IN PROVENCE AND LANGUEDOC, eyes accustomed to Northern light feel blinded by the constant luminosity of the colorful landscape, where normally the sun always shines and the sky is always blue. Blue sky, a sea even more blue, a purple rocky coastline, golden yellow mimosas, black pines, green laurel bushes, and mountains where the snow never vanishes from their peaks.
When night falls, titillating stars sparkle larger than life and seem so close that you could grab them with your hand. And the southern moon is not the northern moon; it is her twin sister, only more beautiful and seductive.
The sun and moon in the South generate love and songs. When the sun shines, songs blossom; no longer locked away by the silence of winter fog, they reawaken and rise into the sky in pursuit of larks. And when the moon rises over the sea, sonnets are heard in the wind competing with the songs of nightingales—to woo gracious women.
Between Alpine glaciers and the sun-baked Pyrenees, from the vineyards of the Loire Valley to the paradisal terraced gardens of the Côte d’Azûr and the Côte Vermeille, a brilliant civilization developed at the beginning of our millennium, genteel and filled with spirit, where poetry and the Minne (the ideal love, sublime love) were law. It is said that these laws, las leys d’amors [the laws of the Minne] were given to the first troubadour by a hawk that sat on a branch of a golden oak tree.²
The leys d’amors contained thirty-one statutes. The oddity was that they established as a basic principle that the Minne should exclude carnal love or marriage. It was the union between souls and between hearts—marriage is the union of two physical bodies. With marriage, Minne and poetry die. Love by itself is only passion that disappears with sensual pleasure. He who keeps the authentic Minne in his heart does not desire the body of his loved one, only her heart. The real Minne is pure love without embodiment. The Minne is not simply love; Eros is not sex.
Guilhelm Montanhagol, a troubadour from Toulouse, wrote: “Those who love should have a pure heart, and think about nothing other than the Minne, because the Minne is not sin, but virtue that turns the bad into the good and makes the good even better: E d’amor mou castitatz [The Minne makes chaste].”³ In reality, the troubadours established the leys d’amors. In so-called “courts of love,” ladies judged those knights and troubadours who had infringed upon the laws of the Minne.
The troubadours called the Minnedienst or “devotion to love” (an homage rendered to grace and beauty) domnei (from domina = lady). Domnei provoked in the domnejaire [servant of the Minne] the joy d’amor: desire, energy, and impetuousness that led the poet to create the Minne. The poet who composed the most beautiful Minnelieder (love sonnets) was the winner. Once the cantor had rendered homage to his lady, she would receive him as a vassal paying tribute. From then on, she could dispose of him as if he were a serf. On his knees, the troubadour would swear eternal fidelity to his lady as if she were a feudal lord. As a token of her love, she would give her paladin-poet a golden ring, and as he stood up, a kiss on his forehead. This was always the first kiss and many times, the only one. E d’amor mou castitatz… .
There were Provençal priests who blessed these mystic unions by invoking the Virgin Mary.
In the north of France, even more so in Italy, and above all in Germany, a knight knew no other home than the armory, the tournament, and the field of battle. In these countries, knighthood was inconceivable without nobility. Only a noble who could leave for war on his steed, and his armed horsemen, were considered true knights.
By contrast, chivalry in Occitania was at home in the mountains and forests. Any burgher or peasant could become a knight [chavalièr] if he was valiant and loyal or knew how to compose poetry. The attributes of Occitan knighthood—accessible to anyone—were nothing other than the sword, the word, and the harp. A peasant who dominated the spoken word was raised to the category of noble, and the artisan-poet was consecrated a knight.
Troubadour Arnaut de Mareulh came from a modest family. He was first a scribe and later a poet in the court of the Viscount of Carcassonne and Béziers. He once wrote:
A well born man should be an excellent warrior, and a generous host; he should attach great importance to good armor, chosen elegance, and courtesy. The more virtues a noble possesses, a better knight he will be. But also burghers can aspire to chivalrous virtues. Although they may not be nobles by birth, they can become so, nevertheless through their behavior. At any rate, there is a virtue that all nobles, and burghers should possess: loyalty.
Who is poor can supplement his lack of economic means with courteous language and gallantry. But he who knows nothing of doing, and saying, does not merit any consideration, and is not worthy of my verses.
Whether of high birth or modest parentage, anyone could aspire to become a knight under the condition that he be a valiant and loyal or a poet and servant of the Minne. Cowards and the foul-mouthed were unworthy of chivalry. Their palfrey was their burden.
Troubadour Amaniu des Escas wrote the following recommendation:
Stay away from foolish men, and avoid evil-sounding conversations. If you wish to travel in the world, be magnanimous, frank, intrepid, and always ready to answer courtly questions. If you do not have sufficient money for splendid garments, at the very least try to make sure that all is very clean, above all your shoes, belt, and dagger. This is what pleases, and offers a more palatine aspect. He who desires to obtain something in the devotion of ladies should be an expert in everything so that his lady should never discover a single defect in him. In the same way, try to please the acquaintances of your lady so that only good things are told to her about you. This is a big influence on the heart. If your lady should receive you, do not embarrass her by confessing that she has robbed your heart. If she accedes to your desires, do not tell anyone. Better lament to all that you have achieved nothing, because ladies cannot stand indiscreet fools. Now you know how to open your path in life and how to please the ladies.⁴
The troubadours led a happy but raucous life. When they were taken with a comely face outside of their “pure” dedication to their patrons, and entertained throughout the night without ever arriving at the castle where they were to dine, it was noticed. The weather in the South is very pleasant; fruit can be found on any tree and the water from the springs tastes as good as the sweet wine from the Roussillon.
The leys d’amors required that a troubadour be as pure as a prayer, but hot blood circulated in the veins of the men of the South, and before becoming old, the troubadours were also young, and the ladies with years no longer needed or found admirers.
Poetry was the melodious voice of chivalry; its gracious language, Provençal, is the primogenitor among neo-Latin languages, interwoven like a colorful carpet with Iberian, Greek, Celt, Gothic, and Arab touches.⁵
From France, Italy, Catalonia, Aragon, and Portugal, the troubadours headed for Montpellier, Toulouse, Carcassonne, and Foix to learn new rhymes and to compete with poet-kings and princes like Richard the Lionheart, Alfonso of Aragon, and Raimundo of Toulouse.
Who hasn’t heard of the intrepid Bertran de Born, a combative troubadour whom Dante had decapitated in Hell, or the eternally in love Arnaut Daniel, who “tearfully sings, and contemplates past insensitivities” in Purgatory while begging the great Florentine to keep him always in his thoughts? And all the rest, some scatterbrained, others full of talent, such as Bernart de Ventadorn, Gaucelm Faidit, Peire Vidal, Marcabru, Peire Cardenal, Raimon de Miravalh, and the melancholic Arnaut de Mareulh, chosen disciple of Arnaut Daniel and the unfortunate admirer of the Countess of Carcassonne.⁶
Michel de La Tour, an eyewitness who was better informed than anybody about these “rhymers,” described how the Occitan troubadours lived, loved, laughed, and cried. I am going to make a free translation of some of his descriptions:
A native of the area around Carcassonne, Raimon de Miravalh was a knight of modest birth; owing to his poetry and excellent diction, he dominated the art of the Minne, and his devotion to ladies was renowned.⁷ He was very respected and appreciated by the Count of Toulouse, who gave him horses, garments, and arms. He was a vassal of the Count as well as of King Pedro of Aragon, the Viscount of Béziers, Lord Bertran de Sassac, and all the great barons of that area; there was no distinguished lady who did not covet his love, or at least his deep friendship. He knew better than anybody how to celebrate and honor them. All had the honor of his friendship. One especially attracted his satisfaction. Her love inspired him in many beautiful sonnets; but all the world knew that he never had the ben of any lady, ben to which he had a right in the Minne. All of them cheated him.
A double task torments me;
Carnal love or sublime love,
In which should I confide?
Shall I sing or not sing to the ladies
While my existence lasts?
I have many reasons, and weighty,
To no longer sing again.
But I continue, because my appetite for love, and youth
Instructs me, incites me, captivates me
Intelligent, agreeable, handsome, and very cultivated, Peire de Auvergne [or Peire d’Alvernha], the son of a burgher, was a native of the bishopric of Clermont. An excellent versifier and cantor, he was the country’s first well-known troubadour. The best rhymes are found in his poetry:
When the day is short and the night long
And the firmament gray and drab
It is then, when my muse awakens
Flowering and seasoning my moans
Extolled and praised by all the ladies, barons, and distinguished lords, Peire was considered the greatest troubadour until the day Giraut de Bornelh began to act. Peire said of himself:
The voice of Peire de Auvergne resonates
Like the croaking of frogs in the lake.
He boasts of his melodies.
Having almost too much talent
It is difficult to understand him,
Happy I discovered this little sonnet
With the light of the torches of Poivert.
