Rethinking Stories About Chivalry and Princesses

Since it is so likely that children will meet cruel enemies, let them at least have heard of brave knights and heroic courage.
C.S. Lewis
As many of our traditions are born from the old heroic stories, I thought it would be appropriate to look at one of the biggest misconceptions there is with these stories, the idea of “saving the princess.”

To understand this, we must first consider why we even have these stories. Story telling traditions were a way to both entertain and teach life lessons. This was an important part of the old Roman society as stories were used to promote social responsibility, heroism, discipline, and the idea that every man had the capacity to change the world into something better, no matter his origin (as long as he was a roman citizen). Think of it as an old version of TV if TV understood its social responsibility. Why do I give emphasis on the Romans and not the Greeks? Because most of our Greek legacy comes filtered by the Roman expansion and many of our military and social traditions are in many ways remnants of the old Roman Empire.

But so often, part of the story relies on the idea that the hero would go out to do something heroic and as a prize, we would end up with the girl. That is, well, sexist as hell as it reduces women to simply a prize to be won. But what if we are viewing the stories wrong?

In many of the old stories, the hero didn’t go off to save the queen for himself. He actually went on a mission for the king who couldn’t abandon the throne; leaving behind his own loved one to achieve a greater good for his country. We see this in stories like Saint George and the Dragon. Even then, some of these stories warn of the danger of the Hero getting any selfish ideas with the queen, as we see in Lancelot and Queen Guinevere.

Other stories are about contests for the princess's hand in marriage, as virtue and courage will usually trump social standing. We might assume that at this point, the princess was basically raffled off as a trophy, but in reality the contests were to chose who would be the king’s successor. Marring the princess was because royal lineage was passed down by the Queen and not the King. The King might have been the king, but it was the Queen’s children who inherited the thrown. Many Kings would be quite liberal where they deposited their seed so following that road was hard to prove. But again, why so much emphasis to proving yourself to the Queen or the Princess? The answer is as rather interesting mix of religion, language, and real estate.  

The land has always been viewed as female. It’s the barer of fruits and caregiver of the people. This is why we call it “Mother Earth.” That is why there is such an importance to female spirituality within our old traditions. Whoever owned the most fertile lands would usually have the most prosperous kingdom. Land was power.

And to reinforce the idea of femininity within a land, the word used to define your motherland within Latin traditions is the feminine word Patria (Motherland). Although originating from the masculine Patrius-A-Um (relating to the Father or Forefathers), it took a feminine connotation when it evolved into the Italian and Spanish Patria, the Portuguese Pátria, or the French Patrie. The tradition is simple. You respect your Patria as you would your mother. You would be loyal to your Patria as you would your wife. And you would care for your Patria as you would your daughter.

You see, these stories were allegoric and symbolic. Just as a dragon wasn’t really a dragon but rather a representation of a threat, The Queen or the Princess would a physical manifestation of the Patria. Heroes would set off to save their Patria (Queen) without getting any ideas of becoming kings themselves. Heroes would have to prove their worth before their Patria (Princess) would consider them worthy suitors and heirs to the throne. This is why so many stories are about heroes fighting any threat that would harm their Patria. They weren’t fighting to save a Queen or a Princess. They were fighting to save their country and their homes or to prove their worth to the people as a future king.