Some translations of primary sources which I (Simon Parsons) have used in seminar teaching will be going up here, relating primarily to the theme of the Crusades (with occasional deviations) . Please do feel free to use them for teaching or research. Please let me know of any mistakes - although I have translated aiming at fluency rather than literal rendering of the original. Sometimes (especially with Old French) there might be multiple possible readings - so beware if relying on this for research!
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Excerpts in Translation
This section of the Chronique d'Ernoul highlights a number of important facets of the capture of Constantinople at the height of the Fourth Crusade (12 April 1204). It imaginatively recounts the death of Alexios V Doukas, nicknamed Mourtzouphlos (hairy-eyebrows) on account of his hirsute brow, by dramatic defenestration.
The frank description of prizes for those crusaders who first gained access to the city, and the vivid depiction of class-based tensions over loot despite omnipresent threats of excommunication, draw attention to one of the longest ranging debates about the Fourth Crusade: could acquisitiveness and material gain coexist harmoniously with ideas of Holy War?
Chronique d’Ernoul, continuation of William of Tyre, trans. Simon Thomas Parsons, from Chronique d'Ernoul et de Bernard le Trésorier, ed. Louis de Mas Latrie (Paris: Renouard, 1871), 371-375
Thus, the affair was set for Palm Sunday. When it came to the day after Palm Sunday, in the morning, they armed themselves and boarded the boats, and the Lord God gave to them the gift of favourable wind, which bore them to the walls of Constantinople. The first boat which reached the walls was that of the bishop of Soissons. This one raised up its bridge-ladder onto a tower, and the French and the Venetians climbed over this bridge, and took the tower. The first to enter was a Venetian, and he was killed. The next was a French knight, called Andrew Dureboise. He got a hundred marks, and the next guy got fifty marks, since it had been arranged and established that the first to get in would get a hundred marks and second place would get fifty. As soon as this tower was taken, they lifted up the portcullises and opened the gates, so that the others could better enter the city. When the emperor saw that the French were in the city, he fled, and Constantinople was taken.
And when Mourtzouphlos saw that the Latins were in the city, he fled to the top of a very high turret, to conceal and hide himself, if he could. But a French Christian saw him fleeing and ran after him, rushing up the steps to the turret, his sword drawn, to kill him. When Mourtzouphlos saw the man who was coming bounding after him, leaping up the stairs of the turret, he was very afraid, and cried out for mercy. The response: ‘Certainly, wicked traitor. Just as you have climbed so high from such a low position, I will bring you down to earth!’ And when he approached, he had his arm outstretched to give him a mighty blow with his sword. Mourtzouphlos saw the blow coming towards him, which there was no possibility of avoiding, except by leaping out of a nearby window from the tower to the earth. He was very badly dismembered, since the height which he leapt from was higher than one could throw a pebble into the air. This turret which Mourtzouphlos leapt from is still called Mourtzouphlos’ Leap, because Mourtzouphlos leapt from it […thanks for that explanation…]. After he had leapt, so many shoes(? - czavates), and rocks, and stones were thrown upon him, that he had a great mountain heaped up on his corpse, and he would never be uncovered. Thus, the city was taken.
Now I will tell you of what the French and the Venetians had arranged before the assault on the city. They had established and arranged that nobody would take anything from within the church, and that all of the possessions which they would take in the city should be all placed together as is right; because the Venetians sought to have their half completely. Because it was written thus in the agreement, when they had hired the fleet at Corbie [note: the Ernoul continuation, following Robert of Clari, believes the agreement with the Venetians was signed at Corbie in France], that of all the yields of the conquest, whatever land it was in, except for the land of Jerusalem, they ought to have half. Afterwards, when they had established this, they got together three bishops who were there—the bishop of Soissons, the bishop of Troyes, and one bishop of Germany—and they threatened with excommunication all those who for any reason would turn back on their agreement, and not bring forward everything they would find so that it could be divided out. Afterwards they threatened with excommunication all of those who might take anything from a church, who would rob a priest or a monk, no matter what they had on them, or would lay a hand upon a woman. Thus, this was established and commanded, and the threat of excommunication promulgated. Before the French entered into Constantinople, they were filled with the Grace of the Holy Spirit, and they had great charity in their hearts, and if a hundred Greeks saw ten Frenchmen, they fled from them. When the French had taken Constantinople, they had the shield of the Lord God held in front of them; yet as soon as they were inside, they threw it down and took up the Shield of the Devil. They ran towards the Holy Church, smashing up the abbeys and robbing them. The greed was so great among them that whatever they should have taken up [to the common trove] they took down. The hate there was so great, and the anger, among them, that the knights said that the poor people had everything secreted away in their possession, and the poor people said that the knights and the priests had it all.
Chronique d’Ernoul, continuation of William of Tyre, trans. Simon Thomas Parsons, from Chronique d'Ernoul et de Bernard le Trésorier, ed. Louis de Mas Latrie (Paris: Renouard, 1871), 407-411, 449-454
These vivid sections on marriages relating to the crusader states in the thirteenth century portray accurately the difficulties of maintaining any form of political or dynastic continuity in Outremer during this period. The first half is a frank portrayal of the barons and nobility of Jerusalem selecting John of Brienne as a mail-order husband for the young Maria of Montferrat, whose father, Conrad, had been killed by the assassins in 1192, while Maria was still in the womb of Isabella of Jerusalem. John of Brienne's (necessary?) consultation with the King of France before his departure, and seeming acquiescence to the abduction of Maria's half-sister, Philippa, by his cousin Erard, are evocatively described. The second half deals with John of Brienne's decision to marry his young daughter (through whom he was, at least in title, King of Jerusalem) Isabella to Frederick II of Germany/Sicily, the enigmatic and somewhat sinister emperor, at this point delaying his own crusading activity. Marriage, or the devil, evidently turned the emperor on to John of Brienne's niece, for some illicit adultery and subsequent domestic violence, alongside political implications...
Now let us leave the topic of King Frederick, who was in Germany, and delayed there for a long time before he went to Rome to be crowned, until the juncture which we will come to in due course, and speak instead of Outremer.
