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Jonathan Riley-Smith

Jonathan Riley-Smith
Dixie Professor of Ecclesiastical History
University of Cambridge
In office
Preceded byChristopher N. L. Brooke
Succeeded byDavid Maxwell
Personal details
Jonathan Simon Christopher Riley-Smith

27 June 1938
Harrogate, England
Died13 September 2016(2016-09-13) (aged 78)
Parent(s)William Henry Douglas Riley-Smith
Elspeth Agnes Mary Craik Henderson
Alma materTrinity College, Cambridge

Jonathan Simon Christopher Riley-Smith GCStJ FRHistS (27 June 1938 – 13 September 2016) was a historian of the Crusades,[1] and, between 1994 and 2005, Dixie Professor of Ecclesiastical History at Cambridge.[2] He was a Fellow of Emmanuel College, Cambridge.[3]

Early life

Riley-Smith was the eldest of four children born into a prosperous Yorkshire brewing family. His maternal grandfather (to whose memory he later dedicated his book What Were the Crusades?) was the British Conservative Party MP, John Craik-Henderson (1890-1971).[4]

He attended Eton College and Trinity College, Cambridge, where he took his BA (1960), MA (1964), PhD (1964), and LittD (2001).[5]

Academic career

Riley-Smith taught at the University of St Andrews (1964–1972), Queens' College, Cambridge (1972-1978), Royal Holloway College, London (1978–1994) as well as at Emmanuel (1994–2005).[2][3] His many respected publications on the origins of the crusading movement and the motivations of the first crusaders have deeply influenced current historiography of the crusades:[6] in an appreciative obituary, a senior colleague described Riley-Smith as "quite simply the leading historian of the crusades anywhere in the world".[7]

He was appointed a Knight of Grace and Devotion of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta and a Bailiff Grand Cross of the Most Venerable Order of the Hospital of Saint John of Jerusalem.[8]

Riley-Smith appeared in the documentary series Crusades (1995) as an historical authority. However, the series adopted the outdated views of Steven Runciman, which were not held by the interviewed experts. The producers then edited the taped interviews so that the historians seemed to agree with Runciman. Riley-Smith said of the producers that "they made me appear to say things that I do not believe!"[9] In 2006, he delivered the Gifford Lectures on The Crusades and Christianity at the University of Edinburgh.[10]

Personal life

Riley-Smith was a convert to Catholicism.[5] He married Louise Field, a portrait artist, in 1968.[11][12] Their three children include the singer/songwriter Polly Paulusma.

Jonathan Riley-Smith died on 13 September 2016.[13]


  • The Knights of St John in Jerusalem and Cyprus, c. 1050–1310 (London, Macmillan, 1967, reprinted 2002)
  • Ibn al-Furat (1971). Jonathan Riley-Smith (ed.). Ayyubids, Mamlukes and Crusaders: Text. Vol. 1. Translation by Malcolm Cameron Lyons, Ursula Lyons. W. Heffer. ISBN 9780852700587.
  • Ibn al-Furat (1971). Jonathan Riley-Smith (ed.). Ayyubids, Mamlukes and Crusaders; selections from the Tarikh al-duwal wa'l-Muluk. Vol. 2. Translation by Malcolm Cameron Lyons, Ursula Lyons. Cambridge: W. Heffer.
  • The Feudal Nobility and the Kingdom of Jerusalem, 1174–1277 (London, Macmillan, 1973, reprinted 2002)
  • What Were the Crusades? (London, Macmillan, 1977, 2nd edition 1992, 3rd edition Basingstoke, Palgrave, 2002)
  • The Crusades: Idea and Reality, 1095–1274, with Louise Riley-Smith (London, Edward Arnold, 1981)
  • The First Crusade and the Idea of Crusading (London and Philadelphia, Athlone/ University of Pennsylvania Press, 1986, paperback US 1990, UK 1993)
  • The Crusades: A Short History (London and New Haven, Athlone/ Yale University Press, 1987, also in paperback, translated into French, Italian and Polish)
  • The Atlas of the Crusades (editor) (London and New York, Times Books/ Facts on File, 1991, translated into German and French)
  • The Oxford Illustrated History of the Crusades, editor (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1995, paperback 1997, now reissued as The Oxford History of the Crusades, paperback, 1999, translated into Russian, German and Polish)
  • Cyprus and the Crusades, editor, with Nicholas Coureas) (Nicosia, Society for the Study of the Crusades and the Latin East and Cyprus Research Centre, 1995)
  • Montjoie: Studies in Crusade History in Honour of Hans Eberhard Mayer, editor, with Benjamin Z. Kedar and Rudolf Hiestand (Aldershot, Variorum, 1997)
  • The First Crusaders, 1095–1131 (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1997, paperback 1998 and 2000)
  • Hospitallers: The History of the Order of St. John (London, The Hambledon Press, 1999, also in paperback, translated into Russian)
  • Al seguito delle Crociate Rome (Di Renzo: Dialoghi Uomo e Societΰ, 2000)
  • Dei gesta per Francos: Etudes sur les croisades dιdiιes ΰ Jean Richard, editor, with M. Balard and B.Z. Kedar (Aldershot (Ashgate), 2001)
  • The Crusades, Christianity, and Islam (Columbia University Press, 2008)
  • The Knights Hospitaller in the Levant 1070–1309 (Basingstoke, 2012)


  1. ^ Andy Soltis; Richard Johnson (5 May 2005). "Knight Clubbing - Historians' Jihad Vs. 'Heaven'". New York Post. Archived from the original on 6 March 2016. Retrieved 25 December 2010.
  2. ^ a b Jonathan Phillips (19 September 2016). "An appreciation of the great historian of the Crusades". History Today Ltd. Retrieved 21 January 2018.
  3. ^ a b George Garnett (6 October 2016). "Jonathan Riley-Smith obituary". Scholar of the Crusades whose books promoted the public’s interest in his subject. The Guardian, London. Retrieved 10 August 2017.
  4. ^ Jonathan Riley-Smith (21 April 2009). What Were the Crusades?. Palgrave Macmillan. p. 8. ISBN 978-1-137-14250-4.[permanent dead link]
  5. ^ a b "Jonathan Riley-Smith, historian of the medieval Crusades - obituary". The Telegraph. Daily Telegraph, London. 21 September 2016. Retrieved 10 August 2017.
  6. ^ "Jonathan Riley-Smith on the Motivations of the First Crusaders | Andrew Holt, Ph.D". 8 June 2016. Retrieved 15 September 2016.
  7. ^ David Abulafia (August 2017). "Obituary: Jonathan Riley-Smith 1938-2016". History at Cambridge. 9. Faculty of History, Cambridge: 10.
  8. ^ "Order of St John". The Gazette. 22 April 2013. Archived from the original on 6 January 2022. Retrieved 15 September 2016.
  9. ^ Thomas F. Madden. "Crusade Myths". Ignatius Insight. Archived from the original on 7 October 2021. Retrieved 28 July 2022.
  10. ^ "Gifford Lectures". University of Edinburgh.
  11. ^ "Index entry". FreeBMD. ONS. Retrieved 10 August 2017.
  12. ^ "Cambridge colleges head porters in portrait show". BBC News. 4 June 2016. Retrieved 4 June 2016.
  13. ^ "Professor Jonathan Riley-Smith 1938-2016". Cambridge University. 14 September 2016. Archived from the original on 16 August 2017. Retrieved 14 September 2016.
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Jonathan Riley-Smith
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