Tag Archives: female

Castelloza – A Medieval Mystery

Castelloza has less than a handful of trobairitz songs attributed to her, just four actually, and only three are ascribed to her with irrevocable certainty. All of her songs are written in the canso form that was the most common among Troubadours and trobairitz alike. Very little is known from her vida except that she may have been from Auvergne and married to Turc de Mairona. Maybe. Distinguishing these facts from fiction seems like an almost insurmountable task at the moment, but it is also well outside my scope where I will share a piece of my current project, my translation of one of her songs, with a brief analysis. While the personal histories of the trobairitz were very interesting, their songs are the keys to a broader understanding of their culture, and perhaps even more importantly, a gateway to how their songs and society influenced poetry and the concepts of love for centuries to come.


Amics, s’ie.us trobes avinen
humil e franc e de bona merce,
be.us amera, quand era m’en sove
q’us trob vas mi mal e fellon e tric,
e fauc chanssos per tal q’en fassa auzir
vostre bon pretz. dond eu non puosc sofrir
que no.us fassa lauzar a tota gen,
on plus mi faitz mal et adiramen.Iamais no.us tenrai per valen
ni.us amarai de bon cor e de fe
tro que veirai si ia.m valria re
si.us mostrava cor fellon ni enic;
non farai ia, car no vuoil puscatz dir
q’ieu anc vas vos agues cor de faillir,
c’auriatz pois caique razonamen
s’ieu fazia vas vos nuill falimen.Eu sai ben c’a mi esta gen,
si be.is dizon tuich que mout descove
que deompna prei a cavallier de se
ni que.l teigna totz temps tan lonc pressic,
mas cel q’o ditz non sap ges ben gauzir
q’ieu vuoill proar enans qe.m lais morir
qe’l preiar ai un gran revenimen
qan prec cellui don ai greu pessamen.

Assatz es fols qui m’en repren
de vos amar, pois tant gen mi cove,
e cel q’o ditz non sap cum s’es de me,
ni no.us vei ges aras si cum vos vic,
qan me dissetz que non agues cossir
que calc’ora poiria endevenir
que n’auria enqueras gauzimen,
de sol lo dich n’ai eu lo cor gauzen.

Tot’autre’amor teing a nien,
e sapchatz ben que mais iois no.m soste
mas lo vostre que m’alegra e.m reve
on mais en sent d’afan e de destric,
e.m cuig ades alegrar e gauzir
de vos, amics, q’ieu non puosc convenir,
ni ioi non ai, ni socors non aten
mas sol aitant qan n’aurai en dormen.

Oimais non sai qe.us mi presen,
que cercat ai et ab mal et ab be
vostre dur cor don lo mieus no.is recre,
e no.us o man q’ieu mezeussa.us o dic
qu’enoia me si no.m voletz gauzir
de calque ioi, e si.m laissatz morir
faretz pechat e serai n’en tormen
e seretz ne blasmatz vilanamen.

Friend, if I have found you being kind
humble and frank and with good mercy
I would love you so, yet when I recall
that I find you evil and cruel to me
I sing so that my song can be heard
of your good worth since I cannot suffer
that you are not lauded in every way
even as you continue bringing me cruelty and pain.Never shall I hold you valiant
nor fully love you with a good heart
until I negotiate the reality of it all
see if I show you an evil and cruel heart;
but I will not, because I don’t want you to say
that I have ever had a false and failing heart,
or to be able to say with reason
that in any acts I have failed you.I know this all suits me well in this way
even if everyone tells me this is not fitting
for a lady to plead with a knight as such
or to hold his time for so long,
but who says this knows not joy
that I would like to prove before I die
that in prayer I feel greatly renewed
to him who has given me heavy thoughts.

All are crazy who reproach me
for loving , as it is fitting to me,
and who says this does not know how it is
nor do I now look at you as I once did
when you told me not to be distressed
that at any time it will happen
that I will again have joy,
And these words alone fill my heart with joy.

All other love means nothing
certainly there are but no other joys
except yours that lifts and revives me
when I feel but only pain and distress
so I will be brought pleasure and joy
of you, friend, from whom I cannot convert,
I have no joy nor do I hope for help
but what rest I shall have when I sleep.

I no longer know how to present myself,
I have tried with good and with bad intent
your hard heart from which mine does not retract,
and this is no sent message, but I tell you myself
angered I will die if you do not want to give me joy
whatever manner of joy, and if you let me die
you sin and I will be tormented
and you will be villainously blamed.

