Fashion in French Crusade Literature: Desiring Infidel Textiles

  • Sarah-Grace Heller
Part of the The New Middle Ages book series (TNMA)


From around 1190 to well into the fifteenth century,1 audiences and readers in Northern France (and also even Occitania or Iberia2) with a mind to reminisce about the Crusades could read or hear rhymed stories of the sieges of Antioch and Jerusalem, and of the adventures of the men captured at Civetot. Such narratives, part of what is now referred to as the Old French Crusade Cycle,3 mingle battle scenes and depictions of suffering with many descriptions of rich armor and robes worn by Sultans, Amirs, and Frankish knights, booty in the form of Saracen4 silks and gold, and marvelously woven and embroidered tents.


Fashion System Gift Exchange IslamIC Culture Gold Thread Moral Trait 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 1.
    The Old French Crusade Cycle contains many branches. I discuss the works of the central nucleus here, referring to the editions of Suzanne Duparc-Quioc, La Chanson d’Antioche Edition du texte d’après la version ancienne. Documents relatifs à l’histoire des croisades (Paris: Geuthner, 1976), abbreviated “Antioche”; Geoffrey M. Myers, The Old French Crusade Cycle, 5: Les Chétifs (Tuscaloosa and London: University of Alabama Press, 1981), abbreviated “Chétifs”; andGoogle Scholar
  2. Nigel R. Thorp, The Old French Crusade Cycle, 6: La Chanson de Jérusalem (Tuscaloosa and London: University of Alabama Press, 1992), abbreviated “Jerusalem.” Translations are my own. On the dating of the cycle and the manuscript tradition, seeGoogle Scholar
  3. Emanuel J. Mickel, Jr., Jan A. Nelson, and Geoffrey M. Myers, eds., The Old French Crusade Cycle, vol. 1: La Naissance du Chevalier au Cygne (Tuscaloosa and London: University of Alabama Press, 1977), xiii–lxxxviii.Google Scholar
  4. 2.
    There are surviving fragments of an Occitan Song of Antioch (Paul Meyer, “Fragment d’une chanson d’Antioche en provençal,” Archives de la Société de l’Orient Latin 2 (1884): 467–509); given the generally poor survival rate of Occitan manuscripts, the existence of fragments suggests that more copies were likely in circulation at one time. The Gran Conquista de Ultramar is a Spanish rewriting of the entire cycle; Louis Cooper and Franklin M. Waltman, eds., La Gran Conquista de Ultramar, Biblioteca Nacwnal MS 1187 (Madison: The Hispanic Seminary of Medieval Studies, 1989). On both versions, seeGoogle Scholar
  5. Suzanne Duparc-Quioc, Le cycle de la croisade (Paris: Champion, 1955), 171–205 and 45–55, 84–5, respectively.Google Scholar
  6. 4.
    I use the term “Saracen” to indicate the Frankish representation of the Muslim peoples encountered in the Levant, as it is used in Old French It is often used synonymously with “pagan,” “Turk,” and “Persian,” less often with “Arab.” On the origins and significance of the term, Paul Bancourt, Les Musulmans des les chansons de geste du cycle du roi, 2 vols (Aix-en-Provence: Université de Provence, 1982), 1: 1–32,Google Scholar
  7. William Wistar Comfort, “The Literary Role of the Saracens in the French Epic,” PMLA 55 (1940): 628–59;CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Mark Skidmore, The Moral Traits of Christian and Saracen as Portrayed by the Chansons de Geste (Colorado Springs: Dentan, 1935), 26.Google Scholar
  9. 6.
    There are at least 16 known extant manuscripts, fragments, or mentions of the cycle in medieval library catalogues, quite a significant number compared to many chansons de geste. Charles V’s library contained no less than 14 different romances, histories, and chronicles related to Godfrey of Bouillon and the First Crusade, many of which do not correspond to anything extant (Myers, The Old French Crusade Cycle, vol. 1, xiii–lxxxviii, esp. lx). Chétifs in particular shows considerable variability amongst its ten extant versions (Myers, introduction to Chétifs, xv–xxii); given that it is less based on historical events than Antioche or Jérusalem, it seems to have been more open to manipulation by poetic imagination. For a good discussion of medieval reading practices and aurahty, see Joyce Coleman, Public Reading and the Reading Public in Late Medieval England and France (Cambridge, Eng.: Cambridge University Press, 1996);Google Scholar
  10. Paul Zumthor, Essai de poétique médiéval (Paris: Seuil, 1972), 37–8, 70; also the essays in New Literary History 16:1 (1984).Google Scholar
  11. 8.
    There is a large body of work on medieval Islamic textiles, much based on various museum collections. For recent bibliography, Patricia L. Baker, Islamic Textiles (London: British Museum Press, 1995); alsoGoogle Scholar
