Throughout history, men and women have joined together in partnerships both romantic and practical. Kings and their queens, writers and their muses, warriors and their lady-loves have at times had an impact on their world and on future events. The same could be said for some fictional couples, whose often-tragic romances have served to inspire both literature and true-life romantic adventures.
Below are some famous (and not-so-famous) couples in Medieval and Renaissance history and fiction.
Arthur & Guinevere: The legendary King Arthur and his queen are at the center of a huge corpus of medieval and post-medieval literature. In most stories, Guinevere had real affection for her older husband, but her heart belonged to Lancelot.
Boccaccio & Fiammetta: Giovanni Boccaccio was an important 14th-century author. His muse was the lovely Fiammetta, whose true identity is undetermined but who appeared in some of his early works.
Charles Brandon & Mary Tudor: Henry
VIII arranged for his sister Mary
to wed King Louis XII of France, but she already loved Charles, the
1st Duke of Suffolk. She agreed to wed the much-older Louis on condition that she be
allowed to choose her next husband herself. When Louis died shortly
after the marriage, Mary secretly wed Suffolk before Henry could
embroil her in another political marriage. Henry was furious, but he
forgave them after Suffolk paid a hefty fine.
The above couple was suggested by Tracy Kalkwarf. Thanks, Tracy!
El Cid & Ximena: Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar was a notable military leader and the national hero of Spain. He acquired the title "the Cid" ("sir" or "lord") during his lifetime. He really did marry Ximena (or Jimena), the king's niece, but the exact nature of their relationship is obscured in the mists of time and epic.
Clovis & Clotilda: Clovis was the founder of the Merovingian dynasty of Frankish kings. His pious wife Clotilda convinced him to convert to Catholicism, which would prove significant in the future development of France.
Dante & Beatrice: Dante Alighieri is often considered the finest poet of the Middle Ages. His devotion in his poetry to Beatrice made her one of the most celebrated figures in western literature.
Edward IV & Elizabeth Woodville: Fair Edward was attractive and popular with the ladies, and he surprised quite a few people when he married the widowed mother of two boys. Edward's bestowal of court favors on Elizabeth's relatives disrupted his court.
Erec & Enid: The poem Erec et Enid is the earliest extant Arthurian romance by 12th-century poet Chrétien de Troyes. In it, Erec wins a tournament to defend the assertion that his lady is the most beautiful. Later, the two go on a quest to prove to each other their noble qualities.
Etienne de Castel & Christine de Pizan: The time Christine had with her husband was a mere ten years. His death left her in financial straits, and she turned to writing to support herself. Her works included love ballads dedicated to the late Etienne.
Ferdinand & Isabella: The "Catholic Monarchs" of Spain united Castile and Aragon when they married. Together, they overcame civil war, completed the reconquista by defeating the last Moorish holdout of Granada, and sponsored the voyages of Columbus. They also expelled the Jews and began the Spanish Inquisition.
Gareth & Lynette: In the Arthurian tale of Gareth & Lynette, first told by Malory, Gareth proves himself to be chivalrous, even though Lynette heaps scorn upon him.
Sir Gawain & Dame Ragnelle: The story of the "loathly lady" is told in many versions. The most famous involves Gawain, one of Arthur's greatest knights, whom the ugly Dame Ragnelle chooses for her husband, and is told in The Wedding of Sir Gawain and Dame Ragnelle.
More couples on page two.
Think you know your famous couples? Try the Medieval Couples Quiz.