History Hoydens


Historical Romance Writers Dishing the Dirt on Research

19 September 2016

Spies, Loyalty, Betrayal & the Napoleonic Wars Revisited

Someone recently did me the compliment of tweeting a post I wrote several years and four books ago Spies, Loyalty, Betrayal & the Napoleonic Wars. Reading it over it resonated with much of what I am writing about now. I thought I would update it for this week's post. Also helpful because I am in the midst of  copy edits and just got back from traveling (there I am above with my daughter in Ashland, Oregon). I hope you enjoy this updated trip down memory lane.

I gravitated to the Regency/Napoleonic era through my love of Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer. But I also love spy stories, both James Bond adventure and the sort of intricate chess games and moral dilemmas John le Carré dramatizes so brilliantly. The Napoleonic Wars offers are a wonderfully rich setting for both types of story. So many different sides, so many different factions within sides. The French under Napoleon had been bent on conquest, but they had also brought much-needed reforms to many countries. Some liberal Spaniards saw supporting the French in the Peninsular War as the quickest route to progressive reform. And after the Napoleonic Wars, a number of the victors wanted to turn the clock back to before the French Revolution  and saw any hint of reform as one step away from blood in the streets. Friends easily melt into enemies and back again. Napoleon’s longtime foreign minister Prince Talleyrand  later became prime minister under the Bourbon restoration. Joseph Fouché who had been ruthless in using terror against enemies of the Bonapartist government, was equally ruthless in going after Napoleon’s supporters who were proscribed from the amnesty after Waterloo. In the midst of breakneck adventure, a love affair can have political consequences, a tactical decision can shatter a friendship, it can come down to a question not of whether or not commit betrayal but only of who or what to betray.


I’ve always been fascinated by moral dilemmas. And I’m intrigued by how romantic fidelity and betrayal can parallel other types of fidelity and betrayal (whether between husbands and wives or in their relationship with other characters or with a country or cause). I like writing stories of intrigue set in tumultuous times, but I think in those sorts of times (probably always but then more than ever) choices don’t tend to come down to easy, clear-questions of right and wrong. It’s interesting to see how characters wrestle with those issues and how the personal and the political intertwine. The possibility that a loved one or friend isn’t who you thought they were is perhaps one of our deepest fears in a relationship. And yet most of us are somewhat different people in different aspects of our lives and have different loyalties – to spouses, children, lovers, friends, causes, countries, work. Sometimes it isn’t so much a question of betrayal as of deciding which loyalty comes first. It’s not so far from the seemingly lofty sentiment of “I could not love thee, dear, so much, Lov’d I not Honour more” to betraying a lover for a cause.

Or so my heroine Suzanne might argue. Her husband Malcolm might have more difficulty with the idea. He takes personal loyalties very seriously, though he was the one who went off to the field at Waterloo and risked himself (though he wasn't a soldier) leaving his wife and son behind in Brussels. In the midst of the carnage, he wondered which loyalty he should have put first. While Suzanne, for different reasons, was wondering much the same thing. In the wake of the most recent book in the series, London Gambit, Malcolm and Suzanne have been forced to flee Britain because the secrets of Suzanne's past as a Bonapartist French spy have unraveled. On their way to safety at Malcolm's villa in Tuscany, they stop in Switzerland to see Suzanne's friend Hortense Bonaparte, Josephine's daughter and Napoleon's stepdaughter. They find Hortense in trouble, leading to the events of my forthcoming novella, Mission for a Queen (out November 3). Sitting with Hortense in her elegant salon, Malcolm thinks "He was used to enemies changing into allies. But there was something about sitting in this decorous salon, a few feet away from the stepdaughter of the man who had been his country's opponent for so many years—"

Malcolm's loyalty to his wife has led him into exile from his country and to the stepdaughter of the man he fought against for so many years. He finds himself, alongside Suzanne, helping Hortense with a problem that is intensely personal and yet has political ramifications that could ripple across the Continent.

Writers, do you choose time periods because they lend themselves particularly well to the type of stories you want to tell? Or does your choice of time period influence the stories you create? Readers, do you think you like to read about particular eras because of the type of stories and the issues in those stories that tend to work in those eras? What's the worst choice of loyalties you've encountered in a book? And what's your favorite spy story in any era?

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Blogger Betty Strohecker said...

Loved reading this post. I love historical fiction, and your series is at the top of my list. There is so much to be learned in such an enjoyable way. I have probably read more in the Regency and Elizabethan periods, but enjoy other periods as well.

One book I would mention regarding loyalty and betrayal is All the Queen's Men. This was about the struggle between Elizabeth I and Mary Queen of Scots. Elizabeth's spymaster, Sir Francis Walsingham was ruthless in many ways, setting up people to betray others and ultimately betray themselves. It was a dangerous and cruel time in which to live, as many appear to be.

7:34 PM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

Betty, the Elizabethan era is fascinating for spying (within the court as well as between courts) and Walsingham is a really interesting character. I'll have to look for All the Queen's Men!

7:46 PM  
Blogger Lynne Hess said...

These posts on the reality of history and how it affects the characters are always wonderfully informative. Unlike Betty, my particular passion was always medieval history. But the discovery of Candy Harris, Lauren and you made me realize how fascinating the early 1800's were...and how complex it was, with war after war happening throughout this era and, as you pointed out, loyalties changing constantly.

8:38 PM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

So glad I (and other writers I like and admire) helped you discover this period, Lynne! The late fifteenth century was the focus of my undergraduate research (also a time of change and shifting alliances), but I've always been drawn to the early 19th century - the shifting loyalties and alliances make it a great setting for writing about spies.

8:46 PM  

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