The literature of any period necessarily reflects the preoccupations of that period, or else it fails to be popular. However, in the Middle Ages, neither ‘literature’ nor ‘popular’ mean quite what they would mean now. The popular songs of, for example, the First and Second World Wars were popular because there was some form of mass diffusion: in the former case, sheet music, which depended on mass literacy and a relatively large number of musically literate people, and music-halls, so that something like ‘Tipperary’ reached millions of people in a relatively short time. In the case of the Second World War, diffusion of this kind of material through gramophone records and radio was even more widespread and practically instantaneous. Yet such material would hardly be labelled ‘literature’, popular though it was. On the other hand, the war-poems of Wilfrid Owen or Rupert Brooke, novels such as All Quiet on the Western Front, Le Silence de la Mer, or For Whom the Bell Tolls, would not seriously be denied the claim to literary value by anyone, despite their much more restricted diffusion.
The difference in the Middle Ages is that restricted literacy means restricted diffusion: thus the literature will reflect the preoccupations of the literate class: the class for which and by which the literature is written. ‘Popular’ means popular in the aristocratic courts, and ‘literature’ means whatever the educated man was writing for his audience to listen to. There was still another kind of writing too: Latin material intended to be read by the highly educated clerks and court scribes. Neither this non ‘official’ forms of writing such as annals, histories, and chronicles are the subject of this chapter. We are concerned here with what people listened to, saw performed, considered primarily as entertainment, although the possibility of other functions, such as instruction, exhortation, and propaganda will not be excluded.
The period of the first four crusades coincides with the evolution in France and Germany of a rich vernacular literature which does indeed reflect the crusades. The period has, with some justice, at least as far as literature is concerned, been called the ‘Twelfth-Century Renaissance’. In both France and Germany the great epic traditions are founded: the Chanson de Roland, the oldest epic in French, almost certainly dates from about the time of the First Crusade. There are versions in both French and in Occitan, the literary language of southern France, of a Chanson d’Antioche, an account of the siege of Antioch in 1098. The Canso de la Crotzada recounts in Occitan verse the so-called Albigensian Crusade. There are, in addition, the more conventionally historical accounts by Robert of Cleri and Geoffrey of Villehardouin.
The early French verse epics were known as chansons de geste (from the Latin gesta: ‘deeds done’, extended to mean the deeds performed by a hero or by a group or clan). The extent to which they reflect the crusades is a matter of some controversy. The action of the earliest and best known, the Chanson de Roland, is based on a real historical event, although its details remain uncertain. In the year 778 Charlemagne’s troops were returning from a successful expedition into Spain when, at Renceval in the Pyrenees, they were attacked, either (according to ninth-century Christian chroniclers) by marauding Basques or (according to the thirteenth-century Arab chronicler, Ibn al- Athir) by Muslims from Saragossa. The rearguard, including Eggihard the seneschal, Anselm the leader of the imperial guard, and Roland, duke of the march of Brittany, all perished. It is impossible at this distance in time and through the mists of propaganda to know whether Muslims were indeed involved or whether the fight was more than a mere skirmish. What is clear is that by the eleventh century there had been a striking change of scale: the account of events in the Chanson de Roland turns the incident into a major confrontation between Charlemagne’s empire and the forces of Islam, culminating in Charlemagne’s successful conquest of all of Spain and the enforced conversion of the citizens of Saragossa.
The emperor has captured Saragossa and has the town searched by a thousand of his Franks. In the synagogues and temples of Muhammad, with iron clubs and hand-axes, they smash Muhammad and all the other idols so that no devilry or superstition will remain. The king [Charlemagne] is a true believer and would serve God. His bishops bless the waters and lead the pagans to the baptistry. If one of them opposes the will of Charles, then he has him imprisoned, burnt, or slain. More than a hundred thousand are thus baptized, made true Christians, excepting only the queen [of Saragossa]: she is to be led captive to sweet France, for the king wishes her to be converted for love [i.e. willingly]. (11. 3660-74)
The Roland makes no mention of the crusade, and it has been persuasively argued that the image of the Muslims which it offers is deliberately distorted and bears no relation to what an eleventh-century poet would have known of the Muslims of Spain or Palestine. Nevertheless, as we shall see, the image which the Roland presents of the Muslims as monsters and idolaters does find echoes elsewhere. Moreover, it seems plausible that the poet was aware that his account would have a special appeal as propaganda. It must be admitted nevertheless that specific allusions to the crusades in Palestine are rare in the Old French epic.
