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The Trobairiz (Women Troubadours ( The Name in Occitan. Click here to find out more about occitan. Trobairiz,  The Name in French. Trouvèresses)

In line with the greater equality enjoyed by women in Occitania - the Medieval Languedoc - compared to their sisters elsewhere in Christendom, a number of female troubadours are known. A woman troubadour is called a Trobairitz. The word trobairitz was first used in a 13th-century romance Flamenca. It comes from the Occitan word trobar, the same word that gives us troubadour, the technical meaning of which is "to compose". The word Trobairitz is the same in the singular and the plural.

Both troubadours and trobairitz wrote of fin' amors, or courtly love. Trobairitz typically composed cansos (strophic songs) and tensos (debate poems). Trobairitz are notable in western musical history as the first known female composers of secular music (There had been earlier women composers, but they are known only for sacred music). Although the troubadour tradition welcomed both women and the lower classes, we know of no lower class trobairitz - all known trobairitz were nobly born (lower class women could become joglaresses, and we know of no noble joglaresses).

The names of about twenty trobairitz from the 12th and 13th centuries survive, to whom between 23 and 46 works are attributed. There are number of reasons why it is not always easy to distinguish a troubadour from a trabairitz:

  • Gender may not be apparent from a poet's name - especially when we know only a pen name or the author is anonymous.
  • The first chansonniers did not separate the works of troubadours from those of trobairitz. Only in later Italian and Catalan chansonniers were trobairitz placed in a separate section of the books.
  • In the courtly love tradition it was common for poems to be written as an exchange of letters, or a debate, as in a tenso. Some of these were originally a real exchange of letters between a man and a woman, later gathered together in a manuscript. Modern editors have been known to attribute these solely to the man who originated the exchange.
  • Since poetry was stylised, it is difficult to know when a poet speaking as a woman actually was a woman, or a man speaking as a woman. Similarly for women writing as men.

The question has arisen as to why it should have been the medieval Languedoc that saw such the first flourishing of so many ideas: sexual equality, the decoupling of sex and sin, literary creativity, and so on. Why the trobairitz first appeared in the Languedoc can be explained by a conjugation of factors. First, Occitan society was already far more accepting of women than other European societies of the time; it was ahead of the rest of Europe in many ways. Second, since the end of the eleventh century many nobles of the Languedoc had followed their suzerains, the Counts of Toulouse, on crusade to the Holy Land - leaving their ladies in charge: Women in the Languedoc were accustomed to administering estates, dispensing justice and even defending castles. Writing songs could hardly have been a great leap for such women. Third, The Languedoc at this time neighboured Moslem Spain. Spanish Moslems knew how to have fun and the idea of women poets may well have filtered into Christian Europe through the Languedoc from the culturally more sophisticated Moslem Europe. Indeed, Occitania itself had been Moslem earlier in the Middle Ages.

Few contemporary sources of information on individual trobairitz survive. Almost all information about them comes from their biographies (vidas) and from contextual explanations of their songs (razós) that were assembled in song collections (chansonniers). Vidas are unreliable since they are often no more than romanticised extrapolations from the poems themselves. Here are the names of some trobairitz:

  • La Comtessa da Día (Beatriz de Día, Beatrice, Countess of Die, known in 1200): Trobairitz from on the Drôme in the Marquisate of Provence, part of the territories of the Counts of Toulouse. She was the daughter of Count Isoard II of Día. According to her vida, she was in love with Raimbaut of Orange, but married to Guilhem de Poitiers, Count of Viennois. Her surviving works include "A chantar m'er de so q'ieu non volria","Ab joi et ab joven m'apais", "Estat ai en greu cossirier" Her canso "A chantar m'er de so qu'eu no volria" is the only work by a trobairitz to survive with its music. Works include: 4 cansos and 1 tenson. Click on the following link for one of her works (with an English translation)
  • Azalais de Porcairagues (known in 1173). Trobairitz from the area of Languedoc - thought to be from the village now known as Portiragnes, east of Béziers). She was said to have been in love with Gui Guerrejat, the brother of William VII of Montpellier, Her surviving work is a canso of 52 lines but no music.
  • Na Castelhoza (Castelloza, known in 1210) : Trobairitz from the area of Auvergne. Her husband was Turc de Mairona. The subject of her poems is courtly love. Three of her poems are extant, but no music survives. Works include: 3 cansos "Ja de chantar non degra aver talan", "Amics, s'ie-us trobes avinen" and "Mout avetz faich lonc estatge"
  • Lombarda (dates unknown) : Trobairitz from the area of Languedoc, and County of Foix. Works include: 1 cobla
  • Maria de Ventadorn (known in 1180-1215) : Trobairitz from the area of Limousin and Marche. Works include: 1 partimen
  • Garsenda de Forcalquier (Garsenda de Provença, dates unknown) : Trobairitz from the area of Provence. Works include: 1 tenso
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The Troubadours