Nov 102015

Silhouettes of a man and woman in Regency dress against a background of the number 80

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?

All visitors are welcome to share their ideas about this story and historical novels, romantic or otherwise, in comments to this article.

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Upper half of the cover is the torso of a woman in a red dress with a white underblouse and the lower half is a scene of Charles on a white horse with his followers

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.

Connect with Alicia online at:
Twitter:   @QuigleyAlicia

  8 Responses to “Regency Turns 80 — Royal Escape

  1. Alicia, with “his well-documented serious hotness” you made me laugh! I read “Royal Escape” long ago, and enjoyed it (and learned a lot, as I knew little of Charles II’s life back then), but never felt a strong urge to revisit it. Nothing against it, at all! But I think most of her based-on-fact historical novels (e.g. The Conquerer, Royal Escape) fell into that Victorian/early-20th-century type of historical fiction where there might (or might not) be a ton of research, but the author then added or changed things, so I never knew which parts were true and which weren’t! With “My Lord John,” by contrast, I felt Heyer was dedicated to thorough authenticity…it’s a much more difficult read, but I feel like I don’t need to worry about learn incorrect things. 🙂

    So you made Regency gowns for your Barbie? My Barbies are now crying with envy.

    • Thanks for your comments Cara! I agree with you about the factual accuracy of Royal Escape; much of what makes it come to life so vibrantly also sets off the real vs. made up radar. I blush to admit that in some ways what came across to me most during this re-read, was that “serious hotness” factor, something I’d never thought about all that much while reading restoration set novels in the past. Royal Escape really gives you a look at the charismatic young man who became such a ladies man. I’ll admit I never really too to “My Lord John” although I managed to finish it, but reflecting on it, I definitely get your point about the historical thoroughness.

      If you want your Barbie’s to really feel bad, you can let them know that there was a dark blue riding habit with silver braiding and frogging (like the Grand Sophy’s) and a primrose yellow taffeta ball gown with several layers of lace at the hem – I don’t remember any of the others. I was really a frustrated re-enactor at the time, and too young to join any of the relevant organizations. When I did later, having learned to do pattern cutting on the Barbie’s came in handy!

      • Okay, now I’m crying with envy, too! If I pretend to be your Barbie, will you make me a riding habit like the Grand Sophy’s too? 😉

        • Cara, If only!! I’ve gone as a mundane to a few re-enactment events in the last 10 or 15 years, and discovered I do really miss having another whole persona (or two or three) hanging in my closet. When I read about Austen week in Bath, and regency dance weekends, my fingers just itch to get out the sewing machine. I actually bought an aged sidesaddle years ago, thinking I’d make myself a habit (absolutely braided and frogged a la Hussar!) and use it on one of my horses to hack out with, but I realized the saddle needed more time and money than it was worth to get it into safe condition, and never bought a better one. But *when* I do get around to it I promise to let you know and offer to make a second one as well!

          • Thanks, Alicia! 🙂 Joking aside, I do have a Regency gown, but it’s not great (because I sewed it myself), and it’s…well…pink. (Not my color). Then again, when I attend events, my not-great gown is often accorded a few bonus points because I made it myself, so that’s always a nice consolation. However, I’m going to make myself (or buy myself) a newer, better one…soon! (I’m just an insane procrastinator, and it’s been “soon” for years. But maybe it will actually be soon this time! Like…tonight? Yes, tonight! Or maybe tomorrow. Etsy is calling me…)

            BTW, I attend period balls and do a lot of English Country Dancing, but I confess I’ve never gone “in character” as it were! I should try that…it sounds delightful. Maybe at this winter’s local Jane Austen Ball (if I get tickets!) I can do a smashing English accent, if I do say so myself (and I just did, didn’t I?)

  2. I thoroughly enjoyed Royal Escape. I didn’t really want it to be a romance because I knew Charles didn’t marry anyone at that time. When I saw his portrait at Gawthorpe Hall, I spent a long time looking at it and pondering what he must have been like. Definitely a good-looking young man with plenty of charm, and that surely came across in Heyer’s novel.

    But now and then I look up into oak trees and seriously can’t imagine how anyone could hide there.

    • I’m jealous – Gawthorpe sounds amazing! I do think that Charles II was a very interesting character, and like you, wonder what he was really like behind all the tales that have come down through time, and think Heyer actually wants us to fall in love with him a little. I also agree that oak trees don’t seem dense enough to make excellent hiding places! But it made for a very good imaginary visual when reading the book!

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