10/30/09 - ivanhoe

In today's excerpt - the Crusades Sir Walter Scott and Ivanhoe. The Crusades were perhaps the most powerful and long-lasting legacy of the Middle Ages. Reflecting the power of this legacy in 1819 Sir Walter Scott's Ivanhoe exploded onto the European scene, selling millions of copies leading to hundreds of staged productions and reigniting interest in the imagined chivalry and religious virtue of the two hundred years of European Crusades in the Middle East:

"In November 1095, Pope Urban II called upon the knights of France to journey to the Holy Land and liberate the city of Jerusalem and the Christians of the east from Muslim power. In return they would be granted an unprecedented spiritual reward—the remission of all their sins—and thereby escape the torments of Hell, their likely destination after lives of violence and greed. The response to Urban's appeal was astounding; over 60,000 people set out to recover the Holy Land and secure this reward and, in some cases, take the chance to set up new territories. Almost four years later, in July 1099, the survivors conquered Jerusalem in an orgy of killing. While most of the knights returned home, the creation of the Crusader States formed a permanent Christian (or 'Frankish') presence in the Levant. In 1187, however, Saladin defeated their forces at the Battle of Hattin and brought Jerusalem back under Muslim control. The Franks held onto other lands until 1291 when they were finally driven out by the Mamluks of Egypt to end Christian rule in the Holy Land.

"Crusading was too deeply established within Catholic Europe to disappear after the loss of the Holy Land in 1291 [and] the roots laid down by crusading proved extraordinarily deep, in part because of the idea's flexibility. In the course of the 12th and 13th centuries crusades were launched against the Muslims of Spain and other enemies of the faith such as the pagan tribes of northeastern Europe (the Baltic Crusades). ... Crusading offered a platform for knights to show bravery and integrity. The idea of fighting for God, the ultimate lord, gave service in crusading armies a special attraction, although at times knights' determination to win fame for themselves could cause them to put notions of honor ahead of the greater Christian cause. ...

"Perhaps the last crusading battle of note took place at Lepanto in 1571 where a fleet of Spanish, Venetian and Military Order vessels defeated the Turks. The Knights of St. John (the Hospitallers) preserved control over their island outposts of Rhodes, until 1523, and then Malta, but otherwise crusading subsided. The advent of Protestantism brought severe judgments on such a papally-directed concept. ...

"Yet during the 19th century, crusading, or a mutated form of it, gained new interest in the West. One reason was the writing of Sir Walter Scott whose tales of chivalric endeavor in the Holy Land, most particularly Ivanhoe (1819) and The Talisman (1832) enraptured audiences across Europe. As a Calvinist, Scott's view of 'intolerant zeal' was restrained, but overall he gave a positive impression of the crusades. Scott's works were translated into numerous languages and in France alone he had sold over two million books by 1840. Ivanhoe alone inspired almost 300 dramas; within a year of its publication, 16 versions of the story were being staged across England. ...

"In tandem with these developments, the 19th century saw a dramatic expansion of European political power into the Muslim near east, largely at the expense of the declining Ottoman Empire. France invaded Algeria in 1830 and soon afterwards Spain and Italy, too, embarked upon North African adventures. Some looked to the crusades as a forerunner, especially after France took control of Syria in 1920. Paul Pic, Professor of Law at the University of Lyon, regarded Syria as 'a natural extension of France', while in 1929 Jean Longnon wrote that: 'The name of Frank has remained a symbol of nobility, courage and generosity ... and if our country has been called on to receive the protectorate of Syria, it is the result of that influence.' [Syria remained a French 'protectorate until after World War II].


Jonathan Phillips


The Call of the Crusades


History Today


Vol: 59 Issue: 11
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