An Illustrated Guide to Medieval Love
Oh, Valentine’s Day: romance is in the air, passions are running high, the sense of anticipation and excitement is building…but – alas! – you are alone. How do you catch that man/woman/animal of your dreams?
Despair not, oh singletons! The Medieval Manuscripts Blog is coming to your rescue. We have combed our books to compile a handy illustrated guide to love, complete with some do’s and don’ts for both genders on their quest for true love:
1. Ladies: do not befriend men with dismembered arms: they are without chivalry (and probably have ‘wandering hands’ as well).
Detail of a miniature of Imagination showing the Knight a man with dismembered arms, from the ‘Imaginacion de vraye noblesse’, England/Netherlands (Sheen/Bruges), 1496-1497, Royal MS 19 C VIII, f. 32v
2. Gentlemen: do seek out opportunities to defend your lady’s honour, preferably with a violent display of martial skill:
Detail of a miniature of Sir Lancelot fighting Sir Mados to defend the honour of Guinevere, from the ‘Morte Artu’, France (Tournai/Saint-Omer?), c. 1315-1325, Royal MS 14 E III, f. 156v
Extra marks if you present the head of your vanquished opponent as proof of your love.
Detail of a miniature from the ‘Meliadus’, Italy (Naples?), 1352-1362, Add. MS 12228, f. 101r
3. Ladies: do ensure that you go to bed with the right man; beware of shape-shifting wizards in particular.
Detail of a miniature of Nectanebus appearing as a dragon and sleeping with Olympias, from the ‘Roman d’Alexandre’, France (Rouen), 1444-1445, Royal MS 15 E VI, f. 6r
4. Gentlemen: do not go to bed with someone else’s wife!
Detail of a miniature of Mars and Venus being discovered in bed by Vulcan, from the ‘Roman de la Rose’, France (Paris?), c. 1380, Egerton MS 881, f. 126r
5. Ladies: do not go to bed with someone else’s husband!
Detail of a miniature representing ‘Adulterium’ (adultery), from the ‘Omne Bonum’, England (London), c. 1360- c. 1375, Royal MS 6 E VI, f. 61r
6. Gentlemen: do not leave the house without first checking your clothes; wardrobe malfunctions may result from ill-fitting codpieces…
Detail of a miniature of the Lover addressing three women outside the Castle of Love, from ‘Les Demands en Amours’, Netherlands/England? (Bruges/London?), c. 1483-c. 1500, Royal MS 16 F II, f. 188r
7. Ladies: do not encourage the affections of lions; it is not seemly.
Detail of a miniature of Josiane with two lions, from the Taymouth Hours, England? (London?), c. 1325-c. 1350, Yates Thompson MS 13, f. 8v
Detail of a miniature of Joanna of Paris embracing a lion, from the ‘Topographia Hiberniae’ of Gerald of Wales, England (Lincoln?), c. 1196-1223, Royal MS 13 B VIII, f. 19v
8. Gentlemen: do rescue women from attack by wild-men.
Detail of a miniature from the Smithfield Decretals, France (Toulouse?), c. 1300-c. 1340, Royal MS 10 E IV, f. 101r
9. Ladies: do not reject your rescuer in favour of another; you will be eaten by bears.
Detail of a miniature from the Smithfield Decretals, Royal MS 10 E IV, f. 102r
Detail of a miniature from the Smithfield Decretals, Royal MS 10 E IV, f. 106v
10. Gentlemen: do not wear a suggestively shaped sword; it is unlikely to convince a lady of your honourable intentions.
Detail of a miniature from the ‘Omne Bonum’, Royal MS 6 E VII, f. 150r
Happy Valentine's Day!
- James Freeman
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