Crusade Literature

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Specifically literary, as opposed to homiletic, writing related to the crusades survives from around the time of the Second Crusade, in the form of crusade songs composed by Occitan troubadours and French trouvéres. For literary accounts of the First Crusade we have to wait for the Old French Crusade Cycle, a series of epics almost all composed in the 13th and 14th centuries.

Crusade epic. This material exists in three forms: a cycle with individual epics arranged in chronological order; a form in which an attempt has been made to produce a continuous, homogenous narrative and a much shorter prose version. The most developed form of this cycle includes twelve poems, most of which deal with Godefroi de Bouillon (La Naissance du Chevalier au Cygne, Les Enfances Godefroi, for example) and with major events of the expedition and the founding of the crusader kingdom (La Chanson de Jérusalem, La Prise d'Acre ). It is generally agreed that La Chanson d'Antioche, in its original form, is the closest in date of these epics to the events it describes and that, it may well have been the work of an eyewitness. However, it has only survived in a 12th-century redaction by Graindor de Douai.

The chanson de geste which is closest to, indeed more or less contemporary with the events which it relates is the Occitan Canso de la Crotzada (the title is modern), an account of the Albigensian Crusade by two poets, the first half by one Guilhem de Tudela who writes from the viewpoint of the French crusaders and the second by an anonymous author, closely associated with the Occitan defenders of the domains of Count Raimon of Toulouse.

Crusade songs and poetry. The earliest crusade songs, by the troubadours Marcabru and Cercamon, written at or just before the time of the Second Crusade, are among the most remarkable of the genre and effectively prescribe the themes for their successors. Marcabru's "Vers del lavador" was perhaps the most famous of all troubadour songs. It criticizes those who fail to support God's enterprise or who do so in a spirit which is less than totally committed and generous and reminds his listeners of the need to support the Reconquista as well as the Outremer crusade. In 118889, Gaucelm Faidit applauds Richard Coeur de Lion's decision to take the cross but points out that it is actually going that counts, and Peirol, in 1221, warns the Emperor Frederick II of the consequences should he fail to undertake his promised expedition. Later songs, by French leaders such as Conon de Béthune (Fourth Crusade) and Thibaut de Champagne (Crusade of 1238) continue to use participation in the crusade as a touchstone for courtoisie and chevalerie. The image of the beloved left behind lamenting her absent crusader is frequently exploited but rarely with such lyrical and erotic force as in Guiot de Dijon's "Chanterai por mon corage" (early 13th century). The Parisian poet, Rutebeuf, writing at the time of the expeditions of Saint Louis produced twelve poems in which he eloquently argued the case for enthusiastic participation in the crusades by knights and barons. In Germany, Minnesinger, such as Walther von der Vogelweide and Hartmann von Aue, wrote in much the same vein, while Neidhart von Reuental, in 'Ez gruonet wol diu heide' provides a graphic account of the hardships and political in-fighting associated with Frederick II's expedition of 122829.

Histories and chronicles. The Third Crusade saw the earliest surviving histories. The Chronique d'Ernoul et de Bernard le Trésorier recounts the events of 1187, including the defeat at Hattin, and the Histoire de la guerre sainte by Ambroise provides an account of the crusade in 12,000 lines of verse. The major histories in French are those of the Fourth Crusade by Robert de Clari, a simple knight, and the Conqueste de Costentinoble by Geoffroi de Villehardouin, an important official, closely involved in the planning of the expedition. Joinville's Vie de saint Louis is not so much an official history of Louis IX's crusades as an almost hagiographical portrait of the king combined with an often picturesque and anecdotal account of the expeditions of 1248 and 1270. German histories are of much later date: the two most interesting, Die Kreuzfahrt des Landgrafen Ludwigs des Frommen von Thüringen and Ottokar's Österreichische Reimchronik appear in the early 14th century and deal respectively with the Third Crusade and with the loss of Acre in 1291. In Spain, La gran conquista de ultramar was composed for the King of Castile, Alfonso el Sabio in the late 13th century.

Romances. Few romances have crusades as their primary subject or setting. The most notable exceptions are Jean d'Arras's Mélusine (138294), which deals with the legendary ancestry of the Lusignan family, and the Catalan Joanot Martorell's Tirant lo Blanc (146068), a gripping adventure story set primarily in Rhodes. However, the crusades are an important and recurrent motif in many romances well into the Renaissance. The most striking innovation is provided by Wolfram von Eschenbach's Parzival (c. 1200) in which the quest for the Grail is identified with the quest for the Holy City and, it has been argued, with major political questions concerning succession to the Empire and the throne of Jerusalem.

Theatre. The crusades even find a reflection in contemporary theatre. The earliest full-length miracle play in French, Jehan Bodel's Le Jeu de saint Nicolas (120002), places the familiar story of St Nicholas's protection of an unbeliever's treasure in the context of a war between a Saracen king and his Christian neighbors. When St Nicholas restores the treasure, all but one of the Saracens convert to Christianity.

Italy. A 15th-century Italian history of the crusades provides a good illustration of the continuity of the tradition. This general survey, by Benedetto and Leonardo Accolti, De Bello a Christianis contra Barbaros gesto pro Christi sepulcro et Judfa recuperandis libri tres (Venice, 1452) derives principally from William of Tyre's chronicle (written before 1184) but served as the source for Torquato Tasso's epic masterpiece about the First Crusade, Gerusalemme liberata (157475), one of the most influential works of the Renaissance period.

Bibliography: f. w. wentzlaff-eggebert, Kreuzzugsdichtung des Mittelalters (Berlin 1960). j. a. nelson and e. j. mickel eds., The Old French Crusade Cycle (Tuscaloosa-London 197795). s. duparc-quioc, Le Cycle de la Croisade (Paris 1956). m. routledge, "Songs," in The Oxford Illustrated History of the Crusades, ed. j. riley-smith (Oxford 1995). h. j. nicholson, Love, War and the Grail. Templars, Hospitallers and Teutonic Knights in Medieval Epic and Romance, 11501500 (Leiden 2001).

[m. j. routledge]