It’s a romance set in the past. Well, sort of, it’s actually a bit more complicated than that.
First, there are the different meanings of romance to consider. “Romance” in the days of yore was pretty much the same thing as what we would call a novel today – a story that someone made up and, to keep it interesting, filled with a bit more drama and action than most people would find typical to everyday life. Thus a historical romance can technically be most any novel written prior to the first half of the 20th century (although particularly in late medieval Europe). This gets even more confusing because some historical romances (read “novels”) focus on a love story, making it qualify as the modern definition of a romance as well.
Of course, this ambiguity is mostly avoided these days due to the simple fact that 99% of the people who go looking for historical romance are looking for books about romantic love that are set in the past. I may have been overstating how complicated it was to take advantage of a teachable moment… Librarian.
Still, even if you are looking for the modern definition of a historical romance, there are choices to be made; mostly involving which time period is you favorite. Most popular are the stories set in the late historical periods of Europe and Great Britain (there is a lot of attention paid to Scottish Highlanders). The American Civil War is also popular, but it doesn’t stop there; ancient Egyptians, Caribbean Pirates, Vikings, you name it, it’s out there somewhere – something for everyone.
Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott
The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas
The Duke and I by Julia Quinn
First Comes Marriage by Mary Balogh
Outlander by Diana Gabaldon
A Rogue by Any Other Name by Sarah MacLean