A troubadour (IPA: IPA| [tɾuβaˈðuɾ] , originally IPA| [tɾuβaˈðoɾ] ) was a composer and performer of Occitan lyric poetry during the High Middle Ages (1100–1350). The troubadour school or tradition began in the eleventh century in Occitania, but it subsequently spread into Italy, Spain, and even Greece. Under the influence of the troubadours, related movements sprang up throughout Europe: the Minnesang in Germany, "trovadorismo" in Galicia and Portugal, and that of the trouvères in northern France. Dante Alighieri in his "De vulgari eloquentia" defined the troubadour lyric as "fictio rethorica musicaque poita": rhetorical, musical, and poetical fiction. After a "classical" period around the turn of the thirteenth century and a mid-century resurgence, the art of the troubadours declined in the fourteenth century and eventually died out around the time of the Black Death (1348).

The texts of troubadour songs deal mainly with themes of chivalry and courtly love. Most were metaphysical, intellectual, and formulaic. Many were humorous or vulgar satires. Works can be grouped into three styles: the trobar leu (light), trobar ric (rich), and trobar clus (closed). Likewise there were many genres, the most popular being the "canso", but "sirventes" and "tensos" were especially popular in the post-classical period, in Italy, and among the female troubadours, the trobairitz.

Etymology of name

The word "troubadour" and its cognates in other languages—"trov(i)èro" and then "trovatore" in Italian, "trovador" in Spanish, "trobador" in Catalan—are of disputed origin.


The English word "troubadour" comes by way of Old French from the Occitan word "trobador", the oblique case of the nominative "trobaire", a substantive of the verb "trobar", which is derived from the hypothetical Late Latin *"tropāre", in turn from "tropus", meaning a trope, from Greek "τρόπος" (tropos), meaning "turn, manner".Chaytor, [ Part 1.] ] Another possible Latin root is "turbare", to upset or (over)turn. "Trobar" is cognative with the modern French word "trouver", meaning "to find". Whereas French "trouver" became "trouvère", the nominative form, instead of the oblique "trouveor" or "trouveur", the French language adopted the Occitan oblique case and from there it entered English. The general sense of "trobar" in Occitan is "invent" or "compose" and this is how it is commonly translated. A troubadour thus composed his own work, whereas a "joglar" performed only that of others. This etymology is supported by the French dictionaries Académie Française, Larousse, and Petit Robert.

Not surprisingly, the Greek → Latin → Occitan → French → English hypothesis has been widely supported by those who find the origins of troubadour poetry in classical Latin forms or in medieval Latin liturgies, such as Peter Dronke and Reto Bezzola.


There is a second, less traditional and less popular, theory as to the etymology of the word "trobar". It has the support of some, such as María Rosa Menocal, in the camp which seeks the troubadours' origins in Arabic Andalusian musical practices. According to them, the Arabic word "tarrab", "to sing", is the root of "trobar".

Some proponents of this theory argue, on cultural grounds, that both etymologies may well be correct, and that there may have been a conscious poetic exploitation of the phonological coincidence between "trobar" and the triliteral Arabic root TRB when sacred Sufi Islamic musical forms with a love theme were first exported from Al-Andalus to southern France. It has also been pointed out that the concepts of "finding", "music", "love", and "ardour"—the precise semantic field attached to the word troubadour—are allied in Arabic under a single root (WJD) that plays a major role in Sufic discussions of music, and that the word troubadour may in part reflect this. [See Idries Shah, "The Sufis".]


