The Real History of the Crusades

The Real History of the Crusades

Due to all the spam on the General Discussion Forum ,
i am posting this here for comment.

If any of the list historians have time ,
i was wondering how accurate this write-up is.

I'm not a historian, but I read as much of the article as I could stand. To me, it reeks of bias. Assertions such as

are not the language of objective and balanced analysis. To me it looks like hate speech dressed up as history.

Edit: The article in question claims to be written by Thomas F. Madden. I have an audio book by Thomas F. Madden about the Crusades that I hadn't listened to yet. I just played the first minute of it and it struck a totally different tone - "For 400 years, crusaders - those signed by the Cross - marched to the Holy Land out of Christian zeal, a declared love for their fellow man, and, in many cases, a simple desire for fortune, glory, and heavenly reward".

I have serious doubts the article you reference was actually written by Thomas F. Madden - probably some fraud is just using Madden's name.

This article also appears elsewhere: , in a slightly longer form that makes rather more clear that the author has an axe to grind.

I think you'll get better information about the Crusades from the library than from the Web.

The link was posted on the Robert E. Howard Forum ,
and i thought that any bias or inaccuracy would be quickly picked up by Ars Magica folk.

It is late, I am tired and not very keen at this moment, but I could not help having a look. Even if only very shortly.

My immidiate and intuitive impression is that the author is clearly knowledgable on the period - though I have not read the dates and event in detail, though I did find some curious omittings, but also that I do agree that it seems very biased. First of I always get suspicious when some larger series of event spanning centuries is explained with a minimum of variable causality (in this case almost unicausality: the crusades came about because the Muslims were "gunning" for them) - such things put me instantly on guard. Just as it also puts me off when someone claims to have "the" truth and that all others are "plain wrong". Those are very bold claims and they require very well argued points. And to prove such claims it is neccesary not to just present it matter of factly, but to rather try to disprove it with possible contradictions or challenges to ones own theory. I have not seen a single spot, even if only glosing the text, where he questions his own point of view. In that regard it is problematic that he is omitting things that would be obvious to include and that would challenge his basic theory. It is also a very crude and artificial generelisation he makes of all the involved crusaders. Even if some motives for their participation might have had greater importance to them than others, it is very artificial to narrow it down to only one or two motives. Moreso it is unbecoming to his credibility the degree to which he uses superlatives in a very biased way. For a couple of examples:

an errand of mercy to right a terrible wrong, the liberation of Jerusalem, reconquest, defense peaceful persuasion, restoration, open, betrayed, badly misunderstood


gunning for, sick, conquest, pathetic, strike out at, subsuming, colossus

History is a hermeneutic field, meaning that it is an illusion to think that it can ever be completely neutral objective and detached from the people researching it. There are also times and events in history where some parties to a conflict, in the bigger picture, have with some justice been labelled or portrayed as either the "good guys" or not the "good guys". In this case it is clearly without reason and very biased.

And a couple of quick concrete objections:
-"In desperation, the emperor in Constantinople sent word to the Christians of western Europe asking them to aid their brothers and sisters in the East. That is what gave birth to the Crusades." This argument is somewhat lessened by the fact that this words for help had been sent more than 20 years and 3 popes earlier (after the battle at Manzikert)than Pope Urban II declared crusade. Even if this does not neccesarily refute his argument it is of such importance that it is very problematic that it is left out.
-Words as seduction, Byzantine politics and betrayel are used to almost excuse the 1204 sacking of Constantinople.The obvious part played in this by a European major power at the time, Venice, is not even mentioned in passing.
-"The crusades" are described as justified defensive (justified and defensive - I will not even comment on those) war against the Muslims, but the crusades of medieval Europe was much more - an in many instanced the "enemy" was not muslims but smaller nations or tribes on the edges of Europe, and most importantly against a growing number of christian religious minorities.
-The Renaissance is depicted as solely being a product of European history - which completely defies how the other side of the crusades, namely the opening of trade lanes and trade with the Levant resulted in a pouring into Europe of arabic translations of the classics aswell as teachings on medicine, geomotry, algebra etc. from a then superior civilisation. This was another vital component in the Renaissance.

