Crusade and Empire: Holy War and Imperial Ideologies in Medieval Europe
From the US National Prayer Breakfast to the recruiting statements of the ISIS militant group, the crusades continue to be invoked in political contexts around the world. Clearly, the complex and elusive nature of the medieval crusading enterprise retains a hold on the modern imagination as a symbol not only of holy war, but also of political expansion and triumph. Indeed, from the time of the First Crusade (1096-9), when contemporary writers sought to link the devotional military expeditions of their own day with the conquests of Alexander the Great and the journeys of Charlemagne, to the establishment of global European colonial empires in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the crusades have been understood through an ideology of empire.
In the late twentieth century, historians of the crusades debated the extent to which a longue durée approach to European empire or the apparatus of postcolonial critique might be applied to the medieval phenomena they studied. More recent scholarship has emphasized the importance of historical memory and the place of the crusades in the broader cultural history of the Middle Ages. Engaging with these recent historiographical trends, the papers in this session will breathe new life into the older debates about empire by exploring the articulation of political ideologies of crusade in the later twelfth and thirteenth centuries, at a time when medieval polities were attempting to realize ancient claims to hegemonic global authority associated with the concept of imperium inherited from Rome.
Our three panelists explore the expression of these imperial crusading ideologies across the geographical span of Europe, from England to Byzantium, during the height of the crusading era. Katie Hodges-Kluck’s paper explores the role of national identity and prophecy in the imperial claims of England’s crusader-king Richard I the Lionheart (r. 1189-99) during the Third Crusade (1189-92). With Anne Lester’s paper, our focus moves to England’s neighbor, France, and the Capetian dynasty’s attempts to situate their power in an idea of sacred empire derived from memorials and relics of the Fourth Crusade (1202-4). Brett Whalen’s paper then brings us up to the middle of the thirteenth century, discussing the redefinition of holy war in the context of the ongoing power struggles between the papacy and the Holy Roman Emperor, Frederick II (r. 1220–1250). Our session also offers a response by Anne Latowsky, who will provide a concluding perspective on the three papers. Together, our panelists and respondent will discuss why and how the crusades provided medieval rulers with access to rhetorical claims of imperial authority, and examine how those claims were implemented both at home and abroad. We also hope to extend this discussion to the appropriation of crusade and holy war in more recent history.