Courtly Love

Eleanor of Aquitaine
The Medieval and Renaissance History Portrait Gallery

The aggressive warrior queen, Eleanor of Acquitaine, is not the most likely candidate for advancing civility in a ruthless era. Yet one of her strongest influences on medieval culture is attributed to her attempt to promote the songs of troubadours, chivalry and courtly love (Weider History Network). Although the idea and practices of courtly love certainly existed before Eleanor’s time, between the years of 1168 and 1173 she served as a catalyst to help bring about a new movement toward courtly love (Weider History Network).

During Medieval times a woman ” is elevated to the position of an ideal, a feminine ‘essence,’ if you will, who serves’ as man’s cause” (Ragland, 5). The idea of courtly love is not based on rational courtship practices, nor does there appear to be any real correlation between marriage and love. According to Jacques Alain Miller, love is the demand for nothing (as quoted by Ragland, 9). While it has been stated that courtly love was a heroic effort to “circumvent a necessary impasse between the sexes” (Ragland, 3), courtly love came to be defined as “a question to which the answers were not apparent” (15) and was driven largely by the fulfilling of “unconscious [and mostly sexual] desires” (16).

In a way, courtly love is a ‘feminist’ practice. According to Ragland, this issue of feminism hedges on “each woman’s grappling with the problem of finding a signifier to valorize her existence as Woman” (Ragland, 9).  In contrast Lacan states in the Ethics of Psychoanalysis that rather than being feminist, courtly love is narcissitic with the “feminine object being voided of any real substance, her real virtues of prudence, wisdom, etc., not being extolled (Lacan 150-151, as quoted by Ragland, 16).

Today it is generally assumed that rules do not exist when it comes to love. While these may not be considered ‘rules’ of  love, here is a list of general guidelines or explanations of courtly love as written by 12th century Frenchman Andreas Capellanus (“Courtly Love”):

  • Marriage is no real excuse for not loving
  • He who is not jealous, cannot love
  • No one can be bound by a double love
  • It is well known that love is always increasing or decreasing
  • That which a lover takes against the will of his beloved has no relish
  • Boys do not love until they arrive at the age of maturity
  • When one lover dies, a widowhood of two years is required of the survivor
  • No one should be deprived of love without the very best of reasons
  • No one can love unless he is impelled by the persuasion of love
  • Love is always a stranger in the home of avarice
  • It is not proper to love any woman whom one would be ashamed to seek to marry
  • A true lover does not desire to embrace in love anyone except his beloved
  • When made public love rarely endures
  • The easy attainment of love makes it of little value; difficulty of attainment makes it prized
  • Every lover regularly turns pale in the presence of his beloved
  • When a lover suddenly catches sight of his beloved, his heart palpitates
  • A new love puts to flight an old one
  • Good character alone makes any man worthy of love
  • If love diminishes, it quickly fails and rarely revives
  • A man in love is always apprehensive
  • Real jealousy always increases the feeling of love
  • Jealousy, and therefore love, are increased when one suspects his beloved
  • He whom the thought of love vexes eats and sleeps very little
  • Every act of a lover ends in the thought of his beloved
  • A true lover considers nothing good except what he thinks will please his beloved
  • Love can deny nothing to love
  • A lover can never have enough of the s  <3olaces of his beloved
  • A slight presumption causes a lover to suspect his beloved
  • A man who is vexed by too much passion usually does not love
  • A true lover is constantly and without intermission possessed by the thought of his beloved
  • Nothing forbids one woman being loved by two men or one man by two women


Works Cited:

Beard, Frank. Bible Symbols or The Bible in Pictures (London: Hertel, Jenkins & Co., 1904) 81. Web. 9 April 2012.

Ragland, Ellie. “Psychoanalysis and Courtly Love.” Aurthuriana, Vol. 5, No.1. Scriptorium Press: 1995. pp. 1-20. 9 April 2012. .

Weider History Network “Biography: Eleanor of Aquitaine.”HistoryNet. 9 April 2012. Web.

“Courtly Love” The Middle Ages Website. 9 April 2012.

“Eleanor of Aquitaine.” Queens of England, 1894. The Medieval and Renaissance History Portrait Gallery. Web. 9 April 2012.

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Filed under Final Projects -- Cohort II

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