The Deeds of God through the Franks

by Guibert of Nogent

translated by Robert Levine

published by Boydell and Brewer 1997

all rights reserved

(notes are at the end of chapter 7)



The four-year period (1095-1099) between the call for crusade by Pope Urban II at the Council of Claremont and the capture of Jerusalem produced a remarkable amount of historiography, both in Western Europe and in Asia Minor. Three accounts by western European eye-witnesses -- an anonymous soldier or priest in Bohemund's army, Fulker of Chartres, and Raymond of Aguilers -- provoked later twelfth-century Latin writers from various parts of what are now France, Germany, England, Italy, and the Near East, to take up the task of providing more accurate, more thorough, more interpretive, and better written versions of the events.

Very little is known about most of the earliest rewriters; Albert of Aix, Robert the Monk, and Raoul of Caen are little more than names, while Baldric of Dole is known to have occupied a significant ecclesiastical position, and to have composed other literary works. Guibert of Nogent, on the other hand, is better known than any other historian of the First Crusade, in spite of the fact that The Deeds of God Through the Franks, composed in the first decade of the twelfth century (1106-1109), did not circulate widely in the middle ages, and no writer of his own time mentions him. Guibert himself, in the course of the autobiographical work he composed in the second decade of the twelfth century (1114-1117), never mentions the Deeds, and it has never been translated into English.[1] What measure of fame he currently has is based mostly on his autobiography, the Monodiae, or Memoirs, an apparently more personal document, which has been translated into both French and English.[2]

Although the Memoirs contain a strong historical component -- the third book, in particular, if used with discretion, offers rich material for a study of the civil disorder that took place in Laon 1112-111- the first book has attracted the attention of most recent scholars and critics because it offers more autobiographical elements. However, Guibert did not include among those elements the exact date and place of his birth.[3] Scholarly discussion has narrowed the possible dates to 1053-1065, although the latest editor of the Memoirs, Edmonde Labande, categorically chooses 1055. Among the candidates for his birthplace are Clermont-en-Beauvaisis, Agnetz, Catenoy, Bourgin, and Autreville, all within a short distance of Beauvais. No record of his death, generally assumed to have occurred by 1125, has survived.

In spite of the lack of exactitude about places and dates, the Memoirs provide an extensive account of some of the ways religious, psychological, and spiritual problems combined in the mind of an aristocratic oblate, who - became an aggressive Benedictine monk, fervently attached to his pious mother, fascinated and horrified by sexuality, enraged at the extent of contemporary ecclesiastical corruption, intensely alert to possible heresies, and generally impatient with all opinions not his own.[4] The personality that dominates the Monodiae had already permeated the earlier, historical text. As cantankerous as Carlyle, Guibert reveals in the Deeds the same qualities that Jonathan Kantor detected in the Memoirs:

The tone of the memoirs is consistently condemning and not confiding; they were written not by one searching for the true faith but by one determined to condemn the faithless.[5]

Such a tone is clearly reflected in the Deeds, whose very title is designed to correct the title of the anonymous Gesta Francorum, generally considered to be the earliest chronicle, and possibly eye-witness account (in spite of the evidence that a "monkish scribe" had a hand in producing the text), of the First Crusade.[6] Throughout his rewriting (for the most part, amplifying) of the Gesta Francorum, Guibert insists upon the providential nature of the accomplishment; by replacing the genitive plural of Franks with the genitive singular of God, Guibert lays the credit and responsibility for the deeds -- done - through, not by the French -- where they properly belong.[7]

Guibert also sees to it that his characters explicitly articulate their awareness of providential responsibility; in Book IV, one of the major leaders of the Crusade, Bohemund, addresses his men:

Bohemund said: "O finest knights, your frequent victories provide an explanation for your great boldness. Thus far you have fought for the faith against the infidel, and have emerged triumphant from every danger. Having already felt the abundant evidence of Christ's strength should give you pleasure, and should convince you beyond all doubt that in the most severe battles it is not you, but Christ, who has fought.

