Love-in-th-MA-art - 7/23/01
"A Little Bit of Love in the Midde Ages" by Lady Eden Blacksmith.
This article was submitted to me by the author for inclusion in this set
of files, called Stefan's Florilegium.
These files are available on the Internet at:
Copyright to the contents of this file remains with the author.
While the author will likely give permission for this work to be
reprinted in SCA type publications, please check with the author first
or check for any permissions granted at the end of this file.
Mark S. Harris
AKA: Stefan li Rous
stefan at florilegium.org
Previously published in the Renaissance Web Magazine
A Little Bit of Love in the Middle Ages
By Lady Eden Blacksmith
Sweet lover come, renew our lovemaking
Within the garden where the light birds sing,
Until the watcher sound the severing.
Ah God, ah God, the dawn! It comes how soon.
The Middle Ages Volume I
Love: the intangible element was a factor in the middle ages, however its definition by society was defined by the time period. Our forefathers and fore mothers loved well and long..and much poetry and literature is given to the many aspects of loving. Indeed, for many centuries - from the time of the Greeks through the seventeenth century - physicians regularly offered treatment for love-sickness, "the lovers maladye of heroes," which they regarded as both a physical and a mental affliction.
To better understand the supposed relationship between the sexes it is important that you know prior to 1174 women were "You are the devil's gateway...you are the first deserter of the divine law; you are she who persuaded him whom the devil was not valiant enough to attack. You destroyed so easily God's image, man. On account of your desert- that is, death- even the Son of God had to die." Typical themes in medieval writings are: women have unbridled passions, inability to keep secrets, weakness for flattery, greed, extravagant dress, pride, duplicity, and shrewishness. Sex even within marriage is a sin, women are the source of sin and mortality due to Eve. Woman should be punished throughout her life for the failings of Eve. Only slightly tempered by the concept of courtly love.
In 1174, Andreas Capellanus, chaplain to Marie de France, gave the world; "The Art of Courtly Love". It is now believed that he was not trying to write a serious code of conduct; instead he was trying to have a bit of fun. Courtly love required adherence to rules elaborated in the songs of the troubadours between the 11th and the 13th centuries. A nobleman in love with a married woman of equally high or higher birth had to prove his devotion by heroic deeds and amorous writings. Once the lovers had exchanged pledges and consummated their passion, complete secrecy had to be maintained. Because most noble marriages of the time were little more than business contracts, courtly love was a form of sanctioned adultery. Capellanus said: ". . . a certain inborn suffering derived from the sight of and excessive meditation upon the beauty of the opposite sex, which causes each one to wish above all things the embraces of the other and by common desire to carry out all of love's precepts in the other's embrace." The concept of "pure love" which included strongly self-deprecating behavior and servitude by a man for a distant, unattainable woman was a driving force throughout the high period of medieval love literature. From 1100 to 1300 (most intensely in the quarter-centuries before and after 1200), the language of lady love prevailed in the courts of England and Europe. The concept that woman should be admired was vastly different from the misogynist writings that flourished at that time. The sin, guilt and impurities of women were being preached from every pulpit. This new position that a woman was to be worshiped and idolized gave women a new power and a new verison of enslavement. For if in this "game" of love the truth was learned then it was the women that was punished. Her virtue was a great conquest and her value would only last as long as she was prey. If she were to yield and their tryst discovered than she was seen as the weak, wanton creature that the Church said, and the man was viewed with the admiration that any victor would receive.
The Art of Courtly Love had very clear, but conflicting rules: A man who is vexed by too much passion usually does not love, yet A true lover is constantly and without intermission possessed by the thought of his beloved. And Love is always a stranger in the home of avarice (jealousy), yet Jealousy, and therefore love, are increased when one suspects his beloved. There are 31 rules listed in this game of love. It was devised in such a way that almost no man could win if called in to a "Court of Love". However, what was to be a game soon became a societal viewpoint. The role of women and the conceptions of love have been altered ever since.
Another publication can lay some claim to modifying the aspects of love: "Romance of the Rose" (Le Roman de la Rose), a long thirteenth-century French poem, extremely popular and influential in the Middle Ages, was written by two authors. The first part, 4,058 lines by Guillaume de Lorris, is a dream-vision allegory in which an aristocratic young man falls in love with a rosebud symbolizing a lady or her sexual favors. The Lover is aided by a personification called "Fair Welcome" but opposed by other personifications that symbolize the personal and social restraints standing against his advances Fear, Shame, Gossip ("Malebouche" in French; "Wikked Tongue" in a Middle English translation), and "Daunger," our word danger, which, personified as a churl wielding a club, here stands for instinctive female resistance to male sexual desire. The first part was never finished; it breaks off with the rose imprisoned in the castle of Jealousy with the Lover disconsolate on the outside. The poem was taken up by Jean de Meun, an academic at the University of Paris, who continued it for another 17,724 lines, which cover religion, philosophy, history, science, sex, love, marriage, and women. From its teachings women were told: There is also a proper way to weep, but every woman has the skill to weep properly wherever she may be. Even when no one has caused them any trouble or shame or annoyance, they still have tears at the ready: they all weep in whatever they like, and make a habit of it. And we learn that; In short, [men] are all deceitful traitors, ready to indulge their lusts with everyone, and we should deceive them in our turn and not set our hearts upon just one of them. It is a foolish woman who gives her heart in this way: she ought to have several lovers and arrange, if she can, to be so pleasing that she brings great suffering upon all of them. If she has no graces, let her acquire them and always behave more cruelly towards those who will strive all the harder to serve her in order to win her love, while exerting herself to welcome those who do not care about it.
Our ancestors loved a good love story as much as we do. And, no another love story satisfies the quota than that of Abelard and Heloise it contains; passion, forbidden love, forbidden sex, unwed-pregnancy, torture, imprisonment, longing, unrequited love,of resentment and castration. This is a summary of their story; Pierre Abelard (1079-1142) was by all accounts a brilliant scholar and theologian met Heloise (1101-1164) 22 years his junior and soon was smitten with her (Take thou this rose, O rose, Since love's own flower it is, And by that rose Thy lover captive is.. Abelard ) and convinced her uncle Fulbert, a canon of the Cathedral to become her private teacher.
(We were united first in the dwelling that sheltered our love, and then in the hearts that burned with it. Under the pretext of study we spent our hours in the happiness of love, and learning held out to us the secret opportunities that our passion craved. Our speech was more of love than of the books which lay open before us; our kisses far outnumbered our reasoned words. The very sundering of our bodies served but to link our souls closer together; the plentitude of the love which was denied to us inflamed us more than ever. Abelard) Well the uncle found out, than Heloise found out she was pregnant, than Abelard married her, than the uncle found them and brought her back, than she had a boy named Astrolabe, than Abeland and Heloise wanted to have the marriage kept secret, than Abeland and Heloise ran off . Heloise was hid as a nun, the uncle showed up thought she was forced to take the veil and had Abelard castrated. (... for they cut off those parts of my body with which I had done that which was the cause of their sorrow.. Abelard) Than Abelard and Heloise both took holy orders. Their love, far from fading, intensified. Abelard founded a convent. He called it "Consoling Spirit." Later, Heloise became the Abbess. Than Heloise wrote him long love letters and love poems and they were published in the Historia Calamitatum so that all could read them.. These missive of love and longing lasted for years with him saying stop we must not and her writing more , and him writing her to say sweet words and her writing more, than him saying no we must not. (Peace, O my stricken lute! Thy strings are sleeping.., would that my heart could still, Its bitter weeping! Abelard) Upon his death Heloise had Abelard's body brought to the Paraclete, where she was later buried beside him. They lie together still. This medieval soap opera kept upper nobility on the edge of their seats for years. Love in the medieval world was as complex as it is today. Yet, perhaps it was even more so because in a short span of time love was defined by a new set of rules in a game we are still playing.
Copyright 2000 by Eden Blacksmith, 1730 Gates, Kingman, AZ 86401.
Edenblacksmith at hotmail.com. Permission is granted for republication in
SCA-related publications, provided the author is credited and receives a
If this article is reprinted in a publication, I would appreciate a notice in
the publication that you found this article in the Florilegium. I would also
appreciate an email to myself, so that I can track which articles are being
reprinted. Thanks. -Stefan.