Forbidden: The Last Scandalous Woman of the Ton!

Forbidden - USNicola here! Tomorrow sees the official publication of Forbidden, the
last in my Scandalous Women of the Ton series (although the book has been
sighted online and in various retailers already!) It’s been huge fun to write
this series and I can’t quite believe that it’s over. I started with the idea –
inspired by my research – that during the Regency period there were many women
doing extraordinary and exciting things such as travelling and working for a
living which would also have been considered scandalous at the time. I also
threw in some more “conventional” scandals – a heroine who had been divorced
and now, in this final book, a pretender.

The Tichborne Claimant

There have been pretenders to titles for as long
as there have been titles. There have been pretenders
Orton (1) to thrones: Perkin
Warbeck, who claimed to be (and may well have been) Richard Plantagenet the
younger son of King Edward IV. One of my favourite books, Brat Farrar by
Josephine Tey, deals with a young man who claims to be the long lost son of a family who thought that he was dead. On Friday, Wench Jo blogged about
a different sort of pretender, Princess Caraboo. And there is the case of the
Tichborne claimant, which was the case that inspired me.

Roger Tichborne was born in 1829, the eldest son
of Sir James Tichborne. In 1854 the ship he was sailing on to the West Indies
foundered and it was presumed that all on board were lost. Roger was declared
dead and his younger brother inherited the title. Roger’s mother, however, was
certain that her son was still alive and placed advertisements in the national
and international press seeking information about her son. Eventually in 1866 a
man contacted Lady Tichborne from Australia, claiming to be Roger. He said that
he had been rescued from the wreck, taken to Australia, where he had become a
postman and a butcher. His story seemed very unlikely but was given credence by
the fact that Roger Tichborne had suffered from a genital malformation and so
did the claimant. Lady Tichborne was certain that he was her lost son.

“Roger” came to England with his wife and child and set out
to prove his case in the courts. In both a civil and subsequent criminal trial
he was identified not as Roger Tichborne but as Arthur Orton (pictured on the right) son of a ship’s
victualler from Wapping. You can read more about the case here. Roger/Arthur
ended up as a celebrity and a music hall act!

Would you like to win the lottery?

Cakes and pastriesIn Forbidden, Margery isn’t really a pretender to the
Earldom of Templemore because she never sets out to claim it for herself. It is
other people who identify her as the heir. In fact in the first twist to the
story Margery is actually pretty happy with her life as it stands – she may be
a maidservant but she is a senior one and she has plans to open a
confectioner’s shop when she has saved enough money. One of the ideas I enjoyed
playing with was that perhaps being the most sought-after heiress in the Ton
isn’t all a bed of roses. Some people have suggested to me that it’s unrealistic
that Margery wouldn’t be thrilled to discover she’s granddaughter to an Earl
but I’m not sure it’s so straightforward. To me it’s a similar thing to winning
the lottery. Yes, it would be great in some ways but it would change your life
completely and not all of that would necessarily be good. In Margery’s case as
well she had so much more freedom as a maidservant that she does as a
closely-chaperoned heiress. Suddenly she is a Regency celebrity, a Cause
Celebre, the heiress who has come back from the dead. It’s a huge shock to
someone who is a very private person, who has grown up in a close-knit family
which turns out not to be her family at all. I think that would be an enormous adjustment for anyone to make and there would be times when you would wish you
could just go back to the way things used to be.

 The Fairy Tale


Buscot HouseThere is also a fairy tale element in the transformation of
a maidservant into a Cinderella and I had a lot of fun with Margery’s new
wardrobe and all the other trappings of her new life. I gave her a beautiful
country house to live in, based on Buscot Park (in the picture) packed full of
priceless objects. Margery doesn’t care for it too much because it
feels like a mausoleum to her. There’s a twist in the fairy tale, though: in
becoming the heiress, Margery displaces Henry, her very own Prince Charming,
because he was heir to the estate until she was found. So as her fortunes rise,
Henry’s fall. I liked that Henry paid the price for Margery’s social rise
(maybe I just enjoy making my hero’s life as difficult as possible!) and Margery's wealth and Henry's fall become a big
stumbling block in their relationship because Henry is not
the sort of man who wants to appear a fortune hunter.

 A note on titles

I'm expecting some comments along the lines of "a woman can't inherit a British title – can she?" because this does confuse some readers. I made Margery heiress to a title that could be inherited in
the female line. Most British titles “remainder” as it is called to male heirs
(hence the whole inheritance plot at the centre of Downton Abbey) but it is
entirely possible for a woman to inherit if that has been agreed when the title
was originally established. In this case a title would pass to a female heir if
a peer has daughters but no sons (or in this case, a granddaughter.) Again Wench Jo give more information here.

 To add to the confusion, Margery’s real name is Lady
Marguerite and she has the prefix of “lady” because her father was a French
Count and so as a courtesy she is granted the same title as the daughter of an
Earl would have. Phew!

 
Golden slipperHere’s an extract from Forbidden:

“Thank you for your kindness,”
she said quickly, “but there was no need-” She stopped abruptly as Henry took
her hand. Her breath caught in her throat. Her pulse fluttered.

