Highway Women in 17th century England by Amy Wolf

Amy Wolf and I met in June at the Historical Novel Society conference. We chatted about all things historical and I learned that Amy began her career in the Hollywood film industry, working for major studios like 20thCentury Fox, Warner Bros, and Universal where she was a script reader for MGM and Orion. Her novel The Misses Brontës’ Establishment was named an Amazon Kindle Scout winner. Today Amy’s talking about research – a favourite topic here on the blog.


For my latest, A Woman of the RoadI did extensive research into 17th-century England. Being a big nerd, I created my own database for my research notes, which currently number 1,564!

I’m a stickler for detail, so I learned all about what food was eaten then, clothes worn (starting from 1660 until 1685), hygiene, King Charles II, his court and mistresses, and, of course, highwaymen, which is what the book is about.

My heroine, Margaret “Megs” Tanner, is fictional, but there were in fact female highway“men” during the period. One was a rich aristocrat, Katherine Ferrars , who ostensibly robbed her in-laws because she hated them; another was Mary Frith, who “had a natural abhorrence to the tending of children.” She was quite the tomboy, earned the nickname “Moll Cutpurse.”

One of the aspects of the 1600’s which either amuses or alarms (the former if you’re not a patient!) was the sort of “medicine” practiced.  It was said that the King’s Touch could cure scrofula (a form of TB), and that eating a spoonful of ground-up emeralds could avert the Plague. I did read through Culpepper’s Complete Herbal and used his “cures” frequently to treat gunshots, stab wounds, and, in the second book (coming soon!), childbirth.

I found my best print resources to be: Restoration London by Liza Picard, The Time Traveler’s Guide to Restoration Britain: A Handbook for Visitors to the Seventeenth Century: 1660-1699 by Jay Mortimer, The Stuart Age by Barry Coward, and Stand and Deliver: The Story of The Highwaymen by Patrick Pringle.

I also watched everything that I could find: the film Restoration, many YouTube bios of Charles II, and a (not great) mini-series about the London Fire. Yes, I asked my doctor about symptoms of plague, and relied on the patient University of Washington historical librarians to answer such questions as: Did men still wear plumes in the 1680’s? and: Do you have a floorplan of the Chapel  de la Trinité circa 1675?

So yes, I took my history seriously. The climax of the book revolves around the (Secret) Treaty of Dover, which, if left undestroyed by my fictional heroes, would have sunk poor Charles!

Of course, a big part of the book centers on The Condition of Women during this period. As you might have guessed, it wasn’t great. They were considered chattel, divorce was nearly unknown, and they could be beaten at will by their husbands.

Megs, of course, isn’t having any of this, and runs away from her father’s brutality to take to the road with Captain Jeffries. She must learn to shoot a flintlock, duel with a blade, and, in accordance with the highwayman’s credo, Be Merry! It must be said, though, that the Life is unromantic, typically ending at about twenty-seven with a hanging at Tyburn Tree.

Source: lookandlearn.com

Megs, however, has a lot of native smarts, and her own set of three Musketeers—Jeffries, Carnatus, and Aventis—to teach her the ropes.

A huge challenge for her is to be always disguised as a man: she gets to a point where she wonders what kind of creature she has become. This is complicated by her feelings for Aventis, who studied for the priesthood but is now an outlaw due to his faith.

As in Northern Ireland, the schism between Protestants and Catholics could be deadly at this time, and Megs gets caught up since she, an Anglican, is in love with a Catholic.

Happily, all’s well at the end, since I modeled the book on the adventures I loved as a girl: Three Musketeers, Monte Cristo, Robin Hood, and Iron Mask.

I am quite a fan of the old Errol Flynn swashbucklers, and I tried to create a similar atmosphere where peril lurks round every bend and a good swordfight is never too far away!

Which reminds me: most of the robberies in A Woman of the Road are based on real-life events. Hard to believe, I know, but there you have it!

Many thanks, Amy. Definitely not the kind of life I would have embraced! 

A Woman of the Road by Amy Wolf ~~ She yearned for freedom. But will holding up coaches bring more than she can handle?

England, 1665. Margaret “Megs” Tanner can’t wait to leave her past behind. Escaping her abusive father and a vile arranged marriage, she flees her sleazy inn and sets out for adventure. But the treacherous countryside is no place for a woman, so Megs swaps her skirts for men’s clothing and joins a notorious band of brigands.

Learning to fight with both sword and pistol, she bests any rival while suppressing budding feelings for a thieving companion. But After she’s put to the test and robs the queen’s carriage, she unearths a royal secret that could lead England to ruin. And now to save herself, she’ll have to turn spy and keep her country from the enemy’s clutches…

Can the daring highwaywoman change her country’s fortunes around with one slice from her sword?


M.K. Tod writes historical fiction. Her latest novel, TIME AND REGRET was published by Lake Union. Mary’s other novels, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from Amazon, NookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.

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10 Responses

  1. Wonderful book with lots of historical facts, done in an engaging and entertaining way!Well done!!!

    1. Dad’s are totally allowed to celebrate their daughter’s accomplishments! Wish mine was still alive to know about the novels I’ve written. Many thanks for stopping by.

  2. Hi Mary,

    Another interesting post. I want to ask Amy a question about written sources for early 17th century conditions, but there’s no email contact on her web site. Would you please pass this on to her.


    Therese Hicks

  3. I really enjoyed her book. It is great to know how historically accurate it is (those of us who are not historical scholars always wonder). Kudos to Ms. Wolf for all her hard work creating a very fun and engaging story!

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