Duchess of Lorraine

compiled by Rachel Ruisard








Personal Information


Duchess of Lorraine

Date and place of birth


Death and place of death 




Marriage and Family Life



Unknown. The number and nature of the literary allusions in the two works attributed to the Duchess of Lorraine point to a highly literate author who was familiar with literary conventions and imagery.





Contemporaneous Network(s)

The medieval poet-composers known as the trouvères flourished during the late twelfth and thirteenth centuries in northern France. Descended from the southern tradition of the troubadours, the trouvères composed and performed poetry in dialects of Old French, much of it containing well-worn themes common to the courtly love tradition. Practitioners of this art often belonged to the nobility, and while the majority of the figures identified with the trouvère tradition were men, women also composed and performed their own chansons (songs).

One of the few names belonging to female trouvères (or troveresses) that has come down to us is the Duchess of Lorraine. The attribution to a “duchaise de lorainne” appears twice in a late medieval songbook (CH-BEsu MS 389), which was compiled in the Lorraine region at the end of the thirteenth century.




 According to the compiler(s) of the CH-BEsu MS 389 manuscript, the Duchess of Lorraine composed the Old French songs “Par maintes fois avrai esteit requise,” (“Many a time I have been asked”) a plainte or lament, and “Un petit davant lou jor,” (“Just before daybreak”) a chanson malmariée, or song of an unmarried woman.

Of the Duchess of Lorraine’s poems, “Par maintes fois avrai esteit requise” is transmitted in manuscripts with the text only, but “Un petit davant lou jour” survives with a melody. “Un petit davant” is a chanson de malmariée, a genre distinguished by its narrative describing an interaction between an unhappily married woman and a knight, very often her lover. It is also considered a chanson avec des refrains (song with refrains) because each stanza is followed by a different refrain. Each refrain is presumably borrowed from other poems, creating intertextual relationships, but is integrated into the stanza each time with a transitional phrase. The text (reproduced below) features a meeting between a lady in a tower and her knightly lover, witnessed and recounted by a first-person narrator.

The singing of a poem added an essential dimension, one that transcended the sum of its parts and would be magnified by the singer in the moment of live, unamplified performance. The marriage of words and music no doubt had a notable impact upon the audience, for the music could elicit emotions beyond those spoken by the text. In style and form, the music of “Un petit davant” is typical of the larger trouvère repertoire: it is simple and flows smoothly in a stepwise manner, with a syllabic (one note per syllable) or slightly neumatic (two or three notes per syllable) text setting. The melodic phrases create variety through the alteration of text settings and by moving through or resting at different vocal ranges. All the stanzas have the same rhyme and meter scheme and are sung to the same melody, with some small variation. However, each refrain is melodically and poetically distinct from the larger stanzas, indicating their borrowed nature. 


I. Un petit davant lou jor

Me levai l'autrier,

Sospris de novelle amor

Ke me fait vellier.

Por oblïeir mes dolors

Et por aligier,

M'en alai coillir la flor

Dejoste un vergier.

Lai dedans, en un destor,

Oï un chevalier,

Desor lui en haute tour,

Dame ke moult l'ot chier.

Ell ot frexe la color

Et chantoit per grant dousor

Uns douls chans pitous melleit en plor,

Pués ait dit, com loiauls drue:

“Amins, vos m'aveis perdue,

Li jalous m'ait mis en mue.”

II. Quant li chevaliers entent

La dame a vis cleir,

De la grant dolor k'il sent

Comance a ploreir.

Pués ait dit en sospirant:

“Mar vi enserreir,

Dame, vostre cors lou gent

Ke doie tant ameir!

Or m'en convient durement

Les dous biens compaireir

Ke volentiers et sovent

Me solïés doneir.

Lais! or me vait malement:

Trop ait si aipre torment!

Et se ceu nos dure longuement,

Tres dous Deus, ke devanrons nos?

Je ne puis endureir sens vos,

Et sens moy, comant dureis vos?”

III. Dist la belle: “Boens amis,

Amor me maintient;

Aisseis est plux mors ke vis

Ki dolor soustient.

Leis moi geist mes anemis,

Faire le covient;

Et se n'ai  joie ne ris

Se de vos ne vient.

J'ai si mon cuer en vos mis

Tout adés m'en sovient.

Se li cors vos est eschis,

Li cuers a vos se tient,

Si faitement l'ai empris.

Et de ceu soiiés tous fis,

Ke sens repentir serai toudis

Vostre loiaul amie.

Por ceu se je ne vos voi,

Ne vos oblieria mie.”

IV. “Dame, je.l cuit bien savoir,

Tant l'ai esprovei,

K'en vos ne poroit avoir

Cuer de fauceteit.

Maix ceu me fait moult doloir

K j'ai tant estei.

Dame de si grant voloir,

Or ai tout pansei:

Deus m'ait mis en nonchailoir

Et de tout oblïeit

Ke je ne puisse cheoir

En gringnor povreteit!

