Victorian Medievalism: An Annotated Bibliography for Teachers

Dr. Alan Lupack, Curator of the Robbins Library, 
University of Rochester, presents

Library Resources on Medieval Topics

Guest Columnist:
Megan Morris
University of Rochester

The term “Victorian medievalism” encompasses a diverse and pervasive reproduction and reinvention of medieval literature, themes, and ideals in the nineteenth century. The dates of this movement are the subject of much scholarly debate. While some scholars link the beginnings of medievalism to the 1816 reprinting of Thomas Malory’s Le Morte D’Arthur, after a publication gap of nearly two hundred years, others rightly point out that interest in the Middle Ages was not solely tied to Malory. Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queen, for example, has strong chivalric and antiquarian themes, and the popular antiquarian movement in the eighteenth century (characterized by Bishop Percy’s collection of traditional ballads, Reliques of Ancient English Poetry) indicates a similar desire to preserve England’s medieval heritage. It is, however, certain that medievalism became much more important to English individual and national self-definition in the nineteenth century. In their stated effort to preserve their medieval heritage, Victorian writers also rewrote their past. Tennyson’s ideal of proper knightly behavior, for example, is not Malory’s; a comparison of the two texts indicates that Tennyson, like other Victorian writers, adapted the literature of England’s medieval past to suit nineteenth-century British needs.

The reasons for the increased prominence of medieval themes and ideas are various. Queen Victoria’s ascension to the throne in 1837 encouraged the development of the ideal of chivalry; Victoria and Albert consciously invoked chivalric structures to frame Victoria’s power. In The Return to Camelot: Chivalry and the English Gentleman, Mark Girouard devotes an entire chapter to this theme, beginning with the royal couple’s medieval-themed fancy dress ball in 1842. Although this event was ostensibly social rather than political, it nonetheless indicates the importance of chivalry to the couple’s self-construction. Medievalism’s political impact is unquestionable; the expansion of the British Empire caused feelings of disorientation and alienation for many British citizens. By reverting to their medieval roots, English citizens could create a much more coherent sense of national history, identity, and destiny. Similarly, England’s increasing industrialization, accompanied by increasing pollution and poverty, engendered longing for the return to a pastoral, pre-industrial ideal and, for many English citizens, the Middle Ages seemed the perfect source for such an ideal.

England’s industrial development also caused shifts in gender roles. The majority of middle-class men no longer pursued active, physical tasks; women, by contrast, were far more likely to work outside the home. These shifts in traditional occupations created a crisis for both men and women; the re-creation of “medieval” chivalric gender roles provided a sense of certainty and stability. Men were encouraged to pursue an active, knightly masculinity, while women were likewise prescribed ideal standards of behavior. Tennyson’s The Idylls of the King provides examples of the values that Victorian medievalism frequently prioritized for both men and women. Whereas patient, long-suffering characters such as Enid were idealized, Vivien was condemned as a “fallen woman” and served as an anti-model for Victorian femininity. Arthur and Galahad – characterized by all knightly virtues, but also by extreme moral force – acted as models for Victorian manliness.

Although the uses of medievalism described above portray it as an essentially conservative moment, this is not universally true. The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, known for progressive political ideals and scandalous artwork, frequently employed medieval themes and characters in their works. William Morris’ “The Defence of Guenevere” essentially defends the adulteress, who was excoriated in Tennyson’s The Idylls of the King. Victorian writers also used medievalism for political satire, as in The Marvellous History of King Arthur in Avalon, by William John Courthope [Geoffrey Junior], and in the Punch cartoons listed in the “Art” section below. In Women Writers and Victorian Medievalism, Clare Broome Saunders argues that female authors frequently used medievalism as a vehicle for subversive political sentiments as well.

The diversity of medievalism’s uses in Victorian culture led to its expression through a wide variety of media. Victorian medievalism emerged in many generic forms, including poetry, prose, retellings of folk legends, paintings, cartoons, statues, and the architecture of the Gothic Revival. Likewise, Victorian writers engaged with many aspects of the Middle Ages, including chivalry, the Crusades, the Vikings (whose modern image draws heavily on Victorian re-interpretations), Robin Hood ballads, and legends of King Arthur. The very diversity of this movement makes it difficult to comprehensively and accurately encompass in a single bibliography; my choices of texts and themes attempt to represent the most central aspects of Victorian medievalism. My selection of texts was also frequently influenced by their availability; many nineteenth century novels with medievalist leanings, though popular in their day, have not been reprinted. Although Google Books has vastly increased the availability of these works, many now exist in only a handful of libraries worldwide.

Scholarly Works:

In the entries below, I have suggested a broad range of critical works that may be useful as resources for students and teachers. As many of the individual entries mention, the language of these works and the familiarity with nineteenth-century history, literature, and politics that they assume may render them a challenging read, even for advanced students. Small selections of these scholarly works, however, could provide a very useful background for high school students, and as instructor resources, they offer a treasure-trove of interpretations, perspectives, and ideas. My selections in this section reflect the diversity of Victorian medievalism, including encyclopedic works on medievalism; critical texts on chivalry; and works that track the importance of a particular author or character, such as Dante, King Arthur, Dante’s Beatrice, or Robin Hood. For the purposes of this bibliography, I have chosen not to include scholarly articles; the narrow focus of these articles would render them less useful in a high school or middle school classroom. Teachers in search of more focused articles might consult the journal Studies in Medievalism, which frequently contains articles that are relevant to Victorian medievalism.

Alexander, Michael. Medievalism: The Middle Ages in Modern England. New Haven: Yale
University Press, 2007.

This comprehensive history of the Medieval Revival, which focuses on the period from 1760-1971, goes well beyond the historical scope of Victorian medievalism, but would serve as an excellent resource for classes working on a wide variety of topics. Alexander investigates political, religious, architectural, artistic, and literary aspects of the Medieval Revival, focusing on literature. Unlike many other scholars, he ultimately argues that medievalism’s impact is strongly social and political rather than escapist. Each chapter in this book focuses on the relationship of particular artists or authors to the Medieval Revival, frequently honing in on the relationship between a medieval author and a modern adaptor (Tennyson and Malory, for example, or Scott and Chaucer); other chapter topics include Pugin’s use of medievalism in Contrasts, his architectural treatise, and the relationship of religion to medievalism. The book’s organization would make it particularly easy for a class to isolate and study a relevant topic. The wide variety of black and white and color images in Alexander’s work also conveys the visual impact of the Medieval Revival very effectively.