The early study of the troubadours focused intensely on their origins. No academic consensus was ever achieved in the area. Today, one can distinguish at least eleven competing theories (the adjectives used below are a blend from the Grove Dictionary of Music and Roger Boase's "The Origins and Meaning of Courtly Love"):
#Arabic (also Arabist or Hispano-Arabic)
Ezra Pound, in his "Canto VIII", famously declared that William of Aquitaine "had brought the song up out of Spain / with the singers and veils..." referring to the troubadour song. In his study, Lévi-Provençal is said to have found four Arabo-Hispanic verses nearly or completely recopied in William's manuscript. According to historic sources, William VIII, the father of William, brought to Poitiers hundreds of Muslim prisoners. [M. Guettat (1980), "La Musique classique du Maghreb" (Paris: Sindbad).] Trend admitted that the troubadours derived their sense of form and even the subject matter of their poetry from the Andalusian Muslims. [J. B. Trend (1965), "Music of Spanish History to 1600" (New York: Krause Reprint Corp.)] The hypothesis that the troubadour tradition was created, more or less, by William after his experience of Moorish arts while fighting with the Reconquista in Spain was also championed by Ramón Menéndez Pidal in the early twentieth-century, but its origins go back to the "Cinquecento" and Giammaria Barbieri (died 1575) and Juan Andrés (died 1822). Meg Bogin, English translator of the trobairitz, held this hypothesis. Certainly "a body of song of comparable intensity, profanity and eroticism [existed] in Arabic from the second half of the 9th century onwards." [Grove, "Troubadour".]
#Bernardine-Marianist or Christian
According to this theory, it was the theology espoused by Bernard of Clairvaux and the increasingly important Mariology that most strongly influenced the development of the troubadour genre. Specifically, the emphasis on religious and spiritual love, disinterestedness, mysticism, and devotion to Mary would explain "courtly love". The emphasis of the reforming Robert of Arbrissel on "matronage" to achieve his ends can explain the troubadour attitude towards women. [Gerald A. Bond, "Origins", in Akehurst and Davis, p. 246.] Chronologically, however, this hypothesis is hard to sustain (the forces believed to have given rise to the phenomenon arrived later than it). But the influence of Bernardine and Marian theology can be retained without the origins theory. This theory was advanced early by Eduard Wechssler and further by Dmitri Scheludko (who emphasises the Cluniac Reform) and Guido Errante. Mario Casella and Leo Spitzer have added "Augustinian" influence to it.
#Celtic or Chivalric-Matriarchal
The survival of pre-Christian sexual "mores" and warrior codes from matriarchal societes, be they Celtic, Germanic, or Pictish, among the aristocracy of Europe can account for the idea (fusion) of "courtly love". The existence of pre-Christian matriarchy has usually been treated with scepticism as has the persistence of underlying paganism in high medieval Europe.
#Classical Latin
The classical Latin theory emphasises parallels between Ovid, especially his "Amores" and "Ars amatoria", and the lyric of courtly love. The "aetas ovidiana" that predominated in the eleventh century in and around Orléans, the quasi-Ciceronian ideology that held sway in the Imperial court, and the scraps of Plato then available to scholars have all been cited as classical influences on troubadour poetry. [Gerald A. Bond, "Origins", in Akehurst and Davis, p. 243.]
According to this thesis, troubadour poetry is a reflection of Cathar religious doctrine. While the theory is supported by the traditional and near-universal account of the decline of the troubadours coinciding with the suppression of Catharism during the Albigensian Crusade (first half of the thirteenth century), support for it has come in waves. The explicitly Catholic meaning of many early troubadour works also works against the theory.
The troubadour lyric may be a development of the Christian liturgy and hymnody. The influence of the Song of Songs has even been suggested. There is no preceding Latin poetry resembling that of the troubadours. On those grounds, no theory of the latter's origins in classical or post-classical Latin can be constructed, but that has not deterred some, who believe that a pre-existing Latin corpus must merely be lost to us. [Warren, 4.] That many troubadours received their grammatical training in Latin through the Church (from "clerici", clerics) and that many were trained musically by the Church is well-attested. The musical school of Saint Martial's at Limoges has been singled out in this regard. [Warren, 7.] "Para-liturgical" tropes were in use there in the era preceding the troubadours' appearance.
#Feudal-social or -sociological
This theory or set of related theories has gained ground in the twentieth century. It is more a methodological approach to the question than a theory; it asks not from where the content or form of the lyric came but rather in what situation/circumstances did it arise.Menocal, 47.] It includes the prevailing Marxist theory. Under Marxist influence, Erich Köhler, Marc Bloch, and Georges Duby have suggested that the "essential hegemony" in the castle of the lord's wife during his absence was a driving force. The use of feudal terminology in troubadour poems is seen as evidence. This theory has been developed away from sociological towards psychological explanation.
#Folklore or Spring Folk Ritual
According to María Rosa Menocal, Alfred Jeanroy first suggested that folklore and oral tradition gave rise to troubadour poetry in 1883. According to F. M. Warren, it was Gaston Paris, Jeanroy's reviewer, in 1891 who first located troubadour origins in the festive dances of women hearkening the spring in the Loire Valley. This theory has since been widely discredited, but the discovery of the "jarchas" raises the question of the extent of literature (oral or written) in the eleventh century and earlier.
#Medieval Latin or Mediolatin (Goliardic)
Hans Spanke analysed the intertextual connexion between vernacular and medieval Latin (such as Goliardic) songs. This theory is supported by Reto Bezzola, Peter Dronke, and musicologist J. Chailley. According to them, "trobar" means "inventing a trope", the trope being a poem where the words are used with a meaning different from their common signification, i.e. metaphor and metonymy. This poem was originally inserted in a serial of modulations ending a liturgic song. Then the trope became an autonomous piece organized in stanza form. [ Troubadour] , "Observatoire de terminologie littéraire", University of Limoges, France.] The influence of late eleventh-century poets of the "Loire school", such as Marbod of Rennes and Hildebert of Lavardin, is stressed in this connexion by Brinkmann. [Gerald A. Bond, "Origins", in Akehurst and Davis, 244.]
This theory is one of the more intellectualising. The "ennobling effects of love" in specific have been identified as Neoplatonic. [Menocal, 46.] It is viewed either as a strength or weakness that this theory requires a second theory about how the Neoplatonism was transmitted to the troubadours; perhaps it can be coupled with one of the other origins stories or perhaps it is just peripheral. Käte Axhausen has "exploited" this theory and A. J. Denomy has linked it with the Arabist (through Avicenna) and the Cathar (through John Scotus Eriugena). [Silverstein, 118.]


