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The Historical Romance Genre

What is the Historical Romance Genre?

The historical romance genre is pretty self-explanatory. It focuses on stories that are set during historical times, which have been determined as anything set pre-Viet Nam War – the locations and situations (and even centuries) vary widely from novel to novel. Some historical romance novels only use a historical setting to set the background for the story, but the good ones will fully develop the historical background, often using actual events to help create the storyline.

Since historical romance accounts for nearly a third of all romance novels, there is no doubt that this genre will continue to be a popular one for years to come, although not all historical periods are equal. There are some periods that definitely sell better: pretty much any period in British history is popular: the Regency period, the Edwardian era, the Victorian era, etc. British historical settings are closely followed by setting in the American western frontier era, the colonial era and the Civil War era (pre-, during, and post-). Other historical periods which are commonly featured as settings include WWI and WWII, ancient Egypt and the Roaring Twenties.

In recent years there has been a new sub-genre: the erotic historical, which was created to compete (both financially and erotically) with the more graphic novels that are out today. The erotic historical can be set in any time period, it is just more graphic in term of the sex than the “traditional” historical romance novel.

What to Expect in the Historical Romance Genre

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  • The historical setting has an impact on the characters (war, frontier, Reformation, etc)

  • Often features independent, if naïve, heroines

  • Often features caring and compassionate heroes who find themselves placed in the role of rescuer

  • Knights, warriors, pirates and cowboys are the most popular form of these heroes; oh and Dukes…lots and lots of Dukes…

Historical Romance Characteristics

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  • Level of Angst

    On a scale of 1-10, the level of angst in this genre is usually in the mid-range. These novels take advantage of their historical setting, and there is usually some historical event which is involved in getting the hero and heroine together. That said, there is a tendency toward less sex in these novels, so most of them don’t create a lot of angst between the characters, especially since the writers tend to focus a lot of attention on the development of the historical time period.

  • Character Development

    Although this genre tends to focus on historical settings, the characters still have to be likable. They are going to play a role in the historical setting of which they are a part, so they also need to have realistic experiences. Most historical romance novelists have done their homework about the time period, but creating realistic characters who dwell in that time period can sometimes be a challenge.

  • Plot Strength

    This genre is obviously set in the past, so the writers for this genre tend to do a lot of research when writing their novels. The historical details are often pretty accurate, and incorporating these elements does demand an attention to detail or they could potentially undermine their story if the audience knows something is untrue/not historically accurate.

  • Romantic Tension

    One of the interesting appeals of the historical romance genre is the restrictions on opportunities for sex – these novels tend to limit the opportunities for the hero and heroine to get together even if they really really really want to. This definitely adds to the amount of tension which is created.

  • Level of Eros

    Traditionally most historical romance novels have only one or two sex scenes, but the market is changing, and so is this genre. The challenge is to find ways to make the book sexy without the main characters having sex every few pages, and in this era of instant gratification that can be a challenge.

  • Prose Quality

    It can be a challenge to balance historical accuracy with modern sensibility – so writers need to do their research, but they also need to present stories that people want to read. For example, women had a lot less influence in the Middle Ages so it isn’t a very popular era to write about, but there was also a lot going on culturally, so the novels that do focus on this time period need to emphasize the positive. Additionally, as mentioned above, the slower pace of relationships can lead to some impatience by the reader who now has access to much more erotic/graphic and quicker moving sex in other romance genres.

Related Romance Subgenres

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  • Because the genre is only limited by time period, it easily “shares” characteristics with numerous other genres such as time travel, Regency, Western and Gothic.

Historical Romance isn't for you if

You like more contemporary stories, expect a lot of sex scenes, and like the hero and heroine to be “equal”.

Historical Romance is totally for you if

You like throwback heroes, historical contexts, and heroes who take charge.

Popular Historical Romance Books
  • 1 The Flame and the Flower (1972)


    By Kathleen Woodiwiss . Is set around 1900 and was the first historical romance to portray any bedroom scenes. It tells the story of a young woman who flees servitude, finds herself in a threatening situation and ends up in the arms of a seaman who may turn out to be even more dangerous than what she was trying to escape.

  • 2 Counted with the Stars (2016)


    By Connilyn Cossette. Is set in Egypt in biblical times. It tells the story of a young woman who is sold into slavery by her father and is set to marry a man who takes pleasure in humiliating her. She decides to flee during the Exodus, and finds herself needing to make a decision about being with the ultimate protector, God, or exploring a new love with a man she is only starting to know.

  • 3 Charity’s Cross (2016)


    By MaryLu Tyndall. Is set in colonial times. It tells the story of a British woman who is suspected of killing her husband and flees on a ship heading to America. When she sees her brother in law, and he sees her, she jumps ship off the coast of Nassau, only to be rescued by a pirate-turned- preacher who now needs to pretend to be her husband so they can both survive.

  • 4 Lord of Scoundrels (2007)


    By Loretta Chase. Is set in the period leading up to the Victorian era, where appearance is everything. The story focuses on a woman trying to rescue her brother from a bad influence, only to get caught in a very public, very embarrassing situation. Rushed into a marriage to save face, her new husband - a wealthy and powerful man - is determined to punish her for her actions, but he quickly finds that he might not be able to resist her.

  • 5 The Duke of Dark Desires (2014)


    By Miranda Neville. Is set in 1802, but traces back to the French Revolution with three novels which precede this one (not required reading to read this one).  It tells the story of a Duke who is looking for a governess for his young half-sisters. He is attracted to her, but she seems totally unavailable and, worse, uninterested. She has her own agenda, believing that someone in the Duke’s family is a murderer, maybe even the Duke himself, and she is bent on seeking revenge. But passion will not be denied for long, along with her concerns about what might happen if he actually is the murderer.

  • 6 The Black Lyon (1996)


    By Jude Deveraux. Is set in Edwardian times. It tells the story of a fearless and fearsome English nobleman who happens upon a young girl who is just as determined as he is. He has lost everything once before, and has no interest in falling in love again. However, they embark on a whirlwind romance and despite some miscommunication, they come to find an appreciation for one another, which soon becomes more.

  • 7 Night Hawk (2011)


    By Beverly Jenkins. Is set in the American West in 1884. This is the story of a bounty hunter and a woman he rescues from a mob. His wife was murdered and the last thing he wants is to fall in love again. She was orphaned at 12 and learned long ago to depend on no one but herself. They both start to develop feelings for one another, and the longer they fight it, the harder they will fall.

  • 8 Thunder and Roses (1993)


    By Mary Jo Putney. Is set in 1814 in a small Welsh village. It is the story of a woman forced to live with the “Demon Earl” in order to save her village from devastation.

  • 9 Granny Dan (2009)


    By Danielle Steel. Is set in the present but then quickly goes back in the past to 1902. After her grandmother dies, all that is left is a box which contains old satin toe shoes, a gold locket and a stack of letters to sort through. As her granddaughter starts to explore the contents of the box, we encounter a young girl who arrives at a ballet school in Russia at the age of 7. By the time she is 17 she will have the world at her feet. When the Russian Revolution rocks her world to the core, she will need to make a heartbreaking choice.

  • 10 To Love and to Cherish (2013)


    By Patricia Gaffney. Is set during the Victorian era in a small English village. It is about a handsome local vicar and an unhappily married woman who used to be his closest friend. But times have changed and they have each moved on…or have they? In order to explore feelings abandoned long ago, they run the risk of ruin. Are they willing to take the chance?