The Chant of the Crusaders

I have often written about the quality of Walt Disney’s live action movie, The Story of Robin Hood and his Merrie Men (1952). Thanks to a message from a reader, here is another example of an often overlooked scene and the research behind creating it:

Prince John watches the Crusaders ride into the sunset

Like many, whose childhood was spent watching hazy black and white television, a chance to watch a Techinicolor film at a local cinema, was a wonderful experience. So, I can only describe seeing Walt Disney’s live-action movie, The Story of Robin Hood and his Merrie Men (1952) as a kind of epiphany, and that experience has inspired me to write about the sheer quality of this motion picture ever since.

I have many favourite scenes in The Story of Robin Hood, and one that never fails to take my breath away is the moment Prince John (Hubert Gregg), looks out across the battlements of Nottingham Castle to watch his brother, King Richard I, lead his crusading army into the sunset. This is a great example of the matte work and special effects of Peter Ellenshaw.

Knights follow King Richard to the Holy Land

But, it is not only the imagery that is breathtaking. As King Richard’s knights, men-at-arms and baggage train follow their king to the Holy Land, the haunting chant and music by Clifton Parker is equally amazing. It sends shivers down my back. This seems to be a scene of the film that is often overlooked. 

I asked about, the ‘Gregorian Chant,’ that accompanies the crusaders many years ago, and Barrie Thurlow has also recently asked about the music that accompanies this scene:

“ ...does anyone know whether the fantastic melody to the Crusader hymn "Lignum Crucis Signum Ducis", sung by the departing army as King Richard marches off and Prince John plots with the Sheriff, was based on a mediaeval original tune, or was it newly composed by Clifton Parker? It's marvellous, wonderful either way, but if anyone knows I'd love to share the knowledge!” 

The long trail of Crusaders

I have briefly researched the Crusader hymn that Barrie mentions. And it does seem to be based on:

Lignum Crucis,
Signum ducis,
Sequitur exercitus,
Quod non cessit,
Sed praecessit,
In vi Sancti Spiritus.

Translated it means:

Wood of the Cross,
Sign of the leaders,
Battle follows,
Which has never ceased,
But excelled,
Through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Like many verse compositions, its origins are lost to history. But the chronicler Roger of Howden (d.1201) provides evidence for the use of hymn verses like this, in crusade exhortations at daily masses performed at St Paul’s Cathedral, in London at the time. He describes, ‘a certain clerk named Master Berther, a native of Orleans, who aroused the spirits of many to assume the cross, by reciting a sermon that took the form of rhymed lament’.

Clifton Parker

Clifton Parker (1905-1989) is credited with writing most of the music for Walt Disney’s Story of Robin Hood. So it does seem the crusader hymn mentioned above, had been researched by the production crew and adapted for the film. Yet another example of the attention to detail in this wonderful film.

If anyone else can help answer Barrie’s question, please get in touch.


Clement Glen said...

If you can help with Barrie Thurlow’s question, please get in touch.

Neil said...

A very interesting article this is, on an aspect of the film that I had overlooked. This scene was indeed beautifully done in all respects from the actors, the sets, Peter Ellenshaw's incredible matte painting and, as you say, the music which was so memorable It also set the scene for how the rest of the film would play out - and what a film it turned out to be !!

Laurence said...

Interestingly, the same theme is used for background music to the prologue in 'Ivanhoe', scored, of course, by Miklos Rosza.
It is reputed to be based on a tune written by Richard the Lionheart himself. Rosza's sleeve notes for 'Ivanhoe' state, "Under the opening narration I introduced a theme from a ballad actually written by Richard the Lionhearted."

Clement Glen said...

Many thanks for this information Laurence. I will look into this.