The Trobairitz

The trobairitz

The troubadour revolution that burst onto the medieval European cultural scene is even more extraordinary thanks to the appearance of a minority —but very significant— group: women troubadours or trobairitz. The term trobairitz, as Angelica Rieger (2003: 42) notes 'is not used by the women troubadours themselves, and we don’t find it either in their own texts (...) or in works by male troubadours. (...) However, trobairitz is an authentic term: it comes from the only surviving medieval Occitan novel in verse, Flamenca'.

Despite the paucity of data and extant works, this group of women made a considerable impact because they were 'among the first women in Western Europe to embrace the world of vernacular literary discourse, of language not limited to the ephemeral, precarious enunciations that constitute the exchanges of daily life, but of a language meant to be heard and preserved beyond the circumscribed sphere of the domestic' (Sankovitch 1999: 115). So who were these women who, in a period clearly dominated by men, managed to play an active role in the cultural and literary movement of the time, find their own voice and receive recognition? Who were these pioneers who dared to appropriate the language of love, with images at times charged with eroticism and sensuality, in a world where this subject matter and discourse was already questionable —and provocative— coming from the mouths of men?

Castelhoza, f. 125r del cançoner I
Castelhoza, chansonnier I (13th C, Paris, Bibliothèque national de France, fr. 854, f. 125r).

Despite their importance, at least from a historical and social perspective, the trobairitz have attracted somewhat less interest in academic circles when compared with their male counterparts (Sankovitch 1999: 113). Despite early editions of some poems in the late 19th century, they have fallen victim to partial or one-sided visions which have either undervalued their work because of its female authorship or put it on a pedestal without due critical analysis. These extremes can be seen, on the one hand, in the evaluations of the French scholar Alfred Jeanroy, who considered the trobairitz 'slaves to tradition', authors of literary exercises with no merit,1 and, on the other hand, in the reflections of Meg Bogin, who detects almost feminist qualities in the work of these women poets.2 Nevertheless, it is worth stressing that despite the ideological prism of her work, Bogin must be recognised as a crucial catalyst in reigniting interest in the trobairitz in the 1980s, and someone who contributed important data regarding their historical and cultural backgrounds (Bruckner 1995: 201–02).

The total number of trobairitz and the extent of their oeuvre varies substantially in the different studies that have proposed a census. Bogin (1976) identifies 20 trobairitz, Tavera (1978) reduces the number to 15, Bruckner (1995) sets it at 21, and Rieger (2003) adds a further group of 17 so-called 'ghost' trobairitz to Bruckner's 21. These 17 added by Rieger comprise those mentioned in other texts, but for whom no work has survived, together with those trobairitz without a name, but identified as women either in poetic dialogues —generally with an identified male interlocutor—, or in anonymous works with a female voice. Five vidas of trobairitz have survived (Tibors, the Countess of Dia, Azalaiz de Porcairagues, Castelhoza, and Lombarda), and eight more feature in the vidas or razos of other troubadours (Almuc de Castelnau, Iseut de Capio, Maria de Ventadorn, Guilhelma de Rosers, Alamanda, Garsenda, Clara d’Anduza, and Gaudairenca). The existence of those trobairitz that have a medieval biography (vida) has not been questioned (Bruckner 1995: 206–07). However, in the remaining cases, some critics have suspected that the tradition has erroneously attributed to trobairitz a series of poems which, in reality, feature the use of the female voice as a literary device employed by a male writer.

These doubts arise from the difficulty in identifying certain trobairitz with a specific historical person, and because for several of them only one poem has survived —often as one of the participants in a dialogue piece. Furthermore, many have been transmitted in a single manuscript, which has made scholars think that the identifications could be an error of transmission. These criteria, however, have not lead to doubts regarding the attributions of unknown troubadours, and it is worth adding that the use of the female voice is extremely rare in the troubadour tradition.3

Miniatura i vidas (en vermell) d’Azalis de Porcaraiguas, f. 140r del cançoner I
Miniature and vida (in red) of Azalis de Porcaraiguas, Cançoner I, f. 140r

It stands to reason that, if there are doubts regarding the number of trobairitz that can be reliably identified, then estimates for the extent of their corpus of work are also going to vary: between the 21 poems proposed by Schultz-Gora (1888) and the 46 by Rieger (2003), we have intermediate estimates by Bec (1995), who proposes 24 poems, Paden (1989) 28, and Bruckner (1995) 36. Rieger establishes the most extensive corpus: 12 cansos, 3 coblas and fragments, 3 exchanges of coblas between women, 23 mixed exchanges of coblas (7 of which are with a known woman), 1 planh, 1 salut d’amor, and 3 sirventes. Many scholars agree that the proposed number cannot be conclusive.4 Faced with this probably unsolvable dilemma of the number of known trobairitz, Rieger affirms that there are two possible options: either follow the argument of those who believe that the female voice is actually a creation of male authors (which she calls the 'Duby solution'), or accept the existence of trobairitz and incorporate all the virtual candidates into the corpus; in other words, accept as possible trobairitz works all the troubadour poems written in a female voice.5

