Regency vs Regency Historical

I’ve been googling lately (boredom).  I found that people refer to Regencies as “Regency Romances” or “Regency Historicals”.  But, it confused me.  Are they the same thing with different names?  Are they two different genres?  If so, what’s the difference and which is the one we read?

Generally, when people mention Regencies they reference Jane Austen for her (then) contemporary novels and allude to Georgette Heyer as the “founder” of the “modern regency”.  BUT!  Apparently, Austen and Heyer are Regency Romances or “traditional regencies” while Mary Jo Putney and Loretta Chase are Regency Historicals.

There are differences, dialogue, wit, pace, structure, sexual tension, sexual display.  I found an article written by Mary Jo Putney and she explains the differences, going as far as using her own work as examples.


The Regency era is the most popular historical setting— and for good reason.

Society was in the process of changing from the old regime to the modern era. When people speak, we can understand them. Industrialization had begun, but the dreariness of the later Victorian era was still well in the future. There was a Good War in progress, where England stood alone against Napoleon’s Evil Empire in a manner reminiscent of Britain’s stand against Hitler’s Germany in the 20th century. For writers and readers, this offers plenty of opportunities for noble, suffering former soldiers and spies.

Yet within this period exist two rather different kinds of romance: the traditional Regency, and the Regency historical. Having written both, and later revised some of the former into the latter, I’d like to discuss the differences in the two types of book.

Technically the term “Regency” refers to England from 1811-1820, when George III’s madness meant that his eldest son, later George IV, ruled in his name. More broadly, books set between about 1800 and 1830 are usually considered Regency period.

The traditional Regency traces its roots back to Jane Austen, and was brought to full flower by Georgette Heyer, whose wonderful, witty, beautifully written books are the foundation of the genre. In Georgette’s world, there was no explicit sex, but there was wit, wisdom and a colorful picture of aristocratic society.

Note that word “society,” because it defines one of the key differences between the traditional Regency and the Regency historical. In many ways, the Regency is about society, while the historical is about passion.

In a traditional Regency, one is always very aware of the limitations of society, and relationships must be resolved within those boundaries.

For example, one Regency convention is that a gentleman can never break a betrothal, because that would mean he is no gentleman at all. A young lady can back out, however, and be considered merely volatile. Any number of Regency conflicts have involved the hero falling in love with the heroine but pledged to another woman, who cannot break his word or his engagement. Generally speaking, in the last chapter the other woman runs off with a footman or a more suitable man, leaving the hero to follow his heart straight into the heroine’s arms. True love triumphs, but in a socially acceptable way.

By contrast, historicals are much more about passion. That means not only sexual desire (though a good historical generally has lots of that!), but the broader sense of powerful, larger than life emotions and characters. The hero and heroine are far more likely to set themselves against society, to defy custom, in pursuit of their goals.

A strong historical romance generally focuses on the hero and heroine’s story, which heightens the emotions of the romance. The traditional Regency can be more of an ensemble story, giving a broader slice of life, and in some ways allows the writer more freedom. For example, Georgette Heyer sometimes had heroes that were small, shy, and even not very bright, which would be much harder to bring off in a historical romance.

It’s also possible to delay the meeting of the hero and heroine rather than throwing them together on the first page. (In my first book, a traditional Regency called The Diabolical Baron, the heroine doesnt meet the right man until the book is a third over—though readers would presume that shed met him earlier.) As I said, there is often more freedom in structuring a traditional Regency—but it comes at the cost of intensity.

Another key difference in the two kinds of romance is the language. In traditional Regencies, words are loved for their own sake. Clever, playful phrasing and tongue-in-cheek humor are encouraged. The voice is ironic, amusing and more detached even when emotion is pulsing beneath the surface. Jane Austens famous line from Pride and Prejudice is a prime example of this style:

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.

A Regency historical writer crazy enough to want to mess with such a marvelous sentence might perhaps put the same thought into dialogue:

“Everyone knows that a wealthy bachelor is in dire need of a wife,” Elizabeth said dryly.

There are probably more points-of-view (POV), as well. Sliding into the POV of a servant or other minor character is often done for humorous effect, and omniscient POV is not uncommon, particularly in books by British authors such as Georgette Heyer.

In contrast, the voice of a Regency historical is much more direct and forceful, designed to create maximum impact. When I rewrote several traditional Regencies into historicals, one of the things I did most was change wording from passive to active voice. I also reduced the number of POV characters. Concentrating on fewer characters allows readers to get more deeply into them.

Take a look of how I did this when I converted The Rogue and the Runaway (Signet Regency) into Angel Rogue (Topaz historical romance). From The Rogue and the Runaway:

A footman spied him and bustled out, and Robin dismounted and wordlessly handed his horse over before climbing the steps to the massive ten-foot-high double doors. The footman who crossed the marble-paved foyer was new to the household and didn’t recognize the newcomer until his eye fell on the calling card.

“Lord Robin Andreville?” the servant gasped before recalling that aspirants to butlerdom must learn to control their reactions better.

“In person,” Robin said mildly. “The black sheep returns.”

From Angel Rogue:

A footman spied him and bustled out. Robin dismounted and wordlessly handed over his horse before climbing the steps to the massive, ten-foot high double doors. He should have notified his brother that he was coming, but he had chosen not to. This way, there was no chance to be told that he was unwelcome.

The footman who crossed the marble-paved foyer was young and didn’t recognize the newcomer until he looked at Robin’s calling card. Eyes widened, he blurted out, “Lord Robin Andreville?”

“In person,” Robin said mildly. “The black sheep returns.”

While many readers prefer the drama and passion of the Regency historicals, the traditional Regency has a special, elegant quality that nothing else can match. Long may it prosper!

Write to Mary Jo Putney c/o Ballantine, 201 E. 50th St., New York, NY 10022.”

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So…what I’ve gathered is….I generally read Regency Historicals, but I’m writing a Regency Romance.  Although, I seem to find myself drifting towards a middle ground.  I also discovered the Regency Romance market dwindled in the 90s in favor of the Regency Historical market.

Thoughts? Comments?  Concerns?


2 thoughts on “Regency vs Regency Historical

  1. Ah yes. I remembering talking about this subject with a friend way back when. Other than Heyers and Austen I don’t think anyone managed to really succeed in the Regency romance department. As you can see, the two above mentioned authors are the only two I know of when I hear “Regency romance.” I tried reading a few regencies by other writers and found though to be dull. I’m just going to stick to Austen and Heyers.

    I don’t think you’re Regency Romance. There’s too much passion in your book to be considered an RR. Also, your characters don’t seem to be limited within the social customs. There’s no sex, of course, but neither does mine, and I don’t consider it to be an RR. Both of ours would be an unconventional Regency historical.

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