Justine: My Niggling Conscience When Writing Historical Characters

historical fiction, writing historical fiction

Coat of Arms of the Duke of Manchester

Frequent readers will know it’s no secret that I love history. Case in point: my first in a new recurring series about interesting things from the Regency.

It is therefore surprising to me that I struggle when writing historical fiction. Not because it’s hard to remember what the different pieces of clothing are called on a 19th century woman or what sort of conveyance a person would take to get from London to Bath: rather it’s because I want to be historically accurate, and so have decided to use locations and individuals who actually existed two hundred years ago. For example, Viscount Sidmouth, the then Lord Secretary of the War Office, is a secondary character in my current WIP, and the next book I’ve started outlining is about the wife of the 5th Duke of Manchester (who, it is told, ran away with her footman, although that’s not the plans I have for this duchess).

So what’s the problem? I’m giving them characteristics and actions, sometimes very unsavory ones, that didn’t happen according to history. In some cases, they’re marrying different people, and in an extreme case, dying way before their time. My meddling in the lives of these once-real people is weighing down my conscience. Continue reading