Friday, April 03, 2009

More on the Fee of Europe

Not long after the time of Serlingpa, we read in Europe about Prester John of the Indies -- of his exploits or of his visit to Rome, or of the arrival of his envoys.

During the same period, rather peculiar stories crop up that link up certain noble houses with the Fee -- the Fairies or Fay -- of Brittany; and at the same time with far-off India, or more correctly, the Indies.

Generally the trend has been to dismiss these suggestions as fantastic elements added to legendary history -- a literature though that was taken quite seriously in many circles from commoner to royalty. However, as I have discussed before there is evidence that the medieval epic literature was used, at least in some cases, as a form of political commentary, or as a means of conveying non-politically correct historical events. It's a good time given the previous posts to expand on this whole thesis.

Previously I have suggested that Wolfram von Eschenbach's Parzival actually alludes to the Angevin and Plantagenet history (House of Anjou). The first person to suggest this connection, I believe, was Jessie Laidlay Weston. Let's look at some of the parallels:

Wolfram's Angevins
Historical Angevins
Son of Angevin count gains throne by marrying widowed empress, a queen of two countriesGeoffrey V, son of the Count of Anjou, marries widowed Empress Matilda, queen of England and Normandy
The son of the empress and Angevin is deposed by a knight and two brothersHenry Fitz-Empress, son of Matilda and Geoffrey V, is usurped by the brothers Theobald and Stephen of Blois.
The Angevin husband of the empress descends from the king Mazadan, who is said to marry the fairy Terre-de-la-schoie, this latter name possibly a reference to Morgan la Fay. Mazadan is also Arthur's ancestor according to Wolfram.
Angevin tradition recorded by Gerald of Wales and others states that one of the early Angevin ancestors married a woman of "demon blood." This tradition was passed on among the Plantagenets themselves.
The Angevin's first heroic deed is to defeat in single combat Heuteger, the Scotchman, who appeared every morning before the gates of Patelamunt, to challenge the besieged knights.This appears to throw back to the Angevin count Geoffrey I who, during the siege of Paris by the Danes, is said to have defeated Ethelwulf who had daily offered challenges simiilar to those of Heuteger.
Nantes is made Arthur's chief city and both the Round Table and his capital are located thereBrittany and Anjou had a long conflict over possession of Nantes, which lied within the borders of Brittany.
The bard Kiot claimed to have searched the records of France, Britain, Ireland and Anjou to find the story of the Grail.Henry Fitz-Empress was King of England, Duke of Normandy and Aquitaine, Count of Anjou and Lord of Ireland.

Now previously I have claimed that many of the Grail and Arthurian romances had used older Celtic legends to cast the Norman invasion of England as liberation of Celts from their Anglo-Saxon oppressors. Also the fairy descent ascribed repeatedly to both the rulers of Anjou and Brittany (Arthur) is directly related to repeated appearance of the Indies and its inhabitants in the same literature.

However, before I continue let me first give some background on the historical sources leading up to this period.

Dissolution of the Carolingian empire

During the Carolingian empire, strangers were protected by the empire through reciprocal treaties like that with the Danes in 873. The poet Theodulf, for example, mentions Arab traders at Arles in 812.

As the empire crumbled, a black hole of literature and historical records ensues particularly throughout the 10th century. Brittany had allied with the Vikings against the Franks in the 8th century, and eventually also Anjou finds itself in the Norman orbit.

The Vikings were a motley lot who readily accepted strangers into their fold. In the east, they carried on a brisk trade with Muslims and the Byzantine empire. People of all backgrounds could be found among them both slave and free. There is also some evidence that they may have traded with Moorish Spain. In 845, Abd al-Rahman II sent an embassy to the King of the Vikings for reasons that are not spelled out. Mas'udi claimed that the Rus, a term thought by many to refer to Varangians and Northmen, carried their trade as far "as Spain, Rome, Constantinople, and the Khazar." This period would have been a prime opportunity for foreigners, even from very distant lands, to settle in the areas of Brittany and Anjou.

As the Frankish empire broke up, the comital families that had acted as regional military governors under imperial appointment began to make sovereign claims on their territories. The counts of Anjou were one such family. Before Count Fulk IV in the 11th century, nothing was known of the Angevin family.

