History is an act of remembering. Sometimes its memories are mad and unhinged. Sometimes they are as inscrutable as a face in the mirror. History has lived through some stirring and shameful times.
Over 700 years ago, when dogs rooted through floors made of straw, when plague was breeding in the streets, when teen-aged brides cradled and sang to their babies…history had the nerve to play the sentimental fool.
"Lady, for your love
I join hands and worship you"
Far away from the cities, the fields were laden with sweet scents and ripened with broad embraces. Buildings were pulled from the dreaming mind of legend and laid on these carpets of gallantry and romance. On festival days, staged events were prepared on these delicate battlefields – as pretty and false as affection often is – for an assault on a popular Medieval affectation: the Castles of Love.
"A fantastic castle was built and garrisoned with dames and damsels and their waiting women, who, without help of men, defended it with all possible prudence."
These fragile houses were an architectural metaphor, built from a bluprint of cloudy and clouded emotions. They were created for the daintiest of reasons: to pretend, to act on a wish.
The castles themselves were embroidered as thickly as a queenly gown. Draped across the battlements were gold and silver tissue, lavender velvet, silks the colors of a summer garden, tangles of painted bells and tassels. Dappled hides and skins – mink, rabbit, sable – hung from the windows like a slaughtered forest. The portcullis was a latticework of roses – a slow-moving prism, from maidenly white to slatternly red.
The ladies were the only defenders. Armed with baskets of flowers and jewels, they prepared for the onslaught. Instead of helmets, they wore diamond crowns, velvet caps, feathers that swirled beneath their chins. Wrapped in an armor of brocade and pearl, of satin and rubies, of linen and turquoise, these maidens were dressed bravely.
The knights were armed with golden keys (to unlock the lady's heart), and sweet gifts of dates, persimmons, apples and pears. They held amber phials of rosewater, crushed violets and scented powders. They carried shields bearing symbols of dedication and loyalty; of hearts offered and secrets accepted.
They brought "all manner of flowers and spices that are fragrant to smell or fair to see."
But who won these bloodless battles? The historians are never very clear. When the ideals flew as high as the birds looking down on these castles built for an afternoon, perhaps both sides lost.