Ermengard of Narbonne and the World of the Troubadours
Professor Fredric Cheyette
Department of History
Amherst College

Cornell University Press, 2001

Ermengard of Narbonne. Even to specialists in the history of the Middle Ages her name is hardly known. Eleanor of Aquitaine, who was wife to two kings and the mother of three more? Yes, there is a name — and a story — to conjure with. Countess Marie of Champagne, Eleanor's daughter by King Louis VII of France, patron of Chrétien de Troyes, the poet who invented the Arthurian romance? She, too, is better known, if only because of the writers who thronged to her court. ...

In her own time, however, Ermengard was at least as well known. When the author we know as Andrew the Chaplain wrote his dialogues "On Love" for Marie, the arbiters he chose for his imagined "courts of love" were Marie, Eleanor, and Ermengard. At about the same time, when another singer of tales needed names for the parents of his hero William of Orange, he chose for his hero's father Aymeri of Narbonne (one of the paladins of the Charlemagne of the epic tradition, and as it happened, the name of Ermengard's father and grandfather) and for his hero's mother, Ermengard. In one scene the poet even imagines a speech for her that could have come from the real Ermengard of Narbonne. Failing in her plea to the do-nothing King Louis to come to the aid of her son whose castle is besieged by the Saracens, she declares:

I myself will ride there
wearing my coat of mail, my shining helmet laced on,
shield at my neck, sword at my side,
lance in hand, ahead of all others.
Though my hair is grey and white,
my heart is bold and thirsts for war

.... It was among the poets and song-smiths of her own lands that Ermengard was best known, among the troubadours. It was above all thanks them that her fame as "she who protects joy and youth," who gives "joy and merit" spread to the far reaches of the Latin world.


During the half century of her rule she was a full partner in all the region's alliances, sieges, battles, truces, and treaties, and in what must have been the constant, tangled negotiations as well that ordered this quadrille of shifting aristocratic friendships. Like other great ladies of her age, she was often courted, but not for her hand in marriage. The real prize was power, and especially the strength in men, money, and history of her city, Narbonne.

[From the book.] ©

Table of Contents

1 The Viscountess Comes of Age

Ermengard's City
2 Names and Titles, Histories and Myths
3 The Urban Marketplace
4 City and Countryside
5 Cities of Mammon, Cities of Mars
6 The Bishop in the City

The Sinews of Power: Lordship and Serfdom
7 Lordship
8 Serfdom and the Dues of Domination
9 Ermengard's Entourage

The Sinews of Power: The Culture of Fidelity
10 Oaths and Oath-takers
11 Anger, Conflict, and Reconciliation
12 Giving and Taking
13 Love and Fidelity

Dynastic Politics 1162-1196
14 Raymond V Builds His Empire
15 The Ravaging of Occitania
16 Sowing the Seeds of Crusade
17 A War Like an Omen
18 Impatient Heirs

Epilogue: The Undoing of Occitania

Awards for Ermengard of Narbonne

Ralph Waldo Emreson Prize, Phi Beta Kappa Society, 2002

David Pinkney Award for the Outstanding Book in French History, 2001, Society for French Historical Studies.

Eugene Kayden National University Press Book Award for the outstanding book in the Humanities, 2001.

Book Award, New England Historical Society, 2002

Association of American Publishers Awards Program for Excellence in Professional/Scholarly Publishing, Honorable Mention (History), 2001

Alternate Selection of the History Book Club. Alternate Selection of The Readers' Subscription.

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