Fulk IV himself wrote a family history and encouraged the monks of St Aubin in the capital of Angers to create genealogies for the house of Anjou. He is also believed to have encouraged archdeacon Renaud to write a history of the family for the annals of St. Aubin. Like most genealogies and histories of other counts, those of Fulk IV were drawn from memory.

For example, although Fulk IV claims not to have known about the earliest Angevin counts, the chroniclers expand his genealogy back to the Carolingians and following the Merovingian dynasty back to the ancient Trojans. Many details and family members are added, by different writers, and these vary widely from one version to another. Relationships between noble families suddenly appear out of nowhere. In other words, there is little to vouch for much that is recorded before Fulk IV.

Many of the genealogies and histories including the legendary histories were designed to help the comital families gain recognition and acceptance of their sovereign claims. In such an environment, it would make little sense to link one's lineage and family history with fairies, demons and far-off India and the Indies. There are other good reasons to look at these connections as reality rather than fable.

First, the Grail and Arthurian literature appears at the same period that we begin to hear of actual visitors from "India" in Europe. Geoffrey of Monmouth was probably the first of the pro-Norman-Angevin-Briton writers. He was a subject of Henry II (Henry Fitz-Empress Plantagenet) and thus could be expected to be favorable to the House of Anjou. His key works, Prophecies of Merlin and History of the Kings of Britain came out around 1135 and 1136 respectively.

Earlier in 1122, we hear that a certain 'John, Patriarch of the Indies' had visited Calixtus I at Rome. The audience is preserved in two different sources -- the Chronicon of Albericus Trium Fontium and in a letter by St. Remy abbot Oddo to a Count Thomas, --this letter forming part of Mabillon's collection Vetera Analecta. Oddo actually witnessed the meeting between Patriach John and Calixtus I, with the former describing the 'communion of St. Thomas.'

Patriarch John is first combined with Prester John as early as the end of the 12th century in the Narrative of Eliseus, and in the 15th century the earliest publication of Prester John's letter includes the account of Patriarch John in a Latin chapbook.

About a decade after Geoffrey's works, Hugh of Gabala reports of Prester John's military exploits in Persia recorded by both Albericus and Otto of Freising. Then in 1165, Albericus reports that Prester John had sent envoys with letters to many Christian kingdoms and particularly to Emperors Manuel I and Frederick Barbarossa. In 1177, Pope Alexander III's physician Philippus meets envoys of Prester John while traveling in the east and carries a message, possibly in the form of a letter, to the Pope.

We can consider that some if not all these envoys of Prester John were from the "Indies," and that possibly even the king himself had visited Rome if we accept the account of 1122 and its identification of Patriarch John with Prester John!

The next reason to believe in the reality of the foreign elements in the literature is that we see therein a host of "Orientalisms" especially with reference to the Holy Grail beliefs. One could assign these to the random flow of eastern influence that occurred after the start of the Crusades and the fall of Toledo. However, I have attempted to show that these elements surrounding the Grail legend have a specificity that links very well the suggestions made in this blog.

Lastly, the linkage with Prester John, although not found in the very earliest works, very readily gives a motive for such long-range contacts that agree with the campaign of the King of the Isles in the furthest Indies. The kingdom of Zabag, I have suggested, started intensely increasing its normal policy of attraction starting at least in the 10th century if not a few centuries earlier. This intensification came as a response to new competition along the martime spice routes caused by Sunni Islamic expansion. Prester John offered the hope of an ally who could supposedly usher all the forces of the East and India to aid the West in defeating a common foe.

East meets West

Epic literature of the 12th and 13th centuries abounds with references to India, which again defines the general geographical region of the Indies, the region furthest east in the known world of medieval Europe. Princes, princesses, messengers and others from India are an integral part of the literature, and they are not found so much in the East as in the European setting.

If India and its inhabitants are not mentioned, then one can be assured that fairies and the fairy kingdom will be found. And in no small number of these works, the Indies and the fairy kingdom are equated either explicitly or implicitly.

Let's take, for example, the possibly first pro-Angevin writer of this genre, Geoffrey of Monmouth. He has the wounded Arthur taken to the island of Avalon where he is healed by Morgen.

