Guilhèm de Peitieus

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Guilhèm de Peitieus (also called William of Aquitaine) was Duke of Aquitaine and Gascony and Count of Poitou. He lived from 1071-1126 and is generally known as the first troubadour, essentially inventing the poetic form and the conventions of the genre.


When born, Guilhèm was considered illegitimate by the Church owing to his parents' previous divorces and consanguinity. His father, the eighth Duke of Aquitaine (also called Guilhèm) was obliged to make a pilgrimage to Rome in order to secure his son's legitimacy. When his father died in 1087, he took up the Duchy and was obliged by politics to marry Ermengarde of Anjou, a quarrelsome and loveless match which he regretted. The childless marriage was dissolved in 1091 and Guilhèm remarried in 1099, again for political reasons. This marriage produced children, including his heir (also named Guilhèm) and his second son, Raymond, who would become a prince in the Crusader States.


In 1095 Pope Urban II visited Guilhèm in Aquitaine and pressed him to join the Crusades, but Guilhèm declined. In 1100, however, he decided to join the Crusade of the Faint-Hearted, partly out of remorse for missing the First Crusade but mostly as the threat of excommunication hung over his head; he was in disfavour with the Church owing to his seizure of Toulouse the previous year.

Guilhèm's military record on the Crusade was poor. Joining the third of the armies marching into Turkish-controlled Anatolia, he managed to lose several skirmishes through recklessness and finally had his entire command destroyed at Heraclea. Guilhèm himself escaped to Antioch with only a handful of companions, finished his pilgrimage to Jerusalem and returned to Aquitaine in 1102.


Despite his "successful" pilgrimage, Guilhèm would have trouble with the Church for the rest of his life, including two excommunications -- the first for financial matters, the second for "abducting" a vassal's wife. Having been unsuccessful at war, Guilhèm turned his attentions to romance, particularly poetry. The earliest reference to his composition was from 1101, when he wrote "crusade songs". However, he would write many less pious songs, touching on sex, love, women, his own sexual prowess, and feudal politics. Often these songs are shockingly graphic, occasionally they are outrageous. These romantic songs written in the vernacular dialect of Occitan would establish the secular, romantic tradition of troubadour poetry.

All the themes that ran through the troubadour tradition can be found in the works of Guilhèm. Despite drawing on contemporary Latin and Hispano-Arabic traditions, his works are startling in their inventiveness. Despite the importance of his work only eleven songs are now extant, one of which is of dubious attribution and none of which have melodies, though there is a melodic fragment from a later document that seems to fit one of these songs.

Guilhèm became known as a prodigious lover and the centre of a number of scandals, particularly the "abduction" of his lover Dangereuse, the wife of one of his vassals. The lady, who had not objected to being abducted at all, was installed in Guilhèm's own castle in Poitiers, much to the outrage of his second wife, Philippa, who retired to an abbey until her death in 1118.

After lavish gifts to the Church his excommunications were rescinded in 1120, and in 1126 he passed away after a short illness. His lands were inherited by his son Guilhèm, who would in turn bequeath them to his only daughter, Eleanor of Aquitaine.