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French Literature Informed by Outremer

 The profound effects that the First Crusade and, to a lesser extent, the subsequent expeditions undertaken by Latin Christians to conquer and defend the Holy Land had on western European culture and identity were powerfully, if often indirectly, reflected in medieval vernacular literature. Travel to distant lands and encounters with non-Christians were among the most common motifs in Old French literature; the crusader’s spiritual quest for salvation, the trauma incurred during their adventures, and the transformation of the knight into the holy warrior made possible by the ideology of crusading and brotherhoods like the military orders were arguably fundamental in the shaping of many aspects of romance literature. The number of texts directly or indirectly inspired by crusading events in the East would, of one were to try to number them, therefore be truly enormous.
A decidedly smaller corpus of material written in French reflects the perspectives of western Europeans on the society, culture, and politics of the Latin East. Western readers and audiences seeking written authorities on the Frankish principalities in the East might turn to a variety of works, among them the translations and continuations of William of Tyre (known in French as Eracles) which, as noted elsewhere on this site, consisted of contributions by eastern and western writers and translators. In addition to the Eracles tradition, however, audiences of French texts would hear about the world dominated by the Franks across the sea from a variety of other sources. Here, we have limited the scope of our list to French literature inspired not by the experience of crusading, but by the experience of the world outremer.
Texts listed below are divided between “historical narratives” and “epic and romance literature.” Students of medieval narrative will recognize that such a division is artificial and represents the expectations of modern, rather than medieval, readers. As David Trotter has demonstrated, representations of the world outremer often relied upon the weaving together of works from the chronicle and romance genres. In one thirteenth century manuscript (Paris, Bibliothèque nationale MS fr. 12203) for instance, the romance Fille du comte de Ponthieu, which describes the travels of a fictional count of Ponthieu in the Latin East, is interpolated into the Old French translation of the chronicle of William of Tyre (Eracles) as if to expand that chronicle’s account of the political history of the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem. The same manuscript contains only vernacular historical texts. We make this division in the full knowledge that it represents modern disciplinary conventions, and we encourage users of this site to consider these Old French texts as part of a single narrative continuum.


Chanson de Jerusalem 
Chronique rimée de Philippe Mouskiés
Jean d'Outremeuse's Ly Myreur des Histors
Melusine, Ou la Noble Histoire de Lusignan
Recits d'Un Menestrel de Reims
The Rothelin Continuation of Eracles
L'Histoire de Gilles de Chin
John of Joinville's Vie de Saint Louis