This isn't a bad book about the period but I can't really recommend it. The writing is often awkward and repetitive (particularly in the first 1/3 orThis isn't a bad book about the period but I can't really recommend it. The writing is often awkward and repetitive (particularly in the first 1/3 or so of the book). It's as if the author wrote a series of papers on each of the topics he addresses but didn't polish a final draft, removing material already covered.
And despite the subtitle, there's little in the way of "people's" voices. I understand that peasants, soldiers, women didn't leave much in the way of written sources but there's a wealth of data from other sources that could have informed his chapters on each of these groups; and it's not as if he's unaware of them. Several times he raises potentially fascinating topics but goes nowhere with them. For example, in "Women and War: Power and Persecution," Green mentions the growing economic and social power women enjoyed in the first half of the 15th century (only to lose it in the second) but drops it to focus on Joan of Arc's meteoric career, though he concedes that she was in no way representative of a typical woman of any class.
Green does provide a nice, 20-plus-page bibliography that could be mined for further reading....more
Four Queens is an unpretentious, straight-forward narrative history of the 13th century in Western Europe told within the framework of the lives of thFour Queens is an unpretentious, straight-forward narrative history of the 13th century in Western Europe told within the framework of the lives of the daughters of the Count of Provence: Marguerite, queen of France; Eleanor, queen of England; Sanchia, Countess of Cornwall and (for a brief moment) Queen of the Romans (Germany); and Beatrice, Countess of Provence and Queen of Sicily (also for but a brief moment)....more
Devil’s Brood is a young-adult history of Henry II Plantagenet and his unruly family: Eleanor of Aquitaine, Young King Henry, Richard the Lionhearted,Devil’s Brood is a young-adult history of Henry II Plantagenet and his unruly family: Eleanor of Aquitaine, Young King Henry, Richard the Lionhearted, Geoffrey & John. The title comes from a legend that Henry’s ancestor, Count Fulke of Anjou, married the Devil’s daughter and their descendants inherited a diabolic strain that made them the wonders and the terrors of the world.
The style of the book reminds me of Isaac Asimov’s young-adult-oriented histories that I read as a child but that doesn’t mean Duggan writes down to his audience. There are some very insightful discussions that helped me better understand the events of the period. For example, his discussion of the tangled webs of homage that make Medieval politics seem little more than barely contained anarchy, or the development of the tournaments as lucrative sources of revenue for knights (at least the successful ones).
And the account is very even handed, which means my image of Henry, forever colored by the O’Toole/Hepburn version of “The Lion in Winter,” now must include his faults as well as his virtues. By that same token, my appreciation of Richard is greater.
And speaking of Richard – Duggan dances around his sexual orientation and ultimately comes to the conclusion that he wasn’t homosexual. He simply wasn’t very interested in women; his overriding goal was the crusade (a Christian jihadist, as it were).
The writing is crisp and well paced, and Duggan’s flaws as a novelist are strengths as a historian – the ability to clearly explain what’s going on.
