Excerpt from Cappellanus [Heckel]

[From Sex, Society and Medieval Women by N. M. Heckel]


Andreas Capellanus, The Art Of Courtly Love

The letter sent to the Countess of Champagne

"To the illustrious and wise woman M., Countess of Champagne, the noble woman A. and Count G. send greeting and whatever in the world is more pleasing.

"Ancient custom shows us plainly, and the way of life of the ancients demands, that if we are to have justice done we should seek first of all in the place where Wisdom is clearly known to have found a home for herself and that we should seek for the truth of reason at its source, where it is abundant, rather than beg for its decisions where it flows scantily in small streams. For a great poverty of possessions can scarcely offer to anyone a wealth of good things or distribute an abundance of fertility. Where the master is oppressed by great want it is wholly impossible for the vassal to abound in wealth.
"Now on a certain day, as we sat under the shade of a pine tree of marvellous height and great breadth of spread, devoted wholly to love's idleness and striving to investigate Love's mandates in a good-tempered and spirited debate, we began to discern a twofold doubt, and we wearied ourselves with laborious arguments as to whether true love can find any place between husband and wife and whether jealousy flourishing between two lovers ought to be approved of. After we had argued the matter back and forth and each of us seemed to bolster up his position with reasonable arguments, neither one would give in to the other or agree with the arguments he brought forward. We ask you to settle this dispute, and we have sent you both sides of the question in detail, so that after you have carefully examined the truth of it our disagreement may be brought to a satisfactory end and settled by a fair decision. For knowing clearly and in manifest truth that you have a great abundance of wisdom and that you would not want to deprive anyone of justice, we believe that we will in no wise be deprived of it; we most urgently implore Your Excellency's decision, and we desire with all our hearts, begging you most humbly by our present address, that you will give continued attention to our case and that Your Prudence will render a fair decision in the matter without making any delay in giving the verdict."


The Letter sent back by the Countess of Champagne

"To the prudent and noble woman A. and the illustrious and famous Count G., M., Countess of Champagne, sends greeting.


"Since we are bound to hear the just petitions of everybody, and since it is not seemly to deny our help to those who ask what is proper, especially when those who go wrong on questions of love ask to be set right by our decision -- which is what the tenor of your letter indicates – we have tried diligently and carefully to carry this out without any extended delay.
"Now your letter has shown that this is the doubt that has arisen between you: whether love can have any place between husband and wife and whether between lovers jealousy is blameworthy; in both questions each of you falls back on his own opinion and opposes that of the other, and you want us to give our opinion which side properly should get the decision. We have therefore examined carefully the statements of both sides and have in very truth inquired into the matter by every possible means, and we wish to end the case with this decision. We declare and we hold as firmly established that love cannot exert its powers between two people who are married to each other. For lovers give each other everything freely, under no compulsion of necessity, but married people are in duty bound to give in to each other's desires and deny themselves to each other in nothing. Besides, how does it increase a husband's honor if after the manner of lovers he enjoys the embraces of his wife, since the worth of character of neither can be increased thereby, and they seem to have nothing more than they already had a right to? And we say the same thing for still another reason, which is that a precept of love tells us that no woman, even if she is married, can be crowned with the reward of the King of Love unless she is seen to be enlisted in the service of Love himself outside the bonds of wedlock. But another rule of Love teaches that no one can be in love with two men. Rightly, therefore, Love cannot acknowledge any rights of his between husband and wife. But there is still another argument that seems to stand in the way of this, which is that between them there can be no true jealousy, and without it true love may not exist, according to the rule of Love himself, which says, 'He who is not jealous cannot love.'


"Therefore let this our verdict, pronounced with great moderation and supported by the opinion of a great many ladies, be to you firm and indubitable truth


"The first day of May, in the year 1174, the seventh of the indiction."

(Capellanus, 105-107.)


Andreas Capellanus. The Art of Courtly Love. Trans. John Jay Parry. New York: F. Ungar Publishing Company, 1959.

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