Tuesday, January 1, 8160

Conon de Bethune (c. 1160 - c. 1220)

Conon de Bethune - Ahi! Amours (Alas! Love) (1190)

Conon de Béthune (c. 1150 in the former Artois region, today Pas-de-Calais - December 17, 1219 or 1220, in or near Constantinople or perhaps Adrianople) was a crusader and "trouvère" poet.

[Town of Bethune, in Northeastern France]

Born in c. 1150, he was the 10th son of Robert V, seigneur of Béthune and justice officer (avoué) of the Abbey of Saint-Vaast of Arras (in today's Pas-de-Calais), who died at the siege of Acre in 1191. Through his grandmother, Conon de Béthune was related to the ruling Hainaut family in Flanders. It is probable (from comments made in one of his poems) that Conon appeared before the French court at the occasion of the marriage of king Philippe Auguste with Isabelle of Hainaut in 1180 and sang his songs before Marie de Champagne (noted for her connection to Chrétien de Troyes).

[The Siege of Acre, during the Third Crusade]

After having taken part in the Third Crusade, Conon de Béthune went (with his brother Guillaume) on the Fourth Crusade in 1200, accompanying the knights of Baldwin, Count de Flanders and serving as official orator. His eloquence, wisdom and chivalry were praised by Geoffroi de Villehardouin (who said of Conon: "Bon chevalier et sage estoit et bien eloquens"). After the conquest of Constantinople (1204), Conon de Béthune served a number of important positions in Baldwin's (and later Henry of Flanders and Peter of Courtenay's) government and played a key role in Baldwin's reconciliation with Boniface of Montferrat and in the Battle of Adrianople. After the death of Emperess Yolanda of Flanders in 1219, he was chosen by the barons as Regent of the Empire, but died shortly after in 1219 or 1220 in the town of Adrianople (now Edirne, European Turkey).

Only 14 works of poetry attributed to Conon de Béthune have survived, and several of these attributions may be doubtful. He was educated by a family relation, Huon d'Oisy, châtelain de Cambrai, who taught him the art of poetry. He poetry was written to be sung and ten of his poems give musical notation. The majority of his poems are courtly love songs, but two of them are important chansons de croisade or crusade songs in which the poet-lover deplores his approaching departure from his beloved but nevertheless accepts the "noble calling" of crusader. Conon de Béthune also shows himself at times to be ironic or satirical, and in one of his crusade poems he rails with vehemence against financial abuses by those collecting funds for the crusaders.

Some works by Conon are:

Chançon legiere a entendre (A quick song to hear)

Si voiremant con cele don je chant (If heaven would really let me sing)

Mout me semont Amors que je m'envoise (Greatly Love spreads to me so that I may sing)

Ahi! Amors, com dure departie (O! Love, which cruelly left)

Bien me deüsse targier (I well need to cease)

Se raige et derverie (Such rage and madness)

Belle doce Dame chiere (Beautiful, dear, sweet Lady)

Tant ai amé c'or me convient haïr (I have loved so much that now I must hate)

L'autrier un jor aprés la Saint Denise (The day after Saint Denis' Day)

L'autrier avint en cel autre païs (The future in this foreign country)