Courtly Love, code of behaviour that defined the relationship between aristocratic lovers in Western Europe during the Middle Ages. Influenced by the contemporary ideas of chivalry and feudalism, courtly love required adherence to certain rules elaborated in the songs of the troubadours and trouvères between the 11th and the 13th centuries that stemmed originally from the Ars Amatoria (The Art of Loving) by the Roman poet Ovid.
According to these conventions, a nobleman, usually a knight, in love with a married woman of equally high, or often, higher birth had to prove his devotion by heroic deeds and by amorous writings presented anonymously to his beloved. Once the lovers had pledged themselves to each other and consummated their passion, complete secrecy had to be maintained. Since most noble marriages in the Middle Ages were little more than business contracts, courtly love was a form of sanctioned adultery, sanctioned because it threatened neither the contract nor the religious sacrament of marriage. In fact, faithlessness between lovers was considered more sinful than the adultery of this extramarital relationship.
Literature in the courtly love tradition includes such works as Lancelot, by the 12th-century French poet Chrétien de Troyes; Tristan und Isolt (1210), by Gottfried von Strassburg; Le Roman de la rose (c. 1240), by Guillaume de Lorris and Jean de Meun; and the romances relating to the Arthurian legend. The theme of courtly love was developed in La Vita Nuova (The New Life, c. 1293), and La Divina Commedia (The Divine Comedy, c. 1307), by Dante Alighieri, and in the sonnets of the 14th-century Italian poet Petrarch.