The dauphin of Auvergne, in whose lands Peire came into this world, told Michel de La Tour that the troubadour lived to an old age and that at the end of his days, he repented.
Guilhem de Cabestanh came from the Roussillon, a region that borders with Catalonia and includes the area around Narbonne. He had a distinguished bearing and was well-versed in weapons, chivalry, and pleasing the ladies. In his homeland, there was a lady named Donna Seremonda, who was young, happy, noble, and quite beautiful. She was the wife of Raimundo del Castell Roselló, a powerful, evil, violent, rich, and proud lord. Guilhem de Cabestanh was crazily in love with her, and this rumor finally came to the attention of Raimundo. An irate and jealous man, he had his wife watched day and night. One day, when he met Guilhem de Cabestanh alone, he killed him, tore out his heart, and chopped off his head. He then ordered his servants to roast the heart, prepare it in pepper sauce, and serve it to his wife. After the meal, he asked, “Do you know what you have just eaten?” She replied, “No, but it was delicious.” Then he told her that she had just eaten the heart of Guilhem, and as proof, he showed her the troubadour’s head. When she saw it, she fainted. When she regained consciousness, she said, “The meat that you prepared for me was so excellent, lord, that I will never eat anything again.” Then she ran to the balcony and threw herself to her death.
The news of the miserable deaths of Guilhem de Cabestanh and Donna Seremonda, and the story that Raimundo del Castell Roselló had given the heart to his wife to eat, spread like wildfire through Catalonia and the Roussillon. Mourning and grief spread everywhere. Complaints were lodged with the King of Aragon, Raimundo’s lord. The King hurried to Perpignan where he summoned Raimundo, arrested him on the spot, confiscated all his goods, and threw him into his deepest dungeon. The bodies of Guilhem and his lady were brought to Perpignan and buried before the main door of the church. It is possible to read about their unhappy end on the gravestone. All knights and their ladies of the County of Roussillon were ordered to make a pilgrimage once a year to this place to celebrate the funeral.
When I saw you so haughty, sublime and beautiful
And I heard that you joked with gracious charm
I believed that for me calm had settled.
But since then, I have never found it
I love you my Lady, something bad must have happened to me
If to other ladies I would give my affect
My Lady! Will the hour never come to me?
When you tell me that I am your friend?⁸
Raimon Jordan, Viscount of Saint-Antoine in the parish of Cahors, loved a noble woman who was married to the lord of the Pena in the region of Albi. Beautiful and accomplished, she enjoyed great esteem and distinction. He was cultivated, generous, gallant, well versed with arms, elegant, agreeable, and a good poet. The love that they professed was immense. But as it happened, the Viscount suffered such grave wounds in a bloody battle that his enemies left him for dead. So great was the grief of the Viscountess that she decided to enter the heretical order. God ordained that the Viscount should regain good health. Nobody dared to tell him that the Viscountess had become a heretic. Once cured, the Viscount returned to Saint-Antoine, where he learned that his lady, distraught by his death, had entered into religion. The news meant that the jokes, smiles, and happiness disappeared from his life, replaced by groans, wails, and affliction. He gave up his horse and lived in isolation for a year. All the charitable souls of the region were very saddened by it, so much so that Alix de Montfort, a young, amiable, and good-looking lady, told him to be happy, because in compensation for the loss he suffered, she offered him her person and her love. This was the genteel message that she sent: “I ask and implore you to come and see me.”
When the Viscount received this honor, an immeasurable sweetness began to flood his heart. He started to feel happier, and he began again to walk among people, dress properly, and engage his retinue. He decked himself out appropriately and rode to see Alix, who received him with pleasure for the honor that he had just bestowed on her. He also felt content and happy for the honor that she had accorded him. Charmed by his generosity and virtues, she did not regret promising him her love. He knew how to conquer her and he told her that he had her engraved forever in his heart. She accepted him as her knight, received his homage, embraced and kissed him, and gave him a ring from one of her fingers as a pledge, guaranty, and security. Viscount Raimon, satisfied and radiant, left his lady, returning to his sonnets and happy ways, finally composing the famous song: “Before you, entreating, I prostrate myself, before you who I love …”⁹
Among the countless dynasties in the Pyrenean mountain chain, two stood out above the others.
The House of Aragon reigned on the Spanish side; its origins are lost in the mists of early Basque history. It counted among its ancestors Lupo, the Basque leader who appears to have defeated Roland at Roncevalles.
Alfonso I (1104–1134) freed Saragossa from Moorish domination in 1118 and established the capital of Aragon there. His brother Ramiro II had a daughter named Petronila who married Raimón Berenguer, the Count of Barcelona, in 1137. Their eldest son, Alfonso II (1162– 1196), who was called “the Chaste,” brought Catalonia and Aragon together under his scepter. His power extended over Aragon, Catalonia, Valencia, and the Balearic Islands, over part of Provence to the south of the Durance, the Counties of Urgell and Cerdagne, both bordering on Andorra, and the Roussillon, the part between the Mediterranean and the County of Toulouse.
Alfonso the Chaste was a prominent patron of the gai savoir (the noble art of poetry) and one of the troubadours who composed in the Provençal language. The poet Guyot de Provins, who was a native of the north of France, speaks of this rois d’Arragon as his magnanimous protector, and celebrated his poetic talent and his chivalrous virtues with admiration. Alfonso the Chaste competed with another troubadour, Arnaut de Mareulh, for the favors of Adélaide de Burlath, daughter of Raimundo V, Count of Toulouse, and wife of Roger-Tailhefer, Viscount of Carcassonne.
The powerful Counts of Toulouse dominated the north of the Pyrenees. Hursio, a Gothic prince, was their forefather. When Alaric II, King of the Visigoths, lost his residence in Toulouse to the Frankish King Clovis in 507, Hursio was obliged to remain as marquis of the city. Little by little, Hursio’s descendants became lords over the entire region between the Alps, the Durance, the Dordogne, and the Pyrenees as far as Gascony.
Raimundo de Saint-Gilles, the fourteenth descendant of Hursio, left for the Holy Land in the First Crusade (1096–1099) at the head of a huge army of Occitan pilgrims. Although he failed in his attempt to wrest the crown of Jerusalem from Geoffrey de Bouillon, he founded the County of Tripoli in Lebanon. The Syrian cities of Tripoli, Arado, Porfyre, Sidon, and Tyre were converted into the Toulouse, Carcassonne, Albi, Lavaur, and Foix of Asia Minor. Tripoli, their capital city, was in a forest of palm, orange, and pomegranate trees, and the wind played songs in the cedars of Lebanon, on the snows of Sannin, and the temples of Baalbek. The Count of Toulouse no longer missed his homeland; he sighed for his Oriental paradise.¹⁰
Melisenda of Tripoli was the great-granddaughter of Raimundo; her exquisite beauty and her fabulous properties exercised such an attraction on Jaufre Rudel that the unfortunate troubadour, as Petrarca sings in his Trionfo d’Amore, “used sail and oar to search for his death.”
Raimundo de Saint-Gilles’ sons divided their paternal inheritance between them. Bertran, who was born in Toulouse, took the County of Tripoli. Alfonso, born in Tripoli, left for Toulouse, where he took the titles of Count of Toulouse, Marquis of Provence, and Duke of Narbonne. The powerful counts and Viscounts of Carcassonne, Béziers, Montpellier, and Foix recognized him as the supreme feudal lord.
Alfonso was forty-five years old when Bernard, the Abbot of Clairvaux, preached the Second Crusade (1147–1148). He took up the cross in Vezelay together with Louis VII of France, and died—poisoned—just after he disembarked in Caesarea. Baldwin III, the King of Jerusalem, was accused of having masterminded his assassination. It would appear that the motive of the crime was the fear that Alfonso could take Baldwin’s crown from him.
Princess India of Toulouse, who accompanied her father to the Holy Land, buried Alfonso next to his parents, Raimundo de Saint-Gilles and Elvira of Castile, on Pilgrim Mount in Lebanon. During the course of the crusade, India was made prisoner by the infidels and taken to the harem of Sultan Nur ad-Din in Aleppo. The enslaved India eventually became his wife and reigned over the empire of the Seljuqs after his death.
Alfonso’s son Raimundo was only ten years old when his father left for Palestine. After Alfonso’s death, the Kings of France, England, and Aragon and their most powerful neighbors contested his inheritance. Louis VII of France, as a descendant of Clovis and Charlemagne, believed that he could claim Toulouse. Henry II of England, as the husband of Eleonore of Poitiers (who was related to the Counts of Toulouse), believed his wife had rights to it. For his part, the King of Aragon insisted that he was the successor of the legendary Basque leader Lupo. Raimundo followed the only path left open for him: He allied himself with one of the kings against the other two, “rendered homage to the King of France, and married Louis’ sister, Constance, widow of the Count of Boulogne.”