(Castelloza, BnF MS 843 f. 125 – the beginning of the poem cited above)

(Close-up of the same)

This highly stylized poem gives voice to her pain derived from unrequited love. In keeping with the courtly love tradition she first raises the beloved other upon a pedestal and gives him power over her while asserting his higher position in the world at large. However, in this assertion there is a certain double language in use – it is uncertain as to whether the lover was in fact of a higher class than her, but there is good reason to believe he was not, therefore if socially they were equals, her statement is false. Yet, even as equals, by virtue of being a woman she is below him socially, thus rendering her statement simultaneously true and drawing attention to the place of women in society as opposed to the artificial pedestal they sit upon in traditional Troubadour poems. Regardless of her title, class, or wealth, in love, much like in life, the woman is beneath the man and must beg his favor like Castelloza here does.

However, while begging his favor she usurps the male role in multiple ways. It is often thought that in the role reversal the trobairitz give a voice to the silent females of the Troubadour poems, but that is in fact not the case, and as I have argued before, these women find their own voices, separate from another. What I found the most interesting is that through Castelloza’s unrelenting praise of her beloved she manages to create a similar superficial pedestal for the male of her poetry where she uses words to elevate the man and synchronously place herself even higher, becoming a martyr to love. Petty and angry thoughts and gestures are beneath her, and she operates in accordance to a higher power. While she “non puosc sofrir” (cannot suffer) anyone thinking less of him, or for him to believe she “fazia vas vos nuill falimen” (has in any acts failed him), she unfailingly enumerates his various methods of mistreating her and casts the blame for her demise solely upon his shoulders, whose neglect is not only a fault, but a sin for which he must pay doubly – to God for having collaborated in her demise, and to the world who will blame him. Her love places him in a most precarious position, ultimately responsible for her well being, even if only to safeguard his own reputation. After all, his good name could not withstand women dying on the streets of Southern France from neglect.

Yet, what she wants from him is not simply attention, but “gauzir,” that roughly translates to joy, or “joi.” This concept emerges throughout the song, and carries several connotations, but there is one in particular I want to focus on – joi as related of joue (game) – and can lead to another form different from the canso that troubadours used, the jeu-parti. This reading of joi places her expectations into a different context and highlights the playfulness in her words. I don’t mean to detract in any way from the seriousness of her song because love at the time, along with everything it entailed, was indeed of crucial importance, but as she forces his hand in a response, she is essentially eliciting a game, while keeping in mind that games were not necessarily light matters either. Think of this type of game on par with chess or a similar cerebral activity that demands a certain level of involvement from the players while providing a comparable level of stimulation.

And it is this very stimulation that creates the extended metaphor for joi that can easily pour over into the meaning of a different kind of joy that also stems from stimulation, and then even further into joy which sustains itself simply through the act of loving.

Some have said Castelloza’s poetry is not as sophisticated or refined as the other trobairtiz, but her range of emotions combined with the various statements she makes demonstrate her prowess as a poetess and songstress, placing her on par with the likes of Comtessa de Dia.

While I am very much going to continue researching Castelloza and translating the rest of her songs, I do need to return for while to the Crusades and finish work on my conference paper that is quickly approaching. So, for those of you who have been enjoying my Crusades posts, there will be several coming in the next couple of weeks. As for my female writing fans, rest assured, I am not done.


Bruckner, Matilda Tomaryn. “Fictions of the Female Voice: The Women Troubadours.”

Dronke, Peter. “The Provencal Trobairitz: Castelloza.”

Lazar, Moshe. “Fin’amor.”

Paden, William. The Voice of the Trobairitz: Perspectives on the Women Troubadours.

The Trobairitz Tradition Continued


(Castelloza, BnF MS 843 f. 125)

I have been hesitant to continue my writing on the trobairitz not due to lack of interest, but in sheer awe of the corpus of works these women left behind which I have steadfastly been attempting to make my way through. While it is by no means an extensive collection, it is rich in a tradition that has remained ever so under examined. This is yet another post that humbly attempts to broach yet one more meager inch into understanding the trobairiz and what they meant to the even larger tradition of female writing.

What I find the most startling in their words is their candid tone that allows them to well overstep their social bounds and, through poetry, transgress. They do not adhere to their roles of subservience in their homes or in society, and their voices, as heard in their songs, are, for lack of a better term, saucy. The trobairitz etymologically are borne from the troubadours,those who find, and the trobairitz arguably found their voices and synchronously created their own unique poetic language and tradition that was not merely carved out from the corpus of their male counterparts.

