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26 May 2014

Echoes of War


It's Memorial Day here in the states, a holiday weekend that unofficially begins summer (even though technically summer won't start for more than three weeks). But the holiday itself is a day dedicated to remembering those who have served in the military and are no longer with us. While enjoying a holiday weekend outing with my daughter and friends to the De Young Museum and making daisy chain crowns, I was thinking about the echoes of Memorial Day in relation to my Regency/Napoleonic set series. My protagonists, Malcolm and Suzanne Rannoch, are spies and Malcolm's cover is as a diplomat not a soldier. But they have numerous friends in the military and just about every book has not only characters who are soldiers but references to friends who have fallen, whether fictional characters or real life ones, such as Alexander Gordon and Colonel Canning who fell at Waterloo.

My current WIP is set in London in 1818, almost three years after Waterloo, with Malcolm now in Parliament. Both he and Suzanne technically have left the intelligence game behind. But of course the life of a spy can't be so easily left, and the shadows of the Napoleonic Wars hang over them and over London n more ways than one. Britain is flush with victory but also still recovering from years of war. Many have lost friends and loved ones, And many veterans have returned from the wars less than whole. Not all are as fortunate as Lord Fitzroy Somerset, Wellington's military secretary and a friend of Malcolm's in the world of my books.
Fitzroy lost his right arm at Waterloo, but survived the amputation, learned to write with his left hand, and resumed his duties (he went on to become a general and tragically die in the Crimean War). But for rank and file soldiers continuing to find work after losing a limb was more problematic. With the post war army reduced in size, returning soldiers flooded the job market, just as changes brought on by industrialization and enclosing farm land were causing upheaval and dislocation, A number of the dark forms Malcolm and Suzanne see sleeping in Hyde Park during a midnight adventure would be former soldiers, many lacking a limb.  

The French Revolution and Napoleonic Wars also sent a number of Continental émigrés fleeting Britain, mostly from France. At first an air of romance surrounded them, but the émigrés were largely penniless and as time wore on their welcome began to pall. Those with powerful friends fared better. The Duc and Duchesse deGramonts were friends of the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire. Their daughter, Corisande de Gramont, grew up close to the Devonshire House children and married Lord Ossulton. But even émigrés with friends were in the not always comfortable position of depending on their friends’ charity. Those without  powerful friends often subsisted in genteel poverty. Some returned to France after Waterloo and sought to have their estates restored, but others remained in England (Corisande de Gramont married Lord Ossulton, heir of the Earl of Tankerville).

In the wake of Waterloo, new émigrés sought refuge in England. Charles de Flahaut, who had been Napoleon’s aide-de-camp, narrowly escaped arrest or formal exile with the help of his father Prince Talleyrand (Flahaut was Talleyrand’s illegitimate son though nominally the son of his mother’s husband). Flahaut, who was also the former longtime lover of Hortense Bonaparte the Empress Josephine’s daughter, sought refuge in England and married the Scottish heiress Margaret Mercer Elphinstone. Not that Flahaut precisely found an unconditionally warm welcome in England either. His wife’s father didn’t talk to them for many years.

So shadows of the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars would hang over the London of 1818 in many ways, both tangible and intangible and would affect the lives of those living there just as they affect Malcolm and Suzanne and the other fictional and real characters in my book.

Writers, what recently past historical events hang over books you've written? Readers, can you think of books in which war is a vivid echo even though the book isn't actually set during the war? Do you tend to think of the Regency Era and the Napoleonic Wars are separate or connected?

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