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Medieval Knights

The historic age of knighthood began in the 5th century and lasted approximately 750 years. Chivalry was the code of the monk-knights who fought in the Crusades, protecting pilgrims along the route to the Holy Land. Stories about the knight began to appear about 1100 and dominated popular literature well into the 17th century, most notably with Miguel de Cervantes' Don Quixote, published in 1604. Men were the primary readers of these tales, and many, like Cervantes, were inspired by them to become soldiers.

Considered the first modern novel, Don Quixote spoofed yet epitomized chivalry's appeal: the knight's unwavering courage, courtesy and loyalty toward all women, and particularly the one beautiful, virtuous woman who chose him as her champion. Cervantes disliked the era's new trend of arranged marriages and idealized love so powerful, it could win the blessings of authorities and family.

What's The Appeal?

In the more than brutal Medieval Era, women were viewed as property—and often not highly valued property. They lived at the mercy of father, of brother and, finally, of a husband they had no say in choosing. Why do these romances still draw educated, working, voting, liberated readers?

The physical attraction of an all-male hero is certainly part of the answer. So is the dominance theme, but it's not being dominated that appeals to the reader of medieval romances. What appeals is the victory over dominance, which will mean equality for both the lovers.

The heroine, her will as her only weapon, seeks self-value and independence against the imposing odds of a patriarchal church and society, with its powerful existing customs. "Mi'lady" is desperate to escape what promises to be a loveless, abusive marriage.

The hero, the knight, responds to her charms: first with respect, the chivalrous tradition; next with restrained desire; and finally, with steadfastly committed and courageously protective love.

Additionally, medieval romances naturally incorporate archetypes. For example, a horse and rider symbolize control over will, emotions, and sexuality, depending on how skillfully the rider handles the horse. Knights are masterful, yet gentle, with their mighty war horses. Furthermore, war and battle present strong images of the conflict between mind and emotion.

Most importantly, the damsel in distress needs to accept the power and strength of her inner male aspect, while the knight needs to rescue and protect his abused inner feminine side.

And possibly, medieval romances idealize the idea of accepting a subordinate position, by choice, for the sake of and with protection from an adoring lover, whose main purpose in life is to fulfill his beloved's wishes.

-Gerry Benninger

Authors' Thoughts...

"In reality, these guys were apes! But still—"
-Denise Domning
As an example of the research sources authors use, Denise suggests Law, Sex and Christian Society in Medieval Europe by James A. Brundage.

"The medieval knight was the biggest, baddest guy in town. A woman was property. Between them is the largest disparity of power. For the powerless creature to tame the knight—well, that's really something."
-Rexanne Becnel
Rexanne recommends Bride of the Lion by Elizabeth Stuart.

"It's all wrapped up with the chivalry ideal. The romance of the castles. Personally, I like that it's a time pre-guns. I like swords better. They're somehow more, ahem, personal."
-Hannah Howell
For the lighter side, Hannah suggests Love At First Sight, the debut book by Sandra Lee.

The tale of the Medieval Knight reigned as the most popular form of literature until the publication of Don Quixote by Cervantes, which sought in a humorous way to debunk the myths surrounding knights and their adventures. But what makes it so popular as a romance genre today? Some say that the hyper-masculine knight is the draw, others his loyal devotion to his Lady, and still others the rich symbolism that runs throughout the Medieval romance. Read a few books from our list to decide for yourself.


(Note: The list below was compiled at press time: Romantic Times Issue #184, July 1999)

  • BY RIGHT OF ARMS Robyn Carr (Little Brown)
    1355 England
  • WHERE MAGIC DWELLS Rexanne Becnel (Dell)
    12th Century Wales
  • DARK CHAMPION Jo Beverley (Avon)
    Middle Ages
  • CHANDRA Catherine Coulter (New American)
  • SPLENDOR Charlene Cross (Pocket)
    Normandy 1153
  • A KNIGHT IN SHINING ARMOR Jude Deveraux (Pocket)
  • HIGHLAND VELVET Jude Deveraux (Pocket)
  • THE VELVET PROMISE Jude Deveraux (Pocket)
    Medieval England
  • CANDLE IN THE WINDOW Christina Dodd (Harper)
    England 1153
  • ONCE A KNIGHT Christina Dodd (Harper)
  • A LOVE FOR ALL SEASONS Denise Domning (Topaz)
    1195 England
  • SPRING'S FURY Denise Domning (Topaz)
    1195 England
  • AUTUMN'S FLAME Denise Domning (Topaz)
    1194-96 England
  • BLUE HEAVEN, BLACK KNIGHT Shannon Drake (Zebra)
    Medieval England P
  • RINCESS OF FIRE Shannon Drake (Berkley)
    Medieval England
  • BETROTHED Elizabeth Elliott (Bantam)
    Middle Ages
  • THE WARLORD Elizabeth Elliott (Bantam)
    Middle Ages
  • THE PRIZE Julie Garwood (Pocket)
    England 1066
  • HONOR'S SPLENDOR Julie Garwood (Pocket)
    England 1099
  • GENTLE CONQUEROR Mary Ellen Gronau (Bantam)
    10th Century Ireland
  • THE PASSIONATE WARRIOR Mary Ellen Gronau (Bantam)
    Ireland 987
  • ONDINE Heather Graham (Kensington)
    17th Century England
  • DESIRED Virginia Henley (Dell)
    Medieval England & France
  • THE DRAGON AND THE JEWEL Virginia Henley (Dell)
  • A YEAR AND A DAY Virginia Henley (Dell)
    11th Century Scotland
  • MY VALIANT KNIGHT Hannah Howell (Kensington)
    Scottish Highlands
  • MY CHERISHED ENEMY Samantha James (Avon)
    1153 Crusades
  • THE CONQUEROR Brenda Joyce (Dell)
    England 1069
  • VIRGIN BRIDE Tamara Leigh (Bantam)
    12th Century England
  • DEFY NOT THE HEART Johanna Lindsey (Avon)
    1192 England
  • UNTIL FOREVER Johanna Lindsey (Avon)
    Contemporary Time-Travel
  • WHEN LOVE AWAITS Johanna Lindsey (Avon)
  • HIS LADY'S RANSOM Merline Lovelace (Harlequin Historicals)
  • SWEET SONG OF LOVE Merline Lovelace (Harlequin Historicals)
  • UNTAMED Elizabeth Lowell (Avon)
    12th Century England
  • BOLD ANGEL Kat Martin (St. Martin's)
  • HEATHER & VELVET Teresa Medeiros (Bantam)
    Medieval Scotland
  • MYSTIQUE Amanda Quick (Bantam)
  • LORD OF THE DRAGON Suzanne Robinson (Bantam)
  • SILKEN THREADS Patricia Ryan (Topaz)
    12th Century London
  • HEART OF A KNIGHT Barbara Samuel (Harper)
    1351 England
  • THE INNOCENT Bertrice Small (Ballantine)
    12th Century England
  • THE KNIGHT Sandra Steen (Harlequin Temptation)
    Contemporary Time-Travel
  • BRIDE OF THE LION Elizabeth Stuart (St. Martin's)
    Middle Ages
  • HOPE & GLORY Katherine Sutcliffe (Jove)
    12th Century England and France
  • THE WOLF & THE DOVE Kathleen E. Woodiwiss (Avon)
    England, 1066

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