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The Troubadours ( The Name in Occitan. Click here to find out more about occitan. Trobadors,  The Name in French. Trouvères)

Introduction to the Troubadours
Troubadour Conventions and Favourite Themes
Troubadour Lyrics
Troubadour Music
Troubadours and Cathars
Troubadours at the Court of the Counts of Toulouse
The Song of the Crusade (La Chanson de la Croisade) - The Song of the Cathar Wars
Troubadour Origins
Well Known Troubadours
Women Troubadours, or Trobairitz
Jeux Floraux (Floral Games)
Troubadours from the Lands of the Counts of Toulouse and the Counts of Foix
Troubadours from the Roussillon and other parts of Catalonia and Aragon
Troubadours from the Aquitaine and other continental territories of the Kings of England
Troubadours from Gascony and Comminges
Troubadours from Provence
Troubadours from Quercy and the Rouergue
Troubadours from Limousin and Marche

 

Introduction to the Troubadours

Modern European literature originated in Occitania in the early 12th century.  It was started by hundreds of Troubadours (poet-musicians), who sang the praises of new values and in a new way.   Their themes were courtly love, and concepts such as "convivencia" and "paratge" for which there is no modern counterpart in modern English or French.   "convivencia" meant something more than conviviality and "paratge" meant something much more than honour, courtesy, chivalry or gentility. Troubadours praised high ideals, promoting a spirit of equality based on common virtue and deprecating discrimination based on blood or wealth.  They were responsible for a great flowering of creativity.  The lyrics could be racy, even by modern standards.  Woman troubadours as well as men were welcomed in Châteaux throughout the Midi.  They were loathed by the Roman Church, though a number of priests and bishops had themselves been well known troubadours in their early years - including, famously, Fouquet de Marseille, Archbishop of Toulouse. 

The earliest troubadour whose work survives is William IX, Duke of Aquitaine, (1071 - 1127, also known in his native Occitan as as Guilhem de Peitieus, and in French Guillaume d'Aquitaine). Troubadours flourished in the 12th and 13th centuries in the Languedoc (Occitania). Their language Occitan (sometimes called the langue d'oc and occasionally Provençale) was the first literary language of Europe since classical times. Some 2000 of their works are known, from the short compositions like the "cansos", to book-long epics.  All are expressed in Occitan, or as it was then called, "plana lenga romana" - the plain Roman tongue.

Click on the following link for songs (in Occitan with English translations) by William IX of Aquitaine

In France to the north the idea was copied by speakers of French (the langue d'oil) who are generally known as Trouvères. This was probably accelerated when Eleanor of Aquitaine (the grand-daughter of the first known troubadour William IX of Aquitaine) married the King of France. She exported the same ideals of courtly love to England when she later married King Henry II. Her daughter Marie, Countess of Champagne took the same ideas of courtly behavior to the court of the Count of Champagne.

Two common errors - repeated in the modern literature by scholars who really aught to know better - are that all Troubadours wrote in Provençale and that Provençale is a dialect of French. The first error arises presumably because the name Provençal is occasionally used, confusingly, to refer to the Occitan language. The second is inexcusable - a blind acceptance of French propaganda perpetrated by the same people who promote the fiction that Occitania was always part of France. The fact is that Provençale is a dialect of Occitan not of French, and relatively few troubadour works are written in the Provençale dialect. Most troubadour works date from a time before the Languedoc ( The Name in Occitan. Click here to find out more about occitan. Lengadoc), Provence ( The Name in Occitan. Click here to find out more about occitan. Proveça), the Aquitaine ( The Name in Occitan. Click here to find out more about occitan. Gasconha) or much of the rest of Occitania were annexed by France.

Troubadours were well-educated highly sophisticated verse-technicians. The earliest lives of the troubadours (called "vidas") were compiled in the 13th and 14th centuries. They contributed a romantic air to troubadour mythology. We know that "Trobadors" were welcomed by noble courts throughout Occitania, including areas that are now regarded as Spanish, Italian or French.   They were also welcomed in the courts of England, France and even Germany (as minnesänger).  

