Finishing a book would be much simpler if I could just plan ahead—especially if I could plan six books ahead. But I can’t plot even one book in advance. And so here I am at Book #4 of the Gravesyde Priory Regency mystery series and oddly enough, history is messing with me.
Yeah, yeah, I know. I’ve written enough Regencies to know when events take place, but there’s that planning thing that doesn’t happen. When I started the series, I knew how the first book needed to begin. I wasn’t thinking timelines. I just needed to have my heroine raising her orphaned nephew six years after a riot in Egypt. So I simply checked when Napoleon’s troops left and dropped the story into 1815.
As my heroine reads the letter about her strange inheritance, Napoleon is escaping Elba. When she sets out for rural Staffordshire in March, she’s unaware that Louis XVIII has fled Paris. I knew it, but it didn’t matter to the story.
Just as we worry about putting gas in our cars, food in our pantries, and buying school clothes while we’re possibly on the brink of World War III, my heroine was worrying about her nephew, not Napoleon. We can’t do anything about it, so we stick to what we can control.
And so my series merrily rolls on through the spring that became known as The Hundred Days War as my heroine tackles bat-ridden, crumbling Wycliffe Manor. While Napoleon marched toward Paris with 6,000 loyal soldiers in mid-March, my heroine isn’t reading newspapers. She has a mad, bad hero of her own to conquer. The Secrets of Wycliffe Manor takes place during the few weeks Napoleon is evicting the royalist government and updating an old constitution, theoretically to allow everyone to vote, making himself hugely popular in France. Not so much elsewhere in Europe. While my heroine is stopping a murderer, the Allied forces in Vienna declare war on Napoleon.
None of that is relevant to Book #2, The Mystery of the Missing Heiress, which starts out in late April. I do acknowledge history by throwing in an ex-soldier returning from India who is aware that war is imminent. He’s planning on joining Wellington in Brussels for lack of anything better to do. But he stumbles across a murder and the love of his life and well. . . while the Allied forces in Europe are frantically trying to form armies and determine what Napoleon will do next, my couples are stopping kidnappers, falling in love, and solving murders and frauds.
Given the appalling state of the Regency newspaper industry—a whole different blog awaits that one—even if my people had newspapers, they could only worry about rumors of gathering war clouds. They had no details of actual events.
This brings us to May, and the third book in the series, The Bones in the Orchard, which I finally finished, although it doesn’t have a cover yet. By mid-May, newspapers were reporting on boring statements from the British secretary of state. No giant headlines of “Napoleon Kicks Royal Ass” or “Napoleon’s Constitution Wins By Landslide.” Dull official documents are not exciting news while my characters are desperately trying to find a clergyman to call their wedding banns. When said clergyman is murdered. . . Well, the mourning at Wycliffe Manor didn’t involve Napoleon’s progress.
Which brings us straight to my current dilemma in the as yet unnamed Book #4. My manor full of lovers want to marry. It’s June by the time they replace the murdered clergyman. It takes three weeks to cry banns. So they’re planning wedding celebrations while Napoleon is charging toward Brussels with an army now consisting of few hundred thousand troops.
Even if my happy couples receive newspapers from London, the news is weeks old. They might know that Wellington’s coalition can’t form until July because it takes time to march Russians across Europe. Unlike today’s instantaneous reports of disaster, the delay in information from the continent to London to rural locales in 1815 could take well over a week and is no more than an amalgam of reports from other countries, seldom accurate.
But I know what’s going to happen. I know Napoleon hits the Prussian outposts on June 15. I have the calendar for June, and the 18th is the earliest my happy couples can cry the last banns. On June 16th, Napoleon wins the Battle of Quatre Bras and Ligny. On June 17th, the allies prepare for battle at the village of Waterloo.
So my utter lack of planning has left my happy couples celebrating marriage while Wellington is fighting the Battle of Waterloo, the bloodiest battle of the war. I have no characters involved in this battle, no reason for my story to have any connection to one of the major events of the Regency era. I really can’t even have spies at this late date, although I do have a lot of French characters roaming around.
And just to complicate matters, no one in England knew of the battle or its results on that dreadful Sunday. If you want the full grizzly report (please take with grain of salt because I’ve read a dozen different accounts) of how the news reached London, try Major Percy's journey.
For the sake of brevity: Wellington waited a full day after the battle before sending a dispatch with Major Henry Percy, the son of the Duke of Northumberland, across Belgium to the Channel. The weather on land was miserable, and he made slow progress. And once they reached a ship, the waters were becalmed. At one point, he even had to help row. So here he was, with all England waiting to learn if Napoleon would rule the continent again, and the messenger is stuck on a sloop in the Channel.
In the meantime, balls and assemblies stopped as news of the deaths of relatives in earlier battles arrived, and rumors ran rampant. Several newspapers reported erroneous, contradictory information based on their own imaginations. (How unusual!) Rumors of the battle finally seeped in, but London didn’t even know if they’d won. Everyone was on edge–in the city. The countryside knew nothing.
Once the sloop finally landed, Percy had to hire a post-chaise and change horses before arriving in London at nearly midnight on Wednesday, June 21, nearly four days after the fact. As a signal to the throngs milling about the streets, he thrust two captured French eagles out the carriage windows.
We have no news reporters on the scene, screaming for information as we do now. Reports from the era have Percy leading a procession from Downing Street and the Cabinet, then on to the Prince Regent, who was at a ball. Percy pushed through the doors bearing the two French standards. I do wonder about a man who has spent three days riding, rowing, sailing, and then traveling by carriage having the stamina to so much as walk up the stairs at that point, but it’s a good story.
Not until June 22nd did the London Gazette Extraordinary report that the “eagles arrived.” This wasn’t even the twice-weekly paper’s day to publish but no other paper was prepared to send out the news. At that point, all they had was Percy’s dispatch. The House of Commons didn’t receive more official word from France until June 25th.
I know that word of Waterloo arrived in Edinburgh on the 24th, but that was a straight road with a constant stream of stage coaches. My rural folk aren’t seeing a daily mail coach. London newspapers might arrive a week after they’ve gone to press—which could have been well after the 21st.
Which leads us to my current dithering. Do they marry on June 18th, utterly oblivious of a bloody battle? Or do I find some way of delaying the nuptials until the following Sunday, when word of victory might reach them and true celebrations commence? And now I’ve wasted an entire morning researching all these details so I don’t have to figure it out until tomorrow. But I think I can get another entire blog out of the bog that was newspapers in the Regency era!
I’m, unfortunately, a news junkie. Are you following the news of the day? Or does daily life go on as a dull roar in the background?