Early period

The earliest troubadour whose work survives is Guilhem de Peitieus (1071–1127). Peter Dronke, author of "The Medieval Lyric", however, believes that " [his] songs represent not the beginnings of a tradition but summits of achievement in that tradition." [Peter Dronke, "The Medieval Lyric", Perennial Library, 1968. p. 111.] His name has been preserved because he was the Duke of Aquitaine, but his work plays with already established structures; Eble II of Ventadorn is often credited as a predecessor, though none of his work survives. Orderic Vitalis referred to Guilhem composing songs about his experiences on his return from the Crusade of 1101 (c. 1102). This may be the earliest reference to troubadour lyrics.

Orderic also provides us what may be the first description of a troubadour performance: an eyewitness account of William of Aquitaine in 1135.

"Picauensis uero dux ... miserias captiuitatis suae ... coram regibus et magnatis atque Christianis coetibus multotiens retulit rythmicis uersibus cum facetis modulationibus". (X.21)
Then the Poitevin duke ... the miseries of his captivity ... before kings, magnates, and Christian assemblies many times related with rhythmic verses and witty measures. [Translation based on Marjorie Chibnall, in Bond, p. 240.]

pread ("rayonnement")

The first half of the twelfth century saw relatively few recorded troubadours. Only in the last decades of the century did troubadour activity explode. Almost half of all troubadour works survive from the period 1180–1220. [Paden, 161.]

The troubadour tradition seems to have begun in western Aquitaine (Poitou and Saintonge) and Gascony, from there spreading over into eastern Aquitaine (Limousin and Auvergne) and Provence. At its height it had become popular in Languedoc and the regions of Rouergue, Toulouse, and Quercy (c. 1200). Finally, in the early thirteenth century it began to spread into first Italy and then Catalonia, whence to the rest of Spain. This development has been called the "rayonnement des troubadours". [Paden, 163.]

Classical period

The classical period of troubadour activity lasted from about 1170 until about 1220. The most famous names among the ranks of troubadours belong to this period. During this period the lyric art of the troubadours reached the height of its popularity and the number of surviving poems is greatest from this period. During this period the "canso", or love song, became distinguishable as a genre. The master of the "canso" and the troubadour who epitomises the classical period is Bernart de Ventadorn. He was highly regarded by his contemporaries, as were Giraut de Bornelh, reputed by his biographer to be the greatest composer of melodies to ever live, and Bertran de Born, the master of the "sirventes", or political song, which became increasingly popular in this period.

The classical period came to be seen by later generations, especially in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries and outside of Occitania, as representing the high point of lyric poetry and models to be emulated. The language of the classic poets, its grammar and vocabularly, their style and themes, were the ideal to which poets of the troubadour revival in Toulouse and their Catalan and Castilian contemporaries aspired. During the classical period the "rules" of poetic composition had first become standardised and written down, first by Raimon Vidal and then by Uc Faidit.

Albigensian Crusade and decline

Gay Saber and revival

Who they were

The 450 or so troubadours known to us came from a variety of backgrounds. They made their living in a variety of ways, lived and travelled in many different places, and were actors in many types of social context. The troubadours were not wandering entertainers. Typically, they stayed in one place for a lengthy period of time under the patronage of a wealthy nobleman or woman. Many did travel extensively, however, sojourning at one court and then another.


