A Modern History of the Crusades (J. Phillips)

A Modern History of the Crusades (J. Phillips)

Books on the Crusades are very numerous and always seem to have some success. However, it has been several years (excluding reissues) that a book tracing the entire history of the Crusades was published. This is the primary interest of this Modern history of the Crusades. The second that its author, Jonathan Phillips, is British. But this book has many other advantages.

The perception of the crusade today

As Jean Flori does in these last two books on the Crusades (Crusades: received ideas, and The cross, the tiara and the sword), Jonathan Phillips returns from his introduction to the term "crusade" as it is used today, and to the differences in perception between West and East. Indeed, there is a difference between the use of the word "crusade" on many subjects in the West (Phillips quotes for example the crusade against obesity launched by Clinton), and its understanding in the Muslim world where the crusade is. assimilated today to the Western presence in the East, even to the existence of Israel. A fundamental difference in perception for understanding international relations today, with the example of Bush's speech on the "crusade against evil (the war on terrorism)", and bin Laden's readiness to bounce back on the choice of this term by the US president. There is also the question of jihad and its comparison with the crusade. Jonathan Phillips therefore wants to approach the problem from both angles, both points of view, which is one of the interests of his book. And this even if he is not Arabist: the author specifies in fact that in his desire to understand the motivations of the Muslim side, he could have been hampered by “the language barrier”, but that he took everything even to use translated Arabic sources, which is to its credit because too rare in popular works on the subject ...

Riley-Smith's influence

We said it, one of the interests of this Modern history of the Crusades is the origin of the author. Briton, a specialist in the crusades that he teaches at the University of London, his approach and especially his definition of the crusade is different from that of a French historian. In his work The cross, the tiara and the sword, Jean Flori returns to the historiography of the Crusades, and in his attempt at typology he distinguishes the “traditionalist” school (reducing the crusade to an expedition launched by the Pope towards the Holy Land) from the “pluralist” school (which rejects geographic and chronological limits); among the supporters of the latter school he cites the Englishman Jonathan Riley-Smith. Indeed, this one extends the crusade in space (it includes for example the Baltic Sea) and in time (it goes well beyond 1291, not hesitating to encroach on the XVIe century, even in the- of the). But that's also what Jonathan Phillips is doing here, who doesn't hide the debt he owed Riley-Smith (among others) from his introduction.

A Modern history of the Crusades therefore goes much further than the Holy Land and the fall of Acre, taking us from Jerusalem to Granada, and to the other side of the Atlantic ...

The book

Jonathan Phillips builds his story chronologically, but also thematically. Its first part, "The First Crusade and the Capture of Jerusalem", is relatively classic since it returns to the appeal of Urban II, the preparations and the actors of the crusade, then its unfolding, the pogroms in Central Europe, until the capture of Jerusalem via Constantinople and Antioch. He did not ignore the atrocities committed by the Crusaders.

Its second part is already more original, and it is even one of the most interesting. Entitled "The relations between Franks and Muslims in the Levant, 1099-1187", it is distinguished by the choice of the Muslim point of view, first by returning to the (slow) development of the idea of ​​jihad in reaction to the shock of the fall of Jerusalem, then by dwelling on three fundamental sources: al-Sulamî, Osama ibn Munqidh and Ibn Jubayr.

The angle of the third chapter is also quite original since it focuses on the kingdom of Jerusalem by studying the fascinating personality of Mélisende, queen (because wife of King Foulque), then regent in the iron fist of her son and then rival Baudouin III, in the difficult context due to the threat Zengi (or Zankî), which causes the Second Crusade.

It is on this that Phillips first returns in the following chapter: his reasons (the capture of Edessa by Zengi), the preaching of Bernard of Clairvaux, then the course of the crusade and its failure (not forgetting not to narrate the "adventures" of the scandalous Aliénor d'Aquitaine). But, and this is also where he stands out from many popular works on the crusade, the author includes in his story the conquest of Lisbon (1147) by Alfonso I, helped by Anglo-Norman crusaders, and the capture of Almeria (1147) and Tortosa (1148)! Better yet, he mentions in the same part the "crusade" against the pagans in the Baltic ...

The chapter “Saladin, the leper king and the fall of Jerusalem” is again more classic, but no less interesting. It puts Saladin's rise to power in context, through his rivalry with Nûr al-Dîn, but also evokes the reign of Baldwin IV, the leper king and the exactions of Renaud de Chatillon. The chapter obviously ends with Hattîn and the reconquest of Jerusalem (1187).

The continuation is logically the Third Crusade, and the now legendary confrontation between Richard the Lionheart and Saladin, on which Jonathan Phillips returns at length. Again, fans of the Crusades will find their way easily.

The seventh part addresses the Fourth Crusade, rightly insisting on the importance of the election of Innocent III in 1198. The new pope takes advantage of the context, like the Spanish victory at Las Navas de Tolosa in 1212, to revive the ideal of crusade, a little fallen into disuse following the status quo in the Holy Land after the agreements between Richard and Saladin. Jonathan Phillips includes in this revival the crusade launched against Markward of Anweiler, guilty of having allied with the Muslims of Sicily in the fight for the regency of the kingdom during the minority of Frederick II, the latter being supported by the pope. Then, he describes precisely the origins and course of the Fourth Crusade, which saw the plunder of Constantinople, and the confirmation of the divorce between Rome and the Byzantine Church.

