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1000 A.D. to 1799 A.D.
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Blondel and Richard Lion-Heart

"King Richard is the beste
"That is found in any geste."

                                     Prologue to "Richard Coer de Lyon."
A.D. 1300.

[Source: BLONDEL, AND RICHARD LIONHEART. XY, The Virginia Literary Museum and Journal of Belles Lettres, Arts, Sciences &c... Aug. 26, 1829; 1, 11; APS Online, pg. 170.]

The authenticity of the tale, that Richard, Coeur de Lion, owed his liberty, when imprisoned in Germany, to the zeal and fidelity of his minstrel, Blondel do Nisle, has always been questioned. M. Sismondi, in his "Historical View of the Literature of the South of Europe," has asserted, that if the poetical dialogue had been preserved, it might have been some confirmation of an anecdote to which we are so willing to give credit. A German version of this Tenson was given in 1777, by the celebrated Wieland, along with the whole of the story, of which, the following is a translation, and which, although somewhat romantic, carries with it the air of probability.

Richard, surnamed Lionheart, (Coeur de Lion), third king of England, of the house of Plantagenet, or Anjou, and second son of king Henry the second, ascended the English throne in the year 1189. A short while before this, the magnanimous Sultan, Saladin, after the celebrated battle near Tiberias, had again taken possession of Jerusalem and the holy sepulchre, (which, through the adventurous fanaticism of chivalric times, became the grave of some hundreds* of thousands of European Christians,) and thereby inflamed Europe anew, with a general zeal to again remove and avenge the disgrace that, by this loss, according to the mode of representation of the time, had fallen on all Christendom. In king Richard, the most valiant and chivalrous prince of his time, this zeal became a most violent passion. In that period of pecuniary scarcity, in order to raise the sums necessary for his intended crusades, he disposed of as much of the domains, revenue and regalia of the crown as he was able. " I would even sell London," said he, "if I could find a purchaser." King Philip Auguste, of France, joined him in this adventure; and if he, from his personal character and rank, believed he had the right of representing Agamemnon amongst the united armies of the crusaders, so had Richard, on the other hand, all the personal virtues and defects for playing the part of Achilles.

His even too romantic intrepidity and love of adventure, had joined him the surname of "Lionheart," and made him the hero of one of the most celebrated chivalric works of the thirteenth century: ( Warton's 'History of English Poetry,' Vol. 1.) His name was so formidable amongst the Saracens and Turks, that mothers, to quiet their children, were accustomed to threaten them with King Richard. Joinville, who relates this circumstance, in his life of Louis the pious, adds another and similar anecdote. When the Arabians were riding and their horses became startled at any unusual object, they were in the habit of exclaiming, on giving them the spur ; what meanest thou? dost thou see King Richard? a stronger or move characteristic evidence of his prowess could scarcely be imagined. The romance writers of those times found something so wonderful in the chivalrous deeds of this Prince, that they considered he must have been in possession of the celebrated "magical sword, Kaliburn or Eskalibor referred to in the fabulous history of King Arthur, although the Romance of King Arthur asserts that his esquire at the command of his lord, had, after his death, thrown it into the sea. (1)

Nevertheless, all the valiant deeds of this hero and his allies did not meet with the expected success. A fatal jealousy alienated the Christian Princes and enfeebled a power, which, by unanimity, might have been destructive to the Saracens. King Richard himself, was too proud and too violent in his passions not to suffer his personal superiority over the rest to be felt more strongly than prudence dictated. The King of France, the Duke of Burgundy, Leopold, Duke of Austria, who after the unfortunate death of the Emperor Frederick Red-beard and his son, had remained at the head of the German Crusaders, separated from him at the very time, when there was the greatest hope of freeing Jerusalem from the hands of the Unbelievers.

Richard remained alone: and the fruit of all his heroic deeds besides the conquest of Ascalon was a truce, whereby the possession of the little they had gained at so much expense and the liberty of visiting the holy sepulchre at Jerusalem without molestation was secured to the Christians for three months, three weeks, three days and three hours.

Expeditions like those, when powerful monarchs quitted their hereditary kingdoms and exhausted men and money to carry on adventures in a distant quarter of the globe, without plan or fixed object: — when with enormous forces at the end, nothing was effected and the whole undertaking even in the moment of certainty of complete success, was abandoned in the same giddy spirit with which it had been begun, a procedure of this kind, judged according to the principles of sound policy, necessarily seems to us irrational. But the crusades, and especially the part taken in them by King Richard, require to be expounded by the intoxication of knight errantry which at that time prevailed over the whole of Europe. The desire of Richard was merely to proceed to distant countries in search of adventures, to contend with Saracens, giants or lions and to afford to the minstrels, who accompanied him, matter for romances and books of chivalry. If he could attain this object the rest would trouble him but little. Attempts at permanent conquests, expeditions, of which a settled state of repose might be the fruit, at that time entered not into the thoughts of heroes. Men roamed about without having any other object than roaming : each one lived, as it were, on the adventures of the day: and was desirous of leaving himself and others work for the morrow. This was the spirit of chivalric times. Richard had, at the seige of Ascalon and on other occasions, offended the Duke or Margrave of Austria, Leopold, in the most sensitive manner, and Leopold, who wanted courage to demand the satisfaction of a knight (which Richard would not have refused him) had returned home with the smothered rage of an impotent thirst for vengeance. But fate gave him an opportunity, which he could not have expected, for taking revenge on his enemy without placing his own person in danger and Richard's want of prudence delivered him quite unexpectedly, into his hands. King Richard, forced to return owing to the internal disquiets in his kingdom and the base invasion of his French hereditary provinces by King Philip, was shipwrecked near Aquileia, and at this place assumed the dress of a pilgrim, to travel incognito through Germany, as he did not consider himself safe in France.

