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Coeur de Lion, Mon Coeur is about the legendary love relationship between Richard I of England and the trouvère Blondel de Nesle, which except for Richard's incarceration at Dürnstein Castle, has no basis in fact whatsoever. It was performed twice at the German-Lutheran Church of St Paul on November 12, 2000 and April 29, 2001, as part of Lark Ascending events Chansons and Lieder I and II with Jean-Claude Vasseux as reader and recorded music. On February 5, 2004, we presented it again, with George McGrath reading and counter-tenor Jeffrey Mandelbaum and lutenist William Zito providing live music, and it is this performance that we are featuring here.

The Historical Richard I the Lionheart

Surnamed Coeur de Lion or Lionheart, Richard was an outstanding warrior, a successful battlefield commander, and an astute diplomat, much on the order of Washington and Napoleon. But Richard went them one better in having written poetry and composed music in the trouvère tradition; there are two extant works by him.

He was the third and oldest surviving son of Henry II of England and Eleanor of Aquitaine. Henry is best known to us for his part in the brutal slaying of Archbishop Thomas à Becket in Canterbury Cathedral; Eleanor's court at Poitiers became a celebrated center of poetry, attracting to it some of the outstanding troubadours of the time.

Born in England, Richard became duke of Aquitaine in his early teens and later, on the premature death of his older brother Henry, the duke of Normandy. The kingship of England fell to him in 1189, when his father died. As far as is known, Richard was French-speaking and spent very little time in England both before and after his accession to the throne. Before his death, he willed that his brain be buried in Poitou, his heart in Normandy, and his embalmed corpse at the feet of his father in Anjou. For England there was nothing.

Richard married once, Berengaria of Navarre in 1190, but there was no issue of this union. That no stories of affairs of the heart, let alone of illegitimate children, or even of escapades with women, have come down to us provides reason to believe that he was a homosexual.

The early part of Richard's active life was spent in quarreling with his father and brothers and in keeping unruly subjects and neighbors in line. In 1187, when the great Muslim leader Saladin captured Jerusalem and forbade Christian pilgrims to come and visit the holy shrines, Richard's sole ambition was to lead a crusade and win it back, and in 1190 he set sail with a formidable fleet to take part in what came to be called the Third Crusade.

Traveling via Sicily, which he conquered, and Cyprus, he arrived at Acre in time to join French and German forces there shortly before it fell. He then proceeded to lead the combined army to a stunning victory at Arsuf, which put them in possession of the port city of Joppa. Quarrels with the French and German leaders, which turned out to be long-lasting, prevented him from going on to take Jerusalem, and in 1192 he made a three-year truce with Saladin and set sail for home.

Hoping to avoid both the French and Germans, he traveled by way of the Adriatic, only to have a storm drive his ship ashore near Venice. Proceeding overland in disguise, he was discovered in Vienna by the forces of Duke Leopold V of Austria, who imprisoned him in his castle at Dürnstein on the Danube and later handed him over to Heinrich VI, the Holy Roman Emperor, who kept him at various castles until the English paid a goodly part of the amount demanded for his ransom, which was formidable.

Sometime during his imprisonment, Richard is said to have written the following song, which is addressed to his half-sister Marie de Champagne. Remarkable in this work, as scholar Samuel Rosenberg has noted, is the "thematic and emotionally charged pris" that ends each verse, which obviously is impossible to sustain in English:

Ja nus hons pris ne dira sa raison
Adroitement, se dolantement non;
Mais par effort puet il faire chançon.
Mout ai amis, mais povre sont li don;
Honte i avront se por ma reançon
Sui ça deus yvers pris.

Ce sevent bien mi home et mi baron–
Ynglois, Normant, Poitevin et Gascon–
Que je n'ai nul si povre compaignon
Que je lessaisse por avoir en prison;
Je nou di mie por nule retraçon,
Mais encor sui [je] pris.

Or sai je bien de voir certeinnement
Que morz ne pris n'a ami ne parent,
Quant on me faut por or ne por argent.
Mout m'est de moi, mes plus m'est de ma gent,
Qu'aprés ma mort avront reprochement
Se longuement sui pris.

N'est pas mervoille se j'ai le cuer dolant,
Quant mes sires met ma terre en torment.
S'il li membrast de nostre soirement
Quo nos feïsmes andui communement,
Je sai de voir que ja trop longuement
Ne seroie ça pris.

Ce sevent bien Angevin et Torain–
Cil bacheler qui or sont riche et sain–
Qu'encombrez sui loing d'aus en autre main.
Forment m'amoient, mais or ne m'ainment grain.
De beles armes sont ore vuit li plain,
Por ce que je sui pris

Mes compaignons que j'amoie et que j'ain–
Ces de Cahen et ces de Percherain–
Di lor, chançon, qu'il ne sunt pas certain,
C'onques vers aus ne oi faus cuer ne vain;
S'il me guerroient, il feront que vilain
Tant con je serai pris.

Contesse suer, vostre pris soverain
Vos saut et gart cil a cui je m'en clain
Et por cui je sui pris.

Je ne di mie a cele de Chartain,
La mere Loës.

No prisoner can tell his honest thought
Unless he speaks as one who suffers wrong;
But for his comfort as he may make a song.
My friends are many, but their gifts are naught.
Shame will be theirs, if, for my ransom, here
I lie another year.

They know this well, my barons and my men,
Normandy, England, Gascony, Poitou,
That I had never follower so low
Whom I would leave in prison to my gain.
I say it not for a reproach to them,
But prisoner I am!

The ancient proverb now I know for sure;
Death and a prison know nor kind nor tie,
Since for mere lack of gold they let me lie.
Much for myself I grieve; for them still more.
After my death they will have grievous wrong
If I am a prisoner long.

What marvel that my heart is sad and sore
When my own lord torments my helpless lands!
Well do I know that, if he held his hands,
Remembering the common oath we swore,
I should not here imprisoned with my song,
Remain a prisoner long.

They know this well who now are rich and strong
Young gentlemen of Anjou and Touraine,
That far from them, on hostile bonds I strain.
They loved me much, but have not loved me long.
Their plans will see no more fair lists arrayed
While I lie here betrayed.

Companions whom I love, and still do love,
Geoffroi du Perche and Ansel de Caieux,
Tell them, my song, that they are friends untrue.
Never to them did I false-hearted prove;
But they do villainy if they war on me,
While I lie here, unfree.

Countess sister! Your sovereign fame
May he preserve whose help I claim,
Victim for whom am I!

I say not this of Chartres' dame,
Mother of Louis!

Translated by Henry Adams

Richard spent the remaining years of his life in Normandy, unluckily falling victim to an arrow in a local siege. He was succeeded by his younger and sole surviving brother John, whose reign is best remembered for the celebrated Magna Carta, which a baronial rebellion forced him to issue.

The Historical Blondel de Nesle
(fl 1180-1200)

Only two facts concerning him are known for a certainty: dedications of various songs to the oldest generation of trouvères indicate that he must have been born around 1155-1160; according to features of dialect in his songs, he hailed from Picardy, most likely the town of Nesle.

Some scholars have attempted to identify him with a powerful local lord named Jehan II, while others, pointing out that in contemporary mentions of him he is nowhere referred to as Messire or Monsignor, have suggested that he was a younger son of lesser nobility or perhaps a commoner.

Twenty-three of Blondel's songs survive, some of them in ten or more sources, and seven of these with the music. So a third fact about him may be added to those two above: his chansons were exceedingly popular.

The work of Blondel that is featured in Coeur de Lion, Mon Coeur is listed as Chanson XI by Yvan Lepage in his critical edition, and is commonly known by its first line:

L 'amours dont sui espris
Me semont de chanter;
Si fais con hons sopris
Qui ne puet endurer.
Et s'ai je tant conquis
Que bien me puis venter:
Que j'ai piec'a apris
Leaument a amer.
A li sont mi penser
Et seront a touz dis;
Ja nes en quier oster.

Remembrance dou vis
Qu'il a vermoil et cler
A mon cuer a ce mis
Que ne l'en puis oster;
Et se j'ai les maus quis,
Bien les doi endurer.
Or ai je trop mespris:
Ainz les doi mieuz amer.
Comment que j'os conter.
N'i a rien, ce m'est vis.
Fors que merci crier.

Plus bele ne vit nuns,
Ne de cors ne de vis;
Nature ne mist plus
De beaute en nul pris.
Por li mainiendrai l'us
D 'Eneas et Paris,
Tristan et Pyramus,
Qui amerent jadis.
Or serai ses amis,
Or pri Deu de la sus,
Qu'a lor fin sole pris.

I am on fire with a love
which compels me to sing;
I act like a man taken by surprise
who cannot resist.
And yet I have gained something
to boast of:
that I long ago learned
to love loyally.
My thoughts are of her
and always will be;
I shall never seek to transfer them.

The memory of her face,
rosy and bright,
has so penetrated my heart
that I cannot remove it;
and since I have asked for these pains
I must endure them.
No this is mistaken–
I should rather love them.
Whatever I may say,
there is nothing to be done, I think.
Except to cry for mercy.

No one ever saw a fairer lady
either of form or of face;
Nature has never endowed anything
with more beauty.
For her I shall continue the tradition
of Aeneas and Paris.
of Tristan and Pyramus,
all of whom loved long ago.
Now I shall be their ally,
And now I pray to God above,
That I might share their fate.

Translated by Christopher Page

Troubadour and Trouvère:
The Tradition

The troubadours and trouvères were essentially poet-composers; they functioned in France in the 12th and 13th centuries, the troubadours in the south, the trouvères, north, and worked in their respective languages, Old Provençal (or Occitan) and Old French, which are sometimes referred to as langue d'oc and langue d'oïl. The terms, respectively, come from the verbs "trobar" and "trouver" in those languages, meaning "to find," "to invent," and "to make up."

