The impact of war on medieval literature

Topics: Middle Ages, Medieval warfare, War Pages: 5 (1656 words) Published: December 1, 2013

Medieval literature was influenced by many things and Literature was also influenced by many things. Religion, science, art, laws, food, and many other aspects of life have influenced the work of writers of the past. One cruel aspect of life that has always been in the lives of people since the beginning of time and has greatly influenced the history of the world, as well as the development of literature, is war. “War is the subject of literature because it has such a significant effect on humans” (Bergd 09). Throughout the medieval times, war was very common. The warlike Germanic tribes that dominated Europe before the Middle Ages heavily influenced the ideas of chivalry and glory from warfare. From their tales of battle and glory, much of the literature of the civilizations that emerged in the middle ages was heavily influenced by the warrior cultures of the Germanic tribes that came before them. “Military affairs had formed an important theme in Medieval literature for several centuries, at first in Germanic heroic poetry that was transmitted largely in oral form, then from the twelfth century onwards in increasingly complex strands of written literature that combined Germanic traditions with new concerns drawn to a large extent from French and Latin literature” (Jackson 52). In the Middle Ages, war was a common occurrence. From the poorest peasant to the wealthiest warlord, war was a large part of life and their actions have influenced the literature that was written in the dark ages before the Renaissance. Because war was so common during this period, the stories and historical accounts of many works of literature contain many things related to war. “War produces Heroes” (Ailes 30), and good heroes make good characters for good stories, plays, songs, and poems. Plays by Shakespeare such as the King Henry plays, King Richard plays, and the King John play all had accounts of war in them. Great epics about heroes like Beowulf slaying dragons and El Cid fighting for the people, and tales such as The song of Roland and The Tale of Igor's Campaign contain intense battles and are full of knights and chivalry. “As seen in Ambroise’s Chronicle, Richard the Lion-Heart and his noble opponent Saladin have been depicted as “knights as worthy of heroic status” (Ailes 45). War not only influenced literature by tales of knights and damsels, war also caused the way we see the past from text to be altered or may have caused some stories to never have survived into our time. “History is written by the victors” (Churchill), and the victors of wars would occasionally burn libraries or certain books. For example, the destruction of Cathar texts in the Languedoc Region of France during the 13th century when the Catholic Church waged a brutal campaign against the Cathars of Languedoc, which started the Albigensian Crusade. Nearly every Cathar text there was destroyed, in an effort to completely extirpate their heretical beliefs. Due to this crusade an entire way of life was destroyed and the books of their religion and culture were burned, never to be read by anyone in the present. Also libraries were destroyed throughout wars, for instance, during the Fourth Crusade, the Imperial Library of Constantinople, containing many texts from the classical era empires, such as the Roman Empire and the Thracian Empire, was targeted by Crusaders and was burned to the ground. During the English Civil War, the Earl of Worcester’s archive, at the Raglan Library at Raglan Castle in Wales was razed by the Parliamentary Army under the command of Thomas Fairfax.

Not only did war affect literature, but literature also affected war. Many kings, lords, knights, and adventurers went into battle hoping for glory and renown so that they would be remembered as legends in bards’ songs and the books of scribes. During the Hundred Years’ War, the conflict over the French throne led many English and French nobles, as well as some mercenaries to seek fortune and...


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