Posted by: sternenfeeinflorida | 20 October 2011

A few Thoughts on Poems about Courtly Love, Trobairitz and the Role of Women in the Middle Ages

By Sünje Schwarz
Having grown up in a region that fiercely defended its independence and over which no aristocrat ruled until the late 16th century, and which even then remained de facto independent until 1864, it can be difficult to understand the suppression women of aristocracy. People in the North Sea region were not only able to choose their own spouse; they also put more emphasis of raising valuable members of society. This meant that women had higher literacy rates than in other parts of Europe and that it was seen as normal for people to temporarily serve in another household, which would teach them valuable skills (De Moor & Van Zanden, 2010).
Nevertheless, an attempt will be made to accurately and objectively describe the findings of research and analysis.
Troubadours and trobairitz wrote and performed poems mainly on the subject of love. One popular form was the canso, which was an artificial construct with the purpose to idealize and worship the person described in it (Warren, 1912). Describing the admiration for a person of the other sex, who was unobtainable either because of social or marital status was a common theme (Peakman, 2011).
Another popular form was the tenso, a debate on the topic of love between a troubadour and a trobairitz or a fictional character invented by the troubadour with the intension to give the poem more dimension. Tensos between troubadours and trobairitz were written to supplement the troubadours and as a way for the trobairitz to match the men at their literary game. Nevertheless, most women’s writings were suppressed because misogyny was common (Jewers, 1994).
A third form were sirventes, which were usually not performed by trobairitz. These poems were largely of political or moral nature (Findley, 2006).
The poem written by the Contessa de Dia is a canso. When discussing troubadour and trobairitz poetry, it is important to realize that they were a piece of entertainment (Sayre, 2010). This means that Troubadours and trobairitz did not necessarily mean what they sang and many troubadours had what could be called “celebrity status” (Findley, 2006). Additionally, while trobairitz were an integral part of the courtly standards, they were a minority (Sandels, 2008). The courtly love described in the poem was usually not lived out, if only for very practical reasons. Marriages among aristocrats were usually arranged only with regard to expand wealth and power, but not mutual feelings (Peakman 2011). While there were certainly instances in which the couples shared mutual feelings and respect for each other, there were certainly other instances in which these mutual feelings were absent to say the least. As a result, it is not surprising when men and women fell in love with someone they were not married to.
At the same time, the men were often too busy going to war, leaving their estate for the women to rule and manage. This was also important considering the general unattainability of the person they desired (Peakman, 2011).
Although trobairitz were progressive women, who wrote and spoke their mind in a world, which would prefer them to be silent objects (Jewers, 1994), the status or reputation of a trobairitz did not usually change (Findley, 2006).

De Moor, T., & Van Zanden, J. (2010). Girl power: the European marriage pattern and labour markets in the North Sea region in the late medieval and early modern period. Economic History Review, 63(1), 1-33. doi:10.1111/j.1468-0289.2009.00483.x
Findley, B. (2006). Reading Sincerity at the Intersection of Troubadour/Trobairitz Poetry. Romance Quarterly, 53(4), 287. Retrieved from EBSCOhost.
Jewers, C. A. (1994). Loading the canon: For and against feminist readings of the Trobairitz. Romance Quarterly, 41(3), 134. Retrieved from EBSCOhost.
Peakman, J. (2011). Poise and Passion in the Middle Ages. History Today, 61(8), 36-41. Retrieved from EBSCOhost.
Sandels, M. (2008). How Do We “Read” the Miniatures of the Occitan Trobairitz?. Studia Neophilologica, 80(1), 65-74. doi:10.1080/00393270802082960
Sayre, H. (2010). Discovering the humanities. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.
Warren, F. M. (1912). The troubadour “canso” and latin lyric poetry. Modern Philology, 9(4), 469-487. Retrieved from


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