When the English ruled much of France from a distance, local languages in the Dordogne (and in other regions) flourished. These were the perfect conditions for the high culture phenomenon of the troubadours.
Who were the troubadours?
The troubadours were poets and musicians who flourished from the 11th to 13th century, principally in southern France and northern Italy . Their poetry about love was written in Occitan and this had the benefit of elevating the status of French rural peasants. It also led to language being used for something other than essential communication – something that hadn’t really occurred since before the Roman occupation. Many believe that the social influence of the troubadours was unprecedented in the history of medieval poetry. It certainly influenced later European lyrical poetry.
Courtly love and chivalry were at the heart of many of their poems. Much of this work still survives today as does Leys d’amors; a work which sets the rules by which their art was governed.
If music be the food of love, play on
The troubadours also wrote songs. Aside from love and chivalry some of these songs told stories of distant lands and historical events. Medieval Troubadours would travel around the country to play in the houses of lords, nobles and royalty. Today, fewer than 300 of the melodies survive.
Among the Medieval Troubadours were many notable noblemen and women. Eleanor of Aquitaine’s grandfather (William IX of Aquitaine) was an influential patron of the Medieval Troubadours and this patronage passed through the generations to William X, Eleanor of Aquitaine and then her son, Richard the Lionheart. (Who would have thought that someone so willing to fight would have such a romantic side..?)
The art of the troubadours eventually declined and subsequently died out in the mid 1300s. However, today the tradition lives on and there is now an annual Troubadour International Poetry prize (with a first prize of £5,000). The Occitan language has also made a comeback (having been outlawed following the revolution). Regional authorities in France have established a number of Occitan-speaking schools and some secondary schools offer it as a language option. The language of love lives on!