Is Historical Accuracy Important?

March 7, 2011 at 6:45 am 5 comments

Remember when you were a child and you would pluck petals off flowers? He loves me, he loves me not, he loves me.  Well, sometimes I feel like I am stuck with a never ending flower.  Doomed to forever switch back and forth between loving and hating one of the most popular subgenres in romance:  the historical.

Oh the conflict!  I mean I love them, but sometimes historical romances make me want to scream.  Just for you romance novices out there (you know who you are) historical romances come in many shapes and forms.  Most popular are the Regencies, the Victorians, with a scattering of American Revolutionaries, the occasional Renaissance and my favorite: the medievals.  I have dozens of historical romances littering my shelves, even more stored on my Kindle, and quite a few piled in my closest.  Obviously I must like them, I mean I keep coming back, right? Sure, but for me I just can’t finish a historical that is too, too historically inaccurate.

I am not saying I want everything 100% authentic, right down to the street names, but call me crazy, but I like my romances to at least have the major facts down.

Example: This summer I read Melody Thomas’ Claimed by a Scottish Lord (Avon, Jul. 2010), and it drove me absolutely bonkers.  Set right after the Jacobite Revolt in Scotland, around 1755 or so, Thomas’ history was all over the place.  I can handle details here and there that aren’t strictly true, after all it is fiction, but this book crossed the line from historical into fantasy in terms of facts and accuracy.

The Cover for "Claimed by a Scottish Lord"

Not exactly historically accurate

Okay here comes the rant.  The book kept making references to the Scottish clan system.  The hero is seen on the cover wearing the traditional plaid, which the book also makes reference to, and the Catholic Church plays a huge role in the plot.  Now here is my problem: The Scottish clan system was disbanded after the Battle of Culloden in 1746.  Traditional tartans were outlawed, and the Border regions where the book takes place? Predominately Presbyterian.  According to BBC:

“In the aftermath of the ’45 uprising the government decided to end the Jacobite military threat once and for all. Determined to bring the Highlands to heel, the army showed little mercy. Jacobites were rounded up, imprisoned or executed. Estates were forfeited, the clan system dismantled and weaponry, plaid and pipes were outlawed. For Highland culture it was a disaster.  However, it was not an unmitigated disaster for the whole of Scotland.

Painting of Madam de Pompadour from Louvre

Portrait from the same year as "Claimed"

For the Lowland Presbyterians the defeat of the Jacobites was a cause for celebration. The Union and the Presbyterian system of church government were safe.”

This meant: clan system gone.  Plaids gone.  Catholic Church not a driving force.  Thomas’ Scotland looked, felt, and read more like a medieval than a Georgian period romance.  Even look at the fashions on the cover.  They even look medieval.  Look at the heroine’s dress in the cover. See it? Good.

Now look at this painting of Madam de Pompadour–exhibited the same year that Claimed by a Scottish Lord takes place–1755.  Even though the portrait shows the French king’s mistress, the dress styles are very different.  Historically, the waistlines were lower, the bodices more squared, obvious corsets, and fuller skirts.

I know on some level I am being ridiculous, but I feel it is an author’s duty to make his or her historical…well historical.  I know that most people are not going to care and if I hadn’t spent a semester abroad in Scotland, I probably wouldn’t know these details, but it ruins a book for me when I am taken out of the narrative due to bad history.  It breaks the flow, and really, it’s something that can be easily avoided.

This summer I got into an argument/debate with the Assistant Web Editor at RT Bookreviews while I was an intern about this very subject (you can read the debate here!), and while historical accuracy may be important to me….others are more inclined to go with the flow.  But what do you think?  Do historicals have a duty to try to present the world as it was to the best of their abilities? Or is it really unimportant? Hmmm, universe?


Entry filed under: Ramblings on Romance. Tags: , , , , , , , .

Review: Veil of Night by Linda Howard Strange Love

5 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Debbie  |  March 9, 2011 at 12:47 am

    You have to know a lot (or at least some) about history to be troubled by the inaccuracies. There are many that don’t care because they slept during History class so they don’t realize that what they are reading is inaccurate.

  • 2. Julia  |  March 9, 2011 at 1:54 am

    I commented on this post before, but my phone being the heinous little technocreatin that it is deleted it.

    Anyway –

    The main reason I cannot read historical romance novels is because of the historical inaccuracies. I’ve tried to like them – especially those with torrid sex scenes, because who doesn’t love the image of a 15th century, sweaty knight swooping in for the … kiss – but nonetheless I find Duke / Peasant love plot so implausible that usually I can’t read the books. If the authors would just do a tiny bit of a research the whole genre would improve and have a wider readership!

    • 3. Lizzie Poteet  |  March 9, 2011 at 12:08 am

      There are some out there that do carefully research the period. Eloisa James does a nice job with her research plus she is a Harvard grad with a M.Phil. from Oxford University, a Ph.D. from Yale and now is a Shakespearean scholar. Gotta love a woman who loves the Bard. Also Diana Gabaldon has a very nice series set during the Jacobite revolt that is well researched and quite lovely ; )

      I would check either of these women out!

  • 4. Am I Really What You Want? « Reading Romantically  |  April 29, 2011 at 1:21 pm

    […] Yeah have no idea. I mean I used to know, but that was like a year ago and now more important and relevant romance information has taken over my brain. Best post for you? Is Historical Accuracy Important? […]

  • 5. The Alpha and the Beta « Reading Romantically  |  July 28, 2011 at 12:49 am

    […] other miscellaneous things that also contribute to romance gold like author and writing and for me HISTORICAL ACCURACY. But the hero, he’s really at the heart of the […]


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