Bad Boys, Nineteenth Century Style

One of the most enduring tropes in romance fiction is the bad boy—a male romantic lead who parties hard, tirelessly carves notches in his bedposts, is devastatingly attractive, yada yada yada… It’s not my particular jam, but to each their own, right?

But bad boys aren’t only a trope among romance fiction writers and Hollywood press agents. Nor are they a strictly modern phenomenon: the nineteenth century boasts many a bad boy.

In fact, Queen Victoria definitely appreciated a good bad boy. In 1837, not long before she became queen, the seventeen-year-old began to take notice of a second cousin of hers who had come to London and could be seen at fashionable balls and the opera and out with his friends in Kensington Gardens. His name was Charles, Duke of Brunswick and he was a nephew of the late Queen Caroline, wife to George IV…and what made him a bad boy was that he’d been booted out of his duchy of Brunswick in 1830 as being “unfit to rule” and his younger brother installed as reigning duke. It seems his seven-year reign was marked by corruption and poor judgement, and when he reacted to political unrest in France by clamping down on reform in his own country, he was not-very-politely shown the door. Though he tried many times to interest other European governments in helping him retake his country, no one ever took the bait.

So he spent most of his time slouching about London and Paris, being attractive. He wore his dark hair long and shaggy, had dark, fierce eyebrows, and a romantically military moustache. Vic was fascinated and made many sketches of him from memory as well as recording sightings of him in her diary:

[at a ball] “He was in a black and dark blue uniform with silver; his hair hanging wildly about his face, his countenance pale and haggard; I was very sorry I could not see him de pres for once, that I may really see if he is so ferocious looking.”

[out walking in Kensington Gardens] “He is, I think, very good looking, for we passed him close, though I was told by a lady who had seen him at Almacks, that he was not so, but I don’t think she saw him very close, and perhaps he looks handsomer by daylight and with his hat on. He was very elegantly dressed.”

Of course, nothing ever came of Victoria’s interest in her exiled cousin, and he continued to slouch about Europe for most of his life, collecting diamonds as a hobby and dying in Geneva in 1873.



About Marissa Doyle

Marissa Doyle originally planned to be an archaeologist but somehow got distracted. At long last, after an unsurprisingly circuitous path, she ended up writing historical fantasy for young adults (the Leland Sisters series) and contemporary fantasy for slightly older ones, most recently By Jove from Book View Cafe. She is obsessed by the Regency period, 19th century stuff in general, and her neurotic pet bunny. Visit her at


Bad Boys, Nineteenth Century Style — 5 Comments

  1. There are several sarcastic articles in Spectator, during the early 1700s, about the public’s taste for handsome men of “low life” especially highwaymen. And of course around the Regency era, Pearce Egan made a career out of writing about the wild bucks and bruisers in their own idiom (a lot of which I suspect he made up)–and which Georgette Heyer clearly scarfed up while researching the period.

  2. I’ve not read them, Sara, but I do know about them. I think I’m more fascinated by the young Victoria’s reaction to her bad boy relative than I am to any actual bad boys; it makes her so real.

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