What’s So Romantic about Medieval Times?

If your answer is Not much, you are correct by modern-day standards. After all, indoor plumbing didn’t exist, medical care might kill you as much as cure you, personal hygiene left much to be desired, and if you were poor (or even slightly well to-do) you bedded down with the rest of your family each night.
Doesn’t sound very sexy, does it? So why did I set my romance novel during medieval times?

1) Escapism

Reading LoverBy patpitchaya of freedigitalphotos.net

Reading and writing romance provides an escape from the everyday. When it’s an historical from the far removed past, that escapism is even more pronounced. After all, swords and castles and carriage rides are a far cry from (and way more exciting than) folding laundry, pulling weeds, or commuting to the office.
I love historicals because somewhere in the back of your mind as you read, you know that these characters could have lived once upon a time. All those historical details pull you into their stories, but at the same time those very details reinforce the fact that you are still a modern-day person catching only a glimpse of what could have been. This results in a safe space to explore other times and places, and the fantasy ends when you close the book or power down the e-reader and return to the present.

2) More Realistic Fairy Tales

La_Belle_Dame_Sans_Merci2La Belle Dame sans Merci, by John William Waterhouse (1893) via Wikimedia Commons

For me, reading historical romance was a natural extension of the fairy tales I consumed growing up. Romances still have happy endings and dashing heroes, but none of the fade-to-black nonsense when it comes to the sexytimes.
Because the stories are grounded in historical fact, I find historicals to be more grownup versions of fairy tales, complete with adventures and quests and good triumphing over evil. And I think the medieval time period comes the closest to evoking the fantasy world of fairy tales thanks to the knights and castles of the age.

3) Primal Needs

619c90e9f977f0fea6046983c6d433bcPinned by Lori Wood on Once Upon a Time

We tend to think of the past as a “simpler time.” Things might not have necessarily been simpler, but the needs were more basic. People had to have shelter and food and protection, things we often take for granted today. The choices were starker too. Options, particularly for women, were nearly nonexistent. You did what you had to do to survive. End of story, right?
Well, that’s what makes playing in this time period so fun for writers. Because the stakes are so high for every conflict, every decision a character faces, the dramatic potential of medievals is huge. Same with the romance. The concept of marriage in medieval times was essentially a business transaction. Love was not an emotion regular people could afford to have. So any love match of the period was really something special, since too often they went against the wishes of their families and their liege lords when they chose love over duty.

4) Hard-bodied Knights

KnightMicrosoft Clip Art

Maybe I should have started off with this one… Knights were the soldiers of the day. Training started early for boys, creating lethal men (so long as they lived to see adulthood). In addition to knowing how to wield a sword, they were usually trained in another weapon (ax, bow, spear), taught how to control a warhorse, and had to wear thirty to fifty pounds of chain mail. Such a regimen would result in a fine physical specimen, don’t you think?
But it wasn’t just the knights. I’d venture to say that anyone living in medieval times worked hard, whether they were a craftsman, a farmer, or a chatelaine. Everything was harder in the Middle Ages, which means it took concerted effort to do just about anything worth doing. People earned their night’s rest every day, and considering the diet of your average medieval person, most people had lean physiques.
So these are some of the reasons I enjoy reading and writing medievals. I’d love to know why they work for you!

3 thoughts on “What’s So Romantic about Medieval Times?

  1. Wonderful post! You definitely should have started with hard-bodied knights. 🙂 Seriously, I like your characterization of the historical setting as the reader’s safe space to fantasize, because the very details which make it seem distant in time serve to demarcate the overall novel-reading experience and the emotional journey contained therein as distinct from our real, modern, lives.

  2. Pingback: The Role of Romance | Elise Cyr

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