The corpus of Middle Dutch literature contains many texts related to the history of the crusades. The precise relationship takes diverse forms, ranging from the use of crusade motifs in stories otherwise unconnected with the crusades to those texts (on which this survey concentrates) in which the crusades form the central theme. Works of the latter type can in most cases be connected with crusade historiography in Latin or with the corpus of Old French crusade epics and romances. The texts offer a variety of perspectives on the historical crusades, but they are always revealing in terms of the contemporary public perception of crusading.
Die scone historie hertoghe Godevaerts van Boloen is a late fifteenth-century prose text connected with Latin crusade historiography. It survives only in printed form (Gouda, c. 1486), as an exquisite folio incunabulum of 100 leaves with 22 different woodcuts. Its immediate source is a Latin printed text, the Historia de itineris contra Turcos (Cologne, c. 1472), which derives primarily from the histories of the First Crusade by Robert of Rheims and Fulcher of Chartres.
The parts taken from Robert’s Historia Hierosolymitana are to a large extent identical with his text as known from the manuscripts, but that taken from Fulcher’s chronicle deviates from the known tradition. In the Cologne printed version, a letter from the Byzantine emperor Alexios I to Robert II of Flanders was added to the chronicle materials; in the Middle Dutch Scone historie this letter was omitted, while the prologue and other preliminary material known from the manuscript tradition and the Cologne print were replaced by an original prologue in Middle Dutch, based on that in the De coniuratione Catilinae by the Roman historian Sallust. This substitution clearly reveals the historiographical intentions of the anonymous Dutch adaptor, who shows himself to be a very accurate translator (although he changed the book’s structure with respect to books and chapters). Two copies of the Scone historie are known: Utrecht, Univer- siteitsbibliotheek, Thomaasse, rariora kast I, 31-2, and Leiden, Universiteitsbibliotheek, Thyss.1993). The text seems to mark the beginning of “scholarly” crusade historiography in the Dutch-language area.
Godevaerts kintshede and the Roman van Antiochië are Middle Dutch adaptations in rhymed couplets of the Old French Enfances Godefroi and Chanson d’Antioche, made by an anonymous Flemish poet; his patron probably belonged to the circle of one of the dukes of Brabant, either John II (d. 1312) or John III (d. 1355), whose ancestor Henry I (d. 1235) was involved as a patron in the production of the Old French Crusade Cycle. Fragments of a single manuscript survive in the form of eight strips of parchment, preserved in four libraries (MSS Wien, Osterreichische Nationalbibliothek, 15393; Gent, Universiteitsbibliotheek, 1647; Brussel, Konin- klijke Bibliotheek, IV 209,10; and Leuven, Private Collection of J. Deschamps). This manuscript stems from the first half of the fourteenth century; the translation is probably from the same period. The surviving parts of Godevaerts kintshede (60, partially damaged lines) belong to the episode in which Godfrey of Bouillon organizes a show of arms to deceive the Muslim king Cornumarant, who has travelled incognito to the West to gauge the strength of the Christians (Enfances Godefroi, lines 1585-2088). Of the Roman van Antiochië, 175 (partially damaged) lines survive, revealing similarities with and deviations from the Chanson d’Antioche. Clearly recognizable is the episode in which the Saracen defenders of Antioch make a sortie from the Iron Gate, as well as a passus from the episode known as the “Embassy of Sansadoine” (Chanson d’Antioche, lines 3127-3316 and 4454-4513). The Middle Dutch text also preserves two battle scenes, with a certain “Reymbaut” and Bohemund I and Tancred of Antioch as protagonists. These two scenes indicate either that the Old French source was adapted or that an idiosyncratic version of the source was translated. The fact that the fragments of both branches belong to the same manuscript is a strong indication that the complete Old French Crusade Cycle was translated into Middle Dutch.
Boudewijn van Seborch is a translation of the Old French crusade romance Baudouin de Sebourc, of which 430 (partially damaged) lines survive on four strips of parchment, belonging to two different manuscripts (MS München, Uni- versitātsbibliothek, 2° Cod. 756, and Amsterdam, Universiteitsbibliotheek, E q 73a). The rather free translation was made by an anonymous Fleming in the second half of the fourteenth century, perhaps commissioned by someone belonging to the courtly circles of Hainaut-Holland (the Old French source also has a Hainaut background). The surviving lines tell of the departure of Arnoud, king of Nijmegen, on a rescue mission to Outremer (Baudouin de Sebourc, lines 112-259) and of the siege by his son Esmereit of the city of Nijmegen, previously captured by the traitor Gaufroot (Baudouin de Sebourc, lines 3447-3560). The story is loosely connected with the history of the crusades: this text—as well as the three next described—belongs to the complex sometimes known as the “Second Crusade Cycle.”