Barczewski, Stephanie L. Myth and National Identity in Nineteenth-Century Britain: The Legends of King Arthur and Robin Hood. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000.

As the title suggests, this work links the development of a national mythology, in which King Arthur and Robin Hood both play key roles, to attempts to form a more stable and unified British national identity in the nineteenth century. British writers employed legends centered around these figures to create a sense of a unified national past and a coherent national mission. However, English national identity was a complex and fragmented concept in the nineteenth century, Barczewski argues, and the rebirth of Arthurian and Robin Hood legends tended to exclude some parts of the British Isles from the newly developing “British” identity. Barczewski’s arguments are clearly constructed and easy to follow, though the language and the familiarity with British politics that she often assumes may render this work a significant challenge for any but an advanced high school class.

Boos, Florence S, editor. History and Community: Essays in Victorian Medievalism. New York: Garland Publishing, 1992.

Boos’ compilation includes a range of essays that focus specifically on medievalism in the nineteenth century. The essays’ intended audience is the scholarly community rather than students, so the language is often difficult. The essays should, however, be accessible to advanced high school students, and their usefulness as a reference for teachers justifies their inclusion here. This collection includes essays on Victorian painting, Tennyson, and Marxism; it also includes useful reviews of other works on medievalism and an extensive bibliography.

Bryden, Inga. Reinventing King Arthur: The Arthurian Legends in Victorian Culture. Aldershot, Hants, England; Burlington, VT: Ashgate, c2005.

In this monograph, Bryden moves beyond canonical figures, such as Tennyson, Morris, and Swinburne, to examine the rebirth of Arthur within popular culture and the works of lesser-known writers. In her analyses, Bryden places particular emphasis on the socio-cultural context of the texts that she discusses. After general discussions of nineteenth-century myth and historiography, Bryden concentrates on five key themes that she identifies within Victorian reworkings of the Arthurian legend: ethnology, the quest for the Holy Grail, heroism and kingship, and Arthur’s death. The nature of these topics and their clarity make Bryden’s monograph easily adaptable for classroom work that focuses on a particular theme. Although this critical source is, of course, aimed toward a scholarly audience, it should also be accessible to an advanced high school class.

Chandler, Alice. A Dream of Order: The Medieval Ideal in Nineteenth-Century English Literature.
Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1970.

In this monograph, Chandler investigates the motivating forces behind the the medieval revival in nineteenth-century England, arguing that the medieval past was intended as a remedy for both social and spiritual problems within society. Chandler begins her discussion with the emergence of the medieval ideal as a remedy for social ills in the works of Romantic figures, such as Sir Walter Scott, then moves forward in history through later nineteenth-century figures such as Disraeli, Ruskin, and Morris. Ultimately, however, Chandler argues that Victorian medievalism failed to adequately address the social problems that it was meant to solve, and that this failure is evident in today’s continuing struggles with poverty, social divisions, and alienation. Chandler’s intense focus on the social applications of Victorian medievalism, particularly in her introduction, is likely to appeal to high school students, and this scholarly work should be accessible to a high school audience.

Cheney, Liana De Girolami. Pre-Raphaelitism and Medievalism in the Arts. Lewiston [N.Y.]: E.
Mellen Press, 1992.

This collection of essays considers a variety of topics on Pre-Raphaelite medievalism; the introduction to the volume offers a useful overview of both Pre-Raphaelite painting techniques and the Pre-Raphaelites’ adaptation of medievalism for social and political purposes. Essays in the volume that might be of particular interest to high school students include Liana De Girolami Cheney’s “The Fairy Lady and the Virgin in Pre-Raphaelite Art: The Evolution of a Societal Myth,” Alicia Faxon’s “The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood as Knights of the Round Table,” and Helen Roberts’ “The Medieval Spirit of Pre-Raphaelitism.” Cheney’s essay engages with the gendered implications of the Pre-Raphaelites’ appropriation of medieval legend; Faxon’s considers the importance of the Arthurian model to the Brotherhood’s self-conception; and Roberts’ offers a more general overview of the Pre-Raphaelites’ relationship to medievalism. Unlike the majority of the scholarly works in this bibliography, this volume is directed towards young scholars and a popular audience, so it should be readily understandable by advanced high school students.

Delheim, Charles. The Face of the Past: The Preservation of the Medieval Inheritance in
Victorian England.
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1892.

This monograph, written in an accessible style that should be readily penetrable to high school students, investigates the paradoxes inherent in progress-oriented Victorian society’s focus on England’s medieval past. Delheim also includes a wide variety of black and white photographs of architectural landmarks, including the St. Pancras Railway Station, the Royal Courts of Justice, and the reconstruction of the Holborn Viaduct, that visually demonstrate the nineteenth century’s re-engagement with its architectural past. These images would be interesting and engaging for students of all ages. The combination of these images and the text offers a visual tour that substantiates Delheim’s claim that “the face of the city was more ‘medieval’ in 1900 than it had been been at any time since 1666. Where the remnants of the past had largely vanished, the Victorians resolutely manufactured architectural surrogates” (10).

Girouard, Mark. The Return to Camelot: Chivalry and the English Gentleman. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1981.

In this monograph, Girouard investigates the role of medievalism and chivalry in the formation of the ideal of English gentlemanhood, concentrating on the period between the late eighteenth century and World War II. During this period, writers and thinkers attempted to revive medieval knighthood as an ideal of gentlemanly behavior. Girouard’s analysis encompasses two chapters on Sir Walter Scott, Victoria and Albert’s engagement with the chivalric ideal, the role of chivalry in the the public schools, and Carlyle’s development of “muscular chivalry” as an ideal form of masculinity.

Mancoff, Debra N. King Arthur’s Modern Return. New York: Garland Publishing, 1998.

