THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Medieval manuscripts blog

14 February 2014

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).

Royal MS 19 C VIII f. 32v E124202a
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:

Royal_ms_14_e_iii_f156v
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.

Add_ms_12228_f101r
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.

Royal_ms_15_e_vi_f006r_detail
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!

Egerton MS 881, f. 141v K061043
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!

Royal MS 6 E VI f. 61r E108627
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…

Royal_ms_16_f_ii_f188r_detail
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.

Yates_thompson_ms_13_f008v_detail
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

Royal_ms_13_b_viii_f019v_detail
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.

Royal_ms_10_e_iv_f101r_detail
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.

Royal_ms_10_e_iv_f102r_detail
Detail of a miniature from the Smithfield Decretals,
Royal MS 10 E IV, f. 102r

Royal_ms_10_e_iv_f106v_detail
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.

Royal MS 6 E VIII f. 150r K028631
Detail of a miniature from the ‘Omne Bonum’,
Royal MS 6 E VII, f. 150r

Happy Valentine's Day!

 - James Freeman

The Medieval Manuscripts Blog is delighted to be shortlisted for the National UK Blog Awards (Arts & Culture category). For more information about the nomination, see the Awards website.

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