I am of two minds about this book; on one hand, it is a great introduction to some basic revisionist ideas about medieval history (not details, just basic ideas), at least in the first ten chapters. On the other hand, the worldview of the author is so skewed and his evidence for the events so paltry, that to say it’s a good introduction to English history is like saying Rosie O’Donnell’s TV shows make for a good overview of American history. Unfortunately, neither view is very complementary, so I can’t suggest you read it to find out for yourself.
PLOT: An overview of Richard (I) Plantagenet’s life, particularly a myth that grew up around him, and the effects of his life/myth on history in general until the French Revolution. I use “overview” only in the most tentative of senses. Have you ever tried to engage a history buff in non-history-related-talk, only to have these little blurbs of historical fact keep interrupting the conversation? Imagine having a whole book written in that encapsulating style. Its not even a coherently concise timeline as a series of fun facts about the crusades and European royalty. I should note, for non-history-buffs, that Richard Plantagenet, is also known as Richard I, but more commonly simply “King Richard”, the long-awaited captive king of Robin Hood fame. Regardless of Robin Hood, Richard I was a real person, and his brother (famously “Prince John”, but also a king) signed the Magna Carta. Just a bit of REAL background, so everyone knows what time we are dealing with here.
NEGATIVES: First of all, this is labeled as non-fiction, and at least half of the book is devoted to “proving” a myth using five different songs written under four different names, with the assumption that the authors were one and the same. Mr. Boyle has apparently heard of a little thing that the historical community likes to call “research.” The myth in question involves Richard I’s captivity in Austria. The story goes that Richard’s faithful minstrel, named Blondel, wandered about the continent, singing half of a song that he and the king composed together. When he heard the song completed by a lonely voice in a high tower, he knew he had found Richard, and dashed off to get a rescuing party. The traditional myth was supposed to demonstrate the power of loyalty to one’s king; the author asserts that this story is proof Richard was homosexual, and the story thus becomes so ugly I can’t even begin to say how wrong I think it is. Other negative aspects include several severe misrepresentation of facts in history, too many to mention, but the overall trends should be noted. First, anyone who is shown as a positive force in this time period of history is associated with lust of some form (the author, thankfully, is into recounting little quirky tidbits, and does not go into detail. About anything, period. I found this rather frustrating at first, because I love history; by the middle I had never been so thankful in my life). Second, anyone in else who was Christian is portrayed negatively. Third, anyone who resisted Christianity is applauded. Four, anyone who had any friends of the same gender at some point in their lives are hereunto considered openly homosexual, and those who did not have friends of the same gender are considered either secretly so, or, repressed. These are common features of historical revisionism, unfortunately, and while most people find revisionism offensive, I think it is important that we be aware of the motives and worldviews of revisionist historians.
OVERALL WORLDVIEW: (this section designed to replace the usual “positives”, the aforementioned being so severely limited) Music as the ultimate expression of truth and human goodness is a constant theme in the book. This would be fine, except that most of the twisting of historical fact that occurs in “Troubadour’s Song” is in support a very unbiblical worldview. It’s a bit confusing, and I didn’t even figure out where all the pieces of philosophy were going until about chapter ten, so try to stay with me. Music is the ultimate expression of good of which humans are capable; true genius facilitates music; homosexuality facilitates the workings of genius (this is expressed repeatedly by having everyone who did anything remotely positive in this time period associated with lustful actions in some way; even popes are not exempt); intolerance, especially of lust and Jews (don’t ask, it just gets worse) inhibits genius and music and progress in general; Christianity facilitates intolerance (this part doesn’t really show up until after chapter ten, but I skimmed the remaining half of the book, and it is very ugly). Also, although this is not stated clearly, I have enough Medieval knowledge to add to these, that historical “facts” are determined by what point you are trying to make.
NOT RECOMMENDED, though I would be interested to see a show of hands in the commentary section; have you ever been surprised by revisionism in a historical work that you thought was otherwise good history? Or does the movement seem to be poisoning whatever historical time period its trying to rework?