On Monday night, I joined my fellow history geeks for a Tudor dancing class. The conversation turned – or more accurately, was turned by me – to historical fiction.
As we talked, we realised just how much Tudor fiction was out there. Of the commercial historical fiction we had read, the period was getting about a 70% share. Now, we’re not complaining. No one loves a bit of Tudor more than us. But isn’t the market at risk of becoming saturated with books set in Tudor times? Isn’t it time to try something – well, a bit more Georgian?
Below, I’ve compiled a list of reasons that make the Tudor era an exciting and compelling world to set a story in. But, as you will see, each of them pales in comparison beside the Georgians, who are even better.
It still baffles me why we teach school kids about the six wives of Henry VIII, Bloody Mary and Good Queen Bess but ignore the four Georges. Yes, massively important things happened in the Tudor reigns – the formation of the Church of England, to name but one. But while the Hanoverians were on the throne, we won the Seven Years war, reformed Parliament, abolished the Slave Trade, lost America and, at times, stood alone against Napoleon as he tried to turn Europe into his personal Empire. Pretty darn important stuff! But most people look at me blankly when I talk about it.
We forget that the Hanoverians were actually brought in to keep the Catholics off the throne. The Stuart line had a better blood claim, but the religious prejudice of the country was against them. In 1780, thanks to Lord Gordon’s efforts, violent riots swept through London with the cry of “No Popery”. Whether to emancipate the Catholics remained a major issue. Pitt resigned as Prime Minister at a vital point in the Napoleonic War, not the mention the Irish rebellion, over the issue. So imagine the reaction when rumours spread that the Prince of Wales, later George IV, had married a Catholic widow!
The Constant Threat of Death
The gallows cast their long shadow through the 1700s and beyond. The threat of corporal punishment was very real in the Georgian era. Princess Caroline-Matilda, unhappily married to the Prince of Denmark, was caught in her adultery with a young physician. Both he and his best friend were beheaded. If we hop over to France, we see yet more heads flying around in the Revolution. But even if you manage to keep your noggin on your neck, you weren’t safe from rampant disease.
Looking at the English monarchy, we can’t forget that Maria Fitzherbert put her life in serious peril by marrying the heir to the throne against the laws of the land. As I will cover in my next novel, there were several times she could have faced imprisonment and even death if her secret marriage was confirmed. Just imagine what would have happened to her if she’d married him before the Gordon Riots!
As for George IV’s other Queen, the wayward Caroline, she was almost certainly guilty of adultery. I believe Prinny would have had her killed if he thought he could possibly get away with it. Luckily for us, he knew there was no way.
Well I’ll wait until I write my new book to tell you all about Caroline and her Italian lover, but there are plenty more to discuss. George III’s brothers enraged him with their unsuitable, secret marriages, while another family member was sued for adultery by his lover’s husband.
George II lived in thrall to his mistress and actually scared his grandson off women for a while. And then we have Prinny, a ladies’ man if ever there was one! I don’t think there was one love he didn’t cheat on. His brother William IV was little better, having numerous illegitimate children with Mrs Jordan before ditching her for a real Princess.
But the women gave as good as they got. We’ve listed Caroline and Caroline-Matilda, but there was also Augusta of Saxe-Gotha, infamously linked with her son’s tutor Lord Bute, and of course George III’s daughters, who you can read about in Queen of Bedlam.
Strong Women in a Man’s World
Personally, I consider Queen Charlotte a very strong woman, although this may sound strange when I tell you she was often afraid to contradict her husband. But there are other, less controversial claims. I present Caroline, so determined in her right to be crowned Queen, despite her long estrangement from her husband, that she tried to storm his coronation! I give you Augusta, thwarted from becoming Queen by her husband’s death, but able to control the throne long into her son’s reign. There are many more, but I’m not going to talk about them too much in this post. I’m going to write books about them. They’re that cool.
The Need for an Heir
There were many squabbles for the throne in the Georgian period. Who can forget Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Old Pretender? Bloody battles were fought over their claims to inherit for the House of Stuart.
In later years, when the young Princess of Wales died unexpectedly, there was a race amongst George III’s sons to give birth to an heir. Ok, a Georgian monarch was unlikely to chop your head off if you didn’t give him a son. But it was still a shock when, after decades of male rule, the crown was left to a young girl by the name of Victoria…
I admit partiality to a lovely French hood, but a bonnet is also very becoming. And what can Tudors really hold up next to powdered wigs and towering hair sculptures? Our dresses are more risqué and twice as flattering. Our men don’t have silly puffy legs or pointy beards – and they don’t need codpieces to show their manliness. As another bonus, hygeine has improved about 30% since the Tudor period!
So there you have it. Every point answered. And as you can see, I’ve focused mainly on George III and George IV – they’re uppermost in my thoughts at the moment because I’m working on their novels. I haven’t really started to mention what happened with George I and George II, but there’s already so much material! Go on – do it. I know you want to. Convert: go Georgian.