A frequent charge leveled against historical romance is its tendency toward anachronism. Period-inappropriate technologies, dialogue, and allusions are pet peeves for even enthusiasts of the subgenre.
Some authors bungle aristocratic titles and forms of address among the peerage. Others might put words such as “okay” in the mouths of eighteenth-century protagonists. Still others might incorporate characters who base their actions on then-undiscovered scientific principles, discoveries, or practices (psychoanalysis, germ theory, etc.). Characters might eat the wrong food, wear the wrong clothing, or make the wrong joke. One of the most common complaints against the subgenre is that the mindset of the hero or heroine is incompatible with his or her setting. Often, objections are aimed at the text’s representation of the options available to women in a given period.
While I appreciate rigorous attention to detail in the subgenre, and while certain careless errors do annoy me, I would submit that a little unintentional anachronism isn’t the end of the world.
To demonstrate, I’d like to turn to another type of romance altogether: the Arthurian kind.
The literary tradition of Arthurian romance was largely developed from the twelfth to fifteenth centuries by a loose network of mostly anonymous authors writing in the major vernacular languages of the period (primarily French, English, and German, but also Italian, Spanish, and various Celtic and Scandinavian tongues). Derived in part from Latin chronicles, it began chiefly in verse but was quickly adapted into prose. Among the authors of Arthurian romance we do know, Chrétien de Troyes, Wolfram von Eschenbach, and Sir Thomas Malory have all achieved canonical status in medieval literary studies.
All of them practiced flagrant anachronism.