‘Post-medieval crusades: languages, contexts, change c 1400-1700’
‘Post-medieval crusades: languages, contexts, change c 1400-1700’
7-9 June 2010
The event, generously sponsored by the Institute of Medieval and Early Modern Studies (IMEMS), the Aberystwyth Research Fund, the Departments of European Languages and History and Welsh History and the Society for Renaissance Studies, took place over two days in Aberystwyth University’s Old College. Co-organized by Dr Björn Weiler (History, Aberystwyth), the conference offered an interdisciplinary exploration of a wide range of ideas, ideologies and contexts informing early modern notions of crusade and ‘Holy War’ in the period between c 1400 and 1700. The aim was to bring together scholars from literary studies and history to identify and discuss significant ways in which crusade or ‘holy war’ informed and retained a longevity and relevance for early modern English and, indeed, European culture. The financial support received from IMEMS was used to cover travel and accommodation costs for speakers from the US, Germany and Switzerland.
The first session opened with a contribution by Dr Christopher Tyerman (Oxford). Focussing broadly on the role of crusading in the literary sphere, Dr Tyerman argued for the development of a secular instrumental and materialist interpretation of crusading in seventeenth-century Europe that had emerged out of a partisan religious didacticism from the previous century. The next paper turned to events which marked the chronological outset of this conference, as Dr Marco Nievergelt (Lausanne) discussed the Great Schism and the Despenser Crusade. He explored the ways in which the rhetoric of Holy War provided the conceptual means to explore and redefine a new, shifting sense of Christian identity and argued that events of this moment, c 1380 to 1400, marked an important stage in the emergence of a ‘national’ and ‘inter-confessional’ crusading mentality characteristic of the post-Reformation era. Dr Gregory O’Malley (Independent Scholar) considered in detail the means by which the order of St John, during its tenure of Rhodes between the late 1440s and 1522/3, attempted to garner and maintain support for the order’s activities, in particular in the face of an Ottoman threat. This paper was followed by Dr Matthew Dimmock’s (Sussex) discussion of the contested language of crusade or ‘Holy War’ in late sixteenth-century England. Focusing at the English polemic surrounding the Spanish Armada of 1588, Dr Dimmock explored important ways in which early modern Protestant England negotiated its own crusading past.
The two following presentations by Prof Sabine Schülting (Berlin) and Prof Jonathan Burton (West Virginia) offered readings of early modern English travel narratives and drama respectively. With reference to theories of performativity, Prof Schülting argued that English Protestant travelers to the Ottoman Empire negotiated and frequently performed their role as anti-pilgrims, or Protestant crusaders. Prof Burton’s contribution turned to Thomas Heywood’s Four Prentices of London (1592; pr. 1615) in which he speculated about the conditions of and subsequent changes in reception of crusade from the early sixteenth to the early seventeenth century. These changes, he argued, may have contributed to Heywood’s decision to publish a play he had first considered as the product of his ‘Infancy of Judgment’, but, by 1615, had become ‘seasonable and fit’ to be published. In her wide-ranging discussion of early modern German, Italian, French and Latin travel accounts, Dr Almut Höfert (Basel) linked the accumulation of knowledge about the Ottoman Turks defeating them, to a shift in the way in which ethnological knowledge underwent a process of restructuring established patterns. As a result of early modern Christian attempts to harness knowledge about the Ottomans, including for purposes of defeating them, a principle was developed by which any field of knowledge should be organised by a hierarchical set of categories. The presentation by Dr Kathryn Hurlock (Manchester Metropolitan) surveyed the changing identities of British crusaders in the period between 1400 and 1600. To illustrate her case, she focused particularly on two crusaders, Sir Hugh Johny in Wales and FitzMaurice FitzGerald in Ireland.
The final session shifted the focus to the seventeenth century. Prof Claire Jowitt (Nottingham Trent) explored the connections between piracy and crusade in Mary Wroth’s The Second Part of the Countess of Montgomery’s Urania. She considered the representation of piracy as holy war and the extent to which Wroth’s representation of the Italian pirate Dolimandro could have been perceived by its 1620s readership as a positive or a semi-positive representation of piracy as holy war. In 1685, John Nalson dedicated his translation of The History of the Crusade to the Earl of Clarendon, a work full of ‘admirable Maxims and Instructions’ for the benefit of statesmen. In his paper, Matthew Birchwood (Kingston) explored Nalson’s invited comparison between medieval history and the crisis of allegiance precipitated by the accession of a Catholic monarch. In the wider context of English engagement with histories of East-West relations, he argued that Nalson’s work participated in the construction of tolerationist debates of the early Enlightenment. In the final paper of this conference, Abid Masood (Sussex) discussed Tasso’s Gerusalemme liberata and Heywood’s Four Prentices of London to demonstrate the role of Crusade image of Persia in fashioning the images of sixteenth-century Persia. Mr Massod argues that the major impact of going back to the crusade narrative for the Persian identity in early modern Europe as well as England was the rediscovery of strong Persian Muslim identity. The choice of Sophy as an ally of the Sultan of Babylon by Heywood in his play is the epitome of the new identity.
In the final roundtable discussion some neglected areas of future research were identified: for instance, little has been said about women and crusade, especially given Elizabeth’s dominant role in the period; competing Muslim views of early modern Christian crusades or crusading attempts are another area that requires attention; it has also become clear in the final session that ‘post-medieval crusades’ need to be considered within a pan-European rather than a British context alone. A final issue raised concerned the problem of traditional disciplinary boundaries which often triggered competing readings and lively discussions among participants. Overall the feedback on the conference was very positive and discussions were productive both during the sessions and outside the official programme. An edited volume with papers from the conference is to be prepared for publication.