- Hospitaller Piety and Crusader Propaganda: Guillaume Caoursin's Description of the Ottoman Siege of Rhodes, 1480 by Theresa M. Vann, and Donald J. Kagay
Theresa Vann and Donald Kagay's book Hospitaller Piety and Crusader Propaganda: Guillaume Caoursin's Description of the Ottoman Siege of Rhodes, 1480 presents the first modern Latin edition with an English translation of the famous Obsidionis Rhodiae urbis descriptio (Description of the Siege of Rhodes), written by vice-chancellor of the Order of the Hospital, Guillaume Caoursin, and which is considered to be the first authorized account of the 1480 Ottoman siege of the island of Rhodes. Rhodes was the stronghold of the Order of the Hospital, commonly called the Knights Hospitaller, a religious military organization founded in Jerusalem after the First Crusade of 1099 on the basis of the previously existing community serving the city's hospital.
Also included are two eyewitness accounts by Grand Master Pierre D'Aubusson's Relatio obsidionis Rhodie and Jacobo Curte's De Urbis Rhodia obsidione a. 1480 a Turcis tentata as well as the English translation of Ademar Dupis's Le siège de Rhodes and Description of the Siege of Rhodes by self-proclaimed poet to Edward IV, John Kay. Combined they create a compelling narrative of the Order of the Hospital, as much protector of Rhodes as it was protector of western Christendom.
The first couple of chapters ensure that the reader is able to contextualize the siege and the strategic importance of the Hospitallers on Rhodes. In Chapter 1 the reader is introduced to the historical background of the Order of the Hospital, detailing the evolution of the Hospitallers' organizational structure before moving through to set out a brief history of Rhodes, including the impact of the Ottoman siege and the strategic military as well as sociopolitical significance of the city. It is within this short chapter too that Mehmet II's intentions of Islamic expansion are introduced, with Hospitaller Order records from 1453 to 1480 suggesting that 'Mehmet could think of nothing else but the threat posed by the Knights [End Page 249] on Rhodes' (p. 9). Chapter 2, 'Danger from the Great Debt and the Great Turk 1453–1480', expands on Mehmet's ambitions, the resulting fall of Constantinople, and the increase of efforts to protect and fortify Rhodes. Chapter 2 is considerably detailed in presenting the complexities of funding such works and illustrates the delicate religious and political relationships required in order to meet the envisioned coming burden of assault.
Chapter 3, 'The Genesis of the Descriptio', provides keen insight into Caoursin's career in the Order and illustrates how 'he would have been aware of the power of rhetoric to persuade and command others' (p. 47), using this to his advantage when crafting the Descriptio and the way in which the Order was represented. Chapter 4 contains the collation of three separate printed Latin texts of Caoursin's work, the authors explaining the nuances found in each before moving through to presenting the Descriptio. Chapter 5 presents Pierre d'Aubusson's work relating it to a 'public letter reporting the news from the battlefront' (p. 149) rather than the more classical historical (and narrative driven) approach undertaken by Caoursin. Given the importance of Caoursin's work it is not surprising that it receives the bulk of attention by the authors.
Chapter 6 contains John Kay's text, with Vann and Kagay noting that his particular influences, such as his belief in the religious nature of the conflict (p. 179), may have shaped the narrative thus presented. Both Dupis and Curte's translations appear in chapters 7 and 8 respectively, with Dupis's original work noted for its rarity, with only three recorded copies worldwide. Vann and Kagay note the similarities between Dupis's work and Caoursin's text and provide the reader with comparisons, despite Dupis situating his text as his own retelling of the...