1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Troubadour
TROUBADOUR, the name given to the poets of southern France and of northern Spain and Italy who wrote in the langue d’oc from the 12th to the 14th centuries. In Provençal the word is spelt trobaire or trovador, and is derived from the verb trobar, to find, or to invent (Fr. trouver). The troubadour was one who invented, and originally improvised, poetry, who “found out” new and striking stanzaic forms for the elaborate lyrics he composed. In later times, the word has been used for romantic and sentimental persons, who dress in what is supposed to be medieval fashion, and who indite trivial verses to the sound of a lute; but this significance does less than justice to the serious artistic aims of the original and historic troubadours of Provence.
The earliest troubadour of whom anything definite is known is Guilhem IX. (b. 1071), count of Poitiers and duke of Aquitaine, whose career was typical of that of his whole class, for, according to his Provençal biographer, “he knew well how to sing and make verses, and for a long time he roamed all through the land to deceive the ladies.” The high rank of this founder of the tradition was typical of its continuation; by far the largest number of the troubadours belonged to the noble class, while no fewer than twenty-three of their number were reigning princes. Among them is a king of England, Richard I., who is believed to have written in langue d’oil as well as in langue d’oc, and who has left at least one canzo, that written in prison, which is of remarkable beauty. These noble troubadours were distinguished by their wealth and independence from those who made their song their profession, and who wandered from castle to castle and from bower to bower. But whether dependent or independent, the poets exercised a social influence which was extremely remarkable, and had been paralleled by nothing before it in the history of medieval poetry. They had great privileges of speech and censure, they entered into questions of politics, and above all they created around the ladies of the court an atmosphere of cultivation and amenity which nothing had hitherto approached. The troubadour was occasionally accompanied in his travels by an apprentice or servant, called a joglar, whose business was to provide a musical setting for the poet's words; sometimes it was not the troubadour himself, but his joglar, who sang the songs. It was a matter of jealous attention to the troubadour to keep his name and fame clear of the claims of the joglar, who belonged to a lower caste; although it is true that some poets of very high talent rose from being joglars and attained the rank of troubadours. The latter were looked upon with deep admiration, and their deeds and sayings, as well as their verses, were preserved and were even embroidered with fiction.
There were recognized about four hundred troubadours, during the whole period in which they flourished, from Guilhem de Poitiers down to Guiraut Riquier (c. 1230-–294). Several MS. collections of biographies have been preserved, and from these we gain some idea of the careers of no fewer than 111 of the poets. In this respect, the troubadours possess an immense advantage over the trouvères of northern France, of whose private life very little is any longer known. Early in the living history of the troubadours their personal adventures came to be thought worthy of record. One of themselves, Uc of St Cyr (c. 1200–1240), interested himself in “the deeds and words of goodly men and women,” and in the collection of lives he seems to claim to be, in several instances, the biographer. At the beginning of the 14th century it became the practice to preface the MS. works of each poet by a life of him, and even where the text seems to be quite independent, it is noticeable that there is little variation in the biography. One late troubadour, Rambaud of Orange, left a commentary on his own poems, and Guiraut Riquier one on those of a fellow troubadour, Guiraut of Calanson (1280). All this proves the poetry of Provence to have passed early into the critical stage, and to have been treated very seriously by those who were proficient in it. This is further shown by the respect with which the Provençal poets are mentioned by Dante, Petrarch and the authors of the Novelle Critiche.
The principal source of the lives of the troubadours is a collection, evidently written by various hands, which was made towards the middle of the 13th century. Of these we have said that Uc of Saint Cyr was certainly one of the authors. Another source of information is the Vies des plus célèbres et anciens poètes provencaux, published by Jehan de Notredame or Nostradamus, in 1575. This work professed to be founded on the MSS. of a learned monk, who was librarian of the monastery of St Honorat, in the island of Lérins, and died there in 1408. He was known by no other name than that of the Monk of the Golden Isles. This book, unfortunately, lies under more than a suspicion of forgery. Nostradamus no doubt possessed valuable documents, but he did not hesitate to deal with them in a highly fantastic way. His Vies des poètes has yet to be examined by careful and searching criticism. Even the genuine biographies, and they are numerous and above suspicion, are often embroidered with fantastic and whimsical statements which make a severe demand upon the credulity of a modern reader.