Their influence was profound and far-reaching, giving rise to the development of virtually all modern western literature other than religious "legends". Dante can be classsed as a troubadour; and troubadour influences clearly aparent in writers like Geoffery Chaucer, John Gower, Marie de France, Chretien de Troyes, Gottfried von Strassburg and Thomas Malory. They shaped much of our modern romanticised concept of medieval life - right down to ladies awarding favours to knights bearing their colours in jousting tournaments. Among the many direct descendants of their work might be counted a range of modern genres, from biographies to novels; from war stories to political satires; and from soft pornography to Mills and Boon style romances. The very word romance with its modern connotations is a Troubadour invention. The word began as the name for a narrative poem about chivalric heroes.

 

Troubadour Conventions and favourite themes

Troubadours made great contributions to intellectual life with their new art, blending courtly love, eroticism, war, nature, political satire and philosophy - all of which (apart from war songs) excited the ire of the Roman Church.  Courtly love (cortez amors , amour courtois) was condemned particularly strongly. It was a concept of love that appeared in Occitania at the end of the eleventh century - the same time as the First Crusade (1099) and the birth of the troubadour tradition where it found its first expression. Oddly, the term cortez amors occurs only once in medieval litterature, in a late 12th century lyric by Piere d'Alvernhe, but it denotes much the same idea as fin'amor ("fine love") which is much more common.

Courtly love was contradictory as it encompassed both erotic desire and spiritual aspration. As one modern authority puts it "a love at once illicit and morally elevating, passionate and self-disciplined, humiliating and exalting, human and transcendent." The knight accepts the independence of the object of his desire and tries to make himself worthy of her by acting honourably and by doing deeds of heroism that might appeal to her. Rather than being critical of romantic and sexual love as sinful, troubadours praised it as the highest good. The woman was an ennobling morale force. This view was diametrically opposed to the clerical view, which held that women and sex were both inherently sinful. Clerics saw religion as the only route to salvation and regarded as blasphemous the troubadours' innovation that love might offer an alternative route to the same end. Matrimony had been declared a sacrament of the Church, at the Fourth Lateran Council, 1215, but even after this time the ideal state of a Christian was celibacy. Around the same time Courtly Love was condemned by the church as heretical. But there was a carrot as well as a stick. It is no coincidence that the cult of the Virgin Mary also began in the west around this time - fostered specifically to counter courtly views of women.

Many songs focus on the concept of Courtly Love (in French l'amour courtois) often featuring extravagantly artificial and stylized relationships and characterised by five attributes:

  • Literary. Before it established itself as a real-life activity, courtly love was a theme in imaginative literature. Courtly love between noblemen and noblewomen was popular in song and fable before real knights and ladies started to behave in the same way (rather like to bored young rich of today aping what they see in films).
  • Aristocratic. Courtly love was practiced by lords and ladies typically in a royal palace or court.
  • Secret. Courtly lovers were pledged to strict secrecy. A critical element of their affair, and the source of its special attraction, was that no-one else should know about it. The lovers comprised their own closed universe with its own secret meeting places, rules and codes of conduct.
  • Ritualistic. Couples engaged in a courtly relationship exchanged gifts and tokens of their love. The lady was the exalted domina, the commanding mistress of the affair. He was her servus, her lowly but faithful servant. She was wooed according to elaborate conventions of etiquette and was the recipient of songs, poems, bouquets, sweetmeats, favours and gestures. For all these attentions, she was expected to return no more than a hint of approval or affection. Unrequited desire was part of the fun. (One might observe that this aspect has developed in a specialist trade in more cynical modern times)
  • Adulterous. "Fine love", fin d'amour, almost by definition, was extramarital. One of its attractions was that it offered an escape from the routine and confinement of noble marriage - accepted by all as a political or economic alliance for the purpose of producing dynastic heirs. Troubadours scoffed at conventional marriage, dismissing it as yet another religious swindle. In its place they exalted their own ideal of a relationship the objective of which was not mere sexual satisfaction, but sublime and ethereal intimacy. According to tradition, great ladies like Eleanor of Aquitaine presided over Courts of Love - one of which passed judgment that a wife could never be the object of her own husband's fine love. A troubadour addressing a similar question pointed out that a wife might have two lovers - her husband and one other - but that three was one too many.

