An Overview of the Historical Romance Genre

The historical romance genre was popularized in the 19th century by the Scottish novelist, Walter Scott. The focus of this literary genre is on romantic relationships that have a setting in the historical periods. You’ll rarely find novels belonging to this genre in hardcover. About 15 books or lesser get the status of a historical romance every year.

Historical romance forms the broad category of mass-market fiction. As the novels of this genre are mainly for the mass market, their chances of success depend on the prevailing trends. Large merchandisers and booksellers don’t sell many paperbacks, which adversely affects this genre at times.

More than 770 historical romance genre novels came out in the beginning of the 21st century. Within about four years, the number had dropped below 490. However, it still accounted for almost 20% of all the published romance novels.

History of the historical romance genre

Georgette Heyer’s The Black Moth came out in 1921. This novel was one of the first historical romances to achieve great popularity. The story of this novel had its setting in the mid-18th century. About 15 years later, she came up with the first of her signature Regency novels. Its setting was in the period between 1811 and 1820. This was the time when England was under the rule of Prince Regent.

Jane Austen’s works were the inspiration behind the Regency novels of Georgette Heyer. They were from the late 18th and early 19th centuries. The stories of Heyer’s Regency novels were set amid the events that had occurred more than 100 years ago. To help her readers understand the context, she included all the authentic details of the period.

Wherever the author made a reference to the historical events, it gave readers a background detail of the period. It was not of great importance in the narrative. It was in the United States that the modern romance genre was born. This happened in the early 1970s. Kathleen E Woodiwiss’s novel The Flame and the Flower was published by Avon Publications.

Other than the content, this book was quite revolutionary. It was among the first single-title romance novels to come out in the form of an original paperback. The novel went on to sell more than 2.30 million copies. Two years later, Avon published the second novel of Woodiwiss titled The Wolf and the Dove.

Types of Historical Romance Genre


This type of historical romance novels feature Vikings set during the period of Dark Ages or Middle Ages. The protagonists in Viking romances are the typical alpha males under the influence of their better halves. Most of the Viking romance heroes are tall, blonde, and handsome. The use of Viking culture in these novels allow the authors to include some exciting elements like travel, adventures, and conquest.

More than 200 readers of Viking romances took part in a poll conducted in 1997. In this poll, Fires of Winter by Johanna Lindsey emerged as the best from the sub-genre. Sadly, the readers have not seen many Viking romance novels after the 1990s. It seems that this sub-genre has fallen out of style.


Typically set during the times between 938 and 1485, this sub-genre feature women as the weaker sex. These were the times when they were living according to their father’s wishes. Such women often had to use their wits and will power to find the ‘ideal husband’.

He was the one who would accept the woman’s need to be independent, while protecting her from the dangers. The hero of the novels belonging to this genre was usually a knight. He first learned to respect his lady and her unusual ideas and then fell in love with her.

Such heroes were always strong and dominant. The heroines were in a subordinate position despite making all the gains. She usually made that choice for the sake of protection that she got from her beloved. The main purpose of the heroes in these novels was to fulfill the heroine’s wishes.


The novels in this sub-genre usually have their setting in the frontier areas of the United States, Australia, or Canada. In Western romance novels, the focus is more on the experiences of the heroine. The heroes in these novels seek adventures and conquest of the unknown. These men are slightly uncivilized and lonely souls. Owing to certain events beyond their control, the heroines have to travel to the frontier.

Their challenge is to survive in a world dominated by men. By the end of these novels, they usually conquer their fears with love. Mostly, the couple face personal dangers. Amid their troubles, they forge a strong relationship for their future.


Novels in this sub-genre have their setting in the England of the 19th century. The Victorian period in these novels usually begins with the Reform Act of 1832. This period is also characterized by the rule of Queen Victoria. Some of the stories set during this period feature a fictional country. One example of this would be the novels that Beatrice Heron-Maxwell wrote.


Pirate novels usually feature the protagonist as a ‘bad boy’ who dominates everyone for freedom and wealth. The protagonist or the main character can be a male or a female. The heroes in these novels usually capture the heroine early on in the story.

She is then forced to succumb to his wishes and eventually falls in love with him. Rarely, in some of the novels in this sub-genre, the heroine is the pirate. In such stories, she struggles to maintain her freedom. Much of the action in these novels happens on the waters.

Native American

In a way, these novels can also be placed in the Western sub-genre. The differentiating factor is that this sub-genre always has a protagonist who is a Native American. His heritage forms the integral part of the story. These novels mainly focus on freedom, instinct, creativity, and the longing to escape from social ills. In these books, the members of the Native American tribes are depicted as exotic people.

They possess the kind of freedom that one admires and envies at the same time. Generally, the protagonist’s struggle in these novels is against racism and the resulting hardships. In most of these stories, the hero or heroine gets captured. He or she then falls in love with a member of the Native American tribe.

An Overview of the Historical Romance Genre

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