A lot of shit got slung at me last week about making comparisons of chivalry being an antiquated social extension of the Feminine Imperative. I’ve written about the concept of chivalry and its impact on the intergender landscape of today, but as I read through certain select comments in Sanitizing the Imperative and after reading the misconception about chivalry on other blogs I felt the idea of chivalry deserved a bit more attention.
Over the course of my travails in the manosphere one common misperception I read a lot coming from well meaning red pill men, as well as the predictable blue pill white knight is this broken and romanticized notion of what chivalry means to them and should mean for everyone else expected to “play by the rules.” I originally touched upon the convenient use the modern Feminine Imperative has made in making appeals to anachronistic idealisms like chivalry and honor in The Honor System. I then revisited this in a bit more detail after the Concordia shipwreck with the women and children first debate even staunch jezebelers couldn’t resist in Chivalry vs. Altruism:
Chivalry is simply one of many ideologies that was subsumed by westernized romanticism. Chivalry also applied toward things such as not hitting a man while he wasn’t looking or attacking a blatantly undefendable, inferior or even a respected foe. It was originally intended as a code of etheics determined by the Roman Catholic church to control the otherwise lawless and violent natures of soldiers and knights who, understandably, had a tendency for brigandism in the middle ages. What passes for most people’s understanding of chivalry is actually a classic interpretation and bastardization of western romanticisim and the ideologies of ‘courtly love’, which ironically enough was also an effort by the women of the period intended to better control the men of the early and high Renaissance. Essentially it amounted to a taming of the over-dominating masculine influence of the time by laying out a system of prescribed appropriate conditions necessary to satisfy a womans access to her intimacy.
You’ll have to forgive me for indulging in a history lesson for today’s post, but it is necessary. What I find most common in men’s interpretation of chivalry is an almost Disneyesque mental return to knightly virtues of the past that only ever existed in films like Excalibur. My first amazement is that concept of romanticized chivalry have endured as long as they have. This is not due to some provable merit, but rather that the expectations of the more useful aspects of chivalry have benefitted the Feminine Imperative for so long that they’ve become ubiquitous expectations of men – even while coexisting beside a feminism that actively derides them.
So bear with me while we return to the foggy days of medieval Western Europe to search for the true roots of chivalry.
Origins of Chivalry
The year is around 1060 and over the last 100 years or so (i.e. the ‘dark ages’) a feudal system of moneyed landowners and their personal militias have made a mess of things. In spite of the best efforts of containment and control by the Holy Roman Empire, constant violence and sporadic wars amongst these small states have led to a breakdown in the fabric of society. Brigandism and outright barbarism are common amongst these militias – what they lacked was a common enemy, and what the church lacked was resources.
The Holy Roman Empire would provide that common enemy in the form of the Muslim (Moors) infidels to the south and a series of bloody crusades ensued. The Moors of course possessed the resources the church was desirous of, but the church lacked a cohesive social / religious order under which to unite the various militias they needed to process their crusades. Thus was born the code of chivalry.
This code appealed well to the martial pride of the evolving noble class, but further cemented the ideology into the commoners by pairing it with the religious doctrine of the era. The code was thus described as the Ten Commandments of chivalry:
- Believe the Church’s teachings and observe all the Church’s directions.
- Defend the Church.
- Respect and defend all weaknesses.
- Love your country.
- Do not recoil before an enemy.
- Show no mercy to the Infidel. Do not hesitate to make war with them.
- Perform all duties that agree with the laws of God.
- Never lie or go back on one’s word.
- Be generous to everyone.
- Always and everywhere be right and good against evil and injustice.
Not a bad code of ethics under which to unite factions who previously had little better to do than smash each other with maces and steal each other’s resources. It’s a difficult task to get a man to die for another man, but give him an ideology, and that he’ll die for.
The chivalric code worked surprisingly well for over three centuries and was instrumental in consolidating most of the countries that evolved into the Western Europe we know today. However, as with most ‘well intentioned’ social contracts, what originated as a simplistic set of absolute rules was progressively distorted by countervailing influences as time, affluence and imperatives shifted and jockeyed for control.
