10 Rules of Courtly Love In Medieval Courts

Last updated on January 20th, 2024 at 06:47 am

The rules of courtly love governed the secret but dangerous romantic affairs between, mostly knights and married noblewomen.

The concept of courtly love emerged in medieval Europe and usually happened between the knights and ladies who were married.

In this article, we explain the fascinating customs, expectations, and codes of conduct that governed courtly love which was rather clandestine, dangerous and most fruitless for the knight.

Here are some examples of popular courtly romances.

10 Rules of Courtly Love

These rules were highly idealized and poetic, often portrayed in literature and art of the time.

1. Admiration

Admiration is integral to courtly love, a medieval code shaping noble relationships.

The lover, typically a knight, reveres the lady’s virtues—beauty, intelligence, grace—expressed through poetry and noble deeds.

Admiration serves purposes: idealizing the lady’s allure, motivating chivalrous quests, and emphasizing love’s divine nature.

It reflects respect and veneration, seeking the lady’s favour beyond physical attraction.

Yet, courtly love’s ideals were often literary or poetic, influenced by troubadour poetry and romance literature.

Admiration in courtly love elevates ladies to near-divine status, urging knights to embody chivalric virtues while pursuing an unattainable ideal.

Related: Modern Acts of Chivalry for Modern Times

2. Risky and Dangerous

In courtly love, the risky and dangerous rule underlines the challenge and risk inherent in love the knight has to undergo, demanding them demonstrate sincerity by embracing risks.

The noblewomen who are mostly married also stand the risk of being caught by their husbands and societal stigma.

Love necessitates going to great lengths, even jeopardizing reputation, status, or safety.

The concept’s peril is heightened by common adultery, forbidden relationships, and societal obligations.

Secret rendezvous and impassioned letters risked exposure and scandal.

Courtly love often demanded dangerous feats, such as perilous journeys and knightly combat, showcasing unwavering dedication.

This rule aimed to elevate love, symbolizing loyalty and bravery, exemplifying exceptional devotion to the beloved, and underscoring the commitment’s genuineness.

By embracing risk, courtly lovers aspired to ascend love to a noble, commendable level.

A dejected lady in the absence of her knight lover

3. Worship

Worship, as one of the rules of courtly love between knights and noblewomen, refers to the adoration, reverence, and devotion that knights should show towards their chosen lady.

It emphasizes the knight’s deep admiration and respect for the noblewoman, placing her on a pedestal and treating her as an almost divine figure.

This concept of worship originated in the medieval period and was a significant aspect of the code of conduct that governed courtly love relationships.

Under the idealized system of courtly love, the knight was expected to demonstrate absolute loyalty and devotion to his lady, often serving her as a vassal would serve his lord.

This involved performing various acts of chivalry, such as engaging in valiant deeds and fighting in her honour.

However, worship went beyond mere acts of service; it encompassed a profound emotional connection with the lady.

Related: Lessons from the Code of Chivalry

The knight, in his worship, would idealize the lady, considering her a paragon of beauty, virtue, and all that is good.

He would compose poetry, songs, and love letters extolling her virtues and recounting his devotion.

The knight would present himself as a humble servant at the lady’s feet, perceiving her as superior, and often perceiving himself as unworthy of her love.

The practice of worship was both a way for knights to express their love and admiration for the noblewomen and, in some cases, a means of spiritual and moral elevation.

Knights believed that by worshiping a virtuous lady, they would become better individuals, motivated to live up to the high ideals she represented.

The love for the lady became an impetus for self-improvement, driving the knight to exhibit greater prowess, honour, and integrity.

4. Chivalry

Chivalry, as one of the rules of courtly love between knights and noblewomen, is a code of conduct that governed the behaviour, attitudes, and ideals of knights towards women during medieval times.

It comprised of respect, politeness, and honourable actions towards women, emphasizing their protection and welfare.

The concept of chivalry originated in medieval Europe in the 12th century, evolving within the context of the troubadour culture, where knights would pledge their loyalty to a noblewoman, often married or otherwise unattainable, and express their love through poetry, songs, and acts of service.

Chivalry thus came to embody more than just deeds on the battlefield; it represented a knight’s devotion and adoration for his lady.

The rules of chivalry outlined that a knight should show courtesy and deference towards women, treating them with utmost respect and honour.

Related: Genuine Reasons why Chivalry is not Dead

A knight was expected to address his lady with great admiration, displaying reverence through conversations and interactions.

He would often describe her as the epitome of beauty and virtue, attributing her divine qualities and comparing her to heavenly figures.

