From the moment he assumed the French throne in 1328, King Philippe VI announced his intention to go on crusade. While his activities over the next eight years yielded little militarily, they did leave a significant documentary trail that provides insight into the late medieval understanding of crusade. One artifact stands out – London, British Library, MS Royal 19.D.i – a manuscript that reveals the extent to which storytelling and communication were crucial to crusade ideology and planning. It is designed to highlight the king's need to acquire a wide range of knowledge about foreign lands through stories and reports, and to validate the actors who transmit that knowledge. The manuscript's texts and images portray not just warfare and travel, as is often observed, but they also preserve attitudes toward far-away lands and the first-person voices of figures who travel great distances to inform the French king. Royal 19.D.i is a document about the centrality of communication to kingship, an anthology about the importance of stories as a means of knowing and transforming the world.
Ironically, Philippe's unaccomplished crusade is one of the best documented in medieval history. As a result, we know a great deal about the means the king and his councilors employed as they sought to justify and plan this overseas campaign. Central to these preparations was the gathering of reports, stories and treatises to help the king decide where to go, how to get there, whom and how to fight and what to do once he was victorious. Documentation consulted by or addressed to Philippe VI and his council included accounts of Louis IX's crusade expenses, letters from Marino Sanudo and reports from ambassadors and from prelates living in or recently returned from the eastern Mediterranean, Africa and Asia. Before a single ship could be launched, a great deal of composing, research, reading, copying and discussion had to occur. This was a crusade grounded in texts, but more to the point, it was a crusade grounded in stories.
London, British Library, MS Royal 19.D.i provides a remarkable illustration of this phenomenon. Although it is commonly referred to as a ‘crusade compilation’, Royal 19.D.i contains only one of the many crusade treatises that were available by the 1330s, the Directorium ad faciendum passagium transmarinum, which was written by an anonymous Dominican in 1332, translated into French by Jean de Vignay and addressed directly to Philippe VI.