Feb 15, Day after Valentines. Did you keep the rules of Courtly Love from the middle Ages?

Is your love refined? (“Fin Amor”)

To be fit for Refined or Courtly Love, you cannot be blind, poor, too old, too young, too passionate, impotent, gay, self-confident, trusting, or self-actualized.

“Thrice rebuked! Hast thou a less discriminating friend?”

Andreas Capellanus produced helpful rules and guides to love in his late twelfth-century treatise called De amore, or About Love (often referred to as The Art of Courtly Love).

Stages of Love

De Amore lists the stages of love:

The first consists in arousing hope;
The second in offering kisses;
The third in the enjoyment of intimate embraces;
The fourth in the abandonment of the entire person.

Not too shabby. Compare that to the modern baseball euphemism:

  • First base – mouth-to-mouth kissing, especially French kissing;
  • Second base – skin-to-skin touching/kissing of the breasts; in some contexts, it may instead refer to touching any erogenous zones through the clothes (i.e., not actually touching the skin), or manual stimulation of the genitals;
  • Third base – touching below the waist (without sexual intercourse); in some contexts, it may instead refer to oral stimulation of the genitals;
  • Home run (home base or scoring) – “full” sexual intercourse.

Attractive Peasants

Only the middle and upper classes need apply for Courtly Love, thank you. Attractive peasant girls are to be shunned or, failing this, “embraced by force”.

“If you should, by some chance, fall in love with a peasant woman, be careful to puff her up with lots of praise and then, when you find a convenient opportunity, do not hold back but take your pleasure and embrace her by force. For you can hardly soften their outward inflexibility so far that they will grant you their embraces quietly or permit you to have the solaces you desire unless you first use a little compulsion as a convenient cure for their shyness. We do not say these things, however, because we want to persuade you to love such women, but only so that, if through lack of caution you should be driven to love them, you may know, in brief compass, what to do.”

Easy Nuns

In a similar vein, Capellanus describes nuns as easy to seduce, although he condemns anyone who does so as a “disgusting animal.” (This caution does not apply to monks or priests!)

Love of Prostitutes

Prostitutes are to be absolutely shunned.  Don’t even try to “ask for instructions on this point”. Don’t. Even.  Ask.

“Now in case anybody should ask how we feel about the love of prostitutes we say that they are all to be shunned absolutely, because it is most shameful to have dealings with them, and with them one almost always falls in to the sin of lewdness. Besides, a prostitute seldom gives herself to anyone until she has been given a present that pleases her. Even if it should happen once in a while that a woman of this kind does fall in love, all agree that her love is harmful to men, because all wise men frown upon having familiar intercourse with prostitutes and to do so spoil anybody’s good name. Therefore we have no desire to explain to you the way to gain their love, because whatever the feeling that makes them give themselves to a suitor they always do so without much urging, so you don’t need to ask for instructions on this point.”

Love and Marriage

Courtly Love generally happens outside of marriage.  C.S. Lewis decided that its key features were humility, courtesy, and adultery!

“We declare and hold as firmly established that love cannot exert its powers between two people who are married to each other. For lovers give each other everything freely, under no compulsion of necessity, but married people are in duty bound to give in to each other’s desires and deny themselves to each other in nothing.”

Love and the Law

Capellanus also provides legal advice.  Supposedly, the history of love included Courts of Love ruled by the ladies. There’s no historical evidence that this ever took place, and it seems pretty unlikely but entertaining.

Here’s one case: a woman’s husband has died. Can she accept her servant as her lover? The decision: no, she must marry within her rank. This is not to say that a widow may not marry a lover, but then he would be her husband, not her lover.

Another case: a knight is serving his lady by defending her name. It’s getting embarrassing and she wants it stopped. There is much debate about this case. The decision: no, the woman is wrong; she cannot forbid him from loving her.

A final case: two little kids were playing in their medieval sandbox and noticed all the fine ladies and gentlemen engaged in the new love fad about them. They imitatively also agreed to a contract between them: that they would share a kiss each day. They years have passed and this guy keeps showing up at the door every morning for the kiss. The woman wants to be released from this juvenile contract. Does she have a case?

The decision: granted, because the rules specifically state that one cannot be about the business of love until one is around the age of thirteen. Therefore all those kisses given since that age must be returned. (Huh?)


Here’s an about-face.  Women are described as being completely untrustworthy.

“everything a woman says is said with the intention of deceiving”

“slanderers filled with envy and hate”

They are drunkards, loud-mouthed and gossipy, unfaithful in love, disobedient, vain and tortured by envy of all other women’s beauty, “even her daughter’s.” Poor old Eve gets dragged into it at several points.

The Rules

Here are some of the thirty-one “Rules of Love”:

  1. Marriage is no real excuse for not loving.
  2. He who is not jealous cannot love.
  3. No one should be deprived of love without the very best of reasons.
  4. It is not proper to love any woman whom one would be ashamed to seek to marry.
  5. A true lover does not desire to embrace in love anyone except his beloved.
  6. Every lover regularly turns pale in the presence of his beloved.
  7. When a lover suddenly catches sight of his beloved his heart palpitates.
  8. Real jealousy always increases the feeling of love.
  9. He whom the thought of love vexes, eats and sleeps very little.
  10. A true lover considers nothing good except what he thinks will please his beloved.


How did you do?  Not to worry if Courtly Love is not for you.  It’s controversial whether courtly love was actually just an influential literary phenomenon or was practiced in real life.

There’s no documentary evidence for courtly love in law codes, court cases, chronicles or other historical documents.  Luckily for peasant girls everywhere.

The full Rules can be found here

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