The verse form most frequently employed by the troubadours was the sirventés, a term which is earliest met with in the second half of the 12th century. The early critics believed this word to be derived from servir, and to mean that the poem was made by a servant; but Paul Meyer has contested this derivation, and holds that a sirventés is a poem composed by a sirvent, that is to say a soudoyer or paid man-at-arms. The troubadours also employed the ballada, which was a song with a long refrain, not much like the formal ballade of the north of France; the pastourella; and the alba. This last took its name from the circumstance that the word alba (dawn) was repeated in each stanza. This was a morning-song, as the serena, a later invention, was an evensong. The planh was a funeral elegy, composed by the troubadour for the obsequies of his protector, or for those of the lady of his devotion. Most interesting of all, perhaps, was the tenson, which was a lyrical dialogue between two persons, who discussed in it, as a rule, some point of amorous casuistry, but sometimes matters of a religious, metaphysical or satirical nature. The notion that the troubadours cultivated epic or dramatic poetry is now generally discarded; they were in their essence lyrical (see Provençal Literature).
The biographies of the troubadours, which, in spite of their imperfection and conventionality of form, throw an unparalleled light upon medieval literary life, may perhaps be most conveniently treated in connexion with the courts at which each group of them flourished. It is in Poitou that we trace them first, where Guilhem, count of Poitiers, who reigned from 1087 to 1127, was both the earliest patron and the earliest poet of the school. This prince was the type of medieval gallantry, sudden and violent in arms, brilliant and impudent in wit, with women so seductive as to be esteemed irresistible. He led an army of 300,000 men in the crusade of 1101, being then thirty years of age; he returned in dismal disarray, supported in his defeat by the arts of love and song. His levity was the wonder and delight of his contemporaries; William of Malmesbury, who speaks much of him, tells us of Guilhem's project to found a religious house at Niort for the worship of Venus. Guilhem of Poitiers was handsome, bold and of easy access; Gottfried of Vendôme says that he moved among other men as a god among mortals for the beauty of his body and the magnanimity of his soul. The surviving poems of the great count are simple in form; he does not attempt the technical subtleties of later poets; but he laboured at the art, and he was anxious to be thought a professional, not an amateur writer. His songs are highly personal and betray the author's variety, sensuality, wit and skill as a versifier.
The son of the earliest of the troubadours is known neither as a poet nor as a patron of poets, but the daughter of Guilhem IX. carried on her father's tradition. This was Eleanor of Guienne, at whose court Bernart of Ventadour rose to eminence. This poet was an exception to the rule that the troubadours belonged to the princely class. He seems to have been the son of a kitchen-scullion in the castle of Eble II., viscount of Ventadour. Eble was himself a poet, valde gratiosus in cantilenis, but his compositions have wholly disappeared; he was early impressed, we know not how, by the talents of his serving-boy, and he trained him to be a poet. The wife of Eble, the viscountess Agnes of Montluçon, who was extremely beautiful, encouraged the suit of the youthful Bernart; indeed, they had secretly loved one another from their childhood. The poems which this passion inspired are among the most admirable lyrics which have come down to us from the middle ages. The husband at last discovered the intrigue between his wife and the poet, and exiled Bernart from Ventadour, although, as it would seem, without violence. The troubadour took shelter with Eleanor of Guienne, who became in 1152 the queen-consort of Henry II. of England, himself a protector of poets. It has been supposed that Bernart accompanied the royal pair to London. He afterwards proceeded to the court of Raymond V. at Toulouse, where he is said to have remained until the death of that prince in 1194, when he withdrew to a cloister at Dalou in Poitou. He must at that time have been a very old man.
The son of Henry II., Henry Curtmantle, was the patron of another eminent troubadour. Bertran de Born, viscount of Hautefort in Perigord, had become a vassal of England by the marriage of Eleanor. He is the member of his class about whom we possess the most exact historical information. Dante saw Bertran de Born in hell, carrying his severed head before him like a lantern, and compared him with Achitophel, who excited the sons of David against their father. This referred to the subtle intrigues by which the troubadour had worked on the jealousy existing between the three sons of the king of England. The death of Prince Henry (1183) produced from Bertran de Born two planhs, which are among the most sincere and beautiful works in Provençal literature. The poet was immediately afterwards besieged in his castle of Hautefort by Richard Cœur de Lion, to whom he became reconciled and whom he accompanied to Palestine. He grew devout in his old age, and died about 1205. As a soldier and a condottiere, as the friend and enemy of kings, and as an active factor in the European politics of his time, Bertran de Born occupies an exceptional position among the troubadours.
