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23.05.16 Hurlock/Whatley (eds.), Crusading and Ideas of the Holy Land in Medieval Britain

23.05.16 Hurlock/Whatley (eds.), Crusading and Ideas of the Holy Land in Medieval Britain


With the explosion of Crusades historiography in the last two decades has come a recognition that the Crusades were not only a military enterprise but a massive cultural movement that affected virtually every area of medieval European life and thought. The umbrella of crusades studies has accordingly expanded to cover work focused on the complex relationship between Outremer and the Latin Christian home front. The most exciting scholarship in this vein has taken an expansive approach to sources, bringing texts, painted and sculpted images, maps, and built environments into conversation, and has broadened the definition of crusading to encompass virtual and vicarious experiences. Crusading and Ideas of the Holy Land in Medieval Britain makes a substantial contribution to this project by drawing attention to the rich variety of Holy Land devotions and crusading practices that existed in medieval Britain before, during, and after the heyday of crusading to the east (ca. 1095-1291). While Britain’s vital role in supporting the crusading movement is well established, most previous studies of crusading culture--as reflected in literature, art, architecture, and sources reflective of elite worldviews--have centered on France. As recent work by Geraldine Heng, Suzanne Yeager, Matthew Reeve, and several contributors to this volume has made clear, however, medieval Britain’s “physical and spiritual investment in the crusade movement and the Holy Land” (5) was deep and unwavering. The nine essays in this collection illuminate how this investment was sustained for nearly a millennium, from the age of Bede to the Tudors.

Opening the collection not with the First Crusade but with the advent of the Roman mission in 597 CE allows readers to appreciate how “deep foundations of imaginative engagement with Jerusalem” (16) were laid in Britain several centuries before 1095. As Meg Boulton shows in “(Visualising) Jerusalem in Early Medieval England,” these foundations rested upon three mutually reinforcing pillars: written pilgrimage narratives (above all, Bede’s version of Adomnán’s De locis sanctis) which encouraged readers to meditatively “visit” Jerusalem; architectural replicas of the Holy Sepulcher which evoked both the early and heavenly Jerusalems; and monumental stone crosses which conjured the events and sites of the Passion.

In chapter 2, Natalia I. Petrovskaia compares later medieval representations of “Europe and the Holy Land in the British Branch of the Imago mundi Tradition,” a grouping of widely copied encyclopedic texts which originated with Honorius Augustodunensis but were ultimately translated into several vernaculars, including Anglo-Norman, Welsh, and English. She finds that while descriptions of Europe differed across this family of texts, representations of the Holy Land remained untouched by contemporary developments; thus, strikingly, the decline and eventual loss of the crusader states seem not to have made much of an impression on the Imago mundi’s adaptors. Petrovskaia convincingly posits that these works, as textual analogues of mappae mundi, evince a similar understanding of the Holy Land as a devotional landscape trapped in the amber of biblical time. The theme of translation is also at the heart of the third chapter, Marianne Ailes’s “Remembering and Mythologizing Richard: Translation and the Representation of the Crusader King in Latin and French Accounts of Richard I’s Expedition to the Holy Land.” Here Ailes demonstrates how much scholars have to gain by reading the Latin and vernacular accounts of the Third Crusade side-by-side, and persuasively argues against seeing medieval translations as intrinsically unoriginal. Rather, Ailes shows, in translating Richard I’s exploits into Anglo-Norman and Middle English, the authors of The Crusade and Death of Richard I and Richard Coeur de Lion significantly shaped the mythology of the “lion-hearted” crusading king.