It came to pass that the king Aimery [of Lusignan] died, and that the claim now passed to the daughter of the Marquis Conrad [of Montferrat], whom the assassins had killed. She had no husband, thus one of her uncles was made guardian of the realm (until they decided to whom the kingdom should be given, and thus, who should be lord of the land.) This knight who was made guardian was her uncle and was called John of Ibelin, and was the son of Balian and the queen Maria [Comnena] who was the wife of King Amalric. For four years he was guardian of the land, before a partner was found to whom the young lady could be given, and he held the land well, in peace, against the wishes of the Saracens.
It came to pass that the patriarch, the archbishops and the bishops, and the barons of the land assembled, and the Templars and the Hospitallers, and spoke together, and took counsel on the subject of whom the young lady should be given to, and made king of the land. Then one knight of the realm stood up, and said to them that he knew a knight in France who didn’t have a wife, and that he was a noble man and a valiant one, and if they wished, it seemed to him a good plan to send for him and that he would be well regarded among the realm and she would be justly matched with him. They demanded to know who he was and what his name was. He said that his name was Count John of Brienne. They spoke together, and took counsel, and there were enough of them who knew him well and plenty more who had heard talk of him.
Thus they were in unanimous agreement to send to him and give the young lady to him, and make him king. They appointed messengers, whom they sent to find him. The messengers came to him in France, where he was, and said that those of the land of Outremer sent for him to be their king. When he heard this, he said that he would take advice. Then Count John of Brienne went to the king, and said that, as it happened, they had sent for him to be king in the land of Outremer. The king gave his assent that he should go. And thus, he went and arrived in Acre, and was received in great honour and by huge numbers of nobles. Then he went to Tyre, and married the lady, and bore the crown. When the Saracens knew that the king was at Acre, they broke their truces which they had made with the guardian, and waged war against the Christians.
When King John had taken the crown, he ordered the king of Cyprus to take as his wife [Alice] the daughter of Count Henry of Champagne, whose vassal he [John] had been, insisting that their fathers, Aimery [of Lusignan] and the Count Henry, the father of the bride, had arranged the marriage before their deaths. The king of Cyprus sent for her, and married her, and made her queen.
King John had a blood-cousin, of the name Erard of Brienne. He noticed one day that the King had gone to Tyre. He went to the queen, acting in such a way that she might give him the other daughter of Count Henry for safekeeping. But he secretly married her, as soon as she had entrusted her to him, because he had no desire for the king to be blamed for this, and so that nobody could say that the king had given her to him. When Erard had married the daughter of the Count Henry, he crossed overseas, and went to France. I will speak no more of Erard here, nor of his wife, but perhaps we will hear more of them later.
King John, when he was at Acre, wrote to the pope, in God’s name, that he might send aid, since he had great need of manpower. When the pope heard the news of the land of Outremer, that it had need of assistance and aid, he sent throughout all of Christendom to the best clergy he knew, that they should preach the cross of Outremer. Afterwards he sent cardinals, to advise and confirm what they were doing, and many took the cross from every land.
There was, in France, a good cleric, who preached the cross, having as his name Jacques de Vitry. Where he preached, many took the cross. The canons of Acre elected him, and they sent to the pope asking that he should make Jacques their bishop. And know that this is the truth: if it had not been the wish of the pope, it would not have come to pass. But all obstacles were overcome and he crossed beyond the sea and became bishop, ruling for a long time. He acted very well in the land, but eventually he retired and went back to France, and the pope made him cardinal of Rome.
The first great man who set out on this croiserie was the king of Hungary, bringing with him very many men. And great men from all lands came on this crossing which he king had made, and arrived at Acre.
At this point, when the king of Hungary arrived, the queen, the wife of King John, died, leaving behind a daughter. The king was not able to be without a wife, and sent to the king of Armenia that he might send one of his daughters, and he would take her as his new wife. The king [of Armenia] sent one, and John married her. Afterwards, the king of Armenia came to Acre, when King John had married his daughter. Afterwards, he went to the king of Cyprus with his entire court.
At the point when King John arrived in Apulia, the wife of the emperor [Constance of Aragon, wife of Frederick II] died. And when they had reached that agreement, of which I have spoken, by which the conquests made [during the Fifth Crusade] should fall to the king [John], the pope spoke to the emperor of the possibility of taking the daughter of King John as his wide. The emperor responded to the pope, saying that he would take her willingly through the great love he had for the Father. This he swore on the pope’s hand, and the king swore it also. And there was great joy and rejoicing, and thanks rendered to the Lord God, since his daughter had been married into such a high position. When they had done so, they departed, and the emperor went to Apulia and King John went with the pope back to Rome, where he was received with a procession. Afterwards he went on to France, to King Phillip, who was still living and was acting honourably. Afterwards, he went to England to the king, and then went back to France. And I tell you the truth that in all these lands, and in the cities and castles and towns where he came and went, he was met with processions and great parties.
He did not stay long, since when King John was in France, King Phillip died. He left great wealth to King John, and great support to send to the land of Outremer. King John was in St Denis to bury king Phillip. Afterwards, he was at the coronation of King Louis [VII], his son, at Reims. Then he left France, and went to Saint-James [of Compostella]. On his return, he met the king of Spain at Burgos, who had greeted him with great honour in his lands, and did likewise. There, the king [Alfonso IX/Ferdinand III] gave a sister which he had [to John] to marry. So he married her, and great wealth came with her.
When King John had married his wife, he took leave, and went back to France. When he had been in France for a while, he said goodbye to Louis and his barons. He said that he had to leave, because the emperor was waiting in Apulia to cross the sea to marry his daughter. He went, and wandered until he reached the emperor in Apulia. When he was there, the emperor said that he had sent for his daughter and that she should come there instead, so that he could marry her; he had no desire to go over the sea, on account of the truce that there was in the land of Outremer. The king sent for her, and brought her to Apulia. When she had come, the emperor married her and made her bear a crown. Furthermore, he greatly loved King John, and made him a lord of his land.
