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Alexander Leonard

Girlfriend, mistress, paramour and concubine

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I noticed that the term "girlfriend" is never used in Westeros or Essos when describing the unmarried lover of a man. Most of the time they are called mistresses. Ellaria Sand (Oberyn Martell's girlfriend) is said to be a paramour and  Lynesse Hightower (Jorah Mormont's ex-wife, girlfriend of Tregar Ormollen in Lys) a concubine. So what's the difference between all these terms? Aren't they all girlfriends?
My guess is that mistress indicates that the woman is subservient to the man in a relationship, while paramour indicates they are largely equal in social status? For example, Shiera Seastar was said to be Bloodraven's paramour and they were completely equal in social status (both Aegon IV's illigitimate children).
What are their male equivalents called? Melissa Blackwood was Aegon IV's mistress, so what is Aegon IV to her? Ellaria is Oberyn's paramour, so what is Oberyn to Ellaria?
Since English is not my first language, I cannot grasp the subtle difference in the meanings of these words. Why don't people just call these unmarried couples boyfriend and girlfriend?

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Lynesse Hightower is a concubine, which is a really nice way of saying "whooah".

Ellaria Sand is a paramour, which is a classy way of saying long-term girlfriend.

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The term "boyfriend/girlfriend" definitely seems way too out-of-place for a setting like Westeros. I am not sure if it would even feel appropriate for anything beyond a mid-20th century setting, even. :)

"Mistress" is the simpler term for a woman who is the illicit lover of a man she is not married too. Pretty simple and describes a lot of relationships in Westeros.

"Concubine" can be used interchangeably with "mistress" (Shae is Tyrion's concubine), but it also has other connotations. I tend to think of the word in the context of the Chinese Emperors, for example. These are women who are not the wives of a man, but not exactly unmarried to them. The man will usually have a primary wife, but the children are not going to be illegitimate, probably. This context probably applies for pirates/Lys where such an arrangement is not going to be extraordinary compared to the more monogamous Seven-worshippers.

"Paramour" seems to refer to a more typically Dornish institution where the relationship is not really viewed as illicit, unlike mistress, but they are still long-term unmarried partners. A paramour can also be male in Dorne. It can also apply outside of Dorne in some instances, e.g. to Samantha Tarly and Lyonel Hightower, who were intending to wed. Though the relationship was still illicit, it was a much more serious arrangement than a mistress, and that's perhaps the subtle distinction that can matter in Westeros.

I would not bat an eyelid if someone used the other two as interchangeable for "mistress," though.

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6 minutes ago, Vaith said:

The term "boyfriend/girlfriend" definitely seems way too out-of-place for a setting like Westeros. I am not sure if it would even feel appropriate for anything beyond a mid-20th century setting, even. :)

"Mistress" is the simpler term for a woman who is the illicit lover of a man she is not married too. Pretty simple and describes a lot of relationships in Westeros.

"Concubine" can be used interchangeably with "mistress" (Shae is Tyrion's concubine), but it also has other connotations. I tend to think of the word in the context of the Chinese Emperors, for example. These are women who are not the wives of a man, but not exactly unmarried to them. The man will usually have a primary wife, but the children are not going to be illegitimate, probably. This context probably applies for pirates/Lys where such an arrangement is not going to be extraordinary compared to the more monogamous Seven-worshippers.

"Paramour" seems to refer to a more typically Dornish institution where the relationship is not really viewed as illicit, unlike mistress, but they are still long-term unmarried partners. A paramour can also be male in Dorne. It can also apply outside of Dorne in some instances, e.g. to Samantha Tarly and Lyonel Hightower, who were intending to wed. Though the relationship was still illicit, it was a much more serious arrangement than a mistress, and that's perhaps the subtle distinction that can matter in Westeros.

I would not bat an eyelid if someone used the other two as interchangeable for "mistress," though. 

It seems that a concubine is normally not married to any other man and is expected to be faithful to the man, as in the case of Shae. Tyrion was furious when he found she slept with Tywin. If memory serves, in real history, the concubines of Ottoman Sultan, Emperor of India and Emperor of China have an obligation to be faithful to their man.