This collection of essays draws on scholars from several fields, including literature, art history, folklore, film, and art, to present a diverse array of perspectives on the revival of interest in King Arthur and Arthurian literature. Raymond H. Thompson’s introductory essay to the volume considers this revival in light of legends of Arthur’s survival in Avalon. Other essays investigate the roles of class and race in Arthurian legend; the confluence of motifs of return and death in Tennyson’s “Morte d’Arthur,” which began his Arthurian epic; Vivian’s Victorian reinvention; nineteenth- and twentieth-century re-creations of Arthurian legend, such as Howard Pyle’s; and Sam Selvon’s use of Arthurian motif and legend in his modern Caribbean-based trilogy (The Lonely Londoners, Moses Ascending, and Moses Migrating). Although the theory and language of these essays may often be difficult, even for advanced high school students, their topics would definitely be of interest for a high school class considering Victorian medievalism.

Milbank, Alison. Dante and the Victorians. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1998.

In this work, Milbank investigates the reasons behind Dante’s importance to Romantic and Victorian authors and artists. As Milbank points out, Dante’s prominence is in many ways counterintuitive: Dante’s nationality, religion, and the questionable morality of his poetry – driven almost entirely by his love for a married woman – run counter to many nineteenth-century values. Milbank argues, however, that when Seymour Kirkup, an Anglo-Florentine, discovered a portrait of a young Dante in the Bargello Chapel in 1840, British writers, artists, and political figures became much more easily able to reclaim and rewrite Dante as a proper Victorian model. The chapters in this work cover topics such as Milton and Dante’s comparative importance in the early nineteenth century, Ruskin’s interpretations of Dante, George Eliot’s use of Dante, and the roles of Beatrice and Francesca in Victorian literature and art.

Palmgren, Jennifer A., and Lorretta M. Holloway, eds. Beyond Arthurian Romances: The Reach of Victorian Medievalism. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005.

As this bibliography’s contents implicitly indicate, Arthuriana tends to dominate modern studies of Victorian medievalism. Palmgren and Holloway’s collection of essays demonstrates, however, that re-creations of Arthurian legend were only one facet of Victorian fascination with the medieval. This collection includes, among others, essays on A. W. N. Pugin’s architectural medievalism, troubadours in Robert Browning’s works, the relationship between the Woman Question and Victorian medievalism, and the relationship between medievalism and religious reform. As the above list suggests, the topics of these articles are frequently too specialized for an average high school class, but this collection does allow teachers to see the multiple forms of Victorian medievalism that are available for study; it also suggests texts and approaches that may easily be useful in the classroom.

Saunders, Clare Broome. Women Writers and Nineteenth-Century Medievalism.New York: Palgrave, 2009.

Saunders suggests that nineteenth-century female authors engaged with medievalism in order to critique contemporary politics and society, topics which their sex would traditionally render inaccessible to them. Some, Broome argues, viewed the medieval period as a relatively egalitarian utopia, while others hinted that the errors of the past were being repeated in the present. Among other topics, Broome’s work includes discussions of Joan of Arc, Guinevere, and female Victorian illustrators of Tennyson.

Simpson, Roger. Camelot Regained: The Arthurian Revival and Tennyson, 1800-1849.
Cambridge: D.S. Brewer, 1990.

In this work, Simpson sets out to refute the previously widespread claim that the Arthurian legend would have been largely unfamiliar to Tennyson’s audience. This incorrect belief, Simpson argues, stems chiefly from scholars’ assumption that knowledge of the Arthurian legend was contingent upon the circulation of Thomas Malory’s Morte D’Arthur. Because of the gap in between publications- -the Morte was not reprinted between the 1634 and 1816 editions- -many scholars had assumed that the intervening generations lacked knowledge of or interest in Arthurian works. In order to refute this assumption, Simpson considers a wide range of early nineteenth-century literature. His analysis begins with nineteenth-century histories’ representations of Arthur’s historical authenticity, then moves on to discuss the king’s emergence in periodical literature. Because they concentrate on lesser-known literature, the later chapters of Simpson’s work may be too narrow in focus for a high school class; the introductory chapters nonetheless provide a useful framework for understanding Victorian literary and historical representations of Arthur.

Siberry, Elizabeth. The New Crusaders: Images of the Crusades in the Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Centuries. Aldershot, England: Ashgate, 2000.

In this monograph, Siberry presents an impressive array of Crusades literature from the Victorian period. Her chapters include the role of travelers in Crusades narratives, an analysis of children’s fiction on the Crusades, a chapter devoted to Sir Walter Scott, one on Crusades literature in general, and a discussion of Crusades art. This work also provides substantial analysis of the nineteenth-century texts that it cites, situating them within their political and historical context. While this resource allows the reader to gain a strong sense of the range of nineteenth-century Crusades literature, it is important to note that many of the literary works that Siberry discusses may be difficult to obtain, even through an interlibrary loan system.

Straub, Julia. A Victorian Muse: The Afterlife of Dante’s Beatrice in Nineteenth-Century Literature. New York: Continuum International Publishing Group, 2009.

Straub’s work concentrates on the Victorian preoccupation with Beatrice, part of the larger phenomenon of Dante’s revival in nineteenth-century England. For the Victorians, Straub argues, Beatrice was a particularly important figure because she allowed writers and artists to combine their consideration of aesthetics and gender; she became a very adaptable figure who could appear in a variety of contexts. This work concentrates chiefly on the Rossetti family’s representations of Beatrice, but also includes chapters on T.S. Eliot, Alfred, Lord Tennyson, and Walter Pater. The second chapter of the work offers a more generalized overview of Victorian revisions of Beatrice. Both the language and the theoretical models used in this work are likely to present a significant challenge for high school students; it is recommended chiefly for instructor use.

Taylor, Beverly, and Elizabeth Brewer. The Return of King Arthur: British and American
Arthurian Literature since 1900.
* Cambridge: D.S. Brewer, 1983.

Taylor and Brewer’s monograph offers a broad survey of medievalism in both Britain and America during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, concentrating particularly on Tennyson and the Pre-Raphaelites before making a transatlantic shift to American medievalism during the same time period. The work’s introductory chapter, “The Return of Arthur: Nineteenth-Century British Medievalism and Arthurian Tradition,” explores the political climate surrounding the re-emergence of King Arthur into the literary canon, suggesting that the romance and escapism implied by the Victorian Arthurian tradition is in many ways antithetical to the nineteenth century’s emphasis on realism, modernity, and relevance. Although the language of this monograph is challenging, it should be accessible to advanced high school students.

*Note: Although the title page of the book reads “1900,” this is a typographical error: it should read “1800.”

