The Italian Crusades. The Papal-Angevin Alliance and the Crusades against Christian Lay Powers, 12541343. by Norman Housley (Oxford University Press, £17.50) TO MANY people the word 'crusades' brings to mind pictures of knights in armour, romantic chivalry and Sir Walter Scott's Talisman. Richard I of England and Saint Louis IX of France come into the picture, too, with images of crusader castles in Syria and noble and dignified Muslim rulers.
The First Crusade had been preached by Pope Urban in 1095. It actually got under way in 1096. This was the age when the resort to arms was the natural way of settling disputes and when the collecting together of knights and soldiers from all over Europe to attack the heathen Muslims was considered a holy mission. For Christians in Europe in the Ilth century the crusades were a mixture of pilgrimage and holy war.
But what is not so generally known is the use succeeding Popes made of their power to call a crusade not only against the Muslims occupying the Holy Places but also to fight against heretics or enemies of the Holy See much nearer home.
Norman Housley's very carefully researched book deals with nearly a century of crusades fought in Italy and Sicily against Christian lay powers who were considered by the Popes to be either menacing the Papal Territories or of being unfit to rule their own lands because they had been e-:communicated.
In his introduction, Mr Housley suggests that this period is the most neglected in the history of the crusading movement and puts this neglect down largely to prejudice.
European history in the 13th and 14th centuries is hard to unravel because of the constant change of Pope — there were eighteen different Pontiffs during this particular period — and the short lives of so many of the kings and nobles involved in the disputes. Mr Housley steers his way with great ease through the complexities of the many encounters between one Pope or another with succeeding rulers. _ He divides his period into two phases. The first concerns the Pope's objections to suzerainty over the Kingdom of Sicily claimed by Manfred and Conradin of Staufen (the sons of Frederick II) and by their heirs In the second phase, from 1302 to 1343, the crusades were directed against the Ghibelline revival in central and northern Italy when Ghibellinism was equated with heresy.
Mr Housley is able, through his research, to give a good picture of what contemporary reactions were to the Popes' use of crusading zeal and crusading funds to solve their problems in Italy. Many of the western European powers were anxious to embark on their own crusades to the east, and Blanche of Castile, the mother of St Louis, was furious at the continuation with the crusade against the Staufens at the expense of her own son's crusade.
BIA,it was also uad_erstood_that it was vital that Sicily should be in the right hands. Pope Boniface VIII declared that "the relief of the Holy Lands depends for the greatest part on the recovery of the island of Sicily," which was, of course, a useful staging post for the embarkation of troops and supplies. One is forced to agree, by and large, that the Popes' Christian enemies at home were as dangerous to the Church as the Muslims in the east and that the papal use of crusades was justified.
This book might not be for the general reader without the necessary basic background to this complicated period. but it is clearly very useful in throwing new light on an aspect of extremely interesting history. There is also an excellent bibliography.