King Richard I Travels in this Book

Richard Couer d'Lion

Destination: Europe and the Holy Land

Book: The Lute Player: A Novel of Richard the Lionhearted by Norah Lofts. (Original 1951, Reprint 2009)

Norah Lofts said that when she told people the subject of her new book,[amazon_link id=”B003JTHUU2″ target=”_blank” ]  The Lute Player[/amazon_link], they responded, “Oh, Richard I.  He was one of my heroes!”

By contrast, the newly released reprint that I read, a book club edition, in its questions for discussion asks, “What knowledge, if any, did you have of King Richard prior to reading The Lute Player?”  I imagine that in America at least, people’s knowledge would be very fuzzy. Few would know Richard I or Richard the Lionhearted and fewer still could distinguish between 1st, 2nd and 3rd Crusades.  (Let alone select Richard I as “one of my heroes.”)

To the author’s credit, one need not be a history whiz to understand the book.  She tells a very human story, focused on four main characters. The beautiful Berengaria loves Richard, the handsome young King; her half-sister, the mal-formed but intelligent and witty Apieta,  loves the lute player, Blondel. Blondel pines for Berengaria.  And whom does Richard love? You will have to read the book.

Eleanor of Aquitaine, Richard’s mother, narrates one section of the book, but nearly fades from sight after that. I found myself wanting to follow her story, which I knew from the movie Lion in Winter. (I will forever picture Eleanor as Katherine Hepburn.)

I did think it was deceptive marketing to subtitle the book A novel of Richard the Lionhearted.  Of the four main characters, his role is the smallest–but he is the fulcrum that holds them together.  Although mentioned earlier, he does not set foot on the stage until page 148, in the 2nd section–the one narrated by his mother. She might be speaking for the reader when she says “I hungered for the sight of Richard.”

The story of the Third Crusade starts a hundred pages later–in the section narrated by the lute player.  In the foreword Lofts tells us that although the other characters are real people, Apieta is entirely imagined, and Blondel was perhaps not a real person.

So does The Lute Player belong in the Traveler’s Library? If you have the patience to read a slow-paced plot because you like well-formed characters and lively dialogue, yes.  If you are curious about the history of England in the 1100’s, and any historian would tell you that the facts are scanty, an imaginative retelling based on good research is as true as a history book. If current events suggest that you might profit from learning about the Crusades, which lie at the root or at least illuminate some of the current Arab-Euro-American strife, yes, read the Lute Player.

If you want a more straight-forward account of the Third Crusade or Richard I, you may want to go elsewhere. The links here lead to university lists of books.

But whether you want the romantic or the slightly more factual accounts–think a moment about his travels–from Normandy through Italy and Sicily to Cyprus to Turkey to the Holy Lands and back through Austria (well you can skip the being imprisoned part) and then to Normandy again. You might want to hop over to England, but he was rarely there. His Lion-Heart is in the cathedral at Rouen. You can visit the ruins of the  Kuenringer castle in Durenstein where he was imprisoned in Austria.

Okay, fess up, how much do YOU know about King Richard I?

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About Vera Marie Badertscher

A freelance writer who loves to travel. When she is not traveling she is reading about travel. When she is not reading or traveling, she is sharing with the readers of A Traveler's Library, or recreating her family's past at Ancestors In Aprons . She has written for Reel Life With Jane, Life is a Trip and other websites. Also co-author of a biography, Quincy Tahoma, The Life and Legacy of a Navajo Artist. Contact Vera Marie by e-mail.

15 thoughts on “King Richard I Travels in this Book

  1. I love reading about the crusades and especially Eleanor. I took a class on the crusades in college and Eleanor is the one who sticks with me. Lady went on crusade while pregnant! Amazing.
    .-= Almost Slowfood hopes you will read blog ..Tasty Treat: Fudgy Brownies =-.

  2. Although a history buff of sorts- I knew only a little bit about him. If I had time I would love to read the book…but even more so- would love to travel to those places he had gone to.

  3. I am such a sucker for British history, especially anything having to do with royalty, knights, romance, and armies charging through the countryside. At the moment I have a countdown on my computer til the new Robin Hood movie comes out… thanks for giving me another book to add to my “must-read” list!

    1. Melanie: I’m looking forward to Robin Hood, too. And you’ll be interested to know that he is mentioned in The Lute Player. I found that surprising, since she generally tries to stay with known history, although she did insert a fictional character in this. By the way, for all you history lovers, don’t miss the book on Eleanor of Aquitaine by Norah Lofts.

  4. OMG! So impressed with all this knowledge about Richard, Coeur de Lion. When I lived in France, I bought a box of cookies in Bayeux, where we went to see the tapestry. The metal box has pictures of the tapestry on it. We use it for my husband’s Wasa hard bread. All this to say I think back to that period on a daily basis, since the tapestry gives a good idea of clothing and mail worn by soldiers, although Richard was born 100 years later.
    .-= Alexandra hopes you will read blog ..Plastic Bags = Danger to Marine Life =-.

  5. The history of Henry II and his family, Eleanor of Aquitaine, Prince (then King) John, Geoffry and Richard the Lionhearted is about as riveting as you will find. A real love match between Henry and Eleanor, Henry’s great friendship with Thomas Becket and his later murder, the struggles with the Welsh, the uprisings of the sons against Henry II, Henry’s infamous affair with “fair Rosamund” Clifford, Eleanor’s multi-year imprisonment by Henry, Richard’s crusade and imprisonment, John’s attempt to keep him imprisoned and Eleanor’s determination to free him, the Magna Carta. What a family!

    For well written, enthralling fiction on the period, have a look at Sharon Kay Penman’s Plantagenet Trilogy: When Christ and His Saints Slept, Time and Chance, and The Devil’s Brood. You’ll be happy to be snowed in with one of those.
    .-= Frugal Kiwi hopes you will read blog ..Sharing the Love =-.

    1. I agree with Alexandra and Kris, that’s an impressive mini-history, Frugal Kiwi. Thanks so much for the additional suggestions. Now if I ever get ahead of all the books that I need to read for A Traveler’s Library….

  6. As a Richard myself, I have long been interested in Richard I. Thanks for sharing Norah Lofts “The Lute Player: A Novel of Richard the Lionhearted”.

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