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The Middle Ages was a time of intense spiritual life and complex searches for the world outlook constructions. Towards the end of the 11th century, the poetic movement of the troubadours emerged in the castles and towns of Provence and gradually extended beyond the boundaries of Provence, covering entire Europe, including England. The troubadours created a peculiar culture of love - a courteous love that was the main topic of their poetry. This poetry was also characterized by the transfer of concepts from the sphere of feudal relations between the lord and the vassal to the sphere of courteous relations between the knight and the Lady. Inspired by the world of the human soul, the troubadours followed this love code, and they not only composed the songs but also created an imaginary world where their lyrical heroes existed.

The Historical and Literary Backgrounds of the Troubadours

The historical situation of Provence contributed to the early emergence and flourishing of secular artistic culture. In the Middle Ages, Provence, the territory between Spain and Italy on the Mediterranean coast, was one of the busiest commercial and cultural areas of Europe. Since the 11th century, the cities of this region have become the centers of lively trade between the countries of the Middle East and Europe, while various crafts and the arts blossomed in these cities (Kehew et al. 26). Such a situation was greatly facilitated by the independence of Provencal cities due to the absence of royal power. Leisure and the enlightenment enabled people to learn to appreciate art and live by the rules of good taste. Consequently, the famous seniors and ladies of Provence became the most devoted patrons of the troubadours.

In the historical context of the transition of the troubadour legacy from Provence to England, one should mention the Eleanor of Aquitaine. She was a granddaughter of the first troubadour of Provence, Guillaume of Aquitaine, and the Countess of Poitiers (Markale 37). After marrying Louis VII, she became the Queen of France. However, neither the wedding nor the new status brought joy to her. Soon after the birth of their children, the royal couple divorced, and Eleanor married a young Duke Henry of Anjou who became the King of England. Thus, in the history of the marriage of Eleanor Aquitaine, one should find the sources of the appearance of the troubadour legacy in England (Markale 14). Elizabeth favored the troubadours of the nascent courtly culture in France. After she became the Queen of England, she again assembled a circle of her admirers poets and knights who contributed to the spread of the troubadour culture in England. Thus, the result of these relations was the acquisition of a deep knowledge of courtly love and the troubadour technology in this country.

The literary context serves to consider the living conditions and poetic work of troubadours such as biographies, compiled in the spirit of brief medieval chronicles, and the brief comments, prefacing in the manuscripts of their songs. The latter reproduced the main features of the historical and everyday situation, in which the troubadours activity developed (Kehew et al. 31). Their poetry was closely connected with the life of knight castles. Furthermore, the biographies of many troubadours often told about their noble patrons. The troubadours often mentioned favors or the disgrace they had experienced from patrons, praised their generosity, or condemned stinginess. Thus, the castles of the notable devotees of poetry turned into the original centers of poetic art in Provence and England.

When studying the literary context of the transition of the troubadour legacy from Provence to England, one should mention Chaucer, the father of English poetry. His first period of creativity is usually called the French one because of the strong influence of French courtly literature on him. In accordance with the courtly code of love, which had already been formed in the poetry of the troubadours, he expressed the main motives of love vassalage and suffering in his works (Kehew et al. 67). Chaucer's merits in the history of English literature and language are great. He provided the samples of a truly artistic poetry, where the taste, the sense of proportion, and the elegance of form and verse dominated. All of this was based on the courtly literature that had influenced him and spread across England.

The social composition of the troubadours was different. Some of them were poor knights and representatives of the clergy, while others were merchants, commoners, and aristocrats. Moreover, many people with a good education could be found among their ranks. To become a troubadour, one was required to know the popular news, to have a good memory, to show knowledge about the latest gossip about the royal court, and to be able to compose an impromptu verse for a lady (Hueffer 45). They traveled to different countries, collecting news and exchanging stories, melodies, and songs. The songs of the troubadours with an easily memorable melody were quickly transferred from the juggler and soon learned and sang by all people. Therefore, the troubadours served as a kind of media long before the invention of printing.

The Main Genres and Themes of the Troubadours

In their origin, the lyrics of the troubadours were connected with folk songs. Their works were characterized by repetitions, figurative descriptions, and small volume. The verse was built on a certain number of syllables and the rhythmic movement created by the distribution of stresses (Burl 71). In the second half of the 12th century, there emerged a dispute between supporters of poetic manners the so-called clear style and dark style. (Pound and Sieburth 33). The representatives of the latter complicated the syntax, overloaded verses with vague hints, mysterious metaphors, and allegories, while the authors deliberately sought to obscure their meaning. Therefore, some poems were not very clear, which often caused pride of their authors.


