Title Background

Robert Thornton and <i>The Siege of Jerusalem</i>

Robert Thornton and The Siege of Jerusalem

This essay examines the function of The Siege of Jerusalem within the so-called London Thornton Manuscript (London, British Library, MS Additional 31042). This romance has received much critical attention of late, most of which has suggested that it subtly challenges dominant ideas of anti-Judaism. By examining the interpretation of The Siege encouraged by this manuscript, the essay argues that Robert Thornton, the manuscript compiler, has gone to great lengths to place this text within a Christian imperialist historiography founded on the supersession of Jews and Muslims. It begins with a survey of the surviving manuscripts containing The Siege, in which Thornton’s manuscript does the most explicit work to encourage an anti-Jewish response from its reader. It then turns to the opening two texts of Thornton’s manuscript, Cursor mundi and the Northern Passion. In his copy of these two texts, Thornton has on occasion edited the text, and in other places he on occasion preserves unique readings. Both his editorial decisions and the unique readings he has preserved work to heighten the anti-Jewish sentiment of the opening two texts. The essay then turns to the two texts that Thornton has placed after The Siege: The Sege of Melayne and Roland and Otuel, both Charlemagne romances, arguing that the triumphalism of these texts serves as a capstone to Thornton’s compilation, offering the destruction of the Saracens as the finale to this Christian historiography. The essay ends by returning to modern scholarship’s tendency to read The Siege as offering a nuanced challenge to late medieval anti-Judaism. Many moments in the text can support such readings; however, if such nuance was invested in the text by its monastic author, it was seemingly lost on Thornton. (MJ)