Professor Fredric Cheyette
Department of History
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
.... 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.
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.