The Gesta Francorum, however, the text that Guibert sets out to correct, did not neglect the providential aspect of the First Crusade, although the surviving text contains no prologue making such an agenda blatantly explicit. Nevertheless, the anonymous author provides more than enough characters, direct discourse, and action to assure every reader that God looked favorably upon the Crusade. The warning given to Kherboga by his mother, for example,[8] indicates that even pagans were aware that God was on the side of the Christians; the appearance of the divine army, - led by three long-dead saints,[9] is another example of divine support. Perhaps the most vivid example is the series of visits Saint Andrew pays to Peter Bartholomew,[10] urging him to dig up the Lance that pierced Christ's side.

Redirecting, or redistributing the credit for victory, then, was not a radical contribution by Guibert. A far more noticeable correction, however, was the result of Guibert's determination to correct the style of his source:

A version of this same history, but woven out of excessively simple words, often violating grammatical rules, exists, and it may often bore the reader with the stale, flat quality of its language.

The result of his attempt to improve the quality of the Gesta's language, however, is what has distressed some of the modern readers who have tried to deal with Guibert's strenuously elaborate diction,[11] itself a part of his general delight, perhaps obsession, with difficulty. The utter lack of references to Guibert by his contemporaries may indicate that earlier readers shared R.B.C. Huygens' recent judgement that it is marred by an "affected style and pretentious vocabulary."[12]

Guibert seems to have anticipated such a response; at the beginning of Book Five of the Gesta he claims to be - utterly unconcerned with his audiences' interests and abilities:

In addition to the spiritual reward this little work of mine may bring, my purpose in writing is to speak as I would wish someone else, writing the same story, would speak to me. For my mind loves what is somewhat obscure, and detests a raw, unpolished style. I savor those things which are able to exercise my mind more than those things which, too easily understood, are incapable of inscribing themselves upon a mind always avid for novelty. In everything that I have written and am writing, I have driven everyone from my mind, instead thinking only of what is good for myself, with no concern for pleasing anyone else. Beyond worrying about the opinions of others, calm or unconcerned about my own, I await the blows of whatever words may fall upon me.[13]

However, anyone who reads the conventionally obsequious opening of the dedicatory epistle to Bishop Lysiard would have difficulty accepting the claim that Guibert has no concern for pleasing anyone else:

Some of my friends have often asked me why I do not sign this little work with my own name; until now I have refused, out of fear of sullying - pious history with the name of a hateful person. However, thinking that the story, splendid in itself, might become even more splendid if attached to the name of a famous man, I have decided to attach it to you. Thus I have placed most pleasing lamp in front of the work of an obscure author. For, since your ancient lineage is accompanied by a knowledge of literature, an unusual serenity and moral probity, one may justly believe that God in his foresight wanted the dignity of the bishop's office to honor the gift of such reverence. By embracing your name, the little work that follows may flourish: crude in itself, it may be made agreeable by the love of the one to whom it is written, and made stronger by the authority of the office by which you stand above others.

We do not know whether Lysiard shared Guibert's fascination with what is difficult, but the failure of any other medieval writer to mention Guibert implies a negative reception in general for the Gesta Dei.

Not every modern reader, however, has been alienated by Guibert's posture. Labande expresses some enthusiasm for "la virtuosité du styliste,"[14] and declares that Guibert's various uses of literary devices "mériteraient une - étude attentive." Acknowledging the fact that Guibert's language is somewhat "alambique" and "tarbiscoté," Labande had argued in an earlier article, although only on the basis of the historical material in the Monodiae, that Guibert deserved to be appreciated as an historian, with some "modern" qualities.[15] Going even further than Labande, Eitan Burstein admires "la richesse et l complexité" of Guibert's diction.[16] One might also point out that Guibert was not the first to compose a text of an historical nature in a self-consciously elaborate, difficult style. A century earlier Dudo of Saint Quentin had used such a style for his history of the Normans;[17] Saxo Grammaticus' History of the Danes indicates that the acrobatic style did not die out with Guibert.[18]

