Bertran de Born

Bertran de Born

Bertran de Born (1140s – by 1215) was a baron from the Limousin in France, and one of the major Occitan troubadours of the twelfth century.

Life and Works

Bertran de Born was the eldest son of Bertran de Born, lord of Autafort (French: "Hautefort"), and his wife Ermengardis. He had two younger brothers, Constantine and Itier. His father died in 1178, and Bertran succeeded him as lord of Autafort. By this time, he was already married to his first wife, Raimonda, and had two sons.

Autafort lies at the border between the Limousin and Périgord. As a result, Bertran became involved in the conflicts of the sons of Henry II Plantagenet. He was also fighting for control of Autafort.

According to the feudal custom of his region, he was not the only lord of Autafort, but held it jointly with his brothers. Other cases of co-seigneuries were known among the troubadours, the most famous being that of the "four troubadours of Ussel", three brothers and a cousin, and that of Raimon de Miraval and his brothers. A typical strategy employed by the major territorial principalities (such as the duchy of Aquitaine or the county of Toulouse) to decrease the influence of the local lords of the manor was to encourage feudal conflicts within their families. Bertran's struggle, especially with his brother Constantine, is at the heart of his poetry, which is dominated by political topics.

His first datable work is a "sirventes" (political or satirical song) of 1181, but it is clear from this he already had a reputation as a poet. In 1182, he was present at his overlord Henry II of England's court at Argentan. That same year, he had joined in Henry the Young King's revolt against his younger brother, Richard, Count of Poitou and Duke of Aquitaine. He wrote songs encouraging Aimar V of Limoges and others to rebel, and took the oath against Richard at Limoges. His brother Constantine took the opposing side, and Bertran drove him out of the castle in July.

Henry the Young King, whom Bertran had praised and criticised in his poems, died in 1183; he wrote a "planh" (lament), in his memory, "Mon chan fenisc ab dol et ab maltraire". (Another "planh" for Henry, "Si tuit li dol e.l plor e.l marrimen", formerly attributed to Bertran, is now thought to be the work of Rigaut de Berbezill). In his punitive campaign against the rebels, Richard, aided by Alfonso II of Aragon, besieged Autafort and gave it to Constantine de Born. Henry II, however, returned it to the poet, and Constantine seems to have become a mercenary.

Bertran was reconciled with Richard, whom he supported in turn against Philip II of France. At various times, he sought to exploit the dissensions among the Angevins in order to keep his independence. He gave them "senhals" (nicknames): Henry the Young King was "Mariniers" ("Sailor"), Geoffrey of Brittany was "Rassa", and Richard, "Oc-e-Non" ("Yes-and-No"). He commemorated Geoffrey's death in the "planh", "A totz dic que ja mais non voil". He had contact with a number of other troubadours and also with the Northern French trouvère, Conon de Béthune, whom he addressed as "Mon Ysombart".

Although he composed a few "cansos" (love songs), Bertran de Born was predominantly a master of the "sirventes". "Be.m platz lo gais temps de pascor," which revels in warfare, was translated by Ezra Pound:

cquote|"...We shall see battle axes and swords, a-battering colored haumes and a-hacking through shields at entering melee; and many vassals smiting together, whence there run free the horses of the dead and wrecked. And when each man of prowess shall be come into the fray he thinks no more of (merely) breaking heads and arms, for a dead man is worth more than one taken alive."

"I tell you that I find no such savor in eating butter and sleeping, as when I hear cried "On them!" and from both sides hear horses neighing through their head-guards, and hear shouted "To aid! To aid!" and see the dead with lance truncheons, the pennants still on them, piercing their sides."

"Barons! put in pawn castles, and towns, and cities before anyone makes war on us."

