contributor.author: John Tolan

title.none: Ailes and Barber, eds., The History of the Holy War (John Tolan)

identifier.other: baj9928.0501.029 05.01.29

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: John Tolan, Universite de Nantes, john.tolan@numericable.fr

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2005

identifier.citation: Ailes, Marianne, and Malcolm Barber, eds. The History of the Holy War: Ambroise's Estoire de la Guerre Sainte, 2 vols. Woodbridge: Boydell, 2003. Pp. xv, 211; xix, 214. $125.00 1-84383-001-9. ISBN: .

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 05.01.29

Ailes, Marianne, and Malcolm Barber, eds. The History of the Holy War: Ambroise's Estoire de la Guerre Sainte, 2 vols. Woodbridge: Boydell, 2003. Pp. xv, 211; xix, 214. $125.00 1-84383-001-9. ISBN: .

Reviewed by:

John Tolan
Universite de Nantes
john.tolan@numericable.fr

Ambroise, a Norman jongleur who accompanied Richard the Lionheart on the third crusade (1189-92), sometime between 1194 and 1199 penned his Estoire, a poem in 12313 rhymed octosyllabic verses, celebrating Richard's exploits on the crusade. Ambroise's poem is an essential first-hand source for the history of the crusade, a fascinating window on the mentality of twelfth-century crusaders, and a interesting piece of Anglo-norman poetry.

Marianne Ailes has provided a new edition of the French text and an English translation. She has also furnished notes and sections of the introduction pertaining to the linguistic and literary dimensions of the text. Malcolm Barber has written the historical sections of the introduction and has provided extensive notes on the events Ambroise narrates, with references to recent scholarship. They have provided an extremely useful and thorough treatment of an important text.

The Estoire survives in one "complete, but corrupt, manuscript" in the Vatican (Ailes gives a brief description, 1:xi, but makes no attempt to date the manuscript); there is also a single-leaf fragment of the text. There are two previous editions of the Estoire: Gaston Paris in 1897 produced an edition in which he intervened energetically to normalize spelling, meter and rhyme, correcting what he deemed scribal errors. Paul Amash (in an unpublished PhD dissertation, 1965) produced an edition that Ailes describes as "very conservative, effectively a transcription with punctuation. No real attempt is made to solve the textual problems." Ailes has sought to aim between these two extremes, providing what she describes as a "conservative" edition, yet intervening when the text seems corrupt. The result is a good edition in accord with modern editing practice. For those wishing to read the French text, a glossary would have been useful. The information is there, but in the notes of the translation: thus a reader wishing to know the probable meaning of "vent de boire" (l.2302) or "leonardie" (l.4602), will have to refer to the notes to the English translation.

In her translation, Ailes has rendered Ambroise's octosyllabic verses into clear, readable prose. In so doing, she provides a text that is accessible and informative for the student of history. By the same token, the result is something that looks deceptively like a prose chronicle; in prose form, inevitably, much of the charm of Ambroise is lost, as is the text's affinity with other verse forms (notably hagiography and verse romance).

The third crusade, in the wake of Saladin's capture of Jerusalem in 1187, raised high hopes throughout Europe, as Christendom's three most powerful princes set off to recapture Jerusalem: Emperor Frederic I Barbarossa, King Philip II Augustus of France, and King Richard I Lionheart of England. The expectations were dashed: Frederic died en route, Philip returned to France after the capture of Acre, and the crusade slogged on under Richard's leadership without being able to capture Jerusalem. Ambroise's aim is to exculpate Richard for any blame in the failures of the crusade, in the face of criticism:Mais meintes genz non sachanz distrent Puis plusors feiz par lor folie Qu'il n'orent rien fait en Sulie, Quant Jerusalem n'ert conquise; Mais n'orent pas bien l'ovre enquise, Ainz blamerent ço qu'il ne sorent, E ço ou onques lor piez n'orent. Mais nos veïmes qui i fuimes, Qui ice veimes e sumes E n'en devom mie de ço mentir Que li autre i soffrirent Por amor Deu, que nos eilz virent. "Many ignorant people say repeatedly, in their folly, that [the crusaders] achieved nothing in Syria since Jerusalem was not conquered. But they had not inquired properly into the business. They criticize what they do not know and where they did not set their feet. We saw it who were there; we saw this and knew it, who had to suffer, we must not lie about others who suffered for the love of God, as we saw with our own eyes." (12188-200)