For all of the influence that the church exerted in using chivalry as a social contract, it was primarily a contract played out amongst men. With the notable exceptions of a few select Queens and Jeanne d’Arc, it was only men who had any true social input either publicly or privately during this time. It wasn’t until the mid-thirteenth century that (noble) women would insert their own imperative into the concept of chivalry.
At the time, chivalry was a mans’ club, and unless she was a widow, women were more or less insignificant in the scope of chivalry. A nobleman might take a wife, but rarely were these marriages romantic in nature. Rather they served as political alliances between states (and often consolidating church control) and a man’s romantic and sexual interests were served by mistresses or the spoils of his conquests. In fidelity was expected in noble marriages.
Enter the French noblewomen Eleanor of Aquitaine and Marie de Champagne. Both of these Ladys were instrumental in attaching the concept of courtly love and romance to the chivalric code that we (somewhat) know today. The wealth and affluence that Western Europe enjoyed from the late medieval to the high renaissance provided the perfect environment into which high-born women were feeling more comfortable inserting their imperative.
Both of these noble women had a love for the traveling troubadours of the time, espousing acts of love and devotion as merits for a new aristocracy. Originally courtly love was a much more pagan ideal, but like the church had done centuries before, when ideologically fused to the chivalric code it gradually proved to be an amazingly effective source of social control over men.
In it’s earliest form, courtly love was much more salacious than the socially controlling device it evolved into:
Properly applied, the phrase l’amour courtois identified an extravagantly artificial and stylized relationship–a forbidden affair that was characterized by five main attributes. In essence, the relationship was
- Aristocratic. As its name implies, courtly love was practiced by noble lords and ladies; its proper milieu was the royal palace or court.
- Ritualistic. Couples engaged in a courtly relationship conventionally exchanged gifts and tokens of their affair. The lady was wooed according to elaborate conventions of etiquette (cf. “courtship” and “courtesy”) and was the constant recipient of songs, poems, bouquets, sweet favors, and ceremonial gestures. For all these gentle and painstaking attentions on the part of her lover, she need only return a short hint of approval, a mere shadow of affection. After all, she was the exalted domina–the commanding “mistress” of the affair; he was but her servus–a lowly but faithful servant.
- Secret. Courtly lovers were pledged to strict secrecy. The foundation for their affair–indeed the source of its special aura and electricity–was that the rest of the world (except for a few confidantes or go-betweens) was excluded. In effect, the lovers composed a universe unto themselves–a special world with its own places (e.g., the secret rendezvous), rules, codes, and commandments.
- Adulterous. ”Fine love”–almost by definition–was extramarital. Indeed one of its principle attractions was that it offered an escape from the dull routines and boring confinements of noble marriage (which was typically little more than a political or economic alliance for the purpose of producing royal offspring). The troubadours themselves scoffed at marriage, regarding it as a glorified religious swindle. In its place they exalted their own ideal of a disciplined and decorous carnal relationship whose ultimate objective was not crude physical satisfaction, but a sublime and sensual intimacy.
- Literary. Before it established itself as a popular real-life activity, courtly love first gained attention as a subject and theme in imaginative literature. Ardent knights, that is to say, and their passionately adored ladies were already popular figures in song and fable before they began spawning a host of real-life imitators in the palace halls and boudoirs of medieval Europe. (Note: Even the word “romance”–from Old French romanz–began life as the name for a narrative poem about chivalric heroes. Only later was the term applied to the distinctive love relationship commonly featured in such poems.)
Last week Dalrock had an outstanding summation of romantic love – Feral Love – that got lost amongst his other posts. This is unfortunate because virtually every thing he brings to light here finds its roots in exactly the romanticized courtly love rituals outlined above. What we consider acts of romance today, what we consider our chivalric duties to uphold in their regard, are all the results of a 13th century feminine imperative’s attempts to better effect women’s innate (and socially repressed) hypergamy. When we think of noble acts of self-sacrifice for women this is where the origins are. One of the more cruel acts of devotion a ‘lover’ may ask of her paramours was to bleed themselves for her; capturing the blood in a vessel after slicing his foram and comparing the amount therein.