The devil of hell, seeing the great love between the emperor and the king, was very mournful. So he entered into the heart of the emperor and made him love a niece of King John, who had come from Outremer with his daughter. He took her virginity, and so spurned his love and his wife. A day came when King John went to see the empress, his daughter, and found her distraught in her chamber, and asked her what had happened. She recounted that the emperor had in such a way acted wrongly against John’s niece, and that he had taken her virginity and kept her as his concubine, and had turned against her. When he heard this, he was very angry, and comforted his daughter as best he could, before taking his leave and going to where the emperor was. When he came upon the emperor, the emperor got up to meet and greet him. The king said that he would not wish him health, because such a disloyal (if not downright wicked) man as himself deserved no greeting; and that all who assented to his being emperor had been shamed by it (with the exception of the king of France), and, if it were not for the sin which would entail or the reproach which he would get from it, he would have killed him right there, and if not, would never eat until he had done so. When the emperor heard this speech, he was filled with fear, and ordered that he [John] should depart his lands, and demanded that he should hand over the money which the king of France had left with him for the land of Outremer. The king replied that he would in no way part with the money, but he would leave the realm, since he would not tarry in the realm of such a treacherous man. And other insults which I won’t tell you now.
King John left that land and went to Rome. The men of Rome heard tell that the king had come, and of the bust-up with the emperor on account of his wickedness. They went to meet and greet him with great honour, and promised that they would lend him aid of 40,000 shields, if he had need of them. He thanked them profusely. He left Rome and went to Lombardy, to Bologna, and stayed there with his wife. When the men of Lombardy heard tell that the king had come to Bologna, they assembled the consuls of the cities, and by common counsel of the land, went to Bologna, and wished him well. They said that all the communes of Lombardy, the cities and the castles, sent him greetings, and welcome; and that, if he wished, they would render to him the entire land, crown him, and make him their king. The king thanked them, and said to them that he would not refuse them, but the land was his daughter’s, who was married to the emperor. In her land, he said, he would never do anything by force, even if he ought to, but he would stay and suffer in the land, that was his wish.
When the emperor had exiled King John, he was deeply ashamed by the King’s words. He went to where his wife was, and beat her very hard, so that she nearly lost the child she was bearing (for she was pregnant). Afterwards, he had her imprisoned in a castle. She was there for a long time, until that time when [the emperor] heard that the king was still in Lombardy. At this point, she was dragged out of prison, and he held her in love as he ought to have done before.
It came to pass that the wife of the emperor delivered a son, and only a short time afterwards, died. When King John heard that his daughter was dead, he was distraught, but regardless, was glad that he had stayed around to hear of this.
A twelfth-century account of the situation inside Antioch during the crusader siege, 1097-98, trans. Simon Thomas Parsons, from Hystoria de via et recuperatione Antiochiae atque Ierusolymarum (olim Tudebodus imitatus et continuatus) : I Normanni d'Italia alla prima Crociata in una cronaca cassinese, ed. by Edoardo D'Angelo, Edizione nazionale dei testi mediolatini, 23 (Florence: SISMEL - Edizioni del Galluzzo, 2009), 39, 61–62.
The Hystoria de via et recuperatione Antiochie et Ierusolymarum (The History of the Pilgrimage to, and the Recovery of, Antioch and the Jerusalemites), also frequently referred to by the name Historia belli Sacri (History of the Holy War), is one of the most neglected First Crusade accounts. It is in large part an amalgamation of a text of the Gesta Francorum tradition and the Tancredus of Ralph of Caen, with several lengthy independent passages. It was composed at the Abbey of Montecassino, probably shortly after 1130, but the compositional circumstances of the text remain relatively obscure.
The passages cited here discuss the situation within Antioch when it was under Christian siege on the First Crusade, that is, between October 1097 and June 1098. These passages are to my knowledge not paralleled in any other crusade source directly, and so should be treated with caution, but paint an intriguing picture of the polyglot and multicultural citizens of Antioch before the siege (or at least the perception of many races co-existing some years later), and the kind of compromises which could be reached between religious enemies, even in the height of conflict. The final section presents a vivid miracle, whereby a statue of Christ is protected from pagan attempts to destroy it, with dramatic effect.
I ought not neglect to mention that all the nobles among the Turks, hearing of the arrival of the Christians in their lands, and the imminent siege of the city, came together in one group and held a council, saying that they should send representatives out to every gate to cast all of the Christians who could wage war outside of the city, except those who wished to deny Christ on the spur of the moment. For they feared greatly, lest they should hand over the city to those Christian pilgrims who were arriving. Therefore, they ordered that the priests, deacons, monks, and all the laity as well, namely the Greeks, Armenians, Syrians, and all those who were strong enough to bear arms, except the women and small children, to be cast out through the gates. The heralds were arrayed before the gates of the city, surrounding the Christians who were going out, lest by chance anyone of them was carrying gold or silver with them, and they allowed nobody to carry anything with them, except their cheap clothes.
The Turks, seeing that the city was in trouble, and all of their nobles had been killed, were sad and devastated. At that time, when the Turks were in Antioch, alas! For the sins and transgressions of the Christians, they entered and threw out the honourable patriarch from the church of blessed Peter, with five hundred canons, monks and other clerics, and ordered them to go to the church of Saint Mary, mother of Christ, and there serve their God zealously in devotion. The Turks held the church of Saint Peter, defiled it more, and in that house of God made three oracles to the devil, and they covered with lime or plaster all the images, which were adorned with the most precious gold and silver, and which shone miraculously throughout the entire church, and wrote demonic letters all over the murals. The Emir made his oracle very ornate, adorned with gold, in front of the door of the church to the right hand side, ordering that no Christian should go there. The patriarch, hearing that the holy church was disgraced, was hugely distraught and lamented the precious images which had been covered up, and instructed the emir not to have the precious statue of our saviour covered up which had been miraculously placed in the middle of the ceiling boards of the church, and also that it should not be dishonoured by anyone for whatever reason, and he bought this right with five hundred solidi (Byzantine Greek coins) paid every year; the emir conceded this to him. All of this took place before our Frankish pilgrims had begun their journey.
