On Crusader Legends as a Literary Source
Updated: Sep 6, 2018
There are literally hundreds of legends that have grown up around the crusades. One is the tragic tale of Jaufre Rudel, a troubadour from Aquitaine who died during the Second Crusade (1147-1149). The story of Rudel, inspired perhaps by his own poetry, records that he joined the crusade after hearing returning crusaders speak of the great beauty of the Countess Hodierna, wife of Raymond II of Tripoli. According to this legend she became his amor de lonh – distant love. Supposedly, on his way East he fell ill, and when he disembarked at Tripoli the countess herself came down to see him, whereupon, not one to miss such an ideal opportunity, he promptly died in her arms.
Probably the only truth to this story is that he did apparently die in the East. But the tale circulated and it later inspired a host of nineteenth century Romanticists. Among these were the German poet, philologist and literary historian Johann Ludwig Uhland, Heinrich Heine, Robert Browning, the French dramatist Edmond Rostand and in particular, Algernon Charles Swinburne who recorded the story in a number of works including The Triumph of Time. But my undoubted favourite use of this tale is in the delightful dialogue between Bertie Wooster and the highly sentimental Madeleine Bassett found in P.G. Wodehouse's The Code of the Woosters:
“Oh, Bertie [said Madeleine Bassett], you remind me of Rudel.”
The name was new to me.
“The Seigneur Geoffrey Rudel, Prince of Blay-en-Saintogne.”
I shook my head.
“Never met him.”
“He lived in the Middle Ages. He was a great poet. And he fell in love with the wife of the Lord of Tripoli.”
I stirred uneasily. I hoped she was going to keep it clean.
“For years he loved her, and at last he could resist no longer. He took ship to Tripoli, and his servants carried him ashore.”
“Not feeling so good?” I said groping. “Rough crossing?”
“He was dying. Of love."
(courtesy of the P.G. Wodehouse Estate, Rogers, Coleridge & White Lit. Agency)