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Eight of the Most Romantic Heroes from Literature and Period Dramas

gilbert blythe and romantic heroes
Anne and Gilbert. Photo: Sullivan Entertainment

Around here you don’t need Valentine’s Day to focus on romance. It’s always the perfect time to focus on our favorite romantic heroes in period drama and literature. By romantic heroes, I mean the men in some of our favorite stories who fall in love and are dealing with all the complications which come with it. They then manage to prove their passion and affection for their beloved in appealing ways and do these guys ever achieve that. Of course, this is not at all a definitive list, so let me know who you think is missing. Below, find some of the first men who come to mind when I think of literature (and the best period drama adaptation to go with them) and why I think they fit this category of romantic heroes as well as many of them fit into their well-tailored suits.

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Of course, this is not at all a definitive list, so let me know who you think is missing. Below, find some of the first men who come to mind when I think of literature (and the best period drama adaptation to go with them) and why I think they fit this category of romantic heroes as well as many of them fit into their well-tailored suits.

(Be prepared for spoilers throughout!)


(in no particular order)

#1 Fitzwilliam Darcy

Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy; romantic heroes
Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy
Photo: BBC

Who is he? “A tall proud man” in Jane Austen’s  Pride and Prejudice who refuses to dance with Elizabeth Bennet on the night of their first meeting, and then despite his objections to her social status and her inappropriate family, finds that he has never been as bewitched by any woman as he is by her.

Best Version: Colin Firth in the BBC’s 1995 version of Pride and Prejudice who manages to play the role magnificently. He is proud and very intimidating but shows so many emotions under the surface which shine through in his eyes.

Colin Firth and romantic heroes
Dreaming of Lizzy Photo: BBC

Words of Love: When Elizabeth accepts his marriage proposal, and he explains why he’s changed his ways.  “Such I was, from eight to eight and twenty; and such I might still have been but for you, dearest, loveliest Elizabeth! What do I not owe you! You taught me a lesson, hard indeed at first, but most advantageous. By you, I was properly humbled. I came to you without a doubt of my reception. You showed me how insufficient were all my pretensions to please a woman worthy of being pleased.”

Irresistible Romantic Moment/Gesture: When Darcy discovers that Elizabeth’s sister has run away with his most despised enemy, the infamous Wickham and cannot be found, he spends considerable time, effort and sacrifice seeking the wayward girl out and making sure Elizabeth’s family are not disgraced by the incident. Doubtless it causes him considerable trouble, but he does it and takes pains to try to keep what he has done a secret from Elizabeth.

#2 John Thornton

Mr. Thornton north and south and romantic heroes
Skills: Business, Brooding and Falling in Love HARD – Photo: BBC

Who is he? Can be found in the pages of Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South. He’s a self-made businessman who runs a mill and cares for his mother and sister in the Northern English town of Milton. He meets Margaret Hale whose family moves to the town from the south and finds himself in love with her even before he realizes it.

Best Version: Richard Armitage in the 2004 BBC miniseries who has a magnetic, brooding aura which can surely make anyone’s heart flutter, except Margaret Hale….at first.

mr. thornton romantic heroes
At long last – Photo: BBC

Words of Love: After Margaret is injured and has fainted and Thornton has carried her to safety, “Oh, my Margaret–my Margaret! No one can tell what you are to me! Dead–cold as you lie there you are the only woman I ever loved! Oh, Margaret–Margaret!”

Irresistible Romantic Moment/Gesture: It’s very hard to choose. Thornton does so much which reflects his unselfish love for Margaret. One scene that sticks with me though reveals how strongly he feels for her. When Margaret rejects Thornton, he leaves her terribly devastated. This strong, grim, often implacable man is shaken so much, “It would have been a relief to him, if he could have sat down and cried on a door-step by a little child, who was raging and storming, through his passionate tears, at some injury he had received.” Thornton does many things for the woman he loves, but I thought such a vulnerable moment for such a man was very touching.

#3 Henry Tilney

These two goofballs! romantic heroes
Fun with Henry Tilney – Photo: ITV

Who is he? In Northanger Abbey, Jane Austen’s most charming clergyman meets the heroine Catherine Morland in Bath and proceeds to captivate her with his playful teasing ways, his cleverness and his obvious preference for her company.

Best Version: J.J. Feild in Northanger Abbey 2007. As the definitive Henry, Feild charms everyone with his striking voice, his captivating smiles and expressions and can wear a great coat with style. He can easily pull off teasing glances as well as looks full of yearning. It would be hard for anyone to top his portrayal.

northanger abbey and romantic heroes
So sorry! I can’t help being adorable – Photo: ITV

Words of Love: Unlike most Austen heroes, Henry doesn’t have any reason to hide his feelings, so he quite openly gives delightful compliments. When Catherine tries to speculate on the motives of Henry’s brother, Mr. Tilney observes, “I only meant that your attributing my brother’s wish of dancing with Miss Thorpe to good nature alone convinced me of your being superior in good nature yourself to all the rest of the world.”

