Saturday, 3 May 2014

The White Knight Syndrome

Why we are all so enamored by the story of Richard and Anne?

Richard rescues Anne from the battlefield
 That moment in the middle of Tewkesbury battlefield in “The White Queen” where Richard, who is still the Duke of Gloucester (portrayed by Aneurin Barnard) at this time, rescues Anne Neville (portrayed by Faye Marsay) from impending doom.  Just about every girl’s heart stopped for a minute.  And we all sigh and dream that we are in Anne’s place.  Why? It’s the fairy tale come true romance, we have all dreamed of: “Knight in shining armor” comes to rescue fair damsel in distress” which is Anne.  He is like Lancelot!  This idea is not a new one; it actually has it roots very far back in folklore and of the chivalric tales of the Middle Ages.  This is also more than likely why the real story about Anne and Richard was so popular amongst 14th century society.  In a world of political upheaval and turmoil, the idea of romantic love was a break from reality that most wished and desired. Reality was war, loss, and destruction.

Having already discussed the concept of courtly love and the importance it had amongst society, its time to take the story a bit further. What were people’s lives like that led them to believe and wish for their “white knight” to come bounding through terrors, slay dragons, and rescue them from afar? What was life like for the noble woman of the 14th century?

The political pawn

Isabelle and Anne
Anne Neville came from one of the most politically prominent families during the time of the War of the Roses. Her story and her upbringing are actually quite typical of what a young lady of noble status would have experienced during this time and also previous periods of the Middle Ages. Having daughters meant that families who sought or wished to maintain their power and lands, had means to do so.  The ability of expanding their empire or household was a large possibility of a good marriage between their daughters with other lords and nobles in the realm or from neighboring countries.  In cases where money was involved, it also was a way that monies were obtained and made in the form of a dowry.  The higher the dowry was for the soon to be bride, the more valuable she became to her suitors and her family.

To manage the household

Noble women in the Middle Ages didn’t just sit around bear children for their husbands, do needlepoint and gossip, they actually were schooled from a young age to know how to run a large household, amongst other duties. They would have shadowed their mothers growing up and assisted them in their duties, such as making sure goods were stocked in the kitchens, if messages needed to be sent to neighboring lords for items or assistance, they made sure they were sent. Days were structured starting with prayers said each morning at mass and followed up each night by prayer. This routine would be taught to her daughters as well.  She would have ladies in waiting to assist her with dressing, arranging her hair, and other tedious aspects of medieval life.  In addition to overseeing how the house ran, she would also supervise the education of other noble daughters, as well as her own girls.
embroidery and other hobbies of the ladies

Evenings after meals, were prepared and served, to the liking of the head of the household, stories of courtly love, poetry, games, and music were the most popular forms of entertainment in most noble households. It is here that the stories of “Tristan and Isolde”, or “De Morte Arthur” were told. It is more than likely these stories were what Anne heard quite often growing up in Middleham and Warwick castle. To a little girl who’s father had great plans, the thought of being carried off by her true love was a perfect dream for her, as well as many other girls pending an arranged marriage to someone they did not know.

Honor thye husband

One of the most important lessons a mother in the Middle Ages, as well as the church, taught her daughter was to honor their husband.  This also was meant towards their fathers as well. To disobey or dishonor brought shame to the household. This alone stressed acceptance to a political or arranged marriage matches between a young bride to her husband to be.  It is also why stories such as “Tristan and Isolde” were seen as scandalous, yet quite popular amongst court tromboudors. 

Her education from upbringing also is what made the lady of the household the main emotional support for her husband. This is clearly evident in many of the scenes of “The White Queen” between Anne and Richard, and also in history with Cecily Neville, Eleanore of Aquitaine and others. The women where the ones who many of times picked up the pieces if they had to move, wait patiently with children during a siege, and at times without their husbands during long standing wars.  Her job was to keep her household safe, yet be of support for her husband off at war and keep hope alive for his safe return. She was the keeper of his heart and of his soul should harm fall upon him, as her blessing was said to protect.

Finally, one of the most important aspects of her duties to her husband was to bear him an heir, to carry on the line of the family. In some cases this was easily done, others like Richard and Anne, this was not easily accomplished and the outcome was not of best circumstances.  For there one and only heir died tragically.  We don’t know enough about Anne to know why she was only able to have one child.  But it was very devastating for her, as well as Richard. It changed their lives forever.

The challenges and duties of a noble lady such as Anne Neville faced in her life, were more than likely quite demanding and at times very stressful.  The image of the knight in shining armor or “white knight” is a very realistic illustration of the psyche of not just one but many medieval noble ladies during the 14th century. It is very easy to conclude that this is one of the reasons why the relationship between Anne and Richard today is so appealing to many, and not just the ladies of the Middle Ages. There is always a point in our lives where we all want to be rescued by a knight in shining armor from the evils or demands of society.


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