Monday, February 22, 2010

A Little Medieval Lovin'

by Amanda Forester

“Love and marriage, love and marriage, go together like a horse and carriage…”

Ah the truth of that classic song is undeniable. What could be more natural than marrying for love? Well, in medieval times they would find this sentiment quite odd. Marriages, particularly with those of the upper classes, were arranged based on wealth, inheritance, family status, and political ambitions. The feelings of the persons involved were not a consideration. Political alliances were often sealed with an arranged marriage. Can you imagine President Obama offering up one of his daughters to seal a trade agreement? Yet in medieval times, this was a common occurrence.

Marriages typically occurred when the individuals were quite young. Children may even have been wed if it meant sealing an important alliance. For example, in accordance with the Treaty of Northampton in which England recognized the sovereignty of Scotland with Robert the Bruce as their king, Robert’s son David, and the King of England’s daughter Joan were married in 1328. Joan was seven and David was just four years old at the time of their marriage.

So where did this leave love in medieval society? Enter the creation of “courtly love.” In its romanticized ideal, courtly love ennobled a knight to seek his lady’s favor by being honorable, brave, courteous, and charming. He would “court” her, proving the full extent of his love. In this age of chivalry, courtly love was seen as love for its own sake, without regard to family or fortune.

Here’s where it gets interesting. Since love was theoretically pure, untainted by external demands, it could clearly not exist between married partners, since marriage was essentially a business transaction. Thus, true love could only exist between partners who were NOT married to each other. And since essentially all ladies were married, this meant a romance between a knight and a lady married to someone else. In fact, the illicit nature of the relationship was seen as fundamental to the allure.

The evidence of these beliefs is seen in the love poetry of the time. This love poetry was typically written in aristocratic courts, under the patronage of a noble lady. Andreas Capellanus wrote De Amore (Concerning Love) in 1175 for Countess Marie de Champagne, who theoretically held “courts of love” in which she tried cases of amore. In one story, a knight pursues a married lady, requesting that she offer him her charms. She refuses saying:

“I have a husband renowned for his universal nobility, civility, and moral worth, and it would be wicked to pollute his bed or to be joined in any man’s embraces. For I know that he loves me with all heart’s affection and I am bound to him with all my heart’s devotion.”

Clearly a case of true love – right? Not according to Capellanus. The knight in this story refutes her claim that she is in love with her husband, saying:
“It is clearly known that love cannot claim a place between husband and wife. Although they may be united in great and boundless affection, their feelings cannot attain the status of love because they cannot be gathered under the heading of any true definition of love.”

The knight goes on to claim that love must arise from the passionate desire to have what is not allowed, the allure of forbidden fruit. “Love is nothing other than an uncontrolled desire to obtain the sensual gratification of a stealthy and secret embrace.”

In this story, the knight and lady agree to arbitration from the court of the Countess de Champagne. Shockingly, the knight’s case is upheld by this fictional court, declaring that since no love is possible in a marriage, the lady is free to accept the errant knight as her lover.

In contrast to the cultural beliefs about love at the time, my hero and heroine side with the lady in the above story, experiencing a powerful bond of love - even within marriage! Oh, what rebels! If you’d like to learn more about these rule-breaking lovebirds, check out the book trailers for my debut book, THE HIGHLANDER'S SWORD. Cast your vote for which trailer you like best and you’ll be entered into a drawing to win a free book!

1. Capellanus, NF. Courtly Love. Found in: Canton. The Medieval Reader. HarperPerennial, New York, 1995.
2. Tuchman, BW. A Distant Mirror: the Calamitous 14th Century. Ballantine Books, New York, 1978.



  1. I love medieval worlds, Amanda! Great post, lots of fun! I read once a talk between a married countess and a knight about courtly love at a party her husband was giving and it was so much fun. So formal, but they were talking about which part of a woman they preferred, the upper, or the lower and in such a way that both sounded completely chivalrous. LOL! The scribe wrote it down for posterity sake.

