Christine de Pizan

Christine de Pizan
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Thursday, October 7, 2021

Garsenda of Forcalquier, "A lady doesn't dare uncover her true will"

Garsenda, countess of Forcalquier (7 October 1209), regent (?) of Provence, and poet 


It is easy to get your Garsendas confused--the Garsenda I am writing about today, Garsenda of Forcalquier, was the daughter of a woman named Garsenda and the mother of yet another woman named Garsenda.
Garsenda, as she is depicted on 
her seal

The eldest Garsenda, also known as Garsenda of Forcalquier, was born about 1160, the daughter of William IV, count of Forcalquier, and Adélaïde de Béziers. This Garsenda (I suppose we could refer to her as Garsenda I) married Rainou (or Rénier) of Saban, and gave birth to our Garsenda (Garsenda II) about the year 1180.

The elder Garsenda was William IV's only child and heir, but she predeceased her father, probably dying about the year 1193. Her daughter, the younger Garsenda, thus became her grandfather's heir.

In the mean time, William IV had become part of an "anti-Catalan" alliance that had gone to war against Alfonso II, king of Aragon (and also the count of Provence--for the time being, Forcalquier was independent of Provence). But in 1193, William IV was compelled to sign the treaty of Aix-en-Provence in order to settle this conflict. (To see their "accord," click here and scroll to p. xxx.)

According to its terms, his granddaughter (and now heir) Garsenda would marry Alfonso, the second son of Alfonso of Aragon and his queen, Sancha of Castile (in 1185, his father had made the younger Alfonso the count of Provence, though the king himself would continue to govern it himself until his death in 1196). In her discussion of this agreement, writer Meg Bogin notes that the purpose of this alliance is "transparent": Garsenda's marriage would be "the token of her family's subjection."

As one of the key provisions, of the treaty, William had retained for himself until his death the right of usufructus, the right to enjoy the use of his county of Forcalquier. But a conflict soon arose--according to Jean-Pierre Papon, the eighteenth-century historian of Provence, the marriage settlements might have been agreed upon, but the ceremony itself would not be held for "a few years." 

It is this delay that seems to have triggered the conflict between Garsenda's grandfather and her husband. William "revoked part of the rights to Forcalquier." To underscore his intentions, William IV married off his remaining granddaughter, Garsenda's younger sister, Béatrix, and threatened to leave Forcalquier to her.*

Even as Alfonso went to war with his wife's grandfather, his court in Provence attracted a circle of poets. One of these poets, the troubadour Gaucelm Faidit, writes Alfonso into his work, characterizing Alfonso as his rival for the love of a woman named Jourdaine d’Embrun, while another, the Catalan troubadour Ramon Vidal, describes his visit to Alfonso's court at Aix-en-Provence and praises Garsenda for her patronage. A third troubadour, Elias de Barjols, refers to Alfonso as his literary patron. 

During this period of political conflict and courtly culture, Garsenda gave birth to two children, a son, Ramon Berenguer (born in 1198) and a daughter, Garsenda (Garsenda III), known as Garsenda of Provence, probably born around the year 1200. 

The conflict between Garsenda's grandfather and husband came to an abrupt end when both men died in 1209. In February, Alfonso died in Palermo, Sicily, where he had traveled for his sister's wedding, and William died the following October. While their deaths marked an end to their disputes, it did not mean that Garsenda would quietly inherit Forcalquier and her son, Provence. 

In November, in an effort to protect her children's inheritance from disaffected (and self-interested) Provençal rivals Garsenda executed a "donation" in which she ceded Forcalquier to her young son, Ramon Berenguer, joining it once more to Provence and thus ending Forcalquier's period of independence.** (To see the "donation" of Garsenda, click here and scroll to p. xxxviii.)

In his will, Alfonso of Provence had named his elder brother, Pedro of Aragon, as his son's guardian, so Garsenda sent the boy to the Templar Castle of Monzón (according to some accounts, Ramon Berenguer was "kidnapped" and held captive there). Pedro also gave the regency of Provence to his uncle, Sancho (the brother of Alfonso of Aragon). As for Forcalquier, newly rejoined to Provence? A nephew of William IV's now claimed the county and the title for himself.

