A historical romance is generally set prior to 1950, but the time period and locale can vary wildly. The historical has traditionally been the most popular subgenre of romance, with 84 percent of romance afficionados reading in this category.
Most scholars consider Samuel Richardson's Pamelaopens a new window to be the first romance novel, but Jane Austenopens a new window is the true matriarch of the genre with her focus on female protagonists and stories ending with a wedding.The ballrooms of Austen's own Regencyopens a new window period have long been popular in romance novels, but today more and more authors are branching off into new and exciting periods such as the Civil War or New York's Gilded Age.
Lords and Ladies, Usually in London
However, you would not be wrong to associate lords and ladies of the British ton with historical romance.
The first book in Julia Quinn's Bridgerton seriesopens a new window—a collection of eight novels set between 1813 and 1827, each featuring one of the eight children of the late Viscount Bridgerton: Anthony, Benedict, Colin, Daphne, Eloise, Francesca, Gregory, and Hyacinth. Shonda Rhimesopens a new window has optioned the series, and the first season, which will be based on The Duke and I is currently scheduled to appear on Netflix in 2020. By all accounts, Simon Basset is on the verge of proposing to his best friend's sister--the lovely and almost-on-the-shelf--Daphne Bridgerton. But the two of them know the truth--it's all an elaborate ruse to keep Simon free from marriage-minded society mothers.
The first of Sarah MacLean's Rules of Scoundrelsopens a new window books. This series is set not in the ballrooms of London, but in one of its most notorious gambling establishments. The four rogues who run the Fallen Angel are whispered about in ballrooms across Britain—all are aristocrats exiled from society. A decade ago, the Marquess of Bourne was cast from society with nothing but his title. Now a partner in London's most exclusive gaming hell, the cold, ruthless Bourne will do whatever it takes to regain his inheritance-including marrying perfect, proper Lady Penelope Marbury.
Lisa Kleypas writes both historical and contemporary romance, but her Ravenals opens a new windowbooks are set in the late 19th century. That means train travel, and this series deals a lot with medicine of the period. Inheriting not only an earldom, but also an estate riddled with debt and the late earl's three sisters and Kathleen, Lady Trenear, a beautiful young widow, Devon Ravenel engages in a sensual battle of wills with this woman whose sharp wit and determination are a match for his own.
Welcome to the Wild, Wild West
If cowboys and the wild, wild West are of more interest, check out:
Beverly Jenkins opens a new windowis one of the preeminent romance authors and a leader in the move toward more multicultural romances. She writes both historical and contemporary romances, but I particularly love her books set in the West. The first book in the Old West Series opens a new windowfeatures a mail order bride and a curmudgeonly widower. What kind of mail-order bride greets her intended with a bullet instead of a kiss? One like Regan Carmichael--an independent spirit equally at home in denims and dresses. Shooting Dr. Colton Lee in the shoulder is an honest error, but soon Regan wonders if her entire plan to marry a man she's never met is a mistake.
Johanna Lindsay is one of the first ladies of the modern romance novel. Writing since the1980s when Fabio graced the covers of her books, she has written a wide variety of historical romances from the ballrooms of Regency England to swashbuckling pirates in the Caribbean, but her Westerns are some of the best. In 1880s Montana where passions and gold fever runs high, an American heiress turns to a rugged mountain man to help her locate her father’s fortune.
Newcomer Tess LeSue's Frontiers of the Heartopens a new window trilogy set on the Oregon Trail was on just about every must-read list last year. Alexandra Barratt has found the perfect man--it's a shame he thinks she's a boy...Fleeing from the murderous Grady brothers, Alex disguises herself as a boy and joins a frontier party heading West, with her brother and sister in tow. The wagon train is captained by the irresistible Luke Slater, who's never met a woman he couldn't charm. Unfortunately Alex has more pressing concerns...
A Little Something Different
But you truly can have a romance novel for just about any time period that you are interested in. You can even travel in time.
Maya Rodale's Gilded Age Girls' Clubopens a new window books are set in late 19th century New York City—think the heyday of the Vanderbilts. Seeking a wealthy American bride who can save his family’s estate, Brandon Fiennes, the duke of Kingston, is a rogue determined to do the right thing. But his search for an heiress goes deliciously awry when an enchanting seamstress tumbles into his arms instead.
The first novel in Diana Gabaldonopens a new window's epic time-travel series. It's also the inspiration for the Outlanderopens a new window television series. English nurse Claire Beauchamp Randall and husband Frank take a second honeymoon in the Scottish Highlands in 1945. When Claire walks through a cleft stone in an ancient henge, she's somehow transported to 1743.
Alyssa Coleopens a new window is one of my favorite contemporary romance authors, but her Civil War–set romance series, The Loyal League, is on almost every top list. As the Civil War rages between the states, a courageous pair of spies plunge fearlessly into a maelstrom of ignorance, deceit, and danger, combining their unique skills to alter the course of history and break the chains of the past...
Let us know about your favorite historical romance in the comments. Or if you'd like a list of 3-5 books tailored to your interests, Get a Reading Recommendationopens a new window.