Learn English – the origin of the saying, “faint heart never won fair lady”


Having heard the phrase, "faint heart never won fair lady" for the third time in very short span, I'm determined to find out its origin. Unfortunately, when I Google, I'm getting a bunch of low-quality sites — unlike our StackExchange — that only mention that it's a proverb, and give no clue as to its origin or date of first occurrence. That's what I'm wondering — is it a literary quote, passed down from some famous author into a proverb? When is the date of its first attestation? How familiar would an ordinary Briton be with this saying? (It's a chiefly British saying, right? I don't believe it's popular in the United States.)

Best Answer

This saying originated from a Middle English saying, round about 1545 A.D.

A coward verely neuer obteyned the loue of a faire lady. [1545 R. Taverner tr. Erasmus' Adages (ed. 2) 10]

In 1614 A.D., this was refined to become:

Faint heart neuer wonne faire Lady. [1614 W. Camden Remains concerning Britain (ed. 2) 306]

And later in 1754A.D., it was phrased in today's recognizable English:

Then, madam, we will not take your denial. ‥Have I not heard it said, that faint heart never won fair lady. [1754 Richardson Grandison I. xvi.]

Thus is the origin of this saying.

These sayings were taken out of these books.

If you do not wish to browse through all those books for these few phrases, try this site