Boston in the late 1880s

When I read – and write – books, I love historical trivia. For me, it makes the story richer.

So, since my first “Love at Sea” book, The Earl’s Engagement, starts in Boston, Massachusetts, I wanted to make sure my city details were accurate. (Growing up in the Boston area, I was familiar with the modern streets of Boston… but not so sure what they were like, or even named, in earlier times.)

The first surprise was how little downtown Boston has changed in over a century. Here’s a map from 1885.

Boston Massachusetts 1885

So, when my hero and heroine were in Boston, most of the street names were the same as they are now. That made it easier for me to understand what kinds of businesses were in Boston… and where.

In my research, I learned that Filene’s department store opened in 1881 at 10 Winter Street in Boston.

And, by 1883, a sort-of circus (described as “sideshow freaks”) opened at 585 Washington Street. It was called Keith & Batchelder’s Dime Museum.

On the second floor, over their museum, the men created a vaudeville theatre. It opened daily at 10 AM and usually presented eight shows per day.

That theatre was run by Edward F. Albee II, whose grandson was noted playwright Edward Albee, famous for plays such as Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and The Sandbox.

Then, when I researched pawnbrokers, I learned that the word was in use in that era, but some pawn shops were part of “collateral loan” institutions. (See the ad in the upper right corner of the following illustration.)

Collateral loans pawnshops

All of this makes writing historical fiction fascinating, and I hope my readers enjoy this kind of trivia – and accuracy – as much as I do.

Love at Sea – Book 1, in progress

I posted this when I was working on my first “Love at Sea” romance…

I’m working on The Earl’s Engagement, the first book in my “Love at Sea” series.

Here’s how I’d describe it, for now:

A ship, a dilemma, and a dangerously attractive faux fiance

The Earl's EngagementLady Anne Travers’ family fortune has been lost to a bad investment. Ruin seems inevitable. So, she needs to win back wealthy Lord Owen Phipps, the cheating fiance she recently spurned.

When she hires handsome actor Michael Edgerton to play her faux fiance and make Owen jealous, sparks fly and nothing goes as planned.

As Anne, Michael, Owen, and Owen’s new fiancee sail back to England on the S.S. Oceanic, almost anything can happen… and it does.

Can Anne prevent financial disaster without compromising her own future happiness?

This is a short, sweet, Victorian romance set aboard a luxurious ocean liner.

You’ll find this book at Amazon, and it’s free to read in Kindle Unlimited.

Click here to read this book in Kindle


Peers v. Landed Gentry

Some authors aren’t familiar with the difference between “the Gentry” and actual Peers of the Realm.  Avoid confusing them; finicky readers will notice.

Here’s how Wikipedia explains it:

Darcy turns up his nose at Eliza BennetLanded gentry is a largely historical British social class consisting of land owners who could live entirely from rental income. It was distinct from, and socially “below”, the aristocracy or peerage, although in fact some of the landed gentry were as wealthy as some peers.

They often worked as administrators of their own lands, while others became public, political and armed forces figures. The decline of this privileged class largely stemmed from the 1870s agricultural depression.

The designation “landed gentry” originally referred exclusively to members of the upper class who were landlords and also commoners in the British sense, that is, they did not hold peerages, but usage became more fluid over time.

Similar or analogous social systems of landed gentry also sprang up in countries that maintained a colonial system; the term is employed in many British colonies such as the Colony of Virginia and some parts of India.

By the late 19th century, the term was also applied to peers such as the Duke of Westminster who lived on landed estates.

The book series Burke’s Landed Gentry recorded the members of this class. Successful burghers often used their accumulated wealth to buy country estates, with the aim of establishing themselves as landed gentry.

(The bold type is my emphasis.)

In Regency and Victorian England – and even today, in some social circles – peers may be held in far higher esteem. “Landed gentry” might be considered nouveau riche.  It varies with the context of your story.

