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How Sir John of Acre, butler of France, who was on guard, was deceived by some Saracens who requested baptism | Comment mesire Jehan d'Acre, bouteillier de France qui faisait le guet fu deceus d'aucuns Sarrazins qui requéraient le baptesme

Introduction to the Text

This translated excerpt comes from Guilluame de Nangis’ Life of St. Louis produced near Paris around 1300 C.E. Pre-dating Louis’ more famous biography by Jean de Joinville, the chronicle celebrates the life, accomplishments and sometimes miraculous abilities of the famous king who became canonized in 1297. The alternate version of Nangis’ work used here recounts an episode during the French king’s final crusade, an expedition into Tunisia [Eighth Crusade of 1270] (Hedeman, xx-3, 67-69). 

According to the text, King Louis IX had been invited by the “King of Tunis”—the Hafsid ruler al-Mustansir, who promised to convert to Christianity. However, upon the arrival of Louis’ forces, the Islamic leader reneges on his word. After sacking Carthage, the crusader army returns and sets up camp when three “Saracens,” a medieval pejorative term that racialized Muslims (Heng, 111-112 & Rajabzadeh, 4-5), approach John of Acre, the butler of France, claiming they want to convert to Christianity. Suddenly, a different, larger group of Muslims conduct a surprise attack, killing many Christians. John drags the first group before King Louis where their leader claims that he had no part in the ambush, insisting that his political rival committed this treachery. The king does not believe their story but releases them and orders the construction of defenses around the camp in the following chapter to prevent future assaults. The “Saracen commander” is received by his own camp with a warm welcome suggesting that conversion was never really his intention.

While scholars agree that al-Mustansir may have considered converting for his own political purposes (Jordan, 141-142 & Lower, 88-89), there remains some discussion when considering the significance of the text alongside an illumination that depicts this excerpt in Royal MS 16 G VI (442r). Jens T. Wollesen maintains that the text-image relationship imagines a conversion narrative, seemingly basing this assessment solely on the preceding rubric as the remainder of the text does not support this interpretation. Wollesen goes on to state that the scene “is a remarkable attempt for an authentic reality” citing the “humble, bearded, barefooted, dark-skinned Muslims” as evidence (Wollesen, 346). More recently, Tirumular Narayanan argues that Wollesen’s analysis perpetuates a colonialist reading, instead positing that the section serves as an allegory for al-Mustansir’s actions, as well as a Latin Christian polemical narrative on the duplicity of “Saracens” writ large. Additionally, Narayanan notes that the Hafsid Muslims found on 440v & 442r are the only “shoeless Saracens” in the entirety of the manuscript, suggesting that illuminators wanted to cast these figures as particularly barbarous for their inadvertent role in the Louis’ death. Indeed, the heraldic motifs on the “Saracen” shield further dehumanize the Muslims by affiliating them with either pigs or dogs.

Introduction to the Source

This version of de Nangis’ text is included in Grandes Chroniques de France made for John II of France (British Library-Royal MS 16 G VI). These royal chronicles blend historical and mythological elements, functioning as a source of political legitimacy for both Capetian and Valois dynasties (Hedeman 124). This manuscript contains some four-hundred illuminations, depicting a variety of scenes including the Fall of Troy, Charlemagne’s coronation, Roland’s duel with the giant Ferragut, the Albigensian Crusade and concluding with the death of Louis IX.

About this Edition

The translator has used Jules Viard’s edition of Les Grandes Chroniques De France for translation. The text may be found in the appendix (volume 10). 

Please note that while this text largely follows that of Royal MS 16 G VI there is some nuance in the rubric. Viard’s edition reads “Comment mesire Jehan d'Acre, bouteillier de France qui faisait le guet fu deceus d'aucuns Sarrazins qui requéraient le baptesme,” which we have translated as “How Sir John of Acre, butler of France, who was on guard, was deceived by some Saracens who requested baptism.” Wollesen has previously transcribed the rubric from Royal MS 16 G VI as “comment mesire jehan dacre bouteiller de France qui faisoit le guet daucuns sa reqroient le baptesme,” which he translates as “How Sir John of Acre, butler of France, is on the lookout for some Saracens who request to be baptized.”

The translator would like to thank Professor Ullrich Langer of University of Wisconsin—Madison for his assistance in translating this excerpt. Furthermore, support for this research was provided by the Graduate School and the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research and Graduate Education at the University of Wisconsin--Madison with funding from the Kemper Knapp Bequest. Finally, the larger project of “‘Treacherous and Shoeless Saracens:’ French Depictions of Hafsids in Royal MS 16 G VI,” is indebted to the mentorship of Professor Asa Simon Mittman of California State University, Chico. 

Further Reading

Viard, Jules. Les Grandes Chroniques De France. Vol. 10, Société De L'Histoire De France, 1920.

  • Edition used for translation.

Hedeman, Anne D. The Royal Image: Illustrations or the Grandes Chroniques De France: 1274-1422. University of California Press, 1991.

  • Discussion of the Les Grandes Chroniques manuscript tradition.

Heng, Geraldine. The Invention of Race in the European Middle Ages. Cambridge University Press, 2018.

  • New perspectives on studying medieval racializations.

Wollesen, Jens T. “East meets West and the Problem with those Picture.” in East meets West in the Middle Ages and Early Modern Times: Transcultural Experiences in the Premodern World, edited by Albrecht Classen, Walter de Gruyter, 2013, 341-388.

  • Offers interpretation of the illumination on 442r as conversion narrative.

Narayanan, Tirumular. White Saracens, Black Muslims, Brown Hafsids: Imaginations of the “Saracen Prince” in Les Grandes Chroniques de France (Royal MS 16 G VI). 2019. California State University, Chico, M.A. Thesis.

  • Introduces opposing interpretation of 442r as anti-Islamic Latin Christian polemic.

Lower, Michael. The Tunis Crusade of 1270: A Mediterranean History. Oxford University Press, 2018.

  • Historical analysis of the Eighth Crusade

Jordan, William Chester. Apple of His Eye: Converts from Islam in the Reign of Louis IX. Princeton University Press, 2020.

  • Discussion of Louis IX’s conversion efforts in Tunisia.

Rajabzadeh, Shokoofeh. “The Depoliticized Saracen and Muslim Erasure.” Literature Compass, vol. 16, no. 9-10, 2019.

  • Critique of using the term “Saracen” in contemporary scholarship.

Credits

Text based on Viard, Jules. Les Grandes Chroniques De France. Vol. 10, Société De L'Histoire De France, 1920.Translation by Tirumular (Drew) NarayananEncoded in TEI P5 XML by Danny Smith

Suggested citation: Guillaume de Nangis. "How Sir John of Acre, butler of France, who was on guard, was deceived by some Saracens who requested baptism." Translation and Introduction by Tirumular (Drew) Narayanan. Global Medieval Sourcebook. http://sourcebook.stanford.edu/text/how-sir-john-acre-butler-france-who-.... Retrieved on October 31, 2020.