Siege of Jerusalem

General Information

(N)IMEV: 1583
Form: Alliterative lines
Date of Composition: Late fourteenth century
Place of Composition: West Yorkshire
Keywords: Cannibalism, Conquest, Conversion, Disease, Ekphrasis, Hunting, Jerusalem, Military Combat, Penance, Pilgrimage, Quest, Religious Figures, Religious Spaces, Rome, Sacrament, Secular Spaces, Sexual Encounters, Siege, Supernatural, Travel, Treachery, Urban Spaces

Plot Summary

Plot summary image

Having crucified Christ, the Jews are given forty years’ grace before God exacts his revenge. After this time, Titus of Gascony finds himself disfigured by cancer of the mouth while his father Vespasian has leprosy and a hive of wasps in his nose. When a Jewish ship bound for Rome is driven ashore in Gascony, Titus asks its captain, Nathan, to cure their afflictions. Nathan describes Christ’s ministry, miracles and death, then tells Titus about Veronica’s veil which is imprinted with Christ’s image and heals all believers. Titus rages about the Passion and is immediately healed. He is baptised and, vowing to avenge Christ’s death, accompanies Nathan to Rome. There his father also professes his faith in Christ and, on the advice of St Peter, sends for Veronica and her veil. The cloth is processed through the town, and glows miraculously as Peter uses it to heal Vespasian. Meanwhile, Nathan informs Nero that the Jews will no longer pay him tribute. Enraged, the Emperor sends Titus and Vespasian to Judea to extract his payment.

Their ships arrive in Jaffa and as they wreak havoc, the Jews flee to Jerusalem. The Romans pitch their tents around the walls and after their envoys are humiliated, both sides prepare for battle. The Jews issue from the city riding on camels and fortified elephants: one carries a tabernacle in which Caiaphas and his clerks sing Psalms. The battle is violent, but the Romans force the Jews back into the city and begin their siege in earnest, erecting battle engines and brutally executing the captive Caiaphas. The Jews refuse Vespasian’s command to surrender and one of their leaders, Josephus, attempts to trick the Romans into leaving. He is foiled, however, and the siege continues.

Meanwhile in Rome, the wicked Nero commits suicide. A number of ineffective successors also die, until the Senate sends for Vespasian. Leaving Titus in charge of the siege, he returns to Rome to be crowned. Titus falls ill with joy at his father’s election, but is healed by Josephus. Hostilities soon resume, and Jerusalem is struck by famine: one woman eats her own child and the elderly are refused food. When Titus rejects their request for terms, the Jews tunnel under the walls and ambush him, but are driven back into the city again. As their conditions worsen, Titus finally offers the Jews peace but is refused. Those who escape are granted refuge, but are killed by soldiers who discover that they have eaten the city’s treasure.

At last, after two years, Titus mounts a final attack. As his men surround the city, the Jews pray for peace as he breaches the walls. Strange portents occur as he orders his men to raze the temple and sells the Jews thirty for a penny. Pilate is imprisoned and kills himself, while Titus returns triumphantly to Rome.

From: Ralph Hanna and David Lawton, The Siege of Jerusalem. EETS o.s. 320. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003.
Manuscript: Oxford, Bodleian Library MS Laud Misc. 656.


Click a title below to search for all romances in that manuscript.

Cambridge University Library, MS Mm.5.14 (folio: 186r-205v)Early fifteenth century, written by the London scribe Richard Frampton.
Exeter, Devon Record Office, MS 2507 (folio: binding fragment)c. 1425-50, North Midlands. Fragmentary: contains portions of lines 985-1017, 1106-23, 1196, 1125-38.
London, British Library, MS Additional 31042 (London Thornton) (folio: 50r-66r)Mid-fifteenth century, northern Yorkshire. Fragmentary: lacks lines 293-369, on a lost leaf after fol. 53.
London, British Library, MS Cotton Caligula A.ii (folio: 111r-125v)1446-60, Southeast Midlands. Fragmentary: lacks lines 167-248, on a lost leaf after fol. 112.
London, British Library, MS Cotton Vespasian E.xvi (folio: 70r-75v)Mid-fifteenth century, East Midlands. Fragmentary: begins at line 966.
London, Lambeth Palace Library, MS 491 (folio: 206r-227v)First quarter of the fifteenth century, London area (LALME LP 6030).
Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Laud Misc. 656 (folio: 1v-19r)Late fourteenth century, Northwest Oxfordshire.
Princeton University Library, MS Taylor Medieval 11 (folio: 104v-110v)Late fourteenth century, West Yorkshire (LALME LP 598). Fragmentary: ends at line 1143.
San Marino, Huntington Library, MS HM 128 (folio: 205r-216r)Early fifteenth century, South Warwickshire (LALME LP 6910)

Modern Editions

Eugen Kölbing and Mabel Day, eds., The Siege of Jerusalem, EETS o.s. 188 (London: Oxford University Press, 1932)Uses Bodleian Library, MS Laud Misc. 656 as base text.
Michael Livingston, ed., Siege of Jerusalem (Kalamazoo, Michigan: Medieval Institute Publications, 2004)Uses Bodleian Library, MS Laud Misc. 656 as base text.Available online at:
Ralph Hanna and David Lawton, eds., The Siege of Jerusalem, EETS o.s. 320 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003)Uses Bodleian Library, MS Laud Misc. 656 as base text.
Thorlac Turville-Petre, ed., Alliterative Poetry of the Later Middle Ages: An Anthology (Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 1989)Uses London, Lambeth Palace Library, MS 491.


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