Post-classical history

Philippe de Mézières (d. 1405)

Author and crusade theorist. Philippe de Mézières (Lat. Philippus de Maiseriis) was born in the diocese of Amiens around 1327, into a family of the lower nobility, and he received a good education.

Philippe enrolled in the Crusade of Humbert II of Viennois and fought against the Turks at Smyrna (mod. Izmir, Turkey) in 1346, where he was knighted. The following year, he made the pilgrimage to Jerusalem and experienced the first of two spiritual conversions: he believed that God had given him the inspiration for a new order, the Knights of the Passion of Jesus Christ, which would recover the Holy Land from the Muslims. Philippe then went to Cyprus, where he entered the service of King Hugh IV. He formed a friendship with the king’s son Peter, who also dreamed of a crusade and sent Philippe to the West to seek support for this aim in 1349. When Peter I became king of Cyprus, he appointed Philippe as his chancellor (1360 or 1361). The two men (together with the papal legate Pierre Thomas from 1364) did all they could to organize a crusade. King Peter made a grand tour of Europe in 1362-1365 with Philippe and later with Pierre Thomas, and they succeeded in launching the crusade that led to the capture of Alexandria in Egypt in 1365. In 1366, Pierre Thomas died, and Philippe immediately wrote his life with a view to securing the legate’s canonization. Although the crusade to Alexandria ultimately failed, King Peter and Philippe still dreamed of a new expedition, and the latter came back to the West to prepare it.

Philippe de Mézières was in Venice when he learned of the assassination of Peter I (1369). He remained there and experienced his second spiritual conversion: the mission to institute in the Roman Catholic Church the feast of the Presentation of the Virgin at the Temple. In 1372, he acted as ambassador for King Peter II of Cyprus to Pope Gregory XI. The following year, King Charles V of France made him his councillor and entrusted him with the education of his heir, the future Charles VI. The schism in the papacy that occurred in 1378 was a blow to Philippe’s ideal of a crusade, but he soon rallied to the Avignon pope.

From around 1379 Philippe lived at the convent of the Celestine Order in Paris. On Charles V’s death (1380), he retired there to live as a solitary and to write. In 1368 he had written the Nova milicie Passionis Jhesu Christi, the first Latin version of the rule for his proposed order of chivalry. In 1394 he wrote a new Latin version, and two years later, he recast both texts in a French version called La Substance abregée de la Chevalerie de la passion de Jhesu Christ, of which he sent a copy to King Richard II of England. He had previously sent Richard an Epistle, asking for peace with Charles VI of France and a joint expedition to Jerusalem.

In 1386-1389 Philippe wrote his allegorical Songe du Vieil Pelerin for Charles VI, urging him to carry out reform and undertake a crusade. The Oracio tragedica of 1389-1390 is in the same vein. After the failure of the Crusade of Nikopolis (1396), he wrote for Philip the Bold, duke of Burgundy, the Epistre lamentable et consolatoire, still calling for the creation of his order of chivalry.

Philippe de Mézières embodied ideas of devotion to Jerusalem, the Passion of Christ, and the Virgin. During his life he enjoyed some fame, but this resulted from his actions, rather than his writings.

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