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  • Thirteenth-Century French Envoys in Mongolia February 19, 2011

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Medieval , trackback

    As Beachcombing plunges into his spring flu a short but sweet post on an extraordinary diplomatic mission that Louis IX (obit 1270) sent to the King of the Mongols in the thirteenth century. There is something necessarily surreal about any contacts between such distant realms, though this did not stop the two monarchs plotting. Indeed, there had already been contacts between the pair, for Guyuk Khan (obit 1248) had sent messengers to Louis offering to help him re-conquer Jerusalem.

    *‘[Louis] sent his own envoys, bearing gifts. One of his gifts was a tent of scarlet cloth, as a chapel, embroidered with motifs of the annunciation, the nativity, the baptism of Christ and the story of the passion; with the ascension and the coming of the Holy Spirit. He hoped that this gift would encourage the Mongols to join our faith.

    Beachcombing wonders what that oriental tyrant made of men with wings and a bearded hierophant hammered onto a limb of wood…

    The French emissaries, in any case, set out on their epic journey.

    ‘Once they had arrived in Antioch, the envoys still had a year’s journey on horseback, riding thirty miles a day [10000 miles?!], before reaching the great king of the Mongols, Goyuk Khan. The land they travelled through during this long journey was subject to the Mongols. They came across many cities which had been destroyed and huge mounds of human bones.’

    They were given, however, a warm, if somewhat bizarre welcome on arriving:

    ‘When the great king of the Mongols received the messages and gifts from our king, he summoned several of the kings who were not under his domination, promising them safe conduct. The scarlet cloth chapel was pitched before their eyes and he said to them ‘Sires, the king of France has bowed down to us, if you do not behave likewise, we will send him against you, that he may force you to do so.’

    What a delicious idea: steppe tribal leaders trembling in their boots about that ineffective goody two shoes Louis IX several thousand miles away! Beachcombing wonders if any of the French envoys pointed out to the Khan that their king had no intention of submitting. Probably not.

    ‘When our envoys returned, they were accompanied by envoys from the king of the Mongols carrying the following message: ‘Peace is beneficial, because those who walk on four legs can graze in tranquillity, and those who labour on two legs can till the ground which yields the harvest in tranquillity. We have sent to tell you this, because you will only have peace under our terms. Witness the example of those few kings who rebelled against us (and he cited quite a few). In the end we forced them all to submit by the sword. We command you to send a yearly tribute of gold and silver if you wish to retain our goodwill. Otherwise we will destroy you and your people as we destroyed those we mentioned above.’

    Louis is said to have rued the day he sent his scarlet tent eastward.

    On balance Beachcombing would have preferred to have had an account of the Mongol envoys travelling through Europe. But he can hardly complain. After all, in this account there is still the drama of thirteenth-century French ambassadors crossing from one shore of Euro-Asia to the other.

    Beachcombing is always interested in silly or unrealistic diplomatic threats and claims. He is particularly looking for a letter of Frederick (someone or other) written to the Ethiopians (not though anything to do with Prester John). He’s wasted a morning looking for this blasted document. drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com