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Charlotte Mary Yonge's The Prince and the Page: A Story of the Last Crusade


Charlotte Mary Yonge's The Prince and the Page: A Story of the Last Crusade

Charlotte Mary Yonge (1823-1902), whose life and works spanned much of the nineteenth century, was one of the most prominent authors of her day. Recently, her works have experienced a revival in nineteenth-century studies. She is best known for her family saga novels, and for a social conservatism that tends to preserve traditional class boundaries and gender roles. Her novels also frequently engage in some way with medievalism. Abbeychurch, for instance, features a conversation between its two heroines, Anne and Elizabeth, about the virtues of various historical heroes, including the Black Prince. Abbeychurch also contains a passionate defense of the historical novel as a means of historical encounter. After specifically mentioning Ivanhoe as the means of her introduction to history, Elizabeth asserts that historical novels “teach us to realize and understand the people whom we find in history,” and, moreover, “teach us to imagine other heroes whom they have not mentioned” (78). She employs Edward the Black Prince as the prime example of this phenomenon, describing “his slight graceful figure, his fair delicate face full of gentleness and kindness—fierce warrior as he is—his black steel helmet, and tippet of chain-mail, his clustering white plume, his surcoat with England's leopards and France's lilies” (78). This highly romanticized description encapsulates the aim of Yonge’s medievalism: she seeks to translate the ideology of chivalric warfare into the domestic sphere. Thus, although she parenthetically notes the Black Prince’s ferocity, she concentrates her description on his grace, gentleness, and kindness, combined with the visual markers of knighthood. History, according to Yonge, is meant to serve as the locus of moral virtue; Anne is “searching out all the characters who come up to my notion of perfect chivalry, or rather of Christian perfection,” implying that these two virtues should become indistinguishable. Indeed, Anne’s list of historical heroes who meet this ideal is linked explicitly to emblems of the crusade: the first page of her “book of true knights” is emblazoned with “a great red cross” (79).

Yonge’s most explicit engagement with crusading ideology appears in The Prince and the Page, first published in 1866.  Yonge’s focus on the Middle Ages as a source of models for modern Christian masculinity promotes a certain degree of collapse between the crusaders and other medieval heroes. For instance, as Richard de Montfort, the novel’s hero, kneels at the bedside of King Louis of France, he reflects: “Wherefore should the best and purest schemes planned by the highest souls fall over like a crested wave and become lost?  So it had been . . .with the Round Table under Arthur, so with England’s rights beneath his own noble father, so with the Crusade under such leaders as Edward of England and Louis of France” (68).  By making these direct comparisons between Arthur—in the wake of Tennyson's Idylls, perhaps the most familiar medieval hero in nineteenth-century England—and the two crusaders, Yonge fabricates a uniform medieval past that consists of pure and suffering Christian heroes.  Arthur’s link to Edward and Louis transforms his adventures into a crusade; conversely, Edward and Louis' names gain recognizability and cultural capital by the association.  Moreover, like G. A. Henty's Winning His Spurs, The Prince and the Page begins with a forest scene in which Richard himself is the noble outlaw.  This scene, strongly evocative of the nineteenth century’s preoccupation with Robin Hood, adds that outlaw to the fertile mixture of medieval models for nineteenth-century masculinity.  Overall, these comparisons fundamentally re-conceptualize the medieval hero as a crusader, struggling against anti-Christian currents in England and in the broader empire. 

