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25 July 2016

Queen Hortense's Secret

Hortense Bonaparte by François Gérard 
Readers of my Malcolm & Suzanne Rannoch books know that part of Suzanne’s backstory is that in 1811 she accompanied Hortense Bonaparte, the Empress Josephine’s daughter and Napoleon’s stepdaughter, on a secret journey into Switzerland. The reason for the journey was so that Hortense could give birth in secret to her child by her lover,  the Comte de Flahaut (who appears in my most recent book London Gambit). Suzanne’s involvement in this interlude is of course fictional, but Hortense Bonaparte did indeed go secretly into Switzerland in 1811 to give birth to her child by Flahaut (who joined her for the birth).

Hortense was born Hortense de Beauharnais on 10 April 17883, the daughter of Josephine and her first husband, Alexandre de Beauharnais. Her parents separated when she was very young, and she lived with Josephine. Her father was guillotined in 1794 and her mother was imprisoned in Les Carmes and nearly went to the guillotine as well. After the Terror, Josephine reigned over Directoire society as the mistress of Paul Barras, and later, in 1796, married Napoleon Bonaparte.

Napoleon was fond of Hortense and her brother Eugene and treated them as his children. But as he became more and more of a monarch, he became more and more concerned with having an heir, and he and Josephine had no biological children of their own. In 1802, Napoleon and Josephine pushed Hortense into a marriage with Napoleon’s younger brother Louis with the idea that one of their children could be Napoleon’s heir. Unfortunately, the cheerful, artistic Hortense and serious, intellectual Louis were not temperamentally suited and the marriage was strained from the start. But within a year of their marriage they had a son, Napoleon Louis Charles, who became Napoleon’s heir presumptive. (My fellow Hoyden Lauren beautifully captures Hortense as the mother of a toddler, organizing theatricals at her mother’s chateau at Malmaison, in her wonderful The Garden Intrigue).

In 1804, Hortense and Louis had a second son, Napoleon Louis. In 1806, Napoleon made Louis King of Holland, and Hortense reluctantly left Paris for the Hague. She came to appreciate her life and role there, but her marriage to Louis continued to deteriorate. In May 1807, tragedy struck. Hortense and Louis’s eldest son died of croup before his fifth birthday. The loss of their child seems to have exacerbated the strains in an already strained marriage, though they did have a third son, Charles Louis Napoleon (who later became Emperor of France as Napoleon III) in 1808.

Hortense began to spend much of her time in France, theoretically for her own health and that of the children. Effectively separated from Louis, she began a love affair with Auguste-Charles-Joseph, Comte de Flahaut, a handsome and charismatic army officer, who already had a string of well-known love affairs in his past. He was officially the son of  his mother’s husband, the late Comte de Flahaut, but it was widely acknowledged that his real father was almost certainly his mother’s lover Prince Talleyrand, Napoleon’s longtime foreign minister (and another important ongoing character in the Malcolm & Suzanne series).

In 1811, Hortense found herself pregnant, and there was no way her husband could be the father. She managed to conceal her pregnancy through the celebrations around the baptism of Napoleon's son with his second wife, Marie Louise. Hortense was one of the godmothers and by then was five months pregnant (thinking back to my own pregnancy, I can only imagine Hortense must have been very thankful for the high-waisted gowns that were in vogue).

Shortly after the baptism, Hortense traveled secretly into Switzerland. On 21 October she gave birth to a son at an unnamed inn. Flahaut joined her for the birth. His mother, Adelaide de Souza, took the baby back to France with her and raised him (a deceptive birth certificate gave him the title of the Comte de Morny). He became an army officer and statesman and also wrote plays under a pseudonym. Many years later, his half-brother, then Napoleon III, made him Duc de Morny.

Hortense’s love affair with Flahaut continued until after Waterloo. Flahaut supported Napoleon’s bid to retake power and fought for him at Waterloo. Talleyrand saved Flahaut from arrest in the wake of Napoleon’s defeat, but Flahaut sought refuge in Britain where he married t he Scottish heiress Margaret Mercer Elphinstone in 1817. Hortense went into exile in d’Arenberg in Switzerland. Which is where Suzanne and Malcolm find her (and unexpected intrigue) in my WIP…

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13 July 2016

At Romance Writers of America's Annual Conference

Going to be quiet this week as I'm in San Diego enjoying the annual romance writers conference. I'll report in next week. So far it's lovely. Just enjoyed a wonderful workshop on codes, spies, & cipers.

