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
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
propertyand 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,
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
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.
"In reality, these guys were apes! But still"
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 knightwell, that's really something."
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."
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.