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Richard Coer de Lyon: Introduction


1 Hamel provides an expansive view of what constitutes a Middle English crusading poem: “Siege of Jerusalem,” pp. 177–79. For a more narrow set of criteria applied to French texts, see Trotter, Medieval French Literature, pp. 13–20.

2 In addition to Hamel and Trotter, noted above, see White’s discussion of the conventions of crusading literature: “Saracens and Crusaders.” Indicative of the lack of a clear distinction between “history” and “literature” in a medieval context, White demonstrates that chronicles and chansons made use of the same rhetorical conventions. In Saracens and in Sons of Ishmael, Tolan presents a broad discussion of the medieval West’s misrepresentation of Islam.

3 Trotter, Medieval French Literature, p. 21.

4 Trotter, Medieval French Literature, pp. 13–20.

5 Early discussions of RCL’s chronicle sources include Jentsch, “Quellen,” and Paris, “Le Roman.” For correspondences between RCL and specific chronicles, see, e.g., the Explanatory Notes to the following lines: 11–19; 1291; 1669; 1810; 1856; 1919; 2479; 2635–36; and 2713–20.

6 Historically, the Duke of Austria captured and imprisoned Richard after his crusade. RCL places these events before Richard’s crusade.

7 See lines 1323–28, 1387, 1348–82, 1429–30,1699–1701, and 6954. Merrilees, “Crusade,” p. 16. Trotter, Medieval French Literature, p. 17. On the traditions of pilgrimage and holy war, and for discussions of crusading vows and crusading privileges and obligations, see Brundage, Medieval Canon Law. For a discussion of the ritual of taking the cross in England, see Brundage, “‘Cruce Signari.’” Concise introductions to the backgrounds of the crusades include Cowdrey, “Pope Urban II’s Preaching,” Painter, “Western Europe,” Peters, Introduction to First Crusade, pp. 1–24, and Trotter, Medieval French Literature, pp. 13–20.

8 See, for example, Finlayson, “‘Richard, Coer de Lyon,’” and Trotter, Medieval French Literature, pp. 20–23.

9 Richard’s unchivalric acts include wrapping his hand in wax during the exchange of blows episode, an unfair and brutal ploy (lines 777–98), and his cannibalizing of Saracen princes before Saladin’s emissaries (lines 3409–3562). His uncourtly acts include not sharing food with a minstrel, an uncharacteristic rudeness (lines 664–76); and his barbaric consumption of the lion’s heart (lines 1105–09). At least six out of a possible eight texts refer to Richard as either a “devylle” or “fende” “of helle,” “fiend” being synonymous with “devil” (MED, s.v. fend (n.), sense 2a). Two of the eight MSS are defective: because of a lacuna, L does not contain the line; and though the line in E ends with the phrase “com fro helle,” the first half of the line is illegible. See the Textual Note to line 2580.

10 Lines 3745–54 are quoted at p. 19 below. For a discussion of Richard’s Christian militancy, see Hamel, “Siege of Jerusalem,” pp. 184–85. Discussions of the work’s popularity include Heng, Empire, p. 110; and Pearsall, “English Romance,” p. 58n2.

11 In addition to following Brunner’s classification of texts, scholars generally adopt his letter designations of manuscripts and printings. Brunner, Der Mittelenglische Versroman (hereafter Löwenherz). For a thorough description of the manuscripts, see Guddat-Figge’s Catalogue; for manuscripts and printings, see Brunner, Der Mittelenglische Versroman (hereafter Löwenherz), pp. 1–18.

12 An additional fragment is extant — MS Badminton House 704.1.16 — but too little survives to identify the version it represents: see Davis, “Another Fragment.”

13 As Laura Hibbard states, “The shorter, more sober b version . . . like its various antecedents, undoubtedly omits much, is inexact in chronological detail, and somewhat subject to patriotic exaggeration concerning its hero, and to depreciation of his rivals and enemies, but on the whole the narrative is fairly authentic.” (Mediæval Romance, p. 149).

14 For references to Eleanor of Aquitaine in b, see the Explanatory Note to line 2040. For Richard’s demonic origins, see lines 35–250 and related Explanatory Notes. Richard’s first act of cannibalism occurs in lines 3027–3124, and his second, in lines 3409–3655.

15 See, e.g., Paris, “Le Roman,” pp. 356–58; Brunner, Löwenherz, pp. 51–70; and Loomis, Review, pp. 457–63, and “Pas Saladin,” p. 510.

16 For variations on this speculated route of development, see Paris, “Le Roman,” pp. 354–58; and Loomis, Review, p. 462; Hibbard, Mediæval Romance, pp. 149–55; and Finlayson, “‘Richard, Coer de Lyon,’” p. 160. While Richard’s German imprisonment refers to an historical event, his actual captivity occurred after, not before, the Crusade.

17 E, which depicts Richard’s second cannibalism, stands as an exception in the “historical” b group: see the Explanatory Note to lines 3027–3124.

18 Scholars note that Sir Thomas Multon and Sir Fouke D’Oyly were actual Lincolnshire knights, but they played no part in Richard’s crusade: see, in particular, Finlayson, “Legendary Ancestors.” Not present in W or W2, these non-historical adventures include the sieges of Sudan Turry, Orglyous, and Ebedy (lines 3971–4620; the conquest of Nineveh (lines 5187–5380), and the siege of Babylon (lines 5381–5892). Brunner (Löwenherz, pp. 15–17) discusses the differences between a and b and provides a useful chart on the transmission of passages in each text.

19 Gillingham, Richard I, p. 1.

20 Finlayson, “Legendary Ancestors,” p. 300 (references omitted).

21 See, e.g., Runciman, History of the Crusades, 3:69–73.

22 Higden, Polychronicon, 5.336 (my translation); compare Gillingham, Richard I, p.1.

23 Hibbard, Mediæval Romance, p. 151.

24 Trotter, Medieval French Literature, p. 25.

25 L, the oldest text, contains none of these interpolations and is considered closest to the original.

26 In discussing analogues to Richard’s lion fight, Broughton, in Legends of Richard I, cites both biblical and romance figures: Samson, David, Gawain in La Mule Sans Frein, and Guy of Warwick. As to the exchange of blows, an early form of dueling, he cites the following romances: La Mule Sans Frein, The Turk and Gawain, Lanzelet, and Wolfdietrich (Legends of Richard I, pp. 116–22). Of course, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight must be added to this list. See also Finlayson, “Legendary Ancestors,” p. 303.

27 See Finlayson’s summary of negative critiques: “‘Richard, Coer de Lyon,’” pp. 158–59.

28 See, e.g., Brunner, Löwenherz, pp. 59–60; Loomis, Review, p. 465; and Broughton, Legends of Richard I, pp. 78–86.

29 Giraldus Cambrensis, Liber de principis instructione, 3.28, p. 301 (my translation); cited by Broughton, Legends of Richard I, pp. 78–79. Robert Chapman, who classifies Cassodorien as a fairy mistress of the “Swan Maiden type,” cites a number of other related legends, “Demon Queen,” pp. 393–95.

30 See, e.g., Trotter’s discussion of “Charlemagne’s portrayal in the style of an old testament warrior-king . . .,” Medieval French Literature, p. 25.

31 Identified by chroniclers as Arnaldia or Léonardia, the disease Richard suffered from was likely scurvy or trench mouth, as Gillingham notes (Richard I, pp. 160, 217); see Explanatory Notes to lines 3027 and 3071.

32 The historical Richard reportedly recovered from his illness quickly after sweating off his fever (Richard of Devizes, Chronicon, p. 81; cited by Heng, Empire, p. 77).

33 Richard of Devizes, Chronicon, trans. Appleby, p. 77.

34 Brunner, Löwenherz, p. 65; Hibbard, Mediæval Romance, pp. 151–52; Broughton, Legends of Richard I, pp. 108–09; Tattersall, “Anthropophagi,” p. 249; Heng, Empire, p. 334n3; and Akbari, “Hunger,” pp. 211–12. See Ambrisco’s discussion of these references in “Cannibalism,” pp. 508–11.

35 Gesta Francorum, trans. Hill, p. 80. Fulcher of Chartres provides a similar account in A History of the Expedition to Jerusalem, pp. 112–13.

36 Ambrisco, “Cannibalism,” p. 508, citing Chanson d’Antioche, ed. Duparc-Quioc, 1:4039–4118; see also Cordery, “Cannibal Diplomacy.”

37 Chanson d’Antioche, 1:4073–75, translated by Rubenstein in “Cannibals and Crusaders,” p. 549. In William of Tyre’s account, Bohemond, not the Tarfurs, slays and roasts a Saracen at the siege of Antioch, but he only pretends to cannibalize his victim (Chronicon, 4.23.266); discussed by Rubenstein, “Cannibals and Crusaders,” p. 541. See also Ambrisco’s discussion of the Tarfurs, “Cannibalism,” pp. 508–10.

38 Adémar de Chabannes, Ademari Cabannensis, 3.55.174; see Broughton, Legends of Richard I, p. 110.

39 McDonald discusses the recipe in RCL that transforms “a young Muslim into a plate of pork (the meat that is the ubiquitous mark of a Christian diet) . . . by subjecting the unfamiliar flesh to the normal rules of English cooking” (“Eating People,” pp. 134–35, 147n28).

40 Barron, English Medieval Romance, p. 180–81.

41 Pearsall, “Development,” p. 100. This quotation as well as the quotation from Barron above display a debt to Finlayson’s summary in “‘Richard, Coer de Lyon,’” pp. 158–59.

42 Finlayson, “Legendary Ancestors,” pp. 299–300. For Brunner’s stemma of RCL, see Löwenherz, p. 14.

43 “‘Richard, Coer de Lyon,’” p. 168.

44 “‘Richard, Coer de Lyon,’” p. 180.

45 In addition to Finlayson’s discussion in “‘Richard, Coer de Lyon,’” pp. 167–70, see Field’s treatment of the relation between “history” and “romance” in medieval England, “Romance as History,” and, more generally, Fleischman, “On the Representation.”

46 Guddat-Figge, Catalogue, pp. 205–06, 216. Finlayson offers a more detailed discussion of manuscript contexts in “‘Richard, Coer de Lyon,’” pp. 161–65.

47 The contexts of the remaining manuscripts are less conclusive. While two exemplars of b — A and H — appear in historical contexts, E appears within a collection of popular romances. The context of the oldest manuscript, L, is debatable: situated in the famous Auchinleck Manuscript, it is surrounded by romances, as well as religious and historical material. RCL is the only text in D, a holster book. From the a group, C is found within a collection of romances, but B, the only other manuscript in a, appears in a mixed context that includes religious and historical works, lyrics, and romances. Finlayson makes a number of different arguments in “‘Richard, Coer de Lyon,’” pp. 161–65. See also Akbari, “Hunger,” p. 200.

48 Baker, “Editing Medieval Texts,” p. 429.

49 Pearsall, “Middle English Romance,” pp. 41–42.

50 If the speculative date of the Anglo-Norman original — 1250 — is considered, as well as the license that John Purfoot secured to publish RCL in 1568–69 (see Heng, Empire, p. 110), then the period of textual production extends to three hundred years.

51 Gillingham, Richard I, p. x.

52 See the discussions in Gillingham, “Foundations,” p. 54 and Clanchy, England and Its Rulers, p. 252, both noted by Heng, Empire, pp. 66 and 336n6.

53 Heng, Empire, pp. 106, 355n69, citing Fisher, “Language Policy,” p. 1169.

54 See Heng’s work in Empire of Magic on crusader cannibalism’s impact upon medieval romance, not to mention the cannibalism in RCL.

55 See Heng’s discussion of English monarchs’ control, persecution, and conversion of Jews in the context of prevalent themes in RCL, (Empire, pp. 78–91).

56 See the quotation from Higden’s Polychronicon, cited at note 22 above.

57 See, for example, Ambrisco’s discussion of RCL’s protonationalism in “Cannibalism,” pp. 511–16; and Heng, Empire, pp. 98–99, and 150.

58 Anderson, Imagined Communities, p. 11.

59 See Ambrisco, “Cannibalism,” especially p. 499. “This most medieval of romances, whose creation richly exemplifies medieval textual culture and literary production at work, can be read only as a sedimented repository of cultural patterns, investments, and obsessions that were deemed important enough to be inscribed, and reinscribed, over a span of centuries—witnessed through the hands and intelligences that compiled its dual textual traditions—and not as the inspired autographic production of a single authorial genius, anonymous or attested by signature” (Heng, Empire, p. 67).

60 Heng, Empire, p. 7.

61 Heng, Empire, pp. 73, 67.

62 Richard of Devizes, Chronicon, p. 9. See also Ambrisco’s discussion of Richard’s Angevin agenda (“Cannibalism,” p. 511).

63 Suspicion of Richard’s homosexuality is predicated upon disapproving comments noted by Roger of Howden: A hermit reportedly admonished Richard to “[r]emember the destruction of Sodom and abstain from illicit acts,” for if he did not, God would punish him (Chronica, 3:74; cited by Finlayson, “‘Richard, Coer de Lyon,’” p. 168). See also Heng, Empire, pp. 91–98.

64 For discussions of the Third Crusade’s failure to take Jerusalem, see Heng, Empire, p. 351n57; and Tolan, Sons of Ishmael, pp. 85–91.

65 Heng, Empire, p. 97.

66 See, e.g., Boyle, Troubadour’s Song.

67 Ambrisco, “Cannibalism,” p. 499.

68 Heng, Empire, p.343n29; Akbari, “Hunger,” pp. 200–01.

69 Akbari, “Hunger,” p. 201.

70 Akbari, “Hunger,” p. 210.

71 Akbari, “Hunger,” p. 199.

72 McDonald, “Eating People,” p. 141.

73 Only the angels in RCL speak French, and this is especially so in the first half of the poem: see lines 3012 and 3749–50. In the second half, the language of the angels shifts entirely to English: lines 5550–73 and 6945–62.

74 Turville-Petre, England the Nation, p. 122.

75 Broughton, citing among other sources William of Malmesbury, Gesta Pontificum in Legends of Richard I, pp. 93–97.

76 Heng, Empire, p. 94. In similar fashion, the romance unites the island’s disparate histories through the use of symbols. Richard’s battle ax exemplifies this point: “Kynge Rycharde, I understonde, / Or he wente out of Englonde, / Let hym make an axe for the nones, / To breke therwith the Sarasyns bones” (lines 2209–12). Wielded by Anglo-Saxon warriors, Normans, and Anglo-Normans, this weapon unites antagonistic military and political lines. In the hands of a thoroughly English king, the weapon now indicates the combination of the English and the Anglo-Norman. While Richard’s ax may appear to be an odd, unchivalric weapon for a king, he is reported to have used one during the crusades: see the Explanatory Note to lines 2209–11. And RCL is a popular romance: for the king to use a weapon not associated with the nobility is a populist move (Heng, Empire, p. 101; Akbari, “Hunger,” p. 203).

77 See the Explanatory Notes to lines 1668–2040, 1679, and 5895–5928.

78 Finlayson, “‘Richard, Coer de Lyon,’” p. 171; Ambrisco, “Cannibalism,” p. 512. See also Heng, “Romance of England,” pp. 150–60; McDonald, “Eating People,” p. 129; and Akbari, “Hunger,” pp. 203–04.

79 Tolan, Sons of Ishmael, pp. 81–82. Tolan’s superb treatment includes a discussion of the various motivations for the West’s different portrayals of Saladin. For example, by representing Saladin as a divine scourge of sinful Christians, Pope Gregory VIII diminishes Saladin’s role (Sons of Ishmael, pp. 77–100).

80 Tolan, Sons of Ishmael, pp. 79–80.

81 Runciman, History of the Crusades, 1:286; 2:466; and Tolan, Sons of Ishmael, pp. 85, 96.

82 See lines 5587–99 for Richard’s forceful and repeated articulation of God’s names in subduing the demon steed in “On Good and Bad Fairies,” p. 17. See lines 5587–99 — and related Explanatory Note — on Richard's forceful and repeated articulation of God's names in subduing the demon steed.

83 See the Explanatory Note to line 5502.

84 Gillmor, “Horses,” p. 274.

85 Heng, Empire, pp. 97–98.

86 For the rending of garments as a sign of Jewish mourning, see, e.g., Genesis 37:34; Leviticus 10:6; and 2 Kings 3:31.

87 Whitman, “The Body and the Struggle,” p. 53.

88 Heng, Empire, p. 79.

89 See, e.g., Blurton, Cannibalism, pp. 5–6, and Tattersall, “Anthropophagi,” pp. 240–41.

90 Heng, Empire, pp. 26–27.

91 Heng, Empire, p. 29.

92 Heng, Empire, p. 71.

93 Heng, Empire, pp. 64, 75. See, in addition, her argument that this healing cannibalism alludes to the story of Brian and Cadwallo in Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia, and so represents the emergence of a discourse of cannibalism in medieval romance.

