Forget-me-not and courtly love.

L0055259 Platearius, Matthaeus Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images images@wellcome.ac.uk http://wellcomeimages.org Western Manuscript 626 Platearius, Circa instans seu de medicamentis simplicibus …; circa 1480 to 1500 1480 – 1500 Platearius, Matthaeus (d. 1161) Published: – Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

Myosotis is part of the borage family and there are various folk lore based stories for it’s name. One of them is based on courtly love. A knight was walking with his lady beside a river. Obviously when one goes courting it is essential to wear full armour – in this case the knight was very chivalrously carrying the lady’s flowers when he slipped and tumbled into the raging current – as he was swept away he threw her flowers to her crying “Forget me not!” And there you have it!

Courtly love is of course the medieval form of ritualised love expressed by a knight for a married lady who is outside his reach – so duty, honour, devotion and courtesy were all important as they were part of the chivalric code. Ideally a knight’s love should be unrequited. Lancelot and Guinevere became very popular at this time. For a more in-depth article about the literature of courtly love follow the link to the British Library:

https://www.bl.uk/medieval-literature/articles/love-and-chivalry-in-the-middle-ages

An illustration from Anne of Brittany’s book of hours. Grandes Heures d’Anne de Bretagne. Type : manuscrit Langue : Latin Format : 238 ff. – 300 × 190 mm. – Reliure galuchat noir datée de 1684, fermoirs métalliques XVIIe s. au chiffre d’Anne de Bretagne, gardes pap. dominoté, tranches dorées Droits : domaine public Identifiant : ark:/12148/btv1b52500984v



By 1190 the monks of Glastonbury had cashed in on the popular stories of the knights of the Round Table with the discovery of the graves of King Arthur and his queen.

Courtly love became the rage in the twelfth century at the point where tournaments also became the height of fashion. The use of courtly love as a motif in England grew when Eleanor of Aquitaine became queen. It was William IX of Aquitaine (Eleanor’s grandfather) who made it fashionable in 1101. Aquitainean troubadours carried songs of romance around Europe. It should be noted that William’s love was not unrequited – he appears to have been something of a serial seducer.

Henry of Bolingbroke adopted the forget-me-not as an emblem during his exile in 1398 when Richard II banished him from England for ten years. When his father John of Gaunt died the following year Richard turned the sentence into banishment for life – setting in motion the events that led to his usurpation.

Anyway, back to the forget-me-not, in medieval times if you got bitten by a dog or a snake you might be treated with forget-me-not. Gerard called it scorpion grass named due to the shape made by the curling bract of flowers.

Phillips, Stuart. (2012) An Encyclopaedia of Plants in Myth, Legend, Magic and Lore. London: Robert Hale

Swabey F. (2004) Eleanor of Aquitaine, Courtly Love and the Troubadours

Medieval gardens

I spent much of today foraging for stones to adorn my pond. It is frowned upon, not to mention probably destabilising, to remove capping stones from nearby walls – even your own walls- to turn them into lovely big flat pond topping stones…so I shall have to wait until a) I can get on to a well known builder’s website without having to queue virtually for hours or b) collect them myself when this is all over – which ever comes first. Or c) start a quarry in the field on the other side of the stone wall which I have definitely not disturbed in any way, shape or form.

But back to history. Did you know that in 800 AD (ish) Charlemagne drew up a list of plants that should be grown in every town? He required 73 herbs to be grown as well as roses and lilies. The list together with the other twenty or so horticultural requirements can be found in The Capitulary of Charlemagne. Capitulary is word I’m likely to misspell which means exactly the same as charter. As well as the lilies and the roses he also identified flag iris (soon to be found growing near my pond despite the risk of the roots puncturing the liner.) He listed medicinal herbs, fruit and nut trees; vegetables; salads and teasels – for combing wool as well as madder for dyeing it.

Unsurprisingly Charlemagne’s list is an important one in our understanding of medieval gardening. Floridus writing in the eleventh century also gives some insight and then there’re wonderful manuscript illustrations depicting all sorts of garden flowers. What is interesting is that many of them were there simply because they were lovely. By the beginning of the twelfth century gardens were beginning to be advocated as a backdrop necessary for the fashion of courtly love. Clearly the Romans had gardens and monastic houses required gardens for physic and for the monks to have a plentiful supply of food. The garden as a statement of courtly love was something very different.

