Troubadours, Bards and Minnesingers Overview

Troubadours, Bards and Minnesingers

Gottfried Von Strassburg at Court

The 12th century witnessed impulse originating in the southern Christian courts of Spain, Castille, Aragon and Leon that gave birth to the troubador tradition in the lands where Occitan was spoken.. Within the courts of Eleonor of Aquitaine and Henry II Plantagenet, and the domains of their offspring, this impulse met with the northern tales of Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table brought to the court of Poitiers by such bards as Bléhéri (of Wales)i. This facilitated an area of cultural exchange that stretched from Spain to Wales and from Brittany to Bavaria.

The two culminating works of the period appear in the early 13th century, namely Gottfried Von Strasburg's Tristan and Wolfram Von Eschenbach's Parzival. Notions of chivalry and courtly love had their peak in the late 12th and early 13th century before the Angevin empire disappeared and it on to this period that we will concentrate. The activity in this core area is well known, we will try to add some less well known information about the periphery.

Many of the knights involved had experiences of fighting on crusade in the Levant or on the Iberian peninsula which facilitated cultural interchanges also with the Abbasid Caliphate and Moorish Spain, in which luminaries like Omar Khayam, Rumi, Ibn Hazn and Avicenna were active in this period. The troubadors and trouvères composed poems and melodies but, as these were often knights and lords, it often fell to the multi talented travelling entertainers of the period, Jongleurs, to recite or sing the works. These in turn relied on patronage and tended to flock to courts that were renowned for their patronage. The fool (bouffon) was also a feature of court life at this period and as depicted in Shakespearean plays had considerable license in what he could say and do.





Canso (song)
Consists of three parts: the exordium where the poet explains his purpose; the main body of stanzas that develops the purpose and the envoi , a shortened stanza, or stanzas, at the end where the poet reflects or addresses the reader.
Critical or complimentary piece written in response to some current event that utilises an existing melody of a canso. Usually written as a parody.
A song written in the form of a debate on ethics and courtly love in which different viewpoints are advocated and defended.
A funeral lament for important personnages, family and friends or for ladies and lovers. It was intended for a secular audience.
A short piece of Occitan prose detailing the circumstances of a troubadour composition.
Often fanciful biography of a troubadour or trobaritz.
Manuscript containing cansos and vidas.
A lyric poem convention based on the meeting of a knight and a shepherdess.
The soubriquet by which a poet referred to a lady or a personnage of renown so as to mask their identity.
Trobar leu
A light style of troubadour poetry understandable by all.
Trobar ric
A more virtuouso style of poetry with verbal gymnastics.
Trobar clus
Complex and obscure style only understood and appreciated by a few.


i Gérard Lomenec’h, Aliénor d’Aquitaine et les troubadours (Luçon, France: Sudouest, 1997), pp. 38–39.

ii Joseph Campbell, The Masks of God. Vol. 4, Creative Mythology (New York [etc.]: Penguin Compass, 1991),


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