  • It is true that the Ottoman Empire was known as the sick man of Europe, but it is a step to far to blame it for the "present mess" in the Middle East. Indirectly he is actually saying that had the crusades not been so miserably lost be the Europeans, there would not have been a "mess". This is both a speculation and in contradiction that the present draving of borders in the ME was not done by the Ottomans but dictated by the major European powers of France and the UK in modern times.
  • Finally one major piece is missing. As much as christian-muslim conflicts over the Levant may seem of importance to us and our perception of history, they crusades where never a sizeable threat the the Arab world. In the same years the Caliphat was under much more danger and pressure from another side. The Mongols. They raided large parts of the Arabian peninsular and it was in danger of become a permanent conquest. This threatened the Arab-Muslim world much more than the crusaders ever managed.Pheew, I ought to have gone to bed long ago - but in conclusion: history is said to be written by the victors. That is to some degree true. But most of all history is often used in the process of attaining that victory in the first place. This text is unacceptable biased at best, or at worst it is a uncritical and cynical continuation of whatever political or religious sentiments the author holds deer....

Who is Robert E. Howard? And is my life poorer for not knowing it?

Robert E. Howard

For what it's worth, I was surprised at how good the Conan stories were when I actually read them. Pulp, to be sure, but fun. I think they're worth a look if you're interested in the fantasy genre in general.

Edit: I checked the above link to the article on Robert E. Howard, and I see there the same hyperbole in the description of his literary accomplishments as I do in the crusades article (though in this case the exagerration is basically harmless).

He was a good pulp writer (rare in itself), IMO, but to describe him as a "seminal figure" who "single-handedly" invented a genre seems going a bit far.

Maybe there is some sinister conspiracy by some Robert E. Howard fan out there to flood the Web with overstated claptrap. :smiley:

In short:

Treating 'the crusades' in an article of the length of Madden's, one need not be factually inaccurate to be biased.
Madden clearly hasn't read some of the books he is condemning (like Runciman), or knowingly plays strawman with them. Either case disqualifies him as a historian.
But his most important omission is, very obviously, that of the crusades in Portugal, Spain and Occitania. They don't fit his idea and shed unwanted light also onto the crusades in the holy land - so for Madden they have no place among 'the crusades'.
In a similar way his representation of the 4th crusade - omitting the crusaders' attack on Zara and the Venetian machinations in general - is ahistorically simplistic and untenably apologetic.

I should stress, however, that in order to understand the crusades it is necessary to try to reconstruct the perception church and feudal society of the middle ages had of them. Reading e. g. Vaux-de-Cernay, one quickly sees that a lot of hypocrisy was involved. Still, well distinguished from the Montforts here, the noble forty-day crusaders in Occitania of Vaux-de-Cernay's time had only the remission of temporal penance to gain for their participation in the crusade, paying for it from their own fortunes and risking life and limb.

Kind regards,


Please do not ascribe this article to the real Madden. First, the real Thomas F. Madden is the chairman of medieval history at St. Louis University, and I think it's obvious one cannot become a history chair and recognized expert by writing inflammatory garbage such as the referenced article. Second, I have started listening to an audio book by Madden and the tone and style are totally different from "The Real History of the Crusades:" the real Madden is a credible academic whose work reflects an analysis of multiple factors contributing to historical events, and does not attempt to overlook or justify the Christians' misdeeds during the Crusades.

I'm serious: I strongly believe the article in question was not written by Madden, and instead was done by a hack who wanted to wrap his hate speech in a veil of legitimacy by impersonating Madden - thereby besmirching the reputation of an innocent professor.

Of course, I am not sure. My wife wrote an e-mail to Madden to (tactfully) ask if he wrote the article, but he probably hasn't had a chance to reply because St. Louis is currently buried under a blizzard.

Until we know the truth, my suspicions of fraud are strong enough that I feel the need to defend Madden's reputation.

Aaah - the plot thickens!! :astonished:

It did seem awfully official - but looks can be very deceiving, and we should never judge a book by its cover, nor a website by its.. well.. ehh... something.

I have to add that I have first-handedly seen academics, actually a historian, throw away any sense of profesional integrity to go on a "crusade" wrapping it in, albitt poorly dressed, scientific cloth. It was very bad and ugly to behold. But even more so to see how many people just sucked it in and let it pass - not because they didn't disagree, but because the respect for a mature profesor alone made them stay silent, instead of pointing out that it was nothing but biased and that he had left the realms of academic research light years ago.

Nevertheless - kudos for taking the contact (I hope has not yet read our critique here) and I think several of us will wait in anticipation for that blizzard to pass.... :smiling_imp:

Any decent Auram specialists online?? :slight_smile:

Well...I just read the article and the commentaries on this board. I've read a few histories of the Crusades in my day and have a few comments to add (although in truth, I'm merely reinforcing what has already been so effectively written on this board already);

(1) What is frequently forgotten, especially by booksellers, is the difference between a history and a polemic (or apologia). The author of the article (whomever it may be) is not, in my opinion, actually writing a history. The author has merely pasted together the commonly known facts and quotes in order to pursue his agenda, which I will leave in hopes of not offending anyone.

