A genre of literature that developed in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries in France. The Old French word romanz originally denoted texts in the French vernacular but later came to be applied to narrative tales of the deeds of noblemen and noblewomen. Romances were frequently illustrated, sometimes modestly, but often lavishly if the patron was wealthy. The combination of imaginative stories of chivalric love and heroism with details from everyday courtly life (which abound in the illustrations) contributed to the popularity of the romance, as did the rise in secular literacy and patronage. Most examples of the romance can be termed romans d'aventures ('chivalric romances'), since their major theme is hazardous adventure. Early romances are generally in verse, but prose romances (such as the French Arthurian cycle) also proliferated. Among the earliest romances are those written in the later twelfth century by Chrétien de Troyes, who transformed mere incident into meaningful action by stressing moral themes, as in Erec et Enide, one of his first works in the genre. Although fictional, romances were often based on historical events, either classical (King Alisaunder) or medieval (Lai d'Haveloc and Le Morte Arthur). Love -- as perceived in a rigid system of chivalric behavior -- often plays a role in French works, one of the most popular being the Roman de la rose, begun by Guillaume de Lorris (c. 1237) and completed by Jean de Meun (c. 1275), which combines the allegorical and satirical with courtly love and human emotions.

Michelle Brown

Michelle Brown, Understanding Illuminated Manuscripts (Malibu, CA: J. Paul Getty Museum in association with the British Library, c1994).