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20 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating, 16 July 2009
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This review is from: Chronicles of the Crusades (Penguin Classics) (Paperback)
This is an enjoyable read, we must assume that the translation is accurate and the writer has managed something unusual; the English is lucid and articulate and yet gives the flavour of the age. The details are of great interest, the sort of things one rarely finds in the history books which are giving an overview and cannot go into such detail as provided by an eye-witness. The notes are sufficiently scholarly without being oppressive and the glossary is a good reference resource. The perspective of the westerners on the fall of Constantinople should be considered by anyone interested in that important episode!
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Chronicles of the 4th and 7th Crusades, 17 April 2012
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JH "hobbs_tx" (Houston, TX United States) - See all my reviews
This book includes two chronicles about the crusades translated by Margaret Shaw. Geoffrey of Villehardouin's chronicle The Conquest of Constantinople covers the period of 1199 to 1207 from the planning on the "fourth crusade" to death of Boniface the Marquis de Montferrat. Jean of Joinville's chronicle Life of Saint Louis is about King Louis IX of France. It tells the tale of how King Louis ascended to the throne and Jean of Joinville's firsthand account of their adventures during the seventh crusade. The style and content of the chronicles is very different.

Villehardouin at the beginning of The Conquest of Constantinople was the Marshall of Champagne under Thibault the Count of Champagne who took the cross initiating the Fourth Crusade along with a couple of his cousins Louis the Count of Blois and Baldwin (Baudouin) Count of Flanders and Hainault. Villehardouin was one of the principal players in the "fourth crusade" often representing the crusaders in negotiations (including negotiating transport of the crusaders with the Venetians) and participated in numerous battles. He was definitely in a position to provide a complete history of the crusade and its aftermath. Indeed Villehardouin's account often is referenced and cited by modern historians.

Yet in reading Villehardouin's chronicle I often found that he was distorting the politics and affixing blame on others to deflect the immorality of his actions and the other leaders of the crusaders. His chronicle often protects the characters of Boniface the Marquis de Montferrat and Enrico Dandolo the Doge of Venice. The Marquis at the end of Villehardouin's chronicle offers a grant of land to Villehardouin and it was Villehardouin who recommended the Marquis to lead the crusade after Thibault's death. Villehardouin also treats the Doge of Venice well in his chronicle reporting Dandolo's directives as "recommendations" and portraying them in the best light. What in fact happened is Dandolo blackmailed the crusaders on threat of starvation and dishonor into sacking Zara, a Christian city that revolted from Venice. Venice had recently signed treaties with Egypt and had no intention of taking the crusaders there and jeopardize their trade agreements. Dandolo then leads them to Constantinople under a pretense of restoring the son of the deposed Emperor of Byzantium in order to exact unreasonable booty and ultimately sack Constantinople and take control of the Byzantium Empire. Villehardouin's chronicle tells us that the crusaders believed the Emperor to be would be able to fulfill the unrealistic agreement. Maybe the crusader leaders were that foolish or just manipulated by the Doge of Venice who wanted nothing less than the control of Byzantium's trading lanes, but I think their greed got the better of them and they are equally complicit in this crime against Christendom. Once the crusaders start to discuss the occupation of Byzantium, they forget the purpose of their crusade completely.

For the footsoldiers and many of the knights, the attach of Christian lands at Zara are too much and from then on many attempts are made to change the course of crusade back to the Holy Land. Villehardouin dismisses this as cowardice and desire to break up the army. I guess the point of this long criticism is that while there is historical merit to the story, the reader should be cautious in accepting Villehardouin's reasoning due to his obvious bias perspective. In the introduction, Shaw defends Villehardouin's portrayal of the story. She excuses his handling of the story as result of his beliefs of strict military discipline and knightly honor over his oath, and their desire to recover Jerusalem. I don't buy her story, Villehardouin's portrayal of the Venetians is as a man who is an accomplice, not someone who is being dragged into something he is not willing to do.

I enjoyed Jean of Joinville's Life of Saint Louis far more. As indicated by the title this is not just a story of the seventh crusade. It the story King Louis IX. Jean the Lord of Joinville was the Seneschal of Champagne and followed the seventh crusade with two of his cousins. He did not have any personal interaction with King Louis prior to the crusade, later during the crusade he became very close friends with the king. Before the story starts, Jean gives a dedication where he explains why he wrote his chronicle. He then gives some examples King Louis's pious actions and beliefs as well as his just handling of his administration. The story continues with the king ascending to the throne and the civil war that erupts in France as the king's authority is challenged in his minority. Next the chronicle continues the origin of the seventh crusade. The voyage to Cyprus and then Egypt is described followed by the battles and defeat of King Louis in Egypt. The story then shifts to King Louis's journey and activities in Acre after paying ransom for his release. Jean then tells of returning home and King Louis's adminastration of his realm after the crusade. He finishes by telling of King Louis's death during eighth crusade and his canonization as a saint. Jean did not join the eighth crusade due to illness so he limits his discussion of this.

Jean's chronicle of the crusade itself is less of a history and more of his firsthand accounts. His work is not clouded by the political bias that Villehardouin suffers from. Jean tells what happened based on what he saw and heard during the conflict. It is a very human account and the description of the king and Jean during captivity is memorable. Jean also mixes up the chronicle with tidbits about the customs and strange things he witnessed while on his travels.

I recommend this collection as they are firsthand accounts. You can read newer more complete histories, but it always important to see what was said by the people who were actually there. I would recommend The Dream and the Tomb: A History of the Crusades and The Crusades through Arab Eyes as companions if you have interests in the crusades and A Short History of Byzantium if you have interest in Byzantium and how the "fourth crusade" fits into the destruction of the empire or disintegration of the Latin rule over Constantinople.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Hugely enjoyable, 4 Dec 2012
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This review is from: Chronicles of the Crusades (Penguin Classics) (Paperback)
I so much enjoyed reading these two accounts; the 'Fourth Crusade' in particular was fascinating - set-back after diversion after procrastination after compromise - the twists and turns of the narrative and the mixed motivations of the participants wouldn't be out of place in a film or a novel. Agree with the other reviewers about the translation, although personally I would have been happy with a bit more period flavour - sometimes I felt a little like I was reading the New English Bible rather than the King James, so to speak. But all round a hugely enjoyable read.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great historical account, 11 May 2014
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I found Villehardouin's account of the fourth crusade quite tricky to follow at times and also difficult to trust because of his affiliations. But Joinville's story read much more easily about a crusade I knew v little about. Still amazing to read accounts by people who had been on crusade.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars mediaeval mind, 11 May 2012
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David J. Croydon (uk) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Chronicles of the Crusades (Penguin Classics) (Paperback)
Interesting but not as incisive into the thoughts of the authors and actors as I'd like. Not, of course, the fault of the authors or the translator but it almost made the crusades seem a bit humdrum; perhaps they were...
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Chronicles of the Crusades (Penguin Classics)
Chronicles of the Crusades (Penguin Classics) by Joinville and Villehardouin (Paperback - 30 Oct 2008)
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