94 Arguing that “[t]he representation of Saracens as cannibals is systemic in the genre of chansons de geste,” Blurton cites the following texts: Le Roman de Toute Chevalerie, La Chanson d’Antioche, La Conquête de Jerusalem, La Chanson de Guillame, Aliscans, Floovant, Huon de Bordeaux, and La Prise d’Orange (Cannibalism, pp. 107–08).

95 Blurton, Cannibalism, pp. 120–21.

96 Rubenstein, “Cannibals and Crusaders,” p. 546n100, citing Gesta Francorum Iherusalem expugnantium, 35.513. Compare I Kings 15.

97 Rubenstein, “Cannibals and Crusaders,” pp. 547–48.

98 See Rubenstein’s observation that chronicles of the First Crusade followed an Old Testament strategy for documenting the severity of a famine: listing the prices of food (“Cannibals and Crusaders,” p. 549n100). This strategy is seen in RCL in lines 2837–65: see the Explanatory Note that accompanies these lines and the note to line 3428.

99 Rubenstein, “Cannibals and Crusaders,” p. 551.

100 Trotter, Medieval French Literature, p. 108.

101 For a discussion of Middle English versions of Knight of the Swan, see Hibbard, Mediæval Romance, pp. 239–52. For a brief discussion of this legend in chason de geste and in romance, see Nelson, “Swan Knight.”

102 Chapman, “Demon Queen,” p. 393.

103 See McDonald’s analysis of the connections between Richard’s demon mother, his crusade and his cannibalism (“Eating People,” pp. 141–42).

104 The romance Bevis of Hampton offers a much-studied parallel to RCL’s complex textual history and multiple versions. For a discussion, see the introduction to Bevis of Hampton, ed. Herzman, Drake, and Salisbury, pp. 187–89 and accompanying references.

105 Brunner, Löwenherz, p. 5.

106 Gaps in C include the following: lines 228–448, 679–796, 1737–2468, and 6850–6972.

107 See note 18 above.

108 McDonald, “Eating People,” p. 146n18.

109 For negative critical assessments of RCL, see note 38 above; for similar, though less damning judgments of Bevis, see Barron, English Medieval Romance (pp. 217, 233), cited in Bevis of Hampton, p. 197.

110 Heng, Empire, p. 67.

Richard Coer de Lyon recounts in verse the exploits, both historical and fanciful, of Richard I, King of England. One of a handful of “crusading poems” in Middle English, its main subject is Richard’s participation in the Third Crusade.1 Like other crusading poems, The Sultan of Babylon and The Siege of Milan, for example, Richard Coer de Lyon exhibits the stock conventions of chansons de geste: fierce battles between vast, religiously-opposed forces, duels between leaders that test each other’s faith, Christian contempt for Saracens who are portrayed as polytheistic pagan idolaters, and divine interventions — both angelic visitations and the appearance of warrior-saints on the battlefield — that set the record right. The plot is punctuated by numerous atrocities, and, of course, reckless heroism, single combat, and violent siege warfare.2 Scholars such as D. A. Trotter note that poems of the Charlemagne cycle anachronistically project onto the Carolingian past concerns of the crusade era.3 In another typical manipulation, these works present Charlemagne as a pious Old Testament Warrior.4 Richard offers distortions of a different sort. For example, the romance often remains close to the historical record in its presentation of the recent past, but it frequently depicts its Christian king not as pious but as a demonic warrior.

To elaborate, the work relates the exploits of an historical figure of the recent past whose crusade was well documented. Found in the Auchinleck manuscript and dated to the early fourteenth century, the oldest text — MS Edinburgh, National Library of Scotland Advocates’ 19.2.1 — was composed barely one hundred years after Richard’s death in 1199. Many of the episodes resemble accounts from such crusade chronicles as Ambroise’s Estoire de la guerre sainte and the Itinerarium perigrinorum et gesta regis Ricardi.5 Indeed, all manuscripts and printings of Richard, even those characterized by fabulous interpolations, present historically traceable, albeit embellished details of Richard’s crusade. With notable geographic specificity, each describes Richard’s preparations, his adventures in Sicily, including the pillage of Messina, his conquest of Cyprus, the capture of Acre and massacre of Muslim prisoners, the march to Jaffa, Saladin’s (Salâh al-Dîn) destruction of castles and poisoning of wells, Richard’s victory at Arsuf and rebuilding of Ascalon, his celebrated defense of Jaffa, his truce with Saladin, his return to England to deal with his brother John’s intrigues, and finally, his death on the continent while laying siege to a vassal’s castle.6

The work represents its hero and the knights who follow him as authentic crusaders motivated by papal appeals and spiritual rewards. In contrast to such figures as Charlemagne and Turpin, Richard and his company are not only holy warriors — soldiers of Christ (miles Christi) — they are also pilgrims. Bound by twin vows, they have obligated themselves to go on crusade and to worship at the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem. For fulfilling these vows, for discharging their debt to the papacy, and for completing their pilgrimage, crusaders were granted indulgences, namely, the remission of spiritual and temporal penalties. Having “taken the cross,” they wear an emblem intended to offer protection against both creditors and assailants as they seek vengeance against God’s enemies in the Holy Land.7

But the poem’s representation of Richard is not always “historical,” diverging not only from chronicle sources but also from the conventions of chansons de geste, an epic genre often considered historical in nature.8 And while the violent, fearless, and aggressive warrior found in the poem frequently resembles the historical figure, on a number of occasions, Richard presents the king as uncourtly and unchivalric, and it frequently identifies him as a devil.9 Some texts even depict Richard as a demonic cannibal. Of course, the historical Richard was no cannibal, nor was he uncourtly or unchivalric. Despite these distortions and despite the poem’s extreme, even savage, Christian militancy — most notably displayed in Richard’s divinely sanctioned massacre of Muslim prisoners at Acre (lines 3745–54) — Richard became one of the most popular romances in medieval England.10 To understand both these distortions and this popularity, it will be useful to examine the work’s complex and lengthy textual history.

Demonizing the Past: The Textual History of Richard Coer de Lyon

Richard survives in seven manuscripts dated from the early fourteenth to the late fifteenth century, and in two printings from 1509 and 1528. Internal evidence — the narrator’s repeated reference to a French source, for example (see lines 21, 5098 and 7008) — suggests an Anglo-Norman original, but this presumed text is now lost, and the witnesses that remain vary considerably, no text having served as the source for another. Following Brunner, who produced a critical edition, scholars classify these texts into two versions, a and b.11 Five manuscripts have been identified within the b group: (L) (MS Edinburgh, National Library of Scotland Advocates’ — 19.2.1); (E) (MS London, BL Egerton – 2862); (A) (MS London, College of Arms – HDN 58); (D) (MS Oxford, Bodleian – 21802); and (H) (MS London, BL – Harley 4690). The a version survives in two manuscripts: (C) (MS Cambridge, Gonville and Caius College – 175/96), and (B) (MS London, BL Additional – 31042); and in two printings: (W), Wynkyn de Worde’s 1509 London printing (Kynge Rycharde cuer du lyon, Oxford, Bodleian – Crynes 734; and Manchester, John Ryland’s Library – Deansgate 15843), and (W2), de Worde’s 1528 printing (Kynge Rycharde cuer du lyon, Oxford, Bodleian – S. Seld. D. 45 (1); and London, BL – C.40.c.51).12

