Wednesday, January 20, 2010

What Not to Wear ... on Crusade

by J J Cohen

I am slowly working my way, again, through William of Newburgh's Historia rerum Anglicarum [History of English Affairs]. I kind of have a big lecture on Billy Newby (as I call him) looming, and I haven't quite written it yet. William is part of the great 12th century efflorescence of history writing in England. He's quite thorough, occassionally wacky, sometimes dyspeptic. His Latin is usually straightforward, too: most of his poetry tends to be accidental.

My main focus is on William's narration of the massacre in York in 1190, but I want to read that narrative within the larger frame of how he treats his assorted cultural others: Turks, Scots, the Welsh, the Irish, Eastern Christians, rustics/pagans, alien intruders from Other Worlds.

Right now I'm on the Henry II portion of the History, the section with the widest geographical ambit. When Jerusalem becomes the possession of Saladin, Pope Gregory VIII calls for crusade via an epistle making some familiar promises. All those who die will zoom right to heaven; personal property of crusaders will be protected until return or death; crusaders are released from all usurious obligations; and so on. The usual stuff. Gregory ends his epistle, though, by noting that crusaders may not bring dogs or birds with them, nor "wear precious raiment." This is a penitence parade, he stresses, not a demonstration of "vain glory." The kings of France and England are more explicit in the letter they circulate to drum up support, noting for those who sign up:
It is ordained that no man shall swear great oaths, and that no man shall play at hazard or dice, and that no man shall wear minever [stoat fur], or vair [dyed squirrel fur], or sable [marten fur], or scarlet ... and that no man shall take any woman with him on this pilgrimage, excepting a laundress, who goes on foot, and of whom no suspicion can be entertained; and that no man have clothes that are slashed or laced. (3.23)
As I read the passage several thoughts occurred to me:
  1. Interesting that regulation of crusader bodies focuses so much on the sartorial.
  2. These directives reveal their class bias (only nobility would have the possibility of bringing sumptuous furs like these; what about the ordinary people who would have been the majority of the army? Do they bring everyday dress? Are they simply below notice?).
  3. It seems to be unthinkable that men might clean their own clothing.
  4. The poor laundresses, trudging on foot and resting only to wash sweaty haberdashery.
  5. At least these stinky garments don't require the special care of, say, fluffing up the squirrel fur, combing the martin skins, or pressing all the slashes so they won't look so crumply.

11 comments:

Karl Steel said...

I'm reminded of that oft-quoted bit from Anatole France:

"The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread."

Fascinating to me, though, that the laundress has to walk. It's as if the penitence of the crusader himself is deferred onto his servants, but only the least of them. Presumably his squires can ride, and his confessor, if he brought one.

After all, the crusader can't lose ALL his class markers, because, at least in the secular world, class and military capability are necessarily linked. Total penitential humiliation--losing the warhorse and sword (and not just hawk and hound), dressing oneself in sackcloth or undyed wool rather than mail--would cancel out the crusader himself.

So I'm brought to Chaucer's Knight, whose besmotered armor attempts to marry penitential garb with aristocratic costume.

Sarah Rees Jones said...

I am struck by the similarity of these rules and those later (post 1350ish) included in apprenticeship indentures and sumptuary legislation.

and I like Karl's comment on status.

Matthew Gabriele said...

The accounts of the big German pilgrimage of 1064-65 mention that the bishops on that march were so finely adorned that the poor easterners they encountered thought they were kings. The finery, however, also attracted a HUGE number of bandits and forced the bishops to rely on one of the local emirs in Syria for protection.

That was going on for a long time.

Karl Steel said...

@MG: great anecdote.

@SRJ: right! me too. I wonder if the sumptuary legislation drew on the language of crusade sumptuary rules? Or if the crusade legislation provided language for sermones ad status (or vice versa), which is turn was echoed by 14th-c. English secular law. this provides an entrance to answering such questions.

Sarah Rees Jones said...

Karl - those were my thoughts exactly - I would look at

Michael Haren, Sin and Society in 14th century England OUP

and maybe



*LACHAUD, Frédérique, ‘Dress and social status in England before the sumptuary laws, in Heraldry, Pageantry and Social Display in Medieval England. Ed. Peter COSS and Maurice KEEN. Pp. x, 278. Woodbridge, Suffolk: Boydell & Brewer.

The series Medieval clothing and textiles might be useful too.

Karl Steel said...

Sarah, great! Thanks! The Lachaud sounds very useful, and, if it's clear, would probably work well in the classroom.

Sarah Rees Jones said...

Karl -i use the lachaud for teaching. It works!

Another Damned Medievalist said...

I was thinking, like Matt, that some of the sumptuary stuff might have been to make it harder for bandits and kidnappers to identify the best victims. Also, I'm not sure that the posh outer garments mightn't have been cared for by men, as they probably weren't so much laundered as brushed out?

Another Damned Medievalist said...

PS -- am I the only person whose Classics prof at uni said that "stuff" is often a perfectly good translation for "res"?

tenthmedieval said...

`Stuff' is a completely adequate translation of `res', except where `the matter' is better. So I think anyway.

Jeffrey, I was just reminded of this event by a poster in the resources room of the department where I'm currently teaching, but I'm afraid that I will be giving my last classes on the middle day of the conference, so I can't get there. Break whatever legs are necessary and I'm sure it will be a storming success.

Karl, your comment:

Total penitential humiliation--losing the warhorse and sword (and not just hawk and hound), dressing oneself in sackcloth or undyed wool rather than mail--would cancel out the crusader himself.

reminds me of the accounts, especially in the anonymous Gesta francorum, of the privations of the Crusader army at Antioch on the First Crusade; they mostly did lose their horses, and another source claims (I think it's Baudri of Bourgueil or Robert of Rheims and therefore to be ratcheted down from about 50% dramatic exaggeration) that those in the worst case rode dogs or goats rather than nothing at all. This, to me, says two things: presumably, to the audience, this is horrifying rather than amusing, which is a testament to the attitude you summarise; and, secondly, hawks they may not have had but seemingly they still had hounds, or at least Baudri or Robert thought that they would have had. And in fact, hunting dogs would have been a handy thing to have at Antioch, if there was anything for them to hunt...

dtkline said...

Thumbing through Riley's Memorials or any of the Letter Books or Plea and Memoranda Rolls will turn up all kinds of cool sumptuary stuff.

@Karl>Could a crusader lose it all but primary crusading emblem, the cross? Is there a sine qua non for the well-dressed (or barely dressed) crusader? Likewise, is there a 'what not to wear' that cancels out the rest? I have noooo clue.