The Troubadours – H.J. Chaytor

As courtly love culture developed, a class of self-styled and avant-garde poets arose called the troubadours. Like the knights of the period they sought to devote themselves to the love and adoration of women, though unlike the knights many of the troubadours practiced a chaste kind of devotion to Ladies that did not involve sexual intercourse. The following excerpt is from the 1913 classic volume titled The Troubadours, by Rev. H.J. Chaytor, M.A.




Troubador poetry dealt with war, politics, personal satire and other subjects: but the theme which is predominant and in which real originality was shown, is love. The troubadours were the first lyric poets in mediaeval Europe to deal exhaustively with this subject, and as their attitude was imitated with certain modifications by French, Italian, Portuguese and German poets, the nature of its treatment is a matter of considerable importance.

Of the many ladies whose praises were sung or whose favours were desired by troubadours, the majority were married. Troubadours who made their songs to a maiden, as did Gui d’Ussel or Gausbert de Puegsibot, are quite exceptional. Love in troubadour poetry was essentially a conventional relationship, and marriage was not its object.

This conventional character was derived from the fact that troubadour love was constituted upon the analogy of feudal relationship. If chivalry was the outcome of the Germanic theory of knighthood as modified by the influence of Christianity, it may be said that troubadour love is the outcome of the same theory under the influence of mariolatry.

In the eleventh century the worship of the Virgin Mary became widely popular; the reverence bestowed upon the Virgin was extended to the female sex in general, and as a vassal owed obedience to his feudal overlord, so did he owe service and devotion to his lady. Moreover, under the feudal system, the lady might often be called upon to represent her husband’s suzerainty to his vassals, when she was left in charge of affairs during his absence in time of war. Unmarried women were inconspicuous figures in the society of the age.

“Thus there was a service of love as there was a service
of vassalage, and the lover stood to his lady in a position
analogous to that of the vassal to his overlord”

Thus there was a service of love as there was a service of vassalage, and the lover stood to his lady in a position analogous to that of the vassal to his overlord. He attained this position only by stages; “there are four stages in love: the first is that of aspirant (fegnedor), the second that of suppliant (precador), the third that of recognised suitor (entendedor) and the fourth that of accepted lover (drut).”

The lover was formally installed as such by the lady, took an oath of fidelity to her and received a kiss to seal it, a ring or some other personal possession. For practical purposes the contract merely implied that the lady was prepared to receive the troubadour’s homage in poetry and to be the subject of his song.

As secrecy was a duty incumbent upon the troubadour, he usually referred to the lady by a pseudonym (senhal); naturally, the lady’s reputation was increased if her attraction for a famous troubadour was known, and the senhal was no doubt an open secret at times.

How far or how often the bounds of his formal and conventional relationship were transgressed is impossible to say; “en somme, assez immoral” is the judgment of Gaston Paris upon the society of the age, and is confirmed by expressions of desire occurring from time to time in various troubadours, which cannot be interpreted as the outcome of a merely conventional or “platonic” devotion.

In the troubadour biographies the substratum of historical truth is so overlaid by fiction, that little reliable evidence upon the point can be drawn from this source.

However, transgression was probably exceptional. The idea of troubadour love was intellectual rather than emotional; love was an art, restricted, like poetry, by formal rules; the terms “love” and “poetry” were identified, and the fourteenth century treatise which summarises the principles of grammar and metre bore the title Leys d’Amors, the Laws of Love.

The pathology of the emotion was studied; it was treated from a psychological standpoint and a technical vocabulary came into use, for which it is often impossible to find English equivalents. The first effect of love is to produce a mental exaltation, a desire to live a life worthy of the beloved lady and redounding to her praise, an inspiring stimulus known as joi or joi d’amor (amor in Provencal is usually feminine).

Other virtues are produced by the influence of this affection: the lover must have valor, that is, he must be worthy of his lady; this worth implies the possession of cortesia, pleasure in the pleasure of another and the desire to please; this quality is acquired by the observance of mesura, wisdom and self-restraint in word and deed.

The poetry which expresses such a state of mind is usually idealised and pictures the relationship rather as it might have been than as it was. The troubadour who knew his business would begin with praises of his beloved; she is physically and morally perfect, her beauty illuminates the night, her presence heals the sick, cheers the sad, makes the boor courteous and so forth.

For her the singer’s love and devotion is infinite: separation from her would be worse than death; her death would leave the world cheerless, and to her he owes any thoughts of good or beauty that he may have. It is only because he loves her that he can sing. Hence he would rather suffer any pain or punishment at her hands than receive the highest favours from another.

The effects of this love are obvious in his person. His voice quavers with supreme delight or breaks in dark despair; he sighs and weeps and wakes at night to think of the one subject of contemplation. Waves of heat and cold pass over him, and even when he prays, her image is before his eyes. This passion has transformed his nature: he is a better and stronger man than ever before, ready to forgive his enemies and to undergo any physical privations; winter is to him as the cheerful spring, ice and snow as soft lawns and flowery meads.

Yet, if unrequited, his passion may destroy him; he loses his self-control, does not hear when he is addressed, cannot eat or sleep, grows thin and feeble, and is sinking slowly to an early tomb. Even so, he does not regret his love, though it lead to suffering and death; his passion grows ever stronger, for it is ever supported by hope. But if his hopes are realised, he will owe everything to the gracious favour of his lady, for his own merits can avail nothing.

Sometimes he is not prepared for such complete self-renunciation; he reproaches his lady for her coldness, complains that she has led him on by a show of kindness, has deceived him and will be the cause of his death; or his patience is at an end, he will live in spite of her and try his fortune elsewhere.

Source: Full-text of the book is available here; The Troubadours, by H.J. Chaytor

Mediaeval Love (1895)

Violet Paget (aka Vernon Lee)

The following excerpts on the subject of courtly love, from author Violet Paget’s landmark work Euphorion – Vol. II, 1895. – PW


In what we call the Middle Ages there was invented, by the stress of circumstances, elaborated by half-conscious effort and bequeathed as an unalienable habit, a new manner of loving.

