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?