PILGRIMS, HERETICS, AND LOVERS: A Medieval Journey by Claude Marks


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Marks draws a line through medieval France to separate the sun-drenched Midi from the harsher culture of the North. From Merovingian times through the 14th century, the provinces of Poitou, Aquitaine, Languedoc and Provence--those areas where the langue d'oc prevailed--sustained a culture that was refined, tolerant and lyrical. The courts of Toulouse and Poitiers were far more cosmopolitan and sophisticated than the crude establishments in Paris or London. This is not a new thesis, but seldom has the ""troubador country"" been celebrated so rhapsodically and uncritically. Marks, never quite sure whether he is writing a cultural or political history, centers his narrative around the Count-Dukes of Poitou and Aquitaine--a series of eight Guilhelms whose line stretched back to one of Charlemagne's paladins and forward to the redoubtable Eleanor of Aquitaine. Even before the 12th century efflorescence of chivalry, arts and letters flourished here, and along with these gracious accomplishments, the status of women--noble women, naturally--was far superior than elsewhere in Europe. Marks never bothers to ask whether chivalry, courtly love and the music of the minstrels celebrating the ladies had any impact on society at large or whether they were simply the decorative embellishments of a -powerful class of fighting nobles. It could even be argued that the chivalric idealization of women brought with it not greater freedom, but the double standard and the virgin/whore antithesis. As for the heretics--Marks briefly sketches the Albigensians as a harmless and holy group of humble worshippers--they probably represented a revulsion against the wealth and luxury of this privileged sector of Europe. But then Marks is not concerned with economics. He does succeed in discussing the beautiful churches and castles of southern France in this loosely structured and lightweight history of the softer and more appealing side of the medieval world.

Pub Date: May 1st, 1975
Publisher: Macmillan