Imagine, put aside all your great great grandparent-killing paradoxes for now: you’re a time traveller stuck in late fourteenth-century Britain. The Tardis is stuck in a time warp, the Delorean has run out of juice. Whatever. It’s going to be a while before you find a way out of the distant past, so why not live it up a little while you’re there? I intend to teach you how to survive in the past, starting with your primary concern: how to score with a historical hottie. Now, you may think we have no idea how dating worked in the Anglo-Norman times, but notwithstanding the chansons de geste (epic tales of knights and their heroic deeds), the art of seduction was in fact actually taught in school during this period. You didn’t need to hike all the way over to the court of Richard II to learn a thing or two about the art of love; pupils learning French in local schools around Britain were taught how to get a room in an inn, how to ask for directions, and even how to flirt once you got there. The textbook of choice for the flirting exam was the Manière de langage, written in 1396 and revised in 1399 and 1415. This book had the Plantagenet schoolboy covered for pretty much every situation during his jaunts abroad, and, dear reader, I will use it now to help you fulfil your heart’s (or your pants’) desire…

Tip #1 Show interest

You see a hot damsel on the road to Winchester or Canterbury. Maybe she’s a pilgrim, maybe she’s a noblewoman, but you reckon you’re in with a chance. According to the 1399 Manière, all you have to do is ride up to her on your horse and say this:

“Say, girl, talk to me. Girl, where are you staying? Do you want to be cheered up? I’ve seen you before. Tell me, what’s your name? Girl, do you want to go out with me and be my love? And what can I give you to be mine? Girl, tell me in good faith.”

Here’s what this looks like in the Anglo-Norman French:

“Ditez, damoiselle, parlez a moy. Damoiselle, ou demourez vous? Voullez estre refete? Je vous ay veu aileurs. Ditez moy, que est vostre nom? Damoiselle, vuillez vous aler ovesque moy et vous serrez m’amye? Et que vous donnerey je pour estre m’amye? Damoiselle, ditez en bonne foy”[1]

Seeing as wandering up to a random girl and telling her to “cheer up” works so well for guys now [side note: it really doesn’t], it’s no surprise that the Anglo-Normans also thought highly of this tactic. There is no concrete data to tell us how many dates Anglo-Norman men secured by using this approach, but, seeing as somebody decided to record it in a textbook, we can presume it must have had at least a reasonable success rate. The patriarchy was alive and kicking in 1399, and apparently the standard Anglo-Norman girl just loved relentless, intruding questions about where she lives and if she’s happy to date some random man she just met. You’re in there champ. [Another side note: the author takes no responsibility for the ass-kicking you may or may not receive if she turns out to be the wife of a powerful baron]. If she’s single, and agrees to go back to your inn, it’s time for the second tip from the Manière de langage

Tip #2 Wine and dine her

Music only officially became the food of love in early the 17th century; until then, the food of love was food. Our Anglo-Norman forefathers were simple souls. Having said this, table manners are everything when identifying if you are dating a suitable Anglo-Norman woman. The Manière de langage shows us that your new-found ladyfriend should be passive to the point that she shouldn’t even begin to eat before you have asked her why she isn’t eating. Turn to your lady and ask her ‘quoi ne mangés vous donques?’[2], and if she’s nose-deep in the potage then you know that she’s probably not for you. The Manière also stresses the importance of wine. In fact it’s mentioned in the Manière de langage, which is not a long text, some twenty-four times. The ‘prenez le hanape’ ceremony is another good way to check your lady’s manners. Simply tell her to take her cup (‘prenez vostre hanape’[3]) and drink up her wine. If she refuses to drink up before you then you’re onto a winner. But it’s not all about restraint and respectability…

Tip #3 Make her laugh

What woman doesn’t love a good fart joke? As you bid her good night, say to her

‘God give you good night and good rest

And I pray that you won’t have a closed anus.’

It sounds better in Anglo-Norman, to be honest.

‘Dieu vous doint bone noet et auxi bon repos,

Que vous n’aiez maishuy le cuil clos.’[4]

Better still, it’s the fourteenth century, and fabliaux are all the rage; these bawdy tales of sex and violence are sure to get her in the mood for love. The protagonist of the Manière opts to tell his new girlfriend literally “the best tale he has ever heard in his life”. Ever heard that one where the wife has some cheeky extramarital sex by duping her husband to go into the garden disguised as her? When her lover emerges, he beats the husband up under the guise of “I thought you were her and I was only protecting her honour”. The husband is therefore happy that his wife is faithful because the other guy has his back. All very weird and complicated, and the woman in the Manière isn’t a big fan. She outright calls it the worst story she has ever heard, and questions its validity. But what happens when you’re flirting with a woman and it’s going wrong? Do not fret, because ultimately…

Tip #4 Don’t worry, her opinions don’t matter!

So she thought your story sucked. The Manière has that covered. Once your fair maiden says her piece about honesty and respectability and whatever, shut her down before summoning your servant for wine. Sorted: she knows her place, now get her plastered, and, if all else fails, consult a brothel. The Manière covers all the bases when instructing Anglo-Norman children on the nuances of romance. Our current education secretary should take note: maybe Medieval education still has something valuable to teach us. Or not.

[1] All quotes taken from Andres Kristol’s edition of the Manières de langage, (London: Anglo-Norman Text Society, 1995). P.55. All translations are mine.

[2] P.13

[3] P.16

[4] P.17