With so many British historical romances set in the nineteenth century, you would be forgiven for thinking nothing happened in England before the Regency. Although the nineteenth century was a time of progress, change, and those famous balls at Almack’s, I decided to set my new historical series two hundred years earlier in the seventeenth century.
The Southwark Saga begins in 1671, eleven years after the restoration of Charles II. The Restoration is an exciting period to read, write and research. It was a time of change and was characterized by cataclysmic events, such as the English Civil War that saw the execution of Charles I and the exile of his son with a significant part of the Court. The Plague killed an estimated 200,000 people between 1665 and 1666 and was chronicled in Defoe’s nightmarish Journal of a Plague Year. The last of that was wiped out by the Great Fire of London, which incinerated most of the medieval City of London over a four day period, destroying 13,200 houses and 87 churches including St. Paul’s cathedral, and killing or displacing thousands of people. After the fire, London was rebuilt with a new street plan designed by Christopher Wren, and began to take on the shape it is today, with the new St. Paul’s Cathedral as its crowning glory.
There were also many larger than life figures who we still remember to this day. Charles II, “The Merry Monarch” had more mistresses than there are days in the week and several illegitimate children, and when the Great Fire threatened to consume the entirety of London, he and his brother, the Duke of York, fought the fire themselves. Diarist Samuel Pepys meticulously recorded his daily life in the 1660s, providing an invaluable resource for historians, while John Wilmot, the Earl of Rochester, kept people laughing with his bawdy verse. Lower down the chain you’ll find Solomon Eccles, a composer who had a religious awakening and spent his days nude with a dish of burning coals on his head, urging passers-by the repent as they did their shopping.
The Restoration is a wonderful time to set fiction, and particularly romance. With the Civil War behind them, London was in the mood to celebrate. The theaters reopened and women were allowed onstage, providing cheap entertainment to people of any class most nights of the week. The rigid social structure and excessive manners of the nineteenth century had not set in yet, and the social mobility of the time was second to none. Courtesans regularly rose above their stations, such as Nell Gwynn, who rose from an orange seller of humble birth to become Charles II’s favorite mistress.
The poor could still marry with little more than a declaration and a witness. Highwaymen haunted the forests and roads around the city, and execution at Tyburn was a real threat to them and anyone caught stealing anything worth more than a shilling. For excitement, color, and danger, you’ll be hard pressed to find a time better for fiction than the seventeenth century.
Tyburn, the first book of The Southwark Saga, follows Sally Green, a French immigrant and Covent Garden prostitute as she tries to escape her unfortunate circumstances. Hero Nick Virtue is a private domestic tutor turned highwayman must decide if saving her is worth risking his life.
In Virtue’s Lady, Lady Jane Ramsey attempts to marry out of wealth when she falls for Nick’s brother, Mark, an ex-convict and carpenter who lives in the slum in Southwark. Five years after the fire, Mark is still struggling to adapt his business for a city that no longer wants wooden houses, and the last thing he needs is an earl taking shots at him for ruining his daughter.
I wrote both books with the aim to show you what the Restoration was like from the ground up. You’ll feel the dirt, smell the river, and taste the terrible, terrible coffee right along with the characters as you are introduced to a new world in historical romance. I invite you to join me in the seventeenth century, and I very much hope you’ll enjoy The Southwark Saga.