Ermengard of Narbonne and the World of the Troubadours / Edition 1

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Before France became France its territories included Occitania, roughly the present-day province of Languedoc. The city of Narbonne was a center of Occitanian commerce and culture during the eleventh and twelfth centuries. For most of the second half of the twelfth century, that city and its environs were ruled by a remarkable woman, Ermengard, who negotiated her city's way through a maze of everchanging dynastic alliances.

Fredric L. Cheyette's masterful and beautifully illustrated book is a biography of an extraordinary warrior woman and of a unique, vulnerable, doomed society. Throughout her long reign, viscountess Ermengard roamed Occitania receiving oaths of fidelity, negotiating treaties, settling disputes among the lords of her lands, and camping with her armies before the walls of besieged cities. She was born into a world of politics and warfare, but from the Mediterranean to the North Sea her name echoed in songs that treated the arts of love.

The land between the Rhone and the Pyrenees was a delicately balanced world in which honor, dispute, and the fragile communities of loyalty and family held a "stateless" society together. In Cheyette's prose there rises before us a world we had not imagined, in which women were powerful lords, moving back and forth across what we now call Spain, France, and Italy to play the harsh political games essential to the preservation of their realms. But the region was also fertile ground for religious practices deemed heretical by the Church. The attempt to eradicate them would spawn the Albigensian Crusade, which destroyed the cosmopolitan world of Ermengard and the troubadours—the world that lives again in this book.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"This study of Ermengard and her world is an original and valuable contribution to our knowledge of an admirable woman—in the end an immensely sad figure—and of the endangered culture in which she lived. . . . Professor Cheyette says he meant this book 'to be read, not consulted,' and as a common reader with an amateur interest in that culture and its long shelf life, which continues into our own time and literature, I am indebted to him."—W. S. Merwin, The New York Review of Books, February 13, 2003

"Though this book has all the trappings of a deeply scholarly excursus, it is ultimately directed to the general reader and reaches that mark successfully I believe. . . . This is not the sort of book that can be gobbled up in one sitting, while it is definitely one to read rather than consulted or dipped into."—Carol J. Williams, Monash University. H-France, February 2002

"This book defies description: lyrical and scholarly, leisurely and densely packed, it meanders through a vast range of topics while keeping to its fundamental premise, that the Occitan region had a brilliant, lively, hybrid culture in which the 'traditional' Northern relationships of lords and vassals, city and countryside, sacred and secular held little sway. And in the midst of this complex region was Ermengard: daughter, wife, widow, warrior, patron, subject, diplomat-in short, a figure whose gender was not always connected to traditional notions about her sex . . . This is a beautiful, if occasionally difficult, book that anyone interested in the period or in 'post-Annaliste' historiography should read. Highly recommended."—Choice

"A book that is both about southwestern France in the twelfth century and also about the challenges of biography. It is a fascinating study, beautifully written. . . . This rich and highly rewarding work should find a wide audience: scholars of the Middle Ages, historians who are not medievalists, even advanced undergraduates."—Constance B. Bouchard, University of Akron, American Historical Review, June 2003

"Ermengard of Narbonne and the World of the Troubadours is a spectacular recreation of the times in which Ermengard lived. . . . With melancholy nostalgia, Cheyette depicts a powerful woman in her vibrant and doomed society. To be clear at once: this is a fabulous book. . . . This book, with its recreation of a lost world, its challenge to historians and historiography, and its narrative drive, is extraordinary, brilliant, unique—and a little sad."—Bruce Venarde, The Medieval Review

"This is a book about much more than its title suggests. It is not just about the extraordinary viscountess of Narbonne, though it probably tells us as much as we can know about her, nor about the literary culture of her region. Rather, it is a book about myriad aspects of her world: about the city she ruled for half a century and its inhabitants; about relations within and among classes; about commerce, culture, religion, and politics, how they affected her, and how she reacted to and influenced them. It sets her fully within her context, a context that includes the poets but goes well beyond them."—Joan M. Ferrante, Columbia University. Speculum, April 2003.

"Fredric Cheyette's long awaited book is a tour de force. Ermengard of Narbonne serves as the unifying thread in his exhaustive penetrating examination of the Narbonnais in the eleventh and twelfth centuries. Cheyette explores Ermengard's identity, her options as a woman, and the ways in which she was constructed, constrained, and empowered in relationship to her gender. Cheyette's prose evokes the physicality of Narbonne and its countryside, as well as the parchments and stone ruins that make up the evidence of the story. If power, politics, and eroticism are the essence of Provençal lyric, they are at the heart of Ermengard of Narbonne and the Troubadours. By connecting the Narbonne of the Middle ages to literary evocations of the region in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, Cheyette adds a deeply layered sense of the region's present and past that not only enlightens but charms."—Patrick J. Geary, University of California, Los Angeles

"Ermengard is enchanting! This is an exciting and erudite adventure, a visit to the fascinating world of medieval Provence and the complex people who lived in it." —Sharan Newman

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Product Details

Table of Contents

A note on money, weights, and measures
Introduction 1
Ch. 1 The viscountess comes of age 14
Ch. 2 Names and titles, histories and myths 41
Ch. 3 The urban marketplace 54
Ch. 4 City and countryside 66
Ch. 5 Cities of Mammon, cities of Mars 80
Ch. 6 The bishop in the city 103
Ch. 7 Lordship 129
Ch. 8 Serfdom and the dues of domination 149
Ch. 9 Ermengard's entourage 168
Ch. 10 Oaths and oath takers 187
Ch. 11 Anger, conflict, and reconciliation 199
Ch. 12 Giving and taking 220
Ch. 13 Love and fidelity 233
Ch. 14 Raymond V builds his empire 253
Ch. 15 The ravaging of Occitania 274
Ch. 16 Sowing the seeds of crusade 286
Ch. 17 A war like an omen 308
Ch. 18 Impatient heirs 31
Ch. 19 The undoing of Occitania 347
Abbreviations 363
Notes 365
Bibliography 441
Index 463
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