Translating into English the work of a deliberately difficult writer, whose declared aspiration is to be as hermetic as possible, might become a quixotic task, if Guibert's passion and energy had been focused only on providing a performance worthy of Martianus Capella.[19] The abbot of Nogent, however, also provides additional material, excises or corrects stories that he considers inaccurate, or worse, and, as his corrective title indicates, alters the focus of the material. The results of Guibert's efforts certainly provide unusually rich material for those interested in medieval mentalité. In addition, since history was a branch of rhetoric during the middle - ages (i.e., it was a part of literature),[20] those interested in intertextual aspects of medieval literature will find a treasure trove, particularly since Guibert eventually sets about correcting and improving two earlier texts.[21]

A clear example of what Guibert means by improvement occurs in his amplification of the Crusaders' arrival at Jerusalem. Where the Gesta Francorum had provided:

We, however, joyful and exultant, came to the city of Jerusalem...

Guibert composes a veritable cadenza on the arrival:

Finally they reached the place which had provoked so many hardships for them, which had brought upon them so much thirst and hunger for such a long time, which had stripped them, kept them sleepless, cold, and ceaselessly frightened, the most intensely pleasurable place, which had been the goal of the wretchedness they had undergone, and which had lured them to seek death and wounds. To this place, I say, desired by so many thousands of thousands, which they had greeted with such sadness and in jubilation, they finally came, to Jerusalem.

Amplifications like this, magnifying the internal, psychological significance of the events, while simultaneously insisting upon the religious nature of the expedition, characterize Guibert's response to the Gest Francorum. His desire to correct is complicated by the competitive urges that emerge when he faces the other apparently eye-witness account of the First Crusade that became available to him, Fulcher of Chartres' Histori Hierosolymitana.[22] Where he had offered gently corrective remarks about the crudeness of the Gest Francorum, Guibert mounts a vitriolic attack on Fulker's pretentiousness:

Since this same man produces swollen, foot-and-a-half words, pours forth the blaring colors of vapid rhetorical schemes,[23] I prefer to snatch the bare limbs of the deeds themselves, with whatever sack-cloth of eloquence I have, rather than cover them with learned weavings.[24]

However, to convince readers of his superiority Guibert knew that stylistic competence was necessary but not sufficient, particularly because both Fulker and the author of the Gesta Francorum had convinced most readers, including Guibert himself, that they were eye-witnesses of most of the events in their texts.[25] Guibert then had to deal with the commonplace assumption passed on by Isidore of Seville:

Apud veteres enim nemo conscribebat historiam, nisi is qui interfuisset, et ea quae conscribend essent vidisset.[26]

Among the ancients no one wrote history unless he had been present and had seen the things he was writing about.

To overcome his apparent disadvantage, Guibert offers defense of his second-hand perspective several times in the course of his performance.

In the fifth book, immediately after acknowledging the fascination of what is difficult, Guibert provides two paragraphs on the difficulties of determining exactly what happened at Antioch. These paragraphs offer another opportunity to watch Guibert rework material from an earlier text. The author of the Gesta Francorum had invoked variation of the topos of humility,[27] just before giving his account of how Antioch was betrayed by someone inside the city:

I am unable to narrate everything that we did before the city was captured, because no one who was in these parts, neither cleric nor laity, could write or narrate entirely what happened. But I shall tell a little.[28]

When Guibert takes his turn at the topos, he is clearly determined to outdo the author of the Gesta Francorum, both stylistically and in terms of the theory of historiography:

We judge that what happened at the siege of Antioch cannot possibly be told by anyone, because, among those who were there, no one can be found who could have observed everything that took place throughout the city, or who could understand the entire event in a way that would enable him to represent the sequence of actions as they took place.

