What is the importance of Robert de Clari's history?
A history of the Fourth Crusades, the Conquête de Constantinople, written by Robert de Clari, a knight from Northern France, provides us with the best evidence from that period, evidence that once Image of Edessa, was taken from Constantinople during the sack of the city. Robert was there; on the scene before, during and after the sacking of the city.
It is to history's advantage that Robert de Clari was not a high ranking nobleman but a regular knight. Many historians find this important. Rather than lauding in glorious accounts and glossing over details, as were authors seeking fame and glory, Robert provides us with a very usable account. Significantly, Robert’s account of the crusades was one of the first of a new genre of history written in the vernacular. Thus it is free of poetry that often, for the sake of beauty, rhythm and rhyme, fails to grasp precise meaning. Leah Shopkow, a historian at Indiana University has described him well:
Robert was neither well educated nor privy to the councils of the mighty; we cannot understand the politics of the crusade from him. His strength is his rendering of ambient rumors and his brilliant descriptions of what ordinary knights experienced, such as the marvels of Constantinople.
History demands accuracy. This is somewhat confound by the problems in translating from the ancient to the modern. This is amply demonstrated in the following quote. Note the alternative translation possibilities bolded in brackets:
But among the rest [of the churches in Constantinople], there was also another of the minsters [churches], which was called the Church of my Lady Saint Mary of Blachernae, within which was the shroud [or syndoine or syndoines: singular or plural] wherein Our Lord was wrapped. And on every Friday that shroud did raise itself upright [or stood up straight], so that the form [or features] of Our Lord could clearly be seen. And none knows - neither Greek nor Frank - what became of that shroud when the city was taken.