Faded image of a young medieval lady

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Troubadours were poet-musicians who emerged in the south of France in the 12th and 13th centuries. They composed their lyric verse in the language known as Provençal (langue d’oc). Poitiers seems to have been the first major center of troubadours. However, as time went by troubadour song extended to such places as Bordeaux, the north of Italy, and Catalonia. These poet-musicians combined their poetry and music in the service of courtly love. In the judgment of the troubadour, courtly love or fine amour was the source of all true virtue and nobility. In Courtly Culture: Literature and Society in the High Middle Ages, Joachim Bumke writes that:

[C]ourtly love could be unrequited love or it could culminate in sensual fulfillment. Love could be directed at a lady of high nobility or at a woman of more humble descent. If the chosen lady was married, courtly love was adulterous in nature. … Courtly love frequently demanded lengthy service by the man, yet sometimes it was quickly consummated without service. (361)

It is the element of service that becomes most important when medieval religious writers begin to adapt or rehabilitate courtly love in terms of the Church and religious love of God.

For example, St. Francis of Assisi in his service of the poor solemnized a marriage with Our Lady Poverty. The troubadours used different verse forms to suit a variety of moods. The pastourelle was a song about an amorous encounter between a knight and a shepherdess. The tenso was the verse form employed to debate over questions of love. The alba was a dawn song about the nightingale that warned lovers of the approaching day. The escondig was the form used as a lover’s apologia, while the formal love song was known as the canzone, canso, or chanso. The reverdie celebrates the arrival of spring and the renewal of love. An example of a pastourelle is the song “Ce fu en mai” by Moniot d’Arras (c.1213-39). Here follows the words of the first verse:

Ce fu en mai
Au douz tens gai,
Que la seson est bele;
Main me levai,
Jöer m' alai
Lez une fontenele.
En un vergier
Clos d'esglentier
Oï une vïelle,.
La vi dancier
Un chellalier
Et une damoisele.

Hear the musical version of “Ce fu en mai” from “French Troubadour Songs” with Paul Hillier (voice) and Andrew Lawrence-King (instrumentalist).

Additional Troubadour Links

Troubadours and Trouvères

La musique des troubadours

Chivalry and Courtly Love


Virtual Medieval Church and Its Writings
University of Saint Thomas–Saint Paul, MN
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Troubadours and Courtly Love