6 Historical Romances to Read Before You Watch Netflix's Bridgerton
From the moment it was first announced, Bridgerton had us hooked.
The series, from production company Shondaland and creator Chris Van Dusen, celebrates the timelessness of enduring friendships, families finding their way, and the search for a love that conquers all. Plus, it was billed as Gossip Girl meets Downton Abbey — what’s not to love about that?
It follows Daphne Bridgerton (Phoebe Dynevor), the eldest daughter of the powerful Bridgerton family as she makes her debut into Regency London’s competitive marriage market. She’s hoping to follow in her parent’s footsteps and find a match sparked by true love — and Daphne’s prospects initially seem to be unrivaled. But as her older brother begins to rule out her potential suitors, the high society scandal sheet written by the mysterious Lady Whistledown catches wind of what’s going on — and casts aspersions on Daphne.
Enter the highly desirable and rebellious Duke of Hastings (Regé-Jean Page), committed bachelor and the catch of the season for the debutantes’ mamas. Despite proclaiming that they want nothing the other has to offer, their attraction is undeniable and sparks fly as they find themselves engaged in an increasing battle of wits while navigating society’s expectations for their future.
But if you’re looking for something to read before you watch the romantic, scandalous, and quick-witted series, here are 6 historical romances that you’ll absolutely adore.
1. The Duke and I by Julia Quinn
Kickstart your reading-dive into Regency London with the very beginning of the series starring the Bridgerton family. Set between 1813 and 1827, each book in the series follows a different one of the Bridgerton siblings — with The Duke and I telling the story of Daphne.
From their earliest days, the children of aristocrats learn how to address an earl and curtsey before a prince— and there are other rules that are unspoken, but should be universally understood. A proper duke should be imperious and aloof. A young, marriageable lady should be amiable…but not too amiable. Daphne Bridgerton has always failed at the latter. The fourth of eight siblings in her close-knit family, she’s become friends with the most eligible men in London. And while everyone likes her for her kindness and wit, nobody truly desires her — she’s just too honest for that, and too unwilling to play the romantic games that captivate gentlemen.
Amiability isn’t a characteristic shared by Simon Basset, Duke of Hastings. He’s recently returned to England after spending some time abroad, and he’s intending to shun both marriage and society — just as his father shunned him throughout his painful childhood. But an encounter with Daphne, his best friend’s sister, offers another option: if she agrees to a fake courtship, he can keep the mamas who parade their daughters before him at bay.
And Daphne, meanwhile, will see her prospects and her reputation soaring. At first, the plan works like a charm — but in the glittering, gossipy, cut-throat world of London’s elite, there is only one certainty: love ignores every rule.
2. Nine Rules to Break When Romancing a Rake by Sarah MacLean
Looking for a swoon-worthy, Regency set story? Then the starting point in MacLean’s Love By Numbers series is definitely a good place to start.
Lady Calpurnia Hartwell has always been someone who followed the rules. Even if the rules have left her unmarried—and more than a little unsatisfied. So, she vows to break the rules and live the life of pressure that she’s been missing.
But if she wants to dance every dance, or steal a midnight kiss, then Callie will need a willing partner. Somebody who knows everything about rule-breaking. Like, say, Gabriel St. John, the Marquess of Ralston— charming and devastatingly handsome, his wicked reputation matched only by his sinful smile. But if Lady Calpurnia Hartwell isn’t careful, she’ll break the most important rule of them all: the one that says that pleasure-seekers should never fall hopelessly, desperately in love.
If it’s more of a traditional, steamy romance that you’re after, then you should definitely add the first book in the Wallflowers series to your to-read list.
Annabelle Peyton is proud, beautiful and could have her pick of any suitor…if she had a dowry. With her family on the brink of disaster, the only way Annabelle can save them is if she marries a wealthy man — but her most persistent admirer is unfortunately the brash Simon Hunt, a handsome and ambitious entrepreneur who wants her to be his mistress.
She’s determined to resist Simon and his wicked propositions. But she can’t deny her attraction to him any more than he can resist the challenge of her. As they try to out-man0euver each other, they find themselves surrendering to a love more powerful than they could have ever imagined. However, it turns out that fate may have other plans for the two of them…and it will take all of Annabelle’s courage to face a peril that could destroy everything she holds dear.
If it was the Regency era setting that had you hooked, then you will absolutely love this hilarious and heartfelt story of Lady Violet Grey and Lord James Audley, who feign accidents and illness in an attempt to gain attention — and maybe, just maybe, win each other back in the process.
Five years ago, Lady Violet Grey and Lord James Audley met, fell in love, and got married. And then four years ago, they had the fight to end all fights — and they’ve barely spoken since. Their love match, which was once passionate, has been reduced to one of cold, detached politeness. But then Violet receives a letter that James, who is at their country estate, is unconscious after being thrown from his horse and she races to be by his side. There’s just one problem — she finds James at the tavern, totally fine, and completely unaware of her concern. She’s outraged, he’s confused and the distance between them has never become more apparent.
She’s determined to teach James a lesson, feigning an illness of her own — and while he quickly sees through it, he decides to play along in an ever-escalating game of manipulation, featuring actors masquerading as doctors, threats of Swiss sanatoriums, and faux mistresses. And, of course, a lot of flirtation between a husband and wife who might not hate each other as much as they thought.
This book has all the things that Bridgerton fans will fall head-over-heels for: same glittering, glamorous Regency setting, a big family at the heart of it all, a swoon-worthy (and commitment-phobe) hero, and a courageous and determined main character.
Jane Sedgwick has been caring for eight siblings, while being burdened by a bankrupt estate — and so when her aunt invites her to the festive London season, she happily accepts. This could be her chance to find a wealthy husband, and to get the entire family out of debt. But the upper crust of London aren’t a fan of Jane’s blunt ways — that is, with one exception: Lord Glendale.
The handsome lord, who is not in the market for a wife, finds himself amused by Jane’s frank manner and he bets that within the month, even provincial Jane can be brought into fashion. His plan succeeds well — really, really well, in fact. And as Jane blossoms into the most popular young lady of the season, Lord Glendale has to decide whether to relinquish Jane to her newfound admirers or to risk it all for love.
If it’s the family dynamics that you’re a fan of, then make sure to add this one to your to-read pile. Much like the Bridgerton clan, the Bedwyn’s are a big family: they’re made up of six brothers and sisters, with Wulfric the most brooding of them all.
All of London is abuzz over the imminent arrival of Wulfric Bedwyn, the reclusive, cold-as-ice Duke of Bewcastle, at the most glittering social event of the season. Some people whisper of a tragic, heartbreaking love affair. Others say that he’s aloof, passionless and that even a great beauty would not even capture his attention. Except for on this afternoon. Where one woman did catch the duke’s eye — and she wasn’t even trying. Christine Derrick is intrigued by the handsome duke, all the more so when he invites her to become his mistress.
But Christine has very definite views on men, morals, and marriage — and she confounds Wulfric at every turn. The lone wolf of the Bedwyn clan vows to seduce her any way he can, something strange and wonderful is happening — and he realises he may be more fond of her than he initially thought. Now for a man who thought he’d never lose his heart, nothing less than love will do.
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