Gathan Beaga

Recently Read: God's War

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After reading Eleanor I conceived an urge to read more about the Crusades. (Eleanor had been on the failed Second Crusade, having scandalously and allegedly become the lover of her Uncle, Raymond of Antioch along the way.)

Also, I had a weird moment not long after finishing Eleanor – as I walked past a group of three fairly rough blokes on Cuba Street I could hear them having some animated discussion about Simon de Montfort and the Albigensian Crusades against the Cathars. It was very Cuba Street, even if they were probably really having a dumbass Dan Brown discussion rather than some fevered, learned, and slightly mad group rant about heresies of various kinds as I had liked to imagine.

So of course I had to seek out a general history, finding this book in the Library.

It’s an epic (almost a thousand pages), but well written and very engaging. It covers not just the events and the battles of the various Crusades, but the various forces temporal, spiritual, economic and cultural that supported Crusading, including eventually why it died out. There’s even the occasional first person description by chroniclers who were actually there – and these are strikingly vivid.

The whole book for me is also a useful reminder of the sophistication of medieval culture. Just because these people lived long ago does not (thanks to the author) have to render their motivations opaque to the present day person. I really enjoyed it, although I suspect that most people might prefer it were a little shorter.