Andrea/Cara here, Today I'm welcoming back mt dear friend and fellow author Tracy Grant to tell us a little about the some of the real-life history behind her latest book. Many of you are familiar with Tracy's Malcolm and Suzanne Rannoch historical series (and if you aren't, you're in for a treat!) and know that she has a passion for history, and her books always have such fascinating backstories to the inspiration behind each book. So, without further ado, I shall pass the pen to Tracy!
The threat of being cast off by society hangs over many stories written or set in the Regency. Think of the Bennets, devastated by Lydia’s elopement, not just because she has run off with an unscrupulous man but because of the effect the scandal will have on her sisters’ marriage prospects. Or of the gossip that arises simply from Marianne Dashwood’s very public obsession with Willoughby – writing to him, confronting him at a party.
Scandal hangs over Malcolm and Mélanie Suzanne Rannoch in The Duke’s Gambit, the latest historical mystery in my series. Two books ago, Malcolm and Mélanie and their children fled Britain for Italy because Malcolm’s British spymaster, Lord Carfax, had learned Mélanie had been a spy for the Bonapartist French. In The Duke’s Gambit they have paid a secret visit to Scotland in response to a summons from Malcolm’s grandfather, the Duke of Strathdon. Strathdon claims he has a plan that will allow them to resume their former lives in Britain. Malcolm, very worried about his wife’s safety, is highly dubious. Mélanie, always more a risk taker, wants Malcolm to be able to resume his parliamentary career. But she points out that even if it was safe, they couldn’t return to their old lives as a leading couple in Mayfair society. Not because of her past, which is still secret from the public at large, but because of another family member. Laura Tarrington, who was once governess to the Rannoch children, still lives with them along with her own daughter. And, when he isn’t off fomenting revolution in Spain, Raoul O’Roarke (who was once Mélanie’s spymaster and is also, Malcolm learned recently, Malcolm’s biological father) is part of their household as well.
Yes, the Rannochs’ lives are very complicated. But the scandal isn’t Malcolm’s parentage, as officially Malcolm is the son of his mother’s marriage to Alistair Rannoch. Raoul and Laura have been lovers for some time. In Italy, they began openly living together, and Laura (despite their taking precautions) is expecting a child. Raoul is married and though he and his wife have been estranged for twenty years, his wife won’t agree to a divorce. The scandal not only impacts them but the Rannochs. In The Duke’s Gambit, Mélanie receives the cut direct, not because of her own past (which would certainly render her socially unacceptable were it known), but because she is sitting with Laura.
And yet, as Mélanie points out to Malcolm, society isn’t a monolith. She may never again have vouchers to Almack’s, but Malcolm is highly unlikely to be blackballed at Brooks’s (as so often there is a distinct double standard for men and women). They can still entertain, though some of their former friends and acquaintances probably won’t set foot in their house. In fact one of the great political circles of the day was built in the face of scandal. In 1796, the very married Elizabeth, Lady Webster, and Henry, Lord Holland, fell in love when they met while traveling on the Continent. Their first child was born before Elizabeth’s husband divorced her. Two days following the divorce Elizabeth and Henry married and went on to have more children. (Lady Holland lost custody of the children from her first marriage to her first husband. She went so far as to pretend her daughter had died abroad in order to keep the child with her, but eventually the truth came up and she had to give the little girl up to her first husband.) The Hollands’ second son was the heir to the title rather than his elder brother who had been born before the marriage (a situation I’ve always felt would make a fascinating novel in and of itself).
Certain doors in London were closed to Lady Holland after the divorce. When their own daughter was old enough to make her debut, they could present her to society themselves. But their home at Holland House became the center of their own political and intellectual circle – the Holland House set. Lady Holland might not have vouchers to Almack’s, but Almack’s patroness Emily Cowper (who is a character in The Duke’s Gambit) attended parties at Holland House.
Being cast off by elements of beau mode society didn’t stop Lady Holland from having a powerful social and political influence. If the Rannochs return to Britain, they wouldn’t be able to return to their old lives, but potentially they could develop their own Rannoch set, though some doors would remain barred to them. Which could also offer some intriguing options to me as a writer if they try to investigate mysteries in the beau mode while their own position in the beau monde is a bit shaky…
Do you have a favorite real life or fictional Regency scandal? How do you feel about characters living on the edge of society? Do you enjoy reading about them or do you prefer central characters to be at the heart of the beau monde? Tracy will be giving away a e-book copy of The Duke's Gambit to one lucky person, chosen at random, who leaves a comment here between today and Friday morning.