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Alliterative Poetry in Old Jerusalem: <i>The Siege of Jerusalem</i> and Its Sources

Alliterative Poetry in Old Jerusalem: The Siege of Jerusalem and Its Sources

This essay considers three different kids of depictions of the ancient siege from fourteenth-century Yorkshire—visual art, poetry, and chronicle—to consider the visions of history these allowed. First is the Neville of Hornby Hours, which depicts the book’s patroness planted atop the city walls, looking serenely down at the horrors of the siege of Jerusalem, including two women’s cannibalism of children. This alludes to the story that these women act on God’s command so that they might bring to fruition the prophecy of the city’s end. This is a consoling version of history, in which God’s eternal will must be accepted. The Siege of Jerusalem presents a far less serene perspective, drawing on an unpublished Yorkshire chronicle that has never been recognized as its source (and that reduces the minimally necessary number of sources for the Siege from the five postulated by Hanna and Lawton to three): John of Tynemouth’s Historia Aura, produced in mid-fourteenth-century Yorkshire. This source, while further showing the depth of the region’s interest in this topic, presents a model that the poem both resists and emulates—a response that helps explain the alliterative poem’s notoriously violent realization of the ancient episode and allows us to appreciate more finely the poem’s originality, and even to speculate about its original setting, in the form of a consideration of Thomas of Gascoigne’s horror at, and fascination with, a report that Jews were plotting in 1447 to rebuild Jerusalem. The essay concludes with an appendix that transcribes the relevant portions from John of Tynemouth.