A Regent’s ransom

George IV "Prinny" by Sir Thomas Lawrence (1822)

Her mother raised a dark eyebrow.  “I believe Lady Diana is something of a hoyden.  And the earl of Northam is a member of the Carlton House set, an intimate of the Regent.”  A mere man who kept very bad company.

The worst, in fact. 

Mrs. Montgomery had never sought to hide her disdain for the Regent.  He symbolized everything deplorable to the Camden family and their wool business. Profligate spending.  Irresponsible government.

“I was not aware,” Vivien replied, dismissively.  Lord Russell had cut the connection between her and Diana.  She would never see either of them again.  “What does it signify?  We’re talking about a chance meeting in the park.”

“A chance meeting?”  Her mother shook her head, hair as dark as Vivien’s own.   “My dear daughter, there are two calling cards on the foyer tray.  Belonging to Lady Diana and Northam’s mother, Lady Nellie.  Dansby took them this morning.”

Vivien jerked upright.  “They were here, in Knightsbridge?”  The heiress and her grandmother might as well have visited the moon.

Vivien’s mother in Notorious Vow is not alone in her opinon that Lord Northam is an intimate of the Prince Regent.  Prinny counts the wealthy peer as one of his friends, having great admiration for the earl’s famous racing stud Calumet.  Russell does not consider himself a member of the Carlton set, steering well clear of the Regent’s foibles that marred his reputation otherwise distinguished as a patron of the arts.  The prince might have been better remembered as an effective monarch had he availed himself of Russell’s sound advice.

The Carlton Set was named for the Regent’s opulent house in Pall Mall which he eventually demolished upon moving to Buckingham Palace. 

When Notorious Vow opens, the Regent’s debts had reached extraordinary levels.  They amounted to almost fifty million pounds sterling in today’s money.  Russell is tempted to employ his vast wealth as Marquess of Wimberley to redeem a large portion of his sovereign’s debt, in desperate exchange for a favor from the Crown.  

A favor that will win him the woman he loves.

A House Overlooking Hyde Park

She went to the broad window and looked out.  As she suspected, it had an excellent view of the exact place where Russell had first warned her to stay away. 

“You were about to give me a masterful setdown then, were you not?” he asked, coming to stand behind her at the window.

“I’m glad I didn’t have the opportunity to do so,” she murmured in pleasure.  He had not left after all, and she was delighted, hardly caring that a small crowd of gawkers gathered in the street below.  Already there were those who hoped to catch a glimpse of London’s most scandalous couple.

In Notorious Vow, the villa featured in the above passage was inspired by Chandos House in Queen Anne Street.  You might know it from the superior Ang Lee-directed movie, Sense and Sensibility, which highlighted the bright interior of Mrs. Jennings’ London home. 

In my novel, Vivien was particularly enchanted that the villa was a stand-alone house, a rarity in London.  Its Georgian brick had been refaced with a creamy stucco exterior.  The bow windows on each floor gave an unhindered view of Hyde Park, ornamented on either side by beautifully carved pilasters.  The staircase (view to the right) from Buckingham House (demolished in 1908) played a notable part in the novel.

Rotten Row

I had always thought Rotten Row was a corruption of Route du Roi.  But it turns out that this name for the main bridle path in Hyde Park prominently featured in Notorious Vow is in fact a common street name throughout Britain.  It can refer to a row of decrepit cottages infested with rats to the roundabout one often encounters in and out of London.

Rotten Row in Hyde Park by Thomas Blinks (1900)

My heroine has several alarming encounters along Rotten Row which her horsemanship saves her in all but one, toward the end of the book.  Her encounter with the Earl of Northam along this deserted track is one of my favorites:

Russell was convinced Vivien had a grasping desire to be taken up by a viscountess who was a leading figure of the ton.  And this belief was soon rewarded as he spotted her trotting up the path.  Yet he remained rooted where he was, in the trees, admiring her lovely grace as she urged the gray toward him.  His mother’s reference to his last mistress came unbidden, and he considered what it might be like to have Miss Montgomery installed in his Piccadilly love nest.

“Dash it!”   It was almost too late by the time he had roused himself from staring at his quarry.  He goosed his horse onto the path, a scrambling business that in retrospect was comical if it had not been so deadly serious.

Vivien came up Rotten Row with much of the happy anticipation she experienced before the terrible disappointment two days before.  So she cautioned herself.  Diana may have had second thoughts about meeting her.

Thor seemed to sense her doubt, flicking his ears back and forth.  Vivien leaned forward to stroke his smooth coat.  He needed exercise.  And she was persistent, urging him into a canter.

Without warning, Thor gathered himself in mid-stride, ears pricked forward as if to catch the sound of something ahead.  Vivien smiled and urged him forward, expecting to see Garnet and her rider ahead on the broad gravel path.

She was dismayed to see instead a familiar dark bay horse abruptly emerge from the trees.

“You needn’t look so surprised, Miss Montgomery,” the earl said, ranging his mount across the path.  Blocking her way.

Dull dowager? Never!

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. 

Book Cover from 1970 UK Edition

“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.”


She is a viscountess!

The Viscountess Astor by John Singer Sargent, 1909

I declare my heart went out to Anne Elliott in BBC’s 1995 adaptation of Jane Austen’s Persuasion.  Her elder sister Elizabeth, a wretched creature, positively screams at poor Anne for failing to perceive the importance of their family connection to the Dowager Lady Dalrymple.  “She is a viscountess!” 

Elizabeth exclaims before her father, Mrs. Clay and all the servants.

You can view this marvelous scene at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=knmXLb_gJeY&feature=related, 6:20.

What in the world is a viscountess?  In short, the female equivalent of a viscount. 

Historically, the word comes from the French vicomte, which means deputy/companion of a leader.  My favorite example of a vicomte would be Roger of Montgomery, to whom William, Duke of Normandy, entrusted his duchy during the Conquest of England.  Roger was an able administrator, and helped William’s duchess Matilda keep matters in order while the Conqueror was away. 

In England, the viscount is a hereditary title that normally is conferred upon the heir of an earl.  And his wife would be known as viscountess.  The title may refer to a place, or to a family name.  Dowager Lady Dalrymple is the widow of the Viscount Dalrymple and so she is known Viscountess Dalrymple.  In Persuasion, Miss Austen tells the reader her daughter’s name is Miss Carteret, this being the surname of her father, Lady Dalrymple’s husband, so we can surmise Dalrymple is a place name that is associated with the title.  The character analysis from Schmoop explains this rather well.  See http://www.shmoop.com/persuasion/dowager-viscountess-dalrymple.html.

In Notorious Vow, Lady Diana is the Viscountess Northam.  Her father, the Earl of Northam, was killed in a carriage accident, leaving Diana as his only child.  However, the earldom passed to Russell, her uncle and Marquess of Wimberley.  So how did Diana still manage to be known as the Viscountess Northam?

Diana explains to Vivien that it was her uncle who named her Viscountess Northam in a public vow that scandalized the ton for years: 

“You see, Miss Montgomery, Northam’s legacy rules us all.”

“Does your uncle, I beg your pardon, does Lord Northam know your feelings about this?”

“Perhaps.  But it would not matter.  He is obsessed with his vow that arranges all our affairs, including the succession to Northam and all that comes with it.  When my father died, Northam passed to Uncle, his brother, instead of to me.  I was too young and underage females cannot inherit the earldom.  A law or something, I believe.  Happened ages ago…..At any rate, Uncle thinks he can skirt the rules by never marrying.  So that when he dies, it will all come to me.”

“But that is monstrous,” Vivien was moved to say.  “Why should he conceive of such a thing?”

“Because he blames himself for my father’s death.”

Lord Byron

“Shall I read some of that fellow Byron’s poetry to you, Miss Montgomery?” he asked, picking up a volume from a side table.

The look of distaste on his face at his own suggestion made Vivien chuckle and shake her head.

“Are you, like all the rest, pining at his loss?”  Northam asked.  “A shame he decided to leave the country.”

“You knew him?”

“We went to Harrow together.  Even then he wrote poetry which the literary critics panned.  So he published a satire merely to spite them.” 

Vivien marvelled at the familiarity with which he spoke of the celebrated poet.  But not so much that she could hide her usual candor.  “It sounds as if he could not bear to have his work criticized.  A dangerous proposition for any artist, I believe.”

“There speaks the sensible Miss Montgomery.  When any other woman would throw herself at Byron’s head.”

George Gordon, Sixth Baron Byron, was the hottie of the period.  Russell, in Notorious Vow, acknowledges this and is rewarded by Vivien’s candor.  She thinks the dramatic sweep of Romanticism that becomes full-blown in the Regency period can be dangerous for its addicts, much like Anne Elliott in Jane Austen’s Persuasion.  Vivien has good reason to believe Lord Northam, who nearly ruined his life when he made a certain notorious vow, resembles the greatly impassioned, and ultimately tragic, Lord Byron. 

This particular quote from Chapter Eleven of Austen’s last work sums up the Regency’s craze with romantic poetry rather well:

“he repeated, with such tremulous feeling, the various lines which imaged a broken heart, or a mind destroyed by wretchedness, and looked so entirely as if he meant to be understood, that she ventured to hope he did not always read only poetry, and to say, that she thought it was the misfortune of poetry to be seldom safely enjoyed by those who enjoyed it completely; and that the strong feelings which alone could estimate it truly were the very feelings which ought to taste it but sparingly.”

People’s Magazine of the Regency

Vivien felt a little gauche when she spied Diana thumbing through an issue of La Belle Assemblee’ in my debut Regency novel Notorious Vow.  This popular magazine from the Regency period contained a plate featuring the viscountess wearing a striking Turkish cape.  Diana had beautiful titian-colored hair, and so the deep red color of this cape merely accented her well-known feature.

