Le Couvent des Jacobins, Toulouse, a Dominican hose built in brick between 1229-1350 containing relics of St Thomas Aquinas (photo: nz_willowherb on flickr, Creative Commons)
Catherine Léglu
(University of Reading)



Toulouse was the site of royal power, a university famed for its law faculty, an inquisition tribunal, and a Dominican convent that sought to preserve its status as the founding house of the order. Between 1348 and 1415, the region of Toulouse ceased to be a space marked by religious conflict, and became a buffer-zone between English and French forces as well as the rival ambitions of the houses of Armagnac and Foix-Bearn. There were a number of violent revolts, notably that of the Tuchins. The city witnessed a rebellion against the Count of Armagnac and a short-lived pact with Gaston Phébus. The Hundred Years War had a serious and long-term impact on trade with at times a virtual blockade of the roads west via the Pyrenees (Lourdes) and of the river route to Bordeaux. Contacts with market cities such as Montpellier (which was the bridge to Italian merchants) suffered. This situation impelled the development of local industries in armaments and money-changing to supply local troops. More broadly, prominent figures who studied and preached in the city form a ‘bridge’ between Toulouse, Avignon, the Roussillon, Barcelona, and Valencia.

The best-known literary circle in the city was the Consistori de la sobregaia companhia del gai saber, founded in or shortly before 1323. This was a secular poetry society that functioned like a confraternity by holding an annual contest that it modelled on northern French puys. It sought to maintain and develop the dying art and idiom of troubadour poetry, but the ‘Toulouse School’ was quite different from those aristocratic courts or urban centres (such as Béziers) that were also engaged in poetic activity. It developed a strongly academic approach to the teaching and production of poetry. Dominated by lawyers, it conferred mock-bachelor’s and doctoral qualifications in Gaya Sciensa for poems composed mostly (but not always) in honour of the Virgin. However, the early years of the Consistory show a more inclusive circle that had absorbed Franciscan devotional and poetic influences. This material hints at a more problematic dialogue with the aftermath of persecution of the ‘Spiritual’ Franciscans, who had been very prominent in Narbonne and Béziers, and who were tried in a number of papal consistories (is there a link?) in 1322-23. 

The university (which provides a stream of notaries and office-holders for the Avignon curia, including a number of popes) had a close relationship with the Dominican order, with the inquisition tribunal, and with the theology faculty. On 2 occasions before 1400, the city’s inquisitor was also a master of theology. The university of Toulouse played a key role in the final years of the Great Western Schism. However, Toulouse’s most prestigious school was its law faculty. There is some evidence that book production must have focused on the legal faculties, and law graduates are among the chief members of the Consistory. However, there is little evidence of a sophisticated book culture in the city. Nothing has been concluded about the provenance of the handful of religious plays in Occitan that survive from the fourteenth century, such as ‘Didot Passion’, the Jeu de Sainte Agnès (Béziers?) and the Espozalizi de Nostra Dona.

Dominicans had held sway over the teaching of theology and the dissemination of new doctrinal ‘textbooks’ in the period c.1300-1350. There is some evidence that Dominican influence over secular readers continued to be strong, for example in the ownership of works of moral philosophy. One outcome of the Dominicans’ desire to preserve the key role of the Toulouse convent was the translation of Aquinas’ relics to the city in 1369.

Secular politics were complex. The replacement of the Count of Toulouse by the king’s representatives had had an impact on the city’s political life, as it was occasionally the seat of the seneschal of Languedoc, and would house the Parlement.  The city’s elected consulate (the Capitolat) played a role in commissioning and supporting civic literary production, notably the Consistory. Clashes between the Armagnacs and the city’s consuls are among the more public aspects of a civic culture that had a complex dialogue with the king’s authority, as well as with both French and ‘Gascon’ (English or sometimes papal) political and linguistic cultures.

Given the proximity of Avignon, it should come as no surprise to find some evidence of texts that emerge from the Great Western Schism, such as the Revelations of Constance de Rabastens, near Albi (c.1384-86) and those of Marie Robine ‘the Gascon’, who travelled from Avignon to Paris to petition the king to resume his support for Benedict XIII (1397-99). A remarkable collective account (citing over sixty eye-witness depositions) survives of the dramatic preaching of Vincent Ferrier in Toulouse on Good Friday, 1416.

Copies of the Consistory’s treatises and poetic compilations, the Leys d’Amors and the Flors del Gay Saber, were sent to Barcelona. The import in 1393 of the Consistory’s annual poetic competition to the city of Barcelona was a disastrous political gesture by King Joan I of Aragon, but the poetry of the ‘Toulouse School’ proves enduring in Catalan-speaking lands up to the early 1400s. Occitan and Catalan treatises on poetry indicate the close relationship between circles of poets and patrons on both sides of the Pyrenees, such as Raimon de Cornet, Joan de Castelnou. Two important examples are the songbook of Masdovelles (a minor court) and the Llibre vermell of the great pilgrimage shrine at Montserrat, which reflects Aragonese royal patronage and features pieces written in French, Occitan and Catalan.