Royal Weddings Through the Ages

Anne here, interviewing three of the seven authors who contributed to a Harlequin Historical anthology called Royal Weddings Through the Ages — Terri Brisbin, Michelle Willingham and Elizabeth Rolls. It's a fascinating idea — looking at royal weddings from the 12th century to the middle of the 19th century — and even one about Napoleon's royal wedding. 
Anne: What was the brief for this anthology? Whose idea was it ? Did you each choose your own Royal Wedding or were they allocated to you?

Terri: The idea for the anthology came from the London editors who wanted to do something to celebrate the (then) upcoming royal wedding of Prince William to Kate Middleton last April. They decided to commission a collection of short historical stories about real royal weddings of the past and invited Harlequin Historical and Mills&Boon Historical authors to write them. Each author chose their royal wedding, though I know I was specifically asked to write a medieval one.

Anne: Terri, your story was about the marriage of  Eleanor of Aquitaine and the future Henry 11 in 1152. Could you tell us a little about it, please? 

Terri: It's called  WHAT THE DUCHESS WANTS. Eleanor, the wealthiest woman in Europe, has just been freed from her marriage to Louis of France and knows she must find a suitable husband quickly. Her wealth attracts many suitors and this time the decision lies in her hands. Who should she choose? 

Henry of Anjou is hungry—for lands, for titles and especially for the woman who could help in his quest to gain the ultimate position—King of England. Though years separate them, Henry understands that beneath the titles she carries and the wealth and power she controls, Eleanor is a woman. . . a woman who must be wooed to marriage.

They would establish a dynasty that would be among the most famous in history and it would all begin with a simple decision – what did the duchess want?

Anne: Royal weddings aren't the easiest of topics for a romantic story — what was the main challenge of your story?

Terri: For me, the challenge came because I chose to use the actual royal couple for my story. To stay accurate to the real history of Eleanor of Aquitaine and Henry II and yet make it a love story required walking a narrow path while making it entertaining. I truly believe that there must have been some softer feelings, at least an attraction, between Eleanor and Henry that made him her choice of husband and lord. 

Anne: Did you discover anything in your research that surprised you? 

Terri: I did discover that it was quite the practice to kidnap heiresses to gain control of their persons AND their fortunes. Eleanor herself was the target of at least one kidnapping attempt on her way back to Aquitaine from Paris after her divorce. The perpetrator was Henry’s younger brother who wanted Eleanor as his bride….and her wealth, too.

Anne: Thanks, Terri. Michelle, you chose the marriage of Richard the Lionheart. What influenced your choice?

Michelle: I chose Richard and Berengaria because I’ve always loved that era in history and it held a strong connection to my Irish medieval series.

Anne: What was the main challenge for you in telling Richard and Berengaria's story?

Michelle: For me, one challenge was Richard the Lionheart’s sexuality. It’s a gray area and historians argue about whether or not he was bisexual, gay, or why his marriage to Berengaria was so challenging. It makes for a challenging happily-ever-after, considering he and Berengaria were separated after the Crusade and they never had any children. I ended up using a different hero/heroine, based off my Irish medieval MacEgan Brothers series, and framed their love story around Richard and Berengaria’s wedding.

Anne: That's a clever solution. Tell us about the story.

Michelle: Princess Berengaria's lady-in-waiting, Adriana, takes her duty to the future Queen of England seriously—she will defend her to the death! When their sea voyage to the Holy Land ends up in shipwreck and capture Adriana knows her only hope lies with the mysterious Irishman, Liam MacEgan.

Liam escapes to reach Richard the Lionheart and together they plan a rescue mission. Nothing will stop these warriors from succeeding—their future brides are captive on Cyprus and they'll raise hell to claim them!

Anne: Did anything of interest pop up in the research that surprised you? Something you had to leave out of the story? Cyprus

Michelle: I never knew that Richard and Berengaria were married on the island of Cyprus. (That's Cyprus on the left.) It was quite an adventurous story in real life, with Berengaria shipwrecked off the island, and Richard had to overthrow the emperor of Cyprus to take back his bride. I did leave out Richard’s experiences on Crusade but was able to use it as material for a future story (in my anthology Warriors in Winter that comes out next December). Apparently Saladin and Richard couldn’t come to an agreement, and out of rage, Richard ordered the execution of over 2700 Muslim men, women, and children. His ruthless nature was surprising, but I was able to use that event in a later story because the hero Liam refuses to kill the women and children.

