Romance and the Medieval World

Romance and the Medieval World

Romance was not confined to literary works: its characteristic scenes, ethical dilemmas and splendid imagery permeated medieval culture. Many people would never own a book of romances, but would know stories about Arthur, Gawain or Guy of Warwick from hearing about them and seeing versions of their lives in many arenas. This section shows how romance stories and motifs were adapted for widely differing purposes: from moral criticism to parody, and from the public display of a coat of arms to the private imaginings inspired by a personal gift.

These panels once formed part of an ivory casket—a popular luxury object in the late Middle Ages, whose major centre of production was Paris. The scenes here depict episodes from one or more...

Ivory panels with romance scenes

A prosperous gentry family with interests in Yorkshire and East Anglia, the Hoptons, owned this book; it was probably commissioned either by William Hopton (d. 1484), or his son George (d. 1489)....

A book of family reading and allegiance

In William Langland’s great fourteenth-century dream poem Piers Plowman, the seven deadly sins each confess to the figure of Repentance. Here, Sloth admits enjoying rhymes about Robin Hood and...

Sloth's favourite stories

This beautifully illustrated copy of Le Roman de la Rose (The Romance of the Rose) was made for Louise of Savoy (1476–1531), mother of Francis I of France. The poem mingles romance imagery,...

The God of Love on campaign

In a Tudor heraldic collection are depicted the arms of Edward Stanley, 3rd Earl of Derby (1508–72). They include the Stanley emblem of three stags’ heads; the motto ‘Sans...

The eagle and child and the Stanley family

Chaucer’s alter ego tells two stories in The Canterbury Tales. The first is a romance about Sir Thopas, whose comically lame adventures, told in outmoded tail rhyme stanzas, test the pilgrims'...

Chaucer's Canterbury Tales

This illustration comes from a fine manuscript of John Gower’s major English poem Confessio amantis (A Lover's Confession), written at the end of the fourteenth century. Here the poet’s...

A lover's confession

Thomas Hoccleve (c.1367–1426) worked as a clerk in one of the royal offices in Westminster. He also wrote poetry, including a long book of advice for the future Henry V: The Regiment of...

Moralizing a romance story

The Wife of Bath is one of Chaucer's most striking creations, the prologue to her tale occupying more space than the tale itself, as she tells the pilgrims all about her husbands' abilities in the...

The Wife of Bath and her Tale

Scenes and images from romance worked their way into many kinds of books. Here in a beautifully illustrated psalter manuscript, the bas-de-page (bottom of the page) pictures include animals jousting,...

Romance scenes in a psalter

Origin Stories
Origin Stories
Romance and the Medieval World
Romance and the Medieval World
Truth, Deceit and Desire
Truth, Deceit and Desire
Empires of Romance: Arthur
Empires of Romance: Arthur
Empires of Romance: Alexander
Empires of Romance: Alexander
The Objects of Romance
The Objects of Romance
Cities under Siege
Cities under Siege
Strange Encounters
Strange Encounters
The Fortunes of Sir Gawain
The Fortunes of Sir Gawain
Composing, Writing, Preserving
Composing, Writing, Preserving
The Percy Folio
The Percy Folio
Routes of Romance I
Routes of Romance I
Routes of Romance II
Routes of Romance II
Romance and the Modern World
Romance and the Modern World