I adore medievals. I read them. I write them. I consume them.
And yet, the honest part of me admits that there are reasons why medievals are not as popular with readers as Regency-set historicals.
Thesaurus.com says that the synonyms for le bon ton, the Regency nobility, are: civility, correctitude, restraint, decency, decorum, good breeding, orderliness, properness, rightness, seemliness, fashionable, high life, and smart set.
If I were to likewise write the synonyms for the medieval period, they would be: honor, loyalty, tradition, fierceness, oaths, fealty, passion, valor, battle prowess, strife, God, and kingmaking.
Life in medieval times was brutally short. Men and women, even the knights and the nobility, grew up fast and lived hard, swift, intense lives. In that short time, they managed to eke out a long life’s worth of living. All life revolved around warriors and battles, even after the widespread advent of the chivalric code.
Life in the Regency for the nobility, on the other hand, was relatively cushier and sheltered. As a result, life was slower-paced and there was much time for revelry and enjoyment. Of course, wars still happened, battles lost, lives maimed. But the society at large went about without much impact.
In Regency stories, it’s possible to avoid any mention of wars, weapons, and the fallout from battles. It is nearly impossible to write a medieval story without those three elements. For example, in Just One of Those Flings by Candice Hern set in 1813, there’s barely any mention of the Napoleonic wars or the activities of the East India Company.
The settled nature of lives in the Regency means that the authors have more time to explore the intricacies of interpersonal relationships and witty repartée. Given the restricted societal rules, the Regency hero and heroine had to become masters of subtlety. Much was conveyed in a single look. For example, in Pride And Prejudice, when Mr. Darcy walks down the center aisle at the Assembly Rooms of Meryton, in one quick glance, that he just as quickly corrects, he notices Lizzy Bennet and she him, and their mutual interest in each other is born. The Middle Ages, on the other hand, was a freer time for men and women. There were fewer restrictions and rules on what they should do and what they couldn’t do. For example, in One Knight Only by Julia Latham, it was acceptable for a knight to pull a lady onto his lap in the midst of the revelry following the tournament. He might get his throat cut, but he wouldn’t be forced to marry her; her reputation likewise would remain intact.
Whereas the Regency hero was concerned with being decorous and seemly, the medieval hero was brimming over with life. The Regency hero needed to overcome his restraint in order to demonstrate his passionate side to the heroine, while the medieval hero had to temper his passionate side to show tenderness towards the heroine.
Royalty did not hold their nobles’ lives hostage in the Regency, whereas fealty to the liege lord controlled all actions in the Dark Ages. The kings had vast powers and used them, sometimes indiscriminately. As a result, the king is an essential character in most medieval stories, whether he’s explicitly present or implicitly so. For example, The Chief by Monica McCarty ends with this: “The ten warriors formed a circle around their king. Swords raised above his head, they cried out, ‘Airson an Leomhann!’ For the Lion. A cry that would come to strike fear in men’s hearts.” On the other hand, Prinny shows up once in a while as comic relief.
The nobility in the Regency, the dukes, marquesses, and earls, sat in the House of Lords during a period of major political activity, but they had lives that revolved around their estates as well. So it’s possible to write stories that have nothing to do with the politics of the day and everything to do with the other aspects of their lives. Whereas, politics was a part of the fabric of medieval life, so it was impossible to divorce the two. For example, in Lord of My Heart by Jo Beverley, the heroine must wed one of the trio of lords offered by her king. To refuse such an edict was unthinkable.
Medieval noble men and women were expected to do physical work in addition to supervising the provisioning, safety, law, and order of the castles’ many dependents. Regency women, on the other hand, had fewer responsibilities towards their smaller households. Regency men were not required to be magistrates and soldiers for their estates. As a result, Regency men and women had more time to spend in society.
Religion comes up again and again in the early medieval stories, because the Church was just getting a foothold in some parts of England and Scotland, and sometimes, converts reverted to their pagan ways and had to be re-churched.
The presence of God and talk about godliness was a constant conversation. Whereas in the Regency, the Anglican branch of Christianity was such an established tradition that it was a non-issue, garnering only brief mentions of attending Sunday services. For example, in Ransom by Julie Garwood, mentions of the One True God and paying a penance and confessing of sins is brought up again and again, while in An Unlikely Countess by Jo Beverley, the toughest part of the Sunday church service for the heroine is facing the local nobility and gentry and their comments and slights.
Henry IV and V coat of arms courtesy of Sodacan via Wikimedia Commons.
Keira Soleore is an aspiring Medieval & Regency historical romance writer and the comments moderator for IASPR’s Journal of Popular Romance Studies. On the web, she can found on at Cogitations & Meditations, on herwebsite, and on Facebook. She also tweets.