What is the profile of the trobairitz we can identify historically or who have a medieval vida? The majority were women of the court, some from the nobility, who were required to be well educated (ben ensenhadas), in other words schooled in reading, writing, versification, music, song, and court etiquette. This education of the courtly lady, however, was not exclusive to medieval Occitania and troubadour poetry spread throughout the European continent. So why then is it only in Occitania that we find a group of women poets, as well as sponsors and protectors of troubadours? It has been suggested that in Occitania, the women of the court, especially the more aristocratic ones, enjoyed —albeit sporadically— certain legal and social privileges which women in other regions did not. 6 In addition to these circumstances, there was their excellent education and life at court, where they were direct witnesses of troubadour poetry, as well as being in the privileged position of being addressed as the principal subject of troubadour song. These factors could have contributed to the appearance of female protectors and sponsors of troubadour poetry, and from there it is only one step further to the appearance of women who composed poems themselves.

Among the trobairitz who have been identified, the most well known is the Countess of Dia. She is the author of the largest extant body of work: four cansos, some of which survive in several different cançoners, which indicates that she achieved notable success with her contemporaries. Also worthy of mention are Castelhoza, three of whose cansos survive, Azalais de Porcaraigues and Clara d’Anduza, both authors of an extant canso. A fragment of a canso by Tibors de Sarenom, possibly the sister of the troubadour Raimbaut d’Aurenga, has also survived. Azalais d’Altier is the only one who composed a salut d’amor and Gormonda de Monpeslier is the author of a sirventes. Maria de Ventadorn, married to the great-grandson of Ebles de Ventadorn, one of the earliest known troubadours, and grandson of the sponsor Bernart de Ventadorn, became one of the women most sung about in troubadour poetry and took part in a dialogue with one of her favourite troubadours, Gui d’Ussel. On all these points, see Rieger (2003).

La comtesa de dia, f. 141r del cançoner I
La Comtesa de Dia al cançoner I (s. XIII, París, Bibliothèque national de France, fr. 854, f. 141r)
La comtessa de Dia, f. 126v del cançoner K
La comtessa de Dia al cançoner K (s. XIII, París, Bibliothèque national de France, fr. 12473, f. 126v).

The trobairitz have left us mainly cansos and tensos and only exceptionally, three sirventes,7 one planh, and one salut d’amor. Most scholars agree that trobairitz poems have a sincere and passionate tone, and a particular sensuality expressed in clearer or more direct terms, or with less rhetorical artifice, than that found in troubadour works (Bogin is a clear exponent of this). However there are some who think that the differences between trobairitz and troubadour poetry are not so striking; that the trobairitz participated in the same system, making particular use of certain elements to adapt it to their interests and their voice (see I. de Riquer 1997: 34-35).

Faced with these differences in interpretation, it appears that we have not yet reached a balanced view that encompasses, on the one hand, the extraordinary and singular poetry of the troubadours, mostly written by men, which so profoundly shaped later Western literature and culture; and, on the other hand, the compositions of a group of women within this tradition, recognised and respected by their contemporaries, as indicated by the survival of their work in manuscript witnesses which often do not distinguish them from male-authored works.

The lack of available data —from the paucity of the extant works to the little information about the lives or reception of the trobairitz— and the centuries that separate us have allowed for ideological evaluations of various kinds which lead to contradictory interpretations of who these women were, to whose interests they responded, how they were viewed by their contemporaries, and how they themselves felt within this cultural system. As with many aspects of troubadour literature, the trobairitz remain an enigma yet to be fully resolved: as women they were idealised as objects of desire and adoration, the centre of a system of culture and values created by men, for men, and from this position they went on to become active writers, with their own voice. Nonetheless, they did not abandon this system of values, but rather assumed both roles: a double positioning that, although apparently revolutionary, did not create a separate tradition and, despite seeming contradictory, was accepted and respected by their male contemporaries, who created and protected the troubadour system.

The trobairitz and their works8


Extant work

Vida or razo?

Documented or identified?

Countess of Dia

4 cansos


Controversial identification. Possibly Beatriu de Dia, although her identification as Isoarda, daughter of the Count of Dia, cannot be ruled out (Guida 2014)

Azalaiz de Porcairagues

1 canso




3 cansos




Takes part in a mixed dialogue



Tibors de Sarenom

Fragment of canso


Possibly the sister of the troubadour Raimbaut d’Aurenga

Almuc de Castelnau

Takes part in a dialogue between women



Iseut de Capio

Takes part in a dialogue between women



Maria de Ventadorn

Takes part in a mixed dialogue


Married to the great-grandson of Ebles de Ventadorn, one of the first known troubadours, and grandson of the sponsor Bernart de Ventadorn. She became one of the women most sung about in troubadour lyric (Rieger 2003)

Guilhelma de Rosers

Takes part in a mixed dialogue


In addition to her participation in a dialogue and the razo that precedes it, Bertran de Born refers to her in one of his canso (Guida 2014)