The troubadours arose six or seven decades earlier than the trouvères and served as their artistic models. Guilhem IX, duke of Aquitaine and great-grandfather of Richard I the Lionheart, is the first known troubadour. There seem to have been many more troubadours than trouvères, and many more troubadour chansons have come down to us. There are, however, no known originals in either tradition; rather, the materials that we have occur in chansonniers (i.e., anthologies) of a later date, and may vary considerably as to text and music from one to another. Thus, there are no definitive versions of any of the chansons, and as scholar Samuel Rosenberg has put it, a single version from one of the anthologies represents one moment of that chanson's evolving life.

Many of the chansons belong to the courtly love tradition, in which the poet-composer complains of the suffering and pains that he endures in the service of love—Blondel's "L'amours don’t sui espris" ("I am on fire with a love"), quoted above, is a good example. But there were many other subjects, including religious, political, and satirical ones—as Richard I's "Ja nus hons pris ne dira sa raison" ("No prisoner can tell his honest thought") bears witness.

The texts of the chansons were in stanzas, usually of seven to ten lines each, and with the same number of lines in each stanza, and often ended with a short tornado of dedication, as in "Ja nus hons pris ne dira sa raison." Ten-syllable lines were the most popular; all of the lines of a poem were of equal length and end-rhymed. There was a tendency to make patterns with a small, limited number of rhymes from stanza to stanza. Sometimes the patterns are quite intricate, and the effects quite striking–for instance, the dissonance that Richard created in the work quoted above by terminating each stanza (consisting of five lines ending -on, -ent, or -ain) with "pris."

The music of the chansons was simple by comparison. All of the stanzas were set to the same melody, this to be sung by a single voice, doubtless the poet-composer's.

Richard I the Lionheart and Blondel:
The Fiction

While there is not a shred of evidence that the two ever met, Blondel would surely have heard of Richard—as how could one living in those days not have—and very likely, given the popularity of Blondel's songs, Richard had heard of him.

The first that one hears of a connection between them was in ca. 1260, long after they were both gone, in a French prose chronicle by a certain Ménestrel de Reims. According to this story, after Richard's capture, Blondel, who had been brought up by Richard, went searching all over the place and found a castle in Austria in which there was an unknown prisoner of note. Making the acquaintance of the castellan, Blondel was persuasive enough to be taken on as a minstrel. One day, Blondel stepped into a garden adjacent to the tower where the prisoner was being held, and Richard, espying him from within, began to sing a song that he and Blondel had composed together and no one else knew. Thereupon, Blondel, rejoicing, took leave of the castellan and returned to England to tell the powers that be, who promptly dispatched a party of knights to negotiate for Richard's release.

A variation of this story occurred in a mid-fourteenth century chronicle in the Ancienne croniques de Flandre, where the name of the seeker is given as Jehan Blondel and the author has him arrive at the castle of a beautiful woman. Hearing of a prisoner in a tower there, Jehan Blondel went into a garden under the tower and sang the first verse of a song that he and Richard had composed together, whereupon a voice inside, Richard obviously, sang the second stanza.

List of Works Consulted

Bahat, Avner, and Gèrard Le Vot, eds. l'Oeuvre lyrique
de Blondel de Nesle: melodies.
Paris: Champion, 1996.
Gillingham, John. The Life and Times of Richard I.
London: Weidenfeld, 1973.
Gillingham, John. Richard I. New Haven: Yale UP, 1999.
Lepage, Yvan G., ed. l'Oeuvre lyrique de Blondel de
Nesle: textes. Paris: Champion, 1994.
Rosenberg, Samuel N., ed. Songs of the Troubadours
and Trouvères. NY: Garland, 1998.
Stone, E.N. Three Old French Chronicles of the
Crusades. U of Washington Publications in the
Social Sciences, no. 10. Seattle, 1939.
Werf, Hendrik van der. The Chansons of the
Troubadours and Trouvères: A Study of the Melodies
and Their Relation to the Poems. Utrecht:
Oosthoek, 1972.

The Music

The music and texts were taken from the works cited above. To provide a basic unity, we decided to use only Blondel’s "L’Amours dont," which at times Mr. Mandelbaum sang and at times Mr. Zito played alone. Mr. Mandelbaum’s countertenor provided a fitting contrast to the baritone of reader George McGrath and the bass baritone of Peter Ludwig as Richard. Mr. Ludwig sang Richard’s plaint a capella from the balcony.

The Slides

I used the heroic depictions of Richard as the basis of my portrait of him, and since no likeness of Blondel has come down to us, I took the liberty of adopting a likeness of trouvère Bernardt de Ventadorn for him.

There are a total of twenty-nine slides. All are composites that I created in Adobe Photoshop, and except for the castles, which I photographed, these are generally based on materials that I found in the public domain.

Nancy Bogen


Special thanks to the Music Division of NYSCA
for making the slide choreography
of Coeur de Lion, Mon Coeur possible.