Elizabeth Moodey has written an elegant book with a clear and didactic structure. While starting out with the goal to “consider Philip [the Good] as a patron of history writing and of illuminated manuscripts concentrating on the visual and literary projects that supported his efforts to launch a crusade” (2), the author proceeds much further than that. The focus actually lies on the ideas and ideals of the crusade at the Burgundian Court and on the more or less fictional histories linked to these and their reception. The topic is indeed well embedded in the treatment of literature and book culture at the court at large, showing how crusade culture is tied up with the rest of court life and cannot be studied separately: thus a real Gesamtbild emerges.
The introduction does justice to the wider context of art patronage before focusing on manuscripts, emphasizing their usefulness as source material. Starting off from a clear overview of the role and place of historiography in the Middle Ages and especially at the court of Philip the Good, the first two chapters introduce us to texts and the reading culture (or “telling” culture, as the example of the Cent Nouvelles nouvelles nicely shows on pp. 60-63) at the Burgundian Court. Chapter I is about the historical and Chapter II about the fictional, but through the discussion of the various chronicles and mises en prose the “mix of real and plausible that entertained the Burgundian court” (48) is made perfectly clear. The example of Girart de Roussillon (63-67) shows how history and legends blend together.
In Chapter III Moodey successfully links book culture and literature at the Burgundian court with the actual historical crusades of the High Middle Ages (1096-1272) as well as with specific works present in the library of Philip the Good or written for him, such as Jean Germain’s Mappemonde spirituelle (119). The definition of “crusade” should be interpreted broadly, including the defense against the Turkish progress in Europe and even pilgrimage (p. 81). It must have been important for Philip the Good that his father, John the Fearless, had been imprisoned after the disastrous battle of Nicopolis (1396) at the very moment when his son was born.
The fourth chapter is dedicated to the Banquet du Faisan (Feast of the Pheasant), organized by Philip the Good in Lille in 1454, about nine months after the Fall of Constantinople. Moodey provides a detailed explanation of the ceremonies. The pheasant theme transports hunting to the higher level of crusading. The pheasant (Phasianus colchicus) is an oriental bird, named after the river Phasis in Colchis, which not only takes us to the Middle East, but also to the heart of the myth of the Golden Fleece (p. 138) by which the knightly order Philip had founded was inspired. It is important to understand the animosity that reigned against the Greeks, just as well (or sometimes even more) than against the Turks (pp. 147-148). Moodey explains convincingly that Philip’s crusading plans were realistic and strategic rather than unrealistic and naïve. This last point is worked out in chapter V. Philip the Good was not just the frivolous prince that some historians have made him out to be, but also a military leader and a serious planner of a crusade. A concrete example is the advance made by João, a nephew of his wife Isabella of Portugal, as far as Cyprus, which, however, terminated with his untimely death (pp. 159-160).
The last two chapters are the climax of the book: two case studies of texts and manuscripts forged for Philip the Good providing him with background to and legitimation of his crusading ideas (and at the same time of other aspects of his politics). The Croniques de Jherusalem abregies (Chapter VI), completed in 1455, served Philip on several levels. Showing a whole series of princes and knights who had fought against the infidels from Godfrey of Bouillon onwards, the text emphasizes their “Burgundian” ancestry. By carefully analyzing the heraldry and iconography of the decorations and illustrations of Philip’s manuscript (Vienna, Österreichische Nationalbibliothek, Cod. 2533), Moodey has shown that the”‘Southern-Netherlandish” origin of the people involved is even further stressed at the expense of the role of the French, i.e. Louis IX (201-203). The aim of the second manuscript, the Cronicques et conquestes de Charlemaine (Chapter VII) was to show on the one hand that Philip the Good was the only true descendant of Charlemagne and on the other that Charlemagne had started a crusading mission that was to be fulfilled by his descendants. The text and images of the magnificent manuscript (Brussels, Bibliothèque royale, MS 9066-9068), completed in 1458-1460, show how Charlemagne and others such as the young knight Doon de Mayence are examples of how one should stop fighting each other and fight the infidels instead. Moodey’s arguments shed new light on this manuscript and more generally on how Charlemagne was seen in the later Middle Ages.
Moodey starts off from the idea that “we have reason to take Philip seriously as a potential crusader” (3) and works this out in a convincing interdisciplinary study about the whole of crusading history at the Burgundian court. The book is more medievalist than art historical and in a way the title is misleading, for even if the “illuminated crusading histories” are, of course, important in this study, in the end the structuring subject seems the whole of the crusading idea and its history at the court of Philip the Good, rather than (but including also) its manifestations in illuminated histories.
The book is the result of the author’s 2002 PhD dissertation at Princeton University. This means that the important study on the same subject by Jacques Paviot, published in 2003, is mentioned and cited in several footnotes but not very well integrated, as are some other works published in the last ten years.
The inventories of the ducal library, the originals of which are kept in the archives in Lille, Dijon and Brussels, are referred to via the various editions (among them Joseph Barrois’s 1830 edition), but Moodey’s references to them are not always clear. Moreover, whereas Appendix A is a very useful transcription of the complete text of the Jerusalem Chronicle in Vienna, the role of Appendix B is less evident. It contains information about the known documents informing us about Jean le Tavernier’s life and career but does not add much to the recent findings published by Avril, Verroken, Vanwijnsberghe and others. It is too short to do justice to the many problems that remain and it omits Anne Korteweg’s 2002 article about The Hague Hours. Moreover, even if the reconstruction of Tavernier’s oeuvre starts with the manuscript treated in Chapter VII, Appendix B is not really needed for the chapter.
In spite of these remarks, the reader learns a lot in this beautifully written, clearly structured, and well-documented book: Philip’s crusading plans were firmly anchored. The Fall of Constantinople in 1453, though investing them with a new urgency, did not mark their beginning. Louis IX, the crusading hero of the French kings, was replaced by Godefroy de Bouillon and Charlemagne at the fifteenth-century century Burgundian Court.
Insitut de recherche et d’histoire des textes (IRHT-CNRS), Paris