[First, let me say, and I know many of you will join me in doing so, my prayers go out to our dear Gianna Thomas. Today is her day on the blog, but she is in the hospital. As is typical, she worried about missing her blog. I assured her to rest and know health. The blog was secondary, and I would handle it. So, you are stuck with another blog post from me.]
Now to the crux of this piece. The majority of us who write JAFF, write our dear couple in the historical setting, though for Austen herself, it was a contemporary setting.
Often a bit of historical research is required. Many new writers forget one of the best parts of being a writer is learning new things. However, one of the worst parts of being a writer is researching those new things. As I am certain everyone who writes historicals or historical fiction may attest, spending hours and hours and hours searching for a fact that turns out to be less than one paragraph in the finished manuscript is a necessary evil, not only as a matter of personal pride, but also to prevent an astute reader from bringing it to one’s attention in a very public manner in reviews, etc.
Sometimes, it is necessary to educate editors and Beta readers of the history facts. For example, when I wrote, “…a figure wrapped in a long black cape and sporting a beaver,” my editor changed it to “a long black cape with a beaver lining.” I had to explain to the young lady working for my traditional publisher at the time that a beaver was a man’s top hat in the Regency period. So, for this blog, I thought I might introduce you to some of the tidbits of information, one now finds floating about in my head and intricately manipulated into my books.
The Peterloo Massacre: In 1819, a group of leading radicals formed the Manchester Patriotic Union Society. The group sought parliamentary reform. On August 16,1819, they planned a public gathering of reformers, including Henry Hunt and Richard Carlile, to meet at St. Peter’s Field in Manchester. Unfortunately, the local magistrates feared a riot, so they ordered reinforcements in the form of four squadrons of cavalry of the 15th Hussars (600 men), several hundred infantrymen, the Cheshire Yeomanry Cavalry (400 men), a detachment of the Royal Horse Artillery and two six-pounder guns, the Manchester and Salford Yeomanry (120 men), and all Manchester’s special constables (400 men).
Estimation of the crowd’s size varied, but some believe as many as 50,000 people were at St. Peter’s Field by noon. Afraid, the local magistrates sent the 400 special constables to form two continuous lines between the hustings of the speaker’s stage and a house on Mound Street where the nine magistrates took cover. At 1:20 P.M., various members of news organizations escorted the afternoon’s speakers to the stage. William Hulton, chairman of the group of magistrates, ordered Joseph Nadin, Deputy Constable of Manchester, to arrest Henry Hunt and the other demonstration leaders. Nadin realized he could not control the crowd with just the constables, so he asked for help from the military. Many members of the Manchester Yeomanry group were reported to be drunk when they entered the field.
Obviously, the crowd took offense with the military’s presence and with the attempt to arrest Hunt and the other leaders. When the onlookers closed the pathway to the stage, the yeomanry used their sabers to cut their way through the crowd. Additional military units were dispersed, and by 2 P.M., the crowd had been driven from the site. Eighteen people were killed and another 500, including 100 women and children, were wounded. James Wroe of the Manchester Observer dubbed the incident “Peterloo” because many former soldiers said it reminded them of Waterloo’s destruction.
The Peterloo Massacre is a pivotal scene in His Irish Eve, a novel in which my go-to character, Adam Lawrence, Lord Stafford, must, quite literally, fight his way across the park to save the woman he loves.
Saturation Bombing and Chemical Warfare: Sir Thomas, Lord Cochrane, the 10th Earl of Dundonald, proposed a revolutionary idea to the Prince Regent (George IV) in March 1812. Cochrane, who earned 75,000 pounds sterling in prize money as a member of the British Navy and who had been dubbed “le loup des mers” (the sea wolf) by Napoleon, detailed two innovative weapons. The first was referred to as “temporary mortar” or an “explosion ship.” The second was called “the sulphur ship” or “stink ship.”
For the temporary mortar, Cochrane suggested a hulk, with the decks removed and a reinforced inner shell. In the bottom of the ship, a layer of clay was placed. Into this layer, scrap metal and obsolete ordnance would be embedded. The “charge” in the form of a layer of power came next, followed by laid rows of shells and animal carcasses. The explosion ship would be towed into the vicinity of anchored enemy ships and detonated. The “mortar” would spread out over a wide area and smother the enemy in a deadly torrent.
The second innovation, “stink ship,” was an attack on land fortifications. Again, using a hulk, one where the upper deck remained in place, Cochrane suggested the British cover the deck with a layer of charcoal. Next, came sulphur (equaling 1/5 the volume of the fuel). The hulk would be floated up against a shore battery or fortification and then the winds did the job. Clouds of “noxious effluvia” were carried inward. Cochrane also used a mixture with coke and coal tar involved.
