Eleanor of Aquitaine – Harmony and Happiness of Courtly Love

Detail: John Williams Waterhouse,  The Soul of the Rose, 1903
Detail: John Williams Waterhouse, The Soul of the Rose, 1903

If only I could see into the future to know what will really happen – Astrology by John William Waterhouse

Lauded by the nobility and the lyric poets, music became the language of lady love, from the eleventh to the thirteen century, in the courts of England and Europe.

Expressing personal feelings became the province of troubadours; composers and performers of lyrical poetry set to romantic music.

They roved about the countryside visiting castles and their communities to deliver the latest ditties going about in song.

The themes they favoured the most were those of chivalry and courtly love.

Sweet noble heart, pretty lady,
I am wounded by love,
so that I am sad and pensive,
and have no joy or mirth for to you,
my sweet companion,
I have thus given my heart.

Love & Emotion 2During the twelfth century in Europe, advances in philosophy and science began to impose themselves, and the nature of the individual was held up to scrutiny.

An outpouring of intellectual inquiry and discovery took place as Cathedral schools and universities were being established through the powerful Islamic influence on European thought.

Tristan & Isolte, Music by Edmund Blair Leighton

This is also when the classical revival and the all new and exciting literature for leisure appeared.

It was defined by the use of the Latin word Romanz as distinct from what was known as ‘real’ literature, which was ironically written in Latin. With its captivating themes of love, ladies and passion in the courts of Europe it was not long before it became known as romantic literature.

The motto of chivalry is also the motto of wisdom; to serve all, but love only one*

The Arming and Departure of the Knights. Number 2 of the Holy Grail tapestries woven by Morris & Co. 1891-94 for Stanmore Hall - detail

The Arming and Departure of the Knights. Number 2 of the Holy Grail tapestries woven by Morris & Co. 1891-94 for Stanmore Hall – detail

The origins of courtly love can be traced to the court of William IX, Duke of Aquitaine one of the first troubadour poets as well as leaders of the first crusade in 1101.

Born on the wrong side of the blanket, William was the son of his father’s third wife whom the Roman church did not recognize.

An anonymous biography written in the 13th century said of him ‘The Count of Poitiers was one of the most courtly men in the world and one of the greatest deceivers of women. He was a fine knight at arms, liberal in his womanizing, and a fine composer and singer of songs. He travelled much through the world, seducing women’.

Penelope and the Suitors by John William Waterhouse

He was the earliest troubadour, some of whose work still survives as a testimony to his romantic adventures.

He loved scandal and shocking everyone.

However it is said that he was kind and generous. If we were being equally generous, we would say that he shared the love around.

Eleanor of Aquitaine was in her time the most famous woman in the world.

Eleanor-FABShe has been described as having a ‘high spirited nature’ altogether very ‘worldly’ and her outspoken nature and conduct was repeatedly criticized by the Church.

Eleanor had grown up at the court of her father William X Duke of Aquitaine, but she was really a chip off the old block of her grandfather.

The court of Aquitaine was renowned as being at the cutting edge, if you like, of early twelfth century culture.

Her mother Aenor de Rochefoucauld was the daughter of the Vicomtesse de Rouchefoucauld, whose name is recorded as Dangereuse.

Eleanor's-Gift-to-Husband-Crystal-VaseShe married the heir to the throne of France when she was fifteen and the Abbot Suger of The Abbey at St Denis was put in charge of her wedding arrangements.

Her wedding present to Louis was a rock crystal vase (right), which is still on display at the Louvre in Paris. Within days the old king had died and Eleanor had become Queen of France as Louis ascended the throne.

Hers was a marriage of lands, rather than one of minds or hearts.

Eventually after a great deal of heartbreak it was put aside, or annulled reputedly because she only gave her husband two daughters.

She then married , Henry, Count of Anjou and Duke of Normandy and within two years he had become King of the English and she their Queen.

She bore him five sons and three daughters during the term of their tempestuous relationship, as he was a known philanderer.

Tristan and Isolte and the Potion by John William Waterhouse c1916

Tristan and Isolte and the Potion by John William Waterhouse c1916

Eleanor reputedly exerted a great deal of influence on the destiny of her children, including Richard the Lionheart and King John.

Her life has been held up by scholars to much scrutiny and from it we can draw some general conclusions about marriage and motherhood during the Middle Ages and understand what motivated a knight or king’s love for his lady. As a powerful woman, who led a very interesting life, she inspired many stories of courtly love.

During the medieval period the relationship between a knight and his liege lord was important. The knight owed his Lord fealty.

However this in turn meant he also owed service and obedience to his Lord’s lady, who was in complete control of the situation in regard to their relationship.

As many of the marriages of the time were arranged to bring fortunes and land together and were not love matches, this could, and did cause all sorts of dilemmas for the wife especially if the knight was young, handsome, upright, valiant and honourable all of which were noble traits to be admired and cherished.

He in return was to be inspired to do great deeds on her behalf, to win and keep her favour without dishonouring his knightly vows by giving into passion.

Stop, Smell the Roses - John Williams Waterhouse

Stop, Smell the Roses – John Williams Waterhouse

Courtly love was about declarations of service, devotion, and passion and, an emerging sense of the self. It was meant to be ennobling, whether the lady knew about his love for her or loved him in return. The idea was that courtly love improved his character. It was the crucial element integral to the whole tradition.

The courtly love song was sung by the languishing lover to his lovely lady proclaiming that although their love was a secret, because convention required it to be, yet he is content to let her know she is the sole mistress of his heart, and that all his songs are solely for her.

It was the nineteenth century French dramatist, novelist and poet (1802 – 1885) Victor Hugo who said that music expresses that which cannot be put into words and that which cannot remain silent.

Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle, 2010 – 2012

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