In the doldrums of a well provided-for existence, women will actively create the elusive indignation they need to feel alive. The women of the early courts were effectively perfecting the art of maintaining a bullpen of beta orbiters willing to address all of her unmet emotionalism while being fucked raw by their badboy knights to sire royal Alpha children when they returned from campaigns. The courtly love practices of the 13th century served the same purpose for women as Facebook does today –attention – balancing the Alpha seed with the beta need.
As I wrote in last week’s installment, while the Feminine Imperative remains the same, its social extensions for exerting itself change with conditions and environment it finds itself in. There’s been some recent discussion in the manosphere that feminism can only exist in an affluent society that provides sufficient internal social controls to protect the extensions of the Feminine Imperative. For instance, while Slut Walks may be encouraged in Sweden, there are very few in Egypt at the moment. One socioeconomic environment supports the expresion of the imperative, the other does not.
The concept of chivalry, in its original, intent was the result of a social control in an otherwise lawless environment. Later, when affluence accumulated and an upper class evolved, so too do the social extensions of the Feminine Imperative.
Fusing the philosophy and rituals of courtly love with the chivalric code was one such extension of the time – and a more enduring one I’ll add. The major failing most White Knights and moralistically leaning red pill men have today is understanding that the modern concept of chivalry, and all their feel-good Arthurian idealism bastardized for the last millennia, sprang from the want of a more exercisable hypergamy for the women of the era.
It should then come as no shock that the old model of romanticized chivalry would conflict with the more overt social extension of today’s feminism. A want for that old, socially coerced, masculine devotion clashes with the ‘do-it-yourself’ feminism of today.
The gynocentric model for conducting relations between the sexes today comes from old Europe in the forms of damsaling, chivalry and courtly-love. The tradition began in 12th century France and Germany and spread rapidly to all the principle courts of Europe. From there it filtered into popular culture, being transported eventually to the new world on the wings of colonial expansionism – to the Americas, India, Australia and so on.
Why is this history important to men? Because it’s a history we continue to enact today, unconsciously, and its consequences for men have far reaching psychological implications.
In the medieval model men offered themselves as vassals to women who took on the status of overlords in sexual relations – this because women were widely viewed as men’s moral superiors. As evinced by the first troubadours, men pledged homage and fealty to women who actively played the part of man’s superior. This feudalistic formula, which I will tentatively label sexual feudalism, is attested by writers from the Middle Ages onward, including by Lucrezia Marinella who in 1600 AD recounted that women of even lower socioeconomic classes were treated as superiors by men who, she recounts, “acted as servants or beasts born to serve them.”
Many female and male writers stated this belief, including Modesta Pozzo who in 1590 wrote, “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.”
And there is much more to this model than men laboring for women’s material benefit. It also includes a belief in women’s corporeal, moral and spiritual superiority, of which we shall say more below.
I came to the phrase sexual feudalism as a shorthand for the sex-relations model of gynocentrism, and have since discovered the phrase used occasionally in literature; here are a few examples carrying the same meaning:
Camille Paglia (1990):
“…a sexual feudalism of master-slave relationships.”
Marjolijn Februari (2011):
“Actually it’s arguing for a dictatorship, the dictatorship of the vagina, a kind of sexual feudalism which you wouldn’t want our international relations to be governed by in the future… those women aren’t the least concerned about war and peace as a matter of principle; all they’re concerned about is securing their own interests.”
Adam Kostakis (2011):
“It would not be inappropriate to call such a system sexual feudalism, and every time I read a feminist article, this is the impression that I get: that they aim to construct a new aristocracy, comprised only of women, while men stand at the gate, till in the fields, fight in their armies, and grovel at their feet for starvation wages. All feminist innovation and legislation creates new rights for women and new duties for men; thus it tends towards the creation of a male underclass, the accomplishment of which will be the first step towards the extermination of men.”
“But what are the women’s rights advocated today? The right to confiscate men’s money, the right to commit parental alienation, the right to commit paternity fraud, the right to equal pay for less work, the right to pay a lower tax rate, the right to mutilate men, the right to confiscate sperm, the right to murder children, the right to not be disagreed with, the right to reproductive choice and the right to make that choice for men as well. In an interesting legal paradox, some have advocated – with success – that women should have the right to not be punished for crimes at all. The eventual outcome of this is a kind of sexual feudalism, where women rule arbitrarily, and men are held in bondage, with fewer rights and far more obligations.”
When did it start?
Below are compiled a series of authoritative quotes on the subject. Each points to evidence of the beginnings of sexual feudalism in early Europe, along with other contributing factors such as veneration of the Virgin Mary and its influence on women’s status.
■ H.J. Chaytor, The Troubadours: “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… 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.”
■ C.G. Crump, Legacy of the Middle Ages: “The Aristocracy and Church developed the doctrine of the superiority of women, that adoration which gathered round both the persons both of the Virgin in heaven and the lady upon earth, and which handed down to the modern world the ideal of chivalry. The cult of the Virgin and the cult of chivalry grew together, and continually reacted upon one another… The cult of the lady was the mundane counterpart of the cult of the Virgin and it was the invention of the medieval aristocracy. In chivalry the romantic worship of a woman was as necessary a quality of the perfect knight as was the worship of God… It is obvious that the theory which regarded the worship of a lady as next to that of God and conceived of her as the mainspring of brave deeds, a creature half romantic, half divine, must have done something to counterbalance the dogma of subjection. The process of placing women upon a pedestal had begun, and whatever we may think of the ultimate value of such an elevation (for few human beings are suited to the part of Stylites, whether ascetic or romantic) it was at least better than placing them, as the Fathers of the Church had inclined to do, in the bottomless pit.”
■ C.S. Lewis, The Allegory of Love: “Everyone has heard of courtly love, and everyone knows it appeared quite suddenly at the end of the eleventh century at Languedoc. The sentiment, of course, is love, but love of a highly specialized sort, whose characteristics may be enumerated as Humility, Courtesy, and the Religion of Love. The lover is always abject. Obedience to his lady’s lightest wish, however whimsical, and silent acquiescence in her rebukes, however unjust, are the only virtues he dares to claim. Here is a service of love closely modelled on the service which a feudal vassal owes to his lord. The lover is the lady’s ‘man’. He addresses her as midons, which etymologically represents not ‘my lady’ but ‘my lord’. The whole attitude has been rightly described as ‘a feudalisation of love’. This solemn amatory ritual is felt to be part and parcel of the courtly life.”
■ Joan Kelly, Did Women have a Renaissance?: Medieval courtly love, closely bound to the dominant values of feudalism and the Church, allowed in a special way for the expression of sexual love by women… if courtly love were to define itself as a noble phenomenon, it had to attribute an essential freedom to the relation between lovers. Hence, it metaphorically extended the social relation of vassalage to the love relationship, a “conceit” that Maurice Valency rightly called “the shaping principle of the whole design” of courtly love… Thus, in Medieval romances, a parley typically followed a declaration of love until love freely proffered was freely returned. A kiss (like the kiss of homage) sealed the pledge, rings were exchanged, and the knight entered the love service of his lady. Representing love along the lines of vassalage had several liberating implications for aristocratic women. Most fundamental, ideas of homage and mutuality entered the notion of heterosexual relations along with the idea of freedom. As symbolized on shields and other illustrations that place the knight in the ritual attitude of commendation, kneeling before his lady with his hands folded between hers, homage signified male service, not domination or subordination of the lady, and it signified fidelity, constancy in that service.”
■ Peter Makin, Provence and Pound: “William IX calls his lady midons, which I have translated as ‘my Lord’. This midons is, as Pound said, ‘inexplicable’: it is used by the troubadours, of their ladies, and in the later troubadours we find it everywhere–Bernart de Ventadorn used it twenty-three times. Its etymology is (?mi-) dominus, ‘my master, lord’, but since it is used only of women – its pronoun is ‘she’ – glossarists have difficulty assigning it a gender. Though Mary Hackett has shown that it was not felt to mean on the primary level ‘my quasi-feudal lord’ by the troubadours who used it, these men knew their Latin and must have been aware of its origins and peculiarity; in fact it was clearly their collective emotions and expectations that drew what amounts to a metaphor from the area of lordship, just as it is the collective metaphor-making process that establishes ‘baby’ as a term for a girlfriend and that creates and transforms language constantly. In the same way, knowing that Dominus was the standard term for God, and that don, ‘lord’, was also used for God, they must also have felt some connection with religious adoration. William IX echoes the scriptures when he says
and every pride obey Midons…
No one can find a finer lady,
nor eyes see, nor mouth speak of…
The incantatory fifth stanza of this song enumerates powers that were evoked every day in the Virgin and the saints. William IX is, metaphorically, his lady’s feudal vassal as well as her worshipper. So that there are three structures in parallel: the feudal, the courtly-love, and the religious; the psychological structure of each followed that of the others, so that it was difficult to think of any of them without transferring the feelings that belonged to the others. The lady was to lover as God to man, and as feudal lord to vassal; and feudal lord to vassal was as God to man. Our socio-economically minded age would say that the forms of feudal society must have shaped relationships in the other two spheres, and it is as likely that aesthetics and ethics moulded economics and vice versa. Of course, courtly love was not ‘religious’ in the sense of being part of any Christian ethic; it was a religion in its psychology. The courtly lover did not think of his lady as the Church thought of her, but as the Church thought of God.”
■ Irving Singer, Love: Courtly and Romatic: “Since the social structure of the Middle Ages was mainly feudal and hierarchical, men were expected to serve their lords while women were required to show fidelity. In courtly love this was transformed into meaning that the lover would serve his lady and that she would be faithful to him. Courtly love is often said to have placed women on a pedestal and to have made men into knights whose heroic lives would henceforth belong to elevated ladies. The idea arises from the fact that men frequently used the language of chivalry to express their servile relationship to whatever woman they loved, and sometimes they described her as a divinity toward which they might aspire but could never hope to equal… that he must prove himself worthy of her and so advance upward, step by step, toward a culminating union at her level; that everything noble and virtuous, everything that makes life worth living, proceeds from women, who are even described as the source of goodness itself. But though the lady now discourses with her lover, the men frequently cast themselves into the typical posture of fin’amors. On their knees, hands clasped, they beg the beloved to accept their love, their life, their service, and to do with them as she pleases.”
■ Gerald A. Bond, A Handbook of the Troubadours “The extent of the penetration of feudal thought into the conception and expression of courtly love has been apparent to all modern investigators: the poet-lover portrays himself as a vassel (om), the lady is treated as a feudal lord and often addressed in masculine form (midons/sidons), and contracts (conven), reward (guizardon), and other aspects of loyal and humble service are constantly under discussion. In a profound sense, courtly love is quintessentially feudal (Riquer 77-96), for it imitates the primary hierarchical principles increasingly employed to control as well as to justify hegemonic desire in the second feudal age.”
■ Sandra R Alfonsi, 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. Her failure to do so was considered a breach of “contract.” Most critics who support the theory that the courtly-love-service was formed by assimilation to the feudal service inherent in vassalage, credit Guillaume IX with its creation. However, the universality of these parallels cannot be doubted:
The posture of the true lover is so familiar that we have come to accept it as the hallmark. A seal attributed to Cononde Bethune represents it perfectly. This depicts in an oval cartouche, an armed knight on his knees before a lady. His body is shrouded in a mail hauberk. His head is completely concealed in his helmet. He wears spurs but no sword. The lady stands at arms length, chastely robed, her regular nonedescript features framed in long braids, presumably blonde, and between her outstretched palms the knight’s hands are placed in the formal gesture of homage. Within the cartouche, in the space above the helmet of the kneeling knight is inscribed a single word: MERCI. 1
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.
Sexual feudalism today
Despite occasional hand-wringing by the media about a decline in chivalric service to women, it appears to be alive and well. Not only are males continuing to go down on one knee to pop the question as dutiful vassals, but sexual feudalism remains a popular staple of romance novels, Disney movies, cinematic blockbusters such as Twilight, and in popular music like Taylor Swift’s Love Story which celebrates courtly love. Men are still willing to die, work, provide for, adore, and pedestalize women, and women are only too happy to be treated to such a dignifying display.
The Rise of Courtly Love: Courtly Love and Cultural Influence
By Brandy Stark
History and origin:
The term amour courtois (courtly love) was given its original definition by Gaston Paris in 1883. In an article on Medieval behaviors, he proposed that the “lover” accepts the independence of his mistress and tries to make himself worthy of her by acting bravely and honorably and by doing whatever deeds she might desire. Sexual satisfaction was not necessarily the goal or even end result, though sexual attraction could be a part of courtly love.
●Given that practices similar to courtly love were already prevalent in the Islamicate world, it is very likely that Islamicate practices influenced the Christian Europeans.
●In 11th-century Spain, a group of wandering poets appeared who would go from court to court, and sometimes travel to Christian courts in southern France.
Courtly love was the study of the bonds of humankind. It brought the elements of theological study into the secular mindset as the emotion of love combined with rational, critical thought. The eleventh century foundations of courtly love were, at first, a conception of love that defined friendship; love was seen as recognizing the virtue in another human being. It was also an ethical behavior, grace, and thought which aimed at the cultivation of virtue in the whole of mankind (Jaeger, 1994).
It found expression through the troubadours such as William IX, Duke of Aquitaine, in the 11th century. Sample of his writing:
chivalry and pride;
and since it pleases God, I accept it all,
that He may keep me by Him.
I enjoin my friends, upon my death,
all to come and do me great honour,
since I have held joy and delight
far and near, and in my abode.
Thus I give up joy and delight,
and squirrel and grey and sable furs.
Similar to a cult of friendship, writings document concern for the wellness of the reputation and standing among women. They also encourage men to forgo arrogance and to continue the study of how to win virtue.
One of its most important contributions was the elevation of the status of women. Eventually, courtly love evolved to the literature of leisure, directed to a largely female audience for the first time in European history.
How it worked: Poets declared themselves the servant/vassal of the lady and addressing her as midons (my lord), thus not revealing her name, and flattering her at the same time. The troubadour’s model of the ideal lady was the wife of his employer or lord, a lady of higher status, usually the rich and powerful female head of the castle. The poet gave voice to the aspirations of the courtier class, for only those who were noble could engage in courtly love (or could be engaged with higher education).
Other behaviors included:
●Worship of the lady from afar
●Declaration of passionate devotion
●Virtuous rejection by the lady
●Renewed wooing with oaths of virtue and eternal fealty
●Moans of approaching death from unsatisfied desire (and other physical manifestations of lovesickness)
●Heroic deeds of valor which win the lady’s heart
●(Literarily speaking): Consummation of the secret love
●(Literarily speaking): Endless adventures and subterfuges avoiding detection
Courtly love saw a woman as an ennobling spiritual and moral force, a view that was in opposition to ecclesiastical sexual attitudes. Rather than being critical of romantic and sexual love as sinful, the poets praised it as the highest good. Marriage had been declared a sacrament of the Church at the Fourth Lateran Council (1215). Within Christian marriage the only purpose of sex was for procreation; the ideal state was celibacy, even in marriage. This may not have been hard to maintain as most marriages were arrainged as part of the business/guild/and feudal system. This, then, allowed a man who was interested in a woman to aspire for her under chaste circumstances, seeking her first for her virtue. She was the unattainable ideal (a role that we also see with the Virgin Mary, who was also heavily promoted at this time).
Some of the finest writing can be found in the old French love lyrics from the early twelfth century. Women were portrayed as teachers of love offering instruction in virtue, and men were their students. The women of these poems taught that a lover must show generosity through acts of charity, particularly to impoverished nobles. He must be humble to all and ready to serve all. He must never speak ill of anyone, but where he sees evil men, he should discreetly reprove their bad behavior. He should never mock someone in distress. He should not be prone to quarrels and arguments, but rather should strive to reconcile disputes and arguments. Lastly, showing the depth of his cultivation, he should moderate his laughter, especially in the presence of women. These poems show the core of courtly learning: humility, generosity, gentleness, deference, and kindness. Virtually none of the lessons would have been out of place n the moral discipline of the schools, as passed from school master to student. The emphasis in these writings remains the aspect of manifesting virtue through behavior in order to make it visible (Jaeger, 1994).
As an example, read: DE ARTE HONESTE AMANDI [The Art of Courtly Love], Book Two: On the Rules of Love By: Andreas Capellanus: The Art of Courtly Love, (btw. 1174-1186) (exerted through the Medieval Sourcebook, url below):
1. Marriage is no real excuse for not loving.
2. He who is not jealous cannot love.
3. No one can be bound by a double love.
4. It is well known that love is always increasing or decreasing.
5. That which a lover takes against his will of his beloved has no relish.
6. Boys do not love until they arrive at the age of maturity.
7. When one lover dies, a widowhood of two years is required of the survivor.
8. No one should be deprived of love without the very best of reasons.
9. No one can love unless he is impelled by the persuasion of love.
10. Love is always a stranger in the home of avarice.
11. It is not proper to love any woman whom one should be ashamed to seek to marry.
12. A true lover does not desire to embrace in love anyone except his beloved.
13. When made public love rarely endures.
14. The easy attainment of love makes it of little value; difficulty of attainment makes it prized.
15. Every lover regularly turns pale in the presence of his beloved.
16. When a lover suddenly catches sight of his beloved his heart palpitates.
17. A new love puts to flight an old one.
18. Good character alone makes any man worthy of love.
19. If love diminishes, it quickly fails and rarely revives.
20. A man in love is always apprehensive.
21. Real jealousy always increases the feeling of love.
22. Jealousy, and therefore love, are increased when one suspects his beloved.
23. He whom the thought of love vexes, eats and sleeps very little.
24. Every act of a lover ends with in the thought of his beloved.
25. A true lover considers nothing good except what he thinks will please his beloved.
26. Love can deny nothing to love.
27. A lover can never have enough of the solaces of his beloved.
28. A slight presumption causes a lover to suspect his beloved.
29. A man who is vexed by too much passion usually does not love.
30. A true lover is constantly and without intermission possessed by the thought of his beloved.
31. Nothing forbids one woman being loved by two men or one man by two women.
◙Delahoyde, M. “Courtly Love” http://www.wsu.edu/~delahoyd/medieval/love.html, as retrieved July 7, 2007.
◙Halsall, P. (1997) “Medieval Sourcebook: Andreas Capellanus: The Art of Courtly Love, (btw. 1174 – 1186)”http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/source/capellanus.html, as retrieved July 7, 2007.
◙Jaeger, S. (1994). The Envy of angels: Cathedral schools and social ideals in Medieval Europe, 950 – 1200. Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press.
◙Schwartz, D. (2002) “Medieval Literature,” http://cla.calpoly.edu/~dschwart/engl203/margery203.htmlas retrieved July 7, 2007.
Editor’s note: Author email for article above could not be located. If the author has any concerns about this reprint please feel free to contact me.
The religion of love
Courtly love was not just a literary convention. It was (at least theoretically) a way of life, designed to create a courtier who was a model of wit, passion, and purity.
The long tradition of medieval courtly love was revitalized in the Renaissance by Baldassare Castiglione (1478-1529), who served at the court of the Duke of Urbino in Italy — a court famed for its support of art and learning. His influential handbook of ideal courtly behaviour, Il Cortegiano (The Courtier) was translated into English by Sir Thomas Hoby, one of several fine English translations which made classical and continental works accessible to readers of English.
The ladder of love
In The Courtier, there is an impassioned discussion of the nature of love, in which one of the characters, Peter Bembo, describes the way that earthly love can become elevated to heavenly love through a platonic process of stages, or steps on a ladder, beginning with the love of an unattainable, virtuous woman, and leading to love of God and all humanity.
In typical Renaissance fashion, Bembo associates these steps with the hierarchy of created nature:
And here after they had laughed a while, M. Peter proceeded. I say therefore that according as it is defined of the wise men of old time, Love is nothing else but a certain coveting to enjoy beauty. . . And because in our soul there be three manner ways to know [perceive], namely, by sense, reason, and understanding; of sense there ariseth appetite or longing, which is common to us with brute beasts; of reason ariseth election or choice, which is proper [appropriate] to man; of understanding, by the which man may be partner with Angels, ariseth will. . . .
Man, of nature endowed with reason, placed (as it were) in the middle between these two extremities, may through his choice–inclining to sense, or reaching to understanding–come nigh to the coveting sometime of the one, sometime of the other part. . .
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.
THE THEORY OF COURTLY LOVE
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
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.