To describe mediaeval love is a difficult matter, and to describe it except in negations is next to impossibility. I conceive it to consist in a certain sentimental, romantic, idealistic attitude towards women, not by any means incompatible however with the grossest animalism; an attitude presupposing a complete moral, aesthetical, and social superiority on the part of the whole female sex, inspiring the very highest respect and admiration independently of the individual’s qualities; and reaching the point of actual worship, varying from the adoration of a queen by a courtier to the adoration of a shrine by a pilgrim, in the case of the one particular lady who happens to be the beloved; an attitude in the relations of the sexes which results in love becoming an indispensable part of a noble life, and the devoted attachment to one individual woman, a necessary requisite of a gentlemanly training.

Mediaeval love is not merely a passion, a desire, an affection, a habit; it is a perfect occupation. It absorbs, or is supposed to absorb, the Individual; it permeates his life like a religion. It is not one of the interests of life, or, rather, one of life’s phases; it is the whole of life, all other interests and actions either sinking into an unsingable region below it, or merely embroidering a variegated pattern upon its golden background. Mediaeval love, therefore, never obtains its object, however much it may obtain the woman; for the object of mediaeval love, as of mediaeval religious mysticism, is not one particular act or series of acts, but is its own exercise, of which the various incidents of the drama between man and woman are merely so many results. It has not its definite stages, like the love of the men of classical Antiquity or the heroic time of the North: its stages of seeking, obtaining, cherishing, guarding; it is always at the same point, always in the same condition of half-religious, half-courtier-like adoration, whether it be triumphantly successful or sighingly despairing.

The man and the woman or rather, I should say, the knight and the lady, for mediaeval love is an aristocratic privilege, and the love of lower folk is not a theme for song the knight and the lady, therefore, seem always, however knit together by habit, nay, by inextricable meshes of guilt, somehow at the same distance from one another. Once they have seen and loved each other, their passion burns on always evenly, burns on (at least theoretically) to all eternity. It seems almost as if the woman were a mere shrine, a mysterious receptacle of the ineffable, a grail cup, a consecrated wafer, but not the ineffable itself. For there is always in mediaeval love, however fleshly the incidents which it produces, a certain Platonic element; that is to say, a craving for, a pursuit of, something which is an abstraction; an abstraction impossible to define in its constant shifting and shimmering, and which seems at one moment a social standard, a religious ideal, or both, and which merges for ever in the dazzling, vague sheen of the Eternal Feminine.

Hence, one of the most distinctive features of mediaeval love, an extraordinary sameness of intonation, making it difficult to distinguish between the bona fide passion for which a man risks life and honour, and the mere conventional gallantry of the knight who sticks a lady’s glove on his helmet as a compliment to her rank; nay, between the impure adoration of an adulterous lamia like Yseult, and the mystical adoration of a glorified Mother of God; for both are women, both are ladies, and therefore the greatest poet of the early Middle Ages, Gottfried von Strassburg, sings them both with the same religious respect, and the same hysterical rapture. This mediaeval love is furthermore a deliberately expected, sought-for, and received necessity in a man’s life; it is not an accident, much less an incidental occurrence to be lightly taken or possibly avoided: it is absolutely indispensable to man’s social training, to his moral and aesthetical self-improvement; it is part and parcel of manhood and knighthood… Frowendienst, “lady’s service,” is the name given by Ulrich von Liechtenstein, a mediaeval Quixote, outshining by far the mad Provencals Rudel and Vidal, to the memoirs very delightfully done into modern German by Ludwig Tieck; and “lady’s service” is the highest occupation of knightly leisure, the subject of the immense bulk of mediaeval poetry.

“Lady’s service” in deeds of arms and song, in constant praise and defence of the beloved, in heroic enterprise and madcap mummery, in submission and terror to the wondrous creature whom the humble servant, the lover, never calls by her sacred name, speaking of her in words unknown to Antiquity, dompna, dame, frowe, madonna words of which the original sense has almost been forgotten, although there cleave to them even now ideas higher than those associated with the puella of the ancients, the wib of the heroic days lady, mistress the titles of the Mother of God, who is, after all, only the mystical Soul’s Paramour of the mediaeval world. “Lady’s service” the almost technical word, expressing the position, half-serf-like, half-religious, the bonds of complete humility and never-ending faithfulness, the hopes of reward, the patience under displeasure, the pride in the livery of servitude, the utter absorption of the life of one individual in the life of another; which constitute in Provence, in France, in Germany, in England, in Italy, in the fabulous kingdoms of Arthur and Charlemagne, the strange new thing which I have named Mediaeval Love.

Has such a thing really existed? Are not these mediaeval poets leagued together in a huge conspiracy to deceive us? Is it possible that strong men have wept and fainted at a mere woman’s name, like the Count of Nevers in “Flamenca,” or that their mind has swooned away in months of reverie like that of Parzifal in Eschenbach’s poem; that worldly wise and witty men have shipped off and died on sea for love of an unseen woman like Jaufre Rudel; or dressed in wolf’s hide and lurked and fled before the huntsmen-like Peire Vidal; or mangled their face and cut off their finger, and, clothing themselves in rags more frightful than Nessus’ robe, mixed in the untouchable band of lepers like Ulrich von Liechtenstein? Is it possible to believe that the insane enterprises of the Amadises, Lisvarts and Felixmartes of late mediaeval romance, that the behaviour of Don Quixote in the Sierra Morena, ever had any serious models in reality? Nay, more difficult still to believe because the whole madness of individuals is more credible than the half-madness of the whole world is it possible to believe that, as the poems of innumerable trouvères and troubadours, minnesingers and Italian poets, as the legion of mediaeval romances of the cycles of Charlemagne, Arthur, and Amadis would have it, that during so long a period of time society could have been enthralled by this hysterical, visionary, artificial, incredible religion of mediaeval love? It is at once too grotesque and too beautiful, too high and too low, to be credible; and our first impulse, on closing the catechisms and breviaries, the legendaries and hymn-books of this strange new creed, is to protest that the love poems must be allegories, the love romances solar myths, the Courts of Love historical bungles; that all this mediaeval world of love is a figment, a misinterpretation, a falsehood.

But if we seek more than a mere casual impression; if, instead of feeling sceptical over one or two fragments of evidence, we attempt to collect the largest possible number of facts together; if we read not one mediaeval love story, but twenty not half a dozen mediaeval love poems, but several scores; if we really investigate into the origin of the apparent myth, the case speedily alters. Little by little this which had been inconceivable becomes not merely intelligible, but inevitable; the myth becomes an historical phenomenon of the most obvious and necessary sort. Mediaeval love, which had seemed to us a poetic fiction, is turned into a reality; and a reality, alas, which is prosaic. Let us look at it.

