Online Student Edition
Interactive Literary Elements Handbook
Interactive Writing Models
Concepts In Motion
Big Idea Overview and Resources
Big Idea Overview (Spanish)
Selection Vocabulary eFlashcards
Academic Vocabulary eFlashcards
Puzzles and Games
Selection Quick Checks (English)
Selection Quick Checks (Spanish)
Big Idea Overview and Resources
There are many heroic types in complex societies like the modern United States. But during the Anglo-Saxon period, only the warrior was viewed as a heroic type. The warrior possessed qualities valued by the tribes who settled on Britain’s shores. Among these qualities were courage, loyalty, and physical strength.
Warfare was a way of life for the early Anglo-Saxons. Warrior families were led by a nobleman who served a chief or overlord. A warlord was an Anglo-Saxon ruler who protected his people and led them on expeditions. A warlord and his followers formed a group called a comitatus. The bravest followers were rewarded with treasure and, in turn, they were very loyal to their leader.
Upon arriving in Britain, the Anglo-Saxons brought with them their Germanic language, religion, culture, and oral literary traditions. Storytellers created songs about the great deeds and qualities of warriors, and minstrels known as scops performed these songs. The songs served as literary entertainment at a time when most people could not read. The songs also reminded the warriors of their goal—to be remembered for their deeds after death.
The two most important influences on Anglo-Saxon literature were the Germanic tradition and the Christian religion. Germanic mythology was the basis for Anglo-Saxon literature. Because there was no promise of an afterlife, the warrior’s primary goal was to be famous in life on earth. With the coming of Christianity came a promise of eternal life. These two beliefs coexisted and were combined in such works as Beowulf. Life was brief during medieval times, and early Anglo-Saxons believed that fate, or wyrd, controlled human destiny. One’s final fate was death, and the hero would face this final destiny with courage.
The ORB: On-line Reference Book for Medieval Studies
A community’s tallest buildings often reveal its values. In U.S. society, modern skyscrapers indicate the importance of business and commerce. In medieval English cities, however, the tallest buildings were cathedrals, a reflection of the significance of the Roman Catholic Church.
In 596 missionaries were sent by Pope Gregory I to convert the Anglo-Saxons to Christianity. Celtic monks from Ireland also had introduced Christianity elsewhere in England. In 635 St. Aiden established a monastery, one of England’s earliest, on the island of Lindisfarne. By the eighth century, Northumbrian monasteries were producing decorated books known as illuminated manuscripts.
As Christianity grew throughout England during this period, people who dedicated their lives to religious work and prayer became known as nuns and monks. They joined religious orders, established libraries and schools, and stressed the importance of the written word—especially the Bible. Anglo-Saxon monks worked as scribes to copy manuscripts by hand, which enabled the preservation of much of the classical and Anglo-Saxon literature that exists today. The scholarly works of scribes, which represent the first written literature in England, were written in Latin, the language of church scholarship. But Alfred the Great, an important political leader, encouraged the use of Old English in written literature. Many believe that The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, an Old English history in prose and poetry, was a result of Alfred the Great’s encouragement of learning, scholarship, and the English language.
In the Middle Ages, English pilgrims expressed their religious beliefs by traveling to a sacred site, or making a pilgrimage. One of the most important journeys was to Canterbury Cathedral. Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales is about a group of pilgrims who tell stories while they journey to receive blessings from the shrine of the martyr Saint Thomas á Becket.
Since few people could read during this time, churches used sermons, stained-glass windows, and popular entertainment to teach religion. English drama evolved from enactments of biblical stories; people would often dress up like characters in the Old Testament and the New Testament. The plays were popular in England, and resulted in groups of plays, or cycles, that told the story of the Bible beginning with the creation of the world and ending with the last judgment. Because they were performed by the guilds, these plays were called mystery plays. Also popular were less realistic dramas called morality plays, which presented moral lessons, and miracle plays, which dramatized the tales of saints.
The Lindisfarne Gospels Tour
Merriam Webster On-Line: Origins of the English Language
Medieval romances featuring brave knights, lovely maidens, noble women, and wandering minstrels provided impressive yet mostly imaginary portraits of medieval life.
Life in the Middle Ages was characterized by constant warfare. Knights were trained as warriors and, while they enjoyed social prestige, they had little to do but fight. When not engaged in battle, knights participated in tournaments to practice their fighting skills and display their bravery. Although their primary purpose was to provide entertainment, these tournaments were dangerous. Eventually, the nature of these mock-battles changed, and by the end of the sixteenth century they had become safer.
Under the church’s influence, an ideal of civilized behavior called chivalry became common among European nobility, reaching its peak in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. The term chivalry means “horseman” and comes from the French word chevalier. Chivalry required knights to be honorable, generous, brave, respectful to women, and protective of widows and orphans. Much of the literature of this period, particularly songs and stories, reflected this newfound romantic mindset.
In medieval times, upper-class marriage rarely was based on love, and usually was an arrangement that involved an exchange of property or goods or a family alliance. The relationship between a knight and a courtly lady, who was usually married to someone else, was called courtly love. Courtly love was a passionate, all-consuming love—the type seen in the relationship between Sir Launcelot and Guinevere.
The romance, which originated in France during the 1100s, became the most popular literary genre in medieval England. English romances were written in verse and prose, and often were about King Arthur and the knights of the Round Table. Toward the end of the Middle Ages, Le Morte d’Arthur retold the Arthurian legends in Middle English.
Characteristics of the Medieval Romance
Backgrounds to Romance: “Courtly Love”
Notes on Middle English Romance
The resource you requested requires you to enter a username and password below: