The individual narratives brought together here reveal insight into the two hundred year struggle for possession of Jerusalem, in the words of two soldiers who participated first-hand in the bloody campaigns. Geffroy de Villehardouin (1150-1212?) was an appointed marshal of Champagne, France, whose "Conquest of Constantinople" recounts the controversial Fourth Crusade of 1204, against Eastern Christians in the Latin empire of Constantinople. Jean de Joinville (1224-1317) inherited the office of seneschal of Champagne at a young age, and wrote "Life of Saint Louis" after having accompanied King Louis IX on his first crusade and later living as a friend in his court. These accounts, originally composed in Old French, are considered to be some of the most accurate portrayals of the Crusades, and give fascinating insight into the religious and political fervor that sparked centuries of brutal battles and the struggle for holy conquest. -- P. 4 of cover.
X of France, and covers his two crusades, which were not great successes. The books were written in the 1200's and the translation is quite readable. Read twice.
I developed a soft spot for Joinville reading the book's introduction - the translator writes that both accounts were most likely dictated as reading or writing was not considered necessary to a knight's education. It is not known if Villehardouin could write, but "three short documents in a childish scrawl, with the statement 'this was written by me'.. attest Joinville's pride in a rare achievement."
Joinville is interested in everything - there is a lovely description of a fossil. He is clearly devoted to Louis IX, the king who would later be canonised, but is not afraid to disagree with him at times. He disapproves of the king's emotional neglect of his wife and children.(Sadly, the queen can never take comfort in the platitude "he's no saint but...") Joinville also convinces the king to prolong his stay instead of returning to France as he is worried about those who will be left behind, unable to afford to get back to France. There is a touching scene where Joinville leans with his arms through a grating, anxiously waiting for the king to make a decision. Examples given to emphasise the king's piety may seem a bit odd to modern sensibilities - a man who murders three robbers in a vigilante attack is given a place in the king's retinue (he's a good shot..) while someone caught swearing is subjected to facial mutilation. Much as this is a hagiography, the king comes across as a bit of a ninny - he is rather easily influenced, and finally fatally conned into going off on a last crusade by his brother(Joinville wisely stayed home for that one).
De Joinville's work claims to be a biography of Louis IX and it is bracketed with a bit about him, but what this really is is de Joinville's memoirs of the seventh crusade. There's a clear narrative with some well realised battle scenes. Thoroughly enjoyable and a great window into the Medieval mind. Misguided as de Joinville may be you can't help feeling for him.
He seemed completely honest [by his lights] and leaves us a logical, reasonable recitation of the facts. He did no bragging about himself; in fact he wrote about himself in 3rd person and gave no more importance to himself than to anyone else. It was interesting to read an account by a crusader who thought it perfectly acceptable to turn on another Christian city so violently. Most discussions of the 4th Crusade bring out how horrible and unfair it was. Style was simple but somewhat stilted. The repetitious vocabulary could have been the fault of the particular translation. But the text was limpid and flowed along. It lacked any descriptive flourishes and bored me with interminable names of the noblemen and their titles. Three Byzantine emperors named Alexius confused me; it took me awhile to figure out exactly who he was writing about any time Alexius was mentioned. This is a valuable primary source on this historical period. It is not meant for entertainment or enjoyment.