The History of Mills & Boon and Harlequin
Mills & Boon/ Harlequin is the old lady on the block when it comes to romances. Mills & Boon is a UK-based company whose history goes back to 1903, although they didn’t start focusing on “women’s” fiction (i.e. romance) until the 1930s.
Meanwhile across the pond in Canada, Harlequin Ltd. came into existence after World War II in 1949, mostly as paperback re-printers of previously published works. They released a lot of pulp, including mysteries, westerns, historical fiction, and other genres.
In 1957 Harlequin purchased the North American rights to reproduce Mills and Boon’s vast library of books, most of which were medical/nurse romances. Mills and Boon was bought out by Harlequin in 1971, creating one company with two names.
Change in the Industry
Up until then Mills and Boon had sold its books in North America under the Romance line, which were sweet romances usually with nothing more explicit than passionate kisses and “I love you”s. Sex scenes were discreetly alluded to, and only married partners engaged in it.
After 1972’s revolutionary year with the release of The Flame and the Flower, every publisher in the industry was trying to reinvent themselves as “sexier.” In 1973, Harlequin introduced the Presents line, which at first just reprinted some of the older works by more established writers.
In 1977, Harlequin launched a historical line called Masquerade. About 90 books were released through its Worldwide Library division, the last one in 1981.
Harlequin would briefly publish traditional Regency romances. They would again try their hands at the mainstream historical genre in 1986, this time with a numbered line. However, this line was scrapped after only a little more than a dozen books in 1987.
The New Harlequin Historical Romances
The line was revamped a year later into what is the current iteration of the Harlequin Historicals. Kristin James’ (aka Candace Camp) Satan’s Angel was the first book released under the new numbering system. These would differ from the earlier historicals as more effort was put into finding quality writers and producing more eye-catching covers, with artists like Pino and Max Ginsburg creating artwork for them.
Nora Roberts, Heather Graham, Susan Johnson, Kathleen Eagle, Cassie Edwards, Louisa Rawlings (aka Ena/Sylvia Halliday), Nicole Jordan, Ruth Langan, Maura Seger, and Stephanie Laurens are all authors who wrote for the Historical line in the 20th century.
Like all things, the line would change through the years. In the early 1990s, the emphasis on numbering would be reduced and the cover design altered to look less like a category line. In 1998, the Historical were revamped again until they stopped numbering altogether in the 2010s.
Harlequin Historicals in the New Millennium
Harlequin Historicals are still published, although most readers purchase them as e-books. The stories are decidedly not bodice ripper or even old-school in nature, as characters often have modern mindsets and, perhaps due to the 300-page limit the books have, do not usually range years or involve continent-hopping.
However, they are one of the most diverse mainstream lines, at least in regards to time periods and settings. Harlequin Historicals stories can take place in any time, from Ancient ages to the Medieval era, from the Renaissance and Age of Exploration to Westerns, from Regencies to fin-de-siecle romances, and just about any other age in between.