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21.08.11 Spencer, Emotions in a Crusading Context

21.08.11 Spencer, Emotions in a Crusading Context

Spencer's Emotions in a Crusading Context, 1095-1291 is a superb example of what scholars of the crusades (and, indeed, scholars of medieval western Christianity in general) stand to gain from integrating new approaches into the study of these medieval phenomena. Admittedly, the history of emotions is not a "new" approach for medieval historians, though it has--until the appearance of this book--been applied in a piecemeal fashion in crusades studies. Indeed, Spencer's book comes to us at a time of significant methodological diversification in crusades studies and makes a welcome contribution to the momentum of an ongoing push within the field to interrogate crusades sources as literary artefacts and to challenge the hegemony of empiricist historical approaches.

Spencer's first book is a formidable achievement on several counts. Its persuasive analysis benefits from a command of an enormous range of crusades sources including Latin and Old French historical narratives, letters, papal proclamations, and vernacular songs and lyrics, all ranging from the late eleventh to the late thirteenth century and spanning crusading frontiers in the Latin East, the Baltic region, southern France, and the Iberian peninsula. These materials are also contextualised alongside classical and early Christian theological and philosophical authorities, as well as non-crusading hagiographical and historiographical materials. In order that such a breadth of source material should not appear daunting to the non-specialist reader, Spencer provides a useful overview of the book's key sources in the introduction.

As Spencer states in the introduction, this is a book about the emotional rhetoric of crusading, meaning that it is an interrogation of how emotions and related affective performances are represented in texts, and an analysis of what this can then reveal about emotional ideas and expectations in the context of crusading and as an ingredient of narrative. Spencer is emphatic about what this book is not: it is not an attempt to reconstruct the lived reality of medieval crusader emotion. Such information is ultimately lost to us. In fact, the irretrievability of lived feelings is a key contention of the book. What we can access, Spencer convincingly argues, are "emotional standards" (8), whereby it is possible to reach beyond the individual "storyworld" of a given narrative to consider the broader cultural currency of emotion rhetoric among communities of writers and anticipated audiences. Two scholarly "turns" are embraced in Spencer's methodology: the linguistic and affective. Thus, Spencer adopts what he calls a "'weak' social constructionist" (5) position alongside an approach which recognises the sources as literary artefacts.

The analysis focuses on two emotions (fear and anger) and one emotional display (weeping), with two chapters of the book dedicated to each of these lines of inquiry. Part One focuses on fear, and in the first chapter Spencer argues that the dominant discourse pertaining to the fear of death (timor mortis) in crusades sources written by ecclesiastical authors takes the form of what he calls the "fear-faith paradigm" (30), meaning that when fear of death is discussed in these texts, it is often to convey the idea that crusade participants should not fear death but rather put unswerving faith in God. Spencer identifies a dynamic between fear and humility, or more specifically of fear as an indicator of an absence of humility, while fearlessness could serve to indicate an individual's trust in God--a trust that is often shown to be rewarded with divine assistance in the narratives. There is also an intriguing relationship between ideas of fear and sin, or rather of fear as sin, a dynamic that is reinforced by references in the sources to crusader confession leading to the absence of fear. Spencer also examines timor mortis within the emotional rhetoric of martyrdom, arguing that the narratives of the early twelfth-century Benedictine authors reveal the most concerted engagement with ideas of fearless death, crusader martyrdom, and imitatio Christi. This discussion of martyrdom leads Spencer to consider Bernard of Clairvaux's rhetoric of fearlessness in the context of the Templars, and to posit that such discussions engaged with a broader belief that fear was an inappropriate emotion for crusaders and members of the military orders alike. Spencer also uses the works of Henry of Livonia and Peter of Les Vaux-des-Cernay to argue that the fear-faith paradigm was "transmutable to other frontiers" (55). Finally, Spencer contextualises the evidence presented thus far alongside that of vernacular narratives, which reveal a marked absence of the theological paradigm, and potential classical, hagiographical, and--most importantly, Spencer argues--scriptural influences.