At the beginning of the fourth book of the Gest Dei, Guibert's defense of his absence is again intertextual, but openly polemic as well, as he declares the battle between modern Christian writing (saints lives and John III.32) and ancient pagan authority (Horace, Ars Poetica 180-181) no contest:

If anyone objects that I did not see, he cannot object on the grounds that I did not hear, because I believe that, in a way, hearing is almost as good as seeing. For although:

Less vividly is the mind stirred by what finds entrance through the ears than by what is brought before the trusty eyes.[29]

Yet who is unaware that historians and those who wrote the lives of the saints wrote down not only what they had seen, but also those things they had drawn from what others had told them? If the truthful man, as it is written, reports "what he has seen and heard," then his tale may be accepted as true when he describes what he has not seen, but has been told by reliable speakers.

Guibert then goes on to challenge those who object to do the job better.

Correcting the Gesta Francorum, castigating Fulker, and challenging his other contemporaries, however, do not absorb all of Guibert's competitive urges. He also attacks both the Graeco-Roman and Jewish texts upon which he also heavily depends.[30] His use of moderns to castigate the ancients begins in Book One:

We wonder at Chaldean pride, Greek bitterness, the sordidness of the Egyptians, the instability of the Asiatics, as described by Trogus Pompeius and other fine writers. We judge that the early Roman institutions usefully served the common good and the spread of their power. And yet, if the essence of these things were laid bare, not only would the relentless madness of fighting without good reason, only for the sake of ruling, would obviously deserve reproach. Let us look carefully, indded let us come to our senses about the remains, I might have said dregs, of this time which we disdain, and we may find, as that foolish king said,[31] that our little finger is greater than the backs of our fathers, whom we praise excessively. If we look carefully at the wars of the pagans and the kingdoms they traveled through by great military effort, we shall conclude that none of their strength, their armies, by the grace of God, is comparable to ours.

Throughout the text Guibert relentlessly insists that the Crusaders outdo the ancient Jews; in the last book he attempts to strip them of every accomplishment:

The Lord saves the tents of Judah in the beginning, since He, after having accomplished miracles for our fathers, also granted glory to our own times, so that modern men seem to have undergone pain and suffering greater than that of the Jews of old, who, in the company of their wives and sons, and with full bellies, were led by angels who made themselves visible to them.[32]

Partisan outbreaks like this fill the Gesta Dei per Francos, perhaps more clearly distinguishing it from the earlier accounts of the First Crusade than Guibert's more elaborate syntax, and self-conscious diction.

His hatred of poor people also penetrates the text, often to bring into higher relief the behavior of aristocrats. In Book Two, for example, he offers a comic portrayal of poor, ignorant pilgrims:

There you would have seen remarkable, even comical things: poor men, their cattle pulling two-wheeled cart, armed as though they were horses, carrying their few possessions together with their small children in the wagon. The small childrne, whenever they came upon a castle or town on the way, asked whether this was the Jerusalem they were seeking.

In the seventh and last book, Guibert tells the story of the woman and the goose, again to ridicule the foolishness of the poor:

A poor woman set out on the journey, when a goose, filled with I do not know what instructions, clearly exceeding the laws of her own dull nature, followed her. Lo, rumor, flying on Pegasean wings, filled the castles and cities with the news that even geese had been sent by God to liberate Jerusalem. Not only did they deny that this wretched woman was leading the goose, but they said that the goose led her. At Cambrai they assert that, with people standing on all sides, the woman walked through the middle of the church to the altar, and the goose followed behind, in her footsteps, with no one urging it on. Soon after, we have learned, the goose died in Lorraine; she certainly would have gone more directly to Jerusalem if, the day before she set out, she had made of herself a holiday meal for her mistress.

Poor people, however, are not merely comic, but dangerous, to themselves, as Guibert's version of the story of Peter the Hermit indicates, and to others, as Guibert's version of the death of Peter Bartholomew emphasizes.[33]

The story of the goose, however, is a comic reflection of a persistently urgent problem on the First Crusade; Guibert addresses the problem of famine often, and expresses particularly warm sympathy towards aristocratic hunger:

How many jaws and throats of noble men were eaten away by the roughness of this bread. How terribly were their fine stomachs revolted by the bitterness of the putrid liquid. Good God, we think that they must have suffered so, these men who remembered their high social position in their native land, where they had been accustomed to great ease and pleasure, and now could find no hope or solace in any external comfort, as they burned in the terrible heat. Here is what I and I alone think: never had so many noble men exposed their own bodies to so much suffering for a purely spiritual benefit.