The shorter version, b, is considered more historically accurate than a, which contains a number of “romantic” interpolations, two of which are particularly notorious.13 While witnesses of b refer to Richard’s historical mother, Eleanor of Aquitaine, a provides the hero with a demonic mother who cannot witness the consecration of the host. Most infamously, this version depicts Richard, an anointed king and crusader, repeatedly cannibalizing Saracen flesh.14 For a number of reasons, not least of which is the defective condition of manuscripts, determining the precise relation between a and b has been difficult. For example, E, which represents Richard’s second act of cannibalism, is the only member of the b group to depict the king consuming Saracen flesh, but defects and lacunae — E begins at line 1857 — prevent determining whether this manuscript included other “romantic accretions” that characterize the a group, Richard’s first act of cannibalism, to name one. Efforts to identify the portions of the poem that represent direct translations from the lost Anglo-Norman original remain speculative.15 As to extant texts, it is generally presumed that a represents a later version that was produced by adding a series of romance elements, legends, and folk motifs to b. To recite a speculative route of development, an intermediate revision, b, added the following elements to an “historical” poem about Richard’s crusade: the Three Days’ Tournament (lines 252–426), Richard’s pilgrimage to the Holy Land (lines 615–50), and his captivity in Germany, which features the exchange of blows episode, his love affair, and the lion fight (lines 657–1242).16 These interpolations occur at the beginning of the narrative and do not alter the episodes of Richard’s crusade.17 The texts in a incorporate a later set of revisions, some quite fantastic. These include, most notably, the demon-mother episode (lines 35–250), Richard’s journey of revenge to Germany (lines 1465–1647), Richard’s acts of cannibalism (lines 3027–3124; and lines 3409–3655), and a series of non-historical crusade adventures that disparage the French king and amplify the role of Fouke Doyly and Thomas of Multon.18

That a Middle English romance about Richard I should be subjected to frequent revision has surprised few scholars. For his achievements and personal bravery during the Third Crusade, Richard became, even to contemporaries, a heroic figure. As John Gillingham notes, “No earlier or later king took on a challenge remotely comparable with the task of taking a fleet and an army to the eastern end of the Mediterranean and there facing, even facing down, an adversary as formidable as the great Saladin.”19 With this king, the difficulty of distinguishing fact from fantasy is frequently observed: “many of the apparently ‘fabulous’ aspects of Richard’s career are, in fact, to be found in contemporary or slightly later chronicles, and many of the extraordinary ‘heroic’ achievements are little more than heightenings of his real life.”20 Richard’s celebrated — and attested — defense of Jaffa, for example, defies credulity.21

In establishing a context for the poem’s various “accretions,” Richard I’s transformation from a military hero of the crusades into a legendary hero of the English nation is worth noting. As the historian Ranulph Higden (c. 1280–1364) observes about excessive praise for national heroes, this process was well under way by the mid-fourteenth century: “Perhaps it is the custom of each nation [nationi] to exalt one of its own with excessive praise: just as the Greeks boast of their Alexander, the Romans of their Augustus, the English of their Richard, and the French of their Charlemagne, thus the Britons elevate their Arthur.”22 As a result of Richard’s achievements and growing fame, legends and folktale motifs became attached to the historical figure, and the relatively undistorted relation between “history” and narrative in version b was altered — “romanticized” — during the text’s centuries’ long period of production. Summarizing an early view of this process, Laura Hibbard observes, “The elaborated a version shows how strong a magnet the story of Richard was, not only for floating scraps of tradition about the king, but also for anecdotes and motifs that originally had no connection with him.”23 In contrast to Hibbard’s view of haphazard additions, another point must be made, one to be developed later. As D. A. Trotter observes, “Legends concerning historical figures were perhaps an inevitable development from the role of literary, and especially epic, texts. The two readily available models, the heroic and the Biblical, the latter assisted by the typological approach adopted in medieval exegesis, provided a ready source of inspiration.”24

The interpolations found in b — the Three Days’ Tournament, Richard’s captivity in Germany and his related adventures — have been viewed as lending romantic elements to the poem.25 While Richard’s savage, uncouth consumption of the lion’s heart has raised a few eyebrows, the result, the hero’s assumption of a nickname, is a familiar romance convention. Also conventional are the Three Days’ Tournament and its disguises, the love affair, the exchange of blows, and the lion fight. Routinely encountered in medieval romance, these adventures broaden Richard’s appeal by linking him to heroes of both epic and romance.26 Recognizing these additions in b as “romantic” commonplaces, early critics considered their incorporation with the king’s historical material to be poorly handled.27

Understandably, the fabulous interpolations encountered in a have been even more troubling. One example is the demon-mother episode. In the a version’s initial episode, Henry, Richard’s father, is urged to take a wife by his barons. Agreeing, Henry dispatches envoys who are to find the fairest woman alive. After encountering the king of Antioch and his lovely daughter on an exquisite ship, the envoys return to England where Henry quickly marries the daughter, Cassodorien. During the ceremony, though, she swoons before the elevation of the host. In the course of their marriage, she and Henry have two sons, Richard and John, and a daughter, Topyas. After her initial swoon, the queen manages to avoid witnessing the sacrament until an earl, with the king’s permission, attempts unsuccessfully to prevent her from leaving mass early. Carrying her daughter but dropping John, Cassodorien escapes by flying through the roof of the church never to be seen again (lines 43–234).

The similarities between this episode and a legend concerning Richard’s ancestor, Black Fulk of Anjou, have not gone unnoticed.28 As related by Gerald de Barri, Fulk married a lady of unearthly beauty who, like Cassodorien, could not witness the host’s elevation. Compelled to remain in church by Fulk’s men, she escaped with two children by flying through the window of the church. The inability of each of these women to witness the elevation, not to mention their ability to fly, indicates their demonic status. As de Barri notes, Richard I often referred to this legend in jest, stating, “Since we have all come from the devil, we are all going to return to the devil.”29 Noted previously, Richard’s demonic pedigree hardly accords with those of the heroes of chansons de geste, epic works that usually idealize monarchs, Charlemagne, for example.30

Of course, the same might be said of his cannibalism. In Richard Richard commits two acts of cannibalism. Only the first bears a relation to the historical record of his crusade. During the actual siege of Acre, and in our poem as well, Richard became ill with a fever. While chronicles report that during a later illness, Richard longed for pears and peaches, in Richard, the fevered king longs for pork: “But aftyr pork he was alongyd” (line 3071).31 Since swine is an unclean food to Muslims and Jews, it is hardly surprising that no pork could be found in the Holy Land. Worried about his king, an old knight suggests that a “yonge and fat” Saracen be slain, flayed, and roasted with the proper spices and served to the king as pork. The aroma will enhance the king’s appetite; and when he has eaten well of this meal, he will sleep, sweat out his fever, and be healed (lines 3077–3102). The knight’s remedy proves effective, and Richard is soon back in battle, slaughtering Saracens.32 At day’s end, though, Richard fears the fever will return and requests that the cook bring him “The hed of that ylke swyn / That I of eet,” (lines 3198–99). Faced with losing his own head or producing that of the swine, the cook presents the Saracen’s head:

“Loo, here the hed, my lord, mercy!”
Hys swarte vys whenne the kyng seeth,
Hys blake berd and hys whyte teeth,
Hou hys lyppys grennyd wyde:
“What devyl is this?” the kyng cryde,
And gan to lawghe as he were wood (lines 3210–15).

When the king sees his swarthy (black) face

While the king unknowingly consumes Saracen flesh in this first instance, his second act of cannibalism is quite deliberate. After Richard wins Acre, Saladin sends emissaries with treasure to win the release of high–born Muslim hostages. At a dinner for these emissaries, Richard serves them the heads of “The Sarezynys of most renoun” (line 3414). Then, in their presence, he consumes with relish the head of another Saracen prince. Before sending these emissaries away, he delivers a chilling message for Saladin:

Say hym it schal hym nought avayle
Though he forbarre oure vytayle,
Brede, wyne, flesshe, fysshe and kunger,
Of us non schal dye for hungyr,
Whyle that we may wenden to fyght,
And slee the Sarezynes dounryght,
Wassche the flesche and roste the hede.
With oo Sarwzyn I may wel fede,
Wel a nyne or a ten,
Of my goode, Crystene men.”
Kyng Richard sayd: “I you waraunt,
Ther is no flesch so norysshaunt,
Unto an Ynglyssche Crysten man,
Partryk, plover, heroun, ne swan,
Cow, ne oxe, scheep, ne swyn,
      As is the flessh of a Saryzyne! (lines 3537–52)

block our food supplies
conger eel


one; fully feed
No less than



As with the episode of the demon mother, scholars note a number of parallels. In an encomiastic section of his chronicle, Richard of Devizes, a contemporary of the king, presents Saladin’s brother, Safadin, praising the English monarch as a great warrior. Among other comments, Safadin states of Richard, “Indeed, it was said of him that he ate his enemies alive.”33 In addition to this comment, a compliment not intended to be taken literally, scholars connect his cannibalism to accounts of crusader cannibalism in La Chanson d’Antioche and in chronicles of the First Crusade.34 An oft cited passage from the anonymous Gesta Francorum et aliorum Hierosolimitanorum records crusader cannibalism at Ma’arra: “While we were there some of our men could not satisfy their needs, either because of the long stay or because they were so hungry, for there was no plunder to be had outside the walls. So they ripped up the bodies of the dead, because they used to find bezants hidden in their entrails, and others cut the dead flesh into slices and cooked it to eat.”35 Other narratives report cannibalism at the siege of Antioch. La Chanson d’Antioche, for example, describes the Tarfurs’ cannibalism of Turkish corpses during the rigors of the siege. Identified as poor, barefoot, and degenerate soldiers, this group, acting on the suggestion of Peter the Hermit, cannibalized Turkish corpses and pillaged cemeteries for more bodies.36 Despite their gruesome actions, the Tarfurs at times celebrate their cannibalism, even taunting the Turks on the walls of Antioch: “The pilgrims ate with pleasure, without bread and without salt, saying as they did, ‘This is most tasty, better than any pork or even cured ham. Cursed be anyone who would die now where there is such abundance!’”37

Another noted parallel is found in Adémar of Chabanne’s Chronicon. In an account of Roger I of Tosny’s campaign in the Reconquista of Iberia, Adémar relates a story from which Roger gained the nickname, “Moor-Eater.” Each day, Roger would slaughter one of his Saracen prisoners, and, after dismembering the body like a pig, he would boil the remains in a cauldron. Then he would serve one portion as a sumptuous meal to the Saracens while pretending to eat the other portion with his men in another house. Roger allowed one prisoner to escape so that news of his cannibalism would spread. Having instilled fear in this way, he caused the Saracen king Musetus to sue for peace.38

The connections between these accounts and Richard’s cannibalism are not difficult to discern: the conflation of Saracen flesh with pork; the skinning and preparing of corpses in a manner typical of other meat;39 the performance of cannibalism to frighten the enemy; and the notion of an abundance of food derived from enemy corpses. Nor is it difficult to see how a redactor might have derived these interpolations by combining Safadin’s statement that Richard ate his enemies with the Tarfurs’ or Roger’s enthusiastic consumption of dead Saracens. Though a process of redaction may be plausible, it need not be successful. As noted, the early assessment of the interpolations in both b and in a is quite negative. Critics assert that the work is a “blend of fact and fiction . . . impenetrable to the discrimination of historians;” a composite romance that, “drawing on all the Matters,” clothes Richard’s “romantic career”40 with the commonplaces of the romance genre; it is “most remarkable for the streak of crude brutality which it displays, as in the lion-heart episode and Richard’s cannibalistic orgies at Acre,” . . . and even “the technical skills of the author, the vigour and authenticity of the battle-scenes” cannot “disguise the shapelessness of the narrative and laborious circumstancing of each incident, the real drama of history being rejected in favor of the sham of interminable Saracen-baiting.”41

According to John Finlayson, such judgments, too dependent upon Brunner’s edition of the a version, misrepresent Richard’s literary nature and relations to history. Finlayson asserts that “the two ‘families’ of manuscripts represent not the usual degrees of scribal corruption and derivation from a lost original which stemmatic editing assumes, but are instead two different works or versions of the deeds and life of Richard I . . . .”42 In his view, the original Richard was “a work of a vigorously heroic type,” that was modified to produce b, which is not a romance of adventure but a heroic epic, in essence, a chanson de geste of Richard: “The dominant matter of Richard is not love, the marvellous or the divinely inspired supernatural, but battle: not individual jousts, but combat against the Saracens in order to regain the Holy Places.”43 The a version expands b , moving a heroic poem in the direction of such “ancestral” romances as Guy of Warwick, narratives whose first half depicts a chivalric hero engaged in individual adventures before the hero, in the second half, becomes pious or socially engaged. Finlayson argues that the b version of Richard Coer de Lyon constitutes “exemplary history presented in the epic mode . . . it is quite successful in its own unmodish pursuits—the blending of heroic action with militant, Christian, nationalism.”44

As Finlayson and others note, the distinction between history and fiction was often a blurred one for a medieval audience.45 Manuscript contexts, though, can serve as evidence of contemporary opinion of a work’s generic status, and several contexts support Finlayson’s argument that b was perceived as historical and a as a romance. In H, the text of Richard occurs as a supplement “to a carefully written historical MS,” a Brut; and in A, Richard is inserted into an exemplar of Robert of Gloucester’s Metrical Chronicle.46 C, a witness of the “romanticized” a version, occurs in a collection of romances.47 For a number of reasons, some having to do with editorial assumptions, others with the relation between history and romance, Finlayson’s arguments that the two versions of Richard should be viewed as distinct works is gaining acceptance among scholars.

Finlayson argues against applying the stemmatic method to the poem’s disparate texts. This approach attempts “to establish a text which approximates as closely as possible the author’s lost original work in cases where the original has been lost, but where multiple copies have survived.”48 Just as Finlayson argues against applying this method to Richard, scholars now consider Middle English romances to constitute a category for which the recovery of a lost, ideal text may not be a suitable goal. Commenting upon the range of textual variation in surviving manuscripts of King Horn and Bevis of Hamtoun, Derek Pearsall describes a process of textual production that may also apply to Richard Coer de Lyon:
Whoever composed these poems, whether booksellers’ hacks, clerics, or genuine disours [reciters], they were evidently written for performance, and became to that extent the property of the disours. It is their memories of a written text, modified in performance-from-memory . . . that would provide, directly or indirectly, the basis for the extant written copies. These processes of ‘recomposition’ do not produce garbled texts, or texts necessarily inferior to the original, since the capacities and ambitions of the re-composer are little if at all different from those of the original composer. There is no ideal text, from which succeeding copies degenerate by a process of scribal corruption and decomposition: rather the text exists in an open and fluid state, the successive acts of writing down being no more than arbitrary stages in the continuously evolving life of the poem.49
While Finlayson’s argument that the two versions represent distinct works has prevailed, critics have paid less attention to the exemplary, epic history of b than to a, now conceived as a popular romance. No longer considered a degenerate epic corrupted by poorly integrated romantic accretions, scholars view the a version as a coherent if provocative whole that gives voice to historical and cultural forces that prevailed during its period of production. Such forces find representation in a number of ways, through generic and historic distortions, for example.

Heroic Transformations

Texts of Richard Coer de Lyon were continuously produced from at least the early fourteenth century — the date of L, the Auchinleck manuscript (National Library of Scotland Advocates’ 19.2.1) — until 1528, the date of the last printed edition.50 Over this span, historical and cultural forces transformed England and its monarchy. At the beginning of this period, Richard I is not only king of England but also the ruler of an Angevin empire. Stretching from the English channel to the Pyrenees, his continental holdings dwarf those in England, a situation that may justify his having spent two-thirds of his political life in France.51 After Richard’s death in 1199, the monarchy progressively lost its continental possessions so that by the end of the Hundred Years’ War, England retained only a single town in France, Calais. As the realm developed a geographic boundedness through these losses, other developments fostered the emergence of a collective identity. In the contest of Anglo-Norman, British, and English identities that characterized Angevin England, an English identity prevailed. By the late twelfth century, the Anglo-Norman elites were already identifying themselves as English, a self-identification that coincided with the rise of the English vernacular as the speech of the realm.52 In 1258, for example, Henry III confirmed the provisions of Oxford in both French and in English;53 and by 1362, English had replaced French in Parliament and as the language of law. The translation of the original French version of Richard into English, a displacement repeatedly emphasized by the narrator, exemplifies as well the rise of the vernacular.

