Tag Archives: trobairitz

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 Trobairitz Tradition

On one of my previous posts  a Twitter discussions started where we began wondering whether Troubadour poetry about women was really written by women, or if the females simply performed words created by men. I am hesitant to believe one or the other and felt there was probably a mixture of authentic female voices, and those that only mimicked feminine sentiments. Despite numerous sources that referred to these poets as female, I remained skeptical as no actual proof was offered, and it appeared that the subject matter of the poems (women’s lives) informed the way the anonymous poets were regarded. Simply because feminine plight was at the center of these works did not absolutely point to a female writer, which should have been immediately apparent from one of the poems I translated by Clement Maron, “Of the Young Lady With An Old Husband,” that was clearly written by a man.

Per usual this lead to further research. Where did women stand within the Troubadour tradition? As it turns out, right in the center, playing a rather prominent role in not just reciting, but creating many of the works that have come down to us today.


(“Flower Dance” – Ermengol, Breviaire d’Amour, 12th century, Bibliotheque Royale, Escurial)


(British Library, MS Royal 16 G. V folio 3v)

During the High Middle Ages Troubadours were composers and performers of lyric poetry. Initially this form of art was prevalent in the Occitan, but then by the thirteenth century migrated to Italy and Spain. Trobairitz are female Troubadours, however this term came about late in Troubadour history, the thirteen century, and was not widely circulated. Thus most Troubadours, regardless of their sex, used the same identifier, rendering their works in many cases indistinguishable.  If only writings by Trobairitz were considered female, their contribution to poetry would appear painfully barren.

Yet, this term, I think, serves another interesting purpose. I see it as a defined distinction between men and women within the Troubadour tradition, as well as delineating the same difference for us today. It is easier to generalize the term and refer to all female Troubadours as Trobairitz, which for my purposes here I will use. However, most importantly, it shows there was a need even in the Middle Ages to distinguish between the two genders when regarding their works.


(Paris, Bibliotheque Nationale MS Francais 599 folio 19)

Authorship hardly had the same meaning as it does for us today, but it appears voice was the discerning factor. Troubadour and Trobairitz poems were highly stylized which makes it difficult to argue the precise point where the authentic female voice is found, but when looking at the subjects that were typically touched on by both sexes, voice becomes very important. Courtly love, and specifically  fin’ amor, a favorite of the Troubadours, parades under the guise of exulted love and reverence for the female while simultaneously encapsulating her within male ideals. This poetry was not only stylized in form, but also in content, and the female form, albeit adored, was also severally restricted.

While I am sure some women did simply mimic the men who in turn mimicked them, in some sort of thrice removed poetic rendition of love, I also believe that within the confines of this tradition women were not simply slaves to the expectations of the system, but participants in their own right, altering the pieces to better reflect their own opinions.

It has been stated that the female Troubadours, or the Trobairitz, were more realistic in their assessment of love, but I think this stemmed from a better understanding of self. If Troubadour poetry set out to idolize the female, spiritually and physically, it would follow that a woman would be most in touch with herself and her own body, less enamored by some abstract ideal that she knows to be absolutely impossible.

I would like to challenge the notion of fin’amor as an ideal love and posit it where it belongs, among men. The creation of a female ideal to be risen atop a pedestal is the medieval equivalent of modern day concepts of beauty that glorify a woman for unattainable spiritual and intellectual acumen. It was supposedly love that transcended all earthly quality, considered in line with Platonic ideals, all the while bridging the gap between lovers on a metaphysical plane. In other words, it did not celebrate women, but rather the way men wished women would be, and the qualities expressed in each song were reliant on a repertoire of topoi, further indicating the rigidity of the form and the constraints into which the subject, the woman, was placed.

Here would perhaps be an ideal place to get into the logistics of what becoming the subject of these songs meant, especially when looking at them in terms of Foucault and even more effectively, Althusser, where subjectivity and interpolation would become the living definition of these women. However, I am going to save this for perhaps a larger project, and rather jump into the female interpretation of this genre.

If it has not already, it should now become apparent that women writing these poems would be at a loss for inspiration. They understood their own shortcomings, and would not eagerly participate in idealizing their own. Thus when women spoke they had two options: to occupy the place of man and falsely attribute perfection to fellow woman, or to invert the roles and speak as women raising men onto the same pedestals. More often than not, they took the former approach in which women were further objectified by their own under the guise of pleading their cases, justifying their existence within the tradition. In other words, they acquiesced to the men’s charges of their perfection, and needed to find a means of validating them.

However, there were some that used the form for their own ends and poetry became the tool for systematically demolishing these false ideologies. However, as Audre Lorde has warned, the master’s tools can never be used to dismantle his house, only to disturb it temporarily. Even though the handful of Trobairitz did not overturn patriarchy (surprise!) they created enough of a disruption to, at the very least, draw attention to its conventions elucidating its modus operandi, and showing that these forms of expression were not what they appeared.

