Thomas Fuller and the Crusades


Perhaps before entering into any analysis of both the character and craft of Thomas Fuller, it would be a good idea to provide some biographical information on the man. He was, in fact, born in 1608 in the English county of Northamptonshire.

Early Education

Fullers initial education was provided by his own father who was the rector of the local church. Nonetheless, it would appear that his father was more than adequate as educator as the young Thomas was to enter Queens College, Cambridge at twelve years of age. He subsequently gained his BA in1625 and his MA some three years later. Shortly after, he decided to transfer himself to Sidney College where his prowess as a preacher suitably developed during his term as Minister of St Benets Church.

Early Success

His success continued to gain momentum from then on as in the year of 1631 he was to both see himself elected fellow of Sidney College and enjoy his first publication. As with many writers who go on to enjoy success as prose writers his first publication was poetical in genre. In addition, as Henry Rogers alludes to in his biography An Essay on the Life and Genius of Thomas Fuller his work was to betray the quaintness that was characteristic not only of the writer himself but also of his period. In fact, in many ways Fuller is exemplary of the seventeenth-century religious writers of whom the term quaint can be categorically applied.

Nonetheless, the publication in 1639 of his historiography of the crusades, History of the Holy War was met with accolades that were to cement his reputation.

History of the Holy War

Indeed the style of this book ensured that one thing Fuller could never be accused of was being tedious. Perhaps the most outstanding feature of Fullers account of the crusades is how it is replete with the wit that is so characteristic of his genius. However, as the English poet Coleridge noted, “This very attribute has defrauded him of his due praise for the practical wisdom of his thoughts – for the beauty and variety of the truths into which he shaped the stuff”.

Nevertheless for all his, perhaps often inappropriate, use of wit his form never took on that of satire. Although often blatantly caustic it was generally tinged with light-hearted humor and never bitter. A “sly irony” is how Rogers perhaps best describes it.

Fullers work is suitably constructed so as to allow himself the freedom to digress, as he quite regularly does. Often, seemingly unrelated stories and ramblings fill up the pages generally where and when he pleases. For this purpose his histories tend to be divided up into small sections that are often entirely unrelated both to each other as well as the main subject in hand.

For him, any interesting fact or anecdote deserves inclusion provided they have at least some passing reference to the events he is ultimately portraying. Furthermore, Fullers imagination, which he readily employs throughout his writings on the crusades, was often capable of reaching heights of both exquisite beauty and poetic grace. Often enclosing maxims of great wisdom, his prose was replete with powerful and moving metaphor which is perhaps the most effective way of ensuring they suitably reach the reader.

Man of the People

The style of writing particular to Fuller generally tends to avoid the mannerisms of many of his contemporaries such as the tendency to include Latinisms. In fact, his style lends more to an idiomatic diction that is much closer to an Anglo Saxon derivation. Moreover, his sentences are generally more simply constructed than many other writers of this period. There are two possible reasons for this: The first reason is probably tied to his inherently practical nature, however possibly more telling is the fact that Fuller would spend hours and hours exchanging conversation with the ordinary people.

He was not a reclusive bookworm (as was typical of many writers) rather he would much prefer to gather materials for his work by listening to the stories and views of the people around him. To all this we have to add that his reflections and his images are more often than not both highly unique and, while often a little far-fetched and certainly quaint, also quite beautiful. Often his prose is pleasantly surprising, employing turns of phase for which the reader is usually unprepared.

In fact there are perhaps few writers certainly within the English language tradition who can match him for his constant and quick fire variety of expression. In his History of the Holy War we find many examples of this, such as his expression for giving what he calls ” a Pisgah-sight, or Short Survey of Palestine in general”. On a final note, perhaps his approach can be best expressed in his own words when he says, “Some men are of a very cheerful disposition; and God forbid that all such should be condemned for lightness”.