The Rules of Courtly Love

from Andreas Capellanus’  The Art of Courtly Love (de Amore)



Capellanus addresses his treatise to Walter, a friend who has been struck by the arrows of Venus. The Art of Courtly Love enumerates the various “cases” of love over which the Court of Champagne presided. The lovers who plead at court were comprised of various social groups (i.e. a nobleman and a chambermaid, a knight and his queen, a nobleman and noblewoman, etc.) This is clearly a fiction, but it was for many years regarded as evidence of the Cult of Love. It should also be noted that in Book Three of The Art of Courtly Love, Andreas advises Walter to avoid love altogether, saying 

God detests the acts of Venus, love injures one’s neighbor and is inimical to charity, love injures friendship and the lover’s body and soul, love ruins a good woman’s name, and it leads to criminal excess, war, divorce, and the loss of wisdom.

Nevertheless, the “rules” do reflect the conventions of love and romance at least in Arthurian literature. There is considerable debate about the practice of “courtly love” in the real world. In all likelihood courtly love in the middle ages was much like soap operas in the modern or post-modern age. It looks very sexy and dramatic and romantic and maybe even desirable but is thoroughly unrealistic and just not done by normal people.

What is Courtly Love?

 “Love is an inborn suffering proceeding from the sight and immoderate thought upon the beauty of the other sex, for which cause above all other things one wishes to embrace the other and, by common assent, in this embrace to fulfill the commandments of love. . . .”

“ ‘Love (amor)’ is derived from the word ‘hook (amar)’, which signifies ‘capture’ or ‘be captured.’ For he who loves is caught in the chains of desire and wishes to catch another with his hook. Just as a shrewd fisherman tries to attract fish with his bait and to catch them on with his curved hook, so he who is truly captured by love tries to attract another with his blandishments and with all his power tries to hold two hearts together with one spiritual chain or, if they be already united, to hold them always together. . . .”

“This is the effect of love: that the true lover cannot be corrupted by avarice; love makes an ugly and rude person shine with all beauty, knows how to endow with nobility even one of humble birth, can even lend humility to the proud; he who loves is accustomed humbly to serve others. Oh, what a marvelous thing is love, which makes a man shine with so many virtues and which teaches everyone to abound in good customs. . . .”

The Rules

Marriage is no real excuse for not loving.

He who is not jealous cannot love.

No one can be bound by a double love.

It is well known that love is always either decreasing or increasing.

That which a lover takes against the will of his beloved has no relish.

Boys do not love until they arrive at the age of immaturity.

Two years of mourning for a dead lover are prescribed for surviving lovers.

No one should be deprived of love without a valid reason.

No one can love who is not driven to do so by the power of love.

Love always departs from the dwelling place of avarice.

It is not proper to love one whom one would be ashamed to marry.

The true lover never desires the embraces of any save his lover.

Love rarely lasts when it is revealed.

An easy attainment makes love contemptible; a difficult one makes it more dear.

Every lover turns pale in the presence of his beloved.

When a lover suddenly has sight of his beloved, his heart beats wildly.

A new love expels an old one.

Moral integrity alone makes one worthy of love.

If love diminishes, it quickly leaves and rarely revives.

A lover is always fearful.

True jealousy always increases the effects of love.

If a lover suspects another, jealousy and the effects of love increase.

He who is vexed by the thoughts of love eats little and seldom sleeps.

Every action of a lover ends in the thought of his beloved.

The true lover believes only that which he thinks will please his beloved.

Love can deny nothing to love.

A lover can never have enough of the embraces of his beloved.

The slightest suspicion incites the lover to suspect the worse of his beloved.

He who suffers from an excess of passion is not suited to love.

The true lover is continuously obsessed with the image of his beloved.

Nothing prevents a woman from being loved by two men, or a man from being loved by two women.