If I had a young acquaintance who was developing an interest in history (Medieval history particularly), I’d recommend this book. For the serious-but-amateur historian (like myself), I’m not sure I would recommend it despite its readability but I wouldn’t discourage anyone from reading it. And it’s certainly good enough for anyone with a passing interest in the period (inspired perhaps after watching “The Lion in Winter”)....more
Craig Monson’s Nuns Behaving Badly is an unassuming collection of events at five Italian convents spanning the late 16th to the early 18th centuries wCraig Monson’s Nuns Behaving Badly is an unassuming collection of events at five Italian convents spanning the late 16th to the early 18th centuries whose inmates asserted themselves against the severe boundaries that delimited their lives. Despite its title and this picture which graces the back of my edition’s dust jacket –
there’s little that’s salacious. Anyone hoping to read about orgies or demonic rites a la The Monk will be disappointed. In fact, in regards to sex and convents, Monson writes:
“Those who would spin nun-priest fantasies in the world, whether today or in eighteenth-century Bologna, would be surprised and probably disappointed to learn that contacts between male and female celibates in post-Tridentine Italy usually centered on less salacious intimacies than those that might take place in bed. Often characterized by words such as amicizia (friendship, amity), intrinsichezza (intimacy, close inwardness), domestichezza (familiarity, acquaintance, conversation), these relationships commonly involved activities that seem positively “domestic” by most notions of shocking behavior. Cooking treats, mending clothes, sewing, washing, passing letters, exchanging gifts – these were the “crimes” the church often considered scandalous. Or, of course, there were the expected incidents of carnival silliness. All in all, when the post-Tridentine cloister wall became virtually impregnable, interpersonal preoccupations seem generally to have shifted from the more explicitly lascivious to what was more realistically practical. While some of these relationships might borrow elements of secular courtship or marriage, evidence suggests that in most cases the relationships were scarcely physical, much less overtly sexual.” (pp. 169-70)
Monson is a professor of music at my alma mater, Washington University in St. Louis, and I found it interesting how he came to write this book. He ran across a manuscript of songs sung by nuns and was surprised to discover verses like this:
“You who’ve got that little trinket, So delightful and so pleasing, Might I take my hand and sink it ‘Neath petticoat and cassock, squeezing.” (p. 2)
From there, he descended into the Vatican archives and uncovered a trove of stories about convents and their often tumultuous relationships with the Roman Church hierarchy. Most of the stories are incomplete, fragments of transcripts that break off mid-investigation, leaving the reader without a resolution. Monson managed, however, to piece together the five cases presented here. Neither Monson nor his protagonists have any agendas. Monson is not arguing that these cases represent a proto-feminism in early Modern Italy. And the nuns have no motives beyond trying to exercise some control in their own lives.
Chapter one is an overview of convent life in Catholic Italy, and I enumerate below some of the interesting things I learned:
1. Respectable women were either married or in a convent, which was the “sink” for a family’s otherwise useless daughters. (Dowries went from the bride’s family to the groom’s, so a surfeit of girls could impoverish even the wealthiest of families.)
2. Because of #1, a city’s population could comprise a large number of nuns (14% of the citizenry of Bologna c. 1630).
3. Not surprisingly, most nuns did not have a real vocation.
4. Despite vows which forbade contact with the outside world, these women kept in touch with relatives and friends and the gossip of the city via the parlatorio, a grated window to the world, and the convent chapel.
5. In the 1500s, convent singing expanded beyond the plainchant to the polyphonous chants their male brethren were singing, much to the dismay of many (male) churchmen.
6. Convent choirs and individual singers, for a variety of reasons Monson touches upon, became popular tourist attractions in many Italian cities, even getting mentions in the “Lonely Planet” guides of the period.
7. A convent was nearly the only place a reputable woman could sing.
8. Convents were divided into two classes of nun: the professe – the upper class/aristocratic daughters of the well-to-do who labored at the more genteel arts of weaving and such, and the converse – the daughters of commoners who kept the cloister running.
9. Despite the lack of real vocations and their severely restricted lives, many professe had – potentially – more fulfilling lives than their secular counterparts. (A relative measure, of course, since they were still powerless outside of the convent’s walls and wards of their male superiors.)
As a quick and dirty primer on conventual life, I found this part of the book very useful. The remaining chapters are self-contained case studies about individual convents, beginning with the scandals that plagued San Lorenzo in Bologna in 1584. For lovers of Gothic romances like The Monk, it’s this first case and that of San Niccolò di Strozzi that come closest to the sordid escapades one finds in that genre. At San Lorenzo, the inquisitor discovered evidence that the sisters had conjured a devil to help find a missing viola (unsuccessfully). But they were restored to a respectable state after a mild penance. (Monson points out that it is ironic that an inquisitorial investigation operated under stricter guidelines and almost modern models of investigation than its secular counterparts.) At San Niccolò, an ill-considered conventual establishment and a clash between the nuns and an obnoxious archbishop culminated in arson.
