Nicola here, talking slightly tongue-in-cheek about a certain trope in fiction, that of birth order. The concept of the “heir and the spare” is something that has been discussed quite a lot lately and it’s a theme that those of us who read historical romance are very familiar with. The noble family is desperate to have an heir (usually male, since women can’t inherit the majority of British titles) and that person will be expected to carry on the traditions of the family, inherit the title and any entailed fortune that goes with it. They will be in line to take the responsibility for the crumbling stately pile and if it really is crumbling, find an heiress whose inheritance fortunately comes from trade or some other source, to prop it up. It feels like a heavy weight for the heir to carry. The emphasis here is on responsibility and continuity. However, there’s a snag. What if something happens to the heir? Then you will need a spare – two boys at least – to ensure the continuation of the family line. So, to be on the safe side, most families try not to stop at one.
Nicola here. Today is the 510th anniversary of the coronation of Henry VIII. Despite my very mixed feelings about Henry and his Dad, it feels like the sort of occasion I can’t ignore, particularly as my next timeslip is set in the Tudor period, albeit later in the reign of Henry’s younger daughter, Elizabeth. A decade ago, when it was the quincentenary of Henry's coronation, there were a number of celebrations to mark the occasion. But is Henry someone who we want to celebrate?
Henry VIII bestrides English history like a colossus both in terms of physical size and reputation. Not many kings or queens can compete with his fame. Was this solely down to the fact that he had six wives and beheaded two of them? A number of other British monarchs have had more than one spouse but none of them make the headlines (sorry, bad pun) like Henry still does. As someone who enjoys exploring the myths and legends about historical characters as much as I enjoy the “real” history, I thought I’d take a look at “Why is Henry VIII still so big” (in the sense of popular culture.) I call it “the afterlife” of Henry VIII.
I’m working on the third Rebellious Son book (yeah, I know, finally) and I’m researching European royalty. I’ve always hated books with make-believe princesses, just as I get annoyed with books where everyone is a spy when England really had no such thing. And then I turn around and write one. There ya go, my nature in a nutshell—perverse. Maybe it's that love/hate relationship that works so well for characters!
So to make my princess credible, I started digging around to see what royalty there was as Napoleon’s juggernaut crushed Europe. Deposed royalty would work fine. My heroine favors a more Mediterranean look than Nordic, so I played around with the most obvious target—Italy. Italy at this time wasn’t the Italy we know now. As you can see from the map, it’s a bunch of diverse provinces, each with their own version of royalty and probably all related to each other—a veritable plethora of princesses for me to play with.
My book is set in 1809, and by that time, Napoleon had taken a wopping bite out of Tuscany and of course, Corsica. (photo credit) But at the time France acquired Tuscany, the Duke of Parma was granted Etruria, and that was my aha moment. Skimming through the history, I could see land along the coast line was swapped like playing cards. Napoleon could declare himself King of Italy and give provinces to his sisters and brothers and call them anything he liked, and turn Italy into a dozen duchies, so why shouldn’t I? So somewhere on that Ligurian coastline (annexed by France in 1805), I created the grand duchy of Mirenze. So, my princess wasn’t really a princess except in her own country, which wasn’t really her country anymore. I do love the way my perversion comes together.
(Princess Clothilde 1861) But as we look at these maps and realize how Napoleon almost single-handedly pulled Italy out of its feudal roots and into the 19th century, we’ve got to give the man some respect. Instead of a few dozen warring provinces and states with multiple leaders stabbing each other in the back and marrying their cousins, he eventually created a modern country with civilians instead of serfs. Put another way, he created a United States of Italy, except he had to put on a crown and ruin the effect. Europe did love its crowns.
And then he married all the aristocrats off to his plebian family and called them equal(that's one of his descendants in the photo)—except now Napoleon’s family hobnobs with half the aristocracy of Europe and aren’t faring too badly in the U.S. either. Did you know that a descendant of Napoleon's sister Caroline Bonaparte is actor René Auberjonois of Star Trek, Boston Legal, and numerous other productions? And a descendant of one of Napoleon's brothers was a US Attorney General. I guess that’s about as close to aristocracy as we have in this country. Pretty good job for an old Italian country boy.
So I think my princess-who-isn't-a-princess should be believable enough, I hope.
I’m not entirely certain why we enjoy reading about the aristocracy and royalty, but it certainly gave me a chance to play with culture and social clashes since my princess is actually a sailor’s widow and teaches school.
How about you? Do you prefer royalty to working class or vice versa? What is it about the fantasy that so appeals to us, especially Americans with no aristocracy to speak of?