Mar 25 2013 3:30pm

Romance in the Elizabethan Age: Heroines Who Know What They Want

A Woman of Passion by Virginia HenleyDubbed “The Virgin Queen,” Elizabeth I held the English throne on her own from 1558 to 1601. Not to say she didn’t have chances to marry, because she definitely did, but romance readers respect a woman who knows what she wants and won’t settle for less. That’s only one reason why the Elizabethan age is, for many, a favorite setting for historical romance.

Elizabethan heroines such as Bess Hardwick, from Virginia Henley’s A Woman of Passion, or Skye O’Malley from Bertrice Small’s classic of the same name, can go toe to toe with the most powerful woman in the world and come out on top. Elizabeth might have played an international cast of suitors against each other, while strongly discouraging romance for the ladies of her Court, but it’s the historical romance heroine who gets to walk away with everything—including the boy.

Though women wouldn’t be able to legitimately tread the boards for nearly a century, that doesn’t stop Elizabethan heroines from having theatrical aspirations. Karen Hawkins’s Much Ado About Marriage gives us Fia, a playwright determined to present her work to the queen, and Thomas, the supposedly luckiest man in England, who finds things are about to change in a very big way when he mistakes Fia for someone she’s not.

At the Queen's Summons by Susan WiggsIn At the Queen’s Summons by Susan Wiggs, Irish chieftain Aidan O'Donoghue will do anything it takes to make a better future for his people, even travel to the English Court to make his plea. Resilient street performer Pippa may know next to nothing about her past, but she knows enough to seize the moment and claim Aidan as her patron to escape a constable’s clutches.

The Elizabethan age can be called the golden age for not only exploration, but for Court intrigue on an international level. Courtiers, diplomats, courtesans, explorers and spies all vie for advantage and royal favor, making unlikely alliances and very strange bedfellows. Amanda McCabe’s The Winter Queen plays out against one of the Frost Fairs of the Little Ice Age. When innocent Lady Rosamund spies the darkly handsome Anton, a Swedish diplomatic attaché, skating on a frozen pond with breathtaking power and grace, readers know the real dance is only just beginning.

For those who want an extra helping of intrigue with their romance, Terri Brisbin’s The Queen’s Man gives us a modern day textile expert, Sharon, who discovers proof that Henry VIII had a living son by Anne Boleyn. When Sharon steps through a portal to Elizabethan England, readers get one guess as to her hero’s identity.

What’s your favorite part of an Elizabethan romance? Intrigue? Adventure? Fabulous clothes and grand houses? Something else? What one book would you recommend to someone who has never tried an Elizabethan story?


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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1. wsl0612
Actually I don't generally read Elizabethan based novels, mostly because I dislike political intrigue and it's hard to avoid in that era.
Anna Bowling
2. AnnaBowling
@wslo612, I can see where Elizabethan setting might not be the best match for readers who don't care for much intrigue.
Erin Spock
3. Erin Spock
I was drawn to the Elizabethan era because I love historical costuming. I agree that most historical fiction set in the Tudor courts are dark and full of political plotting, but that's the author's choice in what facets of the period to address. Sure, intrigue abounds at court, but the gossip mill is no more foul than the ton at Almack's. Once you get past the courtly facade, there are real people under those layers of velvet that experience real joy and pain. I hope I spotlighted the emotional journey of my hero and heroine and left my readers with a sense of optimism in my Elizabethan historical romance, Courtly Pleasures.
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