Wawn, Andrew. The Vikings and the Victorians: Inventing the Old North in Nineteenth-Century Britain. Cambridge: D.S. Brewer, 2000.

Wawn traces the development of an idealized, if occasionally savage, mythology of Viking culture in this monograph; its content will be interesting to students of a variety of ages, who have very probably grown up with this entrenched Viking mythology. This mythology – including the modern incarnation of the word “Viking” itself – Wawn persuasively argues, results from nineteenth-century English reformations of historical Icelandic history and legend. The language of this book, however, may prove challenging even for advanced high school students, and it is recommended chiefly as a resource for teachers, who can distill the information for students and assign appropriate sections.

This section presents a small selection of literary works that encapsulate the various roles of medievalism in the nineteenth century. There are many editions available of each of the works I have mentioned below; for each, I have listed the original date of publication in parentheses and given the web address of the electronic edition if one is available. I have endeavored to choose works that are both readily available – either through Google Books or in hard copy – and which will be accessible to students of a variety of ages; in fact, several of the works that I have chosen were originally directed towards young audiences. The reason for this choice is twofold. First, the length and language of Victorian novels can make them a challenging read, even for high school students. Second, Victorian medievalist literature often sought to re-educate its audience and instill moral and social values. This trend is nowhere more apparent than in Victorian children’s literature, which makes the medieval values easy to isolate and study. The other texts included here are meant to represent either famous works, such as Tennyson’s Idylls of the King, or the thematic diversity of Victorian medievalism, indicated by Walter Crane’s chivalric Queen Summer or H. Rider Haggard’s Crusades-focused The Brethren. A much broader selection of Arthurian-themed nineteenth-century works is available online from The Camelot Project at the University of Rochester:

Bulfinch, Thomas. The Age of Chivalry; and Legends of Charlemagne; or Romance of the Middle Ages (1855-1863).

This work, although originally published in the United States, was widely circulated throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The preface to this volume indicates the nineteenth-century approach to both history and medievalism: “The tales, though not to be trusted for their facts, are worthy of all credit as pictures of manners; and it is beginning to be held that the manners and modes of thinking of an age are a more important part of its history, than the conflicts of its peoples, generally leading to no result” (v). This mode of thinking is characteristic of nineteenth-century medievalism as a whole, which concentrates on creating a holistic sense of an age rather than reproducing facts with precise accuracy. This volume, as the title suggests, covers a wide range of chivalric legend, including a large quantity of Arthurian material.

Crane, Walter. Queen Summer; or, the Tourney of the Lily and the Rose (1841).

Although Walter Crane is known chiefly for his illustrations, he also wrote a number of short poetical works. This extended poem transfers chivalric gender motifs onto the Lily and the Rose, who vie for Queen Summer’s favor. In this poem, the Rose is associated with feminine motifs, and the Lily with masculine. Eventually, the flowers become entangled, and Queen Summer is forced to call a truce. She declares that the two, unable to rise because they are so closely intertwined, should grow together in their lives as well. This poem could be read as an allegory for the gender relations suggested by Victorian medievalism; its brevity and accessibility make it ideal for a classroom discussion of the social impact of medievalism. It is readily available online through Project Gutenburg.

Crawford, F. Marion. Via Crucis: A Romance of the Second Crusade (1899).

F. Marion Crawford’s Via Crucis presents a more ambivalent view of the Crusades than does H. Rider Haggard’s The Bretheren (annotated below). It follows the travels of Gilbert, who, disinherited through his mother’s perfidy, eventually becomes attached to the crusading army of Eleanor of Aquitaine and King Louis VII. There, he distinguishes himself through great fidelity, exceptional virtue, and strength of arms. The novel focuses almost entirely on squabbles among the Christian armies, rarely portraying conflicts with the Saracens. This novel provides a fascinating perspective on nineteenth-century British perceptions of medieval masculinity and Victorian reinventions of Crusading ideology; ultimately, Gilbert discovers that “the cause of God lies not buried among stones in any city, not even the most holy city of all; for the place of Christ’s suffering is in men’s hearts” (396). Although Crawford’s position differs from that of most nineteenth-century novelists who wrote about the Crusades – he questions the purity of the Crusaders’ motives repeatedly – the inward, reflective turn of the novel’s end reflects Victorian attempts to align medieval heroes’ values with nineteenth-century domestic ideology.

Haggard, H. Rider. The Brethren (1904).

Haggard’s work is many ways typical of the Crusades romances which appeared throughout Victorian England. The major struggles of the novel are domestic rather than military: although the novel does feature a number of battles against the Saracens, the novel’s most graphic descriptions are reserved for the protagonists’ internal struggles. Also, like the majority of nineteenth-century crusades romances, this novel portrays Saladin as a noble and honorabl – if also violent and misguided – character whose goals ultimately align with those of the Christian knights. The plot of the story features Saladin’s attempts to recover – and, ultimately, convert – his niece Rosamund, who was born after Saladin’s sister’s elopement with an English knight. Saladin has dreamed that this niece will, though some act of self-sacrifice, become the means of preventing much bloodshed. He succeeds in abducting Rosamund, and her twin cousins pursue the abductors, joining the Crusade in the process. In a classroom, this romance would provide many opportunities for discussing the religious and racial elements of Victorian medievalism. Since Haggard’s language and ideas will be offensive to many students, however, instructors are advised to exercise caution and preview the novel in advance. This novel is readily obtainable in multiple electronic editions, including Google Books’ and Project Gutenburg’s, and is also currently in print through multiple publishers.

Henty, G. A. At Agincourt: A Tale of the White Hoods of Paris (1896).

Although the considerable length of this work would make it difficult to assign in full, this novel provides fascinating and valuable insight into nineteenth-century perceptions of the tensions and issues surrounding the Battle of Agincourt. Nationalism also appears prominently in the novel; Henty continuously emphasizes the strength and manliness of the English contingent, primarily to the detriment of the French characters. In a work aimed chiefly towards boys, this emphasis is significant: it indicates an attempt to establish a national ideal of British masculinity through medievalism. Lengthy historical and political explications, particularly in the first few chapters, would make for an interesting comparison with modern history texts; a teacher might ask what the novelist emphasizes in his version of history. Copies of this novel are not difficult to obtain. Due to the contemporary popularity of the author, editions published in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries circulate regularly through used book dealers. Modern editions can be obtained through various publishers, and an electronic edition is also available through Google Books.

