Chants royaux en l’honneur de la Vierge au Puy d’Amiens - 1501/1600
A puy or pui was a society, often organised as a guild or confraternity, sometimes along religious (Catholic) lines, for the patronisation of music and poetry, typically through the holding of competitions. The term puy derives from the Latin podium, meaning “a place to stand”, referring probably to a raised platform from which either the contests delivered their works or the judges listened to them. Puys were established in many cities in northern and central France, the Low Countries, and even England during the High Middle Ages and the Renaissance, usually encouraging composition in the Old French language, but also in Latin and Occitan.
The typical puy was dedicated to the Virgin Mary. Membership was regulated by statutes to which those entering had to swear. These governed the election of executive positions within the puy and the benefits inhering in members. Members could be clerical or lay, male or female, noble or bourgeois, urban or rural. The earliest societies were organised around para-liturgical celebrations of the Marian feast days, but these evolved poetry competitions and eventually the competitions became the focus of the festivals. Music and sung performance were emphasised early on, but over the centuries the quality of the poetry came to dominate the members’ concern and the puys of Normandy, especially popular from the fifteenth century on, were redefined in the seventeenth as literary academies. In this form they survived until the French Revolution.
The height of the French puys was in the Late Middle Ages. The puy would have an open invitation for competitions in several categories, with the theme, form, and refrain in each category stipulated. Among the common most common forms were the formes fixes, the chant royal, jeu parti, serventois, and ballade.