But there is a form of vernacular writing in this period in which the crusades appear as a topic from about the middle of the twelfth century onwards. These are the ‘crusade songs’. No such writing survives from the period of the First Crusade—but then relatively little vernacular writing of any kind survives from this period. The earliest are associated with the Second Crusade or with the Reconquista and are written in Occitan or in Old French. There has been much discussion of what constitutes a ‘crusade song’, and it is true that songs which have crusading as their only subject are comparatively rare, but there are many surviving pieces in which the crusade plays some part as a topic, an allegory, a development of some other idea: 106 examples in Occitan, about forty in French, thirty in German, one in Spanish, and two in Italian. Whilst recognizing the problems of definition, for ease of reference we will take ‘crusade song’ to mean any song which mentions the crusades, whether to the East, in Spain, in France, or in Italy.
It is not very helpful to speak of crusade songs as a genre. The fact is that the poets included reference to the crusades in a wide variety of poetic forms. Among the earliest such songs, by the Occitan troubadours Marcabru and Cercamon, can be found sirventes—songs which make moral, political or personal points—and a form of the pastorela—a song in which the poet encounters a maiden lamenting for her absent lover. Later examples include courtly love-songs such as the castellan of Coucy’s, ‘A vous, amant, plus k’a nulle autre gent’ (1188/91) and almost all the German songs, laments for fallen heroes such as Gaucelm Faidit’s planh for Richard I of England (1199), panegyrics such as Rutebeuf’s ‘Complainte de monseigneur Joffroi de Sergines’ (1255-6), and debate poems such as the Monk of Montaudo’s, ‘L’autrier fui en paradis’ (1194). In short, there is no evidence that the poets devised new forms or genres in order to speak of the crusades. The latter became a subject for songs and a poetic resource.
The number of songs surviving from the period of the Second Crusade is small: one in French and perhaps ten in Occitan. Those which do survive from this time and from succeeding decades are often as much concerned with Spain as with the expeditions to the East. In the period after 1160 the growth in numbers and popularity of troubadours and their northern French counterparts, the trouvères, means that the Third and Fourth Crusades are more abundantly reflected in songs. Most crusade songs by German Minnesänger likewise relate to these expeditions. In southern France there are allusions, often prudently indirect, to the Albigensian Crusade. Expeditions of the thirteenth century are reflected in a steady stream of songs, principally in French and German.
If our opening statement is true then it is almost superfluous to ask why the crusades were so frequently reflected in song, the more so since several poets were leading crusaders. There are songs by such leaders as Thibaut IV of Champagne, by Folquet, bishop of Toulouse at the time of the Albigensian Crusade, and by such important magnates as Conon of Béthune and Guy of Coucy. Moreover, many poets depended for their livelihood, at least in part, on the patronage of prominent crusaders. The troubadour Raimbaut of Vaqueiras, for example, in a ‘lettersong’ to Boniface of Montferrat, reminds his patron of his past kindnesses: ‘I praise God that he has helped me inasmuch as I found in you such a good lord, for you raised me so nobly and gave me arms and did me great good and lifted me up from low to high and, from the nobody that I was, made of me an esteemed knight, accepted at court and praised by ladies’ (‘Valen Marques, senher de Montferrat’, 11. 5-10). Raimbaut goes on to recall how Boniface and he fought at the siege of Constantinople but reminds his patron that you cannot live on reminiscences:
With you I laid siege to many a strong castle, many a mighty citadel and many a fine palace belonging to emperor, king, or emir, and the august Lascaris and the protostrator besieged in Petrion, and many other potentates. With you I pursued to Philopation the emperor of Romania, whom you deposed to crown another in his stead. But if I am not richly rewarded by you, it will not seem as if I was ever with you or as if I had served you as much as I have recalled to you, and you know, Lord Marquis, that I am speaking the truth! (ibid., 11. 31-43)
Similarly, poems which praise heroes of the crusade tend to refer to their generosity as patrons as well as to their warlike exploits. A fictional debate between God and the monk-turned- troubadour, the Monk of Montaudo, provides a good example. God asks the monk why he failed to seek the help of King Richard.
Monk, you did wrong in not going as quickly as you could to the king who holds Oléron who was such a good friend of yours, and that is why I think he was right to break off his friendship with you. Oh, how many good sterling marks must he have lost in gifts to you! For it was he who raised you up from the mud.
Lord, I would indeed have gone to see him were it not for your fault: for you permitted him to be imprisoned. But the Saracen ship—have you forgotten how it sails?—if it ever gets into Acre, there will be plenty of wicked Turks there. A man is foolish who gets mixed up in a dispute with you!
(‘L’autrier fui en Paradis’, ll. 33-48)
The reference is to the imprisonment of Richard by Leopold of Austria in the course of his return from Acre in 1192. A similar idea, expressed in the same jocular tone, recurs in the poem ‘On his poverty’ (1270) by the Parisian poet, Rutebeuf: ‘Death has caused me much loss and you too, good King, in two voyages, have taken away good people from me, as has the pilgrimage to far-off Tunis, a barbarous place, and the wicked, godless people have done the same . . .’ (ll. 20-4). Rutebeuf is complaining that King Louis’s crusade has deprived him of the kind of people who would normally give him financial support.