The resulting marriage was a dismal failure. Constance was a cold woman, quarrelsome, and to top it off, older than her husband. It also appears that she didn’t take conjugal loyalty very seriously, something that Raimundo could also be reproached for. He didn’t behave any better, and the monk-historiographer Pierre de Vaux-Cernay even claimed that he was a homosexual.¹¹ Whatever he was, the Castel Narbonnais, the palace where the Counts of Toulouse resided, was filled with their rancor.
Raimundo locked Constance in a tower before declaring war against the King of Aragon, with whom he disputed the sovereignty of Provence. She managed to flee to her brother in Paris, who was obviously not convinced that she was right because he refused to break with his brotherin-law.
The House of Anjou had reigned in England since 1154. The name Plantagenet comes from the branch of the furze (planta geneta) that adorned its coat of arms. Henry II, the son of Geoffrey of Anjou and the English Princess Mathilde, dominated England, Anjou, Tourraine, and since 1106, Normandy. In addition, his marriage to Eleonore de Poitiers (1152) brought him Aquitania, Poitou, Auvergne, Périgord, and Limousin, which is to say a quarter of France.
Henry II, called Curtmantle (for having introduced to England the fashion of short capes), undertook a campaign against the Count of Toulouse in 1159; but Louis of France invaded the territories he had gained through marriage to Eleonore of Aquitania, Poitou, Limousin, Auvergne, and Périgord, which pressured him to break off his campaign.
The peace of the House of Anjou-Plantagenet was also disturbed by conjugal problems. Eleonore had all the reason in the world to be jealous of her husband. A precious lady, with the even more precious name of Rosamonde, had stolen his heart. Eleonore decided to poison her rival and incite Prince Henry, the inheritor of the throne, to rebel against his father. Henry had her imprisoned, a measure that served Raimundo as a pretext to resist the English invasion.
In 1173, Prince Henry rebelled, starting a war against Henry II. The King of France and Raimundo of Toulouse supported Prince Henry with all their vassals and troubadours. Troubadour Bertran de Born composed the “Call” of the campaign.
Bertran de Born was none other than the Viscount of Hautefort, near Périgueux.
There is a period manuscript with a miniature image of this bellicose rhymer. He appears resplendent in armor, mounted on a black steed with crimson livery and a green saddle, galloping toward an enemy knight.
Please me happy Easter time,
Which brings leaves and flowers,
And it pleases me to hear how
The birds make their songs
Resonate in the forests.
But also I like to see rise on the fields
Tents and pavilions,
And they fill me with happiness
When I contemplate, ready for combat,
Knights, and armed knights.
I tell you that eating, drinking and sleeping
Doesn’t please me as much
To hear the shouts: “At them! Attack!
Help! Help! Help!”
Listen to me barons: pillage
Castles, villas and cities
Before others make war on you.
And you Papiol, choose:
Yes or no “Wake up! Don’t sleep!
The moment to choose has arrived:
Yes or no! One, two and three …”
FROM A QUATRAIN OF BERTRAN DE BORN¹²
Bertran called the English prince Richard the Lionheart, “Papiol.”¹³ The nickname has no translation; it can mean “little father” as well as “cork head.”
“Papiol” said, “Yes.”
In another quatrain, Bertran lists those princes who participated in the campaign against England: the Counts of Toulouse, Béarn, Barcelona (as a consequence, the King of Aragon), Périgord, and Limoges, and all the viscounts, barons, and consuls from the Rhône to the ocean.
Had it not been for the defection of the King of Aragon, who marched on Toulouse, the allies would have sided with the King of England. At the last minute, Raimundo succeeded in repelling Prince Henry and stepped up pressure for an alliance with the English King. Indignant, Bertran de Born composed a quatrain about the King of Aragon’s shameful betrayal of the Occitan cause. In it, Bertran wrote that the King of Aragon could never be a descendant of Lupo, the hero of the Pyrenees; the troubadour declared him the vassal of a serf from the rabble: “Aragon, Catalonia, and Urgell are ashamed of their cowardly king, who magnifies himself in his own songs, and who puts money above his personal honor.”
Then Richard the Lionheart said “No!” for once and reconciled himself with his father. A short time later in the Limousin, his brother Prince Henry, whom Bertran had named in his songs “lo rei joven,” died unexpectedly in the castle of Martel. The sudden death of Bertran’s favorite hero shocked him. He wept over the young prince in a planh.¹⁴
Bertran would have been pleased to see the war prosecuted, but unfortunately for him, the Aquitanian barons gathered around Henry of England, their feudal lord, and together they went to Hautefort, Bertran’s castle. Henry had sworn to seek revenge. When Alfonso of Aragon, Bertran’s most irreconcilable enemy, joined Henry’s siege, the situation became critical, but the poet did not lose his courage. To mock Alfonso, and to let the besiegers know that his castle was very well provisioned, he sent him an ox, asking him to appease the ire of the English king.
The castle at Hautefort fell to the siege. Bertran was taken prisoner and led before King Henry.
“Bertran, you boasted that you needed only half of your talent. I am afraid that even both halves together are not enough to save you.”
“Yes, Sire,” answered Bertran calmly. “Quite so I said, and told the truth.”
“But Bertran, have you ever had talent?”
“Yes, Sire, but I lost it when your son Henry died.”
Then Bertran de Born sang his elegy dedicated to the death of Henry, the young prince. The old King cried bitterly, and said, “Bertran, my son loved you more than anybody in the world. For the love of my son, I pardon your life. I leave you your lands and your castle. I wish to compensate the damages that you have suffered with these five hundred silver marks. Bertran, Bertran… . I felt the breeze of your genius pass by!”¹⁵
Bertran fell to the feet of the King, but got up more triumphant than ever.
Shortly thereafter (1186), King Henry died and was succeeded by Richard the Lionheart. Bertran, still unsatisfied with the royal “yes and no” that he had addressed to Richard in his quatrain, incited Richard’s brother Geoffrey to rise up against him. Geoffrey was defeated and sought refuge at the court of the King of France, where he died, trampled to death under horses’ hooves during a tournament.
Three years later, the Third Crusade was preached.¹⁶ Sultan Saladin had reconquered Jerusalem and replaced the cross in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher with the Star and Crescent. He offered the Christians of Jerusalem a choice: remaining within the walls of the Holy City without being disturbed, or withdrawing to the coastal cities of Tyre, Tripoli, or Akkon.
Quite possibly, Princess India of Toulouse contributed to Saladin’s generosity. After Nur ad-Din’s death, Saladin married her to become the lord over the Seljuq Empire. Whatever the cause, the fact remains that Saladin did not drench the Holy Land in blood as the crusaders had eighty-six years earlier during the First Crusade when, as Torcuato Tasso wrote, they “filled the city and the temple with corpses.”
Saladin’s victory sowed fury and panic throughout the Western world. Rome preached another crusade. The clergy’s sermons were accompanied by the harps of the troubadours. The most renowned poets, such as Bertran de Born, Peire Vidal, Guiraut de Bornelh, and Peire Cardenal, called on the faithful to take part in the holy war. What really motivated the troubadours was not nostalgia for the holy places of Palestine, rather the desire to visit foreign lands and sing about their adventures in ballads and quatrains before ladies, desolate at having been left at home. How many feminine tears must have flowed when rhymers and knights departed their native lands with the cross on the armor and shields!
The other day I found seated on a carpet of grass and white flowers, close to the fountain of an orchard in whose fruit trees the birds sang, a noble lady, the daughter of the lord of the castle. I thought that she had come to bask in the springtime, the green foliage, and the songs of the birds; but it was not so.
With profound sighs, she complained saying: “Jesus, for You, I suffer such pain. Why do you want the most valiant of this world to cross the sea, and go to serve you! My friend, his graces so genteel and valiant, has gone. And I stay here alone with my desire, my tears, and my affliction.”
Upon hearing such lament, I approached the brook of crystal water, and told her: “Sweet lady, tears cloud your beauty. You should not lose hope. God who lets the trees flower can also give you back your happiness.”
“Sir,” she answered, “I believe that one day in another life God will have mercy with me and other sinners. But why take it from me in this life? He who was my happiness and now who is so far from me.”
It was extraordinarily difficult for the poet Peirol to tear himself away from Donna Sail de Claustra, who groaned and rebuked him:
When my love saw that my heart no longer thought about her, she began her reproaches. You will see some: “Friend Peirol, it is not right on your part that you leave me in the lurch. If your thoughts no longer belong to me alone, and if you no longer sing, of what use are you?”
—My love, for so much time I have served you, and you no longer sympathize with me. You know perfectly well how little you think of me.
—But Peirol, have you already forgotten the beautiful and noble lady who received you with such mercy and Minne? Nobody would have suspected such a frivolous heart in your songs and verses. You appeared so happy and in love!
