The Lucca Letter of the First Crusade: A Digital Edition and Commentary
While research into the sources for the First Crusade (1095-1099) - including a corpus of letters written by and for participants - continues at a rapid pace, the Lucca letter has received relatively little scholarly attention. Whereas some historians continue to mine the correspondence for information to facilitate empirical reconstruction, others have treated it with caution and scepticism, for there remain question marks over its authenticity. Thus, it has been termed ‘a curious document’ by Susan Edgington and, in Robert Somerville’s assessment, ‘fascinating yet ambiguous’. One reason for this is the letter’s unusual form: it was a circular sent by the clergy and people of Lucca, addressed to ‘all the faithful of the lands of Christ everywhere’. It purports to faithfully report the experiences of one of their citizens, Bruno, who had participated in the the siege of Antioch in June 1098, before returning home in mid-July.
Only one extant witness to the Lucca letter has survived: MS 1710, currently held at the Bibliothèque Mazarine, Paris, but formerly from the Parisian abbey of Saint-Martin des Champs, which was a prominent Cluniac house. The letter was transcribed by Paul Riant in 1881 and reproduced in Heinrich Hagenmeyer’s 1901 collection of crusade letters.
The present edition offers a new transcription of the letter, noting divergences from the previous editions by Riant and Hagenmeyer, as well as a discussion of the manuscript and codicology. Unclear readings in the manuscript are highlighted in grey, and in such instances I have followed Riant and Hagenmeyer. A critical commentary has also been provided, focusing on one of the most interesting and hitherto overlooked facets of the missive: named personnel. An analysis of named and unnamed individuals suggests that we encounter a distinctly Norman voice in the Lucca letter; and although further research is required to determine the letter’s authenticity, it is likely that either Bruno or the missive’s author had Norman connections. Brief descriptions of places and biographies of individuals have been included to aid those unfamiliar with the letter or the events of the First Crusade.
In the manuscript, captial letters are highlighted in red, and names are struck through with red ink. It is evident that the Lucca letter was written over a pre-existing text, as the scribe demonstrably worked around two holes in the parchment. Further, some of the earlier writing can still be identified and there are other markings likely created by the removal of ink. There are a few signs of editing, such as the alteration of the numerals ‘LV’ to form ‘itaque’, and the addition of a title 'Sequitur de victoria mirabili contra Turcas'. The former was possibly carried out by the original scribe, whereas the latter is of a much later date.
The Lucca letter is found in a collection of various eleventh- and twelfth-century Latin manuscripts, primarily comprised of hagiographical texts. These include the lives of Saints Pacôme, Paul, Abraham, Mark, Agatha of Sicily, as well as the life of Theobald of Provins. Other notable works include the Rule of Saint Augustine, and Augustine’s sermons on Christ’s Ascension and the birth of John the Baptist. The Lucca letter is preceded by accounts of the passions of Saint Symphorian and Saint Babylas, the latter having served as patriarch of Antioch in the third century. This potential Antiochene connection may account for the positioning of the Lucca letter in the codex.
Immediately following the Lucca letter is another correspondence pertaining to the First Crusade, written in the same hand: a fragment of the second letter sent by the First Crusader Anselm of Ribemont to Manasses II, archbishop of Rheims, which similarly focused on events at Antioch in 1098 (f. 73v-74v). One further witness exists for this letter, currently in the Bibliothèque nationale de France, though it is not the autograph manuscript. Anselm’s earlier letter, dated to November 1097 and again addressed to Manasses, is found earlier in MS 1710 (f. 21v-22r); and this is the sole extant witness. Slight differences in the paleography could suggest another scribe, albeit one from the same period and potentially the same scriptorium.
In any case, the three crusade letters included in the codex are not the originals. It is unclear whether all the pieces therein were copied at the abbey of Saint-Martin des Champs. All three letters are missing from the collection’s contents page, and it is possible that the Lucca letter and Anselm’s second letter (perhaps also his first) were introduced at a later date. As the collection currently stands, the trio of crusade letters have seemingly been incorporated to supplement a history of holy exploits for a monastic audience. This in itself is indicative of how the First Crusade’s history was often conceived of within a broader framework of devotional literature.
- Mazarine1710 - Paris, Bibliothèque Mazarine, 1710, f. 72r-73r; Latin; single column; early twelfth century.
- Riant - P. Riant, Archives de l’Orient latin, 2 vols (Paris, 1881-84), vol. 1, pp. 223-24.
- Hagenmeyer - H. Hagenmeyer, Die Kreuzzugssbriefe aus den Jahren 1088-1100 (Innsbruck, 1901), no. 17, pp. 165-67.
Sequitur de victoria mirabili contra Turcas
Primatibus, archiepiscopis, episcopis,
Cum peruenissemus Antiochiam nos qui per mare
magnificant. Indicto autem triduano ieiunio, instant orationibus, confitentur quae male fecerant, et aecclesias discalciatis circumeunt pedibus. Quo facto, uterque ad bellum adarmatur exercitus. In uigilia autem
Haec coram omnibus Brunus fideliter explicuit. Nos
autem fratres karissimi omnes uos qui praeestis populis oramus et obsecramus in
Domino, ut Christi uictoriam uestris enarretis et explanetis filiis, admonentes et ad
remissionem peccatorum iniungentes, ut
My thanks to Thomas Asbridge, Andrew Buck, Eyal Poleg, and Chris Sparks for their advice and assistance with various aspects of this edition. I would also like to thank Susan Edgington for suggesting the Lucca letter as a project, and Françoise Avel of the Bibliothèque Mazarine, who kindly provided images of the manuscript.