OK look, things have been very distracting, what with the continued unravelling of both the US and UK. This week in the UK, our government has collapsed because a known Tory sex-pest was suddenly a problem, even though he had been Torying around most Tory-ly for years. But apparently by Tuesday it was an issue and now Boris Johnson has resigned (sorta kinda not really, IDK.)
With a major sex scandal like that you would think that our newspapers would have their hands very full! But the ever diligent Times apparently saw all that and said, “You know what? Let’s do another hit piece on BISH for talking about consensual kink. Sounds good.” Normal stuff! So, I am forced to stop refreshing news websites and actually write the second kink blog that I promised you all, because the Tory media in this country simply cannot leave my household alone.
I used to teach an introductory course on medieval history at a university here in London where we had a week dedicated to introducing the concept of courtly love. If the students so chose, they could later write an essay on the topic. The question that they were asked to answer was: “What does courtly love literature tell us about women in medieval society?” It was a trick question. I have been thinking about the reasons why that was a trick question lately, because over the past few weeks I have been learning a lot about Jacques Lacan.
Today in London it is the sort of hot that it should not be in May. I am talking about wearing short shorts and writing on the deck hot. I am talking I ate mangoes and hot sauce for lunch hot. I am talking the sort of hot that it should be in August, not May, the middle of Spring. Instead of thinking about how this means that the planet is going through a series of changes that are going to be a very serious challenge for life as we know it, I am going to talk to you about how on days like this you can sort of understand why medieval people were extremely horny for May.
Loves, as an elder millennial, I am cursed to watch my references recede into the past; my memes wither and die; my ability to think of other jokes to put into this sentence dries up imperceptibly, day by day. So it is with my major reference point for explaining the major tropes in courtly love which are still weaponised as romance now – Hotline Bling. The kids are coming up from behind with references that are more relevant than all of the references I know. They don’t care what a child groomer had to say about love and how that connects with twelfth century romance. And you know what? That is fair.
Because the world is a garbage place, unfortunately this week suddenly a few more people are aware of what Incels are, and that said Incels are capable of killing people because they are simultaneously incapable of getting play.
Now this is hugely upsetting, disappointing, and all-around disgusting. Also, like pretty much every disgusting thing about our society’s relationship to sex and love, we can trace its roots to the horrifying ideas of relationships and love enshrined in the concept of courtly love.
Presumably, there will come a time when we will no longer need think pieces on how courtly love as a construct has poisoned romantic and sexual interactions – especially straight ones. Unfortunately, today is not that day, and we have learned once again, and to our sorrow, that our favs are problematic and our idols must be sacrificed. So, we’re gonna talk about it.
I am here to tell you that any time you hear about men being super pushy about sexual advances and not taking no for an answer, you can pretty much trace the enshrinement of said behaviour back to the OG problematic bin-fire, Andreas Capellanus.
My loves, we are now, as ever, surrounded by basics and their whack-ass understanding of medieval history. As a Lady Historian™ I am often subjected to tirades from Nice Guys lamenting how I, a lady, am breathing in public, but how they a Nice Guy are going to be chill about it because they ‘still believe in chivalry’.
That is not what chivalry is.
Now, I don’t even mean not believing an expert in a subject because of Dunning Kreuger isn’t exactly polite, when I say ‘that is not what chivalry is’. What I mean is that chivalry really isn’t about treating the ladies right (or whatever the fuck passes for right in your mind when you are out here actively harassing women who are smarter than you, which is to say all of them.)
Elsewhere, we have discussed why it is that the use of the word ‘medieval’ as a pejorative is, in general, quite lazy and a convenient way of distancing ourselves from the terrible things which take place in our own time.
Having said that, the medieval world still very much influences many of our political institutions, and our mind-sets. If we consider, for example, that the Church and a universal concept of the West as the home of Christendom to be the overriding hallmarks of the medieval period, it helps us understand why for many people, theoretical Christian values are seen as an inherent part of being Western.
We’ve ranted, in brief, before about the cultural circumstances that inspired courtly love. (I’m sorry for reminding you about the whole Sansa thing. Our girl doing good now though, right? Right.)
The thing about courtly love is generally that people think courtly love is a part of some super-romantic tradition of lords and ladies having a very nice time and falling in love and getting married. That is not what it is about.
What it is about is a bunch of young knights who can’t get married, because they don’t have any property, sitting around trying to conceal their boners while they look at the lady of the house. See, because of the primogeniture system, (aka the oldest son gets everything), excess sons who didn’t join the Church usually went and found places in other households as knights in the hopes that they’d manage to get a grant of land one way or another eventually.