E.J. Mylod, Guy Perry, Thomas W. Smith, Jan Vandeburie (eds.)
(Routledge, 2017) 240 pp. $149.95/£110.
2017 marks the 800th anniversary of the year that the first contingents of the expedition known to historians as the Fifth Crusade landed on the shores of the Holy Land. It is fitting, therefore, that this year also sees the publication of a new collection of articles focusing on the crusading movement in the early years of the thirteenth century, using the Fifth Crusade as the pivot on which the sixteen contributions turn.
Historiography of the Fifth Crusade, expounded in Jan Vandeburie’s introductory essay, has been dominated by the late James M. Powell’s Anatomy of a Crusade, 1213–1221 (Philadelphia, 1986). The present collection, based on a conference held at the University of Kent in 2012, is emphatically not a re-writing of Anatomy, but instead brings into focus some aspects which were more peripheral to Powell’s study, or where new sources can shed light on existing historiographical ideas. The reader should note that, fundamentally, the collection is not focused on the events of the Fifth Crusade; prior knowledge of the course of the expedition (perhaps gained from Anatomy) will enhance any reading of the present volume. Where contributions do treat the expedition itself, such as in Alan V. Murray’s chapter on Egypt in the strategical and military history of the crusades (while the Fifth Crusade was the first to take place in Egypt, Egypt had long been in the sights of crusaders and the Franks of Outremer), it is to use a longue durée approach to fully contextualise the expedition in the history of crusading.
This collection takes five aspects of the crusading movement at the time of the Fifth Crusade and subjects them to a series of focused investigations: papal and imperial influence, preaching and propaganda, Egypt and the Holy Land, textual traditions, and the Fifth Crusade in Europe. Within these sections, the reader may be struck by the varying length of the articles. Excluding notes, the contributions range from four to seventeen pages, with a mean of nine-and-a-half pages. The effect is a sense of changing pace: some articles are designed as spotlights, to bring scholarly attention to a particular point or source, while others seek to explore and answer broader questions.
The pan-European context is a strength of this volume, witnessing the international impact of the Fifth Crusade through a variety of sources. These include: preaching handbooks composed in northern France, sources not available to Powell which show how the precepts of the Fourth Lateran Council (1215) and the call for the Fifth Crusade were promulgated (Jessalyn Bird); the songs of a French trouvère which at once criticised clerical leadership of and extolled knightly participation in the crusade (Esther Dehoux, Amandine Le Roux and Matthieu Rajohnson); a composite chronicle giving a particularly Cypriot view of the failed crusade, in this case a more pro-clerical interpretation (Nicholas Coureas); and the documentary sources testifying to how the Teutonic Knights grew in popularity in France thanks to the Fifth Crusade (Karol Polejowski). Two articles bring much-needed scholarly attention to two regions with strong crusading traditions which have been badly-served by Anglophone scholarship: Hrvoje Kekez explores charters which give tantalising clues to Hungaro-Croat involvement in the crusade, and Pål Berg Svenungsen’s study of Norwegian sagas tells the story of Scandinavian contributions to the expedition.
The scope of the volume also extends beyond the European context. Bernard Hamilton shows how awareness of lands and Christians beyond the known Christendom — the dimly-perceived realm of Prester John — contributed to anticipation of the Apocalypse at the time of the Fifth Crusade. Apocalypticism is the underlying theme of Pierre-Vincent Claverie’s wide-ranging discussion of the crusading thought of Honorius III, showing how his conception was rooted in an understanding of the city of Jerusalem as the earthly site of the impending Second Coming. K.S. Parker’s contribution, like Hamilton’s, treats material relating to non-Latin Christians, in this case those living in Ayyubid Egypt, for whom the presence of the crusade on Egyptian soil led to a rebalancing of relations with their Ayyubid rulers. Framing the Fifth Crusade in such broad terms — geographical, cultural, and religious — this volume reminds us how truly international an enterprise crusading was, and that the reverberations of the Fifth Crusade extend far beyond the military events in the Holy Land and Egypt.
The exploitation in this collection of a diverse range of sources has already been mentioned, but is worth emphasising. Peter Edbury’s and Nicholas Coureas’s respective articles on three chronicles — Eracles, Ernoul, and ‘Amadi’ — ought to be required reading for any scholar working with narrative texts as they remind us that the merit of a chronicle surpasses the unique or verifiable information it transmits to the value of the text itself as a cultural artefact. The three chronicles they discuss could be described as merely derivative but are shown to enshrine alternative interpretations of events which can nuance the modern historian’s understanding, not least because doing so encourages us to end our reliance on Oliver of Paderborn as the chronicler par force of the Fifth Crusade. Indeed, Oliver’s appearances herein are limited, although Barbara Bombi reads both his letters and his chronicle in comparison with sources for St Francis of Assisi’s mission to Sultan al-Kamil, to see how the issues of conversion and mission were considered at the time of the Fifth Crusade. To the sheer range of sources described above we might add E.J. Mylod’s use of pilgrim texts to show how ideas of the bounds of the Holy Land were seen to evolve as Frankish possession of the territory changed; Guy Perry’s examination of how John I of Jerusalem’s letters with Emperor Frederick II reveal new dimensions both to John’s relationship with the emperor, and to his standing amongst the crusaders at Damietta; and Thomas W. Smith’s careful reading of the letters of Honorius III to conclude that the role of that pope in the Fifth Crusade was more of a co-ordinator than a leader. While the use of such varied sources may be the child of necessity — considering that the Fifth Crusade is not as rich in accessible source material as, say, the First Crusade — the riches that derive from the very broad evidential base of this volume may inspire scholars to integrate the use of sources such as these in future work on other crusading expeditions.
This collection, hinging on, but not bound by, the Fifth Crusade, exemplifies that studies of the crusading movement must be placed in greater context to fully understand the events defined by historians as crusading expeditions. In the choice of the Fifth Crusade as their pivot point, the editors (also the organisers of the 2012 conference) have brought attention to an expedition which is much deserving of greater study, and in doing so have produced a valuable collection of inspiring and informative chapters. Scholars will find here ideas to muse on for years to come.
Joanna Phillips, University of Leeds.