Posted On August 12, 2009 by Print This Post

History-making Heroes

LoveWillBloom_w3036_300I don’t write historical romances, but I heard Eliza Knight’s name again and again even before I “met” her by taking her Sensual Novella class a few months back. And what I heard was she’s the go-to gal on historical research, and many of you may already know about her wonderful blog, History Undressed. Really, people, how can you go wrong with that name? I know my history classes would’ve been a LOT more interesting if we’d studied naked people. When I discovered Eliza’s The Highland Jewels series, I told her that a highlight of my life was being in Dublin on St. Paddy’s Day and watching kilted men ride motorcycles in the parade! I really, really, really wanted to see what was under those kilts – J.

Although we won’t be giving away any kilted Highlanders today, Eliza will give away a copy of her regency romance, Love Will Bloom, to one lucky commenter!

Eliza, welcome to Romance University and thanks for taking time to talk with our readers about “History-making Heroes.”

Thank you for having me!

Kelsey: Tell us a little about the historical time periods featured in your books and where you gain inspiration for your historical heroes.

Eliza:  I write Regency and medieval/renaissance England and Scotland, so my heroes vary quite a bit in what they wear, their mannerisms, their speech patterns, hobbies and skills.   Inspiration…well who isn’t inspired to read or write a Regency romance when they think of Colin Firth or Mr. Darcy? Nuff said. As for Scottish medievals/renaissance, I am inspired by the kilt or plaid, the caress of a Scottish burr, and thick corded muscles from years of training.  My English medieval heroes are equally built, devilishly handsome lords, who are most definitely alpha males, but when it comes to the woman of their dreams, they will move heaven and earth for her—which actually applies to all of my heroes.

Kelsey: What would you say are the most notable differences between historical and modern heroes?

Eliza: Hmm…Besides the way they dress and what they do?  And maybe hygiene?  I believe that in history there were a few select males who believed a woman had rights and would allow a feisty heroine to behave the way a modern woman does, BUT it was rare.  I think the biggest difference is that men nowadays typically expect a woman to be independent, whereas in history a woman had to depend on a man for everything.  Another difference is men in modern times do not expect women to be baby making machines—while most men want to have a son, they don’t require their wife to produce an heir and a spare.

Kelsey: What are some mistakes inexperienced writers make in developing the historical romance heroes in their manuscripts?

Eliza:  Typical mistakes are not doing their research from actual, factual sources.  A lot of beginning writers will take their knowledge of history from what they’ve seen in movies and on television programs, and let’s face it—those are fiction, adapted to wrap around a story line and script, and cannot be considered as a source.

Another mistake is not developing the characters fully.

Kelsey: How do you balance writing a hero who is believable for his time period, yet not stereotypical?

Eliza:  You have to give him a personality, quirks, some defining physical feature, a phrase he uses, and above all else, he MUST overcome his macho ways.  It’s all in the character development, making him a real person, not a shell. 

Stereotypical: Handsome, muscular, alpha male, thinks he’s always right, doesn’t cave.  When I think of stereotypical I think of the “bodice rippers” from the days of old historical romance.  Today’s historical heroes have so much more depth.

Unique:  Handsome, muscular, alpha male, with a cleft chin, jagged scar on his left shoulder, grey eyes—but not just grey, when you look really closely, they have specks of blue laced with the grey, when he raises his brow in mock irritation, the corner of his lip twitches, always calls the heroine princess, or some other endearment that has an insider meaning.  At first he is unbending in his ideas and decisions, but the heroine helps him to discover the error of his ways, and in the end, he is a supporter of her rights and ideas.  He loves to train and mock-fight with his men, but the actual act of war is not something he enjoys—he wants to preserve life.  He cares for his people, wants his subjects to grow and prosper.  He is a savior, not a villain. If he is from the Regency era, the same applies, he doesn’t look down his nose at people, but embraces everyone with respect.  He is genteel in manner, yet still has the devilish air about him.  A seductive rogue on the outside, could have a heart of gold, and may only be putting on airs to come off that way. See how I took the shell and made him into an individual?  Don’t you want to get to know him better?

Kelsey: Several of your works are very sensual in nature. Could you give us some insight on how the typical man regarded sex in the Regency period?

HerCaptainSurrenders_w3647_300Eliza:  Typically, it is said that women were not to enjoy sex, to endure it, pray that it would end, and those that did enjoy it were considered wanton.  But during the Regency period, you also found males who were over the top, even sadists like the Maquis de Sade.  Courtesans were famous in Paris and while taboo amongst the female English aristocrats, were relished by most English males—probably because their wives abhorred sex.

So I would honestly say that men regarded sex most like they do today.  If anything, it was the females who had a different view. 

I think that’s why it is so much fun to write sensual romances in the Regency period, because it was so hyped up, and taboo. 