This novel breaks the larger mold of Yonge’s novels by shifting the focus from the domestic sphere into the historical past and the wide-ranging path of the crusaders. Nonetheless, Yonge places much more emphasis on the local, domestic relationships among her European characters than upon battles, bloodshed, or representations of the Eastern armies.  Family discord lies at the heart of the novel: the novel’s hero, Richard de Montfort, is cousin to Edward Longshanks; his sympathies lie with the prince’s ideals, but his family allegiances demand loyalty to his traitorous older brothers.  Richard’s dead father further complicates the issue: Simon de Montfort’s ideological principles forced him to revolt against the king, thereby destroying family bonds. Yonge asserts that “Wrongs and injuries had been heaped upon Montfort by the weak and fickle king,” and that Richard, “in full belief that the war in defence of the Magna Carta was indeed as sacred as a crusade . . . earnestly entreated to be allowed to bear arms” (17).  The restoration of balanced and just family relationships thus absorbs the chief narrative drive of the novel.  Edward tells Richard, “Thou hast inherited enough of thy father’s mind to be able to understand how unwillingly was my share in his fall, and how great would be my comfort and joy in being a good kinsman to one of his sons.”  Richard, perplexed by his divided loyalties, asks in response, “My Lord, you know better than I.  Would it be knightly, would it be honourable?” (26). Edward responds, “That which is most Christian is most knightly,” signaling a shift in the novel’s terms of both brotherhood and knighthood.  Family relationships are determined not by blood ties, but instead through shared religious and moral ideals. 
Despite the importance of the crusade to the novel’s ideological schema, Yonge attempts to redefine both chivalry and crusade in accordance with nineteenth-century domestic virtues. The early chapters of the novel feature the translation of King Edward and his installation in Westminster Abbey.  Yonge reports that “[T]he Confessor, whose tender-hearted and devout nature had, by force of contrast with those of his fierce foreign successors, come to assume a saintly halo . . . .was,[sic] now to reign on almost equal terms with the great Apostle himself, as one of the hallowing patrons of the Abbey” (28). Edward’s domestic virtues are also much-emphasized in the text: Richard, raised to think of the members of the court as his enemies, is surprised to find his cousin “a graceful courtly knight, peculiarly gentle in manner, loving music, romances, and all chivalrous accomplishments” (17).  Furthermore, Yonge suggests that Edward’s focus is purely spiritual: during the installation of the Confessor, his namesake, Edward does not consider the political ramifications of the event, but instead his “thought and eye were alike on the great invisible world, the echo of whose chants might perchance be ringing on his ear; that world where holy kings cast their crowns before the Throne, and where the lamb-like spirit of the Confessor might be joining in the praise” (30).
Like many other authors of nineteenth-century crusades romances, Yonge places much emphasis on the corruption of the crusaders’ values.  This corruption stems chiefly from England’s internal rivalries and divisions.  Sir Robert Darcy, described as “a perfect dragon among the Saracens, but everywhere else the mildest and most benevolent of men,” early asserts that, “No cause is worth the taking of a life, save the cause of the Holy Sepulchre.  What be these matters of taxes and laws to ask a man to shed his blood for?” (42).  According to Yonge’s system of values, all internal, “familial” conflicts must be suspended in order to construct an effective and unified crusade.  Darcy continues his lament by asserting that “The temper of the cross-bearer is dying out!  I pray I may not see this crusade end like half those I have beheld—and the cross on the shoulder become no better than a mockery” (61).  Internal, domestic strife breaks down the crusade and renders it a “mockery.”  Yonge suggests that the divisions among the Christian armies, rather than their conflict with their ostensible opponents, pose the crusade's greatest challenges.  She wryly remarks that a Templar is “a creature to the ordinary Hospitalier far more detestable than a Saracen” (63). Rifts in the European community pose a much more immediate threat to Richard, Edward, and the other crusaders than do their Eastern opponents.  The crusade’s failure comes from within.

Establishing warm and affectionate bonds between men becomes one of the novel’s priorities.  In The Prince and the Page,the heterosexual romance plot that characterizes many nineteenth-century tales of the crusades is largely replaced by Yonge’s emphasis upon the familial bonds among men.  The novel does place much emphasis on the relationship between Edward and Eleanor, particularly Eleanor’s decision to suck the assassin’s poison from Edward’s wound.  Yonge remarks that “Eleanor's devoted deed, the true saving of her husband, has lived on as a mere delusive tradition, weakly credited by the romantic, while the credit of his recovery has been retained by the Knight-Templars’ leech” (120).  This event conforms to the self-sacrificing notion of idealized femininity espoused by Yonge and many of her contemporaries; it is Eleanor’s chief role in the novel.  The Prince and the Page, however, explores the ties among men in much greater depth.  Richard and Edward are reconciled with a kinsman’s kiss, accompanied by Yonge’s initial comments on the prevalence of male relationships: “It was as though the soul of Richard de Montfort were knit to the soul of Edward of England with the heart-whole devotion, composed of affection and loyal homage to a great character, which ever since the days of the bond between the son of the doomed King of Israel and the youthful slayer of the Philistine champion, has been one of the noblest passions of a young heart” (27). Furthermore, Yonge suggests that the mingling of men and women within the Crusaders’ camp interferes with the development of these bonds.  John, a younger page who has placed himself under Richard’s protection, serves as the primary exemplar of this phenomenon.  When alone and under the care of an elderly nurse, Yonge reports, John could be “the child he was, and let her treat him like his mother;” similarly, in the company of Richard alone, John can “relax his dignity, and become natural and affectionate” (74).  In mixed company, however, the young page “made it a point of honour to be the manly warrior and crusader, just succeeding so far as to be sullen instead of plaintive; though when left to Richard, he could again relax his dignity, and become natural and affectionate” (74). Although this separation of the sexes appears to run counter to the typical nineteenth-century domestic ideal, it instead reflects Yonge’s desire to locate affection and sympathetic virtue in her male characters.
Yonge’s chief critique of Edward is that “[I]n ordinary life, towards all concerned with him except his nearest relations, he was a strict, cold grave disciplinarian”  and that “Edward himself, though the object of [Richard’s] fervent affection, and his protector in all essentials, was of a reserved nature, and kept all his attendants at a great distance” (79).  Consequently, Richard longs to be reinstated within the close familial circle created by his brothers, despite their treachery.  Yonge reports that “an absolutely famished longing for fraternal intercourse gained possession of [Richard], and as he lay on his pallet that night in the dark, he even shed tears at the thought of the greeting and embrace that he had missed” (80).  Crusading fervor is the chief means of forging these bonds between the novel’s heroes; as Phillipe of France and Charles of Anjou attempt to dissuade Edward from pursing his intended crusade, Edward looks to Richard for support.  Yonge writes, “And withal his eye lit on Richard, with a look of certainty of response; of security that here is one to partake of his genuine ardour” (82).  Richard’s emotional response cements the bond between the two men: “That look, that half smile, made the youth’s heart bound once more . . .[he] could have thrown himself at [Edward’s] feet, and poured forth pledges of fidelity” (82).  Edward’s failure to recognize and fully reciprocate this emotional response drives Richard back towards his brothers, as “the lack of any outlet for his aspirations turned them back upon themselves, with a strange sense of bitterness and almost of resentment” (82).  The young page’s longing for domestic sympathy nearly leads him to abandon the moral values that, for Yonge, must characterize the domestic crusade. 

