Fredric Cheyette's Ermengard of Narbonne Wins 2002 Phi Beta Kappa Book Award

December 19, 2002
Director of Media Relations
413/542-8417

AMHERST, Mass.-Fredric L. Cheyette, professor of history at Amherst College, has received the Ralph Waldo Emerson Award for the humanities and social sciences from the Phi Beta Kappa Society for his latest work, Ermengard of Narbonne and the World of the Troubadours ($35, Cornell University Press, Ithaca and London, 2001).

Ermengard earlier received three other awards: an Honorable Mention (History) from the 2001 Association of American Publishers Awards Program for Excellence in Professional/Scholarly Publishing; the David Pinkney Prize for the outstanding book in French history published in 2001, from the Society for French Historical Studies; and the 2001/2002 Eugene M. Kayden Book Award, given by the University of Colorado at Boulder for the best book in the humanities published by an American university press.

Cheyette's book tells the story of a 12th-century woman in the south of France who "was born into a world of politics and warfare." Viscountess Ermengard, no stranger to power politics, ruled the major medieval port of Narbonne and much of present-day Languedoc for 50 years. She led her armies personally on several campaigns, joining her soldiers on bivouac before the walls of besieged cities. The medieval warrior princess Ermengard cuts an obscure figure today. Yet "it was among the poets and songsmiths of her own lands that Ermengard was best known, among the troubadours," Cheyette writes, asking what role the love poetry of the troubadours might have played in this aristocratic world of war and diplomacy. "The earliest passions she may have learned were the passions for power and for the friendship and loyalty needed to sustain that power."

Cheyette describes a world in which beautiful women were powerful lords, maintaining the equilibrium of a stateless society through loyalty and family ties, but also preserving their realms by playing pragmatic political games. The cosmopolitan world of Ermengard and the troubadours came to an end when the established church launched the Albigensian Crusade to destroy the heretics in the region and ended by destroying an entire aristocratic way of life. This is the exciting story that Cheyette brings to life.

Cheyette, who has taught at Amherst since 1963, received an A.B. from Princeton University and M.A. and Ph.D. degrees from Harvard University.

Panels of scholars selected three Phi Beta Kappa book award winners from among 102 books submitted by 66 publishers this year. Founded in 1776, Phi Beta Kappa is the nation's oldest academic honor society, with chapters at 262 colleges and universities and half a million members. These awards are part of the Society's mission to champion liberal arts education, recognize academic excellence and foster freedom of thought and expression.

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