In medieval times amongst the nobles, sex with your wife was done to create heirs, of course you’ll find the occasional couple that enjoyed sex, but many men also had mistresses.  Their mistresses provided them with pleasure…you did things, like oral sex, with a mistress, not your wife. 

Remember, in medieval times and even in Regency, marriages amongst nobles and aristocrats was a contract—done for what you could gain by coming together.  Love had little to do with it.  Some couples were lucky to fall in love, but most would simply remain cordial to each other.  It would be hard for a woman and even a man to enjoy sex with someone you were only cordial with.  Some young women would even be married without choice to much older men, men two and three times their age.

Kelsey: Should love scenes in a historical be written in a different context than modern-day sex scenes?

Eliza:  Well obviously a few things will be different, what they wear, how they undress, how they come together, any sexual accessories, including protection, will be different.  However, despite the historical stuff, I think most sex scenes you’ll find are how we make love today.  Sex doesn’t change, just the stuff we use with it J

RU readers, take a moment to ask Eliza your most pressing question about history, heroes or both.

And be sure to join Adrienne on Friday when Laura Caldwell discusses putting out back-to-back-to-back books.

Eliza_2Once upon a time, in a land far away, there lived a princess…

Growing up, Eliza was a proficient story teller, with most of her plots encompassing princesses and princes and dreams coming true.  Now as an author, her stories still revolve around a happy ending, with sexy alpha males and feisty heroines, and she is living proof, that the dreams of your childhood can become a reality and fantasies do come to life!

Eliza is a huge history fan.  Her favorite time periods are the Regency and medieval eras of Europe.  Growing up, she was lucky to have grandparents who lived in Paris, so many a summer was spent exploring medieval ruins and historical sites.  

She picked up her first romance novel, The Bride, by Julie Garwood in high school, and hasn’t been able to stop reading or writing romance since.   One of her all time favorite books is Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte, and she is of course a Jane Austen fan, her two favorites being Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility.  She is also a fan of Shakespeare, and readers will find in a lot of references to the literary God and his work within her stories.

When not reading or writing Eliza is usually doing research for fun.    If you love history, come visit her at History Undressed, where she discussed all the wildly fascinating and titillating facts of history!   Eliza teaches various workshops on research, history and writing craft.  She is also a professional critiquer for aspiring writers and authors. /

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40 Responses to “History-making Heroes”

  1. Hi Eliza,
    Welcome to RU! I write Regency and I’m starting to get my toes wet in the Victorian era. What a difference 70 or so years make. LOL

    What resource materials do you use to keep track of the factual stuff like clothing, food and setting? I’m wondering about the ones you go back to again and again.

    Take care, Tracey

    Posted by TraceyDevlyn | August 12, 2009, 5:45 am
    • Thank you Tracey! I’m glad to be here 🙂

      I keep a really long list of websites that I like, and few key sites I save to my favorites folder. Also I have a really bad habit of purchasing books… so if I come across a historical reference book I like I buy it or at least put it on my wishlist to buy later.

      Also with my blog, my topics are often things I’m researching, so its easy for me to go there and read what I wrote about it later 🙂

      After a while a lot of stuff stays in your head, so you’ll find you don’t have to go back to search for things or re-read again, you’ll just know.

      Happy Writing!

      Posted by Eliza Knight | August 12, 2009, 7:56 am
  2. Amanda Vickery who wrote The Gentleman’s Daughter did so partially to refute the idea that marriages were not based on affection in htis time period. She does include some of the husbands who weren’t affectionate, though.
    It is said, today, that there are no cold women, only inexpert lovers. I think that was a problem in the past. Not all husbands and wives thought the wife should enjoy marital relations. How sad that they were deprived of one of life’s pleasures.
    As for hygiene in the past, I don’t want to think about that. The prince of Wales said he had a disgust of his wife when he found she was”dirty fore and aft.” Seems to me, ordering a bath would have been much more reasonable than being bitter and separating from her.

    Posted by Nancy M | August 12, 2009, 7:19 am
  3. Just wanted to add, the picture of the man at the top is SUPER delicious!

    Posted by Eliza Knight | August 12, 2009, 7:58 am
  4. Fantastic interview, Eliza and Kelsey!! I enjoyed reading it!

    Posted by Nicole North | August 12, 2009, 8:15 am
  5. Hey Eliza,

    What a great interview, you really know your stuff!!!!

    Posted by Andrea Snider | August 12, 2009, 8:23 am
  6. Wow – you guys are already busy this morning! I haven’t even had a cup of coffee yet and y’all are off to the races.

    Adrienne, Tracey & I talked a bit about why we think historical is really hot during this tight economy, but I’d love your take on that. When I joined RWA two years ago, everyone was saying historical was dead. In your opinion, what’s changed since then?

