What Were the Crusades? (Fourth Edition) by Jonathan Riley-Smith: Dot Points

Riley-Smith, Jonathan. What Were the Crusades? (Fourth Edition). Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009.

Book cover: What Were the Crusades Fourth Edition by Jonathan Riley-Smith

Initial Thoughts

This is a fairly thin book, but the contents list is quite long, so it must be a very basic overview of the crusades.


First Sentence:

‘The crusading movement was one of the great forces in our history.’

Riley-Smith, What Were the Crusades?, 1.

Eschatological1: Adjective — Relating to death, judgement and the final destiny of the soul and of humankind.2


The prefaces show the evolution of historians’ approach to historical study in general and, more specifically, the historical study of the crusades.3


Crusaders were granted indulgences, and their families and assets were protected in their absence.4


Where is/was Iberia?5

Iberian Peninsula, Western Europe, c.1000 CE. Modern day Spain and Portugal.


Where is/was Livonia?6

By Roke – Perry-Castañeda Library, Map Collection: From the “Historical Atlas” by William R. Shepherd, New York, Henry Holt and Company, 1923, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=767916

Livonia in Europe, c.1190 CE


It seems to me that this whole concept of a ‘Just War’ was a bit suss. It feels like the Church was able to twist things so that any wars or violence perpetrated by themselves was ‘just’. Simply label the enemy as heretics or claim the land once belonged to Christendom, and, Hey, Presto!, you have yourself a Just War.7


Plenary8: Adjective — Unqualified; absolute.9

‘”Whom is it better for you and yours to fight, the pagan who does not know God or the Christian who, confessing him in words, battles against him in deeds? Whom is it better to proceed against, the man who is ignorant and blasphemous or the man who knows the truth and is aggressive?”‘

Peter the Venerable, Abbott of Cluny, quoted in Riley-Smith, What Were the Crusades?, 20.

‘There seems to have been a correlation between failure abroad and the preaching of crusades against heresy and political opponents of the Church at home.’10


‘”When a lord is afflicted by the loss of his patrimony he wishes to prove his friends and find out if his vassals are faithful. Whoever holds a fief of a liege lord is worthily deprived of it if he deserts him when he is engaged in battle and loses his inheritance. You hold your body and soul and whatever you have from the Supreme Emperor and today he has had you called upon to help him in battle; and though you are not bound by feudal law, he offers you so many and such good things, the remission of all sins, whatever the penalty or guilt, and above all eternal life, that you ought at once to hurry to him.”‘ James of Vitry.11


‘We shall never understand the papal role in the crusading movement without first grasping the paradox that the popes were at the same time maintaining that the Church must run her own affairs freed from the control of secular rulers and that they, as the most responsible ministers of Christ in the earthly part of the Christian Republic, had some measure of authority on his behalf in temporal affairs.’12

In other words, they wanted to keep their cake, and eat it too.


Crusaders could be from any class, any industry (even criminals), any age, and any gender — women were permitted to take the vow.13 Married men, however, were forbidden from joining the crusades without their wife’s consent.14 Really, though, how difficult would it be to obtain permission in an age when it was legal to strike your wife?


The section entitled Some Crusaders, Real and Imaginary was interesting.15


Final Comments


Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

The best thing about this book is that it is succinct, engaging and easy to read, not dry or heavy at all. It is set out in logical, understandable sections allowing the reader to follow the recommended order or jump to the sections that interest them, as their fancy takes them. The topic is interesting and I learned a fair bit, more than I’d expected. I was initially apprehensive about the fact this book is so thin, but my concerns were unfounded. Riley-Smith managed to pack quite a bit into this small package. This is definitely worth reading.

Related Posts:

The Pelican History of Medieval Europe by Maurice Keen: Dot Points Edit (Rafferty’s Rules)
The Middle Ages in 3 1/2 Minutes (Rafferty’s Rules)
History Time: 1000AD -A Tour of Europe (Rafferty’s Rules)

Pages: 1 2

Categories: Impressions

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1 reply


  1. The Crusades (Videos) – Rafferty's Rules

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