Troubadours and the Crusades

The songs of the troubadours and trouvères include scores of original sources that bring to life medieval, up-to-the-minute responses to the crusades. Now original source material is being made available

The crusades have left a profound and disturbing legacy in inter-cultural and inter-faith relations nationally and worldwide. They continue to be of compelling interest and relevance to students, scholars and the wider public, with crusading rhetoric alive in the global political discourse transmitted daily in the media. The songs of the troubadours and trouvères include scores of original sources that bring to life medieval, up-to-the-minute responses to the crusades.

A four-year Anglo-Italian project, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council of the UK, will allow academic researchers and teachers, school-teachers, students, and any interested member of the general public to access and exploit the original source material represented by these medieval songs (see background and texts), in the light of a number of research questions:

  • What did the secular public in the Middle Ages think of the crusades?
  • How far did they accept, influence, participate in, resist or challenge the Church’s crusading propaganda?
  • How far were they inspired by the idea of holy war?
  • How were their attitudes affected by the Albigensian crusade, launched against troubadour lands in the South?
  • How did they face the repeated failures of crusading efforts as time went on?
  • What light do the songs shed on particular crusades, and what do they add to our knowledge of them?
  • What regional differences do they reflect?

At present it is possible to access 20 Old French and 123 Occitan texts in scholarly editions, with translations and historical notes: more are on the way. Anyone are welcome to copy them for use in research or teaching, or maybe for such creative purposes as setting them to modern music: it’s up to the reader. The site also contains sung performances of ten Old French and two Occitan songs sung by Francesco Carapezza, and spoken performances by Gérard Gouiran of another thirteen, all Occitan: if you’ve ever wondered how to pronounce medieval Occitan here’s a chance to hear it from the best possible source. Francesco has also recorded an interesting talk on the music of these songs and his approach to performance.

The project has just launched a poetry competition aimed mainly, though not exclusively, at schoolchildren on the subject of ‘Crusade’, which can be treated in any way (details on the project website). The closing date is 28 February 2015, and a few entries have already come in.

Liam Lewis, a graduate student of the Warwick French Department, is running a medieval music group. One of their last year’s rehearsals is on youtube; they have a new blog this year and are hoping to perform some medieval songs in the Arts Centre foyer in the last week of term (end of November – first week of December), and a concert in the New Year.


Troubadours, trouvères and the Crusades

The project is accompanied by a dedicated blog – Crusade Lyrics



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