« AnteriorContinuar »
system of moral jurisprudence was digested: the tradition of its origin is fancifully romantic. We have the legend of the countries north of the Loire: another, perhaps, might have been heard in the plains of Languedoc.
According to the popular tradition, Arthur, the hero of all romance in the countries of the Roman Wallon, had not really perished in the fatal battle of Camlan, but was removed from the face of the earth by Morgain la Faye, to return again at some happier period, and revive true chivalry in the world*. He was secluded in some unknown abode, and many knights went forth to seek him. His subterranean palace had been beheld in the visions of sleep, and described in the raptures of prophetic revelation; but none had ever found him; and few had returned from the wild and perilous adventure. A Breton knight loved a Breton lady; and she required of him that he should bring her the falcon which slept upon a golden perch in the court of Arthur. In this fruitless search he spent many days. At last, in a forest, he met a damsel; and the damsel said to him, that she knew the will of his lady, and the adventure which he had undertaken; but that he should not achieve it, unless he could maintain, in single combat, that his lady was fairer than all the ladies beloved by the knights of King Arthur's court. Then the knight accepted the condition with gladness; and the damsel guided him through various adventures, till he came to the place where Arthur was concealed. There he overcame in fight divers of the knights who came out against him; till at last he came to the perch of gold, at the entry of the palace, on which the falcon was sitting. By a little chain of gold was suspended to the perch a roll, containing the Code of Love, which the knight must take, and publish to all knights and ladies in the name of the King of Love, if he would bear away the falcon in peace. So the knight took the roll, and gave it to a court of love and honour, in which sat a great multitude of knights and ladies; and they ordained that all these laws should be observed by all lovers+.
Strange as such a legend may appear in connexion with matters of real history, it is certain that such a code existed; that it formed the basis of all the decisions of the courts of love; and that, under the sanction of their authority, and by their pervad
* Arturumque etiam sub terris bella moventem.-MILTON, AD MANSUM, ➤ He is a King crouned in Fairie,
With scepter and sword; and with his regalty
Out of Fairie, and reign in Britaine.-LYDGATE.
Rayn. tom. ii. p. ciii. from the work of Maître André.
ing influence, it became in this age of gallantry a rule of life. It consists of thirty-one articles, of which several are merely descriptive of the marks of a true lover; but we shall confine ourselves to that portion of it which bears most strongly upon the history of public morals, and subjoin examples of the mode in which it was applied to practice; for, unless the testimony were before our eyes, it would be scarcely possible to believe, that the women of any age could thus have made an open profession of adultery. We may be amused, at the same time, by the legal subtleties that were introduced into questions, which have generally been determined by an unwritten law.
The great principle upon which the whole of this singular code is founded, and which the proceedings of the courts of love pre-suppose, is laid down in the first article, "That marriage is not a valid excuse from love*.” A question was submitted to the Countess of Champagne, "Whether love could exist between two married persons?" Her judgment is thus recorded: "We say and affirm that love cannot extend his power over two married persons for lovers grant their favours to one another of their own free will, and without any compulsion; but married persons are bound by a debt to comply each with the will of the other, &c. Let this our judgment, therefore, pronounced with too great moderation, and confirmed by the opinions of very many other ladies, be held for an indubitable and established truth. In the year 1174. April 29."
A question of a similar nature was submitted to Ermengarde Vicomtesse de Narbonne, whose court appears, from the Provençal history, to have been the most refined and polished of all in the south of France. She was required to determine, "Whether between lovers or married persons existed the greater love." Her judgment declared, that the affections of the two states were of natures so completely different, that no just comparison could be instituted between them.
A lady, who had entered into an engagement of love, upon forming an honourable marriage, refused her accustomed favours to her lover.
But Ermengarde condemned this breach of faith, and decided, in perfect conformity to the first article of the Code of Love, that the supervention of the tie of marriage did not justly exclude her former love, unless she solemnly renounced all love whatever.
A question of greater intricacy was submitted to the casuistry of Eleanor of Poictiers and Guienne, the grand-daughter of William Duke of Aquitaine, the eldest of the Troubadours, and
* Causa conjugii ab amore non est excusatis recta. Rayn. tom. ii. p. cv.
queen successively of France and England. A knight professed love for a lady, who was under engagements of love to another; but she promised him, that if she should ever be deprived of the love of her present lover, her love should be bestowed upon him. After some time the lady married her lover. The knight demanded the fulfilment of her promise; but the lady utterly refused, asserting that she was not deprived of the love of her lover. To this statement the queen replied, "We dare not contradict the sentence of the Countess of Champagne, which has decided that love cannot extend its power over two married persons; and, therefore, we recommend that the aforesaid lady should grant the love which she has promised."
We must conclude with a judgment still more strange, pronounced by the elegant and accomplished Ermengarde of Narbonne. "A lady, who has been married, is separated from her husband by divorce. Her former husband is a suitor for her
love." "We judge that love between those who have been united in marriage, and afterwards separated in any way whatever, is not culpable, but honourable *."