Patrons and poets were in touch with events. But there are other reasons for the role played by the crusades in the court poetry of this period. Not surprisingly, it extols those values and virtues to which the aristocracy laid claim, virtues which they felt distinguished them from those of other classes. Since there was a close tie between the notion of nobility and the question of land-holding, some of these virtues may be termed feudal. They include commitment to one’s suzerain, and an acceptance of the feudal duties of auxilium (armed help in time of attack by enemies) and consilium (counsel and the rendering of justice). The crusade is often expressed by poets in terms which express this. The Holy Land is seen as God’s rightful territory, usurped by marauders, which his vassals must therefore do all they can to restore to him. If they fail to do so, then they are failing in their feudal duty: ‘. . . he must indeed be condemned who abandons his lord in his hour of need . . .’ (‘Vos ki ameis’, ll. 11-12) says an anonymous song of c.1189. The earliest French crusade song, an anonymous composition from about 114 5-6 makes matters even clearer.
Chevalier, mult estes guariz,
Quant Deu a vus fait sa clamur
Des Turs e des Amoraviz
Ki li unt fait tels deshenors.
Cher a tort unt ses fieuz saiziz;
Bien en devums aveir dolur,
Cher la fud Deu primes servi
E reconnu pur segnuur.
Knights, you are indeed fortunate that God has issued his call for help to you against the Turks and the Almoravids who have perpetrated such dishonourable deeds against him. They have illegally seized his fiefs; we must indeed lament this, for it was there that God was first served and acknowledged as lord.
The message is hammered home in terms of feudal duty, in images of God as a seigneur and the knights as owing him the kind of protection that they owed to their suzerain. The refrain promises Paradise to those who accompany the monarch.
Ki ore irat od Loovis
Ja mar d’enfern n’avrat pouur,
Char s’alme en iert en Pareis
Od les angles nostre Segnor
Anyone who now accompanies Louis will need have no fear of hell, for his soul will be in Paradise with the angels of Our Lord.
The knights are reminded of their own skill in arms and of the debt they owe to Christ: ‘Knights, consider well, you who are esteemed for your skill in arms, give your bodies as a gift to him who was put on the cross for you’ (ll. 17-20). Louis VII is held up as an example: he is depicted renouncing wealth, power, lands, like a man giving up the world to follow a saintly life. Christ’s wounds and Passion are recalled. This is not merely a pious reminder: it is intended to whip up the hearer’s desire to take revenge on God’s enemies who have deserved it. ‘Now he summons you because the Canaanites and the wicked followers of Zangi have played many evil tricks on him: now give them their reward!’ (ll. 41-4). The conflict is seen as a tournament between Hell and Heaven: God summons his friends to join his
team; he has appointed the date and the place—Edessa—for the tournament; the prize will be salvation, and God’s vengeance will be wrought by the hands of the crusaders. They are reminded of Moses dividing the Red Sea and of how Pharaoh and his followers were all drowned; one of a number of occasions in crusade songs when Muslims are equated with the followers of Pharaoh.
In several songs, the crusade is seen as the opportunity for knights and barons to demonstrate that they not only possess but excel in the qualities which distinguish their classes.
God! We have for so long been brave in idleness! Now we shall see who will be truly brave; and we shall go to avenge the doleful shame at which every man ought to be downcast and sorrowful, for in our times the holy places have been lost, where God suffered death in anguish for us; if we now permit our mortal enemies to stay there, our lives will be shameful for evermore.
God is besieged in the land of his holy patrimony; now we shall see how those people will help him whom he freed from the dark prison when he died upon that cross which is now in the hands of the Turks. Know well, those who do not go are shamed unless poverty, old age, or sickness prevents them; but those who are healthy, young, and rich cannot remain behind without suffering shame.
(Conon of Béthune, ‘Ahi, Amours! com dure departie’, ll. 25-40)
Idleness, shame, lack of prowess are to be avoided at all costs by the knightly and baronial classes to whom these songs are addressed (they often begin with Chevalier . . . or Seigneur . . . or Baron .. .). Such injunctions not only serve as a suitable subject for a crusade song, they also accord perfectly with an important poetic requirement. Medieval poets and scholars had been taught that the two principal functions of rhetoric were praise and blame. They had also been taught to think and to reason in dialectical patterns. The ideology of the crusade therefore provided a perfect structure: those who heeded the call were to be praised, those who were deaf to it were to be blamed.
All the cowards will stay over here, those who do not love God, or virtue, or love or worth. Each of them says: ‘But what about my wife? I wouldn’t leave my friends at any price.’ Such people have fallen into a foolish way of thinking, for there is no friend in truth except he who was placed on the true cross for us.
Now those valiant knights who love God and the honour of this world will set off, for they wisely wish to go to God; but the snotty-nosed, ashen-faced ones will stay behind. They are blind, I make no doubt of that, those people who refuse just once in their lives to help God and lose the glory of the world for such a small thing.
