Scotland-set historical romances have been an enduring staple of the romance genre since author Johanna Lindsey pitted a lowland lady against a highlander hero, in 1984's "A Gentle Feuding." Twenty-nine years later, men in skirts are as sexy as ever.
When asked about the appeal of Scottish romances, author Jennifer Ashley was quick to offer up the most common answer: "Sexy men in kilts." True, a sexy hero never hurts, but turns out it's the country itself that's the big turn-on. Scotland's history is big, bold and resilient--traits revered in the romance culture, particularly in the heroes.
According to Amanda Scott, a British historical scholar and author of over 24 Scottish romances, the appeal may have been fostered by movies like "The Highlander" and Diana Gabaldon's hugely successful Outlander novels. As Amy Pierpont, editorial director of Forever, an imprint of Hachette Book Group, described it, some of the appeal lies in the "iconic clansmen who fight for family, land and love that will last." Family is a big part of the Highland stories, as a Scottish hero is rudderless without a clan.
Scotland's unusual laws of succession and independence provide reams of material for conflict. Succession laws in Scotland weren't strictly controlled by patrimony. Scott explained that before Robert the Bruce, the King of Scots was chosen by the clan chiefs. The king would have been a leader who the chiefs agreed would be best fit to serve the position.
The rule of the land depended in part on might and loyalty rather than simply hereditary inheritance. Author Maya Banks set her historical trilogy in Scotland because the succession laws allowed her to craft a story about three brothers who shore up alliances as they seek to regain territory taken from them.
"I think for me as both a reader and a writer there is a sense of 'the rules don't apply to Highlanders,'" said Banks. "Highlanders are presented and have been adopted in popular fiction as larger than life heroes with a strong sense of honor and loyalty. There is no concern of political correctness when writing or reading about a Highlander. They have their own sense of justice and they do things their way quite unapologetically."
Ashley, author of "The Many Sins of Lord Cameron," and her readers agree. The author polled her readers and discovered that readers love the beauty of the landscape, the rich history and the rough nature of the characters. "Scottish romance heroes are fighters, very protective of their families, loyal to their clans, and will go to any length to protect their heroines. They're unpolished and raw, but with good hearts," said Ashley.
Both Ashley and Scott pointed out that Scotland was one country in which women had the right to own land, be a chieftain and possess a title. Women even had the right to refuse marriage. This rich history allows writers to create scenarios in Scotland that simply aren't plausible in some other settings.
Author Paula Quinn acknowledged that the tragic history of Scottish clans spurred her writing, particularly in "Laird of the Mist," the story of a hero suffering through the MacGregor persecution. In the 15th century, the clan had been outlawed and clan members were not allowed to be baptized, own property or even stand in a group of four or more. Women and children were branded on their faces. Sir Walter Scott penned the poem "MacGregor's Gathering" about "the Clan has a name that is nameless by day."
Jane Litte is the founder of DearAuthor.com.