—My love, I loved you from the first day, and I continue loving you. But the hour has come when more than one man who—if Saladin didn’t exist—would be lucky to stay with his lady, has no other recourse than, even with tears, to separate himself from her.
—Peirol, your participation in the crusade will hardly contribute to the liberation of the city of David from the Turks and Arabs that occupy it. Listen to my well-thought-out advice: love, versify, and let the crusade follow its course. Look at the Kings who, instead of going there, are fighting amongst themselves; take the barons for an example, who are trying to avoid taking up the cross under the vain pretexts of quarrels.
—My love, I have always loyally served you. You know it yourself. But today, I am obliged to deny you my obedience. The crusade has delayed too much, and it should have already gone to the aid of the pious Marquis of Montferrat.¹⁷
This “Marquis of Montferrat” was Conrad, Prince of Tyre who, surrounded by Saladin, pleaded for help from the West. Bertran de Born answered him in the following terms: “Lord Conrad: Seek divine protection! Had it not been for the vacillations of counts, princes, and kings, which induced me to stay where I am, I would already be there with you, and for quite some time. In addition, after seeing again my charming blond lady, I have no desire to go.”
At the beginning of the crusade, Bertran de Born was one of its most enthusiastic heralds, but he remained on his estates, preferring to love beautiful ladies, compose verses, and proclaim:
“God wishes that Philip of France and Richard of England fall into Saladin’s hands!”
His greatest happiness would have come if the King of Aragon had also taken up the cross and all three never returned.
Frederick Barbarossa, together with his forces, was the first to leave his German homeland. En route, he had to break the resistance of the distrustful Greek emperor Issac Angelos. Only the occupation of Adrianopolis allowed him to continue his march and sail to Asia Minor. One year later, King Philip of France embarked from Marseille, and Richard the Lionheart from Genoa. They had agreed that their fleets would gather in Messina, where they would wait until the spring.
At the time, a famous hermit named Joachim of Flora, who possessed the gift of prophecy, lived in Sicily.¹⁸ Following the model of the monasteries of Mount Athos, Lebanon, and the Sinai, he established convents in the mountains of Calabria, along the straits of Messina, and on the Lipari Islands off Sicily. Among his contemporaries, he was known as the best author of commentary on the Apocalypse of Saint John. Richard the Lionheart went to visit the illustrious monk and beseeched him to explain chapter twelve of the Apocalypse to him.
“The woman dressed as the sun, with a moon under her feet, and a crown of twelve stars on her head is the church,” said the hermit. “The large red snake with seven heads and seven diadems is the devil. The seven heads are the seven great persecutors of the Gospel: Herod, Nero, Constantine (who emptied the treasury of the Church of Rome) Mohammed, Melsemut, Saladin, and the Antichrist. The first five are dead. Saladin lives, and uses his power. The Antichrist will come soon. Saladin still triumphs, but he will lose Jerusalem and the Holy Land.”
“When will it happen?” asked Richard the Lionheart.
“Seven years after taking Jerusalem.”
“So, have we come too early?”
“Your coming was necessary, King Richard. God will give you victory over your enemies, and will make your name glorious. Regarding the Antichrist, he is among us, and soon he will sit on the throne of Peter.”
Richard the Lionheart never liberated Jerusalem. Saladin triumphed for a long period. And as for the Antichrist: Who can say that Joachim’s Antichrist was not Innocent III?
Philip and Richard left Sicily in the springtime. On Cyprus, Richard married off his favorite troubadour, Peire Vidal of Toulouse, to a Greek captive of high birth. Thanks to Michel de la Tour’s biography, we know just how much royal grace influenced the life of Peire.
The Crusade was a disaster. Frederick Barbarossa drowned in the Saleph, the same river where Alexander the Great was almost killed. Although Philip and Richard the Lionheart managed to take the city of Akkon in July 1191 after a siege that lasted almost two years, disagreements regarding the sharing of the booty, jealousy of Richard’s popularity, and a supposed illness induced the King of France to return to Europe after the city’s fall. For the crusaders who remained, Philip’s departure was tantamount to desertion, and the troubadours’ satires accompanied him across the sea.
A year later, Richard learned that Philip was trying to take Normandy and Anjou, and that his brother was set on taking the crown of England from him. With no time to lose, he decided to start negotiating with Saladin in order to return as soon as possible to his country. He agreed with the sultan that his sister Joan should marry the emir Malek-Adel, Saladin’s brother, and that together they should reign over Jerusalem and the Holy Land. The Roman prelates were able to thwart this plan, which would have put an end to the bloodshed in Palestine. The two rulers were only able to sign a cessation of hostilities for three years, three months, and three days. For such an auspicious occasion, Saladin and Richard organized grandiose festivities. Both monarchs and their troops fought bloodless competitions with lance and harp.
Saladin also brought with him his court poets because from the Bosphorus to the Persian Gulf, the Arab ruwahs composed “as many verses as there are grains of sand in the desert, and as many ghasels [poems] as gazelles exist.” The troubadours sang of how Rudel and Melisende died of love; the ruwahs, the no less sad story of Hinda and Abdallah. Let’s listen to it:
Abdallah, the son of an illustrious and rich family, had married Hinda, the rose of her tribe. Because their marriage was sterile, Abdallah, in a stupor, repudiated poor Hinda, who fled to her father’s tent. Shortly thereafter, she married a man from the Amirides tribe. Abdallah sang with his harp about his unhappy love and its loss. He left his tribe to look for Hinda. He found her crying at the mouth of a well. And the happiness of seeing each other again broke their hearts… .
Once the festivities were over, Richard left the Holy Land. It is not necessary for us to recount how the Austrian duke Leopold VI, whom he gravely offended one day at Akkon, imprisoned him in the castle of Dürrnstein, or later when the emperor Heinrich VI locked him up in Trifels, and how he recovered his liberty.
For quite some time, Richard the Lionheart was the darling of the Mediterranean world, Aquitania, and England. In the Orient, the ruwahs celebrate the “Melek-rik.” In Occitania and Aquitania, the troubadours sang with enthusiasm of his heroic prowess; they described how the joglar [juggler] Blondel had freed him, and lauded him as the first knight of the Round Table, another King Arthur.¹⁹
When Richard arrived back in England in 1194, he was confronted with the fact that his younger brother John had allied himself with Philip to dethrone him. John fled to Paris and Richard was able to reconquer his provinces of Normandy and Anjou, which Philip had usurped from him. Only then, after nearly a four-year absence, could he head toward Toulouse.
“Bertran de Born was very happy,” related a chronicler.
When Bertran learned that King Philip had secretly hurried back from the Holy Land, he easily guessed the French King’s plans for Richard’s possessions in Aquitania, and the troubadour never doubted for an instant that the French monarch’s real aim was to extend his frontiers all the way to the Pyrenees. Bertran, who had until then been Richard’s adversary, openly declared in his favor. He managed to persuade Pedro of Aragon, who had recently been crowned King, and the Count of Toulouse to forget their profane quarrels and get the crown prince of Toulouse to ask Richard for the hand of his sister Joan as a symbol of reconciliation between the Plantagenet and Toulouse families. In this way, the differences between Aquitania and Languedoc were overcome and Aquitania recovered the image that it had in the tenth century when the counts—the “Heads of Burlap”—and Raimundo-Pons of Toulouse reigned fraternally, side by side, from Occitania to the Rhône.
From Toulouse, Bertran went to visit the most important woman of Occitania, Adélaide de Burlats. A widow, she was the daughter of Raimundo V of Toulouse and Constance of France. She lived in Carcassonne, which was by far the most elegant city of the Languedoc, and from which she governed the territories of the House of Trencavel during the minority of her son Raimon-Roger. From Carcassonne, Bertran traveled to the summer residence of the Counts of Toulouse at Beaucaire on the Rhône. There, all the princes and lords of Provence, Languedoc, Aquitania, the Pyrenees (from Perpignan to Bayonne), and Aragon, as well as the consuls of all the free cities of the Midi, and all the troubadours and joglars of Occitania had come to witness the reconciliation of the three monarchs and attend the marriage of Raimundo de Toulouse and Joan Plantagenet. A chronicler of the time, the Prior de Vigeois, describes for us how the festivities at Beaucaire were celebrated.
Ten thousand knights flowed to Beaucaire. Through the mediation of the seneschal of Agoût, Count Raimundo divided one thousand gold pieces among those knights who were lacking resources. Twelve yokes of oxen plowed the spot where they were going to celebrate the tournaments, and the Count planted three thousand silver and gold coins in small ditches, so the people could also have their share of happiness after the tournaments. A baron who was lodging four hundred knights in his castle had goats and oxen roasted on spits. A countess from the House of Provence placed on the head of the joglar Iveta, who was proclaimed king of the troubadours, a crown made from forty thousand silver and gold coins.²⁰
To symbolize the end of the fratricidal war between Aquitania, Languedoc, and Aragon, a knight had his thirty warhorses burned in a gigantic pyre.