Chivalry also promoted the idea of protecting and providing for women, both physically and emotionally.

A knight would be responsible for safeguarding his lady from any harm, offering her his assistance and support.

This protection could extend to the social sphere, defending her reputation and ensuring she was treated with dignity and respect by others.

However, it is essential to note that courtly love, including the rules of chivalry, often existed within a context of idealization and unrequited love.

It was a highly ritualized system that idealized an often unobtainable love and established a framework for noblewomen and knights to interact while adhering to social norms and codes of behaviour.

A noblewoman in the absence of her knight lover, demonstrating far away love as one of the rules of courtly love

5. Unattainability

Unattainability is a key rule of courtly love, which governed the relationships between knights and noblewomen during medieval times.

It is the idea that the object of the knight’s affection, typically a married or betrothed noblewoman, was perceived as unattainable.

This unattainability added an element of longing and desire to the love affair, intensifying the romantic feelings experienced by the knight.

The unattainability of the noblewoman could stem from various factors such as her social status, marital commitments, or the knight’s own lack of noble birth.

Related: Examples of Chivalry Behaviours Men Should Master

The knight was expected to pursue the lady from a respectful distance, maintaining a code of conduct that included courteous behaviour, loyalty, and honour.

This created a sense of chivalry and romantic idealism, with the knight acting as a protector and devotee of his lady.

The inherent unattainability of the noblewoman also added a layer of challenge to the courtly love relationship.

Overcoming this challenge was often portrayed as the ultimate sign of a knight’s worthiness.

The unattainability rule not only added complexity to the love affair but also elevated the status of the noblewoman, cementing her as a figure of beauty, virtue, and desirability.

6. Secrecy and Discretion

Secrecy and discretion were essential rules of courtly love between knights and noblewomen during the medieval period.

Secrecy referred to the need for lovers to keep their relationship hidden from public scrutiny.

The clandestine nature of courtly love was a reflection of the societal constraints that existed.

Marriages during this era were often arranged for political or economic purposes, leaving little room for personal choice or emotional fulfillment.

Courtly love provided an outlet for expressing forbidden passions, and so it was imperative that these love affairs remain in obscurity to avoid scandal and possible punishment.

Discretion, on the other hand, referred to the need for both parties involved in courtly love to exercise caution and restraint.

It entailed keeping emotions and actions under control to maintain the appearance of a chaste and virtuous relationship.

This was especially important for noblewomen, as any hint of impropriety could ruin their reputation and social standing.

7. Service and Deference

Service and deference are two essential rules of courtly love that governed the relationship between knights and noblewomen during the medieval era.

Service refers to the knight’s willingness and commitment to serve and protect his beloved noblewoman.

The knight is required to be loyal, dedicated, and obedient to her wishes.

The knight will go to great lengths to demonstrate his love and devotion, often performing feats of valour to prove himself worthy of his noblewoman’s affection.

Related: The Medieval Code of Chivalry

Deference, on the other hand, refers to the knight’s manner of showing respect and reverence towards the noblewoman.

The knight must uphold the noblewoman’s social status and treat her with utmost respect and courtesy.

He must also be mindful of her desires and needs, always putting her happiness and well-being above his own.

These rules of service and deference are integral to courtly love as they establish a hierarchical structure between the knight and noblewoman, with the knight serving as the protector and the noblewoman as the cherished figure.

By adhering to these rules, knights and noblewomen created a romanticized ideal of love, embodying the virtues of chivalry, honour, and devotion.

8. Jealousy

In the context of courtly love, jealousy is one of the rules that govern the relationships between knights and noblewomen.

Jealousy is the idea that a knight must demonstrate possessiveness and protectiveness towards his lady, while the lady must inspire a sense of jealousy in her knight.

This rule stems from the belief that love should be intense, passionate, and exclusive.

Jealousy is considered an essential aspect of courtly love as it serves several purposes.

Firstly, it creates a sense of competition among knights, driving them to win the favor and attention of their chosen lady.

Related: The Meaning of Chivalry

It also reinforces the idea that love is a contest or a game, where the knight must prove himself worthy of the lady’s affections.

Jealousy is believed to increase the intensity of love, as the fear of losing the beloved strengthens the knight’s commitment and devotion towards his lady.

The lady, on the other hand, is expected to inspire jealousy in her knight by being courted by other suitors or simply by being in the presence of other men.

This helps her assert her role as the object of desire and maintain the knight’s interest and dedication.

Through this rule, jealousy becomes a means to test the loyalty and faithfulness of both the knight and the lady, ensuring that their love remains constant and unwavering.