War, a noted mechanism for the production of identity, characterizes the period of the poem’s English textual production. In addition to wars against Scotland and Wales, England was constantly fighting France, most notably in the Hundred Years’ War (1337–1453). In addition the crusades with their collective traumas, notably the memory of cannibalism, continued, but the West did not fare well after the Third Crusade, losing Antioch in 1268 and Acre in 1291.54 Constantinople fell in 1453, marking an end to the Roman Empire. Though not directly connected with the crusades, Edward I’s expulsion of the Jews from England in 1290 deserves mention, both from the standpoint of anxieties towards infidels that the expulsion illustrates, but also from the perspective of self-identification against an internal, alien community.55 Finally, in terms of cultural developments that characterize the period of Richard’s textual production, I mention again the transformation of Richard from a crusading hero — an Angevin prince — into a legendary hero of the English nation.56

These developments — geographic boundedness, self-identification through language and culture, conflict against territorially and culturally distinct groups, as well as the transformation of a king into a national symbol — are all frequently cited in discussions of the emergence of the English nation.57 While the term “nation” can be applied inaccurately in a medieval context, our subject is not the English nation but its emergence, its beginnings as an “imagined community.” As Benedict Anderson himself states, “If nation-states are widely conceded to be ‘new’ and ‘historical,’ the nations to which they give political expression always loom out of an immemorial past.”58 Over the course of its centuries-long production, the romance of Richard Coer de Lyon both witnesses and fashions this “immemorial past.”59 Instead of projecting crusading ideals onto a Carolingian history, a distortion of the chansons de geste, the English poem projects the emergence of nationalistic discourses into the Third Crusade, a distortion that creates the past out of which the nation looms.

For Geraldine Heng, the romance form proves most productive in negotiating this past that figures in the emergence of England. As she states:
Hitherto, the chronicle has been assumed to be the principal medieval literary genre in which a country’s identity is addressed or contemplated in narrative, just as the epic has been assumed to address the collective ethnic identity of tribes, the chanson de geste to address relations between monarchs and retainers-in-chief, and romance to address the concerns preoccupying chivalric communities. My discussion . . . shows how romance, by virtue of its popularity, special dispensations, and overarchingly wide address to a variety of domestic constituencies, uniquely subserves nationalist momentum, and nationalist requirements, in the projection of a national community and its future.60
The a version of Richard should not be viewed as a chivalric romance, a subgenre that expresses the ideology of an elite, transnational class whose loyalties “exceed the merely local or national.” It is best viewed as a popular romance, the subtype in which “the impetus toward nation formation can be most readily read.” Popular romance maintains the freedom to blend fantasy with history and the ability “to transform crisis into celebration and triumphalism,” characteristics that lend to this form a “special serviceability for nationalist discourse.”61 As Heng and others demonstrate, Richard repeatedly transforms crisis into celebration and triumph. This process begins, appropriately enough, with the king.

Richard was an unlikely candidate for becoming a symbol of the nation, a national hero. While his crusading exploits garnered him considerable fame, they did not render him an English hero. To begin, he spoke no English, and though he reigned for ten years — from 1189 to 1199 — he spent a mere ten months in England. To pay for his crusade and for his ransom, he was notorious for taxing his subjects and for selling offices. As a contemporary chronicler reports, King Richard joked that he would have sold London itself had he been able to find a buyer.62 Installing haughty, distrusted foreigners into vital offices, for example, William Longchamp as both chancellor and bishop of Ely, for example, won him no friends. Criticized by his subjects for his fiscal policies, the clergy condemned his moral failings, which may have included homosexuality, a grave sin in the eyes of the medieval church.63 And though his achievements in the Holy Land were formidable, he did not take Jerusalem, a primary goal of the crusade.64 Given these details, Richard’s preeminent stature as a national, English hero is remarkable.

Richard both registers and participates in this transformation. The first distortion that the a version performs is to substitute a demon mother from the East in place of Richard’s real mother, Eleanor of Aquitaine, a maneuver that accomplishes a number of functions. First, it removes the dominant, historical mother. Not only French, Eleanor of Aquitaine may have constituted a feminizing and sodomitical influence upon Richard, whose youth she supervised in her Angevin court.65 This de-feminization of Richard continues through other romance transformations/accretions. His uncharacteristic and uncourtly rudeness to the minstrel that leads to his imprisonment, for example, contradicts Richard’s love of song, not to mention his abilities as a minstrel. The story of how the minstrel, Blondel, found the imprisoned Richard in Germany, is perhaps the most famous example that links the historical king to this courtly pursuit; but the romance Richard excises this effete French quality from Richard.66 In its place, Richard provides the hero with masculine exploits — his affair with Margery, his unchivalric exchange of blows, and his indomitable aggression in eating the lion’s heart — all display a relentlessly aggressive, male energy.

For Alan Ambrisco, the substitution, part of the poem’s effacement of Richard’s French heritage, provides a rationale for the king’s barbarity; this trait paradoxically manifests his “Englishness” against the French, who are not portrayed as cannibals.67 Following Heng, Suzanne Akbari argues that the name of Cassodorien’s father, “Corbaryng,” alludes to “Corbarans,” the name that La Chanson d’Antioche gave to the historical Kerbogha, the Atabeg of Mosul.68 From this relation, Akbari argues that Richard, through his mother, “lays claim to both supernatural powers and legitimate descent from the former Saracen rulers of Antioch and its region.”69 This eastern origin also affects his appetite and health. Since unnatural food made him sick (lines 3046–47), “his cure can be found only in food that is ‘sete [wholesome] / To hys body,’ that is, Saracen flesh.”70 This assimilation of Saracen flesh in a performance that Akbari, among others, likens to a Eucharistic rite, “give[s] rise to a reformulated English identity in which all his followers can partake”; these followers, like Richard, thus become English.71 For Nicola McDonald, Richard’s demonic origins motivate his crusade and his cannibalism, acts that “exorcise” his infernal blood and assure his Christian identity.72

Just as the romance magically disposes of Richard’s French mother and heritage, it marvelously dispatches the French tongue to near oblivion.73 After all, “scarcely one in a hundred [men now] understands French”, as the narrator asserts in a move characterized as both populist and nationalistic: “Lewede men cune Frensch non, / Among an hondryd unnethis on” (lines 23–24).74 And while it is not surprising that a shared language would form part of a collective identity, the vitality with which Richard uses the English vernacular to promote a collective agenda and to attenuate Richard’s shortcomings is remarkable. For example, in various confrontations, Richard’s enemies — Cypriot, Griffon, and French — insult the English by calling them “taylardes,” and “tayled dogges,” a reference to the legend that Augustine, while attempting to convert the English, caused unbelievers to sprout tails.75 As Heng so deftly elucidates, Richard maneuvers this insult in a variety of directions. The tailed English are at once super-phallic, deviant, and demonic. To cite one of the more memorable barrages from the French and the Griffons: “Go home, dogges, with your tayle; / For all your boost and your orguyle, / Men shall threste in your cuyle! [Men shall thrust (shove) vigorously up your rump]” (lines 1830–32). Recalling the cloud of sodomy that followed the historical Richard, Heng observes that this insult joins a legend about Englishmen who sprout tails to reports of the king’s sexual deviance. The romance, though, transforms the insult into a joke that gives the English a common name, a common identity; thus, Richard turns crisis into a national celebration.76

A similar blending of history and fantasy applies to the presentation of other leaders, most notably, Philip II Augustus, king of France; and Saladin, the formidable Muslim military leader and Sultan of Egypt, Damascus, and Aleppo. With Philip, the romance uses historical details — his treachery with Tancred (lines 1677–2036) and his early departure from the crusade (lines 5911–28) — to diminish the French monarch and to present him as Richard’s enemy.77 But the romance also manufactures incidents that disparage Philip and the French: for example, Philip’s repeated demonstrations of greed and military ineptitude, notably, his leniency and taking of ransom — against Richard’s advice — during the siege of Taburette (lines 3866–3926); Richard’s demeaning advice to Philip on good kingship (lines 3772–97); and the narrator’s insulting characterization of the French as “arwe and feynte” (lines 3849–65). Among comments upon Richard’s blatant, anti-French bias, Finlayson argues that the work displays the “English nationalist feeling at the period of the compilation of the Auchinleck MS., circa 1330, on the eve of Edward III’s long-lasting war with France.” Citing Edward III’s efforts to unite a realm divided by the deposition of Edward II, Ambrisco suggests that the “task of healing political divisions was accomplished, at least in part, by identifying France as a common enemy against which all England should devote its considerable energies.”78 While the historical record proved no obstacle to redactors’ desires to vilify Philip and the French, such was not the case with Saladin.

