Ancient History · english history · european history · history

Roman Frontiers: Antonine Wall

The final season of the popular show Game of Thrones is almost upon us, but much of the world that George R.R. Martin created was inspired by true events. This would include Hadrian’s Wall in England and the Antonine Wall in Scotland. These walls were the boundary of the known world for the Romans during the second century. Just as fan favorite, Jon Snow, looked out into the great unknown from atop the icy Wall, it would have been just as intimidating for the Romans who looked over these historical walls at the expanse of Scotland. They were at the edge of their known world, which could have been very intimidating. So, while there may not have been white walkers, to the Romans, there could have been anything.

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The Wall from HBO’s Game of Thrones

With this post I wanted to pay more attention to the lesser known Antonine Wall rather than the more established Hadrian’s wall. The Antonine Wall was the furthest point that the Roman empire stretched into Britannia. It was only manned for about twenty five years before the wall was abandoned. The wall cut modern Scotland in half as it crossed the land between Clyde to Forth (about 37 miles long). It was made mostly out of layers of turf rather than stone (like Hadrian’s) with a deep ditch that ran along with it. Forts would have been laid out along the wall, including Rough Castle, which would hold the 7,000 men that would have been stationed there. There would have also been a military service road that connected those at the wall with the rest of the empire in Britain.

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Roman Military Frontiers

Britannia was the northernmost point of the Roman empire, which, at its peak, stretched over 2.2 million square miles and encompassed many different cultures and people. Julius Ceasar was the first to lead a Roman expedition to the shores of Britannia in 55 and 54 BC, though it was not conquered and settled until 43 AD under Emperor Claudius. The native Britons did not take kindly to this invading enemy and the tribes fought back fiercely against their invaders. Eventually, through the invasions of Claudius, the tribes were subdued in southern England. Naturally, there would be rebellions that flared up, such as Boudicca’s (see previous article), but they were easily put down. It was actually the tribes that came from modern day Scotland, such as the Caledonians, that gave the most trouble to the Romans and were never truly subdued. In AD 84 a force of 30,000 Caledonian warriors made a stand against the Romans. The Romans were greatly outnumbered at about 19,000 men and were less familiar with the terrain. This would become known as the Battle of Mons Graupius. Despite the odds being against them, the Romans pulled out the victory against the Caledonian warriors due to their discipline and organization. They were able to use the right tactics to defeat their enemy and, essentially, neutralized another large scale Caledonian uprising from the North, but the tribes of Scotland were not finished yet. Some tribes did submit to the Romans, but many continued to raid and cause trouble for these invaders.

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Lilia found at Rough Castle along the Antonine Wall. These were the Roman’s first line of defense against invaders and were used as a type of trap.

The troublesome invaders from the North were part of the reason why Hadrian’s Wall was built. Emperor Hadrian decided to stop the invasion northward and thought it was best to defend the land they already held. Hadrian did this in other parts of the empire as well. Hadrian’s Wall would cover 84 miles and connect one part of the ocean to the other. This wall would be made of stone and took six years for three legions of men to complete. Each mile of the wall would contain a fort or milecastle with more added as the years went on. In AD 122 Emperor Hadrian himself came to visit to see how the building progressed and would add his own input.

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Hadrians Wall

After Hadrian died in AD 138, he was succeeded by a new emperor, Antoninus Pius. It was this emperor’s decision to build the Antonine Wall and expand the Roman borders further north. The Antonine Wall was built about 100 miles further than Hadrian’s Wall. It would take a great many materials and three legions to help build this new wall out of layers of turf. Why would Antoninus Pius put in the effort and resources for this project when they already had a fairly new wall made of stone?

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Basically, it all comes down to propaganda. Both Ceasar and Claudius gained a boost in popularity when they both returned from their expeditions in Britannia. It was an easy way for a quick accomplishment in the eyes of the Romans who lived 1,500 miles away from Britannia. Right now, the new emperor really needed a boost. He did not have any military accomplishments already (like some of his predecessors did) and he needed to make his mark on the empire before confidence in his rule was lost. To do this, he decided to extend the empire’s territory further into Scotland and beat what his predecessor did. Once the construction was completed, he gained an imperial acclamation.

