Sex in history, by Gordan Rattray Taylor

In short, when we review the evidence, there can be little doubt that the troubadours were matrists, but equally clearly they differ from the Celts in having a sense of guilt. We do not find them showing much concern for the opinion of society generally, only for the opinion of their mistress; hence, in the troubadours we seem to see a shame culture being replaced by a guilt culture. Though the Church continually attacked it, the troubadours themselves thought of this love as pure, good and true — fina, bona, veraia. They thought that it was spiritual, in that it taught the union of hearts and minds and not of bodies, and that it was the source of all good and virtue, since a man would not willingly do anything which would lower him in the eyes of his beloved. As Bernart de Ventadour said: “Nuls om ses amor re no van” —No man is worth aught without love.

Even its opponents must concede that it produced a highly civilizing effect upon the behaviour of feudal chivalry. Deluded by Christian redactions of the ancient Celtic legends, we have come to think of the Celtic heroes, such as King Arthur, as paragons of gentleness and honour, and we extend this delusion to cover the knights who lived during the period of the Crusades. In point of fact, they were, as Prop Hearnshaw says, “a horde of sanctified savages, whose abominations scandalized even the Byzantines and whose ferocities horrified the very Turks themselves”. Though the thirteenth century has been called the Golden Age of Chivalry, the scenes at the crusaders camp at Damietta, enacted under the eyes of the saintly Louis IX, as described by Joinville, resemble nothing so much as the gang warfare of Chicago. The Crusaders treacherously crucified all the captives taken at Edessa; Bohemund sent a cargo of sliced, off noses and thumbs to the Greek Emperor. Robbery, debauchery, blasphemy and treachery were ordinary occurrences. When Richard I arrive at Marseilles, he found that the English knights who had preceded him had spent all the campaign funds on prostitutes.(193)

It was when chivalry vanished from war, and the creation of knights became a privilege of the king, that it began to come under the influence of the new conception of behaviour developed by the troubadours, in which bravery was combine with gentleness and courtesy to women. The desire for women’s approval became the motive for valour. As Christine de Pisan said:

Premierement pour Amours fut armé
Ce disoit-il, et désire d’estre aimé
Le fist vaillant

and “amoureux” began to mean “the general virtues of a knight”.

The tradition which the troubadours established was remarkably enduring one, for it has not only renewed its flower whenever matrists were in the ascendant, but has left an indelible mark on the behaviour patterns of patrists. The troubadour conception of man as gentle has even changed the meaning of the word, from its original sense of well-born. Even the patrist came to accept the ideal of gentleness to the weak, to children and to women, provided that the women were of his own class. Henry VIII, violent as his passions became, at least addressed Anne Boleyn as “mistress”. From it also developed the conception of honour —’honestà‘. Andrew the Chaplain’s treatise was called, in Latin: “De Arte honeste amandi” —the art of loving honourably. Behaviour should be governed by love and not by mercenary motives. That was the core of the concept of honour. Three hundred years later Rabelais was to envisage a society based on this mutual recognition— in contrast with the patrist society based on observance of a forcibly imposed code of rules.

“En leur reigle n’estoit que ceste clause: Fay ce que vouldras. Parce que gens liberes, bien nez, bien instruictz, conversans en compaignies honnestes, ont par nature ung instinct et aiguillon qui toujours les poulse à faitz vertueux, et retire de vice; lequel ilz nommoyent honneur.