Contesting the Crusades

By Riley-Smith, Jonathan | The Catholic Historical Review, July 2007 | Go to article overview

Contesting the Crusades


Riley-Smith, Jonathan, The Catholic Historical Review


Contesting the Crusades. By Norman Housley. (Maiden, Massachusetts: Blackwell Publishing. 2006. Pp. xiv, 198. Paperback.)

Contesting the Crusades is without question the best introduction on the market to the modern historiography of the crusades, although Norman Housley, who is more interested in them than in the settlements established in the Levant, does not include developments in the history of the Latin East. His analyses of recent treatments of the First Crusade and of the historiography of crusading in the later Middle Ages, a relatively new field which is very much his own, are briliiant. He writes perceptive guides to publications on crusading in the central Middle Ages as an idea and an institution and on its manifestation in many different theaters-of-war. In a survey of writings on inter-faith relations, he makes the often neglected point that crusading cannot be defined solely in terms of opposition to Islam, since it was directed against many other enemies as well.

The last suggestion depends, of course, on the premise that operations in theaters other than the Levant and Iberia were themselves crusades. Contesting the Crusades opens with a chapter on this controversial topic. Most historians, for whom Housley himself invented the title of Pluraltsts, now maintain that authentic crusades were fought not only against Muslims for the recovery of Jerusalem or in its defense, but also against many different enemies on different fronts. A feature of Pluralism has been the degree to which its advocates, among them Housley liimseli, have been prepared to argue their case publicly. Although a few scholars, notably Ernst-Dieter Hehl, Christopher Tyerman, and Giles Constable, have defended other positions or have questioned elements in Pluralism, James Brundage has pointed out that most "adherents to the other viewpoints . . . seem not to have been moved to produce a similar coherent and systematic theoretical justification for their approach to the subject. …

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