MEDIEVAL TRAVELLERS by Margaret Wade Labarge


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The author of Henry V (1976), Saint Louis (1968), and other popularized accounts of medieval life and history here focuses on the journeys of wealthy and high-ranking medieval travelers and their reasons for travel: an artificial subject handled without finesse. Each of the ""reasons""--the custom of peripatetic households, pilgrimage, crusading, church business, diplomacy, socializing, funeral corteges--is a topic in itself, only tangentially related to the idea of VIPs on the move. (Imagine a book on flying with chapters on business meetings, tourism, foreign study programs, and family holidays.) The journeys' only common denominator, in fact, is their trouble and expense. Also, there are not enough medieval VIPs to illustrate each motive-for-travel, so an important source like Ghillebert de Lannoy--crusader, pilgrim, diplomat, tourist--must do duty under each heading. The less about travel in a given chapter, then, the better it is. But the book is often heavy going nonetheless, swinging between laborious generalizations about the obvious (medieval people traveled on, as well as over, rivers) and pointlessly specific detail (four of Countess Y's grooms got extra money for winter cloaks; some servants who transported 20 horses to Carlisle got 13 for their trouble--counting the outlay of horseshoes). The first 60-odd pages (general background, itinerant royal and noble households) are particularly confused; thereafter, things pick up a bit, and two chapters in particular--on pilgrimages and on tournaments--might interest a serious reader. But this nowhere approaches the standard of Eileen Power's Medieval People or, more recently, of Jonathan Sumption's Pilgrimage (1976).

Pub Date: March 14th, 1983
Publisher: Norton