Morris, William. “The Defence of Guenevere” (1858).

“The Defence of Guenevere,” as mentioned in the introduction to this bibliography, offers a passionate defense of the queen, who is frequently condemned as an adulteress in nineteenth-century British literature. The vivid imagery of the poem, and the nature of her defense, would render this poem particularly compelling for a high school class. A comparison between Morris’ poem and Tennyson’s “Guinevere” from The Idylls of the King might be particularly fruitful: while Tennyson presents a guilty, penitent Guinevere, meant to be condemned by the Victorian readership, Morris’ queen is defiant, if tearful, and Morris ends the poem with rescue – in the form of Launcelot – in sight. Arthur never appears in this poem, and as a result, the focus rests entirely on the queen, the poem’s only speaker. This poem, or the comparison between Tennyson’s and Morris’ poems, would provide fascinating context for the discussion of nineteenth-century gender roles and the idea of a “fallen woman.” camelot/defguin.htm

Percy, Thomas, and Sidney Lanier. The Boy’s Percy: Being Old Ballads of War, Adventure, and Love (1881).

This work, directed towards young boys, was based on Bishop Thomas Percy’s 1765 Reliques of Ancient English Poetry, an early precursor of the Victorian medievalist drive to collect and preserve medieval and early modern ballads. Many of Percy’s original ballads are available online through The Camelot Project at the University of Rochester. Although the American edition of this work is much more readily available today, publication records indicate that editions were published in London by the publisher Sampson Low, Marston, Searle and Rivington in 1881 and 1883, suggesting the international circulation of this work. Lanier’s introduction indicates the importance of gender roles in nineteenth-century medievalism – both American and British – by arguing that “[i]t is part of the healthy nature of boyhood to know and to properly scorn a dandy” and that “the clear and healthy beauty” of Percy’s preserved ballads contrasted the “dandy poetry” of the eighteenth century (xi). Lanier, however, claims that the preservation of this “clear and healthy beauty” was not part of Percy’s original intention; he claims that Percy attempted to purify the “rudeness” of the original ballads, resulting in “weakness and affectation” (vii). Regardless, Lanier argues that “the genuine old ballads which [Percy’s] book contained must have brought to many a mind wholly new ideas of the strength, the tenderness, the life, the warmth, the vividness of simple and manful words wrought into a simple and manful style” (xv). Thus, Lanier implies, the beginnings of medievalism in the eighteenth century not only revived manliness in England, but also served as precursors for Romantic poetry. Both the introduction and the ballads themselves would provide material for a fascinating study of gender and class in the medievalism of the nineteenth century. The included texts range from Arthurian material to legends of St. George to Robin Hood ballads, which indicates the diversity of both Percy’s antiquarianism and Lanier’s continuing dedication to reviving the medieval tradition. Although it may be difficult to obtain a hard copy of this work, it is available through Google Books.

Pyle, Howard. King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table (1903).

Pyle’s King Arthur has become a classic of children’s literature; its popularity persists to the present day. Although Pyle was an American author, his work engages with many of the issues that also influence nineteenth century medievalism in England. The work was also published in England; in 1903, the same year that the original American edition was published, the London publisher George Newnes also put forth an edition of Pyle’s work. Publication records suggest that the Pyle’s work did not achieve the same popularity in England that characterized its success in the United States. Nonetheless, Pyle was drawing on the same medievalist impulse which characterized British medievalism. Like his English contemporaries, Pyle re-creates a medieval past that will provide a model – particularly a model of masculinity – for the youth of the present.

Scott, Sir Walter. Ivanhoe (1819).

Sir Walter Scott’s works, and Ivanhoe in particular, did much to popularize medievalism in Victorian Britain. Like many nineteenth-century authors who were interested in Victorian medievalism, Scott used his novel, set in twelfth-century England, to explore a variety of contemporary conflicts. For instance, Scott’s desire to have his audience identify with the the Saxon (rather than francophone Norman) characters is clear, suggesting the intensity of the tensions created by the recent Napoleonic wars. Class relationships within the the novel likewise engage with issues of the day, such as slavery. The Crusades, which offer a backdrop for the issues of the novel, could be considered in the light of Victorian imperialist concerns. Although the language of this novel may seem stiff and antiquated to many students, it is not particularly difficult.Ivanhoe is suitable for either middle or high school students.

Stevenson, Robert Lewis. The Black Arrow: A Tale of Two Roses (1888).

This novel, set during the Wars of the Roses, belongs to the historical adventure genre; its target audience, like that of Stevenson’s better-known Kidnapped and Treasure Island, seems to have been primarily young men and boys. The tale centers on the protagonist’s attempts to achieve knighthood, restore the honor of his father, and rescue his beloved; these struggles involve him in the Wars of the Roses. Although the novel may be somewhat long to be easily read in its entirety, the selection of a few chapters would give students a glimpse of the values that Stevenson associates with the Middle Ages, medieval masculinity, and knighthood. Stevenson’s attempts to create a sense of Middle English speech without compromising readability would also make for an interesting classroom discussion, particularly if presented side-by-side with an actual text in Middle English. This novel is in print, making it easier to obtain in hard copy than many of the others listed in this section.

Tennyson, Alfred, Lord. The Idylls of the King (1859-1885).

This series of poems, dedicated to the deceased Prince Albert, but framed with direct references to Queen Victoria, is rich in social and political context. Of the works discussed in this literature section, Tennyson’s Idylls, along with “The Lady of Shalott” and “Sir Galahad” (, comprise the most famous literature of Victorian medievalism. Tennyson’s poems recreate Arthur as an idealized Victorian gentleman, his virtues adapted to fit nineteenth-century mores. He possesses both knightly and moral virtues and presents a pattern upon which Victorian men, increasingly disoriented by the demands of industrialization and capitalism, could model themselves. Women play a tremendous role in the Idylls: whereas women like Vivien, who seduced Merlin, and Guinevere are essentially held responsible for the downfall of Arthur’s idyllic kingdom, women like Enid offer Tennyson’s model for proper Victorian womanhood. It is notable that almost all of the male characters’ destinies are linked to a woman’s action, and it is the women’s failures that ultimately derail the chivalric system. The Idylls of the King offers excellent material for the discussion of any number of social issues linked with Victorian medievalism, including class, gender, and virtue. It also models an author’s creation of an idealized society that is far removed from the industrial reality, yet still manages to engage with the political issues that define the nineteenth century.