In contrast, a mistress or a paramour could be married to another man and they seem to have no obligation to be faithful to their lover.

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Someone using the term girlfriend would look completely out of place in the ASOIAF universe. 

Mistress, paramour, concubine, they're all pretty much the same thing, just in different places around the world. Like how in Westeros we have a King, and in Yi Ti we have an Emperor. 

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6 minutes ago, Euron III Greyjoy said:

Someone using the term girlfriend would look completely out of place in the ASOIAF universe. 

Mistress, paramour, concubine, they're all pretty much the same thing, just in different places around the world. Like how in Westeros we have a King, and in Yi Ti we have an Emperor.  

I guess concubine is different from mistress and paramour in that a concubine is normally not married to other man and is expected to be faithful to her lover.

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There are subtle differences. Some are cultural in nature.

A concubine is a kept woman (or more likely women) for the express purpose of pleasuring a single man, usually one of prominence or importance. I won't go so far as calling them sex slaves, although that is one of their primary functions. A good concubine is knowledgeable about subjects that interest the man, is a good conversationalist and has some skill or talent that would be considered an art form or otherwise aesthetic in nature. Most concubines were of low birth status, but there have been notable nobly birthed concubines. Occasionally, the great love for a concubine has led to them to being raised above their station to become the wife of their master and their children legitimized. Examples of concubines as we define them can be found in the historical courts of the east Asian empires, India and the harems of the middle east where it is an open and accepted practice with the wife of the monarch/warlord in question fully on board with the cultural norm of the practice. Do not conflate a concubine with a courtesan or geisha, which are basically high class prostitutes who are available to any that can pay, but might be particular about who they entertain.

A mistress is a woman who is having a romantic affair with a married man, either with the knowledge and/or consent of his wife and society or in secret, depending on the culture and time period in question. Some men had many mistresses, but they were not kept women like a concubine. They were/are free to pursue their own separate relationships (with the requisite chance that someone will get jealous) and break things off as they see fit. Historically (and possibly currently), it was the French that were the masters of this form, but every European culture had its notable lascivious behavior in this vein.

A paramour is for all intents and purposes what we would term a girlfriend/boyfriend. It is an open and legal relationship not formalized by a contract of marriage. It sometimes involves children, which can present a legitimacy problem in certain cultures. In some cultures, a promise of marriage, betrothal or engagement would be necessary to announce this relationship. In Victorian times, this could be the term for your intended during the courting phase, but before the actual declaration of engagement to be married.

Clear as mud? ;)

Edited by Three-Fingered Pete
errata

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1 hour ago, Alexander Leonard said:

It seems that a concubine is normally not married to any other man and is expected to be faithful to the man, as in the case of Shae. Tyrion was furious when he found she slept with Tywin. If memory serves, in real history, the concubines of Ottoman Sultan, Emperor of India and Emperor of China have an obligation to be faithful to their man.

In contrast, a mistress or a paramour could be married to another man and they seem to have no obligation to be faithful to their lover.

And Aegon IV also executed one of his mistresses when she was unfaithful to him. I don't really think they are viewed as having much agency. If a mistress is married, her husband is probably so low ranking he cannot really say no to a powerful lord or king choosing to bed his wife, or indeed it could be a path to influence for him...

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31 minutes ago, Vaith said:

And Aegon IV also executed one of his mistresses when she was unfaithful to him. I don't really think they are viewed as having much agency. If a mistress is married, her husband is probably so low ranking he cannot really say no to a powerful lord or king choosing to bed his wife, or indeed it could be a path to influence for him...

I think he had absolutely no reason to execute Bethany Bracken. I wonder what crime he accused her of. When the Mad King burnt Brandon Stark, he accused him of treason. But what crime could Bethany have committed by sleeping with another man?