26 June 2016

Turning 50




Please forgive this shamelessly self-indulgent post. I had a very busy weekend preparing for and enjoying my own 50th birthday party (my daughter Mélanie, with in the picture above, was a big help!).  With my time preoccupied by my own history, I had no time to formulate a post about the finer point of historical research. Though I have been thinking about my books and the history of my characters. In general I avoid dramatizing their birthdays, unless the celebrations play a major role in the story. Though in an ongoing series, one can get locked into dates. I needed to work the fifth birthday of Colin, Suzanne and Malcolm's son, into London Gambit, because I had set it as 14 June and the anniversary of Waterloo on 18 June was part of the plot. I ended up liking how it showed Malcolm and Suzanne juggling real life as parents in the midst of a murder investigation and a possible plot to free Napoleon.



When I started writing the series, I was the same age as Malcolm. His grand dame aunt, Lady Frances, seemed like an older woman to me. I remember turning 45 and realizing with a shock that I was now Lady Frances's age. And now, at 50, I'm the same age as spymaster Raoul O'Roarke, who also happens to be Malcolm's father. Though I still don't feel I have nearly the worldly wisdom of Frances or Raoul. I'm twice as old as 25-year-old Suzanne, but I still identify with her. Partly because, given the era and the life she'd led, she's grown up much faster. Partly because I think part of the fun of reading and writing is being any age we want mentally.




I may not dramatize many birthdays, but I like to imagine what my characters would give each other for birthdays and how they would celebrate them. I like to think they'd have parties as fun as the one I had last night, with good friends from lots of parts of my life.



What are some of your most memorable birthday celebrations, either ones you've had for yourself or ones you've read about in books?

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30 May 2016

Series writing - Continuity & Change


My new release London Gambit ends with a major game changer that pretty much guarantees that at least the next novella and novel in the series will take place out of Britain. This opens a lot of intriguing new options I’m excited to explore. But it also means that not all the ensemble cast will be present. Over the course of the series that cast has grown. I like large casts of characters, so from the first the series focused not just on married agents Malcolm and Suzanne Rannoch but on their family and friends (not to mention enemies). And as the series has gone on, new characters who were part of one story have become key parts of the ensemble.


For instance, Harry and Cordelia Davenport. I added them four books back because i realized I needed a soldier character in Imperial Scandal, which focused on the battle of Waterloo. And with the tangled marriage and competing loyalties of my central characters, Malcolm and Suzanne Rannoch, it seemed thematically appropriate for Harry to have an estranged wife. I knew Harry and Cordelia would become friends of the Rannochs and appear in subsequent books in the series, but I didn’t quite realize that they would become the Rannochs’ best friends and major ongoing characters who are an integral part of each investigation. Looking back, it’s hard to imagine the series, or Malcolm’s and Suzanne’s lives, without Harry and Cordelia.



I love ensemble series, in books and on television. I love getting to a whole group characters and returning to a familiar world. As an author, I love exploring their ongoing interactions. But there’s no denying that as the cast grows, it can tricky to work such a large cast into each story. So in a sense it's refreshing to have a new locale with new people for Malcolm and Suzanne to interact with, and not to have to constantly think "but this character would be there." Or "they would go to that character for help." Even when all the ensemble cast doesn't appear in a book, I feel I have to account for where they are. With the next book, they will simply be "in Britian."

And yet-- Already I find myself missing Malcolm and Suzanne's friends and family as much as they do. Already I'm working on ways to bring at least some of them into the next story.

How do you feel about ensemble series? Do you enjoy a large cast of continuing characters? Do you like it when a change of scene limits the cast, at least for a book or so, or do you miss your old friends?







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01 May 2016

London Gambit






My new book London Gambit, which is out this Thursday, May 5, is a book I had looked forwards to writing for a long time. But it is also a book I hesitated to write. Or rather, I had known for a long time that the major  plot twist it contains would occur at some point in the Malcolm and Suzanne Rannoch series, but when I decided that plot twist belonged in this book, I wasn’t sure I wanted to go through with it. The book is set in June 1818, three years after the battle of Waterloo. The denouement of the book takes place on the third anniversary of the battle. Echoes of Waterloo and the Napoleonic wars run through the story. It’s a time when, despite victory, many still feared Bonapartist plots, when economic hardship fostered discontent in Britain, when the Bourbon restoration was far from secure in France, and Spain teetered on the brink of revolution.

