Morning Coffee: Medieval Courtly Love

Valentine 1It’s the story of kings and queens, knights and lords and ladies. The romance, rules, and art of Courtly Love and the Code of Chivalry were strict, allowing knights and ladies to openly express their admiration and love despite their marital status. It was common for a married lady to give a knight a token, perhaps her handkerchief or a flower, before a tournament to show favor. Love songs and poems were presented to married ladies without worry. A moment of flattery, a bit of harmless flirting, nothing more.

But such fun and games could grow to something far more dangerous, as described in legends like those of King Arthur and his Queen, Guinevere, who fell in love with her knight, Sir Lancelot. Their love brought about the undoing of the Round Table. Many illicit romances were fuelled by the practice of Courtly Love.

The art of Courtly Love was practiced throughout the courts of Europe. It is believed to have its origins in Aquitaine France in the 12th Century and spread to the English court from the 1300’s to the 1500’s. It was a time when marriages were arranged and had little or nothing to do with love. Marriage was a contract used for power and material gain. It was acceptable that romance could be found outside of marriage, but only if the rules pertaining to chastity and fidelity were strictly followed.

The rules of Courtly Love were written by the 12th Century Frenchman, Andreas Capellanus. Reading this list, you can see why playing this game could easily lead to trouble.

  • He who is not jealous, cannot love
  • No one can be bound by a double love
  • It is well known that love is always increasing or decreasing
  • That which a lover takes against the will of his beloved has no relish
  • Boys do not love until they arrive at the age of maturity
  • When one lover dies, a widowhood of two years is required by the survivor
  • No one should be deprived of love without the very best of reasons
  • No one can love unless he is impelled by the persuasion of love
  • Love is always a stranger in the home of avarice
  • It is not proper to love any woman whom one would be ashamed to seek to marry
  • A true lover does not desire to embrace in love anyone except his beloved
  • When made public love rarely endures
  • The easy attainment of love makes it of little value; difficulty of attainment makes it prized
  • Every lover regularly turns pale in the presence of his beloved
  • When a lover suddenly catches sight of his beloved, his heart palpitates
  • A new love puts to flight an old one
  • Good character alone makes any man worthy of love
  • If love diminishes, it quickly fails and rarely revives
  • A man in love is always apprehensive
  • Real jealousy always increases the feeling of love
  • Jealousy, and therefore love, are increased when one suspects his beloved
  • He whom the thought of love vexes eats and sleeps very little
  • Every act of a lover ends in the thought of his beloved
  • A true lover considers nothing good except what he thinks will please his beloved
  • Love can deny nothing to love
  • A lover can never have enough of the solaces of his beloved
  • A slight presumption causes a lover to suspect his beloved
  • A man who is vexed by too much passion usually does not love
  • A true lover is constantly and without intermission possessed by the thought of his beloved
  • Nothing forbids one woman being loved by two men or one man by two women

The ideals of Courtly Love can be seen in the literature of the time. Geoffrey Chaucer wrote of it in Canterbury Tales. The wandering minstrels and troubadours of the Middle Ages sang ballads to it. They were expected to memorize and recite lengthy poems about valor and the Code of Chivalry followed by the knights.

But if you’re looking for a good tale of chivalry and Courtly Love, and you’re not interested in trying to decipher the old English of the Middle Ages, all you have to do is search Amazon for medieval romance or medieval courtly love romance and you’ll be given pages of choice. Romance is not dead, nor is Courtly Love, but I suggest you stick to fiction. Your husband or wife will appreciate it.

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