Also, remember that snobbish attitudes are more likely observed among the “top of the trees” upper class and among servants and lower classes. (However, that’s a stereotype and not an absolute rule when creating your characters.)

Between those extremes, attitudes varied by background and personal priorities, even within a household. For example, in Pride & Prejudice, Mrs. Bennet was very vocal about income and holdings; Mr. Bennet seemed cheerful about accepting people based on their finer qualities.

Regency Romances – Why Now?

Why are Regency romances gaining in popularity? There may be many answers.

Regency romances seem to trend every 30 or so years. In the past, they peaked in the mid-1950s and mid-1980s. We’re due for another surge.

Regency Romances - Why Now?In general, historical romances have gained recent interest thanks to the popularity of shows such as Downton Abbey.

And, as Chip MacGregor reminded us, “In a lousy economy, people want a book that’s an escape to a simpler time, so historicals were doing well.”

Currently, whether we look at some areas of the economy, or the political scene, or even recent weather patterns, we see reasons people may want to escape to a happier time.

Most Regency romances are set in a world where economic woes may be resolved by an advantageous marriage… always for love, of course.

Social rules in Regency romances tend to emphasize politeness to an extreme.

Will the current trend last? As a surge of interest, probably not. One need only skim the 2008 Popular Fiction Report to see how quickly popularity can shift.

However, a casual survey of popular romance subgenres will show a steady, loyal readership for Regency romances.

I doubt that it will ever dip as low as 1000 True Fans, but the audience is there.


Regency Titles and Inheritance

If you’re writing regency romance, you absolutely must get titles right. Not just what his or her title is, but how the person is addressed. Regency historians and purists will dismiss your book – sometimes viciously – if you get this wrong.

Among my favorite articles on this topic are:

Common Regency Errors, by Allison Lane (That’s a Wayback Machine link. I recommend copying the information for your personal use, in case that page ever disappears.)

Ms. Lane’s information has been summarized very nicely at A Primer on Regency Peerage and Precedence, by Kristen Koster.

This is a good “cheat sheet” when you need the right title in a hurry: Regency Manor – Terms of Address.

I also like Addressing the Duke and Getting His Loot, a guide to English titles, forms of address and inheritance laws during the Regency period, Presented by Emily Hendrickson and Al Lansdowne at the Beau Monde Conference “A Regency Mill” July 28, 1999.

However, one of my favorite articles on the topic is by the late Jo Beverley. And, since I’m not sure what will happen with her website – and she did give permission to copy this article – here it is:


by Jo Beverley
Member of the RWA Hall of Fame for Regency Romance.
“Arguably today’s most skilful writer of intelligent historical romance.” Publishers Weekly

This brief run-down of English titles is for use by fiction writers. It is by no means comprehensive, but covers the more common situations arising in novels set in the above periods.

At the end I address the question of choosing fictional titles.

The English peerage basically runs according to primogeniture, ie the eldest son gets nearly everything. If a peer has no eldest son, the title and possessions that belong to it go to the next male heir, probably a brother or nephew.

There are a very few titles that can pass to a female if there is no direct heir, but they will revert to the male line when the lady bears a son. (Such as the monarchy.) Some titles can automatically pass through a female heir (when there is no male heir) and most can be revived by subsequent generations by petitioning to the Crown. But that’s getting into more complicated areas. If your plot depends on something unusual, please do research it thoroughly before going ahead.

The eldest son is called the heir apparent, since he is clearly the heir. If there is no such son, the next in line is called the heir presumptive since, no matter how unlikely (the duke is actually an ancient Benedictine Monk on his death bed) the possibility of a closer heir being created is still there. Thus an heir presumptive does not hold an heir’s title, if any. (See below about heir’s titles.)

If a peer dies leaving a wife but no son, the heir inherits unless the widow says she might be with child. It is for her to do that. If she stays silent, it is assumed that she is not. If she’s pregnant, everything waits until the child is born.

An heir must be legitimate at birth to inherit a title, though that could mean a marriage ceremony performed while the mother is in labor. A peer may raise bastards with devotion and/or marry the mother later, but a bastard child can never be his legal heir.

Peers automatically had seats in the House of Lords. Note, however, that courtesy titles (those held by heirs) do not give seats, or any of the other privileges of the peerage.

Most peers do not use their surnames as their title. Thus, the usual pattern would be something like Sebastian Burgoyne, Earl of Malzard. He is Lord Malzard never Lord Burgoyne. (Or, for that matter, Lord Sebastian.) As an author, you might like variety, but take as a general rule is that no one ever had two forms of address.


 A) Leaving aside royalty, the highest rank is DUKE.

His wife is the DUCHESS. They will be duke and duchess of something, eg. Duke and Duchess of Ithorne. Address is “your grace”, though familiars may address them as Duke and Duchess eg “Fine weather for shooting, eh, Duke?” or may address the duke by title. “Care for more port, Ithorne?”

NOTE that the duke will also have a family name, ie. surname (such as Cavendish) but will not use it in the normal course of events. The duchess does not use the surname at all. If Anne Pitt marries the Duke of Stone (whose family name is Cherry), she will be Duchess of Stone and will informally sign herself Anne Stone, not Anne Cherry.

The duke’s eldest son is his heir and will have his father’s second-best title as his courtesy title. Nearly all peers have a number of titles marking their climb up the ranks. The heir to a duke is often the next lowest ranking peer, a marquess (or marquis — spelling is optional, but both are pronounced markwess.) The title could, however, be an earldom, or even a viscountcy.

Remember, a courtesy title does not give the holder a seat in the House of Lords or other privileges of the peerage.

If the heir has a son before the heir becomes duke, that son will take the next lowest title as a courtesy title. If the heir dies before his father, his eldest son becomes the heir apparent and takes his father’s title.

Apart from the heir, a duke’s sons are given the courtesy title Lord with their Christian name, eg. Lord Richard Somerset. Lord Peter Wimsey. They are never Lord Somerset or Lord Wimsey.

All duke’s daughters are given the courtesy title Lady, first name, surname eg. Lady Mary Clarendon. (Never Lady Clarendon.) If they marry a commoner, they retain the title. If Lady Mary marries Mr. Sticklethwait, she becomes Lady Mary Sticklethwait. If she marries a peer, she adopts his title. If Lady Mary marries the Earl of Herrick, she becomes Countess of Herrick, ie. Lady Herrick. If she marries the holder of a courtesy title, then she may use his title or her birth title as she wishes.

I’m hammering this home, but it’s the most common error in novels. In all cases, the titles Lord or Lady “first name” “surname” (eg Lady Anne Middleton) and Lord or Lady “last name” or “title” (Lady Middleton) are exclusive. No one can be both at the same time. Moreover, Lord or Lady “first name” is a title conferred at birth. It cannot be gained later in life except when the father accedes to a title and thus raises his family.

So, Lady Mary Smith is not Lady Smith and vice versa.
Lord John Brown in not Lord Brown and vice versa.
If Mary Smith marries Lord Brown she becomes Lady Brown, not Lady Mary.
(If she marries Lord John Brown, she becomes Lady John Brown. Yes, it may sound odd to modern ears, but the past is, as they say, a different country. That’s the charm of historical fiction.)

B) Next in rank is a MARQUESS (As above, it can be spelled marquis or marquess, but in either case is pronounced markwess.)

He will be Marquess of something, eg Marquess of Rothgar. His wife is the MARCHIONESS. (Pronounced “marshuness”.) He is the Marquess of Rothgar, or Lord Rothgar, or Rothgar to his familiars, and his wife is the Marchioness of Rothgar or Lady Rothgar. She will sign herself “firstname” “title” eg. Diana Rothgar.

His heir apparent takes his next highest title as a courtesy title. All other sons have the title Lord “firstname” “surname”. All daughters have the title Lady “firstname” “surname”. Details are as for duke.