Mediaeval love is first revealed in the sudden and almost simultaneous burst of song which, like the twitter and trill so dear to trouvères, troubadours, and minnesingers, fills the woods that yesterday were silent and dead, and greeted the earliest sunshine, the earliest faint green after the long winter numbness of the dark ages, after the boisterous gales of the earliest Crusade. The French and Provencals sang first, the Germans later, the Sicilians last; but although we may say after deliberate analysis, such or such a form, or such or such a story, was known in this country before it appeared in that one, such imitation or suggestion was so rapid that with regard to the French, the Provencals, and the Germans at least, the impression is simultaneous; only the Sicilians beginning distinctly later, forerunners of the new love lyric, wholly different from that of trouvères, troubadours, and minnesingers, of the Italians of the latter thirteenth century… Such is the moment when we first hear the almost universal song of mediaeval love.

Source: Euphorion Being Studies of the Antique and the Mediaeval in the Renaissance – Vol. II

The gentle art of ruling a husband

The following excerpts written in 1900 by Max O’Rell on the subject of wives ruling husbands – PW


The rule of women over men is the survival of the fittest.

The best thing that can happen to a man is to be ruled by his wife; but she should rule him so discreetly, so diplomatically, that he could almost boast that it is he who rules her. At all events, he should remain very undecided which of the two it is that rules the other. And when a man is not quite sure that it is he who rules his wife, you may take it for granted that it is she who rules him.

How is the art of ruling a husband to be learned? The American and the French girls are at a good school; they have only to study how Mamma does it… In these two privileged nations the women lead the men by the nose; but in America the women boast of it, and I do not think they should. In France the women do not boast of it, but they do it, and with a vengeance. Yet, before the people a Frenchwoman will always say: ‘Oh, I do so and so because it pleases my husband.’ Dear little humbug! does she, though! Butter would not melt in her mouth when she says that.

To rule your husband, my dear lady, do exactly as you please, but always pretend that you do as he pleases. That is where your ability comes in.

Men are ruled, as children are, by the prospect of a reward. The reward of your husband is your amiability, your sweetness, your devotion, and your beauty, of which you should take a constant care. Love has to be fed constantly. And always let him suppose that it is for him only that you wish to remain beautiful.

The woman who believes that she is asserting her independence every time she puts on a hat particularly displeasing to her husband is as intelligent and clever as the Irishman who buys a return ticket at a railway office, and, on entering his compartment, says to his fellow-passengers: ‘I have played a good joke on the company, I have bought a return ticket—but I don’t mean to return.’

Source: Her Royal Highness Woman, by Max O’Rell

Petticoat Government (1896)

The following excerpts from Max O’Rell’s 1896 article Petticoat Government treat of women’s domination in home and society in the United States of America. The article shows women’s influence over both culture and government legislation via political activism – PW

Women’s Political Influence

The women of good society in America are what they are everywhere else, satisfied with their lot which consists in being the adored goddesses of refined households; but there exists in this country, among the middle (or in European parlance, lower-middle) classes restless, bumptious, ever poking-their-noses-everywhere women who are slowly, but surely and safely, transforming this great land of liberty into a land of petty, fussy tyranny, and trying, often with complete success, to impose on the community fads of every shape and form.

If there is one country in the world where the women appear, in the eyes of the foreign visitor, to enjoy all manner of privileges and to have the men in leading strings, that country is America. You would imagine, therefore, that America should be the last country where the “new woman” was to be found airing her grievances. Yet she is flourishing throughout the length and breadth of this huge continent. She is petted by her husband, the most devoted and hard-working of husbands in the world; she is literally covered with precious stones by him. She is allowed to wear hats that would “fetch” Paris in Carnival time, or start a panic at a Corpus-Christi procession in Paris or a Lord-Mayor’s Show in London. She is the superior of her husband in education, and almost in every respect. She is surrounded by the most numerous and delicate attentions. Yet she is not satisfied.

The Anglo-Saxon “new woman” is the most ridiculous production of modern times and destined to be the most ghastly failure of the century. She is par excellence the woman with a grievance, and self-labelled the greatest nuisance of modern society. The new woman wants to retain all the privileges of her sex and secure, besides, all those of man. She wants to be a man and to remain a woman. She will fail to become a man, but she may succeed in ceasing to be a woman.

Teetotaler Politics

I think that of all the grand fads indulged in by some women in America the palm should be given to the compulsory water-drinking work. That is a colossal illustration of what women can do when left entirely to their own resources.

Now, I will lay down as a sort of principle that the “temperance” woman and the teetotaler are not to be found in refined society, and I don’t think that in saying so, I shall run the risk of being contradicted. I have often been a guest at the Union Club, the Union League Club, the Manhattan, the Century, the Players, and many other good clubs, I have dined in the best houses of the great American cities, and nowhere have I met teetotalers in those circles of society. Refined, intelligent people of good society, artists, literary men are not teetotalers; that will be granted by everybody. I don’t mention politicians, even of the best class, who have at times to be teetotalers to catch votes in a democracy.

The smaller towns of America – and that is America proper – are ruled by fussy, interfering faddists, fanatics of all sorts, old women of both sexes, shrieking cockatoos that will by-and-by make life well-nigh intolerable to any man of self-respect and make him wonder whether he lives in a free country or not.

The Mayor’s Wife

Take two lively illustrations. A few months ago I was in the town of E. (Kansas). There was a mayor who was married, and the happy pair had a little boy. That little boy was a wicked little boy. One day he was caught smoking a cigarette. Now what should be done by sensible parents to such a wicked little boy? Why, he should be turned over and given a good hearty – you know! This is not at all what was done. The mayor’s wife called up a meeting of women, made a violent speech on the pernicious habit of cigarette smoking, and it was decided to petition the mayor and ask him to forbid the sale of cigarettes within the precincts of his jurisdiction. For the sake of peace and happiness at home, the worthy mayor published an edict prohibiting the sale of cigarettes in his district. However, cigarettes can be had in the town of E., but you have to walk nearly a mile, just outside the limits of the mayor’s jurisdiction, to find a store where a roaring trade in cigarettes is done. All the same, you must admit that it is a nuisance to be obliged to walk a mile, in a free country, to buy a little article of luxury that you indulge in, without ever abusing it, because there happens to be in the town a wicked little boy that once smoked a cigarette.

