Miniature showing an attack of the Tartars

Crusading Fun and Games at the Later Medieval Court

In the second of her three blog posts on court cultures and the crusades, Laura Slater looks at how going on crusade could be a massive boost to one’s chivalric reputation


Miniature depicting the capture of Acre

‘Capture of Acre’ Grandes Chroniques de France (BL Royal 16 G VI, f. 352v) – British Library

Princes as well as courtiers dreamed of going on crusade. In late medieval Europe, rulers were supposed to act as rex crucesignatus (‘the crusading king’): the perfect Christian monarch, always working towards the recovery of Jerusalem, and always ready and willing to lead their men into battle against the ‘infidel’. In practice, however, most kings had responsibilities that kept them at home throughout their lives. Few rulers who took crusading vows were ever able to fulfil them.

So as a way of living up to the spiritual and secular ideal of the crusade, rulers were likely to offer knights going on crusade their protection and help: licences to travel abroad, letters of introduction and most importantly, extra money to meet the astronomical cost of equipping a miniature army and then shipping it thousands of miles across land and sea.

If you came home alive from your crusade, with lots of exciting stories to tell about exotic people and places, or death-defying combats with the enemy, the court was also one of the places where returned crusaders might reap more tangible, earthly rewards from all that hardship and heroism. Crusading missions were international ones. Knights from all across Europe joined the 1366 crusade of Amadeus VI of Savoy. Travelling and fighting in such a multinational group would spread word of your valour and glory throughout many lands. This kind of chivalric reputation was a huge career boost, perhaps helping you become an intimate of the king’s chamber or make a great marriage to a wealthy heiress once you arrived back home.


Miniature showing an attack of the Tartars

‘An Attack of the Tartars’ Grandes Chroniques de France (BL Royal 16 G VI, f. 427v) – British Library

At the English court, historical artefacts owned by Edward III of England included a supposed ‘helmet of Saladin’ and the dagger used in Acre to try and assassinate his crusading grandfather Edward I in 1274. Edward III’s courtly spectacles also played on crusading themes. In 1331, a tournament at Cheapside in London saw a parade of knights dressed as Tartars (a word used loosely to refer to nomadic Mongol and Turkic peoples from central Asia). Echoing a scene from a famous romance, The King of Tars, the ‘Tartars’ led a procession of noblewomen on silver chains into the jousting arena. The knights fighting in the tournament could play at being the crusading Christian champions of these ‘captives’, winning freedom for them through their victories in jousts and duels.


But late medieval crusading wasn’t just a matter of courtly fun and games….


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