Nicola here! Tomorrow sees the official publication of Forbidden, the last in my Scandalous Women of the Ton series (although the book has been sighted online and in various retailers already!) It’s been huge fun to write this series and I can’t quite believe that it’s over. I started with the idea – inspired by my research – that during the Regency period there were many women doing extraordinary and exciting things such as travelling and working for a living which would also have been considered scandalous at the time. I also threw in some more “conventional” scandals – a heroine who had been divorced and now, in this final book, a pretender.
The Tichborne Claimant
There have been pretenders to titles for as long as there have been titles. There have been pretenders to thrones: Perkin Warbeck, who claimed to be (and may well have been) Richard Plantagenet the younger son of King Edward IV. One of my favourite books, Brat Farrar by Josephine Tey, deals with a young man who claims to be the long lost son of a family who thought that he was dead. On Friday, Wench Jo blogged about a different sort of pretender, Princess Caraboo. And there is the case of the Tichborne claimant, which was the case that inspired me.
Roger Tichborne was born in 1829, the eldest son of Sir James Tichborne. In 1854 the ship he was sailing on to the West Indies foundered and it was presumed that all on board were lost. Roger was declared dead and his younger brother inherited the title. Roger’s mother, however, was certain that her son was still alive and placed advertisements in the national and international press seeking information about her son. Eventually in 1866 a man contacted Lady Tichborne from Australia, claiming to be Roger. He said that he had been rescued from the wreck, taken to Australia, where he had become a postman and a butcher. His story seemed very unlikely but was given credence by the fact that Roger Tichborne had suffered from a genital malformation and so did the claimant. Lady Tichborne was certain that he was her lost son.
“Roger” came to England with his wife and child and set out to prove his case in the courts. In both a civil and subsequent criminal trial he was identified not as Roger Tichborne but as Arthur Orton (pictured on the right) son of a ship’s victualler from Wapping. You can read more about the case here. Roger/Arthur ended up as a celebrity and a music hall act!
Would you like to win the lottery?
In Forbidden, Margery isn’t really a pretender to the Earldom of Templemore because she never sets out to claim it for herself. It is other people who identify her as the heir. In fact in the first twist to the story Margery is actually pretty happy with her life as it stands – she may be a maidservant but she is a senior one and she has plans to open a confectioner’s shop when she has saved enough money. One of the ideas I enjoyed playing with was that perhaps being the most sought-after heiress in the Ton isn’t all a bed of roses. Some people have suggested to me that it’s unrealistic that Margery wouldn’t be thrilled to discover she’s granddaughter to an Earl but I’m not sure it’s so straightforward. To me it’s a similar thing to winning the lottery. Yes, it would be great in some ways but it would change your life completely and not all of that would necessarily be good. In Margery’s case as well she had so much more freedom as a maidservant that she does as a closely-chaperoned heiress. Suddenly she is a Regency celebrity, a Cause Celebre, the heiress who has come back from the dead. It’s a huge shock to someone who is a very private person, who has grown up in a close-knit family which turns out not to be her family at all. I think that would be an enormous adjustment for anyone to make and there would be times when you would wish you could just go back to the way things used to be.
The Fairy Tale
There is also a fairy tale element in the transformation of a maidservant into a Cinderella and I had a lot of fun with Margery’s new wardrobe and all the other trappings of her new life. I gave her a beautiful country house to live in, based on Buscot Park (in the picture) packed full of priceless objects. Margery doesn’t care for it too much because it feels like a mausoleum to her. There’s a twist in the fairy tale, though: in becoming the heiress, Margery displaces Henry, her very own Prince Charming, because he was heir to the estate until she was found. So as her fortunes rise, Henry’s fall. I liked that Henry paid the price for Margery’s social rise (maybe I just enjoy making my hero’s life as difficult as possible!) and Margery's wealth and Henry's fall become a big stumbling block in their relationship because Henry is not the sort of man who wants to appear a fortune hunter.