Poets adopted the conventions of feudalism, declaring themselves the vassal of the lady and addressing her as an overlord (midons, literally "my lord"). One advantage of this was that it provided the poet with a way of avoiding the lady's name, and at the same time flattering her. In a way. The lady was noble, rich and powerful and the humble poet gave voice to the aspirations of the courtier class - even if the poet was himself a senior nobleman - perhaps even a member of a royal house. Only those who qualified as noble could engage in courtly love, but the qualification was not the one promoted by the Church. According to the troubadours real nobility is not based on wealth or birth, but on character and action. Contempt for class distinction in Occitan and Troubadour culture is well illustrated by the mixed social standing of the troubadours we know of.  As well as many commoners and minor nobles, known troubadours include five high born ladies, five viscounts, ten counts and a countess, five marquises, a duke, seven kings and an emperor.  A few Troubadour kings of note are:

  • Guilhem de Peiteus (William IX, Guillaume IX, Duke of Aquitaine, 1071-1126), 12 vers. More on Guilhem de Peiteus
  • Richart d'Anglaterra ("Lo Reis Richart d'Anglaterra" - Richard the Lionheart, King of England) (known in 1157-1199) : His works include: 2 of his sirventes survive, one with music. His death was mourned by a fellow troubadour, Gaucelm Faidit, in a moving lament called a planh.
  • Frédéric III de Sicile (King Frederick III of Sicily) : His works include a sirventes
  • Alfons II Reis d'Aragon (Alphonse II King of Aragon) (known in 1154-1196) : His works include: a canso and a tenson
  • Jacme II d'Aragon, de Malhorca (James II of Aragon, King of Majorca) (known in 1267-1327) : His works include a dansa
  • Peire III d'Aragon (Peter III, King of Aragon) : His works include a cobla
  • Thibaut IV, King of Navarre;
  • Alfonso X, King of Castile and León (from 1252). As well as being a troubadour himself, Alfonso was a patron of the arts. Many troubadours found favour at his court, and it was here that the manuscript known as the Cantigas de Santa María one of the greatest monuments of medieval music comprising over 400 songs was compiled; Alfonso himself is believed to have composed some of its melodies. He was the patron of many troubadours, and established a course in music at the university of Salamanca. Guiraut Riquier, the last of the troubadours, is known to have spent time at Alfonso's court.

 

Troubadour Lyrics

The main topic of troubadour poetry is love, and it was the need to express works as succinctly as possible that led to the establishment of genres, distinguished less by form than by content or situation. The most common forms were;

  • sirventes (satirical political poems),
  • planhs (laments),
  • albas (morning songs - generally about having to separate after a night together: typically lovers are warned by a watchman that morning is approaching and that they both risk discovery by their spouses),
  • pastorals (amorous encounters between a knight and a shepherdess),
  • teux-partis (disputes),
  • cansos (courtly love-songs, consisting of five or six stanzas with an envoi - a short stanza at the end used either to address an imagined or actual person or to comment on the body of the poem.),
  • dansas or baladas (dance songs with a refrain, mock-popular songs based on an establised dance form)
  • descorts (literary jokes discordant in verse form or feeling),
  • escondigs (lovers' apologia),
  • gaps (a challenge),
  • tensos, partimens, joc-partits (songs of debate)
  • trobars clus (cryptic poems)
  • razos (reasons) prose explanations accompanying poems, often added at the end.

