Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Strange Books of Our Times

If ever a book qualified for the description "niche market", it's one which I got hold of last week: Les Compagnons de Villehardouin, by Jean Longnon.  Longnon has trawled, I suspect over many decades, through the primary sources of the Fourth Crusade.  His goal: to identify and provide capsule descriptions of all the Frankish crusaders who accompanied Geoffrey de Villehardouin on the crusade to Constantinople.  The historical record is scanty, and most can be summed in a paragraph, invariably ending in their death at the battle of Adrianople in 1205.  Longnon also throws in a few non-Frankish crusaders, including our old friend Boniface of Montferrat; he avoids death at the battle of Adrianople by the sensible expedient of being elsewhere at the time, but the reaper catches up with him two years later when he's killed in an ambush.

Les Compagnons de Villehardouin is described somewhere on the internet (the book is almost impossible to source) as "for serious students of the Fourth Crusade only".  That must mean me, then.  It has no narrative as such, but as a source of minor characters for a novel it's invaluable (and also a good way of summarising what happened to the major ones).  It's also in French, which is less than ideal for someone's who's only had a glancing acquaintance with the language since my O-Levels.  But with a bit of perseverance, it's surprisingly easy to extract the main information.

My researches, then, continue.  Next time, we'll look at women in the Middle Ages, where information is not always easy to mine.