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Marriage madness from the Middle Ages

Posted on December 9, 2013 at 7:07 PM

December 9, 2013

So, here we are, trying to figure out the rules for modern marriage…but where to start? 

Well, before we start making up new rules, let’s take a look at the source of some of the old ones. To do that, we have to go back to the Middle Ages.  Yep. I’m serious.  The Middle Ages.

In the Middle Ages, the ruling classes spent a lot of time “at court,” that is, staying in and around the palace of the king.  And with not a lot to do (especially during the winter), the nobles made up the game of “Courtly Love” to keep themselves amused. 

Now, this game was very elaborate, and had to do with identifying a “beloved” (usually another person’s spouse) to whom to devote oneself in an exaggerated way.  Poems were written, songs were sung, tokens exchanged…however, such relationships were never, EVER to be consummated, as adultery was taken very seriously. 

Of course, a game of such complexity must have rules, so in the late 12th century, Andreas Capellanus drew up a list of the "Rules of Courtly Love.”  Below are a few (I’ve combined some here and there).  The sarcastic comments, are, of course, my own.

  • He who is not jealous cannot love.
  • Jealousy, and therefore love, are increased when one suspects his beloved.
    • You are mine-mine-MINE!   And lack of trust is GOOD for love!

  • A true lover considers nothing good except what he thinks will please his beloved.
    • I simply must have your approval in all things!

  • A lover can never have enough of the solaces of his beloved.
  • A true lover is constantly and without intermission possessed by the thought of his beloved.
    • We should always be together, but if we’re not, you should think about nothing but ME until we’re together again.

  • It is well-known that love is always increasing or decreasing.
    • The love of your beloved can’t be depended upon.

  • A true lover does not desire to embrace in love anyone except his beloved.
    • We can simply turn off our loving sexual selves at inconvenient moments.

  • The easy attainment of love makes it of little value; difficulty of attainment makes it prized.
    • Don’t tell him how you really feel – make him work for it!

  • Every lover regularly turns pale in the presence of his beloved.
  • When a lover suddenly catches sight of his beloved, his heart palpitates.
    • We’ll ALWAYS feel the way we did when we first fell in love.

  • A new love puts to flight an old one.
    • No one can EVER love more than one person at a time.

Even though we can see at a glance how silly and impractical these “rules” are, upon deeper consideration, we can identify the roots of some of the more destructive ideas on which we’ve been trying to build our most important relationships. 

Next post, I’ll talk in more detail about how courtly love has left its mark on our attitudes and expectations about marriage, and what we can do about it.

Coontz, Stephanie (2005) Marriage, a History: How Love Conquered Marriage
Gottman, John (1999) The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work
Graff, E. J. (1999) What is Marriage For?  The Strange Social History of our Most Intimate Institution
Lerner, Harriet (1989) The Dance of Intimacy: A Woman’s Guide to Courageous Acts of Change in Key Relationships
Lerner, Harriet (2001) The Dance of Connection: How to Talk to Someone When You’re Mad, Hurt, Scared, Frustrated, Insulted, Betrayed, or Desperate
Mazur, Ronald (2000) The New Intimacy: Open-Ended Marriage and Alternative Lifestyles
O’Neill, Nena & O’Neill, George (1984, 2000) Open Marriage
Random Facts (website) 63 Interesting Facts About Marriage, retrieved from  http://www.facts.randomhistory.comon October 21, 2013
Real, Terrence (2007) The New Rules of Marriage


Categories: Love, Marriage, Relationships