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Antonine Wall

The Antonine Wall was built with a 4 m wide stone base to establish the foundation, then hand cut layers of turf were laid on top; about 20 layers were needed to make the 3 meter high wall. Some parts of the wall were made out of clay due to the lack of turf in the area. Wooden walkways and wooden fences would be at the top of the wall for the patrols to walk. The Antonine Wall historic website really does a great job of breaking down each of the types of structures and how they were built. If this is of interest, I would highly recommend starting there. As stated before, this wall would have also been punctuated with various forts which included amenities like a bath-house, barracks, and some signal towers. It can also be assumed that villages would also crop up nearby to house families and servants of the soldiers. This would have been similar to Hadrian’s Wall as well.

Antonine Wall, layers of turf. Image credit to http://www.antoninewall.org/about-wall/building-wall/materials

Both walls, Hadrian and Antonine, were mostly manned by auxiliary troops. These were troops that were made up of non-Romans (they did not hold citizenship) and were made up of peregrini. These were free provincial subjects, or free men who lived in the many conquered territories of Rome. They were formed these auxiliary troops which held similar numbers to the citizen filled Legions. After 25 years of service, these troops would be eligible to become full Roman citizens and obtain the privileges that this entailed (such as the right to vote). The Romans were smart about their use of this type of troop and though many native Britons would have been formed to create such a troop, they would have been shipped to different parts of the empire. They would not have staffed the Antonine Wall, to avoid sympathies with the locals. Instead, the Antonine Wall was staffed by a variety of people from all over the empire. The Roman Legions that were stationed at the Antonine Wall were the second, sixth and twentieth. There were also nine cohorts of auxiliary troops stationed. The First Cohort of Hamians had come a long way from their home in northern Syria and consisted of 500 archers. They were the furthest traveled of all. The rest of the cohorts came from areas such as Spain, Gaul, Bulgaria, and the Netherlands. The Sixth Cohort of Nervians, hailing from modern day Belgium, would have been stationed at Rough Castle (the best-preserved fort that can be visited today).

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Recreation of Fort along Antonine Wall. From Historic Scotland.

Much of what is known about life on the wall is gleaned from archaeological evidence. It was easy for boredom to creep in during cold and uneventful days patrolling the wall, so the soldiers day was filled with other activities. When not patrolling, the men would keep busy by keeping up on the building maintenance. They would make sure the walls were in good working order and obtain the resources needed for the wall to sustain life for the 7,000 men. They would train and practice battle maneuvers and obtain physical exercise. They would cook their own food, which often consisted of a vegetarian diet. There was also down time where the bath houses were used or the soldiers would play types of board games. The men would also keep up on the Roman holidays, such as Saturnila, and their religious worship. Many altars dedicated to gods and goddesses were found along the wall.

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Game board found at the Antonine Wall. Image credit http://www.antoninewall.org

The standard soldier was technically not allowed to marry while in service. Only the commanding officer of the garrison could bring his wife and family to live with him at the fort. This did not mean that the men did not have unofficial sweethearts and families who followed them as well. There is evidence that women and children did live nearby as camp followers. It is also not too hard to assume that with soldiers who made a good wage, merchants and prostitutes would also follow the legions progress. This is how various villages began to pop up along the wall. Shoes from women and children have been found to support this, along with a few tombstones. The various villages seem to have also supported farms which the locals and the children would have worked. They could easily sell these resources to the garrison and make some extra money for themselves while supporting the troops that protected them.

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Roman Legionnaire

It was a great investment of money and resources to build both Hadrian’s and the Antonine Wall. Professor Bill Hansen, in his article “History Explorer: Roman Britain’s Final Frontier”, suggests that this shows the Romans truly did find the Caledonian tribes a serious threat. By not expanding further, we can see that the Romans almost found it too much to bother to enforce their rule upon the people who lived north, and these great fortifications were built in order to keep these threats out. After about 25 years (around 160 AD) since the Antonine Wall was built, it was abandoned and the Romans retreated back and refortified the Hadrian Wall. It would remain this way until about AD 411 when the Romans left Britannia forever. The decision to leave the Antonine Wall after so short a time was likely due to the expensive upkeep, frequent raids from the north, and that there were other issues along other frontiers of the Roman empire. The northern border of Rome’s Britannia was fairly secure at Hadrian’s Wall and the troops were needed elsewhere in the empire.

