In medieval Europe, knightly chivalry represented the highest ideals in a warrior: he fought not for personal fame or glory or earthly power, but in the service of a king, preferably a Christian king, to protect the weak and defend his righteous order.
Then, around the 12th century AD, the subversive concept of courtly love crept into French literature that challenged the unquestioning obedience of knights by proclaiming the glory of love. While obedience of the knights respected the rules of society, love challenged all rules and demanded satisfaction.
Courtly love was at once adulterous and pure. Local bards known as troubadours, inspired by Arabic poetry, sang songs of this forbidden love between a knight and a lady of high rank, who invariably was married to someone else, often the king. The love consequently was either unrequited or could not be consummated. Yet the knight loved her. He fought for her. Even died for her. The suffering, the struggle against temptation, the heartache of sin, inspired soulful lyrics moving people greatly.
This was the age when the concept of ‘Notre Dame’ or ‘Our Lady’ reached its zenith. For some, at a spiritual plane, Our Lady was not the knight’s ladylove. She was Mary, Mother of God. Or perhaps, more dangerously, she was Mary Magdalene, one of Jesus Christ’s early followers, a reformed prostitute, and according to some, wife of Jesus Christ.
It is this emotion that led many English sailors in the 16th century to become pirates and attack Spanish ships carrying gold from America and offer the loot to Queen Elizabeth I (significantly known as the Virgin Queen). The Spanish had full rights over the Americas because of the support of the Roman Church and the English Queen thus was a heretic. Her pirates were her knights in shining armour, daring the religious establishment of the time out of love for their queen.
The famous 20th century British Spy, James Bond, created by Ian Fleming, follows the structure of courtly love. He fights hard the forces of evil and disorder in Her Majesty’s Secret Service. He kills villains and is surrounded by beautiful women. But he stays true to his one true love — Notre Dame, who is in this case the Queen of England or even the idea of Britain embodied in the mythic Britannia. In recent times she manifests as Q, played by Dame Judi Dench.
The author is Chief Belief Officer of the Future Group, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
The views expressed in this column are the individual’s and don’t represent those of the paper.