11 FEBRUARY 1989, Page 38

The home they left behind them

Simon Lloyd

ENGLAND AND THE CRUSADES 1095-1588 by Christopher Tyerman

University of Chicago Press, f24.95, pp.492

t last, someone has been bold enough to consider, at full book length, crusading as an aspect of the history of the Western societies in which the crusades were sponsored. Nearly 40 years ago Sir Maurice Powicke observed that the cru- sade was a political and economic function of society. This book sets out precisely to draw out the implications of that assertion, so far as England is concerned, for the period stretching from the call to the First Crusade in 1095 to the death rattles of the crusading movement in the Tudor age. Christopher Tyerman set himself a fear- some task, requiring detailed and intricate knowledge of two very large areas of historical study that have both seen con- siderable advance and a massive number of publications in recent decades. He has succeeded, in some respects brilliantly. This is one of those books about which it can be fairly said that no one with an interest in later mediaeval history will be disappointed. Scholarly, and with meticu- lous attention to detail, it is also a very good read, though inevitably some sections are better than others. So thoroughly has the author done the job, there is scarcely an aspect of his vast subject that does not receive coverage somewhere. The approach is essentially a narrative one, individual chapters dealing with Eng- lish participation in the various crusades declared during this long period, initially to the Holy Land, later to other theatres. The author reveals just how committed Eng- lishmen were to the crusading movement; only after the disastrous outcome of the Nicopolis expedition (1396) can we talk of 'armchair crusaders' as being increasingly the norm in England. Dr Tyerman also shows how little the English were in- terested in crusades other than those to the Holy Land, until the final collapse of the last outposts of the crusaders in Palestine at the end of the 13th century necessarily led to a change. Only in and after the 14th century did Englishmen participate in any numbers in the crusades in Spain, North Africa and the Baltic, and throughout the period the notion of recovery of the Holy A- Land remained remarkably tenacious: sot- to voce, this is a theme that runs through the entire book. The author was concerned not to write 'a history of the crusades with English sub- titles', as he expresses it. Accordingly, he describes only briefly events in the Holy Land and other crusading theatres, and treats events of individual crusades with similar brevity. The general reader may at times find this unhelpful if he is not familiar with the broader background, but Dr Tyerman wishes to focus his gaze on other things: the ways in which crusading penetrated English society, politics, life. It is in this area that his book is essentially stimulating and frequently original, though at times his observations are unnecessarily contentious in a work of this type. One of his central themes concerns the kings responses to the crusading call, the attitude of each ruler receiving close attention, especially those of the earlier Plantagenets from Henry II to Edward III. We are shown time and again just how compli- cated the . business of responding to the crusading call could be for rulers facing a variety of challenges and ambitions both in England and the wider western world. This emphasis is fully justified becailse of the powers of royal lordship and the ability of the king to exert considerable influence over the crusading aspirations of his sub- jects, crusading moneys, recruitment, and the goals to which crusaders should devote themselves, especially when the crusades and crusading ideology came to be harnes- sed to 'national' ends in the 14th century- The second central theme concerns the ways in which the crusades affected Eng- lish society more widely. The author de- votes two of his longest chapters, half way through the book, to first, preaching of. and recruitment to, crusades, and the factors determining the response, and second, the social and economic consequ- ences of the demands made upon crusaders and the dispositions that followed. Here, again, royal attitudes played no small part as crusaders strove to raise funds and order their affairs. But what is especially reveal- ing is the range of domestic repercussions, for crusaders' families and communities no less than crusaders themselves, and for those institutions and individuals able to cash in on the predicaments of both. It is, however, a pity that the author limits himself to consideration of the 12th and 13th centuries here, for circumstances changed in certain crucial respects in the 14th century. The book as a whole also lacks sufficiently close reference to papal crusading policy throughout, which is cu- rious, and the author is not always entirely candid about the exiguous nature of much of the evidence and the difficulties attached to its interpretation. He also irritates by giving the impression in a number of places that he is the first to observe a particular point, or notice a particular piece of evidence, when he is not. But, for all that, this is a splendid Piece of historical writing, illuminating, evocative, and comprehensive; it will sure- ly find the wide readership it fully de- serves. The present reviewer once hoped to write a similar sort of book; neither he nor anyone else will need to do so for the foreseeable future.

Simon Lloyd is the author of English Society and the Crusade 1216-1307 (OUP, 1988)