9. Suffering and Longing

Courtly love was characterized by suffering and longing. Suffering in courtly love refers to the idea that love must entail some degree of pain or sacrifice.

It suggests that love is not easily attainable, and the longing for the beloved becomes a defining feature of the courtly experience.

Knights would often pine or yearn for the unattainable love of a noblewoman, suffering in their longing for her affection.

This suffering was seen as a noble and virtuous way to prove devotion and dedication.

Longing, on the other hand, represents the intense desire or yearning for the beloved.

Knights were expected to pine for their beloved, constantly thinking of her, and expressing their longing through poetic devices such as imagery, metaphors, and themes of unrequited love.

The longing was seen as an essential part of courtly love, providing a heightened emotional experience and enhancing the idealized nature of the relationship.

10. Love from Afar

Love from afar, also known as amor de lonh, was a central rule in courtly love between knights and noblewomen during the Middle Ages.

It has to do with a love that was deemed impossible to be fully consummated or realized due to various obstacles, primarily distance, and social boundaries.

In this context, knights, who often embarked on quests and conflicts, were separated from their noblewoman loves, making physical intimacy unattainable.

This unattainability of love served as a powerful catalyst, elevating the ideal of courtly love.

It transformed the love relationship into a spiritual and emotional connection that was celebrated for its intensity and purity.

The knight would idolize the noblewoman, often considering her as the unreachable object of his affections, his “lady of his heart.”

This idea sustained a sense of longing and yearning, representing the knight’s devotion and dedication to his beloved.

Love from afar bred a code of behaviour, where knights were expected to demonstrate chivalrous qualities such as honour, loyalty, and bravery, in order to prove themselves worthy of their noblewoman’s love.

Courtly love, with its idealized nature, hence acted as a motivation and inspiration for knights to strive for excellence in their deeds, both on and off the battlefield.

Although love from afar could be seen as a form of restraint and unfulfilled desire, it provided a framework for expressing and cherishing love in a society bounded by social hierarchies and conventions.

It elevated the concept of love to a higher plane, emphasizing the emotional and spiritual connection between knights and noblewomen while maintaining a sense of romantic longing that added depth and meaning to their relationship.

Original Rules of Courtly Love

  • Marriage is not an excuse for not falling in love.
  • He who is not jealous hardly loves.
  • No one can be held by a dual love.
  • It is a known fact that love either increases or decreases.
  • For a lover, there’s no pleasure in acquiring what the beloved opposes.
  • Boys don’t experience love until they reach the stage of immaturity.
  • Surviving lovers are advised to observe a two-year mourning period for a departed beloved.
  • Depriving someone of love requires valid cause.
  • Love only blooms when driven by love’s force.
  • Love shuns greed’s abode.
  • Loving someone you’d be ashamed to wed is improper.
  • True lovers desire only their beloved’s embrace.
  • Love’s revelation often dims its flame.
  • Easy conquest cheapens love; difficulty enriches it.
  • In love’s presence, lovers turn pale.
  • A beloved’s sight quickens the heart.
  • A new love displaces an old.
  • Moral integrity begets deserving love.
  • Diminished love fades, rarely rekindles.
  • Love breeds fear in lovers.
  • Jealousy intensifies love.
  • Suspicion fuels jealousy and love’s effects.
  • Love’s turmoil hinders appetite and sleep.
  • Love’s course ends in thoughts of the beloved.
  • The true lover believes in what pleases the beloved.
  • Love is generous to love’s desires.
  • Beloved’s embraces never satiate lovers.
  • A hint of doubt enhances grave suspicion.
  • Excessive passion doesn’t fit love.
  • True lovers are consumed by their beloved’s image.
  • Nothing bars two loving a woman or man.

The rules of courtly love were more of an idealized cultural construct rather than actual guidelines followed by all individuals.

Nevertheless, they influenced the perception of love and relationships in medieval society and played a significant role in shaping the literary and artistic traditions of the time.


The etiquette and rules of courtly love held great importance in medieval courts, serving as a structured and refined code of conduct for nobility and the aristocracy.

These principles established guidelines for romantic relationships, emphasizing chastity, secrecy, and devotion.

The practice of courtly love allowed individuals to express their desires and emotions within the boundaries of social expectations.

It provided a framework for courtly behaviour, promoting refinement, courtesy, and respect.

While courtly love may seem idealistic and romanticized today, it played a significant role in shaping medieval society, influencing literature, art, and courtly rituals for generations to come.


  1. http://faculty.sgc.edu/rkelley/rulesoflove.htm