A note on titles
I'm expecting some comments along the lines of "a woman can't inherit a British title - can she?" because this does confuse some readers. I made Margery heiress to a title that could be inherited in the female line. Most British titles “remainder” as it is called to male heirs (hence the whole inheritance plot at the centre of Downton Abbey) but it is entirely possible for a woman to inherit if that has been agreed when the title was originally established. In this case a title would pass to a female heir if a peer has daughters but no sons (or in this case, a granddaughter.) Again Wench Jo give more information here.
To add to the confusion, Margery’s real name is Lady Marguerite and she has the prefix of “lady” because her father was a French Count and so as a courtesy she is granted the same title as the daughter of an Earl would have. Phew!
“Thank you for your kindness,” she said quickly, “but there was no need-” She stopped abruptly as Henry took her hand. Her breath caught in her throat. Her pulse fluttered.
“No need to see you again?” He said softly. His thumb brushed her gloved palm and she shivered. She felt hot and melting, trembling on the edge of something sweet and dangerous. “But perhaps,” Henry said, “I am here by choice. Perhaps I am here because I wanted to see you.”
Margery closed her eyes against the seduction of his words. She wondered if she had run mad. Maybe there would be a full moon tonight to account for her foolishness. For she knew she was being very, very foolish. There was nothing more imprudent than a maidservant who succumbed to wicked temptation and a rake’s charm. Margery knew exactly what Granny Mallon would say. She could hear her grandmother’s words as clearly as though she was standing there.
“You mark my words, my girl. You’re asking for trouble and you’ll get all you ask for and more.”
Trouble. She knew exactly the sort of trouble that might take place between a man and a woman and it had never tempted her before. Now she craved it.
Her life had always been busy but somehow it had lacked excitement. All the adventures had happened to other people. She had merely watched. But tonight felt different. For a little while at least she was having a small adventure of her own and she was going to enjoy it. She would be careful. And she would make sure she did not get into trouble no matter how tempted she might be.
She took the arm that Henry offered her and they started to walk again, more slowly this time, her hand tucked confidingly into the crook of his elbow. She had thought it would feel like walking with Jem or another of her brothers. She could not have been more wrong. Even through the barrier of her glove she could feel the smoothness of Henry’s sleeve beneath her fingers and beneath that the hardness of muscle. The sensation distracted her; she realised that Henry had asked her a question and that she had failed to answer.
“I beg your pardon?”
“I asked where we were going.” Henry sounded amused, as though he had guessed the cause of her disturbance. She blushed to imagine that he knew the effect he had on her.
“I am going to Bedford Square Gardens.” Margery said. She hesitated and cast him a shy glance at him from beneath her lashes. “I suppose you may accompany me if you wish.”
He slanted a smile down at her and her wayward heart did another little skip. “That,” he said, “would be entirely delightful. Do you go there often?”
“As often as I have an evening free and good weather,” Margery said.
“Alone?” Henry said.
“Of course I go alone,” Margery said. “It is only a step. I am not going to sit inside on a beautiful evening because I lack a suitable escort.”
Henry’s lips twitched. “How very practical of you,” he murmured. “I hope that you are not troubled by importunate men when you are out alone.”
Margery looked at him. “Only tonight,” she said dryly.
His smile was rueful. “Touché,” he said.
“It is not a problem because I do nothing to draw attention to myself,” Margery said. “A maidservant is nothing more than a fool if she does. Besides-” She stopped on the edge of further confession. It seemed fatally easy to confide in Mr Henry Ward.
Henry looked at her. “What is it?” He asked.
Margery blushed. “Oh, it is nothing.”
“You were going to say that no one notices you,” Henry said. “But I do. I see you.”
They had stopped walking, though Margery had not realised. “How did you know?” She demanded. “How did you know I was going to say that?”
Henry smiled. He put his fingers beneath her chin and tilted her face up to his. Margery met his eyes and felt fear as well as excitement shimmer down her spine. There was something in his expression that was as bright and hot and searing as on the night in the brothel. She shivered.
I am offering a copy of Forbidden to one commenter between now and midnight Tuesday. The question: How would you feel if your life changed overnight as Margery’s does – if you inherited a fortune, won the lottery or became a celebrity? What would you do with your new-found money or fame? Or would you prefer your life to stay just as it is?