The cultural concept of chivalry describes the social norms that medieval knights were expected to uphold in their interactions with women. These ideals of chivalry and standards of chivalrous conduct gave rise to a new romantic culture. Historians frequently refer to courtly love as the cradle of romantic ideals (Karandashev, 2017).
During that time, chivalric ideals and courtly love became popular in many European countries, including Spain, France, and Germany.
All over Europe, the fascinating chivalry tales of the Middle Ages popularized courtly love. Stories like Don Quixote’s from Spain and Ulrich von Lichtenstein’s from Germany were among them. These tales depicted noble chivalry and the beauty of courtly love. Other examples of poetry, songs, and folklore of medieval European societies also made important contributions to the history of romantic ideas of love. Some of these were the poems about knights by the German minnesinger and the Provencal troubadours. These examples demonstrate how the history and psychology of love in these countries were similar in some ways while being different in others. Here, I take a quick look at what Henry Finck (1887/2019) says about the chivalrous poetry of German minnesingers.
Who Were the German Minstrels
The German wandering minstrels, like their French counterparts, the troubadours, belonged primarily to the aristocracy. They gave their addresses primarily to married women. In both cases, of the German minstrels and French troubadours, the rigid chaperonage of the young was a reason. Since men were not allowed to make love properly, they did it improperly. However, the Minnesingers, at least in verse, were less amorous than the Troubadours. However, the minnesingers, at least in verse, were less amorous than the troubadours.
What German Minstrel Songs Were About
As American music historian Louis Elson (1900/2015) commented in his History of German Song:
“The Troubadour praised the eyes, the hair, the lips, the form of his chosen one; the Minnesinger praised the sweetness, the grace, the modesty, the tenderness of the entire sex. The one was concrete, the other abstract.”
However, abstractness is not a desirable quality in poetry, the essence of which is concrete imagery. As a result, with a few exceptions, the German Minnesingers are not poets on par with their French counterparts. Friedrich Schiller, a German poet of the 18th century, was very critical of these early writers. Schiller once remarked to a friend,
“If the sparrows on the roof ever undertake to write, or to issue an almanac of love and friendship,” he once remarked to a friend, “I would wager ten to one it would be just like these songs of love.”
“What a dearth of concepts in these songs! A garden, a tree, a hedge, a forest, and a sweetheart are just a few of the things that can be found in a sparrow’s head. Then there are fragrant flowers, mellow fruits, twigs on which a bird sits in the sunshine and sings, and spring comes and winter goes, and nothing remains but ennui.”
This criticism of Schiller, however, was too broad. There were notable exceptions to these sparrow-poets. One of them was Johannes Hadlaub, a Minnesinger of the 14th century. As Wilhelm Scherer, a German historian of literature, described him in his History of German Literature,
“He introduces human figures into his descriptions of scenery, and shows us, for example, in the summer, a group of beautiful ladies walking in an orchard, and blushing with womanly modesty when gazed at by young men.”
Then, Wilhelm Scherer compared the challenges of love to those of hardworking men such as charcoal-burners and carters.
“Hadlaub tells us more of his personal experiences than any other Minnesinger. Even as a child, we learn, he had loved a little girl, who, however, would have nothing to say to him, but continually flouted him, to his great distress. Once she bit his hand, but her bite, he says, was so tender, womanly, and gentle, that he was sorry the feeling of it passed away so soon. Another time, being urged to give him a keepsake, she threw her needle-case at him, and he seized it with sweet eagerness, but it was taken from him and returned to her, and she was made to give it him in a friendly manner. In later years his pains still remained unrewarded; when his lady perceived him, she would get up and go away. Once, he tells us, he saw her fondling and kissing a child, and when she had gone he drew the child towards him and embraced it as she had embraced it, and kissed it in the place where she had kissed it.”
How Minstrel Songs Changed Over Time
The differences between the earlier and later Minnesongs indicate a gradual change in the social and amorous position of women. As Professor Scherer observes in the early poems, “The social supremacy of the noble woman is not yet recognized, and the man woos with proud self-respect.”…
Another rejects a woman who desired his love… A fourth brags about his victories. He claims that “Women are as easily tamed as falcons.” In another song, a woman describes how she tamed a falcon, but he flew away and now wears different chains. …
“In the later Minnesongs it is the women who are proud, and the men who must languish.”
The German folk songs that came after the periods of Minnesotan music show an even more striking change.
“The women of these popular love-songs are not mostly married women; they are, as a rule, young maidens” [at last, pure Romantic Love!] “who are not only praised but also turned to ridicule and blamed. The woes of love do not here arise from the capricious coyness of the fair one, but are called forth by parting, jealousy, or faithlessness. Feeling is stronger than in the Minnesong, and seeks accordingly for stronger modes of expression.”
As Henry Finck (1887/2019) commented in his book, the first appearance of true romantic love in these folk songs was no mere coincidence. Some gifted people from the lower classes composed those folk songs. Among them, chaperonage, as the archenemy of love, was less strict than in the upper classes.