(Thibaut of Champagne, ‘Seigneurs, sachiez, qui or ne s’en ira’, ll. 8-21)
The troubadour Marcabru is a master of this technique.
For the Lord who knows all that is, and all that will be and that ever was has promised us a crown and the title of emperor. And the beauty of those who go to the washing-place will be—do you know of what kind?—more than that of the morning star; providing only that we avenge the wrong that is being done to God both here and there towards Damascus.
Close to the lineage of Cain, the first criminal, there are so many people and not one pays honour to God. We shall see who will be his true friend, for, through the power of the washing-place, Jesus will dwell amongst us, and the scoundrels who believe in augury and divination will be put to flight.
And the lecherous wine-swillers, dinner-gobblers, fire-huggers, roadside-squatters will stay within the place of cowards; it is the bold and the healthy whom God wishes to test in his washing-place; the others will guard their own dwellings and will find a very difficult obstacle: that is why I send them away to their shame.
(Marcabru, ‘Pax in nomine Domini’, ll. 28-54)
The ‘washing-place’ of which Marcabru speaks is a sustained allegorical representation of the crusade in Spain. This song is one of the earliest (c.1149) and most famous of crusade songs. It expresses more clearly than any other the association which the poets made between the social values of cortezia and the crusade as a moral touchstone. Marcabru sees the failure of some barons to support the Spanish enterprise as symptomatic of a decline in joven—literally ‘youth’ or ‘youthfulness’—but not merely chronological youth; the term covers a range of characteristics associated by Marcabru and others with their positive model of the young knight or baron: generosity of spirit, youthful energy, dedication. Those who fail to lend their support are ‘broken, crestfallen, weary of proeza; they love neither joy nor pleasure’ (ibid., ll. 62-3). Proeza means warlike courage and skill but it also has connotations of enthusiasm and an honourable pursuit of glory. Marcabru expects to find such characteristics amongst the barons and their close followers. He cultivates in his songs the characteristic image of a stern moralizer castigating sloth and weakness of the flesh as well as any enfeebling of the hierarchy. He creates a picture of the ideal baron as energetic, ascetic, enthusiastic for glory and for virtue, and aware of the obligations implied by his social position. By combining this image with religious allegory and with the dialectical structure of the sirventes, the honour of the ideal lord and his obligations are identified with the glory and religious imperatives of the crusade. Those who do not go on the crusade are not being true to the values of their class.
Desnaturat son li Frances
si de l’afar Deu dizon no . . . (ibid., ll. 64-5)
The French are unnatural if they refuse God’s work.
But, as one would expect, the crusades are seen as a conventionally moral touchstone as well as a social one. Marcabru’s contemporary, Cercamon, sees participation in the crusade both as an indicator of a blamelessly moral life and as a means of avoiding evil: ‘Now a man may wash and free himself from great blame, any such as are burdened with it; and if he is worthy he will go away towards Edessa and leave behind the perilous world; for with such as this he may deliver himself from the burden which makes plenty of people stumble and perish’ (Cercamon, ‘Puois nostre temps comens’a brunezir’, ll. 43-8). The rest of the poem suggests that the ‘burden’ is that of malves- tatz, which Cercamon depicts as a mixture of avarice, pride, falsehood, lust, and cowardice. Peire Vidal’s, ‘Baron, Jhesus, qu’en crotz fon mes’ (c.1202), sees the crusade as repaying Christ’s sacrifice: ‘Barons, Jesus, who was put on the cross to save the Christian people, is summoning us all together to go and recover the Holy Land where he came to die for love of us’ (ll. 1-5). The penalty for failing to respond to this summons will be reproaches after our death and the forfeiture of Paradise. This is what is promised to those who go on the crusade. To do so is to give up the world which is, in any case, unreliable, an occasion of sin, a place where men betray even their friends. The Bavarian poet, Albrecht von Johansdorf, author of five songs on crusading themes, offers an interesting development of this idea. He points out that the Holy Land has never been in greater need of help—he is writing soon after Saladin’s victory at Hattin—but some fools say, ‘Why can’t God take care of it without our help?’ The answer given is in terms of Christ’s sacrifice, undertaken not out of necessity but out of pity: ‘He did not need to take this great suffering on himself but was full of pity for us in our plight. If any man now will not have pity upon his cross and his Sepulchre, then he will not be given heavenly bliss’ (‘Die hinnen varn’, ll. 8-ii). The crusader’s action is identified with Christ’s redemption of sinners. The crusade is undertaken out of pity, out of love. An anonymous twelfth-century trouvère makes the same point.
You who love with a true love, awaken! Do not sleep! The lark draws day towards us and tells us in its speech that the day of peace has come which God in his great sweetness will give to those who will take the cross for love of him and who will suffer pain night and day through their deeds. Then he will see who truly loves him.
