J.L. Nelson

J.L. Nelson teaches medieval history at King’s College London. She is writing a book about Charlemagne.

Eastern Promises: The Christian Holy War

J.L. Nelson, 29 November 2007

On 15 July 1099, a Christian army perhaps 14,000 strong captured Jerusalem after a five-week siege and three years’ campaigning. A contemporary witness reported slaughter on such a scale that ‘crusaders rode in blood to the knees and bridles of their horses.’ Christopher Tyerman quotes this twice, in full and slightly abbreviated forms, noting that the chronicler was...

In the summer of 782, ‘4500 Saxon prisoners were beheaded on a single day at Verden on the River Aller in northern Saxony, on the orders of Charlemagne, King of the Franks.’ So, bluntly, reported the author of the Royal Frankish Annals, the main Frankish narrative for the period, which were written up in 790 or so. By the time those annals had been put into print at Cologne in...

Patrick Geary’s The Myth of Nations is more timely than he could have anticipated. ‘Historians have a duty to speak out,’ he writes, ‘even if they are certain to be ignored.’ Why such passion, such a sense of contemporary engagement, in a book about the very early Middle Ages? Since 1989, this period – between the third and eighth centuries – has been...

Catharama: Heretics

J.L. Nelson, 7 June 2001

The medieval Cathars have often been thought of as distinctively Southern French. In fact, they are first securely documented, and named, as a distinct group in the mid-12th-century Rhineland. These Cathars were probably directly influenced by 11th-century sectaries in the Byzantine Empire – one suggested derivation of ‘Cathar’ is from Greek katharós,...

What a Woman! Joan of Arc

J.L. Nelson, 19 October 2000

Every year on 8 May, a young woman dressed in armour and carrying a white banner rides in procession through the streets of Orléans in north-central France. Dignitaries of Church and State join in commemorating an event and a life. The event is the French relief of the city, after months of siege by the English, in 1429; the life is that of Joan of Arc, a 17-year-old girl from Lorraine told...


Charlemagne’s Piety

19 August 2004

The notion that the Reformation made art ‘no longer sacred’ keeps company in Joseph Koerner’s The Reformation of the Image with a view of medieval religion as a magical business in which a passive laity was only marginally involved. Eamon Duffy does well to end his review of Koerner by discussing two images of the ‘devout inwardness’ of late medieval Catholic devotion...

Joan who?

19 October 2000

W.S. Milne (Letters, 16 November) quite rightly points out that Charles Péguy’s writings about Joan of Arc had ‘effects’ in the years around 1900. I hadn’t meant to ignore those, but in suggesting that Joan was ‘little known in France until the First World War’, I was reflecting on early 20th-century survey evidence noted by Eugen Weber in Peasants into Frenchmen...

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