Women’s Temperance Society Activism

When I was in the town of T. (Arkansas), only a few weeks ago, I gave a lecture under the auspices of “temperance” ladies of the city. They called on me.

Being of a rather inquisitive turn of mind, I said to them: “Now, ladies, I understand I am in a prohibition State. How do you account for your existence? Do you wish now to advocate the suppression of tea, coffee and icewater, which, I must say, would go a long way toward improving the complexion and the digestive apparatus of your fellow-creatures?”

“No,” they said; “we find that, in spite of the law, there is liquor, wine and beer still sold in this town, and we want to put a stop to it.”

Temperance_MovementI knew that such was the case, for I had, proh pudor! a bottle of lager beer in my pocket which I had bought for my dinner, but which, I am glad to say, was not discovered by the ladies under the auspices of whom I was to lecture in the evening. I can do with ice-water, but in a prohibition State I cannot. The evil spirit prompts me. I must have beer or wine with my meals. I have never been drunk in my life; but if I ever get drunk, it will be in a prohibition State.

“Well,” said the lady president of the temperance society of the town of T., “could you believe that, a few days ago, a poor woman of the town and her children actually died of starvation, while every day her husband got drunk with the wages he received?”

“But,” I mildly suggested, “you should see that that man was punished, not the innocent population of this town. Don’t suppress the wine, which is a gift of God: punish – suppress, even, if you like – the drunkard. It is not wine that makes a man drunk, it is vice. Don’t suppress the wine, suppress the vice, or the vicious. Imprison a drunkard, lynch him, hang, shoot him, quarter him, do what you like with him, but allow hundreds of good, wise, temperate people, who would use wine in moderation, to indulge in a habit that makes men moderate, cheerful and happy.”

My argument was lost on them.

Every year there are men who use knives to stab fellow-creatures; but there are millions who use their knives to eat their meals peacefully with. The law punishes the criminals, but would not think of suppressing the knives.

Any law is bad that punishes, injures, or annoys thousands of good, innocent people in order to stop the mischief done by a few – a very few, after all – blackguards and scoundrels.

These Christian ladies left me certainly unconverted, and took their revenge by not paying me my fee after the lecture, which confirmed me in my firm resolution never to have anything to do with angels – this side of the grave.

The Anglo-Saxon should by all means preach temperance, which means moderation, not total abstinence. What they preach overreaches the mark and does no good. When you say that a country enjoys a temperate climate, that does not mean that it has no climate at all, but enjoys a moderate one, neither too hot nor too cold.

These same Anglo-Saxons should not despise, but admire and envy, those who can enjoy, like men of understanding, like gentlemen, the glorious gifts of God to man without ever making fools of themselves. For these, the law should be made.

If your husband or son, dear lady, would like to have a glass of wine or beer with his dinner, let him have it in your sweet and wholesome presence. Don’t make a hypocrite of him. Don’t compel him to go and hide himself in his club or, worse, in a saloon, or, worse still, don’t allow him to go and lose his manhood’s dignity by crawling on all fours under the counter of a drug-store.

There is no virtue in compulsion. There is virtue only in liberty.

Ah! how I remember admiring, in the hot days of blue-ribbonism in England, that free Briton I once met who had a yellow ribbon in his button hole.

“What’s that you have on?” I said to him.
“That’s a yellow ribbon,” he replied. “I belong to the yellow ribbon army.”
“Ah, and what is it the yellow-ribbon army do?” I inquired.
“What do we do?” he said, “Why, we eat what we likes, we drink what we likes and we don’t care a — for nobody.”

There are well-meaning, most highly estimable and talented ladies who go about the world preaching temperance, that is to say, total abstinence, not moderation.

Now, as a rule, these ladies have special reasons for so doing. Very often they have led a life of sorrow and misery with wretched husbands, and they should be pitied. But hundreds of thousands of women have good husbands who have not to be cured of habits which they never in their lives indulged in, and who would be condemned to deny themselves every little luxury that helps make life cheerful when used with moderation and discretion, if the preachings of these often unfortunate ladies were to take the shape of laws.

I have often had to listen to self-confessed, reformed drunkards who preached to me who never was once drunk in my life. The thing is ludicrous.

There exist, among the Anglo-Saxons, people to whom the strains of Wagner and Beethoven’s music say absolutely nothing, to whom the Venus of Milo is indecent. They declare music and the fine arts immoral, and if they had their way, they would close the concert halls and the museums on every day of the week. Because their minds are distorted, foul and even dirty, they would condemn people with lofty and artistic minds to never hear a masterpiece of music or behold a masterpiece of painting or statuary. I have met people who declared they would never again set foot inside the walls of the Louvre and of the British Museum. And if the Anglo-Saxon fanatics, those arch enemies of art, make a little more progress, the future of that great Institution, the British Institution, is not safe.

As everybody knows, there exist, in Great Britain and in America, thousands of people who declare the stage to be a most wicked and immoral institution. I have on the subject a rather pleasant reminiscence which illustrates how the Anglo-Saxons can combine the spirit of morality with the spirit of business. I once gave a lecture, in a town of some twenty thousand inhabitants in the State of Kansas, under the auspices of a society of lady reformers. They had engaged the Opera House for the occasion. I arrived at the theatre a few minutes after eight. The ladies in charge were in the ticket-office pocketing money as fast as they could. To my great gratification there was an immense house, which was due, no doubt, far more to the popularity of the ladies’ philanthropic cause than to my own modest personality. When the crowd was in and seated, I asked to be led to the stage, and I said to the lady president of the society: “I suppose you have your seats reserved.” “No,” she replied, “I have not. I don’t think I will go in, if you will excuse me. I am proud to say that I have never once in my life set foot inside a theatre.” I literally collapsed. There were in that theatre some twelve hundred people whom these good ladies had induced to “sin” to fill the coffers of their society.

All these movements, headed by women, are in the wrong direction. They interfere with the liberties of a great people, and punish thousands and thousands of good, orderly, well-behaved people, to reach a score or two of bad ones, whom they often fail to reach and of tener still fail to cure. I repeat it, there are many hundreds of good people in this world for a very few hundreds of bad ones. The laws should aim at reaching the former and protecting them. This world is considerably better than the fanatics of all denominations and superstitions would make us believe. For eleven years, I have travelled all over the world, and I have never met any but honorable people to deal with. For instance, I have given 1,272 lectures in my life, and only once dil I come across a man who behaved dishonestly toward me. He ran away with the cash while I was speaking.

Yes, the world is good, very good, in spite of the calumnies that are constantly hurled at its face by the Pharisees of Anglo-Saxondom. Yes, full of good men, crammed with good women, and the excellent ladies of the Philanthropic societies of America should take it for granted that there are many, many good and virtuous people besides themselves.

You don’t cut down an apple tree because there are two or three bad apples on it. You cut down the two or three bad apples, and all your efforts tend to see that the hundreds of good ones are made healthy, happy, and comfortable.

Max O’Rell

The allure of chivalry


Is benevolent sexism (aka chivalry) attractive to women? According to a new study the answer is, perhaps unsurprisingly, yes.

According to a 2013 study on benevolent sexism by Matthew D. Hammond of the University of Auckland1 a high sense of entitlement disposes women to endorse chivalric customs, such as that women need to be protected, cared for and pampered by males.

Hammond and his colleagues had more than 4,400 men and women complete psychological evaluations to measure their sense of entitlement and adherence to sexist beliefs about women. The beliefs included statements such as, “Women should be cherished and protected by men” and “Women, compared to men, tend to have a superior moral sensibility.”2 This group of individuals was tested again one year later. The researchers found a sense of entitlement in women was associated with stronger endorsement of benevolent sexism. Women who believed they deserved more out of life (and who likely received more out of life) were more likely to endorse benevolent sexist beliefs and their adherence to these beliefs increased over time. The association between a sense of entitlement in men and endorsement of benevolent sexism was weak, by contrast, and did not increase over time.

What these findings provide is evidence that female-benefiting sexism practiced by women is responsible for sexist attitudes toward their own gender, as well as toward men — attitudes which contribute more broadly to the maintenance of gender inequality.

Narcissism relies upon chivalry

In the study narcissistic traits are underlined as the basis of women’s motivation to garner resource-attainments and self-enhancements via the generosity of male chivalry. Some of the core features of narcissism include an inflated sense of self-worth; need for praise, admiration, and social status; an undeserved sense of entitlement; a sense that one deserves nice things; and a belief in one’s superior intelligence and beauty – all without a commensurate level of validity or deservedness. A woman (or man) with such a disposition generally displays efforts to gain esteem, status, and resources by fair means or foul, including by feigning charm, confidence, and an energetic approach to social interactions, and she takes personal responsibility for all successes, while attributing all personal failures to external sources. Narcissistic traits ensure that the individual will act selfishly to secure material gains even when it means exploiting others, and those practicing benevolent sexism tend to encourage such behaviour. According to the authors:

“Benevolent sexism facilitates the capacity to gain material resources and complements feelings of deservingness by promoting a structure of intimate relationships in which men use their access to social power and status to provide for women (Chen et al., 2009). Second, benevolent sexism reinforces beliefs of superiority by expressing praise and reverence of women, emphasizing qualities of purity, morality, and culture which make women the ‘‘fairer sex.’’ Indeed, identifying with these kinds of gender-related beliefs (e.g., women are warm) fosters a more positive self-concept (Rudman, Greenwald, & McGhee, 2001). Moreover, for women higher in psychological entitlement, benevolent sexism legitimizes a self-centric approach to relationships by emphasizing women’s special status within the intimate domain and men’s responsibilities of providing and caring for women. Such care involves everyday chivalrous behaviors, such as paying on a first date and opening doors for women (Sarlet et al., 2012; Viki et al., 2003), to more overarching prescriptions for men’s behavior toward women, such as being ‘‘willing to sacrifice their own well-being’’ to provide for women and to ensure women’s happiness by placing her ‘‘on a pedestal’’ (Ambivalent Sexism Inventory; Glick & Fiske, 1996)… In contrast to the overt benefits that benevolent sexism promises women, men’s endorsement of benevolent sexism reflects making sacrifices for women by relinquishing power in the relationship domain and providing for and protecting their partners (Glick & Fiske, 1996). Moreover, although benevolent sexism portrays men as ‘‘gallant protectors’’ (Glick & Fiske, 2001), it does not emphasize men’s superiority over women or cast men as deserving of praise and provision.” 3

Judging by the above study women’s expectation of chivalric treatment has altered little over the course of the last 800 years since chivalric responsibitities were first instituted. We can take, for example, the voices of two women from history who give voice to the findings of the study; the first written by female author Lucrezia Marinella in 1600:

“Women are honored everywhere with the use of ornaments that greatly surpass men’s, as can be observed. It is a marvelous sight in our city to see the wife of a shoemaker or butcher or even a porter all dressed up with gold chains round her neck, with pearls and valuable rings on her fingers, accompanied by a pair of women on either side to assist her and give her a hand, and then, by contrast, to see her husband cutting up meat all soiled with ox’s blood and down at heel, or loaded up like a beast of burden dressed in rough cloth, as porters are. At first it may seem an astonishing anomaly to see the wife dressed like a lady and the husband so basely that he often appears to be her servant or butler, but if we consider the matter properly, we find it reasonable because it is necessary for a woman, even if she is humble and low, to be ornamented in this way aristotlebecause of her natural dignity and excellence, and for the man to be less so, like a servant or beast born to serve her.”

Or this from another woman Modesta Pozzo in 1590:

“For don’t we see that men’s rightful task is to go out to work and wear themselves out trying to accumulate wealth, as though they were our factors or stewards, so that we can remain at home like the lady of the house directing their work and enjoying the profit of their labors? That, if you like, is the reason why men are naturally stronger and more robust than us — they need to be, so they can put up with the hard labor they must endure in our service.”


[1] Matthew D. Hammond, Chris G. Sibley, and Nickola C. Overall, The Allure of Sexism: Psychological Entitlement Fosters Women’s Endorsement of Benevolent Sexism Over Time
[2] Eric W. Dolan, Self-entitled women are more likely to endorse benevolent sexism, study finds
[3] Matthew D. Hammond, Chris G. Sibley, and Nickola C. Overall [Ibid]
[4] Ruth Styles, The fickle face of feminism: Women are fine with sexism… as long as it benefits them
[5] Lucrezia Marinella: gynocentrism in 1600
[6] Modesta Pozzo: gynocentrism in 1590

Chivalry in Medieval England (review)





Nigel Saul, Chivalry in Medieval England,
Harvard University Press (2011).





Book review, by Dennis Gouws:

Chivalry has declined since it first dignified medieval men’s pursuit of excellence. On its inception in twelfth-century Europe, chivalry offered knights new opportunities for camaraderie, heroism, and comity in battle; moreover, it both occasioned an ethic for men’s individual conduct and modelled a renowned, embodied masculine character for men who aspired to success at court. Chivalry required discipline and accomplishment; its measure was, therefore, personal and performative. Its core traits—bravery, honor, courtesy—influenced gentility gentlemanliness, which from the fifteenth century onwards increasingly gauged the conduct of armigerous and professional men. Once its persistent impact on British masculinities finally dwindled in the early twentieth century, chivalry meant little more than men’s benevolent placatory or protective deeds. This meaning has endured and has consequently reinforced disturbing assumptions about twenty-first century male disposability. Men have traditionally appeased women; men have also subordinated themselves to customary gynocentric societal assumptions of women’s parental superiority—the still-current chivalric rescue maxim, women and children first means just that—and men have steadfastly enlisted, or have been conscripted, to serve and protect in various armed forces. The atrocities of World War One rendered chivalric heroism unconvincing, but men still disproportionately sacrifice themselves as combatants. Some might claim that chivalry is dead; its spirit endures, however, and is deadly to men.

The two exemplars of medieval chivalry that interest most twenty-first-century readers are courtly love and literary romance, and in his Chivalry in Medieval England, Nigel Saul argues that these types were incidental to its development. Saul regards the predominantly-masculine arenas of war and economics as central to its engendering by a newly-confident military elite conscious of its commonality. Disciplined, principled fighting men earned wealth and honor; their ethos was voiced in historical texts, romances, and the visually symbolic language of chivalric heraldry. At first glance Professor Saul’s analysis seems to argue for an orthodox Marxist division of society into base and superstructure (the actions of a newly-powerful knightly class determining the nature of its cultural expression); however, his treatment of twelfth-century knightly “self-consciousness” (p. 66) and various medieval Englishmen’s motives for seeking military honor (“adventurers, freebooters, mercenaries, self-seekers and chancers” as well as “warriors like Chaucer’s Knight, for whom financial considerations were largely secondary” [p. 128]) suggest a sensitivity to the complexities of cultural and material reciprocity. Unlike Maurice Keen’s Chivalry (Yale University Press 1984), which argues for the “fusing” together of material and cultural elements into “something new and whole in its own right” (p. 16), Saul’s Chivalry in Medieval England consistently distinguishes the lived experience of chivalry from cultural representations of the argument; it consequently affords new opportunities for male-positive recontextualizations of courtly love and literary romance.

In his examination of Marie de France’s Lais, for example, Saul notes that the conventions of courtly love originate in “the particular circumstances of twelfth-century society” (p. 265): because of primogeniture and the twelfth-century church’s making marriage a sacrament, landless young knights resorted to charming wealthy women for their material and sexual satisfaction. The gynocentric framing of the knight-lady relationship might be better understood as vassalage, a socioeconomic circumstance whose transactions acknowledge courtly love’s hierarchical referent rather than evincing a reverential elevation of women. Men could negotiate these conventions to marry up, and (as Saul’s account of Sir Ralph Monthermer’s and Richard Calle’s marriages suggests) they did.

By emphasizing gratuitous fighting, often to please women, literary romance misrepresented the martial circumstances of chivalry, which Saul describes as a “tough down-to-earth business” (p. 148) that “involved more than the enacting of ritualized combat and the performing of brave deed to impress ladies” (p. 153). Instead it consisted in “the honing of fighting skills in the lists, the building of group solidarity” in tournaments, and “the encouragement of bravery in the quest for honor” (p. 153). Medieval noblemen cherished their honor, which Saul succinctly defines as, “the value which a nobleman placed on himself and the expectation that that value would be recognized by others” (p. 187). Its chivalric measure was personal and performative, expressing itself “principally in terms of action and display” (p. 187), deeds which sometimes involved violence but often comprised personal restraint and public acts of grace originating in Norman codes governing the humane prosecution of war and treatment of prisoners. Disagreeing with scholars like Richard W. Kaeuper who, in Chivalry and Violence in Medieval Europe (Oxford University Press 1999), argues that chivalry encouraged “heroic” (p. 8) violence, Saul argues it was a “moderating force, providing a code of polite behavior which prevented disputes from tipping over into violence” (p. 178). Kaeuper, in his well-researched book relies on romances to buttress his argument but concedes that “we cannot expect [chivalric] literature […] to serve as a simple mirror to the social reality of the world in which it emerged” (p. 33). Saul skeptically asserts: “It is clear that we cannot take the fictions of the romances as directly mirroring the values and norms of chivalric society” (p. 196). He acknowledges the brutal violence inherent in military and court-tournament chivalry; however, he notes chivalric honor’s role in tempering violence rather than enabling it.

Chivalric bravery, honor, and courtesy were valued by men who shared the harrowing experience of military conflict, men who might have been on opposite sides but who were brothers in arms. Chivalry suffered successive declines in the thirteenth, sixteenth, and the early-twentieth centuries. Saul attributes the first two of these declines to financial considerations that lead to the bankrupting of knights in the thirteenth century and the indifference of a nascent gentry class in the sixteenth. Mark Girouard has argued, in The Return to Camelot: Chivalry and the English Gentleman (Yale University Press 1981), that the chivalric code could not comprehend the atrocities of technology and scale inherent in “the concept of total war” (p. 293) that enveloped combatants during World War One. Both his and Saul’s books convincingly emphasize a need to investigate the material realities of men’s experiences rather than relying on scholarly and literary commentaries on them—a lesson yet to be learned in most twenty-first-century conversations about men and gender.

Reprinted with permission by Dennis Gouws, Springfield College and University of Connecticut (Storrs).

Gynocentric culture


Did female-centered culture begin in the prehistoric era?

This question is sometimes asked by people who feel that gynocentrism has been around for the entirety of human evolution. The answer to that question is of course yes – isolated examples of gynocentrism have been around throughout human history. However it’s important to make a distinction between individual examples of gynocentrism (that is, individual gynocentric impulses, acts, customs, or events) and gynocentric culture (a pervasive cultural complex that affects every aspect of life). We will never be precise enough to make sense of this subject unless we insist on this distinction between gynocentric acts, and gynocentric-culture.



It’s easy to overstate the import of specific examples of gynocentrism when in fact such examples may be equally balanced, culturally speaking, by male-centered acts, customs, or events which negate the concept of a pervasive gynocentric culture. Here we are reminded of the old adage that one swallow does not make a summer, and that likewise individual gynocentric acts, or even a small collection of such acts, do not amount to a pervasive gynocentric culture.

Individual examples of gynocentrism are sometimes misconstrued as representing a broader culture, as seen in the discussion around ancient female figurines which some claim are indications of goddess-worshipping, gynocentric cultures. Not only is the import of the female figurines vastly overstated, the quantity discovered is potentially exaggerated according to leading feminist archeologists:

“Quantitative analyses of Upper Paleolithic imagery make it clear that there are also images of males and that, by and large, most of the imagery of humans-humanoids cannot readily be identified as male or female. In fact, no source can affirm that more than 50 per cent of the imagery is recognizably female.” [Ancient Goddesses]

Even if the majority of these figurines had proven to be female, this wouldn’t indicate a gynocentric culture any more than would statues of the goddess Athena and the Parthenon built in her honor indicate that ancient Athens was a gynocentric city – which it clearly was not.

Archeologists discovered stencils of female hands in ancient caves, created by the practice of spraying mud from the mouth onto a female hand. Some were led to surmise, without evidence, that those same hands served as authorship of the animals that were also painted on the cave walls. Additionally, these archeologists assumed that the presence of female hand images not only meant that women painted the more complex cave art but that the entire ancient world “must have” consisted of a completely gynocentric culture. These assumptions show the dangers of allowing imagination to depart too far from the evidence.

Further examples of overreach are the citing of fictional material from classical era, such as Helen of Troy (a Greek myth), or Lysistrata (a Greek play) as proof of gynocentric culture; unfortunately these examples are about as helpful for understanding gynocentrism as would be the movie Planet of the Apes to future researchers studying the history of primates.

Gynocentric culture:

A cultural complex refers to a significant configuration of culture traits that have major significance in the way people’s lives were lived. In sociology it is defined as a set of culture traits all unified and dominated by one essential trait; such as an industrial cultural complex, religious cultural complex, military cultural complex and so on. In each of these complexes we can identify a core factor – industry, religion, military – so we likewise require a core factor for the gynocentric cultural complex in order for it to qualify for the title. At the core of the gynocentric cultural complex is the feudalistic structure of lords and vassals, a structure which eventually became adopted as a gender relations model requiring men to serve as vassals to women. C.S. Lewis called this restructuring of gender relations ‘the feudalisation of love’ and rightly suggested that is has left no corner of our ethics, our imagination, or our daily life untouched.

Subservient male

The feudalisation of love was not something seen in pre-medieval times, let alone in the Paleolithic era when feudalism simply didn’t exist. For example, we have not yet seen a cave painting equal to this art from the Middle Ages showing a male acting as subservient vassal to a dominant woman who leads him around by a neck halter.

In summary, it appears everyone agrees that examples of gynocentric acts have existed throughout human history. The question is not whether an act occured but whether or not it was part of a more dominant culture of gynocentrism. We are interested not in when some gynocentric act was recorded but in when the larger gynocentric cultural complex (GCC) began, on which point there appear to be three main theories:

  • Ancient Genesis
  • Medieval Genesis
  • Recent Genesis

This website provides evidence that clearly favors medieval genesis, as there is simply not enough evidence for it in ancient culture beyond scattered examples of gynocentrism. In fact what we do know of classical civilizations appears to favour the reverse conclusion – that these were patently androcentric cultures that held sway globally until the 12th century European revolution.

Timeline of gynocentric culture

The following timeline details the birth of gynocentric culture along with significant historical events that ensured its survival. Prior to 1200 AD broadspread gynocentric culture simply did not exist, despite evidence of isolated gynocentric acts and events. It was only in the Middle Ages that gynocentrism developed cultural complexity and became a ubiquitous and enduring cultural norm.


1102 AD: Gynocentrism trope first introduced
William IX, Duke of Aquitaine, the most powerful feudal lord in France, wrote the first troubadour poems and is widely considered the first troubadour. Parting with the tradition of fighting wars strictly on behalf of man, king, God and country, William is said to have had the image of his mistress painted on his shield, whom he called midons (my Lord) saying that, “It was his will to bear her in battle, as she had borne him in bed.”1

1152 AD: Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine enlists the poet Bernard de Ventadorn to compose songs of love for her and her husband, Henry II. The songs lay down a code of chivalric behaviour for how a good man should treat a “lady,” which Eleanor employs in an apparent attempt to civilize her husband and his male associates. Eleanor and other noblewomen utilize poetry and song for setting expectations of how men should act around them, thus was born the attitude of romantic chivalry promoting the idea that men need to devote themselves to serving the honour, purity and dignity of women.2

1168 – 1198 AD: Gynocentrism trope elaborated, given imperial patronage
The gynocentrism trope is further popularized and given imperial patronage by Eleanor and her daughter Marie.3 At Eleanor’s court in Poitiers Eleanor and Marie completed the work of embroidering the Christian military code of chivalry with a code for romantic lovers,thus putting women at the center of courtly life, and placing romantic love on the throne of God himself – and in doing so they had changed the face of chivalry forever. Key events are:

1170 AD: Eleanor and Marie established the formal Courts of Love presided over by themselves and a jury of 60 noble ladies who would investigate and hand down judgements on love-disputes according to the newly introduced code governing gender relations. The courts were modelled precisely along the lines of the traditional feudal courts where disputes between retainers had been settled by the powerful lord. In this case however the disputes were between lovers.

-1180 AD: Marie directs Chrétien de Troyes to write Lancelot, the Knight of the Cart, a love story about Lancelot and Guinevere elaborating the nature of gynocentric chivalry. Chrétien de Troyes abandoned this project before it was completed because he objected to the implicit approval of the adulterous affair between Lancelot and Guinevere that Marie had directed him to write.6 But the approval of the legend was irresistible – later poets completed the story on Chrétien’s behalf. Chrétien also wrote other famous romances including Erec and Enide.

-1188 AD: Marie directs her chaplain Andreas Capellanus to write The Art of Courtly Love. This guide to the chivalric codes of romantic love is a document that could pass as contemporary in almost every respect, excepting for the outdated class structures and assumptions. Many of the admonitions in Andreas “textbook” clearly come from the women who directed the writing.4

1180 – 1380 AD: Gynocentric culture spreads throughout Europe
In two hundred years gynocentric culture spread from France to become instituted in all the principle courts of Europe, and from there went on to capture the imagination of men, women and children of all social classes. According to Jennifer Wollock,5 the continuing popularity of chivalric love stories is also confirmed by the contents of women’s libraries of the late Middle Ages, literature which had a substantial female readership including mothers reading to their daughters. Aside from the growing access to literature, gynocentric culture values spread via everyday interactions among people in which they created, shared, and/or exchanged the information and ideas.

1386 AD: Gynocentric concept of ‘gentleman’ formed
Coined in the 1200’s, the word “Gentil man” soon became synonymous with chivalry. According to the Oxford Dictionary gentleman came to refer by 1386 to “a man with chivalrous instincts and fine feelings”. Gentleman therefore implies chivalric behaviour and serves as a synonym for it; a meaning that has been retained to the present day.

1400 AD: Beginning of the the Querelle des Femmes
The Querelle des Femmes or “quarrel about women” technically had its beginning in 1230 AD with the publication of Romance of the Rose. However it was Italian-French author Christine de Pizan who in 1400 AD turned the prevailing discussion about women into a debate that continues to reverberate in feminist ideology today. The basic theme of the centuries-long quarrel revolved, and continues to revolve, around advocacy for the rights, power and status of women.

21st century: Gynocentrism continues
The now 1000 year long culture of gynocentrism continues with the help of traditionalists eager to preserve gynocentric customs, manners, taboos, expectations, and institutions with which they have become so familiar; and also by feminists who continue to find new and often novel ways to increase women’s power with the aid of chivalry. The modern feminist movement has rejected some chivalric customs such as opening car doors or giving up a seat on a bus for women; however they continue to rely on ‘the spirit of chivalry’ to attain new privileges for women: opening car doors has become opening doors into university or employment via affirmative action; and giving up seats on busses has become giving up seats in boardrooms and political parties via quotas. Despite the varied goals, contemporary gynocentrism remains a project for maintaining and increasing women’s power with the assistance of chivalry.

[1] Maurice Keen, Chivalry, Yale University Press, 1984. [Note: 1102 AD is the date ascribed to the writing of William’s first poems].
[2] The History of Ideas: Manners
[3] The dates 1168 – 1198 cover the period beginning with Eleanor and Marie’s time at Poitiers to the time of Marie’s death in 1198.
[4] C. J. McKnight, Chivalry: The Path of Love, Harper Collins, 1994.
[5] Jennifer G. Wollock, Rethinking Chivalry and Courtly Love, Praeger, 2011.
[6] Uitti, Karl D. (1995). Chrétien de Troyes Revisited. New York, New York: Twayne Publishers.

The origins of the term ‘gentleman’

According to the Oxford Dictionary the term gentleman has been in use since the 1200’s and refers to (2.) “a man with chivalrous instincts and fine feelings”. ‘Gentleman’ therefore imples and is synonymous with chivalric behaviour and also serves as a replacement term for chivalry.


The myth of the perilous bed

Joseph Campbell states of courtship in the Middle Ages, “If you wanted to make love to a woman, she’s already got the drop on you. The technical term for a woman’s granting of herself was merci; the woman grants her mercy. Now that might consist in her permission for the man to kiss her on the back of the neck once every Whitsuntide, you know, something like that – or it may be a full giving in love. That would depend upon her estimation of the character of the candidate. The essential idea was to test this man.”1 While there are numerous real examples of tests women asked men to endure, including jousting competitions and other dangerous activities, Campbell provides some fictional examples of tests such as, for instance, ‘the Myth of The Perilous Bed’:

“A number of knights had to experience the perilous bed before getting access to a lady, and it works like this; You come into a room that’s absolutely empty, except in the middle of it is a bed on rollers. You are to come in dressed in your full armour – sword, spear, shield, all that heavy stuff- and get into bed. Well, as the knight approaches the bed, it shears away to one side. So he comes again, and it goes the other way. The knight finally thinks, “I’ve got to jump.” So with his full gear, he jumps into the bed, and as soon as he hits the bed, it starts bucking like a bronco all over the room, banging against the walls and all of that kind of thing, and then it stops. Then he’s told, ‘It’s not finished yet. Keep your armour on and keep your shield over yourself. ” And then arrows and crossbow bolts pummel him- bang, bang, bang, bang. Then a lion appears and attacks the knight, but he cuts off the lion’s feet, and the two of them end up lying there in a pool of blood. Only then do the ladies of the castle come in and see their knight, their saviour, lying there looking dead. One of the ladies takes a bit of ‘fur’ from her garment and puts it in front of his nose and it moves ever so slightly – he’s breathing, he’s alive. So they nurse him back to health.”

Of this myth Campbell states,

“This is the masculine experience of the feminine temperament: that it doesn’t quite make sense, but there it is. That’s the way it’s shifting this time, that’s the way it’s going that time. The trial is to hold on, be patient and don’t try to solve it. Just endure it, and then all the boons of beautiful womanhood will be yours.” [Transformations of Myth Through Time].

This story provides a fascinating insight into the mechanics of gynocentrim. Before the 11th century there was hardly any support in the world for the notion of romantic love; at best it was an underground, unspoken activity disallowed on the world stage where arranged marriages dominated gender interaction completely. When the cult of romantic love appeared, women could for the first time be married and/or choose a male lover with the open encouragement of the society in which they lived. For the first time a woman would force her lover to do worthiness tests – get in a sword fight, a jousting battle, go on a dangerous journey, write some poetry, or procure and provide a precious gift. If he succeeded in her chosen test, he was often rewarded with a small gesture.

The cult of romantic love began in France and rapidly spread to the rest of Europe, and it was a watershed moment for women’s power. Women realised their bargaining power and could now ask for favours, worthiness tests and special treatment in exchange for love. It was here in 11th-12th century Europe that chivalry and gynocentrism were born, and without this event it unlikely that a ‘battle of the sexes’ would have developed, nor would there have been a need for feminists and men’s advocates to address the fluctuating power balance as exists between men and women today.
Perilous Bed

Sir Lancelot rides the Perilous Bed

[1] Joseph Campbell and Bill Moyers, The Power of Myth