Blondel’s Song, by David Boyle

It’s been more than a year since I finished university, and I’ve found myself missing the learning part of education (I am not yet missing the essays, and I doubt that’s ever going to happen). It so happened that, when I was going about my local Medieval Festival, I made my way into a tent that was selling books, and there I found a rather lovely-looking volume called “Blondel’s Song”.

Blondel

“Blondel?” I thought to myself. “Who, or what, is that?”

Closer inspection revealed the book to be about “The capture, imprisonment and ransom of Richard the Lionheart”.

I needed no further persuasion.

It turned out that I had already heard of Blondel, albeit vaguely. You might have heard the story as well: when Richard the Lionheart was held prisoner in a German castle, his troubadour Blondel went in search of him. He found him when he sang a song that the king and he had composed together, and he heard Richard singing the song back down to him.

Now, the story of Blondel’s song is somewhat legendary and, as with many things in the Middle Ages, might be completely or at least partially fictional. In Blondel’s Song, Boyle argues that the events are more partially than completely fictional. He also goes into a great deal of detail about the events of the crusade itself, and how Richard came to be imprisoned in Germany.

This was a delightful read. This might be, in part, because I’ve been a huge fan of Eleanor of Aquitaine ever since watching The Lion in Winter, and Blondel’s Song describes a lot of her history that I was previously unaware of (particularly her old age after the death of Henry II). Boyle is also quite a funny writer, and seems to take delight in adding little irrelevant details, as well as personal musings, in his footnotes. So, while this book is quite thick and  reading it takes a while, it never feels like an effort to read.

plantagenetsmall

Angevin Family Portrait, from Kate Beaton’s Hark a Vagrant

The one complaint I have about Blondel’s Song is its lack of focus on Blondel’s song. This is probably the fault of a lack of documentation on Blondel, but it seems unfortunate to have a book named after a particular event, which only spends about a tenth of its time (if that) on the event itself.

Nevertheless, it is a  lovely book – excellent if you are interested in a history of the Third crusade from a particularly English perspective, and pretty glorious in giving an understanding of the massive impact Richard’s ransom had on Medieval society.