Saturday, February 29, 2020

Count Robert of Paris

Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832)

Constantinople in the early 12th century: Alexius Comnenus is on the throne, along with his
wife Irene and daughter, Anna. They are protected in part by the Varangian guard, a collection
of refugees from Saxon England (as a result of the 1066 invasion) and various countries in
Scandinavia. The bulk of the first Crusade to rescue Jerusalem from the pagans is about to
arrive and consequently the intricate politics of court life are becoming increasingly complex.
Count Robert and his warrior wife, Countess Brenhilda are a major part of the noble
contingent, along with Bohemund and Godfrey de Bouillion. Alexius wants to utilize the
crusader army as a defensive ploy against the Seljuk Turks, who are aggressive and ambitious,
but he's afraid of being besieged by the relatively undisciplined force as well. In addition, he's
become aware that a plot to dethrone him is in existence, but he's not sure who is involved.

Hereward the Saxon is a Varangian guard renowned for his skill, strength and loyalty. He
suspects the leader of the Varangians, Achilles Tatius, of being overly ambitious and snaky in
his friendships, one of the latter being Anna's husband, Nicephorus Briennius, who has gained
a reputation as an overly enterprising noble with an eye for the main chance. An old court
retainer, Agelastes, is an intimate friend of the two, and is known to harbor archaic and
possibly disloyal fantasies.

When the Crusaders actually arrive, Alexius persuades them to establish their encampment on
the east side of the Bosphorus straits, thereby isolating them from the city and its tempting
riches and luxuries. Before this happens, however, Alexius throws a large reception for the
crusade leaders to demonstrate his pomp and impress the uncultured Franks. An exemplar of
the latter quality, Robert takes advantage of Alexius' temporary absence to seat himself upon
the throne, the boorishness of the act apparent to all. The event is smoothed over, but results
in a challenge from Hereward, who is aggravated by Robert's egoism and pushiness. Robert
and Brenhilda, remaining behind while the balance of the army shifts to the east, are kept
prisoner by order of Alexius, and Robert is cast into a lightless dungeon below the Blacquerel
palace, the domestic residence of the Comnenus family. Ultimately he escapes with the help
of Hereward, and the two agree to duel sometime in the future.

Meanwhile, Nicephorus has made overtures to Brenhilda, for which Robert has challenged him
to a joust, but since Robert was in jail, Brenhilda wants to take his place, in part because she
can't stand Nicephorus and also because she has just as much a sense of honor as her
husband. But a number of events occur before the agreed joust occurs. Agelastes is killed by
an orangutang named Sylvan. The large red-haired creature had been part of the prison
establishment and was befriended by Robert during the latter's escape. Agelastes' house was
by the side of a cliff overlooking the ocean and while he was plotting with accomplices, Sylvan
appears and strangles him. Then he chases Bertha, Brenhilda's personal maid into the garden,
where she's rescued by Hereward. They recognize each other as former acquaintances in
England, where they had pledged their troth to each other.

The day of the joust approaches and 50 knights from across the water are invited to
participate. As they are sailing across, their ships are attacked by some of Alexius' navy who
shoot Greek fire at them. Several of the vessels are burned but most of them arrive safely.
Since Robert can't be found (he's hiding in Hereward's room), Brenhilda offers to take his
place to tilt against Nicephorus, but because Nicephorus is elsewhere occupied, Hereward
agrees to take his place. Then Robert appears and takes over from Brenhilda and the two,
Hereward and Robert chop at each other (they both are wearing heavy armor and fight with
batle-axes) until they get tired, and then agree to forget their differences.

Afterwards, Alexius forgives Nicephorus and Achilles for their treason and Hereward and
Bertha carry on with the main force to Palestine and Jerusalem. They both survive the conflicts
and eventually return to England where they marry and live happily ever after.