  2. Interesting post. It makes me wonder how one these "courts" would have judged Lancelot and Guinevere.

  3. Amanda, I love your take on history! You find all the fun parts! I've enjoyed your blog posts, too. Can't wait to get my copy of The Highlander's Sword!

  4. No wonder marriage got such a bad rap! This explains so much...
    Great post, Amanda!

  5. gotta shake your head at some of the beliefs held back then...

    very interesting Amanda!

  6. Whoa! That is bizarre. I knew some of the strange beliefs of medieval times but did not think it got quite that regimented. And here I thought the Regency was a tad harsh in matters of love! Yikes!! It sure must make writing a romance novel in that era extremely difficult, which is probably why it isn't too popular of an time period for romance novels. Kudos, Amanda, for cleverly taking it on! Now I am VERY intrigued!

    Thanks for a great post. I LOVE these history lessons, naturally. LOL!

  7. See, this is what I love about this blog -- so much interesting info!

    I enjoyed the book trailers, especially the first (the funny one). "For pity's sake, stop with the longing glances and bed her already." Love it!


  8. The serious trailer peeked my interest but the funny one got me to buy the book when it comes out. Great blog too, very interesting! It's too bad how greed, it's the only word I can come up with, tarnishes the marriage between two people. I can't imagine having sex with someone who is my 'husband' because of land or money or power. I wonder if the rich still look at marriage like that, or are they all like Paris Hilton, anybody and everybody?

  9. I knew some of this, but certainly learned something new today!


  10. How true, Amanda. Marriages were business deals and the bartering goods were the offspring.

    There are instances of love between marriage mates, but of course the allure of courtly love addressed the business of marriage not the possibility of love within that business arrangement. They were a wild group back then, lol!

    Be sure to stop by Over Coffee, where your review is up and you have comments.

  11. Hi everyone! Isn't the medieval period odd? Though I suppose if I had been given in marriage at age 13 to someone three times my age, I wouldn't exactly be looking for love there either. Of course, that would never happen to my heroines!


  12. Hi Sia!

    Thanks for your wonderful comments! I've tried joining in the conversation on your blog, but I can't get my comment to post - wah! The computer gremlins are after me today.

    But everyone - go check out her blog - I love the pic of the Highlander (and the review of my book is pretty cool too!)


  13. What a fun adventure into medieval society! Sounds like a wonderful time to research. So many rules and odd beliefs. Ha! Like the bathing thing. No thanks!

    Eliza Knight once did a post on cleanliness back then and it was a hoot! She said if our characters were true to the time, they'd be stinky and hairy! Too funny!

    I'm going to go check out your trailers. What a fun way to pass an afternoon since *sigh* my daughter is objecting very loudly to napping. :)

  14. GREAT post, Amanda!

    Thanx for sharing so really interesting historical info! The history geek that I am, I just love learning this stuff! But would I ever wanna live that way? NO WAY!!!


  15. If you think the marriage customs were bad, just consider the dental care - Yikes! I dream of medieval knights, but I'm with you Aunty Cindy - wouldn't want to live there!

  16. Hi Amanda,
    Just wanted to stop by and say congrats on a book well done. I absolutely loved it and will be waiting unpatiently for your next book.

    To all of you who haven't had the pleasure yet because you're waiting for the release, let's just say you're in for a delicious surprise.

    A quick Hi to all of you that know me. big waves
    Yankee Romance Reviewers

  17. It really is amazing how definitions of love change over the ages. Even today I think you would have trouble getting two people to agree on any single explanation of what constitutes "True Love".

    But then - "How many angels could dance on the head of a pin" ?

    Some questions just don't have answers !


    buddytho {at} gmail DOT com

  18. Hi Terra! Hi Carol!

    I'm so glad, Terra, that you liked my debut! Working hard on writing more.


  19. Very cool post--I think everyone has already said it, but I had no idea things were so insanely regimented, even when it came to courtly love! I'm glad things have changed :)

  20. Love the medieval time period, Amanda. A little late here, but wanted to let you know that I enjoyed your post.