Medieval Poetry

Roman de la Rose 1864 Dante Gabriel Rossetti 1828-1882 Presented by Andrew Bain 1925

Medieval poetry is a type of literature that was inspired by the legends that were popular at the time.   The medieval period was the time of the epic poem.    The Canterbury Tales, The Decameron, and The Romance of the Rose are examples of this poetry.   The Lais of Marie de France was another important example of medieval poetry.    Marie de France is quite unique in being a French woman writing in the Norman Court in England.   

Royals were incredibly influential in the encouragement of medieval poetry.   They were often patrons of specific poets.   Nobles and royals would also inspire the content, and even dictate the content of much of the most important poetry of the medieval period!   

Chretien de Troyes wrote much of his poetry in the court of Marie Countess of Champagne.   Marie was the daughter of  Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine from her first marriage to Louis VII of France.   Eleanor was famous for having a court of love over which she presided.    Her daughter Marie would continue the legacy of courtly love idealization.   The content of the Arthurian Romances by Chretien de Troyes was largely inspired by the ideals laid down by Marie!

Marie de France lived in Norman England and wrote medieval love poetry.   She was one of the first women to be acknowledged as a great poet.    Her takes on the Arthurian legends, and of Queen Guinevere, was very conservative!   She painted her as an evil seductress, whose adultery broke up Camelot.   Christine Pizan was another female French poet of the middle ages.   She wrote the book La Cite des Dames and was highly influential in royal court circles for many generations.

La Roman de la Rose was an epic poem written primarily by two authors.   The first wrote the beginning and he was a member of the circles of courtly love!   The second was the complete opposite, and he wrote the end of the poem as an anti-courtly love satire.    The virtues of courtly love traditions were very often important aspects of medieval literature.    The people reading these works were in fact living at this courts by courtly love traditions.

In 14th century England Geoffrey Chaucer was closely related to the role court.    He in fact was at one point the brother in law of Katherine Swynford.    She was the long time lover of John of Gaunt, and would become his third wife (after the death of his second).    His Canterbury Tales were important works of medieval literature, and continue to be widely studied today!

The Decameron is a series of tales that are interconnected, similarly to The Canterbury Tales, but they were set in Italy during an outbreak of the plague.   These stories were told by this group to distract themselves from the events that were occurring all around them.   The book is still influential today, and even went on to inspire the 2006 film Virgin Territory.

More Italian medieval poetry was written by Dante.    His Divine Comedy is iconic, and widely read today for its importance.   Dante wrote many other works besides this, and he was largely inspired by his love for Beatrice.   This love was never consummated, or in fact acknowledged, as they never really spoke (and married other people).   Her death would leave him heartbroken, and he would use her as a guide through Paradise in the final part of The Divine Comedy.  

After the end of the medieval period, the tenets of courtly love remained popular subjects for poets.   In the Elizabethan era held a great love for the medieval times, and the poetry of that time.    Edmund Spenser would draw heavily on medieval poetry, and courtly love traditions, when he wrote The Faerie Queene.     Centuries later, during the early nineteenth century, John Keats was inspired by these medieval poems also.   He wrote La Belle Dame Sans Merci about a faerie woman who abducts a medieval knight.    This tale is very much in line with courtly love traditions and Celtic traditions.

I hope that you have enjoyed delving into the world of medieval poetry with me!   Let me know some of your thoughts on medieval poetry in the comments below.  

Note on Image: The image at the top of the post is Roman de la Rose by Dante Gabriel Rossetti.   I found the image on

Further Reading/Watching

  • The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer
  • The Decameron by Giovanni Boccaccio
  • La Roman de la Rose by Guillaume de Lorris and Jean de Meun
  • Arthurian Romances by Chretien de Troyes
  • The Divine Comedy by Dante
  • La Cite des Dames by Christine Pizan
  • Lais de Marie de France
  • The Faerie Queene by Edmund Spenser
  • La Belle Dame Sans Merci by John Keats
  • Virgin Territory (2006)