Andreas Capellanus was the twelfth century author of a treatise commonly titled De amore ("About Love"), also known as De arte honeste amandi, for which a possible English translation is The Art of Courtly Love (though the book's realistic, somewhat cynical tone suggests that it is in some measure an antidote to courtly love). His real identity has never been determined, but has been a matter of extended academic debate. Andreas Capellanus is sometimes known by a French translation of his name, André le Chapelain.
De Amore was written some time between 1186 and 1190. It was most likely written for the French court of Philip Augustus. Earlier scholars believed that it had been written at the request of Marie de Champagne, daughter of King Louis VII of France and of Eleanor of Aquitaine, but that was disproven by the linguistic historian John Benton in the 1960s. A dismissive allusion in the text to the "wealth of Hungary" has suggested the hypothesis that it was written after 1184, at the time when Bela III of Hungary had sent to the French court a statement of his income and had proposed marriage to Marie's sister Marguerite of France, but before 1186, when his proposal was accepted.
John Jay Parry, the editor of De Amore, has described it as "one of those capital works which reflect the thought of a great epoch, which explains the secret of a civilization". It may be viewed as didactic, mocking, or merely descriptive; in any event it preserves the attitudes and practices that were the foundation of a long and significant tradition in Western literature. An earlier translation by E. Trojel is a much more accurate rendering of the medieval Latin, but is not readily accessible.
The social system of "courtly love", as gradually elaborated by the Provençal troubadours from the mid twelfth-century, soon spread. It is often associated with Eleanor of Aquitaine (herself the granddaughter of an early troubadour poet, William IX of Aquitaine), but this is pure conjecture. It has been claimed that De Amore codifies the social and sexual life of Eleanor's court at Poitiers between 1169 and 1174 because the author mentions both Eleanor and her daughter Marie by name; but there is no evidence that Marie ever saw her mother again after Eleanor's divorce from Louis VII in 1152.
It deals with several specific themes that were the subject of poetical debate among late twelfth century troubadours and trobairitz. The basic conception of Capellanus is that courtly love ennobles both the lover and the beloved, provided that certain codes of behaviour are respected. Interestingly, De amore describes the affection between spouses as an unrelated emotion, stating that "true love can have no place between husband and wife", although they may feel even "immoderate affection" for one another. Rather, the most ennoblinng love is generally secret (i.e., not public), extremely difficult to obtain and unconsummated, serving as a means for inspiring men to great deeds.
Preface: Andreas Capellanus' “De Amore” begins with a preface (Praefatio), in which he addresses an unidentified young man named Walter. Though Capellanus' relationship with the young man is unclear, he describes Walter as “a new soldier of love, wounded with a new arrow,” not knowing “how to aptly govern the reigns of the horse that soldier himself rides nor to be able to find any remedy [him]self.” Capellanus promises to teach Walter, with this book, “the way in which a state of love between two lovers may be kept unharmed, and likewise how those who do not love may get rid of the darts of Venus that are in their hearts.” Whether literal or ironic, Capellanus implies here that he intends to teach the ways of love to his eager disciple.
Book I: After an introductory analysis of "What love is" (Parry, pp. 28–36), Book One of De Amore sets out a series of nine imaginary dialogues (pp. 36–141) between men and women of different social classes, from bourgeoisie to royalty. In each dialogue the man is pleading inconclusively to be accepted as the woman's lover, and in each he finds some small reason for optimism. The dialogs are delightful compositions, with many well-crafted, albeit medieval, arguments by both the ardent suitor and the skeptical lady; typically, the older man asks to be rewarded for his accomplishments whereas the young men or men of lower birth ask to be given inspiration so that they might accomplish something. These dialogues are followed by short discussions of love with priests, with nuns, for money, with peasant women, and with prostitutes (pp. 141–150).
Book II: This book takes love as established, and begins with a discussion of how love is maintained and how and why it comes to an end (pp. 151–167). Following this comes a series of thirty-one "judgements of love" (pp. 167–177), said to have been pronounced in contentious cases by great ladies. Among these, three judgements are attributed to "Queen Eleanor" and another four simply to "the Queen", seven to Eleanor's daughter Marie of Troyes ("the Countess of Champagne"), two to Eleanor's niece Isabelle of Vermandois ("the Countess of Flanders", daughter of Petronilla), one to "a court of ladies in Gascony", and five to Viscountess Ermengarde of Narbonne, who is thus singled out as the only patron of a "Court of Love" not belonging to the immediate family of Eleanor of Aquitaine. However, it has been suggested that "the Queen" is not Eleanor but Adèle of Champagne, Eleanor's successor as wife of Louis VII and Queen of France. Book Two concludes (pp. 177–186) by setting out "The Rules of Love". A few examples of these guidelines are listed below (numbered according to the order found in the original work, which contains thirty-one total):
Book III: This book is the briefest (pp. 187–212), and is titled "The Rejection of Love". This book seeks to remedy the natural affection of men for women, by painting all women as disgusting as possible in so few words. For example, women are described as being completely untrustworthy ("everything a women says is said with the intention of deceiving"), insanely greedly and willing to do anything for food, weak-minded and easily swayed by false reasoning, "slanderers filled with envy and hate", drunkards, loud-mouthed and gossipy, unfaithful in love, disobedient, vain and tortured by envy of all other women's beauty, "even her daughter's". The historical example of Eve is cited at several points as evidence. This book is a disclaimer for the rest of the work—as is evidenced by its heading. It includes reasons why love affairs of the sort found in this book should not be conducted, and that personal abstinence from love was the preferred route. Capellanus states that this abstinence would allow one to “win an eternal recompense and thereby deserve a greater reward from God.” This last book is the reason it would be ignorant to take Capellanus' writings at face value. Though some social practices acceptable during the Middle Ages may be reflected in Capellanus' work, he is not intending to be a reliable source on the matter.
De Amore gives a listing of the stages of love, which resembles in some ways the modern baseball euphemism:
Courtly love is reserved for the middle and upper classes in De Amore. Attractive farm-girls (i.e., peasant girls) are to be shunned or raped:
In a similar vein, Andreas Capellanus describes nuns as easy to seduce, although he condemns anyone who does so as a "disgusting animal".