Richard’s brothers are the prime example of the moral disintegration of the European community.  Repeatedly within the novel’s text, Yonge emphasizes that these European knights, rather than the crusaders’ Muslim opponents, are responsible for the multiple assassination attempts on Edward Longshanks.  Simon tells Richard that he holds his mountain fortress: “For myself, boy!  For King Simon, an it like you better!” This assumed sovereignty threatens English national unity; therefore, Yonge positions the brothers’ revolt as fundamentally un-English: 
None can touch me or my merry band there, and a goodly company we are – pilgrims grown wiser, and runaway captives, and druses, and bold Arabs too: and the choicest of many a heretic Armenian merchant’s caravan is ours, and of many a Saracen village; corn and wine, fair dames, and Damascus blades, and Arab steeds.  Nothing has been wanting to me but thee and vengeance, and both are, I hope, on the way! (111)
The multiple exotic descriptors in this passage (bold Arabs, Armenian merchant’s caravan, Saracen village, Damascus blades, and Arab steeds) suggest the brothers’ acquisitive desire for Eastern culture.  When Richard remonstrates with them, objecting that he is “a sworn Crusader,” Simon responds, “Tush, what are we but crusaders too, boy?  ‘Tis all service against Moslem!" (112).  Simon’s attempt to redefine crusading as any action that negatively impacts the Muslim armies stands in direct opposition to the novel’s broader aims, which entirely shift blame for strife in the Holy Land from Muslim onto Christian shoulders.  Although the assassination attempts on Edward are laid at the door of the Muslim soldiers, both are the work of Simon and Guy, two of Richard’s brothers.

Although the corruption of the crusaders takes place from within their own ranks, Yonge nonetheless expresses this corruption in terms of the colonization of European civilization by Eastern values. Anxieties about the overlap between Eastern and Western cultures appear most clearly in her descrptions of architecture in the East.  Edward and Richard’s first sight of their Crusade takes place at Carthage. This city, with its blend of civilizations, is a particularly fertile site for meditating on the collapse of Western civilizations that attempted to take root in the East.  The novel's initial description of the city chronicles the replacement of classical civilization with Eastern architecture:
Utterly blotted out was Carthage.  Half demolished, half choked with sand, the city of Dido, the city of Hannibal, the city of Cyprian – all had vanished alike, and nothing remained erect but a Moorish fortress, built up with fragments of the huge stones of the old Phoenicians, intermixed with the friezes and sculptures of Graecizing Rome, and the whole fabric in the graceful Saracenic taste; while completing the strange mixture of periods, another of those mournful French banners drooped from the battlements, and around it spread the white tents of the armies of France and the Two Sicilies, like it with trailing banners; an orphaned plague-stricken host in a ruined city. (65)
The chaotic mixture of buildings and ornamentation in Carthage essentially blots out the unity of its classical past, leaving the city vulnerable to a multitude of cultural and architectural influences.  Although Yonge does not posit a direct relationship between the demolishment and choking of the city and the still-erect Moorish fortress, the metaphorical relationship between the unsuccessful crusade and the ruined city is clear.  Furthermore, whereas the phrase “graceful Saracenic taste” suggests a coherent and aesthetically pleasing Eastern influence, the descriptors that characterize the French banners (“mournful,” “drooped,” “trailing”) suggest that European sovereignty in the city is only temporary.  This passage’s concluding phrase, which labels the French armies as “an orphaned plague-stricken host in a ruined city,” completes the image of defeat and despair that attends French occupation of the East.