—–. “The Lady of Shalott” (1842).

Tennyson’s poem “The Lady of Shalott” became enormously influential in Victorian culture; as Jennifer Gribble argues in The Lady of Shalott in the Victorian Novel, the motif of a confined woman, unable to look directly at the world, recurs frequently throughout nineteenth-century literature. Although not all of these images are deliberate echoes of Tennyson’s Lady, they do indicate that Tennyson was drawing on a motif that was thoroughly enmeshed in the Victorian consciousness. They further indicate his ability to channel this image and spread it through society, thus employing medievalism to define both the romanticism and the gender roles of Victorian culture. In a high school classroom, “The Lady of Shalott” would perhaps be most useful for a discussion of Victorian gender roles and ideals; it could also be used to introduce the concept of “separate spheres,” in which the woman’s empire was the home and the man’s was the outside world of politics, commerce, and business.

Nineteenth Century Non-Fictional Works:

These works, selected from many histories of chivalry, the crusades, or the Middle Ages in general, engage directly with medievalism and offer practical demonstrations of how Victorian writers and thinkers were attempting to apply it to nineteenth-century life. Carlyle was a very prominent writer and thinker of the period, and Digby, if not equally well-known in his day, provides a clear and coherent sense of the “medieval” values which he was trying to impress on modern society. Mill’s History of Chivalry provides many interesting passages which demonstrate nineteenth-century perceptions of knighthood and the Middle Ages.

Carlyle, Thomas. Past and Present. Ed. Richard Altick. New York: New York University Press, 1965.

Although the language of this work will be very challenging for high school students, Thomas Carlyle’s Past and Present, first published in 1843, offers a fascinating study of the medieval ideal’s use as a contrast to the industrialized present. Carlyle provides an alternate model of historical engagement, arguing that “the centuries . . . are all lineal children of one another; and often, in the portrait of early grandfathers this and the other enigmatic feature of the newest grandson shall disclose itself” (45). Hence, in Book II of Past and Present, Carlyle recreates for the imagination of the reader the relationships among a community of monks at Bury St. Edmonds, implying that a closer study and imitation of this history would vastly improve present living conditions in England. Carlyle’s intense anti-industrial sentiments lead him to revert to the medieval ideal as a pastoral alternative.

Mills, Charles. The History of Chivalry: Or, Knighthood and its Times. London: Longmans, 1825.

In this work, Mills sets out to “describe at large the institutions of knighthood, the foundation of all that elegant superstructure of poetry and romance which we admire, and to mark the history of chivalry in the various countries of Europe” (vii). He draws heavily on Froissart’s Chronicles, emphasizing the importance of Froissart’s eye-witness account to the creation of an engaging narrative of history; for similar reasons, Mills also derives much of his information from fictional romances. Both of these approaches are important to understanding Victorian medievalists’ desire to create a tangible past that can be physically experienced by the reader or viewer. Mills’ work covers the origins of chivalry, equipment, the proper chivalric character, the importance of woman-worship, tournaments, and the religious and military orders of knighthood, among other topics. Selections from Mill’s History would give a high school class a strong sense of both the methods and the interests of Victorian medievalism; the difficulty of the work’s language might make this work a challenging read for younger students.

Digby, Kenelm Henry. The Broad Stone of Honour: Or, the Sense and Practice of Chivalry. In Four Parts: Godefridus; Tancredus; Morus, Orlandus. London: Bernard Quaritch, 1877.

Digby’s introduction to The Broad Stone of Honour establishes the work as a “book composed with a view of giving a philosophic history of chivalry,” designed to “collect what was credible and suitable to the good in the present age, and worthy acceptance,” and to preserve also “the gentle and heroic deeds of honourable men” in order to create “a moral history of the age of Christendom” (Godefridus 1; 5-6). Although the language of this set of books is antiquated, and may therefore be difficult for students, assigning small sections of this work would give the class a sense of Victorian medievalism in action: Digby attempts to lay out the chivalric virtues as they may be applied to modern life. Each volume of the set has different theme: Tancredus, for example, is named after Tancred, a figure in medieval Crusades romances. Hence, this volume concentrates on religion and conversion. The next volume, Morus, investigates – and largely condemns – post-medieval changes in Christianity; and the fourth, Orlandus, concentrates on the “virtues of the chivalrous character” in the Middle Ages (5).

Critical Works on Art:

Mancoff, Debra N. The Arthurian Revival in Victorian Art. New York: Garland Publishing, 1990.

In this work, Mancoff identifies four chief elements of the Gothic revival, which she terms “the Escapist,” “the Archaeological,” “the Ethical,” and the “Political.” In Mancoff’s view, however, these were not distinct phases, but were intertwined in an interdependent relationship (11). The Arthurian Revival in Victorian Art contains an extensive discussion of Arthur’s importance of a symbol of nationalism, sovereignty, and chivalry in Victorian England; its text is geared towards a more scholarly audience than Mancoff’s The Return of King Arthur [annotated below]. If using this work in a high school classroom, a teacher might consider using the latter work as a more general introduction to the subject, then introducing appropriate sections from The Arthurian Revival for more in-depth coverage. The final section of the book is comprised of a variety of images, high-quality, but chiefly printed in black and white. In each, aspects of Victorian devotion to the medieval are apparent; many of these images are Arthurian in focus, but others simply portray a Victorian family attired as knights and ladies. The images would be appropriate for all ages; the text would be most useful for instructors or advanced high school students.

—–. The Return of King Arthur: The Legend Through Victorian Eyes. New York: H.N. Abrams, 1995.

