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13.11.07, Edbury, ed., The Military Orders

13.11.07, Edbury, ed., The Military Orders

This is the fifth volume in a series by Ashgate that is based on the work presented at the conferences on the military orders that are held in Britain every four years. This volume contains work by scholars who presented at the 2009 conference at Cardiff University. The book is quite extensive (the longest of the series so far), with thirty-eight essays on a range of topics concerning the military orders and their history, from the earliest developments in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries to modern activities in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

The contents are divided into major sections based on region or geography with a brief introduction by Jonathan Riley-Smith. The main parts are 1) The Latin East, 2) The Hospitallers in Rhodes and Malta, 3) The British Isles, 4) Italy, 5) Northern and Eastern Europe, and 6) The Iberian Peninsula; there is also one last section not based on region, 7) Templar Mythology. The subtitle of "Politics and Power," although quite broad, does serve as an underlying theme throughout the volume.

The first essay by Karl Borchardt, "The Military-Religious Orders: A Medieval 'School for Administrators'?" is actually not part of one of the aforementioned divisions, but in a category by itself. Borchardt's analysis is not focused on the military activities of the orders, but rather as he calls it, "the administrative history of the Military- Religious Orders" (3). His emphasis is largely on what he sees as the innovative role of the orders, arguing that the Templars and Hospitallers "and not the Cluniacs, Cistercians, and Premonstratensians--were the first truly centralized religious orders" (7). This is mostly based on the idea that Cluniacs, Cistercians, and Premonstratensians "were communities of separate houses" (6), which were largely governed independently. On the other hand, the early military orders had a prominent master at the eastern headquarters where he administered the order's affairs. This is a novel and perhaps provocative argument that will surely continue to be debated, which is actually one of the stated goals of Borchardt's work. Additionally, Borchardt uses this essay as a call to further expand the study of military orders beyond their traditional military and crusading context.

The amount of work in archeology (along with art and architecture) in recent years is one of the more prominent aspects of the field, and certainly one of the reasons for such a marked increase in scholarship on the military orders. The volume partially reflects this trend with a series of essays mostly in the sections on the Latin East and Rhodes and Malta. In part one, chapters two through four--concerning fieldwork at al-Marqab (Margat Castle) on frescoes, the chapter houses, and meat consumption and animal-keeping--are excellent examples of current work being done by the Syro-Hungarian Archeological Mission. Each of these articles is supplemented with helpful high-quality images.

The section on the Latin East is not surprisingly the longest of the volume, with eight essays including the works connected to the SHAM project just mentioned. In chapter four, Denys Pringle discusses the Order of St. Thomas of Canterbury and the management of their property in Acre throughout the thirteenth century. Ilya Berkovich takes an ambitious look at some of the key questions concerning the role of the military orders (particularly the Templars) and the development of Franco-Muslim relations in the immediate aftermath of the Barons' Crusade. Alan Forey looks at the perpetual problem of royal and papal interference in the movement of supplies to the East from the Latin West in the thirteenth century. Cristian Guzzo and Nicholas Coureas conclude the section on the Latin East with essays on the diplomatic roles of the orders, where Guzzo looks at the role of the Hospitallers at the court of Charles I of Anjou, as well as relations between the Kingdom of Sicily and the Holy Land, while Coureas focuses on the reign of King James II of Cyprus and the Hospitallers. Both are excellent analyses of complicated material.

Although the Hospitallers are the main subject of seventeen essays, as well as being discussed in a few others throughout the book, part two is the only section that is entirely dedicated to the Hospitallers. The focus here is on their history in Rhodes and Malta, and the essays range from mid-sixteenth century developments to Victor Mallia- Milanes's discussion of the "trauma of the agonizing last years of the Order of St. John on Malta" (165) during the French Revolution. Additionally, this section contains some of the shortest articles in the collection. Anthony Luttrell's analysis of smoke and fire signals at Rhodes in the mid-fifteenth century along with Theresa Vann's discussion of "battlefield tourism" concerning the description of the 1480 siege of Rhodes and Robert Dauber's essay on "Woven Tapestries" as manifestations of "Grandeur, Politics, and Power" for Hospitaller history all come in at six pages each. However, all three represent excellent work, so their relative briefness is not intended as a critique.

The other two essays in the section move the reader beyond the Middle Ages. Emanuel Buttigieg's "Politics and Power in Grand Master Verdalle's Statua Hospitalis Hierusalem (1588)" looks at the critical reign of Fr. Hughes Loubens de Verdalle (1582-95), who was tasked with holding the order together in the aftermath of numerous setbacks throughout the sixteenth century. Keying in on a "visual culture" analysis of the richly illustrated edition of the statutes of the order, Buttigieg presents this era as the beginning of a push towards absolutist power for the leaders of the order. On the other hand, rather than chronicling the Hospitallers' rise to power in Malta, Victor Mallia-Milanes gives readers a firsthand perspective on the end of the order--one that according to Mallia-Milanes was not predictable as many scholars have previously contended, but rather one that "was dramatic sudden, violent and almost instantaneous" (183).

Part three concerns the British Isles; this and the next section on Italy are the shortest of the main parts, with just four essays each. Helen Nicholson opens the section on the British Isles with an extensive essay on "The Military Orders in Wales and the Welsh March in the Middle Ages." This is a welcome addition to the field, as Nicholson is not only able to assess the landholdings of Templars and Hospitallers in the region, but is also able to "review motivations for donation, and consider how these orders made use of their properties" (192). The next essay (by Paul Webster) analyzes the role of military orders at the court of King John. Here, Webster concludes that in the midst of some of the worst crises faced by the king of England, the military orders, and especially the Templars, "were involved in conducting royal business in a series of events that proved central to the history of John's reign" (218). Webster is followed by Simon Phillips who looks at how politically savvy the Hospital Priors were in England, especially when faced with a succession of crises throughout the fourteenth century--which began with the rebellion against the Despensers, followed with the deposition of Edward II, and culminated with the Peasants' Revolt of 1381. Greg O'Malley finishes the section with a short but excellent discussion of "Procedure, Political Influence and Preceptorial Appointments in the Hospital Priory of England" during the Templecombe disputes of 1463-79.

