History Hoydens


Historical Romance Writers Dishing the Dirt on Research

30 April 2012

When Is a Hero not like Hugh Jackman?

There’s been a lot of talk around the blogosphere and on Twitter lately about romance’s perfect hero “problem”. About how they’re all TALL, and MUSCULAR, and HOT (essentially, Hugh Jackman, Hugh Jackman in a wig, Hugh Jackman with a shaved head, you get the picture). And I thought, well of course they are, because we see him through the heroine’s eyes. And SHE thinks he’s hot. Right?

Let me go to the personal side for a few examples. My best friend and I are very similar (arty, educated history geeks, close to 6’ tall, with quirky senses of humor that owe a little too much to Joss Whedon), but we couldn’t have more different taste in men. She likes BIG men. BEEFY men. Thick, solid, hard bodied, bullnecked MEN. Hugh Jackman at his biggest is just barely within her scale of manly. When I look at her current boyfriend, I see a husky, wide, unattractive Neanderthal.

She refers to the men I like to date as Great Danes. They tend to be tall, thin, more elf than dwarf if you know what I mean. I use descriptions like swimmer’s body, whipcord, lean. My BFF on the other hand has been known to describe them much as Guy Richie did Madonna (gristle and bone). She does not find my type attractive in the slightest. Hugh Jackman, at his slimmest is pushing maximum density for me.

So, it’s not that every hero in Romancelandia is the hottest guy on the planet, it’s that for the heroine of THAT story, he’s the hottest guy on the planet. And I think that rose-colored-glasses kind of thing is part of falling in love (or it always has been for me). The other women passing him on the street may well be thinking “That guy needs to lose a few pounds” or “Dude, drink a milkshake.”

The other issue that limits the normalization of heroes is that when in their POV, writers don’t tend to show them obsessing about their bodies or looks. He can be self-deprecating about his looks, or apologetic if he’s “rugged”, but he can’t worry his jeans make his ass look flat the way a heroine can.

So I find myself in disagreement with those advocating for more normal or realistic heroes (or heroines for that matter). Because I don’t think that our heroes are examples of impossible standards, I think they’re expressions of how every woman looks at her man when they’re falling in love.

25 April 2012

The Name Game

I was thinking about baby names long before I was pregnant, though I was several months into my pregnancy before I settled on my daughter's name. I would try out different names, think about them for a while, try to imagine calling my child that as she grew up. By the time of my baby shower I was sure enough to tell my friends. At the end of the shower a friend's ten-year-old daughter patted my pregnant stomach and said "goodbye, Mélanie." The name was starting to seem inextricably intertwined with this little creature who kicked with increasing vigor.

My daughter, Mélanie Cordelia, is named after two characters in my books, with a nod to Shakespeare. Just a couple of yeas ago I was naming the character Cordelia, who appears in my recently released Imperial Scandal. I went through a similar process to the one I went through naming my baby - making lists, trying out names. Save that the character who would become Cordelia already had a very clear personality in my mind. That's where naming a character is different from naming a child. The character is usually already a fully formed adult. And of course one doesn't have to worry the character will hate you as a teenager for choosing that particular name.

Sometimes I struggle over character names, other times they seem obvious to me. While it took me a long time to settle on Cordelia's name (and on Harry for her estranged husband), I knew almost instinctively that Cordelia's sister should be named Julia. Last month, just before Imperial Scandal was published, I was having dinner with a friend in New York. We started talking about Brideshead Revisited, and only then did I realize that the two sisters in Brideshead are named Julia and Cordelia. Very different characters from my Cordelia and Julia, but subconsciously I must have remembered when I named my characters, if only in the sense that those two names seemed to go together. The tricky thing of course about naming characters is that one doesn't know what conscious and subconscious associations readers will bring to the names one chooses.

In naming a character a writer struggles with not only what fits the character but also with what name that character's parents might have chosen when the character was as much an unknown as my unborn daughter was when I named her. I went through several names for the hero's sister in Beneath a Silent Moon before I realized her half-French mother would have given her a French name. Suddenly not only was the name obvious, but her character fell into place. The historical novelist also has to deal with what names were in historical usage. A real challenge when family trees of the era reveal a multitude of George, Edwards, and Johns. This becomes particularly problematic in an ongoing series. Yes, a set at Almack's might have been made up of two Georges and two Elizabeths with two Edwards and two Annes in the next set over, but in a novel the reader will get confused. Yet, going back to the question of what names the parents might pick, some characters' parents would be likely to pick conventional names. And then there's the real historical character who suddenly cries out to pop into one's fictional narrative and happens to share a name with an already established fictional character. Or two historical figures who share a name - the book I just finished features Sir Charles Stuart, real life British diplomat, and Charles, Lord Stewart, real life British diplomat/soldier. One can only imagine the confusion at diplomatic soirées, especially as both men were known for their amorous intrigues.