The last invasion into modern Scotland against the Caledonians was by Emperor Severus in the 3rd century. They crossed over the boundary of Hadrians Wall, which Severus had initiated a rebuilding project to refurbish the wall. They had led an attack into the highlands attempting to finally subjugate the Caledonians, but the native’s guerrilla tactics made that difficult for the Romans. The Romans were never able to complete this mission as Emperor Severus died in York in AD 211.

To quote George R.R. Martin in an interview with Rolling Stone magazine: “The Wall predates anything else. I can trace back the inspiration for that to 1981. I was in England visiting a friend, and as we approached the border of England and Scotland, we stopped to see Hadrian’s Wall. I stood up there and I tried to imagine what it was like to be a Roman legionary, standing on this wall, looking at these distant hills. It was a very profound feeling. For the Romans at that time, this was the end of civilization; it was the end of the world. We know that there were Scots beyond the hills, but they didn’t know that. It could have been any kind of monster. It was the sense of this barrier against dark forces – it planted something in me. But when you write fantasy, everything is bigger and more colorful, so I took the Wall and made it three times as long and 700 feet high, and made it out of ice.”

This was an extremely fun project to research and I love to see real history inspiring the fantasy I love as well. I can definitely see the similarities. In Martin’s novels, the soldiers who manned The Wall came from all different parts of the world, were unable to marry, lived by a strict code, and were fighting against the unknown. Much the same as these Romans who lived day to day on the Hadrian and Antonine walls. One day I hope to see these sites.

Sources:

Hanson, Bill. “History Explorer: Roman Britain’s Final Frontier.” BBC History Magazine Vol 20, no. 1 (2019): 82-85.

Riley, Bronwen. “Welcome to Britannia: Roman Britain in AD 130.” BBC History Magazine (March 2015).

Hodgmen, Charlotte. “History Explorer: Early Roman Britain.” BBC History Magazine (November 2011).

http://www.bbc.co.uk/scotland/history/articles/antonine_wall/

http://www.battlefieldsofbritain.co.uk/battle_mons_graupius_ad83.html

https://www.bbc.com/bitesize/articles/zxv6pv4

http://www.antoninewall.org/about-the-wall **Official site of the Antonine Wall Historic Site**

https://hadrianswallcountry.co.uk/hadrians-wall/hadrian%E2%80%99s-wall-big-history

http://www.thejournal.co.uk/news/north-east-news/game-thrones-writer-inspired-hadrians-7214397

english history · european history · history

The Tradition of Courtly Love

It’s time for February’s post and I thought it would be only fitting to write a post regarding the theme of love. As I was beginning my research and narrowing down different topics I came across a most amusing book, The Art of Courtly Love, written between 1174-1184 (dates are not precise) by a clergyman by the name of Andreas Capelanus (also known as Andreas the Chaplain). Requested by his patron, Countess Marie of Champagne (daughter of the famous Eleanor of Aquitaine and her first husband, Louis VII of France), this book outlines the rules of courtly love in the guise of a lesson to Andreas’ fictional friend, Walter (who it seems has just been rejected by his beloved). Yet, there is more to it than just Capelanus’s rules. This was an important part of social life in noble circles, at least so much so that Countess Marie requested a written work on it. The work of Andreas Capelanus spread far through courts across Europe and began to be printed in the 1400s. There is debate whether courtly love was actually practiced or if it was just a literary device, but, either way, it seems to have been important to society. In this post, I wanted to dive into some of the details regarding this tradition. One of the most surprising discovers is the appeal that courtly love may have held for women of this period which is supported through the patronage of Eleanor of Aquitaine and her daughter Marie of Champagne.