61. One day, when the city was laid out under siege, while the Turks were gathered in the church of Saint Peter for the purpose of holding a council—they gathered there to hold councils, since it was very beautiful and decorated with a fine tiled floor—when, as I was saying, they came together to decide what they should do about the siege of the Franks, and looking upwards they saw on the ceiling of the aforementioned church the statue of our Saviour, so very precious, and adorned with purple, so visible, as if it was speaking with them. They addressed it directly: ‘What are you doing there, peasant? Your men besiege us from outside, and you are here watching us? We want neither you nor your men any longer: come down from there at once; if however, you do not want to come down from there, we will shoot you with arrows!’ They started to shoot arrows at once, and none of their arrows dared to approach the statue of the Lord, and if by chance any arrow got close to Him even a little bit, at once it fell to the feet of the Turks, broken by divine grace. When they saw that they could not harm it at all by firing arrows, they were greatly angered; then the emir ordered that one of them should climb up there to where the statue was positioned, and hurl it down to the ground. When the man had confidently climbed up according to the orders of his emir, and wished to approach the very beautiful statue, the ceiling of the church broke beneath his feet, and he fell, and he broke his neck straight away, and he lay dead in the church, all of his limbs scattered about. The others, seeing this, were seized by great terror.
Godfrey’s appeal to the barons after the conquest of Jerusalem (1099), trans. Simon Thomas Parsons, from The Old French Crusade Cycle, ed. by Jan A. Nelson and others, 10 vols (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1977–2003), VI: La Chanson de Jérusalem, ed. by Nigel R. Thorp (1992), 154–55.
In front of the Holy Temple, the knighthood had gathered in great numbers.
Godfrey the King called upon the princes:
‘My lords, I see all too clearly that you wish to depart.
I see you have tied your palm leaves and spikenard and loaded them up.
You would leave me all alone here in this strange land.
We have so many castles to take!
If you lose this city on account of your sins,
All you have done will be worthless.
Think carefully, and stay here for the sake of God:
Serve Our Lord in this Holy City.’
The Count of Flanders responded, ‘Nonsense.
Godfrey, lord and king, you are wrong to say this.
We’re not all made of such stern stuff as you, fashioned out of iron and steel so to speak,
So that we might get through the course of action you suggest.
I, for one, have broken every single one of my ribs.
I have worn my mail-coat for so long, even sleeping in it, come rain and storm;
Over thirty holes have appeared in the leather parts,
My sides and ribs are all messed up and bruised.
And while I’m not in a good way,
There are so many other wretches who are so pitiful and battered:
All of them need rest.
It has been a full year since I saw fresh bed linen,
Or since I washed and combed my hair.
I am so ready to go home, I take my leave.
It’s your choice if you come with us.’
King Godfrey responded: ‘Good sir, adieu!
Because I will not leave here to have my achievements mutilated:
May God and the Holy Trinity be with me.’
This section of the Chanson de Jérusalem, an imaginative early-thirteenth century account of the capture of Jerusalem on the First Crusade (1099) describes the struggle which Godfrey of Bouillon faced in keeping the crusading forces within the city to defend it after the expedition’s initial objectives had been achieved. Although the most recent studies of the text have shown very little evidence that there were any meaningful historical sources for the Jérusalem, and, as a result, the historicity of this passage should be viewed with great scepticism, the emotions expressed probably represent quite well the divergent feelings among the victorious crusaders. Fulcher of Chartres famously reported the paucity of Latin knights who stayed in the East after 1100; we know that many leaders (such as the Robert of Flanders mentioned here) returned home without significant delay. The passage evocatively depicts the sense of exhaustion which must have been felt on all sides, ranged against the desire to maintain a stable state in a ‘strange land’, ‘estrange terre’. A few explanatory notes. The Holy Temple may be what the inhabitants of the Latin East called the Templum Domini, or ‘Temple of the Lord’ (Dome of the Rock) or the Templum Salamonis, or ‘Temple of Solomon’ (Al-Aqsa Mosque). Both are in the same Temple Mount complex and an outside space such as described here can be envisaged which is outside both. In the middle ages, pilgrims often physically wore palm leaves, fashioned into the shape of a cross, on their person to demonstrate their successful completion of a pilgrimage. Spikenard was used as the base of an oil for anointing and healing, and this may have also been part of the celebration of pilgrimage. Both are presented here as being associated with returning crusaders. The second from last line presents some problems—in the Old French ‘Car jo ne m’en iroie por estre desmenbrés’, ‘Because I will not go from here to be dismembered.’ Although it is perfectly possible to render this as a physical dismemberment, that is, the danger faced by returning crusaders on the way back to the West, I have opted to represent ‘desmembrer’ in a figurative sense (for which there are many parallels), ‘to diminish, damage, harm, mutilate’. I think Godfrey is concerned not about physical, but moral and reputational, harm. For this reason, I have supplied ‘my achievements’ to reflect what I see as the intended meaning. The full translated text of the Chanson de Jérusalem, rendered expertly into English by Carol Sweetenham, has recently been published by Routledge in the Crusade Texts in Translation series. The translation here, which differs in a few interpretational focus points, is not based on Sweetenham’s, but will, I hope, encourage interested parties to consult her version!
Jordan Fantôsme was an Anglo-Norman writer c. 1175-1185. He wrote a characterful and fast-paced history of the war between Henry II of England and William I of Scotland, in 1173 and 1174, a conflict which also saw Henry’s son, Henry the Young King, turn against his father in rebellion, causing a limited civil war. This section deals with the dialogue of Robert of Breteuil, Earl of Leicester and his wife, Petronella of Grandmesnil, as they both advance to war outside Bury St. Edmunds in Suffolk, backed up by Flemish knights-for-hire. They had sided with Henry the Young-King, and were consequently fighting against the king’s men. Three sections in particular of this passage indicate cultural tensions: 1) the accusation that the 'English' (evidently not including the Anglo-Norman lords who are speaking, from the pejorative tone, although they are just as English as their opponents who were also Anglo-Normans of French heritage) are tipsy braggarts; 2) The frank admission that Robert's forces were seasonal looters from Northern France looking for wool and plunder, and 3) The arming of Petronella herself and the subsequent implication of Robert's foolishness for letting this transgression occur. Hugh Bigod, of course, said more than 'Sounds good' (in reality, 'n'i ad fors de l'aler, 'there is nothing for it but to go') but the function is the same. Bury St. Edmunds' Tourist Information Centre did not respond to a request for an interview, and seemed curiously uninterested in incorporating this glowing review into their promotional literature.
Jordan Fantôsme's Dialogue of Robert of Breteuil and Petronella of Grandmesnil during the 1173-1174 rebellion against Henry II's rule, trans. Simon Thomas Parsons, from Jordan Fantôsme, Chronicle, ed. R. C. Johnston (Oxford: Clarendon, 1981), 72-74
[Robert]: ‘For too long have I waited to help my lord,
And avenge myself of my injuries against his father the aged king.
My good knights, are any of you going to speak up?
Who will dare to support me in this?’
His wife answered: ‘Yes, my lord, I will. Gladly!
May the Lord God, who is, of course, the rightful king,
Forbid that you leave this course of action on account of Humphrey de Bohun [loyal general commanding the opposition],
Or for the Count of Arundel [William d’Aubigny, another loyal leader], no matter how sweet his words are!
The English are good at boasting, but don’t know how to back it up.
But they know all too well how to drink and guzzle huge tankards of beer.
The count of Gloucester [William FitzRobert] is greatly to be feared,
But he has your sister as his wife and companion.
He wouldn’t try and do anything to your disadvantage,
Not for all the gold in France.’
‘My lady’, said the Earl, ‘I hear what you say;
I must do what you tell me, because I love you a lot.’
[He turns to his ally and friend, Hugh Bigod, Earl of Norfolk]
‘Lord Hugh of the Castle, will you join us?
If you were at Leicester, in great danger,
You would have no need to worry if everyone in England were ranged against you;
You could easily make life hell for them.’
Hugh said: ‘Sounds good’.
You would have heard, then, great and loud cries,
Between the Flemings of Flanders and the French and those of Poix (Normandy):
‘We have not come here to this country on holiday,
But to destroy King Henry the old warrior,
And to get his wool, which we want.’
My lords, this is the truth, most of them were weavers,
And didn’t really know how to bear arms like a knight would.
But this was the reason they had come, to have plunder and war,
Because there is no greater destination than Bury St. Edmunds in England.
Now listen, lord barons, of the great vengeance of God,
Which he brought down on the Flemings and on the people of France.
The Count of Leicester was a very powerful man,
But he was too full of youthful courage and exuberance.
When he thought he could stroll through England publicly,
Carrying out robberies and looting without any disturbance,
And giving arms to his wife, who was kitted out with a lance and shield,
His foolishness led to his undoing.
Translated by Simon Thomas Parsons, from the Latin text presented in Benjamin Z. Kedar, ‘On the Origins of the Earliest Laws of Frankish Jerusalem: The Canons of the Council of Nablus, 1120’, Speculum 74/2 (1999), pp. 310-335.
First Decree of the Nablus Council (1120)
Since the things which originate from God must inevitably end through Him and in Him, so this holy council ought to originate from God and have its end in God. I, Baldwin, second Latin King of the Jerusalemites, setting into motion this holy assembly from God, as He orders, return and grant to the sacrosanct church of Jerusalem and to Warmund, the present patriarch, and his successors the tithes of my revenues, as regard for his diocese demands, that is, the tithes of the revenues of Jerusalem, Nablus, and Ptolemais, which is called Acre by another name, so that he, performing the office of prayer for the state of the kingdom before God, may be able to support the present people with this buttress of royal charity. And if at any time he or any of his successors should ordain a bishop from the growing Christian religion in any of the aforesaid cities, let him distribute the tithes of these cities on behalf of the king and Church.
I, King Baldwin, render to the men of this sacred council, in their sight and with their support, the tithes of my people and my barons relating to their parishes in the same way as I have previously outlined regarding my possessions; and these above-mentioned things which I or they from the church of Jerusalem have withheld. Taking responsibility for them, I ask permission and beg pardon.
I, Patriarch Garmundus, under the guidance of all powerful God and by my power and the power of all the standing bishops and brothers, absolve you of the above and aforesaid rendering of returns and tithes, which you all recognize should be given to God, me, and to your other bishops. In as much as they are parishes of absent or present brothers, I receive them all charitably.
If anyone should be afraid to be treated badly by his wife, whom he suspects of adulterous meetings, let the court prohibit entrance to his house and that of his wife, in the presence of legitimate testators. If, after this decree, the husband himself or one of his friends finds them conversing [at] her home or elsewhere, the man should be summoned to the judgment of the church without any mutilation of his limbs (!), and if he cleanses himself by the ordeal of hot iron, he will be let free without punishment. Furthermore, if he finds anything underhand in the process of obtaining evidence, he will go unpunished for the breaking of the decree, but not necessarily unpunished for the adultery.
If one is proven to have slept with the wife of another, the accepted sentence is castration and exile. The woman adulterer's nose should be cut off, unless her husband wishes to show his mercy. If he does so, however, both are to be exiled across the sea.
If anyone should have suspicions about a cleric, he may prohibit the cleric from entering his home or speaking with his wife, as we have previously said. If he later finds them speaking together, let him show evidence to the magistrate of the church. And if after this, he discovers them lying together or speaking together, then let him at last bring them to justice. Because if clerical justice exonerates him, thereafter he will be subject to sentencing in lay courts.
If a brothel keeper or female mistress corrupts someone's wife with words and makes them commit sexual crimes, let them come under the sentence of an adulterer.
If any adult had defiled themselves with the wickedness of sodomy by their own free will, and it is proven, let both the one doing and the one receiving be burned.
If a child or someone, led into it by another, should be defiled by force by a sodomite and thereafter make a protest, let the sodomite be surrendered to the flames. He who truly does not sin by their own will, let him do penance according to the ecclesiastical sentence and not fall into legation.
If anyone who has endured the wicked crime of sodomy by force at any time, and who hid it, and once more allows himself to be defiled without disclosing it to justice—when he is afterwards found guilty, then he will be judged as a sodomite.
