Introduction | Sculpture | Painting | Literature | Bibliography

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God Speed, a 1900 painting depicting courtly love. by Edward Blair LeightonCourtly love was a medieval notion of how, ideally, love should be. The basic principal was that a man would respect a woman's right to choose any man she wished and in order to be that man, he would act in a brave, noble and honorable way. He would often wear colours to show his devotion to her. This was of acting came to fruition in the courts of castles in Aquitaine, Provence, Champagne and Burgundy. This was of acting may have come from Persia, where women were traditionally heavily doted on. Romans or Vikings, though they may have had respect for women, would never have practiced such complete and utter devotion in every way. The culture of courtly love was evident in the lyrics of troubadours at the time. These poems would be a sort of allegory: the relationship between a lady and her lover would be likened to feudalistic notions of vassals and lords. In this way, the poet acknowledged that the lady was of a higher social status and was to be respected as such.
The concept of love and attitudes towards women at this time were confusing, contradictory and hypocritical. Marriages would be nothing more than glorified business transactions where disobedient wives were beaten and treated cruelly by their husbands. However, when husbands were off crusading, the woman would become the head of the castle or home and she would suddenly have a lot of power. During these times, or sometimes even when the husband was around, she would have extramarital affairs with men who were often lower in status such as knights.
Siege of the Castle of Love, an ivory mirror-back made around 1350-1370 The entire notion of courtly love is likely very glorified in literature and art, as no real record of it exists in a historical context. An example of courtly love in art is the Siege of the Castle of Love. This ivory mirror-back shows knights invading a castle of women as they feign defending it. This of course is a symbol of how women would act aloof at this time. Some of the first literature aimed at a female audience was themed around such ways, and for this reason it should probably not be taken as total truth.

A middle class of wealthier people was emerging at this time, and these people had money to spend on arts. Previously, art had been funded primarily by the church and thus contained a lot of religious subject matter. Now, people began to fund art with subjects that they were interested in. This could be dedications of everyday life, with people, animals, plants and architecture favored over images of Christ. Instead of only decorating church interiors, art now graced peoples homes as tapestries, murals and paintings. One especially famous patron of the arts was Duke de Berry. He commissioned illuminated manuscripts, the most famous of which being Très Riches Heures. It contained many illustrations showing what life at this time was really like.

Black Death as shown in the Toggenburg Bible, 1411The late Middle Ages were a time of great calamity for Europe. Not only did disease and famine sweep the land, uprisings let to huge amounts of war. The first horrible event was the Great Famine. This occurred in 1315 and lasted about two years. This shattered people's belief in the church, as no amount of praying or spiritual guidance could help the situation. Extreme poverty and starvation led to high crime rates and this caused the government to falter and led into a cycle of more crime and poverty. This weakened population was susceptible to the very unfortunate event that was to follow. The Black Plague or Black Death swept Europe in the 1340s, and coupled with the recent famines, killed between 30 and 60% of Europe's population. This further weakened people's religious beliefs, morals and respect for government. People expected miraculous cures and explanations from the church and it provided neither. As if these pandemics weren't bad enough, both civil and international wars raged. Inside countries, nobles would wage war on other nobles. An example of this is the War of the Roses. Fought from 1455 to 1487 in England between York and Lancaster houses and their supporters. This kind of civil war was common and shredded the togetherness of countries. Nobles became less powerful as a result. More importantly, the Hundred Year's War which lasted from 1337 to 1453 was fought between France and England. New weaponry gave peasants more pull in the war and this further decreased the power of the nobility. To increase turmoil even more, the Great Schism of Western Christianity was next. Between 1378 to 1417, three popes claimed to be pope at the same time. This was the last straw for many already shaken Catholics.
To go along with the new weaponry that was being developed to fight civil and international wars, castles had to evolve as well. Conwy CastlePrevious motte and bailey castles frequently burned down and were simply not secure enough. They were essentially a building on a mound surrounded but some kind of natural defenses. King Edward pioneered a new kind of concentric castle, built out of stone with huge bases and towers. If no natural defenses existed, such as cliffs or swamps, moats would be dug to provide extra defense. These castles became fairly extravagant and large. However, as the large-scale wars of the 1300s came about, the men required to build and man the castles were sent off to war. The other problems such as the plague insured that the money required to fund the castles was also unavailable.