It’s Valentine’s Day, one of our favourite holidays here at Lady Matilda’s. Thanks to the martyred Roman darling Saint Valentine (killed for his beliefs, poor dear), it’s a day of love and romance. But finding your true love can be a daunting (and exhausting!) task. We here at Lady Matilda recognise this, and are here to help with some practical tips on finding your very own Héloïse.
But before we begin:
How Do You Know It’s Love?
According to acknowledged love expert Capellanus:
“For when a man sees some woman fit for love and shaped according to his taste, he begins at once to lust after her in his heart; then the more he thinks about her the more he burns with love, until he comes to further mediation. Presently he begins to think about the fashioning of the woman and to differentiate her limbs, to think about what she does, and to pry into the secrets of her body, and he desires to put each part of it to the fullest use. Then after he has come to this complete mediation, love cannot hold the reins, but he proceeds at once to action; straightway he strives to get a helper and to find an intermediary. He begins to plan how he may find favour with her.”
(Andreas Capellanus, De Amore, France, C12)
The first time you meet with your beloved to declare your intentions, the setting must be perfect. If the place is too dull, your intended may nod off during your protestations of affection. But choose anywhere too exciting and you’ll never keep her attention, so distracted she’ll be by the events around her.
Dinner in an Open Sewer
A classic venue, one that shows how much you care. She’ll appreciate your concern for her health, as the fumes and miasma will keep away the buboes. Particularly perfect if accompanied by a gift of perfume (see below, gifts).
A Picnic in a Field
A little old-fashioned, might be better suited to widowers trying to attract the attention of a second or third wife. Get the servants to pack something nice.
For both dinner and a picnic, a few tips:
• A little extra primping will not be a waste of time; smear yourself with excrement (your own, not a servant’s!) and add a little urine to your pulse points for extra protection.
• Provide fresh posies for your love – a thoughtful item to keep the smells at bay.
• Steer the conversation away from the topic of death; nothing brings the mood of a first date down like discussing your cousin’s buboes.
• Menus this season are rustic and multifunctional. Meats and cheeses are out, as is anything with a strong enough odor to potentially aggravate what may only be a mild case of the plague. Current trends include use of mustard, mint sauce and horseradish to balance the humours and provide flavourful alternatives to otherwise inflammatory ingredients. Simple but delicious snacks of breads, fruits, and vegetables with a sprinkle of arsenic or a dash of mercury will make her fall in love with you that much more quickly.
• A meal of chicken or snake, seasoned with onion and mustard, and accompanied by a glass of vinegar shows just how much you care. And when you’re finished your meal, your love can take away all of the leftovers to rub on her infected body. Never was there a more true path to l’amour than through food.
Surprisingly, mass has become THE place to capture the attention of your intended. Whether because of all those strict behavioural rules, the constant supervision, or the presence of the bishop himself, that hint of naughtiness is hard to resist. Mass is also a great place to connect for those of a more shy disposition, or those who prefer a more subtle approach.
Ideas for Courting During Mass:
• Make eye contact – sly glances across the pews, accompanied by a wink, will set any maiden’s heart a-flutter.
• Make faces at the bishop when his back is turned – fun for the whole congregation!
• Put communion wafers over your eyes, lean back in your pew with your arms crossed over your chest, and pretend you’re dead. Hilarious! Studies have shown that women love a man with a sense of humour.
• Use communion wafers to write love notes to your beloved. Sacrilegious? Perhaps. But even God is a fan of true love, and will forgive any inappropriate use his son’s figurative body.
• Pretend you’re singing the words to a hymn but secretly mouth words of love to your intended. An example to get you started: “Love’s a stern and valiant knight, strong astride a steed; Love’s a thing that pleasures every longing women’s need.” Longing women’s need indeed! (Anonymous, English, C13)
You’ve got the setting, you’ve provided the food (or communion wafers), now what? How do you keep your lady entertained?
Show her how smart you are by playing a game. Chess, checkers, and chess are all popular pastimes. Hint: don’t be TOO clever, no one likes to lose at checkers every single time.
Treat her to an afternoon of musical entertainment. Lutes, flutes, and drums playing the most popular tunes of the day never fail to delight. Hint: hire a Scottish bagpipe player to stand a distance away and play. The noise will keep the plague fumes at bay. (How very clever of the Scots to think of such a thing!)
