Remembering the Crusades: Myth, Image and Identity

28th Annual Conference of the Center for Medieval Studies

Fordham University, Lincoln Center, New York City: March 29-30, 2008

Filippo Andrei, Heroes banned from History in the Chanson de Jérusalem

The Chanson de Jérusalem represents the thematic core of the Old French Crusade cycle. It is generally considered an example of an ancient chanson de geste, which was later rewritten by an unknown poet to form part of a broader cycle. Other than  the imaginary episodes that led many early scholars to conceive the Jérusalem only as a legendary work, the poem also closely narrates the historical sources of the First Crusade and provides a reliable account of the French expedition to the Holy City. The Chanson de Jérusalem also depicts historical characters who will later be considered secondary figures in the dominant historiography, or those who will be banned from the chronicles contemporary to the poem. According to the historians of the First Crusade, Godfrey of Bouillon, was not a leading figure, even though he was a descendant of Charlemagne and led a huge army assembled by great and minor princes. A comparative analysis of the Latin sources of the First Crusade shows that the Jérusalem used a text that belonged to the Lotharingian tradition whose most important witness is Albert of Aachen's Historia Hierosolymitana. Several analogies between Albert's chronicle and the account of the poem also reveal the traces of an ancient historical poem about the First Crusade whose aim was to exalt the Kingdom of Jerusalem and the figure of Godfrey of Bouillon, who was represented as a sacred and thaumaturge king. Thomas de Marle, the founding hero of the Coucy dynasty, is another controversial figure in the history of the First Crusade and an emblematic case of historical suppression. Through Thomas de Marle, the Jérusalem portrays the class of the milites. This new class of landlords emerged in  twelfth century in competition with the territorial princes and conflicted with the interests of the Church’s patrimony. As a member of this class, Thomas was considered a criminal and an enemy and subsequently he was neglected and diminished in the ecclesiastical writers’ reports. A third exemplary figure of historical suppression that the poem recuperates is Peter the Hermit, a fervent preacher who joined the crusade of the barons carrying the poor, unknown people who fight by the side of the princes and conquer the City. With Peter the Hermit thus appears on the poetic scene the popular religiosity and the militant faith against the Muslims that the Latin sources contemporary to the poem played down and nearly neglected.

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