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

Cristian Bratu, Remembering the Crusades, Remembering the Self

It is commonly admitted that the primary purpose of crusader chronicles was to narrate the history of the military events that occurred in the Holy Land and the Middle East.  However, I argue that in French crusader historiography, many chroniclers tend to focus on their own life and deeds — as well as on their authorial image — while telling the story of the crusades. 

This tendency is already manifest in one of the first prose chronicles in Old French, Villhardouin’s Conquest of Constantinople.  Written in the early 13th century, The Conquest narrates the story of the Fourth Crusade, as wellas Villehardouin’s deeds during the sack of Constantinople.  It is also the case with Philippe de Novare’s chronicle of the war between the Cyprus-based Frankish dynasty of the Ibelins against the emperor Frederick II of Germany — a chronicle which also records Novare’s own life.  And finally, Joinville initially presents his Life of Saint Louis as a biography of Louis IX, but then shifts the focus onto himself, creating a text that seems much more like a memoir.

These historical texts can therefore be considered chronicles and memoirs.  Furthermore, I argue that certain medieval chronicles — such as Joinville’s Life of Saint Louis — open the way for the emergence of the autobiographical genre in late medieval France.  Thus, it is Joinville who inaugurates a long line of French mémorialistes and autobiographers, such as Philippe de Commynes, Olivier de la Marche and, later on, Saint-Simon and Rousseau.

Last modified: Dec 1, 2007
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