Our Favorite Historical Romance Tropes

Petite heroine, big hero
A classic that requires no explanation. Perhaps the most egregious example of this trope is *** by ***, in which the hero is a seven feet-tall Scottish moutain to the heroine’s five feet. She loses her virginity during a protracted sex scene that inevitably brings to mind the following:

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A

Abduction

Alcohol

Allowance

Almack

Arranged Marriage

Arousal

Aunt

Austen

B

Bad

Baby

Baron

Barons suck. The hero is never a baron, and the baron is almost always a FOE.

Bath

Blackmail

Beauty & The Beast

Best fiend

Best friend

Blue ruin

Another word for gin. Bad parents often fall prey to blue ruin before dying of a shameful disease, setting the stage for the trauma of a dark past.

Bluestocking

Bodice

Brandy

Brother

A necessary prop to the start of a series. See Julia Quinn, The Bridgertons, in which the author has Lady Violet Bridgerton push out eight kids in order to populate her eponymous series. See also, th… by Courtney Milan.

C

Cap

Carriage

Transportation vehicle in which the heroine will often get fingered for the first time. Ruination and abduction are common side-effects of riding in a carriage with a rake.

Cinderella

Climber

Common

Cousin

Climax

Compromised

Confinement

Cravat

Crisis

D

Dandy

Dark past

Debt

If the hero incurred the debt through his own dumb, careless, or rakish behavior, he will need to be redeemed.

Deep hymen

Disease

Dowry

Duel

Duke

Because a girl should reach for the stars and why bag a millionaire if you can bag a billionaire, our hero is often (okay, almost always) a wealthy and powerful duke. His brothers too, and his friends. Most of the fictional peerage is actually made of dukes, and that guy over there with the hot abs and dark past who beats up randos in underground fights is actually a secret duke, too.

A predominant and highly versatile species among historical romance heroes, dukes are generally stiff and proper—for example of extra-starchy dukes, see Mary Balogh’s Slightly Dangerous (Bedwyn saga #6) Eloisa James’s A Duke of Her Own (Desperate Duchesses #6), or Eliza Braden’s The Truth About Cads and Dukes (Rescued from Ruin #2). However they can also be dangerous rakes (Yes, Lisa Kleypas’s legendary Lord Saint-Vincent counts because he eventually becomes a duke: shut up), reclusive and disfigured Beast-types, juvenile assholes, and more rarely, plain nice guys, like our bro Robert in Courtney Milan’s The Duchess War (Sinister Brothers #1).

E

Earl

Entail(ed)

Epilogue

Eton

Evil family

F

FOE (Fat, Old, & Evil)

A revolting Dickensian caricature, he’s the heroine’s evil uncle who plans to kill her or marry her off to snatch her inheritance; the washed-up roué who’s bullying her broke ass into to becoming his mistress, or who’s trying to lock her into a forced marriage. He covers up the stench of greed, lechery, and insufficient personal hygiene with bad cologne; scone crumbles and all manner of unspeakable organic compounds inhabit the flabby flaps of his sweaty jowls; he drinks too much and his teeth are crooked and yellow; he’s either super stingy and starves the heroine, or a spendthrift up to his neck in debt (and consequently starves the heroine as well).

The FOE is everything vile that ever roamed the Earth, and he’ll never get his limp, cheese-crusted sausage inside the heroine’s virgin cove because the hero is going to step in and punch/knife/shoot/ruin/arrest him. Also, he’s a baron or a mere sir most of the time, because those are the distributor brands of British peerage.

Father

French letter

Forced Marriage

G

Gambling

Genteel poverty

Gin

Good

Governess

H

(Gaming) Hell

A disreputable but highly profitable gaming club (See also: gambling). Dark heroes who grew up on the wrong side of the blanket or among commoners often rise above their station by building a gaming hell from scratch in obscure circumstances. Heroines generally don’t get to run their own gaming hell, except in some rare exceptions. For examples of heroes who own a gaming hell, see: anything ever written by Sarah MacLean, Dreaming of You (The Gamblers of Craven’s, #2) by Lisa Kleypas, or Notorious Pleasures (Maiden Lane, #2) by Elizabeth Hoyt.