Irresistible Romantic Moment/Gesture: Henry defies a direct command from his unscrupulous and intimidating father and leaves his home to seek Catherine out and ask her to marry him. The parental disapproval separates him from his family for a while, and Catherine’s parents won’t allow them to see each other without his father’s blessing. Henry sticks to his principles and secure in his love waits for his girl and prepares a home for her though he can’t visit her. There is evidence of a clandestine correspondence throughout the waiting period, though. Imagine the letters Henry Tilney would write!

#4 Percy Blakeney

Sir Percy and romantic heroes
Sir Percy – the leader in fashion and the ridiculous – Photo: London Films/CBS

Who is he? In Baroness Orczy’s series of Scarlet Pimpernel books, Blakeney is a dashing, daring and a fearless hero who defies the violence and ruthlessness of the French government throughout the French Revolution, saving many innocents from the guillotine with cunning, intelligence and insane bravery. The love of his life is his wife Marguerite Blakeney who he adores even when they are estranged early in the series, and he keeps his feelings for her hidden.

Best Movie Version: Anthony Andrews in the 1982 version of The Scarlet Pimpernel is perfect – appealing, dashing, charming and such a hilarious fop when the need arises.

The Scarlet Pimpernel 1982 and romantic heroes
The definition of dashing – Photo: London Films/CBS

Words of Love: When Percy is finally captured by his enemies in Eldorado, one of the books in the series, he is imprisoned and kept under close and constant watch and tortured by not being allowed to sleep for a moment. Marguerite is allowed to see him for half an hour. Her presence is meant to break him, but it gives him strength and life: “ ‘Dear heart,’ he said with a quaint sigh, whilst he buried his face in the soft masses of her hair, ‘until you came I was so damned fatigued.’ ”

Irresistible Romantic Moment/Gesture: Percy is enthralled by his wife and is passionate about everything about her. When they are estranged, he sometimes visibly struggles to keep himself from embracing her when she’s close to him. After an emotional conversation in the garden one evening where she tries to make up with him, she walks slowly away struggling to hold back tears. After fighting to stay impassive throughout the whole tête-à-tête, Percy gives in to his tumultuous feelings and kneels down to kiss every place Marguerite’s foot and hand has touched on the stairs. He’s the epitome of the old time, romantic hero.

#5 Gilbert Blythe

gilbert blythe and romantic heroes
Future Love Interests – Photo: Sullivan Entertainment

Who is he? The friend and eventual husband of Anne Shirley of the Anne of Green Gables books. They meet as children at school where Gilbert makes the mistake of teasing Anne about her hair. The grudge that follows lasts for years until they finally become friends and later fall in love.

Best TV/Movie Version: Shamefully I am yet to see the celebrated 1985 version of Anne of Green Gables, but I am assured again and again that Jonathan Crombie as Gilbert is perfect.

Gilbert Blythe and romantic heroes
Jonathan Crombie as Gilbert Blythe Photo: Sullivan Entertainment

Words of Love: There’s something perfect about Gilbert calling Anne Shirley “Annest of Annes.”

Irresistible Romantic Moment/Gesture: Anne has refused to be friends with Gilbert despite his efforts to make peace. While Anne is going through difficult times at home, she decides to start work as a teacher. Her post is far away, and she can only come home on weekends. Despite their differences, Gilbert gives up a teaching job he has been offered in the neighborhood, so Anne can have it and be near her family.

#6 Almanzo Wilder

Who is he? One of the best parts of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s popular Little House series, an adaptation of her life on the frontier in the 1870s and 1880s, are her stories about her husband Almanzo Wilder. She met him when her family went to live in Dakota Territory. Almanzo’s a young farmer with the most beautiful horses in the area. He’s patient, steady and brave and clearly singles Laura out as the woman he loves early on.

Best TV/Movie version: There’s a dearth of portrayals out there, and I’m afraid I’ve never seen any version that has an acceptable Almanzo. Read about him in the Little House books, and you’ll see why. Any actor has his work cut out for him, especially considering that despite the limitations of photography at the time, the real Almanzo could still take a photograph that looks as dreamy as this. That takes talent.

