The Knight, the Cross, and the Song offers a new perspective on the driving forces of crusading in the period 1100-1400. Although religious devotion has long been identified as the primary motivation of those who took the cross, Stefan Vander Elst argues that it was by no means the only focus of the texts written to convince the warriors of Western Christianity to participate in the holy war. Vander Elst examines how, across three centuries, historiographical works that served as exhortations for the Crusade sought specifically to appeal to aristocratic interests beyond piety. They did so by appropriating the formal and thematic characteristics of literary genres favored by the knightly class, the chansons de geste and chivalric romance. By using the structure, commonplaces, and traditions of chivalric literature, propagandists associated the Crusade with the decidedly secular matters to which arms-bearers were drawn. This allowed them to introduce the mutual obligation between lord and vassal, family honor, the thirst for adventure, and even the desire for women as parallel and complementary motivations for Crusade, making chivalric and literary concerns an indelible part of the ideology and practice of holy war.
Examining English, Latin, French, and German texts, ranging from the twelfth-century Gesta Francorum and Chanson d'Antioche to the fourteenth-century Krônike von Prûzinlant and La Prise d'Alixandre, The Knight, the Cross, and the Song traces the historical development and geographical spread of this innovative use of secular chivalric fiction both to shape the memory and interpretation of past events and to ensure the continuation of the holy war.
“The Knight, the Cross, and the Song cleverly illustrates how, from the early flowerings of the chivalric age to the late fourteenth century, across northern France to the Near East, a burst of historical writing and storytelling was created to appeal specifically to the aristocratic interests of the knightly class and convince them to take up the cross…. its pleasure lies in the crusader author’s enduring need to romaticize the pragmatism of war - a practice zealously resurrected by nineteenth-century “Medievalism” - and is a true testament to the old adage of the pen making a good sword.”— Emma J. Wells, Times Literary Supplement, 7th July 2017
"The Knight, the Cross, and the Song cleverly illustrates how, from the early flowerings of of the chivalric age to the late fourteenth century, across northern France to the Near East, a burst of historical writing and storytelling was created to appeal specifically to the aristocratic interests of the knightly class and convince them to take up the cross."—Times Literary Supplement
"[A] carefully researched study, providing a wealth of useful material and some much needed discussion of neglected texts. The enduring and elusive appeal of crusading ideals will continue to preoccupy scholars in
years to come."—Modern Philology
"Stefan Vander Elst offers valuable insights into how Crusade narratives were composed and how they may have been received by medieval audiences. His discussion of the influence of imaginative literature on what is now regarded as factual literature is illuminating."—Helen J. Nicholson, Cardiff University