Looking Back on the Second Crusade: Some Late Twelfth-Century English Perspectives

  • Peter W. Edbury


It was as long ago as 1953 that Giles Constable published his seminal study, “The Second Crusade as seen by Contemporaries”.1 By contrast, my concern is to consider very briefly not what contemporaries knew or thought, but how people writing a generation or so later viewed the crusade, and ask what, if anything, they have to say that is distinctive, and whether subsequent events influenced their perceptions. As we might expect, English writers of the late twelfth century or early thirteenth tended to rely heavily on histories composed nearer the events. Two authors were especially influential: Henry of Huntingdon, who must have composed his account of the crusade by 1155 — in other words within seven years of the expedition itself — and the Norman abbot of Mont St. Michel, Robert of Torigni, who would seem to have been writing rather later. Roger of Howden, for example, lifted his account of the crusade verbatim from Henry of Huntingdon, while the description of these events in the annals of the Cistercian abbey of Waverley in Surrey is copied word for word from Robert of Torigni. Roger of Howden’s lack of originality is especially disappointing in view of his importance as a source for the Third Crusade. Another invaluable writer, Ralph of Diceto, mentioned only the preliminaries to the crusade, not the crusade itself. What has happened is that his Abbreviationes Chronicorum breaks off in 1148; his Ymagines Historiarum begins in the same year, and the events of the crusade would appear to have been lost in the hiatus between these works.2


English Writer German Army Byzantine Empire Early Thirteenth Theological Reason 
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© Michael Gervers 1992

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  • Peter W. Edbury

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