THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Medieval manuscripts blog

14 February 2016

The Illustrated Guide to Medieval Love, Part II

Walking down your local high street over the past few weeks, you might have noticed some peculiar changes. Card shops have transformed into love-heart themed grottos filled with fluffy bears and pink gift wrap. Florists have been whipping themselves up into a rose-petal and ribbon-induced frenzy. Chocolatiers have been running on overtime, filling heart-shaped box, after heart-shaped box, with chocolate delights.

Yep, you guessed it, it’s Valentine’s Day.

Long-standing followers of this blog may remember our Illustrated Guide to Medieval Love Part I. Now the manuscripts are back, with even more tips to aid your romantic (mis)adventures this Valentine's Day. 

1. When choosing the appropriate spot for a clandestine tryst, try and avoid places overrun with imps or gargoyles. They can be quite the mood killer.

Gargoyles E086286c
Detail of temptation by lechery, from Matfre Ermengaud, Breviari d'Amor, Southern France (Toulouse?), 1st quarter of the 14th century, Royal MS 19 C 1, f. 33r

 

2. Dragons can also have a nasty habit of interfering with your romantic moment.

Royal 20 A V f 7 dragon E124219
Detail of a miniature of Nectanebus in the form of a dragon, kissing Olympias while she is at the table with Philip, from Roman d'Alexandre en Prose, Northern France or Southern Netherlands, 1st quarter of the 14th century, Royal MS 20 A V, f. 7r

 

3. If someone offers you the key to their heart, try not to take the phrase too literally. Things could get messy.

Add 42133 f 15 key c02249-01
Detail of a framed miniature of the God of Love locking the Lover's heart with a large gold key, from Guillaume de Lorris, continued by Jean de Meun, Roman de la Rose, France (Paris), 4th quarter of the 14th century, Additional MS 42133, f. 15r

 

4. There's only one thing better than a nightcap with a handsome man, and that's a nightcap on a handsome man. 

  Lovers

Detail of lovers in bed, Aldobrandino of Siena, Le Régime du corps, Northern France, Details of an item from the British Library Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts 3rd quarter of 13th century (perhaps c. 1285), Sloane MS 2435, f. 9v. 

 

5. But if the impulse strikes, why not go ahead and 'put a ring on' your special someone. Beyoncé would be proud!

Royal 6 E VI ring
Detail of couple exchanging a ring, from James le Palmer, Omne Bonum, South-eastern England (London?), c. 1360-c. 1375, Royal 6 E VI, f. 104r

 

6. When partaking in romantic activities such as getting married, at least try to get into the spirit and look enthusiastic about it.

Royal 6 E VI marriage
Detail of a historiated initial 'C'(oniugium) of a priest joining hands of a man and a woman, from Royal 6 E VI, f. 375r

 

 7. If your love is unrequited this Valentine’s Day, why not channel your inner teenager and doodle your feelings away?


King's 322 1 heart rain c0430-02
Historiated initial 'A'(more) of a kneeling lover presenting a book to a lady, identified in the text as Mirabel Zucharia, with borders and a shield, the original arms of which have been overpainted with two hearts burning in a fire, and in the right margin is the device of a heart on a bonfire, being quenched by the rain, from 49 love sonnets, Northern Italy (Milan?), 2nd or 3rd quarter of the 15th century, King's MS 322, f. 1r

 

8. And, if rejection comes your way this Valentine's Day, have no fear!

Royal 6 E VI rejection E015129
Detail of an historiated initial 'C'(onsciencia) of two men in discussion, from Royal 6 E VI, f. 341r


 There are plenty of fish in the sea (and in the sky). Like these… 

Fish 9th century E021999
Pisces, from Cicero, Aratea, with extracts from Hyginus's Astronomica in the constellation figures, Northern France (diocese of Reims), 9th century, Harley MS 647, f. 3v

Or even these…

Fish 25542_2
Detail of Pisces, from Cicero, Aratea, Northern France (Fleury), c. 990-c.1000, Harley MS 2506, f. 36v

~Becky Lawton

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