Literary Men
Almanzo Wilder Photo: From Wikimedia Commons – Public Domain

Words of Love: Although he is well spoken, Almanzo tends to show his affection through actions rather than words. No long poetic speeches for him, but his feelings are often clear from what he says. Before Laura gets to know him very well, one winter she begins teaching school in an area far from her loving home. She boards with a couple who are cold, isolated and disturbing, and she is terribly homesick. Almanzo begins picking her up to bring her home once a week for a much-needed break. Uncertain why he’d take the long, often brutally cold rides to collect her and take her back, Laura fears he misunderstands her motives, steels herself and awkwardly explains that she won’t be driving socially with him after her time at the school is over like a courting couple. She immediately feels devastated because she thinks that now he will obviously not come to get her again, but he shows up the following week. When Laura questions him he replies, “What do you take me for? Do you think I’m the kind of fellow that’d leave you out there at Brewster’s when you’re so homesick, just because there’s nothing in it for me?”

Irresistible Romantic Moment/Gesture: Almanzo does many, many thoughtful things for Laura over the books, but what I always recall with delight is when he sets out for a long journey home to spend Christmas with his family, and Laura must accept that she won’t see him until Spring time. On Christmas Eve night he appears giving her a shock. “I decided I didn’t want to stay away so long,” he says, and of course, Laura gives him the appropriate welcome. He’s the perfect present.

#7 Gabriel Oak

Gabriel and Bathsheba - Far From the Madding Crowd; romantic heroes
Gabriel and Bathsheba – Far From the Madding Crowd – Photo: MGM

Who is he? A promising young farmer in Thomas Hardy’s Far From the Madding Crowd who falls in love with the irresistible Bathsheba Everdeen. She refuses him, amused that he would think he has a chance with her. A tragedy causes Gabriel to lose everything he owns, just about the time Bathsheba inherits her own farm, and the young lover finds himself working for her as a farm hand.

Best TV/Movie Version. I am yet to see the latest film version, alas, but sweet-faced Alan Bates does an excellent job as Gabriel Oak in the 1967 version. He actually leaves you wondering why Bathsheba would even consider marrying anyone else.

Words of Love: As Bathsheba rejects his marriage proposal, she suggests that he would grow to hate her if they made the mistake of getting married.

” ‘Never,’ said Mr. Oak, so earnestly that he seemed to be coming, by the force of his words, straight through the bush and into her arms. ‘I shall do one thing in this life — one thing certain — that is, love you, and long for you, and KEEP WANTING YOU till I die.’ His voice had a genuine pathos now, and his large brown hands perceptibly trembled.”

Irresistible Romantic Moment/Gesture: Gabriel is one of Bathsheba’s most dedicated employees. He guards her interests as carefully as he would his own, even as he has no hope of being with her. One night a rainstorm threatens Bathsheba’s precious straw ricks. Being exposed to rain would destroy them and deprive her of valuable income. The stacks need to be thatched to protect them from the rain. All the farm workers have unfortunately gotten drunk at a party, except Gabriel who climbs up on the ricks himself to do the work despite the chances of getting struck by lightning. Bathsheba comes out and helps him as much as she can, and the two work intimately close together in the darkness and the flashes of light.

#8 King Henry V

Shakespeare's King Henry V and romantic heroes
Shakespeare’s King Henry V – Photo MGM

Who is he? The English King who goes to war with France in Shakespeare’s epic history Henry V. He is a wise man, a skilled strategist and an inspiration with his spirited words. Through his leadership, the English defeat the French despite terrifying odds against them. After the war, Henry marries the French princess Katherine to unite the two countries.

Best TV/Movie Version: Kenneth Branagh who delivers heroic speeches with life and wonderful power and passion. He can also go from fierce warrior battered from war to nobly dressed lover with ease. I’d gladly follow his King Henry anywhere.

King Henry V and romantic heroes
Katherine can’t resist this king’s charm for long – Photo: MGM

Words of Love: After soundly defeating the French, King Henry turns his attention to conquering the heart of Katherine. It’s hard to pin just one perfect speech from his eloquent irresistible declarations of love, so I’ll keep it simple. One of the best bits is when he offers to kiss Kate’s hand, and she tells him that he should not lower himself to kiss the hand of one of his humble servants. His calm reply? “Then I will kiss your lips Kate.”

Irresistible Romantic Moment/Gesture: Katherine speaks and understands English fairly well, but when she loses the thread of what Henry is saying she asks for clarification. The king adorably tries to talk to her with some of the worst French ever and makes her laugh. Who wouldn’t fall for that?

Of course, there can never be a complete list of the best romantic heroes. Space would not permit it. If I went on about all of Jane Austen’s own for instance, I’d be able to go on for far too long, so as you can see I forced myself to stick to only a couple.

Be sure to comment and let me know your favorite moments and quotes from the choices here, or let me know who you would definitely add to this list.