Hiding

Honor

House party

Hymen

I

Illness

Illness is a brief or prolonged medical condition that unfairly kills good people like the hero or the heroine’s parents or their sister (more rarely a brother.) Examples of illness include tuberculosis, scarlet fever, measles, cholera, the flu… Illness is not to be confused with disease, which kills bad people such as evil relatives and FOEs. Example of good, perfectly decent illnesses can be found in:

Indiscretion

Inheritance

Instalust

The moment he saw her, his pants tented: he had to have her. My absolute favorite occurrence of this trope can be found in her majesty Lisa Kleypas’s It Happened One Autumn (Wallflowers series #2), in which the stiff and self-contained Earl of Westcliff finds Lillian, our heroine, piss-drunk in his study, her finger stuck in an empty bottle of pear brandy. At the sight of her bleary gaze and swollen finger, Westcliff immediately sprouts a raging boner, and eventually hauls Lillian upstairs to his bedroom to plow all that pure snow. All throughout, he’s perfectly aware that she’s too drunk to clearly consent, but . . . irrepressible instalust. (Lillian later claims dubious consent despite the fact that she was drunk. I suspect this was a later addition during edits, because early she appears to believe that this is all a dream and is pretty pissed to wake up naked in Westcliff’s bed.)

J

Jaded

Jove

K

Kept woman

Kidnapping

King

Kiss

Knave

L

Land

Last season

It’s the heroine’s last season in London, her ultimate chance to land a duke before her evil family throws her to the wolves, or force her to wed a FOE. The stakes have never been higher.

Love

Love-hate

London

Low born

M

(Matchmaking) Mamma

Marriage

Marriage of convenience

Marquess

A peerage title that sits below that of a duke in the order of precedence. Marquesses are generally rakes. See for example:

Milksop

Mayfair

Money

Mother

Muslin

N

Not my baby

O

Orgasm

Oxford

P

Papa

Paroxysm

Petals

Poverty

Prim (and proper)

Propriety

Plump AF

Polite society

Prinny

Pure widow

Q

R

Rake

Rakehell

See “Rake”, but with rosacea, cyrrhosis and syphilis. Lisa Kleypas (her again) is particularly talented at redeeming red-nosed rakehells through farming and outdoor activities (The Hathaways, The Ravenels). ***, too wrote perhaps a remarkably solid example of rakehell-turned-landowner:

Redeemed

Reformed Rake

Revenge

Rival

Ruined

S

Scandal

Scarlet fever

Scorching

Secret baby

Sister

Sir

The lowest of the low. Our hero is almost never a mere, lowly sir. Except when he is and that somehow works out, such as in Julia Quinn’s To Sir Phillip, With Love (Bridgertons #5), or Lady Sophia’s Lover (Bow Street Runners #2) by Lisa Kleypas (her again!) See also: FOE.

Social plunge

Spectacles

Spinster

Spirited (heroine)

A euphemism for dumb and hyperactive. The spirited heroine is a feisty, determined, plucky, noisy little thing, who won’t let a rake ruin her, not even if he’s a duke! Spirited heroines generally make terrible decisions and get fingered in carriages. Georgette Heyer’s Léonie in These Old Shades is notorious example of an insufferably spirited heroine.

Starch

Stiff

T

This is all a dream

Evie stiffened and whimpered in surprise at the realization that she was naked…that St. Vincent was making love to her and had been for some minutes.

It’s not dubious consent, or even butt-rape, it’s all a dream: pure heroine dreams that the hero makes love to her, while he’s actually popping that cherry like there’ll be no tomorrow. This trope is more commonly found in older titles, as most readers today find it barely palatable (Unless the book is super dark, the hero is a total rake, and the creep factor is what we’re here for.) See for example: It Happened One Autumn, Devil in Winter (Wallflowers #2 & 3) by Lisa Kleypas.

Title

Ton

Traitor

Trauma

Tuberculosis

Two fingers

U

Ugly duckling

Uncle

Untried

(See Virgin)

V

Valet

Viscount

Virgin (heroine)

She’s pure as the driven snow . . . until the hero shows up with a plow. Occasionally, she also believes she lost her virginity in her sleep to some FOE, but it turns he lied and even though she was tied naked and drugged to her eyeballs in his bed, the FOE couldn’t spare five minutes to rape her. For an example of this particular sub-trope, see: Viscount Vagabond, by Loretta Chase.

For (rare) virgin heroes, see Outlander, by Diana Gabaladon, or *** by ****

W

Wallflower

What is this strange feeling between my legs?

Wounded soldier

Wrong side of the blanket

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