The following chapter is a little confused, in this period of transition for the crusade between the sack of Byzantium and the peaceful recapture of Jerusalem by Frederick II. Here, the historian deals as much with the rise of Catharism (which provokes the crusade against the Albigenses, with the famous episode of the Béziers massacre) as with the children's crusade, and other holy wars (which he therefore also considers like the Crusades) in northeastern Europe and especially in Spain (where only the Nasrid Sultanate of Granada was left against the Reconquista).

The sequel focuses on the preaching, preparation, and failure of the Fifth Crusade, then the role of the controversial Frederick II, who reclaims Jerusalem peacefully through the Treaty of Jaffa, but being excommunicated by Pope Gregory IX. The chapter ends with the failure of the barons' crusade, led by the Count of Champagne.

Chapter ten is devoted to the crusades of Louis IX, but its main interest lies in his choice to describe part of the situation on the Muslim side, with the rise of the Mamelukes (and their leader Baybars), then the arrival of the Mongols, who upset the balance of the region for a time. With the game ending with the fall of Acre, most of the Crusader literature would have ended by then; Jonathan Phillips’s is not.

Indeed, this one prolongs its Modern history of the Crusades well beyond the end of the Latin presence in the East. First by the symbol of the fall of the Templars, through their trial under the reign of Philip the Fair. He then mentions the attempts at "crusades" in Egypt and the Baltic, which he calls "chivalrous adventures" throughout the 15th century and, after returning to the decisive date of the capture of Constantinople by the Ottomans (1453), he is interested in a little-known episode, the Pheasant Festival. This is about the crusade project launched in 1454 by the Duke of Burgundy, Philippe le Bon. We are then very far from the limits we are used to when we approach the Crusades! This is even more the case when the historian places the conquest of Granada, then the expedition of Christopher Columbus in this context of crusade, in the sense of a mission for God. He ends, however, with the evolution of the concept in the 16th century, which stands out from its medieval origin, even if Phillips considers that the struggle between Charles V and Suleiman the Magnificent (the latter continuing the jihad of his predecessors) is "a crusade. full-fledged ”; it is in fact the period of the Reformation that really challenges the ideal of the crusade, which according to the historian perhaps ended with the expedition of the Invincible Armada, surviving only on the Malta of the Hospitallers.

The twelfth chapter of our Modern history of the Crusades looks more like an epilogue, and a historiographical analysis of the crusade. A bit like Flori in The cross, the tiara and the sword, Jonathan Phillips looks back at the image of the crusade, from the Middle Ages to the present day (with still many references to September 11 and the use of the term "crusade" by Bush and Bin Laden). In this loaded but very interesting section, therefore, literature (with Walter Scott), the recovery of the crusade ideal (or its rejection) by nationalisms and imperialism (that of Bonaparte, then colonization) are discussed. , before its use as a metaphor. Faithful to his commitment to take an interest in the Muslim “camp”, Phillips also attempts an analysis of jihad and a comparison with the crusade (a parallel which still provokes debate), and shows the recovery of the great figures of the fight against the Crusaders by the Arab nationalists, such as Saladin who finds himself glorified as much by Nasser as by Saddam Hussein. The historian goes even further when he demonstrates how Osama bin Laden today "surfs" on the Muslim imagination by taking advantage of the Western intervention in Iraq to draw a parallel and recruit more jihadists, using reference to the crusades.

In his conclusion, finally, Jonathan Phillips returns to the origins of the crusade, the changes it underwent, and the not always violent confrontation (with truces and treaties) with the Muslims, themselves developing their ideal of holy war. around jihad. He does not forget that this period also saw the two "camps" clash within their midst and his reminder of the divorce between the Church of the West and the Church of the East is welcome, because too often forgotten (he thus refers when the Orthodox Archbishop of Athens took sides with John Paul II in 2001). He ends by insisting on the consequences of the Crusades up to the present day, especially in relations with the Muslim world, while warning of the risk of an anachronistic parallel between the events of yesterday and those of today. .

"Intended for the general public" and original

From its introduction, Jonathan Phillips presents his work as "intended for the general public". Indeed, he succeeds in making his story very pleasant, and even at times fascinating, while managing to tackle substantive subjects. Moreover, his approach, which makes the Crusades an epic stretching from the Baltic to the Holy Land, and from Granada to the New World, from the 11th to the 16th century, is rather original for a French reader! We must also welcome his choice to try to understand the point of view of Muslims, even if his parallel between the jihad and the crusade will provoke debate as always. We do not forget to note the presence of a substantial bibliography which will allow enthusiasts to go much further.

Finally, we will only know how to advise this Modern history of the Crusades to all those who are directly or indirectly interested in this theme, and who would like a book that is both pleasant to read, synthetic on the subject, and original in many ways.

Jonathan Phillips, Modern History of the Crusades (original title: Holy warriors. A modern History of the Crusades), Flammarion, 2010, 516 p.


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