It is probable, that in the age of Provençal poetry and chivalry, as in every other age, the corruption of morals was most flagrant in the highest classes; but we cannot read the life of any Troubadour, without finding convincing proofs, that the principles, of which we have given a specimen, were common to all those whom noble or gentle birth elevated above the tillers of the soil or the burghers of the towns. The laws of honour by which illicit love was regulated, arbitrary in their institution and frequently fantastic in their character, opposed but a feeble barrier to this general demoralization. There is one singular point of public opinion, from which we may fairly conclude, that even the compacts of love were not unfrequently as little regarded as the solemnities of marriage. It was esteemed dishonourable for any lady to be engaged with a lover of higher rank than her own. This sentiment is expressed by Azalais de Porcairagues, where she upbraids the inconstancy of Rambaud d'Orange +; and it flowed naturally from the humiliation to which mistresses in an infer or class were frequently subjected by the neglect or desertion of their haughty lovers.. It was the discovery of an intrigue with the Comte de Foix, which destroyed the reputation of Loba de Pénautier, the lady in whose honour the madman, Pierre Vidal, suffered himself to be hunted as a wolft. The intrigue itself was nothing: it would have been reckoned
to her honour, but for the rank of the lover. In the singular words of the Provençal Chronicler, "she lost esteem, and honour, and friends; for they held as dead every lady who made her adulterer of a High Baron." The dastardly mode in which Raimond de Miravals availed himself of her disgrace, to avenge himself for her former coquetry, by affecting to disbelieve the reports of her slanderers, and becoming the champion of her fair fame, till she had rewarded him with all that he desired, and then deserting and upbraiding her;-and the tone of commendation in which the historian relates his perfidy - are signs of the morality engendered by the Courts of Love *.
It is difficult to trace the causes which led to this total neglect and contempt of the rights and duties of marriage, and the avowed and recognised substitution of a regulated adultery. The proximate cause appears to have been one, which still produces the same effect, in a greater or less degree, in the countries of southern Europe: the restraint imposed upon the intercourse of young unmarried women with general society, which thus precludes them from the opportunity of forming such an attachment as may constitute the happiness of their future lives, and makes them the passive victims of a marriage contract dictated by the avarice or ambition of their family. A girl, to whom the world has been made by seclusion a theatre of unknown wonders; who does not become the mistress of herself, till she has been bound by indissoluble ties to another; who, with all the fancy, and enthusiasm, and passions, and affections, of a young and ardent spirit, is united to a husband, at least unknown and indifferent to her, and probably on that very account, if on no other, an object of terror and aversion, must be endowed with no common virtue, to temper with discretion her novel liberty of action, and to resist the fascinations of flattery and love. For a few months the lessons of the duenna or the convent may be timidly remembered; but feelings, which have never been exercised, cannot have been regulated; passions, as soon as they are born, start into ungovernable maturity; and the cavalier servente speedily supplies the place of the neglected or hated husband. Where these are the usual events of society, the whole system of society becomes corrupt: the contagion of the mother infects the daughter: the taint of each pollutes all; and the consequence is a general demoralization which poisons the very roots of all domestic and social virtues. Such is the awful retribution which most surely awaits the violation of the just and natural feelings of humanity.
In the feudal times the will of women was perhaps less con
*Rayn. tom. v. p. 384. Millot, tom. ii. p. 398.
sulted in their disposal in marriage than at any other period. They were not only subject to the caprice or selfishness of their natural guardians, but the liege lord exercised an arbitrary power over the hands of the daughters of his vassals. This power was confirmed by the manner of their education. It was the custom to attach girls to the service of some noble lady (frequently, of course, the lady of the feudal superior), in whose court or castle they might le: rn all gentle behaviour. As youths of good lineage were placed as squires or pages in the retinue of some feudal lord, and were not considered as duly trained to the honour of knighthood, unless they had discharged these inferior offices: so girls of high birth became the damsels of his lady; and by their docility as maidens, approved themselves worthy to come forth as the wives of knights or barons, with all the privileges and powers of their imperial sex. Though the duties of pages and damsels were often of a menial nature, yet no degradation was implied in the performance of them. A parity of rank was felt both by lord and page, and by lady and damsel. The services which were rendered, were rendered by equals to equals. They were rendered to superior age and experience, only that the younger, by thus learning to obey, might be taught how they were hereafter to command. Unless this peculiarity of the manners and institutions of the age of chivalry were previously understood, we should be somewhat amazed at the instructions addressed in verse by Amanieu des Escas to a damsel, whom he honours with the title of Marchioness, but to whom he gives instructions which might seem better fitted for a chambermaid. From details respecting her toilette and her menial duties, he passes to her behaviour in society; and is particularly explicit in the counsel which he gives for her conduct to all sorts of lovers. The whole poem is very interesting and amusing from the naïve picture which it gives us of the domestic manners of the feudal times *.
*Rayn. tom. ii. p. 263. tom. i. p. 178.
(End of Part II.)
Millot, tom. iii. p. 198. Sism. Litt. du Midi,