History Hoydens


Historical Romance Writers Dishing the Dirt on Research

03 November 2006


Imagine you are a countess in 12th century France. Your castle feasts would include after-dinner entertainment, usually a troubadour singing songs of heroes and great deeds (chansons de geste) or love songs (lais) in honor of his unnamed lady-love.

In the tradition of Courtly Love, troubadours sang (in the common tongue, not Latin) of love between a knight and an aristocratic lady, who must be married to someone else! Thus, courtly love was always secretive, adulterous, and usually unconsummated. Understandably, it faded into obscurity by the 14th century.

While adoration was expected, consummation was not. Famous exceptions include
Launcelot and Guinevere, Tristan and Iseult. And as for a lowly troubadour in love with his patroness, no doubt many a poet sneaked into his lady's chamber after an evening of love songs sung in her honor, even though the "rules" were that the
besotted man pined in silence and slept alone. Eleanor of Aquitaine's famous "courts of love" at Poitou involved an exalted gathering of lords, knights, and ladies assembled to debate fine points of love and its proper conduct.

Musical matters

Would lais, even bawdy ones, rhyme? Yes, most certainly. They rhymed in their original language, however; when translated into English the translator would try to keep the rhyme. The usual pattern is to rhyme the 1st and 3rd lines, and especially the 2nd and 4th lines of a 4-line stanza. Thus: "The nightingales sing/With sighs of love/In winter and spring/Come quickly, my dove."

Are words/meaning lost in translation? Yes, lots would be lost in translation; lais in Old French, for example, are often downright scandalous. The line "Margot labors in the vineyards," for instance, does not refer to picking grapes.

Recommended "best-guess-how-the-music-sounded" recording:

My personal all-time favorite group: Ensemble Alcatraz (Dorian)
Dance Royal; Cantigas de Amigo (with Kitka)

Martin Best Mediaeval Ensemble, Songs of Chivalry (Nimbus)
Anonymous 4, "Love's Illusion," music from the Montpellier Codex, 13th C (Harmonia Mundi)
"The Courts of Love/Music from the Time of Eleanor of Aquitaine" (Hyperion)
Sonus Chanterai, Music of Medieval France (Dorian)
New London Consort, "Sinners & Saints/The Ultimate Medieval and Renaissance
Music Collection, (L'oiseau-Lyre)



Blogger Kathrynn Dennis said...

..."courtly love was always secretive, adulterous and usually unconsummated."

Hah! I love it! Thanks, Lynna. And as for the music suggestions, I've added to my christmas wish list. My husband thanks you. Me too.

Do you listen to period music when you write? Does it help get you in a "historical" mood?


9:42 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

I love the whole "courtly love" thing. My favorite use of it isn't in a romance, though. It's in a fantasy book: A Song for Arbonne by Guy Gavriel Kay. It's simply one of my all time favorite books.

7:52 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I took a great continuing education class at Stanford on Courtly Love (specifically Eleanor's courtly love). Fascinating sujbect.

10:29 AM  
Blogger Katherine Bone said...

Music has a way of transporting you to a certain point in time. Since I'm writing a Native American novel right now, I'm listening to flute music performed by various tribes. Doing this during the writing process helps me to feel more in touch with my story and characters.


10:31 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Ooooooooo, are you listening to Carlos Nakai? I love his music.

11:10 AM  
Blogger Lynna Banning said...

Yes, I've read Kay's"A Song for Arbonne." I thought his language usage was so poetic... very sensuous.

I also read "The Lions of al Rashid," which was set in medieval Spain.

12:40 PM  
Blogger Lynna Banning said...

Yes, I listen to early music when I'm writing; I listened to Ensemble Alcatraz early music even when I was writing westerns!
But I also love really schmaltzy cowboy songs...

12:41 PM  
Blogger Lynne Simpson said...

Thanks for the tips on the music! :-) Not only will some of those CDs make a neat Christmas gift for my husband, but I'll also really enjoy listening to them while I write.

6:51 PM  

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