Cities under Siege

Cities under Siege

The legendary exploits of the Classical past were a great source for romance treatment—none more so than the web of stories surrounding the troubled cities of Thebes and Troy. They could become exemplary histories, bloody revenge narratives, models of chivalric honour, the setting for poignant love stories, or meditations on Fortune and the gods in a pagan—and so to medieval Christians a doomed—world. These cities were not simply distant mirrors whose citizens were safely consigned to history, however. The mythical figure Brutus was said to have escaped Troy and, like Aeneas in Italy, founded a new kingdom of Britain; indeed, in the late fourteenth century there were moves to rename London Troynovant: New Troy. The siege techniques, languors and intrigues described in these texts were also familiar to their audiences from contemporary warfare, while the importance of symbolic cities, notably Jerusalem, was underlined by the generations of men sent in the Crusades to capture or garrison the Holy city.

Ful rewfully she loked upon Troie, sorrowfully
Bihelde the toures heigh and ek the halles; towers; also
‘Allas,’ quod she, ‘the pleasance and the joie,
The which that now al torned into galle is, bitterness
Have ich had ofte withinne the yonder walles!
O Troilus, what dostow now?’ she seyde,
‘Lord, wheyther thow yet thenke upon Criseyde?’
 Do you still think about Criseyde? Geoffrey Chaucer, Troilus and Criseyde, V. 729–35

William Caxton (c.1422–1492) was a successful merchant who took up printing while living in Bruges. He probably worked with the printer Colard Mansion on this book, The Recuyell of the...

The first book printed in English

Chaucer included several romances in his Canterbury Tales, but his greatest single work is Troilus and Criseyde, whose rich narrative weaves together romance, history, tragedy and comedy. One page...

Chaucer's Troilus and Criseyde

The Siege of Thebes and the Troy Book by prolific poet and monk of Bury St Edmunds, John Lydgate (c.1370–c.1450), are the first two items in this manuscript. The first is imagined as an extra...

A collection of imperilled cities

This richly illustrated manuscript contains Le Roman de Troÿle by Pierre de Beauveau, a French version of Giovanni Boccaccio’s fourteenth-century Trojan poem Il filostrato, which was also...

Troilus in French

This substantial poem about the siege of Troy survives uniquely in this manuscript. After an initial prayer, the author notes that ‘Many speken of men that romaunces rede / That were sumtyme...

The Laud Troy Book

This miniature appears at the head of the romance Richard Coeur de Lyon, which recounts the exploits of Richard the Lionheart at the time of the Third Crusade. The pictures shows Richard and his army...

Richard the Lionheart on campaign

This manuscript contains a version of the Troy Book by John Lydgate (c.1370–c.1450), alongside fragments of a Scottish Troy narrative. Along with MS. Arch. Seld. B. 24 elsewhere in this...

A Scottish book of Troy

Origin Stories
Origin Stories
Romance and the Medieval World
Romance and the Medieval World
Truth, Deceit and Desire
Truth, Deceit and Desire
Empires of Romance: Arthur
Empires of Romance: Arthur
Empires of Romance: Alexander
Empires of Romance: Alexander
The Objects of Romance
The Objects of Romance
Cities under Siege
Cities under Siege
Strange Encounters
Strange Encounters
The Fortunes of Sir Gawain
The Fortunes of Sir Gawain
Composing, Writing, Preserving
Composing, Writing, Preserving
The Percy Folio
The Percy Folio
Routes of Romance I
Routes of Romance I
Routes of Romance II
Routes of Romance II
Romance and the Modern World
Romance and the Modern World