Maix jeu ai moult boen espoir

K'encor me puet bien valoir,

Et Deus le me doinst encore avoir;

Drois est ke je lou die:

Se Deu plaist, li jalous moirait,

Si raverai m'amie.”

V. “Amins, se vos desireis

La mort a jalous,

Si faic jeu, si m'aït Dés,

Cent tens plux de vos!

Il est viels et rasoteis

Et glous comme lous,

Si est maigres et pailés,

Et si ait la tous.

Putes taiches ait aisseis,

Li deloiaus, li rous;

Tote la graindre bonteis

C'est de ceu k'il est cous.

Amins, mar fu mes cors neis

Quant por vos est ensereis,

Et aitres en ait ses volenteis;

Drois est ke je m'en plaing:

Comant guerirait dame sens amin

Cui amors  mehaigne.”

VI. “Biaus amins, vos en ireis,

Car je voi le jor.

Des ore maix i pöeis

Faire lone sejor.

Vostre fin cuer me laireis;

N'aiés pais paour,

C'aveuc vos enportereis

La plux fine amor.

Des ke vos ne me pöeis

Geteir de ceste tor,

Plus sovant la resgairdeis,

Por moi, per grant dousor.”

Et cil s'en part toz iriés

Et dist: “Lais! tant mar fu neiz,

Quant mes cuers est ci sens moi remels.

Dolans m'en pairt.

A Deu comans je mes amors

K'i les me gairt.”

I. Just before daybreak

I rose the other day,

Smitten by a new love

That has kept me awake.

To forget my sorrows

And soothe them,

I went off to gather flowers

Near an orchard.

There, in a secluded spot,

I heard a knight,

And above him, in a high tower,

A lady who cherished him dearly.

She had a fresh complexion

And was singing so sweetly

A sweet, poignant song mingled with tears.

Then she said, as a loyal lover:

“Beloved, you have lost me,

The jealous one has imprisoned me.”

II. When the knight heard

The lady with the radiant face,

From the great anguish he felt

He began to weep.

Then he said with a sigh:

“Woe, lady, that I ever saw confined

Your gracious body,

Which I cannot help loving!

Now I must pay dearly

For the sweet favors

You so willingly and often

Used to grant me.

Alas! Now I do not fare well:

It is such bitter torment!

If we must endure it for long,

Dear God, what will become of us?

I cannot survive without you,

And you without me, how can you survive?”

III. The lovely lady replied: “Dear friend,

Love sustains me;

Whoever suffers anguish

Is far more dead than alive.

Beside me lies my enemy,

I have to comply;

And yet, I have no joy or pleasure

Unless it comes from you.

I have my heart so placed in you

That you are always on my mind.

Even if my body is denied you,

My heart remains bound to you,

That is the commitment I have made.

You can be certain

That with no regret I will forever be

Your loyal lover.

And so even if I do not see you,

I will certainly not forget you.”

IV. “Lady, I know full well,

So much have I seen proof of it,

That in you there could not be

A deceitful heart.

But it fills me with anguish

That I have lingered so long. 

My very worthy lady,

Now I have thought it through:

God has become indifferent to me

And has forgotten me so completely

That I could not fall

Into greater misery!

Still I have a fond hope

That He can yet help me:

God grant that I may have you again,

Rightly do I say:

God willing, the jealous one will die,

And I will have my lover back.”

V. “Beloved, if you desire

The death of the jealous one,

Even more so do I desire it, so help me God,

A hundred times more than you!

He is old and besotted,

Gluttonous as a wolf,

And scrawny and bald,

And he has a cough.

He has so many foul traits,

The perfidious redhead;

The greatest merit he has

Is to be a cuckold.

Friend, alas that I was ever born,

When my body is captive because of you

And another has his will;

Rightfully do I complain:

How can a lady without her lover heal

When love torments her.”

VI. “Fair friend, be on your way,

For I see daylight.

From now on you could

Be lingering too long.

Leave me your true heart;

Have no fear,

Since you will be taking with you

The most perfect love.

Since you cannot

Free me from this tower,

Gaze at it all the more often,

For my sake, with much tenderness.”

And so he departs full of ire

Saying: “Alas that I was ever born!

Since my heart stays here without me.

Doleful I depart.

I commend my love to God,

May He protect it for me.”


Legacy and Influence

Since archival evidence remains inconclusive, the identity of the Duchess must also remain uncertain. That does not preclude recognition of her remarkable skill at poetic composition, witnessed in the plethora of literary allusions she employs and her mastery of established trouvère genres, including the plainte, the chanson avec des refrains, and the chanson de malmariée.