In chapter 2, Spencer puts the fear-faith paradigm to one side to elucidate how variegated and complex the representation of fear could be. He weighs the potential impact of a "nascent chivalric ethos" (72) in associations between fear and shame that are mainly to be found in the accounts written by laymen. Spencer adds important nuance here by suggesting that the emotion of fear is not itself shameful in these contexts, but rather a given individual's response to that fear (such as desertion) had potentially dishonourable implications. The intersection of ideas about fear and masculinity is also weighed in this chapter, as Spencer argues that the effeminising associations of fear contributed to the broader "value-negative assessment of fear" (86) in crusade narratives. Fear was not always portrayed as an illegitimate emotion, however: fear of deception and underhand tactics (on the part of Byzantines, Muslims, and heretics, for example) appears to have been portrayed as justifiable, especially in later twelfth- and thirteenth-century narratives. Returning to ideas of fearlessness, Spencer also unpicks the nexus between fearless conduct, the ability to inspire fear, and representations of powerful individuals, or what he calls the "emotional index of power" (102).

Chapter 3 is the first of two chapters dedicated to weeping. Here, Spencer asks what sort of religious significance weeping held in a crusading context, how discussions of weeping functioned in crusade narratives, and whether it is possible to identify any change or continuity across time and genres (Spencer is judiciously sensitive to the fluid nature of genre in a medieval context throughout this book). Spencer shows that, in the ecclesiastical crusade texts, weeping is portrayed as a legitimate and important form of affective piety that could work to both petition and give thanks to God for divine assistance. In other words, tears were a communicative mechanism in the relationship between crusaders and God. In these texts, weeping represents a spiritually cleansing physical manifestation of a crusader's inner contrition. It can also, Spencer argues, act as a manifestation of contrition and compunction, such as that which might be expected of would-be crusaders upon taking the cross, or of joy, as when crusaders laid eyes upon Jerusalem and the Holy Sepulchre. It is striking, Spencer argues, that religious weeping in the context of crusading is largely absent from narratives written by laymen and also from some ecclesiastic texts (such as the corpus attributed to Bernard of Clairvaux), though Spencer does show Joinville's Vie de Saint Louis to be an exception to this rule, probably on account of hagiographical influences.

In an echo of the approach taken in Part One, the second chapter of Part Two turns to examine discussions of weeping where religious interpretive frameworks are not applied, arguing that weeping also "performed a number of important social and political functions" (149). Communal weeping, Spencer argues, could function in these texts to communicate unanimity, shared purpose, and fraternal love among crusaders, though here Spencer urges caution in completely severing such portrayals from those of religious weeping. Tears can also be seen to serve a social function insofar as they are often ascribed to crusading aristocracy as "mechanisms for soliciting the mercy of co-religionists" (154). Thus, tears could be mechanisms of both religious and non-religious petition. Spencer then turns to consider whether weeping was seen to undermine the masculine ideals to which crusaders were expected to conform. He argues that this does not appear to have been the case: while there is some evidence that excessive weeping could be seen as feminizing, Spencer argues, weeping was rarely condemned outright. Like fear, tears and grief also constituted an important index of power, with the scale of lamentation attributed to an individual's death functioning as an indicator of esteem. Spencer also argues that the representation of Muslims' grief, which is often portrayed as excessive and even self-violent, often serves to underscore the crusader victory or success that caused it.

Part Three examines anger, a passion portrayed in both dangerous and righteous terms in a medieval European context. In chapter 5, Spencer challenges the assumption that crusading created the conditions for expressions of legitimate wrath. Rather, "the idea of crusading appears to have done little to popularize, extend, or modify pre-existing attitudes towards anger in western Europe" (183). In fact, Spencer identifies a striking absence of religious anger in crusades sources. First, Spencer explores the relationship between anger and zeal (zelus) by extending an existing study of vengeance and crusading by Susanna Throop beyond its terminal date of 1216 up to 1291. [1] This enables Spencer to identify a flourishing of ideas pertaining to crusading as an act of vengeance in the work of thirteenth-century crusade propagandists. However, in the context of the chronicles, Spencer suggests that zelus appears alongside anger terminology only sporadically and that, contrary to the argument that anger was a consistent feature of crusade narrative, the emotion is little evidenced in the letters and participant narratives of the First Crusade. Turning to consider preaching documents, Spencer argues that discussions of righteous anger against Muslims only gain some traction from the mid-to-late thirteenth century, though the dominant emotion in these materials is actually sorrow and lamentation. Finally, Spencer concludes his case that crusading had only a marginal impact on attitudes towards anger by arguing that discussions of the wrath of kings (ira regis) in crusade narratives were in fact highly conventional.

