Popularity as a Romance Setting (Revolutionary Times/Georgian)
Pirates. It’s really the first thought to come to mind when I think of Revolutionary Times. I also think about the tall ships, the highwaymen, and the clothing -- low-cut gowns and powdered wigs. I’ll get to all of that, of course, but in the backdrop there is a Scientific Revolution; the period of Civil War in England (basically a conflict between the king and parliament, 1642-1651), an execution of a king (King Charles I is beheaded on January 31, 1649); a brief, kingless Commonwealth government followed by the Restoration of the Monarchy (1660), plague (The Great Plague of 1665); the Great Fire of London (1666), witch hunts and trials of note such as the Salem Witchcraft Trials of 1692; the Jacobite Rising in Scotland (1745) of the supporters of James II who, almost 60 years after James II’s exile to France, tried to reclaim the British throne; and also the French (1789-1799) and American (1775-1783) Revolutions.
The Stuarts (1603-1714)
James I (1603-1625)
Charles I (1625-1649)
The Commonwealth (1649-1660)
Charles II (1660-1685)
James II (1685-1688)
William& Mary (1689-1702)
The Hanoverians (1714-1910)
George I (1714-1727)
George II (1727-1760)
George III (1760-1820)
George IV (1820-1830) who is Prince Regent from 1811-1820
This is also a time period when France dominates as a major political and cultural leader. The influence of the French would continue in grand style during the reign of Louis XIV (1643-1714), the Sun King, who has the longest of any monarch of a major country in European history. Readers are notably familiar with a French setting from the infamous Three Musketeers, Dumas’ historical adventure novel set in Louis XIII time of 1625-1630ish. This story gave us an appetite for rakish heroes who somehow mix chivalry with comedy. We also become acquainted with the term libertine, which means one devoid of most moral or sexual restraints. The libertine philosophy often followed by the aristocracy and monarchies of England and France would be in stark contrast to prominent religious sects of the time.
In England, following the sober constraints of the Commonwealth years, the Restoration of the monarchy with Charles II in 1660 brought with it a return of flamboyant revelry and previously banned celebrations. The theaters reopened and Puritan restrictions on “pagan” festivals were lifted, reinstating things such as maypoles and mince pies. The Restoration ‘rake’ earned his reputation and so did the king, becoming known as ‘the merry monarch,’ notorious for his mistresses.
By then, many of the Puritans had left England for America. Settling mainly in New England, they would inspire the settings of Hawthorne’s Scarlet Letter and Miller’s The Crucible. The settlement of Salem would also be the location of the very real Salem Witchcraft Trials of 1692.
The late eighteenth century and technically up to 1830, which covers the Regency also, is also known as Georgian, spanning the reigns of the four Hanoverian kings all named George. Romance writers and readers, however, are accustomed to breaking out the Regency as a separate category. Georgian, therefore, is really more grounded in the eighteenth century. For a visual feast of all things Georgian, you might like to visit author Lucinda Brant’s Pinterest Boards.
So before we get to the Regency, we have the iconic heroes of Revolutionary Times who contribute greatly to the appeal of an action-filled historical romance set in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries…like pirates.
Of course, we all know historical romance readers have been fans of the pirate theme long before Jack Sparrow and the Pirates of the Caribbean solidified the genre’s mainstream appeal. There is a lot to be said about the appeal of a pirate, and some of it will be said again when talking about the appeal of the Viking Age setting. They too were considered pirates by some.
The pirate romance offers something a reader might not find elsewhere and that is action. Historical romance writer Marsha Canham, who knows a thing or two about writing an adventure on the high seas, says this on The Allure of the Pirate Romance, a Write Byte at All About Romance:
“The appeal is in the very romance of history itself, the romance of something we can only imagine from the safety of a burglar-proof house with its indoor plumbing, thermal pane windows, and refrigerators that dispense ice in cubes or crushed pieces. It is the notion of stepping, however briefly, through a door in time and being transported to another place not quite so safe, where the air is filled with the acrid scent of smoke and gunpowder, where your ears ring from the firing of a full broadside and your feet slip out from beneath you, when the deck lurches and your toes lose their grip on the mixture of blood and ash on the planking. It’s the taste of the salt spray on your lips and the sting of undiluted rum in your throat. It’s the glimpse you get of the sun setting in a blaze of red across the horizon and the experience you share of climbing into the rigging at night when the sky is such an immense vault of endless space, filled with the magic of so many stars and constellations, it should shame the writer who settles for: it was a dark night and the stars were twinkling overhead. It is the pure, exhilarating adventure of meeting the men and women who survived by performing reckless, dangerous, and yes -- heroic deeds, without a thought toward the morality or the political correctness of their actions. They were thieves and reckless adventurers, and both kinds of men have always fascinated us, especially if they manage to escape unscathed.”
Diana Gabaldon’s enormously successful Outlander series was also set during this adventurous time period around the years of the Jacobite Rising of 1745. (To be accurate she moves about in time quite a bit, as shown in this timeline of the Outlander series.) She describes what she thought to include in this series on her website:
“…owing to the fact that I wrote the first book for practice, didn’t intend to show it to anyone, and therefore saw no reason to limit myself, they include…
history, warfare, medicine, sex, violence, spirituality, honor, betrayal, vengeance, hope and despair, relationships, the building and destruction of families and societies, time travel, moral ambiguity, swords, herbs, horses, gambling (with cards, dice, and lives), voyages of daring, journeys of both body and soul…
…you know, the usual stuff of literature.”
That pretty much explains why this is a popular time period! And not bad for “practice,” don’t you think? Outlander became (by far) the most popular historical romance time-travel novel ever written.
But wait…there’s more! Adding to the popularity of the time period is the romantic period drama Poldark, which is set in the 1780s when Poldark returns to England after fighting in the American Revolutionary War. All I can say is the remarkable Aiden Turner as Poldark is fast overtaking my The Hero Board on Pinterest!