The British government saw this as a possibility, but Prinny’s advisors worried the French might retaliate in a similar fashion. Therefore, the proposal was rejected. Cochrane’s plan was revisited many times, most specifically during the Crimean War. Eventually, the plans were sealed away on the shelves for confidential materials at Whitehall. In 1908, Lord Palmerston’s (yes, the Prime Minister who Queen Victoria loved to hate) correspondence opened the secret vaults. A decade later, “sulphuric yellow clouds of mustard gas ravaged thousands in the trenches of France.
In Captain Frederick Wentworth’s Persuasion, Wentworth stumbles across a plan being purported by Cochrane’s followers and must set his own strategy in action to thwart the schemes.
Thoroughbreds: When Arabian horses were sent as gifts to European heads of state, a different type of horse became the standard in Great Britain. The Godolphin Arabian was imported into England in 1730. Before that time, the Brits were introduced to the Byerley Turk (1683) and the Darley Arabian (1703). It is believed that the Thoroughbred’s ancestry traces back for more than 400 years to these three stallions. These Arabian stallions were bred to the stronger, but less swift, native English mares: The result was the thoroughbred. A thoroughbred horse could carry weight with sustained speed over extended distances. The British Stud Book, begun by James Weatherby in 1791, traced 350 mares to these three horses: Eclipse (a descendant of the Darley Arabian); Matchem (a grandson of the Godolphin Arabian); or Herod (a great grandson of the Byerly Turk).
In His American Heartsong, Angel Comes to the Devil’s Keep and A Touch of Cashémere, as well as, most recently in Elizabeth Bennet’s Gallant Suitor, one of the main characters shows an interest in raising thoroughbreds. Arabella Tilney even rides in a race in place of Lawrence Lowery in His American Heartsong, while Elizabeth Bennet assists Mr. Darcy is training the young rider upon which Bingley wagers his thoroughbred stables in Elizabeth Bennet’s Gallant Suitor.
Baobhan Sith: These creatures are sometimes referred to as “The White Women of the Scottish Highlands.” They are a type of female vampires, similar to the Irish banshee. A baobhan sith is a beautiful woman in a green dress. She uses her seductive powers to capture her victims. Legend has it that the baobhan sith approached a group of travelers as a group of four women. The men built a fire and begin to indicate their desire for “female company”. The baobhan sith then enticed and danced with the men until dawn. Then the creatures attacked. One of the men supposedly hid between two horses, and the iron in the horses’ shoes protected him from the creatures. If a man refuses the seductive power of the baobhan sith, she must serve him for ten years.
This legend is the basis of the vampire curse on the Darcy family in Vampire Darcy’s Desire. A Baobhan Sith enticed Lord Thomas (Arawan Benning), but Lady Ellender D’Arcy tricked the seductress and gave the woman Seorais Winchcombe in Thomas’s place. Seorais Winchcombe is Scottish for George Wickham.
Also found in VDD is Cernunnos, a Celtic god associated with horned male animals and is often portrayed with a stag. He has with him a serpent with the horns of a ram. He is usually portrayed as a man with long hair and a beard; He wears a torc about his neck to denote nobility. Some believe it is upon Cernunnos that we base our image of Satan, a man with horns. Those of you who have read Vampire Darcy’s Desire will now note the torc and the snakes and the emblem in Wickham’s house, as well as Elizabeth’s dream of the stag with Darcy’s eyes.
Another bit of history in that tale was the folk song “Lord Thomas and Fair Ellender”. This traditional Scottish folk song was also known as “The Brown Girl,” “Fair Eleanor,” or “Fair Ellinor.” There are nine different versions, with three alternating melodies, document by Francis Child.
This is the folksong upon which I based the Darcy curse in Vampire Darcy’s Desire. The Brown Girl was a girl with dark hair, as opposed to the blonde Ellender. Like many writers, I spent hours upon hours attempting to verify facts to make my story lines sing of the truth, and maybe along the way, I introduced a reader to something of which he was unaware.
Skunks: There are no skunks in England. They are exclusively “New World” animals. In the “Old World,” we find relatives of the skunk: weasels, such as the ermine mink, and the zorilla.
Much to my chagrin, I made this discovery as I was writing a “most delicious” scene in which Arabella Tilney, an American, is sprayed by a skunk. However, that scene went into File 13, better known as my trash can. In Regency times, skunks were not a possibility for a novella entitled His American Heartsong.
