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21.04.11 Galvez, The Subject of Crusade

The Medieval Review

21.04.11 Galvez, The Subject of Crusade


The scope and value of this study are indicated by the subtitle: it will find its true audience among literary scholars rather than historians of the crusades. The readings and views that follow, it should therefore be noted, are those of a historian and not of an expert in medieval literature. Nevertheless, there is much for a historian to find of interest in Marisa Galvez's close analysis of some less obvious ways in which the crusading experience framed, informed, and suggested imagery for medieval lyric and romance.

After the introduction that explains the author's methodology and terminology, the first four substantive chapters present key poems in their original languages and English translation, and discuss those who wrote them in the period 1150 to 1300. Thus, chapter 1 presents the Châtelain d'Arras as a crusader on the point of departure for the Fifth Crusade (1217-1221); in "Aler m'estuet" he laments the heart that he is leaving with his lady and sets up the tension between earthly and celestial chivalry. As Galvez points out, the poem should be read in the context of Pope Innocent III's emphasis on crusading as a penitential activity and the importance of inner contrition as well as confession. The Châtelain, however, could express only courtly unrepentance. By way of comparison, Galvez introduces Thibaut of Champagne, also known as Thibaud IV of Champagne, king of Navarre, who directed the Barons' Crusade (1239-1241). Thibaut's poem "Dame, ensi" begins with the same conflicted crusader, but ultimately the knight renounces earthly love for devotion to Jesus Christ and the Virgin Mary. In both poems, Galvez concludes, the motif of the heart expresses ambivalence between earthly and spiritual chivalry. In the second chapter the geographical and linguistic range of the study is expanded to examine poets writing in Middle High German and Occitan. The three Minnesang lyricists discussed participated in the Third Crusade (1187-1191) and wrote songs of departure like their French counterparts, but in a more generalized and philosophical way: their crusaders are renouncing the earthly love of all ladies as they reflect on the tension between this love and the crusade. The dominant image in Friedrich von Hausen's "Mîn herze und mîn lîp diu wellent scheiden" is the separation of the heart from the body that this renunciation entailed, which meant failure as a crusader because he lacked the right intention a crusader should have. In other poems by Hausen and by Hartmann von Aue, the crusader turns to God as an act of will. One of the two Occitan lyricists, Jaufre Rudel, participated in the Second Crusade (1147-1150); the second, Peire Vidal, is problematical: his life story is known only from his songs and there is no evidence that he was a crusader. According to his own testimony he spent time in the Holy Land, either attached to the court of the count who was related to the counts of Toulouse or as a pilgrim. The persona in his lyrics should therefore be distinguished from the poet himself. Galvez recognizes a change by beginning to refer to "crusader-pilgrims," but note that she is beginning to drift away from "the subject of crusade" with its focus on "right intention" into departure lyrics in a more generalized sense, though their composers were undoubtedly influenced by the crusade experience and by their predecessors and peers who recorded it.

In the late thirteenth century, Jakemés, the poet at the centre of chapter 3, fictionalized the story of the castellan of Coucy (probably Gui, who went on the Third Crusade and was himself a trouvère), merging it with the myth of the "eaten heart" wherein the dying crusader requests that his heart be returned to his lady after death. In the myth the lady unwittingly eats the heart, served to her by the husband she betrayed. The "separated heart" has thus become real and its fate symbolizes the failure of "right intention" in the fictive crusader. The lady's lament when (in Jakemés' version) she believes she has eaten the heart is the departure lyric recast. It echoes the use of the female voice in, for example, Marcabru's poem contemporary with the Second Crusade and other earlier lyrics. Galvez's exploration of the poets' diction in these laments on departure and loss is particularly strong. It is at this point, however, that the historian begins to ponder on the author's definitions of "crusade" and "crusader", for the next chapter, devoted to the romance Perlesvaus, asserts rather than demonstrates that Lancelot, the Arthurian knight, was a crusader. It can certainly be argued that descriptions of violence in the anonymousPerlesvaus were influenced by the first cycle of crusade epics that was produced at about the same time (1200-1210), but since in the Perlesvaus Lancelot is unrepentant of his love for Guinevere, the romance surely reflects traditions of courtly love rather than the crusader's struggle with departure and separation that links the poems already discussed by Galvez. This chapter ends with a discussion of the poem's patron, Jean II de Nesle, and the manuscript that records this. It is interesting in two ways: because Jean went on the Fourth Crusade (1202-1204) and because Galvez promised in her introduction to draw on a "variety of materials and forms of reference" (21) and the manuscript itself is described and illustrated.

This prepares the ground for a chapter about the construction of the "crusader-poet" that uses historical objects as points of access. There is much speculation about a Chinese-style sword on a tomb effigy and a crusader's epitaph (now lost), which provides uncertain ground for such a construction. Manuscripts of Thibaut IV de Champagne, whose crusade lyrics were analysed earlier, and Raimbaut de Vaqueras, a Fourth Crusade participant, illustrate by the placement of individual lyrics within them a genre-fluidity related to their elite social status. This applies as well to the Cypriot settler Jehan de Journi, also of north-eastern French aristocratic lineage, who versified the vernacular prayer called "Prône", an exercise in "performative reconfiguration" (189) and to the prosimetric works of the Templar of Tyre and Philip of Novara, which are compared with Rutebeuf's lament "La Complainte d'outre-mer". The sixth chapter, at first sight a fifteenth-century outlier, addresses the magnificent Feast of the Pheasant held in 1454 by Philip the Good of Burgundy with the object of recruiting a crusade in response to the fall of Constantinople to the Turks. Detailed discussion of the subtext and context of descriptions, tapestries and manuscripts reveal Jason, the crusader-figure, as an ambiguous crusader. A short conclusion summarises the investigation's findings with regard to what are now called "responses to holy war and to becoming a holy warrior" (253), perhaps more accurate terms than "crusade and crusader" to describe the elite activity and figure under discussion.

The book is attractively produced, with an appealing cover illustration, black-and-white figures in-text and an insert of colour plates. However, the content and density of argument belong in a monograph and here they are not supported by the necessary critical apparatus. There are endnotes rather than footnotes, and the use of author and short title for second and subsequent references makes their use very difficult in the absence of a bibliography. The index appears to have been prepared by word-searching a PDF rather than reading the text for more general and oblique subject references. This is a richly researched investigation of the interaction of crusade and courtly lyric that may not reach its intended audience.