The Princess and The Spy

B5f8 Pat here:

After ranting that there were no organized spies in England in the early Regency, I ended up writing a spy into my work in process. The chances of an Englishman running into a French spy before England had barely entered the war were slim, but I needed a plot turning point, and since I already had codes, spies seemed obvious.  I tried to ground him well into the story and hope I’ve made the point realistic enough. But I have a lot of other pet peeves…

 I have politely refrained from ranting about the extraordinary number of dukes
Dukeargyll13thiancampbell we’ve littered across the Regency countryside because I’ve been guilty of that in days long past. (Out of curiosity, I Googled current dukes. Take a look at for more photos. Pictured are the 13th Duke of Argyll in his handsome plaid, and the 15th Duke of Hamilton,
Dukehamilton15thangusdouglajk1 who's also the 12th Duke of Brandon, in front of his humble homestead.)

And amazingly, I’ve not once mentioned the preponderance of Continental princesses we've created from weird little countries that we conjure so we don’t have to use actual royalty. Thank goodness, because even though I’ve always disliked that particular contrivance, I’m going to have to do it—if my editor lets me.  The new proposal simply screams for royal skulduggery, and my fingers are itching to confuse my insouciant, too-confident hero with two royal princesses running him ragged.

But because I have this irritating need for some form of historical accuracy, I started researching
Italy1815 Continental royalty in the time of Napoleon. It would be impossible to find royalty that would suit the time and place of my plot, so I knew I had to make up my characters, but I’m an old hand at inventing cities. Why not invent a country? So I did.

After researching the map of Europe before Napoleon completely conquered it, I realized we could litter the landscape with royalty easier than we could with dukes. Russia and Italy were particularly notorious about naming everyone royalty if they were so much as remotely related to a powerful noble. In England, most of these nobles would be dukes, not princes, but that didn’t matter. An aristocrat was an aristocrat, even if they barely owned the clothes on their backs. 

To my delight, I discovered in the year of my story that Italy was still a conglomeration of separate duchies barely tied together by an almost-common tongue. There were still small kingdoms where they spoke their own language. It’s easy to see how Napoleon walked in and conquered these tiny principalities, knocking them down like dominoes as he progressed across the peninsula. Then he busily married off his many relatives to the existing royalty—shades of William the Conqueror—and set about forcing Italy into the nineteenth century. (the map is from 1815, after the time of my story, when Napoleon has already started consolidating.)

And so, my preposterous plot suddenly has plausibility!

Now that I’ve knocked down some of my major pet peeves and romped all over them, what other pet peeves do you have? Maybe I can adopt a new one!