The Origin and Psychology of Courtly Love

Nov 2016
The idea to love a person from afar was the basic idea of the medieval courtly love poetry (or Minne poetry) which was created in the 12th century by French knights. Their theme was the poetic expression of love and loyalty to a socially superior woman (e.g. the feudal lord's wife), which - above all because of her attachment to another man - was unattainable for the singer/poet (troubadour or minstrel).

It is clear that our modern ideas of romantic love, as expressed in romances, love songs and movies, have their origin in these ideas.

The nobleman Jaufré Rudel is considered the first historically proven minstrel; he dedicated his poetry to a woman he personally did not know at all: Countess Melisende of Tripolis, the granddaughter of the then King of Jerusalem, Balduin II, who could have been the wife of the Byzantine Emperor Manuel I. if he wouldn´t been bothered about her illegitimate origin. Jaufré named his distant beloved in his poem not with her real name, but described it as ´princess Lointaine´. This was a typical feature of courtly love poetry - not to mention the venerated object by name.

Nevertheless, the beloved ones often used to be present at the performance of the love lyric, so the love relationship was not a secret affair. The love affirmed by the singer was not considered immoral, but on the contrary enjoyed a general appreciation as long as it had no sexual consequences, since concrete adultery was, of course, completely taboo, while there might have been secret exceptions. The essence of the relationship therefore lay in a) sincerity and b) unfulfilment. It goes without saying that the singer suffered emotionally from the unfulfilled condition. But it was precisely this impetus that motivated him to poetic top performances (consider Freud's theory of sublimation).

Andreas Capellanus, a chaplain at the court of the French King Philip II, was not only a courtly lovee poet, but also the chief theorist of the Minne culture. He wrote:

(from: "Andreae Capellani regii Francorum de amore libri tres", my translation from a German translation)

Pure love, however, is that love that unites the hearts of two lovers in feelings of love of all kinds. This love consists in the contemplation of the spirit and the affection of the heart; but it extends to the kissing of the mouth, to the embrace and to the awesome touch of the naked beloved by the lover, but it omits the last consolation: For to carry out is not permitted to those who want to love purely. This, then, is the love that everyone who has set out to love should seize with all his strength.

In the case of courtly love = Minne, the initial conditions were such that the later knights grew up at princely courts and from their 7th to their 14th year of life were subject to the care and education of the lady of the castle. Thus, their whole existence was much influenced by a powerful woman in a phase when sexual desires are dawning in an adolescent. It is clear that in the imaginary world of adolescents, the mistress of the castle takes on the function of a coveted ideal woman. This ideal image anchored in the unconscious is later, when the young men have become seasoned knights, projected onto similar female figures. However, the inaccessibility of the object is part of the ideal image. If the object was attainable, it would lose the ideality for the sake of which the object is desired. This inner contradiction is the essence of courtly love. To this contradiction belongs necessarily the build-up of sexual urges and thus the impossibility of finding sexual fulfilment by the desired object.

The fact that the knights also had real sexual experiences with lower class women does not significantly diminish the power of this psychological complex. The desire for the ideal, i.e. the unreachable lover, remains and is often rather strengthened by real sexuality. This dissociation of ´the woman´ into the profane and the sacral is in any case typical of the centuries of courtly love and essentially a product of Christian sexual morality, which devalues (as sinful) the feminine on the one hand and glorifies it in an idealizing way on the other (the highly popular cult of Mary at that time). This urge for idealization is also reflected in the courtly love.

In addition, there are social tensions between the knighthood and the principality due to the material dependence of many knights on their princely lords. The inevitable rebellious potential for aggression had to be psychologically processed, i.e. directed into other, more sublime paths, which on the one hand helped to avoid an open conflict and on the other hand reconciled the knight with his humiliating situation. This reconciliation, since the situation was painful, could only be realized through a masochistic strategy, i.e. as a denial relationship with the idealized but unreachable beloved. The aggressive impulses against the prince (concretely and generally) could be suppressed all the better because the knight learned to accept, even idealize, his own social powerlessness due to the suppression of desire in the context of his love for the ideal woman.

The dangerous "I must not kill the hated prince" is thus replaced by the harmless "I must not possess the beloved princess". The princes must have intuitively sensed these correlation, otherwise their acceptance of the publicly demonstrated longing of foreign men for their wives can hardly be explained.
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Todd Feinman

Ad Honorem
Oct 2013
Planet Nine, Oregon
Was it derived from love for Mary, mother of Jesus? By using mortal women as personifications of the Blessed Virgin Mary, a religious, spiritual form of love could increase religious devotion as a type of spiritual exercise.


Forum Staff
Oct 2011
Italy, Lago Maggiore
The "Amor Cortese" arrived in Italian lands and overall in Florence and Sicily it found a fertile context where to grow.

At Florence this cultural stream saw one of the main "stars" of Italian literature: Dante Alighieri. Actually the "angel woman" of Dante [Beatrice] is not that best example of the Amor Cortese [Courtly Love]. Personally, since Dante gave too much symbolic [and religious] value to Beatrice, I tend to see Laura as the real admired and beloved woman of the Amor Cortese.

Erano i capei d’oro a l’aura sparsi
che ’n mille dolci nodi gli avolgea,
e ’l vago lume oltra misura ardea
di quei begli occhi, ch’or ne son sì scarsi;

... and so on ... Petrarch's sonetto is a fantastic and unique artwork. But Petrarch wasn't a knight and Laura's identity is not important for him. In any case the end of his sonetto is simply incredible ...

"piaga per allentar d'arco non sana".

Petrarch made a metaphor. When the bow slackens the wound caused by the arrow doesn't heal.


Forum Staff
Oct 2011
Italy, Lago Maggiore
About the psychological background of the courtly love, we can make a comparison [when not an identification] with Platonic love.

That's it. Courtly love was a medieval version of Platonic love. Which are its psychological roots?

A mind mechanism which sublimates a feeling keeping the instincts "at their place", avoiding the natural consequences of that feeling ... an attempt to seduce that woman. It's like an inhibition of the sexual desire by means of sublimation of the instinct to fecundate a female exemplar of our species. Is it satisfactory? If sublimated ... yes, just the admiration is satisfactory.


Ad Honorem
Apr 2017
Las Vegas, NV USA
She was born in San Francisco. I understand she is still angry with Kurt Cobain for killing himself. She never remarried.
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Ad Honorem
Jun 2012
Just call a spade a spade. It's all about the fantasy of the forbidden fruit (FFF).:cool: