What Was Considered Infidelity In The Middle Ages: We Wouldn’t Like Periods Today

The cities of the knights to the lady had to be purely platonic.

Adultery was considered a serious transgression in the Middle Ages and was punishable by expulsion from the city or even death. Nevertheless, with the development of chivalrous culture, an unprecedented phenomenon appeared in the south of France in the 12th century – a deep feeling for a married woman of higher status was suddenly not only completely legal, but also desirable. Of course, courtly love had to remain purely platonic.

Today, women’s magazines often question what can be considered infidelity. Is it an exclusively sexual relationship, or even a simple kiss, a wave of the hand, a romantic text message? The Middle Ages were clear about this. Love for a married woman could be uplifting and make a man a real knight of the court – as long as she did not exceed the set limit and there was no risk that the lady would give birth to a illegitimate child.

Body fidelity versus heart fidelity

However, in the upper strata of medieval society, conditions prevailed in a completely different way than in everyday life today. When the girl got married, no one expected her to fall in love with her husband. Her duty was to preserve Christian chastity, to allow physical intercourse only to her husband, and to give birth to as many children as possible. Marriages were concluded due to the strengthening of relations between the ruling families, and children could not interfere in any way. If the young man wanted to resist his parents, he had no choice but to kidnap the girl of his heart and marry her before she was brought to someone else.

Knight with a lady holding a dog as a symbol of loyalty.Source: Profimedia.CZ

Abductions probably happened quite often – remember, for example, Prince Břetislav, who kidnapped his chosen Jitka directly from the monastery (and according to the chronicler Kosma, this did not happen without bloodshed). The church did not like these practices very much. There was also growing criticism of unruly soldiers, who used to take not only supplies but also daughters from villagers during raids. When the First Crusade was organized, the Pope had legitimate fears that this herd of ruthless people in Europe would cut off such disgrace in the Holy Land. I needed a knight “refine”.

Modern remake of a classic artwork - a young medieval couple on a dark gold color background.

How the Middle Ages approached the naked body and public expressions of love: Amazingly!

Boys from better families therefore began to learn selected behaviors and higher moral values. To this end, translations of Arabic songs gradually spread throughout southern France, which included verses about the desire of unattainable women. The melodies of wandering singers touched their hearts. The priests decided that loving a woman with a heart without the implication of weak physical desire was actually a relatively safe affair. In the 12th century, an unwritten rule was established in Provence: marry a girl chosen by her parents. Worship the woman you fall in love with as a holy image.

In love in the 14th century, love songs arrive in Bohemia. Listen to the most famous:

Source: YouTube

Marriage should not prevent love

Eventually courtly love was not only tolerated, but even became a sign of chivalrous nobility. His concept quickly established itself throughout Europe. French courtier Andreas Capellanus wrote the rules knights had to follow when admiring the lady of their dreams. The very first was: “Marriage is no excuse for not loving you.” So we see that deeper feelings between spouses were not expected in the High Middle Ages. On the other hand, the loving knight had to reckon with the fact that the highest reward for his devoted love would be a sweet smile or a silk handkerchief.

Jules Arsène Garnier showing the punishment of two adulterers

How adultery was punished by a man and a woman: the Middle Ages were not fair

However, just knowing that the lady was mentally inclined to him was motivation enough for peak performance in the tournament or for a brave fight in combat. Moreover, tormented by the thoughts of his dear, the knight more easily resisted the evil temptation to rape helpless villagers. “A true lover doesn’t want to kiss anyone but his loved ones.” dictated by Capellanus. From a psychological point of view, courtship was well thought out.

In practice, however, it often happened that hapless amorous knights were comforted by sultry girls of lower rank, and the bloody revenge of jealous wives was no exception. In the end, the ideals of courtly love applied better on paper and in the mouths of troubadours than in the real life of medieval nobility.

Resources: study.com, www.lordsandladies.org, www.medieval-life-and-times.info

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