Monday, July 10, 2017

The Regency's Darker Secrets

Many readers think historical romances are all the same. They are not. True, they are set in the past, true they all have a (mostly) happy ending, but stories and styles vary enormously.  I have just finished writing a sparkling Regency romp for Harlequin, which will be published next year, but my September publication, Pursued for the Viscount's Vengeance, weaves far more serious matters in amongst the romance.
Image result for Quincey Opium Eater images wikicommons

This book required research into some of the Regency's darker secrets, such as the use of laudanum. Opium mixed with a little alcohol was widely used to provide pain relief in a time when there was nothing else. It was even given to teething children. Laudanum was highly addictive and amongst the "opium eaters" of the day were the poet Coleridge and even the reformer, William Wilberforce (the extent of the Regency's opium addiction was exposed in Thomas de Quincy's, "Confessions of an Opium Eater ").

There was also a continuous fight by the Bank of England against counterfeit money. The practice of coining is well known, coins of the realm had their edges clipped off and the clippings were melted down to make new coins.  What is less well known is the trade in counterfeit notes. This was particularly prevalent during the time this book is set, because bad harvests and the ongoing war had reduced the stocks of gold bullion in England to low levels and the Bank of England issued vast quantities of poorly designed one and two pound notes that were easy to copy. Clever forgeries of bank notes were produced and circulated via the use of "utterers", poor women who would use the notes to buy relatively cheap goods and receive good coin in change. The victims were usually amongst the poorer sections of society such as innkeepers, small shopkeepers and market stallholders, many of them poorly educated and unlikely to spot a forgery. Naomi Clifford tells the sad but fascinating story of , Sarah Bailey, who from the reports could justly be labelled a "feisty" woman. She was  caught passing forged notes and was eventually hanged for her crimes, but only after giving the authorities a run for their money! You can read her story here -

And you might ask, why not call the book the Viscount's Vendetta? To me, "vendetta" conjures up the turbulent, violent times of the Borgias and Medicis, but when I checked more closely I found it originally related to blood feuds amongst families from Sicily and Corsica, and it was not used in England until the mid 19th century. I therefore decided it would be safer not to use the word for a book set in 1817.

The main characters are complex and damaged. Deborah Meltham thinks herself too disfigured for any man to want her and she has given up all thoughts of marriage and devoted her life to looking after her beloved but dissolute brother. Gil, Viscount Gilmorton, is grieving for the loss of his loved ones and carrying a heavy burden of guilt because he was not there to protect them. When Gil and Deb's paths cross, there is an instant attraction, but once the truth is known, there are surely far too many obstacles to a happy ending. Aren't there?

Well, of course not! In the best traditions of Harlequin Historical romance Deb and Gil have to struggle against the odds to be true to each other and themselves and hope you will agree with me that, in the end, they deserve their happiness.

Happy Reading!
Sarah Mallory / Melinda  Hammond

Pursued for the Viscount's Vengeance is published mid August 2017 in North America and the UK by Harlequin / Mills & Boon


Elizabeth Hawksley said...

I'm all for weaving in some serious stuff along with the romance. The Regency years were turbulent times: not only was there serious famine in 1814, the country was at war, and that entailed a lot of anxiety and suffering. And, as you say, Melinda/Sarah, the effect of counterfeit coinage would affect the poorest most.

I think I'm allowed to enjoy a good romance as well as some serious history! It doesn't have to be either - or.

Melinda Hammond/Sarah Mallory said...

I quite agree, Elizabeth, a good romance can have its base in history. Having said my latest is a romp, it does touch upon the plight of women who have lost their reputation and - if they are poor - their livelihoods. Heyer is very good at hinting at the darker side of Regency life, it doesn't reduce the fun, just enhances the whole picture.

Thank you so much for dropping by and taking the time to comment!

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