Thibaut IV (1201-1253), Count of Champagne and Brie, and, as Thibaut I, King of Navarre, was probably the greatest trouvère.
Born in Troyes, the capital of Champagne, on May 30, 1201, shortly after the death of his father, Thibaut at birth was Count of Champagne and Brie. Troyes had a long tradition of courtly poetry. Thibaut's grandmother, Marie, the great-granddaughter of the first troubadour, had established a brilliant court there and patronized several of the most famous poets of the 1170s, among them Chrestien de Troyes, the creator of the romances about Lancelot, Parsifal, and others.
At the death of her husband, Thibaut's mother asked for royal protection, in exchange for which Thibaut was obliged to serve several years at court and later to accompany the successive French kings on their military campaigns. Among these was the Albigensian Crusade, a disastrous civil war that crushed the south of France, the home of the Provençal-speaking troubadours. Thibaut reluctantly accompanied the King in 1226, but he would not participate in the fighting and finally withdrew by night from the royal camp. The King died shortly thereafter, and Thibaut soon made his peace with the queen regent and dedicated several poems to her. However, his withdrawal antagonized certain noblemen, who invaded Champagne. In 1234, on the death of his uncle, Sancho VII, Thibaut became king of Navarre.
Although he was opposed to the Albigense war, Thibaut pursued its religious aim, the elimination of a dissident sect; and before leaving for a crusade in Palestine in 1239-1240 he had nearly 200 adherents of that sect burned at the stake. After his return he became known as a good king. He died in Pamplona, the capital of Navarre, on July 7, 1253.
As with other trouvères, it is difficult to determine the exact number of Thibaut's works, since several occur with different attributions in the many collections (chansonniers) of the period: 65 can be safely assigned to him, 5 more may be his, and 7 others are very doubtful. Almost all are preserved with melodies, a good number of them with more than one. His preserved poems are more numerous than those of any other troubadour or trouvère. They were highly praised by his contemporaries and quoted in France, Germany, and Italy until the 14th century.
The poems cover a wide variety of subjects, though 60 percent follow tradition and are lyrics devoted to courtly love. Fifteen poems are in the form of real or pretended debates (jeu-parti or tenso) on love and knightly honor. Thibaut's works in this genre were particularly appreciated; for them he sometimes used already existing melodies. Other poems are works dealing with the Crusades, one being a letter to his lady love sent from Palestine, pastourelles and descriptions of shepherds' love, and religious songs, including several dedicated to Mary, the religious symbol of courtly love.
Some information on Thibaut is in Sir Steven Runciman, A History of the Crusades (3 vols., 1951-1954). For background see Gustave Reese, Music in the Middle Ages (1940), and Denis Stevens and Alec Robertson, eds., The Pelican History of Music, vol. 1 (1960).