Mechthild of Magdeburg and the Minnesingers


Mechthild was a Beguine who wrote in a very specific style that of the Minnesingers, the poets of courtly love. In the tradition of courtly love, there are several paradoxes: the female love object is, as a rule, the wife of another man, yet this relationship is celebrated as being a source of higher morality, despite the religious ideals of monogamy. The second paradox is that the love is represented as overwhelmed by an intense yearning for physical and emotional gratification, yet this yearning is never actually met in reality. Third, the love, far from satisfying, is a love that wounds.


The woman, for the minnesinger, is not just one nice person among many; she is absolutely unique. She is the most beautiful, and in every respect the best of all women. There is a ceaseless desire for friendly and amorous attention. There are also voyeuristic tendencies. The woman is made "to be looked at".

Now, this image of total devotion has a certain Freudian ring to it. There is a kind of infantile yearning for the mother here. The lover assumes a childlike or feminine attitude. The beloved is an exalted person.

The lady is never a virgin or marriageable girl, but a woman already married to a man of high status. The legitimate husband is never mentioned, but his existence is understood. Although the husband is not mentioned, other rivals are mentioned, and vilified. The real enemies are the "flatterers, watchers, and talebearers". These are people who outwardly appear friendly, but are really hostile. So, there is lots of jealousy.

The lady is regarded as beautiful, unboundedly good, and yet cruel in her ungiving passivity. The lady that is hard of heart leads to neverending despair. The idea of the personal worth of the lady re inforces her image as mother. She has all the aspects of a maternal figure. The child (lover) has a strong need to obey her in order to win her approval. The mother is perfection personified.

Quotation from
De Amore, by Andreas Capellanus:

Love is a certain inborn sickness, which is awakened by the sight of, and the excessive preoccupation with, the exterior form of a member of the opposite sex. This sickness leads to the overwhelming desire to embrace the other, and by mutual desire to fulfil the demands of love. That this love is a sickness is easy to establish, since as long as it is not entirely reciprocated, there exists on the part of the lover a tremendous fear that his love may remain unrequited and that his efforts may be in vain.


The word for this love is "cupiditas". Later, it is contrasted to "charitas", divine love.