Yet, even as they found their voices most scholarship over the last twenty years has sought to find their names – to understand their place in society, and make sense of their words and songs in terms of their various lifestyles. In a nutshell, the vast amount of critical attention the trobairitz have elicited in recent years constantly seeks to historicize them, privileging a biographical  component to their writing. However, this is no easy feat, and with each new discovery there comes debate where academics argue against the newest attributions of identity, often in light of contradictory evidence or even lack of it.

As is, the number of names attributed to the trobairitz are few, and there is little evidence to even play around with, much less debate. However, I feel the debate started in earnest when the trobairitz’s very existence was challenged, practically erased from the history of the larger Troubadour tradition. Beginning with Pierre Bec’s assertion that there were no instances of female authorship (feminite genetique, as he distinguished authorship from merely the female voice,  feminite textuelle) in twelfth and thirteenth century northern France, the hunt for female composers was set off. Nevertheless, even as scholars searched out possible medieval female writing there also appeared to be an unmistakeable acquiescence to Bec’s findings that resulted with these female figures left existing in a world of limbo – Shrodinger’s trobairitz.

(note: yes, the trobairitz are originally female poets from the South of France, but I believe current research brings to question the limitations of their spheres, and in subsequent pieces to be posted throughout the next months I will explore their influence across longitudinal borders, which should place into context my intermixing between the hemispheres of France).

From Bec’s assertion sprung numerous others outlining the impossibility of female writing. Either women were simply inept at poetry, or the question would arise as to why they would want to disturb the status quo of the predominantly male Troubadour tradition that placed them upon pedestals, forgetting the attributes ascribed to women placed them upon false pedestals reserved for poor creatures who needed vainglory above all else.

Yet, as more and more probing took place, it became apparent that these early assertions were inaccurate, and female troubadours, to be later referred to as the trobairitz, had thrived in northern France, and southern France, …and Spain, …and Italy. Unfortunately this created the other side of the spectrum where not only did these poetesses exist, but they suddenly existed everywhere, and in large quantities. One of the determining factors for considering female authorship at one point was the appearance of the feminine pronoun in the first person within the work – a cringe-worthy method that quickly created an overabundance of female attributed poems (as I previously discussed such poems created by men, namely Clement Marot).

However, while Bec asserted women in northern France were most certainly not composing poetry, he oddly did not argue a similar case for women of other nationalities. This leads to an entirely new paradox where women were seemingly composing works across Europe in the Middle Ages, except in norther France, where even Bec agreed they were most certainly performing the poems men wrote. What I immediately noticed in this rather convoluted argument was his very precise delineation between authorship and performance where the two acts were irrevocably polarized. If you have been following my female scribe and my trobairitz posts, then you will recall that this distinction if ultimately faulty. Through the process of recreation via any medium, be it written, sung, or simply spoken, there is an inherent mingling into the world of editing. I would never take this argument so far as to posit that these songs should be attributed to women simply because they changed a few words, or even improved the meter, or flow. Withal, when works are appropriated and reconfigured to convey novel ideas, then the work no longer belongs wholly to the original author.

Last time Beatritz de Dia served as the example of appropriation in her “A chantar m’er” as she strategically and wittingly railed at her lover, far outside the perameters of the Courtly Love she was supposedly mimicking, and sounded much more like our modern day H.D. Still, as I constantly use the term “appropriate,” an appropriate French idiom flies to mind, “appeler un chat un chat” (roughly, “let’s call a spade a spade”), and let us refer to “appropriate” as what it really is, “to steal.” Recalling Helene Cixous double entendre verb, voler, it is precisely through such theft of patriarchally dominant methods of communication that women can fly, or even better, soar. Thus the trobairitz took the concepts of Troubadour poetry and flew with them.

Currently I am working on translating two more trobairitz poems, not because I don’t like the translations already circulating, but because I feel most comfortable with a work once I have devised various ways of interpretation that capture the different nuances each word choice has to offer. William Padden’s work on Castelloza is presently guiding my translations as her and Azalais de Porcairagues (who is slightly more elusive) are the two poetesses I want to focus on momentarily.


(Azalais de Porcairagues, BnF MS 854 f. 140)


(Azalais de Porcairagues, BnF MS fr. 12473, f. 125)


(same as above)


Bec, Pierre. Ecrits sur les troubadours et la lyrique medievale.

Bec, Pierre. Trobairitz’ et chansons de femme.

Bogin, Meg. The Woman Troubadours.

Bruckner, Matilda Tomaryn. “Fictions of the Female Voice: The Women Troubadours.”

Gaunt, Simon. “Poetry of Exclusion: a Feminist Reading of Some Troubadour Lyrics.”

Paden, William. The Voice of the Trobairitz: Perspectives on the Women Troubadours.

