10 July 2021

Book review: The First English Hero: The Life of Ranulf de Blondeville, by Iain Soden


Available from Amazon UK 
and for pre-order from Amazon US

I believe Ranulf de Blondeville would have raised an eyebrow at hearing he’s become known as the first English hero. Said to be shorter than average, bad tempered, a heavy drinker and gambler, he seems an unlikely hero - but there is no question he had a talent for being in the right place at the right time.

This highly readable, impeccably researched new book from Iain Soden succeeded in challenging my thinking on many aspects of early English history, from Richard the Lionheart to the Magna Carta. Like many, my knowledge of Ranulf was patchy at best, so I enjoyed following his ‘journey’ to support five kings and almost become regent of England.

Ranulf inherited his fortune when he was only eleven years old. His father, Hugh of Cyfeiliog, 5th Earl of Chester, died (possibly from poisoning), and at eighteen Ranulf was forced into a most unsatisfactory political  marriage to Constance, Duchess of Brittany (although it seems he later remarried for love).

I found Iain Soden’s comments on early English sources thought-provoking, as so much can be lost in translation. The absence of surnames doesn’t help the inevitable confusion between the different Ranulfs, as he was the third earl to bear the name.

Iain Soden suggests that without Ranulf de Blondeville, England would have been very different today, and after reading this book I have to agree. Highly recommended. 

Tony Riches

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About the Author

Iain Soden read Classics at Durham University and for over thirty years has been a professional archaeologist, specialising in aspects of medieval England. He is the author of numerous archaeological reports, journal articles and conference papers and has been a regular contributor to radio and television. He is Director of Iain Soden Heritage Services Ltd and lives in Long Buckby, Northamptonshire.

Disclosure: A review copy was kindly provided by the publishers,  Amberley.

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