Finding characters for your historical romance

Dear Readers,

I love reading historical fiction. I’d always wondered how authors created their historical characters. Then I started writing a medieval paranormal in 1992, Door in the Sky, and spent months crawling around the basement of the old Doe library at Berkeley, looking for really old books on areas of Medieval France, hoping to find information on an actual knight or baron I could use in my book. I finally found a book written in 1790, titled “Histoire de Touraine,” which had minor barons for my Breton knight and the Inquisition soldier.

The Breton knight was based on a family that had a small barony near Anjou. The barony was La Guerche and the family had died out with only a daughter to inherit. Anjou annexed it. I made up a son for the family of La Guerche, a young man who gave up everything for the heroine, even his place in the nobility.

The Inquisition soldier was based on a real baron, Hugues de Baucay. This knight had a brother, Guy, and a troubadour chanson was written about Hugues and his brother. My source was written in French and I could translate the text but the snippets of medieval French in it had spelling that was all over the map. Apparently spelling was an art in the middle ages. Also, there were several dialects that were spoken in the different regions.

I just invested in books on medieval French, medieval Occitan and medieval Irish because the library only loans their books out by the hour; you have to use them in the library. I’ll be updating Door in the Sky from the books I bought and use them in the next book in that series, the Thorn Moon. I used modern French in Door in the Sky because researching medieval French was beyond me at that time. Since I only use it a little, to give my characters more flavor, using the medieval terms will spice it up without confusing the reader.

Here is the chanson about Hugues and Guy de Baucay:

Hugues et Guy de Bauce,

Deux frères,

Avec eulx filz et ly pere

De precigner qui les suyvirent,

Roman de la branche aux reaux lignages,

Entre Sarasins s’embattirent,

Bruyans comme fonder,

Et acerre.

Song by Guillaume Guyart from Chalmel, J. L. Histoire de Touraine 1790 Paris, H. Fournier J Libraire.

Now, of course, you don’t need to crawl around in university libraries; you can do a lot of research on the internet. For example, I needed a minor Templar for the Thorn Moon, not a Grand Master, but he needed to be a leader, and I wasn’t getting anywhere in the books on the Templars I had and in those I got from the library. Then I discovered a list of Templars on the internet. I chose one from the Languedoc region, Raymond Seguis, who looked right for the Templar in my book, as he was a commander in that region in 1244 and could have gone on crusade with Louis.

I also needed more information on the baron at La Roche le Glun who controlled the area of the river Rhone where his castle overlooked it. This baron demanded a fee for safe passage from pilgrims and was reported to often rob them and kill them. On his way to Aigues Mortes, the port where he would leave for the Seventh Crusade, Louis IX passed by this baron’s castle and the baron demanded the same from the vanguard of Louis’s army, taking hostages to show he was serious. The baron did not realize Louis was going on crusade and took a dim view of a baron in his realm acting this way.

Louis investigated the truth of what the baron was doing and then proceeded to have his army erect their siege engines and demolished a large part of the castle to stop him from doing this in the future. I could not find a description of the baron or the area, though all my sources agreed this happened. I did an internet search and not only got gorgeous pictures of the area and what was left of the castle at they also gave the Baron’s name: Roger de Clérieux. My sources just named him as “Roger” or “Rogier.” So now I could see the landscape and had a more complete name for this robber-knight.

All my books are fantasy-historical, as I have magic in them, and though my characters are based on real minor players in history, they are my own invention.

Happy reading!



  • Does that sound like a lot is going on for these characters? Good—that’s how it should be. Conflict is what makes your plot interesting. It gives your characters obstacles to overcome; battles to fight in order to achieve crucially important goals. If you’ve built up strong backstories for your characters, issues that make them complex and interesting, then you’re off to a great start.

  • It does indeed. I also have a great time delving into the real history in order to create an alternative history for the books.

    Thanks for the comment!


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