The canzona was one of the main genres of the poetry of the troubadours, a lyric poem about knightly love or just a love song. The most traditional theme was the lamentations of the singer who was unrequitedly in love with a noble lady. Their works were characterized by a great sincerity of expression, fresh images, and deep emotionality (Pound and Sieburth 35). At the same time, the sirvente was less conditional than the canzona, and it was more saturated with a concrete vital material. This genre developed political or public themes, but it often contained personal attacks of the poet against his enemies. This was the genre for discussing religious, moral, and political issues. In the sirvente, the troubadours mocked the flaws of their opponents and sang about the virtues of their friends.

Furthermore, the genre of pastors was quite popular. The main theme was a dispute between a peasant woman with a knight-poet who wanted to satisfy a sudden flare-up of passion. In some cases, the girl succeeded in clever speeches to reject the advances of the annoying suitor and, in other cases, he achieved the desired by promises and direct violence (Burl 79). Another popular genre was the alba that represented a dramatic dialogue of a gentleman with a lady or a friend, guarding the peace of lovers (Burl 80). Many other secondary genres and themes were in the troubadour poetry, but the most significant ones were the above-mentioned examples.

The Provencal Troubadours

The first troubadour of Provence was Guillaume XI, Duke of Aquitaine. He was credited with 11 songs in the Occitan language. The Medieval Occitan literary language first found a written reflection in the works of Guillaume. The authors pronounced duplicity was noticed in his songs. His works were not only exquisitely restrained instructive songs, praising courtly love, but they were also frankly lascivious and even rude, indecent. For example, in Song No. 3, he compared two of his beloved, Agnes and Arseniy, with the mare who was so intolerant of each other that he could use his saddle at once for both (Kehew et al. 87). The most famous poetic work by Guillaume Troubadour was Song No. 7. The author discussed the process of poetic creativity in a paradoxical way. This song had numerous interpretations and reproduced the whole spectrum of absurdity, such as comedy and parody, but it also brought the philosophical denial of existential certainty, knowledge, and being. Thus, one should state that the lyrics of the Occitan troubadours had reached the highest degree of their perfection.

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Another representative of Provencal troubadours was Bertrand de Born. He was known as a brave warrior. The legacy of the poet was quite colorful, and it included lyrics as well as political and philosophical lines. The poetry of the knight attracted wit, chased rhymes and cold, stinging brilliance (Kehew et al. 80). He created rhymed portraits of kings and princes, often resorting to satirical characteristics. De Born ridiculed the insidiousness and meanness of the feudal lords. In the famous poem addressed to the King of Aragon, the knight listed all the unseemly actions of the king directed against friends and relatives, which was done with the accuracy of the chronicler. He characterized an unprincipled and vile man who led an unfair struggle: He's a coward, mercenary, sponger (Wyatt 65). This poem was distinguished by the clarity of rhyme, the accuracy of comparisons, figurative and linguistic suggestiveness, energy rhythm, and accusatory pressure. Bertrand de Born considered war as the place of the honest game, and only in this case, the man gained a real joy in the battle. The poetry of de Born was the imprint of the politically adventurous spirit of that time.

The English Troubadours

Some kings were also troubadours. For example, Richard I the Lionheart was the King of England, Count of Poitou, and Duke of Aquitaine. He had been raised in the culture of troubadours and he spoke two languages. Richard wrote a poem with an unknown title, where he described his captivity in prison, complaining about the insidiousness of the King of France and his allies and vassals. He offered a new concept of reign when not a godlike monarch ruled his kingdom but a kind of courtly prince, which gave his poem a special charm.

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The English troubadours tradition was also connected with Bernart de Ventadorn. According to legend, he was a minion of Eleanor Aquitaine. He appeared at her court at the time when she became the Queen of England. Bernard de Ventadorn devoted his poetry to love, while the poet's excited, music-filled words were dedicated to an incomparable lady, capable of inspiring and nourishing a dream. He believed that only true love could give rise to poetic inspiration (Kehew et al. 102). His poem If the Song Goes not from the Heart was about love as an inspirer of human power (Wyatt 76). The sincere, lively, and direct feeling found expression in a refined and elegant poetic form. This poem consisted of an infinite number of wise sayings that were not connected with one logical thread. De Ventadorn thoroughly imbued his poetic creation with the purest piety, the unrequited and ardent love, and the belief in the triumph of freedom and truth.

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Thus, one should state that the influence of creativity of the troubadours on European poetry was tremendous. This was felt in early English poetry, specifically in the works of Chaucer. The transition of the poetry of the troubadours went primarily through its direct heiress Eleanor Aquitaine. Their works were based on comparing real-life events with the stable models of their perception. The troubadours invented an unusual culture of love that they later called courtly. In their songs, they praised the love of a married woman. Therefore, the troubadours had created the model of a love experience that remained one of the dominant themes in European lyrics up to the present day.

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