Two decades later, Occitania would see other pyres blaze under very different circumstances, as ordered by Pope Innocent III… .
After the festivities at Beaucaire, the Count of Toulouse declared war on France, but the death of Richard the Lionheart put a quick end to the conflict.
It was said at the time that the outbreak of hostilities in the Occitan states, the marriage of Raimundo to Joan, and Toulouse’s declaration of war on Paris were all the work of Bertran de Born.
In the meantime, Saladin had died. Before his last breath, he gave the order that the shroud that would cover his corpse, woven with purple and gold, was to be paraded through the streets of Jerusalem as a herald proclaimed, “This is all that the sovereign of the world, Jussuf Mansor Saladin, took with him.”
His seventeen sons and his brother, Emir Malek-Adel, divided his immense Muslim empire amongst themselves. Pope Innocent III, who had been crowned on February 22, 1198, believed that the moment to launch a new crusade in Palestine had arrived. He entrusted Fulk of Neuilly-sur-Marne with the recruitment campaign for this Holy War. The first monarch Fulk visited was Richard the Lionheart.
But Richard had learned to say no. He knew Greece and the Orient well. Saladin had become his friend. As we have seen, he wanted to marry his sister to Malek-Adel in order to establish a Christian-Muslim kingdom of Jerusalem. Together with the King of France, he had taken up the cross in Rome’s favor. But now he had become Rome’s adversary and irreconcilable enemy. He didn’t want to hear any more of “crusades.” Fulk became irritated:
“Sire, in the name of God the Almighty, I implore you to marry off your three corrupt daughters if you wish to escape condemnation!”
“You lie! I don’t have a single daughter!” shouted the King.
“You have three. Their names are Arrogance, Greed, and Lust!”
“Very well, I will give ‘Arrogance’ to the Templars, ‘Greed’ to the Cistercian monks, and ‘Lust’ to the prelates of the Catholic Church.”²¹
The Roman Curia excommunicated the King of England.
For some time, Bertran had buried his anger with Richard over the king’s “yes and no” instead of “yes or no.” An intimate friendship united the Sovereign of England and Aquitania with the Provençal poet of the “Guerra me plai.”
Bertran was without any doubt the most important troubadour of Occitania. The influence of his songs and the sounds of his harp evoked the fables recounted by the poets of antiquity. One day, Richard the Lionheart found himself with his troops on the sandy dunes of the Poitou, not far from the Sables-d’Olonne. Hunger had decimated both men and beasts: no bread for the soldiers and no grass for the horses. Bertran picked up his harp and sang a romanza about Princess Laina Plantagenet, Richard’s sister, later the duchess of Saxony. It is said that the barons and knights forgot their hunger, their thirst, and the storm that came in from the sea, whipping their faces with hailstones.
In 1199, Richard laid siege to the Castle of Châlus-Charbrol that belonged to his vassal, the Viscount Améric de Limoges. A treasure was kept inside Châlus’ walls, which Richard claimed was his as feudal lord.
He wanted to unite the useful and the agreeable. Améric de Limoges had sided with France. The King of England hoped to simultaneously get the treasure and punish a disloyal vassal. But while he was indicating to his soldiers the spot where they should scale the castle walls, an arrow from an archer’s bow pierced his shoulder, near his heart. Mortally wounded, Richard fell into the arms of Bertran de Born.
The furious assailants took the castle; the garrison’s throats were cut, and the able archer, who was none other than the lord of the castle, was lynched.²² The treasure that was found paid for the king’s funeral.
All his vassals and troubadours, including Bertran, King of the Poets, escorted the Poet-King to Fontevrault, where the mausoleum of the Plantagenets is located, where that eternally restless King found his eternal rest. Perhaps it shouldn’t surprise us that Richard the Lionheart was lowered into his tomb without prayers, holy water, or the blessings of the Church. The King of England, Ireland, Anjou, Arles, and Cyprus remained excluded from the community of the Catholic Church.
All the harps, from the North to the South, wailed over the loss of this Alexander, this Charlemagne, this King Arthur. All the troubadours intoned their elegies of Richard’s death—except for one.
The most tears were those of the poet Gaucelm Faidit, who had accompanied the monarch to the Holy Land. From his elegy:
Descendants remote in time,
How could you understand?
My bitter pain, my acute suffering
That I will never forget!
Know at least
That Richard the Lionheart
King of England
Is already dead!
So cruel was the hand of God!
Richard is already dead!²³
Bertran de Born did not intone any elegy. His capacity to love was as large as his ability to hate. His pain at losing his friend was too strong. This time, his songs were silenced. One afternoon, he knocked at the door of the Convent of Grammont, a door that closed behind him forever. Bertran turns up only once more, in Hell, where the great Florentine poet Dante Alighieri places him: “Bertran is condemned to carry his head separate from the trunk, because he separated what was united.” Decapitated, the troubadour of the castle of Hautefort carries his own head in front of him to illuminate the pathways of Hell.
According to an Occitan legend that is still very much alive among the common folk, Bertran, distraught by the curse that hangs over his homeland, remains frozen in a block of ice in the glacier of the Maldetta mountain range.
The story of Richard the Lionheart and Bertran de Born forced us to neglect another, no less important, hero of those lands: Raimundo V, the Count of Toulouse. Not only was he the most powerful sovereign of the Occitan world and one of the most influential chiefs of state of the Western world, but his capital Toulouse was also the metropolis of Occitan civilization and culture.
The possessions of Hursio’s powerful descendant were more extensive than those of the French crown; as its most important vassal, the Count of Toulouse enjoyed a semi-independent status. Along with the County of Toulouse, the Duchy of Narbonne belonged to him, a dignity that made him the first noble of France. He was the feudal lord over fourteen counts, and the troubadours compared him to an emperor:
Car il val tan qu’en soa valor
Auri’ assatz ad un emperador²⁴
[“Because he was worth in his value
as much as an emperor”]
They called him “the good Count Raimundo,” because like them, he was a troubadour, always attentive to their worries and needs.
A singular fact: Raimundo of Toulouse never wanted to go to the Holy Land, not even to visit Toulouse’s Tripoli. He was the only one among the great Christian princes of the twelfth century who did not participate in the overseas crusades. Did he foresee that, shortly after his death in 1194, Occitania would become the theater of the most horrible crusade of all? Raimundo was not interested in seeing the Holy Sepulcher or Golgotha. Did he suspect that Occitania under his successor Raimundo VI would live its own Golgotha and have its own Holy Sepulcher? Raimundo V performed considerable services for Occitan civilization, practicing le gai savoir, the spirit of chivalry, and irreproachable politics. One thing he disregarded: He remained estranged from Occitan Catharism. It proposed a “Pure Doctrine” that the rest of the Christian world called a heresy. And yet the “Gospel of the Consoling Paraclete” needed his support. As we will see further on, in all these aspects his son-in-law and grandson, who belonged to the House of Trencavel de Carcassonne, were to guard the mystical Round Table, whose unifying link was constituted by its “desire for Paradise.”
Upon a green achmardi,
She bore the consummation of heart’s desire
To its roots and blossoming:
A thing called the Grâl²⁵
In his quatrain to his poet-friends, the troubadour Raimon de Miravalh indicates the protectors of the “noble art” who will provide a good welcome, recognition, and presents:
In the first place, head for Carcassonne whose barons I will not list, because I would need forty quatrains for it. Accept their presents, and leave. I still don’t know exactly in which direction you should gallop, but greet Senyor Raimon Drut for me, who almost certainly will have you leaving on a horse if you arrived on foot.
Afterwards, go in search of Peire Roger de Mirepoix. If you cannot find him, I promise to double your reward.
On to Baron Bertran de Saissac: sing to him quatrains—or better still—canzones. If Lord Bertran is not in the humor to give gifts, he will not deny you an old nag.
Then ride to the lord Améric de Montréal, who will remove your worries with a good horse, livery, and a cape.
In very remote times, oak trees—the sacred trees of the Druids—rose on a rocky hill in the heart of the city of Carcassonne; the etymology of the name Carcassonne refers to it: ker = rock, casser = oak.²⁶ Alaric, the King of the Visigoths, had such an imposing belt of towers and walls constructed around the city that King Clovis of France and Emperor Charlemagne besieged it in vain. The Emperor only entered when the city wanted to open its doors.
At the eastern side of the city, where the hill drops off above the Aude river, rises the majestic castle of the Viscounts of Carcassonne and Béziers, who were called the “Trencavel” (those who cut well).