Throughout, Ambroise defends Richard against criticism, implicit or explicit. He justifies Richard's actions in Sicily and his conquest of Cyprus--the latter, he affirms, proved essential to supplying the crusaders. He presents Richard's massacre of 2700 Muslim prisoners at Acre as just vengeance: he did it "Et por lor lei desaengier,/ Et por cristiente vengier" (to "disgrace their religion and avenge Christianity," 5528-29).

The Saracens or Turks (Ambroise uses both terms more or less interchangeably) are "la gent que Deus maudie" ("the race accursed by God," 3224 and passim). One finds standard epic association of Islam with paganism: Ambroise refers to the "ost des paens" ("army of pagans," 2288 and passim); he has them fight under "l'enseigne Mahumet,/Qui esteit portraite en somet" ("the standard of Mohammed, whose image was there," 3364-5). They swear by "Mahomet qu'em aore" ("by Mohammed, who is worshiped," 6876). They are in cahoots with the Devil (2170, 6305). Whereas the crusaders are the "genz Deu" ("people of God), the Saracens are "li poeples al diable" ("the Devil's people," 6352-53). The Turks show their hostility to Christianity by desecrating crucifixes (3700-24). Ambroise uses frequent animal comparisons to denigrate the enemies, in particular chenaille ("pack of dogs," passim).

Yet in curious discord with this image, elsewhere Ambroise expresses his admiration for the Saracen adversaries. Of the Muslims of Acre, whom he had so often qualified as dogs, he says "Fierre iert la gent e orgoillose/ En la cite e meveillose./ Se ce ne fust gent mescreue/ Onques mieldre ne fud veue" ("The people in the city were an incredibly proud and arrogant people. Had they not been infidels no better people could ever have been seen," 5060-5063). This echoes the Chanson de Roland's praise of pagan king Marsile. Various Turks, from Saladin or his brother Saphadin to common soldiers, express their admiration for Richard's prowess, in the standard trope of the enemy who recognizes the valor of the true hero.

Indeed, others fare worse than the Turks under Ambroise's pen. The tyrant of Cyprus (whom Richard overthrows) is "Plus traitor e plus felon/ De Judas ou de Guenelon" ("more treacherous and more evil than Judas or Ganelon," 1384-5). When Richard "Vit la rive tote coverte,/ De la grezesche gent colverte,/ Peors Sarazins ne velt querre" ("saw the shore covered with the perfidious Greeks, he had no desire to hunt out Saracens worse than these," 1430-32). The real villains in Ambroise's Estoire are not Saladin and his Turks, but rather Philip Augustus, Conrad of Montferrat, and the French knights. If Richard was unable to capture Jerusalem, it was not his fault, but rather that of his bickering subordinates, many of whom were more interested in frequenting Acre's brothels than in taking back the holy city. In the days of Charlemagne, of Agoland, or of the first crusade, affirms Ambroise, the knights did not bicker so, but rather obeyed their leaders and conquered.

Indeed, as Richard and his troops move through the Mediterranean, what Ambroise sees is a landscape marked of course by biblical history, for example when he affirms that the towers of Ascalon were built by Ham's 32 sons (8012-8029). Yet even more present to Ambroise is the lieux de memoire of epic: when describing Messina, Ambroise recalls that Agoland took it (in the Chanson d'Aspremont) (l.516). He on a number of instances refers to the great exploits of heroes of yesteryear: Charlemagne, Roland, the knights of the first crusade. Where the Latin clerical chroniclers of crusade viewed their surroundings through biblical filters, and hence portrayed the crusaders as the army of God in language reminiscent of Maccabees, Ambroise's mental categories and literary references owe more to the worlds of epic and romance.

Ailes and Barber are to be commended for making this interesting and important text accessible in a good edition and translation with extensive and useful notes.