The name 'Blondel de Nesle' is attached to twenty-four or twenty-five courtly songs. He was identified in 1942, by Holger Dyggve, as Jean II of Nesle (near Amiens), who was nicknamed 'Blondel' for his long blond hair. He married at the time of his father's death in 1202, and that same year, went on the Fourth Crusade; he later fought in the Albigensian Crusade. However, in 1994, Yvan Lepage suggested that the poet may have been Jean I, father of Jean II, who was Lord of Nesle from 1180 to 1202; this Jean took part in the Third Crusade, which may explain the subsequent legend linking him with Richard I of England.
If the works are correctly identified and dated, he was a significant influence on his European contemporaries, who made much use of his melodies. (The melody of "L'amours dont sui espris" is used in Carmina Burana, for the song "Procurans Odium"). His works are fairly conventional, and several have been recorded in modern times.
By 1260, Blondel's name had become attached to a legend in the highly fictionalised Récits d'un Ménestrel de Reims; this claimed that, after Richard I of England was arrested and held for ransom in 1192, he was found by the minstrel Blondel, whom he saw from his window, and to whom he sang a verse of a song they both knew. Later versions of the story related that Blondel went from castle to castle, singing a particular song that only he and Richard knew, and that the imprisoned Richard replied with the second verse - thus identifying where he was imprisoned. Then, Blondel either aided the king's escape or reported his position back to his friends. Blondel finally found Richard at Dürnstein; in fact, there was no mystery about Richard's location.
'Blondel' is a common surname on the Channel Island of Guernsey. It is recorded that King Richard I granted a fief on the island to a vassal named Blondel, but it remains uncertain as to whether this has any connection with the legend, or whether the legend has any connection with the known trouvère.
The legend of Blondel did not achieve great popularity in the Middle Ages, but was taken up in the late eighteenth century. It was the basis of André Ernest Modeste Grétry's opera Richard Coeur-de-lion (1784). In 1822, Eleanor Anne Porden used the legend in her epic poem Cœur De Lion: in her version, Blondel is really Richard's wife, Berengaria of Navarre, in disguise.
A poem by Johann Gabriel Seidl titled Blondel's Lied was set to music by Robert Schumann.
Throughout the nineteenth century, the legend became a key component in the mythology surrounding Richard. Some later twentieth century novelists, such as Norah Lofts in The Lute Player (1951), placed a homosexual interpretation on his supposed relationship with the king.
In the 1962-63 ITV serial Richard the Lionheart, Blondel was a semi-regular character, played by Iain Gregory.
The English acoustic band of the early 1970s, Amazing Blondel, was named after Blondel.
The legend inspired Blondel, a 1983 musical by Stephen Oliver and Tim Rice. The play, a comedic rock opera, is set during the period of the Third Crusade. Blondel is portrayed as a frustrated artist, seeking fame as a composer and performer, even as he searches for his imprisoned monarch. Rice collaborated with director Patrick Wilde to revive the show at the Pleasance Theatre in London in 2006. (Link to official site)
References in popular culture
- Blondel features as one of the main characters in the novel Overtime by English author Tom Holt, set in the time of the Crusades.
- Blondel is also the protagonist of the novel "A Search for the King" by Gore Vidal.
- In John Jakes' 1977 novel "King's Crusader", Blondel is on a quest to find his friend and master, Richard the Lion-Hearted. Set in the time of the Third Crusade.
- Paris, Louis (ed.), La Chronique De Rains (Récits d'un ménestrel de Reims), 1837, available at Gallica.
- Boyle, David, Blondel's Song, 2005, ISBN 0-670-91486-X (an attempt to prove the legend)
- Dyggve, Holger Petersen, Trouvères Et Protecteurs Des Trouvères Dans Les Cours Seigneuriales De France, 1942.
- Gillingham, John, Richard Coeur De Lion: Kingship, Chivalry And War In The Twelfth Century, 1994, ISBN 1-85285-084-1
- Lepage, Yvan G., Blondel De Nesle. L'Œuvre Lyrique, 1994.
- Nelson, Janet L. (ed.) Richard Coeur De Lion An History And Myth, 1992, ISBN 0-9513085-6-4
- Rosenberg, Samuel N. & Tischler, Hans (ed.), Chanter M’Estuet: Songs Of The Trouvères, 1981, ISBN 0-571-10042-2
- In 1862 Prosper Tarbé published an edition including 34 songs attributed to Blondel.
- Récits d’un Ménestrel de Reims. Edition Natalis de Wailly. Paris 1876