Countess Marie of Champagne


It seems that the practice of courtly love began in Southern France in Aquitaine and Provence. The practice spread to the Northern countries partly through Eleanor of Aquitaine and her marriages with Louis VII of France and Henry II of England. Her children would continue to expand the practice and traditions further. Her daughters of her first marriage, Countess Marie and Countess Alix of Blois would spread literary interests. Countess Marie would become a patron of poets such as Chretien de Troyes (The Knight of the Cart) and of Andreas Capelanus who would write of these traditions at her requests. Eleanor’s sons by Henry II (Henry, Geoffrey, and Richard) would become patrons of literature as well. Richard the Lionheart was known to compose his own poetry. It is easy to see why social, literary, and artistic patronage would be of an interest to Eleanor. Her family in Aquitaine had a history of participation in this fad. Her own grandfather, Guilhem IX of Aquitaine, was not only a duke who led military campaigns, but was also one of the first “troubadours” and would write lyric poetry in the Occitan language. He would write humorous and scandalous poems, but also poems that exemplified courtly love:

Every joy must abase itself,

And every might obey

In the presence of Midons [‘my lord’, expressing homage], for the sweetness of her welcome,

For her beautiful and gentle look;

And a man who wins to the joy of her love

Will live a hundred years

The joy of her can make the sick man well again,

Her wrath can make a well man die,

…the courtliest man can become a churl,

And any churl a courtly man…

By the year 1170, Eleanor became estranged from her husband, Henry II, and moved back to her own hereditary domains in southern France. Her favored son, Richard, was only about thirteen years old and had been named as the duke of these domains by his father. As Richard was so young, Eleanor would become the reigning duchess again of Aquitaine and their holdings. She would set out with determination to revive her court in Poitors. With her son in tow, acknowledged as the new duke, Eleanor would go on a royal tour of her lands gathering the old Aquitaine nobility creating an entourage of young nobles and prospective knights. There would be a variety of entertainments like poetry, singing, tournaments, dancing, special events, etc. Eleanor would be a patron of the arts and provide a valuable courtly education for these prospective heirs. She would also use the rebuilding of her ducal home to showcase some of the treasures she had brought home from when she traveled to Byzantium on Crusade with her first husband supporting her love of the arts.

Eleanor of Aquitaine


Countess Marie, as a daughter of Eleanor, probably knew a lot of her families poetic beginnings, but also married into a duchy with a strong literary tradition. Her court of love was stationed in Troyes (her husband’s domain) and writers and poets found many sponsorships. She may have also been in contact with her mother as she set up her court in Poitors, collaborating and sharing ideas. This was the atmosphere Andreas the Chaplain had to write his treatise on The Art of Courtly Love at the direction of the Countess. There is not much known of the author except that he was a clergyman. He may not have approved of much of what he was writing about for the Countess and this is evident in the writing, yet it is ironic that it became so popular. Some view it as a satire piece, though I believe there must be some truth in the traditions or it would not have been approved by his patron. Per John Jay Parry’s translation of the work, it is thought that Andreas the Chaplain was attempting to portray Queen Eleanor’s court in Poitiers between 1170 and 1174 (by 1174, she had been called back to England by her husband). It seems courtly love was the new fad among those of the “leisure” classes.

It can be suspected that since society was so restrained by the church that it was natural something of courtly love would come about to provide a bit of fun in society. The church was very restrictive and did not approve of love in the idealized sense. One married for property and for the procreation of children and did not partake in the “sinful” character of love. Women specifically were very restricted as they were to perform their duty to their family and remain obedient. Courtly love was something outside of marriage that contradicted to all of society’s expectations.

Andreas writes this treatise as if he is writing to his friend, Walter, “a new recruit of Love” in order to teach him how to come back from rejection and get a proper beloved. Andreas defines love as “a certain inborn suffering derived from the sigh of and excessive meditation upon the beauty of the opposite sex, which causes each one to wish above all things the embraces of the other and by common desire to carry out all of love’s precepts in the other’s embrace.” Yet, despite the suffering, he goes on to explain, true love brings out the best traits in a person. A lover is humble and would give up everything, all worldly positions to attain it. Courtly love is fickle and can always be either increasing or decreasing, which supports the importance of a written rule book.

There are five means by which love may be acquired, per The Art of Courtly Love. These include “a beautiful figure, excellence of character, extreme readiness of speech, great wealth, and the readiness with which one grants that which is sought.” Though it is important to only acquire love from the first three options as the other two viewed dishonorable. A good character is the most important thing one should look for in a potential lover, which might not be what you’d expect from a world based on class and wealth. Money, according to Andreas, will not buy you proper love.