If any sodomite comes to their senses before being accused, and is led to penance for this abominable wickedness, and rejects this practice by swearing an oath, let him be received in a church and be judged according to the sentence of the canons. If, however, the accused falls back into these practices and wishes to do penance a second time, indeed let him be allowed to do penance but be exiled from the Kingdom of Jerusalem.
If anyone should be proven to have had sex with a Saracen woman consensually, let his penis be cut off and let the Saracen women's nose be cut off.
If anyone should force himself on his Saracen slave woman, she herself will be confiscated, and he himself will be castrated.
If anyone should force himself on the Saracen slave woman of another, he will undergo the same sentence as an adulterer.
If a Christian woman should breed with a Saracen by her own free will, let both receive the same sentence as adultery. If in fact she was forcefully raped by him, she will not be held herself at fault, but the Saracen will be castrated.
If a Saracen man or woman should dress themselves in the Frankish manner, let them be captured and put into slavery.
If anyone has a living wife, but has brought home another as successor to his former wife, and confesses this to his priest before the Quadragesima Sunday of the first year of their living together, let the confessed do penance and from then on follow the precept according to the church. If he hides it for longer, his property will be confiscated and the trickster himself will be banished publicly from this land.
If any man unknowingly has married the wife of another, or a woman unknowingly married the husband of another, ignorance serves as their defence, and, with their partner in exile, let them be free to marry again and to stay in the land.
If anyone wishing to divorce, states that he himself has another living wife he had married, either let him prove it by the ordeal of hot iron or by law-worthy witnesses, who by swearing oaths can prove it for him, all to a magistrate of the church. We have established firmly that whatever sentences apply for errors for the male gender, we confirm the same in the female gender.
If a cleric should bear arms for the sake of defense, let him not be held culpable. If however he abandons his office on account of knighthood or serving in the court, let the confessed return the benefice of his office to the full limit to the church and from then on carry himself according to the precept of the patriarch. If however he should carry on concealing his status, let him explain himself in front of the council of the king and patriarch.
If a monk or regular canon should apostate, let him either return to his order or to his country.
Whosoever should accuse another and is unable to prove it, let him be subject to the same penalty.
If anyone should be convicted of robbery, if the property was worth more than one bezant, let his body parts be mutilated: hand or foot or eyes. If the stolen property was worth less than one bezant, let a brand be burned onto his face, and be led through the village yielding to whips. And if something should be found on him, let the stolen property be returned to him the original owner; if in fact he has nothing on him, what happens to his body should be decided by the victim of the crime. If he should perpetrate this crime again, let him be deprived of all his limbs or life.
If anyone should commit a robbery and was underage, let him be guarded until his case may be heard in the court of the king.
If anybody should catch one of his noble peers in the act of theft, let his body parts not be mutilated, but let him be sent into the court of the king for judgment.
The twenty-five canons of the council that Patriarch Warmund of Jerusalem and King Baldwin II of Jerusalem convened in Nablus on 16 January 1120 constitute the only extant body of Latin ecclesiastical legislation promulgated in the First Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem (1099-1187). The council and the promulgation of its decrees directly followed a catastrophic battle (the Battle of the Field of Blood in 1119) and are now mostly interpreted as a reaction against perceived loss of Latin Christian cultural identity and an attempt to regain God's favour, which had evidently been lost, the battle being proof of this. It combats miscegenation, sodomy, adultery, and cultural merging.
Translated by Simon Thomas Parsons from Vatican City, Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, MS Reg. Christ. 1283, fol. 73v. The most recent edition is to be found in Simon Thomas Parsons, ‘The Letters of Stephen of Blois Reconsidered’, Crusades, 17 (2018, publ. 2019), 25-26. A full contextualisation of the letters is given in that article: in summary, we should not be too hasty in ascribing the status of genuine epistolary material to these letters, which show close resemblances to other First Crusade narrative.
Stephen, count, to sweet beloved Countess Adela, his wife, whatever greetings her mind can dream up more delightful or benign. May it be brought to your loving attention, that I have made the journey, with all honour, and in all good health, to Romania. I have taken care to write letters to you of my progress and pilgrimage leading up to Constantinople, but lest something unfortunate has happened to that messenger, I rewrite these words to you. By the grace of God, I reached the city of Constantinople, with great rejoicing. The emperor, truly worthy and upright, received me most attentively, as if I were his own son, enriching me with very precious and numerous gifts; in the entire army of God (and ours) there was no duke, count, or other powerful person whom he favoured, or trusted in, more than me. Indeed, my love, his imperial dignity often advised, and continues to advise, me to entrust one of our own sons to him [in fosterage]. He has promised to bestow upon him such great and extensive magnificent honour, that he will in no way be envious of ours! In truth, I tell you, there is no other such man living under heaven today. For he enriches all of our princes very generously, restores the fortunes of all the knights with gifts, and refreshes the poor by providing food for feasts.
Near the city of Nicaea is a fortification called Civitot, near to where an arm of the sea runs [inland], which the pious emperor’s personal ships ply day and night to Constantinople, whence they bear food to the camp for the poor, which is distributed to great numbers of them every day. In our era, it seems to us, there has been no prince so distinguished by the universal probity of his actions. Your father, my love, gave often and very greatly, but he was nearly nothing compared to this. I took delight in writing these few words about him to you, in order that you might know a little about what kind of man he is. After ten days where he kept me with him, treating me with great respect, I departed from him as if from a father. He ordered ships to be prepared for me, on which I swiftly crossed the arm of the tranquil sea which surrounds the city. They say that this arm of the sea, around Constantinople, is savage and dangerous, but this is false: there is nothing there to be scared of any more than there is with the Marne or the Seine. We came from that arm of the sea to another, known as the Arm of St George. That one, because we could find too few ships, we conquered in many stages. We directed our journey towards Nicomedia where the aforementioned Arm of the sea reached its end, a city despoiled by the Turks, in which the blessed martyr Pantaleon suffered for Christ.