When I find the "right" name for a character, it's soon hard for me to imagine them as anyone else. Just as it's now hard for me to imagine my daughter as anyone but Mélanie Cordelia.

Do names affect the way you view a character? Have characters in books changed the way you feel about a particular name? How important is historical accuracy to you in character names? Writers, what are the particular challenges you face in naming characters?

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24 April 2012

Privileges of a Peer

Since I’ve been reviewing the laws pertaining to becoming a peer, I thought I’d do a quick post on some of the legalities of being a peer. All of these except the ones directly relating to Parliament also apply to peeresses, and continue to apply to them even after their husbands death (unless they marry a commoner).

Freedom from Arrest, save for treason, felony, or refusing to give surety of the peace (basically to post a sum of money to ensure you don’t carry out whatever act you’ve been threatening to commit). This was why peers could not be thrown into debtor’s prison. This privilege extends to a person succeeding to a peerage who has already been arrested. Which could make for an interesting plot.

Trial by Peers. This is exactly what it sounds like. Accusations of treason or felony (e.g. murder) against a peer could only be tried in front House of Lords.

Freedom of Speech in Parliament. Pretty much self-explanatory.

Immunity from Civil Actions. This was pretty much wiped out by Acts under Anne, William III and George III, so it’s not really going to play into the plots of Georgian or Regency novels.

Exemption from Summons as Witness. This also fell by the wayside.

Knights on Jury. At one time, in any action against a peer, he was allowed to demand knights on the Jury. This too is gone by my period of focus.

Proxies. A peer can give his proxy to another lord of Parliament (this is how they can get out of attending every session).

Protest. This doesn’t mean leading a march in the streets, it means every peer has a right to enter is dissent into the Journals of the House.

Exemption from Jury Service. Self-explanatory.

Access to Sovereign. All peers are supposed to have personal access to the sovereign. Not sure how this works when they’re constantly being banned from court!

Scandalum Magnatum. A special provision made for punishment of those who make false statements concerning prelates, dukes, earls, barons, and other nobles and magnates.

Chaplains. A peer may appoint chaplains to the livings he controls.

Taking the King’s Deer. All of us who grew up loving Robin Hood know this one. Basically it said that any peer going to or coming from Parliament could take one or two deer from the King’s forests. This wasn’t still being practiced in the 18th and 19th centuries

Answering “on honour”. Peers do no swear an oath when called to testify in court. They answer upon their honour. This privilege is not longer in effect, but was during the Georgian/Regency period.

18 April 2012

How Happy Was My Valley

Over the past few months, I’ve been taking a break from Napoleonic spies to hang out in a very different time and place: Kenya in the 1920s.

I blame my friend Christina for this. (Hi, Christina!) Last year, she gave me a copy of Frances Osborne’s The Bolter, an account of the tumultuous life of Idina Sackville Gordon Hay et cetera et cetera. She collected husbands the way some of us collect books.

Idina Gordon formed the lynchpin of the group that came to be known as the Happy Valley set, a group of English settlers in Kenya’s Wanjohi Valley with more old Etonians per capita than in Berkeley Square. They had their own club—the Muthaiga Club—polo matches, race week, and incredibly racy parties that included hard liquor, recreational drugs, and spouse-swapping. "Are you married or do you live in Kenya?" went the saying back home in England. For those who are fans of Isak Dinesen’s Out of Africa, or the movie version of the same, many of the actors in this sub-society will be very familiar, in particular Bror Blixen, Dinesen’s first husband, and Denys Finch-Hatton, her charismatic and restless lover.

The more one reads about the individuals involved, the more the term "Happy Valley" comes to seem like a misnomer. Most of the prime players in the Happy Valley set carried emotional scars of various kinds, from the volatile Alice de Janze, who shot her lover (and then married him) to Idina herself, funneling lovers to her younger husband in an attempt to keep him amused. For more about the prime players, you can't go wrong with Paul Spicer's The Temptress, about Alice de Janze, or Sara Wheeler's beautifully written biography of Denys Finch-Hatton, Too Close to the Sun.