There were poetesses in the highly refined society of Provence, and of these by far the most eminent was Beatrix, countess of Die, whose career was inextricably interwoven with that of another eminent and noble troubadour, Rambaut III., count of Orange, who held his court at Courthézon, a few miles south of Orange. Rambaut said that since Adam ate the apple no poet had been born who could compete in skill with himself, but his existing lyrics have neither the tenderness nor the ingenuity of those of his illustrious lady-love. The poems of Beatrix are remarkable for a simplicity of form rare among the poets of her age. One of the earliest troubadours, Cercamon, was at the court of Guilhem IX. of Poitiers, and was the master of perhaps the most original of all the school, namely the illustrious Marcabrun (c. 1120-1195), from whose pen some forty poems survive. He was a foundling, left on the door-step of a rich man in Gascony, and no one knew anything about his descent. Marcabrun was an innovator and a reformer; to him the severity of classical Provençal style is mainly due, and he was one of the first to make use of that complexity and obscurity of form which was known as the trobar clus. He was also original in his attitude to love; he posed as a violent misogynist — “I never loved and I was never loved” — and he expressed, in the accents of amorous poetry, an aversion to women. “Famine, pestilence and war do less evil upon earth than the love of woman” is one of his aphorisms. He was in the service of Richard Cœur de Lion, and after 1167 in that of Alfonso II. of Aragon. Marcabrun was the object of much dislike and attack, and it is said that he was murdered by Castellane of Guian, whom he had satirized. This, however, is improbable, and it is rather believed that Marcabrun survived to a great age. For one of his contemporaries he mitigated the severities of his satiric pen; he expresses great affection for “that sweet poet,” Jaufre Rudel, prince of Blaye, whose heart turned, like the disk of a sunflower, towards the Lady of Tripoli. Little else than that famous adventure is known about the career of this ultra-romantic troubadour, except that he went as a crusader to the Holy Land, and that his surviving poems, which are few in number, have so mystical a tone that Jaufre Rudel has been suspected of being a religious writer who used the amorous language of his age for sanctified purposes, and whose “Princess Far-away” was really the Church of Christ. If so, the statement that he died in the arms of the Lady of Tripoli would merely mean that he passed away, perhaps at Antioch, in the odour of sanctity. Peire d'Alveona (Peter of Auvergne), like Marcabrun, was of mean birth, son of a tradesman in Clermont-Ferrand, but he was handsome and engaging, and being the first troubadour who had appeared in the mountain district, “he was greatly honoured and fêted by the valiant barons and noble ladies of Auvergne.” . . . “He was very proud and despised the other troubadours.” It is believed that Peire's poems were produced between 1158 and 1180. He flourished at the court of Sancho III., king of Castile, and afterwards at that of Ermengarde, viscountess of Narbonne.
It is doubtless owing to the vehement and repeated praise which was given by Dante, in the Inferno and elsewhere, to Arnaut Daniel that this name remains the most famous among those of the troubadours. Yet not very much is known of the personal history of this poet. He was a knight of Riberac, in Perigord, and he attached himself as a troubadour to the court of Richard Cœur de Lion. Dante had been made acquainted with the highly complicated and obscure verse of Arnaut Daniel by Guido Guinicelli, and thus to the historian of literature a most valuable link is provided between medieval and modern poetry. Dante calls Daniel the “smith,” the finished craftsman, of language, and it is evident that it was the brilliant art of the Provençal's elaborated verse which delighted the Italian. In the De vulgari eloquentia Dante returned to the praise of Arnaut Daniel, as the greatest of all those who have sung of love, and Petrarch was not less enthusiastic. His invention of forms of verse (see Sestina), in particular, dazzled the great Italians. But the seventeen sirventés which have survived scarcely sustain the traditional idea of the supremacy of Arnaut Daniel as a poet, while their lack of historical and personal allusions deprives them of general interest. Dante was curiously anxious to defend Arnaut Daniel as being a better artist than his immediate rival, Giraut de Bornelh, whose “rectitude” Dante admits, in the sense that Giraut was a singer of gnomic verses of a high morality, but prefers the poetry of Daniel; critical posterity, however, has reversed this verdict. Giraut came from the neighbourhood of Limoges, passed over into Spain about 1180, and became famous in the courts of Pedro II. of Aragon and other Spanish monarchs. He disappears about 1230. There is a curious anecdote of his having incurred the hatred or the cupidity of the viscount of Limoges, who robbed him of his library and then burned his house to the ground. Giraut laments, in his poems, the brutality of the age and the lawlessness of princes. A troubadour of the same district of south-western France was Arnaut de Mareuil, to whom is attributed the introduction into Provençal poetry of the amatory epistle. He settled at the courts of Toulouse and Beziers, where he sang, in mystical terms, his passion for the countess Adalasia, in whose affections he had a dangerous rival in the person of Alfonso II., king of Aragon. Arnaut de Mareuil fled for his life to Montpellier, where he found a protector in Count William VIII., but he continued to address his sirventés to Adalasia. As that princess died in 1199, and as no planh to her memory is found among the works of Arnaut de Mareuil, it is conjectured that by that time he was already dead.