In chapter 6, Spencer argues that, rather than being preoccupied with righteous wrath against Muslim opponents, crusade narratives and preaching materials reveal that authors and propagandists were more concerned with the destructive potential of wrath amongst crusaders. First, Spencer outlines the parameters of undesirable anger, especially the bestial connotations of uncontrolled fury, a characteristic that is often attributed to Muslims in the narratives. However, anger did not have to be disproportionate to be seen as potential dangerous. As Spencer then shows, discord and its implications for the success of a crusade emerges as a widespread concern over the course of the twelfth century. One manifestation of this concern in the sources can be seen in discussions of anger management in the form of self-control, wise counsel, and divine intervention. Regarding the semantics of wrath, Spencer argues that there is little evidence, beyond the level of individual texts, that ira was viewed as legitimate while furor was considered illegitimate: both forms of anger were potentially dangerous to crusader unity. Thus, while we might expect crusading to have spawned new "registers of righteous wrath" (238), Spencer shows that anger continued to be discussed as a passion to be controlled.

Spencer also makes several compelling overarching observations in the book's conclusion. Over the course of the book's three parts, it becomes clear that the "second generation" of narratives of the First Crusade--namely those written by Benedictine authors--constituted an enormously influential moment in the shaping of the emotional rhetoric of crusading; indeed, a striking number of the key changes identified in Spencer's book can be attributed to these early-twelfth century texts. Changes in the practices and ideas of crusading also appear to have exerted an influence. However, despite this, Spencer recognises an overarching continuity of emotional rhetoric across the period examined in his book. Spencer also acknowledges the range of influences that may have helped shaped emotions as they appear in crusades sources: most significantly theology and scripture but also classical authorities, vernacular literature, the wider historia genre, and hagiography. He also acknowledges regional differentiation and the significant impact that authorship could have on the emotional register of a text. This brings Spencer to the persuasive conclusion that it is important to balance the scrutiny of emotional rhetoric with a sensitivity to the textuality of the source materials. Such an approach to fear, anger, and weeping leads Spencer to argue that crusade narratives were shaped by (and, to an extent, shaped) rich cultural scripts pertaining to emotion and emotional expectation.

I am confident that Spencer's hopes that his book will provide a springboard for future research, expressed in the book's conclusion, will be rewarded. In revealing the enormous potential of emotions history as a lens for studying the crusades, this book points to several fruitful avenues of future research. As Spencer notes, there is scope for studies of happiness and laughter, of materials beyond the scope of the present book (such as charters), and of emotional rhetoric after 1291. Alongside these, I also suggest that there remains scope to further scrutinise aspects of the intersection of gender and emotions in a crusading context.

This book will undoubtedly be the go-to authority for anyone interested the history of emotions in the context of the crusades, or indeed of the medieval historiography of the crusades in general. It also represents an important contribution to adjacent approaches that are gaining increasing traction in crusades studies; I am thinking here of the growing body of studies investigating gender, ideas of divine agency and the miraculous, and representations of Muslims and Islam in western crusade texts. Additionally, it will be of significant value to scholars and students of the medieval history of emotions writ large. As Spencer convincingly argues, the sources for the crusades, while often jettisoned as products of their own peculiar phenomena, are inescapably the products of broader intellectual and cultural traditions.



1. Susanna A. Throop, Crusading as an Act of Vengeance, 1095-1216 (London-New York: Routledge, 2016).