We all love a good story, and medieval fiction delivers a punch in suspense, mystery and romance. Like this one:
A scream echoed through the night.
Kendra covered her ears and crouched on the damp ground, scanning shadows under the big pine trees. The moon flitted moodily in and out behind clouds, giving an eerie atmosphere to the familiar woods. She could just see the light in the top tower of the castle through the trees. It was a welcome reminder that her home was not far away, maybe close enough to hear her cry.
A groan reached her ears. Someone is out there!
The scream was not repeated, but she began to hear other sounds just as fearful. The dry scrunch of dead leaves, a cough and a soft moan, and then, unmistakably, the words, “Oh, God, I beg of Thee. Please. Oh, God. Help me.”
Who can resist a good story, medieval fiction or otherwise?
Yet how can you find ones that are well written, clean enough for the young people in your home, and entertaining enough to read to the end?
Every. Last. Word.
I am unashamedly a bookworm, and the shelves in my house that are filled with books give proof to that claim. I’ve always loved a good story, but my heart went out completely to medieval fiction in high school. My happy place was the library, and my favorite book was When Knighthood Was In Flower.
When I read that book, I suddenly found myself in the strange, frightening world of knights, ladies in distress, and derring-do battles to the death.
I was bill-hooked for certes, m’lady.
From then on, I’ve accumulated medieval fiction books by the score. Check out the following series as a great place to start your own collection.
(Disclosure: Some links are affiliate links.)
1. Thomas B. Costain’s Historical Fiction
For My Great Folly delved into the adventurous life of sailing captains and pirates during the reign of King James I (1603-1621).
The larger-than-life English captain, John Ward, returns to England after organizing the Free Rovers and reclaiming many commercial sailing lanes from Spain. But he is not welcomed home as a hero. The king, who courts Spain as an ally, sees John Ward as an enemy. John has to creep into and out of English waters in disgrace.
Roger Blease, a young man who had been raised to be a courtier to the king, meets John Ward and longs to go to sea with him, thinking life on the sea will mean romance, wealth, prestige, and adventure.
Yet his life on board ship is a nightmare of horror, anguish, and carnage. How Roger survives and returns to England makes an excellent story.
Another favorite Costain book is The Black Rose, set in the thirteenth century, England.
Walter of Gurnie, an illegitimate child of a wealthy land-owner, is spurned by the love of his life, Engaine, and is despised by everyone, including his grandfather. He struggles with discouragement and despair and longs to find a way to make a name for himself and win back his land.
At Oxford College, he meets Roger Bacon, the great thinker, teacher, and theologian. Inspired by their conversation, he sets out for the eastern land of Cathay (China) where no one from England has ever gone before.
He is joined in his travels by his friend, Tristram. Together they accomplish the unthinkable: they arrive in Cathay and in the process meet the Mongolian general, Bayan of the Hundred Eyes.
He and Tristram rescue a young woman whose name is Maryam. She becomes known as the Black Rose, a beautiful woman who captures both of their hearts.
This story is hard to get into because Costain uses many colloquialisms of that time. It’s almost as if he’s challenging you to continue reading. If you do continue, you will be caught in a marvelous adventure of danger, travel, and love.
Costain is a master story-teller of medieval fiction. One of his more famous novels is The Silver Chalice set in Palestine shortly after the time of Christ.
2. Fools Guild Series by Alan Gordon
The first book, The Thirteenth Night, is medieval fiction and mystery at it’s best. The story revolves around the real-life jester guild from medieval times and tells the tale of a jester named Theophilus and his wife, Claudia.
Theophilus the Jester is a miserable drunkard when we first meet him, drowning his sorrows in yet another mug of ale, yet he is skilled in jester tricks and the art of espionage. When he goes on a mission for the guild to Italy, he finds a countess whose husband was murdered. In the midst of trying to solve the murder, he is almost killed himself. Theophilus’ mission is to unmask the evil Malvolio and save the city from danger.
3. Gilbert Morris’ Historical Fiction Series
Picking through Gilbert Morris’ historical novels is fascinating work. He wrote 291 novels in his life time! The Wakefield Dynasty is a series I love.
In the The Sword of Truth, the place is England during the 1500s and the king is Henry VIII. Myles Morgan, born a commoner, longs to rise above his status. Through a tragic twist of fate, Myles is reunited with his true father, Sir Robert Wakefield, and is thrust into life at court.
It is dizzying for a boy from the streets, yet he finds true faith, a girl to love and joins in the struggle to bring the Bible to English speaking people. William Tyndale, who translated the Bible to English, features in the story.
Gilbert Morris wrote four more books of this series.
I also enjoyed his series, The Lady Trent Mysteries, set in 1858 London.
4. Keys to the Kingdom Series by Virginia Ann Work
In Sirocco Wind from the East, Judith Itzchaki, a young Jewish girl, is heir to great wealth and position. Yet tragedy strikes her home, and she leaves with a servant boy to find her father.
In another part of France, a young monk, Brother Louis, discovers an ancient book. It is the tale of a man who went on the first crusade. Inspired by this, he sets out for Palestine to represent his Benedictine abbey for the cause of Christ.
