Thursday, April 04, 2013

Count Bohemond

By Alfred Duggan

Bohemond is one of those larger than life figures who permeate recorded history, and yet who have become more or less forgotten in the collective perspective, having become eclipsed by more popular figures, such as King Richard the Lion Heart. The fact that the crusades are currently regarded in a negative light, and Bohemond was a renowned crusader probably hasn't helped his fame much, nor the fact that his people, the Normans, have been extinguished by time, leaving no nation to claim him as a hero figure.

History as we know it, and as we all know, was written by the winners, and in our time, that means the anglophones. No surprise then, that this book about Count Bohemond, whilst leaning heavily on recorded facts, was written by an anglophonic historian and contains a great deal of emphasis on Bohemond's Norman heritage and very little on the fact that he was, essentially an Italian. I don't know if this is because Duggan believed the Normans held themselves entirely aloof from their Italian subjects or because the British have such a strong sense of identity stemming from their own Norman heritage, but it does make for an interesting read-between-the-lines as the English are the only people I know of who make any kind of a claim to the Normans as heroic ancestors.

Duggan already explored the First Crusade in his first novel, 'Knight with Armour', and that too was from an English perspective, and with a Norman/English knight as the protagonist. Since I grew up in England, went to school in England and had history lessons in an English high school, I also have a deep fascination with the Normans and this is probably why I was drawn to these two books Duggan wrote about Normans whilst I am largely uninterested in his other novels, most of which deal with Romans, or with other periods of British history that I did not learn about in school. My next purchase will undoubtably be is 'Lady for Ransom' which Wikipedia informs me is about Norman mercenaries from the West serving the Byzantine Empire during the 11th century. Sounds great, and if it is anything like this novel, then it should prove to be a good read, full of interesting historical accuracy, though perhaps not with a compelling story.

Duggan isn't the best writer of fiction, it has to be admitted. His characterisations are rather primitive and (since he doesn't divert from history much) his plot lines can best be described as simple. This isn't as bad as it could be however, since I'm not reading these books for any other reason than to get a good perspective from a historian. Duggan provides that, even though his point of view came from the 1950's -60's, and for any one who has an interest in understanding how the crusades, or medieval warfare may have been, Duggan is a good choice.

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