“A person of good character draws the love of another person of the same kind, for a well-instructed lover, man or woman, does not reject an ugly lover if the character within is good.A man who proves to be honorable and prudent cannot easily go astray in love’s path or cause distress to his beloved. If a wise woman selects as her lover a wise man, she can very easily keep her love hidden forever; she can teach a wise lover to be even wiser, and if he isn’t so wise she can restrain him and make him careful.”

Good character lies supreme over all when it comes to choosing a partner through courtly love, even if physical beauty is lacking or there is a difference in class (though be sure not to include peasants, clergy and prostitutes in that number, per Andreas). I believe good character would be defined by Andreas as someone who is accomplished, humble, chaste, generous, polite and courageous. This is the feeling I got from reading The Art of Courtly Love. On the other hand, an excess of passion would not have been attractive in a courtly lover. Lust and disloyalty will hurt one’s courtly love affair.

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“An excess of passion is a bar to love, because there are men who are slaves to such passionate desire that they cannot be held in the bonds of love–men who, after they have thought long about some woman…when they see another woman straightway desire her embraces, they forget about the services they have received from their first love, and they feel no gratitude for them. Men of this kind lust after every woman they see; their love is like that of a shameless dog. They should rather, I believe be compared to asses, for they are moved only by that low nature which shows men are on the level of other animals rather than by that true nature which sets us apart from all the other animals by the difference of reason.”

I thought it was interesting that Andreas, a man of his time, would point this out. He continues later that “if one of the lovers should be unfaithful to the other…he renders himself wholly unworthy of his former love, and she ought to deprive him completely of her embraces, because the feeling of love he formerly had is now completely gone.” Andreas actually encourages the woman to leave the man and accepting that lover back into her life would just cause herself unneeded suffering. Andreas explains that the woman should never take back an unfaithful man, even if he asks permission to leave. If he does ask this she should reject him immediately. I thought this was surprisingly empowering of women, during a time where they were treated as essentially property. A woman has the power to reject a man who has wronged her through the practice of courtly love.

The idea of courtly love can be viewed as providing women with more power and authority. She is the the one to be worshiped and men are to become their projects. A woman can choose who she wishes to bestow her favor on and when she wishes to reject advances, which contradicts the practice and restraint of arranged marriages. The woman can, through her love, make a man of good character. For example, Andreas writes eight different dialogues between members of different classes and their experience pursuing courtly love. In the dialogue between the middle class man and the noble woman, the middle class man begs her to become his teacher and provide him with wisdom. A training in good character can make everyone noble.

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The power is truly in the woman’s hand as courtly love, as it appeared to me in my research, was based on obtaining a woman’s favor and the hope of her love. Andreas writes that a man should always try to flatter his beloved early in the conversation and the dialogue’s are riddled with this (changing depending on the class situation). He also writes that a man should be sympathetic. If he happens to offend his love, he must apologize immediately. A man must always be obedient and humble and not brag to others about his love. In his twelve rules of acquiring love, Andreas is very specific on certain points: always be modest, always be polite and courteous, do not exceed the desires of the lover, and always obey the lady.

I can see why this practice may have been appealing to women of this era. This was a time when marriage was used for political gain and a woman no more than a pawn. She would have to marry as her family wished in order to enhance their fortunes. Very rarely could she be granted a divorce, as this practice was unfavorable to the Church. She was restrained and made to be obedient, yet courtly love may have been an outlet. It is one of the rules of courtly love that marriage and true love are incompatible. They must and can only remain separate. In one of the dialogues a letter from Countess Marie is quoted (I do not know if this was real or made up by Andreas): “We declare and we hold as firmly established that love cannot exert its powers between two people who are married to each other. For loves give each other everything freely, under no compulsion of necessity, but married people are duty bound to give in to each other’s desires and deny themselves to each other nothing.” Basically, she is saying that marriage is a duty, while love is given without concerns for wealth, status, or obligation (in theory). This is probably why another of the rules of courtly love is to keep it a secret!

