STEP BACK IN TIME: Creating Realistic Historical Heroines
Addressing these questions will help you create your authentic historical heroine.
- How much “freedom” did she have?
- Who were some of the important women in her day?
- Which female archetypes might work best in a particular time period?
History gives a broad canvas in which to place your story. There are many who made their mark in history, and one of my favorites is Elizabeth I.
Elizabeth’s greatness lies in two parts. The first is that she survived to become Queen, and second that she guided England from the disastrous state she inherited to a wealthy and stable country.
As the daughter of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, Elizabeth was born a princess. But as Henry progressed through his six wives, she was declared illegitimate, shifted from pillar to post and eventually reinstated third in the succession after her younger half-brother Edward and her older half sister Mary (who also went through the legitimate/illegitimate back and forth).
Nine-year-old Edward VI succeed at Henry’s death, and he pushed the English church further into Protestantism. To maintain the change in religion started under Henry, Edward and his advisors changed the order of succession, leaving out both Mary and Elizabeth. Instead, he left the throne to Lady Jane Grey, a great-granddaughter of Henry VII, and Edward’s cousin. However, on Edward’s death, the country supported Mary Tudor.
Unfortunately, Mary tried to bring England back into the Catholic fold.
While Mary was queen, there were several rebellions as protest against the reinstatement of Catholicism and against her marriage to Philip. As the Protestant heir to the throne, Elizabeth was the focus of any attempt to end Mary’s reign. Mary had Elizabeth in and out of the tower or under house arrest with these rebellions.
Her early childhood and her confinements taught Elizabeth to keep her innermost thoughts and feelings to herself, and she continued to do so throughout her queen ship. She managed to survive and with Mary’s death, Elizabeth came to the throne.
The second part of Elizabeth’s greatness was her forty-four year reign that brought stability to England.
At the time of her ascension, Scottish preacher John Knox published “The First Blast of the Trumpet against the Monstrous Reign of Women,” predicting disaster with the regency of Catherine de ’Medici in France, Scotland’s Mary, Queen of Scots and Elizabeth I in England.
France was racked by religious wars under Catherine and her sons, and Mary was forced from Scotland and lived as a prisoner in England. Only Elizabeth and England prospered. She became the Supreme Governor of the English Protestant church, which evolved into today’s Church of England.
Early in her reign she refused to marry, for to do so would tie England to another country. And later her various engagements formed alliances that helped the country. She often spoke of England as her child.
Other major events under her reign included the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588, which let England rule the seas and develop her colonies in the Americas. This was the time of the Elizabethan Renaissance as under her reign, prosperity and stability bought forth a burst of literary figures such as William Shakespeare, Christopher Marlow and Edmund Spenser.
Not too bad for a woman born, who grew up and came to reign in a man’s world.
Terry Irene Blain earned a BA and MA and taught American History and Western Civilization at a community college. While she was teaching all this academic knowledge, people told her, “You should write a book.” Her excuse was that she wasn’t the best typist in the world. Then her husband bought a computer. She had always enjoyed reading romance novels, and historical titles like Samuel Shellenberger’s Captain From Castile, the Elsworth Thane Williamsburg novels, and the Janice Holt Giles Americana novels. In all these stories, the romance element was a universality. Regardless of time or setting, social customs, economic conditions, politics or wars, she was always sucked in by the relationship between men and women.
She first wrote Kentucky Green. Some of her ancestors lived in that area, and one family story has a great-great-great however-many-great grandfather hunting with Daniel Boone. She was lucky enough to grow up with a sense of community and history from the stories she heard her family tell. It gave me a sense of place, and a sense of what she wanted—which was to write historical romance, which gives her the opportunity pass on the stories of who we are and where we come from, exploring the relationships between men and women.