January 31, 1246 – On this day (and as a result of the earlier secret conclave at Cluny) Beatrice, Countess of Provence, marries Charles d’Anjou, brother of Louis IX at Aix in Provence. 

Aix en Provence

A list of “medieval celebrities” are present at the marriage, including: the bride’s sister Marguerite (Queen of France) and her husband Louis IX; Blanche of Castile, Dowager Queen of France;  the Dowager Countess Beatrice of Provence; and the bride’s prestigious Savoyard Uncles (Thomas and Count Amadeus IV).  When the groom complains noisily that the event lacks sufficient  grandeur (he had expected a magnificent affair in Sens or Paris),  Marguerite is NOT amused.  Eleanor of Provence will learn of her sister’s marriage into the Capetian line only after-the-fact,  and she will be furious.

In the High Middle Ages the Occitan speaking world – of which Provence was a part – brought Europe a group of poet composers called troubadours. These musicians and their tradition of composing songs of courtly love, chivalric bravery, and bawdy humor quickly spread throughout much of Europe. The influence of troubadours and their work-product can hardly be overstated. Their verses were a stepping stone for virtually all of western literature that followed. Without the troubadours it is unlikely we would have Dante or Chaucer just to scratch the surface.

Who were the troubadours? Probably not who most people think.

Popular imagination tends envision troubadours as itinerant. In fact, they often attached themselves for long periods of time to a single court, enjoying the patronage of a nobleman or woman.

Nor were they vagabonds (romantic as that might seem). The earliest troubadours were members of the nobility, including the highest ranks. Ruling Dukes and Counts could be troubadours (e.g. William IX of Aquitaine a very early troubadour, and grandfather of Eleanor of Aquitaine, was a Duke). Even Kings—including Richard I of England; Thibaud I, King of Navarre (and Count of Champagne for good measure); and Alfonso X, King of Castile—were known to dabble as poet-musicians. Only gradually did individuals of the lower classes (merchants and tradesmen generally, rather than the truly poor) join their numbers. This makes sense given the fact that troubadours wrote a type of sophisticated verse that would be greatly facilitated (and may arguably have required) the writer to be a “person of letters” (educated).

Contemporary audiences also tend to think of troubadours as exclusively male. They were not. In medieval Occitania composing original poetry and setting it to music could be and was women’s work as well as men’s. The women who pursued this occupation were called trobairitz and they were the FIRST female secular poets and female composures of secular music in the western world.

Of the more than four hundred troubadours whose names are still known to scholars today, about twenty–or roughly 5%–can be positively identified as women, but women may well have been a higher percentage (is not always easy to distinguish the work of a trobairitz from that of a troubadour and it is also possible that some women used male pseudonyms for their work).

Like my Sister Queens, the female trobairitz came almost exclusively from the Occitan cultures (there are know trobairitz from Provence, Auvergne, Languedoc, Dauphine, Toulouse and Limousin). This is likely not a coincidence.

Circumstances in early 13th century Occitania created the perfect storm for the emergence of these secular women poets. Women of this region administered great estates—dispensing justice and defending property—at a time when such roles were far less common elsewhere in Europe. Why? First, they were able to inherit and govern territory in their own right. But perhaps more importantly, a nearly continuous string of crusades resulted in a large loss of Occitan men either temporarily or permanently (when a nobleman died or simply decided to stay in the Crusader States). And while their fathers, husbands and brothers were absent women throughout Occitania were left in charge of administering family holdings.

What the trobairitz wrote is as startling as the sudden emergence of these woman poets. Trobairitz used their voices to emphasize their desires and to assert their right to have love and passion in their lives. Consider this excerpt from a work of the most well known trobairitz, the Countess of Dia:

I should like to hold my knight
Naked in my arms at eve,
That he might be in ecstasy
As I cushioned his head against my breast . . .
I grant him my heart, my love,
My mind, my eyes, my life.

These are the words of noble women with enough self-assurance to express and defend not only their actions in taking lovers but their emotions and their passions. They also often emphasized feminine values both setting forth ideal love and in defining the valorous male. Pretty remarkable for the 13th century.

The period of the trobairitz was fleeting. They first appear in the literature early in the century and most of their writings are dated up to and through the 1260s. By 1280 they had disappeared entirely. While this may seem sad, it can be taken as a more positive reminder that history is not linear—even those periods when the roles of women were heavily circumscribed have been punctuated by moments of female progress and power.

If you are interested in hearing the words of the trobairitz as they were meant to be—sung—there are a number of excellent recordings (e.g. In Time of Daffodils: Songs of the Trobairitz, The Sweet Look And The Loving Manner – Trobairitz, Love Lyrics and Chansons de Femme from Medieval France or The Romance Of  The Rose – Feminine Voices From Medieval France)

I will leave you with one of my favorites–a rendition of a poem by the Countess of Dia

January 1255 – Eleanor and Henry return to England after spending Christmas at the French Royal Court (on route home from Gascony).  Louis IX makes Henri III a present – an elephant the King of France acquired on crusade – while Marguerite gives her beloved sister Eleanor a peacock shaped washing bowl encrusted with jewels.

