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21.04.19 Edgington (trans.), Baldric of Bourgueil, “History of the Jerusalemites”

The Medieval Review

21.04.19 Edgington (trans.), Baldric of Bourgueil, “History of the Jerusalemites”

Until recently, Baldric of Bourgueil's Historia Ierosolimitana (c. 1105)was the most neglected of three Latin histories of the First Crusade composed by northern French Benedictines in the early twelfth century with the ostensible purpose of retelling the story of the first-hand Gesta Francorum in a more polished style. While the study of Robert the Monk's own Historia Iherosolimitana (c. 1110)and Guibert of Nogent's Dei gesta per Francos (1107-8)has benefited from the appearance of new editions, translations, and analyses since the late 1990s, Baldric's Historia received less frequent attention prior to the publication of Steven Biddlecombe's critical edition of the text in 2014, which represents a major improvement on the flawed version printed in the Recueil des historiens des croisades in 1879. In his introduction, Biddlecombe remarked on the curious absence of a complete translation of Baldric's Historia in any modern language and expressed the hope that his edition would "provide the opportunity for scholars to undertake [the] work [of translation] in the knowledge that they have a reliable and thorough critical edition to work from." [1] This hope was echoed by several of the book's reviewers. [2]

Just over six years later, Biddlecombe (or rather, Baldric) has finally found his translator in Susan Edgington. Few scholars working in the field today are equally (let alone better) suited to the task: students of crusading history will need no introduction to Edgington's excellent work as a Latinist, best exemplified in her monumental Oxford Medieval Texts edition and translation of Albert of Aachen's Historia Ierosolimitana (2007), reprinted in 2013 without the parallel Latin text in the Ashgate (now Routledge) series Crusade Texts in Translation. In collaborating with Biddlecombe, who writes the introduction to this long-awaited new--and complete--English version of Baldric's Historia, Edgington's express aim is "to provide a translation...that is both accurate and conveys some of [Baldric's] vivid detail" (ix). The vividness of this translation is indisputable, and must be commended; its correspondence to the original Latin, however, is a slightly more complicated matter.

Before examining Edgington's translation in more detail, it is important to acknowledge Biddlecombe's useful and lucid introduction, which performs the essential task of orienting readers who may be unfamiliar with Baldric of Bourgueil. As Biddlecombe argues, "it is probably fair to consider [Baldric]--poet, hagiographer and historian--one of the most eminent, versatile and influential authors of his time and place" (11). So widespread, in fact, was admiration for Baldric as a writer in the Middle Ages that Nicholas Paul has suggested that his fame in his own time "has been at least partly to blame for the relative neglect of his work among modern historians." [3] Thanks both to the extensive introduction to Biddlecombe's 2014 edition and his prefatory contribution to this new translation of the Historia, readers who are not well-versed in the study of Baldric's world now have access to a reliable and well-referenced overview of his career and literary achievements. Though less extensive than its 2014 counterpart, Biddlecombe's introduction to Edgington's translation nevertheless presents an illuminating discussion of Baldric's life and works. Biddlecombe explores the relationship between the Historia, the Gesta Francorum, and the chronicles of Robert the Monk and Guibert of Nogent, offering a stimulating response to Carol Symes's 2017 paper on the sources behind the Benedictine histories; [4] Baldric's perspectives on the Byzantines and other eastern Christians; the possible influence of Baldric's geographical context, the Loire Valley, on his narrative treatment of individual crusaders, such as Ralph of Beaugency; and his attitude towards Stephen of Blois, who famously deserted the crusade at Antioch in 1098. The introduction concludes with a concise overview of the Historia's manuscript tradition and the text's medieval reception.

For all its strengths, the introduction lacks one or two arguably crucial features. First and foremost, there is no discussion of the principles underpinning Edgington's translation. This omission seems all the more striking when considered against Biddlecombe's detailed overview of his own editorial conventions in the 2014 edition. More confusingly for the uninitiated, perhaps, is the absence of any clear justification for the inclusion of "the significant additions" (ix) from Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, ms. lat. 5513 ("MS G") that are translated separately in Appendix 1. Though these additions are flagged in both the preface and the second footnote to the introduction, Biddlecombe and Edgington do not explain either what MS G is--aside from the brief observation that it "was probably created in Tours for a local Angevin lord" (1, n. 2)--or why its embellishments of Baldric's original textare important. There is no denying that bringing these additions into the translation as an appendix was a thoughtful choice, but non-expert readers may be left wondering what makes this particular manuscript so valuable. They will need to turn to Biddlecombe's edition of the Historia and Nicholas Paul's paper on local crusading traditions in twelfth-century Amboise for deeper insights. [5]