Furthermore, he bends over backwards to defend aristocrats towards whom other historians of the First Crusade were far less sympathetic. Guibert's description of the count of Normandy, for example, shows remarkable moral flexibility:

It would hardly be right to remain silent about Robert, Count of Normandy, whose bodily indulgences, weakness of will, prodigality with money, gourmandising, indolence, and lechery were expiated by the perseverance and heroism that he vigorously displayed in the army of the Lord. His inborn compassion was naturally so great that he did not permit vengeance to be taken against those who had plotted to betray him and had been sentenced to death, and if something did happen to them, he wept for their misfortune. He was bold in battle, although adeptness at foul trickery, with which we know many men befouled themselves, should not be praised, unless provoked by unspeakable acts. For these and for similar things he should now be forgiven, since God has punished him in this world, where he now languishes in jail, deprived of all his honors.

His defense of Stephen of Blois also shows a remarkably complex tolerance and sensitivity towards aristocratic failure:

At that time, Count Stephen of Blois, formerly man of great discretion and wisdom, who had been chosen as leader by the entire army, said that he was suffering from a painful illness, and, before the army had broken into Antioch, Stephen made his way to a certain small town, which was called Alexandriola. When the city had been captured and was again under siege, and he learned that the Christian leaders were in dire straits, Stephen, either unable or unwilling, delayed sending them aid, although they were awaiting his help. When he heard that an army of Turks had set up camp before the city walls, he rode shrewdly to the mountains and observed the amount the enemy had brought. When he saw the fields covered with innumerable tents, in understandably human fashion he retreated, judging that no mortal power could help those shut up in the city. A man of the utmost probity, energetic, pre-eminent in his love of truth, thinking himself unable to bring help to them, certain that they would die, as all the evidence indicated, he decided to protect himself, thinking that he would incur no shame by saving himself for a opportune moment.

Guibert concludes his defense of Stephen's questionable behavior with a skillful use of counter-attack:

And I certainly think that his flight (if, however, it should be called a flight, since the count was certainly ill), after which the dishonorable act was rectified by martyrdom, was superior to the return of those who, persevering in their pursuit of foul pleasure, descended into the depths of criminal behavior. Who could claim that count Stephen and Hugh the Great, who had always been honorable, because they had seemed to retreat for this reason, were comparable to those who had steadfastly behaved badly?

One of the functions of the panegyric he composes for martyred Crusader is to make Guibert's own rank clear, present, and significant:

We have heard of many who, captured by the pagans and ordered to deny the sacraments of faith, preferred to expose their heads to the sword than to betray the Christian faith in which they had been instructed. Among them I shall select one, knight and an aristocrat, but more illustrious for his character than all others of his family or social class I have ever known. From the time he was a child I knew him, and I watched his fine disposition develop. Moreover, he and I came from the same region, and his parents held benefices from my parents, and owed them homage, and we grew up together, and his whole life and development were an open book to me.

He is a spokesman not only for aristocrats, but for the French, in spite of his emphasis on per Deum in his title, regularly emphasizing, throughout his text, the significance and superiority of the French contribution. At the end of Book One, Guibert insists that Bohemund, the major military figure in his history, was really French:

Since his family was from Normandy, a part of France, and since he had obtained the hand of the daughter of the king of the French, he might be very well be considered a Frank.