He who was crucified for us was not lukewarm in his love for us but loved us like a true lover [fins amins] and, for us, lovingly carried in great anguish the Holy Cross, sweetly in his arms, before his breast, like a gentle lamb, simple and pious; then he was nailed with three nails, firmly through the hands and the feet.
(‘Vos qui ameis’, ll. 1-10, 21-30)
The idea of the crusade as an act of love is part of the religious orthodoxy of the time, but another connection between the crusades and love derives from a literary rather than an ecclesiastical source. One of the principal themes of medieval poetry is love. Indeed, in the case of the German poets, the name by which they are known—Minnesänger—means ‘those who sing of love’. Typically the poet adopts the persona of a man in love—usually hopelessly so—with an unnamed lady. The features which characterize the expression of this fin’amor in the songs of the troubadours,trouvères and Minnesänger are longing, tension which is unresolved, and praise of the beloved. These features can be developed in a number of ways. For example, if the tension is unresolved, we may be told the reason why: the lady is of such supreme character and status, so ‘distant’ from the lover that he despairs of ever attaining the lofty heights where she dwells. There may be other obstacles and dangers: actual distance, rivals, gossip-mongers (known as losengiers), or the lover’s timidity. It is not difficult to see how such elements of the love-song may be transferred to the idea of crusading. The unresolved longing may express the intention, as yet unfulfilled, to go on the crusade, or it may be used to suggest the idea of the journey which seems so long and to which no end can clearly be seen. Hartmann von Aue, in a song written at about the time of the Third Crusade, deliberately associates Minne with love of God, as expressed in the crusade as a ‘pilgrimage of love’: ‘Lords and kin, I am making a journey; blessings on my land and people. No need to ask where I am going: I tell you clearly where my journey leads. Love (Minne) captured me and has freed me on parole. Now she has sent me a message that I should set out for her love. It is inevitable: I must go thither: how could I break my promise and my oath?’ (‘Ich var mit iuwern hulden’, ll. i-8).
He only reveals towards the end of the second stanza that he is referring to the crusade. However, rather than exploiting the allegorical possibilities, it is more often the case that the poets associate the idea of the crusade with the idea of human love, by adopting the language or the conventional situations of love- poetry. This is increasingly the case as time goes by. For the Second Crusade, only one surviving poem makes this association, but by the end of the century, and more particularly in Germany, it has become very common. The earliest example sees matters from the point of view of the woman left behind by the crusader. Marcabru’s ‘A la fontana del vergier’ (c.1147) begins with the allusion to spring and nature which is a traditional feature of courtly song. In the usual pastorela the ‘I’ of the poem—generally presented as a knight—encounters a maiden. She sings of the joys or pains of love. The knight attempts to seduce her but is refused. In this case the maiden’s sorrow has a specific foundation.
She was a young girl, beautiful of form, daughter of the lord of a castle; and when I expected that the birds and the greenery might bring her joy, and that, because of the sweet new season as well, she might be willing to listen to my persuasions, she soon changed her mood.
She wept beside the spring and gave a heartfelt sigh. She said, ‘Jesus, king of the world, my great sorrow grows because of you, for the shame perpetrated against you causes me great grief: the best men in all this world are going off to serve you, but this is what pleases you. It is with you that my lover is going away, the handsome, the noble, the worthy, and the powerful; all that is left to me here is my sorry plight, my frequent longings, and my tears. Oh! Cruel was King Louis who issued the summonses and edicts through which sorrow entered my heart!’
The king and the crusade have been given the role that is played by the losengiers in the standard love-song: separating true lovers. The poem offers an interesting twist in that the lament is both for the shame of the loss of the holy places and for lost love, and the woman complains of what is more usually praised. A later example adopts traditional motifs of the chanson de femme: a type of song in which a woman complains of her unhappiness in love, usually because she has been forced to marry a man that she does not love, but finds consolation in thinking of an illicit lover. This song, by Guiot de Dijon (c.1190), has a powerful emotional core related to the poetic convention of ‘love from afar’. The implicit narrative is the same as for the chanson de femme, but the obstacle to happiness is here the fact of her crusader-lover’s absence. Her defiance of the separation lies in erotic thoughts of him and in the unconventional keepsake which he has left her.
I will sing to comfort my heart, for I do not want to die or to go mad because of my great loss, when I see that no-one returns from that foreign land where the man is who brings solace to my heart when I hear him spoken of. God, when they cry, ‘Onward’, give Your help to that pilgrim for whom my heart trembles; for the Saracens are wicked men.
I shall bear my loss until I have seen a year go by. He is on a pilgrimage; may God grant that he return from it! But, in spite of all my family, I do not intend to marry any other. Anyone who even speaks to me of it is a fool. God, when they cry, etc.