“No need to see you again?” He
said softly. His thumb brushed her gloved palm and she shivered.  She felt hot and melting, trembling on the
edge of something sweet and dangerous. “But perhaps,” Henry said,  “I am here by choice. Perhaps I am here
because I wanted to see you.”

Margery closed her eyes against
the seduction of his words. She wondered if she had run mad. Maybe there would
be a full moon tonight to account for her foolishness. For she knew she was
being very, very foolish.  There was nothing
more imprudent than a maidservant who succumbed to wicked temptation and a
rake’s charm. Margery knew exactly what Granny Mallon would say. She could hear
her grandmother’s words as clearly as though she was standing there.

“You mark my words, my
girl. You’re asking for trouble and you’ll get all you ask for and more.”

Trouble. She knew exactly the sort of trouble that might take
place between a man and a woman and it had never tempted her before. Now she
craved it.

Her life had always been busy but
somehow it had lacked excitement. All the adventures had happened to other
people. She had merely watched. But tonight felt different. For a little while
at least she was having a small adventure of her own and she was going to enjoy
it. She would be careful. And she would make sure she did not get into trouble
no matter how tempted she might be.

She took the arm that Henry
offered her and they started to walk again, more slowly this time, her hand tucked
confidingly into the crook of his elbow. She had thought it would feel like
walking with Jem or another of her brothers. She could not have been more
wrong. Even through the barrier of her glove she could feel the smoothness of
Henry’s sleeve beneath her fingers and beneath that the hardness of muscle. The
sensation distracted her; she realised that Henry had asked her a question and
that she had failed to answer.

“I beg your pardon?”

“I asked where we were going.”
Henry sounded amused, as though he had guessed the cause of her disturbance.
She blushed to imagine that he knew the effect he had on her.

I am going to Bedford
Square Gardens.” Margery said. She hesitated and cast him a shy glance at him
from beneath her lashes. “I suppose you may accompany me if you wish.”

He slanted a smile down at her
and her wayward heart did another little skip. “That,” he said, “would be
entirely delightful. Do you go there often?”

“As often as I have an evening
free and good weather,” Margery said.

“Alone?” Henry said.

“Of course I go alone,” Margery
said. “It is only a step. I am not going to sit inside on a beautiful evening
because I lack a suitable escort.”

Henry’s lips twitched. “How very
practical of you,” he murmured. “I hope that you are not troubled by importunate
men when you are out alone.”

Margery looked at him. “Only
tonight,” she said dryly.

His smile was rueful. “Touché,”
he said.

“It is not a problem because I do
nothing to draw attention to myself,” Margery said. “A maidservant is nothing
more than a fool if she does. Besides-” She stopped on the edge of further
confession. It seemed fatally easy to confide in Mr Henry Ward.

Henry looked at her. “What is
it?” He asked.

Margery blushed. “Oh, it is
nothing.”

“You were going to say that no
one notices you,” Henry said. “But I do. I see you.”

They had stopped walking, though
Margery had not realised. “How did you know?” She demanded. “How did you know I
was going to say that?”

Henry smiled. He put his fingers
beneath her chin and tilted her face up to his. Margery met his eyes and felt
fear as well as excitement shimmer down her spine. There was something in his
expression that was as bright and hot and searing as on the night in the
brothel. She shivered.

“You are always trying to hide,”
Henry said quietly, “but you cannot hide from me. I noticed you from
Forbidden_350 the
first.”

I am offering a copy of Forbidden to one commenter between
now and midnight Tuesday. The question: How would you feel if your life changed
overnight as Margery’s does – if you inherited a fortune, won the lottery or
became a celebrity? What would you do with your new-found money or fame? Or
would you prefer your life to stay just as it is?

Princess Caraboo

JobigblueHi, here's Jo with one of those stories that proves the saying that truth is stranger than fiction. If any of us wrote this as a novel, we'd be ridiculed.

In 1817 a quick-witted, penniless young woman persuaded local worthies and then some of thCare great that she was a lost princess from a foreign land. I decided to blog about this now not only because it's an engaging story, but because there's an enjoyable movie about it that might be a good choice for the lingering days of the summer holidays.

There's a complete account of the adventure available on googlebooks here and I'll start by quoting the opening.

"On Thursday evening the 3rd of April 1817, the
Overseer of the Poor of the parish of Almondsbury, in the county of
Gloucester, called at Knole Park, the residence of Samuel Worrall, Esq.
to inform that Gentleman and his Lady, that a young Female had entered a
cottage in the village, and had made signs, that it was her wish to
sleep under its roof; but not speaking a language, which its inhabitants
or the Overseer understood, the officer thought it right to refer to
Mr. Worrall, a Magistrate for the county, for his advice; knowing also,
that there was a man servant residing in Mr. Worrall's family, who was
conversant with several foreign languages, and who could probably
comprehend that in which the stranger spoke."