It was the contrasts that struck me the most forcibly about Kenya in the 1920s. The hard-partying old Etonians were also, many of them, dedicated and innovative agriculturalists. Some farmed with more enthusiasm than success (there are countless stories of spectacular failures), but many truly put their minds and their backs to the test. Many also lived in huts while their houses were being built, the primitive accommodations at odds with their Paris couture.

What struck me most about the book, though, was the author’s admission that she hadn’t known, until she was a teenager, that Idina Gordon was her great-grandmother. She found out largely by chance.

Doesn’t that make you stop and think about how little we know about our own personal histories? Or, even more alarmingly, how much we think we know of our families, might, in fact, be false.

My book, which comes out in early 2013, jumps back and forth between 1999 New York, 1910s England, and 1920s Kenya, with the Happy Valley set very much in evidence. It's currently titled THE ASHFORD AFFAIR. I’d thought about calling it Grass Huts and Coronets, but somehow I doubt my editor would go for it….

What historical periods or people have caught your imagination recently?

16 April 2012

The de'il's awa wi' the Exciseman

I've been researching smuggling for my soon-to-be-started WIP (a revenue officer, a governess, and a ghost in Orkney!). Mostly what I'm discovering is how incredibly widespread and shameless smuggling was. It operated in many ways like our modern-day Mafia--but before the 80s mob trials. Revenue officers knew who the smugglers were. Often they even had advance knowledge of smuggling runs. But they were so badly outnumbered that in many cases, the officer or two (even if he was backed by half-a-dozen dragoons) had to simply watch as sixty or a hundred armed men rode by escorting huge cargoes.

There were cases of small fleets of smuggling ships coming into an inlet where a Revenue cutter lay at anchor and saying, "Cut your anchor and take off or we'll sink you!" (But with worse language, my book made sure to clarify!) And the ship had really no choice but to do it.

Even if smugglers could be arrested, it was rare to find a jury that would convict them. This was both because of genuine local support for the smugglers (who kept local economies going and stood up to the Man) and because of fear. Smugglers set fire to the stables and ricks of farmers who refused to allow their horses to be used, and tortured and/or murdered informers.

Here's a story that shows how truly out of control the situation was:

One of the most famous smuggling organizations was the Hawkhurst Gang (like Adrian!) in Kent. This gang operated quite openly and violently. In one instance, they beat, interrogated, and flogged some revenue officers who tried to challenge them, then carried them across the Channel and dumped them on enemy French soil in their King's uniforms.

Rye, the Mermaid Inn - geograph.org.uk - 170715

The Mermaid Inn was a popular hangout for the gang, who would carouse there with their weapons out on the table.

In 1747 the town of Goudhurst decided they were tired of the Hawkhurst Gang's reign of terror. They formed the Goudhurst Militia, to be trained and let by a former sergeant in a foot regiment of the line. When the gang heard, they were furious and attacked the town's new defenses, pushing the militia into the town. They managed to capture one of the militiamen and tortured him for information. Once they had gotten out of him all the militia's preparations, they sent him home ("mangled," my book says) to tell the town that the gang would attack on April 20th, kill every person found in the town including women and children, and then burn it down.

The town didn't back down. The women and children were sent away for safety and Goudhurst was speedily fortified, with the church as the final line of defense.

St.Mary's church, Goudhurst - geograph.org.uk - 188877

"Kingsmill [the leader of the Hawkhurst Gang] formally called on Stuart [the sergeant] to surrender, in correct military procedure." (Geoffrey Morley's The Smuggling War.) An intense battle ensued, in which Kingsmill's brother was shot down and died beside him. Startlingly (to me) the villagers got the upper hand, wounding most of the smugglers and eventually pursuing the retreating smugglers back to Hawkhurst.

And the government did nothing while all this was going on! Of course, there was no organized police force at the time and bringing the army out against their own citizens...I'm sure no one wanted another Civil War. But it's mind-boggling, isn't it?

Here's what the government did do: they cut the import duty on tea. Smuggling was profitable because import duties on their products were so high: smugglers could sell their tea, brandy, lace and so on for much more than they had paid for it and still be far below the price set by legal merchants. It was estimated at one point that smugglers would still make a profit even if only one in three of their cargoes made it into England. So the smugglers were actually angry at the government for lowering the tea tax, which tells you exactly how seriously to take their "We only smuggle because the taxes are unfairly high" argument.