From Carcassonne, the Trencavel dominated the rich cities of Albi, Castres, and Béziers. All the lands bordered by the Tarn River, the Mediterranean, and the eastern Pyrenees were theirs. They were related to the most noble princes of the Western world: the Capetians of France, the Plantagenet in England and Anjou, the Hohenstauffen in Swabia, Aragon in Catalonia, and the descendants of Hursio in Toulouse.
Influenced by his uncle King Alfonso of Aragon and the King of England, Viscount Raimon de Trencavel took part in the war against the young Count Raimundo V of Tolouse, which provoked the count’s subjects to rebel against the civil war that was being imposed on them. During the hostilities, a burgher from Béziers fought with a knight. The barons asked Raimon Trencavel to hand over the burgher, who had to suffer an ignominious punishment, the details of which we know nothing.
With the war over, the burghers of Béziers demanded reparations from the viscount for the treatment of one of their own. He answered that he would submit to the arbitration of the barons and the notables. On October 15, 1167, Trencavel, accompanied by the bishop, appeared in the Church of the Magdalene in Béziers, where the burghers, armed with clubs and wearing chain mail vests under their garments, were waiting for him.
The burgher who was at the center of the altercation advanced toward the viscount with a somber face.
“My Lord,” he said, “I am the unfortunate one who cannot support your disgrace. Do you promise to give the burghers of Béziers satisfaction for the affront that was done to me?”
“I am ready,” replied the prince, “to submit to arbitration by barons and notables.”
“This is no satisfaction. Our ignominy can only be washed clean with your blood!”
As these words were pronounced, the conspirators drew their daggers. The viscount, his youngest son, the barons, and the bishop were assassinated before the altar.
Forty years later, the Church of the Magdalene and its major altar would witness another, even more horrible massacre. The house of God would explode like a volcano, burying under it the charcoaled bodies of all the burghers of Béziers.
The consuls were left as lords over the city. For two years, they refused to hear or speak about the bishop or the viscount. They sneered at the fury of the nobles and excommunication by the Vatican. So arrogant and untamed was the independence of the Occitan city republics! This haughty independence recalls Gothic feudalism, Roman consuls, and the Iberian patriarchs, from whom they could have descended.
In the year 1050, Toulouse, Barcelona, Saragossa, Narbonne, Béziers, Carcassonne, Montpellier, Nîmes, Avignon, Arles, Marseille, and Nice were virtually independent republics. All had a capitulum (council of citizens) elected by the citizenry, under the fictitious presidency of a count or viscount, but effectively under the leadership of the consuls, whose mission was to watch over the destiny of the city. The Aragonese, for example, had a form of election for the coronation of their king that became celebrated: “We who are worth the same as you, and can do more than you, elect you king, with the pact to keep these fueros [laws] between us. If this is not so, no!”
By contrast, in Narbonne the archbishop, viscount, and citizens governed together. In Marseille, each one of these three powers had its own circumscription inside the city. In Nice, Arles, and Avignon, only the burghers governed. These rich and proud citizens had their palazzi, complete with towers, and defended the rights of the city with sword and lance. If they desired, they could become armed knights, and compete with the barons in tournaments. Without losing any of their dignity, these ennobled burghers dedicated themselves to overseas commercial transactions, as in the Greek city-states.
Agriculture, the best sustenance of every community and state, was flourishing. The land produced cereals, particularly millet, in abundance, as well as grain brought from Asia at the times of the crusades. Olive oil and wine flowed in torrents. Commercial treaties united the coastal Occitan cities with Genoa, Pisa, Florence, Naples, and Sicily. In the port of Marseille, Italian, Greek Levantine, Moorish, and Norman ships dropped anchor, traded, and sailed back home.
The intermediaries between Occitania and the commercial cities of the Mediterranean were the exchange agents. In Occitania, Jews could live and work without being disturbed, and they enjoyed the same rights as the rest of the citizenry to hold public office and teach at the universities. Occitan nobility protected and encouraged them; the Trencavel of Carcassonne employed Nathan, Samuel, and Moses Caravita as their ministers for economy and finances. Some of the Jewish professors who taught classes at Occitan universities were famous in both the West and the Orient. Students came from afar to listen to Rabbi Abraham at Vauvert, near Nîmes. In Narbonne, where Rabbi Calonimo taught, he was known as “the son of the great hierarch and Rabbi, Theodore, of the House of David.” This dynasty of rabbinic hierarchs was called “the family of the Israelite kings of Narbonne,” and they considered themselves to be a branch of the House of David. The lords of Narbonne placed their immense properties under special protection.
Raimon Trencavel fell dead before the great altar of the Church of the Magdalene of Béziers, a victim of the passion for independence that dominated the free cities of Provence. The crown prince of Carcassonne, Roger Taillefer [Talhafèr], who was still under twenty years of age, wanted to avenge his father’s death. For this, he needed the help of his relative, King Alfonso of Aragon. Together with his barons and Catalan noblemen, he marched on Béziers, which surrendered after a two-yearlong siege. Roger Taillefer pardoned his father’s assassins.
One day, an unhappy baron provoked him:
“You have sold your father’s blood, my lord!”
These words pierced his heart. One night, while Béziers slept peacefully, Aragonese troops acting on the young Trencavel’s orders took over the city and stabbed all the gentile males of the town. Only the women and Jews were spared.
The following morning, the viscount and his bishop, named Bernard, forced all the daughters and widows of the murdered burghers to marry their Aragonese killers, and demanded an annual tribute of three pounds of pepper from them as well.
Without wishing to attenuate young Trencavel’s responsibility in these events—he governed from then on in an indulgent, tolerant, and chivalrous way—we have to say that those really responsible for the bloodbath were Bishop Bernard and the King of Aragon. The nobles fired the flames of bloody vengeance in the Viscount’s son only for their personal gain. The bishop did not know how to control the impetuous young man, and Alfonso II wanted to assure himself of a base of support between his County of Rousillon and his possessions in Provence without losing sight of the fact that Béziers represented an advance post facing Toulouse and Carcassonne.
Soon Roger Taillefer understood. To disarm the danger that he himself had provoked, he established an alliance with the Count of Toulouse and asked for the hand of the count’s daughter Adélaide.
The court of Carcassonne was the focus of poetry and chivalrous courtesy, and in the words of Arnaut de Mareulh, “the most chaste court, full of grace, because the scepter was in Adélaide’s hands.”
The troubadours gave Raimon Roger, the crown prince of Foix and cousin of Roger Taillefer of Carcassonne, the sobriquet “Raimon Drut,” which means “Roger the beloved.”
The castle of the count of Foix was situated in the savage valley of the river Ariège, which descends from the snow-covered mountains of Andorra bordering the important mountain chain of Montcalm and Saint Bartholomew’s Peak, and flows toward the Garonne.
According to legend, a sanctuary dedicated to Abellio, the sun god of the Iberians, was situated on the rock where the Castle of Foix is built.²⁷
According to another tradition, Foix was a Basque colony of Phocea, a city in Asia Minor. During the Gallic wars, Foix was the pal (meeting place) of the Sotiates, who in 76 B.C. favored Sertorius over Pompey, and who twenty years later were defeated by Caesar’s deputy Publius Crassus in the vicinity of vicus Sotiatum (now the town of Vicdessos). From then on, Foix was nothing more than one of the many Roman castella that guarded the Pyrenean passes, assuring safe transit through them.
Under Visigoth domination (414–507), the Catholic bishops, who were unhappy with the leadership of the Gothic kings because of their links to Arianism, succeeded in enlisting the help of the French King Clovis. Volusian, a king who was suspected (not without reason) of having opened the doors of Tours to the Franks, was taken prisoner by the Visigoths and executed in Foix. After the battle of Vouglé, Clovis gathered Volusian’s mortal remains and had the French clergy proclaim him a martyr and a saint. Clovis founded a monastery next to Volusian’s tomb, and around it, on the ruins of a Roman colony, built a small town which Charlemagne later fortified and converted into an important support base against the Aquitanians to the north and the Moors to the south.
In the rocky Castle of Foix, the bards, guests of Arcantua, the chief of the Sotiates, sang Celtic and Iberian cantares de gesta, accompanied by Grecian-style lyres. In the twelfth century, when monetary and amorous worries preoccupied the troubadours, they were always welcomed with great hospitality.
Roger Bernard I, Count of Foix (died 1188) and his wife, Cecilia de Carcassonne, had four children: a son, Raimon Roger (the Raimon Drut of the troubadours), and three daughters. We know the names of only two, Cecilia and Esclarmonde.
Raimon Roger took charge of the inheritance of his father, who had died shortly before the start of the crusade after accompanying Philip of France and Richard the Lionheart to the Holy Land. His domains included the fertile plain that extended from the borders of the County of Toulouse through the gorges of Hers, Lasset, the Ariège with its deafening waterfalls, and the lonely pastures of the Pyrenees, accessible only to those shepherds who knew the mountains and herded their agile flocks there.