The earliest troubadour, the Duke of Aquitaine, came from the high nobility. He was followed immediately by two members of the knightly class, Cercamon and Marcabru, and by a member of the princely class, Jaufre Rudel. At the outset, the troubadours were universally noblemen, sometimes of high rank and sometimes of low. Many troubadours are described in their "vidas" as poor knights. It was one of the most common descriptors of status: Berenguier de Palazol, Gausbert Amiel, Guilhem Ademar, Guiraudo lo Ros, Marcabru, Peire de Maensac, Peirol, Raimon de Miraval, Rigaut de Berbezilh, and Uc de Pena. Albertet de Sestaro is described as the son of a noble jongleur, presumably a petty noble lineage.

Later troubadours especially could belong to lower classes, ranging from the middle class of merchants and "burgers" (persons of urban standing) to tradesmen and others who worked with their hands. Salh d'Escola and Elias de Barjols were described as the sons of merchants and Elias Fonsalada was the son of a burger and jongleur. Perdigon was the son of a "poor fisherman" and Elias Cairel of a blacksmith. Arnaut de Mareuil is specified in his "vida" as coming from a poor family, but whether this family was poor by noble standards or more global ones is not apparent.

Many troubadours also possessed a clerical education. For some this was their springboard to composition, since their clerical education equipped them with an understanding of musical and poetic forms as well as vocal training. The "vidas" of the following troubadours note their clerical status: Aimeric de Belenoi, Folquet de Marselha (who became a bishop), Gui d'Ussel, Guillem Ramon de Gironella, Jofre de Foixà (who became an abbot), Peire de Bussignac, Peire Rogier, Raimon de Cornet, Uc Brunet, and Uc de Saint Circ.

"Trobadors" and "joglars"

The Occitan words "trobador" and "trobaire" are relatively rare compared with the verb "trobar" (compose, invent), which was usually applied to the writing of poetry. It signified that a poem was original to an author ("trobador") and was not merely sung or played by one. The term was used mostly for poetry only and in more careful works, like the "vidas", is not generally applied to the composition of music or to singing, though the troubadour's poetry itself is not so careful. Sometime in the middle of the twelfth century, however, a distinction was definitely being made between an inventor of original verse and the performers of others'. These last were called "joglars", from the Latin "ioculatores", giving rise also to the French "jongleur", Castilian "juglar", and English juggler, which has come to refer to a more specific breed of performer. The medieval "jongleur/joglar" is really a minstrel.

At the height of troubadour poetry (the "classical period"), troubadours are often found attacking "jongleurs" and at least two small genres arose around the theme: the "ensenhamen joglaresc" and the "sirventes joglaresc". These terms are debated, however, since the adjective "joglaresc" would seem to imply "in the manner of the "jongleurs". Inevitably, however, pieces of said genres are verbal attacks at "jongleurs", in general and in specific, with named individuals being called out. It is clear, for example from the poetry of Bertran de Born, that "jongleurs" were performers who did not usually compose and that they often performed the troubadour's songs: singing, playing instruments, dancing, and even doing acrobatics. [The earliest reference to the "basse danse" comes from Raimon de Cornet, who attributes it to the "jongleurs" of the mid-fourteenth century.]

In the late thirteenth century Guiraut Riquier bemoaned the inexactness of his contemporaries and wrote a letter to Alfonso X of Castile, a noted patron of literature and learning of all kinds, for clarification on the proper reference of the terms "trobador" and "joglar". According to Riquier, every vocation deserved a name of its own and the sloppy usage of "joglar" assured that it covered a multitude of activities, some which, no doubt, Riquier did not wish to be associated. In the end Riquier argued—and Alfonso X seems to agree, though his "response" was probably penned by Riquier—that a "joglar" was a courtly entertainer (as opposed to popular or low-class one) and a troubadour was a poet and composer.

Despite the distinctions noted, many troubadours were also known as jongleurs, either before they began composing or alongside. Aimeric de Belenoi, Aimeric de Sarlat, Albertet Cailla, Arnaut de Mareuil, Elias de Barjols, Elias Fonsalada, Falquet de Romans, Guillem Magret, Guiraut de Calanso, Nicoletto da Torino, Peire Raimon de Tolosa, Peire Rogier, Peire de Valeira, Peirol, Pistoleta, Perdigon, Salh d'Escola, Uc de la Bacalaria, Uc Brunet, and Uc de Saint Circ were jongleur-troubadours.


