Prester John: The Legend and its Sources: 1st Edition (Hardback) book cover

Prester John: The Legend and its Sources

1st Edition

Edited by Keagan Brewer


352 pages

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Hardback: 9781409438076
pub: 2015-05-28
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pub: 2019-08-08
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The legend of Prester John has received much scholarly attention over the last hundred years, but never before have the sources been collected and coherently presented to readers. This book now brings together a fully-representative set of texts setting out the many and various sources from which we get our knowledge of the legend. These texts, spanning a time period from the Crusades to the Enlightenment, are presented in their original languages and in English translation (for many it is the first time they have been available in English). The story of the mysterious oriental leader Prester John, ruler of a land teeming with marvels who may come to the aid of Christians in the Levant, held an intense grip on the medieval mind from the first references in twelfth-century Crusader literature and into the early-modern period. But Prester John was a man of shifting identity, being at different times and for different reasons associated with Chingis Khan and the Mongols, with the Christian kingdom of Ethiopia, with China, Tibet, South Africa and West Africa. In order to orient the reader, each of these iterations is explained in the comprehensive introduction, and in the introductions to texts and sections. The introduction also raises a thorny question not often considered: whether or not medieval audiences believed in the reality of Prester John and the Prester John Letter. The book is completed with three valuable appendices: a list of all known references to Prester John in medieval and early modern sources, a thorough description of the manuscript traditions of the all-important Prester John Letter, and a brief description of Prester John in the history of cartography.


"Keagan Brewer has done both scholars and students a great service in bringing a major corpus of medieval and early modern Prester John literature into English translation for the first time." - John Eldevik, Hamilton College

"This welcome addition to the Crusade Texts in Translation series will prove useful, informative, and interesting to a wide readership: historians, and also folklorists, literary critics, historical geographers, and cultural historians. This book brings together for the first time key texts in the legend of Prester John: edited texts from the twelfth to fourteenth centuries with English translations, and translated texts from the fifteenth to eighteenth centuries. These texts provide a fascinating window on changing perceptions, beliefs, and discoveries about lands east of Europe, while documenting the legend of a great Christian kingdom in Asia, which first captured European imagination in the twelfth century as European Christian powers confronted Islamic powers." - Helen Phillips, Cardiff University, Wales

Table of Contents

Contents: Foreword; Introduction: Believing in Prester John; The beginnings of Prester John (12th century); Prester John and the Fifth Crusade (early 13th century); Mongols and travel writers (mid-13th to 14th centuries); Prester John in Africa (15th to early 17th centuries); Legends and lies (late 16th and early 17th centuries); Unravelling Prester John (17th and 18th centuries); Appendices; Select bibliography of secondary sources; Index.

About the Editor

Keagan Brewer is affiliated with the Centre for Medieval Studies at the University of Sydney, Australia.

About the Series

Crusade Texts in Translation

The crusading movement, which originated in the 11th century and lasted beyond the 16th, bequeathed to its future historians a legacy of sources which are unrivalled in their range and variety. These sources document in fascinating detail the motivations and viewpoints, military efforts and spiritual lives, of the participants in the crusades. They also narrate the internal histories of the states and societies which crusaders established or supported in the many regions where they fought. Some of these sources have been translated in the past but the vast majority have been available only in their original language. The goal of this series is to provide a wide ranging corpus of texts, most of them translated for the first time, which will illuminate the history of the crusades and the crusader-states from every angle, including that of their principal adversaries, the Muslim powers of the Middle East.

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Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
HISTORY / General
HISTORY / Medieval