Almost all the vassals of the counts of Foix were “Sons of the Moon” (or “Sons of Belissena” as they also called themselves).²⁸ They claimed to be descended from the moon goddess Belissena, the Celt Iberian Astarté. On their shields were a fish, the moon, and a tower—the emblems of the moon goddess, the sun god, and the power of the knights.
Peire Roger was also a Son of Belissena. His castle was located in Mirepoix (Mira piscem = contemplate the fish). From his Tower (as his castle was called) he could watch the fish swim in the crystal-clear waters of the Hers river, which originates on the majestic Saint Bartholomew’s Peak; he could also see the new moon rising above Belissena’s forest to the east. Before the Christian era, his city was called Beli cartha (city of the moon). It was believed to have been founded by the Phoenicians, who were searching for gold and silver in the neighboring Pyrenees.
There was hardly a single castle in the Pyrenees that didn’t belong to a Son of Belissena. Above all stood the Barons of Verdun, whose dominions under the mountains almost equaled their aboveground holdings in area, and easily surpassed many in beauty. The marvelous lime grottoes of Ornolac and Verdun extended kilometer after kilometer into the bowels of the Ariège mountain range.
This part of the Ariège valley is called the Sabarthès (after the Church of Sabart, where the Mother of God had foreseen Charlemagne’s victory over the Saracens). The Sabarthès is protected by two cities that belonged to the counts of Foix: Tarascon, which served for years as a Moorish advance post against Charlemagne, and Ax, where Phoenician merchants, Greek colonizers, and Roman intruders healed themselves in its thermal springs.
As vassals of the House of Foix, the Barons of Lordat, Arnave, and Rabat shared the Sabarthès with the lords of Verdun. The castles of Lordat, Calamès, and Miramont rose majestically on rocks like authentic eagles’ nests, at an altitude of more than a thousand meters [3,000 feet].
In Olmès (the Valley of Elms) on the northern face of the Saint Bartholomew’s range, the Peyrotta and Perelha lived in their fortresses. The most heavily fortified of these were Montségur, Perelha, and Rocafissada. Raimon de Perelha was, together with the counts of Foix, the Lord of Montségur. Montségur signifies “Secure Mountain.”
From this bastion, outlawed troubadours, ladies, and knights were to watch in horror as the crusade threw hundreds of thousands of their brothers, who couldn’t flee to the still-secure mountains, onto the execution pyre or into subterranean dungeons.
Never existed a better place to defend
WOLFRAM VON ESCHENBACH²⁹
Sons of Belissena were not only in the County of Foix; they could be found as vassals and parents of the Counts of Toulouse and the Viscounts of Carcassonne throughout the Languedoc: in Castres, Termès, Fanjeaux, Montréal, Saissac, and Hautpoul.
The castles of the lords of Saissac, Cab-Aret, and Hautpoul were located in the nearly impenetrable forests of the “Black Mountain Range,” from whose summit it was possible to see the fifty towers of the city of Carcassonne.
Ermengarde de Saissac (“the beautiful Albigense,” as she was called by the troubadours), Brunisenda de Cab-Aret, and Stéphanie the “She-Wolf” were among the most celebrated ladies of Languedoc. Three barons and two troubadours sang and courted these three women, the most beautiful of them all. The nobles who dominated the harp as well as the lance were Raimon Drut, the crown prince of Foix, Peire Roger de Mirepoix, and Améric de Montréal. The troubadours were Peire Vidal—the future “Emperor of Constantinople”—and Raimon de Miravalh.
Peire Vidal, who “asked from all noble ladies their love,” couldn’t resist the temptation to also try with the “She-Wolf.” He fell crazily in love with his “Dulcinea,” but nothing was to come of it. The “She-Wolf” paid no attention to the genteel words and love songs of the trobère. Neither his magnificent horses, rich armor, imperial throne, nor campaign bed made the slightest impression on the woman. Finally, Peire tried to get Donna Loba’s attention in another way. He put on a wolf’s head and his warrior’s outfit and dedicated himself to passing in front of her castle. This also came to nothing.
Love is ingenious. Because the wolf’s head had failed to make the desired impression, the troubadour dressed himself in an authentic wolf’s skin and terrorized Donna Loba’s shepherds and flocks every night. One of the shepherds’ dogs managed to catch him and fell on the hypothetical “Isengrim” with grinding teeth. The shepherds, who were quite perplexed to hear a wolf shouting for help, had to work hard to save him. They took him, bloodied and wounded, to the castle of the She-Wolf. This was exactly what the wise Peire wanted, because in this way he could be taken care of and cured in Cab-Aret. Michel de La Tour, his biographer, did not lie when he said that all the ladies cheated on him. The “She-Wolf” cheated on him with Raimon Drut, the crown prince of Foix.
Améric, “who remedied the necessities of the troubadours with a good horse, livery, and a cape,” was the lord of Montréal, a small town halfway between Carcassonne and Foix, and also a Son of the Moon. His sister Geralda was the famous mistress of the castle of Lavaur. No troubadour or beggar ever left her castle without being welcomed as a guest and receiving some coins for the journey. A chronicler related, “Geralda was the most noble and generous lady of all Occitania.” Nevertheless, during the crusade against her homeland, she suffered an awful death. For consummate heresy, she was thrown in a well and covered with stones:
The grass in the castle courtyard in Lavor
Grew alone, undisturbed, and high
Soon it overtook, and cast its shadow over
Scattered, and unburied bones.
Carrion birds, which pulled them out
Fly high in silent circles
The burned and blackened old walls
Mourned by the dark sky,
At the well, she still stands, the Linden-tree
Once a witness of prettier times,
Moved by the wind, she lets
Her leaves glide silently by
To the well, the briars push with eagerness
To the well, thistles even, the rough ones
Overhang the marble edge
As if to look down
A singer stands at the deep well
To cry out his last song,
Where all delights are buried,
Giralda rests, covered with stones.
LENAU, THE ALBIGENSES
Guyot de Provins was a trobère from the north of France who wandered through Europe, visiting the most important courts of France, Germany, Aquitania, and Occitania.³⁰ We can place him in Maguncia on Whitsunday 1184, enjoying a festival for knights organized by Frederick Barbarossa. At the beginning of the thirteenth century, already very elderly, he compiled his “Bible,” a satire on the different feudal estates of his time. In it, Guyot named his protectors for us:
The Emperor Fredrick Barbarossa, l’empereres Ferris.
Louis VII, King of France, li rois Loeis de France.
Henry II, King of England, li riches rois Henris.
Richard the Lionheart, li rois Richarz.
Henry, the “young king” of England, li jones rois.
Alfonso II of Aragon, li rois d’Arragon.
Raimundo V, Count of Toulouse, li cuens Remons de Toulouse.
Guyot followed the procession of troubadours to Toulouse. From this center of the world of courteous poetry, there were two ways to reach the residence of his Maecenas, Alfonso de Aragon: one, by returning to Foix, the home of Raimon Drut, and following the Ariège, later crossing the Sabarthès to reach the border of Aragon through the pass at Puymorens; the other, which was easier, by passing through Carcassonne and Perpignan in the Roussillon, hugging the coastline until Barcelona, and from there to Saragossa. It is possible that he used one road when he left, and the other when he returned. Whether in Carcassonne or Foix, troubadours felt at home. In Foix, he could have met with Raimon Drut and his sister Esclarmonde and celebrated her beauty.
Esclarmonde’s aunt Adélaide, the daughter of Raimundo V of Toulouse and Constance of France, reigned in Carcassonne. After the death of her husband Roger Taillefer in 1193, all the possessions of the Trencavel family came under her indulgent scepter.
Now Kyot laschantiure was the name
Of one whose art compelled him
To tell what shall gladden no few.
Kyot is that noted Provençal
Who saw this Tale of Parsifal
Written in that heathenish tongue.
And what he retold in French
I shall not be too dull
To recount in German
WOLFRAM VON ESCHENBACH
Wolfram cites Kyot, a Provençal, as the person who inspired his Parsifal and claims that Chrétien de Troyes (the author of Perceval le gallois, written circa 1180) “has done wrong by this story.”³¹
“Coinciding with the very words of Wolfram, it is supposed that Guyot refashioned and completed the Perceval of Chrétien de Troyes, which was its sole model.” It has been proved as well that Wolfram, as he himself admitted, used a poem by the Provençal Kyot, a deduction that “is confirmed conclusively by the fact that only Wolfram knew the epochal poem in its uniform totality, and consequently, only he was capable of modifying it.”
We do not know the exact dates of the birth and death of Wolfram. Because his Parzival dates from the first decade of the thirteenth century, we could deduce that his birth took place in the last third of the twelfth century. Regarding his death, Püterich von Reichertshausen (1400–1469), the author of a chivalrous poem entitled The Letter of Honor, confesses that he couldn’t decipher the date of his death on his gravestone “in the Church of Our Lady, in the little town of Eschenbach.”
