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13.09.34, Aurell, Des Chrétiens Contre les Croisades

13.09.34, Aurell, Des Chrétiens Contre les Croisades

Crusading history is an amazingly buoyant and flourishing field of study. Most of the scholars engaged in this area are convinced of the widespread acceptance of crusading throughout medieval society, and there has been a tendency to marginalize contemporary criticism of the crusades. Apart from a few specialist articles, there are, as Aurell says in his bibliographical note (353-5), only two notable studies: Palmer A. Throop, Criticism of the Crusades: A Study of Public Opinion and Crusade Propaganda (Amsterdam: Swets & Zeitlinger, 1940) and Elizabeth Siberry, Criticism of Crusading, 1095-1274 (Oxford: Clarendon, 1985). Aurell is generous towards Throop's work which certainly broached the subject, although he notes its heavy reliance on a fairly limited base of evidence, mostly connected with the Lyon Council of 1274. He is much more critical of Siberry because her tendency "à minimiser la contestation semble parfois excessive" (354) and because she underestimates the likely popularity of political poetry hostile to the crusade which, he points out, continued to be copied long after the immediate cause of their creation was forgotten. Further, Aurell has chosen to organize his work in a manner radically different to his two predecessors. Throop focussed on 1274 and looked back only to seek the origins of criticism, while Siberry discussed different kinds of criticism analytically.

By contrast Aurell has adopted a chronological pattern in order to demonstrate the development of criticism and its relationship to events. There is much to be said for this approach, and it has to be noted at the outset that Aurell's fine scholarship has enlarged the volume of known criticism. This book works very well as a compendium of the many hostile comments made about crusading. Moreover, he makes shrewd use of the tendency of violently pro-crusade writers like Jacques de Vitry to contest the statements of their opponents. As he says, they would not have done this if they had not regarded them as important. Thus Jacques de Vitry was at pains to defend the Order of the Temple against the charge that all killing in the name of God was wrong. That there was such radical opposition to the crusading ideal is certainly true, but although Aurell brings much of it to light, it remains the case that much of it found its origins in heretical and other dissident groups, notably in Provence under attack by Simon de Montfort and his crusaders.

Nor is it possible to uncouple the rising tide of criticism from the failure of crusading after 1187. As both Throop and Siberry found, the tide of criticism became stronger with every failure until it was virtually a flood by 1274. The destruction of the kingdom after 1291 provoked a blame-game with savage criticism of the Templars and the poulains whose factional struggles were widely regarded as mortal. But despite his diligence and his scholarship, Aurell, like his predecessors, can find only the most limited criticism of crusading before 1187. Much of it came from Benedictine monks, but they were perhaps more marginal than Aurell suggests. Crusading offered an alternative path to heaven, at the very moment that many new monastic orders, above all the Cistercians, were doing the same. Traditional Benedictines must have felt beleaguered as they dropped out of the mainstream of popular piety, and it was perhaps this more than anything else that led Peter the Venerable to consider the path of converting Islam, but this had no future as long as Jerusalem remained in Christian hands.

It is very interesting that the critics of the 12th century, including the circle around Thomas Becket, invoked the Gelasian doctrine of the two swords, and Aurell constantly points out that crusading was in principle opposed to this ancient idea. But perhaps this is somewhat overdone, for all doctrine was subject to interpretation in what was an age of definition and clarification. And, after all, Urban II's purpose in launching the crusade was not simply to liberate Jerusalem and to help the Eastern Christians. He was clearly a disciple of Gregory VII and determined to upset the traditional interpretation of the Gelasian doctrine in favour of the papacy. The crusade was not a bolt-on to papal development, but an essential instrument in asserting the supremacy of the spiritual over the temporal in all aspects of Christian life.

Here, of course, we come to one of the most fundamental divisions in crusading historiography, the split between pluralists and generalists. Aurell's emphasis on the period down to 1291 suggests he is a traditionalist, particularly as he never directly tackles this great debate, although he is clearly aware of the changing nature of papal authority. But perhaps the most serious criticism of the book is connected with the decision to adopt a chronological pattern. This has great value, especially in clearly tracing the growth of criticism in the wake of the failures after 1187--and Aurell certainly establishes clearly the connection between these events and the rise of hostile critics. But there is a failure to categorise the critics, for as Siberry showed, they were of many kinds, and they simply cannot be lumped together as Chrétiens contre les croisades for many of those discussed by Aurell were not at all against the crusades. In the wake of the Second Crusade Henry of Huntingdon praised the relatively humble people who had seized Lisbon, in contrast to the rich, proud and arrogant who had failed in all they attempted. This is a reflection of the Christian belief that earthly events reflected God's judgements, in this case on pride and luxury. Some of those who wrote about the Second Crusade were, as Aurell notes, subjects of the Angevins, and there is more than a hint of Schadenfreude in their condemnation of the French participants. But does this make them Chrétiens contre les croisades? The failure to differentiate between the critics and to categorize them is a serious flaw.