However, I am hopeful because I accepted his homage. And when the sweet wind blows which comes from that sweet country where the man is whom I desire, then I turn my face towards it gladly, and it seems to me then that I can feel him beneath my mantle of fur. God, when they cry, etc.
I regret very much that I was not there to set him on the road. He sent me his shirt which he had worn, so that I might hold it in my arms. At night, when love for him torments me, I place it in bed beside me and hold it all night against my bare flesh to assuage my pains. God, when they cry, etc.
(‘Chanterai por mon corage’, ll. 1-20, 33-56)
The conventions of the chanson de femme are cut across by the refrain which quite literally places the object of her love, the ‘pilgrim’, in the context of the crusade.
One of the poets’ favourite topoi (poetic conventions) was the idea of the lover’s heart being able to be apart from his body, crossing the distance which separated the lovers. Friedrich von Hausen, who was a poet in the entourage of Frederick Barbarossa and was killed on the Third Crusade, makes much of this in a number of his songs, most obviously in ‘Mîn herze und mîn lîp diu wellent scheiden’: ‘My heart and my body, which have long been united, strive to part. My body is eager to fight against the heathen, whereas my heart has chosen a woman above all the world’ (ll. 1-2). The model for Friedrich’s song was probably ‘Ahi, Amours! com dure departie’ by Conon of Béthune (c.ii88):‘Oh, Love! How hard it will be for me to have to leave the best woman who was ever loved or served! May God, in his kindness, lead me back to her as surely as I leave her in sorrow. Alas! What have I said? I am not really leaving her at all! If my body is going off to serve Our Lord, my heart remains entirely within her sway’ (ll. 1-80).
Another common topos is that of ‘dying for love’. In an anonymous chanson de femme, ‘Jherusalem, grant damage me fais’, perhaps dating from the mid-thirteenth century, this is combined with an interesting transformation of the idea of crusading as an act of love: ‘So help me God, there is no escape for me: die I must, such is my fate; but I am well aware that, for one who dies for love, there is but a day’s journey to God. Alas! I would rather embark upon that day if I could find my sweet love than remain here all forlorn’ (ll. 15-21). ‘Dies for love’ is loaded with two meanings: the conventional ‘dying of a broken heart’ which applies to the woman and the death on the crusade of her lover who has died for love of God. Her death will thus parallel his and they will both have only a day’s journey to God. The stanza is something of an icon of the entire relationship between the love-lyric and the crusade orthodoxy. It redeems the near defiant attitude which the woman expresses in the first stanza: ‘Jerusalem, you are doing me a great wrong’, an attitude which echoes that of the maiden in Marcabru’s pastorela and is also to be found in the song ‘Già mainon mi comfortto’ of Rinaldo d’Aquino (c. 1228).
La croce salva la giente
e me facie disviare,
la crocie mi fa dolente
e non mi vale Dio pregare.
Oi me, crocie pellegrina,
perché m’ài cosi distrutta? (ll. 25-30)
The cross saves the people but causes me to go mad, the cross makes me sorrowful and praying to God does not help me. Alas, pilgrim cross, why have you destroyed me in this way?
Hartmann von Aue sees a more positive role for a woman: ‘The woman who with a willing heart sends her dear husband on this journey, providing that at home she lives in a way that all will proclaim virtuous, shall purchase half of his reward. She shall pray for both of them here, and he shall go and fight for both of them there’ (‘Swelch vrowe sendet lieben man’, ll. 1-7).
So far we have considered the way in which crusade songs reflect the social aspirations, the religious orthodoxy, and the literary conventions of the time, but what did they have to say about the reality of the crusades? One of the aspects most frequently mentioned is the danger of the journey itself—hardly surprising when one recalls that the first of the known troubadours, William IX of Aquitaine, lost almost all his men on his way to the Holy Land. Gaucelm Faidit, who took part in the Third Crusade, celebrates his own return in the song, ‘Del gran golfe de mar’ (1192/3). He did not care for the journey and is delighted to be back in familiar surroundings. The sea voyage especially distressed him: ‘for now I need not be afraid of the winds, north, south, or west, my ship is no longer swaying, and I no longer need fear the swift galleys or corsairs’ (ll. 32-6). He acknowledges the merit of the crusaders but deplores the fact that some go to sea for no more than pillage and piracy: ‘Any man who undergoes such discomforts to win God or to save his soul is doing the right thing, not the wrong one; but if anyone goes to sea, where one suffers such ills, in order to rob and with wicked intentions, it very often happens that, when he thinks he’s on the up, he’s coming down, so that in despair he lets go of everything and throws it all away: soul and body, gold and silver’ (ll. 37-48). The moral stricture is clear, but there is perhaps also a playful sub-text: those who go to sea with ill-intent will suffer sea-sickness!
