Holy Warriors: A Modern History of the Crusades by Jonathan Phillips

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Holy Warriors: A Modern History of the Crusades by Jonathan Phillips

Category: History
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: John Van der Kiste
Reviewed by John Van der Kiste
Summary: An account of 'holy war', or Christianity versus Islam, from the conquest of Jerusalem in the First Crusade to the 21st century's 'war on terrorism', seen by some as a crusade of our times.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 448 Date: September 2010
Publisher: Vintage
ISBN: 978-1845950781

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In this book, drawing on a wealth of contemporary sources including chronicles, songs, sermons, travel diaries and peace treaties, as well as the existing literature from earlier generations, Phillips explores in depth the contradictions and the diversity of holy war, of friendships and alliances between Christians and Muslims, the launches of crusades against Christians, and calls for jihads against Muslims. In doing so he has written what is not so much a general history, but had vividly brought to life a rich tapestry of figures and events, while devoting equal attention in his narrative to the Christian and Islamic point of view. This traces the crusading impulse from the conquest of Jerusalem in the First Crusade, launched by Pope Urban II in France in 1095, to today, and in the process helps us to understand the origins of some of the sensitivities which have led to many of the conflicts still raging in the world today.

Among the more colourful characters whom he brings to life are Queen Melisende of Jerusalem, the charismatic half-Armenian, half-European 12th century sovereign who made her mark in a male-dominated world as ruler and regent for thirty years; Abbot Arnold Amalric, who when questioned about indiscriminately massacring the people of Béziers in southern France, told his followers, 'Kill them all, God will know his own'; and King Louis IX of France, who took the cross partly to fulfil a vow which he made while recovering from a near-fatal illness and died in a second attempt to capture Jerusalem. Perhaps none of these protagonists looms larger than life than Richard the Lionheart, the warrior King Richard I of England, valiant, pious but quick-tempered and ruthless, never forgiven for his brutality at the siege of Acre. His opponent Saladin was characterised as a wise, just and magnanimous leader, gracious in victory, and ready to allow Christian pilgrims access to the venerated site of Jerusalem, once it was clear that all attempts to take the city had been abandoned.

The main era of the Crusades comes to an end with the capture of Byzantine Constantinople by the Ottomans, followed by the gradual decline of the Ottoman empire in the medieval age. However Phillips also suggests that the last crusade, certainly blessed as such by the Pope, was the Spanish Armada under King Philip II of Spain in 1588. The general notion of fighting for one's faith fell into disrepute in the Enlightenment, when there would be a reaction by those such as the historian Edward Gibbon, who wrote that the principle of the crusades was a savage fanaticism which checked rather than forwarded the maturity of Europe. Alongside the idea of crusading as a force for good during the 19th and early 20th centuries, he looks at the concept of crusades taken out of their military and cultural context and used in a looser, more metaphorical sense, namely the Women's Temperance Crusade in the USA during the 1870s and the Jarrow Crusade or March in England in 1936, both of which closely engaged with the language and imagery of the medieval period. Even some of the combatants in the First and Second World Wars chose to portray their campaigns as part of a crusade against evil.

In the closing pages, he contemplates the fact that during our own times George W. Bush has sought to portray the war on terrorism as a crusade, in an unscripted response to the 9/11 atrocities, with Bin Laden claiming that the President had taken the words right out of his mouth.

While this is not a straightforward history of the crusades in a literal sense, it provides the assorted campaigns vividly, from the Holy Wars of earlier ages, to more recent calls to arms by those who see themselves as holy warriors and have mobilised forces against those whom they regard as the infidels. It is a diverse subject, but one which Phililips tackles thoroughly and readably.

Our thanks to Vintage for sending a review copy to Bookbag.

If you enjoyed this, for an account of the Crusades between 1095 and 1291, see The Crusades: The War for the Holy Land by Thomas Asbridge.

Buy Holy Warriors: A Modern History of the Crusades by Jonathan Phillips at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Holy Warriors: A Modern History of the Crusades by Jonathan Phillips at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy Holy Warriors: A Modern History of the Crusades by Jonathan Phillips at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Holy Warriors: A Modern History of the Crusades by Jonathan Phillips at Amazon.com.


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