To celebrate the launch of her new series (the first book hits the shelves at the end of the month) my good friend Christina Brooke is joining us today to talk about two subjects near and dear of all of our hearts—history AND romance.
HEIRESS IN LOVE is the first book in the Ministry of Marriage saga, On her website, Christina describes the MOM as . . "the nickname of a cabal in which the leaders of the most prominent families in Britain negotiate, facilitate and approve dynastic marriages. Each family represented in the organization has a rich history full of rivalries, allegiances, legends and secrets. Their fortunes have risen and fallen for hundreds of years depending on their success in war, their religious leanings, or which heir to the throne they support. . . " Sounds delicious, doesn't it!
And now, speaking of marriages, I shall turn the keyboard over to Christina! (I couldn't resist added a lovely pic below of her storyboard for visualizing her characters.)
Like so many of you, I love history and I enjoy researching the historical romance novels I write. I’d be the first to admit, however, that some aspects of the past are not at all romantic! That’s why I’m always enchanted to stumble over tales of ‘true romance’ in the course of my research. Today, I have three thoroughly romantic true stories to relate.
The first is of a very unconventional lady, Jane Digby. This woman has fascinated me since I read her biography years ago. Many have written about her, even during her remarkable lifetime, yet she remains relatively obscure.
Jane Digby was the exquisitely beautiful granddaughter of Coke of Norfolk, a man who repeatedly refused a peerage because he preferred his independence to kowtowing to any monarch. Jane was lively, intelligent and a trifle spoiled as a child. She was given a boy’s education (always a dangerous thing!) and later groomed for her debut by a governess. When presented at the age of sixteen she was dubbed ‘Light of Day’ and later ‘Aurora’ by her many admirers. Before long, Jane fell in love with—or perhaps, more accurately, became infatuated with—and married Lord Ellenborough, who was twice her age.
The marriage was not a success and it seems our Jane fell in and out of love (or infatuation) at an alarming rate. She was an intimate of Countess Lieven and Princess Esterhazy but unlike her contemporaries among the ton, she seemed incapable of maintaining discretion over her affaires. Jane eventually ran off with a German prince before her husband divorced her, and she later enjoyed various liaisons throughout the courts of Europe. Her lovers included a Greek count, the King of Bavaria and an Albanian chieftan. Some might call her promiscuous, and perhaps she was. However, I see Jane as an intelligent, passionate woman who was desperately seeking the love of a lifetime and would not settle for anything less.
Jane wound up in Syria at the age of fifty, but her great love story was yet to begin. Sheikh Medjuel el Mezrab, the Arab nobleman who escorted Jane’s caravan to the ruined city of Palmyra, fell in love with her. He was young enough to be her son, but their love endured until the end of her life. Across the foot of the English-style gravestone where Jane was buried, Medjuel added a large block of pink desert limestone brought from Palmyra, where Jane spent the happiest days of her life. On it, he engraved in Arabic with his own hands: “Madame Digby el Mezrab”. He never remarried.
The second is a poignant story of love unrequited that might be familiar to those of you who are addicted (as I am) to the Antiques Roadshow. A young gentleman named Humphrey Prideaux made the Grand Tour and in 1740, had his portrait taken by the celebrated eighteenth century Italian artist, Rosalba Carriera. This pastel hangs in the morning room at Prideaux Place in Cornwall, so if you’re ever in the neighborhood, stop in and say hello to Humphrey.
What Humphrey never knew was that while capturing his likeness, the artist fell in love with him and wrote him a passionate letter, which she secreted behind the portrait. It wasn’t until the pastel was cleaned in 1914 that the letter was discovered. This story illustrates one of the many aspects I love about writing historical romance—that love so often remained unspoken due to barriers that seem easily surmountable to modern people.
And lastly, a romance with a happy ending. This charming tale has inspired many a romance novel, I believe! The story of the arranged marriage between Lady Sarah Cadogan and Lord March, later the second Duke of Richmond.*
The first Duke of Richmond was an inveterate gambler and while in The Hague, he won an enormous sum (five thousand pounds, I believe) from Lord Cadogan. Lord Cadogan couldn’t afford to redeem the debt but he had two daughters who stood to inherit a fortune from their mother, a Dutch heiress. The fond papas agreed that the debt would be canceled if Lady Sarah Cadogan’s hand in marriage was given to the duke’s eldest son, Lord March.
Eighteen-year-old Lord March was called back from college and a bewildered Lady Sarah Cadogan (aged thirteen) was brought from her nursery for the ceremony. Lord March is said to have exclaimed: “Surely you are not going to marry me to that dowdy!” The ceremony was performed, however, and March immediately went off with his tutor on the Grand Tour.
Three years later, March returned to London. Instead of seeking out his ‘dowdy’ wife, he went directly to the opera, where he was staggered by the sight of a most beautiful lady. He turned to the person beside him to ask the name of this exquisite creature. He was told he must be a stranger to London, because it was the town’s reigning Toast, Lady March! Lord March lost no time in introducing himself to his wife. One hopes she punished him a little for his rudeness on their wedding day before she forgave him! Whatever the case, the couple lived together affectionately for the rest of their lives. In fact, when the Duke of Richmond (as March became) passed away 38 years later, Lady Sarah died of shock and grief soon afterward.
I love marriage of convenience stories, which is why I’m writing an entire series of them. My Ministry of Marriage series kicks off on June 28 with HEIRESS IN LOVE. In this story, a very prim widow must marry a rake to restore a fractured estate and keep the little boy she loves. Publishers Weekly gave HEIRESS IN LOVE a starred review, saying “Each scene is more passionate and sensual than the last.” You can read more about HEIRESS IN LOVE on my website: www.christina-brooke.com.
What about you? Do you like marriage of convenience stories, and if so, what are your favorites? Would you like to share a tale of ‘true romance’? Two lucky readers will each receive a signed copy of HEIRESS IN LOVE!
*This story is told by Sir William Napier in The Life of Charles James Napier. Additional detail may be found in Lady Russell’s The Rose Goddess and other Sketches of Mystery and Romance.