By contrast, the Christian imagery associated with Louis’ coffin dominates the representational schema of the Eastern house in which it is laid.  Yonge locates this coffin within a “Moorish house” with a “richly-latticed stone doorway,” a “marble-floored” chamber and “a divan of cushions,” but these markers of Eastern civilization are overwhelmed by the chamber's principal occupant.  After carefully establishing the exotic setting of the room, Yonge writes that “Full in the midst of the room lay a coffin, covered with the lilied banner, and the standard of the Cross; the crowned helmet, good sword, knightly spurs, and cross-marked shield lying upon it; solemn forms in armour guarded it, and priests knelt and chanted prayers and psalms around it” (68).  The coffin, which contains the bones of Louis of France, symbolically trumps the exotic signification of the house, thus indicating Louis’ individual ideological victory within his failed crusade.  Through tropes such as these, which persist throughout the novel, Yonge allows her individual heroes to gain victory over their Eastern opponents even as she indicates that the crusade itself, due to its corruption and internal incoherency, is doomed to failure.

Without describing a single military encounter, Yonge abruptly transfers the scene of the crusade back into England’s domestic borders.  Yonge employs Richard, languishing under false accusations, to suggest that the recovery of the material Sepulchre is peripheral to the crusade's true aim; he reflects that, “T]he Holy Sepulchre might not be recovered and reached by the English army, but it might still be remembered, and therein be laid down all struggles of the will, all rebellious agony . . . nor could the most ignominious death stand between him and the thought of that Holy Tomb” (123). As a material object, the Holy Sepulchre has lost its draw for Richard; the recovery of the city of Jerusalem takes second place to the establishment of an ethic of male loyalty and self-sacrifice.  Indeed, Edward himself, despite his early martial fervor in the text, ultimately suggests that the effect of the crusade is to induce tranquility and self-reflection; he regrets that his weak father had never been able to fulfill his own crusading vows and remarks that "the dreaming leisure of the East” would “almost make a troubadour of a rough warrior like me,” then adds, “Were the good old man here, how peacefully would he sing, and pray, and dream, free from debts, parliament and barons” (137).  The East thus becomes a retreat designed for internal reflection and the restitution of domestic bonds between men. This end accomplished, Edward returns his attention to the restitution of domestic harmony within England and his own family.  Yonge writes:
To make England the land of law, peace, and order . . . was his present aspiration; and then, he said, when all was purified at home, it might yet be permitted to him to return and win back the Holy City, Jerusalem, to the Christian world.  In the meantime, as a memorial of this, his earnest longing, he was causing, at great expense and labour, one of the huge stones of the Temple to be transported over the hills, and embarked on board a ship, to carry home with him. (134)
In the conclusion of the novel, Yonge stages the restitution of family bonds and domestic harmony over Richard’s own dying body.  His brother Simon, disguised as a pilgrim, attempts to sneak into Edward’s open, Eastern-style pavilion and assassinate the prince, who has been weakened through a previous attempt on his life.  Richard wakes and stops the blow that is intended for the prince.  Edward, seeing that Richard is dying, tells the would-be assassin: “For this dear youth’s sake and thy father’s, I raise no hand against thee. . . . Twice thy fury has fallen on the guiltless.  Enough blood has been shed. Let there be peace henceforth” (139). With this covenant between the cousins, the crusade ends, its ultimate aim accomplished.  Yonge completes this reconciliation by reintroducing women into the rituals of male domestic bonding: the novel ends with a marriage between the daughter of Henry, Richard’s eldest brother, with John of Dunster, Richard’s protégée and substitute in Edward’s household.  Edward himself leads the bride down the aisle.

Primary Sources:

Yonge, Charlotte Mary. Abbeychurch: Or, Self-Control and Self-Conceit. Miami: Hardpress Publishing, 2010.

---. The Prince and the Page: A Story of the Last Crusade. Gloucestershire, U.K.: Dodo Press, [2010?].

Secondary Sources:

Jay, Elisabeth. “Yonge, Charlotte Mary (1823–1901).” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.  Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004.

Wakefield, Sarah R. “Charlotte Yonge’s Victorian Normans in The Little Duke.” Beyond Arthurian Romances: The Reach of Victorian Medievalism. Ed. Holloway, Lorretta M. and Jennifer A. Palmgren. New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005. 53-71