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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05 September 2016

How Did 18th Century Gowns Work, Part One

Got an interesting question from a fellow author this week. She was confused about how 18th Century gowns worked (the method of fastening isn't obvious). There are two main styles of bodice on most 18thC gowns: closed-front/compère and the stomacher-front (and some that are a sneaky combo!). Let's talk about the closed-front ones today.

The main thing to remember is that no matter what the new Poldark series or romance novel covers show, these gowns did NOT open in the back. They had a straight edge front opening that can be closed in several different ways.

1770s gown, Victoria and Albert Museum

The most common of which was to simply pin it shut. Yep, pins! Pins were probably the most common method of closing gowns for hundreds of years. You see it all the way back to the 14thC. This is the reason that women received "pin money". You had to constantly replace them as they bent and rusted. A friend was recently in London for a few months and took up mudlarking. She found thousands of pins in the Thames. Thousands and thousands. I've pinned a lot of gowns shut in my lifetime of re-enacting, and I can vouch for the method. It's easy and efficient (ok, it's easy for someone ELSE to pin you in; a bit harder to do yourself).

Another fairly common method is hook and eyes. Just like the ones you're familiar with. They would be set slightly inside so that when done up they'd be invisible. You will also see lacing on extant gowns (remember, no metal grommets, and my best guess is these are not fashionable gowns), and even buttons (though sometimes these are merely decorative).

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