Andreas creates a list of 31 ultimate rules of courtly love, and though I will not share all, I believe some to be interesting:

  • Marriage is no real excuse of not loving
  • He who is not jealous cannot love
  • No one can be bound by a double love
  • The which a lover takes against the will of his beloved has no relish
  • Love is always a stranger in the home of avarice
  • A true lover does not desire to embrace in love anyone except his beloved
  • When made public love rarely endures
  • Good character alone makes any man worthy of love
  • If love diminishes it quickly fails and rarely revives
  • A true lover considers nothing good except what he thinks will please his beloved

How were these “rules” put into practice? Poetry and song were large outlets for expression of this type of love. Take these three verses I have selected from Bernart de Ventadorn’s,  It is no wonder if I sing:

In all good faith, without deceit

I love her, the fairest and best.

I sigh in my heart and weep from my eyes,

For I love her so much that I grieve.

What more can I do, imprisoned by Love

In a cell, while she keeps the key?

It will be opened only by mercy,

And no mercy comes to me

This love strikes me so gently

In the heart with its sweet savor,

A hundred times a day I die in pain

And revive with joy a hundred more.

The bad in me wears a beautiful face,

For my bad is better than another man’s good;

And since my bad is so good for me,

The good after grief will be good indeed…

Good lady, I ask you nothing at all

Except to make me your servant,

For I’ll serve you as I would a good lord,

And never ask for another reward.

So here I am, at your command,

A frank, humble heart, courtly and glad!

You’re surely not a lion or bear

Who’d slay me when I surrender!

Ventadorn follows the practice of courtly love as he is consumed by the image of his beloved. It is all consuming and powerful, he is searching for the hope of love from the woman of his heart. He asks to be her servant, he is not worthy of her but her love will make him worthy. Most importantly, he asks for no reward, which shows he is not influenced by greed or status.


God Speed! By Edmund Blair Leighton, 1900


There is also an example of a female troubadour during this period who also wrote of courtly love. I loved finding examples of female writings. I wonder if courtly love actually provided more opportunities for female troubadours?

The female troubadour who was active during this period was known as La Comtessa de Dia (her true identity has never been known).

The poem I selected is titled From joy and youth I take my fill:

From joy and youth I take my fill,

And joy and youth fill me up;

Because my lover is a merry man,

I am merry and pretty, too.

And since I’m always true to him

It’s only right he’s true to me;

For my love for him has never waned

And wane it never shall.

I’m pleased that he’s a worthy man,

The one who’s worth so much to me,

And pray that those who set us up

God will set in great delight.

And if they say I do bad things

He should say no if I say it’s not true;

For the man who hunts for switches

May turn out to be the one switched

These are the first two verses and the Comtessa de Dia is hitting on the important themes of good character (worth) and the importance of loyalty. These are key for a woman to look for when she is pursuing a courtly lover during this time. He must be worthy and true to her.

She continues in the next two verses:

So a lady who cares for her name

Must surely give her care

To a worthy, noble knight.

And when she sees his worth

Let her open up to love,

For once the love of a lady opens,

No noble or charming man

Will speak lightly of her charms

My man is so high-born and handsome

He makes merit rise even higher;

Sensitive, giving, and deft,

He has the gift of wit.

I pray that he’ll believe in me,

Not in others who’d make him believe

That I could ever be false to him—

Unless he were false to me!

These verses reveal the woman’s anxiety regarding how her own character is viewed by primarily her beloved. She worries that gossip and rumor will affect her lovers opinion of her worth. Andreas warns of this anxiety and how it can cause love to “decrease” if it becomes all consuming. That is why trust is important, though Andreas goes on to explain that jealousy is key to increasing love. This is a bit confusing as any tinge of unfaithfulness is bad, but jealousy is good?

Andreas also writes of the famous “Courts of Love” which were supposed councils of women who would take love cases and make a decision. Andreas writes of the cases that some of the women took and made decisions on which include Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine, Countess Marie, and other high born ladies who were popular in the European courts. Were these “courts” real? Probably not, but could Andreas accounts be based on events he saw or experienced? In the context of the book, they are used to illustrate the rules of love and give a nod to his patron. These cases would hit on the issues of marriage, unfaithfulness, deciding between two loves, worthiness of character, and unusual situations (like what if your lover lost a limb in war?).