We then hastened to the great city of Nicaea, blessing God. More than three hundred towers and walls of astounding size, my love, enclose Nicaea. We found Turks, brave warriors, within this city, where, as we found out, the endless army of God spent four weeks locked in deadly conflict with the Nicaeans. Shortly before we had joined the army, Soliman, the prince of the Turks, having prepared for war, had attacked our men suddenly with a great host. He thought himself able, in such a way, to break into the city to reinforce his men, but the mercy of God caused things to turn out differently from his wicked intention. Our men, quickly preparing [for battle], received with courageous hearts the Turks, who, turning their backs at once in flight, gave themselves up as one to the retreat. Our men, pursuing them very keenly, killed many of them, and chased them off, wounding and killing them over a long stretch of land. If it were not for the fact that steep mountains were unfamiliar to our men, they would, that day, have fallen in brutal and incurable slaughter. Of all our men, not one died at this point. However, afterwards, our great combined army engaged in many bitter combats and killed many of the Turks, even important ones, with bows and ballistae; some of our men were cut down [then], but truly not many: not one named knight, except Baldwin, Count of Ganz, from Flanders.
Then our princes, worthy of God, seeing that Nicaea, as we have said, was fortified with towers, so greatly that it could not be overcome with arms, constructed with great labour very high wooden towers with battlements and diverse machines [of war]. The Turks, seeing this, compelled by fear, handed over the city to the emperor through messengers, on the condition that he would allow them to go free from the city under safe conduct, without their possessions, and that they might be held alive in the emperor’s captivity. The worthy emperor, hearing this, hastened to us. However, he did not dare to enter into his Nicaea, lest the endless throng of people, who venerated him as a pious father, might crush him in the midst of their celebration.
He retired to a certain island of his near to us, to which all of our princes hurried, except for me and the Count of Saint-Gilles, to give thanks with him for so great a victory; he received all of them, as he ought, with great affection. He was overjoyed when he heard that I had remained in the town, in case the wicked host of Turks should come upon the city and our army. He received this news, that I stayed behind, more joyfully and magnanimously than if I had given him a mountain of gold. On that island, where he was staying, the great emperor apportioned the precious things that had been plundered from the city of Nicaea to the knights—namely gold, gems, silver, cloaks, horses and other such things—while all the food supplies were to be distributed to the footsoldiers; he committed to enriching all the princes from his own treasury.
Just as we said previously, with God being triumphant, great Nicaea was surrendered on the thirteenth Kalends of July (19th of June 1097). It can be read that in the early church, the sacred fathers celebrated a holy synod at Nicaea, and the Arian heresy was destroyed, and, under the instruction of the Holy Spirit, they confirmed the faith of the Holy Trinity: the city, which afterwards, on account of sin, had been made a teacher of error, now, by the favour of God, was made a disciple of the truth through his servants, sinners though they be.
I say to you, my love, that from the oft-mentioned Nicaea we will reach Jerusalem in five weeks, unless Antioch holds us up.
 Lit. ‘by ascent’. This sentence has proven difficult to translate – Barber and Bate (Letters, 16) see it as evidence that Stephen conducted this section of his journey by foot. This has the advantage of explaining why the lack of ships is relevant, but is a circuitous and unclear way of describing land travel for which many more obvious solutions are patent. I suggest ‘ascensu’ as meaning in stages, as if up a flight of steps. The translation remains an open question.
Translated by Simon Thomas Parsons from Bibliothèque nationale de France, MS latin 14192, fols 24v–26r. The most recent edition is to be found in Simon Thomas Parsons, ‘The Letters of Stephen of Blois Reconsidered’, Crusades, 17 (2018, publ. 2019), 26-28.
Stephen, count, to Ad[el]a, sweetest and most lovable wife, and to their dearest children, and to all their vassals both great and small, the grace and blessing of his full greetings. Know this, my dearest, that the messenger whom I sent to your loving attention, left me before [the walls of] Antioch, healthy, unharmed, and blessed with all prosperity, by the grace of God. Even to get here, we stuck for twenty-three continuous weeks to [the path to] the see of our Lord Jesus, with the entire chosen army of Christ, with the help of His great virtue. Know this for certain, my love: I now have twice as much gold, silver, and other diverse riches than your love assigned to me when I left you. For all of our princes, by the common counsel of the entire army, have established me as their lord, governor, and steward in all of their actions up to now, despite my protestations.
You have heard enough of how, after the capture of the city of Nicaea, we had a great battle with the wicked Turks, and how we conquered them completely with God’s assistance. After this we first acquired, through God, all the regions of Romania, and then Cappadocia; and we came to know of a prince of the Turks, Assám by name, who dwelt in Cappadocia. We made our way there. We completely conquered all his castles by force, and routed him from the most impregnable fortification high on the rocks, where he had taken refuge. We gave the land of that Assám to one of our princes, in order that he might conclude the war with the aforementioned Assám, and left him there with many thousands of knights of Christ for this purpose. Then we, pursuing the abominable Turks through Armenia, caused them to flee all the way to the great river Euphrates, and at the banks of that river, they threw off all their packs and saddlebags, and fled right through the river into Arabia. The bravest knights from among those Turks hurried onwards, entering the province of Syria, galloping day and night, in order to get into the royal city of Antioch before our arrival. Learning of this, the entire army of God gave thanks and worthy praises to the Almighty.
Hastening to the aforementioned princely city of Antioch with great joy, we besieged it. We had very frequent battles with the Turks there, and, in truth, fought with the citizens of Antioch seven times (and their endless allies who came to help them), running to meet them, our spirits fiercer than theirs, with Christ leading us. In all seven battles, the Lord God working with us, we were victorious, and slaughtered a truly uncountable number of them. In these battles and in the many assaults made on the city, they killed many of our brothers in Christ, whose souls they truly exalted to the joys of paradise.
