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The Monks of War by Desmond Seward
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The Monks of War (1972)

by Desmond Seward

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Showing 1-5 of 7 (next | show all)
Interesting history about the teutonic knights etc ( )
  Gary_Power | Jul 10, 2016 |
Seward's excellent, thousand-year introduction to the fighting religious orders covers less-frequently discussed orders as well as the popular Templars and Knights of Malta. Topically, this book is a historical narrative rather than sociological illustration (customs, organizational operations, motivations, who they were).

With reviews mentioning "dense" or "scholarly" (re: "laborious") in mind, I was surprised to find the language readable, leaning toward informal. Readers may be surprised to find the Orders behind or involved in many key historic events besides the Levantine Crusades - Prussia's beginnings and that of the modern state, the Spanish Reconquista, Portugal's age of exploration, Champlain in North America, why the Barbary Coast pirates only became a problem toward the close of the 18th century, and some modern medical services.

Unfortunately with so much breadth, coverage is shallow. Important events and their impact on the respective order are often less than two pages, excepting the Battles of Rhodes and Malta. Distinguishing details are inserted into the historical narrative as convenient; the reader doesn't get a sense of what differentiated the orders and who the knights were, aside from geography. Seward mentions the important points - specific clothing, weapons, rough organization, rule, some daily activities, important strongholds, and economic facets. But don't blink. Analysis is usually inferred from the wording, such as his description of Reynald de Chatillon ("murderous throwback", "irresponsible berserks").

The 2 excellent, compact narratives covering the Battles of Malta and Rhodes attest to Seward's excellent writing abilities. I was left hoping an expanded edition would apply the same gifts to major events such as Tannenberg and Hattin.

While overall organization was excellent, some paragraphs do not flow logically or smoothly to the next and the writing quality suffers at times. Awkward or unrelated sentences and inconsistencies crop up. Page 137 of the 1995 Penguin paperback edition is full of bad examples. In a single paragraph, he uses "Cracow" and in the next sentence "Krakow." In the next paragraph he mentions years 1527 and 1530. Then "in the next year" he talks about 1526. One sentence's punctuation is so awkward that it renders a whole paragraph incomprehensible. Thankfully, these occasions are rare and mispellings are nonexistent. If another edition corrects these errors, this would be a 5 star history.

For most people, this is a good place to start and end their readings. Others, seeking more about a particular order, would be served better by a book specifically on that order. ( )
1 vote Hae-Yu | Apr 26, 2015 |
Ultimately, this book is an overview of the religious orders created with the purpose to defend against invading Muslim armies or recover the territories lost to them. If you as a reader are very interested in a particular order it may be better to find a book that deals with that order alone or a particular time in that order's history to best meet your needs.

A couple parts of the book almost lost me with a quick succession of dates, names, and events with little background or "story" to ground the information. However, there were several parts with rather epic history, such as the defense of Rhodes, where the story/narrative provided a very interesting stage for the information about the knights of Malta. I may try to find some additional reading about the fall of Rhodes as this is very interesting. Could make an amazing movie or even a very interesting documentary.

The history and explanation of how the orders came into being, how their simple goals of feeding the hungry, caring for the sick, and helping pilgrims safely travel to holy sites created the need for a bureaucracy and resulted in very wealthy organization being created is well told. There is some analysis about how this wealth ended up corrupting the orders and their purpose to some degree. Also related is how Prussia was created, how the Templars fell, and how some orders still exist in some form. Mostly very readable and accessible to the any interested person, but also, researched and sourced enough for academic perusal and citation if needed. ( )
  Chris_El | Mar 19, 2015 |
This book contains a series of essays regarding the social values and functions of the major military orders. There are also the foundation histories. Their are lists of the grand masters of many of the orders. What it doesn't contain is an extensive review of their influences on their societies and much mention of their military histories. I would have to describe it as a book of limited utility. ( )
  DinadansFriend | Aug 7, 2014 |
A highly readable general account of the European medieval military orders which during this fickle age were solely capable to devote themselves constantly and relentlessly to their task in the Middle East, in the Baltic, in Spain and in the Mediterranean. The Roman collapse destroyed most government institutions. Only the church was able to provide lasting governing structures that went beyond personal relations. Building military institutions that mimicked the church's efficient institutions was thus an excellent idea. The religious military orders provided a framework to build, sustain and expand military capabilities and control territories. The military orders also served as a destination for non-first born nobles to attain rank and privilege. Seward offers a good survey of both the different orders as well as a general history of the Crusades in the Middle East, in Spain and in the Baltic. Especially the less well known history of the Reconquista in Spain is well done. The last-man-standing defense of the forlorn knights defending the Mediterranean from Rhodes to Malta is always a crowd-pleaser.

Most of the religious military orders were re-absorbed into their reemerging proto-national states. Only the Hospitallers on their inhospitable island managed to hold on to some sort of sovereignty. In the modern era, the still existing orders, nominally under the command of the surviving Catholic nobility, have relinquished their martial mission, retaining only their truly Christian mission of caring for their fellow men.

As the Teutonic Order is headquartered here in Vienna, this book came in handy for its 600th anniversary exhibition about the battle of Grunwald/Tannenberg in 1410 where the knights charged into their doom and the dustbin of history. Recommended. ( )
1 vote jcbrunner | Sep 4, 2010 |
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» Add other authors (3 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Seward, DesmondAuthorprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Festing, MatthewForewordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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The military religious orders emerged during the Crusades as Christendom's stormtroopers in the savage conflict with Islam. Some of them still exist today, devoted to charitable works. The Monks of War is the first general history of these orders to have appeared since the eighteenth century. The Templars, the Hospitallers (later Knights of Malta), the Teutonic Knights and the Knights of the Spanish and Portuguese orders were "noblemen vowed to poverty, chastity and obedience, living a monastic life in convents which were at the same time barracks, waging war on the enemies of the Cross." The first properly disciplined Western troops since Roman times, they played a major role in defending the crusader kingdom of Jerusalem, in the "Baltic Crusades" which created Prussia, in the long reconquest of Spain from the Moors, and in fighting the "Infidel" right up to Napoleonic times. This celebrated book tells the whole enthralling story, recreating such epics as the sieges of Rhodes and Malta and the destruction of the Templars by the Inquisition. Acclaimed on publication, it has now been revised and updated, with a concluding chapter to take events into the 1990s.… (more)

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