The Female Scribe IV

Thus far my female scribe research is still concerned with nunneries and their capacities for scribal activity (Should you wish to visit the previous posts in this series: Part I, Part II, and Part III). My most recent find was another book by Michelle Brown in line with her previous one, but illuminating another piece of female agency within scriptoria. Consequently this lead me down a whole new path of research. The primary focus relied on excavations where numerous whole and fragmented styli were found in Anglo-Saxon nunneries. While the best indication of manuscript creation is typically the manuscripts themselves, tools for such endeavors often survive just as long and can in some cases be even more indicative – a manuscript may not always have a clear, paleographically traceable provenance, whereas the tools were there for a distinct purpose.

I want to digress for a moment just so we can look at these writing instruments and better understand what they were for. This will probably not aid in the overall scope of this project, but the historical value associated with these tools is just too exciting to pass up.

Syli were used for purposes such as pricking, ruling leaves, hard point annotating, and underdrawing. These instruments were generally made of iron or bone, but sometimes of other alloy metals and even  silver (a significant point that will be addressed later).


This is an early medieval stylus found in North Yorkshire dated to be from around 900-1000 AD. The elaborate design on the handle tells us it was either meant as a gift, and probably belonged to a member of the upper class  or a high ranking member of the clergy (or perhaps all of these things are true, and it could have been a gift for someone high in the clergy who also happened to belong to the upper class). However, not very much is known about this particular one, especially whether it belonged to a male or female. The material is primarily a copper alloy.


Here is a stylus that dates from around 700-800 AD that is also made from copper alloy which was found near Lincolnshire. This one is obviously far more simplistic and by all appearances had a very utilitarian purpose. Of the styli found from this period (of which there are not as many as you would think), most of them resembled this rather than previous or the following one.





The top piece is a broken shaft from a stylus found in Lincolnshire that has been dated to about 800 AD. The bottom picture is what is thought to be the head to the stylus which was found in the same location several years later. It may appear like this is a very large piece of the two fragments would be connected, but combined the stylus would only be about 12 cm. long – smaller than the average pen these days. Both pieces are made from silver, and the head has quite some detail on it. Here is a close-up of the end:


There appears to be an animal’s head engraved into it, but due to corrosion the animal cannot be identified. This was however, a rather common practice in the Anglo-Saxon culture where elaborate engravings served to denote another kind of literacy – a cultural one where such symbols and puzzles were read for a meaning we don’t quite as easily grasp in modern times. The animal depicted here appears to either have its tongue out, or is biting something. While I have not done any studies on styli before this, I have studied jewelry and brooches from the period, and this style that developed around 600 AD used these sort of representations of animals biting or eating each other to remark on the natural order of the world. It was also believed that different animals had proprietary characteristics that would be transferred to the objects they decorated. However, since this animal here is undecipherable, I wouldn’t even know where to begin with that. (And here is an amazing article about Anglo-Saxon pins by Anna Gannon).

This last silver ornamental stylus could quite possibly resemble the one gifted by Boniface’s successor to Abbess Eadburga who educated Boniface’s relative, Lioba, who in turn went on to become abbess of Bischofsheim. The relationship between Eadburga and Boniface, however, is not restricted to this particular incident and extends to mutually beneficial transcription activities where Boniface would visit Eadburga’s Minster-in-Thanet to have highly detailed and ornamental manuscripts copied.

Of the many books copied under her supervision, perhaps the most famous is the Selden manuscript of the Acts of the Apostles that have “EADB” scratched with a stylus at the end. Conjectures have bee made that this particular manuscript may have not just been supervised by Eadburga, but actually coping in her hand. Further, this particular manuscript contains numerous female pronouns leading to further inferences about the intended audience. While the female pronouns, just like the one found in the Lancelot manuscript (that I discuss in previous segments of this project) indicate a female author, these pronouns do not necessarily imply a female audience – and such a conclusion would require quite a leap in logic. Unfortunately the Boldleian does not have any pictures online of the Selden MS Supra 30. If anyone has seen it, I would love to hear impressions on it.

In the meantime, I would like to further explore nunneries and female scribal activities in general. But at the moment I probably should run off and teach my undergrads about John Keats…


Blackhouse, J and Webster L. The making of England: Anglo-Saxon Art and Culture.


McKitterick, Rosamond. “Nuns’ Scriptoria in England and Francia in the Eighth Century.” 

Parkes, M.B. “A Fragment of an Early Tenth-Century Manuscript and Its Significance.”

The Uses of Literacy in Early Medieval Europe. ed.  Rosamond McKitterick. 

Wilson, D.M.  Anglo-Saxon Art