Prince Arthur, the grandson of Henry II, prince of Brittany, has problems of his own.
As a young boy, he is chosen by King Richard to inherit the throne after his father died, yet his mother refuses to allow him to travel to Richard’s court. When King Richard perishes in a battle, his brother, John, is chosen to succeed him, setting aside Arthur’s legitimate claim to the throne.
Arthur gathers an army and marches to fight King John, trying to reclaim the throne. Yet his attempt fails, and he is taken and imprisoned. This is historically true, but the records do not say how or when Arthur died.
Yet Arthur does not die.
He is rescued, taken to a commoner’s hut, and chooses another name, Adrian D’Arcy. From that point, he is determined to win back his crown and his inheritance. He decides to travel to Palestine, meeting along the way Brother Louis and a Jewish girl named Judith.
The Keys to the Kingdom series, ending with Lavento Wind from the South, is appropriate for high school ages and up, providing clean Christian fiction for those who love a good story.
5. The Chronicles of Brother Cadfael by Ellis Peters (pseudonym, Edith May Pargeter)
The Brother Cadfael series are novels set in 12th century England, in Shrewsbury at the Benedictine Abbey. Brother Cadfael, the herbalist at the abbey, is an older man who has seen the world before he took upon himself the discipline of the monastery. In the first book, One Corpse Too Many, the citizens of England are embroiled in civil war between King Stephen and Queen Maude (or so she called herself).
When a castellan at Shrewsbury Castle refuses to yield to King Stephen, and it falls, the king orders the whole garrison hanged. Brother Cadfael must recover the bodies of 94 men and lay them out for their relatives. Yet, when he counts them, he finds 95 bodies, and the 95th corpse was not hung. Brother Cadfael vows to find the truth about why this young man was murdered and searches among the clues: a girl in boy’s clothing, a missing treasure, and a single broken flower.
The Brother Cadfael novels (21 in all) are delightful, easy to read, and beautiful with descriptions of the country, culture and life of 12th century England and the Catholic church. Eight of the stories were made into movies.
6. Stephen R. Lawhead, Medieval Fiction Series
The Celtic Crusades is a series of three novels: The Iron Lance, The Black Rood, and The Mystic Rose. These stories feature Duncan, a man from Ireland, who is heir to a great estate. Against his father’s wishes, he travels to Palestine to find a piece of the Black Rood, the cross of Christ, and save it from Saracen (Muslim) hands.
But the gates to the Holy Land are guarded by the warrior priests known as the Knights Templar, and they do not look with friendly eyes upon one who would take the Black Rood.
I love Lawhead’s stand-alone epic novel, Byzantium, featuring a young man, Aiden, who travels to the mighty city of Byzantium (Constantinople). On his journey, he becomes a warrior, a sailor, a slave and a spy, a Viking and a Saracen. At the climax, this valiant Irish monk faces the greatest trial that can confront any many in any age: commanding his own destiny with his firm faith in God.
And as for Kendra. What happened to her?
Kendra felt for the short sword she carried on her belt, nothing more, really, than a glorified dagger, but it was something. Her breath came in short gasps as she stepped forward. “Who’s there?”
The brush crackling stopped for an instant. She held her breath.
A man exploded from the low undergrowth. He staggered toward her and fell. She knelt beside him, touching his shoulder.
He turned over and grabbed her wrist. Blood dripped from a wound on his head.
“Oh!” She reared back.
“Help me! They are after me!”
“Who? Please. Don’t hurt me. I’m trying to understand you.” She pried his fingers from her arm, noting they were clean. His clothes were of good quality, yet rumpled and dirty. A nobleman, then. Or a servant of one.
The man lay back and closed his eyes. “The king’s men. I have… fallen afoul of them. It’s my leg. My head.” He reached up and touched his matted hair, then groaned softly.
She wanted to ask what he’d done to have become prey to the king’s guard, but she did not. She clenched her teeth and sat back on her heels, watching him closely.
“I can ride back to the castle. It’s only just over there.” She waved her hand to the right where the north tower’s light shown dimly through the trees. “Who are you? Can you ride?”
“I… think I can if you would help me up. You have your horse? It be a strange time for a ride in the forest, my lady. How do you call yourself?”
She shook her head and brushed back a tendril of hair. “You must be a stranger if you do not know me and my kin.” She stood. “Stay here. My horse is tied over yonder. If they come, tell them the Lady de Winston has brought you under her protection. The fief of my lord carries weight with the king’s men.”
He stared at her.
She swirled her skirts and started off to the woods where Misha, her mare, was tied. She hoped. Misha had learned how to untie her rope with her teeth — she’d done it several times. Oh, God, please not tonight.
Kendra had not missed the fact that the man lying on the ground was good to look upon with his dark hair, flashing eyes, high forehead, and sensitive mouth. Even in the dark with the little light from the stars and the moon, oh, yes, she’d seen that much.
(to be continued)
Who can resist a good story? Not me!
If you would like the above story, please let me know in a comment. Also, tell me of any historical fiction books you love. I’d like to hear from you.