At this time, Avalon was an unknown element, so Geoffrey is taking the Celtic hero and placing him in a foreign land or otherworld location. There has been a great deal of speculation as to what Geoffrey meant by Avalon ranging from the Fortunate Isles (Canaries) to India and the Americas. The best information is that gleaned nearest to Geoffrey's own time or as near to it as possible.

The chanson de geste Huon of Bordeaux is generally dated either to the final third of the 12th century or the first half of the 13th. According to the earlier dating the author could have been a contemporary of Geoffrey. His hero ventures to India in the farthest East to a fairy kingdom known as Momur and ruled by the dwarf king Oberon. That this Momur is the same as Geoffrey's Avalon is evident in that both Arthur and Morgan la Fay are found living there.

However, we can get even closer to Geoffrey's time and milieu. Gerald of Wales, who wrote during the late 12th and early 13th century was actually a royal chaplain of Henry II Plantagenet. He wrote that Avalon was actually found at Glastonbury, not far away at all.

Gerald though, despite his Norman and Welsh descent, was a known anti-Angevin. In works that were composed through much of his career but published only later in life, Gerald harshly criticized the Angevins, much preferring the Capet family of France. In 1216, about seven years before his death, he supported a plan during the First Baron's War to put Louis VIII of France on the English throne in place of the Plantagenets.

He was also the one who characterized the strange blood of the Angevins as coming from the Devil in contrast, say, to von Eschenbach's positive account of descent from the fairies Mazadan and Terdelaschoye. And it was Gerald of Wales who attempted to extinguish the strongly-held Celtic belief in the returning Arthur, the once and future king, by reporting that the coffins and bones of King Arthur along with Guinevere had been found at Glastonbury, in what may be the world's earliest known case of fake archaeology. And finally, Gerald had strongly attacked Geoffrey's works on the history of Britain.

Now, there is an even better source, in this case pro-Angevin, in Etienne de Rouen who wrote Draco Normannicus between 1167 and 1169.

Etienne's work is a purported letter from Arthur to Henry II during the latter's campaign in Brittany during 1167. Arthur, who is ruling in Avalon together with his sister Morgan, warns Henry II against invading Brittany threatening to return with his own army from Avalon. Henry responds by defending his right to Brittany and promising out of reverence for Arthur that he would rule Brittany under Arthur's law. That law is the fatorum lege, which might be translated as "fairy law" from fata "fairy" marking the first connection of Avalon with the Fee.

What is interesting about Etienne's account is that he repeatedly refers to Avalon as the Antipodes, a region known from ancient Greek sources. In the older conception of a flat earth, the Antipodes was thought of as the southernmost quarter of the world. However, Etienne describes the Antipodes as the "other side of the earth" and the "lower hemisphere," suggesting something quite different -- a world divided into halves rather than quarters. He also equates the Antipodes with the Underworld. Mildred Leake Day says about the term "lower hemisphere":

This does not mean Africa or the other continents not yet discovered by Europeans. Etienne is specific that the Antipodes are living on the other side of the world, not below the equator but in the far east. The reality of a spherical earth had been known since ancient times from the simple observations of the disappearing horizon at sea and the shadow of the earth in the eclipse of the moon. The circumference of the earth was assumed in most cases India and the Spice Islands were considered in educated views to be on the opposite side of the earth.

Day may be alluding here to the Celtic belief that the Sun enters the sea at night with the sea often closely linked with the Underworld in the same mythology.

Chretien de Troyes in Eric and Enide tells of a noble king of the dwarfs called Bilis who rules in the Antipodes in the lower hemisphere and visits the court of Arthur. Recall that the fairy king Oberon who, according to Huon of Bordeaux rules in India, and the Indian Cundrie's brother Malcreatiure along with herself at times, are also described as dwarfs.

The idea of the Antipodes lying in the far east (or west) is found in latter times, for example, Dante in the early 14th century placed Mt. Purgatory in the Antipodes 180 degrees East or West of Jerusalem. It was on Mt. Purgatory that the Terrestrial Paradise was found. The text of John of Mandeville supports the idea that Judea lies midway between Paradise and the Antipodes of Paradise stating that, according to John's own reckoning while traveling in the East, Judea sits 96 degrees to the west of Paradise.

