During this age emerged a class of lyric poets, or troubadours as they become known, whose supreme virtue in their writings was the veneration of women using old Occitan ( Langue d’Oc – a language used in regions of Southern France).** The northern counterpart to a troubadour was a trouvère using their version of Occitan – Langue d’Oil. It was common for a troubadour to only produce his musical poetry and not to perform it himself (although there are many exceptions), his performing counterpart being the jongleur, meaning juggler.
At this time the new knights were only occasionally required to fight and the ladies of the court had time on their hands to wile away an idle hour. Hence there was an audience for a new kind of song, free of the burden of tradition and readily appreciated for its novelty. The troubadours were very dependent on the whims of their masters – one court may heap them with honours, others chase them from their gates, yet certain courts were their havens and the decline of their art is directly connected with the rise and fall of these courts. One of those courts was that of Eleanor of Aquitaine.
(NB. The Troubadours way of life, that being seasoned travellers from court to court, died out with the invasion of the plague in the early 14th century. Travelling musicians were then deemed to be carriers of the deadly disease and entrance into courts was forbidden.)
The courts which flourished under the attentions of the troubadours and its likely followers entered into an era whereby you could love outside the bonds of marriage and within the rules of a code. Such rules were idealised by Andreas Capellanus who served as cleric to Marie, the Countess of Champagne, daughter of Eleanor of Aquitaine.
Courtly Love existed as such:
We have a lover and lady. It is assumed that they were both noble. The love which resulted was not designed to lead to marriage so whether or not they had partners is incidental but it was exclusive within the conventions. In other words, it was highly scorned upon to entertain more than one lover at a time and only in very lax circles was that accepted.
It was not an equal relationship. The beloved was always regarded as a superior being. The lover hopes to win his lady’s favour by noble acts, not necessarily deeds of arms, more by the composition of songs, the cultivation of wit and good manners and paying court.
If a lover was adept at pleasing his lady, she might in due course recognise his suit and grant him some token of favour, perhaps after several years. After another period of waiting she might admit him to more physical joys and it was not unknown for her to surrender herself completely. My guess is, that in most cases, it happened sooner rather than later!
On a higher level, it was the harmony between lover and beloved that was all important. Any lover who rebuked his beloved for not giving him what he desired or who asked things which she should not grant, was indeed a fool. Love had to be reciprocal and freely granted on both sides – a complete contrast to the calculating nature of feudal marriage.
It could also be withdrawn if circumstances changed. In the late 12th century romance of Ille et Galeron, Ille is disfigured in battle and flees from Galeron because he wrongly assumed that she would no longer accept him as her lover. He renounced all hope of consummation – “Since there is never a chance of my seeing her, no wonder I long for her so.”
It was through this turmoil that the lover was supposed to acquire the qualities which brought him nearer to the heights on which his beloved moved. Waiting and delay are a recognised part of Courtly Love.
Courtly Love in society
It must be said that there existed a tension between the lovers and society at large. The Church frowned on such affairs and it can be argued that Courtly Love created its own paradox. In the heart of the lover, two ideas struggle with each other. Should he achieve consummation and thus his own accomplishment diminishing the high worth of the lady he is wooing? Or should he preserve her reputation by foregoing the enjoyment of his love’s favours? Both situations are painful for him. He neither wishes to harm his lady’s honour nor does he wish to completely abandon hope of consummation, the greatest physical gift. It is exactly this ‘neither-nor’ which is the conceptual kernel of Courtly Love. The Church, of course, agreed with this view of keeping one’s love on a higher plane, untouched and forever out of reach, as it suited their beliefs of no consummation outside the marriage.
So, what exactly are the ideals of Courtly Love?
Ideals of Courtly Love
That love means suffering. Before the love becomes equally balanced on both sides (and remember if the lover decides to keep his beloved on a higher plane, it never will), there is no torment greater since the lover is always in fear he may not gain his desire or he is wasting his efforts.
Having gained her love, however, provides very little relief for he is then afraid that what he has acquired may be lost through the efforts of someone else.
Love can only exist between a man and a woman. Between two men or two women, love can find no place. Whatever nature forbids, love is ashamed to accept.
An excess of passion is a bar to love. There are men who are such slaves to passion they cannot be held within the bonds of love. No sooner have they left the arms of one lady than they are warmed within the arms of another. This is lust and has no part.
A lover must appear wise in all respects and restrained in his conduct. He must do nothing disagreeable that may annoy his beloved. If, he should inadvertently do so, let him go straightaway and confess with downcast face and admit his wrong.
If he is with a group of men and should happen upon his beloved in a group of women, he must not try to communicate with her lest some person spying should have the opportunity to spread malicious gossip. Lovers should not even nod to each other unless they are sure that no one is watching.
Every lover should wear things that his beloved like and take reasonable amount of care with his appearance. Not too much, mind you, because excessive care for one’s looks is distasteful.
If a lover is lavish in giving, that will help him retain the love he has acquired.
One who is fitted to be a warrior should see to it that his courage is apparent to everybody.
A lover should always offer his services and obedience freely to every lady. He will overcome pride and be humble. He must remember not to neglect anything that is good manners or that would suggest good breeding.
Love may be indulged in the sweet solaces of the flesh but only in such a manner and in such a number that they may never seem wearisome to be the loved one. Let the lover strive to practice gracefully and mannerly any act or mannerism which he knows to be pleasing to his beloved.
A man should attempt to be constantly in the company of good men and to avoid completely the society of the wicked.
Love decreases when …
Overabundance – too many opportunities of exchanging solaces; too many opportunities to see the love one, too much chance to talk to each other all decreases love.
An uncultured appearance or manner of walking.
There is a loss of property.
If the lover should appear foolish and indiscreet or goes beyond reasonable bounds in his demands.
If he has no regard for her modesty and will not forgive her bashfulness.
If he is cowardly in battle, unrestrained in speech or spoiled by arrogance.
Blasphemy against God, mockery of the Church and a deliberate withholding of charity from the poor.
If he is unfaithful to a friend or brazenly declares one idea while deceitfully concealing another in his heart.
If he piles up more wealth than is proper or if he is too ready to go to law over trifles.
If an old love ends and a new one begins. There can be no duplicity of the heart.
If one becomes incapable of carrying out love’s duties or if he becomes insane or develops sudden timidity.
In all these cases, love flees and becomes hateful.
Next week – The final part – Rules of Courtly Love – all 31 of them!
Eleanor of Aquitaine
Example of a Troubadour’s song with three voices
** Each region in France had their own local dialect but Southern France, parts of Italy, Spain and Monaco, collectively called Occitania, shared a romance language (Latin language) called Occitan. Gillet and Armand are referred to as speaking this Languedoc (langue d’Oc – literally language of Occitania) in ‘The Lily and the Lion’ (chap 9) as they head north. They are discussing the Albrets after dinner at the inn.
‘Oui’ grumbled Armand, ‘he calls them his army of “blood red” but as long as the Prince keeps the Albret coffers lined with gold, they will continue to support him.’ Both men had slipped into the southern dialect of the Langeudoc, keeping their voices low.
By Cathy T