In Book Three, when the Franks win a significant victory, Guibert insists that the defeated Turks and the victorious Franks have not merely common but noble ancestors, thereby melding his two political commitments:

But perhaps someone may object, arguing that the enemy forces were merely peasants, scum herded together from everywhere. Certainly the Franks themselves, who had undergone such great danger, testified that they could have known of no race comparable to the Turks, either in liveliness of spirit, or energy in battle. When the Turks initiated a battle, our men were almost reduced to despair by the novelty of their tactics in battle; they were not accustomed to their speed on horseback, not to their ability to avoid our frontal assaults. We had particular difficulty with the fact that they fired their arrows only when fleeing from the battle. It was the Turk's opinion, however, that they shared an ancestry with the Franks, and that the highest military prowess belonged particularly to the Turks and Franks, above all other people.

Having praised the West at the expense of the East in the first book, in the second he praises the French at the expense of the Teutons, recounting a conversation he recently held with a German ecclesiastic, to show himself an ardent defender of ethnicity:

Last year while I was speaking with a certain archdeacon of Mainz about a rebellion of his people, I heard him vilify our king and our people, merely because the king had given gracious welcome everywhere in his kingdom to his Highness Pope Paschalis and his princes; he called them not merely Franks, but, derisively, "Francones." I said to him, "If you think them so weak and languid that you can denigrate a name known and admired as far away as the Indian Ocean, then tell me upon whom did Pope Urban call for aid against the Turks? Wasn't it the French? Had they not been present, attacking the barbarians everywhere, pouring their sturdy energy and fearless strength into the battle, there would have been no help for your Germans, whose reputation there amounted to nothing." That is what I said to him.

Guibert then turns to his reader, and provides a more extensive panegyric for his people, recalling pre-Merovingian accomplishments:

I say truly, and everyone should believe it, that God reserved this nation for such a task. For we know certainly that, from the time that they received the sign of faith that blessed Remigius brought to them, they succumbed to none of the diseases of false faith from which other nations have remained uncontaminated either with great difficulty or not at all. They are the ones who, while still laboring under the pagan error, when they triumphed on the battlefield over the Gauls, who were Christians, did not punish or kill any of them, because they believed in Christ. Instead, those whom Roman severity had punished with sword and fire, French native generosity covered with gems and amber. They strove to welcome with honor not only those who lived within their own borders, but they also affectionately cared for people who came from Spain, Italy, or anywhere else, so that love for the martyrs and confessors, whom they constantly served and honored, made them famous, finally driving them to the glorious victory at Jerusalem. Because it has carried the yoke since the days of its youth, it will sit in isolation,[34] a nation noble, wise, war-like, generous, brilliant above all kinds of nations. Every nation borrows the name as an honorific title; do we not see the Bretons, the English, the Ligurians call men "Frank" if they behave well? But now let us return to the subject.

"Let us return to the subject," like the earlier injunction, "let us continue in the direction in which we set out," indicates Guibert's awareness of his tendency to perform "sorties."[35] At times he turns from the narrative to deliver a sermon, or to offer a biography of Mahomet, and, more than once, to lecture on ecclesiastical history. The apparent looseness of structure which results, a quality Misch attributed to the Memoirs as well, may be symptom of Guibert's Shandy-like temperament, or may be evidence that the remarks he made about his style in an early aside to the reader apply equally well to his structure:

Please, my reader, knowing without a doubt that I certainly had no more time for writing than those moments during which I dictated the words themselves, forgive the stylistic infelicities; I did first write on writing-tablets to be corrected diligently later, but I wrote them directly on the parchment, exactly as it is, harshly barked out.

Such a cavalier attitude towards the finished product was not characteristic of Guibert,[36] and seems to be in keeping neither with his declared penchant for difficulty, nor with his declared intention to raise the level of his style to match the significance of his subject:

No one should be surprised that I make use of style very much different from that of the Commentaries on Genesis, or the other little treatises; for it is proper and permissible to ornament a history with the crafted elegance of words; however, the mysteries of sacred eloquence should be treated not with poetic loquacity, but with ecclesiastical plainness. Therefore I ask you to accept this graciously, and to keep it as perpetual monument to your name.

