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Courtly love was a particular ideal and practice during the Middle Ages in Europe, which had its origins in courtly circles of Aquitaine, where William, Duke of Aquitaine, was one of the first troubadour poets, of Provence, where it was known as fin'amor of Champagne and ducal Burgundy. Courtly love was an aspect of a renewed pleasure in the refinements of the better kind of life, a first stirring of neopaganism in the "delightful understanding" or gai saber of Provençal poets, beginning about the time of the First Crusade.
In essence, courtly love was a formalized system of admiration and courtship, modeled after feudal obligations of fealty translated to the part of a "gentle" knight towards an unavailable lady, usually a person married to someone other than the admirer, and generally of higher status. Courtly love was the idea that a noble man would dedicate his life to the love of a lady. Such a love could not exist within marriage, it was believed, but love from afar, but not so distance it could not also include consummation. As the etiquette of courtly love became more complicated, the knight might wear the colors of his lady: blue and green were the colors of faithfulness; green was a sign of unfaithfulness. Salvation, previously found in the hands of the priesthood, now came from the hands of one's lady. In some cases, there were also women troubadours who expressed the same sentiment for men.
The courtly love tradition was non-Christian, providing an alternative to the love of God and the Church, placing salvation in the love of your lady (or man). Marriage had only recently been made a sacrament of the Church, at the Fourth Lateran Council, 1215, and within Christian marriage, the only purpose was procreation with any sex beyond that purpose seen as non-pious. The ideal state of a Christian was celibacy, even in marriage. By the beginning of the 13th century the ideas of courtly tradition were condemned by the church as being heretical. The church channeled many of these energies into the cult of the virgin, it is not coincidence that the cult of the Virgin Mary began in the 12th century as a counter to the secular, courtly and lustful views of women. Francis of Assisi called poverty "his Lady".
Such a courtly love had a civilizing effect on knightly behavior, beginning in the late 11th century; it has been suggested that the prevalence of arranged marriages required other outlets for the expression of more personal occurrences of romantic love. New expressions of highly personal private piety in the 11th century were at the origins of what a modern observer would recognize as a personality, and the vocabulary of piety was also transferred to the conventions of courtly love.
Thus feudalism, piety, and covert neopaganism fused into a new culture, without precedents in Europe, one that was isolated, however, within a few aristocratic courts. Such refined feelings, the readers of Guillaume de Lorris's Roman de la Rose assumed, were not a matter for the peasant or the townsman, whose natures were considered too coarse and who were too busy trying to survive to take part in elaborate courtship rituals. Later, a robust bourgeois "anti-courtly" literature in vernacular languages developed in the 14th century, when many of the new courtly elements, such as the yearnings of romantic love, had in fact permeated the urban middle class.
Ideals of courtly love were expressed in the vernacular court poetry called the romans courtois , some of them set within the cycle of poems celebrating King Arthur's court (Tristan, for example). This was a literature of leisure, directed to a largely female audience for the first time in European history. Eleanor of Aquitaine, brought ideals of courtly love from Aquitaine first to the court of France, then of England, where she was queen to two kings. Her daughter Marie, Countess of Champagne brought courtly behavior to the Count of Champagne's court. There the late 12th-century, Andreas Capellanus wrote the tongue-in-cheek Art of Courtly Love and dedicated to to her, and Chrétien de Troyes introduced in her honor the love of Lancelot for Guinevere, in the romance The Knight of the Cart.
Particular standards of etiquette and custom were attached to courtly love, though these varied somewhat with region and time period. Sometimes the ideal love was chaste or Platonic admiration, with no intimation of actual affairs. In other cases, at least the intention of consummation is expressed, if only to lament the impossibility of the act. This ritual of walking the knife's edge between admiration and consummation is still seen in such Western European social practices as the seating of ladies at table next to gentlemen who are specifically not their husbands. In cultures not much influenced by the courtly love tradition, this would seem to be a scandalous and insulting invitation to disaster.
It was (sometimes hotly) debated whether jealousy had any place in the pageant of courtly love, with proponents of both sides of the issue. In most cases, however, having the object of admiration is seen as raising and ennobling the holder of the passion.
Courtly love was perhaps most commonly expressed in the compositions of the troubadours and poets (later reflected in such forms as the sonnet), though it found expression in such other customs as the crowning of a "Queen of Love and Beauty" at a tournament, or the formal though unofficial "Courts of Love" presided over by prominent nobles, usually women. During later phases of the Middle Ages the practice increasingly became the topic of satire; the second half of the Romance of the Rose, the part written by Jean de Meung, is perhaps the best-known surviving example of parody on the subject.
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