In ‘Ez gruonet wol diu heide’ (probably written at the time of Frederick II’s expedition in 1228-9), Neidhart von Reuental imagines writing home from Palestine, a letter of complaint: ‘If they ask you how it goes with us pilgrims, tell them how badly the French and Italians have treated us: that is why we are weary of this place . . . we all live in misery; more than half the army is dead . . .’ (ll. 38-42, 53-4). He is quite disenchanted with the whole business and wouldn’t be put off going home by anything as relatively harmless as a sea voyage: ‘He seems to me a fool who remains here this August. My advice would be that he should delay no longer and go back home across the sea; that is not painful. Nowhere is a man better off than at home in his own parish’ (ll. 71-7).
The actual fighting is rarely described in song. The deeds of the Muslims are usually referred to briefly or in general terms: ‘. . . the churches are burnt and deserted: God is no longer sacrificed there . . .’ (‘Chevalier mut estes guariz’, ll. 13-16, on the taking of Edessa). The only surviving crusade song in Spanish, however, gives a more circumstantial, though perhaps not eye-witness, account of events after the capture of Jerusalem by the Khorezmians in 1244. The anonymous poet claims to be writing for the ears of the Second Council of Lyons (1274); no doubt the gory detail is intended to have a propaganda function: ‘Then come the tender maidens, in chains and in torment. They weep greatly in their affliction and sorrow in Jerusalem. The Christians see their sons roasted, they see their wives’ breasts sliced off while they are still living; they go along the streets with their hands and feet cut off (sic!) in Jerusalem. They made blankets out of the vestments, they made a stable out of the Holy Sepulchre; with the holy crosses they made stakes in Jerusalem’ (‘[Ay, Iherusalem!’, ll. 91-105). The terms in which the Khorezmians are spoken of in ‘[Ay, Iherusalem!’ are reminiscent of much earlier crusade songs: ‘These Moorish dogs have held the holy dwelling for seven and a half years; they are not afraid of dying to conquer Jerusalem. They are helped by those of Babylon with the Africans and those of Ethiopia . . . Now because of our sins the dark day has brought the Moorish hordes . . . The Christians are few, fewer than sheep. The Moors are many, more than the stars’ (‘[Ay, Iherusalem!’, ll. 21-7, 66-7, 71-2).
Gavaudan, in ‘Senhor, per los nostres peccatz’ (1195) also attributes Muslim successes in the Holy Land to the sinfulness of Christians, and fears that such triumphs may encourage them to attempt the same in Spain: ‘Sirs, because of our sins, the Saracens’ power increases: Saladin captured Jerusalem; it has still not been won back; that is why the king of Morocco has sent out a message that, with his perfidious Andalusians and Arabs, armed against the faith of Christ, he will fight against all Christian kings’ (ll. 1-9). There follows an account of the huge numbers involved and the brute rapacity of the enemy: more numerous than raindrops, they are cast out on the fields to feed themselves on carrion, and they leave nothing unconsumed. He speaks of their pride: they think everything belongs to them and will bow down before them. The references to his audience’s home territory make clear that he is seeking to inspire or to recruit by means of terror: ‘. . . Moroccans, Almoravids occupy the mountains and the fields. They boast to each other: “Franks,
make way for us! Provence and the Toulousain are ours and all the land that stretches from here to Le Puy!” Never was such a fierce boast heard before from such false dogs, such accursed infidels’ (ll. 21-7). He urges his hearers not to leave their birthright to the cas negres outramaris (black foreign dogs) and to rescue the inhabitants of Spain who are in jeopardy. The Muslims are here treated in very much the same way as in the Chanson de Roland: ‘In their first corps there are those of Butentrot, in the second the Micenians with their huge heads; on their spines, halfway down their backs, they have bristles like those of pigs . . . in the tenth, those of the desert of Occiant: a race which never served Our Lord; never was known a more wicked people: their skin is harder than iron, they have no use for helm or hauberk, in battle they are faithless and cruel’ (Chanson de Roland, ll. 3220-3, 3246-51). Their sins are pride and faithlessness; they are animal-like; their strength lies in numbers expressed, not so much in figures, as by a recital of their tribal origins; their boast goes to the heart of Christian fears of invasion and subjection.
Since crusade songs frequently take the form of sirventes, both praise and criticism of individuals and of political events are common. Marcabru’s Lavador song urges the importance of the Spanish crusade rather than that to the East. The topic of the rival claims of the two enterprises recurs in Gavaudan’s song which appeals to the emperor, to Philip II of France and his nobles, and to Richard I of England to help Spain. Salvation depends on choosing the right way: ‘Jesus Christ, who preached to us so that our end might be a good one, shows us which is the right path’ (‘Senhor, per los nostres peccatz’, ll. 37-9). The ‘right path’ here is more than the usual Christian metaphor for the way to salvation: it is the path that leads to Spain.
Frequently poets urge barons or monarchs to take the cross, to set out, to do more than they have. Gaucelm Faidit, in ‘Tant sui ferms e fis vas Amor’ (1188/9), speaks of the shame that all must suffer.