More relevant though, as it was published before Geoffrey of Monmouth's time, is the Liber Floridus of Lambertus Audomarensis written in 1120. Lambertus places the Terrestrial Paradise in the extreme East with the Antipodes of Paradise in the extreme West stating: "Here live our antipodes, but they have a different night, and days which are contrary to ours, and so for the setting of the stars." Obviously this gives a spherical view of the earth with the hemispheres divided into east and west. Etienne appears to place Britain at the center when referring to the lower hemisphere as the 'other side of the world,' and thus the lower hemisphere would begin at 90 degrees to both the east and west.

Analyzing the literature from Geoffrey of Monmouth to Wolfram von Eschenbach we can suggest an attempt to use legendary history, which was taken very seriously at the time, as a backdrop to legitimize the Norman invasion and resulting Angevin ascendancy in terms of a Celtic liberation from Anglo-Saxon dominance. There is also a quite obvious attempt to legitimize and even to romanticize some strange or foreign element in the Angevin lineage that is linked with "India" and/or the fairy race -- a connection that also extends to the legendary Arthur.

No shortage of Indians

In the Welsh epic, Peredur seeks his promised love in the Indies. In Tandareis und Flordibel (mid-13th c.), Flordibel, who visits the Knights of the Round Table reveals that she is an Indian princess.

Wolfram's Willehalm has the Indian King Gorhant fighting in the battle of Alischanz. In Der Jüngere Titurel, the Holy Grail is transported to India, the land from which the Grail Maiden also hails, and in Lohengrin, the Swan Knight himself declares that he has come from the Indies. Both of these works are from the late 13th century.

In the Dutch Walewain (1350), the hero embarks on a distant journey to fetch the fair Ysabel, daughter of Assentijn, King of the Indies. And these are just a few examples.

While Indian characters like Secundille and Flordibel are portrayed as beautiful, some of the Indians in the poems are described in stark contrast. Thus, while Peredur's amour of fairy descent s described as the fairest damsel, the sorceress Cundrie, the loathly damsel, is portrayed in much different terms:

...they saw a girl coming on a tawny mule, clutching a whip in her right hand. Her hair hung in two tresses, black and twisted: and if the words of my source are true, there was no creature so utterly ugly even in Hell. You have never seen iron as black as her neck and hands, but that was little compared to the rest of her ugliness: her eyes were just two holes, tiny as the eyes of a rat; her nose was like a cat's or monkey's, her lips like an ass's or a cow's; her teeth were so discoloured that they looked like egg-yolk; and she had a beard like a billy-goat. She had a hump in the middle of her chest and her back was like a crook ... She greeted the king and his barons all together...

-- Chrétien, Le Roman de Perceval ou le Conte du Graal

And thereupon they saw a black curly-headed maiden enter, riding upon a yellow mule, with jagged thongs in her hand to urge it on; and having a rough and hideous aspect. Blacker were her face and her two hands than the blackest iron covered with pitch; and her hue was not more frightful than her form. High cheeks had she, and a face lengthened downwards, and a short nose with distended nostrils. And one eye was of a piercing mottled grey, and the other was as black as jet, deep-sunk in her head. And her teeth were long and yellow, more yellow were they than the flower of the broom. And her stomach rose from the breast bone, higher than her chin. And her back was in the shape of a crook, and her legs were large and bony. And her figure was very thin and spare, except her feet and her legs, which were of huge size. And she greeted Arthur and all his household except Peredur.

-- Peredur

The fairy folk also are alternately described as beautiful and ugly. Some are short and even dwarfs, while others are described as tall. They can be either fair or dark-skinned. Morgan la Fay, for example, is herself sometimes described as beautiful, and ugly at other times.

Melusine is a typical beautiful fairy found in folktales and made popular in the 14th century by the writer Jean d'Arras. Said to have been a descendant of the kings of Brittany, Melusine may have been claimed as an ancestress by the counts of Lusignan, Luxembourg, Forez and Lorraine.

The equation or linkage of fairies with Indians, or fairy land with the Indies is found repeatedly in the epic literature. Again, Huon of Bordeaux finds fairy land and its king Oberon in India, something Spenser recreates much later in The Faerie Queene. The sister of Flordibel's father, King of India, is said to be a fairy. Jean d'Arras places fairy land in the Indies as does Boiardo and Ariosto. Roman d'Ogier le Danois and Le Batard de Bouillon both place Avalon in the Indies near the Terrestrial Paradise.

