Post-classical history

Fulcher of Chartres (d. c. 1127)

A participant in the First Crusade (1096-1099) and author of a Latin history dealing with the crusade and subsequent events in Outremer up to 1127.

Fulcher was probably born in Chartres around 1059, and he was educated for the priesthood. He responded enthusiastically to Pope Urban II’s preaching of the crusade (although it is disputed whether he was at the Council of Clermont in November 1095), and set off with the army of Stephen of Blois in October 1096. This army wintered in southern Italy, leaving Bari for Constantinople (mod. Istanbul, Turkey) in April 1096, and proceeding from there into Asia Minor.

In October 1097 Fulcher became chaplain to Baldwin of Boulogne (later king of Jerusalem) until Baldwin’s death in 1118, and he remained in Outremer until his own death in 1127 or soon thereafter. His close association with Baldwin meant that he was in Edessa (mod. Şanlıurfa, Turkey) and its environs during the sieges of Antioch (mod. Antakya, Turkey) and Jerusalem 1097-1099, and so he was not an eyewitness to these events, which he described using the account of Raymond of Aguilers and the anonymous Gesta Francorum. However, Fulcher was able to give a first-hand account of how Baldwin achieved power in Edessa. When Baldwin went to Jerusalem as successor to his brother Godfrey of Bouillon (autumn 1100), Fulcher accompanied him and remained in the kingdom of Jerusalem as his chaplain. For the next twenty-seven years, Fulcher’s history is a unique and invaluable source for the early years of the Frankish settlement.

Fulcher’s Historia Hierosolimitana was written to celebrate the success of the First Crusade, in response to urging by “a comrade.” This, along with his use of the other eyewitness accounts, suggests he began to write soon after he arrived in Jerusalem in 1100. The first version of his history appeared in 1106, and it may have been completed with a view to circulation as propaganda for a new crusade. Its enthusiastic reception encouraged Fulcher to continue his work in 1110, summarizing events in the intervening four years; thereafter he revised the early part of the work twice, and continued to write year by year until 1127, when his chronicle ends abruptly. Fulcher was the best educated of the Latin eyewitnesses of the First Crusade. He quoted, sometimes rather ineptly, from a range of classical and biblical texts and occasionally included short verse passages, some of them making enigmatic use of astrological dates and times. He had a keen interest in natural history and phenomena and described strange plants and animals he observed on his travels, though usually with reference to Solinus, the classical author through whose work Pliny’s observations on natural history were accessible to medieval schoolmen.

Although Fulcher was at the side of Baldwin I during his entire reign as king of Jerusalem (1100-1118), he is disappointingly reticent about the politics of church and state. He describes with enthusiasm an expedition beyond the Dead Sea in 1100 and seems to have been present on campaigns until 1111 or 1112, leaving detailed accounts of them. The evidence suggests that he spent more and more time in the city of Jerusalem, neither accompanying Baldwin I when he went north to assist Roger of Antioch in 1115, nor going with him into Egypt in 1116 or 1118. On this last journey Baldwin died, and Fulcher appears not to have served his successor, Baldwin II (1118-1131), as chaplain, nor traveled with him. He was in his sixties by this time, and apparently devoted his time to writing his history in Jerusalem. His loyalty to his adopted land is expressed in a remarkable and often quoted passage written in the 1120s, in which he tells how the Frankish settlers had come to think of themselves as Orientals and to be at home in Outremer.

Fulcher’s work was eagerly adopted by other writers as early as 1105-1106, when two anonymous authors (one known as Bartolf of Nangis) produced versions with some added details. The same text was probably used by Guibert of Nogent, Ekkehard of Aura, and Radulph of Caen, all writing soon after 1106. Fulcher’s first redaction, which finished in 1124, was used by Orderic Vitalis and by William of Malmesbury. William of Tyre, writing in the 1170s, also used Fulcher (with other sources) for his account of the First Crusade and the reigns of Baldwin I and Baldwin II. As in the case of other eyewitness accounts, William’s elegantly written narrative overshadowed Fulcher’s more naive history. More than fifteen copies of Fulcher’s Historia Hierosolimi- tana are extant; the earliest is MS Cambridge, University Library, Ii.iv.4.

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