What-ho historical daters! Now that you have the necessary knowledge to flirt your way around Anglo-Norman Britain and Icelandic Sagas, I’m back again to offer romantic instruction for if you find yourself stranded in Medieval Germany. Prepare yourselves for itinerant penises, randy nuns, and vagina fish. Through this education (of sorts) you will be able to charm your way into Bratwurst and chill with most mittelalter German hotties. A word to the wise before we proceed: please keep it medieval – do not try any of this in the twenty-first century unless you are prepared to suffer the consequences. So without further gilding the lily…

Tip #1 Be Ulrich(?)

The seeker of serenity, the protector of Italian virginity, the enforcer of our Lord God, the one, the only, Sir Ulrich von Lichtenstein.[1] This chivalrous soul lived in the thirteenth century, and wrote the Frauendienst (or, The Service of Ladies). You can pretty much see where this is going, but Ulrich seems to be a case in point that persistence is, sometimes, all it takes to pull in the Middle Ages. If we are to believe the hyperbolic plot of Frauendienst (and, as you’ll see, it’s pretty out there) then Ulrich entered into the service of a married noblewoman at the age of twelve and served her over a period spanning a few years. He was, as chivalrous sorts are, ridiculously devoted to his lady. And, typically for courtly narratives, she is portrayed as having been cold, aloof, and disinterested (to be honest, you probably would be too if your knight entered your room at night to drink your bathwater).  Heck, I’d be onto the authorities before you could say “Nun ist die Kacke am Dampfen”[2]). Ulrich’s father, a bit concerned by his son’s behaviour, took his son away from the lady without delay, but after the father’s death Ulrich resumed his creeping in earnest. In Frauendienst, Sir Ulrich fights for her in many tournaments, wearing her colours and dedicating his victories to her. He dresses as Queen Venus, wearing white dresses and long braids, and travels Europe challenging knights in his lady’s name – presumably still in the dress (he doesn’t say). He even undergoes dangerous surgery on his hare lip because she expresses a dislike for it.

Portrait of Ulrich from the Codex Manesse c.1304 –

None of this actually works, and Frauendienst entertains us with tales of Sir Ulrich’s various torments at the hands of his lady: she forces him to dress as a leper, and leaves him waiting around outside the castle to be urinated on by the watchmen. She also hangs him out of a window (again, who wouldn’t do this to their literal stalker?).

Ulrich’s fortunes change, however, when he sustains a jousting injury. His finger is severely injured, but upon receiving this news, his lady believes that he’s just playing it up. On hearing this, Ulrich decides that the most natural response is to cut the finger off and send it to her (I mean, why not?). Unbelievably, this works. Apparently, the lady is so flattered by this gift that she keeps it and looks at it every day to remind her of Ulrich’s devotion.

What lesson, if any, is to be taken here? Well, it would appear that persistence in the courtly world sometimes works, but the author takes no responsibility for any readers hung out of windows when attempting Ulrich’s methods while not stranded in a time warp. However, if any of you figure time travel out, do let me know how this works out.[3]

Tip #2 Have ethical sex or your penis will leave you.

This is a slight, although important diversion. It is not dating advice per se, but I feel that it’s an important cautionary tale for all you guys about what happens if you play the field too widely in fifteenth-century Germany.

The tale that I’m on about is a German Märe, which is a short farcical tale called Nonnenturnier (The Nuns’ Tournament) in which a man quarrels with his penis and it decides to leave him, eventually ending up at a convent where a group of nuns hold a tournament to determine who will get to have it. Fifteenth-century Germany is shaping up to be a magical world wherein penises apparently have the capacity of speech. It may also be of interest that, when discovered by a nun at the convent, we learn that the disembodied member can do this:

Er ist schön und wolgetan, er lachet mich ietzunt an’

[It is handsome and well-proportioned, and it is smiling at me now!][4].

Read that? The penis can smile.

So what goes wrong? Well, our knight has a reputation for being a bit of a ladies man at court, and he operates on a kind of one-time only policy. After one particular occasion, a lady becomes upset by this behavior and he then enters into the aforementioned heated argument with his member (who, as I hinted above, can talk). The penis calls the knight out on his shameless behavior and recommends that they part ways. Without his manhood, the knight can’t pull, and gets run out of town by the ladies. He then dies in the desert. For its own part, as previously mentioned, the penis decides to go to a nunnery. You’d expect that he’d be safe there, right? Wrong! The nuns, initially shocked, start to fantasise about things that medieval nuns very much should not be fantasising about. But they are evidently not in the spirit of sharing, because this starts to cause tensions, and eventually the nuns hold a tournament in order to decide who gets to keep the nunnery’s visitor, wherein they parade the penis about and fight for it.

So, in order to keep your penis, use it wisely.

Tip #3 Do weird stuff with food.

It would be difficult to talk about Medieval German sex and not mention tenth-century bishop Burchard of Worms and his concerns about the things women do with food. Burhard, it seems, was really concerned for the souls of his diocese: really concerned. So worried was this man, that he set about writing a twenty-volume work of canon law called Decretum Burchardi (Burchard’s Decretum). This text covers pretty much everything you’d ever ask about church life, from baptism and eucharist to binge-eating and sex. But the Corrector Burchardi (Burchard’s Corrector) a penitential appendix to his Decretum, makes for truly fascinating reading. It’s difficult to tell whether this stuff actually happened in tenth-century Worms, or if Burchard had read it in a book somewhere and decided to include it in his penitential just in case, but here are some excerpts of things women do with food:

“Have you done what some women are wont to do? They take a live fish and put it in their vagina, keeping it there for a while until it is dead. Then they cook or roast it and give it to their husbands to eat, doing this in order to make the men be more ardent in their love for them. If you have, you should do two years of penance on the appointed fast days.”

“Have you done what some women are accustomed to do? They lie face down on the ground, uncover their buttocks and tell someone to make bread on their naked buttocks. When they have cooked it, they give it to their husbands to eat. They do this in order to make the men be more ardent in their love for them. If you have, you should do two years of penance on the appointed fast days.”

“Have you done what some women are wont to do? They take their menstrual blood, mix it into food or drink, and give it to their men to eat or drink to make them love them more. If you have done this, you should do five years of penance on the appointed fast days.”

“Have you done what some women are accustomed to do? They take off their clothes and smear honey all over their naked body. With the honey on their body they roll themselves back and forth over wheat on a sheet spread on the ground. They carefully collect all the grains of wheat sticking to their moist body, but them in a mill, turn the mill in the opposite direction to the sun, grind the wheat into flour, and bake bread from it. Then they serve it to their husbands to eat, who then grow weak and die. If you have, you should do penance for forty days on bread and water.”[5]

Truly a mental image to savour… Burchard, it seems, really wanted to make sure he accounted for every possible sin out there, since if the laity couldn’t confess their sin they would go to hell. It’s difficult to imagine from a modern-day perspective, but this kind of stuff really did come from a place of care. Obviously, according to Burchard, making butt-bread and mixing menstrual blood into your significant other’s food are technically sins – but hey, if they work….

No. Please don’t.

Tip #4 Be a student.

Other societies often demonise students as precious snowflakes who don’t know how to deal with the real world, or accuse them of being necromancers. But in a group of women’s secular verse from late-medieval Germany, contained in a manuscript entitled the Ambraser Liederbuch, a young woman, when told by her mother that she should marry a merchant, reveals that she’d much rather date a student. What would her reasons be? As the mother herself says: students are broke. Well, the young girl rattles off a pretty impressive list:

   5. I have never given my love

To those who work in the field of trade or who are alcoholics,

And those who have not learned anything.

[My lover] must be an independent student,

To whom I will entrust my honor,

As he has studied at the university.

 

  1. The students’ life pleases me,

As they all enjoy great honor,

They are well educated

And are crowned with many virtues.

No one is more beautiful than they,

This reputation no one can take away from them.

 

  1. Oh, when they walk around

They shine like the morning star.

Who does not feel attracted to them?

Who does not love their playing of the lute

When they strike the strings

And stroll about playing their instruments and singing?

 

  1. Only the students win the prize,

I am singing only their praise with all my might,

They lead a wonderful life.

It is a joy to be with students,

As they eloquently joke

And express themselves so charmingly and endearingly.

 

  1. Good-bye and good night, you merchant,

[We women] do little care for your pleading,

You do not need to wait for me.

Hail to you with the elegantly feathered hats.

My mind and heart are turned only toward you.

I always long for you.”[7]

Hail to the feather-hatted ones, indeed. And here’s how that looks in the original German:

Ich bin nimmer gewesen hold,

einem pflasterreter oder trunkenbold,

der da nichts hat gelernet,

Er sol ein freyer studente sein,

dem wil ich vertrawen die ehre mein,

der da was hat gestudieret.

 

Der studenten weise gefelt mir wol,

denn sie sind aller ehren vol,

mit zucht sind sie gezieret,

Darneben sie viel tugent han,

manchfalt ubertrifft jre gestalt,

den ruhm mus man jn geben.

 

Ach wenn sie kommen spatzieren daher,

so leuchten sie als der morgenstern,

wem thun sie doch nit gefallen,

Wem ist nit lieb jr lauten schlan,

wenn sie daher modieren gan,

mit seytenspiel und schalle?

 

Den studenten geb ich allein den preis,

jnen singe ich lob mit allem fleis,

sie füren ein zartes leben,

Bey den studenten ist gut sein,

mit worten können sie schertzen fein,

lieblich und freundlich reden.

 

Alde kauffman zu guter nacht,

deiner bit man gar wenig acht,

meiner darffstu nit warten,

Frisch auff jr von der feder gut,

nach euch steht all mein sinn und mut,

nach euch ich allzeit trachte. [8]

As a student myself, this is the most validated I have felt in a long time. It appears that in Late-Medieval Germany, for the young virgins at least, a student has just about enough allure to pull. Just recite some poetry before you take her to Friday night 2-4-1 drinks and a kebab after – because, even though you’re broke, you still know how to treat a girl.

Tip #5 Date Jesus.

Let the idea stew a little. You see, mysticism was a big deal in the medieval Low Countries, and a large subset of mystics were a group called the beguines. As well as living in communities, generally looked down upon by the church, and engaging in good-natured hysteria, the beguines thought of themselves as “brides of Christ”, and wrote a lot of erotic imagery to do with Christ as their bridegroom. This erotic language was the main way in which they understood their relationship to God. Mechtild von Magdeburg, for example, is one of the most famous of the beguines. In her book, Das fließende Licht der Gottheit (The Flowing Light of the Godhead), she writes of a union with her soul and Jesus, in a marital bed scene, fusing romantic and religious language.

“Stay, Lady Soul.”

“What do you bid me, Lord?”

“Take off your clothes.” […]

“Lord, now I am a naked soul

And you in yourself are a well-adorned God.” […]

Then a blessed stillness

That both desire comes over them.

He surrenders himself to her,

And she surrenders herself to him. […]

When two lovers meet secretly,

They must often part from one another inseparably.[9]

Yup, you read that right: she stripteases Jesus. This seems like a fitting image with which to leave you, dear reader, at the end this most recent installment of medieval dating tips.

Mechthild of Magdeburg

In light of this month’s ventures into medieval German dating, what have we learned? Well, yet again it has become abundantly clear how beautifully weird medieval people are, but it does also seem that a lot of the sentiment behind the medieval dating game is recognisable to us today: sleazebags are annoying, students are sexy (but broke), and there is never enough butt bread in the shops. I’ve covered a good few centuries of German history here, but this list doesn’t claim to be exhaustive. If you know of any freaky historical dating practices, I would love to hear about them. My details can be found in the author’s bio below.

[1] If this sentence confuses you I recommend watch A Knights Tale as soon as possible

[2] “Now the shit’s hit the fan”

[3] For more on Ulrich and Frauendienst, read Marion Gibbs and Sidney Johnson, Medieval German Literature, (New York; London: Routledge, 2002): 311-314

[4] Quoted in Sebastian Coxon’s Laughter and Narrative in the Later Middle Ages: German Comic Tales 1350-1525, (London: MHRA, 2008): 60. German readers out there can also check out Jutta Eming, ‘Der Kampf um den Phallus: Körperfragmentierung, Textbegehren und groteske Ästhetikim “Nonnenturnier”’, The German Quarterly, 85. 4 (2012): 380-400

[5] Corrector Burchardi, edited and translated in François Gagnon, Le Corrector sive Medicus de Burchard de Worms (1000-1025): présentation, traduction et commentaire ethno-historique, unpublished MA thesis, (Montreal, 2010)

[6] The Manière de langage from the first instalment of this series makes this claim

[7] trans. Albrecht Classen in Late-Medieval German Women’s Poetry,  (Cambridge: D.S. Brewer, 2004): 26-27

[8] In Das Ambraser Liederbuch vom Jahre 1582, Bibliothek des Literarischen Vereins, XII, (Stuttgart: 1845): 63-4

[9]The Flowing Light of the Godhead, trans. Frank Tobin, (New Jersey: Paulist Press, 1998): 62