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Crusader Ancestors of George W. Bush

When President George W. Bush used the word ‘Crusade’ in a speech about fighting terrorism on September 16, 2001, handlers and spin-doctors interjected quickly to disavow the loaded language. To speak of ‘Crusading’ was rightly perceived as antagonistic to the U.S. and global Muslim community—a group which at least some in the current U.S. administration would rather not alienate so decisively. But is ‘Crusading’ officially a dirty word? It may be helpful to quote the twentieth century’s most masterly and readable history of the Crusades, that by Sir Steven Runciman, which concludes with this judgment of the two centuries of massive military campaigns and colonization efforts by Western Europeans in the Holy Land:

The triumphs of the Crusade were the triumphs of faith. But faith without wisdom is a dangerous thing. By the inexorable laws of history the whole world pays for the crimes and follies of each of its citizens. In the long sequence of interaction and fusion between Orient and Occident out of which our civilization has grown, the Crusades were a tragic and destructive episode. The historian as he gazes back across the centuries at their gallant story must find his admiration overcast by sorrow at the witness that it bears to the limitations of human nature. There was so much courage and so little honour, so much devotion and so little understanding. High ideals were besmirched by cruelty and greed, enterprise and endurance by a blind and narrow self-righteousness; and the Holy War itself is nothing more than a long act of intolerance in the name of God, which is the sin against the Holy Ghost. [Sir Steven Runciman, A History of the Crusades, 3 vols. (Cambridge, 1951-4), 3:480 ("The Summing-Up", conclusion).]

the home team (3d Crusade): from an English work of 1850

Perhaps we owe the Crusaders a little more benefit of the doubt. The original Crusaders, after all, were ignorant, proud and warlike oligarchs from a society (medieval Northwestern Europe) that was just emerging from centuries as a relative intellectual and economic backwater. The current United States administration has no such excuse for its failings—though perhaps it is unnecessary to dwell on that right now.

Interest in Crusaders per se has a long meta-history throughout Europe. Recently, interest has surely surged for a variety of reasons. In the late 1990s, a large number of Britons (as well as U.S. participants) made the ‘Reconciliation Walk’, retracing the steps of the First Crusade from France to Jerusalem, as an act of atonement (the official website of this troupe is now unfortunately offline). In Paris, a lavish new coffee-table volume has just been produced, devoted to the galleries at Versailles hung with bad genre paintings of the French glories in the Crusades, and festooned with the (largely fraudulent) arms of (alleged) crusaders, whose commemoration there was eagerly paid for by place seekers in the 1840s: but there is little attempt to distinguish real from false crusaders in this work.

the Salle des Croisades at Versailles

Not since the nineteenth century, to my knowledge, have there been any serious attempts to list crusaders with reference to their modern descendants (the nineteenth-century efforts, included several which involved a sort of running battle over the fraudulent crusader ancestors of the Salles des Croisades at Versailles). The one modern scholarly list of crusaders is an appendix to Jonathan Riley-Smith’s The First Crusaders, which compiles a list of crusaders from the First Crusade and the immediately succeeding generation, but not with specific reference to descents.

The idea of tracing George W. Bush’s personal descent from Crusaders surfaced in January, 2004, when I began a discussion on the newsgroup soc.genealogy.medieval on this theme. My idea was partly to remind us of the magnitude of the common direct heritage of Crusaders, primarily in the Anglo-American and French communities, though commemoration of such things has (rightly or wrongly) fallen out of favor since the nineteenth century with Protestant and Whig historians’ denunciations of the whole movement. George W. Bush, as an American with the perfectly ordinary fact of traceable ancestry among the pre-modern English gentry, simply serves as a proxy, since most people with similar gateways will share many of these lines.

Bush, therefore, has no claim to the exclusive legacy of these particular Crusader ancestors. But perhaps, since he has shown himself to be a poor student of history (among other subjects), it would be useful if he were reminded of his (and our) historical inheritance. The original Crusaders are closer to us than we might care to think.

As an exercise in irony, and perhaps as a spur to some historical understanding, I began an annotated list of the traceable Crusader ancestors of President George W. Bush, which was then greatly expanded by s.g.m. contributor John P. Ravilious. The list can be viewed here.

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