…then I’m in the right place in the right country because it was here in the Languedoc that European literature is said to have been born. Right on my doorstep is Puivert Chateau, whose Lords were some of strongest supporters of the Troubadors, those poet/musicians of the 12th and 13th centuries.
These men and women, mostly well-educated and often of high status, created their sophisticated and often raunchy poetry, written in Occitan (the language of Languedoc) and set to music. They held to high ideals and a philosophy of equality based on virtues rather than family connections or wealth.
Throughout the countryside they were welcomed at the Chateaux of their patrons whilst becoming an an anathema to the Catholic church. This hatred arose probably from two issues. Firstly many of their patrons followed or supported the Cathar sect – a bunch of heretics in the eyes of the Church. Secondly, their work lauded both romantic and sexual love – women were an ennobling force as opposed to the Church’s view that women and sex were sinful.
The songs of the Troubadors embraced a number of themes including love, eroticism, war, nature and political satire. But it is the Amour Courtois (courtly love) that blended both erotic desire and spiritual aspirations for which they are most remembered. Courtly love was seen to have six attributes:
– Literary – made popular first in song and verse and then carried out in real life.
– Aristocratic – practised by Lords and Ladies in palaces and chateaux.
– Secret – no-one else must know about it and so it included secret meetings, hidden codes of conduct, gestures and tokens.
– Ritual – included the exchange of gifts and tokens. The woman was the dominant partner and received songs, poems, flowers and favours from her besotted Knight. He would try to make himself worthy of her through deeds of derring-do. She was only required to give a nod of approval for unrequited love was part of the game.
– Adulterous – eventually it included extra-marital rumpy-pumpy as a way of escaping from the marriages of convenience, made for economic or political reasons. Troubadors were cavalier about the concept of marriage seeing it as a ploy of the Church. Their ideal was a relationship based simply on a meeting of minds, bodies and souls.
They accompanied their poetry and songs with a range of musical instruments notably the lute, the cornemuse (a bit like a bagpipe), rebec, tambourine, cithern and psaltery.
Inevitably as the Church escalated its war against the Cathars the culture of the Troubadors declined leaving other poets such as Chaucer, Dante and Malory to carry forward their work.