"Papiol, be glad to go speedily to "Yea and Nay", and tell him there's too much peace about." [In Robert Kehew (ed.) "The Lark in the Morning", pp. 144-45]

When Richard (by then King) and Philip delayed setting out on the Third Crusade, he chided them in songs praising the heroic defence of Tyre by Conrad of Montferrat ("Folheta, vos mi prejatz que eu chan" and "Ara sai eu de pretz quals l'a plus gran"). When Richard was released from captivity after being suspected of Conrad's murder, Bertran welcomed his return with "Ar ven la coindeta sazos". Ironically, one of Bertran's sources of income was from the market of Châlus-Cabrol, where Richard was fatally wounded in 1199.

Widowed for the second time c. 1196, Bertran became a monk and entered the Cistercian abbey of Dalon, to which he had made numerous grants over the years. His last datable song was written in 1198. He ceases to appear in charters after 1202, and was certainly dead by 1215, when there is a record of a payment for a candle for his tomb.

His œuvre consists of about forty-seven works, thirty-six unanimously attributed to him in the manuscripts, and eleven uncertain attributions. Several melodies survive, and some of his songs have been recorded by Sequentia, Gérard Zuchetto and his Troubadours Art Ensemble, and the Martin Best Mediæval Consort.


Bertran de Born married twice. By his first wife, Raimonda, he had two sons (both knighted in 1192) and a daughter:
*Bertran, also a troubadour, still living in 1223.
*Itier, who died in 1237.
*Aimelina, who married Seguin de Lastours.By his second wife, Philippa, he had two more sons:
*Constantine, who became a monk at Dalon with his father.
*Bertran the Younger, who was still living in 1252.

=Later Literary

According to his later "vida" (a romanticised short biography attached to his songs), Henry II believed Bertran had fomented the rebellion of his son Henry the Young King. As a result, Dante Alighieri portrayed him in the "Inferno" as a sower of schism, punished in the eighth circle of Hell (Canto XXVIII), carrying his severed head like a lantern. Gustave Doré depicts this in his illustrations to the "Divine Comedy."

Dante's depiction influenced Bertran's image in various later literary works. In her epic poem "Cœur de Lion" (1822), Eleanor Anne Porden depicted him fomenting discord in the Third Crusade, and becoming a hermit in the East out of remorse over his involvement in Richard's imprisonment. He also figures as a minor character in Maurice Hewlett's novel "The Life and Death of Richard Yea-and-Nay" (1900), depicted unflatteringly. He is described as "a man of hot blood, fumes and rages", with "a grudging spirit". One character dismisses him thus: "Great poet he was, great thief, and a silly fool."

His memory was better served by Ezra Pound, who translated some of his songs and also based several original poems around him and his works, notably "Na Audiart" (1908), "Sestina: Altaforte" (1909), and "Near Perigord" (1915). There are also allusions to him in some of the "Cantos". Via the influence of Pound's "Na Audiart", he is also mentioned in Sorley MacLean's poem, "A' Bhuaile Ghreine" ("The Sunny Fold").



* Gérard Gouiran (ed. and trans.), "L’Amour et la Guerre: L’Oeuvre de Bertran de Born", 2 vols. (Aix en Provence & Marseille, 1985)
* William D. Padden, jr., Tilde Sankovitch & Patricia H. Stäblein (ed. and transl.), "The Poems of the Troubadour Bertran de Born" (Berkeley, Los Angeles & London, 1986)
* [ Complete works] (external link)
* [ Works, translated by James H. Donalson] (external link)


* Dante Alighieri, "The Divine Comedy of Dante Alighieri, Inferno", trans. Allen Mandelbaum, (Bantam Classics 1982) ISBN 0-553-21339-3
* Maurice Hewlett, [ "The Life & Death of Richard Yea-and-Nay"] (London, 1900) (external link to Project Gutenberg text)
*Robert Kehew (ed.) "Lark in the Morning: The Verses of the Troubadours; translated by Ezra Pound, W D Snodgrass & Robert Kehew" (Chicago, 2005) ISBN 0-226-42933-4
* Ezra Pound, "Poems & Translations" (New York, 2003)

This article includes material from the
* [ Dictionnaire universel d'histoire et de géographie Bouillet/Chassang] (=> projet Wikipédia)via []

External links

* [ English translation of Bertran de Born's Bel m'es quan vei] - translated by Jon Corelis

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