Peire Vidal of Toulouse was the type of the reckless and scatterbrained troubadour. His biographer says that he was “the maddest man in all the world.” His early life was a series of bewildering excursions through France and Spain, but he settled down at last at Marseilles, where he made a mortal enemy of Azalaïs, the wife of Viscount Barral de Baux, from whom he stole a kiss (1180). Vidal fled to Genoa, but he continued to address the viscountess in his songs. At the entreaty of her husband, Azalaïs forgave the poet, and Peire Vidal returned to Marseilles. He committed a thousand follies; among others, being in love with a lady called Louve (she-wolf), the poet dressed himself as a wolf, and was hunted by a pack of hounds in front of the lady's castle. Starting on a crusade, he stopped at Cyprus, where a Greek girl was presented to him as being of the imperial family. He married her, assumed the title of emperor, and carried a throne about with him from camp to camp. According to a late poem, his eccentric adventures closed in Hungary about the year 1215. Folquet of Marseilles was a troubadour of Italian race, the son of a merchant of Genoa; Dante met Folquet in paradise, and gives an interesting notice of him. He was a rival with Peire Vidal for the favours of the beautiful Azalaïs; and he was one of the troubadours who gathered around the unfortunate Eudoxia, empress of Montpellier, until the close of her singular and romantic adventure (1187). He wrote a very touching planh on the death of the viscount Barral de Baux in 1192. Soon after this, disgusted with love, Folquet took holy orders, became the abbot of the rich Cistercian house of Torronet in Provence, and in 1205 became bishop of Toulouse. Here he threw in his lot with Simon de Montfort and disgraced himself by his fanatic rage against the Albigenses, of whom a contemporary says that he slew 500,000 persons, acting “more like Antichrist than like an envoy of Rome.” Folquet died in 1231 in the abbey of Grandselve, in his diocese. It is in the sirventés of Folquet that critics have seen the earliest signs of that decadence which was so rapidly to destroy Provençal poetry.
Gaucelm Faidit came from Uzerche, in the Limousin. He seems to have been a wandering minstrel of gay and reckless habits, and to have been accompanied by a light-o'-love, Guillelma Monja, who was the object of much satire and ridicule. In Gaucelm we probably see, if we can credit his story, the troubadour at his lowest social level. He made, however, Maria of Ventadour, who was probably a scion of the princely and neighbouring house of that name, the object of his songs, and he addresses her in strains of unusual pathos and delicacy. Gaucelm Faidit ultimately proceeded to Italy, to the court of the marquis Boniface of Montferrat, a prince who greatly encouraged the troubadours and who in 1201 undertook the conduct of a crusade. Gaucelm, who was still celebrating the perfections of Maria of Ventadour, accompanied him to the East. He wrote several canzones in the Holy Land and Syria, returned safely to Uzerche, and disappears about 1240. We possess sixty of his poems. Another troubadour, Raimbaut of Vaquières, passed the greater part of his life at the same court of Montferrat; he devoted himself to the Lady Beatrix, sister of the marquis. It is believed that he died in the Holy Land in 1207. The most celebrated of the Italian troubadours was Sordello, born at Mantua, at the beginning of the 13th century, who owes his fame rather to the benevolence of later poets, from Dante to Robert Browning, than to the originality of his adventures or the excellence of his verse.
