Friday, May 13, 2011

Tancred, Prince of Galilee

It is not a good sign for Boethius that I took a short break from his book after one page. I am reading St. Augustine's City of God along with Boethius but I also started on Raoul of Caen's biography of Bohemond's nephew Tancred. I like that name Raoul and I am prepared to like Raoul himself but, like most medieval authors writing in latin, he piles on the superlatives and doubles up the adjectives. There was no medieval version of the phrase "Keep it simple, stupid."
He begins his tale by stating that Tancred was the brightest offspring of a shining lineage and was even more sublime than his maternal uncles. (including Bohemond) The whole Guiscard family was just awesome and glorious and they kicked the Byzantine emperor's butt but Raoul was not going to tarry about on this awesomeness because he had to get into his topic: The princely genius of Tancred disposed itself to holy war. (and that was awesome, too.)
Tancred wasn't like all the other little boys. He was serious, man. He was zealous in his studies, insatiable to be taught, remembered everything he was told, more agile than the other youths, more serious in mind than any old man, able to leap over tall buildings with a single bound! He didn't spare his own blood; he certainly was not going to spare any of the enemies'. He signed up right away when the call went out from Pope Urban for a crusade. Before or after Bohemond, enquiring minds want to know.
He did seem content to live in his uncle's shadow; he does not appear to have coveted a kingdom for himself. Bohemond appointed Tancred regent over Antioch when he was away and Tancred never tried to usurp him. He was noted for having given his banner to some Arabs who had taken refuge on the roof of the Temple of the Mount, which placed them under his protection. They were killed anyway and Tancred was reported to have been very angry about this. I wonder if it was a matter like when the crusaders took Marra and Bohemond told some Saracens that if they wanted to live, they should gather up their belongings and family and go to a palace near the gate. (Gesta Francorum) After the fighting was over, Bohemond took all their gold and precious items, killed some and sold the others into slavery. Maybe Tancred was angry that this potentially lucrative slave money was spoiled for him rather than because he had any pity for the people.
An Arab, writing during the Third Crusade, Usamah ibn Munqidh, tells a story that during a truce between Shaizar and Antioch, Tancred asked for the gift of a horse. The horse was delivered by a young Kurd named Hasanun, who rode that horse to victory in a race. Tancred bestowed a cloak of honour on him and he, in return, requested that if he should be taken prisoner by Tancred that his life might be spared. Later he was captured and Tancred ordered his right eye to be put out and his life ransomed. Glorious. Not one of his finer moments but then, in an article, T.S Asbridge tells how Usamah also related a story about Robert fitz-Fulk the Leper who was close friends with Tughtegin, the atabeg of Damascus and this friendship did not prevent Tughtegin from personally beheading Robert when he was captured in 1119. Walter the Chancellor added that Tughtegin had a gold and jewelled cup made out of Robert's skull.

9 comments:

anachronist said...

a story about Robert fitz-Fulk the Leper who was close friends with Tughtegin, the atabeg of Damascus and this friendship did not prevent Tughtegin from personally beheading Robert when he was captured in 1119. Walter the Chancellor added that Tughtegin had a gold and jewelled cup made out of Robert's skull.

Apparently friendship had its limits in the Middle Ages, especially friendship between Muslims and Christians. Perhaps the decapitation was as painless as possible and then his friend's skull was cherished as his favourite cup (I am today in the mood for mordid jokes) and he took great care of it.

Bio of Tancred made me itch to present an alternative storyline - that of a young man who was clever but venal and a very good actor to boot. A political beast.

The Plashing Vole said...

This kind of diplomacy is now known as 'full and frank exchanges'.

The Plashing Vole said...

Meant to say - the usual defence of broken promises was that promises made to infidels didn't count in God's eyes.

The Red Witch said...

I thought that Tughtegin was being a friend by making sure the beheading was quick, like Henry VIII sent away for that French swordsman for Anne Boleyn. We have seen fom Mary, Queen of Scots, or Thomas Cromwell how awful it can be if not well done. Making the cup was an act of remembrance?
The Arabs did a better job of keeping their word than the Christians did and for that reason Saladin was celebrated as a chivalrous knight.

anachronist said...

Making the cup was an act of remembrance?

Most certainly it was such an act, otherwise the skull would be thrown away to rot somewhere and turn into ashes. It reminded me of the natives from Papua - New Guinea which used to preserve heads of important enemies and ancestors alike in order to aquire their stregth and wisdom. I know, I know, different culture different people but still...

The Red Witch said...

I wouldn't want to drink out of a leper's skull although, one might hope that gilding it would kill the bacteria.

Tracy said...

What a family!
We have seen fom Mary, Queen of Scots, or Thomas Cromwell how awful it can be if not well done.
I'm still waiting for Hilary Mantel's follow-up to Wolf Hall, don't tell me that! (I did know he was executed, just not the details). But yes, you need an extremely sharp blade and an accurate executioner.

Jared Earles said...

I'm not sure what the best way to get in contact with you is, but I'm presently writing a screenplay about the First Crusade, focusing on the siege of Antioch.

I have also read the "Gestas" (Francorum and Tancredi) and would recommend THE FIRST CRUSADE: A NEW HISTORY by Thomas Asbridge as a good synthesis/interpretation of the events.

Feel free to email me jdearles@gmail.com if you'd like to discuss this.

Good post.

The Red Witch said...

Thanks for your comments. Thomas Asbridge is a well recognized scholar so you could do far worse than use him as your source for facts. Hope you credit him somewhere.
I thought Kingdom of Heaven was a really good movie so the bar has been set high. There is an old PhD dissertation by a Yewdale which is a biography of Bohemond. It might be worth having a look at too.