Professor Jonathan Riley-Smith (1938-2016) is one the world’s foremost historians of the crusades. He worked at the universities of St Andrews, Cambridge, Royal Holloway, University of London, before he returned to Cambridge as the Dixie Professor of Ecclesiastical History in 1994 until his retirement in 2005. Riley-Smith has addressed three basic main issues concerning the crusades: the definition of a crusade; the motives of crusaders; and the establishment and rule of the western settlers in the Holy Land.
What were the Crusades? first appeared in 1977 (fourth edition, 2009), prompted a reappraisal of the scope and longevity of the crusading movement, extending the geographical and conceptual range of the subject well beyond a traditional framework of expeditions to the Holy Land between the First Crusade and the Fall of Acre (1291).
The First Crusade and the Idea of Crusading (1986) and The First Crusaders, 1099-1131 (1996) brought powerful new understandings of, most particularly, the myriad motives of the early generations of crusaders as individuals, as members of family networks and as a representation of contemporary religiosity. These themes are also apparent in his work on the Military Orders. Riley-Smith is a leading authority on the history of the Military Orders, most especially the Knights of St John (the Knights Hospitaller), through The Knights of St John in Jerusalem and Cyprus, c 1050-1310 (1967) and The Knights Hospitaller in the Levant c.1070-1309 (2012). He originated the highly successful quadrennial international conference on the history of the Military Orders, first held in 1992. This close understanding of the history of the Frankish East extended into broader processes of structure and government and formed the core of The Feudal Nobility and the Kingdom of Jerusalem 1174-1277 (1973).
Jonathan Riley-Smith was a co-founder of the Society for the Study of the Crusades and the Latin East (1980), the foremost international organization for scholars in the field and has supervised almost 30 doctoral students.
The Revised Regesta, Riley-Smith's current project on the charters of the Latin East and the translation of many hundreds of the surviving charters from the Latin East is opened now to the broader public.