    And any thoughts on what a contemp author can learn from you research-crazy historical writers? 🙂


    PS – have you done any research on what they DO wear under those kilts? And who, besides me, saw the kilt-wearing guy at RWA’s dessert reception? If his wife/sig other is reading this today…you go, girl!

    Posted by KelseyBrowning | August 12, 2009, 8:24 am
    • I would have to say they are getting hotter because of the escapism factor. With a contemporary, you can picture yourself in that situation, maybe even relate it to something that happened in your own life–and there is that, this could happen to me idea. But with historicals, there is no way you can actually go back in time (sigh, I wish we could) and live it out. It is total escapism. And for some people during tough times, they just want to get away completely to a different time, a different place with a totally different life.

      I think contemporary authors have to research just as much don’t you? You may have it even harder than we do, because readers KNOW already your setting and if you get one thing wrong… for example I heard last week some authors commenting about a local highway that was used in a book. In the book the heroine drove it to relax, but in reality it is the WORST highway known to man!! I moved an hour away just so I don’t have to drive on it anymore, lol.

      Now that’s not to say historical writers don’t need to get their facts straight, I think it just makes it a little easier for us to fudge some of the details if need be.

      And last but not least Kelsey… they wear NOTHING! If they are a traditional Scot that is. So those men you saw on the motorcycles… oh yes, what a lovely site… You have to go to YouTube and look of William Lawson commercials 🙂 You’ll be drooling!

      I didn’t see the guy at Nationals, but I think I know who it was. One of my writing friends told me she was going to bring her hubby dressed in a kilt. Wish I’d seen it!

      Posted by Eliza Knight | August 12, 2009, 8:50 am
      • Eliza – good to know we’re on the same wave-length about why historicals are so hot right now. I think the same is true of paranormal/UF because who is really gonna be fighting demons this weekend?

        As for the research, yes, I find myself researching the strangest things – cheeses, pistol crossbows, whether or not a SunChips bag is an eletrical ground (granted – that was for a contemp paranormal). I tend to believe writers would do well on trivia games shows!


        PS – I’ll get right on that Utube thing! However, I’m still just thinking about all that running and riding and hollering those Scots used to do in kilts. I worry about them chafing :).

        Posted by KelseyBrowning | August 12, 2009, 9:11 am
    • Kelsey, LOL, that was Todd Stone wearing the kilt. Remember our military VP, Terri Stone? That’s her husband.

      Posted by Tracey Devlyn | August 12, 2009, 9:08 am
  7. Morning Eliza and thanks for posting!

    I read only historicals for most of my reading…loved Kathleen Woodiwiss, Jude Deveraux, etc. If they drove a car in the book, I didn’t want to read it. Then historicals all but disappeared, and I found the joys of JD Robb and Janet Evanovich. Now, though when I go to the local bookstore (aka Wal Mart) I see more historicals on the shelf. Yeah! Have you noticed an upsurge in people reading them again? I can’t wait to dive back into the past!

    Thanks for posting!


    Posted by carrie | August 12, 2009, 8:27 am
    • Thanks Carrie!

      I’m the same way. I love Jude Devereux, Julie Garwood, Catherine Coulter, and now there are so many to choose from, its like being in a candy shop! I have noticed a surge of more people reading them, and even more interested in writing them, which gives us so much more on the shelves!

      Posted by Eliza Knight | August 12, 2009, 8:52 am
  8. Great interview, ladies! I admire anyone who writes historicals. The research alone scared me into staying within my own time period!

    Posted by Lexi Connor | August 12, 2009, 8:29 am
  9. Great blog! I love historicals – both in the reading and in the writing. My grandparents would have fit in the “historical” category had they been the H&H of a book. After my grandmother’s death her diary was found in the attic along with letters back and forth when my grandfather had to go work for awhile in another state….let me tell you, were we surprised to find “Grandma and Grandpa” had a hot love affair in their early years of marriage and although their marriage was sort of arranged, he didn’t think her behavior in the marriage bed was wanton at all! 🙂

    Posted by Kathleen Bittner Roth | August 12, 2009, 8:43 am
    • lol, Kathleen! That’s awesome!

      I did a memoir for my great-grandmother several years ago, and had the pleasure of actually interviewing her before she died. She was divorced (almost unheard of) in the early 40’s, and when I asked her if she ever entertained a relationship with a man while raising her kids, she did mention one time a man she was fond of grabbed her and pulled her onto his lap. She of course closed her lips after that, but I would have loved to hear more!

      Posted by Eliza Knight | August 12, 2009, 8:55 am
  10. LOL! I was just replying to comments and I got an error message that said “You are posting comments too quickly. Please slow down.” That is hilarious!!!!

