Walter Scott, The Talisman, the Crusades, Richard I of England and Saladin: Myths, Legends and History
by Ibn Warraq
Parts 1-39 / Part 40 / Part 41 / Part 42 / Part 43 / Part 44 / Part 45 / Part 46
The Historiography of the Crusades.
In the first period of the historiography of the Crusades — that is to say between 1095 and the end of the sixteenth century — the Crusades were seen as defensive, and a response to the Islamic threats to Christian holy places. The Crusaders were motivated by a fervour to recover Christian lands from the hand of infidels, and to liberate Christians from under the Muslim yoke. But the internal threats of heretics and schismatics were also emphasized. 
The second period of crusading historiography was marked by the publication of more scientific histories, with full attention accorded to primary sources. For instance, there appeared in 1611 “the important collection of primary sources on the crusades edited by Jacques Bongars under the title Gesta Dei per Francos sive orientalium expeditionum et regni Francorum Hierosolimitani historia and in 1639 of Thomas Fuller’s Historie of the Holy Warre, which has been called, in spite of its prejudices, the first serious general history of the crusades to treat them as fully in the past and to raise the question of their legitimacy”.  While Fuller, a Protestant minister, wrote from an anti-Catholic perspective, Louis Maimbourg wrote his pro-Catholic Histoire des croisades , dedicated to Louis XIV, with “self-confidence, religiosity, and “˜a trace of modern good sense–, but he veered between enthusiasm and skepticism.
The early eighteenth century judgments can be found in Mosheim. As Rodney Stark put it, “However, the notion that the crusaders were early Western imperialists who used a religious excuse to seek land and loot probably was originated by the German Lutheran church historian Johann Lorenz von Mosheim (1693–1755), who wrote: “The Roman pontiffs and the European princes were engaged at first in these crusades by a principle of superstition only, but when in the process of time they learnt by experience that these holy wars,contributed much to increase their opulence and to extend their authority . . . [then] ambition and avarice seconded and enforced the dictates of fanaticism and superstition.” 
As Von Sybel in his very useful survey of “The History and Literature of the Crusades”  wrote, –¦[T]he spirit of the eighteenth century was decidedly opposed to implicit faith, and restlessly active in remodelling science and art. A series of works were written, in greater or less details, which threw light upon the Crusades, and which, taking different views of the facts, subjected the products of the eleventh century to a searching criticism. Voltaire is the foremost of these writers; the part in his “Essai sur les Moeurs” touching on the Crusades is very weak in point of research, for he does not even name any other authorities than William of Tyre, Anna Comnena and Elmacin , and those he scarcely used”. Volatire wrote that the Crusades were, “an epidemic of fury which lasted for two hundred years and which was always marked by every cruelty, every perfidy, every debauchery, and every folly of which human nature is capable.” The Crusaders left, further argued Voltaire, Europe for Asia only to get rich, and on the way they gave into their vices, which went unpunished; the crimes of the latter and the fanaticism of the others, and the bizarre mixture of religion and chivalry were no longer acceptable in a more enlightened century. For the Encyclopedist, Diderot the Crusades were, “a time of the deepest darkness and of the greatest folly . . . to drag a significant part of the world into an unhappy little country in order to cut the inhabitants” throats and seize a rocky peak which was not worth one drop of blood.” For David Hume, the Crusades were the “most durable monument of human folly that has yet appeared in any age or nation”.
Though he found much to praise in individual Crusaders, Gibbon found the whole enterprise a shameful waste, and an example of clerical led fanaticism, “The principle of the crusades was a savage fanaticism; and the most important effects were analogous to the cause. Each pilgrim was ambitious to return with his sacred spoils, the relics of Greece and Palestine ; and each relic was preceded and followed by a train of miracles and visions. The belief of the Catholics was corrupted by new legends, their practice by new superstitions; and the establishment of the inquisition, the mendicant orders of monks and friars, the last abuse of indulgences, and the final progress of idolatry, flowed from the baneful fountain of the holy war. The active spirit of the Latins preyed on the vitals of their reason and religion; and if the ninth and tenth centuries were the times of darkness, the thirteenth and fourteenth were the age of absurdity and fable.” 
Furthermore, the crusades were misdirected energy, “Great was the increase, and rapid the progress, during the two hundred years of the crusades; and some philosophers have applauded the propitious influence of these holy wars, which appear to me to have checked rather than forwarded the maturity of Europe. The lives and labours of millions, which were buried in the East, would have been more profitably employed in the improvement of their native country: the accumulated stock of industry and wealth would have overflowed in navigation and trade; and the Latins would have been enriched and enlightened by a pure and friendly correspondence with the climates of the East.” 
However, what is often missed, it seems to me, is Gibbon’s compliment to the Crusades tacked onto the end of his famous section, praising the Holy War for, at least, liberating one part of humanity. “The larger portion of the inhabitants of Europe was chained to the soil, without freedom, or property, or knowledge; and the two orders of ecclesiastics and nobles, whose numbers were comparatively small, alone deserved the name of citizens and men. This oppressive system was supported by the arts of the”” clergy and the swords of the barons. The authority of the priests operated in the darker ages as a salutary antidote: they prevented the total extinction of letters, mitigated the fierceness of the times, sheltered the poor and defenceless, and preserved or revived the peace and order of civil society. But the independence, rapine, and discord, of the feudal lords were unmixed with any semblance of good; and every hope of industry and improvement was crushed by the iron weight of the martial aristocracy. Among the causes that undermined that Gothic edifice, a conspicuous place must be allowed to the crusades. The estates of the barons were dissipated, and their race was often extinguished, in these costly and perilous expeditions. Their poverty extorted from their pride those charters of freedom which unlocked the fetters of the slave, secured the farm of the peasant and the shop of the artificer, and gradually restored a substance and a soul to the most numerous and useful part of the community. The conflagration which destroyed the tall and barren trees of the forest, gave air and scope to the vegetation of the smaller and nutritive plants of the soil.” 
 Giles Constable. The Historiography of the Crusades in The Crusades from the Perspective of Byzantium and the Muslim World, edited by Angeliki E. Laiou and Roy Parviz Mottahedeh , 2001 Dumbarton Oaks Trustees for Harvard University, Washington, D.C., published by Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection Washington, D.C.
 Quoted in Rodney Stark. God’s Battalions. The Case for the Crusades. New York: Harper One, 2009, pp.6.
 Von Sybel, The History and Literature of the Crusades, translated and edited by Lady Duff Gordon, London: Chapman and Hall, 1861, p.334ff
 That is, George Elmacin (or Girgis Al-Makin) (1205–1273), also known as Ibn al-‘Amid, a Coptic historian
 Edward Gibbon. The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Chapter LXI, London: Penguin Classics, Vol.III,  1994 , p.727.
 Gibbon, p.728.
To be continued.