Troubadour Lyrics and Chronicles: Writing the Crusades
Individual examinations of troubadour lyrics and chronicles would not situate the crusading movement within its social context; together, however, troubadour lyrics and chronicles can be used in tandem to form a perspective on the Crusades. Troubadour lyrics – precisely crusading lyrics – allow insight into the author’s motivation and intended audience during that time. Chronicles, on the other hand, offer this along with the repercussions of an event through time. They also allow the historian to draw conclusions about the relationship between the writing of history to history itself.
The study of troubadour lyrics, as it relates to the crusades, is currently in its infancy. As part of a four-year project, Linda Paterson, is translating and analysing lyrical responses to the Crusades.Her examination of crusading lyrics, and the reaction of the general public to those lyrics, tells us much about changing attitudes during the medieval period. Indeed, one might undertake a similar study of the chronicles and compare it to lyrics of this period.
The intended audience of both sources varies. Crusading songs were often performed in public or at the courts of the troubadour’s noblemen and masters, while the chronicles were written to stand the test of time. This drastically impacts the content. This manifests, for example in Ara pot hom connoisser e proar (Now one can know and prove), as propaganda. The source text dates just after 1201, when Boniface of Montferrat was appointed the leader of the Fourth Crusade. Here, it becomes more difficult to identify Raimbaut’s live audience. In the sixth and seventh stanzas, Raimbaut uses emotive language to address other figures and groups which might have been present. Joseph Linskill, however, says that Raimbaut would not have been likely to accompany Boniface to his election, and so the piece must have been composed elsewhere — likely at the court of Montferrat. It is much more difficult to pinpoint the audience for the anonymous troubadour’s Tals gen prezich’e sermona (Some people preach and sermonise), which was at first falsely attributed to Giraut de Borneil.
Still, the relationship between chronicles and audiences does not indicate a causality. Chronicles were written to serve as a history of the period. As such the audience themselves impacted the content of the chronicles. This is supported by the two chronicles of Geoffroy de Villehardouin and Jean de Joinville, detailing the Fourth and the Seventh Crusades: two failed expeditions sent east.
Villehardouin played an important role in the Fourth Crusade. It is arguable that the historiography attempts to absolve him from sin. Villehardouin states that the expedition suffered ‘great damage’, when those who went to ‘different ports did not go to Venice!’ He even goes as far as to claim that, had they not gone to different ports, the ‘land of the Turks [would have been] laid low.’ Indeed, Villehardouin was one of six envoys that were sent to Venice to organise the transport of the crusaders. He would not have wanted to answer for overestimating the number during negotiations; had this been the case, much of the blame would have been placed on his and the other envoys’ shoulders.
The target audience differs for Joinville. Written as a history of the life of Saint Louis, who was canonised less than 30 years following his death, the text is vital to our understanding of King Louis IX of France. In the prologue, Joinville explicitly states that the work was written ‘to do further honour to this true saint’. We can easily see the influence of the audience on his work. The piece is, in essence, an exemplification of the extent of Louis’ piousness. The author not only solidifies Louis IX as a holy man, but strives to shape the future of the French monarchy, under the light of this great crusader king.
Joinville’s is an idealized portrait of a pious, crusader king. The portrait is all the more interesting, given that Louis IX’s Crusades took place towards the fall of the Latin Kingdom, during the middle and latter halves of the thirteenth century. The Crusades were in a state of flux, having devolved into a secular war. Joinville’s depiction of King Louis’ unshakable piety challenges this.
Conversely, it could be argued that Villehardouin wrote the history of the Fourth Crusade for posterity. Much of what is known of the Fourth Crusade is based on Villehardouin and his commitment to provide ‘an accurate and honest account of the events.’ Michael Angold argues that he was a lone survivor ‘who felt the need to celebrate his companions-in-arms,’ and that this narrative afforded him the opportunity of doing just that.
Still, the aforementioned anonymous lyrics falsely attributed to Giraut de Borneil give a different portrayal of the crusading movement. In stanza five, the author writes that ‘the pope sleeps so soundly… that I see no baron opposing the Saracen people.’ The author’s motivation is clear: he or she is not impressed with the state of crusading, and wrote this piece as an attack to provoke a response.
Raimbaut might have also wanted to provoke in Ara pot hom connoisser e proar. As a close friend of Boniface, he may have had ulterior motives. Raimbaut’s motivation was to advertise and celebrate his master’s succession to the leadership. The need for support of Boniface’s election is urged by two factors: that Boniface was not the first choice, and that less than the projected number of crusaders arrived in Venice. Raimbaut attests to this in stanza one, writing that ‘God has given him might, good fighters…the better to fulfill what he must do’.
Troubadour lyrics and chronicles offer historians a wealth of knowledge about the crusading movement. Together, the two source-types paint a contrasting picture. While their uses may differ, the sources complement one another: the lyrics, written for entertainment, provide a snapshot of contemporary attitudes towards the Crusades; meanwhile, the chronicles reveal how the authors’ wanted us to perceive and preserve their history.
The sources for this piece present various challenges. Questions of audience, author-motivation, manuscript dating and translation and transcription error must be acknowledged. Still, this does not mean that the sources do not offer valuable insights; on the contrary, they offer an incredibly rich account of a historical period with limited sources available. It would be impossible to evaluate truth from fiction— as in, for example, Villehardouin’s work — without cross-referencing many, varying primary sources. Medieval studies would benefit from this kind of interdisciplinary study, when the historian is unable to root out the truth from a historical documents alone. Literary documents such as troubadour lyrics and chronicles are equally invaluable.