 

Troubadour Music

Troubadour lyrics were sung and accompanied by instruments that are thought to have duplicated the melody - partly on the grounds that all the music that has survived is monophonic. As Grove points out "most troubadour songs are strophic, based on stanzaic patterns repeated throughout the song to the melody of the first verse in widely ranging schemes, always devised with a great awareness of technical accomplishment". Troubadours themselves were intensely conscious of everything to do with form and style.

 

Medieval Musical Instruments (As Depicted at The Château of Puivert)
Lute Cornemuse Rebec Tambourine Hurdy Gurdy Portative Organ Cithern Psaltery
lute cornemuse - bagpipes rebec or rebek tambourine hurdy-gurdy portative organ cithern cithern
               

Music survives for only some 282 out of more than 2500 troubadour poems, though most of the circa 2100 trouvère poems have music. The same text often survives with several different melodies, making authorship uncertain. Melodies use a much greater modal variety and flexibility than their liturgical counterparts, some displaying the equivalent of modulation. Only a small proportion of the repertoire survive with sophisticated notation, making rhythmic interpretation difficult. A few later examples are however notated in modal rhythm.

 

Troubadours and Cathars

Many troubadours were caught up in the Crusade against the Cathars of the Languedoc, largely because their noble patrons were Cathars, or at least were sympathetic to the Cathars. After this period the High culture of the Troubadours declined - the decline is often attributed to the Crusade and the activities of the Papal Inquisition that followed it. Many troubadour patrons finished up dispossessed, some even as faidits - homeless guerilla fighters. But the decline came some time after wandering troubadours had already influenced neighbouring lands. The influence extended not only to France, where the counterparts of Troubadours were called trouvères, but also Germany where troubadours were imitated by minnesingers. The tradition was also carried to Aragon, Castile and Leon, Italy and across the Mediterranean Sea to the Holy Land.

How closely the troubadours of the Languedoc were associated with the Cathar religion is still debated. Denis de Rougement (in Love in the Western World) said the troubadours were influenced by Cathar doctrines which rejected the pleasures of the flesh. According to him troubadours were metaphorically addressing the spirit and soul of the lady. Some less rigorous historians like Otto Rahn have affirmed that Cathars and troubadours were the same people under different names or at least that troubadours performed at Cathar ceremonies. The truth is that there is very little historical evidence to implicate troubadours in Catharism - on the other hand it is hardly surprising that no pro-Cathar troubadour literature has survived. The Inquisition were the supreme masters at rooting out and destroying what they saw as heretical works as well as their heretical authors. The closest reliable connection we have is Savaric de Mauléon, who fought alongside Raymond VI of Toulouse against the French Catholic Crusaders in the war against the Languedoc. He was a noted troubadour but there is no evidence that he was himself a Cathar believer. Peire Cardenal, another troubadour, although sometimes regarded as verging on heresy, is not specifically Cathar in his views.

Some circumstantial reasons for associating Cathar and Troubadour ideas are:

  • They shared a concept of spiritual love and rejection of carnal love - though there is little evidence that either group recognised the similarities with the other in the Middle Ages
  • They both ridiculed the Roman Catholic Church and its beliefs, and were both hated by the Church for their attitudes as well as for their ideas - for example both Troubadours and Cathars regarded women more highly than the Catholic Church. To Catholic bishops the idea of a woman troubadour, or trobairitz was almost as alien and monstrous as the idea of a Cathar Parfaite. Again, Troubadours and Cathars expressed contempt for conventional class distinctions that were approved as God-given by the Catholic Church. Both ridiculed marriage. Both regarded the Catholic Church as little more than a huge moneymaking scam.
  • Troubadours and Cathars were popular in the same areas and at the same time - in roughly decreasing order of market penetration in the early thirteenth century: Lands of the Count of Toulouse and the County of Foix, Aquitaine, Provence, Lombardy, Catalonia, Angou and other English lands in continental Europe, France, Germany.

