Damseling, chivalry and courtly love (part two)

The following article is the second of a two-part series. Part one looked at the roots of damseling, chivalry and courtly love in the gynocentric tradition. In part two we look at damseling, chivalry and courtly love as it appears in the feminist tradition. – PW

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FEMINISM

Before being given the name feminism, the obsession with women’s status was referred to as the Querelle des Femmes or quarrel about women. The querelle consisted of a perpetual social movement that used damseling to call for more chivalry and more courtly love, which ultimately afforded women more power.

The three elements of gynocentrism first born in medieval Europe – damseling, chivalry and courtly love – continue to act as the basis of modern feminism. Indeed feminism today is little more, and little less, than a perpetuation of this medieval triad, giving feminism its internal drive even as feminists disavow these essentials with rhetorical obfuscations.

With this charge in mind let’s revisit the holy trinity above with a focus on behaviors central to modern feminism.

Damseling as “victim feminism”

Most observers today, including feminist observers like Christina Hoff-Sommers, Camille Paglia, Rene Denfeld, Katie Roiphe and others agree that feminism comes close, if not all the way, to being a cult of victimhood.

The phenomenon has variously been referred to as grievance feminism, victim feminism, safe space feminism, and even fainting-couch feminism – with Christina Hoff-Sommers portraying its mythos as “a battle between fragile maidens and evil predators.” 1

Feminist icon Naomi Wolf tells that victim feminism evolved out of “old habits of ladylike behavior that were cloaked in the guise of radicalism,” 2 and laments that a substantial segment of modern feminism is devoted to its cause.

Denfeld writes that current feminists “promote a new status for women: that of the victim,” and adds:

“This is victim mythology. From rape redefinitions to feminist theory on the “patriarchy,” victimization has become the subtext of the movement, the moral to be found in every feminist story. Together these stories form a feminist mythology in which a singular female subject is created: woman as a helpless, violated, and oppressed victim. Victim mythology says that men will always be predators and women will always be their prey. It is a small place to live, a place that tells women that there is really no way out.

“Like other mythologies, victim mythology reduces the complexity of human interaction to grossly oversimplified mythical tales, a one-note song, where the message of the story becomes so important that fiction not only triumphs over fact but the realities of women’s experiences are dismissed and derided when they conflict with the accepted female image.3

While Denfeld does a good job of describing feminism’s victim mentality, she labors under a myth of her own by characterizing it as a “new” fetish among feminists. Anyone reading through the history of feminist literature can see it appealed to by literally every feminist writer. Even a century ago Ernest Belfort Bax was able to say that feminists “do their best to bluff their dupes by posing as the victims of a non-existent male oppression.”4

Feminists well know that the most grotesquely far-fetched cry about the injustice of man to woman will meet with a ready ear. They well know that they get here fond and foolish man on his soft side. Looking at the matter impartially, it is quite evident that man’s treatment of woman is the least vulnerable point in his moral record. Woman, as such, he has always treated with comparative generosity. But it is, of course, to the interests of the abettors of female domination to pretend the contrary. Accordingly everything has been done to excite prejudice in favour of woman as the innocent and guileless victim of man’s tyranny, and the maudlin Feminist sentiment of the “brute” man has been carefully exploited to this end.5

In all of these accounts the behavior being described is damseling, a practice feminists have been at the forefront of preserving from the medieval canon. Evoked in conjunction with claims of male brutality, rapiness, depravity and insensitivity, the ultimate purpose of damseling is to draw chivalric responses from men, a routine Wolf makes clear in her remark that “victim feminism casts women as sexually pure and mystically nurturing, and stresses the evil done to these ‘good’ women as a way to petition for their rights.” 6

A famous example of feminist damseling, both literal and figurative, is Anita Sarkeesian. Sarkeesian is known for raising concerns that video-games are misogynistic – like most everything else found in the feminist worldview. Her primary concern was that female game characters are often portrayed as damsels-in-distress saved by male heroes, which promotes, she says, sexual objectification and a range of other problems. To address that issue in video games she moved to launch a study project to raise awareness.

Sarkeesian established a fundraiser for $6,000.00 for her project, but after receiving some initial trolling by trolls on social media she damseled herself to potential donors by saying she was under grave threat, swooning with such finesse that she was showered with 158K in donations from fellow feminists and white knights. Over a thousand people donated after hearing of her “plight.”

With that financial success, Sarkeesian subsequently replayed the scenario over and again particularly in the context of further fundraising efforts and public speaking; swooning about online attacks directed against her or over female gamers enduring abject sexism, female video-game characters being cast in degrading and/or humiliating roles, and about young impressionable girls being robbed of agency after being subjected to the damsel trope in games.

Sarkeesian’s case is particularly poignant because, from the many subjects she could have highlighted to damsel herself for attention, she chose to damsel herself over the very existence of damsels. This demonstrates that even when disavowing the medieval pageant of damsels in distress, feminists continue to enact it even while obfuscating their complicity in the tradition.

Feminism would have died out long ago if it were not for the power of this ancient ruse, and while damseling continues to draw rewards from a public primed to cater to it, the planet will increasingly come to resemble a tower full of imprisoned, vulnerable Disney Princesses.

Chivalry – from husband Sam to Uncle Sam

Equity feminist Christina Hoff-Sommers states that men need to be civilized with chivalric manners, a belief outlined in an interview with Emily Esfahani Smith, where she said, “Chivalry is grounded in a fundamental reality that defines the relationship between the sexes,” and adding a warning, “If women give up on chivalry, it will be gone.” 7

While feminists like Hoff-Sommers admit their reliance on a sexist version of chivalry, others are less candid about it, going even so far as pretending they don’t need chivalry despite their demonstrable appeal to it in most of their activism. Many observers however can see through the anti-chivalry posturing.

Feminism draws its power from chivalric support, but instead of soliciting it from men in the traditional, interpersonal manner it has learned how to get it solely from the government – holding the government to ransom ever since the suffragettes damsaled the vote for women. Since that time politicians have only been too willing to furnish demands by feminists in exchange for voting the candidate into power and allowing him to retain office – and conversely politicians who fail to uphold the chivalric contract are promptly voted out.

The results of this compact are obvious to anyone who looks at political decisions with impartiality.

Instead of men giving up seats in buses, government now provides seats in legislative assemblies and boardrooms via quotas. Instead of men opening car doors for women, government opens doors into universities and workforces via affirmative action. Instead of men being the sole protectors of women from violence, government now protects them with an army of police specially trained to service women’s accusations (over and above more serious crimes). Instead of men providing living expenses, governments now provide it as social welfare and compensation for the wage-gap. Government as substitute husband.

The appeal to chivalry is not confined to government institutions alone. The appeal also goes out to sporting clubs, business owners, CEOs and private institutions who respond to the damsel’s call with women-only busses, women-only safe spaces, pink car parking spaces with extra lighting and security with male escorts and chaperones, or with feminist adverts at sports venues, sportsmen wearing pink to raise money for all manner of feminist projects, and that on top of monies already heaped at their feet by politicians eager to please.

This is not a recent development; it can be witnessed in mirror image as far back as a century ago. Back then, Bax was able to tie feminism so definitively with the act of chivalry-seeking that he actually labeled the women’s liberation movement “chivalry feminism.” Moreover, Bax saw through the superficial disavowals;

“The justification for the whole movement of Modern Feminism in one of its main practical aspects – namely, the placing of the female sex in the position of privilege, advantage and immunity – is concentrated in the current conception of “chivalry.”

It is plain then that chivalry as understood in the present day really spells sex privilege and sex favouritism pure and simple, and that any attempts to define the term on a larger basis, or to give it a colourable rationality founded on fact, are simply subterfuges, conscious or unconscious, on the part of those who put them forward…

Such is “chivalry” as understood to-day – the deprivation, the robbery from men of the most elementary personal rights in order to endow women with privileges at the expense of men.8

Chivalry feminism today, same as it ever was, relying on men’s generosity to perpetuate its creed of power.

Courtly love as ‘Respectful Relationships’

The phrase ‘Respectful Relationships’ is shorthand for a range of conventions promoted by feminists to govern interactions between men and women, particularly in the context of romantic interactions. The conventions detail acceptable speech and actions in the contexts of socializing, friendship, flirting and sex, emphasizing a man’s duty to respect women’s emotional comfort, self-esteem, and dignity.

Portrayed overtly as a method of reducing men’s abusiveness, the program maintains that even men and boys who do not display abusive behaviors should be enculturated in its protocols as a prophylactic, and concomitantly to afford dignity and self-esteem to women. This is where the respectful relationships program moves past the overt goal of reducing violence and into the covert goal of maintaining and increasing the power of women.

As we begin to look at the detail of Respectful Relationship we could almost mistake it for Andreas Capellanus’ work The Art of Courtly Love where the medieval rules of romance were codified in meticulous prescriptions for male deference, homage, and courtesy toward women. Considering this parallel, the feminist movement appears to have provided a new language for a very old set of sexual customs, essentially reiterating that which has been with us all along.

As mentioned in Part one, central to the art of courtly love was the expectation that men practice love service toward women based on a model of vassals or serfs in relation to a feudal lord. That relationship model of serf-to-Lord was adopted wholesale to regulate love relationships whereby women were literally approached as the lord (midons) in each male-female encounter. As Medievalist Sandra Alfonsi explains;

Scholars soon saw striking parallels between feudalistic practices and certain tenets of Courtly Love. The comparisons lie in certain resemblances shared by vassalage and the courtly “love service.” Fundamental to both was the concept of obedience. As a vassal, the liegeman swore obedience to his lord. As a courtly lover, the poet chose a lady to whom he was required to swear obedience. Humility and obedience were two concepts familiar to medieval man, active components of his Weltanschauung…

The entire concept of love-service was patterned after the vassal’s oath to serve his lord with loyalty, tenacity, and courage. These same virtues were demanded of the poet. Like the liegeman vis-a-vis his sovereign, the poet approached his lady with fear and respect. Submitted to her, obedient to her will, he awaited a fief or honor as did the vassal. His compensation took many forms: the pleasure of his lady’s company in her chamber or in the garden; an avowal of her love; a secret meeting; a kiss or even le surplus, complete unity. Like the lord, the woman who was venerated and served was expected to reward her faithful and humble servant.9

The idea behind love service was that men should demonstrate the quality of their commitment to women; was it merely lust or obedient and sacrificial love? If the woman decided it was “love” then she might decide to engage more intimately with him, as Joseph Campbell explains:

“The woman is looking for authenticity in a relationship, so she delays merci until she is guaranteed that this man who is proposing himself to her is one of a gentle heart… And, the women were in control, that’s all there is to it. The man is the one who is advancing, the one performing the acts of guarding bridges, or whatever bit of foolishness she puts on him, but, she’s in control. And her problem is to live in a relationship that is authentic of love, and the only way she can do it is by testing the one who offers himself. She isn’t offering herself, he’s offering himself. But, she’s in control of what happens then with step two.10

“The technical term for a woman’s granting of herself was merci; the woman grants her merci. 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 to make sure that he would suffer things for love, and that this was not just lust.

The tests that were given then by women involved, for example, sending a chap out to guard a bridge. The traffic in the Middle Ages was somewhat encumbered by these youths guarding bridges. But also the tests included going into battle. A woman who was too ruthless in asking her lover to risk a real death before she would acquiesce in anything was considered sauvage or “savage”. Also, the woman who gave herself without the testing was “savage”. There was a very nice psychological estimation game going on here.11

Today that psychological estimation game (as Campbell puts it) might involve asking consent to sit with a woman, appealing politely for a date, waiting patiently for her to call or sweep right, keeping his knees together to avoid manspreading, or asking for permission to speak in order to prove he is not talking over her or mansplaining. Such demonstrations show the feminist woman that he has a gentle heart, and that he is willing to suffer things for love.

That psychological testing also encompasses public activities which demonstrate a man’s commitment to serving womankind as a whole. Examples would be a man walking a mile in her shoes, or joining White Ribbon Campaigns that require men, as was required of the medieval knights, to pledge oaths to “Never to condone, or remain silent about violence towards women and girls” and especially to intervene when learning of any male behaving offensively toward a woman.

Today’s White Ribbon “oath” bears a striking resemblance to the 14th century enterprise of the Green Shield with the White Lady (Emprise de l’Escu vert à la Dame Blanche) in which men committed themselves for the duration of five years to serving women. Inspired by the ideal of courtly love, the stated purpose of the order was to guard and defend the honor, estate, goods, reputation, fame and praise of all ladies. It was an undertaking that earned the praise of protofeminist Christine de Pizan. The continuity of chivalry and courtly love from the medieval knightly oath to the modern feminist-inspired oath is remarkable in its consistency.

In line with most women who expect men to follow medieval rules of love concerning male courtesy, the feminist movement is geared toward enforcing the same goal. Feminism however postures itself as disavowing that goal even while they are at the forefront of institutionalizing it in our families, our schools, our political structures and laws.

Each of the psychological tests mentioned above are evidence of a love service called for by feminist activists. Or worded differently, they are sanctified methods by which men are called to demonstrate obedience and a ‘gentle heart’ in contrast to the brutality, rapiness and exploitativeness of the savage heart; the default feminist conception of men.

I will close here with the words of an academic feminist, one not so coy about identifying courtly love with the project of feminism. Elizabeth Reid Boyd of the School of Psychology and Social Science at Edith Cowan University, and Director of the Centre for Research for Women in Western Australia with more than a decade as a feminist researcher and teacher of women’s studies tells:

In this article I muse upon arguments that romance is a form of feminism. Going back to its history in the Middle Ages and its invention by noblewomen who created the notion of courtly love, examining its contemporary popular explosion and the concurrent rise of popular romance studies in the academy that has emerged in the wake of women’s studies, and positing an empowering female future for the genre, I propose that reading and writing romantic fiction is not only personal escapism, but also political activism.

Romance has a feminist past that belies its ostensible frivolity. Romance, as most true romantics know, began in medieval times. The word originally referred to the language romanz, linked to the French, Italian and Spanish languages in which love stories, songs and ballads were written. Stories, poems and songs written in this language were called romances to separate them from more serious literature – a distinction we still have today. Romances were popular and fashionable. Love songs and stories, like those of Lancelot and Guinevere, Tristan and Isolde, were soon on the lips of troubadours and minstrels all over Europe. Romance spread rapidly. It has been called the first form of feminism (Putnam 1970).12

Reid Boyd finishes her paper by waxing poetic about the many joys of romantic love, and of its increasing popularity in academe.

Same as it ever was, the project of modern feminism can be summarized as championing victimhood (damseling), soliciting favors from men and governments (chivalry), and promoting “respectful” relationships by men-toward-women (courtly love).

References:

[1] Christina Hoff-Sommers, How fainting couch feminism threatens freedom, American Enterprise Institute 2015
[2] Naomi Wolf, Fire With Fire: New Female Power, 1993
[3] Rene Denfeld, The New Victorians: A Young Woman’s Challenge to the Old Feminist Order, 1995
[4] Ernest B. Bax, Feminism and Female Suffrage, 1910
[5] Ernest B. Bax, Mr. Belfort Bax Replies to his Feminist Critics, 1908
[6] Naomi Wolf, Fire With Fire: New Female Power, 1993
[7] Emily Esfahani Smith, Let’s Give Chivalry Another Chance, The Atlantic, Dec 10 2012
[8] Ernest B. Bax, Chapter-5 ‘The Chivalry Fake’ in The Fraud of Feminism, 1913
[9] Sandra Alfonsi, Masculine Submission in Troubadour Lyric, 1986
[10] Joseph Campbell, Parzival, the Graal, and Grail Legends, talk at the Ojai Foundation, 1987
[11] Joseph Campbell, The Power of Myth, interview with Bill Moyers, 1988
[12] Elizabeth Reid Boyd, Romancing Feminism: From Women’s Studies to Women’s Fiction, 2014

Damseling, chivalry and courtly love (part one)

This article is the first of a two-part series looking at the roots of damseling, chivalry and courtly love as fundamentals in the gynocentric tradition. Part two will look at damseling, chivalry and courtly love as it appears in contemporary feminism. – PW

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GYNOCENTRISM

The dominant features of gender relations today come from old Europe in the forms of damseling, chivalry and courtly-love. Together they form the customs, in fact the essence, of modern gynocentric culture.

This holy trinity was crafted into a system of deportment by 12th century French and German aristocrats, setting a trend that spread to all the aristocratic courts of Europe. From those lofty parlors it filtered into popular culture, being transported eventually to the new world on the wings of colonial expansion.

The principle modes of transmission were expositions from upper class men and women; troubadour performances; plays; and notably a new genre of literature referred to as romance literature in which knights were celebrated for saving damsels in distress, and male lovers endured tortuous and trial-ridden tests in an attempt to secure a love bond with a beloved lady.

Nine hundred years later and romance novels remain the largest selling literature genre in the world, and we equally see the obsession with damseling and chivalry which dominate our politics, our societies, and our conversations over the dinner table.

In what follows, each of these gynocentric pillars and their historical roots will be summarized, along with references to the biological imperatives that give them their internal drive. Lastly (in part 2) an argument will be made that feminism today is nothing more, and nothing less, than a perpetuation of this medieval triad.

Let’s take a closer look at these three elements.

Damseling

Damseling is a popular shorthand for women’s projection of themselves as damsels in distress, regardless of whether the distress and the reasons for it are real or manufactured.

An excellent overview of damseling and its history was posted on Reddit in 2014 by author LemonMcAlister:

We hear a lot about the “Damsel in Distress” trope and how it is both uncreative and damaging to women as a whole. The idea that a woman needs to be rescued by a valiant hero is held up as a sexist concept created by men who view women merely as a prize to be won.

Would you be surprised if I told you this trope actually has a heavily feminist origin?

In order to explain this, we’ll need to go back in time about 1,000 years. In Medieval Europe, this was a time of rampant violence and wars with no other goal than material gain. Even long before the First Crusade, popular fiction took the form of heroic songs and epic poems much like Beowulf. They were sung in great halls and appealed mainly to a very masculine audience.

One thing many people are surprised to hear is that early legends and stories of King Arthur are exceedingly violent, gory, and action packed. Knights routinely have their head split to the shoulders, warriors are killed on almost every page, and there is even a giant who has his testicles sliced off in a fight.

The common understanding of Arthurian legend, however, is one of chivalry and courtly love. Knights fight for their ladies and for God. Love and romance is considered by most people to be a major part of the Arthurian stories.

The truth, however, is that this emphasis on love and romance, the idea that knights would fight to rescue a lady from a villain, is a later addition and was promoted by someone who can undeniably be called a feminist.

Eleanor of Aquitaine, born somewhere around 1123, was, as Wikipedia calls her, “one of the wealthiest and most powerful women in western Europe during the High Middle Ages”. She is well known for doing many “unlady-like” things such as taking up the cross for the second crusade, recruiting women from her court to accompany her, and personally leading her own army as a feudal lord.

What’s important here is that she is also responsible for the major and dramatic shift in the themes of popular fiction. Chrétien de Troyes, a poet of the late 12th century, is probably the most well-known writer dealing with this new type of Arthurian story. Some of these stories, in fact, were written for Eleanor’s daughter, Marie de Champagne.

Emphasis was no longer placed on Arthur nor did these stories focus on a thoroughly manly knight’s ability to split skulls. Arthur himself is used as a bit of a background decoration and is essentially a kindly old king that rules over his kingdom but doesn’t take much of an active part in the stories.

The focus of the stories was on love, romance, and the concept that chivalry should emphasize a knight’s utter devotion to his lady. Women also became more powerful. Far from being a prize to be won, they often helped their knights in one very important way or another.

In these stories, which are vastly different from earlier popular fiction, the love of a lady was the highest prize a knight could win, short of divine favor.

As society continued to change and we emerged from the dark ages, the stories remained immensely popular. There was no longer a need for savage and brutal warriors who could slaughter legions of people. Society’s focus was on cultural ideals such as courtly love, romance, and the chivalric service of ladies.

My point here is that the original Arthurian stories, and essentially all popular fiction of the time, treated women as nothing more than a means to social, economic, and political advancement. The stories hardly ever included women and those that were present never played a significant role in the narrative.

It wasn’t until Eleanor’s reign, and the influence she had on popular fiction, that we see the development of the “Damsel in Distress” trope. This trope, however, was created because it appealed to women. It was an effort to include women in the enjoyment of popular fiction and marked a major change in society’s values.

No longer were women merely an object, they were the entire motivation. No longer were they seen as merely a means to an end, they were the very focus of the story itself.

The “Damsel in Distress” trope is far from a misogynistic effort to treat women as prizes and is actually a result of the increased power and influence women were gaining during Eleanor’s reign. It has continued to remain a popular story telling device because it appeals to both sexes by presenting an idealized view, both of society and what a hero’s motivation should be.

The hero rescues the woman, placing himself in mortal danger, for love and love alone. Had we remained with the male dominated form of story-telling, the hero would rescue the damsel because marrying her would allow him to muster a larger army with which he could violently murder his chosen enemies. The woman’s desire to be married to the hero would not factor into the equation at all.

Damsels are in distress because there is an extremely high value placed on them and they are, in many ways, the entire motivation for the hero and the story itself. The hero rescues the damsel because he is motivated by love, not by a desire to possess a prize.

The trials he goes through are tests not of his strength and masculinity but of his overpowering love for the damsel.

The damsel is, in other words, far more important than the hero.

As indicated in that summary, the chief goal of damseling is to evoke chivalric behaviors in men. The biological drive underpinning it is our urge to protect and provide for children, behavior which is triggered by juvenile characteristics such as a rounded forehead, large eyes, and most importantly helplessness.

As elaborated in a previous article, women have been taught from generation to generation to mimic juvenile characteristics via the use of makeup and vocal tonations, along with a feigning of distress typical of children — which collectively works to extract utility from men. While women are capable of solving most of their own problems and providing for their own needs and wants, many have cultivated a posture of helplessness,  damseling their way out of doing the dirty, dangerous or stressful work required to achieve those goals.

Why exert yourself when men can be manipulated to do it for you?

Chivalry

Different definitions have been attached to the word chivalry throughout history. To make matters more confusing, encyclopedic overviews tend to blend those different meanings into an ungainly synthesis, making the job of teasing out distinctive meanings more difficult.

While there are differing definitions, the most common use of the term today is the one we need to describe. That job is made easy by modern dictionaries in which chivalry is given two separate and radically different definitions – a contemporary definition and an archaic, largely obsolete one:

► 1. very polite, honorable, and generous behaviour, especially by men towards women
► 2. the system of behaviour followed by knights in the medieval period of history, that put a high value on honour, knightly skill, and martial valor.1

The first is the definition we are concerned with here. To be sure, chivalry has been a woman-centered enterprise for close to a millennium, and early accounts such as that by Walter Scott in the year 1818 render the meaning clear:

“The main ingredient in the spirit of Chivalry, second in force only to the religious zeal of its professors, and frequently predominating over it, was a devotion to the female sex, and particularly to her whom each knight selected as the chief object of his affection, of a nature so extravagant and unbounded as to approach to a sort of idolatry.

“Amid the various duties of knighthood, that of protecting the female sex, respecting their persons, and redressing their wrongs, becoming the champion of their cause, and the chastiser of those by whom they were injured, was represented as one of the principal objects of the institution. Their oath bound the new-made knights to defend the cause of all women without exception ; and the most pressing way of conjuring them to grant a boon was to implore it in the name of God and the ladies. The cause of a distressed lady was, in many instances, preferable to that even of the country to which the knight belonged.

“The defence of the female sex in general, the regard due to their honour, the subservience paid to their commands, the reverent awe and courtesy, which, in their presence, forbear all unseemly words and actions, were so blended with the institution of Chivalry as to form its very essence. But it was not enough that the “very perfect, gentle knight,” should reverence the fair sex in general. It was essential to his character that he should select, as his proper choice, “a lady and a love,” to be the polar star of his thoughts, the mistress of his affections, and the directress of his actions. In her service, he was to observe the duties of loyalty, faith, secrecy, and reverence. Without such an empress of his heart, a knight, in the phrase of the times, was a ship without a rudder, a horse without a bridle, a sword without a hilt ; a being, in short, devoid of that ruling guidance and intelligence, which ought to inspire his bravery, and direct his actions.

Note the references to protecting the female sex and of redressing their wrongs as hallmarks of chivalry, with men going even so far as to believe the cause of a distressed lady is preferable to that of the nation to which he belonged.

But that protection, provision and adoration is only one half the story — the other half being fulfilled by the damsel in distress. The damsel represents the vulnerable and needy child who pulls on parental heartstrings, behavior provoking the parental brain state referred to by neurobiologists. Chivalry is shorthand for the parental brain state by which men are moved to protect, provide for and adore an adult disguised as a child.

Courtly love

Courtly love, which was later called romantic love, is the program of cultivating deference of men toward women. It was born as a twofold movement beginning with a social shaming of men for bad behaviors, followed by a proposal that men could atone for bad behavior by worship of women through a new code of love.

The idea was launched by powerful women of the medieval aristocracy who cited the worst behaviors of the most unruly males and extrapolated those behaviors to the entire gender. Knights were particularly singled out – much like today’s sporting heroes who display some kind of faux pas – and used as examples of distasteful male behavior requiring the remedy of sweeping cultural reform.

During that time of (supposedly) unruly males, uneducated squires were said to ride mangy horses into mess halls, and rude young men diverted eyes from psalters in the very midst of mass. Among the knights and in the atmosphere of tournaments occasional brawls with grisly incidents occurred – a cracked skull, a gouged eye – as the betting progressed and the dice flew. Male attention to clothing and fashion was said to be appalling, with men happy to go about in sheep and fox skins instead of clothes fashioned of rich and precious stuffs, in colours to better suit them in the company of ladies. And perhaps worst of all were their lack of refinement and manners toward women which was considered reprehensible.

The solutions to the ‘male problem’ was posed by the French Countess Marie, daughter of Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine. Historian Amy Kelly tells;

“Marie organized the rabble of soldiers, fighting-cocks, jousters, springers, riding masters, troubadours, Poitevin nobles and debutantes, young chatelaines, adolescent princes, and infant princesses in the great hall of Poitiers. Of this pandemonium the countess fashioned a seemly and elegant society, the fame of which spread to the world. Here was a woman’s assize to draw men from the excitements of the tilt and the hunt, from dice and games, to feminine society, an assize to outlaw boorishness and compel the tribute of adulation to female majesty.”2

Marie was among the first of a long line of reformers to usher in a gynocentrism whose aim was to convince men of their shared flaws and to prescribe romantic love and concomitant worship of females as the remedy. The remedy was referred to as love service.

Love service involved the positioning of women as men’s superiors along with a series of prescribed behaviors for demonstrating the sexual hierarchy in male-female interactions. The meta-rules for those interactions can be found in troubadour poetry and in the book The Art of Courtly Love by Andreas Capellanus, who wrote it under direction from Marie in 1188 AD.

The love service at the core of courtly love replicates feudal relations between vassals or serfs and their overlords. The feudal template was transferred wholesale into love relationships whereby each women came to be approached as a quasi ‘lord’ in each male-female relationship.

Sandra Alfonsi elaborated the feudalistic elements of courtly love in her book Masculine Submission in Troubadour Lyric:

The troubadours lived and functioned within a society based on feudalism. Certain ones were themselves feudal lords; others were liegemen dependent on such lords for their sustinence. The troubadours who were members of the clergy were also actively involved in this feudal society. It is only natural that their literature reflect some traits of the age in which it was created. Scholars soon saw striking parallels between feudalistic practices and certain tenets of Courtly Love. The comparisons lie in certain resemblances shared by vassalage and the courtly “love service.” Fundamental to both was the concept of obedience. As a vassal, the liegeman swore obedience to his lord. As a courtly lover, the poet chose a lady to whom he was required to swear obedience. Humility and obedience were two concepts familiar to medieval man, active components of his Weltanschauung. Critics, such as Erich Kohler, have found them exhibited in both the life and literature of that time.

The entire concept of love-service was patterned after the vassal’s oath to serve his lord with loyalty, tenacity, and courage. These same virtues were demanded of the poet. Like the liegeman vis-a-vis his sovereign, the poet approached his lady with fear and respect. Submitted to her, obedient to her will, he awaited a fief or honor as did the vassal. His compensation took many forms: the pleasure of his lady’s company in her chamber or in the garden; an avowal of her love; a secret meeting; a kiss or even le surplus, complete unity. Like the lord, the woman who was venerated and served was expected to reward her faithful and humble servant.

The similarities between courtly service and vassalage are indeed striking. Although of a more refined character than an ordinary vassal, the poet-lover is portrayed as his lady’s liegeman, involved in the ceremony of homage and pictured at the moment of the immixtio manuum. His reward for faithful service will doubtlessly include the osculum.

The influence of feudalism upon courtly love was, in my opinion, twofold: it provided the poets with a well-organized system of service after which they might pattern their own; it furnished them with a highly developed vocabulary centered around the service owed by a vassal to a lord. Feudalistic vocabulary was comprised of certain basic terminology indicative of the ties which legally bound a man to his lord in times of peace and war.3

Evolutionary Psychologist Don A. Monson paints a similar picture

This configuration of unequal power is the central feature of the poet-lover’s positioning of himself with regard to the love object. Drawing on the stratification and class-consciousness of medieval society, the canso describes primarily in terms of social hierarchy the woman’s psycho-sexual power to determine the outcome of the relationship. Thus the troubadour’s lady is regularly portrayed in terms denoting aristocracy, such as ‘‘noble’’ rica, franca or ‘‘high born’’ de bon aire, de aut paratge, whereas the poet stresses his own subordination, describing himself as ‘‘humble’’ umil, umelian, ‘‘submissive’’ aclin, and ‘‘obedient’’ obedien. The culmination of this tendency is one of the most pervasive images of troubadour poetry, the ‘‘feudal metaphor,’’ which compares the relationship of the lover and his lady to that which obtains between a vassal and his lord.

The poet-lover presents himself to his lady in an attitude of feudal homage omenatge, ‘‘kneeling’’ a/degenolhos with ‘‘hands clasped’’ mans jonchas. He declares himself to be his lady’s ‘‘man’’ ome or ‘‘liege man’’ ome lige and refers to the lady as his ‘‘lord’’ senhor, midons. He asks her to ‘‘retain’’ retener him as her ‘‘servant’’ ser, servidor or to take him into her ‘‘service’’ servizi. According to a military variant of the feudal metaphor, the lover ‘‘surrenders’’ se rendre to the lady, declaring himself ‘‘vanquished’’ vencut or ‘‘conquered’’ conques, and asks for her ‘‘mercy’’ merce.4

As described by Alfonsi and Monson, the demands of courtly love bespeak unbalanced power relationships, ones that engender vulnerability in the male supplicant along with an experience of a fragile pair-bonding that hovers in the realm of tantalizing.

In terms of our biological drives, courtly love captures the imperative for a strong, reliable pair-bonding experience, albeit one that remains maddeningly difficult to gain and maintain in the face of the convoluted conventions of courtly love.

The biological and cultural complexity covered above can be summarised in a few short lines;

Damseling is the cultural codification of neoteny.
Chivalry a cultural codification of the parental brain.
Courtly love is the codification of tantalizing pairbonds.

Part two of this series will look at how this holy trinity reappears in feminist ideology and activism.

References:

[1] Combination of Cambridge and Miriam-Webster dictionary definitions.
[2] Amy Kelly, Eleanor of Aquitaine and Her Courts of Love, Source: Speculum, Vol. 12, No. 1
[3] Sandra Alfonsi, Masculine Submission in Troubadour Lyric, 1986
[4] Don A. Monson, Why is la Belle Dame sans Merci?, Neophilologus 2011; 95: 523.