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Religious Warfare in Europe 1400-1536.

Religious Warfare in Europe 1400-1536. By Norman Housley. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002. x + 238 pp. $55.00 cloth.

How refreshing to read a book in which the author assumes that the sources actually mean what they say! This study has little patience with historians who detect hidden motives in expressions of stated religious purposes for wars during 1400-1536. Nor does this book accept the view that sixteenth-century wars were the beginning of modern secular conflicts, with little of previous motivations for armed conflict. While not denying certain new tendencies in post-1500 wars, this monograph stresses the late medieval legacies that continued to inform these conflicts.

Norman Housley, professor of history at the University of Leicester, is one of the leading proponents of an expanded or pluralist idea of the crusade. His work on earlier and post-1274 crusades defines the crusade beyond the more restrictive views (papal summons, indulgences, cross-taking, privileges) of the crusades of 1095-1274. Housley's background in pre-1400 crusades gives him an advantage in appreciating the historical origins of war cries after the fourteenth century. He chooses the period 1400-1536 as a time when crusading values were still operative, although in changing circumstances. He defines "religious" warfare in this period as of four basic types: crusade, sectarian apocalypticism, national messianism, and defense of doctrine. As with his previous work on the crusades, the author prefers to focus on the motivations of the perpetrators of these conflicts. To illustrate how medieval attitudes toward war persisted after 1400, he draws from a large number of sources. In the construction of his conceptional models of religious wars, Housley often describes specific conflicts, particularly those in central Europe. He begins his discussion with a very fine bibliographic essay in chapter 1.

To explain the residual influence of crusade mentalities, Housley expounds in some detail on the Hussite revolts, the Dozsa rebellions, and the wars in Castille and Portugal. For apocalyptic-inspired wars he cites the Tabor battles of 1419-20 and Anabaptist Munster in 1534-35. For national messianic kinds of war, he gives attention to Castile, Aragon, Switzerland, and the Anglo-French wars. For the defense of true doctrine, Housley shows how the Hussites utilized the argument in favor of fighting for God's law. Within the Hussites there were various nuances of chiliastic revolts, Wycliffite socially conservative programs, and national sentiment.

Within these four categories the book has separate discussions of how religious motivation was expressed in contemporary language, for example, humanist terms or Joachite ideas. While the crusade had been long conjured up against rival Christian groups, crusader ideology had become directed against Christians almost as a matter of course after 1400. The book gives emphasis to the Turkish threat as a catalyst for the formulations of justification for war. Some of the most original sections of the book deal with the ways Anabaptists, particularly Melchior Hoffmann and Thomas Muntzer, utilized scripture and symbols (cross, chalice, battle songs) in sanctifying their rebellions and defensive wars. A separate chapter (5) is devoted to the Christian European vision of the Turks, who were seen as both external and internal (bad Christians who behave and think like Turks) threats; this chapter is a superb synthesis of a vast amount of material on the topic, including the author's own work on Erasmus. He explains how the early mainline Protestants employed some traditionally religious arguments to resist Turkish expansion, yet while conceding little to the "Catholic" crusade against the infidel. Housley concludes this study with 1536 because this year marked the Pilgrimage of Grace, the Franco-Ottoman Capitulations, the deaths of Eramus and More, and the fall of MOnster. Housley's afterword (section 7.2, pp. 194-205), regrettably brief, suggests that attitudes toward the crusade, sectarian apocalypticism (including biblical and nonbiblical prophecy), and national,messianism found expression in the Wars of Religion in France.

The book's main arguments are not always easy to follow. The four categories of religious warfare sometimes get buried in the descriptions of specific conflicts. There is a loose chronology in chapters 2 (Hussite wars) and 3 (Christian commonwealth of Europe), but this is less in evidence in the remaining chapters. It is not always obvious how the author's analysis of the appeal to authority (such as scripture, messianic individuals, symbols) in chapter 4, and the attitudes towards the external and internal Turks (chapter 5) relate to his working prototypes. The organizing principles of these more abstract treatments could be more clearly integrated into the broader types of religious wars.

Although the most detailed analysis of religious wars centers on the Hussites and Hungary, I suspect most readers will be more interested in the general discussions of how justifications of war were expressed in terms of scripture, symbols, eschatology, Jerusalem (with some assimilation into then current notions of the Holy City), and anti-Turkish categories. This is a stimulating even brilliant book that deserves careful reading and will surely influence future interpretations of fifteenth- and sixteenth-century religious wars. Highly recommended.

Thomas Renna

Saginaw Valley State University, Michigan
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Author:Renna, Thomas
Publication:Church History
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jun 1, 2004
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