In order to elude the snares of the Governor of Istria, he took a circuitons route by Vienna: and here, he betrayed himself, by an expensiveness and liberality, which, attracted considerable attention, in a pilgrim and especially as he had too much the air of a hero, to bo considered that, which his mean clothing announced. In a short time Richard was discovered, taken up, and confined at Linz, in a narrow prison totally unworthy of his royal dignity. In this place the adventure is said to have taken place, which affords materials for the present story.

Richard had resided, during his youth, chiefly in his hereditary Frankish provinces, and a considerable part of the same had been spent in Provence, where the art of song, about this time, was in its highest bloom, and formed not only one of the most common enjoyments of the great at their banquets and festivities, but was even cultivated by many amongst themselves with considerable reputation, as it was, also, in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries in Germany. Here Richard imbibed his singular fondness for the art of the trubadurs, troubadours or minstrels, which never forsook him during his whole life. Love that has ever formed so many singers, made him also a Provençal poet; for the Provençal speech was, at that time, considered more agreeable and melodious than the French, and the proper language of the tender passions. In the sequel his court, like that of the Landgrave Hermann of Thuringia, was the rendezvous of the most celebrated minstrels of his time, amongst whom Fouquet of Marseilles, Anslem Faydit and Blondel de Nesle were esteemed his favorites.

The lost had, in the above mentioned crusade (in which, according to the expression of Massieu, whole legions of poets followed the French nobles), devoted himself, particularly, to King Richard, and was an eye witness, and doubtless also a singer of his eminent deeds. It is probable that even at this time, the estimation of the poets had somewhat fallen from that which the hards and scalds had enjoyed in older times. For formerly the bards were considered men inspired by the gods and their office a sacred and public one. It was their duty to accompany the warriors on their expeditions, to sing to them the battle song, to be witnesses and judges of their heroic deeds, and, after the fight was ended, to recompense the valiant by songs of victory and, on the contrary, to stigmatize the cowardly by contempt and derision. This was in immediate relation with the constitution of the old Kelts, Germans and northern nations; rude hordes, by no means populous, subsisting by the chase, spoliation and war, in whom the sentiment of freedom, combined with the pressure, of necessity, induced this public spirit, of being as one man, whereby the great political nations might have no notion of their civil and military constitution : where every one attended to all and all to every one : where the personal virtues of a man were regarded as the common property of his caste or tribe, and contempt of life, if the common good demanded it, was the first of all virtues : and it must necessarily be so, for such small nations to continue their existence.

But all this in the times of chivalry and the crusades, no longer existed, owing to the great alteration of circumstances, amongst the descendants of these nations. The feudal system, by consequences entirely natural, had almost wholly annihilated this public spirit.

The vassals were more or less powerful and the most so amongst them became, almost entirely, independent lords. Each one troubled himself only with his own affairs, thought only of his own preservation and prosperity and kept his own court. The accidental connexions, which necessity or self-interest effected for the moment, were again disolved in a moment; personal friendships amongst the knights and (what was probably extremely rare) personal fidelity towards the feudal lord, were the only bonds which were still strong enough to stand proof and to continue for the whole of life. In such circumstances the musical art could no longer perform the wonders it had previously effected. The minstrels were no longer indispensable springs of action, the exciters and nourishes of public spirit, and the poets and singers were no longer servants of the state. Like the constitution, and manners of the states, poetry and song became gradually changed and sank to mere arts of enjoyment, constituting a part of the luxury of the time. The Irubadurs and minstrels were a kind of court servants, who were kept for pomp and amusement; they were still loved and even honoured ; but less on account of their actual merit, than because they knew how to make themselves indispensable to the entertainment of the great ; because their lays and Fabliaux were liked and because poetry, music, and the pantomimic art, which became subsequently separated, constituted at that time, but one profession and were carried on by one and the same master. The great might still indeed and naturally, desire to be celebrated by their poets ; but the praise they obtained, was less the merited price of their virtues, than a gratification of their vanity, and could, at last, only amount to this, that he was the most praised, who entertained and rewarded the most liberally. This however is a digression, which if prosecuted, would lead us too far from our subject.

