Posted by: Sarah | February 2, 2006

The Official Rules for Writing Medieval Fiction


By Elizabeth Chadwick

1. The Saxons who are the bad guys of the Arthurian stories magically turn into good guys in 1066 when the nasty Normans invade. Then they turn into the English and become bad guys again.

2. The Scots, kilted up as Mel Gibson lookalikes, can do no wrong.

3. King John is always a bad ruler.

4. In any novel prior to 1970, Richard III is an evil child-murdering hunchback. Post 1970, he turns into a wonderful guy, completely innocent of the murder of his nephews and with a back as straight as a ramrod. Henry VII takes over as the bad guy.

5. All heroines have thick waves of glorious hair that tumble to their hips. The more unruly they are, the curlier their tresses tend to be. Frequently those tresses will be a stupendous shade of auburn.

6. At least once in any novel the hero will be wounded and the heroine, a skilled herbwife, will be called upon to tend him.

7. The villain of the piece or his henchman will frequently have disgusting table manners and disfiguring scars.

8. The hero is never bald or a serf – unless the novel is a work of literary fiction, in which case the latter is a necessity. The hero of the first statement is likely to parade around in his armour even when relaxing at home and will wear his sword as a matter of course.

9. In a certain type of novel of the period, the huge size of the hero’s sword is only outdone by the size of the object between his legs – his magnificent coal-black or pure white stallion (ahem!)

10. No hero is ever called Etheldred, Cuthbert, Archibald or Baldric. No heroine is ever called Hegelina, Frideswide, Euphemia or Hildegarde. In certain works aforementioned at point 9, the hero will be called Blade, Hawke, Addis or Bryce while the heroine will be named Adrienne, Rainna, Mellyora (I kid you not!) or Elissa. Authors will often have very similar stage names to those of the heroine and their work will be given 4 stars by Romantic Times.

Elizabeth Chadwick is the author of many fine historical novels set in the Medieval era, the latest of which is The Greatest Knight, the first of two novels about William Marshal. She says: “I put a brutal hunting scene in my first novel The Wild Hunt. I’ve not been as graphic since. My characters still go hunting, but in a more understated way. I have considered being subversive and writing an Arthurian novel from the poor, maligned Anglo-Saxons’ viewpoint, but that’s still on a back burner. At least these days the heroines DO get pregnant. When I was in my teens and early twenties, you’d have thought they were all on the Pill, the number of frolics they had without suffering the consequences!”



  1. I’m so in trouble. The only thing I got right in that first version of my first novel, a Medieaval saga, is the hair colour of the female lead. Ragnhild Hrólfsdóttir has indeed auburn hair.

    But she cuts it to shoulder length, very unusual for a woman, simply because she’s had her fill of long tresses getting in her way all the time.


    Thanks for a good laugh.

  2. Wait…you mean it’s not the hero with glorious auburn curls that tumble to his hips? Time for a rewrite. 😉

  3. Oh, dear. So far I’ve followed one rule from each set (a straight Roman road from the Classical set, because it’s still on the map and it is straight), Rule 1 from the Arthurian set, and Rule 6 from the Medieval set. What does this say about my writing? I suspect I don’t want to know…….
    By the way, I have hip-length auburn hair, but heroes with big swords don’t chase me around. What am I doing wrong? I don’t think I want to know the answer to that, either.

  4. But is it lusciously curling, and does the wind always blow it into a halo? Maybe hairspray could help with that – check this for proper design. 😉

  5. Just found your blog, Sarah!

    I guess I’m bad, because yeah, Catherine de Guienne is a redhead (though not auburn), and with plenty of it. Sosumi!

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