Courtly Love and Social Institutions

For several thousand years, the world’s wealthy and nobility used
marriage as a contract, a method of binding two families together to
increase power or money.Only in the last century has that sort of
arranged marriage disappeared. During the Middle Ages, arranged marriages
were common in every station of life. From princes to weavers to peasant
farmers, it was the social norm for two families to arrange a match between
their children for the sake of power and wealth.In some cases, these
unions might bring together two powerful estates or kingdoms, while in
other cases, two smaller farms might combine to become a small estate.

This kind of arranged marriage did not always take into account the basic
human need for affection. All people want to be loved on some level,
especially by someone with whom they spend a significant amount of time.

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It is this lack of affection in so many marriages that helped lead to the
era of courtly love and chivalry, the effects of which are still seen in
modern Western culture.

Marriage itself was incredibly important during the Middle Ages for
all social classes for both religious and social reasons.Getting married
was a way to devote yourself to one person for the rest of your life, much
like monks devoted themselves to God.Perhaps this is the reason why
Gratian felt justified in saying, “That no woman is to be compelled to
marry a man Ambrose testifies commenting on the First Epistle to the
Corinthians: ‘Let her marry whom she wills, only in the Lord.’ That is she
shall marry one whom she thinks fit for her, for unwilling marriages
commonly have bad results1.” His main point is that anyone who is forced
into marriage is very likely to be unhappy and the sacrament of marriage is
not meant to be a punishment. Marriage is the holy union between a man and
a woman for the sake of love and having children.However, social
standards required men and women to marry people of a similar station.A
king would never be allowed to marry the daughter of a peasant farmer, and
a common soldier would never dream of asking a duchess to marry him,
regardless of any level of affection between them.

For the most part, marriages were still arranged by parents even
though the idea was looked down upon by the church, however, it wasn’t
unusual for the intended couple to have some say in who they would or would
not marry. In the eyes of many, a marriage couldn’t be seen as valid unless
there was some form of consent or agreement from both of the parties
involved. “For between them there was consent which is the efficient cause
of marriage according to the words of Isidore…2″ For example, a father
could approve of several suitors for his daughter, but she would be allowed
to choose which of them she would marry. Of course, this wasn’t always the
case. There were some instances where children were betrothed at birth to
seal an alliance.

The marriage itself is somewhat difficult to define.During the
Middle Ages, Gratian said, “It should be known that a marriage is begun by
betrothal and completed by intercourse3.”By this, he meant that a
betrothal was the technical beginning of the marriage, however, the
marriage wasn’t entirely valid until it was consummated.There was some
debate over this because many nobles considered a marriage binding as soon
as the betrothal was declared, while others had reasons to withdraw from
marriage contracts and used the absence of sexual intercourse as a reason
to have the marriage annulled. Essentially, marriage was a tool that the
rich and powerful used to make themselves even more so, though the church
did sometimes support those who did not consent to a forced marriage.

From the late twelfth century to the beginning of the thirteenth
century, the idea of courtly love became a standard of behavior for
society, especially among the nobility and wealthy middle class. The image
of knighthood changed entirely with the advent of courtly love and
chivalry.Before the late twelfth century, knights were essentially
mounted soldiers who only retained their status for as long as they had
their weapons4.But, when you think of a knight today, you get the
image of a courageous soldier, fighting for good and protecting the weak
and innocent. The ideas behind several of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales as
well as Thomas Mallory’s le Morte d’Artur – two of


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