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Lower, Michael (Michael T. Lower)

Lower, Michael (Michael T. Lower)


Education: Cambridge University, Ph.D., 1999.


Office—University of Minnesota, 101 Pleasant St. S.E., Minneapolis, MN 55455. E-mail—[email protected]


Historian, educator, and writer. University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, faculty member in the department of history.


Solmsen Residential Fellowship, Institute for Research in the Humanities, University of Wisconsin-Madison, 2006-07.


The Barons' Crusade: A Call to Arms and Its Consequences, University of Pennsylvania Press (Philadelphia, PA), 2005.

Contributor to periodicals, including the Journal of Ecclesiastical History, International History Review, Essays in Medieval Studies, and the Journal of Medieval History.


Michael T. Lower is a historian whose specialties include medieval Europe, the Crusades, Christian-Muslim Relations, and North Africa in the Middle Ages. Lower's first book, The Barons' Crusade: A Call to Arms and Its Consequences, was called "an impressive and thoughtful study of a relatively neglected phase in thirteenth-century crusade history" by American Historical Review contributor Marcus Bull.

The book focuses on a crusade mission called for by Pope Gregory IX to fight the infidels in Jerusalem, along with the Pope's later decision in December of 1235 to redirect the Crusade to focus instead on defending the patriarchate in Constantinople and the Latin-Greek empire from heretics and heresy. As pointed out by Norman Housley in the Catholic Historical Review, this crusade has been largely ignored by historians for a variety of reasons, including its disjointed and sometimes seemingly haphazard efforts. "But this neglect of the crusade was unwarranted; overall this was a significant venture and its gestation and course have a good deal to tell us about the condition of crusading in the 1230's," wrote Housley.

The author's goal in writing about the Barons' Crusade is to provide a comprehensive view and understanding of the motivations behind crusades, as well as a more clear view of papal leadership. Lower also is interested in how religious minorities in various areas where the crusade was conducted were impacted in very specific and individual ways. Referring to the book as "an excellent contribution to the exponentially growing genre of crusade studies" in a review on H-Net: Humanities and Social Sciences Online, Sarah Lambert went on to write in the same review: "On the whole, Lower has produced an extremely valuable work, which deserves the attention of medieval historians and promises great things to come from its author."

The crusade was eventually named the Barons' Crusade by a fourteenth-century writer who was impressed by how many of the nobility participated in the crusade. Lasting until 1241, the Barons' Crusade, headed by Thibaut IV of Champagne and Richard of Cornwall, represented a high point in the Church's efforts to make crusading a universal Christian effort, and it resulted in a wide range of initiatives and accommodations determined by the location of the crusaders, including places such as Hungary, France, England, Constantinople, and the Holy Land. "The story brings little credit to any of its main actors," noted Christopher Allmand in History, adding that it "should have been a sign of unity among Christians." Allmand went on to point out in his review: "Far from doing this, it did more to underline divisions within Christendom."

The author writes in his book that, contrary to the pope's wishes, the crusade resulted in violence against Jews and sometimes even more widespread violence against entire communities. Not only did Jews face attacks, they also experienced extreme fiscal burdens in some locales and were even expelled from Brittany. In addition, contrary to directing Christian forces in an effort to defeat the Muslims once and for all, the crusade resulted in occurrences such as peaceful negotiations between Christian and Muslim forces in the Levant. Ultimately, according to Lower, the crusade altered the relations between Christians and non-Christians throughout the known world in a variety of ways. "Michael Lower provides a thorough, convincing, and well-documented interpretation of events between 1234 and 1241, clarifying numerous points of detail that previously were either neglected or misunderstood," wrote Housley in the Catholic Historical Review.

The author achieves his goal by emphasizing comparative local history and bringing into question the idea that crusading embodies the religious unity of medieval society. Lower also demonstrates how the new strategic and political demands of the papacy, which had increased due to the papacy's stronger leadership position in relation to that of preceding popes, at the time thoroughly affected crusading. However, another outcome of the Barons' Crusade was increased power by those nobles participating in the crusade. The author points out that the enthusiastic response to the crusade was not only extremely local in nature but that those who participated often had individual agendas that they pursued in sometimes savage manners. For example, Thibaut IV had more than 180 heretics burned at the stake at Monte-Aime in 1239, which, according to the author, augmented not only the count's coffers but also bolstered his image among the public. "The Barons' Crusade provides a balanced account of the Crusade of Thibaut and the others," wrote Paul W. Strait in Church History. The author points out, however, that some of the individual efforts in the crusade actually ended up helping minorities and non-Christians. For example, King Bela IV of Hungary received papal concessions to allow him to join the crusade. However, the king's crusading efforts resulted in less papal pressure on Hungary's Jews, Muslims, and pagans.

Noting that the author's primary interests "are the realities of crusading," Michael Angold went on to write in his review in the Journal of Ecclesiastical History: "He is best on the political side, because the evidence is stronger."



American Historical Review, June, 2006, Marcus Bull, review of The Barons' Crusade: A Call to Arms and Its Consequences, p. 893.

Catholic Historical Review, January, 2006, Norman Housley, review of The Barons' Crusade, p. 115.

Choice, April, 2006, R.T. Ingoglia, review of The Barons' Crusade, p. 1471.

Church History, September, 2006, Paul W. Strait, review of The Barons' Crusade, p. 662.

English Historical Review, April, 2007, Peter Jackson, review of The Barons' Crusade, p. 527.

History, April, 2007, Christopher Allmand, review of The Barons' Crusade, p. 255.

International Journal of Middle East Studies, November, 2006, Niall Christie, review of The Barons' Crusade, p. 587.

Journal of Ecclesiastical History, July, 2006, Michael Angold, review of The Barons' Crusade, p. 578.

Medieval Review, September, 2006, Donald J. Kagay, review of The Barons' Crusade.


H-Net: Humanities and Social Sciences Online, (October, 2006), Sarah Lambert, review of The Barons' Crusade.

University of Minnesota College of Liberal Arts Web site, (May 19, 2008), faculty profile of author.

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