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Ermengarda of Narbonne and Beatrice of Este: A Study in Contrasts

From: Tenso
Volume 10, Number 1, Fall 1994
pp. 9-17 | 10.1353/ten.1994.0018

In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

ERMENGARDA OF NARBONNE AND BEATRICE OF ESTE: A STUDY IN CONTRASTS Too often medieval and modern concepts are confused in our minds because the terms used appear to be the same. Our modern sense of patron / patroness connotes someone who protects, supports or sponsors someone or something (Random House Dictionary s.v.), a meaning narrower than that known to the Middle Ages. For medieval society, this first meaning applied, but with the connotation as well ofsomeone who serves as a passive idealization, a quality peculiar to the troubadour tradition and exclusively reserved for the patroness.1 As demonstration of the very different meanings of patroness in medieval Occitan society, let us consider Ermengarda ofNarbonne and Beatrice ofEste, although we have no proofthat the term pairona / patrona was ever applied to either of them. The first was both an active and a passive supporter of troubadour lyric; the second inspired, thanks to her name, rank and personal qualities, cultural activities worthy of protection. Both women served as muses, albeit in different ways. Ermengarda, viscountess, of Narbonne (ca. 1 125-1 194. see Hall, 19-16. and Bergert, 6-10) succeeded her father Aymeri II, who was killed in the battle of Fraga (Catalonia) in 1 134; her older brother Aymeri had predeceased him. In 1 142 she married a Spanish lord, Alfonso, of whom nothing is known except that he died three years later; the same year she remarried, this time to the Languedocian countBernard ofAnduze. She had no offspringfrom eithermarriage. Frequently at odds with her suzerain, the Count of Toulouse, she allied herselffirst with Pope Alexander II, then with King Louis VlI of France, finally with the Count of Barcelona and king of Aragon, whose suzerainty she recognized. In 1 192 she abdicated in favor of Peter of Lara, the younger son of her half sister, and retired to Perpignan, where she died twoyears later. She isburied at the abbey of Fontfroide (founded in 1093 by her grandfather Aymeri I), which she had favored all her life. Ermengarda was renowned for the wisdom and skill with which for half a century she governed her lands. In a letter dated 1 163 of HANS-ERICH KELLER greatest interest for the history ofwomen'srights in the Middle Ages, Louis VIl even accorded her—a woman—the right to administer justice (see Devic and Vaissète, 3:843-44); in a letter of 1173, however, she allied herselfwith other southern lords in wishing that King Louis had Charlemagne's magnanimity in respecting the liberties of the lords of Southern France (see Devic and Vaissète 6:55). In addition to her celebrated intelligence and energy, Ermengarda's pro-French stance is certainly the reason she had the honor ofbeing the only lady not belonging to the family of Countess Marie ofChampagne to pronouncejudgments (VIII, IX. X XI and XV) on love in Andreas Capellanus' DeAmore. In 1 157 Ermengarda confirmed the donations ofher forebears to the abbey of Fontfroide (Dimier 230); in 1178 she accepted a donation by Pons of Olargues in the name of Fontfroide (Devic and Vaissète 6:76). But she seems not to have been actively involved in the construction program of this seminal abbey since, according to Dimier's plan ofthe church, the original parts ofthe present building date only from the end ofthe twelfth century (232), nor are particular donations by her attested to this abbey or to other institutions.2 However. Ermengarda seems to have had a very strong interest in troubadour poetry. According to Devic and Vaissète (6: 1 52), she supported particularly Sail d'Escola. the son of a merchant in Bergerac, whose poemswere highly appreciated atthe time. His uida (Boutière and Schutz 64) says that he left the court ofNarbonne only after Ermengarda's death. However, his only extant poem, a satire (published by Chabaneau, 218-19). makes no reference to either Ermengarda or Narbonne. Peire Rogier addresses her under the senhal Tort-n'avetz" in four—perhaps even five—of his nine extant poems. They all reveal a poet who worships a lady at Narbonne. even if he is geographically separated from her, but none mentions more except that his...