Finding echoes of my feelings towards Mistress in the romantic poetry of the Middle Ages
Quite some time ago in my vanilla life I was romantically inclined towards a woman from the European nobility. She was highly educated, incredibly self-assured, so articulate, tall, statuesque, gorgeous—I was understandably very taken by her. We flirted often, studied together from time to time, had some mutual friends, but in truth, all of my male friends were intimidated by her. She reminded me an awful lot of a girl from school growing up—very similar look, also tall as all, but also lonely in a way. I remember my mother telling me once that the pretty, tall girls were always the loneliest, because most men were afraid of asking them to dance.
I was rather taken by this woman, but she looked exactly like my mother. I mean exactly. And this was a problem, because when they say “you marry your parent of the opposite sex,” this was taking it a bit too literally. Instead I allowed myself to grow closer to her, to follow her lead in all things, and to just enjoy her company. This meant going with her to social events. She would ask me to be her “chevalier”. In modern parlance, I was her escort. Her choice of the term “chevalier” was deliberate, and as an educated noblewoman, I had no illusions as to what she meant.
Growing up, and from the moment I began to read seriously, I was always attracted to the fables from the Middle Ages. The stories of King Arthur and the Knights of the roundtable, Guinevere, the Chanson de Roland, the stories of the Crusades, Merlin and Fata Morgana. I read anything and everything I could on this world. I found true beauty in reading about places and people in time that were not just fantasy but rooted in our own past. True stories in the sense that they reflected our own collective history.
One of the blessings of ADD is being a daydreamer. It is to be a daydreamer with fantasy so vivid and real that you can climb inside of it and walk around, wear it, feel it, experience it with total intensity. And for much of my late childhood and adolescence, this is where I was…lost in daydreams or in stories about the days of the feudal knights. There was one aspect in particular that spoke to me most deeply, and that was the concept of chivalry, and in particular chivalric love.
Chivalric love was about devotion. It was also chaste love. For those of you who remember Sir Galahad, he was a knight who remained a virgin, with extraordinary good looks, blonde locks, giving his life to the service of a woman. He was wealthy, good looking, noble, and could therefore have chosen any life he wished. Instead, he chose chastity, love, service. It is inspirational.
Of course, mechanical chastity in the Middle Ages was intended to keep women from having sex, and the devices used are pretty grim and rather something to behold. Men feared a free woman, and in those days had the power to keep women in bondage. Today, increasingly, many men are confident enough and woke enough to understand that a free woman, a strong woman, a liberated woman, is one of incomparable beauty. Songbirds do not belong in cages, they belong free. Chastity as a concept for men and the various cages we have available to us, are a new wrinkle in this concept that is more suited to the modern age, but whose roots are the same as those we have lived for hundreds of years.
Many people now realise that it is the male who is weak, and the male who should be locked up. A male that can recognise in himself that he is weak and needs to be locked up is one that has achieved a level of responsibility towards women and submission that is refreshing and good. For various reasons which I will post about soon, I don’t like male chastity devices. I am, however, deeply drawn to the narrative of chastity, and do possess the will and self-control to give up orgasms, masturbation, sex, release because chaste love is deeply spiritual and fulfilling, and it is easier to feel it running through your body when you exercise that will and control in honour of another person.
When I think of the rising popularity of male chastity devices, and how men who experience them feel, this is what I think is going on—they are tapping into a kind of love and service that has existed in one form or another for hundreds of years.
The word “Domnei” or “Donnoi” comes from Provençal dialect (Provence is a region in the South of France). The word denotes the “attitude of chivalrous devotion of a knight to his Lady which was mainly a non-physical and non-marital relationship.” Notice the capitalisation.
When my friend spoke of me as her “chevalier”, she knew exactly what she was saying, and so too did I understand. We have been close friends now for decades, and she is now married to one of my closest friends, but she still relates to me as a chevalier—the way she talks to me, the way she touches me, and how she expects and assumes service from me—all gladly given.
I am struck to the core at how highly evolved the concepts of love were 800 years ago in Europe. On Wikipedia, for the definition of “Domnei” the stub goes on to say, “this type of relationship was highly ritualized and complex but was generally considered to be non-physical.” How apt. This sounds an awful lot like D/s.
One famous poet of the age wrote, “A man who wishes to fully possess his Lady knows nothing of donnoi” meaning Woman-Worship. That this was the most popular and highly regarded style of poetry of the age is illuminating. Another poet wrote, “from love comes chastity.”
While my childhood and adolescent dreams found happiness in this world, countless hours fantasising about serving a beautiful lady, my recent adult life has shown me that this is possible, that it exists. And I have found my feelings towards this Lady naturally fall into a pattern which I recognise. The parallels are overwhelming.