Two Occitan poets contributed to a book length account of the Crusade against the Cathars of the Languedoc. one supported the Crusade and the other opposed it, but neither expessed support for Catharism.

As Walter Wakefield & Austin Evans, (Heresies of The High Middle Ages , Columbia, 1991, p 67) dryly observe on the whole question of connections between Cathars and troubadours:

It has been alleged that Catharist thought is expressed in some of the poems of the troubadours, in the medieval versions of the Arthurian cycle, and especially in the legends of the quest for the holy Grail. The search for traces of Catharism in such literature has been pressed with enthusiasm but has not produced convincing results

 

Troubadours at the Court of the Counts of Toulouse

The Counts of Toulouse were patrons of the troubadours from the early twelfth century. Troubadours were welcomed and often became part of the innermost circle of the Counts - part of their familia. In this they behaved much like neighbouring princes: The kings of Aragon, Kings of England and the Dukes of Aquitaine. The same troubadours visited their courts, sometimes changing allegiance as they did so. Peire Vidal for example moved from the Court of Toulouse to that of Alphonse I of Aragon. Later, Peter of Aragon tried to lure Raymond de Miraval away from Count Raymond VI, but without success.

It is possible that Marcabru frequented the Court of Count Alphons Jordan (1112-1148), and certain that Giraudet le Roux did: His Vida tells us so. Jaufre Rudel accompanied his soverign to the Second Crusade, along with the Count's illigitimate son Betrand.

Under Raymond V (1148-1194) the Court at Toulouse became a brilliant centre for the troubadour arts. Raymond V welcomed Bernart de Ventadorn ( Bernard de Ventadour), one-time troubadour to Eleanor of Aquitaine; Peire Vidal before his defection to Alphonse I, King of Aragon; Gaucelm Faidit; and Bertrand de Born, more famous as a troubadour favourite of King Richard I of England. Around 1180 he welcomed to his court a trobairitz named Na Alamanda. From Peire d'Auvergne we know that the Count himself sang in public - indeed we learn that the Count sang a composition that was promptly stolen by another troubadour, Peire de Monzo. It was common for troubadours to use a senhal - a sort of nickname or pet-name for the subjects of their poems. Bernart de Ventadorn used the senhal "Alvernhat", apparently poking gentle fun at Count Raymond V, his master, whose heart seems to have been captivated by a lady called Na Vierna. To Peire Vidal the Count was "Castiat" - the Chaste. To Gaucelm Faidit Count Raymond was simply "Sobeiran" - literally Sovereign. An indication that even great lords aspired to be troubadours, and also that troubadours of whatever social class were accepted as equals, is that sometimes a great lord and his troubadour would use the same senhal for each other. For Bernard de Durfort, Raymond V was "Albert": For Raymond, Bernard was "Albert". Sometimes a troubadour and his prince clearly shared an affection for the same lady. Here is my poor translation of a passage from Peire Vidal, addressing a lady, but including a reference to a co-admirer, Raymond V, the hansome Castiat:

Joy arises in your presence. It increases all around you; that's what we feel, me and my Beax Castiat; and I frequently feel a perfect happiness - as often as he reminds me of the joy brought by you and your appearance.

This is a world at once impossibly remote from us and at the same time almost familiar, lying just the other side of those Blue Remembered Hills.

Above all, it is clear how much troubadours from Raymond's familia cared for their prince. When Raymond died Bernart de Ventadorn became a Cistercian monk and retired to Dalon. Peire Vidal - who had previously abandoned Raymond for the Court of Aragon - was even more affected. We know from a razo (De chantar m'era laisatz) that:

Peire Vidal was powerfuly afflicted by the death of the good Count Raymond of Toulouse and experienced great sadness because of it. He dressed in black, had the tails and ears of all his horses cropped, had his hair shaved off, and also the hair of all his servants; but let his beard and finger nails grow. He continued in this way for a long time, like a man insane with grief and sorrow.
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The Troubadours