Last Night's Viewing: The Crusades, BBC2
Jonathan Meades on France, BBC4

 

When James of Vitry, new Bishop of Acre, arrived at his see in 1216, he apparently wasn't terribly impressed. The earlier Christian Crusades had left behind a string of Crusader statelets down the Mediterranean coast and Acre, close to Jerusalem, had become the most important port in the region, a gateway for pilgrims and a centre for trade. Piety it didn't do nearly as well. In fact, Bishop James thought it was all a bit Gomorrah-on-Sea, distressing proof that the ideals of the earlier Christian adventurers had been corrupted by economic power and pragmatic exchange. In the last of his interesting series The Crusades, Thomas Asbridge showed us a rather literal token of this accommodation between theological purpose and day-to-day profit – gold coins minted by the Crusader knights in imitation of Egyptian Islamic originals. When it came to cash they were open to multi-faith dialogue, however intransigent they might be when on their knees praying.

This episode was about the fizzling out of the Crusades, one of the more ignoble European enterprises of the last millenium. But if you'd assumed that it would be dull on account of that, you'd have been wrong. Louis IX might not be as well known as Richard the Lionheart or other Crusader kings, but he makes up for his obscurity in incompetence and fanaticism. Spooked by a near-fatal fever into making a big promise to God, Louis ignored the advice of his sensible mother, "mortgaged France" and set out with 25,000 knights and a fleet of some 1,800 ships to re-establish Christian rule in the Middle East. His plan was a bold one – to advance on Cairo itself. Initially, it looked as if God was in favour of the tactics. Louis' beach landing at Damietta was successful, but then God changed his mind. After various military disasters and reverses, Louis was captured alive, so ill with dysentery that a hole had been cut in his britches. His piety undiminished by this fiasco, he was eventually canonised by the church, which sometimes has a hard time distinguishing between sanctity and derangement.

 

Louis IX wasn't really the star here, though. That title went to Baibars, a Mamluk commander who'd helped to defeat Louis' Crusade in Egypt and then led the Mamluks into battle at Ain Jalut. Never heard of Ain Jalut? No, I hadn't either, which is a little shaming since it has some claim to being one of the hinge engagements in Western history, a famous defeat for the Mongol army (which was within 60 miles of Jerusalem) and the moment at which the Mamluks began to build the empire that would eject the Crusader forces. Baibars re-established a caliphate in Cairo and invested heavily in the infrastructure that would help maintain the Mamluk empire. Asbridge concluded by repudiating the received opinion that Islam and the West are doomed always to be at loggerheads, citing evidence for a more pragmatic engagement between two different cultures. The fact that Baibars' name has been taken by at least one Islamist terror group suggests that not everyone draws the same lessons from history that he does.

In Jonathan Meades on France, the presenter was in a pretty gnomic mood, even for him, in the last of his films about the country – a free-form meditation on France's unacknowledged infatuation with America. A programme less suited to a post-prandial sofa slump it is hard to imagine, unless your definition of vegging out allows for phrases such as "malodorous Canutism" (a description of the French anti-globalist José Bové, who sometimes makes his points with cowshit). But, like its predecessors, it really repays the effort. I had no idea that William Levitt, father of American suburban sprawl and little boxes all made of ticky-tacky, had also been commissioned to build in France, initiating a proud tradition of Gallic rural blight. Sometimes, my ignorance is the only thing that keeps me going.

Arts and Entertainment
'Banksy Does New York' Film - 2014

Art Somebody is going around telling people he's Banksy - but it isn't the street artist

Arts and Entertainment
Woody Allen and Placido Domingo will work together on Puccini's Schicchi

Theatre

Arts and Entertainment
The sixteen celebrities taking part in The Jump 2015

TV

Arts and Entertainment
British author Helen Macdonald, pictured with Costa book of the year, 'H is for Hawk'
booksPanel hail Helen Macdonald's 'brilliantly written, muscular prose' in memoir of a grief-stricken daughter who became obsessed with training a goshawk
Arts and Entertainment
Tom DeLonge has announced his departure from Blink-182

music
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
In the picture: Anthony LaPaglia and Martin Freeman in 'The Eichmann Show'

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Kirkbride and Bill Roache as Deirdre and Ken Barlow in Coronation Street

tvThe actress has died aged 60
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Marianne Jean-Baptiste defends Joe Miller in Broadchurch series two

tv
Arts and Entertainment
The frill of it all: Hattie Morahan in 'The Changeling'

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny may reunite for The X Files

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson, left, and Richard Hammond upset the locals in South America
TV
News
A young woman punched a police officer after attending a gig by US rapper Snoop Dogg
people
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third
books

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game are both nominated at the Bafta Film Awards
Arts and Entertainment

Academy criticised after no non-white actors nominated

Arts and Entertainment
Damian Lewis shooting a scene as Henry VIII in Wolf Hall
TV

Arts and Entertainment
A history of violence: ‘Angry, White and Proud’ looked at the rise of far-right groups

tv

An expose of hooliganism masquerading as an ideological battle

Arts and Entertainment

art

Lee Hadwin can't draw when he's awake, but by night he's an artist

Arts and Entertainment

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Michael Keaton in the 1998 Beetlejuice original

film

Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'

TV

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

    Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
    Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
    Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

    Has The Archers lost the plot?

    A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee
    World War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel

    Max Brooks honours Harlem Hellfighters

    The author talks about race, legacy and his Will Smith film option to Tim Walker
    Valentine's Day cards: 5 best online card shops

    Don't leave it to the petrol station: The best online card shops for Valentine's Day

    Can't find a card you like on the high street? Try one of these sites for individual, personalised options, whatever your taste
    Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

    Greece elections

    In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
    Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

    Holocaust Memorial Day

    Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
    Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

    Magnetic north

    The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Homeless in Wales can find inspiration from Daniel’s story

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    Homeless in Wales can find inspiration from Daniel’s story
    Front National family feud? Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks

    Front National family feud?

    Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks
    Pot of gold: tasting the world’s most expensive tea

    Pot of gold

    Tasting the world’s most expensive tea
    10 best wildlife-watching experiences: From hen harriers to porpoises

    From hen harriers to porpoises: 10 best wildlife-watching experiences

    While many of Britain's birds have flown south for the winter, it's still a great time to get outside for a spot of twitching
    Nick Easter: 'I don’t want just to hold tackle bags, I want to be out there'

    'I don’t want just to hold tackle bags, I want to be out there'

    Nick Easter targeting World Cup place after England recall