Love in Marriage in the 1300’s

“Meanwhile he was promoted as a courtier. In 1367 he was attending on the King himself and was referred to as Dilectus Valenttus noster . . . our dearly beloved Valet. It was towards that year that Chaucer married. His bride was Philippa de Roet, a lady in attendance on the Queen, and sister to Catherine Swynford, third wife of John Gaunt.

Chaucer wrote no poems to her, so far as is known. It was not in fashion to write poems to one’s wife. It could even be debated whether love could ever have a place in marriage; the typical situation in which a ‘courtly lover’ found himself was to be plunged in a secret, and illicit, and even adulterous passion for some seemingly unattainable and pedestalized lady. Before his mistress a lover was prostrate, wounded to death by her beauty, killed by her disdain, obliged to an illimitable constancy, marked out for her dangerous service. A smile from her was in theory a gracious reward for twenty years of painful adoration. All Chaucer’s heroes regard love when it comes upon them as the most beautiful of absolute disasters, an agony as much desired as bemoaned, ever to be pursued, never to be betrayed.”

This was not in theory the attitude of a husband to his wife. It was for a husband to command, for a wife to obey.

“Introduction,” by Neville Coghill, in The Canterbury Tales, by Chaucer

I must say, this short paragraph explains a good bit about what is going on in Sir Gawain and with Dante and Beatrice.

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