Before discussing Saladin’s presentation, it will first be useful to summarize the trajectory of his reputation in the medieval West. As John V. Tolan demonstrates:
[E]uropeans [first] reacted to Salâh al-Dîn’s victory at Hattin and his capture of Jerusalem by painting him as a scourge of the Lord, an instrument of Divine punishment for Christian sins. Second . . . narrative and artistic portrayals of the Third Crusade portray the sultan as a valorous adversary, a shrewd and humane ruler, and in every way a match for his Christian foes. Finally . . . [in] a series of legends from the thirteenth century to the fifteenth . . . European authors increasingly portray Saladin as the epitome of knighthood.79
Noting that the West more frequently praised than demonized the sultan, Tolan mentions Dante’s tribute: in the Inferno (4:129), where the poet exalts Saladin by placing him with Virgil and other virtuous pagans in the limbo of hell’s first circle. Such high regard reflects the sultan’s reputation for generosity, humanity, and religious tolerance.80 In this regard, the contrast between the Frankish capture of Jerusalem during the First Crusade and Saladin’s conquest in 1187 is illuminating. The Franks, who killed every inhabitant they met — men, women, and children — waded in the blood of their victims. When Saladin took Jerusalem, not a single person was injured nor building looted, and, what is more, he even freed the Christian prisoners. His humanity, generosity and of course military acumen may explain why Western texts induct the sultan into French and even Christian models of chivalry. For example, in the poem Ordene de chevalerie Saladin agrees to free a prisoner, Hugh of Tiberias, if Hugh would dub him according to the Frankish ritual.81 The resulting manifestation of Saladin as a Frankish knight epitomizes chivalry as an aristocratic, international order. Richard Coer de Lyon, though, paints quite a different picture of the sultan.

A key element in this presentation is the duel between Richard and Saladin, perhaps the most famous scene in Richard (lines 5479–5794). This confrontation which, chanson style, pits Christian against Muslim leader, held a particular resonance for medieval audiences; but unlike the duel between Charlemagne and Baligant in The Song of Roland, one a chivalric Christian, the other a chivalric Saracen (lines 3560–3624), the encounter in Richard, distorting history, represents Saladin as an ignoble, treacherous villain. The episode begins when messengers present Richard with both a challenge and the offer of a gift horse. Saladin challenges Richard to a combat that will determine “Whether is of more power, / Jhesu or Jubyter?” (lines 5499–5500). Richard accepts the challenge as well as the sultan’s gift of a horse, unaware that a necromancer had conjured two demon steeds, a mare for Saladin and a colt for Richard. When the mare neighed, the colt would return to suckle his mother, thus exposing Richard to Saladin’s blade. Warning Richard of the ruse, an angel, among other things, admonishes Richard to “Ryde upon hym in Goddes name” (line 5563), advice that Richard follows to the letter, and apparently with good reason: “[I]f a fiend commissioned for an evil purpose was commanded in the name of the Trinity by the person whom he was sent to afflict, to become his servant, and turn his powers against his sender, he was compelled to obey.”82 Then, in a combat whose frequent representation in a variety of medieval contexts demonstrates its popularity, Richard wounds and unhorses Saladin, thus proving Richard’s and Christianity’s superiority to the sultan and Islam with its black arts.

In this denigration of Saladin, Richard may warp an historical incident to express anxiety about Richard’s close ties to his mother. While chronicles report that Saladin and Safadin, out of generosity and respect, each sent magnificent horses to Richard, another account holds that Saif al-Din sent a dangerously restive horse to Richard.83 In addition to these analogues, another historical detail must be noted: during the crusades, mares were the preferred war horse for Muslims.84 Making proper use of the power of God’s names over demons, “[t]his . . . story of the mother-and-son horses seamlessly works a nugget of historical fact — a horse gift from the historical Saladin or his brother to the historical Richard — into a fabulous artifice that at once describes concern at the control that mothers have over the male military animal, and exemplifies the vanishing of history into romance within a single, memorably witty event.”85

In addition to presenting Saladin as a chanson villain, Richard also casts him as an Old Testament Jewish warrior. For example, when his emissaries return and recount their experience of Richard’s cannibalism as well as his threats, Saladin reacts by rending his garments, a traditional gesture of mourning for Jews:

In al thy land, chyld, ne wyve,
But slee alle that he may fynde,
And sethe the flesch and with teeth grynde:
Hungyr schal hem nevere eyle!
Into Yngelond wole he nought seyle
Tyl he have maad al playn werk!”
   His clothis of gold unto his scherk
Saladyn began torase for yre (lines 3650–57).86

never afflict them

smooth as finished stone (level, flat)
to tear from anger

Another allusion provides an even more forceful presentation of Saladin as a Jew. After Richard’s heroic relief of Jaffa, Saladin sends two messengers who advise Richard to return home or face annihilation by the Sultan’s superior forces (lines 6882–6910). Having no intention of leaving, Richard offers a colorful response:

And though I were but my selfe alone,
I would abyde them everychone;
And yf the dogge wyll come to me,
My pollaxe shall his bane be!
And saye that I hym defye
And all his cursed company in fere.
Go now and saye to hym thus:
The curse have he of swete Jhesus!” (lines 6923–30)

face them in combat

challenge (declare war on)

Richard’s curse invokes the parable of the barren fig tree: “And in the morning, returning into the city, he [Jesus] was hungry. And seeing a certain fig tree by the way side, he came to it and found nothing on it. And he saith to it: ‘May no fruit grow on thee henceforward forever.’ And immediately the fig tree withered away” (Matthew 21:18–19). As medieval theologians repeatedly compared the Jews to this barren fig tree, Richard’s curse inflects Saladin with a Jewish identity.87 And so these presentations of Saladin as a Jewish warrior — rending his garments, cursed as a barren tree — accords with Heng’s argument that Richard depicts Muslims as virtual Jews, as “in the calumny of well poisoning” (lines 2747–56), to cite one example she mentions.88 Painting Saladin as a Jewish warrior certainly diverges from other crusading poems that present the archetypal Western monarch, Charlemagne, as an Old Testament warrior. This divergence, I will argue later, forms part of the poem’s typological program of substituting the English for the Jews — and the Franks — as God’s chosen people.

The most notable and peculiar transformation in Richard, is, of course, the presentation of an historical king as a cannibal. As Ambrisco and others note, the cannibalism, though troubling, is perhaps less disturbing than the romance’s celebration of the king’s barbarous diet. The poem’s trajectory is quite unlike that of the Middle English romance Sir Gowther. While Richard and Sir Gowther have similar demonic origins, only the latter expresses true penance in the end. In her comprehensive examination of the relation between cannibalism and medieval romance, Heng describes both the trauma that reports of crusader cannibalism inflicted upon the Christian West and the ways in which this trauma was processed in medieval romance. As she observes, the atrocity of Christian cannibalism during the First Crusade traumatized the West for a number of reasons, some of which are less than obvious. First, she and others note that the West conceived of cannibals in part as a monstrous, peripheral other, a monstrous race encountered in the Wonders of the East genre, for example.89 Furthermore, the mode of cannibalism with which the West was familiar, the rite of the Eucharist, held a fundamental relation to a Christian identity that was crafted in part upon a regimen of eating and fasting; thus, patterns and types of consumption manifested the Christian community. And, of course, the First Crusade was a sacred expedition concerned not only with regaining the holy places but also with the salvation of the crusaders’ souls. Instead of ingesting the Eucharist, though, some crusaders ate “the dead bodies of an infernal race—a race, moreover, whose practices and physical presence had been described, by Pope Urban II and the chroniclers, as polluting the holy places of Jerusalem.”90 That the trauma experienced by Christians from such contagion was profound is demonstrated by the cannibalism in Richard, which documents the West’s persistent memory of crusader cannibalism. As Heng demonstrates, though, this trauma, for which the West did not at first “find an adequate discursive voicing,” became in Richard, a channel for nationalistic discourse.91

Heng finds that medieval discourses begin to form national communities at the same time that they help to create races.92 In this regard, recall Richard’s reaction upon seeing the “swine’s head” that he had eaten: “Hys swarte vys whenne the kyng seeth, / Hys blake berd and hys whyte teeth, / Hou hys lyppys grennyd wyde: / “What devyl is this?” the kyng cryde” (lines 3211–14). This scene, as Heng observes, “triumphantly stages the horror of the head, its color difference, and its inhuman, devilish nature.” With the second instance in Richard, where Richard performs cannibalism in order to intimidate Saladin and his emissaries, Richard states that no food is as nourishing to a Christian Englishman as is Saracen flesh: “Ther is no flesch so norysshaunt, / Unto an Ynglyssche Crysten man . . . / As is the flessh of a Saryzyne!” (lines 3548–49, 3552). In this aggressive formulation that scholars connect to the Eucharist, Richard defines Englishness through the consumption of Saracen flesh. What is more, Richard threatens to “swallow up lineages and sweep away succession, consuming the future itself, in world domination.”93 It is an understatement, then, to say that Richard transforms the cultural trauma of crusader cannibalism into a triumph. As Heng argues, Richard’s cannibalism becomes both a trope for figuring conquest and domination and a racializing discourse based upon color and religion that is productive of national identity.