At the end, this glimpse into the lives of these women fascinated me and I would recommend it. It also left me melancholic, seeing so many lives stunted by the social and religious demands of their culture. E.g., in the eyes of Cardinal Paleotti, the corruption at San Lorenzo began when the nuns were allowed to sing to adoring public audiences. In answer, he forbade any songs other than plainchant and then only in the privacy of the cloister. Or that in 1703, Pope Clement XI banned carnival and opera for five years, hoping to avert the wrath of God for Italy’s licentiousness (expressed in a recent series of earthquakes). In 1708, Santa Cristina della Fondazza’s young singing star and opera fanatic, Christina Cavazza, defied her vows to attend performances at the reopened Teatro Malvezzi and endured ten years of house arrest and imposed silence for it.
In his epilog, Monson mentions modern-day examples of Catholic nuns (and congregations in general) defying the male hierarchy: In St. Louis, Archbishop Raymond Burke excommunicated three sisters for getting ordained, excommunicated the board of the city’s Saint Stanislaus Kostka parish for refusing to relinquish control of the church and its endowment, and he forbade Saint Cronan’s parish from hosting in its sanctuary a Jewish rabbi (female) whose synagogue had played host to the ordination mentioned in the first item. (The parish got around the prohibition by sponsoring the rabbi in a tent pitched in the church’s front yard; and Saint Cronan’s church experienced a surge in attendance as the faithful expressed their support against inordinate episcopal pressure.)
It should come as no surprise that Archbishop Burke has since gone on to become head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (the modern Inquisition).["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
I wonder why Rodney Stark wrote this book. He claims there is a “sinister” (p. 4) trend in Crusader studies that characterizes the Muslim world as theI wonder why Rodney Stark wrote this book. He claims there is a “sinister” (p. 4) trend in Crusader studies that characterizes the Muslim world as the innocent and culturally and morally far superior victim of this first manifestation of European colonialism. That “during the Crusades, an expansionist, imperialistic Christendom brutalized, looted, and colonized a tolerant and peaceful Islam” (p. 8).
Twenty years ago I was entering the world of Medieval Studies as a UCLA grad student. In fact, the period under discussion (c. 1100-1400) and this very region (the Mediterranean) were the areas I was interested in. Even back then, there was no serious expert in the field who would argue that provocations, massacres, brutality, looting, rape, etc. didn’t occur on all sides, that anyone had the moral high ground. Nor would any student of the period argue that purely material interests motivated the Crusaders. Did the Marxist/materialist interpretation dominate a certain era of historiography? Sure. But like all academic fevers, this too passed (though not without a lot of groundbreaking and revelatory data in its wake). A new generation came up through the ranks that accommodated the less material, more idealistic motivations. So Stark’s cabal seems to be a straw man. It’s illustrative that the handful of specific authors he cites as evidence of a conspiracy are all nonexperts in the field. In particular, his bete noire Karen Armstrong, a fine scholar in her own right but not immersed in the sources as a specialist would be. Though, perhaps, she too is as guilty as Stark of slanting her own interpretations. (I tend to agree with Stark’s assessment: IMO, Armstrong, in her recent work on Islam, has evinced an annoying tendency to whitewash its “sins” in comparing it to Christianity. An argument against selecting facts to fit a political/philosophical agenda, but not evidence of an academic conspiracy to demonize Christianity.)
My problem may stem from the book’s subtitle: “The Case for the Crusades.” The case for the Crusades? Is he seriously arguing that a religiously motivated military campaign (jihad) is justified? Is he hypocritically arguing that you shouldn’t use selective data to support one’s opinion yet does so to exonerate Urban II and his successors? Or is his objective of a more contemporary nature? A backhanded justification for the West’s (primarily America’s) response to recent Islamic fundamentalist terrorism? If so, then the facts of his own book doesn’t support his interpretation. If anything, they argue against a military response: Despite better technology and amazing logistical capability on the part of the European princes, no Crusade after the first achieved any lasting success and most were utter debacles*).
