Courtly love


  • Intro

    This illustration accompanies a love poem entitled, ‘The Story of the Rose’ by the French poet Guillaume de Lorris. The poem was composed in the 1200s at the height of the age of chivalry and courtly love. It tells of the Lover’s quest for the Rose, which symbolises his lady’s love. The poem is told as if it were a dream, speaking through the voice of the Lover. Rising one May morning the lover strolls along a riverbank, enjoying the sights and sounds of a new spring. His footsteps take him to a lush orchard enclosed by a high wall. The walled garden belongs to a nobleman called Déduit – the Old French word for pleasure. It is here the Lover must seek the Rose. This version of the poem was written and illuminated by the artist known as The Master of the Prayer Books of c.1500. Enchanting settings, rich pageantry and elaborate costumes are evidence of the lavish life-style of royalty in the late 1400s.


    The term ‘courtly love’ conjures up images of romantic liaisons between knights and ladies, or colourful jousting tournaments overlooked by adoring female spectators. Widely popular in Europe throughout the Middle Ages, courtly love was characterised by a series of stylised rituals between a knight and a married lady of high rank. These idealised customs were based on the traditional codes of conduct associated with knighthood, such as duty, honour, courtesy and bravery. Just as the knight owed obedience and loyalty to his lord, enduring hardship and dangers in his service, so he must show faithful devotion and obedience to his lady, performing heroic deeds in an effort to win her favour. Typically the knight’s love is unrequited, and the real reward for his devoted service is an educational one. These relationships and rituals became a powerful force in shaping the literature of the day, in particular through their significant contribution to the ever popular tales of romance and chivalry.


    Shelfmark: Harley 4425, f.12v

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