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
Victoria Wood, Kayvan Novak, Alexa Chung, Chris Moyles
tvReview: No soggy bottoms, but plenty of other baking disasters on The Great Comic Relief Bake Off
Arts and Entertainment
80s trailblazer: comedian Tracey Ullman
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Stephen Tompkinson is back as DCI Banks
tvReview: Episode one of the new series played it safe, but at least this drama has a winning formula
Arts and Entertainment
TV
News
Graham Norton said Irish broadcaster RTE’s decision to settle was ‘moronic’
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Attenborough with the primates
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Former Communards frontman Jimmy Somerville
music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Secrets of JK Rowling's Harry Potter workings have been revealed in a new bibliography
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Fearne Cotton is leaving Radio 1 after a decade
radio The popular DJ is leaving for 'family and new adventures'
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Public Service Broadcasting are going it alone
music
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne as transgender artist Lili Elbe in The Danish Girl
filmFirst look at Oscar winner as transgender artist
Arts and Entertainment
Season three of 'House of Cards' will be returning later this month
TV reviewHouse of Cards returns to Netflix
Arts and Entertainment
Harrison Ford will play Rick Deckard once again for the Blade Runner sequel
film review
Arts and Entertainment
The modern Thunderbirds: L-R, Scott, Virgil, Alan, Gordon and John in front of their home, the exotic Tracy Island
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Natural beauty: Aidan Turner stars in the new series of Poldark
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift won Best International Solo Female (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Shining star: Maika Monroe, with Jake Weary, in ‘It Follows’
film review
Arts and Entertainment

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith arrives at the Brit Awards (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Boleyn's beheading in BBC Two's Wolf Hall

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Follow every rainbow: Julie Andrews in 'The Sound of Music'
film Elizabeth Von Trapp reveals why the musical is so timeless
Arts and Entertainment
Bytes, camera, action: Leehom Wang in ‘Blackhat’
film
Arts and Entertainment
The Libertines will headline this year's festival
music
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Dean Anderson in the original TV series, which ran for seven seasons from 1985-1992
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.

    War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

    Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

    Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
    Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

    What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

    Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
    The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

    Setting in motion the Internet of Things

    British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
    Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

    Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

    Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
    Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

    Cult competition The Moth goes global

    The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
    Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

    Pakistani women come out fighting

    Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
    Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

    Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

    The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
    LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

    Education: LGBT History Month

    Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage
    11 best gel eyeliners

    Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

    Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Tournament runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

    Cricket World Cup runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

    The tournament has reached its halfway mark and scores of 300 and amazing catches abound. One thing never changes, though – everyone loves beating England
    Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

    Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

    After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
    Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

    Climate change key in Syrian conflict

    And it will trigger more war in future
    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
    Is this the way to get young people to vote?

    Getting young people to vote

    From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot