Chivalry and Courtly Love
Chivalric or Courtly Love (known in medieval France
as "fine love" or fin amour) originated with the so-called troubadours
of the late eleventh century. Promoting a suave new form of paganism which
they called Gai Saber (literally, "the happy wisdom" or "gay science"),
these colorful figures from the Provence region of southern France effectively
challenged and sought to redefine traditional Christian ideals of love,
marriage, manhood, virtue, and femininity. Under the sponsorship of powerful
nobles like Eleanor of Aquitaine and Marie de Champagne, their influence
gradually spread throughout France and eventually into England and Germany.
By the middle of the 13th century, the troubadour philosophy had become
practically institutionalized throughout the courts of Europe, and "fine
love" had become the basis for a glamorous and exciting new style of life.
What is Courtly Love?
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
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.)
For further information on courtly love, please visit the following
images and information pertaining to Andreas Capellanus's "Rules of Courtly
a glossary of terms on Knighthood and Chivalry