If you’re wondering how a man can inherit a dukedom from his distant cousin, take a look at the Duke of Somerset’s family tree (you’ll have to click “show”). The dukes of Somerset bounced all around that tree. The 8th duke was the great-great-great-great-great-grandson of the duke whose title was previously inherited by his distant cousin, the 7th duke. I think. My eyes started glazing over when I tried to figure out what cousin that would make them. Lots of removes. Look up primogeniture and you will understand why only certain males in the tree could inherit the dukedom. It’s fascinating stuff, but so complicated it makes me reluctant to tackle my own family tree, which isn’t nearly as illustrious. I’m pretty sure King Henry VIII is not one of my ancestors!
Geoffrey from A Duke for Diana is partly inspired by an actual duke who was responsible for countless canals in England: the Duke of Bridgewater (I kid you not—that was his name). He was dubbed the “Canal Duke” because he had so many of them built or expanded. Interestingly, he never married. He was engaged to the Dowager Duchess of Hamilton (the former Elizabeth Gunning, noted society beauty), but broke it off. The Dowager Duchess went on to become the wife of a marquess who became the Duke of Argyll (so she was married to two dukes and engaged to one), and she also gave birth to four dukes (only two dukedoms, though). Thus, SHE is the inspiration for Lydia, the mother of the three dukes in the Duke Dynasty series. Hey, I take my inspiration where I find it!
A Duke for Diana’s Elegant Occasions isn’t as farfetched as you might think. Although it was frowned upon for aristocratic women to be “in trade,” certain types of business ventures were tolerated in such ladies. A well-known one was hiring oneself out to “sponsor” a young lady for her debut. Normally, a woman’s mother or other close relative presented her at the Queen’s drawing room for the first time. But what if the young lady is an orphan and all her female relations are dead or not interested? Then she could actually hire a respectable lady of rank to present her. I just chose to . . . expand the practice a bit. Of course, there were the usual impoverished ladies who became governesses or companions, but there were also ladies who supported themselves by designing for Wedgwood (Lady Templeton, Lady Diana Beauclerk), along with novelists (lots of those), artists (a surprising number of those), and even a sculptor or two. I stumble across them so often that I keep a list!
As y’all know, I occasionally base my characters—both main and secondary—on real historical figures I read about. One of those will make his first appearance in Eliza’s book. He’s a well-known French chef and a man of color who works for Elegant Occasions. I was inspired by a man I’d read about recently: James Hemings, the brother of Sally Hemings. He’s credited with introducing Americans to snow eggs and his version of mac and cheese, among other things. He learned about similar foods while training in France to be a chef, the first American to do so. He excelled to such a degree that he became chef de cuisine at the Hôtel de Langeac, Jefferson’s private residence, and the first American diplomatic embassy while he was in Paris. My character is French, not American, but he too has risen to prominence in England, as many French chefs did. He’ll also be in Verity’s book, which I’m presently plotting.
Dieting is not an invention of the modern age. For as long as there has been food, there have been diet programs and aids, not to mention doctors who instructed their patients to lose weight. The aid that still horrifies me was popular in the Victorian period—swallowing tapeworms. That’s one way to lose weight, but not a particularly healthy one. Here’s a lovely diet program from a man named Banting in the mid-nineteenth century. The diet was essentially low carb, even if it did have lots of wine in it. The Ugly-Girl Papers suggested a diet of fruit, with occasional broth, in order to achieve the translucent skin and sickly look that was apparently popular. Or . . . you could just eat arsenic wafers or drink ammonia. But before you scoff, my mom told us that when she and her sisters had colds as girls in the 1930s and ’40s, they were given a sugar cube soaked in kerosene to suck on!
You may remember that Eliza Harper Pierce, the next sister to gain her hero in this series, is a widow. One member of Sabrina’s Dames and Dukes asked what privileges widows had that unmarried ladies didn’t, so I thought I’d answer that. For one thing, Society looked the other way when a widow took a lover, as long as she was discreet. Nothing illustrates that more than a biographical sketch in the February 1810 La Belle Assemblee (page 59; read it for yourself here). It touted the Duke of Devonshire’s new wife, Lady Elizabeth Foster. What it didn’t mention was that Devonshire had made an honest woman of Lady Elizabeth after she’d been his mistress, living in his household as his wife’s closest friend, for decades. The first half of that time she was separated from her husband, and the second half, she was widowed. La Belle Assemblee mentions her only living son by her first husband, but doesn’t mention her two additional illegitimate children by the duke. She must have been discreet enough. Or perhaps the fact that her new husband was a duke was the deciding factor!
You’ll probably be wondering, when Eliza’s book comes out in late March and prawlongs are mentioned several times, what exactly are prawlongs? Basically, they’re nuts or orange flowers or lemon or orange rinds coated once or twice in caramelized sugar. Sounds yummy, right? I’m not sure why pralines came to be called prawlongs, but they did. Just see Frederick Nutt’s 1807 cookbook, The Complete Confectioner, which has several recipes (although they contain no ingredient amounts; I haven’t had much luck finding that anywhere). The prawlongs I find most interesting are the pistachio ones, since they came in two colors—red and white. Here’s the red recipe:
Y’all may or may not be aware that I’ve gotten into birdwatching from all my time spent writing on my deck. (I’d be there now except it’s all torn up as my husband gets it ready for spring.) That’s why I decided to give that hobby to Eliza. Also, Regency folks liked birds, too (no big surprise). I took her birdhouse from one that was actually from the period. Well, close to the period, anyway—1846. I had a hard time finding images earlier than the Victorian age, but the word “bird-seed” dates back to the 1700’s, and Regency era books abound for “bird-fanciers,” which tell you how to feed, house, rear, etc. birds of all types. Pet birds also appear in stories from the period. So I think I’m safe in saying Regency folks liked them!
In researching my scene for The Truth About Lord Stoneville, I found the most interesting Regency-era Valentine’s Day tradition: a lottery (I used it in the book, too). On Valentine’s Day evening, young people would draw names out of a hat to discover who would be their valentine for the coming year. It was supposed to be a predictor of matrimony. I did have some trouble understanding the logistics, since everyone drew a name. What if Mary drew George’s name, while George drew Joan’s? I wasn’t quite sure how that worked, so I . . . er . . . altered it a little. Call it poetic license, if you will. I still think it sounds like fun . . . unless, of course, you don’t draw the person’s name you want for a valentine.
Halstead Hall is inspired by Knole in Kent. Both are calendar houses, which means their elements come in numbers you’d find in a calendar. Knole has 365 rooms, 52 staircases, 12 entrances, and 7 courtyards. How does an owner even keep track of 365 rooms? Knole was once a palace, and many of its 17th century elements and furnishings have been preserved, which is understandable. While all the other lords were fixing up their grand country houses in the 18th and 19th centuries, I’m sure the lords who lived in Knole (there were several) couldn’t face the daunting task of renovating such a huge mansion! Anyway, I have pics of Knole on my Pinterest page for Hellions of Halstead Hall, if you’d like to see it. Or, since the National Trust now owns the place, you can go here to get a brief history and see some pics. Meanwhile, below are some lovely paintings of the house from the Victorian period.