Dec 18 2014 1:30pm

Alive and Well: Living, Happy Parental Pairs in Historical Romance from Beverley, Chase, and More!

Devil's Club by Georgette HeyerEven in historical romance fiction, with its near mandatory promise of happily ever after for the hero and heroine and the new family they create, families that are not split by death, divorce, or abandonment are the exception when it comes to the backgrounds of the novel’s lead characters.

The dead or absent parent, the domineering mother, and the indifferent, controlling, or outright abusive father—all are staples in historical romance, and far more common than parents who are more or less happy together and pleased to be caring, responsible parents. Among Georgette Heyer’s most popular romance titles, for example, only Devil’s Cub and Arabella include two living parents, and only the latter offers detailed domestic scenes that reveal a close and loving, albeit imperfect, family.

Few romance authors choose to follow the example Heyer set in Arabella. One of the few who does so is Loretta Chase who opens her Carsington series with a prologue to Miss Wonderful (2004) that features the Earl of Hargate and his countess, an unusual aristocratic couple who share a bedroom, a bed, and conversation about their sons. Although the focus of their concern in this particular scene is Alistair, their third-born son and hero of the novel, the context suggests that such conversations are the norm for these characters. Indeed, Lady Hargate alludes to another conversation about Alistair that, like the current one, indicates that the Hargates understand their sons and care about their happiness, an impression that is confirmed in Mr. Impossible (2005), Lord Perfect (2006), and Not Quite a Lady (2007).

In Not Quite a Lady, the dowager Lady Hargate assures Darius that his grandfather was a man who knew how to make his wife happy and cautions the youngest Carsington son to emulate his grandfather. Four generations of Hargates attend the nuptials of Darius and Lady Charlotte Hayward, only daughter of the Marquess of Lithby, to affirm their approval of Darius’s choice of a bride whose scandalous secret has been revealed to the jeopardy of her reputation. Charlotte’s father and step-mother are also devoted to one another, to Charlotte, and to their four young sons, and their loyalty and love also survives the scandal.

The Everseas and Redmonds of Julie Anne Long’s Pennyroyal Green series may not always qualify as happy families by conventional standards, but there is no question about the characters’ devotion to their respective families. In The Perils of Pleasure, the first book in the series, readers learn that the two families whose histories predate William the Conqueror, like the two ancient oak trees in the village square, have roots that have “grown so twisted together that they now battle each other for space and depend on each other to remain upright” with secrets and grudges that bind them together.

Just how twisted the two family trees are becomes clearer in that first book with the revelation of secrets concerning the book’s hero, Colin Eversea. Colin concludes that, strange as it may seem, the disclosure of some of these secrets “immeasurably” improves the relationship of Fanchette and Isaiah Redmond. Observing his own parents, Colin’s faith in their marriage is affirmed: “But one thing he did know: whatever had happened between his parents, they loved each other still. He saw it in the way they moved and spoke to each other in the rhythms of their life.” Readers’ hunger to know more about the secrets of the Eversea and Redmond parents is second only to that for a happy resolution to the story of Olivia Eversea and Lyon Redmond. Perhaps the eleventh book in the series, The Legend of Lyon Redmond (October 2015) will satisfy both.

The Heir by Grace BurrowesThe fullest picture of happily married parents of the hero or heroine may be found in Grace Burrowes’s Windham series. In The Heir, the first book in the series, Gayle Windham, Earl of Westhaven, describes his interfering father as a “devious, determined, unscrupulous old rogue,” but it is clear from the first chapter that Westhaven loves his father, despite chafing under the duke’s relentless manipulations. Westhaven recognizes in his housekeeper, Anna Seaton, the same “indomitable quality” that characterizes his mother. It is Anna who tells him that he has avoided marriage because he wants the kind of marriage his parents have, a marriage in which husband and wife “love each other as friends and lovers and partners and parents.” Readers, catching additional glimpses of this love between the Duke and Duchess of Moreland in The Heir and in The Soldier, The Virtuoso, and Lady Sophia’s Christmas Wish, all published in 2011, begged for more about the couple. In 2012, the first novella featuring the couple was published.

The Courtship covers the meeting of Colonel Lord Percival Windham, second son of the Duke of Moreland, and Esther Himmelfarb, an earl’s granddaughter but without title or dowry, at a country house party where they fall in love. The novella ends with their betrothal, which eventually has the approval of Percy’s parents, who are present at the house party. A second novella, The Duke and the Duchess (2013), takes place five years into the marriage of Percy and Esther. The two are the parents of four sons, and they are facing a rough patch in their marriage as Esther deals with postpartum depression and Percy worries about his wife as well as his father, who is showing signs of dementia, and his older brother, who is in failing health. The novellas add dimension to the duke and duchess and their relationship to one another and to their children in the eight novels in the series.

The Montroses in Miranda Neville’s Burgundy Club series are another of my favorite parental pairs. Introduced in The Dangerous Viscount, the second book in the series, Mr. and Mrs. Montrose are delightful eccentrics. He, “a very caricature of the jolly country squire” in looks, is wholly immersed in his inventions. She, a former beauty who retains her looks despite the effects of too much sun, is such a superb horsewoman that she serves as “Master of the Manville Hunt.” Her other interest is breeding foxhounds. As their younger daughter Minerva observes, the two “had completely different interests and got along perfectly well.”