So a few months later (September 1747), a Revenue cutter captured a Hawkhurst ship and took her to the nearest port: Poole in Dorset. Her enormous cargo of tea and some alcohol and other things was unloaded into the Customs House.

What did Kingsmill do? He got together a group of local smugglers (who had to sign a statement of their intentions as a guard against them informing later) headed by him and six of his men heavily armed thirty of his men and went to storm the Customs warehouse. They were undeterred even by the presence of a warship in the harbor, calculating that if they waited until low tide, the ship's guns would be out of range of the warehouse doors. So they broke into the warehouse, taking only their own contraband (only the tea: they didn't have the horses or carts to take the brandy and other stuff), and went home. (This is actually not the only instance of this happening.)

When someone finally informed on the gang, the Hawkhurst Gang abducted him and the officer (Charles Galley, an elderly man) escorting him, torturing and whipping them as they carried them back to Hawkhurst. The officer finally fell off his horse, and the smugglers buried him alive in a fox earth (some sites say "possibly" still alive).

Galley Grove, Rogate, West Sussex - geograph.org.uk - 54126

Galley Grove, site of the officer's grave and now named after him.

They then took the informer, keeping him chained in a shed for a few days while they decided what to do with him. They eventually tried to hang him from the windlass of a well, but the rope was too short so they just dumped him down the shaft and dropped stones on him until the shaft was full. (You can see a series of contemporary illustrations of these events at this site.)

Seven of the men responsible were finally caught and tried for their part in the raid on the Customs House, but only because one of their own turned Crown's evidence!  They were tried in London rather than in their home turf. Kingsmill and three of his men were given the death penalty, and right up until their execution they insisted they were innocent since the contraband they had stolen back was their property which they had bought and paid for.

Like pirates, smugglers are a group of people that are fun to romanticize, but the truth is pretty ugly.  On the other hand, they never would have become so powerful or violent without unreasonable taxes on common items (just enact an income tax already, for realz!), without the death penalty which made smugglers desperate not to be caught, or without widespread desperate poverty to create the large workforce.

Do you have a favorite romance about smuggling? Do you think smugglers make good heroes?

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13 April 2012

History Fan Fictionary

Hello from the Romantic Times Convention in Chicago! (Okay, my Chicago-bred significant other informs me that where we are doesn't count as Chicago proper, but, really, as an offshoot of O'Hare. But let's just say Chicago for simplicity's sake).

Somewhere along the way, Susanna Kearsley came up with the brilliant idea of hosting a game show-- for history nerds. Based on the British television programme, Call My Bluff, the idea was that she, Lynne Connolly, and I would come up with obscure historical words and then do our best to stump the audience with the talented Molly O'Keefe as our game show host. Two of us would share fake definitions, one would have the real one. The audience would have to decide.

All I can say is... we're all better liars than I'd realized!

Are you ready to play history fan fictionary? I can't convey the whole meat of the game (some of the-- fake!-- explanations of words grew long and elaborate and faux scholarly), but I can show you the words and our definitions. You can test yourself to see which you think are true and which are false....

-- Honeyfugle:

Lynne says: a woman who lures a man into a house of ill-repute.
Susanna says: to swindle or cheat using charm.
Lauren says: to snuggle or cuddle (with a slightly bawdy connotation).

-- Widdendream:

Lynne says: a nightmare.
Susanna says: a state of mental confusion or disturbance.
Lauren says: a honeymoon or period of connubial bliss.

-- Bartholomew Baby:

Lynne says: a china doll, bought at a fair.
Susanna says: an orphan.
Lauren says: a gaudily or tawdrily dressed person.

-- Taradiddle:

Lynne says: a man who interferes with other men on the street and at the same time picks their pockets.
Susanna says: a small piece of the sacred hill of Tara in Ireland.
Lauren says: a falsehood or lie.


Lynne says: toys or baubles.
Susanna says: drunk men whose brains have been addled by gin.
Lauren says: ginger biscuits.


Lynne says: a tall, lanky person.
Susanna says: a cadger or fish salesman.
Lauren says: a slippery or cunning individual.

I'll provide the real answers in the Comments section. How many did you get right? And what are your favorite odd historical words?

11 April 2012

Challenging a claim to a peerage

I had a discussion on twitter last night about a plot that required a challenge to a duke’s right to the title based on his illegitimacy, and I thought I’d try to coherently sum up the answer here (twitter being a great place to utterly muddy things this complicated up).

