Fragmented Tile, Fragmented Text: Richard the Lionheart on Crusade and the Lost Latin Texts of the Chertsey Combat Tiles (c. 1250)
- Digital Philology: A Journal of Medieval Cultures
- Johns Hopkins University Press
- Volume 11, Number 1, Spring 2022
- pp. 86-120
- Additional Information
- Purchase/rental options available:
The Chertsey tiles (c. 1250) rank among the best known and most elaborate medieval floor tiles in England. Their pictorial roundels, some of which display Richard the Lionheart and Saladin in combat, have received substantial attention in scholarship, partly because medieval images of the Crusades are surprisingly rare. Nonetheless, although the Chertsey tiles' representation of Richard and Saladin's (fictional) battle has appeared broadly in contemporary print and online media, the puzzle of the Latin texts that originally accompanied these roundels has remained unaddressed. This is largely due to their physical state: although probably intended for Westminster Palace under Henry III and Eleanor of Provence, they were discovered as a pile of fragments at Chertsey Abbey in Surrey, England.
While previous scholars have pieced together the tiles' pictorial iconography, the Latin texts, till now, have remained a puzzle. The tiles evince an unusual form of textual fragmentation: sequences of one to four letters remain, but due to their disordered state at discovery, the ordering of these sequences has been unclear. This essay presents an interpretation of the eighty-five extant textual fragments in this series, reconstructing words and some phrases. These phrases suggest particular sources for the combat tiles' learned program of text and image, ranging from English royal seals to widespread traditions regarding the Old Testament hero Samson, to Latin histories of warfare. Reconstructions of the original appearance of the famous roundels when surrounded by their Latin texts are included.