Takes part in a mixed dialogue


In addition to her participation in a dialogue and the razo that precedes it, Bertran de Born refers to her in one of his cansos (Guida 2014)

Garsenda de Forcalquier, comtessa de Provença

Takes part in a mixed dialogue


Mentioned in the vida of Elias de Barjols

Clara d’Anduza

1 canso


Esmentada a la razo que precedeix una canso d’Uc de Saint Circ (457.4). Possiblement Sibilla d’Anduza (Guida 2014)




Mentioned in the razo that precedes a canso by Uc de Saint Circ (457.4). Possibly Sibilla d’Anduza (Guida 2014)

Azalais d’Altier

1 salut d’amor


Mentioned in the razo for a piece by Uc de Saint Circ where Clara d’Anduza is also referred to (Guida 2014)

Gormonda de Monspelier

1 sirventes



Alaisina Yselda

Takes part in a dialogue between women


No consensus whether this is one or two women


Takes part in a dialogue between  women




Takes part in a mixed dialogue


There are two hypothetical identifications: Felipa d’Anduza or Felipa de Dia (Rieger 1991)


Takes part in a mixed dialogue


Addressee of three poems by Elias Cairel, with whom she maintained her poetic dialogue (Guida 2014)

Bieiris de Romans

1 canso


Highly controversial identification. Some scholars attribute the piece to Alberico de Romano and others to this trobairitz (Rieger 1989)

Domna H.

Takes part in a mixed dialogue


No, although possible identities have been suggested, but without foundation (Guida 2014)


Anonymous trobairitz 9

[Identificacion P-C]

Genre - type



Domna-donzella (dialogue)



Domna with Aimeric de Peguilhan (dialogue)


87.1 / [75.1]

Domna with Bertran de Pojet (dialogue)



Domna with Guillem Rainol d’At (dialogue)



Domna with Guilhem Rainol d’At (dialogue)


296.1° / 15.2? / [16.10]

Domna with Marques (dialogue)



Domna with En Montan (dialogue)



Domna with Peire Duran (dialogue)



Domna with Pistoleta (dialogue)



Domna with Raimbaut d’Aurenga (dialogue)



Domna with Raimbaut de Vaqueiras (dialogue)



Domna with Raimon de las Salas (dialogue)



Domna with Raimon de las Salas (dialogue)



Domna with Uc Calola (dialogue)



Maritz-molher dialogue with Guilhem de Sant-Leidier



Guerier-guerieira dialogue with Johan de Pennas



Anonymous canso 



Anonymous cobla fragment



Anonymous cobla fragment



Anonymous planh 



Sirventes in female voice attributed to P. Basc



Sirventes in female voice attributed to Raimon Jordan


  • Bec, Pierre (1995): Chants d’amour des femmes-troubadours, Paris: Stock
  • Bogin, Meg (1976): M. Bogin, The Women Troubadours, London - New York, Paddington Press.
  • Bruckner, Matilda Tomaryn (1995): «The Trobairitz», A Handbook of the Troubadours, ed. F. R. P. Akehurst and J. M. Davis, Berkeley - Los Angeles – London: University of California Press, 201-233.
  • Débax, Hélène (2013), «Le lien d’homme à homme au féminin: Femmes et féodalité en Languedoc et en Catalogne aux XIe –XIIe siècles», Études roussillonnaises, 25, 71-82
  • Guida, Saverio i Gerardo Larghi (2014): Dizionario biografico dei trovatori, Modena: Mucchi.
  • Jeanroy, Alfred (1934): La poésie lyrique des troubadours, Toulouse : Privat
  • Paden, William D. (1989): «Checklist of poems by the trobairitz», The voice of the trobairitz. Perspectives on the Women Troubadours, ed. W. D. Paden, Philadelphia, University of Philadelphia Press, 1989, pp. 227-238.
  • Rieger, Angelica (1991): Trobairitz: der Beitrag der Frau in der altokzitanischen höfischen Lyrik. Edition des Geasamtkorpus, Tübingen: Niemeyer.
  • Rieger, Angelica (2003): «Trobairitz, domna, mecenas: la mujer en el centro del mundo trovadoresco», Mot so razo 2, 41-55.
  • Riquer, Isabel de (1997): «Las trobairitz provenzales en el fin de siglo», Lectora 3, 27-37.
  • Sankovitch, Tilde (1999): «The trobairitz», The Troubadours: An Introduction, ed. Simon Gaunt and Sarah Kay, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 113-126
  • Schultz-Gora, Oskar (1888): Die provenzalischen Dichterinnen. Biographien und Texte nebs Anmerkungen und einer Einleitung, Leipzig: Gustav Fock.
  • Tavera, Antoine (1978): «À la recherche des troubadour maudits», Senefiance 5, 135-162.
  • BEdT = Bibliografia eletronica dei trovatori
  • Trobar

M. Victoria Rodríguez Winiarski (2018)

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