Blondel had accompanied King Richard on his journey back from the holy land; but by the storm that drove the king on the coast of Istria, the ship on board of which was the minstrel was forced into the Lagunæ of Venice. Blondel prosecuted his journey through Germany and the Netherlands, and, every where, sought after the king, his lord and friend, but fruitlessly. At length he went to England; but there also nothing was known of what had become of Richard; for his imprisonment remained, for a whole year, a secret. The minstrel determined to search out his beloved lord, if compelled to follow him over the whole world. He travelled, for a long time, in vain, till, at length, an obscure, rumour, or a supposition, which the well known resentment existing between Richard and Leopold made probable, led him into the states of the latter.

After he had wandered about for several days without arriving at any nearer trace, he at length reached an old fortress, in the tower of which (as he discovered) a prisoner was narrowly guarded. Although no one could inform him any thing farther, it immediately struck him that this might be his sovereign. As however, it was impossible to render himself at all certain of this, by any common method, without being suspected; he attempted the following plan. He found means late at night, to approach so near the tower and beneath the window of the prisoner that his voice could bo heard by the latter; and, after he had executed a prelude, for some time, on his guitar, he began a song which Richard himself had composed in Palestine, on the occasion of his love for the beautiful Margarite, countess of Hennegan: for the countess had, after the example of most of the ladies of that period, made herself distinguished in her zeal for the cross and had followed her spouse to the holy land. As it would afford the reader but little satisfaction if we (provided we could) were to give them this lay in the Provençal speech, in which Richard composed it, we have attempted a version of it ; hoping that it may possess more of the energy and naviete of the original, than the translation of Mademoiselle L'Heritier (2) (Wieland. (3))

Blondel, now began to sing as follows:

"Fiercely glow'd in me the fever,
Scorch'd was every vital band,
Dimmer was the light than ever
And forever,
From the gloomy, shady land
Stretched o'er me grim death his clay cold hand.
Then came my love with gracious look,
And death and fever from me took."

There the minstrel stopped: for the song had a chorus at each stanza, and he did not doubt that, if the prisoner was the same he was seeking, this circumstance would betray him.

His expectation was not disappointed. A hollow voice but, as he distinctly heard, one accustomed to the song proceeded from the interior of the tower and completed the stanza with the following chorus.

"I say it without blushing
That sweet and valued name
Assists in dangers rushing,
And comforts mind and frame."

Blondel continued:

"All around with danger cover'd
Strove I in the cruel fight,
Thick as heaven's hail there hover'd
Lance and halberd
O'er me now with all their might,
Already sank my arm and round me all was night:
But when I call'd my fair again,
A victor stood I on the plain."

The same voice answered :

"I say it without blushing
That sweet and valued name,
Assists in dangers rushing,
And comforts mind and frame."

Blondel concluded with the last stanza of the song.

"Let the battle cry now call,
Liko as on the stormy sea,
Winds they bluster, thunders roll,
All things fall,
All things go to wreck with me,
From high courage is my heart yet never free;
No fate can cast me to the ground
So long as love supports me round."

The voice responded again: —

"I say it without blushing,
That sweet and valued name
Assists in dangers rushing
And comforts mind and frame."

Great was Blondel's joy: for he could now, hardly remain in doubt, that it was King Richard, who answered him: but, in order to convince himself still more completely, he added ex x tempore the fourth stanza in the same manner: —

"Hate with base revenge befalls,
At night, the Lion in the grove,
They force him within gloomy walls
So tarry all
Love has hither Blondel drove
Wait, Lionheart! thy bolts we'll soon remove."

And immediately, the voice answered, also in an extempore manner: —

"Oh were Margot only by me,
Heaven, I would say were nigh me!
Why for this be blushing?
That sweet and valued name
Assists in dangers rushing
And comforts mind and frame."

The faithful Blondel was now satisfied he had attained his object : but to afford his sovereign immediate assistance was impossible. Richard had, however, recognized the voice of his beloved minstrel and whether he believed it to be Blondel, or his spirit, it must have afforded him consolation and fortitude, after so long a death like silence and neglect from all that were dear to him, to hear the voice of a friend, which promised him freedom.

Blondel hastened back to England, made the place, where their King was kept prisoner, known to the barons of the kingdom, and thereby procured his freedom, which took place some months afterwards; but probably under much inconvenience and ceremony, but little honorable to the Emperor Henry the 6th and the Duke Leopold.

S. Fauchet Recueil de Vorigine de la Langue et Poesie Française, p. 93.


Notes:

  1. It is gravely recorded by the chroniclers that Richard carried with him to the crusades this celebrated sword (Caliburn) of King Arthur and that he presented it as a "gift or relic of inestimable value to Tancred, King of Sicily, in the year 1191, in return for several vessels of gold and silver, horses, bales of silk, four great ships and fifteen gallics given by Tancred.
         Robert of Brunne calls this sword a jewel. "And Richard at that time gaf him a fair juele, The good sword Caliburne which Arthur luffed so well."
  2. In a small Romance but little known, bearing the title: La tour tenebreuse et les jours lumineux. Contes Anglois, tires d'anciens manuscrits, contenant la Chronique, les Fabliaux et autres Poesies do Richard surnomme Coeur de Lion, Paris 1705,12 mo.

  3. The preceding remarks are by Wieland and the English is from the German version.

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Created: Sunday, January 31, 2016; Updated Tuesday, February 16, 2016
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