"Vidas" and "razos"

A "vida" is a brief prose biography, written in Occitan, of a troubadour. The word "vida" means "life" in Occitan. In the chansonniers, the manuscript collections of medieval troubadour poetry, the works of a particular author are often accompanied by a short prose biography. The "vidas" are important early works of vernacular prose nonfiction. Nevetheless, it appears that many of them derive their facts from literal readings of their objects poems, which leaves their historical reliability in doubt. Most of the "vidas" were composed in Italy in the 1220s, many by Uc de Saint Circ.

A "razo" (from Occitan for "reason") was a similar short piece of Occitan prose detailing the circumstances of a a particular composition. A "razo" normally introduced the poem it explained, it might, however, share some of the characteristics of a "vida". The "razos" suffer from the same problems as the "vidas" in terms of reliability. Many are likewise the work of Uc de Saint Circ.


A phenomenon arose in Italy, recognised around the turn of the twentieth-century by Giulio Bertoni, of men serving in several cities as "podestàs" on behalf of either the Guelph or Ghibelline party and writing political verse in Occitan rhyme. These figures generally came from the urban middle-class. They aspired to high culture and though, unlike the nobility, they were not patrons of literature, they were its disseminators and its readers.

The first "podestà"-troubadour was Rambertino Buvalelli, possible the first native Italian troubadour, who was "podestà" of Genoa between 1218 and 1221. Rambertino, a Guelph, served at one time or another as "podestà" of Brescia, Milan, Parma, Mantua, and Verona. It was probably during his three-year tenure there that he introduced Occitan lyric poetry to the city, which was later to develop a flourishing Occitan literary culture.

Among the "podestà"-troubadours to follow Rambertino, four were from Genoa: the Guelphs Luca Grimaldi, who also served in Florence, Milan, and Ventimiglia, and Luchetto Gattilusio, who served in Milan, Cremona, and Bologna, and the Ghibellines Perceval Doria, who served in Arles, Avignon, Asti, and Parma, and Simon Doria, sometime "podestà" of Savona and Albenga. Among the non-Genoese "podestà"-troubadours was Alberico da Romano, a nobleman of high rank who governed Vicenza and Treviso as variously a Ghibelline and a Guelph. He was a patron as well as a composer of Occitan lyric.

Mention should be made of the Provençal troubadour Isnart d'Entrevenas, who was "podestà" of Arles in 1220, though he does not fit the phenomenon Giulio Bertoni first identified in Italy.


The "trobairitz" were the female troubadours, the first female composers of secular music in the Western tradition. The word "trobairitz" was first used in the thirteenth-century "Romance of Flamenca" and its derivation is the same as that of "trobaire" but in feminine form. There were also female counterparts to the "joglars": the "joglaresas". The number of trobairitz varies between sources: there were twenty or twenty-one named trobairitz, plus an additional poetess known only as Domna H. There are several anonymous texts ascribed to women; the total number of trobairitz texts varies from twenty-three (Schultz-Gora), twenty-five (Bec), thirty-six (Bruckner, White, and Shepard), and forty-six (Rieger). Only one melody composed by a trobairitz (the Comtessa de Dia) survives. Out of a total of about 450 troubadours and 2,500 troubadour works, the trobairitz and their corpus form a minor but interesting and informative portion. They are, therefore, quite well-studied.

The trobairitz were in most respects as varied a lot as their male counterparts, with the general exceptions of their poetic style and their provenance. They wrote predominantly "cansos" and "tensos"; only one "sirventes" by a named woman, Gormonda de Monpeslier, survives (though two anonymous ones are attributed to women). One "salut d'amor", by a woman (Azalais d'Altier) to a woman (Clara d'Anduza) is also extant and one anonymous "planh" is usually assigned a female authorship. They wrote almost entirely within the "trobar leu" style, only two poems, one by Lombarda and another Alais, Yselda, and Carenza, are usually considered to belong to the more demanding "trobar clus". None of the trobairitz were prolific, or if they were there work has not survived. Only two have left us more than one piece: the Comtessa de Dia, with four, and Castelloza, with three or four. One of the known trobairitz, Gaudairença, wrote a song entitled "Coblas e dansas", which has not survived; no other piece of hers has either.