We discovered that the truly mighty city of Antioch was unbelievably strong and unassailable. More than five thousand brave knights of the Turks had gathered in the city, in addition to the Saracens, Publicani, Arabs, Turcopoles, Syrians, Armenians, and other diverse peoples, of whom an infinite number had assembled in that place. Because of these enemies of God, and of us, whom we are ranged against, we have suffered many labours and endless persecutions by the grace of God up until now. Many have already given everything to this holiest martyrdom. Indeed, many of our French-born men would have succumbed to worldly death through hunger, if both the clemency of God and our wealth had not come to their assistance. Throughout the winter, before the aforementioned city of Antioch, we endured extreme cold, and endless downpours of rain, for Christ our Lord. What some people say, that the heat of the sun in all of Syria can scarcely be tolerated, is wrong, for their winter is just the same as ours in the West.
When Caspian, emir (that is, prince and lord) of Antioch, saw that he was in a dire situation on account of us, he sent his son, Sensadolus by name, to the prince who holds Jerusalem, and Ridwan, prince of Aleppo, and Duqaq, prince of Damascus. Then he sent him to Arabia, to Bolianuth, and to Coroscane, to Hamelnuth. These five emirs, with twelve thousand chosen knights of the Turks, came at once to the relief of Antioch. We, completely unaware of this, sent many of our knights to [nearby] cities and castles, for there were 165 cities and fortifications in our possession throughout Syria. However, a short while before they arrived at the city, we attacked them on a certain plain, three miles distant, by the Iron Bridge, with seven hundred knights. God fought for us, his faithful, against them. For on that day we overcame them in battle, by the strength of God, and we killed an uncountable number of them, God, as always, fighting alongside us, and we brought back more than two hundred of their decapitated heads to the army, so that the people of Christ might rejoice in them. Indeed, the emperor of Babylonia sent to us, in our camp, his Saracen envoys with his letters, and through them a treaty was agreed, and peaceful relations established with us.
I delight in telling you, my dearest, what happened to us this lent. Our princes instructed a castle to be built in front of a certain gate, which was between our camp and the sea, since every day Turks would pour out through it, killing our men who were travelling to the coast (for the city of Antioch was five leagues from the sea). For this reason, [the princes] sent the distinguished Bohemond, and Raymond, count of Saint-Gilles, [to the sea] with sixty thousand knights, to bring sailors from there to help in this endeavour. When, however, they were returning to us with those sailors, an army of Turks swarmed together, and rushed upon the two unprepared princes of ours, casting them into a dangerous rout. In that (as we said before) unexpected flight, we lost more than five hundred of our foot soldiers, to the glory of God. Of our knights, only two were lost for certain. On that same day, we went out to meet them, so as to receive our brothers-in-arms with rejoicing, ignorant of their misfortune. When, however, we approached the aforementioned gate, the host of Antiochene knights and foot soldiers rushed upon our men as well, heads held high in triumphant disposition. Our men, seeing this, sent word to the Christian camp that all who were prepared for battle should follow and join us. While our men were still gathering together, the princes who had been separated from the rest, namely Bohemond and Raymond, arrived with the remainder of their force, and they told the story of the great misfortune that had befallen them. Our men, aflame with anger at this terrible news, prepared to die for Christ, charged into the heathen Turks, acting out of distress for their brothers’ fate. The enemies of God, and ours, immediately fleeing before us, tried to get back into their city, but things turned out differently, by the grace of God. For when they tried to cross over the bridge fording the great river, where the mosque was built, with us close on their tails, we slaughtered many of them before they reached the bridge, and we toppled many into the river, who all ended up dead, and we killed many also on the bridge itself, and even more before the gate itself. Truly, my beloved, I say to you (and you should believe this to be the truth) that in that battle we killed thirty emirs, that is, princes, and three hundred noble Turkish knights, and many other Turks and pagans besides. The number of dead Turks and Saracens was counted as 1, 230; however, we did not lose a single person.
While my chaplain Alexander was writing this letter in a hurry the day after Easter, part of our force set an ambush for the Turks, and won a victory against them, the Lord guiding them, and they killed sixty of their knights, whose decapitated heads they brought back to the camp.
These things which I write to you, my dearest, are but some of many, and because I cannot express to you those things which are in my heart, my dearest, I ask of you that you act well, and govern your lands carefully, and treat your sons and your vassals decently, as befits you, since you will certainly see me as soon as I am able to bring it about. Farewell.
 An ambiguity of the Latin means this can either be interpreted as the crusaders pursuing, ‘insequentes’, the Turks, or vice versa—the Turks stalking the Latins as they journeyed onwards. In the context of the Turks flight from Dorylaeum, however, and the topos of fleeing pagans familiar from all the First Crusade texts, it is clear it ought to be the former, contra Barber and Bate, Letters, 23.
 Yaghi-Siyan, governor of Antioch.
 Shams ad-Dawla, his son.
 Bolianuth and Hamelnuth are difficult to trace to real figures, but are found also in Bartolf of Nangis, RHC Oc. 3: 487–544 (497). Coroscane (or Corathaniam) is Khorasan in Greater Persia, but see Alan V. Murray, 'Coroscane: Homeland of the Saracens in the Chansons de geste and the Historiography of the Crusades', in Aspects de l'épopée romane: mentalités, idéologies, intertextualités, ed. by Hans Van Dijk and Willem Noomen (Gröningen: Forsten, 1995), 177-184.
 Egypt; the writer is probably talking about the Fatimid authorities.
 Hagenmeyer, considering the reading of the manuscript to be ‘ohne allen Zweifel irrig’, amended this passage to read ‘LX tantum militum comitibus’. (Epistulae, 151, 288). There is nothing wrong with the grammar of the manuscript’s reading, so he presumably did this on the basis of the historical unlikelihood of sixty thousand knights accompanying Bohemond and Raymond—but large numbers of combatants are a feature of the narratives of the First Crusade. See John France, Victory, 127; for another crusader detachment of 60, 000, see AA, 132. Another crusade letter, the first letter of Anselm of Ribemont, enumerated the pagan armies at Dorylaeum as 260, 000: Epistulae, 145). There is no good reason to reject the manuscript’s reading. Hagenmeyer also follows d’Achery in adding ‘ad mare’ to this sentence when the manuscript lacks it. Sixty thousand is implausible, but Hagenmeyer and others have read ‘sixty’ against the testimony of the manuscript.