Anne: Thanks, Michelle. Now we'll jump a few centuries to the marriage of the Prince of Wales, later to become the Prince Regent in 1811. I must admit, Elizabeth Roll's story was the first in the anthology I turned to, precisely because I couldn't imagine how anyone could possibly make the Prince of Wales and Princess Caroline's wedding romantic. Elizabeth?  411px-George_IVcoronation-205x300

Elizabeth: I deliberately chose the wedding of George, Prince of Wales, later Prince Regent and George IV, and Princess Caroline of Brunswick-Wolfen-Buttel, precisely because it was so awful. Their first meeting and courtship – using the term loosely! – were truly scandalous. Prinny really did send his current mistress, Lady Jersey, down to Greenwich to meet the Princess. The main challenge was in portraying Prinny and Caroline very much as the historical record gives them to us, warts and all, from contemporary accounts and contrasting it with the way Kester and Linnet dealt with their own forced marriage of convenience. I thought all the scandal and drama around the royal wedding could create a good backdrop. And let's face it, we all love a good dollop of scandal<g>.

Anne: We do indeed. And I have to say, I thought the interweaving of the romance story with the royal wedding story worked really well. Did anything of interest pop up in the research that surprised you?
Elizabeth: Not so much that surprised me. I read fairly widely in that period and I was reasonably familiar with all the nasty little ins and outs of that particular royal marriage. There was no way I could get in much about Prinny's suspected prior and illegal marriage to the Catholic widow, Maria Fitzherbert; I had to allude to it, though, otherwise the way the poor Archbishop of Canterbury conducted the marriage didn't make a whole lot of sense. I'll admit to getting a belly laugh out of the accounts I read of the actual wedding. 

Anne: So, tell us about your story, Elizabeth.

Elizabeth:  Kester, Duke of Severn, has recently contracted a marriage of convenience to an heiress in order to save his family from his father's crushing debts. So he feels a certain sympathy with the Prince of Wales, who is being forced into marriage to settle his own debts. Being begged by Lord Malmesbury to intervene between the bickering royal couple leads Kester and Linnet to take another look at their own marriage.

Here's a short excerpt from Elizabeth's story, a conversation between Lord Malesbury and the hero of the story, the Duke of Severn.

"Lord, what a mess. Severn, if you can, try to see the prince. Represent to him the. . .the folly of continuing to insult his bride. She is not, I fear, of a governable or tractable temper. This, on top of sending Lady Jersey as a lady-in-waiting to meet her at Greenwich."

"He didn't."

"Oh, yes, he did," said Malmesbury. "Apparently the queen was behind it. And the blasted woman was late! Lady Jersey that is—not Her Majesty." His teeth actually ground. "Furthermore she had the temerity to attempt to sit beside the princess in the carriage. Claimed the motion made her unwell if she sat facing backwards!"

"Well, quite apart from Prinny's rudeness in sending his mistress to receive his bride," said Severn, "why the devil did Lady Jersey accept the appointment if she can't sit in a carriage backwards?"

Malmesbury's smile was pure acid. "I asked her that myself. Anyway, look Severn, if you can talk with the prince, try if you can to get him to see reason. He likes you. And haven't you recently married?"

"I returned from my honeymoon yesterday." And he didn't want to talk about it to anyone, least of all Prinny. "I'm surprised you knew anything about it."

The baron nodded. "Oh, yes, someone mentioned it in a letter. The thing is, he might listen to you. Voice of experience and so forth." Malmesbury looked apologetic. "After all, there are parallels, if you will forgive my bluntness."

Severn forcibly relaxed his hands. "At least His Highness is marrying to settle his own debts." he said coldly. "Then, at Malmesbury's steady regard, he sighed. "Oh, very well. I'll try what I can do, but I'm not making any promises."

Terri, Michelle and Elizabeth are each giving away a copy of Royal Weddings Through the Ages to someone who leaves a comment, asks a question of our guetsts, or leaves an answer to the following question:
— Which wedding, royal or otherwise, would you like to see as the subject for a story?