A little later we get a clear exposition of the situation of a vagrant in Regency England. "Upon Mrs. W.'s return from church, she summoned
the young woman before her; and fearful of imposition, she attempted to
interest the stranger by addressing her in the following soothing and
compassionate language; "My good young woman, I very much fear that you
are imposing upon me, and that you understand and can answer me in my
own language; if so, and distress has driven you to this expedient, make
a friend of me; I am a female as yourself, and can feel for you, and
will give you money and clothes, and will put you on your journey,
without disclosing your conduct to any one; but it must be on condition
that you speak the truth. If you deceive me, I think it right to inform
you, that Mr. W. is a Magistrate, and has the power of sending you to prison, committing you to hard labour, and passing you as a vagrant to your own parish."

The lost princess was in fact Mary Baker, and as best anyone can tell, she'd decided that foreigners had a better chance of being treated gently than English people, and then responded with quick wits to what happened. When shown scenes from foreign countries, she showed interest in Oriental ones, especially those from China.

She was obviously good at what she did, for she gained support from various people with knowledge of the East. Then she got really lucky with a Portuguese man who was clearly the sort to latch onto anything exciting public interest.

Carab"At last a foreigner of the
name of Manuel Eynesso, a
Portuguese from the Malay country, who happened to be in Bristol, was
introduced to her, and he declared that he could undertake to interpret
her language. The tale, this impostor pretended to extract from her,
was, briefly, that she was a person of consequence in her own country,
had been decoyed from an island in the East Indies, and brought to
England against her consent, and deserted. That the language she spoke
was not a pure dialect, bi>t a mixture of languages used on the coast
of Sumatra, and other islands in the East. This Manuel Eynesso in short
invented a story so plausible, and one so well suited to the imposition
the girl had determined to practice, that Mrs. W. was induced a second
time to take her to Knole, intending to communicate the particulars of
her history, as far as she could collect them, to some respectable
individual at the East India House, and extend her protection to her
till the truth of her story could be developed.
"

However, Mrs. Worrall intended to take the princess to London to be questioned by the East India Company, so Mary decided it was time to disappear. She'd previously intended to take ship to America and booked passage, but didn't have the money. That was why she'd gone wandering, hoping to find the means. Now that she had possessions of some value she took off for Bristol, but the ship had sailed.

Later, reason unclear, she ran away to Bath. Whether she intended it or not, she became a sensation with the great. When Mrs. Worrall tracked her down, she found this.

"The drawing room was crowded with fashionable visitants, all eager to be introduced to the interesting Princess. There
was one fair female kneeling before her, another taking her by the
hand, another begging a kiss !—The girl afterwards declared, that this
was the most trying scene she ever encountered, and that on this
occasion she had more difficulty to refrain from laughing, and escape
detection, than in all the singular occurrences of her life.
"

Mrs. Worrall took her back to Knole, for which the princess expressed gratitude, but the true story was beginning to emerge. It's all laid out in the book, but is too complicated to attempt here. Basically Mary was a clever girl who from a young age refused to settle to any position thought suitable for her, and who was both a survivor and a natural confidence trickster.

Probably keen to see the end of her, Mrs. Worrall bought her passage to America, where I'd have thought Mary would do well, but it seems her Princess Caraboo act didn't go so well there. She should have been capable of some other ruse, but perhaps she'd become addicted to life at the top. She returned to England and lived out her life in a humdrum way. The film gives her a happier ending.

As the author, of the book, John Mathew Gutch wraps up:   "That
an illiterate girl, unaided by education, in her usual manners and
common appearance by no means elegant or striking, and with no apparent
object, but an ambition to excel in deceit, should have so conducted
herself both in the language she made use of, and in her general
demeanour, as to have induced hundreds to believe, that she was no less a
personage than an unfortunate, unprotected, and wandering Princess from
a distant Eastern Island, cast upon the shores of Britain by cruel and
relentless Pirates;—that she should have sustained this character, with a
countenance never changed by the most abject flattery, or the most
abusive invective, constantly surrounded by persons of superior talent
and education, as well as by those in her own rank of life, who were
always on the watch to mark any inconsistency, or to catch at any
occurrence that could lead to detection ;—and that on no occasion was
she found to lose sight of the part she was acting, or once to betray
herself;—is an instance of consummate art and duplicity
exceeding any occurrence in the annals of modern imposture."

That's true, especially as it's claimed in the book that she was skilled with a bow and arrow and a sword!

The fun aspect of such period narratives is the sidelights to the time. What to make of this, included in the true story of Mary Baker?

"Being at this time very fond of finery, she applied the wages which she
received in the purchase of clothes, and then returned to her father's.
On her return he was much hurt to see her in white, and her mother
insisted on her taking it off, which she would not do. She staid there
only six days, during which time she saw her friend, and her old master
and mistress; but being dressed in white, they said, that she had
dishonestly procured it."

As I've always assumed with reason that shifts etc were white, I can only assume this means a white gown. Would a white muslin gown be so much more expensive, or was it the impractibility of it that ruled it out? Any idea?

Does any of this surprise you? In truth, people still get away with stunts like this if they have panache. We seem willing to believe the bold, and especially eager to believe extraordinary stories, especially about people from distant lands.

And yet, as I said, less forgiving in fiction. If this were written as a Regency Romance, how would you regard it?

Have you read any romances with equally implausible plots, and how did that work for you?

Cheers,

Jo