Chivalric romance

Yvain fighting Gawain. Medieval illumination from Chrétien de Troyes's romance, Yvain, le Chevalier au Lion

As a literary genre of high culture, romance or chivalric romance is a type of prose and verse narrative that was popular in the aristocratic circles of High Medieval and Early Modern Europe. They were fantastic stories about marvel-filled adventures, often of a chivalric knight-errant portrayed as having heroic qualities, who goes on a quest. It developed further from the epics as time went on; in particular, "the emphasis on love and courtly manners distinguishes it from the chanson de geste and other kinds of epic, in which masculine military heroism predominates."[1]

Popular literature also drew on themes of romance, but with ironic, satiric, or burlesque intent. Romances reworked legends, fairy tales, and history to suit the readers' and hearers' tastes, but by c. 1600 they were out of fashion, and Miguel de Cervantes famously burlesqued them in his novel Don Quixote. Still, the modern image of "medieval" is more influenced by the romance than by any other medieval genre, and the word medieval evokes knights, distressed damsels, dragons, and other romantic tropes.[2]

Originally, romance literature was written in Old French, Anglo-Norman, Occitan, and Provençal, and later in Portuguese, Castilian, English, Italian (Sicilian poetry), and German. During the early 13th century, romances were increasingly written as prose. In later romances, particularly those of French origin, there is a marked tendency to emphasize themes of courtly love, such as faithfulness in adversity.


Unlike the later form of the novel and like the chansons de geste, the genre of romance dealt with traditional themes. These were distinguished from earlier epics by heavy use of marvelous events, the elements of love, and the frequent use of a web of interwoven stories, rather than a simple plot unfolding about a main character.[3] The earliest forms were invariably in verse, but the 15th century saw many in prose, often retelling the old, rhymed versions.[4]

The romantic form pursued the wish-fulfillment dream where the heroes and heroines were considered representations of the ideals of the age while the villains embodied the threat to their ascendancy.[5] There is also a persistent archetype, which involved a hero's quest. This quest or journey served as the structure that held the narrative together. With regards to the structure, scholars recognize the similarity of the romance to folk tales. Vladimir Propp identified a basic form for this genre and it involved an order that began with initial situation, then followed by departure, complication, first move, second move, and resolution.[6] This structure is also applicable to romance narratives.


Holger Danske, or Ogier the Dane, from the Matter of France

Overwhelmingly, these were linked in some way, perhaps only in an opening frame story, with three thematic cycles of tales: these were assembled in imagination at a late date as the "Matter of Rome" (actually centered on the life and deeds of Alexander the Great conflated with the Trojan War), the "Matter of France" (Charlemagne and Roland, his principal paladin) and the "Matter of Britain" (the lives and deeds of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, within which was incorporated the quest for the Holy Grail); medieval authors explicitly described these as comprising all romances.[7]

In reality, a number of "non-cyclical" romances were written without any such connection;[7] these include such romances as King Horn,[8] Robert the Devil,[9] Ipomadon,[10] Emaré,[11] Havelok the Dane,[12]Roswall and Lillian,[13] Le Bone Florence of Rome,[14] and Amadas.[15]

Indeed, some tales are found so often that scholars group them together as the "Constance cycle" or the "Crescentia cycle"—referring not to a continuity of character and setting, but to the recognizable plot.[7]

Other Languages
Afrikaans: Ridderroman
Alemannisch: Höfischer Roman
العربية: رواية فروسية
български: Рицарски роман
Cymraeg: Rhamant
Ελληνικά: Μυθιστορία
Esperanto: Kavalira libro
한국어: 기사 문학
magyar: Lovagregény
македонски: Витешки роман
Nederlands: Ridderroman
日本語: 騎士道物語
norsk nynorsk: Riddarroman
Simple English: Chivalric romance
slovenščina: Viteški roman
српски / srpski: Витешки роман
svenska: Riddarroman
Türkçe: Romans
українська: Лицарський роман
Tiếng Việt: Văn học kị sĩ
中文: 骑士文学