Turning to Edgington's translation itself, the first point to make is that it is extremely readable. Following the example set in her previous work, Edgington renders Baldric's prose into English in an engaging style that conveys the flair of the Latin original without being encumbered by overzealous imitation of the source text's syntax. Anybody who has ever had to translate an entire medieval Latin chronicle will know how difficult it is to strike an appropriate balance between fidelity and fluency, but it must be said that, for the most part, Edgington achieves this admirably, capturing the peculiar resonances of Baldric's literary voice in a way that renders his often rather tricky Latin both intelligible and lively to anglophone readers more than nine centuries after the event. Nevertheless, Edgington's textdoes contain certain errors and omissions that it would be remiss of a reviewer not to identify.

Occasional mistakes in rendering individual Latin words and phrases into English are inevitable in the process of producing any translation, and Edgington's version of Baldric's Historia is no exception to this rule. In many cases, these errors are relatively inconsequential: for example, when Pope Urban II, whom Baldric labelsdisertus seminiuerbius, is described as "eloquent in a rather garrulous sort of way" (45), even though "an eloquent orator" or "an eloquent preacher" would be more accurate, or when the imperative verbs exerite and uibrate are translated as present indicative participial constructions, i.e. "you are stretching forth and brandishing" (49), or the superlative adverb amarissime is rendered as "bitterly" (117), rather than "most bitterly," or the phrase nimio correpti pauore appears as "overcome by panic fear [sic]" (126), when it should be "overcome by excessive fear." In other instances, more problematic errors misconstrue the Latin in a way that obscures the sense of Baldric's words. When the Byzantine emperor Alexios I Komnenos buys weapons from the crusaders quatinus inermes suis minus nocere possent, for example, Edgington's translation reads "so that once weaponless they could do less harm to themselves" (56), but the reflexive adjective suis here clearly refers back to Alexios and conveys his concern that the crusaders would harm "his men." Later in the text, when extolling the crusading army's (allegedly) communal attitude to property, Baldric writes in a result clause that uix aliquis aliquid sibi diceret proprium. In the translation, this is rendered as "someone scarcely said something belonged to him" (66), but the precise meaning appears instead to be that "scarcely anyone said [that] anything belonged to him." Bohemond's words si uobis sanum uidetur, optimates, et domino are presented in the translation as "if it seems sensible to you, leaders and lords" (81), but this rendering fails to convey the dative singular form of domino ("to the Lord"). Towards the end of the Historia, in the course of discussions regarding whom to appoint as patriarch of Jerusalem, Baldric remarks that Regnum sacerdocio indiget; sacerdocium regno sustentandum et tutandum est, but the Latin word sacerdocium (sacerdotium) is confusingly rendered as "priest" rather than "priesthood" in English, giving rise to the problematic reading: "The kingdom needs a priest; the priest must be maintained and protected by the kingdom" (150). Such errors can occur easily during the laborious process of translation, but they should ideally be discovered and emended at the editorial stage.

Less understandable, and more detrimental to the overall accuracy of the translation, is the occasional omission of words, phrases, and even entire clauses. Individual missing words, though vexing, are usually not fundamental to the sense of the text, as for example when regalibus honorificentiis is translated simply as "with honours" (43), not "with royal honours," but their absence can cause problems, as when Yaghi-Siyan's son Shams al-Dawla utters the imperative Deus propera igitur, which appears inexplicably in English as "Therefore hurry up" (102), not "Therefore hurry up, God." It is the omission of whole phrases and clauses that poses the most serious problem in both the main translation and the additions from MS G in Appendix 1. A few examples will suffice to illustrate the point. The phrase a tirannis hostibus obsessam ("besieged by tyrannical enemies")is omitted from the overview of Jerusalem's historical misfortunes at the beginning of Book I (43). Soon after, the phrase in Ierusalem et in Antiochia et in ceteris orientalis plage ciuitatibus ("in Jerusalem and in Antioch and in the other cities of the eastern region") is missing from the opening lines of Urban II's address at Clermont, deploring the various disasters and hardships inflicted on the Christians of the East (45). The warning of Kerbogha's mother to her son lacks Hec igitur singula discreciori consideranda essent cautela ("Each of these things must be considered with very discerning caution") in translation (106). In Appendix 1, the statementGentiles uero omnes in municipio castelli aufugerunt ("But all the gentiles fled into the fortified part of the castle") does not appear in the English rendering of Baldric's account of the crusaders' attack on Nablus (171). Singling out omissions such as these is not intended to disparage the skills of an eminent translator whose scholarship is widely--and rightly--respected (including by this reviewer), but rather to caution readers untrained in Latin that this version of Baldric's text is not quite as exhaustive as they may believe.

Though Appendix 1 displays some of the same issues as the main translation, its inclusion in this book is pleasing, given both the uniqueness and frequency of the additions to Baldric's Historia in the version preserved in MS G. Biddlecombe and Edgington have shown real intellectual generosity in making these additions available in English for the first time, and teachers seeking to introduce their students to the various branches of the First Crusade narrative tradition in precise regional contexts will no doubt put this helpful appendix to great use. (It is worth noting, however, that similar consideration could have been given to significant variants in other copies of the Historia, such as the lengthy addition to manuscripts F, L, and R that highlights the deeds of Hugh of Vermandois and other French nobles at the Battle of Antioch.) [6] Teachers and students will also find much to like in Appendix 2, which helps to unburden the text of excessive footnotes by providing further details about people and places featured in the Historia. That being said, the emphasis here is on key figures and locations: non-expert readers wanting to learn more about the Agulani (one of many ethnic labels that Baldric and other western chroniclers applied to Muslims) will be left wondering, and those seeking further discussion of "the valley of Botentrot" (76) or precise geographical information about Mamistra, Marash, the "castle called Arech" (80), Homs, Tortosa, and other places must look elsewhere. Expecting to find a translation accompanied by an all-encompassing gazetteer is not, of course, entirely reasonable, but the absence of a detailed map of Asia Minor from the otherwise excellent set of maps included in the book may leave some readers hoping to find just a little more detail in Appendix 2.

Despite its problems, this translation of Baldric of Bourgueil's Historia Ierosolimitana is a welcome addition to Boydell's growing series Crusading in Context, and makes a significant contribution to the study of the twelfth-century French Benedictine histories of the First Crusade. Biddlecombe and Edgington's book will bring Baldric to the attention of a wider audience than ever before and enable new generations of students who cannot read Latin to explore his unique perspective on crusading. Thanks to the authors, such readers can now obtain a much fuller picture of the process by which Robert, Guibert, and Baldric subjected the narrative of the Gesta Francorum to what Jonathan Riley-Smith famously called "theological refinement." [7] The caveat in this case is that they would do well to read Edgington's translation carefully alongside Biddlecombe's edition if they wish to gain a comprehensive understanding of Baldric's Historia.



1. Steven Biddlecombe (ed.), The Historia Ierosolimitana of Baldric of Bourgueil (Woodbridge: Boydell, 2014), lxxv.

2. Albrecht Classen, review of The Historia Ierosolimitana of Baldric of Bourgueil, ed. Steven Biddlecombe,Mediaevistik 27 (2014), 337–38, at 338; Helen J. Nicholson, The Historia Ierosolimitana of Baldric of Bourgueil, ed. Steven Biddlecombe, Catholic Historical Review 101 (2015), 619–20, at 620; Christopher J. Tyerman, The Historia Ierosolimitana of Baldric of Bourgueil, ed. Steven Biddlecombe, English Historical Review, 130, no. 546 (2015), 1203–1205, at 1205.

3. Nicholas L. Paul, review of The Historia Ierosolimitana of Baldric of Bourgueil, ed. Steven Biddlecombe,Speculum 91:2 (2016), 456–58, at 457.

4. Carol Symes, "Popular Literacies and the First Historians of the First Crusade," Past and Present 235 (2017), 37–67.

5. Nicholas Paul, "Crusade, Memory and Regional Politics in Twelfth-Century Amboise," Journal of Medieval History 31 (2005), 127–41.

6. Biddlecombe (ed.), Historia Ierosolimitana, 82 (note 'r' in the apparatus).

7. Jonathan Riley-Smith, The First Crusade and the Idea of Crusading (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 186), 135–52.