With her son in Spain, Garsenda remained in Forcalquier, Deprived of any role in government, she nevertheless enjoyed, in Papon's words, the "honors" that were due to her rank and birth. In the difficult years after her husband's death, she continued to patronize troubadour poets, and, in the courtly tradition, two of them, Elias de Barjols and Gui de Cavaillon, claimed to have been in love with her--according to the brief biography, or vida, included in manuscript collections of his poetry, Elias de Barjols dedicated two songs to her, praising her merit, her courtesy, her honesty, and her taste. 

Despite the pleasures of her court, Garsenda witnessed members of her own family attempt to acquire her son's inheritance for themselves. The attempts of both the pope and the emperor to secure peace in Provence were not successful. And then, in 1213, when Pedro of Aragon died, Sancho became regent of Aragon and passed the regency of Provence (and Forcalquier) to his son, Nuño Sánchez, inflaming the situation in the disputed territory even more. It was at this point, in the hope of reducing tensions, that Garsenda herself was recognized as regent of Provence.

The donation of Garsenda to her son, made in 1209, was ratified in 1214. (To read the ratification, click here and scroll to p. xliii.) In November of 1216, Ramon Berenguer finally left (or escaped) the fortress of Monzón and headed to Provence, in order to reclaim his inheritance. Once there, he reunited with Garsenda. At last, on 29 June 1220, he was able to dispatch the warring claimants who, in his absence, had sought his inheritance.

As for Garsenda? Although she was nominally the regent of Provence in 1213, after Nuño Sánchez returned to Spain, she does not seem to have exerted much power, although her mere presence in Provence was crucial. By remaining there, despite all the dangers, she maintained her son's interest in the disputed territory. 

Garsenda remained in Provence after her son reestablished his rights as count, her continued presence there, as historian Mariacristina Varano notes, representing a kind of "guarantee" in his effort to establish his "new power." In 1225, Garsenda of Forcalquier retired to the abbey of La Celle

Although some sources suggest that Garsenda of Forcalquier may have lived until 1242 or even 1257, it seems most likely that she died in 1232 (Varano, p. 750). She is buried in the abbey of La Celle.

Garsenda of Forcalquiet's tomb,
Abbey of La Celle
(photo by Michel Wal)

Garsenda did more than support--and perhaps inspire--troubadour poetry. She herself is credited as the author of one of the few surviving troubadour lyrics by women, a tenson, a  literary dispute in which the two debaters speak in turn. In this two-stanza tenson, the lines of the female speaker are by Garsenda, the lines by the male speaker usually identified as composed by Gui de Cavaillon.

Here is Garsenda's stanza, first in its original Occitan, and then in Meg Bogin's translation:
Vos que.m semblatz dels corals amadors,
ja non volgra que fossetz tan doptanz;
e platz me molt quar vos destreing m'amors,
qu'atressi sui eu per vos malananz.
Ez avetz dan en vostre vulpillatge
quar no.us ausatz de preiar enardir,
e faitz a vos ez a mi gran dampnatge;
que ges dompna no ausa descobrir
tot so qu'il vol per paor de faillir.
You're so well-suited as a lover,
I wish you wouldn't be so hesitant;
but I'm glad my love makes you the penitent,
otherwise I'd be the one to suffer.
Still, in the long run it's you who stands to lose
if you're not brave enough to state your case,
and you'll do both of us great harm if you refuse.
For a lady doesn't dare uncover
her true will, lest those around her think her base.

Garsenda's daughter, Garsenda of Provence, viscountess of Béarn (Garsenda III), was a formidable woman. To read Jennifer Speed's "The Notorious Garsenda of Provence," click here.

And our Garsenda, Garsenda of Forcalquier also had four notable granddaughters. Her son married Beatrice of Savoy, and we have met the couple's four daughters before, the "four queens": Margaret of ProvenceEleanor of Provence, Sanchia of Provence, and Beatrice of Provence. 


*For an extended discussion of William IV's war with Alfonso of Aragon, the settlement of the conflict, the details of the marriage negotiations, and the ongoing conflict between William IV and his new son-in law, see Mariacristina Varano's Espace religieux et espace politique en pays provençal au Moyen Âge (pp. 460-82).

**Forcalquier's independence lasted about a hundred and fifty years.