The Troubadours and the Song of the Crusades
By Haley Kaye
Senior Thesis, Bard College, 2016
Introduction: The troubadours have been credited as giving birth to the lyrical poetry of modern European languages. Emerging in France, they were predominantly male composers from parts of Western Europe during the High Middle Ages (approximately the twelfth through the thirteenth centuries). They glorified the concept of courtly love in the langue d’oc, the dialect of Southern France. The troubadour tradition originated in the Middle East, from where the troubadour ideas then spread between the Mediterranean and Spain, to the Medieval region known as Occitania by the eleventh century. The tradition then flourished throughout Southern France, a region characterized by greater freedom and fewer societal constraints than was the norm in other parts of Medieval Europe. There was also a smaller social distinction between the wealthy and poor, and a noticeably less prominent social hierarchy, as well as less influence of the Catholic church and nobility. These social conditions created a more tolerant, open community. Beyond Southern France, the troubadour tradition travelled to Northern France as the Trouvère tradition, as well as other areas such as the Languedoc, Germany, Italy, and beyond.
Individual troubadours often came from nobility, and sought patronage in royal courts, leading to the intrigue of courtly love. Emerging in Western Europe, the concept of troubadour “courtly love” is one of intrigue and admiration. During a period where most marriages were arranged and love was “learned,” not intuitive, these composers would praise the virtues of women, demonstrating a loving fondness. Courtly love was not a lustful tradition; troubadours did not write about physical desirability, rather they were concerned with sensual, not sexual, love. The role of the troubadours in this context included the duty to speak of admiration and love, often with regard to those who had experienced an arranged marriage. While exploring the theme of love in their music, the troubadour often placed the female at a similar level as a goddess, or as something rare, beautiful, even mystical. Since the name “courtly love” suggests those in power in royal courts or associated with the realm, troubadours sometimes would find themselves under scrutiny, accused of courting married women during a time when true love was often thought to be something found outside of the arranged household. Further, the troubadours would often be accused of acting only in self-interest, purportedly intending only to advance their position in society and career. Despite this, it was the troubadours that were responsible for instilling notions of a certain kind of love and romanticism during a period marked with plague, famine, inquisition, and crusade.
The troubadours cultivated a kind of lyricism in their music, most notably in their use of meter and rhyme. Those who did not find consistent patronage would travel from village to village and abroad as they continuously wrote and performed their work. While the content of troubadour music is often thought to be romantic, as they travelled, they were able to spread news to the areas they ventured to. During a time where there was no readily accessible news source, the troubadours not only served as a source of entertainment, but also as a means to spread news of recent events to those in power and noblemen, and throughout villages and among common people. Troubadours, trouvères, trobaritz, and minnsingers all stemmed from a multitude of societal backgrounds.