Iron Man

In my 12th century historical fiction novel Aureus, King Henry relies on his great-grandfather, William the Conqueror, to give him guidance in planning his strategy to win the Battle of Boulton (See Chapter 15). The Conqueror, you see, was also a diarist, and after his victory at the Battle of Hastings in 1066, William penned copious notes describing his assault plan and the events of that momentous day. Historians, including Winston Churchill in his History of the English Speaking Peoples, Volume 1, have fleshed out the more entertaining incidents of that historic battle.

For instance: In the Middle Ages, it was customary for the king to select a minstrel knight to give a pre-battle performance in his two specialties: music and jousting. William chose the Norman knight Ivo Taillefer, who sang the Song of Roland before wowing his military audience with a bit of sword juggling followed by making the first kill (a foolish English soldier who ran out to challenge him).

More about the music: The Song of Roland is now considered the oldest surviving major work of French literature. Written in the 11th century, hence a new chanson when Ivo sang it, the ballad celebrates the exploits of the Frankish leader Roland at the Battle of Roncevaux Pass in 778 AD, or to be more up-to-date, 778 CE. Modern poets and composers have used Taillefer’s rendition as the basis for choral and orchestral works. Richard Strauss’s Taillefer, composed in 1903, was included in a rare 2014 performance at Royal Albert Hall in London.

Taillefer, however, did not ultimately have a good day at the Battle of Hastings. Still singing after his first kill, enthusiastic Ivo charged into the English lines, killing at least four more of the enemy before he was dispatched by an English knight who apparently didn’t like the music.

You ask: What does all this have to do with Iron Man? Well, Wikipedia is most helpful here.  Robert Ripley, the fellow who gave us Ripley’s Believe It or Not!, pointed out certain offbeat coincidences between General Eisenhower and our singing Norman knight of Hastings fame: Taillefer departed from the same beach of Normandy where the Allies, led by the famous general, landed on D-Day in World War II. The Battle of Hastings took place on October 14, 1066. Taillefer died on that day. Eisenhower was born on October 14, 1890. The French name Taillefer means “hewer of iron.” Likewise, Eisenhower, translated from German, also means “hewer of iron.” Hence, my snippet title Iron Man, believe it or not!