Wolfram was poor, and went “from court to court” as a knight and traveling singer. He did not know how to read or write.
Reading is unknown to me
(I do not know a single letter)
Neither what is written in books
For this fact, I am ignorant.³²
Because of this, somebody had to read Guyot de Provins’ Parsifal to him if in reality he were to succeed in composing his version of the poem. Wolfram learned to speak French during his relations with the Western poets of the Minne. He seems to have been proud of it, because he never lost an opportunity to flaunt his knowledge of French in Parzival, although his misunderstandings and mistakes are frequent—above all, when the time came to translate names of places and persons (which can be verified with the original French version of the epochal poems of the Grail and Parsifal). Nor should we be surprised by such mistakes in the verbal transcription if we admit that Wolfram needed an oral translation of a subject so rich in its depictions.
The formulation of his phrases shows such fidelity, and expresses historical events with such clarity, that the presence of an intermediary can be excluded. It is difficult to find an explanation other than that “Kyot” and Wolfram met. The German cantor took the subject of the author.
It is possible that Wolfram and Guyot met on the occasion of the festivities organized by Frederick Barbarossa for knights in Maguncia or on the Wartburg in the court of the Landgrave Hermann of Thuringia. As we know, the Wartburg was the German court most frequented by the poets of the Minne, and Wolfram was there circa 1203.
The intense relations between the Minne singers (cantors of the idyllic love) of Germany, France, and Occitania are surprising. For example, under the pseudonym of Sembelis, Bertran de Born sang to Princess Laina de Plantagenet, sister of Richard the Lionheart. He remained in contact with his domina even after she became Duchess of Saxony, if you recognize as sufficient proof the Provençal poems that he sent her, which have since been found in Germany. Some have even come to the conclusion that Frederick Barbarossa, sovereign of the Kingdom of Arles from 1178, composed poems in Provençal on the banks of the Verdon River. Whatever the case, multiple links certainly united the chivalrous and loving poetry of the North with the South, and they influenced each other.
We will never know if the “true legend”came to Wolfram through the person of Guyot or from others reading from a manuscript of his Parsifal, which may allow us to forgive Wolfram’s confusion of “Provins” for “Provenza.”³³
Along with the love poems already mentioned, “conjectural poems” appeared. It was the custom that a patron would entrust a troubadour with the composition of poetry that praised his grandeur or expressed in poetic form thanks for his hospitality and protection. For this reason, it is not strange that Guyot de Provins would have celebrated in Parsifal (lines that have not survived) his Maecenas, Raimundo of Toulouse, his daughter Adélaide de Carcassonne, her granddaughter Esclarmonde de Foix, and the King of Aragon, the cousin of Roger Taillefer (Adélaide’s husband).
And that is the way it happened!
King Alfonso II of Aragon and Catalonia, better known as Alfonso “The Chaste,” is Wolfram’s “Castis” who was promised to Herzeloyde.³⁴
To Wolfram, Herzeloyde was the mother of Parsifal; to Guyot de Provins [Wolfram’s source], Herzeloyde is the Viscountess Adélaide de Carcassonne, the domina of Alfonso the Chaste.
The son of Adélaide is Trencavel, a name that Wolfram translated as “pierce-through-the-heart,” the name of Parsifal. Raimon Roger, the Trencavel, served as Wolfram and Guyot’s model for Parsifal.
As we will see, this deduction does not imply any violence.
The “Court of Love” of the Viscountess of Carcassonne was renowned throughout Occitania. From Barcelona to Florence and Paris there was no lady more celebrated than she. Her court was the center of poetry, heroism, and chivalrous courtesy, and at the same time, as the troubadour Arnaut de Mareulh said, “the most chaste and full of grace, because the scepter was in Adélaide’s hands.”
This trobère was a poor cleric from the area around Périgueux. One day he hung up his habit, and thereafter went from castle to castle singing the songs he had learned behind the abbey walls. He arrived at the court of Carcassonne, saw Adélaide, and stole her heart. But the high position of the crown prince of Toulouse, the aim of the kings of France (to destroy Occitania), frightened the humble harpist.
“The honor to aspire to the love of Adélaide corresponds solely to kings. But doesn’t love make all humans equal? Who accepts is worthy. Before God, social classes do not exist. He only recognizes feelings from the heart. O beautiful and pure Lady, loyal transcription of divinity, why don’t you act like her (a loyal transcription of divinity)?” Arnaut was right to be worried about his Minne. King Alfonso proposed something far more prosaic than homage and pretensions of sublime love to Adélaide. As he was, together with the Count of Toulouse, the feudal lord of the Viscounty of Carcassonne and Béziers, he proposed marriage to his cousin—Roger Taillefer’s widow since 1193—because he wanted to assure for himself, if not the exclusive possession of her domains, at least his feudal supremacy.
Alfonso never believed that the Minne should exclude marriage; in fact, he thought that one had nothing to do with the other. In this way, he killed the Minne’s enchantment, which demanded chastity as an absolute condition. He belonged to the world of profane knights, seeking a crown and a marriage bed, and by doing so lost his knighthood according to the leys d’amors that the hawk had brought from the sky.
Arnaut de Mareulh also became unworthy of the kingdom of love. One day, Adélaide kissed him, but he betrayed the grace he received by revealing this in two poems. In fact, this was a grave infraction of the rigorous laws of the Occitan world of the Minne. Moreover, these kisses awoke feelings in him that had nothing at all to do with sublime love.
As I like that the wind
Blows in my face in April,
Before May begins,
When the trilling of the nightingales
Threshes the night
Each bird happily trills
His songs, as they please him,
Under the pearled lilies of the dew
Coupled with his small female… .
ARNAUT DE MAREULH
Dismissed by the Viscountess Adélaide, the poor troubadour had to seek refuge in the court of Guillaume VIII of Montpellier (whom Guyot de Provins calls his protector Guillaumes).
“They could separate me from her, but nothing or nobody can break the links that bind me to my loved one. My heart is full of tenderness and certainty. They belong only to her, and God. Happy fields where she lives! When will we see each other again? How is it that somebody from there does not come to me? A shepherd who brought me news of you is for me a noble baron. If I found you in the desert, it would become Heaven for me.”
Arnaut de Mareulh celebrated only Adélaide. He died of nostalgia. Love sickness was the mortal affliction of the troubadours; its only remedy, the Minne.
While Adélaide resided in her castle of Poivert, which was surrounded by splendid Pyrenean forests, many princes and troubadours passed through. The most delicate love problems were submitted for her judgment. When Richard the Lionheart, Alfonso of Aragon, or Raimon Drut de Foix had “sins” against love on their consciences, it was Adélaide who had to administer justice. There was no way to appeal her verdict, and all had to submit to it—it was not for nothing that she was considered the most noble, chaste, and gracious lady of all Occitania.
While in Poivert, troubadours like Peire d’Alvernha honored the wine of the Roussillon and “intoned songs to the happy torchlight” or filled the forests and fields with the sound of satires, jokes, and songs. She remained alone in her abode and prayed. She was a pious lady, but the God she prayed to was not our God. Her Christ did not die on the cross. For her, the threatening God of Israel was Lucifer.
Adélaide was a heretic!
This was not the only reason she rejected the amorous proposals of troubadours and princes. Being a heretic and understanding the troubadours were not mutually exclusive. Quite to the contrary, the greater part of the troubadours were heretics; all the Cathars were troubadours, and almost all the ladies of Occitania, once time had left its mark on their faces, became heretics. This was not the only motive that kept the Viscountess of Carcassonne far from the mundane activities of her court at Poivert.
During her life, Adélaide became all too familiar with bitter tragedies. Her husband, Trencavel, contracted a huge debt during the bloody reprisals against the burghers of Béziers for which he now had to answer to God. The Trencavel were enterprising and chivalrous but impulsive people. She was afraid of the possible antics of her only son Raimon Roger. Along with the heretic Bertran de Saissac, who was designated by her husband Roger Taillefer as young Trencavel’s tutor, she oversaw the education of her son—a son who was destined never to become an ordinary knight, but a knight of the supreme Minne. He had to be worthy of the “Round Table” in Montségur, that inaccessible Pyrenean castle of carved rock where the Pure Doctrine of the Consoling Paraclete was preserved.
Upon my word, you are Parsifal!
Your name means, “Pierce-in-the-heart”
Great love ploughed just such a furrow
Through your mother’s heart …
Your father left sorrow for her portion
WOLFRAM VON ESCHENBACH³⁵
Parsifal had to show himself worthy of the Knights of the Grail!
Upon a green achmardi
She bore the consummation of heart’s desire,
Its root and its blossoming—
A thing called “The Grail”
Paradisal, transcending all Earthly perfection!
WOLFRAM VON ESCHENBACH¹