    Posted by Eliza Knight | August 12, 2009, 8:44 am
  11. Hi Eliza,
    Enjoyed your post. Like you, I love the history and the research. You are so right about the historical inaccuracy portrayed in television and movies…sometimes, I’m not even sure why they change the history. I saw the movie Public Enemies last week, which features Johnny Depp as John Dillinger. As Dillinger’s crimes took place within the last 80 years, there are many records of the timeline of events, including the FBI website. Being the history buff I am, and curious to see if Dillinger really seemed the romantic figure portrayed in the movie (Johnny Depp could make Atilla the Hun seem suave when he flashes those big brown eyes), I looked up some of the characters in the movie. One of the opening scenes features Pretty Boy Floyd being gunned down by G-man Melvin Purvis…this is the catalyst that draws him attention and results in his getting assigned to the Dillinger case. Unfortunately for the cause of historical truth, Pretty Boy Floyd was actually killed three months to the day after Dillinger. So, either J. Edgar Hoover was psychic, or the Pretty Boy Floyd who died in October 1934 (Dillinger died in July 1934) was a zombie. Hmmmmm. The films also depicts other gangsters like Baby Face Nelson being killed before Dillinger, so that in the plot, Dillinger is alone and on his own. Again, not true. Baby Face Nelson died more than four months after Dillinger, in November 1934. Now of course, the screen writers aren’t expecting someone to rush home to their computer and look up these guys right after she’s spent more than two hours hyperventilating over Johnny Depp/Dillinger, but I can’t help but wonder – with a subject like Dillinger, who had a life filled with violence and mayhem and associated with men who lived lives of violence and mayhem, why did they have to change the timeline? Why couldn’t they dramatize the life of this criminal without changing the history? It’s more a question of intellectual curiosity as a writer on my part than irritation with the inaccuracy. I truly wonder what the screenwriters’ motivations were to change the historical timeline.

    Thanks again for a great post! Love your blog, BTW : )


    Posted by Victoria Gray | August 12, 2009, 9:16 am
  12. Eliza,
    The man in the kilt was Heather’s hubby. (She was a 2009 GH finalist.) Lucky girl. He looked fine.

    Great blog. I started writing historicals BECAUSE they tanked in the 90s, and I have always loved them. Johanna Lindsey, Kathleen Woodwiss, Julie Garwood, Jude Devereau (the Angel series hooked me like a hungry fish) and many others took me back in time to white knights and prancing steeds.

    I recently blogged on the origin and proliferation of the term “bodice ripper.” Hate the stereotype, but a few gals gave me a new perspective. Still don’t like it, but that’s okay.

    Posted by Pat | August 12, 2009, 9:31 am
  13. Loved the blog. Am still teetering on the edge of trying historical (one of my reasons being that since I’ve started out contemporary, if I manage to sell there I should stay there — although I guess I could try historical under a different name!). I start out with a good knowledge of England, having lived there for 10 years and visited frequently since, and the last time I was there wandered through the Victoria and Albert Museum, drinking it all in — but there’s so much! Would it be reasonable to start out with a general plot and start writing and research as I go, or does that lead to wandering down dead ends because your characters are being improbable? I mean I know that Eloisa James and Mary Balogh etc. etc. are doing their stuff, but can I ride on their research initially — or should I bite the bullet and sit down and read for six months or so?

    Posted by Beppie Harrison | August 12, 2009, 11:45 am
  14. Great interview, ladies. One of the things that scares me about writing a historical is getting the history right. Eliza, thanks for sharing so many fun facts.

    Posted by Debra St. John | August 12, 2009, 1:05 pm
  15. Hi Eliza. Thank you for being with us today. I’m always so impressed by the dedication of historical authors. The research would make me batty!

    Posted by Adrienne Giordano | August 12, 2009, 1:34 pm
  16. Lovely interview!

    I’m so awestruck of your talent, Eliza! You’re so gifted. I’m so glad I have you in my corner when I need help with historical facts. You’re so much funnier than a text book. *wink wink* You rock, lady!

    Posted by Sarah Simas | August 12, 2009, 1:42 pm
  17. Full of great information Eliza! Loved how you showed “Unique.”

    Posted by Emma Lai | August 12, 2009, 3:45 pm
  18. As always, I enjoyed your interview and blog here, Eliza! You do know your stuff!

    Posted by Kathryn Albright | August 12, 2009, 3:50 pm
  19. Thank you Kathryn!!

    Posted by Eliza Knight | August 12, 2009, 4:08 pm
  20. Goodmorning!

    My hubby randomly chose a winner for the copy of my e-book, LOVE WILL BLOOM, and Tracey was the winner! Email me at and I’ll send you a copy 🙂


    Posted by Eliza Knight | August 13, 2009, 7:19 am

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