Friday, 29 March 2013

True Love in the Medieval Age

It's hard, sometimes, to remember that love ever existed in Medieval times. Most people are no strangers to the idea that arranged marriages were a common occurrence  During my research, frequent references are made to the fact that noblemen and women looked at marriage as more of a business arrangement than anything to do with love. If you were a peasant, you had certain freedoms that noble folk didn't but you were still very much limited in your choices and in such nuclear communities, your chances of finding that one special person would probably have been relatively low. Violence within marriages was also common so if you had a husband that merely tolerated you, then you could probably consider yourself lucky.

However, it was not all doom and gloom. Romantic soul that I am, I love it when I come across a tale of love. Though they are few and far between, we have to consider that there were probably many more love matches than we have record of. Women had few ways of voicing themselves and, poems of chivalry aside, real love was something rarely written of.

Christine de Pizan is a relatively well know feminist and is a fascinating woman. Though still very much a product of her time, she challenged the stereotypes of the time. And as a poet in the late medieval age, she was very highly regarded.

While her surprisingly modern views are absolutely fascinating (and I hope to touch on them at some point) what first drew me to researching her was how she talked about her marriage.

Marriage is a sweet thing,

I can prove it by my own example,

God indeed gave to me 

A good and sensible husband.
Thank God for being willing
To save him for me, for I have truly
Experienced his great goodness: 
Indeed the sweet heart loves me well.

The first night of our marriage,

I could already feel

His great goodness, for he never did to me

Any outrage which would have harmed me,
But, before it was time to get up,
He kissed me, I think, one hundred times,
Without asking for any other base reward:
Indeed the sweet heart loves me well.

And he said, with such tender words:

"God made me live for you,

Sweet friend, and I think that he had me raised

For your personal use."
He did not stop raving like that
The whole night,
Without being any more immoderate:
Indeed the sweet heart loves me well.

Prince, he makes me mad for love,

When he says that he is all mine;

He will make me die of sweetness;

Indeed the sweetheart loves me well.

Christine was married at the tender of age of 15 to Etienne du Castel who was ten years her senior and she talks of him as a kind and understanding man when it came to their first night together. He also encouraged her to write, though she did not pursue poetry until after his death ten years later. His death greatly grieved her and she threw much of her grief into her work. Without a doubt, theirs was was a love match.

Another story that fascinated me and challenged our modern-day view of medieval marriage was the tale of Margery Paston. The daughter of a wealthy family, she secretly became engaged to the estate bailiff in 1469. Her family were deeply shocked  and we know of her mother's disapproval of this match from a letter she wrote to Margery's brother. Margery reportedly very boldly stated her intention to marry Richard and her mother threatened to kick her out! Obviously a strong-willed woman, Margery stated her intention once more and said 'if these words did not make it final then she would make it quite clear before she left.'

Margery did indeed marry Richard and the family found that they lost money without Richard's accounting skills do they were forced to accept the marriage and reinstate Richard.

So there we go! Love did exist, fiery females held their own, and people did marry the one they loved in spite of family pressures. With this in mind, are medieval romances that far fetched? Well, maybe just a little, but these moments did exist and still do. Some lucky men and women truly had a happy ending and these old tales of love will forever stick with me and continue to feed my romantic soul.

1 comment:

  1. WOW... I am no history buff, but romance in history always grabs my attention (and my heart). What amazing stories. With decades of medieval romance novels, it is true that today's reader wouldn't think true love didn't exist. Your post shows that it didn't always, but there was obvious proof that it did, in fact, happen. Beautiful post! Thank you for sharing. The poem was beautiful!