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18.02.08, Handyside, The Old French William of Tyre

18.02.08, Handyside, The Old French William of Tyre

The present work is a preliminary study in preparation of an edition of the anonymous L'Estoire d'Eracles, the Old French translation of the Historia rerum in partibus transmarinis gestarum by William, archbishop of Tyre. Since there are presently only two nineteenth-century editions--in the Receuil des historiens des croisades (1844) and by Paulin Paris (1879-80)--a modern edition is indeed a desideratum.

In the first chapter the author reviews existing scholarship. The Old French translation is a text that has thus far received relatively little attention from modern historians. Nevertheless, several authors have highlighted a (limited) number of interesting differences between the original chronicle and the translation (Morgan, Pryor, Claverie, Madureira).

In the second to eighth chapters the author discusses various translation techniques that were used. He concludes convincingly that the translation was made to render William's chronicle more accessible to a lay audience, resulting in the suppression of much of the classical, biblical and ecclesiastical material.

In chapter nine the author confirms earlier findings that the translator had a special connection with France. He adds information with regard to crusaders from various French regions and principalities, adds praise for the French king Philip II, and has a good knowledge of French affairs in general. The author, however, sees no valid arguments for a possible connection with Flanders, which has been suggested in the past. An interesting point the author makes is the rather favourable disposition (compared with archbishop William) towards the controversial (and French) Renaud of Châtillon, first prince of Antioch and later lord of Oultrejourdain.

From a reference to the Vlachs and Cumans in Bulgaria the author plausibly deduces in chapter ten that the translation was probably made after the establishment of the Latin empire of Constantinople in 1204 as a consequence of the Fourth Crusade (which brought those populations to western attention). Some other isolated elements likewise point in the direction of some interest in the Byzantine and Balkan regions, and also in the Italian peninsula. The obvious errors the author commits, however, show that he had no extensive knowledge of these regions.

In chapters 11 and 12 the author paints a tentative picture of the anonymous translator's identity. The translator was a cleric connected with the Augustinian abbey of Saint-Victor in Paris. Handyside also notices the translator's interest in and sympathy for Thomas Becket, who preached in that abbey in 1170. From various additional (geographical, customary, etc.) details that seem to stem from personal experience, it can be deduced that the translator probably travelled to the Latin East during his lifetime. He shows himself critical of the Templars, but favourably disposed towards the Hospitallers. The translation was presumably made around 1219-1223 (during or after the Fifth Crusade's siege of Damietta and before the death of the French king Philip II).

In the second part of the book (chapters 17 to 27) Handyside provides an able discussion of the existing editions and of the complex manuscript tradition (with reference in chapter twenty-six to the various Old French continuations of the Eracles translation), along with a new edition of a number of sample chapters based on his findings. In doing so the author is up to a point depending on the work previously done by (inter alia) Peter Edbury and Jaroslav Folda.

In conclusion, it must be said that Philip Handyside has written a very readable and competent study. This book offers perhaps no great new insights--in the sense that it rather confirms the earlier assessment by various scholars that the Eracles translation remains contentwise very faithful to archbischop William's original text--but at the same time it should be said that the author has successfully resisted the temptation to come up with "stretched" innovative conclusions. Perhaps one could have wished that the author had delved a little deeper into the significance of this text as one of the earliest examples of vernacular historiography (cf. Gabrielle Spiegel).

Whether this study will provide a "significant tool" for studying medieval Europe and the Latin East--as the author hopes--remains to be seen, but awaiting the new edition of the entire Eracles translation it is nevertheless a book that students of the Latin East should consult. William's Historia and its translations and continuations are sources of fundamental importance for anyone interested in this region and period. Any minor or major step forward in our knowledge and understanding of these sources is to be welcomed.