On one hand an enclosed medieval garden may have afforded the kind of privacy that was difficult to find within a busy castle, not to mention making a statement about the wealth of the aforementioned castle owner. The concept of privacy and gardens very naturally leads to thoughts of Adam and Eve and associated sinfulness – it is possibly not surprising that the garden saw the introduction of seats for canoodling at this point in the form of raised turf hillocks – preferably studded with pretty flowers. And before we get too carried away with the image, the whole concept of courtly love was that the lady was unattainable – so whilst temptation might be present vis a vis privacy and comfy lawn hillocks, a knight and his lady simply do not demean themselves with comedy of the Carry On kind. Carnal desire is renounced in order to find God – essentially humans are part of the natural cycle but can rise above it. The garden became part of a larger scheme – of the kind with which art historians are familiar. The symbolism of the garden in art became the rationale for actual gardening if you follow Barnett’s hypothesis.

By the thirteenth century there was even a manual that covered raised turf hillocks:

Between the level turf and the herbs let there be a higher piece of turf made in the fashion of a seat, suitable for flowers and amenities; the grass in the suns path should be planted with trees or vines, whose branches will protect the turf with shade and cast a pleasant refreshing shadow.

Piero de’ Crescenzi, Liber ruralium commodorum (1305-09)

And there are certainly a great many turf seats depicted in medieval art – either being occupied by lovers or the Virgin Mary. The Virgin Mary is sometimes depicted as hortus conclusus – i.e. seated in an enclosed garden metaphorically being an enclosed garden, an allusion taken from the Song of Solomon in the psalms. It was another way of illuminating her purity. She is able to be in THE enclosed garden – Eden- because she is without sin. I’m not sure I’ve explained it very well but I’m sure that you get the gist.

Anyway the concept of the raised turf bench remained a popular one throughout the medieval period.

I shall content myself with my old wooden bench which is more than adequate for sitting in the sun with a cup of tea whilst surveying my increasingly manicured garden…incidentally how long before a frog and a dragonfly arrive to take up residence?

Innes, Miranda & Perry, Clay. Medieval Flowers

Barnett, Rod. “Serpent of Pleasure: Emergence and Difference in the Medieval Garden of Love.” Landscape Journal, vol. 28, no. 2, 2009, pp. 137–150. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/43323842. Accessed 22 Apr. 2020.

Medieval marriage II -adultery.

Public punishments.jpgMy wider reading seems to be taking a turn for the dramatic.  I am working my way steadily through Stolen Women in Medieval England: Rape, Abduction and Adultery, 1100-1500 by Caroline Dunn.  It’s a bit of a break from John of Gaunt’s entourage and its certainly eyebrow raising.  Dunn uses the example of  Richard Mareschal to demonstrate that medieval common law took a dim view of adultery.  He was charged with the abduction of Stephen de Hereford’s wife. It turns out that Mrs de Hereford was more than happy to spend time in the company of Mareschal, a cleric. He did not force the lady to go anywhere nor to do anything she didn’t want to do – in other words they were two consenting adults.  Dunn explains that medieval law still classified their relationship as abduction as clearly Stephen de Hereford had not given his permission for his wife to have an affair with Mareschal (p.124-126). There is a logic to it, though it effectively makes the woman in the case into a possession rather than a person – and that’s an entirely different post which I’m not going to get into here.  It is sufficient to remember that a woman was legally subordinate to her husband once she was married. The law that Mareschal was charged under was the medieval Raptus Law. 

Women could, in the early medieval period, have their nose and ears cut off if found guilty of adultery – a law which Cnut would have recognised. I mentioned the fine of legerwyte in an earlier post which was levied in manorial courts upon women who indulged in premarital sex. Mortimer explains that this fine could also be applied to adulterous men (p 226) as well as fornicating women.

It is also impossible to escape the religious element of the equation within medieval thinking.  Essentially the medieval Church, despite the number of churchmen with families of their own, believed that celibacy was the best state in which to live. St Augustine of Hippo explained rather pithily that sex was for the procreation of children and should, if it had to occur at all, happen inside a marriage – where it was a venal sin.  Outside marriage or without someone who was not your spouse it became a mortal sin. Consequentially adulterers, when not monarchs or extremely powerful lords (because let’s face it it’s virtually impossible to find a Plantagenet monarch who didn’t have at least one mistress and let’s not even venture into the maze that was John of Gaunt’s love life) were regarded as having broken both common and ecclesiastical law.   Priests were expected to keep a note of the goings on of their parishioners. Those members of the community who were misbehaving could find themselves dragged off to the ecclesiastical courts where they could be fined, required to do penance which involved being paraded around in your shift – see the image at the start of this post from a medieval manuscript.

