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22.03.05 Bennett, Elite Participation in the Third Crusade

22.03.05 Bennett, Elite Participation in the Third Crusade

The Third Crusade of 1187-92 remains something of a Cinderella among the abundant recent literature on the Crusading movement--despite, or possibly because of, the extensive evidence that survives from this enterprise. Unlike almost all the other major expeditions to the Holy Land, it has still no general modern monograph dedicated to it, on a par with, for example, those by Jonathan Phillips on the Second or James Powell on the Fifth Crusades. Until recently, indeed, there was a paucity of relevant secondary studies about almost any aspect of this crusade--despite its obvious importance and the increasing availability of the relevant chronicle sources in well-annotated English translations. Thus the appearance of John D. Hosler’s authoritative study of the military history of the siege of Acre in 2018 was much to be welcomed. [1] Now Stephen Bennett has produced an important analysis of the social, and to some extent the ideological, background to the Crusade through examination of the known participants from the armies of Richard I and Philip Augustus--although not the German army of Frederick Barbarossa, the significance of which on the expedition is often underestimated.

Based on a database of 589 persons attested in the contemporary evidence, and using modern Social Network Analysis as a methodological tool, he examines such topics as the religious patronage of Crusaders, the significance of family connections with the Holy Land, kinship between participants, lordship, geographical propinquity as an element in recruitment, money fiefs--especially those granted by Henry II to nobles from Flanders and neighbouring regions--tournaments, and especially the make-up of Richard I’s household, which he sees as absolutely central to the Crusade. The chapter about this, and the lengthy appendix on which it is based, will be of great interest to historians of Angevin England as well as those studying the Crusades. Here Dr Bennett has profited from earlier work on the households of the post-1066 English rulers, and especially that of Stephen Church on the household of King John, but he has read this critically, and is not afraid to differ from earlier studies, notably those of Richard Heiser on the English administration of Richard I. He has also benefited from access pre-publication to Nicholas Vincent’s monumental edition of the Acta of Henry II.

Despite claims for the particular efficacy of Social Network Analysis, many of the conclusions reached will not surprise those familiar with the social background of other Crusading expeditions, or with the brief but important discussion of the Anglo-Norman role in the Third Crusade by Christopher Tyerman. [2] That familial traditions of Crusading, relations of lords and vassals, and solidarity between neighbours to create geographical nodes of recruitment, were all important components of recruitment hardly comes as a revelation. Nevertheless, the use of the database and the thoroughness of the treatment here fleshes out the impressionist picture that other historians have noted in similar contexts, and provides a degree of statistical rigour--always remembering that the surviving sources are much fuller for the kingdom of England, and to some extent Normandy, than for the rest of the French kingdom, so that any statistics are at best indicative. The importance of some particular figures for the recruitment of the Crusade, notably Archbishop Baldwin of Canterbury, and similarly Bishop Philip of Beauvais in France, is stressed, although Bennett notes that, despite the claims for widespread recruitment made by Gerald of Wales in his description of Baldwin’s preaching of that region in March and April 1188, hardly any Welshmen can be identified as participants (209-10). Perhaps those recruited in Wales were simply not important enough to be mentioned by name?

Nonetheless, while not all that we are told is entirely novel, there are some interesting and original conclusions, especially about the religious links of those who took part in the Crusade. The Saladin tithe did a great deal to solve the problems of financing participation, and in the Anglo-Norman realm, as opposed to France, we find very few charters mortgaging property to raise funds for the journey, whereas this was a very marked feature of previous expeditions. But participants still made donations to religious houses for their souls--the potential risks of the Crusade no doubt concentrated minds here--and the recipients of such pious largesse were notable. Orders associated with the Holy Land and Crusading, notably Cistercians, Praemonstratensians, Templars, the Order of St. Lazarus and other leper houses in particular received donations from departing Crusaders. Over 40% of departing English and French Crusaders with recorded links to religious houses had connections with the Cistercians, and almost 2/3 of such people were connected with orders and institutions with a particular Holy Land connection (50-1). Furthermore, more than half of King Richard’s early charters after his coronation confirming existing property and rights of religious houses, and recent donations to these, were issued to houses with a Crusading / Holy Land connection. Only later did he issue very many to Benedictine or Augustinian houses (63-72).