This was one of Scott's last books and i think it showed. While it held my interest, it was sort
of gangly and loosely constructed, with lots of interspersed legends and side plots that didn't
do much to further the principle action, but were interesting anyway. Scott is rather an
acquired taste; his language can be difficult to follow upon occasion. It was evident in several
places that the author was getting tired. As in fact he was, having literally written himself to
death in order to pay off a very large debt that accrued to him as a result of his participation in
a friend's (Ballantine) publishing business and its consequent failure. His books are rarely
boring, though, and usually have a surprise or two for the reader's edification. Like
orangutangs appearing out of nowhere...


  1. Hmmm ... quite a fun format ... but I do like orangutans ....

  2. congratulations for finding it! it's very basic so far: i hope to improve it soon... the justification is because the text was dragged and dropped from the desktop... hopefully that will be fixed next time....

  3. Found ya! Glad to finally read your whole post on the Scott. Orangutangs, eh? It may not be Scott at his finest, but I do have to look forward to...

  4. glad you found it in spite of all the wrong turnings and the dim light... once i figure out how to actually type posts it should be justified correctly... i hope... i swear computers have minds of their own...

  5. Welcome to Blogger! I have been on it for over 15 years and survived with all posts intact. I just read about that first crusade in James Michener's The Source. At least I think that is where; I've been reading a lot of historical fiction lately. His version is somewhat different. I have read Scott, he is a caution, though your are right about his always having a surprise or two. I will put you on my Blogger Reading List and thereby never miss a post.

  6. tx a lot, Judy... i was surprised at how much i missed doing the posts; i've done 143 of them according to wordpress altho it didn't feel like that many... i read "The Source'' many years ago and liked it a lot... what got me started on the Crusades tho was the novel (The Crusades) by Harold Lamb which i read numerous times while pretending i was a fearless knight against the paynim at the age of 11 i think...haha... i don't feel quite like that anymore, needless to say...

  7. Hi Mudpuddle! I still don't know when I'll ever read Scott, but I am glad to finally have closure over Robert's fate. Sounds interesting, at least the way you write. I think I may find Scott's language hard to follow.

    But I love the idea of being a warrior wife. Countess Sharonilda...

  8. you don't need the armor, Sharon, you're powerful just as you are! this is probably not the right book to begin with so far as Scott is concerned... Ivanhoe is his most well known effort and probably the easiest to become involved with... tx for tracking down my peripatetic blog!

  9. Hi Muddpuddle- I have not read Scott but I would like to. This one sounds like a lot of fun. I will probably start with Rob Roy or Ivanhoe.

    Have fun with the new blog.

  10. the ones i liked the most were Old Mortality and Guy Mannering; the one i did a post one a couple of weeks ago was okay... it's enlightening to recall how popular Scott was in the 19th C. he was a big influence and inspired a whole generation of authors...

  11. The only Scott novel I've read is Guy Mannering. I have no idea what I was expecting, but it was pretty wild. Scott pretty much invented the genre of historical fiction, I think, or at least what we think of by historical fiction.

    Have your read Woolf's To The Lighthouse? There's a whole bit in there about a bombastic man who is sure that as long as people are still reading Sir Walter Scott, his own works will remain relevant. I read To The Lighthouse right around the time that I read Guy Mannering, and I remember thinking that I had somehow become part of the setting of the Woolf novel.

  12. i read it a couple of times and liked it more the on the second excursion... have you read "The Waves"? i really liked that one, partly because of it's peculiarities... wave forms dominating the plot in ever-deepening import...

    1. I haven't read The Waves, but a BBC poll declares it the "16th greatest British novel ever written." Last year I read her first novel, The Voyage Out, which was pretty good, though not what one would think of as a Woolf novel. Waves looks interesting; I should find a copy of that, or see if we already have it on the shelf.

  13. Glad to see you have book blog. Best wishes

  14. i've actually had one for a couple of years... the wordpress site went belly up so i had to re-establish... tx for the good wishes!