Moreover, at times Aurell seems to be trying over hard to find criticism where it does not exist. Albert of Aachen, as Aurell admits, was a keen supporter of the crusade, so his criticism of the attacks on the Jews in the Rhineland by the so-called "People's Crusade" is something less than "against the crusades." Moreover, Aurell fails to note that the pogroms were not done by Peter's men at all but by other crusaders, and ignores Albert's explicit statement that the first attacks on Jews were carried out by the citizens of Cologne [Albert of Aachen, Historia Ierosolimitana ed. Susan B. Edgington (Oxford: Clarendon, 2007), 48-51]. Albert clearly was appalled by the massacres, perhaps because of the affront to the authority of the bishops of the Rhineland who tried to defend the Jews. In the case of the crusaders he ascribes their destruction by the Hungarians to God's vengeance for these massacres, but unfortunately has nothing to say about the citizens. Aurell later suggests that Albert of Aachen was critical of the massacres which followed the capture of Jerusalem in 1099. These certainly appear horrible to our modern eyes, but I cannot see any condemnatory note in Albert's description of these events and indeed rather agree with Yvonne Friedman [Encounter between Enemies (Leiden: Brill, 2002), 21] that Albert was an apologist for these terrible events. It is worth noting that when the crusaders broke into Antioch they killed many native Christians, and Albert excuses this on the grounds that it was dark--while admitting that dawn soon came [Edgington, 283-5]. It is curious that Aurell (19) dates Albert's account of the First Crusade to 1130, although he relies on Edgington's edition which suggests that Books I-VI which cover 1095-99 may have been written as early as 1102 (Edgington, xxiv-xxv).

The truly radical critique of the crusade in the 12th century is that of Walter Map who, in his De Nugis Curialium [Walter Map. De nugis curialium, ed. and tr. M. R. James, C. N. L. Brooke, and R. A. B. Mynors. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1983)] attacked the Templars because they claimed to be clerics yet, contrary to all tradition, used violence, and proclaimed the necessity of converting the Muslims rather than killing them as a means of returning Jerusalem to the true faith. In general preaching and conversion were not seen as opposed to crusading--in this Aurell follows Benjamin Z.Kedar [Crusade and Mission: European Approaches towards the Muslims (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1984)]. However, the notion of conversion, as he rightly observes, subtly undermined militancy, especially under the influence of failure. In many ways Map anticipated the kinds of reaction to defeat which Aurell and others have noted in the 13th century, for like those later thinkers Map was accepting defeat as the will of God and looking to alternative methods of restoring the Holy City to the true faith.

In fact, Aurell provides a very thorough examination of criticism of the crusade in the 13th century, expanding on Throop and Siberry. He pays rather more attention than they to attitudes to crusading in vernacular literature and poetry. The European aristocracy, as he says, was developing a more sophisticated culture, and one of its manifestations was admiration for the noble, albeit Saracen enemy, notably Saladin. However, this was not criticism of the crusade but a concomitant of it, for Saladin's emergence as a hero comes in the first half of the 13th century, the most intense period of crusading activity which witnessed the 4th, 5th, 6th and 7th crusades. The cult of the noble enemy is deeply rooted in the warrior ethic, and the new literature simply paints him in brighter colours. Aurell is certainly right to show the eventual impact of the numerous failures of the 13th century, and he charts very clearly the emergence of alterative approaches to Islam which ultimately represented alternatives to crusading. However, his study largely comes to an end with the fall of Acre in 1291, though there is some acknowledgement of its later continuation.

Recent writing, notably that of Norman Housley in his The Later Crusades. From Lyons to the Alacazar 1274-1580 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992) has revealed the enduring strength of crusading. This vigour was the result of the crusading movement becoming woven into the political, economic and social life of Europe in a way which some historians of the critics have tended to underestimate. An interesting study of its integration into European politics is that of Bjorn Weiler, "The Negotium Terrae Sanctae in the Political Discourse of Latin Christendom, 1215-1311," International History Review 25 (2003), 1-36, reprinted in The Crusades: critical readings, ed. Andrew Jotischky (London: Routledge, 2008). Overall Aurell has produced a useful and scholarly survey of criticism of crusading down to the end of the 13th century. The suggestion that Germans had a different perspective on crusading from the French is interesting and stimulating.

What the book lacks is any real grasp of the nature of crusading, of its powerful appeal to pious lay people, and, therefore, of its real strength. In his Conclusion (345-52) Aurell comes close to celebrating the demise of a movement which, it seems to this reader, he regards with some disdain. For him "La croisade est à jamais marquée par son péché originel" (345) and this 'original sin' is its break with both the Gelasian doctrine and the Christian and especially clerical tradition of pacifism. The reader may or may not agree with this judgement, but it is essentially moral, not historical. By 1095 Europe had endured centuries of attack from Islamic powers whose leaders often described their depredations in terms of jihad. These invasions and others had resulted in marked shifts in Christian attitudes to violence and towards hostile views of outsiders. At the same time the papacy was developing new ideas about the nature of its leadership in Christian society which necessitated the use of violence. In a deeply religious world these forces profoundly influenced the development of European society for the rest of the Middle Ages, and indeed far beyond. Aurell shows us that there were critics and he deals with them in a scholarly way, and he is clear that they formed a minority. But there is little recognition here of the sheer power of crusading, and, therefore, the degree to which the critics stood outside the mainstream of European feeling and development.