C) Below marquess is EARL.

He will nearly always be earl of something. His wife is the COUNTESS. He is referred to as “the Earl of Saxonhurst” or “Lord Saxonhurst”, or “Saxonhurst” to his familiars. Some earls do not use “of” as with Earl Spencer, b and in that case the family surname will be the same as the title — in this case, Spencer — but this is sufficiently unusual that I think it should be avoided in fiction unless it’s a crucial plot point.

His wife is the Countess of Saxonhurst, or Lady Saxonhurst, and she will sign herself Minerva (or Meg — viz Forbidden Magic — Saxonhurst.

As with a duke, the earl’s heir will take the next lowest title as a courtesy title, and the heir’s son, the next again.

All daughters of an earl are given the courtesy title Lady “firstname”; — see dukes. All details are the same. Younger sons of an earl, however, are merely “the honorable” which is not used in casual speech.

D) Next is a VISCOUNT (pronounced vycount.)

His wife is a VISCOUNTESS. He is not “of”. He will be, for example, Viscount Middlethorpe, usually known as Lord Middlethorpe, or just Middlethorpe. His wife will be known as Lady Middlethorpe and will sign herself Serena Middlethorpe.

His heir has no special title. All children are known as the honorable.

E) The lowest rank in the peerage is BARON.

His wife is a BARONESS. NOTE that the terms baron and baroness are only used in England in the most formal documents, or when the distinction has to be made elsewhere. General usage is simply to call them Lord and Lady. She will sign herself “firstname” “title”. Children as for viscount.

F) Next in rank — and not of the peerage — is BARONET.

A baronet is called Sir, first name, surname. eg. Sir Richard Wellesley. His wife is called Lady “surname”; eg. Lady Wellesley. NOT Lady Mary Wellesley unless she is the daughter of a duke, marquess, or earl. She will sign herself “firstname” “surname” such as Mary Wellesley.

His children have no special distinction. The title, however, is inheritable which distinguishes it from….

G) A KNIGHT who is the same as a baronet in usage, but is a title for life only. His wife will be Lady “surname.”



When a titled lady is widowed she becomes a dowager, but the practice has generally been not to use that title until the heir takes a wife, when there could be confusion as to who is the real Lady Middlethorpe. (As happens in my novel, Forbidden.)

Even if she has a daughter-in-law, in general usage she would still be referred to by the simple title unless there was likely to be confusion. So, if the Dowager Duchess of Teale was at a house party while her daughter-in-law was in London, people would not be constantly referring to her as the dowager duchess.


There are a few, very few, titles that can pass to a daughter if there is no son — the Royal Family, for example. In this case, the usage is the same as if they were the wife of a peer of that rank, but their husband gains no title from the marriage, just as the Duke of Edinburgh is not king.

A Peeress in her Own Right retains her title after marriage, and if her husband’s rank is the superior one, she is designated by the two titles jointly, the inferior one last. Or she can say what form she wants to use. (eg The marchioness of Rothgar is also the Countess of Arradale by right. She chooses to be Lady Rothgar and Arradale in the most formal situations, Lady Rothgar in general, but Lady Arradale in private, especially when attending to her duties as Countess of Arradale. Unusual situations do tend to get complicated.) Her hereditary claim to her title holds good in spite of any marriage, and will be passed on.

Since the husband gains no title from such a marriage, it’s possible to have the Countess of Arbuthnot married to Mr. Smith.

Her eldest son will be her heir and take her next lowest title. If she has no son, her eldest daughter will be her heir, but until she becomes the peer she will hold only the title that comes from her birth — eg. Lady Anne — if any, because an eldest daughter is always an heir presumptive. There might still be a boy.


