Writing and Imagining the Crusade in Fifteenth-Century Burgundy: The Case of the Expedition Narrative in Jean de Wavrin’s Anciennes Chroniques d’Angleterre
By Robert Byron Joseph Desjardins
PhD Dissertation, University of Alberta, 2010
Abstract: Scholars have long been attentive to the cultural legacy of Valois Burgundy – a site of remarkable artistic and literary productivity in the mostly desolate cultural landscape of fifteenth-century France. It is only recently, however, that critics have begun to interrogate Burgundian courtly literature with an eye to its narrative complexity and rhetorical and discursive “density,” and to the political and cultural concerns encoded within it. This study emulates and supports these efforts by undertaking a close reading of a remarkable Burgundian chronicle – one which depicts and defends a rare experiment in one of the most ideologically resonant enterprises of the day.
The text, contained in Jean de Wavrin’s vast historical compilation, the Anciennes Chroniques d’Angleterre, describes a crusading expedition to Constantinople, the Black Sea, and various points on the Danube in 1444-46. Led by Jean’s nephew Waleran, the seigneur de Wavrin, the expedition was largely a failure. The author(s) of the chronicle therefore had a great deal to answer for; yet as the contours of their text reveal, their interests extended well beyond chivalric apologetics. This study analyzes the fascinating narrative tensions which unsettle the expedition narrative, and which offer a window into its varied (and often contending) rhetorical objectives.
It considers, for instance, the tense interplay between two treatments of Waleran’s chivalry: one of which relies on epic and romance themes to depict him as a heroic warrior, and one which reveals his deliberate (and strategic) manipulations of those codes to preserve and burnish his reputation. It also explores the ways in which “epic” references to earlier crusades and anti-Islamic conflicts, invoked in a manner that tends to ennoble Waleran’s expedition, are truncated and subverted by strategic concerns over the problems of chivalric temerity and the power and sophistication of Ottoman forces.
Together, the study concludes, these findings speak to the discursive complexity of the Burgundian court: a place where courtier-knights “fashioned” themselves strategically, using the very codes which some scholars have associated with “premodern”/medieval corporatism, and where warriors carefully negotiated the discursive margins of the courtly “cult of prowess” in order to articulate pragmatic advice based on lived experience.