Tuesday, June 05, 2012


Longer ago than I'd like to admit, when I was a teenager just beginning to read romance, I regularly encountered all the following scenarios and accepted them without question:

1) Lord Ravenwolfscar and Miss Pureheart can inherit a fortune...but only if they marry within six months of the death of Ravenwolfscar's uncle, Lord Manipulative-Moneybags.

2) The year is 1740, and our braw hero Hamish is instantly recognizable as a member of Clan MacSexylegs because he invariably wears his family's own distinctive tartan.

3) Lord Unlucky is dying without a legitimate son, so he weighs the worthiness of assorted nephews, cousins, and his own bastard son to determine where he should leave his titles and lands.

4) Lord Hesitant and Miss Doubtful must marry to protect her from an unwanted suitor, but they promise themselves not to consummate the marriage so they can have it annulled and go their separate ways once the danger is past.

Thing is?  None of these scenarios could've happened, at least not in the Georgian/Regency milieu I currently write in.

1) The law frowned upon coerced marriages, even if the coercing was being done from beyond the grave.  What Lord Manipulative-Moneybags could do was include a clause in his will saying Lord Ravenwolfscar must marry by his 30th birthday to claim the fortune without specifying a bride, which still gives the author plenty of room for plot conflict.

2) While the kilt itself has been around since the 16th century, formalized, clan-specific tartan setts date back no earlier than the Victorian era and were something of a marketing ploy.  There were regional tartan patterns earlier on, so a group of, say, Gordons might all be wearing the same tartan because they all got it from the same weaver, but it wouldn't have broken a rule or been a breach of etiquette for a Fraser or Macdonald to wear the pattern as well.

3) Who inherits a title when a man dies without a legitimate son is a blog post in itself, but suffice it to say it's not the dying lord's choice, and he can't legitimize a bastard child.  (Note that birth is what counts, not conception--if he marries his pregnant mistress as she's going into labor, the baby can inherit.)

4) The law didn't allow annulments for non-consummation.  If the husband were impotent, incapable of consummation, it'd be a different story.  But having spoken the vows, the couple couldn't just get a takesie-backsie by saying, "Oops, we didn't really mean it, and we haven't Done It, we swear!"

I expect to get some reader comments on #4 when my November book, An Infamous Marriage, comes out, because the hero and heroine marry in Chapter Three but don't consummate it till Chapter Twelve--which, incidentally, comes after a five-year time jump.  You see, when they first marry she's still grieving her first husband, and then the hero gets sent away on military service in Canada.  But it never even occurs to them to seek an annulment, because they know darn well the option doesn't exist.

As a reader, sometimes these and similar errors bother me enough to throw me out of a story, but sometimes they don't.  (Of the four, I'm most forgiving of the kilt, because it's not like the plausibility of the whole plot stands and falls on the hero's wardrobe.)  If the writer hooks me hard enough, I can make my inner nitpicker sit down and shut up for the duration.  Well, not if the error is New World foods in Europe before 1492.  The line must be drawn somewhere.

What about you?  How tolerant are you of myth-tory in your history?


The_Book_Queen said...

What an interesting post--thanks for sharing with us! It's like they say, you learn something every day! :)

I have to say usually I'm pretty forgiving on what can happen in my historicals...There are lines, obviously, and a few have pushed that line, but not many. I guess, as long as it's a good story, great characters, and done in a believable way, I'll happily read it and forget that it may be historically wrong.

After all, if I wanted to read more about real history, I'd pikc up nonfiction (ick, not for me!). :)

TBQ's Book Palace

Catherine Scott said...

2) Yes and no. Other items, fascinating and quite logical. In order to cut down on the number of rebound posts, I will try to be clear regarding my dissent on #2

In earlier Scottish times (pre- Bonny Prince Charley) ... indeed, in ancient times, Clan MacFiesty's hunting party, and pretty much all their other clan family (immediate and extended) sourced their fabric from the same place. Women, girls, boys gathered berries, brush, fish, pretty much whatever they could express color from and then made dye. Since fabric was woven in bulk, almost everyone had the same patterned kilt, probably not for the purpose of establishing a clan color.

Given that some clan lands went for miles, available produce for dyes varied greatly, and so there were distinguishable tartans by default. One can easily imagine a clan spy having the ability to differentiate.

However, territorial Scots with a keen eye for trespassers would be able to spot a different tartan. Clan McFiesty's lookout would say: "That drunken lad stumbling about in our heather is a MacBumble for sure. I can tell by the color of his kilt."

Of course these colors would change with dye lots and seasons.

The book of tartans did not exist, however, until much later, when Clan pride came into the picture and the wearing of Highland dress was no longer outlawed (which was before the English Regency by the way)

And speaking of the outlawing of clan colors and highland dress ... no reason to outlaw something that doesn't exist, aye? Therefore, it existed in some fashion. I'm sure the Sassenachs thought all tartans look alike, and so it was therefore frustrating, especially when the Scots distinguished easily enough.

So, I too, am forgiving of the clan plaids.

Cathy - who spent quite a bit of time in Scotland (the Highlands!) studying this very thing.

Susanna Fraser said...

Hi, Cathy! I'm confident you're right on the details--I was just addressing the idea that exact, specific patterns were defined pre-19th century, and were treated almost like a uniform.

Thanks for stopping by, TBQ. I think we all draw our lines in different places--and that's fine. FWIW, I really enjoy reading nonfiction, but I have no desire whatsoever to write it, because writing for me is in part telling myself a story so I can find out how it ends.

Alyssa Everett said...

Great list of myth-tory scenarios. (Another example of #3 is the adopted heir--as you say, birth is what counts.)

Thanks for such a fascinating post. I can't wait for your November release!