The Anglo-Norman Definition of Heroism

The Anglo-Saxon definition of heroism: someone who lets their actions speak and who shows courage in order to one day become king, all changes when the Normans invade England. The Arthurian tale Sir Gawain and The Green Knight, that comes from the Anglo-Norman time period, now tells us that a good knight/hero is someone who

Was deemed flawless in his five senses; and secondly his five fingers were never at fault; and thirdly his faith was founded in the five wounds Christ received on the cross, as the creed recalls. And fourthly, if that soldier struggled in skirmish one thought pulled him through above all other things: the fortitude he found in the five joys which Mary had conceived in her son, our Savior. For precisely that reason the princely rider had the shape of her image inside his shield, so by catching her eye his courage would not crack. The fifth set of five which I heard the knight followed included friendship and fraternity with fellow men, purity and politeness that impressed at all times, and pity, which surpassed all pointedness (640-654).med_gallery_22_15334

All of these virtues are represented in the pentangle said to be on Gawain’s shield. This new-found sense of spiritualism in the definition of heroism of the Anglo-Normans can be traced to the feudal systems which the Normans brought with them. In the Feudal system, there is no mobility like there was in a meritocracy. Therefore, actions weren’t quite as important anymore. Instead of fighters and warriors, the upper class was composed of nobility and members of the church (Greenblatt 5). More emphasis was placed on spirituality and true soldiers had to show that not only were they physically strong, but that their faith was strong as well. This plays into the idea of divine right. If men were to be obedient to their King (who was chosen by God) then they must be obedient to God as well. This change in the governing system affected the ways in which people could gain fame and power. This newfound increase in religion can be seen primarily through all of the Arthurian tales, and especially in Sir Gawain and The Green Knight (Tracy 31).


Works Cited

Greenblatt, Stephen, editor. The Norton Anthology of English Literature. 10th ed., vol. A, Norton & Company, 2018, 3-26.

Sir Gawain and The Green Knight. The Norton Anthology of English Literature. Edited by Stephen Greenblatt, 10th ed., vol. A, Norton & Company, 2018, 201-256.

Tracy, Larissa. “A Knight of God or the Goddess?: Rethinking Religious Syncretism in ‘Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.’” Arthuriana, vol. 17, no. 3, 2007, pp. 31–55. JSTOR, JSTOR,

“Early English Literature.”, Accessed on 18 Dec. 2018.

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