5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Whitt Patrick Pond
- Published on Amazon.com
This book is one of those that is all too rarely found - the history is well-researched and very detailed and yet the style is smooth and engaging, making it both informative and a pleasure to read at the same time. The keenness of Boyle's interest in both the period - the late 12th century with its crusades, chivalry, courtly love and troubadours - and in the core event itself - the capture and ransom of Richard the Lionheart - comes through in the way in which he brings it all to life, immersing the reader to the extent that we feel we are there as witnesses.
One thing I felt Boyle did particularly well was pointing out where he was relating known historical fact and where he was filling in gaps with informed speculation, showing the various possibilities and why he felt a particular one might be the most likely. For example, very little is actually known about Blondel, the legendary troubadour of the title, but Boyle shows what is known and also what can be deduced or speculated based on it. He also does the same for Robin Hood, another legendary figure tied to the story of Richard's absence and return to England.
Another thing Boyle does well is giving the reader a sense of the personalities of the dominant figures of the period and its events, and showing how much the strengths and weakness of their personalities affected how things turned out. Richard's charisma, persuasiveness and calm in the face of adversity come out vividly in the parts where he is a prisoner of Henry VI, the Holy Roman Emperor, and put on trial for alleged crimes connected to his conduct of the crusade. By sheer presence and oratory, Richard wins over the German princes summoned to be his judges, not only winning his acquittal but also going on to form new alliances and trade deals for England, all while still a prisoner. His playful and winning nature comes out in how he dealt with his guards. Richard's reputation as a fearsome warrior was such that when he was captured, orders were given that he be guarded by four knights with swords drawn at all times. But within a matter of weeks, Richard so charmed his guards that he was constantly getting them drunk and engaging them in wrestling contests. At the same time, Boyle shows how Richard's ego and his inability to resist grand gestures were ultimately responsible for his being noticed and captured. It's rather difficult to travel incognito disguised as a merchant while at the same time insisting on giving expensive jeweled rings to local nobles and granting kingly bequests to build or restore cathedrals.
Other personalities are also brought out in vivid detail. Eleanor of Acquitaine, Richard's mother, in her 70's at the time but still a lioness in her own right, taking charge of the raising of the ransom and of the negotiations to free her son. The vacillating Holy Roman Emperor Henry VI, never truly certain of what he should do with his valuable but equally dangerous prisoner. Leopold of Austria, whose personal bitterness against Richard over his treatment at the siege of Acre led to his imprisoning of Richard when was forced by fate to attempt to cross through his lands on his return to England. And Philip Augustus, the King of France, a close friend in Richard's youth only to become his enemy in adulthood.
The book is rich in anecdotes relating to the events. Among my favorite was when Longchamp, Richard's unpopular Chancellor in England, tries to flee the country disguised as a woman only to be caught at the port when a flirtatious fisherman starts feeling him up. Another was when Richard, finally released from captivity, sends a written message to his treacherous brother John, warning him "Look to yourself. The devil is loosed!" The book also goes into interesting side details, such as the difference between troubadours and minstrels (troubadours wrote songs, whereas minstrels only sang them), the limited methods of writing down music at the time (they had a way of recording the where the notes were on a scale but not the tempo of how they should be played or how long they should be held), the way in which the ransom, almost a quarter of England's wealth converted into silver, was raised and the magnitude of its effect on the economies of both England and Europe, and the fates of all of the major figures in the period after Richard's release (almost all of them were dead in less than five years).
All in all, I highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys either history or a good read. It more than meets the mark in both.
- Published on Amazon.com
It reads like a fairy tale:
Once upon a time there was a king, famous for his courage and strength, who was imprisoned in a distant castle by his enemies. No one in his homeland knew where he was, that is, until a minstrel wandered beneath the tower where he was kept. Below the tower, the troubadour sang, and to his amazement, he heard the answering refrain from above. It was, of course, the lost king, and the troubadour hurried to let his people know where he was being kept so that he could be ransomed and returned to his homeland.
But there is a good chance that it may have actually happened. Author David Boyle explores both medieval legend and fact in his book, The Troubadour?s Song: The Capture and Ransom of Richard the Lionheart. I must say, it?s one of the best works of popular fiction that I have come across this year. I do admit to a certain preference to this time in history, full of glamour and exoticism, and a particular favorite of many historical novelists and researchers alike.
In this, Boyle starts with the legend of King Richard?s imprisonment and how he may have been discovered by a troubadour, by the name of Blondel. Beginning with the historical legend, he moves on to discussing the culture and rise of the troubadour culture, and how the Courts of Love helped to shape a rise in music, and the idea of codified rule of behavior between men and women. King Richard had been raised in this culture of music and art, learning music and being no mean poet himself, all under the approving and watchful eye of his mother, the formidable Eleanor of Aquitaine, wife of Henry II of England. But lest anyone think that Richard was a dainty man, he was also a fearsome warrior, quick tempered and prideful, and loved to make war. And when his mother was replaced, as it were, by one of her husband?s mistresses, Richard took it as an excuse to raise a rebellion against his father.
Richard lost, but he would eventually survive his father to become King of England and master of the Angevin empire that his parents had built. And now, he intended to fulfill his vow and go on Crusade to the Holy Land and retake Jerusalem from the Muslims. His ally in this was the French King, Philip Augustus, who had helped him before in his rebellions, and may have been his lover.
Boyle goes in depth into the victories and failures of Richard?s crusade, providing an excellent analysis of what happened and when, and most importantly, why, along with giving some more insight into Richard?s shadowy queen, Berengaria of Navarre. But it was on the return trip from the Holy Land where the historical record gets murky. A minor German prince, Leopold of Austria, had been mortally insulted by Richard at a siege, and when Richard was discovered in disguise traveling in Leopold?s domain, it was an opportunity too good to pass up. He immediately had Richard arrested, and demanded an outrageous ransom ? the equivalent of nearly two billion dollars today.
It?s popular history at its best, Boyle?s writing is clear and free of jargon, told in a sprightly, slightly humourous style. He takes on such varied topics as the question of whether Richard was a homosexual or bisexual, the role of chivalry between opponents on a battlefield, medieval music, the plotting between Richard?s brother John and Philip Augustus and more than a dozen other topics. One interesting tangent that Boyle takes is the role of Robin Hood and King Richard, and indeed, the entire myth of King Richard ? and wicked Prince John ? a topic that will change many readers attitudes towards these characters. What works here is that the narrative is smooth and keeps from getting too tangled up in trivia, which is usually the problem with reading about history.
To help the reader along, there is an insert of photographs, taken mostly from manuscripts and tombs, and the usual bibliography and notes. Skimming through these, I found quite a few books and sources that are going to encourage me in future research.
This book takes several nights, provides plenty of entertainment and questions, and was pretty much overlooked when it was first published. For anyone interested in the middle ages, and particularly the real Richard the Lionheart, this is a must-read book. It?s entertaining, full of colour and life and certain not to disappoint.