My favorite kind of historical romances have heaping helpings of both history and romance; when the history shapes the romance, I am one happy camper. Sometimes this combination comes in the form of actual historical figures making an appearance, or the fictional characters engaging in actual events recorded by history. Cynthia Wright’s website offers pictures of the real life locations that inspired her recently reissued classic, You and No Other, where the hero and heroine are closely linked to King Francois I of France.
Pamela Clare’s MacKinnon’s Rangers trilogy couldn’t possibly take place at any other time or in any other place than the French and Indian War. Three sons of an exiled Highlander grow up on the colonial frontier, and when coerced into fighting on behalf of the Crown, it’s not as traditionally trained soldiers, but a new sort, the Ranger. The special forces of the eighteenth century, their stories play out in a tumultuous time in a newly emerging world.
It’s not, however, only kings and battles that make for historical verisimilitude. Some stories take a quieter but no less effective approach, concentrating on the very real effects brought about by the choices we make.
Take, for example, Cecilia Grant’s A Lady Awakened. Heroine Martha is driven to her desperate scheme by the inheritance laws of the time in which she lived. With her husband dead, Martha has no claim to what we would consider her own home, as the estate belongs to the men of the family. She’s ready to move in with her family—that is what one does, after all—until she finds out that the new owner, her husband’s lecherous brother, poses a serious threat to the female servants who keep the estate running.
A son, however, would come before a brother in the order of inheritance, keeping Martha in her home, and the female staff safe from unwanted advances they had no way to refuse. Only problem is, Martha’s not pregnant. Only nobody knows that for sure, so there’s still a chance, which comes in the form of Theo Mirkwood, another ne’er-do-well, forced to rusticate on a neighboring estate. Free intimate congress with his beautiful next door neighbor sounds like a twentysomething’s dream, but then reality sets in and things change.
A lifelong faithful employee of the estate faces ending his life in the workhouse when his usefulness comes to an end, merely because he has no family to take him in when he can no longer earn his keep. A servant suggests that there are other ways Martha might obtain a child if she doesn’t bear one, or if her natural child is the wrong gender. Even the difference between sitting in the third and first pew of a church matters. The romance and the history nourish and depend on each other. Take one away, and the other falls.
Whether heads of state or household affairs, history can be an essential part of a fabulous romance, as vivid as any finely crafted fantasy world. What are some of your non-wallpaper historical favorites?
Anna C. Bowling considers writing historical romance the best way to travel through time and make the voices in her head pay rent. She welcomes visitors to her blog, Typing with Wet Nails and to follow her at Twitter.