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:
- Interesting that regulation of crusader bodies focuses so much on the sartorial.
- 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?).
- It seems to be unthinkable that men might clean their own clothing.
- The poor laundresses, trudging on foot and resting only to wash sweaty haberdashery.
- 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.