  12. Maurice Lombard, Etudes d’économie médiévale: Les textiles dans le monde musulman du VIIe au XIIe siècle (Paris: Mouton, 1978); for a geographical treatment,Google Scholar
  13. R. B. Serjeant, Islamic Textiles Material for a History up to the Mongol Conquest (Beirut: Librairie du Liban, 1972).Google Scholar
  14. 9.
    By “fashion system,” I am distinguishing the tendency to seek adornment—probably present to some degree in most societies—from a social system that revolves around the consumption and production of novelty, the expression of self through display of originality, and so on. For a full development of this notion, see Sarah-Grace Heller, “Robing Romance: Fashion and Literature in Thirteenth-Century France and Occitama” (Ph.D. Dissertation, University of Minnesota, 2000). See also Roland Barthes, Système de la mode (Paris: Seuil, 1967);Google Scholar
  15. Gilles Lipovetsky, L’empire de l’éphémère (Paris: Gallimard, 1987);Google Scholar
  16. Herbert Blumer, “Fashion: From Class Differentiation to Collective Selection,” Sociological Quarterly 10 (1969): 275–91.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. 10.
    The Crusade Cycle is still in the process of being edited, published by the University of Alabama Press. For the general plan of the work, see Emanuel J. Mickel, Jr., Jan A. Nelson, and Geoffrey M. Myers, eds., The Old French Crusade Cycle, vol. 1, xiii–lxxxviii. For summaries, Karl-Heinz Bender, “La Geste d’Outremer ou les épopées françaises des croisades,” in La Croisade: réalités et fictions. Actes du colloque d’Amiens, 18–22 mars 1987, ed. Danielle Buschinger (Goppingen: Kummerle, 1989), 19–30;Google Scholar
  18. Alfred Foulet, “The Epic Cycle of the Crusades,” in A History of the Crusades, ed. Kenneth M. Setton, Harry W. Hazard, and Norman P. Zacour (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1989), 98–115. For studies on the work’s historical authenticity and style, Suzanne Duparc-Quioc, Le cycle de la croisade (Paris: Champion, 1955) and La Chanson d’Antioche. Etude critique, 2 vols. (Paris: Geuthner, 1978).Google Scholar
  19. 11.
    Phihppa Pullar, Consuming Passions: A History of English Food and Appetite (London: Hamish Hamilton, 1970), 82.Google Scholar
  20. 12.
    Michael Batterberry and Ariane Batterberry, Fashion: The Mirror of History, 2nd ed. (New York: Greenwich House, 1982), 82–5.Google Scholar
  21. 13.
    Recently, scholars of medieval dress have come to agree that men were more involved in the fashion system in this period than were women. Odile Blanc, Parades et parures: l’invention du corps de mode à la fin du Moyen Age (Pans: NRF, 1997), 31, 34, 191–2;Google Scholar
  22. Pernne Mane and Françoise Piponmer, Dress in the Middle Ages, trans Caroline Beamish (New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 1997), 77–79; alsoGoogle Scholar
  23. Sarah-Grace Heller, “Light as Glamour: The Luminescent Ideal of Beauty in the Roman de la Rose,” Speculum 76 (2001), 951–2, and “Fashioning a Woman: The Vernacular Pygmalion in the Roman de la Rose” Medievalia et humanistica 27 (new ser.) (2000): 1–18. This view is supported by the Crusade Cycle: whereas male (even equine) dress is regularly described at length, women’s dress is mentioned very infrequently, although women are regularly present in battle and in towns In Chétifs, 3308–10. the women of Damascus are described as wearing fur mantles, beautiful pagan women are seen coming to town “en drap de soie estroitement vestue” in Jérusalem, 2935–7, and the Christian women are mentioned wearing wimples and carrying stones in their sleeves, Antioche 8306–7.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. 14.
    Batterberry and Batterberry are not specific about their sources. I know of few examples in the chronicle literature of Crusade wives instantly adopting Eastern ways; in one Arab chronicle, the author recounts a story told him by a bathkeeper of a Frankish knight who decides to imitate the natives in the bath and have his pubes shaved, and then asks that his wife be likewise shaved. There is no indication in the anecdote whether the wife’s attitude was one of “alacrity,” however. (Usamah ibn Munqidh, Memoirs of an Arab-Syrian Gentleman, or An Arab Knight of the Crusades, trans. Philip K. Hitti (Ithaca: Columbia University Press, 1927, rpt, Khayats: Beirut, 1964), 165–6).Google Scholar
  25. 15.
    Jules Quicherat, Histoire de costume en France (Paris: Hachette, 1877), 147,Google Scholar
  26. Camille Enlart, Manuel d’archéologie française depuis les temps mérovingiens jusqu’à la Renaissance: vol. III, le costume (Paris: Auguste Picard, 1927), 31. On Islamic textiles in the kingdom of Sicily, see Serjeant, Islamic Textiles …, ch. 19, 191–2.Google Scholar
