English Literature
Chivalric Romance

Chivalric Romance

Shiken premium Upgrade Banner

The Fascinating World of Chivalric Romance

Dragons, giants, fierce battles, and noble knights embarking on grand adventures. For centuries, chivalric romance has enthralled audiences with its thrilling tales. Popular stories such as King Arthur, Lancelot, and Gawain fall under this genre. But what exactly makes a story a chivalric romance?

In simple terms, chivalric romance is a literary genre that gained popularity in the later medieval period, written in either prose or verse. This genre emerged during the medieval era, a time of great change and transformation from the 5th to 15th century, often referred to as the "dark ages". However, despite its name, chivalric romance is not solely focused on romantic love (although it may feature a damsel in distress). Instead, it centers around thrilling adventures, similar to action movies we see today. These tales follow knights as they face daring quests, confront incredible dangers, and prove their courage and heroism.

These brave knights often encounter challenges such as terrifying dragons, giant foes, or being outsmarted by enchantresses and wizards. They may be tasked with retrieving sacred objects, like the holy grail or legendary swords such as Excalibur. Other times, their quests may involve journeys to find eternal youth. The heart of every chivalric romance lies in the exhilarating adventures that these knights undertake.

These stories were incredibly popular across Europe, largely due to frequent translations and adaptations from one language to another. During the medieval period, there were no copyright laws, and retelling another's story did not carry the negative connotation it does today. As a result, many tales were translated from their original Old French into languages like Middle High German and later Middle English. For instance, Hartmann von Aue's "Iwein" (c. 1203), was freely translated from Chrétien de Troyes' original Old French tale, "Yvain, the Knight of the Lion" (c.1180).

All knights in chivalric romance follow a strict code of conduct known as the chivalric code. This code sets rules for how knights should behave, placing great importance on honor, courtly love, and loyalty. Some of the most renowned chivalric romances are those of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table. One of the most well-known works is Thomas Mallory's "Le Morte D'Arthur" (1485), which narrates the complete story of King Arthur, from his rise to his demise. This compilation includes numerous tales of King Arthur's famous knights and is a combination of French and English stories.

Elements and Characteristics of Chivalric Romance

Now that we have a better understanding of what chivalric romance is, let's delve deeper into the key elements and characteristics that make a story a chivalric romance.


As the name suggests, all chivalric romances contain chivalry. In essence, chivalry means adhering to the chivalric code and upholding the ideals of knighthood. Even in modern times, the word is associated with gentlemanly behavior. The chivalric code includes defending the church, protecting the weak, and being patriotic and courageous. Knights are expected to be honest, generous, and always fight for good over evil. While some aspects of the code may still hold true, others may have lost their relevance over time. For example, mercilessly waging wars against "infidels" would not be seen as honorable in today's society.

Courtly Love

Courtly love is an essential element of chivalric romance. Traditionally, knights would fall in love with a fair maiden and strive to win her heart. However, unlike modern-day romance, knights must respect the maiden's freedom of choice and prove themselves worthy of her love. This may involve displaying acts of nobility and bravery or competing with other knights for the same lady's hand. A knight's devotion and unwavering loyalty to their chosen maiden are often highlighted in chivalric romances.

The Impact of Chivalric Romance in Medieval Times

During the medieval period, chivalric romances were a popular genre that captured the imaginations of audiences with their tales of brave knights and daring adventures. These stories often revolved around a knight competing for the affection of a lady, exemplifying the ideals of chivalry and bravery. One of the most well-known tales is that of Lancelot and Guinevere.

The Importance of Religious Faith

Part of the chivalric code was a strong devotion to the church. Knights saw themselves as defenders of God's will and often embarked on crusades to conquer the "holy land" or retrieve holy relics. This was seen as a noble and honorable pursuit, although it may be viewed differently in modern times. One famous example is Lancelot's quest for the Holy Grail in The Vulgate Cycle.

The Thrill of Adventure

Adventure was a key element in chivalric romances, as knights sought to prove their worth through heroic deeds and accomplishments. This could involve embarking on quests to win a lady's heart or to showcase their bravery. Many of these adventures are depicted in Thomas Mallory's Le Morte D'Arthur. The pursuit of adventure was seen as a way for knights to showcase their strength, courage, and honor.


Join Shiken For FREE

Gumbo Study Buddy

Explore More Subject Explanations

Try Shiken Premium
for Free

14-day free trial. Cancel anytime.
Get Started
Join 20,000+ learners worldwide.
The first 14 days are on us
96% of learners report x2 faster learning
Free hands-on onboarding & support
Cancel Anytime