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By on February 25th, 2016

About Dixie-Ann Belle

I’m from a Caribbean island you should definitely consider visiting (Hint: Trinidad and Tobago). I have a BSc in Mass Communications and an MA in English Literature. I’m a lifelong reader, and I love the classics, fantasy, urban fantasy, YA, historical novels and various combinations of these which might explain why I believe that in some alternate universe, I am The Last Unicorn. When I’m not reading, procrastinating online or watching television and movies in this universe, I’m working as a freelance writer, proof reader and editor. Sometimes I also write about creative things that inspire me on my blog Crossroads of Imagination

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16 thoughts on “Eight of the Most Romantic Heroes from Literature and Period Dramas”

  1. I love this list so much, and although Darcy has never been my personal favorite, I totally get his appeal. Basically, I agree with you on everyone except number 4 (though now I really need to read/watch The Scarlet Pimpernel). 🙂

    I didn’t see the 1985 version of Anne until a few years ago, and Jonathon Crombie really is an amazing Gilbert, (but I’d watch the second one with a bit of “they took things from the next three books and scrambled them around.” It’s not bad, it’s really fantastic, but it did throw me at first).

    Also, thank you for including Almanzo on the list; he doesn’t get enough love for being awesome! And yes, when we get a “Witch of Blackbird Pond” movie, could we get a Little House reboot, that follows the story after book two and has an amazing Almanzo? Dean Butler was okay, but he wasn’t book-Almanzo, so he loses points for that…

    Yeah, awesome list!

    • Thanks Bailey. I really recommend everything Scarlet Pimpernel. Please do read the book and watch the movie! Thanks for the warning about the 2nd Anne movie. It sounds like it would throw me off too. I’m way overdue to watch this.

      I recall we had a conversation about the awesomeness of “Manly” on one of your articles. He really was splendid. It was hard to pick one thing he’d said or done which I found romantic. I nearly wrote about the wonderful pantry he built for Laura when they got married for instance. I remember being so disappointed when I first watched the Little House series as a teen. It was too far removed from the book, and Dean Butler paled in comparison to the real thing. I agree we need a really good reboot.

      • I’ll read and report back! No problem, though like I said, I would still highly recommend watching it 🙂

        Oh, I love the pantry part! I remember that conversation; I was excited to see someone else agreed with me on the awesomeness of “Manly.” Do you have a dream cast for Laura and Manly?

        • I actually don’t. No one pops to mind. On Twitter, someone tweeted me that they liked that I included Almanzo, and she said she would have liked Heath Ledger to play him. I would have never considered that. It’s an interesting idea. Do you have anyone in mind?

          • I can definitely say that I think the guys you mentioned are all gorgeous. 😉 But I don’t know how any of them would do as Almanzo. I’ve actually never seen the two actresses you mentioned in their best roles, so I can’t judge them either. I know a little of Hailee Steinfeld. What do you think of her?

          • Ooh, Hailee Steinfeld would be good; I’d buy that!

            I don’t know if they could either (though, like you say, they’re all gorgeous). I feel like Ben Barnes is often cast as a more brooding character, but I don’t know how that would translate into Almanzo. Sac Efron can do serious and funny, so he might be an okay choice. Maybe I’ll start watching things with these actors specifically to judge how I think they’d play Manly…

    • They are swoonworthy indeed. 🙂 It was interesting for me to think that each showed their love in such different ways. Thanks for your comment!

  2. You’ve listed some pretty good guys, but Gilbert is my favorite! 🙂 I love how he calls her “Annest of Annes.” He’s the best.

    • I asked for some suggestions on Twitter, and Gilbert’s name came up right away. I knew I wouldn’t be forgiven if I left him out. 😉 Thanks for reading!

  3. This is such a great list!!! I especially love the “words of love” chosen from Mr. Thornton and Almanzo.

    I haven’t read Far From the Madding Crowd, but I will say I LOVED the newer theatrical version. It grew on me with multiple viewings. Gabriel Oak didn’t deliver that line you quoted from the book, and I wish he had. But I think his continued love was obvious though not spoken directly to Bathsheba.

    • Oh no they left out one of my favourite lines from the movie. 🙁 Ah well I still look forward to seeing it. So glad you liked my list. 😀

  4. You forgot Pierre Bezukhov from “War and Peace.” Even though he makes a lot of mistakes, he still has an honor code unlike many other fictional characters. He stays loyal to his cheating wife even though he loves another and in the end he is rewarded.

    • He sounds amazing. I have to admit I’ve never read “War and Peace” though I know I should. Thanks so much for reading and commenting!

  5. Jamie Fraser from Outlander! The near perfect hero …… strong, intelligent, educated, madly in love with his wife, Claire, a natural leader of men and just about perfect but still with human weaknesses. And a great wit and humor to boot.


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