The fourth, fifth, and sixth chapters take up the subject of monuments that virtually recreated the Holy Land’s sacred topography in Britain. In “‘As You Came from the Holy Land:’ Medieval Pilgrimage to Walsingham and its Crusader Contexts,” Elisa A. Foster situates Walsingham within a wider landscape of East Anglian shrines, priories, and preceptories that bound the region to the Levant and promoted crusading in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. Foster identifies the reign of Henry III (1207-1272) as the period when the shrine’s legendary biblical origins were first promoted, and frames Henry’s eleven pilgrimages to Walsingham as a means by which he “sought to compensate for failure to depart on the crusades by bringing the Holy Land to England” (100). Laura Slater extends this discussion of monuments and elite masculine honor in “Bodies or Buildings? Visual Translations of Jerusalem and Dynastic Memories in Medieval England,” considering the commemorative strategies of four English crusaders through the lens of their religious foundations: the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Northampton; the Chapel of St Mary Magdalene at Ludlow Castle; the Priory of the Holy Sepulchre at Thetford; and Byland Abbey. Slater presents a compelling collective reading of these structures as vehicles for transmitting the “fama of their [founders’] heroic deeds in the East” (120), even as she carefully situates each in its local and dynastic context. Finally, Kathryn Hurlock’s essay on “Family, Faith, and Knights of the Holy Sepulchre in Late and Post-Medieval Wales” takes as its point of departure a set of sixteenth-century portraits commissioned by Sir Edward Stradling, scion of a Catholic Welsh gentry family, to commemorate the Stradlings’ supposed longstanding association with the Knights of the Holy Sepulchre. Using a wealth of genealogical evidence, Hurlock shows that Stradling sparked a trend among Welsh Catholic gentry, many of whom subsequently claimed (again, dubiously) a connection to the Knights of the Holy Sepulchre as an alternative to the simple crusading ancestry that was strongly associated with the English crown.

The collection’s final three chapters explore manuscripts as vehicles for vicarious crusading experiences. Laura J. Whatley’s chapter on “Eleanor de Quincy and Imagined Crusading in the Lambeth Apocalypse (London, Lambeth Palace, MS 209)” offers a case study of how illuminated manuscripts allowed thirteenth-century elite women to “imagine and participate in various aspects of crusading” (178) while respecting the Church’s wish that women refrain from accompanying actual military expeditions. Whatley’s analysis shows how the Lambeth Apocalypse’s cycle of imagery, which features powerful female figures, insists on the essential role of women like Eleanor de Quincy as spiritual supporters and witnesses to holy war at a moment of seemingly apocalyptic struggle in the east. In “A Royal Crusade Chronicle: Visual Exempla in King Edward IV’s Royal Eracles (London, British Library, Royal MS 15 E I),” Erin K. Donovan examines the transformation of the Old French William of Tyre into a mirror of princes which offered commentary on Edward IV’s exile and reclamation of the English throne. In the hands of the manuscript’s creators, the Eracles was creatively recast as a repository of stories particularly fit for a king who, while no crusading enthusiast, could nonetheless identify with William of Tyre’s accounts of the struggles of Heraclius, John II Comnenus, and Guy of Lusignan. The final chapter of the collection, Katherine J. Lewis’s “Refashioning Henry VIII as a Crusader King: Edward I, Crusading and Ideal Kingship in BL, Royal MS 18 XXVI” uses another royal compendium to illustrate crusading’s enduring appeal as the elite masculine activity par excellence, even more than two centuries after the fall of Acre. Like his grandfather Edward IV, Henry VIII appears to have drawn inspiration from the heroic past--or, at least, to have been encouraged to do so--especially the exploits of the crusading kings Richard I and Edward I, whose limitations as crucesignati had been conveniently papered over by the sixteenth century.

Within a veritable feast of paradigm-changing recent work in crusades studies, this study stands out for the breadth and depth of its essays, many of which introduce medieval sources that will be brand new even to crusades specialists. For readers newer to the field, these nine chapters offer a snapshot of some of the most pressing questions that continue to make it one of the most vibrant areas of medieval studies, including: the role of translations and anthologies in disseminating knowledge about crusading; the relationships between texts, imagery, and built environments; the emergence of distinctive home-front cultures with complex ties to the east; and the afterlife of crusading post-1291. The book includes a well-composed index, comprehensive bibliographies following each essay, and a surprising number of high-quality illustrations (including over twenty in color), and has been edited with great care; this reviewer found only a very small number of typos, all in Latin quotations and likely due to auto-correcting by word processing programs. Hurlock and Whatley have reminded us how many crusading sources remain to be discovered, and how many new questions about the movement have yet to be asked. This collection deserves to find a wide readership and will surely inspire additional research into the long, complex history of Holy Land devotion and crusading in Britain.