  1. Interchanging courtesy titles like Lady Mary Smith and Lady Smith.
  2. Interchanging peerage titles, as when Michael Downs, Earl of Rosebury is variously known as Lord Rosebury, Lord Downs, and Lord Michael Downs.
  3. Applying titles that don’t belong, as when Jane Potts marries Viscount Twistleton and erroneously becomes Lady Jane, a title form that can only come by birth.
  4. Having the widow of just about anyone, but especially a peer, remarry before time has elapsed to be sure she is not bearing a child. Or rather, whose child it is that she bears!
  5. Having the heir presumptive assume the title and powers before the widow has made it clear that she’s not going to produce an heir.
  6. Having an adopted son inherit a title. Legal adoption was not possible in England until the twentieth century, and even now an adopted son cannot inherit a title. Even if the son is clearly the father’s offspring, if he wasn’t born after a legal marriage, he cannot inherit the father’s title. However, since they didn’t have DNA testing, a child was assumed to be legitimate unless the father denied it from the first. Even if the son turns out to look suspiciously like the vicar, the father cannot deny him later. This, I assume was to avoid the chaos of peers coming up with all sorts of excuses to switch heirs on a whim.
  7. Having a title left in a will, which follows from the above. A title cannot be willed to whomever the peer in question chooses. It goes according to the original letters patent, which almost always say that it will go to the oldest legitimate male in direct descent. The property can be left elsewhere, unless it is entailed, but the title goes by legitimate blood.
  8. Having an heiress (ie a daughter without brothers) inherit a title and convey it to her husband. It could be done — anything could — by special decree of the Crown, but it was not at all normal.

The question was asked: When writing historical fiction, does one create a title for a character, or do you have to research a title and just use a disclaimer?

Answer: always make it up. When you’ve come up with a title you like, do an internet search to see if it exists. Also check The Peerage and do a search in Googlebooks advanced search. You can choose date of publication, so you could do a broad search there for the Earl of Glaringdangerously published between 1800 and 1830 and see if any reference turns up.

You don’t want to give your fictional character a title that was in use at the time. The main reason is that it’s uncouth to appropriate someone’s identity. In addition, some, perhaps many, readers will be aware of the real peer which will destroy the fictional reality you’re trying to create. Bear in mind that most peers were simple Lord xxxxxx, so you can’t have an Earl of Smilingcharmingly when there was a Viscount Smilingcharmingly. If the title was in use in any way, don’t use it.

Your internet search should pull up any other uses of the title, and life peerages mean there are lots today. They weren’t around a hundred years ago, but it’s still not couth to use their title in a fictional work set in the past. Most take their surnames as title, but that can cover a lot of ground. There’s a Lord Sugar and a Lord Adonis, both men who’ve made their way in life from a simple start.

If you really like your title but it exists or existed, it may be possible to alter it and retain the quality that appeals to you. You may fancy Lord Amesbury, but he existed. You could have Lord Aymesbury or Lord Embury.

A good place to hunt for titles is on large scale maps that show the names of villages. Often remainder houses sell last year’s large scale UK road atlases for under $10, or you can simply use googlemaps and zoom in. Same thing for surnames. Place names are often specific for certain areas of Britain, so if your character’s family has been in Suffolk for generations, look at Suffolk villages for ideas for names.

Or you can get into genealogical records if you want something really local. That’s how I came up with a smuggler called Melchisadeck Clyst!

I hope this helps, and though I’m pretty sure it’s right it is open to debate and amendment. Please e-mail me at jo at jobevdotcom if you have comments.

Copyright Jo Beverley. You may link to this article or share it, but of you share it I ask that you observe the following rules. Please don’t alter it in any way, and please keep the copyright notice in place. Don’t use it to make money for yourself or your organization. If possible, include the URL of my web site so people can find out more about my books.


Regency divider

That’s Jo Beverley’s article, in its entirety. I’m a huge fan of her Regency novels, and heard her speak at a couple of RWA conferences. She will be missed. (That’s an understatement.) See her bio at Wikipedia: Jo Beverley.