The seriousness of purpose and the apparent looseness of structure may perhaps be reconciled by considering that the literal level of events was a less urgent concern for Guibert than the significance of those events. In addition, he imagined himself not so much as a recorder of events, but as a competitor in a rhetorical agon, as the implied metaphor that he uses in describing his activity as writer, in hujus stadio operis excurrisse debueram, "racing in a stadium," implies.

In fact, in the course of composing his explicitly corrective version of the First Crusade, Guibert participates in several contests simultaneously; he "mollifies" the style and corrects the substance of previous writers on the Crusades; he argues for some miracles and against others; he utilizes and attempts to transcend both the Graeco-Roman and the Judaeo part of the Judaeo-Christian past. As a rhetorical performance, in both prose and verse, the results are impressive, since the Gesta Dei per Francos simultaneously reflects historical reality, and provides some insight into the workings of the mind of gifted, early twelfth-century French cleric and aristocrat.

Summary of the Gesta Dei per Francos

Characteristically, Guibert opens the Gesta defensively, justifying his choice of a modern topic by insisting upon the exceptional nature of the Crusade, as well as the exceptional nature of the French. The entire first book is devoted to a selective history of the Eastern Church and a denunciation of heresies, concluding with an extensive invective against Mahomet, compounding sex, excrement, and disease.[37] Guibert then moves forward in time, to the generation before the First Crusade, to describe a complaint about Muslim lust made by the Greek Emperor to the elder Count Robert of Flanders. Guibert also complains about the Greek Emperor's own excessive interest in erotic motivation for warriors.

Book Two begins with an account that amounts to little more than a panegyric of Pope Urban II, admired by Guibert at least partially because he is French. Guibert then compliments the French for their long-standing loyalty to the Popes, and for their generally Christian behavior.[38] Guibert then proceeds to describe the rise of Peter the Hermit as leader of the poor people who misguidedly set out on the Crusade, a group whose lack of control outrages Guibert throughout the Gesta.[39] However, he quickly returns to giving an account of the aristocrats who took the cross, composing panegyrics for Godfrey, Baldwin, and Eustace of Bouillon, complimenting Godfrey in particular for his military victories in skirmishes with the Greek emperor. The second book ends with a description of some of the other leaders and their qualities.

In Book Three Guibert introduces Bohemund, describes the siege of Nicea, the battle of Dorylea, and adds the story about Baldwin's adoption by the ruler of Edessa (not to be found in the Gesta Francorum).

In Book Four the Crusaders arrive at Antioch and take up the lengthy siege. Guibert again adds material not to be found in the Gesta Francorum: one story involves the false stigmata of an abbot, another the martyrdom of a man know personally by Guibert.

In Book Five Guibert describes the taking of Antioch, the capture of Cassian and his decapitation by Armenians and Syrians, the prediction of eventual Christian victory by Kherboga's mother, the Crusaders' themselves besieged in Antioch, the initial resistance to Peter's vision about the location of the Lance,[40] and the desertion of the Crusade by Stephen of Blois, whom Guibert defends with his characteristic loyalty to aristocrats.

Book Six offers the discovery of the Lance, a futile meeting between Peter the Hermit and Kherboga, the reported appearance of a celestial army, the Crusaders' defeat of Kherboga, and the lifting of the siege of Antioch. In addition, Ademar of Puy dies, the Crusaders attack Marrah, and Bohemund and Raymond of St. Gilles disagree about to whom Antioch belongs. The trial by fire of Peter Bartholomew (not to be found in the Gesta Francorum) differs significantly and with clear polemical intentions from the scene in Fulcher; Guibert attributes the skepticism about the authenticity of the Lance to the death of Ademar. The book ends with the martyrdom of Anselm of Ribemont, and mention of his letters, which Guibert will use later.