We have now mentioned the troubadours who were most famous in their own time, and on the whole modern criticism has been in unison with contemporary opinion. There are, however, still one or two names to be recorded. The English historian of the troubadours, Dr Hueffer, gave great prominence to the writings of a poet who had previously been chiefly heard of in connexion with a romantic adventure, Guillem de Cabestanh (or Capestang). This was a knight of Roussillon, who made love to Seremonda, countess of Castel-Roussillon. The lady's husband, meeting the poet out hunting, slew him in a paroxysm of jealousy and, having cut out his heart, had it delicately cooked and served to his wife's dinner. When Seremonda had eaten her lover's heart, her husband told her what she had done, and she fainted away. Coming to her senses she said: “My Lord, you have served to me so excellent a dish that I will never eat of another,” and she threw herself out of window and was killed. The importance of this story lies in the fact that the cruelty of the count of Castel-Roussillon was the cause of universal scandal in all good society. Feeling grew so strong that the surrounding nobles rose against the murderer, with Alfonso, king of Spain, at their head, hunted him down and killed him. The bodies of the lady and the troubadour were buried side by side, with great pomp, in the cathedral of Perpignan, and became the objects of pilgrimage. Doubt has, of course, been thrown on the veracity of this romantic story, but at all events it testifies to the fact that the troubadour enjoyed, or was expected to enjoy, all the privileges of toleration and exemption. A burlesque or satiric troubadour, who disregarded the laws of gallantry and wrote satires of great virulence against the ladies and their lovers, remains anonymous, and is spoken of as the monk or prior of Montaudon.
The classic period of the troubadours lasted until about 1210, and was contemporaneous with the magnificence of the nobles of the south of France. The wealth and cultivated tastes of the seigneurs, and the peace which had long surrounded them, led them into voluptuous extravagances and sometimes into a madness of expenditure. From this the troubadours reaped an immediate advantage, but when the inevitable reaction came they were the first to suffer. The great cause, however, of the decadence and ruin of the troubadours was the struggle between Rome and the heretics. This broke out into actual war in June 1209, when the northern barons, called to a crusade by Pope Innocent III., fell upon the Albigenses and pillaged Beziers and Carcassonne. Most of the protectors of the troubadours were, if not heretics, indulgent to the heretical party, and shared in their downfall. The poets, themselves, were not immediately injured, and no doubt their habits and their art kept them immune from the instant religious catastrophe, but the darkness began to gather round them as the ruin of Languedoc became more and more complete, culminating with the siege of Toulouse in 1218. The greatest name of this period, which was the beginning of the end, is that of Peire Cardenal, of Le Puy. He was protected by Jacme I., king of Aragon, having apparently fled from Narbonne and then from Toulouse in order to escape from the armies of Simon de Montfort. He was the inventor and the principal cultivator of the moral or ethical sirventés; and he was the author of singularly outspoken satires against the clergy, continuing the tradition of Marcabrun. The biographer of Cardenal certifies that he lived to be nearly one hundred years of age. Another and a still more violent troubadour of this transitional time was Guillem Figueira, the son of a Toulouse tailor, an open heretic who attacked the papacy with extraordinary vigour, supported and protected by Raimon II. Figueira was answered, strophe by strophe, by a female troubadour, Gormonda of Montpellier. The ruin of the southern courts, most of which belonged to the conquered Albigensi party, continued to depress and to exasperate the troubadours, whose system was further disintegrated by the establishment of the Inquisition and by the creation of the religious orders. The genial and cultured society of Provence and Languedoc sank rapidly into barbarism again, and there was no welcome anywhere for secular poets.
The last of the French troubadours was Guiraut Riquier (c. 1230-1294), who was born at Narbonne, and addressed his earliest poems to Phillippa of Anduza, the viscountess of that city. She does not seem to have encouraged poetry, and Guiraut Riquier left Narbonne, first appealing to St Louis, without success. He then turned to Spain, and found protection at the court of Alfonso X. the Learned. This monarch, himself a great poet, welcomed the crowd of troubadours who were now flying from the troubles of southern France. It was the ambition of Alfonso to be himself a troubadour, but the Provençal pieces which bear his name are now attributed to Riquier and to Nat de Mons; the king's genuine poems are those written in Galician. Riquier remained in the court of Castile until about 1279, when he returned to France and settled in Rodez with the count of that town, Henri II. This prince was almost the last seigneur in the south or centre of France who gathered a school of poets around him, and at Rodez the troubadours enjoyed for a few years their latest gleams of success and recognition. Riquier, in a sirventés of about 1285, gives pathetic expression to his sense of the gathering darkness, which makes it useless and almost unbecoming for a troubadour to practise his art, while of himself he mournfully confesses: “Song should express joy, but sorrow oppresses me, and I have come into the world too late.” Guiraut Riquier passed away about 1294, and left no successor behind him.
Joseph Anglade (Paris, 1905); Arnaut Daniel, by U. A. Canallo (Halle, 1883). Editions of Bernard de Ventadour, by M. C. Appel, and of Marcabrun, by Dr Dejeanne, had been undertaken in1908.