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Yet, there were criticisms of the practice of courtly love. Was this just a game or did it lead to something more sinful? Christine de Pizan, a medieval writer and early feminist, wrote about her disapproval of the practice. She believed it was actually a harmful practice to the woman who gained nothing, while the men gained more. The woman would only gain more anxiety, due to the secretive nature of the practice and then more “dishonor and criticism” when the truth came out. She also disagreed with the idea that marriage and love should always be held as separate. As a Christian as well, she found courtly love to be an excuse to legitimize adultery. This is a valid criticism of practice and would definitely have been distasteful to the Christian values medieval contemporaries were taught. I don’t believe Andreas, as a clergyman, believed in the practice either.

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Tristan and Isolde by Edmund Blair Leighton


Courtly love was an interesting social practice among the upper classes of medieval society which expressed itself through literature and poetry. There is speculation whether it was actually practice in real life, but there is evidence that the themes were rampant in the written word of the day. The practice was spread greatly by Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine throughout her life and through her offspring. The practice created an outlet for those who felt constrained by the duties of medieval society and by the Churches teachings. It possibly provided more power and freedom to the woman, who the practice was built around, whose duty to society constrained them. Yet, others criticized it as an excuse to commit adultery and distance themselves from the Church. Overall, this has been an interesting topic to research and eventually evolved into our ideas of a “perfect love” or “romance” today.

Thank you for taking the time to read my post! I am sorry if the formatting is a bit off. I am still trying to figure out how to use the new wordpress editor!

Sources:

Capellanus, Andreas. The Art of Courtly Love. Translated by John Jay Parry. New York: Columbia University Press, 1990

Paden, William D. Troubadour Poems from the South of France. Boydell & Brewer, 2007

Bogin, Meg. The Women Troubadours. W.W. Norton Company, 1976

Kelly, Amy. “Eleanor of Aquitaine and her Courts of Love.” Speculum Vol 12, no. 1 (Jan 1937): 3-19.

https://public.wsu.edu/~delahoyd/medieval/love.html

http://www.ling.helsinki.fi/~vaasjoki/exlibris/chretien.html

“Love as a Threat: Christine de Pizan’s Reflections on Courtly Love in the Book of The Duke of True Lovers” article by Safak Altunsoy

All images obtained from Google Images

biography · english history · history

Aethelflaed: The Heroine of Mercia

Aethelflaed has received a revival of interest with the popularity of the show The Last Kingdom and other media. She is a fascinating character, but, in this post, I wanted to answer two questions. Who was the actual Aethelflaed and why is she so important to English history? I believe she is an important female figure who is often overshadowed by others during the Anglo-Saxon period. In the year 911, Aethelflaed, known as the Lady of the Mercians, took over the command of the kingdom of Mercia after her husband’s death. She was not just a regent until the next male heir came of age but was viewed as the head of government by her own people. She is known as an effective military commander, diplomat, and a benevolent ruler. By the end of Aethelflaed’s reign, she contributed much to the eventual consolidation of Saxon England.

Continue reading “Aethelflaed: The Heroine of Mercia”
english history · european history · history

A Christmas to Remember: The Truce of 1914

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“All Together Now” by Artist Andrew Edwards.

Christmas Eve, 1914

“It must have been sad do you say? Well I am not sorry to have spent it there and the recollection of it will ever be one of imperishable beauty. At midnight a baritone stood up and in a rich resonant voice sang, Minuit Chretiens. The cannonade ceased and when the hymn finished applause broke out from our side and from the German trenches! The Germans were celebrating Christmas too and we could hear them singing two hundred yards from us. Now I am going to tell you something which you will think incredible but I give you my word that it is true. At dawn the Germans displayed a placard over the trenches on which was written Happy Christmas then, leaving their trenches, unarmed they advanced towards us singing and shouting “comrades!”. No one fired. We also had left our trenches and separated from each other only by the half frozen Yser, we exchanged presents. They gave us cigars and we threw them some chocolate. Thus almost fraternizing we passed the morning. Unlikely indeed, but true. I saw it but thought I was dreaming.” -Letter from a Belgian soldier printed in The Times, 1915