You can find this reproduction in an excellent source on the following website that documents unusual (read—exclusive) Regency fashion:  http://yourwardrobeunlockd.com/freebies/357-unusual-regency-by-serena-dyer?start=2

I owe so much to Georgette Heyer’s unrivalled exposition on everything that encompassed Regency culture.  In particular, the following passage from her Cotillion does great justice to the wardrobe of someone like Diana who devotes considerable resources to assembling one of the ton’s most varied wardrobes:  Freddy Standen’s sister Meg, Lady Buckhaven.  Her dresser is quite determined that her ladyship’s young friend from the country take some of her mistress’ ill-chosen articles of clothing, which do not compliment her blond beauty:

“When Miss Charing shrank from accepting an opulent evening cloak of cherry-red velvet, ruched and braided, and lined with satin, she contrived to draw her a little aside, and to whisper in her ear:  ‘Take it, miss!  My lady—-Lady Legerwood, I mean!—will be so very much obliged to you!  Miss Margaret—Lady Buckhaven, I should say! — should never wear cherry!”

If Cotillion does not positively make you scream in delight, you have my leave to remonstrate with me in the comments below.  But I warn you!  I am devoted to Ms. Heyer and her work.

A Horse of a New Color

Vivien’s horse in Notorious Vow has a remarkable history that only gradually comes to light in the course of the novel.  Not until near the end of the story does she finally understand how it was that Thor, the name she gives to the beautiful iron gray gelding, came to arrive on her doorstep in obscure Knightsbridge.  At that time, she couldn’t wait to ride him during the promenade of the ton in Hyde Park, but this happy occasion was marred by the jeers and insults hurled at her when she rides Thor up Rotten Row.  She is despised for pretending to be someone she is not—-one of them!

Thor was an English Thoroughbred, descended from the famous Godolphin Arabian, one of the three foundation sires of most racing Thoroughbred in the world today.  Have you read Marguerite Henry’s beloved King of the Wind?  Then you’ll be familiar with the touching story of this remarkable stud that permanently enriched the bloodlines of Thoroughbreds to this day.  I like the inclusion of Grimalkin, his lifelong companion, in the portrait.   Do you see him?

Thor, like his great-great-great grandsire, was a king of the wind, as Vivien found out when he was startled into a bolt that led her straight to the ha-ha barrier in Hyde Park.

What does color have to do with this?  Thor was a gray, but this was not always so.  To Russell’s dismay.

Irish Bred Hunter

In Notorious Vow, Russell rode a dark bay Irish bred hunter.  An expensive horse, this gelding was the product of cross-breeding that became increasingly popular for hunting enthusiasts.  These mounts typically have English Thoroughbreds and hardy Irish draft horses in their parentage to combine speed with durability over difficult terrain that nineteenth century fox-hunting demanded.  Seventeen hands tall, Russell’s mount was fitting for the earl and lent an intimidating presence when his lordship intercepted Vivien on the deserted path in Hyde Park.

A hunter must jump fearlessly and without hesitation.  Especially fences that are not only high, but wide in breadth, like this stream below.  I like how the horse eyes the water as he passes over, a flinching that could prove fatal to the rider’s seat.  Russell took care to select a hunter that was nearly impervious, except when Vivien’s own horse, Thor, snorted at him!

At one point, Russell seeks out Lord Harcourt, his mentor from an earlier time, for advice.  Harcourt has the happy circumstance of owning a hunting box near Melton Mowbray, and it is there Russell finds him after the Season in London is over.  He has to explain his interest in Vivien’s disgraced cousin, Lord Griffin Montgomery.  Hunting boxes could be as small as cottages, but in Harcourt’s case, his hunting box was the size of a large manor house, similar to Lucknam Park pictured here.

The Marquess lives in the suburb

In Notorious Vow, Russell was not only Earl of Northam, he held the title Marquess of Wimberley.  His pursuit of Vivien took place primarily in the large, modern town home of Northam House, situated in a prominent place in Grosvenor Square.  But on one memorable occasion,  the turning point of their relationship occurs at Russell’s other official residence—Wimberley House in Aldersgate. 

At the time of its construction in the late medieval period, Wimberley House was in a suburban neighborhood of London.  A lovely facade was added by Inigo Jones in the mid-seventeenth century.  Then the mansion came into the hands of Russell’s maternal line, the London property of the marquisate gifted by Queen Anne to his great-grandmother, a beloved lady-in-waiting to the Stuart queen. 

Shaftesbury, sometimes called Thanet House, was my inspiration for the ancient London townhome of Wimberley.  There are very few extant photographs of older residences of the peerage dating from before the Great Fire.  Obviously, that catastrophe was partly responsible for this paucity, but it would also be correct to say most of these older palaces had been torn down before the advent of photography, after being converted to hospitals and government facilities. 

Note the ionic pilasters decorated with garlands on the windows.  The lower level had been converted to store fronts in the Regency period and

Also known as Shaftesbury House on Aldersgate Street

was finally demolished in 1882.