The Roman van Saladin is a translation of the lost Old French verse romance known as the proto-Saladin. Only 160 (partially damaged) lines survive on two strips belonging to the same parchment bifolium (MS Praha, Univerzita Karlova, no shelfmark). The translation, by an anonymous West Flemish poet, dates from the second half of the fourteenth century. The remnants tell of combat scenes in which Gheeraert, son of Hughe van Tabarien, fights the Saracen Solimant, and Gheeraert and his brother Seghin fight the Saracen King Clariant. The importance of the fragments is in their age: they constitute the oldest remnants of the Western tradition of Saladin romances, which include two Old French prose versions of the Saladin and the Middle Dutch Dystorie van Saladine, all from the fifteenth century. Dysto- rie van Saladine is a verse adaptation of the Roman van Saladin, in 211 eight-line stanzas and one stanza of four lines (1,692 lines). The text is only known in printed form (Oude- naarde, c. 1480-1483, printer Arend de Keysere), of which two copies are extant (Washington, Library of Congress, Inc.1483 H 5 and Haarlem, City Library, 56 D 15). The
rhetorician Andries vander Meulen (from Oudenaarde) is sometimes held to be the author, but there is no conclusive evidence for this attribution. Comparison of the printed text with the fragments of the Roman van Saladin reveals the correspondences, but shows also that the stanzaic, crossed rhyme form of Dystorie undoubtedly caused an abridgement and deviations in content (lines 1273-1304 correspond to the surviving 160 lines of the Roman van Saladin). Further comparison with the two extant fifteenth-century Old French prose versions strengthens the hypothesis that the Middle Dutch printed version retained most of the plot of the lost Old French proto-Saladin intact. The story tells of Saladin’s conquest of Jerusalem, in which he captures Hughe van Tabarien. Hughe is forced to reveal the secrets and values of Christian chivalry to Saladin. Together with Hughe and Jan van Ponthieu (who appears to be a relative), Saladin travels incognito to Europe, to gauge the strength of the Christians. In Outremer the Christians manage to defeat Saladin, who baptizes himself shortly before his death. A continuation of the Roman van Saladin is given in the Roman van Cassant, which survives as 65 (partly damaged) lines on one strip of parchment (MS Gent, Universiteitsbibliotheek, 1732). The story, which has Cassant, son of Andries Chavengy, and Her- minette van Ermenyen (Armenia) as protagonists, is announced at the end of the Old French Bâtard de Bouillon, and it is likely that the Middle Dutch text was a translation of a lost Old French source.
The Ridder metter Swane is a Middle Dutch version of the well-known Swan Knight legend. This prose text (with rhymed monologues and dialogues) survives only in printed form. The oldest known print version stems from the early sixteenth century, but it was reprinted into the twentieth century (more than twenty-five editions are known). This version is remotely connected with that part of the Crusade Cycle that tells of the legendary ancestry of Godfrey of Bouillon. The printing history indicates that only the more fantastic parts of the story succeeded in retaining the attention of the literary audience.
Shortly before 1299 the Brabant poet Hein van Aken completed an adaptation of the Old French Ordène de Ché- valerie, entitled Vanden coninc Saladijn ende van Hughen van Tabaryen (35 eight-line stanzas in crossed rhyme). Not a crusade romance in the strict sense, it uses an episode from crusade history as a backdrop for a “narrative treatise” on the values and rituals pertaining to Christian chivalry. Sal- adin has captured Hughe van Tabaryen and presses to be initiated in Christian chivalry. At first Hughe refuses because Saladin is not a Christian, but then agrees to guide Saladin through the whole ceremony, explaining its symbolic details, although he does refuse to dub Saladin a knight.
In contrast to the works described so far, Seghelijn van Jherusalem is an original Middle Dutch chivalric romance (Flanders, c. 1350), in which borrowings from a great number of hagiographies and romances are discernible. This work gives the pseudobiography of Seghelijn, son of the Muslim king Prides of Jerusalem and his crypto-Christian wife Braffeleur. Seghelijn’s vicissitudes are connected to the story of St. Helena, mother of the fourth-century emperor Constantine, who was believed to have discovered the relic of the True Cross. The romance is highly fictional (Seghelijn becomes emperor of Rome and ends up as Pope Benedict I) and does not focus on the historical crusades. It is nevertheless important because it debates prominent elements of medieval crusade ideology and criticism in a narrative form. The poet argues that forced conversion is acceptable and uses the sins of the Christians as an explanation for their defeats at the hands of the Muslims (as is often done in Latin crusade chronicles). The character of Seghelijn is portrayed as a crusader par excellence, a miles Christi (“knight of Christ”), clad in the armor of a Templar, born with a cross between his shoulders and on his chest. The romance clearly refers to contemporary justifications of the crusades: the motifs of haereditas Christi (Jerusalem as the inheritance of Christ) and of the auctoritas principis (justification by the highest authority, the pope as vicar of God) appear, both used in the Latin tradition to define a crusade as a just war. As a narrative “treatise” on crusade theory, the romance was probably intended to propagate new crusade initiatives in a period when the Frankish states in Outremer were lost, and Islam was threatening Europe.
References to the crusades can also be found in many Middle Dutch historiographical texts, such as the Spiegel his- toriael (1283-1288), a world chronicle by the Flemish poet Jacob van Maerlant (c. 1230-c. 1290), who, following his source (the Speculum historiale of Vincent de Beauvais, with additions from Albert von Aachen’s Historia Hierosolymi- tana expeditionis), offers an elaborated overview of the First Crusade. Shorter references are found in Alexanders geesten (c. 1260), an adaptation of Gautier de Chatillon’s Alexan- dreis, also by Jacob van Maerlant, which makes reference, inter alia, to the siege of Antioch in 1097-1098 and the defense of Tyre by Conrad of Montferrat in 1187. Assuming that such information belongs to the common knowledge of his audience, Maerlant uses the references as geographical markers in a story set in the times of Alexander the Great.