Also, Jo’s Facebook page is worth browsing. Great trivia for Regency enthusiasts. (Similar to information from her website, it’s smart to save any links and references, in case her Facebook page vanishes.)

Inspiration – Award-Winning Regencies

Old booksTo understand what makes Regency romances popular, or simply for a great read, read any of these award-winning books.

(Links will take you to

Romance Writers of America – Regency Award Winners

1984 Golden Medallion, Best Category Historical The Clergyman’s Daughter by Julia Jeffries
1985 Golden Medallion for Best Regency The Lurid Lady Lockport by Kasey Michaels
1986 Golden Medallion for Best Regency The Beauty’s Daughter by Monette Cummings
1987 Golden Medallion for Best Regency Lord Abberley’s Nemesis by Amanda Scott
1988 Golden Medallion for Best Regency The Sugar Rose by Susan Carroll
1989 Golden Medallion for Best Regency Brighton Road by Susan Carroll
1990 RITA for Best Regency The Rake and the Reformer by Mary Jo Putney
1991 RITA for Best Regency The Sandalwood Princess by Loretta Chase
1992 RITA for Best Regency Emily and the Dark Angel by Jo Beverley
1993 RITA for Best Regency An Unwilling Bride by Jo Beverley
1994 RITA for Best Regency Deirdre and Don Juan by Jo Beverley
1995 RITA for Best Regency Mrs. Drew Plays Her Hand by Carla Kelly
1996 RITA for Best Regency Gwen’s Christmas Ghost by Lynn Kerstan & Alicia Rasley
1997 RITA for Best Regency The Lady’s Companion by Carla Kelly
1998 RITA for Best Regency Love’s Reward by Jean R. Ewing
1999 RITA for Best Regency His Grace Endures by Emma Jensen
2000 RITA for Best Regency The Rake’s Retreat by Nancy Butler
2001 RITA for Best Regency A Grand Design by Emma Jensen
2002 RITA for Best Regency Much Obliged by Jessica Benson
2003 RITA for Best Regency A Debt to Delia by Barbara Metzger
2004 RITA for Best Regency Prospero’s Daughter by Nancy Butler
2005 RITA for Best Regency A Passionate Endeavor by Sophia Nash
2006 RITA for Best Regency A Reputable Rake by Diane Gaston
2007  No award in this category
2008 RITA for Best Regency Historical Romance The Secret Diaries of Miss Miranda Cheever by Julia Quinn
2009 RITA for Best Regency Historical Romance My Lord and Spymaster by Joanna Bourne
2010 RITA for Best Regency Historical Romance What Happens in London by Julia Quinn
2011 RITA for Best Regency Historical Romance The Mischief of the Mistletoe by Lauren Willig
2012 RITA for Best Regency Historical Romance A Night to Surrender by Tessa Dare

Since 2102, there have been no RWA awards specifically for Regency romances, though some Regency-ish books have won awards in RWA’s Historical Romance categories.

They include:

Are any of these among your favorites? Did any disappoint you? Leave a comment and let me know what you’ve liked — and didn’t like — among these authors. (If you’d like to suggest a better book, please do!)

Regency Romances – One Category, Two Subgenres often combines two main sub-genres intohearts one category: “Regency Romance.”

However, many readers are looking for a particular kind of romance set in the Regency (1811 – 1820).

Writing styles can separate regency romances into two broad camps. In fact, I’d consider them sub-genres.*

  • Many Regency romances are carefully patterned after Jane Austen’s stories. That’s especially true of Austen “sequels.”
  • Others are more like Georgette Heyer’s novels. In recent years, many of them have spun-off further in the direction of “comedies of manners” or erotica, or both.

Austen-ish Books

Jane Austen’s books are iconic. They’re set in her own time and place: Regency England. Her stories regularly include elements of romance and wit. They also cast a harsh light on the challenges and inequities of her time, especially for women.

