I love historical romance – absolutely love it!Julie Garwood
What is Historical Romance?
Historical romance is a story set in any time in history (pre-1950) where the romantic relationship is central to the plot.
This isn’t to be confused with historical fiction, where there may be a romance as part of the story (there also may not) but it’s not the most important element.
Some of my most-read historical romance eras are noted below. Click on each to find out more.
The Viking era is usually defined as being between 700 and 1100 AD. It is the period of history when Scandinavian Norsemen explored Europe by its seas and rivers for trade, raids and conquest.
Most Viking romances are set in the UK and Ireland – or in Scandanavia when those pesky Vikings stole their captive brides over the sea and home.
You’re probably going to get feisty women who aren’t likely to kowtow to anyone, and hunky, strong men who are simultaneously irritated and intrigued by such women. There’s also likely to be raiding, pillaging, kidnapping and at times, a language barrier meaning we’re doing our communicating with the eyes, hands and the bodies! Skål!
In Europe, the Middle Ages or medieval period, lasted from the 5th to the 15th century (so 400 to 1499). It’s quite a lengthy period and split into many, smaller sub-periods. During this period, you’ll find the rise and fall of empires including the Roman Empire and Byzantine Empire. Since it covers such a large time scale, in a nutshell, we’re looking at population booms, technological and agricultural advances, feudalism, Crusades, scholasticism and then on to famine, plague, war, schisms within the Catholic Church, peasant revolts and civil strife.
So what are we expecting from a medieval romance? Well, chivalric men (possible knights) who are out to protect their land and their kingdoms. We’re also looking at strong women who know what needs to be done and go out and get it done. Marriage for alliances could be a central theme and you’re probably looking at some danger and angst thrown in for good measure!
The period between 1485 and 1603 is known as the Tudor Period. It is named after the Tudor dynasty that ruled England and Wales during this time – from the crowning of Henry VII in 1485 to the death of Elizabeth I in 1603.
We’re talking (for the rich) bold, interesting fashions, luxurious surroundings and a decadent way of life.. Women were supposed to be subservient to men but not our heroines. Nope – they give their strong, courageous men a run for their money against a backdrop of political intrigue and warring nations.
The Royal House of Stuart ruled Scotland from 1371 to 1603. Then, James VI inherited the thrones of England and Ireland in the Union of the Crowns becoming James I of England. For romance purposes, the Stuart Period usually refers to the time after the Union of Crowns, through the Jacobean era, English Civil War, Restoration, the Revolution of 1688 and the Act of Union. Phew. So that’s between 1603 and 1714, when the Hanovarians took over and the Stuarts went for a lie down. Only for a while, mind!
So, as you can tell, the period was rife with war, conflict, in-fighting and lots of religious persecution. Not really the most romantic era, you might think, but the era also was chock full with glorious architecture, literature, science and the arts. So your romantic protagonists are likely to be smart cookies and probably involved in some subterfuge, political hijinks and lots of suspicion.
Ah – the lovely Georgian period. For romance purposes we’re talking about 1714 through to 1799 even though the actual Georgian period ran through to 1830 (1837 if we’re including William IV’s reign).
Well, what didn’t happen in the Georgian era? We have political and social change across the whole of the British Isles. The Jacobites tried (and failed) to get the Stuart Kings back on the throne. Then the Highland Clearances destroyed a country. Britain then tried to conquer the world then got cross when people didn’t like that very much. Wars ensued. Lots of wars. On a more positive note, we had positive social reform, amazing architecture, poetry, paintings, science and the arts. Such a fascinating time period.
We’re looking for the same things in our romances as are indicative of the period. Interesting characters in an interesting world. We could have scientists, landowners, artists, reformists, politicians – the list is endless which is why Georgian set romances have enduring appeal.
The Regency was a period when King George III was deemed unfit to rule and his son, the future George IV, the current Prince of Wales, ruled as his proxy as Prince Regent. For the purposes of my reviews, I class the Regency romance as being set between 1800 and 1820 (although I’ll make exceptions up to 1837!). The Regency era is one of elegance, style and delicious decadence (for the rich only, of course). The period is characterised by distinctive trends in architecture, literature, fashions, politics, and culture. And it wouldn’t be a successful period without war of some kind. We were at it again with France (let’s be friends, France!) and there was more social, economic and political change.
Regency romances can either be traditional or Regency historical. There’s a really good page on Wikipedia that explains the difference…but it’s mainly that the traditional is more focussed on the romance of the plot and little (if anything) about sex. Think Georgette Heyer. Regency Historicals have more developed worlds surrounding the main characters and have way more sex! 😉
The Victorian era was the period of Queen Victoria’s reign from 1837 to 1901. It was a long period of peace, prosperity, refined sensibilities and national self-confidence for Britain. The attitudes and culture were highly moralistic and strait-laced and there was a transition from the rational thinking of the Georgians toward romanticism and mysticism with regard to religion, social values, and arts. There was huge political reform and politicians became all powerful while the Industrial revolution and railways changed life forever. Also changing life was the Great Famine (aka the Irish Potato Famine) and the Crimean and Boer Wars.
I find that Victorian romances are harder to define. You’ll have more liberal characters who are likely to have wider and more varied lives and experiences. Despite the highly moralistic views of many Victorians, woman are more likely to be bolder, wiser and more aware of their equality with men – whether or not the rest of society sees it yet! Strong women then. And strong women need strong men in their lives.
No – I am definitely not planning to sum up the history of America in one short paragraph! Buuut, I read so few historical books set in America that I feel one catch-all tag would be, for the moment, able to group all of them together. So that’s Colonial American, Civil War, Western, Native American, Frontier and anything else taking place in America that’s not classified as contemporary.
No matter what time period or period of American history the romances are set in, one thing remains the same – the heroines are strong, fiesty and independent woman who really encapsulate the pioneering spirit. The men are also strong and tough but all are so much improved by the love of a good woman. The American dream is between these pages!