restricted access Bertran de Born, histoire et légende by Jean-Pierre Thuillat (review)
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Reviewed by
Jean-Pierre Thuillat. Bertran de Born, histoire et légende. Périgueux: Éditions Fanlac, 2009. 287 pp. ISBN: 978-2865772650

Jean-Pierre Thuillat, historian and poet, places this biography of Bertran de Born under the inscription of Montaigne:

"J'ayme les Historiens ou fort simples ou excellens. Les simples, qui n'ont point dequoy y mesler quelque chose du leur..., nous laissent le jugement entier pour la cognoissance de la vérité... C'est la matière de l'Histoire, nue et informe; chacun en peut faire son profit autant qu'il a d'entendement"

(Essais 2.10, cited by Thuillat 7).

Paradoxically, the "simplicity" with which Thuillat seeks to imbue his narrative requires keen vision, for the biographer must distinguish the history of his title from the legend. The former is recounted in the first 200 pages, the latter—tracing the elaboration of Bertran's legend from the razos and Dante to the twentieth century—in a final chapter. But even the sources upon which the biographical reconstruction depends (the chronicle of Geoffroi de Vigeois, the songs of Bertran) served an ideological purpose. Texts such as charters, less ideologically distorted, are too few in number and barren of detail to make sufficient material for a biography unless they are supplemented by chronicle and lyric. Inevitably, then, the historian must sift through these earliest seeds of Bertran's legend, attempting to discern through them (despite them?) the "matière nue et informe" of history.

The time was ripe to reconsider the life of Bertran de Born. It has been nearly thirty years since biographical accounts were published in dueling editions of the troubadour's songs, one by Gérard Gouiran, the other by William D. Paden, Jr., Tilde Sankovitch, and Patricia H. Stäblein. Already in the 1980s scholars recognized that Bertran could not have played the determinate role in Plantagenet politics that myth attributed to him, but in order to [End Page 68] understand the obscure conflict between Bertran and Constantine de Born they had only a line from Geoffroi de Vigeois, a few obscure comments from Bertran (which are interpreted differently in each edition), and the infamously unreliable razos. And while the Plantagenets were attracting more scholarly attention in the early 80s, the nobility of the Aquitaine had hardly been studied at all. Since then, historians have begun to rectify the situation. Valuable work has been published not only on the Plantagenets (by Martin Aurell, Georges Duby, Jean Favier, Jean Flori, and John Gillingham, all of whom Thuillat cites), but also on the social practices of the Aquitaine (André Debord and Christian Rémy, among others) and on families closer to the de Born than their Plantagenet overlords: the viscounts of Limoges, the counts of Angoulême, and, above all, the Lastours, whose history Christian Rémy has retraced in a study that provides the basis for Thuillat's reinterpretation of the de Born conflict.

Thuillat's principal claim to the attention of Occitanists is his new account of this conflict. It is more complete, more comprehensible, and better documented than any yet published. Scholars have agreed that the Lastours were the first lords of Hautefort; the point when that lordship was transferred to the de Born family has remained obscure, as have the precise nature of the relation between the two families and their inheritance practices. Thuillat demonstrates that the dissention between Bertran and Constantine reflects a schism between branches of the Lastours family in the second half of the twelfth century. When the head of the Lastours, Géraud I, died, his younger brother Gouffier I claimed headship of the family and demanded that the sons of Géraud do him homage "in the Frankish manner," an alien practice in the twelfth-century Aquitaine. Géraud's sons, who counted on holding freely what they had inherited from their father, vigorously resisted (73). Whether they ever performed such an act of submission is an open question, since the testimony of Geoffroi de Vigeois, a partisan of the Gouffiers, cannot be trusted in this matter (74). But it is clear that the family had split into competing branches. [End Page 69]