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The Fourth Crusade: A Plot? Essay

2875 words - 12 pages

Was there a "plot" to divert the Fourth Crusade to Constantinople, and if so who was responsible?"We will never know, and science has truly something better to do than to discuss indefinitely an insoluble problem" -P. MitrofanovThis famous comment on the fourth crusade and the question of a "plot" was made well over a century ago, and very little new evidence has emerged since. So why return to this topic?Most modern historians are of the view that the diversion of the Fourth Crusade to Constantinople was not the result of a plot. Queller, for example, writes "By reflection upon a detailed examination of the Fourth Crusade... we can perhaps expand our understanding of mankind caught up in the great current of events" , and Riley-Smith, Mayer and Pernoud are all of more or less the same opinion. Indeed it cannot be proved, now or probably ever, that the diversion of the crusade was the result of a "plot"; but the mere lack of proof should not lead to a conclusion that there was no plot. It is not the duty of historians to treat subjects as "innocent until proven guilty" and there is no justification in rash, unproven conclusions such as that quoted above. This essay will draw attention to the remarkable degree of conspiracy and intrigue surrounding the crusade and the dubious morals of some of its protagonists. It will also review some of the most valid of the arguments previously put forward in support of one or other of the plot theories. It will argue that, although it cannot be proved, there is a fair probability that the leaders of the crusade were guilty of plotting to divert the crusade, and that this possibility should certainly not be lightly dismissed.Most writers who have argued that the course of the crusade was a result of coincidences have followed in the footsteps of Villehardouin, using his "Conquest of Constantinople" as one of their their main sources. Yet this account is highly dubious. Not just was it written several years after the events and is lacking in precision and neutrality; Villehardouin deliberately suppressed facts that would serve to discredit or incriminate various leaders of the crusade. He intentionally omits the papal prohibitions of conquests of Christian lands, and the excommunication of the Venetians is described in such a cloudy, ambiguous way that the facts and reasons for the mass excommunication, and the pope's attitude towards the attacks are extremely unclear to the reader. In the words of C. Morris: "There is real evasion and genuine suppression here" . Also, his extreme bias comes across clearly in his condemnation of all crusaders who disagreed with the course of the crusade, labelling them as "those who wished to break up the army". The result of this unashamed bias is what Morris accurately describes as the "implausible picture of an opposition with a motiveless desire to destroy the crusade on which it had come". So the "official history"of the crusade, and most often used source for the "theory...

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