The trobairitz came almost to a woman from Occitania. There are representatives from the Auvergne, Provence, Languedoc, the Dauphiné, Toulousain, and the Limousin. One trobairitz, Ysabella, may have been born in Périgord, Northern Italy, Greece, or Palestine. All the trobairitz whose families we know were high-born ladies; only one, Lombarda, was probably of the merchant class. All the tobairitz known by name lived around the same time: the late twelfth century and the early thirteenth (c. 1170 – c. 1260). The earliest was probably Tibors de Sarenom, who was active in the 1150s (the date of her known composition is uncertain). The latest was either Garsenda of Forcalquier, who died in 1242, though her period of poetic patronage and composition probably occurred a quarter century earlier, or Guilleuma de Rosers, who composed a "tenso" with Lanfranc Cigala, known between 1235 and 1257. There exist brief prose biographies—"vidas"—for eight trobairitz: Almucs de Castelnau (actually a "razo"), Azalais de Porcairagues, the Comtessa de Dia, Castelloza, Iseut de Capio (also a "razo"), Lombarda, Maria de Ventadorn, and Tibors de Sarenom.

Academics and city-dwellers: the Gay Science


chools and styles

There have been three main styles of Occitan lyric poetry identified: the "trobar leu" (light), "trobar ric" (rich), and "trobar clus" (closed, hermetic). The first was by far the most common: the wording is straightforward and relatively simple compared to the "ric" and literary devices are less common than in the "clus". This style was the most accessible and it was immensely popular. The most famous poet of the "trobar leu" was Bernart de Ventadorn. The most difficult style on the other hand was the last. The "trobar clus" regularly escapes modern scholarly interpretation. Words are commonly used metaphorically and symbolically and what a poem appears to be about on its surface is rarely what is intended by the poet or understood by audiences "in the know". The "clus" style was invented early by Marcabru but only favoured by a few masters thereafter. The "trobar ric" style is not as opaque as the "clus", rather it employs a rich vocabulary, using many words, rare words, invented words, and unusual, colourful wordings.

Modern scholars reocgnise several "schools" in the troubadour tradition. Among the early is a school of followers of Marcabru, sometimes called the "Marcabrunian school": Bernart Marti, Bernart de Venzac, Gavaudan, and Peire d'Alvernhe. These poets favoured the "trobar clus" or "ric" or a hybrid of the two. They were often moralising in tone and critical of contemporary courtly society. Another early school, whose style seems to have fallen out of favour, was the "Gascon school" of Cercamon, Peire de Valeira, and Guiraut de Calanso. Cercamon was said by his biographer to have composed in the "old style" ("la uzansa antiga") and Guiraut's songs were "d'aquella saison" ("of that time"). This style of poetry seems to be attached to early troubadours from Gascony and was characterised by references to nature: leaves, flowers, birds, and their songs. This Gascon "literary fad" was unpopular in Provence in the early thirteenth century, harming the reputation of the poets associated with it.

In the late thirteenth century a school arose at Béziers, once the centre of pre-Albigensian Languedoc and of the Trencavel lordships, in the 1260s–80s. Three poets epitomise this "school": Bernart d'Auriac, Joan Esteve, Joan Miralhas, and Raimon Gaucelm. All three were natives of Béziers and lived there. All three were members of the urban middle class and no courtesans: Miralhas was possibly a potter and Bernart was a "mayestre" (teacher). All three were supporters of the French king Louis IX and the French aristocracy against the native Occitan nobility. They have been described as "Gallicised". Raimon Gaucelm supported the Eighth Crusade and even wrote a "planh", the only known one of its kind, to a burgher of Béziers. Joan Esteve and Bernart both composed in support the French in the Aragonese Crusade. The Béziers are a shining example of the transformation of Occitania in the aftermath of Albigensian Crusade, but also of the ability of troubadours to survive it.


