Review: Crusaders, Dan Jones

Rating: 4 out of 5

The introduction to this narrative history made promises the book itself didn’t keep. The author’s statement that he would explore both the Northern Crusades as well as the Reconquista in more detail than normally—and dedicate some chapters to this—got sidetracked in a typical flurry of words about the Templars and other items.

Firstly, what I liked about this was the focus on the early period. The starting decades of the crusading movement were described in great detail, including the journey of Sigurd of Norway. The First Crusade was similarly covered in fairly good detail and the development of the Norman rule in Sicily was a very enjoyable side-narrative to these.

However, as soon as we pass about 1165, the narrative gets bogged down with too many stories, and the author’s attempt to keep the Kingdom of Jerusalem in focus above the other Crusader/crusading states while glossing over both Gerard de Ridefort and Guy de Lusignan’s failures as politicians felt as very poor coverage of the decisions that led to the fall of Jerusalem and the Third Crusade. Similarly, the author was more supportive of Richard I than is normal in modern historiography where his poor kingship is generally emphasised more than the skill as conqueror.

However, when we look at the coverage of the Reconquista, the primary mentions fall into the earliest years and the events surrounding Las Navas de Tolosa. Very little description of the actual grind to reconquer the rest of the peninsula—including the diplomatic struggles in the end of the 15th—are given in as much detail as the author could have.

The coverage of the Northern Crusades suffers from the same problem, barely deigning to mention the German Order’s push to the east which ended in 1242. The last three centuries of that Order are covered in a few sentences, with the final battles where those knights acquitted their order with the honour expected of such soldier-priests were barely noted at all.

Overall, this is a good history which promises more than it delivers. Even a solid retelling of the first two crusades is a good attempt; it is therefore regrettable the author went out of his zone of comfort.

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