Eyewitnesses of the Fourth Crusade – the War against Alexius III
By Peter S. Noble
Reading Medieval Studies, Vol.25 (1999)
Introduction: There are three eyewitness accounts of the Fourth Crusade which cover some of the same events from different perspectives, and all of which were written within a few years of the events described. Geoffroi de Villehardouin was a prominent member of the Fourth Crusade and probably an experienced crusader. He was clearly deeply involved in most of the councils, in the negotiations between the crusaders and the Venetians as well as the negotiations between the crusaders and the Greeks. He was privy to many, if not all, the decisions taken by the crusade’s leaders. His account is therefore based on first-hand information, and he seems to have had access to at least some of the official documents when dictating his narrative. He composed it almost certainly after the death of Boniface de Montferrat in 1207 and probably before Henri de Valenciennes began his account of the Emperor Henri in late 1208. Robert de Clari was a petty knight from Picardy, a follower of Pierre d’Amiens, whose account reveals the gulf between the leaders and the ordinary crusaders. His naive amazement at the marvels of Constantinople shows the relative lack of sophistication of the majority of the Westerners participating in the Crusade, who were amazed by the size and splendour of the city as Villehardouin confirms. He gives an insight into the issues that occupied the rank and file and the misapprehensions and rumours that circulated amongst them.