15.04.09, Bull and Kempf, eds., Writing the Early Crusades

Main Article Content

Elizabeth Lapina

The Medieval Review 15.04.09

Bull, Marcus, and Damien Kempf. Writing the Early Crusades: Text, Transmission and Memory. Woodbridge: The Boydell Press, 2014. Pp. x, 174. ISBN: 9781843839200 (hardback).

Reviewed by:
Elizabeth Lapina
University of Wisconsin--Madison

Although an outsider to the field of crusader studies might find this hard to believe, crucial aspects of the First Crusade have suffered from a shortage of scholarly attention. There are more extant accounts of the crusade than of any other event until the early modern period. Until recently, none of them have received sufficient attention as unique cultural artefacts in their own right. Writing the Early Crusades: Texts, Transmission and Memory, a volume of twelve articles edited by Marcus Bull and Damien Kempf, demonstrates that a lot of exciting work is being done to fill this gap and that a lot of work still remains to be done.

All of the articles in the volume are of high quality, while some are stellar. They approach the theme of the volume from a variety of different angles and often complement each other nicely. In the first article, Steven Biddlecombe demonstrates that careful attention to the sources can contribute a good deal to old debates, in this case those about Western attitudes towards Eastern Christians. Biddlecombe argues that the chronicler Baldric of Bourgueil perceived both Western and Eastern Christians as belonging to one "family of Christ." In this, Baldric differed from several other chronicles, who saw Eastern Christians as little better than the "infidels." Baldric's vision had the advantage of making crusading more understandable to the aristocracy, who were acutely aware of the obligations, including protection and vengeance, entailed by blood-related kinship. Jay Rubenstein begins his article by reminding the reader that many of the sources of the First Crusade were works-in-progress for many years as the authors continued to revise and add to them. Guibert of Nogent's Dei Gesta Per Francos and Fulcher of Chartres' Historia Hierosolymitana are two notable examples. Rubenstein argues that although the early versions of either chronicle do not survive, it is possible to reconstruct them at least to some extent through careful examination of extant manuscripts. Also, Rubenstein discusses the similarities between Guibert's chronicle and that of Albert of Aachen, which he explains by the authors' reliance on the same or similar "oral, performed sources." The article provides a glimpse into how medieval writers of history worked and also into how the ideas and attitudes of contemporaries of the First Crusade changed over time. In the third article, Peter Frankopan makes it clear that in order to understand better the relations between crusaders and the Byzantines, one needs to examine the reign of Emperor Alexius in its entirety. For instance, Frankopan draws attention to the plot of Nikephoros Diogenes against Alexius in 1094, which crusader historians might be tempted to dismiss as irrelevant, but which influences the dealings between the Emperor and crusaders several years later. Frankopan also claims that modern historians' evaluation of the main source for Alexius's reign, Anna Comnena's Alexiad, as "emotional, partial and misleading" has more to do with many historians' prejudices against female authors than with the source itself. He argues that the Alexiad is at once "more complex," "more nuanced" and more accurate than many have assumed. Luigi Russo discusses two undervalued narratives of the First Crusade produced in Monte Cassino: the Chronica Monasterii Casinensis and the later Historia de via et recuperatione Antiochiae atque Ierusolymarum. Like Rubenstein, he also warns against treating sources in a "monolithic fashion" without regard for the processes of their production. He invites historians to pay greater attention to "the geography of historical memory," more specifically the institution where a particular source was produced. Léan Ní Chléirigh examines the uses of the words peregrinatio and peregrinus in a series of chronicles. She debunks the idea that the chronicles tended to use them to mean something neutral akin to "travel" and argues that they saw crusader (and crusaders saw themselves) as bona fide pilgrims, despite the fact that many of them were armed. Carol Sweetenham attempts to gain a better understanding of oral sources that informed most of the sources. Her focus is on anecdotes, stories that focus on individuals, such as that of Rainald Porchet's head laughing when picked up. Sweetenham argues that these anecdotes contain traces of oral "conversations" (which, of course, does not mean that the events described had really happened). She also demonstrates that these anecdotes, different versions of which can be found in several sources, allow us to study the process of the creation of myths and legends of the First Crusade. Nicholas L. Paul studies references to the gates of Jerusalem in several sources of the First Crusade. These sources mention crusaders breaching the same gates, from which Western Christian pilgrims supposedly had been chased away before. This story allowed chroniclers to represent the capture of Jerusalem as vengeance for the (most probably imagined) mistreatment of their predecessors. Three articles are dedicated to the chronicle of Robert, a monk in Normandy, who rewrote the anonymous Gesta Francorum. James Naus, like Russo, is interested in "the geography of memory." In his article, Naus claimed that Robert the Monk strove the paint Hugh of Vermandois, a crusader and younger brother of King Philip I of France, in the best possible light in order to reverse what he saw as the French royalty's cooling towards the monastery of Saint-Remy at Rheims. For Naus, the crucial date is 1108, when King Louis VI of France was crowned at Orléans, rather than Rheims. Robert's chronicle was a response to this slight. Damien Kempf asks the question of why Robert's chronicle, one of whose aims was to promote the Capetian monarchy, had such a 'triumphant' reception in German-speaking areas. An examination of relevant manuscripts leads Kempf to attribute it, first, to the use of the text by the Cistercians and, second, to the appeal of the "theologico-political" view of the First Crusade to Frederick Barbarossa and his entourage. Marcus Bull's article examines the relationship between Robert's chronicle and the Historia Vie Hierosolimitane written by Gilo of Paris and then added to the so-called Charleville Poet. Bull argued against the widely accepted explanation of the similarities between Robert's and Gilo's texts through a now-lost source known to both authors. While Gilo must have had access to Robert's chronicle, a careful analysis of the text demonstrates there is no need to evoke a missing source to explain Robert's creativity. William J. Purkis provides a fresh prospective on the memory of the First Crusade. He reminds the reader that many contemporaries of the First Crusade clearly perceived it as something unprecedented. A retrospective appropriation of the crusade's memory, however, came to coexist with this belief, as many authors "discovered" similar instances of ideological standoff between Christians and Muslims at the time of King Arthur, Charles Martel, and Charlemagne. Also, others tried to knock the First Crusade down from its pedestal and located new beginnings when it came to interfaith warfare during their own time. In the last article of the volume, Laura Ashe confronts an important and as yet unresolved dilemma of "the relation between the crusade movement and the knightly ideal of chivalry." Did the existence of milites Christi fighting against the "infidel" in the Holy Land lead to celebration and codification of knighthood? Ashe's answer is "yes" when it comes to framework and "no" when it comes to content of chivalry. The emergence of chivalry is best understood not in the context of crusades, but, for example, in that of aristocratic resistance to the growth of royal power.

The shortcomings of this volume are minor and, in some cases, unavoidable. Among the latter is the fact that many of the authors rely on old editions of Robert the Monk and Baldric of Bourgueil, while new ones (the first by Marcus Bull and Damien Kempf and the second by Steven Biddlecombe) were about to come out. While implicit dialogue between the articles is fascinating, one sometimes wishes for it to have been more explicit. Finally, it is a pity that there is no thematic index.

It is to the credit of the volume that it leaves the reader hungry for more. The introduction and many of the articles propose a variety of methodologies and also indicate more specific venues for future studies. The volume is an important milestone in a journey that, in many ways, has only just started. It should be of great use both to historians of crusades and to historians of medieval historiography for many years to come.

Article Details

Author Biography

Elizabeth Lapina

University of Wisconsin--Madison