As shown in the previous post, the crown can’t take a title away (one suggestion made by the author). That power lies only with Parliament, and Parliament has already stated flat out that once a man is ennobled, this can not be changed except by an act of Parliament. This is called an act of Deprivation. As a matter of public policy it has only been done once (Duke of Bedford 1478; the man was ruled to be too poor to support the dignity, and his state was a result of his having failed to properly care for the lands he’d been given with the title; essentially he was ruled too incompetent to be a duke). The only real reasons for Deprivation seems to have been a peer being convicted of treason (even a murder conviction, as in the case of the 4th Earl Ferrers, didn’t result in the title being lost; it passed to his younger brother after he was hanged). Debt became a legal reason for such an action under the Bankruptcy Act in 1883, but it would have been very unlikely to have been used in the Georgian/Regency period. If you read the section on Deprivation and the Earl of Waterford (p. 227-230) in the law book I link to in the post you’ll see that in 1832 it was ruled that really what Parliament and the crown were allowed to take away were really only those things that the king could “have and enjoy” and this did not include dignities, but was limited to physical things such as land.

So, that means if there’s going to be a challenge, the story will have to be shifted back in time to the point when the hero was making his petition to the crown. The man who would inherit if the hero were illegitimate (or his guardian if he is a minor) would have to apply to Parliament to present their own claim and in that claim they would have to provide the proof of the first claimant’s illegitimacy.

Now here’s the second sticky wicket: English law was HEAVILY weighted in favor of all children of a marriage (all those produced by the wife) being considered legally legitimate regardless if everyone knew that she had lovers and the kid looked nothing like her husband (see the infamous Harleian Miscellany; there were open doubts about the actual parentage of the countess’s children, but no challenge to their legal legitimacy).

In order for a child to be ruled illegitimate, the father would have had to have literally had NO access to the mother for the entire period surrounding conception (not just a few short weeks, but likely at least 3 months). And by no access, I don’t mean that the husband simply states that he never touched her, he had to have been unable to do so. If there was any chance that he COULD have been the father (and merely having access to her person was considered enough) then he was the father. He might not like it, but there wasn’t anything he could do about it (this is why a wife’s good character was so important).

As if this isn’t enough to get over, once the child was accepted, there was no changing his mind. The father can’t decide when the boy is five, or twenty, or when his elder son dies, when he himself is on his deathbed that he wants to cast off a child that has been legally established as his. Again, this is about maintaining the social order, making sure children are not cast off onto the parish, and ensuring that father’s are responsible for their children. The father’s suspicion or even outright knowledge that he wasn’t the father wasn’t enough to make the child a bastard in the eyes of the law.

So, it’s not enough that the second claimant show that everyone knew and admitted that the hero wasn’t fathered by the duke. The claimant has to show that under the LAW the hero was not a legitimate child of the marriage. This means that either the duke and duchess were not married before his birth (as in the already quoted Berkeley case; side note, if the title is Scottish, even this doesn’t work, as marriage legitimized bastards under Scottish law) or that the duke was absent from his wife for a period of months and could not have sired him (and even this might not be enough if the son was publically claimed by the father and had been treated as the heir, but at least it would be something for the Committee for Privileges to gnaw on).

What this comes down to is that it is likely that all the villain of the piece can hope to do is embarrass the hero (unless you want to shift back in time and make the book about the hero’s attempt to claim the title). It’s also likely that he’ll make further powerful enemies, as there are likely other sitting peers who know full-well they were not sired by their legal father.
I hope this was helpful, and I'm happy to anwer any specific questions in the comment section.

04 April 2012

Imperial Scandal - Behind-the-scenes

I find it rather amazing to think through all the steps that go from the first idea for a book to publication. I remember distinctly when I got the initial idea for my latest Malcolm & Suzanne (Charles & Mélanie) book Imperial Scandal, which was released last week. I was driving along the reservoir near my house, and I realized that the book would begin with Malcolm meeting a contact, an ambush, and a woman killed in the crossfire, a civilian who seemingly had no place in their world of espionage.

A great deal of "what if" followed. But I knew from the beginning that this book would begin in the frenetic whirl of Brussels after Napoleon's escape from Elba and would take Malcolm and Suzanne through the Duchess of Richmond's ball, the news that the French were on the march, and the battle of Waterloo.

