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THE ESTAMPIE

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FACT FILE

Pronunciation: Eh-stamp-ee

Date: Estimated to come from some time between the mid-twelfth century and fourteenth century 

Where was it from?: Provence, France (?)

Where was it performed and who performed it?: 

It seems to have been an outdoor dance (like the carole) but with the compact spacing associated with indoor dances. We know the Estampie was danced at least on some occasions and occasionally even at more stately affairs. Current study suggests the estampie was intended to be danced by one man and one woman as a couple with usually only one couple dancing at a time. But this dance could also be performed in larger groups of couples. The nature of this dance suggests it was likely to have been performed in front of an audience, in a social space where everyone present would have been aware of everyone else’s social rank. We could perhaps presume that dancing the estampie was a chance to show off

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HISTORY

The Estampie: Past Events
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So what was the estampie and what did ‘estampie’ mean? One early definition by Friedrich Christian Diez (in An Etymological Dictionary of the Romance Languages) believed it was a category of poetry intended to be sung with the viol as accompaniment. Other definitions have suggested that the French word estampie and the Provencal word estampida came from Latin stampare, referring to stamping feet to mark the beat, and others have pointed towards the old Provencal verb estampir meaning to ring or resound. However, these remain merely suggestions.

Possibly the oldest image of the viol as would have appeared in the medieval period, in St. Jerome's Commentaries on the Old Testament, c. 1120

We are unsure where the estampie originally came from, though many scholars have had a good guess. It is thought to have arisen in twelfth or thirteenth century Provence, which is often considered to have held one of the most cultured courts in Europe, especially following the emergence of the Troubadours in the centuries before. The Troubadours discussed matters of interest and exchanged songs and verses, though dances must have also been a part of their repertoire as most of their songs were written in dance rhythms. With the code of courtly love at its height, they were no longer satisfied with how impersonal caroles were, especially at a time where noble ladies held an elevated and revered position in society.

A troubadour and his lady from The Romance of Flamenca, a thirteenth century romance from Occitania

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With their social system focussing on each man’s duty to one lady of his choice, a need for a new type of dance emerged: one where a gentleman could dance with one lady (or occasionally two if the situation arose) in front of the critical eyes of their peers. So came the emergence of the estampie.

With the Albigensian Crusade sweeping across Southern France in the early thirteenth century, Provençal society was practically wiped out. Troubadours sought refuge in other courts, where they were warmly welcomed on account of their songs and dances, and so the estampie travelled across Europe. Although England made no developments to this dance, it is thought that Italy, Sicily, Germany and France did.

The Provençal 'Court of Love' in a fourteenth-century manuscript

This was clearly a popular dance. Chronicler Jean Froissart details that on one occasion...

“As soon as [the minstrels] had stopped the estampies that they beat, those men and women who amused themselves dancing, without hesitation, began to take hands for carolling.”