Many “sequels” to Jane Austen’s books — the ones written in a style similar to hers — are in this category, as well.

However, some sequels are far more comedic. Others, such as “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies,” are closer to parodies.

Regency Revisited – Georgette Heyer

A second sub-genre from the Regency period include romantic “comedies of manners.” They may have subplots that involve mystery, intrigue, and suspense, but – first and foremost – wit and banter (especially between hero and heroine) are essential.

While sexual intimacy might be part of Heyer’s stories, it rarely occurred on center stage. Her books sometimes featured adult premises, but — in general — her Regency period romances were “clean” by today’s standards.

Georgette Heyer is the iconic author for this subgenre, and some fans insist that she invented it.

Other novelists were inspired by Georgette Heyer, including prolific author Barbara Cartland (723 novels).

It’s after those books, perhaps more than Austen’s, that many of today’s Regency romances are styled.

Heyer Revisited – Retro Regency Romances

Like most fiction, Regency romances are popular in waves, and each of those waves brings changes. Starting in the 1970s, some (not all) Regency romances included explicit sex. At the time, they were described as “spicy” regencies.

Chaste romances set in the Regency era were called “sweet.”

Those labels are still in use, but many publishers also use terms like “clean” or “sexy” to make differences clear.

What’s Your Style?

For some authors, the line blurs between Austen-ish books and Heyer-like romances.

Many authors struggle to define their works. For example, D. G. Rampton coined the phrase “Retro Regency Romance” to describe her historical romances, which lean more towards “the retro-esque Georgette Heyer part of the spectrum.”

While developing your own writing “voice,” decide your influences before putting virtual pen to paper.

Study them carefully, deciding what you like best about each. Read reviews of their books, especially at Amazon and Goodreads. Take notes, and use them when plotting and writing your own books.

Most successful Regency romances draw from both Austen’s inspiration and the more modern “comedy of manners” style, but lean heavily in one direction or the other.

If you have a clear, consistent, and reliable voice in your regency romances, you’ll attract readers who’ll buy everything you write.

Related Links


*Sub-genre, or Subgenre, per Wikipedia:

“A subgenre is a subordinate within a genre. Two stories being the same genre can still sometimes differ in subgenre.

“For example, if a fantasy story has darker and more frightening elements of fantasy, it would belong in the subgenre of dark fantasy; whereas another fantasy story that features magic swords and wizards would belong to the subgenre of sword and sorcery.”

Heart graphic courtesy

Regency Romances – Fan Fiction and Expectations

Are Regency romances fan fiction? It’s a challenging question, but I believe regencies fit the definition.

Here’s how Wikipedia describes fan fiction:

Fan fiction or fanfiction (also abbreviated to fan fic, fanfic, or fic) is fiction about characters or settings from an original work of fiction, created by fans of that work rather than by its creator.

After Jane Austen, many Regency romances – perhaps most – could be called “fan fiction.” Well… maybe.

  • Most of us are fans of Austen’s stories and characters, if not her actual books.
  • Most Regency romances authors — including me — are using characters or settings based on the world created by Jane Austen’s novels.
  • Some of us are writing fan fiction that’s one part Jane Austen, two parts Georgette Heyer, and seasoned with inspiration from more recent Regency romance authors.

Successful fan fiction usually meets the expectations of existing fans.

That’s why – as an author – you should be aware of those expectations, and meet as many as possible.

  • If you’re already a fan of Regency romances — especially the kinds of romances you plan to write — you can list your own expectations in that subgenre.
  • If you’re new to this subgenre, or you need a quick review, you can see my own list of Regency romance conventions and obligatory scenes.
  • Or, you can read popular, award-winning, and well-reviewed Regency romances, and take notes.

What are your thoughts about Regency romances? Are they fan fiction or not? Leave a comment, below.

Regency Romances – Conventions & Obligatory Scenes

Fans of genre fiction – including Regency romances – have expectations. To be a successful Regency romance author, you should be aware of those expectations and meet them as much as you can.

