Review of Sacred Violence

From Wikipedia. The Eastern Mediterranean after the Third Crusade (c. 1200)

From Wikipedia. The Eastern Mediterranean after the Third Crusade (c. 1200)

Early this month, I went on another of my book hunts at the university library. I found a history book on the Crusades, and after making sure that the Amazon reviews were mostly positive, I checked out Sacred Violence: The European Crusades to the Middle East 1095-1396 by Jill N. Claster, professor emerita at New York University. Sacred Violence (2009) mostly covers the six crusades but ends with a discussion of other European wars that are frequently considered crusades by Medieval scholars. After reading Sir Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe last month, I naturally became interested in the crusades. In particular, I wanted to know more about King Richard I of England (also known as Richard Coeur de Lion, or Richard the Lionhearted).

About King Richard I

Here is a summary of what Sacred Violence has to say about the life and legacy of King Richard I:

Richard I was crowned king of England in September 1189, during the Third Crusades. After the death of his father, Henry II, the newly crowned King Richard left England and set off for the Holy Land with the French King Philip II Augustus. Financing all the crusades was a costly undertaking. Henry II and Philip II had imposed crusade taxes on all their people, save knights and the clergy. After building a navy and touring Europe, King Richard finally left for the East. Along the way, the English king got into a shipwreck and had his supplies stolen by the Cypriots. So, Richard conquered Cyprus. Acquiring Cyprus helped the crusaders send supplies easily to the Holy Land. Richard and Philip then sailed to Acre and besieged it. The Ayyubid Emperor Saladin agreed to give Acre to the two European kings under certain conditions which Philip and Richard accepted. But, when Saladin did not fulfill his end of the deal, Richard hanged 2700 Turks.

Richard next set off for Jerusalem. He wanted to take it but because his supplies were limited, he did not. Richard I and Saladin signed a treaty whereby Christians could travel and live in Jerusalem for almost 3.5 years.  All coastal cities were given to the Franks, but Ascalon was under Muslim rule. Without Ascalon, the Christian capital was now at Acre. The Third Crusades came to an end.

Richard returned home in October 1192, but was captured and made prisoner by the Holy Roman Emperor Henry IV. Once he was released, Richard fought against Philip II . He was shot by an arrow and died on April 6, 1199. Richard the Lionhearted became a legendary figure in England. A statue was erected in his honor in the nineteenth century. Although Richard killed thousands of Turks, he has gone down in history as a man of great courage and determination.

What did I think about it?

Sacred Violence is a very balanced account of the crusades. It is well-written and beautiful. The many photos of Medieval artwork enhance the text. Dr. Claster refers to and quotes a few important medieval chroniclers, including Fulcher of Chartres and William of Tyre. Claster shows how crusading ideology changed over time from a purely religious endeavor to one that was more politically motivated. It is interesting to note that, after the end of the sixth crusade, many Templars were burned at the stake for their sins. St. Bernard of Clairvaux was a great preacher of the crusades. He formed the Templars, influenced papal decrees, and inspired Church councils. I plan to read his book, In Praise of the New Knighthood in April or May. Reading Sacred Violence is at once enjoyable and disturbing. Written for undergraduates, it is not pedantic. It is a fantastic contribution to medieval and crusade scholarship.

Favorite Quote

[Taken from Volume III of Sir Steven Runciman’s History of the Crusades]: “The triumphs of the crusades were triumphs of faith. But faith without wisdom is a dangerous thing…There was so much courage and so little honor, so much devotion and so little understanding.”

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