Part four on Italy is perhaps the most diverse of all the major sections of the book. Here, in just four essays, readers are given one each on the Templars, the Hospitallers, the Spanish orders, and the Teutonic Knights. Additionally, the individual topics are equally diverse. Nadia Bagnarini analyzes the "Santa Maria in Carbonara in Viterbo" north of Rome in the first essay. Elena Bellomo gives some "initial remarks" on the role of Spanish military orders in Italy from the twelfth to the fourteenth centuries. Complex issues of identity are central to Mariarosaria Salerno's analysis of "The Hospitallers in Southern Italy: Families and Power." And in the last essay of the section, Kristjan Toomaspoeg outlines the pragmatic and adaptable diplomatic skills of the Teutonic orders in Italy, at a time when other older orders were already established throughout the peninsula.

There are seven essays in part five, which is concerned with Northern and Eastern Europe. The first (by Karol Polejowski) highlights the relationship between the counts of Brienne and the military orders in the thirteenth century. This article might fit into a category by itself since it is the only extensive treatment of a French subject during the Middle Ages in the entire volume. The next three essays--by Nicolas Buchheit, Maria Starnawska, and Zsolt Hunyadi respectively-- are on the Hospitallers in German, Bohemian, and Hungarian-Slavonian political centers. All three are primary examples of how intertwined the place of military orders, crusading, and regional politics had become in Northern and Eastern Europe by the later Middle Ages.

Similarly, the remaining three essays in the section deal with the Teutonic Knights and their increasingly critical role in Northern and Eastern Europe. Sven Ekdahl focuses on the 1410 Battle of Tannenberg, a topic that has been widely covered by scholars from various different perspectives. Ekdahl successfully adds nuance to the role of politics, recruitment, and military planning in the months leading up to the famous battle--all of which ultimately had a significant impact on the final outcome. Ekdahl's work is followed by Rombert Stapel's on the role of education in the Utrecht Bailiwick of the Teutonic Order from the mid-fourteenth to the late sixteenth century. Renger E. de Bruin finishes the section by bringing the discussion into the modern era and analyzing the "Teutonic Order of the Bailiwick of Utrecht in the Revolutionary Period" (1780-1806). Here, the ultimate survival of the Teutonic Order depended heavily on shrew political policies of "not attracting attention of revolutionary regimes" (359) and other "survival strategies" that ultimately allowed for the continued existence of the order.

Part 6: The Iberian Peninsula is the last of the regional divisions of the volume. This is yet another strong section, led off by Philippe Josserand's analysis of the problems and tensions that the Templars faced in the final years before the trial and downfall of the order. This is followed by Joel Silva Ferreira Mata's treatment of "The Relationship between the Crown and the Monastery of Santos during the Middle Ages." Here, Ferreira Mata chronicles the active and protective role of central authority in relation to the monastery of Santos from its foundation in the late twelfth century throughout the remainder of the Middle Ages. The next three essays in the section are somewhat unique in the volume in that they in that they share some emphasis on sociological methods. António Pestana de Vasconcelos and Manuel Lamas de Mendonça have created a "sociological profile" of the recruitment of Portuguese military orders from the late fourteenth to the early sixteenth centuries. The profile indicates a growing interest in the orders culminating in a "substantial increase in enrollments into the orders" (398) by the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries. The next two essays demonstrate the crucial role the Portuguese military orders played in political terms--both at the local level, as Ana Cláudia Silveira demonstrates in her essay on the port city of Setúbal, and also within the wider expansionist tendencies of Portugal in the fifteenth century, where Luis Adão de Fonseca concludes that the Order of Christ was essentially "an obedient instrument in the hands of the Monarchy" (410) and ultimately given a prominent role in efforts at expansion. The final essay in the section, "Inquiring about Honour in the Portuguese Military Orders (Sixteenth to Eighteenth Centuries)", by Fernanda Olival, concerns the requirements for candidates wishing to gain entrance into the orders.

The final section of the volume, part seven, is different than the others in that it does not concern a specific geographical region, but instead has two essays on "Templar Mythology." The two essays, "From the Holy Grail and the Ark of the Covenant to Freemasonry and the Priory of Sion: An Introduction to the 'After-History' of the Templars," by John Walker, and "The Myth of Secret History, or 'It's Not Just the Templars Involved in Absolutely Everything,'" by Juliette Wood, are both welcome additions to the growing corpus of scholarly refutations of modern "myth-histories" concerning the military orders.

Overall, the volume is a great achievement, and the editor, Professor Peter Edbury of Cardiff University, should be commended for successfully bringing together such a diverse and broad array of quality work into a single volume. My short review can hardly do justice to the excellent work presented throughout the book. The volume not only represents some of the most recent and important work in the field, but as Jonathan Riley-Smith alludes in the introduction, there is quite a lot of material for scholars of the post-medieval era, which seems poised to be an area of significant growth when it comes the study of the military orders.

Like many of its kind, the volume does not come cheap, and this will likely be an impediment to individual ownership. However, although cost is always a practical consideration, its value (like that of the four previous volumes) should not just revolve around price. Specialists on the military orders and university libraries alike should strongly consider the investment. With thirty-eight essays and nearly five hundred pages, it feels like a lot more than one book.