Incidentally whilst king’s could do what they liked, it is worth noting that the petty treason laws which covered crimes against your more immediate master included committing adultery with your lord’s wife or seducing his daughters. The punishment was death.  Petty treason also covered a wife’s duty to her husband.  Plotting to murder your husband was covered by the petty treason laws and could result in a woman being burned for her crimes. Adultery could, it was sometimes argued, be regarded as a type of petty treason.  If Henry VIII had been particularly malevolent this is the fate that could have befallen Anne Boleyn and Katherine Howard. Isabella of France’s (so called She-wolf and wife of Edward II of England) sisters-in-law provided an infamous early fourteenth century example of the punishments that could be inflicted on adulterous wives in France.

The Tour de Nesle scandal rocked the french royal family to its foundations.  Joan and Blanche were daughters of Otto of Burgundy. They were married to Philip and Charles of France respectively. Louis, the oldest of the french princes was married to Margaret, a cousin of the two sisters.  Isabella on a visit from England noted some unusual behaviour and informed her father, Philip IV, who discovered that Blanche and Margaret had been carrying on with two brothers- Gautier and Philippe D’Aunay. Joan knew about the adultery so found herself being tarred with the same brush for a time but went on to become France’s queen.  Blanche and Margaret had their heads shaved and were imprisoned for life – it’s probably best not to think about the inventiveness of Philip IV with regard to the punishment of the men involved. Blanche ended up in a nunnery where she died: a further reminder as to the punishment that could be meted out to adulterous wives without necessarily drawing anyone’s attention to the scandal.

All of this links to the stability of society and to the practicalities of inheritance.  If a noble marriage was about the union of two families, a treaty or about a land deal it really wouldn’t do if the heirs of that marriage didn’t belong to the husband. Thomas Aquinas wrote on the topic- which leads to the next point – the law was much more interested in women committing adultery than it was in their husbands carrying on with servants, peasants and prostitutes because essentially in the eyes of medieval society that didn’t count – which perhaps explains why during the Tudor period Henry VIII felt able to effectively kidnap one woman from her husband, take her home and have his wicked way without it impacting on his sense of honour.  The woman and her husband not being of sufficiently important status to count. Thus all those Plantagenet kings weren’t actually guilty of anything because they were the most important men in the land and could do whatever they wanted.  In fact Henry VII was regarded as rather lacking on the manliness front because he had no known mistresses – an absolute monarch was expected to take everything he wanted because he was the ultimate Alpha male.

And let’s not forget the thoughts of Pope Innocent IV on the topic.  He was with Thomas Aquinas; a woman’s adultery was worse than a man’s because man had more resemblance to Christ whilst a woman was more like the church which could have only one spouse i.e. Christ. The Oxford Handbook of Women and Gender in Medieval Europe reveals that this attitude was shifting by the end of the fifteenth century and that there were proportionally more court cases involving men and unmarried women which had been, presumably, previously ignored.

And as though that weren’t complicated enough there’s the whole concept of courtly love to take into consideration.  Society encouraged nobles and knights to place an unobtainable woman on a pedestal and then wander around  in a lovestruck state.  The key thing was that the woman was unobtainable: it was a game.  The man was expected to admire his lady from afar and go off and do derring and gallant deeds for her with no expectation of his devotion being reciprocated. There’s a rather macabre medieval illustration of a couple killing themselves rather than commit adultery – not quite sure how that fits on the scale of sin!

tristan and isolde drinking love potionMedieval tales seem to delight with romances  and marriages gone wrong – there’s Chaucer, who’s  Merchant’s Tale involves an elderly husband January marrying young May.  She promptly shimmies up a tree to meet her lover Damyan – Chaucer neatly referencing Adam, Eve and sin in one rather bawdy image. There’s  Tristan and Isolde who drink a love potion and of course, Lancelot and Guinevere who finds herself threatened with burning by King Arthur on discovery of the affair and has to be rescued…Arthur seems less put out with his friend Lancelot.

lancelot rescuing guineverre

 

Amt, Emilie.  (1993) Women’s Lives in Medieval Europe.  New York: Routledge

Bennett, Judith M and Karras, Ruth Mazo (eds) () The Oxford Handbook of Women and Gender in Medieval Europe. Oxford: Oxford University Press

Dunn, Caroline. (2013 ) Stolen Women in Medieval England: Rape, Abduction and Adultery, 1100-1500  Cambridge Studies in Medieval Life and Thought Fourth Series.Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

Mortimer, Ian. (2009) A Time Traveller’s Guide to Medieval England. London: Vintage

Schaus, Margaret C. (ed) () Women and Gender in Medieval Europe: An Encyclopedia

 

 

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