The troubadour was a class of lyric poet and poet musician that flourished from the 11th through the 13th century, chiefly in Provence and other regions of southern France. They wrote in the southern dialect called langue d’oc. The most common forms were sirventes (political poems), plancs (dirges), albas (morning songs), pastorals, and Jeux-partis (disputes); the favourite subjects were courtly love, war, and nature. Of the more than 400 known troubadours living between 1090 and 1292 the most famous are Jaufré Rudel de Blaia, Bernart de Ventadorn, Peire Vidal, Raimbaut de Vaqueiras, Folquet de Marseille (archbishop of Toulouse), Bertrand de Born, Arnaut Daniel, Gaucelm Faidit, Raimon de Miraval, Arnaut de Mareuil, and Guiraut Riquier. The troubadours were mostly aristocratic poets, their works being performed by the jongleurs, the wandering minstrels, poets, or entertainers who perhaps assisted in their composition. Their poetry, often set to music, was to influence all later European lyrical poetry. The influence of the troubadours spread to central and northern France, where their counterparts were the trouvères. In Germany they were imitated by the minnesingers. The tradition was also carried to Spain and Italy. (see Britannica Concise Encyclopedia; Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms; Columbia Encyclopedia)

The earliest known trouvère may well be Chrétien de Troyes, to whom song-books plausibly ascribe two lyrics. Though at least one anonymous lyric (c.1146) pre-dates his activity, trouvères seem to have started composition somewhat later than the troubadours. Picardy, Wallonia, Lorraine, and Champagne were prominent areas of trouvère activity. But most trouvères (like the troubadours), were aristocrats, knights or members of the gentry (e.g. Blondel de Nesle, Le Chastelain de Couci, Conon de Béthune, Gace Brulé, Gautier de Dargies, Thibaut de Blaison); four were monarchs (e.g. Richard Cœur-de-Lion, Thibaut de Campagne); some were monks or churchmen (e.g. Gautier de Coinci, Hélinand, Le Reclus de Molliens, Richard de Fournival, Machaut); others represented the growing bourgeoisie (e.g. Jehan Bretel, Adam de la Halle, Baude Fastoul, Jean Bodel), even if the last two suddenly became social outcasts. Unlike the troubadours, almost all lack the doubtful benefit of a medieval biography. At least eight late trouvères worked in southern courts. Also, the proportion of anonymous lyrics or lyrics of doubtful attribution is far higher for trouvères than for troubadours, impeding historical assessment from internal evidence. Nevertheless extant lyrics can be ascribed to 276 trouvères. (see Oxford Companion to French Literature)