Knights in Not so Shining Armor
Throughout the years I joked I was waiting for my knight in shining armor to arrive at my door. The consistent response was there is no such thing. The question still remains, what am I waiting for? Is it an ideal of Mr. Perfect? Is the knight I am waiting for truly a picture of perfection?
In the pages of historical romance and on the screen of the romantic stories, handsome, hunky knights give rise, and I do mean rise, to damsels of Medieval times with their cavalier chivalry – shiny steel armor, ripped muscles, long and luscious hair and gleaming white teeth. Sigh. We dream of these men rescuing us from any foe and then making rough, yet tender love to us. Yeah, I know. It makes no sense, but women can dream.
Ha! Chivalry! What does this really mean? What are women’s expectations – open doors, buy us dinner and flowers…do the laundry? As we get caught up in knightly chivalry and how great it must have been, let’s travel back to Medieval times – armor covered in blood, brutish bodies, tangled hair and, well, teeth, if they’re lucky they’ll have them. Not the prettiest picture, now huh?
In researching for my latest WIP, Wolf Wild Heart, I studied French knight and nobleman, Raoul de Valois, and what a wolf wild heart he had.
Around the tender age of fourteen he was promised a wife. As most noble knights of the time, he made a pilgrimage to Rome to secure his piousness with the Pope, and returned set to marry. However, the Lords of the town married his betrothed to another man. Raoul responded by pillaging the village, and burning crops and homes until the Lords gave his bride-to-be back to him, for whom he then locked in a castle to wait to see if she had been impregnated while he was in Rome. After being assured she was not with child, he quickly married her. Nice! Chivalrous? Right? Nothing screams knightly behavior like burning down a village and locking a woman in a castle.
After the death of his wife, and repudiation of his second wife, Raoul de Valois eventually would marry Queen Anne (Anne of Kiev) the queen of a king he tried to usurp and assassinate years prior. Rumors have it that he was so bold as to kidnap the Queen, but nothing was mentioned of a forced marriage. Perhaps even a Queen was taken with being whisked away to the altar. However, despite all Raoul de Valois' aggressive behavior, he was a staunch supporter of Anne of Kiev and a stepfather to her children and the future King of France.
Raoul’s brand of chivalry was only seconded by the bastard in Normandy, Duke William (aka William the Conqueror). After Matilda of Flanders rejected his marriage proposal, William rode to Flanders and beat Matilda, publicly humiliating her, after which she accepted his proposal. Once married, they became an international power couple and lived happily ever after.
Yes, these were the actions of noble knights of the Medieval era. However, how and why did the knights become romantic inspiration for so many women? Do women like being publicly beaten, locked in a tower, or have their towns pillaged?
Here are a couple thoughts as to the evolution of the legacy of knights in (not-so) shining armor:
Despite their violent behavior, these men were the cream of the crop - the rich, the powerful and bravest warriors. Let’s face it, there is something sexy about sacking villages and conquering countries. It’s supreme masculine power. Sigh. What women could resist?
Today, most well-adjusted women would find this behavior abusive (and it is), but consider the time. In the height of patriarchy, women where considered second-class citizens, whose main value was for breeding more rascally knights. Women’s bodies were for procreation and recreation, and a woman could do far worse, than a powerful knight who could lay slaughter to any enemy. So, to have a powerful man exert himself passionately (violently) was a sign of love and adoration. So, it seems.
To the point of violent passion - sexuality was controlled and dictated by the Catholic Church. It was the Pope and Bishops who determined when and where it was appropriate to have sex. Sex was only for procreation. Right. Sure. Sex was not allowed on Sundays, and even married couples needed to refrain from sexual intimacy occasionally. So, for good and noble knights, who lived by the Catholic code, they had to exert that pent-up energy somehow. Instead, killing was much more accepted by the church then making love to a lover.
But before we judge these men too harshly, they were signs of their time. Acquire land or be usurped. Kill or be killed. A lot had changed in a thousand years and humanity has evolved dramatically... or has it?
The legacy of noble knights still haunts the desires of women today. We love the idea of passionate chivalry. We want the grand demonstrative gestures and yet be respected as virtuous damsels. Oh women, we are so complicated!
While we can understand the historical knight, what would be the qualities of a modern knight? Surely, we are not looking to be abused and have our house burnt to the ground, and yet there is something in knightly behavior that still calls to women.
A perfectly imperfect man who makes an effort. BOOM. Simple.
While today, most women are not looking for a warrior in the literal aspect, and especially not abuse, many women simply want a man to conquer our hearts, tear down the walls we built around ourselves and whisk us away on adventure. There are elements of these knights that still exists in men and the grand gesture for the woman they desire and the effort it takes to acquire her.
Sure, during Medieval times women were easily taken and most lacked autonomy over their own bodies. Today women are empowered to say that dreaded word, “No,” making knightly chivalry all that harder and it is the acceptance of rejection that defines modern chivalry with the word, respect.
The not-so-shining modern knight exists, and many women seek him. It’s the man daring enough to show us his imperfections, show us his human nature and especially his darkness as long as he is willing to slay us with his light. It is the most daring of knights to assert themselves to a woman greater than themselves, and someone for whom they can conquer the world together.
The not-so-shining knight is out there, as well as the damsel not-so-much-in-distress, but in control of her shit. Together we can change the world.