(2) I am automatically suspicious of works being described as a "real" history of anything.... heck, we can't even necessarily agree on events that have happened in our lifetime, the level of arrogance required to believe that you know the real story of events that happened between 500 and 1000 years ago is beyond my comprehension.....and that is without accepting that we all have our bias' through which we see events in the past (As an aside I strongly recommend E.H. Carr's "What is History?" for a discussion on the subject of history).

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This is laudadable caution.

Thomas F. Madden is, however, all over a particular part of the internet (on which I am not knowledgeable enough to precisely qualify it) with signed articles like that one Ravenscroft referred to. See: ... 0201.shtml ... 181026.asp ... Madden.cfm

Kind regards,


Okay. I have taken the time to do some research on the subject. The author is clearly genuine. Thomas F. Madden is a professor at the Jesuit University of St. Louis. He is clearly very well versed in the history of the crusades, he is respected and his works quite popular. He has even made the Encyclopædia Britannica entry on the crusades (which is less biased than his books and articles appear to be).

He makes a note of saying that the current views on the crusades are biased, and he criticized the connection that several radical muslims have drawn between the crusades and the present situation in the Middle East. I agree with him that that connection is very overstretched, and also that the crusades have been subjected to bias. Many historial subjects have, and the crusades included. I do however think that Madden, maybe in his fervour of makes his point, progresses to be very biased himself. One thing is the length at which he goes to exonerate Europeans/Christians of any stain of misdeeds. Another the attempt to simplify the backgrounds of the crusades and the crusaders motives - even research in contemporary events, without having a timegap of 900 years, can very rarely be reduced to be explained by such an unilateral approach. To do so is artificial and it is misconceiving.

This impression was strengthened when I found articles by him on another subject not only exonerating the inquisition of its gruesome history, but even honouring it as a just institution of the church, claiming that the "simple fact is that the medieval Inquisition saved uncounted thousands of innocent (and even not-so-innocent) people who would otherwise have been roasted by secular lords or mob rule." He goes further to say that anyone having an interest in European history knows that the inquisition wasn't what most people think of it (he blames Monthy Python for some of this "misconception"). I do well know that most of the witch burnings took place in protestant parts of Europe, and that the catholic inquisition was much more and much less then the average picture of it. But... there is a long stretch from aknowledging that the inquisition wasn't as bad as its reputation to make it a paragon or champion of the people.

Madden goes on to say that "To understand the Inquisition we have to remember that the Middle Ages were, well, medieval. We should not expect people in the past to view the world and their place in it the way we do today." I agree, and the same goes for the crusades. We can only judge the understood integrity of their actions by their own time. But to understand is not the same as to accept, respect or condone it. This we can only do based on our own day and time.

And when Madden gets personally involved in either supporting President Bush's use of the term crusade in his retorics; or in denouncing radical muslims use of the term or axing former President Clinton for his use of an example of crusaders slaughtering Jews; that is exactly what he does. He mixes up understanding and condonation. He uses understadning of history to argue condonance or condemnation. And it comes of as very biased in favour of some groups over others. Whether you agree with him, or contemporary policies concerning the Middle East, or not - biased is what he is.

Or as another article on the "American Prospect" responded to Madden's appearance on National Review:

(Disclaimer: I do not know this site, nor neccesarily sympathise with it, but I do find this response very well coined, and thus I reproduce it here)

These were my 2 million pennies...

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Thanks for doing all that work!
Much appreciated by us incompetent hedge wizards. :slight_smile:

No disrespect intended, but was your research entirely online or did you look at Madden's books and scholarly publications? The reason I ask is that a large amount of biased material online could all be the work of the same impostor. If one looks at a traditionally-published work of Madden's, and then the online articles, one will see a striking difference. I think it highly unlikely they are both written by the same person, unless said person has a multiple-personality disorder. :unamused:

Obviously I can't post Madden's books here (and remember I haven't read any of them in full) but I can link to some reviews and synopses of his recognized works; I think if you look at those you'll see the same discrepancy I do. ... 55&s=books ... ECO_000624 ... F8&s=books

Now, I'm going to listen to my Madden audio book next week while I'm commuting, and I'll let you know my opinion of it when I'm done. Which will be in about ten minutes, if it's as bad as "The Real History of the Crusades." :stuck_out_tongue:

Say what you will about the National Review's politics, but I seriously doubt that someone could pull a fast one on them. It is a well-respected magazine for the conservative voice in America. You can't be some crack-pot impersonating a professor and get published there.

