Jurgen Burgtorf, Helen Nicholson, eds. International Mobility in the Military Orders: Twelfth to Fourteenth Centuries. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2006. xxii + 218 pp. $59.75 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-8173-1512-2.
Reviewed by Paula Stiles (Independent Scholar)
Published on H-War (June, 2007)
International Mobility in the Military Orders: Twelfth to Fourteenth Centuries is based on a multi-panel conference at the International Medieval Conference at Leeds in July 2002. There are sixteen articles, drawn from the papers at the conference, along with an introduction by Alan Forey, and a conclusion by Forey in conjunction with the panels' organizers, Jurgen Burgtorf and Helen Nicholson, who also gave papers. One useful addition is the inclusion of not one but three indices on subjects, places, and names. These make it easier to locate and compare information from different articles.
The book covers aspects of mobility among the military religious orders in, and on the borders of, Europe, and between Europe and Palestine during the Crusades era. It looks at both international mobility (as it states in the title) and mobility within countries and regions. The latter aspect is especially valuable as it analyzes the internal and local politics and activities of military orders. This subject has been hitherto neglected, except on the level of separate area studies or scattered anecdotes. The articles examine and uncover a wide range of patterns of mobility, including regions where outside influences and leadership were common, and regions where most of the leadership came from that region and never left.
While the subject of international mobility may evoke the movements of military personnel, the focus of the articles--with one exception (Judith Bronstein's "The Mobilization of Hospitaller Manpower from Europe to the Holy Land in the Thirteenth Century")--is on socioeconomic and political history. The authors and editors show more interest in the economic networks and political alliances that helped the military orders maintain the defense of the Holy Land (and of their various Christian frontiers elsewhere) than on the defense itself. This is partly due to the loss of documentation for the military orders in the Holy Land, particularly the Templar archive at Cyprus. Patterns of relative survival have dictated that socioeconomic studies on military orders focus on the support network back home in Europe rather than on the ground in the Holy Land, since we no longer have many Palestinian records and the surviving chronicles deal mainly with high-level political history. Thus, relevant subjects like the activities of the Templar and early-Hospitaller privateering fleets during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries get only scattered coverage over several articles, due probably to a lack of necessary evidence.
The editors state up front that they have not tried to encompass all aspects of the subject. Their main aim is to open up a new historiography. The book is, indeed, not comprehensive in that respect and would probably be a good four or five times its actual size if it were. It reflects the general bent of English historiography on military orders in favor of the Hospitallers and, to a lesser extent, the Templars and Knights of St. Lazarus, with a chronological focus on the late thirteenth and fourteenth centuries and a geographical focus on northern Europe. Of the sixteen articles, five deal with the Hospitallers alone, two with the Hospitallers and Templars, four with the Templars alone, two with the Order of St. Lazarus alone, two with the Teutonic Knights alone, and one with the Order of Avis, a local military religious order from Portugal. Major regional orders like the Knights of Calatrava, Montesa, and Santiago in Spain, the Knights of Christ in Portugal, and the Swordbrethren of Livonia in eastern Europe get some mentions, but essentially no coverage. With one exception, the articles therefore concentrate on the four major international military religious orders. They deal only with monastic orders, not secular chivalric orders.
Despite the temporal limitation imposed by the title, four of the articles cover the fifteenth century, two of them exclusively. As with all such studies on military orders that cover a long period, the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries are much better represented than the twelfth or early thirteenth centuries, due to the larger number and variety of documents for the later period. As such, coverage of the earlier centuries (and specifically, most of the Templar period) is spotty. Certain regions are also over (and under) represented: three articles deal with international mobility exclusively, three with Rhodes, two with France, two with Britain, and one each with Italy, Prussia, Hungary, Flanders, Aragon, and Portugal.
A disappointment is the strong focus on higher officers of the various orders in question. The book tends toward the traditional approach of ignoring non-noble brethren and associates of the military orders in question. The conclusion, for example, briefly discusses female associates (consorores), but mainly to note that they tended to stay in one place and therefore had little or no mobility worth mentioning. A study of the Templar privateering fleet or banking system, both areas completely dominated by the Order's sergeants and involving high mobility, would have been useful here in striking more of a balance in coverage between the non-noble majority of these orders and the noble minority.
This is not a general history and is specifically aimed at an audience already familiar with the general subject of military orders. As with other academic monographs and collections in medieval historiography, this book is highly specific to its subject (international mobility) and gives very little in the way of a general introduction to the medieval military religious orders. One should look elsewhere for such a history before reading this book, in order to get the most possible out of its contents. Most useful might be Helen Nicholson's general histories of the Knights Templar and the Knights Hospitallers, since they reflect many of the issues explored in this book.
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Paula Stiles. Review of Burgtorf, Jurgen; Nicholson, Helen, eds., International Mobility in the Military Orders: Twelfth to Fourteenth Centuries.
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