January 14, 1236 – Eleanor of Provence and Henry III of England marry.  This is THE MOST significant single event of Eleanor’s life.  Eleanor’s bridal train arrives in Canterbury before it is expected.  Henry hurries to meet her and insists on marrying at once in a relatively private affair, saving the public spectacle for her coronation.

Another image to share. This one still and far older than the video I posted yesterday.

Here for your enjoyment is A drawing of London by the chronicler Matthew Paris from his Historia Anglorum, Chronica majora, Part III; Continuation of Chronica maiora.  This manuscript is now in the collection of the British Library.

This sketch is believed to have been executed between 1250 and 1259.

I have a marvelous video to share to start the week. In my eyes it is more magical than many big-budget Hollywood special effects films.

The words of the final book say it all, “there is nothing like a real book.” This video is enchanting. If it doesn’t give you shivers you are not a real book lover. Enjoy!

Do you know a writer with a book coming out via a traditional publisher?  Even if you are a writer yourself there is something you many not know if you have yet to be published.  Something you should know if you want to support published friends.

All sales are not created equal.  Even if they are sales of the same title, in the same format for the same price.  This is something I didn’t know this time last year.

Interested in learning why it’s important to order or shop for friends’ books early? Come on over to From the Write Angle and read my blog on the subject.  Your writer friends will thank you.

The pre-order is the "heavy hitter" of all book sales



January 1234 – The papal dispensation necessary for Marguerite of Provence to marry Louis IX ofFrance(they were cousins) is granted.

Pope Gregory IX

In honor of the arrival of 2012 I am taking a look back at my very first year of blogging—2011.  Here are the five blog posts—some written for “From the Write Angle” others for my personal blog—that I consider my best work.

The top of my list HAS to be “Voice, It’s Not Just for Manuscripts Anymore” discussing how essential it is for writers to infuse their query letters (the letters they use to try to attract a literary agent) with their unique voice.

I would posit that snagging an agent with a good query is NOT merely about what you say but is equally about HOW you say it. For those of you who have seen “The King’s Speech” (and if you haven’t, forget reading my post and get yourself that DVD) think of the moment at Westminster Abbey when Geoffrey Rush (playing speech therapist Lionel Logue) asks Colin Firth’s George VI of England, “Why should I waste my time listening to you?’ The King’s answer. . . “Because I have a voice.” If you want agents to listen to you, to pay attention to the punchy mini-synopsis of your oh-so-clever plot that you spent a gazillion drafts perfecting, then you’d better let the voice that imbues your manuscript sing out from your query letter as well. 

Number two is “Give me A Little Kiss — Sex and the Historical Novelist,” in which I discuss and defend the place of sex in straight historical novels (not just historical romances).

The inclusion of sex in historical novels is neither good nor bad in a vacuum.  It’s not the sexual content that determines whether a particular scene works—it’s whether that scene (sex or otherwise) has a REASON for being in the novel.  Tossing in an orgy (or even a kiss) into your work of historical fiction without a solid reason is a bad idea.  The scene will feel “added on,” and gratuitous sex is no more acceptable in a novel than gratuitous dialogue.

At number three I have selected my reflection on the very act of blogging itself and how it can become a digital distraction from the author’s most important task—writing books:

Blogging takes an enormous amount of time compared to most on-line community participation. A tweet is a quip; a facebook post can be a couple of sentences or a useful link. A blog requires topic selection, thoughtful analysis and a couple of hundred solid words in support of your argument.

So if blogging is such a huge time-suck, why do we do it?

 Blog number four tackles the question of why our sisters (or more broadly our siblings) are NOT very much like us.

I’ve certainly had moments when I’ve thought how can my sister and I have had such a different experience of the same childhood or how could we have played the same games (together), walked to the same school (together) and heard the same family stories and yet turned out so very differently? If you have a sibling chances are you’ve had such thoughts as well.  At the heart of my questions lay the idea that nurture shapes people, and since my sister and I were raised in the same environment that should have made us similar.

Turns out that’s just dead wrong when it comes to siblings.  Being raised in the same environment helps to make us different.

And finally, sitting at number five, is the first blog I ever wrote—“Not THAT Sophie.”  This one is all about the marketing lessons I learned from a teething toy.  Half-a-year after I wrote it, as I struggle to build my author brand, I still marvel at the power of Sophie the Giraffe.  And yes, she STILL comes up before I do in an Amazon search and she continues to top the ranks of baby items.

Coming behind a rubber toy in a “suggested search” list is a humbling experience. But when I looked more closely at Sophie G, I realized I could learn a thing or two. Sophie is NUMBER ONE in the Amazon “Baby” bestseller rankings (we will not discuss how far from number one I am on any list presently). She gets an average of 4.5 stars from reviewers. And she is able to command some serious cash for a figure only 7” tall. In fact, a single giraffe teether costs $7.00 more than a copy of my novel. Wow (hint to readers, buy the book – I don’t care if you chew on it).

Sophie G is obviously doing something right. Here’s what I think. . .

 Happy New Year all!!!