Remembering the Seventh Crusade 130 years later

I find it interesting to see how history evolves into legend - with the passing of time events get changed into new stories, which also offer us historians insights into how people thought and rationalized the world around them.

The story of the Seventh Crusade, which is the theme of the latest issue of Medieval Warfare, is something that appears in a pair of travel accounts from the year 1384. They were written by Giorgio Gucci and Leonardo Frescobaldi, who took part in a small pilgrimage from the Italian city of Florence to the Holy Land. Their accounts detail the trip, which took them first to Egypt, and from there to Jerusalem, Damascus and finally Beirut before sailing home.

Both Giorgio and Leonardo offer short accounts of the Seventh Crusade, which they insert into their writings as they traveled up the Nile River from Alexandria to Cairo. They both talk about the island of Rosetto, by which they are actually describing the Nile Delta, and remark about this being the place where the king of France was captured. Here is Giorgio Gucci’s version:

And on this said island of Rosetto was captured the king of France with many barons, when the said king made the voyage overseas: and he was taken because the Sultan by his orders had the said river closed in some places, and at other places he cut the river and rushed the water on top of the king and they increased the water so on him and so high was it that he was forced to surrender. And the said king was made prisoner by the Sultan, who, however, did him great honour.

Gucci then adds another detail about this river.

And the reason why the Sultan was able to allow the said river on top of the king and his people was the condition of the river, since in this it is almost different from all others, that in winter it abates and in summer it rises. It begins to rise on the third of April and continues until the end of September, and then on the third of October it begins to abate and continues to the end of March.

He also adds a detail about the king of France’s ransom, writing that the Sultan accepted as a pledge “the consecrated Body of Our Lord”. This is somewhat confusing, but Leonardo Frescobaldi’s account, which is otherwise much shorter, offers a better explanation: is the place where was taken the king of France, when he made the crusade into Saracen parts. On the above mentioned king was placed as ransom two million florins, and he was released on parole, having left as forfeit the consecrated body of Our Lord Jesus Christ in a chalice, which at the time agreed was with great reverence collected. And the admiral and the men-at-arms of the Sultan in remembrance of this victory, and in derision of our faith, carry painted on the horses’ covers a chalice.

Both of these accounts were written over 130 years after the Seventh Crusade, so they don’t offer the historian any helpful details to reconstruct that war. But they do help us understand what people might remember and what they thought was interesting to tell others. Both found it noteworthy to state the very expensive ransom of the King of France (although neither mentions him by name), and they connect it with a supposed Christian relic. Gucci goes further and offers a reason why the crusade failed. 

While their accounts are quite short, it is fascinating to know the events of the Seventh Crusade would still be thought about generations later. 

And if you are also fascinated by this war to capture Egypt in the thirteenth-century, please check out our issue.

The accounts of Giorgio Gucci and Leonardo Frescobaldi can be found in Visit to the Holy Place of Egypt, Sinai, Palestine and Syria in 1384, translated by Theophilus Bellorini and Eugene Hoade, and published by the Franciscan Press in 1948.

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