It is not clear which Duchess of Lorraine the manuscript attributions refer to, as there were three women who held that title throughout the thirteenth century: Gertrude of Dagsbourg (c. 1205–1225), Catherine of Limbourg (c. 1215–1255), and Marguerite of Champagne (c. 1240–1307). Gertrude of Dagsbourg, first suggested as a potential candidate by Achille Jubinal in 1838, was the daughter of Albert II, Count of Metz and Dagsbourg (now Dabo), and her first of three marriages was to Thibaut I, Duke of Lorraine, a union contracted when she was one year old, and which lasted from 1214 until his death in 1220. That same year, Gertrude married the young Thibaut IV, Count of Champagne (and later Thibaut I, King of Navarre), one of the most illustrious trouvères. Thibaut dissolved the union only two years later when he came of age, on grounds of either consanguinity or sterility. Gertrude’s final marriage to Simon, the count of Leiningen, followed soon after in 1223. She died less than a year later without having borne any children.

According to musicologist Maria V. Coldwell, of the three women, Gertrude is the most probable identity of the troveresse the Duchess of Lorraine. As a child at the court of Dagsbourg, she would have grown up being surrounded by cultural and literary influences. It must be noted, however, that Gertrude held the title of Duchess for only a brief time from the age of nine to fifteen, after which she acquired the titles of Countess of Champagne and Countess of Leiningen from her second and third marriages, respectively. Also, while she certainly would have grieved at the passing of her first husband, Thibaut I, it is uncertain whether she would have produced a death-lament, particularly one featuring a high number of literary allusions, at such a young age.

Jubinal put forward an alternative explanation that the lament instead refers, through the allusion of a lost loved one, to a divorce sought by an ambitious husband. Additionally, he argued that “[Thibaut] would have wanted to marry a woman whose intellectual qualities matched his own,” suggesting that Gertrude would have developed a taste and talent for poetry from him, despite their brief union.

The second possible candidate, Catherine of Limbourg, became the Duchess of Lorraine in 1225 at the age of ten when she, a daughter of Waleran III, Duke of Limbourg and Count of Luxembourg, married Mathieu II, Duke of Lorraine and the brother of Gertrude’s first husband Thibaut I. When she died in 1255, she left behind five children: Ferri (1240–1302), Laure (c. 1230–1288), Isabelle (c. 1230–1266), Catherine (1243–c. 1281), and Adeline (c. 1245–c. 1278). Catherine of Limbourg, like Gertrude, also belonged to a highly cultured court where literary patronage was a family tradition, as her brother Henri III was praised as a patron by many poets and Catherine herself has been identified as a patroness of the trouvère Colin Muset. However, there is no evidence that she or anyone else in her family composed poetry.

Marguerite of Champagne was first posited as a possible composer of the two Duchess of Lorraine chansons in 1850 by Prosper Tarbé, who argued that the Duchess of Lorraine was not the wife of the famous trouvère Thibaut of Champagne, Gertrude, but instead his daughter from his third marriage, Marguerite. Marguerite gained the title of Duchess in 1255 when she was married to Ferri III, Duke of Lorraine and Catherine of Limbourg’s son. She held the title of Duchess for over forty years until her husband’s death in 1302, giving her ample opportunity to exercise her poetic skills. Having grown up surrounded by music, poetry, and poets of the highest caliber in the household of Thibaut of Champagne, it is plausible that she too was a poet in her own right. A reference to a solitary and expiring phoenix in “Par maintes fois” brings to mind a famous chanson of Thibaut of Champagne’s, “Chanter m’estuet” that also draws upon the imagery of the dying phoenix. Several historians, most recently Michel Parisse and Marie-Geneviève Grossel, have accepted the attribution of the Duchess of Lorraine chansons to Marguerite. 


Primary (selected):

  • Bern, Burgerbibliothek, 389, f. 182r–v, 247v–248r [https://www.e-codices.unifr.ch/en/list/one/bbb/0389] 
  • Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale, français 20050, f. 97r–v [https://archivesetmanuscrits.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/cc51652b]  

Secondary (selected): 

  • Coldwell, Maria V. ‘Jougleresses and Trobairitz: Secular Musicians in Medieval France’, Women Making Music: the Western Art Tradition, 1150–1950. Ed. Jane M. Bowers and Judith Tick, 39–61, especially 50. Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1986.
  • Coldwell, Maria V. “Lorraine, Duchess of.” Grove Music Online, Oxford Music Online. Oxford University Press. Accessed August 20, 2017.
  • Grossel, Marie-Geneviève. Le milieu littéraire en Champagne sous les Thibaudiens, 1: 99–102, 2: 482–83.
  • Jubinal, Achille. Rapport à M. le Ministre de l’instruction publique, suivi de quelques pieces inédites tirées des manuscrits de la bibiliothèque de Berne. Paris: Jules Renouard, 1838. 54.
  • Kooijman, Trouvères lorrains: La poésie courtoise en Lorrain au Xiiie siècle (Nancy, France: Seurat, 1974), 80
  • Parisse, Michel. La noblesse Lorraine: XIe-XIIIe s (Ph.D. dissertation, Université de Nancy II, 1975), 774
  • Songs of the Women Trouvères. Ed. Eglal Doss-Quinby, Joan Tasker Grimbert, Wendy Pfeffer, and Elizabeth Aubrey, 28–30, 124–27, 155–64. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2001.