Jews in King George’s England: In 1760, in imitation of the Deputies appointed to protect the civil rights of Protestant Dissenters, the Spanish and Portuguese Jewish population nominated deputados to oversee political developments of special interest to their well being and to approach the government on the group’s behalf when necessary. A standing committee was also appointed to express homage and devotion to the new sovereign.However, the Ashkenazi faction presented a formal protest, claiming neglect. The Ashkenzami group nominated their own German Secret Committee for Public Affairs to act on their behalfs. The administration refused to deal with two separate groups, saying they would communicate only to the Committee of the Dutch Jews’ Synagogues and the two factions must find a means to communicate. These deputados represented 6000-8000 Jews, the majority of which lived in London. Approximately 25% of the population belonged to the more anglicized Spanish and Portuguese element. The Ashkenazim, though more numerous, were less assimilated and, generally, belonged to a lower social stratum.
The Jewish factions become part of the plot line of A Touch of Love: Book 6 of the Realm Series because Lucinda Warren’s late husband hid his Jewish background in order to assimilate into the English gentry. He also hides his marriage to a Jewish girl from Lucinda.
PTSD: Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is not a new condition. It existed since the beginning of time. There are references to the “madness” in Shakespeare, Dickens, the Bible, Mahabharata, Aristotle, Homer, and the like. We are now more knowledgeable of the trauma that any life-changing event can cause a human (war, rape, natural disasters, etc.). But in the time of the Regency period in England, no one had a name for what surely must have claimed more than one man returning to “normalcy” after all the years of the Napoleonic War. Yet, it was 1980 before the term Post Traumatic Stress Disorder entered the English vocabulary.
Over the years, the disorder with termed as nostalgia, melancholy, homesickness, soldier’s heart, hysteria, neurasthenia, ester root, railway spine, compensation sickness, combat exhaustion, shell shock, compensation sickness, and stress response syndrome. It was not until after World War II that psychologists classified the illness as a form of trauma. Unfortunately, early physicians thought of the illness as temporary in nature and returning home would solve the situation. In The Prosecution of Mr. Darcy’s Cousin, Colonel Fitzwilliam suffers from “PTSD” and cannot recall his part in a series of murders.
SNUFF BOXES: Christie’s Auction House’s Facebook page tells us, “In the Georgian era, snuff was the tobacco of choice for high society. It came in a great many varieties and spending on it was lavish.
The boxes in which snuff was carried were trinkets of great importance and collecting them became an obsession amongst Georgian gentlemen. Lord Byron spent £500 on snuff-boxes in a single shopping spree, while Lord Petersham owned 365, one for every day of the year, and always chose “one that suited the weather”.
Lord Petersham and snuff boxes get a total of three lines in my “Loving Lord Lindmore,” which is part of the Regency Summer Scandals anthology releasing on July 11, 2023, but those three lines are important in describing how the heroine’s half brother is something of a “prig.”
KNIVES: Another point of reference in the tale are knives. My heroine is quite handy with a knife, something most females in the time period could not claim. Yet, did you know what we now call a pocket knife developed from the Middle Ages’s “scribe’s knife or scribal knife.” The website Scribal Work Shop has one such knife for sale for $98.00. The description reads: “Handmade from 1084, steel with a padauk wood handle and bronze pins. This knife is modeled after 13th-15th century illuminated manuscript illustrations of scribe’s knives. This knife works equally well for cutting quills as it does for leather, woodworking, carving, and other utility tasks. We tend to think of it as a tougher medieval X-acto knife.”
THE HONOURABLE EAST INDIA COMPANY: I have used the HEIC in several JAFF stories. For example, Lydia must find her husband when he has deserted her, so she might move on with another. We learn Mr. Wickham is part of the HEIC forces stationed in India in A Dance with Mr. Darcy.
In one of my latest stories, “The Earl’s English Rose” Miss Rose Vickers’s father is employed by the East India Company. He and Rose’s step-mother die in India, and Rose is sent home alone with her Indian ayah, a word meaning her Indian governess.
In my research on the East India Company, I discovered the fact that the vast majority of men who went into Company employment had some family/friend connection who assisted them to become established. Such is why we often read how the hero has a distant relative who is a Director of the East India Company and assists him to earn a position with the firm. Alternatively, the hero of one’s tale could have been in military service; by the Regency era, the East India Company had its own private army (as I mentioned above with Mr. Wickham) and navy in India, with English officers and mostly Indian ‘sepoys’ (privates).
The man might be required to work in London for several years, likely something to do with their warehouses – as a writer or secretary or clerk, perhaps. Or he could work directly for East India House, possibly as a secretary to one of the directors. I found one mention (in The East India Company’s London Workers) of a minor aristocrat working as a warehouse laborer, although this would be very very uncommon (and probably unbefitting of a romance novel hero).
So, how important is historical accuracy? In my most humble opinion, if the author has not done his/her research, something is missing. Mistakes pull me from the story itself. It is, after all, called “historical romance.” Anyone else agree?