Tales of a Minstrel of Reims in the Thirteenth Century
Imprint: Catholic University of America Press
An anonymous minstrel in thirteenth-century France composed this gripping account of historical events in his time. Crusaders and Muslim forces battle for control of the Holy Land, while power struggles rage between and among religious authorities and their conflicting secular counterparts, pope and German emperor, the kings of England and the kings of France. Meanwhile, the kings cannot count on their independent-minded barons to support or even tolerate the royal ambitions. Although politics (and the collapse of a royal marriage) frame the narrative, the logistics of war are also in play: competing military machinery and the challenges of transporting troops and matariel. Inevitably, the civilian population suffers.
The minstrel was a professional story-teller, and his livelihood likely depended on his ability to captivate an audience. Beyond would-be objective reporting, the minstrel dramatizes events through dialogue, while he delves into the motives and intentions of important figures, and imparts traditional moral guidance. We follow the deeds of many prominent women and witness striking episodes in the lives of Eleanor of Aquitaine, Richard the Lionhearted, Blanche of Castile, Frederick the Great, Saladin, and others. These tales survive in several manuscripts, suggesting that they enjoyed significant success and popularity in their day.
Samuel N. Rosenberg produced this first scholarly translation of the Old French tales into English. References that might have been obvious to the minstrel’s original audience are explained for the modern reader in the indispensable annotations of medieval historian Randall Todd Pippenger. The introduction by eminent medievalist William Chester Jordan places the minstrel’s work in historical context and discusses the surviving manuscript sources.
"A vital text for historians of thirteenth century France, since even at its least veracious it reflects the gossip that circulated at courts, and within church and city circles, and provides a vivid window into the mentalité, the mindset and assumptions of contemporaries...will be of great value for those teaching the middle ages at university undergraduate and taught postgraduate level."~Lindy Grant, author of Blanche of Castile, Queen of France
" Tales of a Minstrel, written by an anonymous minstrel in Reims around 1260, offers one of the liveliest contemporary accounts of French history from the days of Eleanor of Aquitaine and Louis VII up through the crusading efforts of St. Louis. Sometimes fanciful but always richly opinionated, the minstrel is particularly well informed about thirteenth-century events in northern France. This sparkling new translation from the French by the late Samuel N. Rosenberg is the first English version to do justice to the wit and verve of the text, while the introduction by William Chester Jordan and annotations by Randall Todd Pippenger provide modern readers with the context needed to appreciate the minstrel's perspective. The result is a wonderful new volume that will interest a wide twenty-first century audience."~Sean L. Field, University of Vermont