World War I began in July of 1914 with the expectation on both sides that it would be a quick victory. Over the course of 51 months the war would bring a devastating death toll of 15 to 19 million soldiers and civilians. This tragic event would practically destroy a whole generation and cause much pain to the families that had to endure. It is easy to remember the death and destruction this war brought, but it is also just as important to remember the positive points. There were moments that showed there was still hope, kindness, and generosity despite differences. In the spirit of Christmas, I wanted to dive into the unusual occasion of the Christmas Eve truce in 1914. This was truly brought on by the common soldier and the truce itself was unofficial and spontaneous. The men found that despite the death, destruction and bad feelings that had surrounded them since the summer; they could take the opportunity to still share a common experience with their enemy. It seems unbelievable to us now (and definitely to the soldiers then) that Christmas Carols were sung with their enemies. These were the same enemies that had fired shoots at them the day before. This is the story and experience of the Christmas Truce 1914.

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english history · european history · history

Will the Mystery of the Princes in the Tower Finally Have Answers?

Could the mystery of the Princes in the Tower finally be solved?

In 1674, workers (while remodeling the Tower of London) came upon two child skeletons that were hidden in box under a staircase. Instantly, to the 17th century contemporaries, these bones were assumed to have been the lost Plantagenet princes (Edward V and Prince Richard). Sir Thomas More, in his histories, wrote specifically that the princes were buried “at a stair-foot” (possibly this information came from interviews with those who lived during the time of Richard III or maybe More was just making assumptions). This was enough for Charles II who had the bones buried at Westminster Abbey where they have remained to this day.

But, these bones have never been tested. There is no proof that these were the Princes except that they were found in the last location that the Princes had lived and were bones of children. Now, there might be a chance to solve this mystery once and for all. A direct descendant of Jacquetta of Luxembourg (the prince’s maternal grandmother) has been found and has allowed a sample of her DNA to be used to test against the bones found in the tower. From what I have read, it has been very difficult search to find a direct descendant (which makes sense due to the over 500 year time gap). The only hurdle now is to get permission from Westminster to exhume the bones once again in order to complete this test. Again, from what I have read, it seems that Westminster has been unwilling in the past to allow this, but maybe with having this solid DNA sample they may be more accepting.

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biography · english history · european history · history

Add to Your Reading List: A Testament of Youth

I suppose it is better to have had such splendid friends as those three were rather than not to have had any particular friends at all, but yet, now that all are gone, it seems that whatever was of value in life has tumbled down like a house of cards.”

-Letter from Edward to Brittain in response to the death of their friend, Victor

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Edward Brittain, Roland Leighton, Victor Richardson

I have spent August reading a memoir from World War I, which really kept me thinking for days after. I believe this is a very important memoir and one most people should take the time to read. It is one of the few accounts from the era that is from a female point of view. Many accounts of World War I are from the men in the trenches, but what about the women they left behind? In Testament of Youth, Vera Brittain writes of her life during this era and a bit afterwards. Brittain was born in 1893 and had grown up in northern England. She had one brother named Edward and the siblings were very intelligent and talented. Brittain was very interested in furthering her education and in writing, while Edward was a musician. The two were part of a lost generation and much of the memoir focuses on how their generation was affected by a war of that scale. She discusses how the generations that came before or after could never really comprehend what they went through. They were on their own island.

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American History · history

The Declaration of Independence and its Legacy

This week celebrated one of the most important events in American history. Wednesday, July 4, was the anniversary of the ratification of the Declaration of Independence and, after spending some of the week in Boston, I find myself full of the Revolutionary spirit! I wanted to create some blog posts this month that highlight some of the key events leading to the break of the American colonies from England.

I came to a realization while traveling in Boston that in current time we don’t truly realize how radical the events of the Revolution were. The rights to “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness” and having a government that is run by the consent of the people are just what is expected. That did no exist in the world that the Declaration of Independence was born into. The American colonies were there for the benefit of the parent country first and their own needs were secondary. These figures in our history were truly risking their lives for something they did not know would work at all and I admire that. At the time, Britain, and even the world, believed these “upstart colonists” were doomed to fail. Britain was the greatest power in existence and they had the advantage. When the British looked at the colonist they saw untrained and undisciplined farmers while they had a professional army. Some in Parliament even viewed the future Americans as “lazy”. The British also knew that the colonists could not finance a war as they had no navy and no way to manufacture supplies in large quantities.

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