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Concubine is a woman in harem. She's concidered to be not a free person, but a property of her master. Something like a slave for sex, entertaiment (dancing, playing on musical instruments, singing, etc.), and giving birth to her master's children. Usually concubines are attended only by female servants, or by eunuchs (castrated men). They are not allowed to socialize with any other man, beside their master. And they are rarely allowed to go outside of harem's premises. Owner of harem could give his concubine as a present to another man. But only in case, if this concubine didn't had childen, while she was part of his harem. If certain concubine was pregnant from her master, but then had a miscarriage, or she gave birth to a child, but some time later that child died, then this woman will forever remain as part of his harem. She will never be given freedom, and will never be given to another man.

Mistress is something like a glorified kept woman. She could be married or not; she could be rich or not; she could have same or lower social or financial standing as her lover, but in some aspect on some level she is not his equal, or not acknowledged by him as his equal. It is expected, that a man, that has a mistress, is supposed to give her money, or valuable presents, like jewellery, or to buy her a house, in which they will be meeting (which she will keep, even after they will separate). It's expected from a mistress, that she should be available, whenever she is needed, to keep company to her lover in privacy, or to accompany him to various social events (like theater, ball, tournament, etc.). Basically, mistress is a female escort, only with less defined parameters. Same as concubine, mistress is not entirely free to go wherever she wants, or to do whatever she wants. For example, many of Aegon IV mistresses were women, that were forced to become his lovers. Like Megette, whose husband was forced to sell her to Aegon; or Casella Vaith, that was kept at Red Keep as a hostage of Targaryens; or three maiden-daughters of Lord Butterwell, that were forced to spend night with Aegon, as a payment for dragon egg, that Aegon gave to their father. So relatioship between mistress and her lover is unequal, but not to the same extend, as relationship between concubine and her master.

While paramour is something like "loved one". Their relationship go beyond just sex, or spending time together. Also paramour is treated by her lover, and other people from his entourage, as his equal, or at least with respect. So it's a relationship, that is based on mutual choice, and relative equality. Out of those three terms, paramour is the closest in sense to modern girlfriend/boyfriend. Very simplified explanation: concubine - property, mistress - sex and companionship, paramour - love.

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As I understand in terms of ASOIAF:

Paramour - basically a wife in practice, an equivalent of a girlfriend.

Mistress - a woman of a man who is already married to a different woman, basically the same as in real life.

Concubine - a woman that the man keeps for sex. She maybe be a personal prostitute (that would probably be expected to be faithful as a concubine), a sex slave, or, like Lynesse, a gold digger.

Edited by Dofs

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4 hours ago, Vaith said:

The term "boyfriend/girlfriend" definitely seems way too out-of-place for a setting like Westeros. I am not sure if it would even feel appropriate for anything beyond a mid-20th century setting, even. :)

Same way the word 'psychopath' doesn't exist in the books, that I can find. Despite plenty of chars seemingly being psychotic....

Not a word that culture would have known or used.

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1 hour ago, Legitimate_Bastard said:

Same way the word 'psychopath' doesn't exist in the books, that I can find. Despite plenty of chars seemingly being psychotic....

Not a word that culture would have known or used.

Interestingly there is a reference to “infected” wounds before germ theory. It does not really strike me as jarring, but I would say that “inflamed” might have been a better choice.

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2 minutes ago, Vaith said:

Interestingly there is a reference to “infected” wounds before germ theory. It does not really strike me as jarring, but I would say that “inflamed” might have been a better choice.

Yeah I try not to think too hard about which words would or would not have been used.

I think overall GRRM has done a fantastic job keeping things Medievally feeling. If you catch my drift.

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Would you call Rhaenyra ser Harwin´s "mistress" or his "paramour"? He certainly is not married.

Or Daenerys and Daario - he is not married, and in that case neither is she. Or Cersei and Lancel - again neither of them married. Or Asha and Qarl. Or Arianne and Arys. None of the five is a kept woman.

Edited by Jaak

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2 minutes ago, Jaak said:

Or Daenerys and Daario - he is not married, and in that case neither is she. Or Cersei and Lancel - again neither of them married. Or Asha and Qarl. Npne of the four is a kept woman.

.... really can't get away from it, these four just seem to be fuck-buddies...:blush: Or 'free and consenting adults expressing agency'.... yeah, that, but in mediaevalish ;)

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1 minute ago, Rufus Snow said:

.... really can't get away from it, these four just seem to be fuck-buddies...:blush: Or 'free and consenting adults expressing agency'....

Lancel is free and consenting, but not adult. (Chronologically, he had just turned 16 - but the point of Kevan´s complaint to Cersei is that Kevan does not regard Lancel as an adult for that, and calls Cersei a paedophile).

These five are cases where the woman is clearly the wealthier, higher status member of the couple and does not need keeping - not by her lover, who cannot keep her in style she can keep herself.

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35 minutes ago, Jaak said:

Would you call Rhaenyra ser Harwin´s "mistress" or his "paramour"? He certainly is not married.

Or Daenerys and Daario - he is not married, and in that case neither is she. Or Cersei and Lancel - again neither of them married. Or Asha and Qarl. Or Arianne and Arys. None of the five is a kept woman.

Cersei was married.

With her and Arianne sex was for thrones, not a relationship.

Asha and Qarl seem to like each other but like Rufus says, theyre more fuck buddies then anything.

Dany and Darrio are basically dating, he stays over most nights and they seem in love. Selmy thinks of Darrio as her paramour.

 

Im curious on Ironborn relationships. Wheres the line between concubines and salt wives (an Iron paramour)? Victarion had a salt wife and doesnt want another wife till Dany, but still treats the Dusky woman as a concubine? Why not upgrade her to a saltwife? 

 

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Their word usage is more literal.  Modern english in comparison is more subtle.  A friend in the Common Tongue is literally a friend.  A girl friend is a female friend.  Which is going to be rare because friendship between a man and a woman brings on a cloud of suspicion.  

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8 hours ago, Alexander Leonard said:

I noticed that the term "girlfriend" is never used in Westeros or Essos when describing the unmarried lover of a man. Most of the time they are called mistresses. Ellaria Sand (Oberyn Martell's girlfriend) is said to be a paramour and  Lynesse Hightower (Jorah Mormont's ex-wife, girlfriend of Tregar Ormollen in Lys) a concubine. So what's the difference between all these terms? Aren't they all girlfriends?
My guess is that mistress indicates that the woman is subservient to the man in a relationship, while paramour indicates they are largely equal in social status? For example, Shiera Seastar was said to be Bloodraven's paramour and they were completely equal in social status (both Aegon IV's illigitimate children).
What are their male equivalents called? Melissa Blackwood was Aegon IV's mistress, so what is Aegon IV to her? Ellaria is Oberyn's paramour, so what is Oberyn to Ellaria?
Since English is not my first language, I cannot grasp the subtle difference in the meanings of these words. Why don't people just call these unmarried couples boyfriend and girlfriend?

"Girlfriend":  a distinctly modern term, that seems to have originated in the 19th century.  Your girlfriend is your female friend.  If you are male (or sometimes even if you are not), the implication is that she is more than JUST your friend, and there is a romantic or sexual interest.  However, a physical relationship is not necessarily implied.  Virgins and children can have girlfriends.

"Lover":  Literally, one who loves.   In the 19th Century, and earlier, a woman could have many "lovers" and this merely meant that she had many suitors -- many men who loved her.  The implication was merely that she was desireable, not that she was promiscuous.  In more modern times, your "lover" more likely implies someone with whom you have a physical sexual relationship.

"Mistress":  Literally, a female master.  In other words, in this context, it is a lover who makes demands upon a man in exchange for her love.  By further implication, it is a woman with whom a man (generally married) has a (usually illicit) sexual relationship, and who requires an upkeep.

"Paramour":   A person with whom one has a sexual relationship, but where the relationship is not sanctioned by marriage, but only "by/through love"; ("par amour" being French for "by/through love").

"Concubine":   A woman who lives openly in a sexual relationship with a man, usually in addition to his wife or wives, but has lesser rights than a full wife.  Concubines generally exist only in polygamous societies.   They are generally bound to, and generally expected to be faithful to, their husbands.

Edited by Platypus Rex

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