The way thither

That visitors from afar would come into Europe after the beginning of the Crusades is not that unusual. There is the testimony regarding the Patriarch of the Indies, and John of Wurzburg tells of Christians from India among the inhabitants of the Crusader kingdom of Jerusalem around 1165. Sicily under Frederick II is also described as a very diverse society.

However, if we take seriously Wolfram's genealogy explaining the fairy/demon descent of Parzival, i.e., Henry Fitz-Empress, then he would descend in five generations from Mazadan and Terdelaschoye. That would be two generations back from Fulk IV who is said to have been born in 1043 before the First Crusade, and before the Crusader route to Jerusalem was open.

Probably the easiest way to Europe before that time would be along the North African trade routes to Moorish Spain. Wolfram seems to suggest this journey for Feirefiz, for example, and he has Cundrie listing what some identify as Hispano-Arabic star names.

A wide range of products flowed into Andalus from the Indies including aloeswood, musk and camphor. Aloeswood is used in Parzival to fumigate the festering wound of Anfortas, the Fisher King. Indian traders in Islamic Spain, or at least the Jewish ones, often used the nisba surname al-dajaji or al-dajjaj meaning "chicken dealer." The ports of Seville and Almeria were designated as refuge for foreigners "to which people come from all regions" according to the 11th century geographer al-Udhri.

Water buffalo may also have been brought from the East to turn irrigation wheels like the saqiya. Twenty buffalo horns were presented to al-Hakam II on his enthronement that were not included on a list of foreign gifts suggesting that they were domestic. The movement of water buffalo, at least in early times, was linked with the Zutt and Sayabiga as I have described previously in this blog.

The geographer Al-Mas'udi gives an interesting account with reference to Spain during his time that is worth investigating -- a similar story had been given earlier in the 9th century by the traveler Sulaiman.

In the Mediterranean, not far from Crete, planks of vessels of Indian plantain wood have been found, which were well cut and joined with fibres of the cocoa nut tree. It was evident that they were of wrecked vessels, and had been a long time in water; vessels of this description are only found in the Abyssinian sea, for the vessels of the Mediterranean and of the West are all joined with nails. In the Abyssinian sea, iron nails would not be applicable for ship building, for the water of that sea corrodes the iron, and the nails become thinner and weaker in the water; hence the planks are joined with fibres and besmeared with grease and quicklime. This is a proof that the seas have a communication. The sea towards China and the country of es-Sila goes all round the country of the Turks, and has a communication with the sea of the West (the Atlantic), through some straits of the great ocean.

Now if we take the fairy kingdom of Mazadan as the land of Prester John -- identified as the same as Suvarnadvipa, Sanfotsi, etc. -- we know from the last posting that Serlingpa ruled there in the early part of the 11th century. His successor was on the throne by 1028, so going back two generations from Fulk IV who was born in 1043, we have the possibility of a descent through Serlingpa!

So if we look at the background of the First Crusade from the "Prester John" standpoint of origin, many of the families involved in that campaign had at least legendary links with the fairy folk. They include Godfrey de Bouillon, leader of the First Crusade, who supposedly descends from the Swan Knight, the son of King Orient. The connections of the Swan Knight with the fairy lineage have been discussed earlier. Godfrey's brother Baldwin I, was the first king of Jerusalem, and his cousin Baldwin II, the second Jerusalem monarch. The Angevin link has already been discussed, and then there were the Lusignans who were closely linked in legend with the Melusine, and provided the last king, Guy de Lusignan.

The families involved in the early crusades tended to come more from northern France and many had close blood relationship with each other. Pope Urban II who called for the First Crusade hailed from Champagne in the same region of northern France. Champagne was ruled by the House of Blois, one of the leading families involved in the First Crusade.

In the east, the king who would become "Prester John," according to this analysis had already been working diplomatically forging relations with the Sung Dynasty, the Palas and Cholas of India, and the kingdoms of Tibet in an effort to protect his part in the spice trade routes. He may already have had sealed a similar relationship with the Nizaris who had organized into the Assassin brotherhood in 1090. If so, the Crusaders would have had an "ally" waiting for them in the East when they arrived later in the decade through the work of Prester John, who would have been distantly related to some of the leading comital families involved.

Paul Kekai Manansala


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