London Gambit
begins with two seemingly unconnected mysteries. Former British spy and M.P. Malcolm Rannoch is summoned to a shipping warehouse where the run-away nephew of a friend has stumbled across a dead body. On the same night, Malcolm’s wife Suzanne is called away from a Mayfair party to assist a wounded man who has slipped out of Paris one step ahead of Royalist pursuit. In fever-wracked delirium, the man warns Suzanne of a plot to rescue Napoleon Bonaparte from exile on the island of St. Helena. A plot that could bring chaos to Suzanne’s life, for though now married to the grandson of a British duke, she was once an agent for Bonaparte herself. Before she can ask further questions, the man disappears into the London night.




photo: Raphael Coffey

These two mysteries intersect in unexpected ways and shake Malcolm and Suzanne’s world. The end of the book shifts the board the series is played on. Malcolm and Suzanne’s lives, and those of the other central series characters, will never be the same. As I said above, I had been writing towards this development in the series for sometime, but when I got to the point, I wasn’t sure I really wanted to go through with it. I love my characters, and I felt as though I was being mean to them. I was, perhaps, reluctant to leave the somewhat settled world of the series as I knew it. And yet, that very settled nature was precisely why this was the right time for this plot twist. I considered changing or softening it, but in the end I went through with it as envisioned. I’m glad I did - I’m very excited to explore the new possibilities it opens up for the series (I’m already in the midst of writing the next novella and planning the next novella). But reading over the galleys, I still felt a pang for my characters. Which, as a writer friend pointed out, is probably a sign that I made the right decision.

Writers, have you ever hesitated to write a particular plot twist? Readers, how do you feel about “game  changers” that shake up a series?

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19 April 2016

Fun with Primary Sources

Tracy talked recently about first person research. I've  been reading Boswell's London Journal 1762-1763 recently. It's nice, because the entries are small and I can read one or two whenever I have a moment to spare from whatever else I'm doing.



As these were his private journals, he's quite frank in them. And it's interesting to see just how a single man about town whiled away his time. For example, here is a typical entry, dated Saturday 4 December (1762):



I breakfasted with Dempster. He accompanied me into the City. He parted from me at St. Paul's, and I went to Child's, where there was not much said. I dined and drank tea with Lady Betty Macfarlane. We were but cold and dull. The Laird was low and disagreeable. I resolved to dine there no more; at least very, very seldom. At night, Erskine and I strolled through the streets and St. James's Park. Were were accosted there by several ladies of the town [whores]. Erskine was very humorous and said some very wild things to them. There was one in a red cloak of a good buxom person and comely face whom I marked as a future piece, in case of exigency.



This entry has a footnote which also gives Boswell's daily memoranda of the same day (yes, the man kept TWO different forms of journal of his daily life!).



Breakfast first at home. Then in Bath [coat] and old grey [suit] and stick, sally to City. Send off North Britons to Digges. Get the one of the day. Go to Child's, take dish of coffee, read Auditor, Monitor, Briton. Then come to Douglas's and inquire about parade. Then Leicester [Street], dine. Be comfortable yet genteel, and please your friend Captain Erskine. Drink tea. Then home, quiet, and wind up the week's journal in grey and slippers. Be always in bed before twelve. Never sup out. Breakfast R> Mackye Sunday and take franks [get Mackye to send his mail for free]."



Clearly, I need to see about tracking down a copy of Boswell's memoranda to go with the journals. I love this kind of daily minutia. It really helps me fill out my scenes, understand how my characters would have spent their time, and how they would have thought about the world.

03 April 2016

A Day at the Met


My daughter Mélanie and I are in New York for me to have book-related meetings. Saturday we spent a lovely afternoon rambling through the Metropolitan Museum of Art (and only seeing a fraction of its treasures). They have a special exhibit of Elisabeth Vigée Le Brun's paintings which was an added treat for me, as I got to see portraits of real historical people who are characters in my books. But I think Mélanie's favorites were the period rooms, which have always been favorites of mine as well. For me, it's like stepping into history (and now into my books), and it's such a treat now to watch my daughter having the same experience (with Mummy saying things like "Sofia's family could eat at this dining table" or "that looks like it could belong to  Anna and Elsa").

We sat on the steps of the façade of an 1823 building (an American bank, but it's not hard to imagine it as a London great house).


The Federalist rooms in the American Wing for me evoke the type of room that my characters might actually live in, particularly in a smaller London house (as opposed to a London great house like Devonshire House or a country estate). Mélanie seemed intrigued too.



We had a late lunch in the American Wing café and enjoyed this sculpture of a mama jaguar and her cubs.

We drank in the atmosphere of the Robert Adam dining room from Lansdowne House that has already inspired several scenes in my books.




Mélanie is fascinated by period china and silver.


We examined a firescreen that will probably find it's way into one of my books though the colors and composition reminded Mel of Ariel on her rock in The Little Mermaid.


One of Mélanie's favorite things was throwing coins in the water by the Temple of Dendur.




What spots at the Met or other museums do you find most inspiring? Writers, do they make you feel like you're walking into a scene from one of your books?

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