  27. 16.
    Robert Bartlett, The Making of Europe: Conquest, Colonization and Cultural Change 950–1350 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1993), 230.Google Scholar
  28. 17.
    Max von Boehn, Modes and Manners, vol. 1: From the Decline of the Ancient World to the Renaissance, trans. Joan Joshua (Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincottt, 1932), 186–7.Google Scholar
  29. 20.
    Zoé Oldenbourg, The Crusades, trans. Anne Carter (New York: Pantheon, 1966), 328. Cf.Google Scholar
  30. Friedrich Heer, Kreuzzuge—gestern, heute, morgen? (Lucerne and Frankfort: Bucher, 1969).Google Scholar
  31. 21.
    François Boucher, 20,000 Years of Fashion: the History of Costume and Personal Adornment, Rev. English ed. (New York: Abrams, 1987), 170–8.Google Scholar
  32. 24.
    For citations of original sources see Jonathan Riley-Smith, “The Motives of the Earliest Crusaders and the Settlement of Latin Palestine,” English Historical Review 98, 389 (1983): 723.Google Scholar
  33. 32.
    For amplification’s role in contemporary rhetoric, Edmond Faral, Les Arts poétiques du XIIe et du XIIIe siècle. Recherches et documents sur la technique littéraire du Moyen Age (Paris: Champion, 1962), 61–85; Zumthor, Essai de poétique médiévale, 51, 85–90. On generic problems of the work, seeGoogle Scholar
  34. Robert Francis Cook, Chanson de Geste: Le Cycle de la croisade est-il épique? (Amsterdam: 1980).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. 35.
    See the numerous excellent essays in Stewart Gordon, ed., Robes and Honor’The Medieval World of Investiture, The New Middle Ages (New York: Palgrave, 2001); alsoGoogle Scholar
  36. Patricia L. Baker, “Islamic Honorific Garments,” Costume 25 (1991): 25–35,CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Paula Sanders, Ritual, Politics and the City in Fatimid Cairo (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1994); concerning slightly later periods,Google Scholar
  38. Thomas T. Allsen, Commodity and Exchange in the Mongol Empire: A Cultural History of Islamic Textiles (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997);Google Scholar
  39. Karl Stowasser, “Manners and Customs at the Mamluk Court,” Muqarnas: An Annual on Islamic Art and Architecture 2 (1984). 13–20,CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. L. A. Mayer, Mamluk Costume: A Survey (Geneva: Albert Kundig, 1952), 56–64.Google Scholar
  41. 38.
    Yedida Kalfon Stillman and ed. Norman A. Stillman, Arab Dress: From the Dawn of Islam to Modern Times (Leiden/Boston: Brill, 2000), esp. 41–60. Under the Turkish dynasties, 62–85; in the early days of Islam, 7–28, 161–74; Tiraz inscriptions in medieval Egypt, which evolved and changed over time, “were admired and desired by almost everyone.…” Veronika Gervers, “Rags to Riches: Medieval Islamic Textiles,” Rotunda 11/4 (Toronto, Royal Ontario Museum, 1978–79): 22–31.Google Scholar
  42. 43.
    Supposedly based on the historical Kerbogha or Karbuqa, Atabeg of Mosul, the Crusaders’ worst enemy at Antioch, who disappears from local rulership after his defeat On this historical figure, Myers, introduction to Chétifs, XXII; Steven Runciman, A History of the Crusades, 3 vols (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1951), 246–9.Google Scholar
  43. 44.
    Bliaut, a narrow tunic laced on both sides and closed on the breast with a button or brooch. Worn by both sexes from the eleventh century until replaced by the surcot in the thirteenth century. Victor Gay, Glossaire archéologique du moyen âge et de la renaissance (Paris, 1887; 1928), 161.Google Scholar
  44. 47.
    On Frankish stereotypes of the Muslim Pantheon, see Bancourt, Les Musulmans dans les chansons de geste, 355–549; Skidmore, Moral Traits of Christian and Saracen, 27, 32; Leo Spitzer, “Tervagant,” Romania 70 (1948–49) 397–407.Google Scholar
  45. 48.
    The Tafurs are a fascinating part of the cycle that deserves more study. They seem to be one of the embarrassing aspects that has kept the works from being considered a “national epic.” See Alexander Haggerty Krappe, “L’Anthropophagie des Thafurs,” Neophilologus 15 (1930): 274–278; Malouf shows that they are remembered in Arab chronicles, The Crusades Through Arab Eyes, 37–55.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. 49.
    Marcus Bull, “The Roots of Lay Enthusiasm for the First Crusade,” History 78 (1993) 353–372, esp. 354–55.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Désirée G. Koslin and Janet E. Snyder 2002

Authors and Affiliations

  • Sarah-Grace Heller

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations