William of Tyre

While the West appropriated and developed the history of the Crusades in the manner we have described, a very remarkable man was engaged in Palestine with the praiseworthy object of giving to that kingdom a history of its past, and to Europe a " memorial for the future. He wrote with a strong feeling of patriotism, and at the same time under the sad impression that he could only find solace for present sorrow in the recollection of former happiness. The means at his disposal and his personal character fitted him for the task. The strong and persistent energy with which he mastered his materials enabled him to produce one of the greatest historical works of the Middle Ages.

William of Tyre was born in Palestine, but we have no information as to the place of his birth or his parentage. 1 He was educated in Europe, most probably at Paris ; but this surmise is merely conjectural ; for he himself (our sole authority) only states that he quitted Syria about the year 1163, in order to pursue his studies. Pour years afterwards we find him an archdeacon of the Church of Tyre, a friend of King Amalric, and tutor to the subsequent I King Baldwin IV. Even at that time the King employed him in the most important negotiations ; he went to Greece in 1168, to ratify .an offensive alliance with the Emperor Manuel against Egypt. Personal affairs carried him to Rome in 1169. On his return, at the death of. the Bishop of Bethlehem, he was made Chancellor of the kingdom, and in I the year 1174 Archbishop of Tyre. 2 Prom that time, he was naturally considered one of the most important members of the aristocracy of the land ; he took an active part in all negotiations of any importance, and his influence was felt by all ranks throughout the kingdom. The time and place of his death are involved in mystery ; the information on this point given by Hugo Plagons is unworthy of credit, and scarcely deserves mention.

The idea of writing his history had occurred to William of Tyre in the year 1170. Besides his own wish, there was an additional reason in the command of King Amalric, at whose desire he had already written a history of the Arabs since the time of Mahomet. For this latter work he employed Greek and Arabic materials, above all the history of Saith, the Patriarch of Alexandria. Amalric also busied himself in procuring him materials, and doubtless much that was valuable in this book has been lost. It cannot be asserted that it would have been free from error. The work of William of Tyre which we do possess precludes such a supposition. But that work shows a more complete and scientific knowledge of Saracen life than any” of his contemporaries or coreligionists possessed. It appears that in the year 1182 he had nearly completed the collection of his materials ; at all events, he then began to put them into form ; and he mentions in several passages, in the first and nineteenth books, the year we have given as the time when he wrote them.  In 1184 he had completed twenty-two books, and brought down his narrative to the autumn of the preceding year. He was then in doubt whether to continue to portray the increasing miseries of those times, and determined to complete the history of the year 1184 in a twenty third book. But his purpose was not carried out, the work that has come down to us breaks off with the first chapter of that book.

The manner in which the author collected his materials appears to me similar to that already described. He wrote partly from information obtained from those who had still a vivid recollection of the past, partly from his own observation I and the honest reports of eye-witnesses. It is an important consideration, that the materials of his first fifteen books are still, for the most part, extant in their original sources. Albert of Aix, archbishop Baldrich, Fulcher of Chartres, Raymond of I Agiles, and Chancellor Gauthier, supply him with ; the materials for the First Crusade, and the reigns of Godfrey, Baldwin I., and Baldwin of Burg. We shall see further on what changes he introduced ; but, in general, the accuracy of the copy spares me the trouble of pointing out individual instances. Before passing, however, to the consideration of his own original contributions, I will notice a few doubtful points.


Sybel (H.), The History And Literature Of The Crusades, London, 1861.

Atiya (A. S.), The Crusade: Historiography and Bibliography, London, 1962.

Brundage, (J. A.), "Recent Crusade Historiography: Some Observations and Suggestions", CHR (49), 1964.

Edbury (P. W.), William of Tyre: Historian of the Latin East, Cambridge University Press, 1988.