One of the most singular characteristics of this period is the curious mixture of religion and love. The knight wrote poems in honor of the Virgin Mary, which cannot be easily distinguished from those addressed to the lady of his affection. The love of God and of the ladies was the prime motive of every true knight in his course of chivalry. To this he publicly and solemnly devoted himself. La Dame des Belles Cousines, a shining light in the days of chivalry, held that the love of God should not go on without the love of the ladies, and that a “lover who comprehended how to serve a lady was saved.” St. Palaye does not hesitate to accept this serious article of the faith of a knight. Speaking of the education of gentle youth he says, “The first lessons given to them had reference principally to the love of God and of the ladies—that is to say, to religion and to gallantry.
“If one can credit the chronicle of Jean de Saintre, it was generally the ladies who undertook the duty of teaching them at one and the same time their catechism and the art of love. But in like manner, as the religion which was taught was accompanied by peurilities [sic] and superstition, so the love of the ladies, which was prescribed to them, was full of refinement and fanaticism.”
The poet Chaucer observes as follows: “Women are the cause of all knighthood, the increase of worship, and of all worthiness, courteous, glad and mercy, and true in every wise.”
Gassier in his History of the Chivalry of France,” speaking of the romancers or troubadours, has the following:
“Many knights are numbered among these poets. To consecrate his heart and his homage to a mistress, to live for her exclusively; for her to aspire to all the glory of arms and of the virtues, to admire her perfections and assure to them public admiration, to aspire to the title of her servant and her slave, and to think himself blessed if, in recompense of so great a love, and of so great efforts, she deign to accept them; in a word, to serve his lady as a kind of divinity those favors cannot but be the prize of the noblest sentiments, a divinity who cannot be loved without respect, and who cannot be respected without love—this was one of the principal duties of every knight, or of whosoever desired to become one. The imagination sought to exalt itself with such a scheme of love; and, by forming heroes, it gave reality to all the flights of the poet’s imagination of that time.
“The fair whose charms and whose merits the knights-troubadour celebrated, those earthly goddesses of chivalry, welcomed them with a winning generosity, and often repaid their compliments with tender favors. It is easy to understand that, love and war being the spring of all their actions, some celebrated deeds of arms which had rendered so many brave knights illustrious, while others sang of the beauty, the graces, and the charms of their ladies, and of the tender sentiments with which the ladies aspired them.”
By the customs of Burgundy, a young maid could save the life of a criminal if she met him by accident, for the first time, going to execution, and asked him in marriage. “Is it not true,” asks Marchangy, “that the criminal who can interest a simple and virtuous maid, so as to be chosen for a husband, is not so guilty as he may appear, and that extenuating circumstances speak secretly in his favor?”
Reference: Woman: Her Position, Influence and Achievement Throughout the Civilized World. Designed and Arranged by William C. King. Published in 1900 by The King-Richardson Co. Copyright 1903 The King-Richardson Co.