Courtly Love

La Belle Dame Sans Merci by Walter Crane

The dynamics of courtly love, and the so called games of courtly love were very specific.    The ideation of courtly ideals was incredibly popular throughout Europe in the medieval period.    This usage of courtly love ideals carried over into the Tudor age.    Anne Boleyn, for example, was well versed in the art of courtly love.    She read many of the great medieval works, and lived at the court of France before returning to England.

This learning is part of what made her so appealing to the men at court.   She knew how to tease and flirt, while still behaving in an appropriate way.   Henry VIII was attracted to her for her wit and ability to flirt and dance!    She was intelligent and fashionable, and very able to conduct herself in court events.    It is often overlooked that Anne Boleyn was talented at the games of courtly love, since we all look at her marriage to Henry VIII alone!   Anne would have been familiar with many works of medieval poetry given her time spent at Margaret of Austria’s court.   

She would have grown up reading works like Christine Pizan’s La Cite Des Dames, La Roman de la Rose, The Art of Courtly Love by Andreas Capellanus, and Arthurian Romances by Chretien de Troyes!   Within these titles she would learn how to comport herself among royals.   These skills were honed at the French court!   The skill of courtly love Anne Boleyn had would show itself very useful with her relationship with Henry VIII, and the competition between Henry and Thomas Wyatt for her affections.    She handled this competition in the way that was ideal in the rules of courtly love, and assured the king that Wyatt did not have a place in her heart!

Earlier queens and members of courts would likewise have known the utility of courtly love games.   Elizabeth Woodville would have been very familiar with the same books that Anne Boleyn was.    She had access to an extensive library thanks to her mother’s former position of Duchess of Bedford!   Elizabeth knew exactly how to comport herself as the ideal late medieval queen, but also how to be a true and passionate lover to her husband!   The story of Elizabeth Woodville and Edward IV is one of the greatest royal romances history has been known.    They found true love and sexual satisfaction together, and got married after a whirlwind romance.

Although Edward had many mistresses, his heart only ever belonged to Elizabeth!   They would have a total of ten children together.   The knowledge of courtly love precepts made the court of England a place where courtiers could feel like they were living in a fairytale!

The earliest queen incredibly associated with courtly love was Eleanor of Aquitaine.    She had a love court in the high middle ages, and truly believed in the tenets of traditional courtly love.   It is believed that Andreas Capellanus used her court as the proto-type for his ideals of courtly love.   The book was after all written the court of her daughter Marie, Duchess of Champagne!

According to The Art of Courtly Love by Andreas Capellanus the rules of courtly love are as follows:

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

I have directly quoted from The Art of Courtly Love as translated by John James Parry!   I hope that you learned a bit about the tenets of courtly love in this post.   Let me know your thoughts on courtly love in the comments below!

Note on Image: The image at the top of the post is La Belle Dame Sans Merci by Walter Crane.   I found the image on

Further Reading

  • The Art of Courtly Love by Andreas Capellanus
  • The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn by Eric Ives
  • Elizabeth: England’s Slandered Queen by Arlene Okerlund
  • Eleanor of Aquitaine by Alison Weir
  • Arthurian Romances by Chretien de Troyes