Aske Hall

Here's Jo, talking about Aske Hall in Yorkshire. I have a particular reason, which I'll explain at the end.

There are, of course, gentry and aristocratic homes all over England and most don't come to our attention unless something special crops up. This is especially true when the house isn't open to the public, as is the case with Aske Hall.

There's an extensive article on the history of the house here so I won't go into it, but it's interesting that the original was constructed in the 1760s, the time of my Georgian romances, so parts represent a typical Georgian country house, even if it has undergone substantial changes. What's more, it illustrates one type of Georgian landowner.


To begin with, the man who built this house was a self-made man. "The son of an Edinburgh Baillie, Dundas was educated at the High School. He made his fortune through stock speculation and by provisioning the British army, under the Duke of Cumberland, during their campaign against the Jacobites (1745-6) and in Flanders during the Seven Years War (1756 – 1763). Dundas was created a Baronet in 1762.



Of course he then wanted a country seat, and bought the Aske Estate.

This picture is of  Sir Lawrence Dundas at Aske Hall with his daughter.

This is from the Aske Hall site above.

"Sir Lawrence Dundas Bt. (that means  baronet, an inheritable knighthood) bought the Aske Estate from Lord Holderness in 1763 for £45,000 and the imposing Hall has remained the family seat ever since. Sir Lawrence was a hugely ambitious and successful man and one of the reasons he bought Aske was that the estate included the pocket borough of Richmond and he was therefore able to nominate the MP."

(A pocket borough was one that was in someone's pocket — ie he got to dictate who became the MP. This was a very common situation before Parliamentary reform in the 19th century. I'm sure Rothgar has a pocket-full of them.)

"He subsequently branched out into banking, property (he developed Grangemouth in 1777) and was a major backer of the Forth & Clyde Canal."

Then we can see how the family rises.

Sir Lawrence, the baillie's son (1712-1781) never managed to become a peer, but his son Dundas

Thomas(1741 to 1820) made an excellent marriage to Lady Charlotte FitzWilliam,  daughter of the 3rd Earl Fitzwilliam, and that moved the family up the social scale a few more steps. The marriage took place in 1764, as Thomas's father was building Aske Hall, and Thomas was already living the part as we can see from this portrait — the very image of a Georgian gentleman enjoying the obligatory Grand Tour. 

In 1794 Thomas became Baron Dundas of Aske — ie Lord Dundas.

He was succeeded by his eldest son Lawrence (1766-1839) who became second Lord Dundas at the age of 56. In return for providing financial assistance to the Duke & Duchess of Kent,  the future Queen Victoria's parents,  Lawrence was created the 1st Earl of Zetland in 1838. In 1892, the title became a marquessate.

There's another page about the family here.

So now, my connection to all this. Very slight, I assure you!

In the 1930s, my father in law was a mechanic/chaffeur at Aske Hall, and we have the photographs to prove it. He didn't talk much about it, and we weren't sensible enough to question him. (Note to all, get your elderly relatives to talk about their lives, if possibly recording it. You never know when you'll want to know, and even everyday lives have historical interest.)

Because of this, we drove to it a few years back, and it's admirably accessible. One can drive close to the house and there's a public footpath through the part that runs close to the house. Now we've taken the advantage of one of the rare open days to visit and learn more. It is a fascinating house still with many Georgian interiors, including a room designed by Capability Brown. I learned something there. I wasn't aware he did anything other than gardens and landscapes.

IMG_3837  There is also a portrait of a quite handsome young man that turned out to be, no less, the future Prince Regent when her was still good looking enough to be called "Florizel."

My next book will be An Unwilling Countess (March 2011), set in Yorkshire. I decided to base Keynings, the hero's home, on Aske Hall.Of course, Aske Hall has changed since 1765, and by the time I'd finished meddling it's a different place in a slightly different location, but that was the seed of it.

Does anything about this family history surprise you? Does this picture of 18th century life fit the world of historical fiction? I find that often the self-made hero is portrayed as slightly coarse and perhaps even proud of it and disdainful of the rich and titled, whereas Sir Lawrence appears to have had good taste and certainly made every attempt to fit in with the aristocratic world — and suceeded.