Pp. 272. $49.95 0-8122-3873-7. ISBN: .

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 06.09.10

Lower, Michael. The Baron's Crusade: A Call to Arms and Its Consequences. Series: The Middle Ages Series. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2005. Pp. 272. $49.95 0-8122-3873-7. ISBN: .

Reviewed by:

Donald J. Kagay
Albany State University

Though clearly the product of the Anglo-American "crusade industry," Michael Lower's treatment of two minor crusading efforts between 1239 and 1241 is both cleverly constructed and convincingly argued. Lower starts from the wide avenue of crusade studies so laboriously surveyed and paved by the followers of Runciman and Riley-Smith, but soon wanders into several overgrown and extremely interesting byways, of which he attempts to make some "sense." The result is a fairly entertaining assessment of the ill-organized and serendipitous way in which crusading often functioned "on the ground."

Surely the most interesting of Lower's chapters focus on the institutional experimentation with crusading engaged in by Pope Gregory IX (1227-1241). In the bull Rachel suum videns , Gregory sought to upgrade the ultimate effectiveness of the crusade by professionalizing the forces sent against Islam and then elicting fuller fiscal support for these holy warriors from the "Christian people" (populus Christianus ) at large. The pope hoped to accomplish this new scheme by strictly enforcing peace within the Christian polities themselves and then unleashing a preaching effort across northwestern into eastern Europe. In line with earlier papal efforts at "selling" the crusade (which to modern eyes fall somewhere between an advertizing blitz and a revival), Gregory's preaching campaign induced a wide range of people to take crusade vow. To fulfill his desire for a more militarily-viable crusading army, the pope encouraged a great number of the less fit or more wealthy of the volunteers for the Cross to remit their vow in exchange for money, assuring them that their "passive suffering" would indeed gain for them an indulgence even if they did not take up their swords against the enemies of Christ. In this way, Gregory, like any modern commander, hoped to establish an effective fighting force tied to a much great civilian population which could be counted on as a source of supply and funding.

Lower is quick to point out the primal changes Gregory's bull brought to the existing mechanism of crusading, and in a number of very densely packed chapters follows this new theory into action. The impression that the reader gets of the expeditions that the pope proposed is reminiscent of the modern CEO managing several enterprises on different continents. In some ways, the general process of crusading was at least as important as the target at which he directed the holy war. The sometimes-unhappy marriage between theory and practice that this represented became crystal clear in the mid-1230s when the pope began the long process of gathering a crusading army and sending it to aid the increasingly-decrepit Latin Kingdoms and then attempting to abruptly divert this same force to Constantinople, whose Latin government was under mounting pressure from Christian and Muslim neighbors alike. Though Gregory's actions in this regard often seemed badly-organized and selfish, they do initiate the student of crusading into one of its most interesting, if disreputable phases. To follow these papal efforts to their ultimate ends, Lower reviews in meticulous detail the crusade appeal Gregory made to various European rulers and traces the full context of their responses. In successive chapters, Lower treats papal negotiations and machinations with such varied leaders as King Bela IV of Hungary, Count Thibaut of Champagne, Peter, a baronial leader in Brittany, and Earl Richard of Cornwall. From a careful comparison of the pope's approaches to these four potential crusade leaders, Lower shows how complicated recruitment for such expeditions could be. In each of these cases, the papacy's efforts to gain crusading support destabilized fragile relations between Christian rulers and non-Christian or heretical marginal groups. Only in Hungary did the political leader of the majority religion prevent the persecution of his infidel subjects. In the other regions such as Champagne and Brittany, Jewish or heretical communities were bled dry financially and were then destroyed. What becomes apparent from these four case-studies is the lack of papal control over crusading processes once they were set in motion. Despite Gregory's best efforts at inducing these potential crusaders to join the Constantinople crusade, none of them did. Even the more popular campaign in the Holy Land failed to draw them all into combat against the Crescent. The Hungarian king, in fact, found it much more prudent to stay at home and face off enemies within his own region. As Lower rightly points out, bringing together a crusading army was an extremely complicated matter that often depended for its success far more on local events than the leadership skills of the pope. As the Constantinople and Barons' crusades aptly demonstrate, the papal ability to initiate and direct such endeavors seemed to steadily fade once the army of holy warriors took the field.

Despite the factors conspiring against the papal crusading endeavors mounted in the late-1230s, both of the campaigns attained some little success, but not exactly as Gregory had planned it. When all the higher-placed candidates for command of the Constantinople expedition refused this dubious honor, a lesser French noble, Baldwin of Courtenay, a heir to the Latin dynasty of Byzantium, took it on himself to negotiate funding and raise an army, which with minimal campaigning in 1239 propped up the weakened Latin rule of Constantinople for another twenty years. Though the Barons' Crusade was externally similar to earlier papally-inspired drives against the Muslim east, it, too, disappointed papal expectations despite gaining victories which, as Lower observes, did more "for the Christian cause in the Holy Land than any after the First Crusade."

In this book, Michael Lower has begun a reassessment of the historiographical paradigm in regard to crusading which has grown so comfortable to European and American scholars in last century. He has done this by engaging in more contextualization and less theory. The result is an evolving picture of crusading as a process which owed as much to realpolitik as to muscular Christianity. It is ironic, however, that, despite his assertion of a steadily-expanding crusade diversity, Lower barely mentions contemporary Christian campaigns in the Iberian Peninsula which both Robert Burns and Joseph O'Callaghan have persuasively shown to be true crusades. In spite of this oversight (which could be attributed to many modern experts on the medieval crusade), I find this a well-argued and researched book which is accessible to both general and academic readers.