Joseph François Michaud (1767-1839)

Educational Background

Michaud was educated at the College of Bourg, Gresse.

Career Notes

In 1786 Michaud took employment in Lyons with a publishing house. During the French Revolution he wrote in support of the royalist cause as a political journalist and pamphleteer based in Paris; he was also later critical of Napoleon, and was arrested and imprisoned many times for his overtly anti-revolutionary output. Upon his release from prison he pursued his research on the history of the crusades, which resulted in the first part of his multi-volume history in 1812.

In 1830–1 Michaud travelled to the eastern Mediterranean to gain first-hand knowledge of the Holy Land and the surrounding region, a journey that informed a subsequent edition of his Histoire. The correspondence that Michaud generated during his travels was published in seven volumes between 1833 and 1835.

Interests, Influences and Methodologies

Michaud was keen to collect and implement a wide range of sources, including Arabic material. Michaud was assisted in his research from 1819 by the orientalist Joseph-Toussaint Reinaud (1795–1867), and in 1829 he published his Bibliothèque des croisades. This work consisted of four volumes of sources in French translation: volumes I to III were western sources, respectively originating from France (volume I), England and Italy (volume II), and the Nordic countries (volume III); volume IV was made up of Arabic sources that had been translated by Reinaud (Irwin: p 222; Siberry: p 6).

Michaud’s nationalist and royalist tendencies were also hugely influential on his approach to the history of the crusades. For Michaud, the efforts of the crusaders of the eleventh to thirteenth centuries were to be regarded with a sense of national pride and as a source of inspiration, and his works encouraged his readers to regard the crusades as a ‘French’ achievement. Tyerman has written of Michaud’s output that its ‘uncritical antiquarianism reflected the preoccupations of author and audience’ (Tyerman: p 116), whilst Ellenblum argues that ‘Michard was the first [modern historian] to “nationalise” the Crusades’ (Ellenblum: p 31). For example, Michaud made the following assessment of the First Crusade, which is in many respects comparable to the way twelfth-century writers such as William of Malmesbury and Pope Eugenius III viewed the expedition and its ‘heroic’ participants:

If many scenes from this great epoch excite our indignation or our pity, how many events fill us with admiration and surprise! How many names made illustrious in this war are still today the pride of families and of the nation! What is the most positive of the results of the First Crusade is the glory of our fathers, this glory which is also a real achievement for a nation, for these great memories establish the existence of peoples as well as that of families, and are, in this respect, the noblest source of patriotism (Cited in Munholland: p 150).

In this ‘romantic’ treatment of the crusades, Michaud’s approach was also influenced by François-René de Chateaubriand (1768–1848), who is said to have stimulated a ‘new enthusiasm for the Middle Ages in the first half of the nineteenth century ... [and] a desire to correct Voltaire’s dismissals of the crusades and a desire to find a positive lesson in them’ (Munholland: p 146).

Contribution to Crusader Studies

In some respects, Michaud was one of the founding fathers of crusader studies; his Histoire des croisades has recently been referred to as ‘a major landmark in European crusade historiography’ (Siberry: p 8). A multi-volume work, the Histoire went through numerous editions in the nineteenth century, and was translated into English, German, Italian and Russian. It also established a narrative model and a multi-volume format for crusading scholarship that was to be followed by many later writers. However, given Michaud’s ‘romantic’ approach to the subject, his works are now mostly of value to modern scholars of medievalism.

The publication of Michaud’s Bibliothèque des croisades was also of great significance; in the words of Siberry, ‘for the first time a crusade scholar unable to read Arabic could see both sides of the story, Christian and Moslem’ (Siberry: p 6). Michaud’s Bibliothèque des croisades was also an influence on the activities of the Academie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres, which was responsible for the production of the Recueil des historiens des croisades (Paris, 1841–1906), a multi-volume collection of sources on the crusades written from ‘western’, ‘eastern’, ‘Greek’ and ‘Armenian’ perspectives. Michaud himself was a member of the Academie, and his colleague Reinaud was involved in the editing of the Arabic texts. Many of the critical editions contained in the RHC are still used by modern scholars of crusading and the Latin East.

Select Publications

‘Tableau historique des trois premières croisades’, [An introduction to S Cottin, Mathilde, ou Mémoires tirés de l’histoire des croisades (London, 1809)].

Histoire des croisades, 6 vols (Paris, 1812–22).

Histoire des quinze semaines (Paris, 1815).

Bibliothèque des croisades, 4 vols (Paris, 1829).

Correspondence d’Orient, 7 vols (Paris, 1833-5).

Histoire des croisades à l’usage de la jeunesse, 2 vols (Paris, 1844).


L Bréhier, ‘Joseph François Michaud’, The Catholic Encyclopaedia, vol 10 (New York, 1911). Available online at

R Ellenblum, Crusader Castles and Modern Histories (Cambridge, 2007).

R Irwin, ‘Orientalism and the Early Development of Crusading Studies’, The Experience of Crusading, Volume 2: Defining the Crusader Kingdom, ed PW Edbury and JP Phillips (Cambridge, 2003), pp 214-30.

K Mulholland, ‘Michaud’s History of the Crusades and the French Crusade in Algeria under Louis-Philippe’, The Popularization of Images: Visual Culture under the July Monarchy, ed P ten-Doesschate Chu and GP Weisberg (Princeton, 1994), pp 144-65.

JSC Riley-Smith, ‘Islam and the Crusades in History and Imagination, 8 November 1898 – 11 September 2001’, Crusades, vol 2 (2003), pp 151-67.

JSC Riley-Smith, The Crusades: A History, 2nd Edition (London, 2005).

E Siberry, The New Crusaders: Images of the Crusades in the 19th and Early 20th Centuries (Aldershot, 2000).

C Tyerman, The Invention of the Crusades (Basingstoke, 1998).


Written by: Dr William Purkis