Berengar's two links to this guy's articles in the National Review give me proof enough that the real Madden has written these articles.

have looked into what I could find. I could be wrong. It could be an imposter, or I might have misread his articles. And I will be glad to hear from people who have studied his books. Maybe even tearing down the impression I have gotten of Madden. But I have to say that I have read many things in his material that worried me besides the things included in the post above.

I have not read his books, but only his articles and the extracts and reviews of his books. The articles that have formed my opinion and the ones I have quoted above, where all articles I found in at least 10 different seperate locations in online magazines. The places that have these articles all seem very credible - both in terms of integrity, and of not being the places where frauds would be brought (especially since most of them praise the articles and Madden's work). So I honestly do feel confident that they are not frauds made by an imposter.

I am not so sure about the striking difference - since I have not read his books - but judging from the reviews and extracts from his books it does not seem improbably that the author is the same person. The articles might on the other hand seem different either because they are shorter, so his points are more compressed and thus more apparent, or it might simply be that his approach might have moved a bit. They are post-9/11 and reflect on contemporary retorics. We live in a world somewhat changed since 9/11 and many positions or demarcations have become more firm and less mediating. And in many places religion has become a larger factor in politics and its retorics.

Madden says that the Inquisition and the Crusades are the usual items used to club the Catholic Church, and that they are in that regard useful tools for those who dislike the church. The image of the inquisition he blames on the protestant printing press - that the protestants could not beat catholic Spain militarily and that they then turned to use propaganda to defame the inquisistion. And that this is his motivation for setting the record straight. Presumably being catholic himself, or at the least having his base at a Catholic university, only adds to the sense of bias.

Our history is full with atrocities. Some of them, though definately not all, were also commited by men and women who were inspired by one faith or creed or another. To work with history we have to acknowledge that - that those that came before us committed atrocity toward each other. Even if it was not seen as an atrocity at the time. But also that the blame does not stick to later generations. I do not carry a grudge toward contemporary Germans for their nations invasion and occupation of my country, nor the horror of the holocaust, nor do I think ill of the British for bombarding and lighting a blaze on my country's capital 200 hundred years ago. Likewise I do not wheigh the Catholic Church with the actions of inquisitors or crusaders. Those of their actions that in contemporary hindsight can not be condoned. Nor do I adhere to the stereotype picture of the "Spanish Inquisition".

The world still sees a lot of atrocities to this day.

But to blind fold ourselves to the atrocity of the past, or having a seige mentality of trying to exonerate those people in the past that might resemble us - or share a Creed, skin colour or nationality with us - that have done things we would not condone today. Such attempts, always exonerating ones own, are not only biased, they deepen the trenches and they feed into the "mythos" of the Clash of Civilization. Somthing I would dread to see realised.

Whether the author is truly Mr. Madden or not, the work in question is definitely a romanticized view of the Crusades. There is a certain irony in that the players of a game (a great game but still a game) which to a certain extent romanticizes the Medieval period are spending time and effort discussing a "historian's" work and criticizing it as being simplisitic, dogmatic, or overly romantic. This is to the credit of the game and especially to its players and everyone who posted on this definitely deserves kudos.

On a side note, it is always sad to see a serious academic slip into dogma. I know of one historian who I used to have alot of respect for, whose most recent works...and their blatant bias....has ruined my respect for him.


A remarkable point and a remarkable ironi!

I wonder if the fact that we tell stories and paint a canvas of romanticized stereotypes plays a part of being less inclined to delve into it in real life? Less need for it, or just more on guard?

Since Madden's articles doesn't only relate to history but almost explicitly feeds on todays stereotypes and images of the other, it makes me think of a discussion that pops up once awhile in the local RPG-comunity: whether roleplaying broadens your empathy and tolerance? That taking on roles and having to immerse oneself in alien motives or thought patterns gives you a greater understanding of the diversity of life than you would otherwise have had? Or maybe that we are all just emotionally detached people on the fringes of society.. :smiley:

Update: My wife never got a reply from Prof. Madden. It's difficult to know what to conclude from that. Let's just say I can't rule out the likelihood that Madden actually wrote "The Real History of the Crusades."

As John Post pointed out, Madden's article in The National Review is more likely legitimate than not.

I've been listening to the audio book "God Wills It!,"which is a lecture series by Madden about the Crusades, and I don't see the same flagrant bias and polemical tone in those lectures as many of us have noticed in the online articles. In fact I think the lectures are pretty good. So I would say, just because there are poor online articles attributed to Madden, it doesn't mean he's incapable of good authorship and good scholarship.

I do think the, umm, more polemical articles are a stain on his academic credentials. It's fine to have an opinion, but I don't think it's fine for a professor to resort to cheap tricks (inflated rhetoric, omission of relevant facts) to advance that opinion.