By Iulia Pironea (http://500px.com/photo/58109660) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
These days, public displays of attraction are in our faces. Skin is bared, bodies and lips touch across every media from advertising to YouTube. But what was a couple a century or ten centuries ago allowed to do? How could a man show his lust and a woman show her willingness to be lusted after?
Our Love Historicals authors tell us about courtship through the ages!
Courting – Medieval Style – Anna Markland
In the 11th and 12th centuries, there was little courting as we know it today. Women often met their husbands for the first time at the altar, their fate having been decided by their parents in some cases before they were born. Marriage was for procreating heirs, not for love.
In several of my books, I describe betrothal ceremonies where the man and woman meet to agree to be married. We might call that an engagement. If these ceremonies took place at all, they were formal affairs. Often neither the noble nor his intended bride could write, and so they made their mark, witnessed by a scribe or scrivener, normally a religious of some kind.
It was considered inappropriate for unmarried men and women to be alone together. Women’s bodies were covered from head to toe, including the hair.
Yet this was an age when illegitimate children were the accepted norm. The notion of love in a marriage was laughable. The men of my medieval Norman family jokingly refer to the “curse of the Montbryces”. They consider themselves cursed because they are that most unusual of medieval things-noblemen in love with their wives.
King Henry I of England sired two legitimate children, but he openly flaunted almost twenty mistresses (most of them married to men in his court) and had untold numbers of royal bastards.
While it was acceptable, even expected, that a man would take a mistress, if a married woman so much as looked at another man…unless that other man was a king.
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Detail from Half Moon ledger book, MS Am 2337, Houghton Library, Harvard University
Courting – Lakota style – Nancy Morse
Aside from chance meetings, brief conversations, and a well-aimed plum pit tossed at a girl to gain her attention, a young Lakota man a hundred years ago had little opportunity to get to know the girl of his dreams.To win her heart he might have obtained a love potion from the Elk Dreamer, a shaman skilled in such magic. But the love medicine was very powerful, and if not handled properly, it could make the young man very sick. So, most likely, he made himself as attractive as possible in his finest clothes and beaded moccasins and headed for the girl’s tipi with a blanket draped over his arm. Enfolded in the blanket, their heads covered from view, he and his heart’s desire could converse privately in public, shielded from the girl’s over-protective parents and curious onlookers. The custom was called ina aopemni inajinpi, or “standing wrapped in the blanket”. A popular girl might have several young men waiting for their turns beneath the blanket with her. She could, of course, refuse a man’s embrace or cut the “date” short which, in essence, gave her control overthe courting ritual. Because of close relationships within small bands, courtship was infrequent. It was only when many bands came together, as with the annual Sun Dance for instance, that courtships flourished. The practice continued into the reservation period, but faded in the late 19th century when young people began going away to boarding school. Today, although young Lakota lovers no longer stand wrapped in the blanket, the charming practice is kept alive through oral tradition and ledger drawings depicting scenes of the daily Plains life of their ancestors.
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Courtship in the Victorian Era – Christy Carlyle
Just as women today are sometimes advised not to “try too hard” or pursue a guy when he’s just not that into you, women during the Victorian Era were expected to let the man take the lead when it came to courtship. In most cases, men called on women, not the other way around. Etiquette books of the period encouraged young women to behave with modesty, propriety, and refrain from too much exuberance. Laughing too loudly, winking, or putting your hand on the person with whom you’re conversing would have been considered immodest. Ladies were expected to be chaperoned when they met with gentlemen or took a walk outside, but young people expected to conduct their courtship under the watchful eye of chaperones. Such a custom was meant to protect the young lady’s reputation. Only after a couple was formally engaged were they allowed a modicum of privacy and could hold hands, walk arm in arm, or even share a modest kiss.
Though flirtation was difficult within the constrained world of rules and chaperones, some guides provided ladies with tips on how to signal their interest, or disinterest, in a man through the use of their gloves, handkerchiefs, fans, or parasols. According to one guide, holding one’s gloves with fingertips down could indicate you desired to make a certain young man’s acquaintance. It seems young men would have had to do a good deal of studying the various secret languages of fans and gloves in order to read a young lady’s signals correctly. And you can easily imagine a comedy of errors in which the wrong gentleman receives a message that wasn’t intended for him at all. Interestingly, the etiquette manuals were quite vehement about being clear in one’s intentions and never leading a member of the opposite sex on or doing anything that might cause them to misconstrue your interest or disinterest. Some manuals provided wording examples of notes you could send to reject a suitor properly.
Another fascinating aspect of the Victorian period is that the companionable love match became a popular notion. Of course, couples fell in love in every era, but finding a beloved companion, a soul mate (to use a modern phrase), was never so much an objective of marriage as in the Victorian popular imagination. Victorian literature of the period contributed to the notion of the perfect romance, and such ideals actually made courtship a bit more challenging for young men and women. Conduct manuals, etiquette books, and newspaper articles advised women how to embody the feminine ideal and guides for men laid out just as many expectations for gentlemanly conduct. It was a lot to live up to! Still, despite the rules and rituals, Victorians couples managed to meet, fall in love, and marry. Indeed, the marriage rate and population/fertility rates increased in Britain throughout the Victorian period.
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Courting in Charlemagne’s Empire – Jill Hughey
Like many aristocratic societies, those in the upper echelons of the Carolingian Empire married to make connections, and often those matches were arranged by parents, with no regard for the youngsters’ preferences. This seems archaic now, but children were raised to expect such a marriage.
There is very little history left for us regarding the lower classes in the 800s. We know they lived in a much smaller world than the aristocrats, and may have at least been able to marry someone they knew. I like to imagine young couples meeting at mass or dancing together at a community holiday. However, small landholders or merchants might also benefit from arranging favorable alliances and probably would have followed the lead of the upper classes where possible.
So, as some of us anticipate cards or flowers for Valentines Day, and others might be getting together with good friends, we should remember the ideas of romance, courtship and marrying for love are not universal concepts. Entire empires were built by couples who barely knew each other!
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Our Valentine’s celebration is just beginning at Love Historicals. We’re having a blog hop and $100 gift card giveaway tomorrow, so make sure to come back, or subscribe to us so you never miss a thing!