Their eccentricity extends to their parenting: their six children have been “brought up to judge appearance of little importance. Intelligence, education, and character were what mattered in a man. And in a woman.” Their children are encouraged to develop their own interests without respect to expectations. Thus, Will, the eldest son, is hunting specimens in the Amazon jungle while Stephen, the youngest of four boys, anticipates being in charge of the estate because he is the one interested in the land and his father doesn’t believe in primogeniture. Diana Fanshawe, the widowed, older Montrose daughter in pursuit of a marquis, is embarrassed by her unusual parents, although she loves them, but Sebastian Iverley, the unlikely hero of The Dangerous Viscount (2010), finds them appealing and their unconventional home a “haven of rationality.”

When the heroine of The Amorous Education of Celia Seaton (2011) seeks sanctuary with the Montroses, she is hospitably received even though she arrives at an inconvenient time: “Celia loved the Montrose family. Every member seemed utterly unaffected, speaking fearlessly without thought of criticism or judgment, and accepted her in the same spirit. She had never, since leaving her father’s household, felt so much at home.” Minerva Montrose, heroine of Confessions from an Arranged Marriage (2012) is surprised by the coldness with which her fiancé’s parents treat him; she contrasts this treatment with her parents’ “enormous affection and pride” in their children. Later, Minerva understands that her concept of marriage has been formed by the “respect and affection her parents shared.”

Cecilia GA Woman Entangled by Cecilia Grantrant’s Westbrooks appear in only one book of her Blackshear Family series (A Woman Entangled), but the elder Westbrooks are an interesting and unusual pair and still an undeniably happy couple after twenty-three years of marriage. Charles Westbrook, younger son of an earl, has been estranged from his family since his marriage to an actress. Mrs. Westbrook’s talent, intelligence, and high moral standards were irrelevant to her husband’s family; her profession made the alliance so intolerable that no one in the family has had any contact with Charles since his marriage. But Mr. Westbrook, a barrister, has adapted, finding happiness in his marriage and in his profession.

Even Kate, their eldest daughter whose goal for much of the book is to make a “good marriage,” one that will restore her family to the social status her father’s rank entitles them, recognizes that her parents’ marriage is a happy one. She demonstrates her understanding of the difference in “good and “happy” marriages in a conversation with Nick Blackshear, a protégé of her father:

Kate: “I’ve pinned all my hopes on making a good marriage.”

Nick: “You have stringent ideas of what constitutes a good marriage. Myself I know of no better union than the one to which you owe your existence.”

Kate: “My parents have a happy marriage. That’s not the same.”

Near the end of the story when his brother has made some overtures, Charles Westbrook insists that he will participate in a reconciliation only if it includes his wife and “some acknowledgement of how she was wronged.” She responds that what matters is his happiness and reconciliation with his brother may contribute to that happiness. Every revelation supports the idea of a couple who is indeed living their happily ever after, one that includes their five children.

Other favorite living and happily married parental pairs include the St. Brides in Jo Beverley’s A Rogue’s Return (2006), the Westons in Caroline Linden’s Scandalous series, and several pairs in Mary Balogh’s novels, including the Masons in A Matter of Class (2009). (The Earl of Havercroft and his countess from the same book might be included with some qualification as to their level of happiness.) Of course, all the second generation tales I discussed in an earlier post also feature surviving, happy parents. Maybe they are not as rare as I thought.

Who are your favorite living happy couples in historical romance? 


Learn more about the books mentioned in this post:

Devil's Club by Georgette Heyer  
Arabella by Georgette Heyer  
Miss Wonderful by Loretta Chase  
Lord Perfect by Loretta Chase  
Not Quite a Ladyby Loretta Chase  
The Perils of Pleasure by Julie Ann Long  
The Heir by Grace Burrowes  
The Soldier by Grace Burrowes  
The Virtuoso by Grace Burrowes  
Lady Sophia's Christmas Wish by Grace Burrowes  
The Courtship by Grace Burrowes  
The Duke and the Duchess by Grace Burrowes  
The Dangerous Viscount by Miranda Neville  
The Amorous Education of Celia Seaton by Miranda Neville  
Confessions from an Arranged Marriage by Miranda Neville  
A Woman Entangled by Cecilia Grant  
A Rogue's Return by Jo Beverley  
A Matter of Class by Mary Balogh  





Janga spent decades teaching literature and writing to groups ranging from twelve-year-olds to college students. She is currently a freelance writer, who sometimes writes about romance fiction, and an aspiring writer of contemporary romance, who sometimes thinks of writing an American historical romance. She can be found at her blog Just Janga and tweeting obscure bits about writers as @Janga724.

Subscribe to this conversation (must be logged in):
1 comment
1. LadyWesley
Thanks for a most interesting discussion. You've hit on some of my favorites. Grace Burrowes has no equal in creating interesting families. After reading about the Duke of Windham in the sons' books, I loved seeing him as a young man courting his future wife in The Courtship. And the second novella, The Duke and His Duchess, presents a very moving story of how this young couple came to embrace the duke's by-blows as members of their expanding family. I also adored the Westbrook family in Cecilia Grant's A Woman Entangled. It is not often that we read about a disowned aristocratic son who goes on to live a happy and successful life on his own.
Post a comment