*The Fourth Crusade, indeed, perpetrated one of the worst cultural and political crimes in medieval history – the sacking of Constantinople and the utter ruin of the Byzantine state, threatening nary a Saracen.
When Stark sticks to the facts and doesn’t attempt any interpretation, he’s generally spot on. It’s his interpretations that I found fault with in his latest work. I am still amazed and enthralled by The Rise of Christianity How the Obscure Marginal Jesus Movement Became the Dominant Religious Force ..... He marshaled ancient sources and applied modern sociological research on religious conversion to present a powerful case for how and why Christianity prospered even in the face of sporadic but usually fatal persecutions. And his description of life in ancient Antioch, in the same book, is still one of the most harrowing and interesting I’ve read. For the first 2/3rds of Discovering God The Origins of the Great Religions and the Evolution of Belief, he presents a cogent argument for how and why the concept of God developed across time. Then in the final 1/3rd, he begins proselytizing, abandoning the admirable evenhandedness of the first part to shill for the Christian version of deity, and he lost me.
In this book, too, Stark marshals the facts to lay out a mildly revisionist history that brings a more balanced viewpoint to the general reading public. I’ll cite two examples here: First, he debunks the notion of a “dark age” in Europe (already pretty thoroughly a relic in academe, starting with 19th century historiography!) but it never hurts to reemphasize the technological, economic and political innovations that were transforming ancient society from the 5th century on and earlier. He also correctly, IMO, points out that the brightest intellectual lights in the Islamic firmament were often Christians (though not Latin), Jews or otherwise non-Arabs, and that quite soon an intellectual rigidity set in which retarded any exploitation of their insights. He scants a similar, if later, phenomenon in Christianity – though in that case happily, the Church was too weak and intervened too late to do more than delay the advent of the modern world.
A second example is Stark’s corrective to the overly materialistic interpretation of the Crusades, which reduced the movement to a matter of economic and social factors forcing humans to act as they did. For many knights, going to the Holy Land was anything but in their best economic interests. But their zeal (fanaticism, to be less charitable) fueled both their personal ventures and profound economic and political changes in Medieval Europe.
There are some indications of a less-than-complete grasp of regional histories as, for example, when Stark mentions the “oddity” of Charlemagne attacking the Basque (Christian) city of Pamplona in 778. Knowledge of the enmity between the Basques of northern Spain and the Franks of southern France may have made the soon-to-be emperor’s actions less “odd.” Or there is the arbitrary decision to exclude the non-Levantine crusades (i.e., the Reconquista or the Albigensian Crusade) as unrepresentative of the “true” Crusading movement, which goes unjustified.
As a corrective to overly materialistic interpretations of the Crusades, Stark deserves at least 3 stars, and general readers could do worse than to learn a bit about the period from this book.** However, for his conspiracy theories of malfeasance and his (possible) attempt to justify modern “crusades,” he loses a star.
**They might be better served, however, by reading experts in the field like Steven Runciman’s A History of the Crusades, vols. 1-3, dated in many respects but still a brilliant, exciting, well written narrative of the campaigns; Kenneth Setton; or Christopher Tyerman’s recent God's War A New History of the Crusades. And, while Wikipedia is never to be trusted as a source itself, the bibliography sections of the Crusade entries can direct interested parties to interesting books (e.g., http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/First_cr...).
A final thought that has nothing to do with my praises, objections or opinions of the book but which came to me as I was reading: Stark’s discussion of why Crusaders took up the cross and justified their actions reminded me of Wendy Doniger’s discussion of a similar moral dilemma that faced the kshatriya caste in her book The Hindus - see my review: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/52.... In the “Bhagavad Gita,” Krishna explains to Arjuna that though the warrior’s dharma (to commit acts of violence and murder in service to his ruler) goes against general dharma and accumulates bad karma, the warrior who can act (karma) without desire (kama) can satisfy both dharmas and avoid bad karma. It seems to me that, in a similar vein, Christianity resolved the problem of controlling its warrior class with theories of “just wars” and plenary absolution of sins committed....more