A “Saracen Scare” in 1346 England?

While reviewing the Black Prince’s register for my data set, I came across this entry that I hadn’t seen before. Note that this order was given July 26, 1346, or two weeks after Edward III had actually landed in Normandy (his army was actually arriving at Caen that day).

Order to Roger Trumwyn, lieutenant of the justice of North Wales,–on information that a fleet of galleys full of ‘Sarazins’ called ‘Turks’ is coming out of the parts of Gene at the demand of Philip of Valoys, who calls himself king of France, to do what mischief they can on the coasts of England, but no one knows whither they will betake themselves,–to have good watch kept wherever necessary on the sea-coasts of his bailiwick, garrison the castles in his keeping for the safely not only of the prince’s lordships but of the country round, war all others who have castles in their keeping to do the like, and arrest and keep safely until further order all who are contrariant to this order.

The like order to Roger de Hopwell, lieutenant of the justice of Cestre.

Register of Edward the Black                                                        Prince, volume 1 1346-1348                                                              (London, HMSO, 1930), p. 5

Now, the story of the Genoese galleys is well known–they were supposed to be in the Channel by May, but when Edward landed at Saint-Vaast-la-Hougue on July 12 Grimaldi and his sailors were stuck at La Rochelle, and wouldn’t arrive in the Channel till August. (See Sumption, vol. 1, 494-5, 500, 513- 517).

However, I hadn’t noticed till now the use of “Turks” and “Saracens” in the official correspondence of 1346. Both sides, of course, attempted to paint the other in terms that would justify a crusade, although the Papacy was having none of it. Housley’s article “France, England, and the National Crusade, 1302-1386” discusses these attempts, and may mention the above order, though I can’t find my copy at the present.

We know that England was downright obsessed with “Saracens” in the 1330s and 1340s–the Auchinleck manuscript and parts of the Smithfield Decretals‘ marginalia are illustrative of this (the Auchinleck, in particular, has been dissected brilliantly by literary scholars). Even today, there are even occasional ghost stories featuring Saracens, such as that of Sir Oliver Ingham and Sir Roger de Bois, who supposedly rise every midnight on August 1 to do battle with a Saracen knight on Stalham Broad. (information.britain used to have a more detailed story, but the link doesn’t seem to work: see addendum below.)

But when it comes to the French war, there is less direct evidence of crusading appropriation. Part of the English crown’s effective propaganda effort was the widespread reporting of French plans to extinguish the English language if they actually invaded. Yet I haven’t really come across, at the administrative and popular level, the conflation of crusade with the king’s war. Even Laurence Minot, ever the jingoist, doesn’t really dabble in crusading imagery, even in his most gloating poems. Right? Or am I forgetting something?

What I’m left wondering is, where did this description of Turks and Saracens come from? How common was it to describe Philip VI’s Mediterranean allies as “Saracens”? As I said, I’ve read a tremendous amount of archival documents around the 1346 campaign, and haven’t seen much sign of crusading imagery. Even the official reports and parliamentary records are quite dry and lacking in such color. Since the order originated from the regency government in Westminster, was this a deliberate conflation, in order to stoke popular passions in the charged atmosphere surrounding the king’s latest campaign? What other evidence do we have for a “Saracen Scare” in England in 1346?


Addendum: The Suffolk ghost story, no longer available, apparently (unless it’s hiding on a different part of the site that I can’t find)


The Ghostly Knights of Stalham Broad

Few ghosts have the good manners to keep to a set date for their happenings, but at Stalham Broad it is said that two ghostly crusaders fight a deadly battle with a Saracen foe every August 2.
Even more helpfully, we know just who the two knights are, if not their enemy: they are Sir Roger de Bois, who died in 1300 according to his tomb, and Sir Oliver de Ingham, his tomb dated 43 years later. These two monuments, housed within Holy Trinity Church in the village of Ingham just northeast of Stalham, are the starting point for the annual foray by Sir Roger and Sir Oliver.
At midnight (when else?) of August 1 the church, legend has it, turns cold, and the ghostly knights rise from their effigies, stone armour metamorphosing into bright metal. They make their way out of the building and follow the road to Stalham Broad. Here they are rushed by a Saracen, rising in his turn from the waters, wielding a mighty scimitar. The fight of broadswords against scimitar is a desperate one, ended when Sir Roger, abandoning his weapon, strangles his enemy with his bare hands. When all the life has been squeezed from the eastern warrior his corpse is thrown disdainfully back into the Broad, to return of course the following year.
When the battle ends de Ingham and de Blois walk silently back to the church, kneel in prayer before the altar, and then their spirits return to the tombs vacated earlier that night – Sir Roger to rest his head once more on the body of a dead Saracen.