Current Essays

Mais Il Faire Chançons Rather than Songs On:2008-05-12 17:29:36

As a codicil to the essay on our celebrations of St Godric the other week (and before we start let me say, in good eremitical flesh-mortifying fashion that I hope you all found your turnip as nicely raw as you could desire and as horribly stale) ... anyway I have to deal with a comment I received to the effect that St Godric wasn’t the most Famous English composer of the Twelfth Century, but that Richard I was.

Now Richard, in spite of having been born by accident in Oxford in Beaumont Palace (and there’s a good English placename if ever I heard one---I think it translates the French ‘Gutenberg’), Richard was about as English as Général de Gaulle, and how anyone could mistake a guy who couldn’t even speak English or be bothered to learn it (as far as we can tell at this remove), who spent a mere six months of his reign (and not much more than that for his entire life) in the country and who once tried to sell the City of London but couldn’t find a buyer, could mistake him for an Englishman is beyond me.

Indeed the swine’s only real interest in England was at first as a source of money, so he could go and moon Saladin and beat up Saracens or whatever and of course later on, to pay off enormous ransoms (like twice England’s GDP enormous) for getting up the nose of the Holy Roman Emperor while sneaking around the Holy Roman Empire in disguise, but mainly it was so that he could taunt the other leaders of the Third Crusade by singing “Nya Nya Ny Nyana, I yam a ki-ing” only, of course, he sang it in Old French.

In short, Richard I as a ruler was romantic, but rubbish.

Oh and before I get started actually discussing the reason the old bugger is the subject of this essay, let’s get rid of all that nonsense about Robin Hood and supposedly bad King John and even more supposedly good King Richard, all of which, of course, was also rubbish, if rather romantic.

I’ve dealt elsewhere with Mr. Hood and his largely non-existent nature and with the fact that the few bits of him that might possibly be real were a long way from the time of Richard and John (and a long way from Sherwood Forrest too for that matter). So Richard was just no good and Robin just wasn’t to any extent, and finally John wasn’t really all that bad (especially when compared to Richard, not to mention the rest of the bloody Angevins); in fact he was more a sort of Nixon of his period (without all those expletives in need of deletion)---you know, the sort of guy whose faults were actually rather beneficial in the long term, and then anyway how can you not feel sorry for the guy when the poor schmuck tried to sneak his treasure (including the Crown Jewels) by a short cut across the Wash---the Wash being a very flat and very, very low lying coastal area in the north west of East Anglia, long and to this very day notorious for its fast and vast tides---only to have them all, in the presumable origin of that old phrase “It’ll all come out in the wash” to have his treasures all Washed away and lost for ever. Poor John: Sans Terre, sans trésor.

Anyway all of that was by way of an aside, this essay being really about how Richard is no way an English composer---not even un peu.

To Richard and music.
Richard’s only known work, the famous Ja nus hons pris, which he may or may not have composed, in Langue d’Oil or Langue d’Oc all by himself, and once most aptly described as a ballad of Richard I (thus nicely skirting the ‘Did he, didn’t he?’ problem), is obviously not an English piece. It only mentions England in passing and, to add insult to possible injury (not to mention all that embezzlement) uses the French form of the name “Ynglois” and furthermore fits perfectly into the Oldish Froggish tradition, either as a trouvère or a trobador, depending on if the Langue d’Oil or Langue d’Oc is the original-er version.

So to dispose once and for all of Richard as a possible rival for St Godric for the title:
1) Though they were both born in England, Richard’s was obviously only due to a momentary lapse on the part of his mother.
2) Richard has one surviving song against St Godric’s four (count ’em FOUR) songs
3) And anyway all St G’s songs were in early Middle English unlike Richard’s meager contribution in Old French---and that’s really the clincher.
So it’s “Up with St Godric and down with the rest!”...

Cheerio for now
Richard Howland-Bolton


Compare and contrast:

St. Godric
Crist and Sainte Marie
Swa onscamel me iledde
þat ich on þis erðe ne silde
wið mine bare footen itredde

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.

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