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  • Chapter 9 The Art of Speaking Well at the Court of the Counts of Toulouse
  • Barbara H. Rosenwein

In the Middle Ages, one spoke well when, among other things, one took note of the circumstantiae locutionis, that is, the circumstances of one’s speech.1 The rules for circumstantiae locutionis were set forth systematically in medieval books of rhetoric, which were based largely on Cicero’s De inventione and its successors. Already Boethius’s De topicis differentiis set forth the seven topics or circumstantiae to be considered. As summed up by the ninth-century monk Remigius of Auxerre in his commentary on Martianus Capella, they read much like the questions that even today we consider key to critical thinking: to be sensitive to circumstances means asking “who, what, why, in what manner, where, when, by what faculties.”2

The members of the court of the Counts of Toulouse circa 1200 did not produce—or even, so far as we know, use—a courtesy book or a treatise on the art of rhetoric. But some of those courtiers—the bureaucrats who drew up the comital charters and the troubadours who, while writing in Old Occitan rather than Latin, were nevertheless “literate”—had doubtless studied such books as part of their schooling. The cathedral school of Saint-Étienne de Toulouse was established at the end of the eleventh century, and there was a school at Saint-Sernin by the end of the twelfth.3 To be sure, many of the men at the court of Toulouse hailed from other parts of the Midi, but in the wake of the Gregorian Reform, all those regions were served by schools of some sort.

Thus, we should expect that writings emanating from the court of Toulouse would be attentive at least to some degree to the circumstantiae locutionis. I want here to tease out of materials that were not meant to be rules of rhetoric the ways in which they nevertheless used and adapted such rules.4 Adaptation must be the key word here, for I will look at poetry written in Old Occitan, not works in Latin. Two Counts of Toulouse—Raimond V (1148–1194) and Raimond VI (1194–1222)—patronized many troubadours. In addition, closely connected to the court of Raimond [End Page 141] VII (1222–1249) was the anonymous author of the second part of La Chanson de la Croisade albigeoise, a long epic poem in Old Occitan that took the “who, where, and when” of good rhetoric into account. We shall see that the troubadours largely concentrated on the circumstance of “who”: who they were, whom they were addressing. They were highly conscious of the poetic voice in their poems. Assuming a carefully shaped persona, they used the appropriate words to address their comital patron. The anonymous poet of the Chanson was less interested than the troubadours in assuming a well-wrought persona, but as he wrote the lines that his protagonists were to speak, he, too, was keenly aware of “who” was speaking as well as the circumstances of “where and when.”

The Counts and Their Court

Under Raimond V, the comital court had two principal seats: the town of Saint-Gilles-du-Gard in Provence and the city of Toulouse in Languedoc, where the counts held a castle.5 When Raimond VI became count in 1194, he negotiated treaties to end the many wars in which his father had engaged for decades. This freed him to focus on the Toulousain. His successful negotiations with local and far-flung lords were abruptly checked, however, when the Church accused him of inaction in the face of heretics. Excommunicated in 1207 and again in 2011 by Pope Innocent III (1198–1216), Raimond waged war against the Albigensian crusaders led by Simon de Montfort. Defeated at the Battle of Muret (1213), the Count of Toulouse lost most of his lands, which were taken by Simon with papal approval (Les comtes, 33–34). Both father and son took to the road at that point—to England first, for King John was the uncle of Raimondet, the future Raimond VII, and thus a likely supporter of the Raimondin cause—and subsequently to Rome, where, at...


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