Apr 12 2012 2:00pm

Beyond the Wallpaper: Historical Romance with History

You and No Other by Cynthia WrightMy 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.

A Lady Awakened by Cecilia GrantTake, 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.

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Heather Waters
1. HeatherWaters
Like you, I love a good helping of history with my historical romance. Sadly, I haven't read much HR romance these days (not sure why, because I really love it!), but I did read and enjoy a couple of Pamela Clare's a few years back and loved the colonial setting as well. I really liked Kresley Cole's historicals too. And for all their other faults, Kathleen Woodiwiss's books were always very rich in historical detail.

I'm sure there are others and I'm just blanking right now. In short: I'm so with you, Anna!
Linda Morris
2. Linda Morris
One of my favorite historical authors is Isolde Martyn. All of her books are good, but "The Maiden and the Unicorn" is particularly a favorite. It takes place during the War of the Roses. Heroine is the ward of Warwick the Kingmaker and hero is a Machiavellian courtier whose loyalties are suspect. Most of the characters are real historical figures yet it reads like a very well-written historical romance, not dry like historical fiction can sometimes be. This is making me want to read it all over again (and I've read it several times).
Anna Bowling
3. AnnaBowling
@redline_, I love the colonial era and Pamela Clare definitely does a great job at weaving the romance and history together. Ah, happy sigh over Kathleen Woodiwiss' detail. No wonder she's counted as one of the founding mothers of the genre.

There really are others, and I'm always happy to recommend them when I find them. Right now, I'm reading At Your Pleasure by Meredith Duran, and the ramifications of being a Catholic peer in Georgian England? Yeah, not wallpaper, not at all.

@Linda, I've had Isolde Martin in my TBR shelves forever, but I think you've just moved The Maiden and The Unicorn closer to the top shelf.
Linda Morris
4. pamelia
Love "The Bride of the MacHugh" by Jan Cox Speas. It's a great romance set in Scotland during the Jacobean Revolution with tons of intrigue and plotting to go with a very solid (though fade-to-black) romance.
Linda Morris
5. SandyB
What about Mary Wine? Her books are historically correct and very hot reads.
Linda Morris
6. Saga
Love the opportunity to rave about Julia Ross. Her writing is beautiful, and her novels exceptionally layered and rich. Her characters are especially complicated and compelling --- not to mention her sex scenes are wicked. She pulls together the best of romance and history, and her books are the ones I find myself immersed in at 4 am when I don't want to stop reading.
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