In March 1815 Napoleon Bonaparte escaped from his exile on the island and Elba and landed at Frejus in France with a thousand men. A number of soldiers deserted the restored King Louis XVIII to join Napoleon. Louis XVIII fled, and Napoleon marched on Paris and resumed power. His escape threw the Congress of Vienna (where I left Malcolm and Suzanne at the end of Vienna Waltz) into chaos. They declared Napoleon at outlaw and prepared for war.

In Belgium, an Allied Army of British and Dutch-Belgian soldiers defended the frontier, at first under the command of the Prince of Orange, the twenty-three-year-old, British-raised son of the King of the Netherlands, then under Wellington himself, who left his position as ambassador at the Congress of Vienna to take command. A number of British ex-patriates also flocked to Brussels that spring. While Wellington, with many of his best troops still in America, tried to put together a credible army to face Napoleon, soldiers and civilians filled their days with picnics and military reviews and their nights with balls and royal receptions and nights at the opera.

In June 1815 he British, the Dutch-Belgians, and the Prussians were spread out along the border between Belgium (part of the Netherlands after Napoleon’s downfall) and France, the British and their Dutch-Belgian allies, under the Duke of Wellington, to the west of the old Roman road from Bavay to Maastricht, the Prussians, under Marshal Blücher, to the east. Eventually, when their Austrian allies were ready, they would advance into France to take on Napoleon, returned to power after his escape from Elba. But if Napoleon, as seemed likely, crossed the border first they would close in and trap him. Only of course it was a long border and there were any number of ways the master strategist Napoleon Bonaparte could move. Together, the Allies and the Prussians outnumbered the French. But if he could separate them, Napoleon would have the advantage.

On 15 June one of the most prominent British ex-patriates, the Duchess of Richmond, gave a ball at the house in the Rue de Blanchisserie that she had her husband had taken in Brussels. Among the guests were many officers in the Allied Army along with a gilded assortment of diplomats, Belgian royals, and dignitaries. Of course the Duke of Wellington. He was an old friend of the Duke and Duchess of Richmond, looked on as a sort of indulgent uncle by their large family of children. Three of the Richmonds’ sons were in the army.

The ballroom was a converted carriage house, where the Lennox children played battledore-and-shuttlecock and the youngest members of the family did their lessons. The duchess draped the rose trellis wallpaper with swags of crimson, gold, and black, the Royal colors of the Netherlands. Ribbons, wreaths, and flowers garlanded the pillars. It was a warm evening ,but the younger Lennoxes threw open the French windows that ran along one side of the room, letting in a welcome breeze. The duchess, a daughter of the Duke of Gordon, had engaged kilted sergeants and privates from the 92nd Foot and the 42nd Royal Highlanders to entertain the company with sword dances.

Rumors that the French were on the move swirled throughout the ballroom. Wellington was late, adding to the talk. By the time he arrived with a group of his aides-de-camp, as skilled at waltzing as they were at war, the duke had known for some hours that Napoleon has crossed the frontier from France. But he believed the reported attacks to the east were a feint. He thought the real attack would come from the west, to separate them from the sea and their supply lines. He needed confirmation before he could order the army to march. Meanwhile, he needed to forestall panic and also to confer with a number of his officers, who were conveniently gathered together at the ball.

Wellington confessed to the duchess’s daughter, Georgiana Lennox, that the army was off tomorrow, but he gave every appearance of sang-froid. As the company moved into the hall on the way to supper, a mud-spattered officer, Harry Webster, pushed his way through the crowd. He had a message for the Prince of Orange. The twenty-three-year-old prince, commander of the Dutch-Belgian army based on his birth not his experience, tucked the message away unread, but Wellington asked to see it. Wellington read the message and at once ordered Webster to summon four horses for the Prince of Orange’s carriage. The message, from Constant de Rebecque, whom the prince had left in charge at his headquarters, revealed that Bonaparte had crossed the Sambre river at Charleroi. He was attacking not from the west but on the Allies’ eastern flank, trying to separate them from their Prussian allies.

Wellington maintained a cheerful demeanor through supper, laughing with young Georgiana Lennox and his Brussels flirt, Lady Frances Webster. But after supper, he asked the Duke of Richmond if he had a map of Belgium in the house. In the duke’s study, Wellington stared down at the map spread on the desk and declared that “Napoleon has humbugged me by God!” He said he had ordered the army to concentrate at the crossroads of Quatre-Bras, but they wouldn’t stop him there. “In which case,” Wellington is reported to have said, “I must fight him here,” pressing his thumb down on the village of Waterloo.

Meanwhile in the hall and ballroom, the illusion that they were at an ordinary ball had well and truly broken. The front door banged open and shut. Soldiers called for their horses, girls darted across the floor shouting the names of their beloveds, parents scanned the crowd for sons. The musicians had begun to play again in the ballroom, but the strains of the waltz vied with the call of bugles from outside. Georgiana Lennox slipped off to help her eldest brother, Lord March, pack up his things. She thought the young ladies still waltzing were “heartless,” but for many of them it would be the last chance to dance with husbands, sweethearts, and brothers.

The Duchess of Richmond’s ball has been dramatized by many novelists, including Thackeray in Vanity Fair, Georgette Heyer in An Infamous Army, and Bernard Cornwell, in Waterloo, part of the Richard Sharpe series. I wrote about the ball myself in one of my historical romances, Shores of Desire. Even though this is the second time I’ve approached the ball, I was a bit intimidated by such an iconic historical event. I wrote the ball scenes in layers. The historical details, the physical setting–from the glitter of the ball to the chaos it dissolved into–the more intimate emotional landscape of my characters, real and fictional, saying farewell to loved ones. It was particularly interesting to have both Suzanne/Mélanie and Raoul O'Roarkel there, with the complex emotions both are feeling. Malcolm/Charles surprised me by turning into something more of an action hero in this book that he’s been before. He ended up being at the battlefield much of the time and carrying messages for Wellington. I was relieved to in my research that Wellington, with many of his aides-de-camp wounded, did apparently press civilians into service to carry messages at Waterloo.

The Allies fought the French, under Marshall Ney, at Quatre-Bras on 16 June. The results were inconclusive, but on 17 June the the Allies had to fall back north toward Brussels to keep close to the Prussians, who had been driven back by Marshall Grouchy. The retreat took place in torrential rain, thunder, and lightning. Wellington and the other senior commanders and their staffs spent the night of the 17th in quartered in the village of Waterloo. The battle took place the next day, 18 June, on a nearby stretch of ground between two ridges on which each army assembled.

In my first draft of Imperial Scandal I was preoccupied with getting down the logistics of the battle, weaving in the plot developments that needed to happen and getting my characters in the right place at the right time for the historical chronology. Not to mention making sure I had details of uniforms and weapons right. I was reasonably happy with how the battle sequence turned out in the preliminary version. In subsequent drafts I layered in more texture and emotion. And sheer horror. Waterloo was a particularly bloody battle with some 47,000 soldiers killed or wounded. At the end of the day, the field, a relatively confined stretch of ground, was strewn with dead or dying men and horses. The 5th division was reduced from four thousand to little more than four hundred. General Cavalié Mercer of the Royal Horse Artillery reported that “of the 200 fine horses with which we had entered the battle, upwards of 140 lay dead, dying, or severely wounded.”

The battle of Waterloo has been dramatized brilliantly by a number of writers. Two of my favorite depictions, both brutal and heart-rending, are Heyer's in An Infamous Army and Bernard Cornwell in Waterloo.I had to remember that I was telling my version of the battle and the surrounding events, through the lens of this story and these characters.

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02 April 2012

Inheriting an English Peerage

Letters patent of Duke of Richmond, 1675

As authors try to come up with “hooky”, unique, interesting plots, they’re striking out into all kinds of really strange inheritance-based plots. I’ve seen a LOT of reader discussion about these in the past few months on Twitter, so I thought I’d do a bit of research and write up as concise a summary as I can. Most of what I’m relating here is from Peerage Law in England (1907).


We need to cover this, because it strongly influences the inheritance issue, and lots of plots revolve around inherence disputes. Plus, it’s a good way to show that the older the title, the more likely it is to not be limited to sons only.

The King is “the fountain of honor”, but once a peerage is bestowed, the crown has almost no control over them (the only exception being that when appealed to, the crown can choose from amongst co-heirs and terminate an abeyance in the favor of one of them, but this almost never happens). Only by a special Act of Parliament can a peerage be extinguished, and this is very, very rare (and usually requires an act of treason, at least until the modern age). And once ennobled, that nobility is inherent in the blood and can not be aliened or surrendered (so there are no “backsies” once a title has been inherited and conferred upon someone, hence how careful they are when reviewing someone’s claim).

The basics. Earldoms were mainly created by investiture and oral grant by the king (girding, literally belting the man). They were sometimes created by an Act of Parliament and would have a Royal Charter. Dukedoms, and marquisates were mainly created by charter. Viscounties (a late comer to England) have always been created by letters patent. Baronies are where it gets fun … initially they were connected to the land. In the time of Edward I they became distinct inheritances and were created by writ (being summoned to parliament). In 1387 came the first creation by letters patent. From the time of James I, creation of baronies was exclusively by letters patent.

These peerages can have different rules of inheritance, depending on how they were created. They can be in fee simple (usual for very old earldoms and baronies by writ), in fee tail general (all heirs of the body, meaning both sons and daughters), and in fee tail male. At their creation they might also have been in fee tail special (usually where there was no son and the inheritance was directed to a specific person such as a daughter’s son or husband or the title-holder’s brother. The second creation of the Duke of Marlborough is a good example of this).

When a title is in fee simple, it usually means there are no letters patent spelling anything out. The peerage was created by writ of summons or girding, and is so ancient that there are no records specifying a limitation of the tail. It is generally treated the same as in fee tail general for inheritance purposes, but this could be tricky, as fee simple legalistically means “to his heirs” not limited to “heirs of his body” (so collateral relations can inherit if all branches of direct descent fail, and this happened on occasion way, way back [usually within a generation or two of the creation of the title]; the law book says that such failure has bee “of such rare occurrence in the history of the peerage that this rule need not detain us”). The reason that quite a few baronies can be inherited by women is that when they are created by writ, they are inherited in fee simple. This is also true for some of the older earldoms (if you look at the law book, there is a list of them p. 118-119).

When a title is in fee tail general, the letters patent say “the heirs of his body”. Sons always have legal precedence over daughters and elder sons over younger sons (basic English law of primogeniture). But this is how you can get a female heir to a title, co-heiresses (when there are more than one daughter and no sons), and titles falling in abeyance (basically being put in limbo until only one claim remains, or until the Crown picks an heir, and yes, this is the one interference allowed the king).

Most common, of course, is for the title to be in fee tail male (the heirs of the body male) so that only sons are eligible to inherit.


Most claims are going to be straight forward and getting the claim settled will only take a few weeks (note: this formality does not prevent the claimant from using the title in the meantime and there is no law stating that the claimant HAS to come forward and make a claim, e.g. the Berkeley case where the elder brother was found to be illegitimate and the younger never claimed the title ). The heir makes a petition to the crown to be recognized. This petition is quite detailed (it’s more formal than just proving you’re the heir to the guy who just died). I’ll quote from the book: “The petition should be addressed to the Crown and should state in what way the peerage claimed was originally created, whether by charter or patent, or by girding or by writ and sitting thereon. It should further set out the facts which show that, according to the limitations of its creation, the peerage in question has descended to the claimant, or where the petition claims as a co-heir, the facts which show that the peerage is in abeyance and that the claimant is one of the co-heirs an who are the other co-heirs. The facts elide on should be set out in considerable detail. It is not enough to state generally that the peerage claimed has descended to the claimant, the line of descent must be traced.”

I get differing information about just who the petition goes to (I’m guessing it changed at some point). It goes to either the Attorney-General or the Lord Chancellor. They review it and if satisfied, present it to the sovereign. If they or the sovereign are unsure or if there is a complication (such as multiple claims), it goes to the Committee for Privileges for review.
There are rules about presenting a printed case and their being no vote allowed for two weeks after it is presented (presumably allowing time for the case to be reviewed). It is at this stage that any secondary claims must be presented. The person who believes they have a claim submits a request to the House of Lords to be heard. After they are heard, the Lords then decides if they can submit their own printed claim.

What happens when there is a dispute? Well, the Lords are inherently conservative when it comes to reviewing these cases. They have a strong liking for precedent and are generally inclined to side with those who have been generally believed to be the legal heir. When something truly ugly happens, usually both parties walk away with a title. One with the original title and one with a new one (Scroll down and read the Mar Case, which also illustrates the decisions of the Lords can not be overturned and are considered binding).

I highly recommend the review of Peerage Law in England to anyone who wants to devise an inheritance plot. It is full of actual case examples and all kinds of juicy tidbits that are perfect for creating a complicated and interesting legal plot. The book even details what kinds of evidence are considered legal and acceptable by the Lords (Charter or patent, sitting in Parliament, public/parish registers [marriage, birth, death], Heralds' books, family Bibles, letters, diaries, even inscriptions on tombstones).

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