Similarly, the analysis of the members of King Richard’s household who accompanied him on the expedition suggests some interesting features. Most of the household knights who went on Crusade were Anglo-Normans (75 out of the 111 whose origins can be identified). There were also some Poitevins, which we might have expected since they came from the heartland of Richard’s dominions before he became king, but very few from the other Continental provinces of the Angevin Empire (184-6). Quite a number of the household retainers of Richard’s elder brother Henry, the “young king,” were members of the royal household after 1189, and there were also strong continuities between Henry II’s personal following and that of his son. As we know from the famous example of William Marshal, King Richard valued loyalty and preferred those who had remained true to his father to time-servers who had sought to join the winning side as his father’s rule crumbled during the latter’s last months. But William’s case was hardly unique. That former members of Henry’s household took part in the Crusade may also be explicable because they had already taken the Cross during the old king’s lifetime (192). But the analysis of Richard’s Crusading mesnie shows that the king also recruited experienced professional soldiers from outside his own dominions, notably from Flanders, some of whom were given positions of considerable responsibility on the Crusade. We can in addition note the importance of some non-noble specialists such as Alan Trenchemer, the master of the king’s ship--another survivor from the reign of the king’s father.

This book will, therefore, be essential to all students of the Third Crusade, and provides a vital preliminary study for whoever does eventually write a definitive monograph on that expedition. The appendices listing participants and the relevant evidence will be particularly valuable for the specialist, and one should note that Dr Bennett has not limited himself to published sources here, and while the evidence from the kingdom of France is, as said, less full than that from England and Normandy, he has discovered unpublished charters from a number of French archives that reveal participants in the expedition. One does, however, wonder why such figures as Counts Floris and William of Holland, Otto of Gelderland, Henry of Salm, Otto of Bentheim and Henry of Kuick, all of whom were part of Frederick Barbarossa’s army on the Crusade, have been included here. All of these were from the Low Countries, and other figures from that region did join the armies of Kings Richard and Philip. But the inclusion of members of the imperial expedition must skew the figures quoted here.

One should also make a few other criticisms, albeit mild. While Dr Bennett has read very widely, there are two important recent publications which have escaped him: Guy Perry’s definitive work on the Brienne family and Tom Smith’s superb and path-breaking analysis of the various different versions of the bull Audita Tremendi which called the Crusade. [3] And although the argument of this book is always clear, the style is sometimes clumsy. One might particularly deprecate the repeated malapropism of kings’ “ascension” to the throne, as opposed to “accession.” (Did they perhaps rise to Heaven, as well as accede to the throne?) There are also some proof-reading errors, especially in the footnotes, into which some mysterious numbers have occasionally crept (from the database?), and a few of these notes seem to be only loosely connected to the points made in the text. There are, too, occasional errors in and some odd features of the bibliography--for example the editor of the French text of the Estoire de la Guerre Sainte by Ambroise was Gaston Paris, not “Parod” (could the author perhaps not read his own handwriting here?); it is not made clear that the edition cited of the “Charta Pacis Valencensis” is an appendix to the (now obsolete) MGH edition by Arndt and Pertz of the chronicle of Giselbert of Mons (unless one confidently knows one’s way around the MGH volumes or website, I defy anyone to find this text from the citation given); there seems to be some confusion between series and individual volumes in a series; and why is one single Pipe Roll cited in the bibliography, although the author has, rightly, used quite a number of these? None of these flaws is individually very serious, but all of them could quite easily have been eliminated, and one wonders exactly what the publisher’s copy-editor was doing--assuming that one was employed. They unfortunately detract somewhat from the enjoyment of reading what is otherwise an impressive and useful book.



1. John D. Hosler, The Siege of Acre 1189-91: Saladin, Richard the Lionheart, and the Battle that Decided the Third Crusade (New Haven and London, 2018).

2. Christopher Tyerman, England and the Crusades, 1095-1588 (Chicago, 1988), chapter 3.

3. Guy Perry, The Briennes: The Rise and Fall of a Champenois Dynasty in the Age of the Crusades, c. 950-1356 (Cambridge, 2018); Thomas W. Smith, “Audita Tremendi and the call for the Third Crusade reconsidered,” Viator 49 (2018), 63-101.