Troubadours, at least after their style became established, usually followed some set of "rules", like those of the "Leys d'amors" (compiled between 1328 and 1337). Initially all troubadour verses were called simply "vers", yet this soon came to be reserved for only love songs and was later replaced by "canso", though the term lived on as an antique expression for the troubadours' early works and was even employed with a more technically meaning by the last generation of troubadours (mid-fourteenth century), when it was thought to derive from the Latin word "verus" (truth) and was thus used to describe moralising or didactic pieces. The early troubadours developed many genres and these only proliferated as rules of composition came to be put in writing. The known genres are:
*"Alba" (morning song)— the song of a lover as dawn approaches, often with a watchman warning of the approch of a lady's jealous husband
*"Arlabecca"— a song defined by poetic metre, but perhaps once related to the rebec
*"Canso", originally "vers", also "chanso" or "canço"— the love song, usually consisting of five or six stanzas with an envoi
*"Cobla esparsa"— a stand-alone stanza
*"Comiat"— a song renouncing a lover
*Crusade song ("canso de crozada")— a song about the Crusades, usually encouraging them
*"Dansa" or "balada"— a lively dance song with a refrain
*"Descort"— a song heavily discordant in verse form and/or feeling
*"Desdansa"— a dance designed for sad occasions
*"Ensenhamen"— a long didactic poem, usually not divided into stanzas, teaching a moral or practical lesson
*"Enuig"— a poem expressing indignation or feelings of insult
*"Escondig"— a lover's apology
*"Estampida"— a late thirteenth-century dance song
*"Gap"— a boasting song, often presented as a challenge, often similar to modern sports chants
*"Maldit"— a song complaining about a lady's behaviour and character
*"Partimen"— a poetical exchange between two or more poets in which one is presented with a dilemma by another and responds
*"Pastorela"— the tale of the love request of a knight to a shepherdess
*"Planh"— a lament, especially on the death of some important figure
*"Plazer"— a poem expressing pleasure
*"Salut d'amor"— a love letter addressed to another, not always one's lover
*"Serena"— the song of a lover waiting impatiently for the evening (to consummate his love)
*"Sestina"— highly-structure verse form
*"Sirventes"— a political poem or satire, originally put in the mouth of a paid soldier ("sirvens")
*Sonnet ("sonet")— an Italian genre imported into Occitan verse in the thirteenth century
*"Tenso"— a poetical debate which was usually an exchange between two poets, but could be fictional
*"Torneyamen"— a poetical debate between three or more persons, often with a judge (like a tournament)
*"Viadeyra"— a traveller's complaint

All these genres were highly fluid. A cross between a "sirventes" and a "canso" was a "meg-sirventes" (half-"sirventes"). [Sometimes "canso-sirventes" or "sirventes-canso" was used. Bertran de Born uses the term "miei sirventes".] A "tenso" could be "invented" by a single poet; an "alba" or "canso" could be written with religious significance, addressed to God or the Virgin; and a "sirventes" may be nothing more than a political attack. The "maldit" and the "comiat" were often connected as a "maldit-comiat" and they could be used to attack and renounce a figure other than a lady or a lover, like a commanding officer (when combined, in a way, with the "sirventes").

Peire Bremon Ricas Novas uses the term "mieja chanso" (half song) and Cerverí de Girona uses a similar phrase, "miga canço", both to refer to a short "canso" and not a mixture of genres as sometimes supposed. Cerverí's "mig" (or "meig") "vers e miga canço" was a "vers" in the new sense (a moralising song) that was also highly critical and thus combined the "canso" and the "sirventes". Among the more than one hundred works of Cerverí de Girona are many songs with unique labels, which may correspond more to "titles" than "genres", but that is debatable: "peguesca" (nonsense), "espingadura" (flageolet song), "libel" (legal petition), "esdemessa" (leap), "somni" (dream), "acuyndamen" (challenge), "desirança" (nostalgia), "aniversari" (anniversary), "serena" (serene). [Frank M. Chambers (1985), "An Introduction to Old Provençal Versification", (Darby, PA: Diane Publishing, ISBN 0 87169 167 1.), pp. 195–96.]

Most "Crusading songs" are classified either as "cansos" or "sirventes" but sometimes separately. Some styles became popular in other languages and in other literary or musical traditions. In French, the "alba" became the "aubade", the "pastorela" the "pastourelle", and the "partimen" the "jeu parti". The "sestina" became popular in Italian literature. The troubadours were not averse to borrowing either. The "planh" developed out of the Latin "planctus" and the sonnet was stolen from the Sicilian School. Interestingly, the basse danse ("bassa dansa") was first mentioned in the troubadour tradition (c. 1324), but only as being performed by jongleurs.


Troubadours performed their own songs. Jongleurs (performers) and "cantaires" (singers) also performed troubadours' songs. They could work from chansonniers, many of which have survived, or possibly from more rudimentary (and temporary) songbooks, none of which have survived, if they even existed. Some troubadours, like Arnaut de Maruelh, had their own jongleurs who were dedicated to singing their patron's work. Arnaut's "joglar et cantaire", probably both a singer and a messenger, who carried his love songs to his lady, was Pistoleta. The messenger was commonplace in troubadour poetry, many songs reference a messenger who will bring it to its intended ear. A troubadour often stayed with a noble patron of his own and entertained his court with his songs. At court songs could be used not only as enterntainment but also as propaganda, praising the patron, mocking his enemies, encouraging his wars, teaching ethics and etiquette, and maintaining religious unity.

