Chivalric novels origin characteristics authors works

Chivalry novel

The novel of chivalry is a literary genre written in prose, very popular in the Renaissance, in which stories of adventures are told of imaginary knights errant who dedicate their lives to fighting for just causes. This genre originated in France, but was more popular in Spain. In this article we will provide you the information about the chivalric novels.

It also spread to England, Portugal and Italy, but in these countries it did not have the popularity or development that it had in the Iberian Peninsula. Stories of chivalric heroism and gallantry were an important element of Middle Ages literature throughout Europe.

The change in world view brought about by the Renaissance diminished its popularity. However, in late 15th century Spain the novel of chivalry gained momentum with the publication of the revised version of the work Amadís de Gaula by Garci Rodríguez de Montalvo in 1508.

This story had previously been published in the Middle Ages without the success it had in the Renaissance. The invention and spread of the printing press at the end of the 15th century made its mass production possible.

Origin of chivalric novels

In their early days, the European royal courts entertained themselves with stories of platonic love affairs of frequently fictitious couples. This type of literature was known as court romance.

In addition, the warrior values ​​of the time and necessary for the maintenance of the reigns were the object of stories. In these the warrior values ​​of bravery, courage and loyalty were praised.

From the Middle Ages both types of stories were mixed giving rise to the figure of the knight errant, the central point of chivalric novels. Then the genre of the chivalric novel spread throughout Europe; However, in Spain it was where it gained greater intensity.

Cycles of the novel of chivalry in Spain

During their development, the Spanish chivalric novels of the Middle Ages went through four periods. The first was the Carolingian cycle, which was characterized by having Charlemagne at the center of the stories.

Then followed the Arthurian or Breton cycle, with the legends of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, and then came the cycle of antiquity, which told stories about classical legends, such as the siege and destruction of Troy.

Finally, chivalric tales experienced the cycle of the crusades, dealing with events, real or imagined, of the great crusades.


This transition of the genre through these four cycles made the chivalric novel remain in the readers’ liking. This allowed it to survive the end of the Middle Ages and persist into the Renaissance.

During this period, chivalric romances became very popular, and they even accompanied the conquerors on their adventures in the New World.

By royal orders they were forbidden in the Spanish colonies in America, but they were the favorite reading of the Spanish conquerors, and for this reason they were exported in large quantities (sometimes smuggled).

Characteristics of chivalric novels 

Focus on the exploits and not the protagonists

The protagonists of these stories are presented with flat personalities, without nuances. Instead, his exploits are the core of the story.

On the other hand, the details abound in the narrative and it is sought to form a moral pattern that serves as an example.

Open and flexible structures

The extension of the books is considerable, some even formed collections. The stories intertwined and never completely ended, always leaving the possibility of a sequel to the liking of the author.

Trials and rewards

Knights are subjected to tests in which they must convey honor and courage. They must show their mettle even if they lose the battles.

In the end, after passing multiple tests, the protagonist’s reward is glory and, in many cases, love.

Idealized love

The stories present pure and exaggerated loves. Sometimes there are romances outside of marriage and with illegitimate children. Happy endings that ended in marriage were also very common.

War context

The context of the novels is warlike, which enables the protagonists to demonstrate their courage and their ability with weapons. The rivals are of such category that their defeat magnifies the knights.

Heroes of noble origin

Heroes are very often illegitimate children of unknown noble parents, and sometimes kings. The stories present situations in which the hero must prove that he deserves the surname.

Very often the hero receives help from sorcerers, supernatural powers, potions, and magic swords.

Fictional scenarios

The geography of the settings is unreal and fabulous. Common places are the lands of enchanted lakes, haunted jungles, sumptuous palaces and mysterious ships.

Authors and outstanding works 

Ferrand Martínez (14th century)

Ferrand Martínez was a clergyman from Toledo and standard bearer of King Alfonso X. Martínez is credited with the authorship of the work entitled Romance del caballero Zifar . This literary piece was written around the year 1300.

It is considered one of the oldest Renaissance manuscripts of the Spanish chivalric novel. It tells the story of Zifar who, with Christian faith and tenacity, overcomes obstacles in his life and becomes king.

Garci Rodríguez de Montalvo (1450–1504)

Rodríguez de Montalvo organized the modern version of the chivalric novel Amadís de Gaula . The first three volumes of this anonymously authored chivalric romance were written in the 14th century.

Montalvo added a fourth book of his own and made amendments to the first three. He baptized the added sequel with the name of Las sergas de Esplandián (The exploits of Esplandián or The adventures of Esplandián).

Joanot Martorell (15th century)

This Valencian writer (Spain) was born in the first half of the 15th century and was the initial author of the chivalric romance Tirant lo Blanch . Martorell began to write this work in Catalan on January 2, 1460, but could not finish it.

Martí Joan de Galba (-1490)

Martí Joan de Galba was a Spanish writer who was born in the early 15th century. He has the distinction of having been the one who continued and finished the famous chivalric novel Tirant lo Blanch .

Francisco de Moraes Cabral (1500-1572)

Francisco de Morais Cabral was a Portuguese writer born in Bragança who served as personal secretary to the Portuguese ambassador to France.

During two trips to Paris (1540 and 1546) he composed a chivalric romance called Palmerín d’Angleterre (Palmerín of England). This was a version of the popular Amadís de Gaula saga .

Other authors and outstanding works

  • Palmerín de Oliva (1511), by Francisco Vásquez.
  • Tirante el Blanco (1511), by Joanot Martorell.
  • The demand for the Holy Grail (1515), anonymous.
  • Lepolemo (1521), by Alonso de Salazar.
  • Amadís of Greece (1530), by Feliciano de Silva.
  • Silves de la Selva (1546), by Pedro de Luján.
  • Leandro el Bel (1563), by Pedro de Luján.
  • Rosián de Castilla (1586), by Joaquín Romero de Cepeda.
  • Policisne de Boecia (1602), by Juan de Silva y Toledo.

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