Monday, June 07, 2010

The ancient laws that inspired the Brides of Fortune Trilogy

I’m thrilled that my Brides of Fortune trilogy is being published in the UK starting with Confessions of a Duchess this month. The covers for the US and UK versions of the series are very different but I love both styles.

When I was sorting out some files recently I came across the notes I made before I started writing the series back in 2007. The spark for the whole trilogy idea came from an article I read in a national newspaper. A businessman had bought the title of Lord of the Manor of a village in Kent. Once installed, he discovered that there were various ancient rights and privileges associated with the title. He decided to revive these and put forward the idea, amongst other things, that people should pay to walk their dogs on the village green and to park in front of the village shop. Not surprisingly there was an outcry from the villagers, who objected to this high-handed behaviour on the part of their new “lord”!

This gave me the idea for the “Dames’ Tax” whereby all unmarried women in the village of Fortune’s Folly are obliged to give half of their wealth to the lord of the manor if they do not marry within six months of him coming into the title. Whilst I freely admit that the Dames’ Tax was pure invention on my part, I did research various other real taxes existing at the time. These included the tax on dogs, which was in force until 1882, the tax on male servants, abolished 1852, and the tax on racehorses, which only ceased in 1874. These were all taxes paid on a national basis.

Most local taxes, known as “scots” were abolished in England after the Restoration of the Monarchy in 1660, so in order for Sir Montague Fortune’s revival of local taxes to have any historical authenticity I had to find a way in which his village might be exempt. One way that presented itself was for Fortune’s Folly to have been a church enclave where the abolition did not apply. Thus the series starts with Sir Montague discovering to his glee that the abbey church in Fortune’s Folly had exemption from the 1660 abolition.

Many of the medieval taxes were paid to the church and naturally many others were weighted heavily in favour of the lord. However the Fortune’s Folly villagers, to get their own back for Sir Montague’s greed, in turn revive those taxes that give them the advantage: Pontage, by which they charge a fee to cross the bridge in the village, pannage, the right to let their pigs roam in the lord’s woods, and foldage, sending their sheep to manure Sir Montague’s beautiful rose gardens!

Probably the most well known of the early taxes was the droit de seigneur. In England this was known as the amober, the sum paid to the Lord of the Manor to waive his right to sleep with the bride the night before her wedding. William the Conqueror was famously supposed to have been conceived after the droit de seigneur was invoked.

Book 3 of the series, The Undoing of a Lady, is inspired by this idea, but with a twist. It is the Lady of the Manor who exercises her ancient rights, kidnapping the hero to stop the wedding!
It fascinated me that some of the ancient laws and taxes are still legal in the UK today. Mostly these are laws such as wood penny, which is still applicable where I live: for the payment of a nominal penny a year to the local landowner we have the right to take his wood for our fire. Other laws and taxes serve as great inspiration for story ideas but I would not want to see them revived…

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Anonymous Melinda Hammond/Sarah Mallory said...

Can't wait to read this trilogy, Nicola. Fascinating old laws - and what a devious mind you have to put them to such good use!!!!!

11:09 AM  
Blogger Nicola Cornick said...

LOL, Melinda, thank you! I find it fascinating the things that catch our writing imaginations and inspire us. The drawback with using these medieval laws, however, seems to be that several readers and reviewers simply can't believe they are based on real life examples!

12:31 PM  
Blogger Jane Odiwe said...

Absolutely fascinating stuff, Nicola. I'd never heard of 'droit de seigneur' before - brilliant history lesson, thank you!

12:55 PM  
Blogger kate tremayne said...

Loved this post Nicola. Some of those old laws are a treasure to a novelist to discover. And as they say 'truth is stranger than fiction' and in some of the old histories,you just didn't need to make it up.

I lok forward to reading this trilogy.

4:05 PM  
Blogger Nicola Cornick said...

Thank you, Jane. Thank you, Kate. Absolutely, truth is stranger than fiction, Kate! I guess that is why people have such trouble believing it sometimes!

5:16 PM  
Blogger Jan Jones said...

Love the thought of pontage, pannage and foldage, Nicola!

8:54 PM  
Blogger Nicola Cornick said...

They are a lot of fun, aren't they, Jan! Particularly foldage. I love the idea of lending your sheep to help manure the lord's garden and the vreature munching its way through his prize plants!

10:53 AM  
Anonymous Melinda Hammond/Sarah Mallory said...

Foldage still goes on here in the Pennines - the farmers sheep are ALWAYS getting out and manuring my garden!!!

8:20 AM  
Blogger Joanna Waugh said...

Great stuff, Nicola! I love the premise for your trilogy. One of my favorite research books is The Strange Laws of Old England by Nigel Cawthorne.

12:38 PM  

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