I love the role dowagers play in Regency romance. They are often free to intervene in matters when society’s rules constrain others. You see, marriage might bring a girl some measure of independence, but in Regency times, there is less need to retire to the dower house upon becoming a widow. Particularly if one enjoys a handsome jointure.
In Notorious Vow, Russell’s mother is Lady Nellie, dowager countess of Northam. She married the Earl after his first wife died, and raised the son he already had, Diana’s father, along with her own. When tragedy struck and Russell succeeded to the title, he entrusted the orphaned Diana to his mother, even as she rebelled against her son’s unnatural guilt.
Lady Nellie invites Vivien to a turtle breakfast, where the heroine discovers the dowager is all indulgence where Diana is concerned. For her part, Russell’s mother rejoices when Vivien arrives on the scene,. Diana’s new companion not only steadies the hoyden viscountess, but she also offers an escape from the earl’s notorious vow.
One of my favorite dowagers in Regency romance is Lady Ingham from Georgette Heyer’s hilarious and fast-paced Sylvester. The grandmother of the heroine Phoebe, this lady proves to be rather formidable despite Sylvester’s irritation when her granddaughter is pushed upon him as a prospective wife. Phoebe confounds both of them when her Gothic novel is released to the sensation of the ton, who recognizes Sylvester as the model for villain Count Ugolino.
“Don’t talk to me of Sylvester!” said the Dowager, with loathing. “If I hadn’t set my heart on his marrying Phoebe I should be in transports over her book! For she hit him off to the life, Georgie! If he ain’t smarting still I don’t know him! Oh, drat the boy! He might have spared a thought for me before he provoked my granddaughter to enact a Cheltenham tragedy in the middle of a ballroom!”
The dowager decides that she shall take Phoebe to Paris to escape the scandal and prevails upon Tom Orde, a young man, to be their escort.
“Let me tell you, Tom, that foreign travel is a necessary part of every young man’s education!” said the Dowager severely.
“Yes, ma’am,” said Tom. He added more hopefully: “Only I daresay my father would not wish me to go!”
“Nonsense! Your father is a sensible man, and he told me he thought it time you got a little town bronze. Depend upon it, he can very well spare you for a week or two. I shall write him a letter, and you may take it to him. Now, boy, don’t be tiresome! If you don’t care to go on your own account you may do so on Phoebe’s.”