Poetry Courtly Love is defined in a set of conventions found in 12th century French poetry.
Poetry Courtly Love drew from the notions of the age of chivalry in Europe. There was a body of so-called rules mainly derived from the works of Andreas Capellanus who wrote The Art of Courtly love.
Generally Poetry Courtly Love expresses the admiration of an aristocratic lover for a chaste but unobtainable lady.
Using some examples, let us examine how these rules were used to develop the Poetry of Courtly Love.
Eliduc is a famous work of literature written by Marie de France. We know from her works that Marie de France was very interested in the themes of marriage
and love, usually from the point of view of the woman.
She believed that True love can exist outside marriage and be rewarded. What is important is the quality of the love - courage, loyalty, truthfulness and unselfishness.
Greed, treachery, selfishness, jealousy and cruelty are unacceptable.
Marie de France is an important figure as she was the first known woman writer in vernacular French. Her view of twelfth century love and marriage was not the
same as those of her male contemporaries. She was known as a stylish and sophisticated poet.
A happily married knight, Eliduc, is slandered to his king; Eliduc leaves for England until court politics simmer down; he volunteers to help a besieged king and
is successful. The king's daughter, Guilliadun, invites him to her quarters to talk;
"She kept stealing looks at him...his face, his body, his every expression...and said to herself how attractive he was, how close to her ideal man. Love fires his arrow, she falls headlong in love." (Taken from Norton Anthology: World Masterpieces, expanded edition, V.1: 1683)
Eliduc also falls in love with her, although he had promised his wife not to look at another woman. The first king regrets Eliduc's departure and asks him to
come back and help him. Eliduc agrees, but promises Guilliadun that he will return on the day she names. She names it and says he must then take her away with him.
(He's never mentioned to her that he is married.)
He returns on the appointed day and they steal away to sea. A storm at sea and a sailor says, "'My lord, it's the
girl you've brought aboard who's going to drown us all. We'll ever reach land. You have a proper wife at home.'"
Guilliadun hears this and faints. She stays in a coma as if dead.
Eliduc brings her body to shore and places her in a chapel near his land where he intends to bury her. Then he goes home to his wife who notices that he's very
The wife has a servant spy on Eliduc and finds out about the chapel. She goes there and realizes the truth about her husband's sadness.
While the wife is watching the seemingly dead Guilliadun, a weasel darts out from beneath the altar and the servant kills it with a stick. Then its weasel mate
discovers it, runs outside and picks a red flower which it puts into the dead weasel's mouth, reviving it. So Eliduc's
wife takes the flower and puts it into Guilliadun's mouth and she revives.
Eliduc's wife consoles and sympathizes with Guilliadun and brings her home to see Eliduc. They are overjoyed to be reunited; the wife takes vows to become a nun, and Eliduc marries Guilliadun. After many happy years, Guilliadun and Eliduc also take
vows and Guilliadun goes to live in the convent with Eliduc's first wife, while he also takes vows and lives as a religious for the rest of his life.
The story of Eliduc actually illustrates the following rules of Andrew the chaplain (Andreas Capellanus)
Rule 1: Marriage is no real excuse for not loving
Rule 3: No one can be bound by a double love
Rule 8: No one should be deprived of love without the very best of reasons
Rule 9: No one can love unless he [or she] is impelled by the persuasion of love
Rule 14: The easy attainment of love makes it of little value; difficulty of attainment makes it prized
Rule 17: A new love puts to flight an old one
Rule 26: Love can deny nothing to love
Rule 31: Nothing forbids one woman being loved by two men or one man by two women
Here is another revealing story which shows us how the rules of the Art of Courtly Love found expression in
the works and lives of the Troubadours.
In this case the real life experience of a troubadour in his dalliance with the object of his affections gave rise to his most famous poetry. This story illustrates rule 14 of Andrews rules:
'The easy attainment of love makes it of little value; difficulty of attainment makes it prized'
Sir Guillaume de Balaun
Sir Guillaume de Balaun was a troubadour who roamed the South of France in the middle ages, going from castle to castle reciting poetry and playing the
At the castle of Javiac he met and fell in love with the beautiful lady of the house Madam Guillelma de Javiac, who after a period of wooing, fell in love with him.
Guillaume had a friend, Sir Pierre de Barjac who travelled with him. He too fell in love with a lady in Javiac, the gracious but temperamental Viernetta.
One day Pierre and Viernetta had a violent quarrel. The lady dismissed him, and he sought out his friend
Guillaume to help heal the breach and get him back in her good graces.
Several weeks later Guillaume worked his magic and Pierre and the lady were soon reconciled. Pierre felt that his love had increased tenfold!- that there was no
stronger love in fact than the love that followed reconciliation. The stronger and longer the disagreement, he told Guillaume, the sweeter the feeling that came with
peace and rapprochement.
As a troubadour, Sir Guillaume prided himself on experiencing all the joys and sorrows of love, fired by Pierre's account he too wanted to know the bliss of
reconciliation after a quarrel. He therefore feigned great anger with Lady Guillelma, stopped sending her love
letters and left the castle abruptly and stayed away.
This drove the young lady wild!
Guillelma sent messengers to Guillaume but he turned the messengers away. He thought all these would make her angry, and force a reconciliation, but in fact his
absence had the opposite effect, as it made Guillelma love him all the more.
Now the lady pursued the knight, something almost unheard of, she sent messengers and love notes of her own and Guillaume did not like this development nor was he any longer sure of his plan or of his lady.
Finally after many months of silence, she gave up and sent no more mesengers, and he began to wonder, was she now angry, perhaps his plan was now working after all? So he decided to wait no more and attempted
He put on his best robe, decked his horse, and choosing a magnificent helmet, rode off to Javiac.
On hearing of his return, the lady Guillelma rushed to him, knelt and begged his forgiveness for whatever slight
had caused his anger.
Imagine his confusion and despair, his plan had failed totally. She was not angry, had never been angry. She was if anything only deeper in love, and he would never
experience the joy of reconciliation after a quarrel.
Still desperate to taste that joy, he decided to drive her away with harsh words and threats.
She left, this time vowing never to see him again. The next morning, the contrite troubadour regretted his actions and rode back to Javiac but the lady would not
receive him and ordered her servants to chase him away. Guillaume fled. Back home he collapsed and wept. He had made a terrible mistake.
Over the next year, unable to see his lady he experienced the absence, that terrible absence that can only inflame love. He sent many letters to his lady,
explaining his actions, seeking her forgiveness.
After a great deal of this, Lady Guillelma, remembering his beautiful songs his handsome figure, and skills in dancing and falconry, began to yearn for him back.
She made him pay penance by removing the nail from the little finger of his right hand, and send it to her along with a poem describing his miseries.
He complied, and finally Guillaume de Balaun was able to taste the ultimate sensation - a reconciliation even
surpassing that of his friend Pierre.
During the period of his heartache, he wrote one of his most beautiful poems "My song ascends for mercy, praying.."
The story of Sir Guillaume de Balaun and his lady reminds me of a quote from the 17th century French courtesan Ninon de Lendos, "Love never dies of
starvation but often of indigestion" I wonder dear reader what do you think?
If you would like to see even more examples of Poetry Courtly Love, Click Here
Click Here for examples of Troubadour Poetry
Click Here For Bernart de Ventadorn Poetry
Click Here For Arnaut Daniel Sample1
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Click Here For Arnaut Daniel Sample3
Click Here For Arnaut Daniel Sample4
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