Sunday, February 23, 2014

Blood Royal by Eric Jager

It was a cold November night in 1407. In Paris, the Duke of Orleans, younger brother of the King and the regent of France, was returning to his lodgings after dining with the queen. He was suddenly attacked by a group of armed men. They pulled him from his horse and hacked him to death. The group of armed, masked men then made their way through the streets terrifying any one who dared to look out of the doors or windows. Then simply vanished. The subsequent investigation and discovery of the person responsible for this action would affect the next twenty-five years of French history.

Louis of Orleans was an unpopular figure. His brother, Charles VI, suffered from recurring bouts of madness. Louis had been appointed regent to act when Charles was indisposed. Louis used his position to raid the national treasury for his own gain. He was a notorious womanizer who routinely seduced the wives of other nobles. He was also in a type of cold war with his cousin John, the Duke of Burgundy.

 In charge of the investigation of the murder was Guillaume de Tignonville, the provost of Paris. de Tignonville soon discovered the culprit. The man who ordered the assassination was none other than his cousin, the Duke of Burgundy. This revelation would plunge France into civil unrest for the next twenty five years. Henry V of England would use this unrest to invade France. The Burgundians would help the English in the war against the French crown.

This is a fascinating story about a turbulent time in French history. Jager does an excellent job of piecing this story together. The French aristocracy, particularly the royal line, comes across as one big dysfunctional mess. It’s the kind of story one would expect to see on an HBO original series. Illicit affairs, madness, opulent balls, murder, and mayhem. Against this story of the highborn Jager deftly weaves the stories of those less know to history. He gives us the story of the honest de Tignonville. A man whose integrity worked against him in the end. Readers of Shakespeare will recognize this figure and recall that he recaptured his honor by dying at the Battle of Agincourt.

We also get a glimpse of the justice system of medieval France. The public gibbets, the ways in which nobles and the clergy could escape justice. We also see the lives of normal Parisians. The beginning of the book gives us a glimpse into the lives of the men and women who lived and worked in the area where the assassination occurred. Dr. Jager’s writing is quite good. As a professor of literature at UCLA he is very knowledgeable about the period. He never falls into the trap that catches so many professional historians. He doesn’t beat the audience to death with obscure information and theories that add nothing to the narrative and only serve to impress the writer and other academics. This book is very scholarly and the material is well sourced. It is also well written and enjoyable to read.

I can highly recommend this book to lovers of history and to anyone who loves a good crime drama as well. 

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