The court was not the only venue for troubadour performance. Competitions were held from an early date. According to the "vida" of the Monge de Montaudon, he received a sparrow hawk, a prized hunting bird, for his poetry from the "cour du Puy", some sort of poetry society associated with the court of Alfonso II of Aragon. The most famous contests were held in the twilight of the troubadours in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. The "jocs florals" held by the Consistori del Gay Saber at Toulouse, by Peter IV of Aragon at Lérida, and the Consistori de la Gaya Sciència at Barcelona awarded floral prizes to the best poetry in various categories, judging it by its accordance with a code called the "Leys d'amors".

Troubadour songs are still performed and recorded today, albeit rarely.


Troubadour songs were usually monophonic. Fewer than 300 melodies out of an estimated 2500 survive. ["The Grove Concise Dictionary of Music" edited by Stanley Sadie. Macmillan Press Ltd., London.] Most were composed by the troubadours themselves. Some were set to pre-existing pieces music. Raimbaut de Vaqueyras wrote his "Kalenda maya" ("The Calends of May") to music composed by jongleurs at Montferrat.

Grammars and dictionaries

Beginning in the early thirteenth century, the spread of Occitan verse demanded grammars and dictionaries, especially for he whose native tongue was not Occitan, such as the Catalan and Italian troubadours, and their imitators. The production of such works only increased with the academisation of the troubadour lyric in the fourteenth century.


Transmission and critical reception

Some 2,600 poems or fragments of poem shave survived from around 450 identifiable troubadours. They are largely preserved in songbooks called "chansonniers" made for wealthy patrons.

Troubadour songs are generally referred to by their incipits, that is, their opening lines. If this is long, or after it has already been mentioned, an abbreviation of the incipit may be used for convenience. A few troubadour songs are known by "nicknames", thus "D'un sirventes far" by Guilhem Figueira is commonly called the "Sirventes contra Roma". When a writer seeks to avoid using unglossed Occitan, the incipit of the song may be given in translation instead or a title may even be invented to reflect the theme of the work. Especially in translations desinted for a popular audience, such as Ezra Pound's, English titles are commonly invented by the translator/editor. There are examples, however, of troubadour songs given Occitan titles in the manuscripts, such as an anonymous "pastorela" that begins "Mentre per una ribeira", which is entitled "Porquieira".

Table of parchment chansonniers



*Akehurst, F. R. P., and Davis, Judith M., edd. (1995). "A Handbook of the Troubadours". Berkeley: University of California Press. ISBN 052 007 976 0.
*Aubrey, Elizabeth (1989). "References to Music in Old Occitan Literature." "Acta Musicologica", 61:2 (May–August), pp. 110–149.
*Boase, Roger (1977). "The Origin and Meaning of Courtly Love: A Critical Study of European Scholarship". Manchester: Manchester University Press. ISBN 0 87471 950 x.
*Chaytor, Henry John (1912). [ "The Troubadours".] Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
*Gaunt, Simon, and Kay, Sarah, edd. (1999) "The Troubadours: An Introduction". Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0 521 574730.
*Jones, W. Powell (1931). "The Jongleur Troubadours of Provence." "PMLA", 46:2 (June), pp. 307–311.
*Menocal, María Rosa (1981). [ "Close Encounters in Medieval Provence: Spain's Role in the Birth of Troubadour Poetry."] "Hispanic Review", 49:1 (Williams Memorial Issue, Winter), pp. 43–64.
*Paden, William D. (2005) "Troubadours and History" (pp. 157–182). "The World of Eleanor of Aquitaine: Literature and Society in Southern France between the Eleventh and Twelfth Centuries", edd. Marcus Bull and Catherine Léglu. Woodbridge: Boydell Press. ISBN 1 84383 114 7.
*Riquer, Martín de. "Los trovadores: historia literaria y textos". 3 vol. Barcelona: Planeta, 1975.
*Silverstein, Theodore (1949). [ "Andreas, Plato, and the Arabs: Remarks on Some Recent Accounts of Courtly Love."] "Modern Philology", 47:2 (November), pp. 117–126.
*Warren, F. M. (1912). [ "The Troubadour "Canso" and Latin Lyric Poetry."] "Modern Philology", 9:4 (April), pp. 469–487.

External links

* [ Literary Encyclopedia: Troubadour.]
*Said I. Abdelwahed. [ Troubadour Poetry: An Intercultural Experience.]


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