Why American History Matters

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Pat here: I promised in my last blog to continue my nattering about American history because it’s relevant and it’s interesting (which is why I wrote those six ROGUES AND DESPERADOES books early in my career!).

I don’t want to make any political points, but I’ve heard the arguments about whether the writers of the US Constitution were God-fearing Christians or Deists, which is to say they didn’t adhere to a particular religion. Both categories are an over-simplification. The 18th century is not the 21st. There are huge cultural differences. One must know American history to understand the background of our founding fathers.

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Politics and Religion, Oh My!

W-DeskLady2Pat here:

I don’t have much time for historical research these days, which is a shame, because I enjoy the details of how we got where we are today. Unfortunately, my interest isn’t in how styles changed from chemises to brassieres, but how economies changed political structures and led to wars and industry. Hardly the stuff of romance, huh?

But I’m interested in economics and politics and religion because they affect everyone, including my romantic characters. Unlike most little girls, I was never much interested in dressing up my dolls. I wanted their stories. And stories require backgrounds, and that’s how I still write books today. It simply isn’t enough for me to know that Jane Heroine is wearing an elegant Regency era fashionpatterned muslin with a taffeta bow when she sets out to seduce Dangerous Hero. I think it’s more interesting that Hero brought that muslin back from India on a ship that could cover the seas in less than half the time of a previous decade because American ship captains had developed a racing schooner. And Jane’s father has lost his wealth because he refused to change to the new ships and cargo. Now we have a story.

Which pretty much explains how The Marquess and The English Heiress came about. Sure, we have dark and stormy nights and a forbidding PatRice_TheMarquess_200pxcastle and a scarred hero, his mysterious brother, and a pair of terrified heroines running from a killer. But how they got to that place was as interesting to me as how they end up. The clash of two impoverished Americans being flung into the midst of English Regency aristocracy is just too juicy to ignore.

But ignore that world conflict, we in romancelandia do. The Regency era is rife with comparisons to today’s contemporary problems. Young men torn from their families to fight a war defending the wealthy one percent return triumphant, only to live in poverty and shame because once they conquered Napoleon, they had no other purpose. By the Regency era, the aristocracy had grown so distant from their rural roots, that they scarcely knew their tenants. How many of the upper class actually cared for the well-being of the people whose toil had made them rich? But in our books, we show the pretty balls and the romantic horse rides and ignore the homeless soldiers and poor houses unless Jane Heroine happens to sponsor a charity. And touching on the Catholic Problem has practically outlawed Irish romances. So we create pink Disney confections.

I realize we read for escape. But at the same time, we jump all over authors who don’t get the dress Denialcode or the marriage and title laws right. Why do we never complain when the rest of Regency reality is ignored? Is it because we lack that knowledge or because we don’t care why our soldier hero is trying to petition parliament on behalf of his comrades? Is the fantasy only about pretty gowns and marriage? Spies are interesting but a homeless hero is not?

I think I probably know the answer to all those questions and what I really want to know is why am I so weird? Maybe I should write a dystopian Regency. But I keep looking for a niche in the marketplace that wants real history and romance, not Disney make-believe. I catch lovely glimpses of it in most wench novels, so I assume wenchly readers enjoy a brush of reality. Share your book finds—who else includes nice touches of history in their romance? Let’s go out and buy their books and show NYC that we like books with depth!

United We Stand

Devilsh low res Pat Rice here:
As our regular readers know, I’ve been slowly scanning and digitalizing my backlist historicals. All the more recent ones have been English history but publishers control those. So I’ve started with the American historicals published right before the Magic series. I adore American history and wish we had more romances set amid the wonderful tumult and uproar that is our country.

One of the most fascinating aspects of American history is the development of our religious freedom. Back in jolly old England, ‘Enery the ‘Aighth raised a right bloody ruckus by overthrowing the Catholic church so he could divorce his barren wife. But essentially, in the 1600’s, Europe was Catholic and England was Anglican and anything else was viewed with skepticism at best, and with the wrath of bigotry at worst. They still hung witches. Any belief outside the state Witch religion could and often did send the believer to jail. Or gaol, as my copyeditors won’t let me say.

So the earliest American settlements were Catholic and Anglican, with one tiny little quirk—to encourage settlement of savage lands, most settlements agreed to religious freedom. Lord Baltimore was Catholic—an unhappy religious choice in England in that period—and he declared his land in Maryland to be open to all religions. In 1682, William Penn, a Quaker and no stranger to religious persecution, encouraged settlement in a large tract west of the Delaware River. He welcomed dissenters from all over Europe. Besides Quakers, he had Amish, Baptist, and Mennonite settlers. Everyone knows about the Puritans who arrived in 1630, bringing their strict Anglican reformist beliefs that aristocratic England couldn't tolerate.

From those humble origins grew a great cauldron of different beliefs. By 1730, roughly the start of the Great Awakening, America was ripe for an explosion of evangelicalism. The settlements had an increasing demand for churches and preachers, and evangelicals could go from town to town as they pleased in a country where all religion was welcome. With that kind of encouragement, anyone could call themselves a minister. Itinerant preachers spread far and wide and before long, Presbyterians, Baptists, and Methodists outnumbered the state churches of the old countries. (First Baptist)

Church  Just try denying all those preachers a pulpit! Admittedly, a few of our forefathers might have been more comfortable with a state religion. But the signers of the Declaration of Independence as well as those framing the new Constitution came from widely varied backgrounds.

So there we were, teetering on the brink of independence, needing to find agreement between aristocratic Anglicans, uptight Puritans, French and Spanish Catholics, freethinking Quakers, and Utopian societies like the Shakers (who encouraged feminism, pacifism, and abolitionism centuries before they were popular), and entire hoards of mule-riding, Bible-thumping itinerants who could rouse riots if called upon.

Separation of church and state was essential for excellent reason—divided by the dissension of religion, the new republic would fall, but united under the umbrella of freedom, we stand to this day. And so our government has survived for centuries on our right to believe any danged fool thing that makes us happy, as long as we don’t try to legislate our beliefs and enforce them on others.

America, the land where everyone agrees to disagree. Is it no wonder that I love writing about our history? Why do you think romance has left that varied and fascinating history behind for the narrow parameters of the Regency era? Is it a more comfortable era? Does the small world make it seem more familiar? Or does all that dissension in American history make us squirm?