The introduction to this work provides a clearly-written and easily accessible introduction to Victorian medievalism in general and the Arthurian Revival in particular. Although this work focuses particularly on artistic representations of chivalry, Arthur, and Arthur’s court, Mancoff discusses the many variations in the adaptations of the Arthurian legend. This book contains a wide variety of illustrations, including images from medieval manuscripts, illustrations from Victorian Arthurian literature, and photographs and drawings that demonstrate the influence of medievalism upon the Gothic Revival. As a source for information on other relevant Victorian and critical works, Mancoff’s text is also excellent; high school students could easily identify areas of particular interest and use the sources that Mancoff mentions to pursue independent research projects. Sections in this book include a discussion of nationalism’s importance in the Arthurian Revival; a consideration of Queen Victoria’s engagement with the movement; separate chapters on the distinct chivalric ideals for men, women, and children; and a conclusion that focuses on representations of Arthur’s fall in his battle against Mordred.

Whitaker, Muriel. The Legends of King Arthur in Art. Cambridge: D.S. Brewer, 1990.

Unlike Mancoff’s works, cited above, Whitaker’s The Legends of King Arthur in Art encompasses artworks from the Middle Ages through the present day, concentrating on social, political, and aesthetic factors that informed these works. Many of these works are printed in black and white, but a number of images in the center of the book are reprinted in brilliant color, including some by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, William Morris, and Edward Burne-Jones. This volume would be particularly useful for a historically comparative study or a project focusing on the political implications of the Arthurian legend.


Medievalism was a prominent theme in much nineteenth-century artwork; my selections here are limited to paintings, cartoons, and a single representative statue, but works such as Charles Delheim’s The Face of the Past, annotated above, provide excellent discussions of the influence of Victorian medievalism on both new construction and the restoration of older buildings. The Gothic Revival, as Delheim argues, radically changed the face of nineteenth-century London. The artworks that I have included below, however, had an equally forceful impact on the art world. The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, including William Morris and Edward Burne-Jones, both discussed below, frequently chose medieval themes and characters for their artwork. Like their poetry, the Brotherhood’s artwork is known for its radical social themes; both their poems and their paintings tend to concentrate on the portrayal of women. The other works listed below were chosen either for their contemporary popularity or for their relevance to the social and political themes associated with Victorian medievalism. This is a small selection, however; instructors can consult Debra Mancoff or Muriel Whitaker’s works for a larger array of paintings and for the illustrations themselves.

Anon. “Last Eglinton Tournamen – The Earl Doing Battle for his Lady.” Punch, or the London Charivari. 18 September 1858: 289.

This cartoon, drawn by an unidentified artist in 1858, demonstrates the emergence of Victorian chivalric ideals into another genre of art. This cartoon satirizes the behavior of Lord Eglinton, who reportedly refused to dine with a Cardinal of the Catholic Church after he toasted the Pope rather than Queen Victoria as his sovereign. By clothing the knight in medieval armor, the cartoonist suggests that this defense of the queen’s sovereignty stems from Eglinton’s medieval chivalric ideals. It is important to note, however, that these ideals are not necessarily being criticized: the article that accompanies the cartoon informs the reader that the snub was “well-deserved” (Punch 289). This image would be very useful for discussions of the impact of medievalism on gender, politics, or various genres of art. The image can currently be viewed by searching

Burne-Jones, Edward. The Beguiling of Merlin (1874).

This oil painting offers one of many Victorian representations of Vivien, the enchantress who ensorcelled Merlin. The twisting, serpentine lines of the painting culminate in the ornament twisted in the woman’s hair, linking the fluidity and instability of the scene to the work of the woman herself. It is interesting, however, that her gaze is locked with Merlin’s rather than on the book that she holds before her. This detail focuses the attention of the painting on the relationship between the two characters rather than on the magic that she may be working. For the Victorians, this relationship would have been central: nineteenth-century representations of medieval women tend to shape these figures into models – or antitheses – for modern femininity. This image is available in color in Whitaker’s The Legends of King Arthur in Art.

Corbould, Edward Henry. Lord Eglinton (about 1840).
This painting recaptures the intense medievalist bent of Lord Eglinton, who was so dedicated to reviving past medieval values and chivalric structures that he organized a tournament of nineteenth-century lords. In this painting, he appears mounted and armored after the fashion of a medieval knight. The Victoria and Albert Museum provides an image of this painting at audio/eglinton_tourn/index.html. A brief audio narrative on the museum website provides historical context for the Eglinton Tournament, then offers contemporary perspectives on the participants’ attempts to recreate a medieval joust.

Hughes, Arthur. Elaine with the Armor of Lancelot (1867).

The image of Elaine of Astolat, recaptured by Tennyson as “The Lady of Shalott,” fascinated both Victorian authors and Victorian painters. Most subsequent representations of Elaine draw on Tennyson’s portrayal, so considering this image in conjunction with his poem would be particularly useful. For many authors, Elaine became the ideal of Victorian womanhood: she exemplifies fragility, an enormous capacity for love and fidelity, and, within Tennyson’s schema, the opposition to Guenevere’s sensuality and treachery. Fragility, although not an ideal virtue today, was an important feminine quality for the Victorians because it denoted a purity that must be shielded from the world. Hugh’s Elaine’s blush reveals her love, but her otherworldly expression suggests that this love is pure and devoid of guilty, fleshly associations. It is also interesting that her adoration is directed at the armor rather than at the man himself; this shift suggests that she, like the Victorians, worships the ideal of chivalry rather than Launcelot himself. This image is available in color in Mancoff’s The Return of King Arthur.

Morris, William. Queen Guenevere or La Belle Iseult (1858).

There is some debate concerning the identity of the woman in this painting – Debra Mancoff identifies her as Guenevere, but other scholars have suggested that she may instead be Iseult, wife of King Mark of Cornwall and lover of Tristan – but in either case, the woman is an adulteress who is portrayed sympathetically by Morris. This image would be particularly effective when discussed in combination with Morris’ “Defence of Guenevere.” The details of this painting suggest conflicting elements within the portrayal of women in Victorian medievalism. The fruit on the bed connects the standing woman with Eve; the sleeping dog and the unmade bed further suggest decadence and immorality. The woman’s gaze, however, is directed towards the open book (perhaps a Bible?) on the nightstand, and her expression is solemn and somewhat severe; these details suggest that the woman is torn between decadence and morality. This conflict is important because it collapses the frequently-cited dichotomy between the Angel and the Fallen Woman in Victorian ideology. This image is available in color in Whitaker’s The Legends of King Arthur in Art.

Paton, Joseph Noël. I Wonder Who Lived in There? (1867).