. . . for the false race who do not believe in him are disinheriting him and insulting him in that place where he suffered and died. It behoves everyone to consider going there, and the princes all the more so since
they are highly placed, for there is not one who can claim to be faithful and obedient to him if he does not aid him in this enterprise.
To the count, my lord, I wish to say that, as he was the first to have the honour, let him take care that God should have reason to thank him, for the praises come with the going [itself]! (ll. 54-64)
The ‘count’ is probably Richard, as count of Poitou, one of the first to take the cross after the battle of Hattin. Virtually the entire career of Richard in connection with the crusade may be traced through troubadour songs. His own poem, ‘Ja nus om pris ne dira sa raison’, is not exactly a crusade song, but is written as from his prison in Vienna.
No man who is a prisoner can truly speak his mind except in sorrow; but to comfort himself he may write a song. I have plenty of friends but their gifts are poor; they will be shamed if, for the sake of my ransom, I remain a prisoner here for two winters.
It is no wonder that my heart is sad when my overlord oppresses my lands. If he were now mindful of our oath which we both swore together, I know for sure that already I would no longer be a prisoner here. (ll. 1-6, 19-24)
The overlord is Philip II of France who had taken advantage of Richard’s imprisonment to invade Normandy despite the oath which they had sworn in December 1190 to protect each other’s lands for the duration of the crusade. Richard’s death is lamented by Gaucelm Faidit and by Peirol; both have a poor opinion of certain other leaders: ‘England has but poor compensation for King Richard; and France with its flowers used to have a good king and good lords, and Spain had another good king, and likewise Montferrat had a good marquis, and the empire had an esteemed emperor; I do not know how those who are here now will behave’ (Peirol, ‘Pus flum Jordan’, ll. 15-21). Peirol was writing this in 1221 or 1222 but still felt that the monarchs of his time were far inferior to those involved in the Third Crusade.
The Albigensian Crusade produced an interesting situation for the poets. If, in the eastern crusades, God was the victim whose rightful lands and inheritance had been usurped by the Muslims, then for some of the troubadours, this position was
occupied by the count of Toulouse. If, in the songs associated with the Reconquista, the menacing foreign hordes were those of the Moors, for some poets of Languedoc the invaders were the French. In 1209, Raymond Roger Trencavel, viscount of Béziers, was rumoured to have been assassinated by order of Simon of Montfort. Guillem Augier Novella’s lament for him treats the French in much the same way as other crusade songs treat the Muslims: ‘They have killed him. Never did anyone witness so great an outrage, nor was so great a wrong ever done nor such a great departure from the will of God or Our Lord as the renegade dogs have committed, those of Pilate’s treacherous lineage, those who have killed him’ (‘Quascus plor e planh’, ll. 11-16). Guilhem Figueira, in his famous sirventes, first accuses Rome of having been responsible for the loss of Damietta because of the Pope’s ‘cowardly negotiations’, then of offering a false pardon to the French crusaders: ‘Rome, in truth I know, without a doubt, that with the fraud of a false pardon you delivered up the barons of France to torment far from Paradise, and, Rome, you killed the good king of France by luring him far away from Paris with your false preaching’ (‘D’un sirventes far’, ll. 36-42). The ‘false pardon’ and the ‘false preaching’ reflect Guilhem’s view that the expedition against the Cathars was no true crusade and could not attract the benefit of a plenary indulgence. Louis VIII died at Montpensier in 1226 from a disease contracted in Languedoc. Where conventional crusade songs identify the way to Paradise with the crusade, Guilhem makes clear that this expedition is a barrier to salvation: ‘Thus, in winter and in summer alike, a man who follows your path follows a bad guide, for the devil will carry him off into the fires of Hell’ (ibid., ll. 54-6).
Political allusions are rarer in French and German songs until we come to the works of Rutebeuf in the late thirteenth century. The new form which he used, the dit, much longer than the trouvères’ songs, gave him scope to speak his mind, to refer explicitly to events, persons, and attitudes, to rail against his favourite target, the mendicant orders, which he saw as diverting both the attention of Louis IX and much-needed finance from the crusade.
In summing up, then, we may say that crusade songs served several purposes. From the point of view of the poet-performer, they provided material for sirventes, a counterpoint to and a source of variations on the theme of courtly love, a range of allegories and structures of thought. From the point of view of the audience—for we must not forget that these songs were written to be performed—they presented, in a palatable way exclusive to their milieu, the doctrine, information, and propaganda that was otherwise delivered by preachers or diffused by clerks. At the same time, the songs reinforced the audience’s self-image and showed how the crusade itself could confirm their possession of the virtues of nobility, holding up models for them to emulate and to inspire their esprit de corps. But the songs could also express their worries and uncertainties if things went badly, their protests against injustice or against the mishandling of God’s enterprise.