“The chevalier’s devotion to his lady functioned by his servitude to her both in terms of his code of conduct and courtly duties. Chivalry as a code, as indicated by the concepts of courtly love…was in theory and practice a level of devotion to the Lady, or high Mistress, that went beyond mere etiquette. Truth and honesty were core virtues, leading to actions fed by honourable intentions, sincere motives, and purity of heart.”
That is in essence what I feel towards Mistress, my princesse lointaine. In medieval times, it was possible for a knight to be assigned to a Lady, one who was likely married to a Lord, and who remained distant, and yet, the knight was expected to serve, to demonstrate acts of devotion, and to do so through his life without expectation of return. Medieval literature and poetry are filled with tales of courtly love based on this model.
It is deeply reassuring to know that not only is there nothing new here, but that my feelings for Mistress have deep and noble roots in history. The love I feel growing for her, the desire to serve her, is echoed across the ages. To love without possession, to serve only for the sake of noble love, to love with purity of heart and positive intent, and to do so without shame or fear, to revel in devoted service, is a noble state of being and one I can be proud to feel and cultivate.
And just as a Lady might have tied a silk scarf around her chevalier’s arm before he went off to battle in her honour, so too does Mistress bestow on me such gifts as I head off into the world. While those gifts might take a different form, there is no doubt in my mind that they perform the same function: 1. They remind me of her and tie me to her and 2. They exhort me to go out and achieve so that I may return to her and lay my achievements and myself at her feet. Is there anything more noble and honourable than that?
I have always had a great fondness for the King Arthur and Knights of the Round Table stories. Growing up, I had a framed picture of a painting depicting a scene from this time period. I just never could part with this piece and it now hangs in my husband and I’s guestroom. I had to google “chevalier” as I was unfamiliar with this term…from what I found, it means of the lowest title of rank in old nobility. Is this how you are using the term? I was guessing so as you indicated that this friend assumes an air of that which you will service her.
A chevalier was simply a knight. Wikipedia gives some good info. “The chevalier’s devotion to his lady functioned by his servitude to her both in terms of his code of conduct and courtly duties.” One was granted a knighthood by a noble. A knight was not a noble but a vassal, an elite fighter, a horseman.
Like you, I was very into the stories of Arthurian legends and read whatever I could growing up. But I am also amused in looking back at some of my obsessions and that they were just loose pieces in this same “submission” puzzle I am feeling.
I was an avid horse-rider growing up–like my obsession with horses was the same as grade school girls and their love of ponies. in fact, I was always friends with the girl who brought her horse dolls to school. I loved horses too. That powerful animal between your legs. I loved the aesthetic, everything about them. And I went to riding school, and just loved being able to hang around with all these girls dressed just like them.
While getting my MBA, the desire to ride came back to me at the same time as a chaste love for the most beautiful woman in the program. She was engaged to be married, and so was “safe” but her beauty spoke to me–as it spoke to every male in the program. She latched onto me almost immediately, as other women have, because she also knew I was “safe”. I was crazy in love for her, but I would never have so much as reached out to touch her as it would betray a self-created role of being her companion, her chevalier, her protector, and her servant. I’ve written about her before. We went horse riding together after school several times a week. I was her “escort” at parties, her dance partner, and while everyone assumed we were “together” the truth was that I helped make it possible for her to live normally without being hit on by everyone. We talked about that a lot–what it is like to be a beautiful woman, only seen for the surface, and not your insides.
She and I have stayed close over the years, through children, her broken relationships, and now that one of her children is showing signs of being rather like me in certain ways, as a person who can help her understand what “he” may be going through.
I love rediscovering chivalry, and seeing how much the thinking has played out in my own life. I am learning. Unrequited love is very pure, and the thought that Mistress has a vanilla love is one that is fascinating and uplifting for me…
And writing for me is a way to make sure those feelings don’t die.
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Thank you for this incredibly thoughtful comment, my friend. I enjoyed learning a bit more about you, and discovering that we have even more in common. I also grew up with horses. That was such a big part of my life as a girl and as a teenager. When I close my eyes and imagine it, I can still vividly remember what it felt like to ride, and to have all those rippling muscles under me, responding to my signals. Smiles. You have brought back a great memory for me this morning…thank you ❤
Me too. There is a mental zone that I can get into on a horse that I can’t get anywhere else, when I am out in nature, on a ride, at pace, feeling one with the animal, feeling one with the air around me. And knowing that the horse feels it too, and being able to see it in how she responds, in her ears, with her gait, with her own sense of excitement. It is so totally, and utterly zen.
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It was a bit long…thank you for reading it. I love that you love horses. They were always my spirit animal growing up…they still are. I carry the sign of the horse, and have found that it is quite apt.