a lover, especially the illicit partner of a married person
Derived from Old French par amour, par amur, meaning by, or through, love, the English adverb par amour, later written as one word, appeared around 1250 in Floris and Blancheflour in the phrase to love par amour, meaning to love passionately:
Here lyth swete Blaunchefloure
That Florys lovyd par amoure.
Here lies sweet Blancheflour
That Floris loved passionately.
This adverb was also used to mean out of, or by way of, romantic love or sexual desire, as in The Tale of Sir Thopas, by the English poet Geoffrey Chaucer (circa 1342-1400):
Ful many a mayde, bright in bour,
Very many a maid, bright in bed-chamber,
They moorne for hym paramour,
They mourn for him passionately,
Whan hem were bet to slepe.
When it would be better for them to sleep.
Perhaps originally sometimes short for for love of God, this adverb was also used when addressing someone, to mean out of your love, as a favour, if you please, as in the following passage from The romance of Sir Beues of Hamtoun, written in the early 14th century:
Þar a mette wiþ a swain
And grette him wel:
“Felawe,” a seide, “par amur:
Whar mai ich finde þemperur?
Þow me tel!”
There he met with a servant
And greeted him well:
“Fellow,” he said, “if you please:
Where may I find the emperor?
Thou tell me!”
Because par amour was written from an early date as one word, especially in the later instances of the phrase to love par amour, in which it may have been taken as a noun and treated as the object of the verb, it came to be used as a noun meaning both love and beloved, lover. For example, Geoffrey Chaucer wrote, in The Merchant’s Tale:
I dote nat; I woot the cause why
I am not in my dotage; I know the cause why
Men sholde wedde, and forthermoore woot I
One should wed, and furthermore know I
Ther speketh many a man of mariage
There speaks many a man of marriage
That woot namoore of it than woot my page
Who knows no more of it than my servant boy knows
For whiche causes man sholde take a wyf.
For which causes man should take a wife.
If he ne may nat lyven chaast his lyf,
If he cannot live his life chastely,
Take hym a wyf with greet devocioun,
Let him take him a wife with great devotion,
By cause of leveful procreacioun
For the sake of lawful procreation
Of children to th’ onour of God above,
Of children to the honour of God above,
And nat oonly for paramour or love;
And not only for sexual passion or love;
And for they sholde leccherye eschue,
And so that they should abstain from lechery,
And yelde hir dette whan that it is due.
And yield their marital debt when it is due.
And William of Palerne, written around 1375, contains the following:
Mi perles paramours . my pleye & my ioye,
spek to me spakli . or i spille sone.
My peerless lover, my delight and my joy,
Speak to me promptly, or I’ll soon die.
This noun also designated, specifically, a woman who is the object of a knight’s love, and for whom he does battle. In Le morte Darthur (around 1470), Sir Thomas Malory (died 1471) wrote:
Kynge Pellam off Lystenoyse hath made do cry in all the contrey a grete feste that shall be within thes twenty dayes, and no knyght may com there but he brynge hys wyff with hym othir hys paramoure.
In devotional use, paramour designated the Virgin Mary when addressed by men, including Jesus, and Jesus Christ when addressed by women. For example, Jesus says “My swete moder, myn paramour” in a song composed around 1450.
The current sense of the noun, illicit partner of a married person, is first recorded in The Wife of Bath’s Tale, by Geoffrey Chaucer:
My fourthe housbonde was a revelour—
My fourth husband was a reveller—
This is to seyn, he hadde a paramour.
This is to say, he had a mistress.