The Roman Catholic Church played an important role in practically every area of life during the Middle Ages. Let us examine three different ways in which it did so. The Roman Catholic Church was the only church at this time. As such, it was felt to have a monopoly on religious knowledge and on the relationship between Europeans and God. The Church did much to determine how people would live since it said what was permissible and what was not.
Romance delights in the antique nature of its material — yet their very antiquity becomes for romance writers and awareness of historical tension between the past, usually idealized, and the corrupt present.
The Church was a major political force during this time. Kings and queens wanted and needed papal approval, particularly when they were somewhat weak. This, among other things, allowed the Church to exercise political power as it could help to determine which claimants to a throne would be deemed acceptable. There was a long history of tension between the church and secular authority over this and other political issues.
Finally, the Church was deeply involved in economic life. The Church controlled a great deal of land, largely because it owned monasteries. By owning all the land connected to the monasteries, the Church was a major economic power.
These are the major ways in which the Church played a role in medieval life. The church was a social place as well as a place of worship. Christian rituals and faith were part of the fabric of everyday life.
Priests and clergy guided people on issues of values and morality. Also, people were required to receive the sacraments. Monks and nuns cared for the poor and children and gave food and lodging to travelers. Romance delights in the antique nature of its material — yet their very antiquity becomes for romance writers and awareness of historical tension between the past, usually idealized, and the corrupt present.
For all the continuity between epic and romance in its masculinist interests, romance’s more feminine preoccupation with courtliness, love and marriage is central to the genre. Love interest is often wrapped into tales of marvels and faerie such as Sir Orfeo and Sir Launfal; Romance also shares striking parallels to hagiographic stories with their adventures of young Christian women as victims of lust or malice.
Romance’s reverence for the lady both reflects and is energized by the hymns of Marian devotion, which can sound like a wooing lover. Not only does woman inform the content of romance as the inevitable marriage prize, and not only does the narrator identify with the woman’s perspective; she also often historically, constitutes the audience of the genre.
In one sense, romance inversely reflects woman’s feudal disenfranchisement by celebrating her power over the chivalric knight; in another, romance offers woman, absented from the sphere of political control, an alternative ‘real’ world of cultural capital in the patronage and production of arts and letters.
Romance promised a code of courtly resulting from nurture as well as from the birthright, an education of the soul available to the ‘free’ and ‘gentle’ man, who finds in the tales a mirror to his aspirations. The freedom of Chaucer’s Franklin’s Tale and the gentilesse of the Wife of Bath’s Tale are virtues supposedly attainable by all, but ‘free’ and ‘gentle’ are also terms of designated social rank, automatically excluding serfs and commoners.
Medieval romance remains the ultimate form of chivalric self-representation, the literature of an estate that, by the end of the fifteenth century, could no longer be defined in terms of military function.