Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Historical Research -- Historical Characters

As a writer of historical fiction, I've done more research during the last four years than I ever did in high school or college, that's for sure. Between the food and clothing, not to mention horses, wagons, weapons, titles and precedence, there is just so much to learn .

When we "build" our historical world, most of it is right there in the history books so we only have to take what we need from that. Sometimes we find things -- like the fact that Claridge's was not actually a hotel in 1811, but a bed and breakfast, and famous Gunter's where everyone goes for ices, did not exist -- and we need to change the facts to adapt them to our story. (In my own little historical world, my fictional Bainbridge Hotel is the place to be.)

Same goes for historical figures. Sure, I can read every little thing about the Prince Regent from the history books, and by all accounts he was not a very well-liked man. From his Peers to his subjects, Prinny was probably the most despised of the modern monarchs. He had lost the respect of his people early on by marrying a divorced Catholic woman, and then drinking and spending money like it was nobody's business. So naturally, every book written about Prince George would come to the same conclusion that he was just a randy drunken wastrel.

Of course, we weren't there, so we can't know first-hand who the Prince actually was. We can't know why he acted the way he did. But we can probably guess. He was spoiled. He was a Prince trained to take over the greatest Monarchy (at the time) in the world. He was brilliant, and had the best tutors, could speak several languages, and was raised to be a King.

Okay, so given all that, don't you think that you would have gone a little bonkers too after you graduated college? (Yes, I'm being semi-cheeky here.) But what else was there for the man? He had no friends (well, good friends he could count on), his brothers were creeps, he couldn't work, he couldn't join the army, he couldn't really do anything except be a royal spoiled brat. Well, I suppose he could have been a nice kind generous man, but he wasn't.

When I began writing his character I took all of the above into consideration and came up with my own theory of why he was the way he was. I explain a little bit of it in THE LADY'S FATE. And although I'm not a psychologist by any stretch of the imagination, I can see where Prince George became the man they all hated. He was given the world, but piece by piece, they took it away from him. Including his wife, (whom he loved dearly), and truthfully, I think that's what made George so mad. I think that's why he rebelled the way he did. I mean, really. Parliament made him divorce his wife. I think I would be a little ticked off too, and try to get back at those who did it to me.

I tried to show George's more "human" side when I wrote him. I like George. I can empathize with his feelings over his situation. So I tried to show that he wasn't really "all" bad. Just a little.

In the case of Dudley Ryder, Illora Ryder's father in ROMANCING LADY RYDER, I chose to take the whole family into the book. There are too many articles about the Ryder family on Wikipedia, but I read them all and then concocted my own "Ryder family". See, Richard Ryder had been married, and had fathered six or seven children, however, he married later, which gave me the perfect opportunity to "invent" him a first wife, with Illora as the result. My first Lady Ryder was no longer with us, and Richard, had indeed married a woman named Susan, so I could fit another piece in to my "world-building puzzle".

In the case of the Ryder family, most of them were politicians, so I could use that in my plot line. I realized I was walking a very tight rope with this story, it is hardly plausible for the era. No self-respecting uncle would allow a girl to go traipsing about with an English gentleman, unescorted; never mind, play at spy. BUT, it's my story and it was fun to write.

The same with the Russian aspect of that same story. I took great liberties with Ambassador Novolsiltstov. Yes, he was the Czar Alexander's right-hand-man, but whether he lived in England for any length of time, I do not know. However, what you should know is that the Czar did move certain paintings and historical artifacts out of Russia in fear Napoleon would take them. It's these little details I find in doing research that can add so much to a story. So that's why they're there.

Naturally, in writing historical fiction, we do not need to have any historical figures in our books if we so choose. In building our "worlds" we can do whatever we want. However, I think it behooves us to have at least one or two somewhere in there. They add a little flavor, whether from our imagination or not, and ground us into the time frame.

What do you think?

Anne Gallagher (c) 2013


  1. I tend to think they are nice to have in the stories. I read one recently that used William Howard Taft of all people.

  2. William Howard Taft is certainly someone I would never think of to use in a book, but just knowing he's in one, makes me want to read it.


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