Let her lie back and sip wine while you read to her from the latest bestseller. That juicy new book about Sir Gawain will turn any woman’s heart-of-stone to treacle. Like this juicy passage:
“My husband and his men have gone far away,
Other servants are in bed, and my women too,
The door shut and locked with a powerful hasp;
And since I have under my roof the man everyone loves,
I shall spend my time well, while it lasts with talk.
You are welcome to me indeed,
Take whatever you want;
Circumstances force me
To be your servant”
(Pearl Poet, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, England, C14)
Phew – is it getting warm in here?
Dances, while supervised, still provide opportunities for clandestine meetings with your beloved. Tapestries are perfect hiding places for a secret rendezvous. And those with masks are particularly helpful for the more reticent lover, providing the anonymity you want while allowing you to indulge in a few forbidden fantasies.
While many women enjoy a more sedate form of courtship, if you’re lucky enough to find someone who shares your love of laying waste to wildlife, a hunt makes a perfect date. Find out what sort of animals she enjoys hunting (the communion wafer note trick is perfect for this!) and make the arrangements.
An important, indeed necessary, part of winning over your intended is the giving of gifts.
Once again we turn to Capellanus for advice:
“A woman who loves
may freely accept from her lover
a handkerchief, a fillet for the hair,
a wreath of gold or silver,
a breastpin, a mirror, a girdle,
a purse, a tassel, a comb,
sleeves, gloves, a ring, a compact,
a picture, a wash basin,
little dishes, trays, a flag as a souvenir,
and, to speak in general terms,
a woman may accept from her lover
any little gift which may be useful
for the care of the person
or pleasing to look at or which
may call the lover to her mind,
if it is clear that in accepting the gift
she is free from all avarice.”
(Andreas Capellanus, De Amore, France, C12)
Quite the list to choose from! But you can always do more:
A simple, yet profoundly personal, statement of your devotion in the form of a handwritten letter is sure to win over her heart. (For those unable to express their feelings, we’ve provided a template for you to start with:
“Noble lady, I ask nothing of you
save that you should accept me
as your servant. I will serve you
as a good lord should be served,
whatever the reward may be.
here I am, then, at your orders,
sincere and humble, gay and courteous.
you are not, after all, a bear or a lion,
and you will not kill me, surely,
if I put myself between your hands.”
(Bernard de Ventadour, French, C12)
An illuminated manuscript says ‘look at how thoughtful I am’ but also ‘look at how important YOU are.’ It’s also a great way to show off to your potential future in-laws. With this kind of gift, don’t go cheap!
The perfect gift for those dates situated in open sewers! Popular fragrances for this season are garlic, vinegar, oregano, and violet. We’ve shown here at Lady Matilda’s that you can prevent the plague AND smell good doing it!
Don’t let her convince you she doesn’t like jewellery, she’s lying (everyone likes jewellery). Our old friend Capellanus mentions rings and breastpins but don’t let THAT limit you! Think big, pendants in gold or silver, finely crafted circlets, the sky’s the limit. Just keep in mind the general rule: the bigger the piece, the better your chances.
A note on pre-marital swyving:
Sometimes lust gets the better of us – it IS, after all, the best of the deadly sins. If this should happen to you, it’s wise to keep it a secret to protect the honour and reputation of your beloved. And if the bishop finds out, everyone will pay the price next Sunday when he does one of the three hour sermons he’s become famous for.
“He chose me!”
That’s it, loyal readers, the rest is up to you. From all of us here at Lady Matilda’s, may cupid’s arrows fly true and may you find your own true love this Valentine’s Day.
A Leechbook or Collection of Medical Recipes of the Fifteenth Century, Warren R Dawson.
To the King’s Taste – Richard II’s Book of Feasts and Recipes, Lorna J Sass
Cookery – Illustrated and Household Management, Elizabeth Craig
The Black Death, Philip Ziegler
In the Wake of the Plague, Norman F. Cantor
The Black Death, Rosemary Horrox
The Measly Middle Ages (Horrible Histories), Terry Deary
Plague, Pox & Pestilence: Disease in History, Kenneth F. Kiple
Life in the Middle Ages, Martyn Whittock
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Pearl Poet
Medieval Lovers – A Book of Days, Kevin Crossley-Holland
The Art of Courtly Love, Andreas Capellanus
(all images from Wikipedia, Wikimedia Commons, British Museum, Medievalists.com)