Royal Escape stands alone in Georgette Heyer’s oeuvre, since it is the only novel she wrote which is set in the Cromwellian period and focuses on England’s Civil War. Today, Alicia Quigley, reader and writer of romance novels, shares her views on this unique Heyer story. The hero of this tale is the dashing and charming young Charles II. Though Alicia tells us there are no traditional romantic elements in this novel, might there be some non-traditional ones? The hero is certainly the gallant and irresistible young prince, but is the heroine, the woman who cares for him, the author of this book or the reader?
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Royal Escape is a big departure from Georgette Heyer’s regency romances and contemporary mysteries. It also differs in some significant ways from her other historical novels. Unlike Beauvallet and Simon the Cold Heart, there are essentially no romantic elements. While the subject is the arch-seducer Charles II, a little mild flirtation is the only thing that passes for romance. However, Ms. Heyer’s Charles does flirt with nearly anything in a skirt that is still breathing — very much like the historical one according to most accounts. Let’s face it ladies; Charles II has a distinguished place in history’s Man Ho Hall of Fame.
Royal Escape occurs in a very narrow time frame, something that is also unusual in the Heyer historical canon. It is the tale of the six weeks that Charles Stuart spent trying to escape England for France following the defeat of his army by Cromwell’s forces at Worcester. This is a very high quality and fairly dense historical novel. History comes to life through details of food, clothing, travel, horseshoes, and, possibly most inscrutably to the modern reader, conversation, language and regional dialect. It’s far less challenging than Shakespeare, but the reader must take time to be drawn into the cadence and vocabulary of the late 17th century in order to get the most out of this work.
I read Royal Escape long ago, in either high school or as an undergraduate, and enjoyed it very much. Rereading it at a much busier time of life, I still enjoyed it very much, but also wished that I had more big chunks of time to devote to it. Its greatest rewards go to the reader who can spend a couple of uninterrupted hours absorbed in it, rather than snatching a few pages here and there before bed, or while you are watching a soccer game.
Besides being an excellent historical adventure tale that brings Charles II to life, this book is timely in many ways now. Even though it is largely concerned with Charles’ hazardous and adventurous escape from England, it is a religious Civil War that he is fleeing. At a time when the world is full of strife based on conflicts between religious beliefs, Heyer’s gift for life-like evocation of her characters’ feelings allows these ancient disagreements to resonate today, possibly shedding light, or even sympathy on the difficulties we see around us, even though she is clearly on the side of the Cavaliers.
But, don’t read it only for that! Pick up Royal Escape and immerse yourself in a long vanished Cavalier world of gallant gentlemen and brave ladies who risk their livelihoods and lives for a dark-haired, royal charmer. This Charles is a charismatic young man, who can make himself liked and at home in any company from the royal court to the local tavern. He is equally willing to meet with his noble supporters and to sleep in a stable or hide in a tree. Heyer also uses her talents to bring his well-documented serious hotness to life. She makes you jealous of the ladies that helped him, and wish that you’d had a chance to meet him, too! If you have read this book, I’d love to know what you thought of Georgette Heyer’s take on Charles Stuart and his famous charm.
Alicia Quigley is a lifelong lover of romance novels, who fell in love with Jane Austen in grade school, and Georgette Heyer in junior high. She made up games with playing cards using the face cards for Heyer characters, and sewed Regency gowns (walking dresses, riding habits and bonnets that even Lydia Bennett wouldn’t have touched) for her Barbie. In spite of her terrible science and engineering addiction, she remains a devotee of the romance, and enjoys turning her hand to their production as well as their consumption.