Skip to main content Accessibility help
×
Hostname: page-component-546b4f848f-hhr79 Total loading time: 0 Render date: 2023-06-02T07:52:02.045Z Has data issue: false Feature Flags: { "useRatesEcommerce": true } hasContentIssue false

13 - Merchants in Shining Armour: Chivalrous Interventions and Social Mobility in Late Middle English Romance

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  07 October 2022

Victoria Flood
Affiliation:
University of Birmingham
Megan G. Leitch
Affiliation:
Cardiff University
Get access

Summary

This chapter analyses how merchant characters intervene in romance narratives, and how their interventions offer ideological challenges that reflect on the changing production and reception of romances in late medieval England. In so doing, it addresses this volume's concerns with translatio as movement of power (in the appropriation of romance and its tropes to offer a critique informed by changing social structures and class politics) and also as movement of texts (in terms of the writing of late romances and their readership and circulation). From the perspective of medieval authorities, merchants are generally viewed with some mistrust or hostility, and the same goes for merchants in romance. However, in some late Middle English romances, merchants come across rather more positively than is generally the case in the genre. Emaré, Sir Degaré, Octavian, and Valentine and Orson all feature merchants who seem to be motivated by altruism rather than by avarice. Yet the ideological challenges romance merchants pose are manifested when they help central characters, at least as much as when they hinder them. In these romances, it is when men of aristocratic status behave badly – and towards ladies in particular – that merchants step in to help or rescue the lady. I approach these cases in which merchants rescue princesses as examples of what I shall call a motif of merchants in shining armour, and expose the ways in which, through this motif, late Middle English romance is transformed or troubled by contact with new (or newly powerful) class-based ideological agendas.

The final portion of this chapter assesses how the manuscript history of these four romances suggests that late Middle English romance evolved to be especially receptive to the class-centred critique these merchants offer. Emaré, Sir Degaré, Octavian, and Valentine and Orson were all either copied or composed between the mid-fifteenth century and the early sixteenth, and their popularity coincides with shifts in social power. During this period, more merchants were increasingly reading and owning romances and merchants were also increasingly intermingling with the knightly classes, and/or being knighted themselves. In this context, the rewriting of the romance trope of knights rescuing damsels in distress to instead feature merchants rescuing damsels in distress reads as a political transformation or translation of the expectations of the genre.

Type
Chapter
Information
Publisher: Boydell & Brewer
Print publication year: 2022

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)

Save book to Kindle

To save this book to your Kindle, first ensure coreplatform@cambridge.org is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about saving to your Kindle.

Note you can select to save to either the @free.kindle.com or @kindle.com variations. ‘@free.kindle.com’ emails are free but can only be saved to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘@kindle.com’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

Available formats
×

Save book to Dropbox

To save content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about saving content to Dropbox.

Available formats
×

Save book to Google Drive

To save content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about saving content to Google Drive.

Available formats
×