Author Shawn Coyne (The Story Grid) describes two kinds of expectations: conventions and obligatory scenes.

Here’s my own, informal list of Regency romance expectations.


Conventions in Regency romances may include:

  • An aristocratic hero. He can be rich or poor, but he must be well-educated and at least aware of society’s expectations of the aristocracy, even if he doesn’t respect them. In most cases, he has an inherited title. In other words, he’s a duke, marquess, earl, viscount, or baron. (Today’s “Lords” also include appointed lords, such as some who sit in Parliament.)
  • A heroine – usually somewhat headstrong – who’s either artistocratic, or has been educated to blend seamlessly into the ton.*
  • Stock characters including a second romantic interest for the hero. She’s usually flighty, a gold-digger, or merely using the hero for other purposes. She may be a mistress he’s fond of, but without romantic entanglement. (If the heroine has an alternate romantic interest, he’s soon shown to be unsuited to her, often in appalling ways. By the end of the story, he’s likely to be exposed as a villain, or remove himself to a distant county.)
  • At least one social setting that is familiar to readers, such as a ball, a posting house (if they’re stranded for some reason, often weather), or a country estate (and house party).
  • Gambling between gentlemen. Often, it’s a bet that begins as something frivolous, but has an impact on the plot. Or, the heroine may be financial difficulty due to a father who’s lost everything through gambling. (Example: The Daughters of Mannerling series.) Also, an antagonistic woman may host card parties (for other women) and cheat to humiliate, blackmail, or ensnare her victims.
  • Social rules too numerous to list here. (I recommend Gayle Buck’s How to Write and Market The Regency Romance, or Emily Hendrickson’s The Regency Reference Book. Preferably both.)

*Ton is a Regency word, short for bon ton. Literally, it’s French for “good taste.” In Regency romances, the ton is the fashionable world, generally the realm of the aristocracy and those who socialize with them.

More Conventions: Intimacy

  • “Sweet” (aka clean) Regency romances have absolutely no sexually explicit scenes. The couple may covertly hold hands, and indulge in a few stolen kisses and brief embraces in private settings. However, in many “sweet” stories, the first kiss coincides with the marriage proposal.
  • Many “somewhat spicy” Regency romances suggest sexual intimacy without explicit descriptions past passionate kisses and exploratory caresses.
  • In traditional Regency romances, even “spicy” stories keep explicit sexual encounters to a minimum. They’re clearly secondary to the romance. (That is, a “spicy” regency romance is not erotica set in Regency England.)

Obligatory Scenes

  • A surprising meeting between the hero and heroine. If they’ve never met before, they either hate each other on sight, or there’s a startling flash of attraction between them, or both. If they knew each other in the past, their respective (internal) emotions are usually turbulent, mixing dislike (or even raging hatred), intense attraction, and perhaps wistful regrets.
  • Either the hero or heroine does something to annoy the other one, and the latter uses this as a springboard for resentment or outright disdain. In most books, this happens repeatedly. (Example: Darcy’s unfortunate snub when meeting Elizabeth Bennet results in her growing animosity towards him… while also finding him increasingly attractive.)
  • The difficult relative or friend.
  • The “save the cat” scene, where hero or heroine does something kind and usually unguarded, that causes the other person (hero or heroine) to look at that person in a new light. (Unlike traditional “save the cat” story beats, a Regency romance “save the cat” may appear late in the book.)
  • A happy ending. Unlike most romance subgenres, Regency romances rarely have a “happy for now” (HFN) ending.
  • Optional, but commonplace: The rescue scene. At some point, the hero will rescue the heroine from a difficult situation, or vice versa. The difficulty could be anything from a social faux pas to a runaway horse. In some stories, this is the scene that allows them to trust each other (or trust each other again), at least a little.

As a Regency romance fan, do those expectations match yours? Can you add more of your own?

Leave a comment. I’m interested in your opinions.