Monday, November 21, 2011

Same Name, Different Person

Suppose that you're in a conversation with a friend talking about a mutual acquaintance named "John." An outsider comes up, listens in for a few minutes, then says. "Oh, I know a John too. They're probably the same person." You both stop talking and stare at the newcomer flabbergasted. Does he really think there is only one person named John in the entire world? 

This naivety is not something you often encounter in conversation. But somehow, in the world of historical fiction, it is a conclusion that readers often jump to, especially if a character has a name that is unusual or unfamiliar to them. 

Tancred of Lecce
During my recent blog tour, countless people who heard that "Tancred" is the main character of my book Road from the West said, "Oh, Tancred! I read about him in Sharon Kay Penman's latest book Lionheart." Sorry as I am to sever this (possibly advantageous) to SKP's novel, my sense of historical accuracy has been begging me to exclaim, "No. You did not!" My Tancred was an obscure Italian marquis who eventually became Prince of Galilee and Duke of Antioch after the First Crusade. SKP's Tancred was a distant relative, called Tancred of Lecce, who ruled Sicily and lived nearly a century later during the time of the Third Crusade.

The name Tancred, although incredibly unusual to the modern ear, was a popular one in this Norman family. Their original Norman ancestor, a shadowy figure named Tancred de Hauteville, was born in Normandy shortly after the French king bestowed it on Rollo and the other Vikings. Tancred of Hauteville was renowned mostly for the deeds of his progeny, begetting twelve superlative sons from two successive wives. One of the chroniclers records that whenever William the Conqueror was feeling unmotivated to conquer, he would remember the doughty deeds of the family from Hauteville and stir up his spirit to attempt greater things. These sons of Tancred de Hauteville would eventually spread across Europe and establish princedoms for themselves in Italy, Sicily, and the East. 

Two of the sons to travel to the sunny south were Robert Guiscard (the "Fox) and Roger de Hauteville. While Robert focused his activities on driving the Byzantines out of Italy and then making an expedition toward Constantinople itself, Roger focused on driving the Muslims and Byzantines out of Sicily and setting up a kingdom there. It is from these two brothers that the two easily-confused Tancreds descend. 

Tancred and Erminia, by Nicolas Poussin
Robert Guiscard's daughter Emma married an obscure Italian marquis named Odo the Good, and from their union arose Tancred, the hero of my novel, a dedicated leader of the First Crusade. Roger set up a dynasty in Sicily leaving the throne to a tangled web of sons and grandsons until it was eventually seized by his (illegitimate) great-grandson Tancred of Lecce. 

Although it may be tempting to assume that every historical figure with the same name is the same person, a simple request for Wikipedia to "disambiguate" the name can keep you from being the "newcomer" to the conversation. A simple reference to a historical timeline can keep you from confusing the King of Sicily with the Prince of Galilee.


  1. Jack Ludlow's Mercenaries is about Tancred de Hauteville.

  2. Nice to know there's a book about the "first" Tancred in the family! Have you read it? Is it any good?

  3. Its very good ! I have read it. :D


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