In her wide-ranging study, Cannibalism in High Medieval Literature, Heather Blurton adds to this discussion. Though Richard is hardly the focus of her work, Blurton addresses Richard’s appetite in relation to the prevalence of cannibalism by Saracens — actual or imagined — in the chanson de geste tradition. To be sure, chansons de geste frequently depict or suggest cannibalism by Saracens.94 As Blurton argues:
This romance [Richard] picks up on the strategic potential of cannibalism that texts like Guibert’s and La Chanson d’Antioche suggest. Yet, whereas in their inscription of crusader cannibalism Guibert of Nogent and La Chanson d’Antioche deal anxiously with an event that threatens to disrupt the narrative means of representing Christendom, Richard Coer de Lyon tells the story of crusader cannibalism precisely because it disrupts these representations. Richard Coer de Lyon appropriates the cannibal imagery of the chanson de geste tradition—both of literal Saracen cannibals and of the metaphorical threat of territorial incorporation—and inverts it in order to invert the ideology of chanson de geste. . . . This reworking of generic form becomes the basis for the romance’s politics of asserting a model of English dominance in a post-crusading Europe.95
As another approach, I would emphasize two comparisons: the similarities between Richard and narratives in the First Crusade Cycle, and the typological resonances between this poem and other crusade narratives. These comparisons accomplish two functions: they provide another motive for Richard’s cannibalism, a feature of the work that troubles many readers; and by means of a typological framework, they make the extreme Christian violence that characterizes Richard more comprehensible. Consider, for example, Richard’s divinely-sanctioned slaughter of the Muslim hostages at Acre:

They were brought out of the toun,
Save twenty he heeld to raunsoun.
They were led into the place ful evene;
There they herden an aungell of hevene,
That seyde, “Seygnyours, tues, tues,
Spares hem nought — behedith these!”
Kyng Richard herde the aungelys voys,
And thankyd God and the Holy Croys.
There were they behedyd hastelyke,
And casten into a foul dyke (lines 3745–54).

all the way

Lords, kill, kill

This representation of an historical event should be understood within both biblical and historical patterns. I suggest that this atrocity recalls the Christian massacre of Jerusalem’s inhabitants in the First Crusade, a massacre of unspeakable savagery. Just as the Franks laid siege to Jerusalem, so too Richard besieged Acre. As Jay Rubenstein notes: “Bartolph of Nangis appeals to Old Testament precedent (3 Kings 15) to explain the massacre in Jerusalem. The Franks, he says, did not wish to be like Saul, who had spared Agag against God’s orders to destroy all of the Amalekites.”96 As Rubenstein argues, such manipulations, not to mention the Franks’ historical presence in the Holy Land, become part of a translatio: replacing the Jews, the Franks become God’s new chosen people:
These associative leaps recur in a general way in the chronicles, where we learn that the Franks are the new Chosen People fighting for the spiritual Jerusalem as well as for its more mundane, earthly counterpart. . . . In the historians’ minds, the Franks competed in every sense with the ancient Jews and fulfilled their destiny more completely. It seems unlikely that, when faced with new stories of cannibalism, these same historians would not have thought of those famous incidents from Josephus’s narrative and from the books of Kings.97
The violence in Richard, the cannibalism, even the representation of scarcity at Acre follow a typological pattern as the English replace the Franks as God’s chosen people.98 This point brings us to La Chanson d’Antioche and its distancing of crusader cannibalism by confining it to the degenerate group known as the Tarfurs. With the lapse of a few years, “later in the twelfth century, at home in Europe, with the creation of increasingly sophisticated central governments and with the simultaneous crafting of refined, humane, and courtly sentiments, such behavior [cannibalism] looked aberrational and in need of explanation or repression.”99 In the later crucible of popular romance, though, the result is quite different. The movement away from a chivalric code enables the exaltation of cannibalism in the militant person of the king. The typological resonances of Richard’s cannibalism and other acts reveal that he, standing for all Englishmen, replaces the Franks as the English become populi Dei.

One other comparison to the First Crusade Cycle, a cycle that includes La Chanson d’Antioche, needs to be made. Like Richard, this crusade cycle concerns an historical, crusading hero, Godfrey of Bouillon. The cyclic form encouraged prefiguration of the crusade hero by his ancestors' exploits and some of these prefigurations were, like the demon mother episode in this poem, quite fantastic.100 Godfrey’s later greatness, for example, is ordained by his marvelous ancestry which is recounted in Le Chevalier au Cygne, The Knight of the Swan, a story with a number of Middle English analogues.101 And, as Robert L. Chapman notes, Richard’s demon mother constitutes a fairy mistress of the “Swan Maiden type.”102 I would suggest, then, that the redactors of Richard modeled their revisions upon this French Crusade Cycle, the demon mother episode prefiguring Richard’s later typological cannibalism.103 And so a series of episodes deemed unhistorical and generically anomalous may follow a biblical, historiographical pattern as well as a French literary model.

Representing and Modifying the Text Richard Coer de Lyon’s textual situation is challenging: seven manuscripts and two printings are extant, but no text served as the source for another. The enormous variety between these texts has led scholars to recognize that this work exists in multiple versions.104 It must be noted, then, that the present edition, by no means definitive, offers the a version of Richard. In part, the extent of recent critical interest in a’s fabulous interpolations justifies editing this version. In addition, no complete text of b is extant. The choice of which manuscript or printing to use as a base manuscript, though, proved difficult. I first chose W, Wynkyn de Worde’s 1509 printing, as my base manuscript because it offered the only complete text of a — C and B are each missing a number of leaves — and because it had never been edited. The dialect of B, which Brunner describes as a “Scots-North English light revision of the romance,” damages the meter with fill words, among other issues; thus, B constitutes an anomalous text.105 But I soon became disenchanted with the language and versification of W in comparison to that of C, a text I found to be much richer. My edition, therefore, is based upon C and, like Brunner’s, uses W to complete lacunae.

On the one hand, the disadvantages to my choice are not inconsequential. With missing and defective leaves, C does not offer a complete text.106 And Brunner has produced a similar, composite edition (albeit in turn-of-the-century, Austrian inflected German). Also, C includes some tiresome, “unhistorical” adventures not found in W.107 On the other hand, Brunner’s edition is out of print and hard to find, and so a new edition of Richard “is long overdue.”108 Though not a critical edition, my Textual Notes, which document emendations and significant differences between the versions, are substantial, as are the Explanatory Notes. In many respects, then, this edition brings Brunner’s 1913 work up to date.

It is also important to add that my approach to editing is not the same as Brunner’s. My emendations, for example, are often more conservative. I emend C in the case of clear error and when C diverges from readings common to W and to B; on occasion, I emend C when a reading is attested in both versions. I am also less prone to emend for metrical reasons. Except in the case of clear error, my emendations attempt to use an attested reading: I try to avoid producing a line that does not exist in some text of Richard. Orthography has been modernized in accordance with the conventions of the series: the letters i/j and u/v are emended to follow modern usage; th replaces thorn; and yogh is represented by y, gh, or g. Numbers and common abbreviations, the ampersand, for example, and suspension marks have been expanded silently. Capitalization and some breaks between passages are editorial. In general, though, the breaks between passages are those found in C or in W.

Though of immense popularity to medieval audiences, Richard suffered a long period of critical neglect, even disparagement.109 Over the last decade, though, both scholarly interest in the poem and critical assessments of its value have changed considerably. Indeed, the very qualities that caused scholars to marginalize the work — its militant, violent crusading ethos, virulent nationalism, and its demonic and cannibalistic “accretions” — now prove especially meaningful to scholars. As the work of such scholars as Ambrisco, Heng, Akbari, McDonald, Blurton, and Cordery among others attests, Richard is a coherent text worthy of vigorous analysis. It is hoped that this edition will add to this renewed interest in this “most medieval” of popular romances.110

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