Book Seven is more than twice the length of any of the earlier books; in it the Crusaders reach Tripoli, negotiate successfully with its king, continue on through Palestine, reach Jerusalem, and begin the siege. As part of his extended panegyric of both brothers, Guibert now inserts the story of Godfrey cutting a man in half and wrestling with bear (not in the Gesta Francorum), which permits him, by association, to modulate to the story of Baldwin refusing to be saved by having a soldier killed and examined for similar wound, instead agreeing to substitute a bear. As he approaches the end of his task, Guibert loosens the structure of his narrative even more, providing a discussion of Near Eastern ecclesiastical politics, a description of some of the battles in which the Crusaders consolidated their control over Palestine, and a cadenza, dense with Biblical quotations and some allegorical exegesis, on the significance of the Crusade itself. After providing an anecdote about the way in which children's combat inspired the soldiers, Guibert provides a brief discussion of the Tafurs, and describes the betrayal by the emperor that led to the death of Hugh Magnus. Next Guibert describes Stephen's disastrous expedition to Paphligonia, offers conflicting versions of Godfrey's death, mentions his replacement by Baldwin, and provides a flashback to Robert of Flanders' visit to Jerusalem twelve years before the Crusade (at which time, according to Guibert, an astrological prediction of a later Christian victory had been made). Guibert now tells a story about a man who defeated the Devil, then attacks Fulker of Chartres for his style, for his story about Pirrus betraying Antioch, and for his rejection of the authenticity of the Lance.

Guibert's Other Works

None of the salacious verse Guibert confesses to have written in his youth has survived.[41] Instead, in addition to the Gesta Dei and the Monodiae, the following writings, entirely on religious topics, have survived, and have been published in vol 156 of Migne's Patrologia Latina:

Quo ordine sermo fieri debeat (Migne 21-32 and Huygens 1993 47-63). Moralium Geneseos libri decem (Migne 32-338).

Tropologiae in prophetas Osee, Amos ac Lamentationes Jeremiae (Migne 337-488).

Tractatus de Incarnatione contra Judaeos (Migne 489-528).

Epistola de buccella Judae data et de veritate dominici Corporis (Migne 527-538 and Huygens 1993 65-77).

De laude sanctae Mariae liber (Migne 537-578).

De virginitate opusculum (Migne 579-608).

De pignoribus sanctorum libri quatuor (Migne 607-680 and Huygens 1993 79-175).

The Translation

In diction, syntax, word order, and complexity of expression, Guibert's Latin is more difficult than that of any other Latin historian of the First Crusade. I have tried to preserve as much of the complexity of the syntax as is tolerable in comprehensible English sentences. Guibert's penchant for alliteration, rhyming clausulae, and pithiness must usually be sacrificed. A characteristic example of the sonic loss occurs in my attempt to translate the sardonic description of Arnulf's elevation to patriarch:

...dum vox magis quam vita curatur, ad hoc ut Iherosolimitanus fieret patriarcha vocatur. (RHC 4.233)

and since a man's voice is of more concern than the life he has led, he was called to the patriarchy of Jerusalem.

I have followed the paragraphs of the latest edition, often longer than those to which twentieth-century readers are accustomed, to allow readers to check the original more easily. Passages which Guibert composed in verse are translated into prose and indented. Guizot's early nineteenth-century French translation, although at times erroneous or misleading, was very helpful.


Annotating Guibert's text in a truly satisfying manner would have produced a prologomenon to a synoptic history of the First Crusade.[42] Instead, I have tried to limit myself to providing: (1) information necessary to understand and to clarify the translation; (2) sources for Guibert's Biblical and classical references; (3) modern names of cities and towns mentioned in the text;[43] (4) the names of the meters in which Guibert composes the portions of his text in verse; (5) representative illustrations of the intertextual nature of the Gesta Dei per Francos.


I am grateful to Jessica Weiss for reading through the entire translation and making useful corrections and suggestions, to Mark Stansbury for reading through parts of the translation and making useful corrections and suggestions, and to the staff of The Boston University Office of Information Technology for help in solving problems involving word-processing.


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____, (ed.) Epistulae et chartae ad historiam primi belli sacri spectantes, Innsbruck, 1901.

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___, La tradition manuscrite de Guibert de Nogent, The Hague, 1991.

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