Overhauling the notion of the Medieval Ages as a time of zealotry and ignorance and examining the nuts and bolts of crusading.
By concentrating on the “prosaic methods” of crusading rather than on the drama of the campaigns, as historians have traditionally done, Crusades expert Tyerman (History/Univ. of Oxford; The Debate on the Crusades 1099-2010, 2011, etc.) manages to demythologize the process. The outcomes of the Crusades—usually not good, and the author lays out the other numerous smaller ones in addition to the five big ones, from 1096 to the 1290s—do not concern Tyerman as much as the details of planning: recruitment, finance, logistics, supplies, etc. While the author concedes that the recruitment for these massive undertakings required the creation of a religious justification—e.g., “God wills it,” and warriors were assured of a spiritual as well as material reward—the effective propaganda by religious leaders instilled in volunteers a sense of military urgency, even revenge. The missions served as holy wars to push back the threat to the order of Christendom in the Mediterranean especially. The Crusades also tightly involved the culture of the ruling aristocratic elite, expressed through the concept of chivalry, and required persuasion and propaganda by itinerant preachers at local assemblies and open-air sermons to sign up the necessary volunteers. Tyerman uses the examples of two such 12th-century preachers—Henry of Marcy and Gerald of Wales—to illustrate these methods. Much of Tyerman’s work is a fascinating but dense catalog of logistics, including who actually went on crusade (the aristocrats and their retinue, as well as women), where the money came from, and what kind of massive supplies were needed, as delineated so beautifully in the Bayeux Tapestry. The narrative may leave lay readers not familiar with the specific Crusades bewildered, but overall, Tyerman provides a compelling, vivid sense of a lively, pragmatic, driven, and highly organized society.
A fresh way to envision the Medieval era.