This image, which features a small girl who is sitting on a large book while gazing at a helmet, could symbolize the workings of Victorian medievalism itself. Victorians took the forms of the Middle Ages that had been passed down to them – chivalry, stories, relics – and reinvested these forms with their own ideas, stories and concerns. This image would be particularly useful for discussing the impact that medievalism had on the Victorian imagination. This image is available in color in Mancoff’s The Return of King Arthur.

Sambourne, Linley. “Cook’s Crusader.” Punch, or the London Charivari. 15 October 1898.

This image satirizes Kaiser Wilhelm’s visit to the Holy Land in 1898. Thomas Cook, to whom the title of the image refers, designed a Crusader’s costume for the Kaiser; the cartoonist accordingly labels Wilhelm as “The Imperial Knight-Templar” and the other figure, drawn as a stereotypical Muslim man, as “Saladin.” The cartoonist appears to be using the stereotypes of both the Crusader and Saladin to represent the incongruity of the friendly political relationship between the two figures. The text, which reads, “What!! The Christian powers putting pressure upon you, my dear friend!! Horrible! I can’t think how people can do such things!” suggests that the German emperor and the unidentified Eastern figure are allied against the other Western powers. In fact, however, Crusades romances written in the nineteenth century tend to represent Saladin as an honorable and heroic (if religiously misguided) figure who frequently finds common ground with the novels’ English heroes. This image is currently available at

Sandys, Frederick. Morgan-le-Fey (1862-63).

This painting offers an interesting opportunity to discuss the relationship of imperial and colonial forces to Victorian medievalism, particularly its portrayal of women. Rich colors, the leopard skin that covers much of the front of Morgan’s dress, and the exotic symbols that mark her clothing all connect Morgan and the magical power that she wields with the East. Victorians were both frightened and fascinated by the East: they worried that their colonial connection to the East would undermine traditional Victorian values, and that England would suffer a reverse-colonization, yet they were also intrigued by beautiful goods and exotic customs. This painting shows that the Victorians used medieval figures as a vehicle for contemporary concerns: Morgan’s threat to Arthur’s kingdom becomes analogous to the Empire’s perceived threat to England. This image is available in color in Whitaker’s The Legends of King Arthur in Art.

Thornycroft, Sir W. Hamo. Alfred the Great (1901).

This sculpture, as Chris Bishop argues in “Civilizing the Savage Ancestor: Representations of the Anglo-Saxons in the Art of Nineteenth Century Britain” [Studies in Medievalism XV (2006): 55-76], represents the Anglo-Saxon king as huge, powerful, isolated, and linked to a Christian Crusade. The figure’s upraised arm holds an inverted- -and therefore cruciform- -sword aloft to simultaneously emphasize military might and conversion. Bishop suggests that this sculpture of Alfred represents Thornycroft’s perception of England’s role in its large and ever-expanding empire (70). This statue would certainly be an interesting starting point for a discussion on the relationship of Victorian medievalism to the British Empire. In addition, a discussion of the Victorian perceptions of Saxons versus Normans might be useful here: in general, nineteenth-century British enmity towards the French led them to portray their Norman ancestors as weak and effeminate, while they idealized the masculinity of their Saxon heritage. An image of this statue is available through the Victorian Web: thornycroft/36c.html.

Watts, George Frederick. Sir Galahad (1862).

Although Watts’ Galahad, unlike many other artists’ representations, does not wear a halo, his pose – clasped hands, sword sheathed, otherworldly gaze directed towards some invisible object – continues to denote his piety. His horse’s bowed head reinforces this image. Just as Elaine became an important emblem of proper femininity for the Victorians, Galahad became an equally important icon of masculinity. Tennyson’s Galahad, for example, combines piety and morality (once traditionally feminine virtues) with strength of arms and knighthood (traditionally masculine virtues). Watts’ armored, yet peaceful Galahad combines these virtues very effectively. Available in color in Mancoff’s The Return of King Arthur.

Internet Links:

The Camelot Project. University of Rochester.

The Camelot Project at the University of Rochester offers a broad range of Arthurian post-medieval texts and illustrations, many by Victorian authors and artists. Gustave Doré, Julia Margaret Cameron, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Aubrey Beardsley, Lancelot Speed, and Florence Harrison’s works are all featured in the art section; comparing the various styles and focuses of the artists would offer a particularly interesting project for an elementary or middle-school class. The Camelot Project’s range of Victorian stories and poems is also very broad, ranging from humor and satire to more visionary, mystic works.

Howe, Jeffrey. “High Victorian Gothic in England.” A Digital Archive of Architecture.

This link provides excellent photographs of characteristic Gothic Revival buildings in England, including a selection of churches, train stations, museums, hotels, and memorials. Howe provides photographs of the buildings from various angles, highlighting the characteristic elements of the Victorian Gothic, influenced as it was by the medieval Gothic. Although the photographs are impressive, there is no analysis; this website would be most useful if presented comparatively alongside photographs of medieval Gothic architecture.

Hubnik, Sandi J. “Victorian Medievalism.” University of Texas at Austin. english/SH/MainPage

This website, designed to “provoke interest in both the Victorian era and specifically in Victorian attitudes towards the past,” provides a useful overview of many of the social and political issues associated with the movement. This site would be particularly appropriate as a resource for students who have little or no background in nineteenth-century England and are beginning research into Victorian medievalism. It contains sections on art, architecture, literature, and associated social and political themes. The art and architecture sections both contain images which, although limited in number, effectively illustrate their connection with medievalism. The site also provides outside links for material such as biographies of the associated authors and artists.

The Victorian Web.

Both the art and architecture sections of the Victorian Web contain extensive information about figures and tropes associated with the Victorian Medieval Revival. The site can be confusing to navigate at times, but an internal search engine facilitates the retrieval of appropriate pages. The “Gothic Revival” page and the extensive page on Pre-Raphaelite art, which contains images of the Brotherhood’s paintings, will be particularly relevant for a class studying Victorian medievalism. The website as a whole is an excellent resource for information on all aspects of Victorian literature and culture; it also contains bibliographies of outside resources and other web links.

Megan Morris is a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Rochester

Original Citation:  The Once and Future Classroom , Volume VII, Issue 2, Fall 2009

NOTE: Links have been corrected and/or deleted.   No editing to the actual texts has been done since their original publication.

TEAMS: Teaching Association for Medieval Studies