Main content

Prester John

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Prester John, the legendary Christian king said to rule over a lost nation in 'The Indies' and ready to support Christians in Europe.

In the Middle Ages, Prester John was seen as the great hope for Crusaders struggling to hold on to, then regain, Jerusalem. He was thought to rule a lost Christian kingdom somewhere in the East and was ready to attack Muslim opponents with his enormous armies. There was apparent proof of Prester John's existence, in letters purportedly from him and in stories from travelers who claimed they had met, if not him, then people who had news of him. Most pointed to a home in the earthly paradise in the Indies, outside Eden, with fantastical animals and unimaginable riches. Later, Portuguese explorers thought they had found him in Ethiopia, despite the mystified denials of people there. Melvyn Bragg asks why the legend was so strongly believed for so long, and what facts helped sustain the myths.

With

Marianne O'Doherty
Associate Professor in English at the University of Southampton

Martin Palmer
Director of the International Consultancy on Religion, Education, and Culture

And

Amanda Power
Senior Lecturer in Medieval History at the University of Sheffield.

Producer: Simon Tillotson.

Available now

43 minutes

Last on

Thu 4 Jun 2015 21:30

LINKS AND FURTHER READING

Marianne O'Doherty at the University of Southampton

Amanda Power at the University of Sheffield

Prester John - Wikipedia

‘Prester John and Europe’s Discovery of East Asia’ by Igor de Rachewiltz (East Asian History, 1996)

‘Sex, Lies, and Paradise: The Assassins, Prester John, and the Fabulation of Civilizational Identities’ by Geraldine Heng (Differences, 2012)

‘The search for Prester John, a projected crusade and the eroding prestige of Ethiopian kings, c.1200 – c.1540’ by Andrew Kurt (Journal of Medieval History, 2013)

‘Prester John : A reexamination and compendium of the mythical figure who helped spark European expansion’ by Michael E. Brooks (University of Toledo Digital Repository, 2009)

 

READING LIST:

M. S. Asimov and C. E. Bosworth (eds.), On the Mongolian and Central Steppes: Vol III and Vol IV of the Unesco History of Civilisations of Central Asia (UNESCO Publishing, 1998)

Charles F. Beckingham and Bernard Hamilton (eds), Prester John, the Mongols and the Ten Lost Tribes (Variorum, 1996)

Keagan Brewer, Prester John: The Legend and its Sources (Ashgate, 2015)

Christopher Dawson (ed.), The Mongol Mission: Narratives and Letters of the Franciscan Missionaries in Mongolia and China in the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Centuries (first published 1955; Ams Pr Inc, 1980)

Umberto Eco (trans. by William Weaver), Baudolino, (Secker and Warburg, 2002)

Nicholas Jubber, The Prester Quest (Doubleday, 2005)

Donald Lach, Asia in the Making of Europe (first published 1965; University of Chicago Press, 1993)

John Mandeville (trans. Charles Moseley), The Travels of Sir John Mandeville (Penguin Classics, 2005)

Giles Milton, The Riddle and the Knight: In Search of Sir John Mandeville (Sceptre, 1996)

Marco Polo (trans. Henry Yule), The Travels of Marco Polo (first published 1875; Dover Publications, 2003)

Igor de Rachewiltz, Papal Envoys to the Great Khans (Faber & Faber, 1971)

Manuel Joao Ramos, Essays in Christian Mythology: The Metamorphosis of Prester John (University Press of America, 2006)

Francis M. Rogers, The Quest for Eastern Christians: Travels and Rumor in the Age of Discovery (University of Minnesota Press, 1962)

Rabban Sawma (trans. E. A. Wallis), The Monks of Kublai Khan, Emperor of China (first published 1928; I.B.Tauris, 2014)

Robert Silverberg, The Realm of Prester John (first published 1972; W&N, 2001)

Vsevolod Slessarev, Prester John: The Letter and the Legend (University of Minnesota Press, 1959)

Michael Uebel, Ecstatic Transformation: On the Uses of Alterity in the Middle Ages (Palgrave Macmillan, 2005)

Henry Yule (ed.), Cathay and the Way Thither (first published 1866; Asian Educational Services, 2005)

 

Credits

Role Contributor
Presenter Melvyn Bragg
Interviewed Guest Marianne O'Doherty
Interviewed Guest Martin Palmer
Interviewed Guest Amanda Power
Producer Simon Tillotson

Broadcasts

Featured in...

In Our Time podcasts

In Our Time podcasts

Every episode of In Our Time is available to download.

The In Our Time Listeners' Top 10

The In Our Time Listeners' Top 10

If you’re new to In Our Time, this is a good place to start.

Arts and Ideas podcast

Arts and Ideas podcast

Download the best of Radio 3's Free Thinking programme.

Podcast