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The Catholic Historical Review 89.2 (2003) 291-293
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Crusade Charters, 1138-1270. Corliss Konwisser Slack with English translations by Hugh Bernard Feiss. [Medieval and Renaissance Texts and Studies, Volume 197.] (Tempe: Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, Arizona State University. 2001. Pp. xxx, 229. $28.00.)
Crusade Charters comprises a collection of thirty-one charters from northern France recording transactions mainly between Premonstratensian abbeys and families from the social stratum which Slack designates the lower nobility. Thirty charters are in Latin and one in French. The Latin and French texts are provided, but the value of this study is enhanced greatly by the English translations on the facing page. In general, the translations, prepared by Hugh Bernard Feiss, are accurate and read well. Most of the charters have been drawn from printed sources which are not readily accessible; others have been taken from unpublished manuscripts. Photographic reproductions of these manuscripts are included.
Medieval charters are fascinating. They are a rich record of places and of people, some of whom would otherwise pass unnoted. But charters are also [End Page 291] austere documents, affording very little in the way of background description concerning the transactions they record. And so, their interpretation, making some sense of them, demands of the historian the exercise of controlled, imaginative judgment and a consistent critical approach. In this regard, Slack has done well. For each charter, under the headings "Summary of the Charter" and "Notes on the Charter," she provides closely documented discussion, identifying people, establishing their relationships with those mentioned in other charters, and demonstrating their connectedness in terms of both feudal bond and, notably, their common involvement in the crusades.
Slack is interested in the problem of motive. What factors, she asks, moved people to go on a crusade? Was devotion paramount? Were the families of Coucy, Trazegnies, and Morialmé, all of whom had distinguished records for crusading by 1270, moved predominantly by piety to take the cross, or were there other, more pragmatic considerations operative? These are not, of course, new questions, and Slack acknowledges this. What, however, is new, indeed even startling, is the crucially important role throughout the twelfth and thirteenth centuries of the reformed Order of Prémontré in the crusading enterprise. If Slack's reading of these charters is valid, it is no exaggeration to claim that the financial and religious patronage granted by Prémontré to the family of Coucy and their vassals, most of whom at one time or another had violated the Order's rights and property, made possible many of the crusading contingents from northern France and Flanders. Beneath the lofty religious language of crusade ideology, these charters reveal a reformed Order with an impressive dedication to crusading and at the same time with a sharp sense of its own advantage in securing the safety of its possessions both in the Holy Land and at home.
For their part, the lay nobility, whose crusading initiatives provide the raison d'être of these charters, acted, according to Slack, out of "pious practicality" (p.x). This was expressed variously, but most often the pattern that emerges is one in which the crusader donates generously to the Order to make amends for having attacked its property in the past and to be reconciled to the Church generally before leaving for the Holy Land. The evidence also shows that the Order was not averse to lending money to a crusader-patron either to finance his expedition or to pay off debts incurred as a consequence of it. But, even here, Slack posits that the Order was impelled not by altruism but by the practical advantage which it hoped to acquire by extending its circle of crusader patrons, men who, not unreasonably, might be expected to protect its interests in the Holy Land.
In sum, the evidence of these important charters indicates strongly that from the time of the First Crusade until 1270, the network of crusading families of Coucy, Trazegnies, and Morialmé and their vassals, and the reformed Order of Prémontré espoused crusading from broadly similar motives. These...