Godfrey of Bulloigne or The Recouerie of Ierusalem
In his preface to Morte d’Arthur, William Caxton reminded readers that “there have been nine worthy and the best that ever were.” Three of the nine were “Crysten men”: King Arthur, Charlemagne, and Godfrey of Bulloigne. Godfrey was one of several leaders of the First Crusade. He and his knights were the first to climb over the walls in the capture Jerusalem in July 1099. The knight that raised the largest army for the crusade, Raymond of Toulouse, at first refused to be named head of the government of Jerusalem, perhaps expecting to be acclaimed ruler. Instead Godfrey was handed the responsibility. According to an Arab chronicler, he died the next year from an arrow wound when the crusaders were besieging Tyre. Legendary Godfrey would later become one of the Nine Worthies as leader of the Crusades and conqueror and then king of Jerusalem.
After finishing his epic poem about Godfrey, Italian poet Torquato Tasso (1544–1595) sent a manuscript of Geruasalemme Liberata (Jerusalem Liberated) to several esteemed literary figures. In part because his action epic is interlaced with romantic episodes—such as the conversion to Christianity of the beautiful Saracen witch, Armida, who was sent to the crusaders camp to stir up trouble—the readers found much to criticize and also raised issues that might trouble the Inquisition. Tasso suffered a nervous breakdown, later to become violently insane and sent to a madhouse for seven years. By the time Tasso emerged from confinement, his masterpiece had been published. He became famous.
The English translation of Godfrey of Bulloigne by Edward Fairfax (1544–1595), published in 1600, is an English classic. King James reportedly said that he preferred this book to “all other English poetry,” and it is considered by some to be the best version in any language (and arguably even better than the original). Fairfax’s translation is a free one, with many embellishments and in language that is more dramatic than the original. Little else is written by Fairfax; his only other published work is a treatise on demonology.
The opening line of the poem was changed twice during printing. In the present copy of the first edition, pastedowns are used in a way to display all three versions of the text. The book has the bookplate of Henry and Alfred E. Huth. Their library was one of the most outstanding collections of English books ever assembled.
Chrzanowski 1600t *