These small subversive acts were mainly conducted by appropriating the language of the Troubadours and using it to describe men in the same fashion they regarded women. Immediately it became apparent that there was a certain impossibility to the catalog of traits heaped upon these men, and the women’s voices sounded with the same deceitfulness as they had themselves encountered. Before this post gets too much longer, here is a sample of a surviving Trobairitz song by Beatritz de Dia – “A chantar m’er” – a song which has survived to today, and can still be replicated with its original chords (video below) as opposed to all the other poems that have since lost their accompanying  melodies.


(Beatritz (Contessa) de Dia – Paris, Bibliotheque Nationale MS fr. 12473)

A chantar m’er de so qu’ieu non volria
Tant me cancur de lui cui sui amia,
Car ieu l’am mais que nuilla ren que sia;
Vas lui no.m val merces ni cortesia
Ni ma beltatz ni mos pretz ni mos sens,
C’atressi.m sui enganad’e trahia
Com degr’esser, s’ieu fos desavinens.

Meravill me com vostre cors s’orguoilla
Amics, vas me, per qu’ai razon qu’ieu.m duoilla
Non es ges dreitz c’autre’amors vos mi tuoilla
Per nuilla ren qe’us diga ni acuoilla;
E membre vos cals fo.l comenssamens
De nostre’amor! ja Dompnedieus non vuoilla
Qu’en ma colpa sia.l departimens.

Valer mi deu mos pretz e mos paratges
E ma beltatz e plus mos fis coratges,
Per qu’ieu vos man lai on es vostr’estatges
Esta chansson que me sia messatges:
Ieu vuoill saber, lo mieus bels amics gens,
Per que vos m’etz tant fers ni tant salvatges,
Non sai, si s’es orguoills o maltalens.

Mas aitan plus voill qu.us diga.l messatges
Qu’en trop d’orguoill ant gran dan maintas gens.

I must sing of that which I want not,
As I am angry with the one I love,
For I love him more than anything;
He cares not for mercy or courtliness
Not my beauty, nor my merit nor my good sense,
For I am deceived and betrayed
Exactly as I should be, if I were ugly.

I marvel at how proud you have become,
Friend, towards me, and thus I have reason to grieve.
It is not right that another lover take you from me
On account of anything said or granted to you.
And remember how it was at the beginning
Of our love! may the Lord God never wish
That my guilt be the cause of our separation.

My worth and my nobility,
My beauty and my faithful heart should help me;
That is why I send this song to your dwelling
This song that might be my messenger.
I want to know my fair and noble friend,
Why you are so cruel and harsh with me;
I don’t know if it is pride or ill will.

But I especially want the messenger to tell you
That many people suffer from too much pride.

(note: although I typically like to do my own translations, I have to admit this song was quite difficult in certain places, so here I have relied on the translation from Rosenberg et. al. but I have modified it where I thought it was appropriate – their translation is absolutely beautiful, whereas mine is more in line with my style that is mot a mot). 

Two facets of this poem caught my attention. First, she loves him as she says, “more than anything,” meaning, more than is possible. He is proud and unkind, presumably having left her for another, yet she does not allow this to guide her decision of love. Despite his multiple faults, he is here seen as perfect, or as he should be, which is an echo of Troubadour poems that capture feminine ideal beauty despite that the subject may be far from fair.

Secondly, she is angry. Unrequited courtly love was supposed to garner silent, suffering patience. The courtly lover, playing his part, pined away endlessly without hope for even a glance from his love interest. He did not reproach her for her cold conduct. Here Beatritz, while lamenting her current state, conforming to the ritual of a weakened lover also overthrows these same notions, starkly pointing out how ridiculous silence and patience really are. He may be perfect, even if only in her eyes, but his knowledge of said perfection, and the ensuing pride, will be his downfall. Her song does not end with a promise of never ending affection, but with a warning.

This is but one example of a rich tradition that deserves much more exploration. Over the next few months I hope to uncover more and form deeper connections. Further, just like with my Female Scribe project that is still very much a work in progress, I want to situate this work in context with other pieces and other Trobairitz. Unfortunately the majority of these women individually are obscured, with some of the only knowledge we have of them coming from their vidas that have in most cases survived in tatters, and unlike vitas, are notoriously unreliable. However, even without absolute attribution of these works to various figures, I think this project holds great potential, so I suppose I will consider this Part I.

In the meantime, I leave you with the actual melody of the poem above:


Bogin, Meg. The Female Troubadours.

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

Peraino, Judith. Giving Voice to Love: Song and Self Expression from the Troubadours to Guillaume de Machaut.

Rosenberg, Samuel, Margaret Switten, and Gerard Le Vot. Eds. Songs of the Troubadours and Trouveres: An Anthology of Poems and Melodies. 

Shapiro, Marianne. “The Provencal Trobairitz and the Limits of Courtly Love.”