Today’s featured book is The French Duchess, a regency era romance by Rue Allyn. In this rollicking Regency novel, a breathless chase through England and France to stop an assassination attempt on Napoleon leads to love.
An Extraordinary Duchess
A non-royal duchess is a rare bird—even more so, an English non-royal duchess. According to Jane Dinsmore “Only twenty-four English dukes exist now.” (https://www.thehistoryvault.co.uk/an-endangered-species-britains-non-royal-duchesses/). Donna Hatch maintains that “no more than forty dukes ever existed,” in England. (http://donnahatch.com/dukes-and-duchesses-in-regency-england/). Due to English laws of primogeniture most of the duchesses associated with those duchies gained their titles by marriage, not inheritance. Dinsmore, in her book Duchesses: Living in 21st Century Britain, discusses only one, “Anne, 3rd Duchess of Hamilton, who inherited the title aged 19, during the turbulence of the Civil War.” History records other duchesses suo jure (in their own right). For example, Eliot Warburton in his Memoirs of Horace Walpole and his contemporaries (Vol. 1, London, 1852 p. 130) states that one of George I’s mistresses was “allowed to assume the style and dignity of the Duchess of Kendal.” Warburton describes the dismay and uproar caused among the peerage at the raising of a German mistress to the highest of non-royal titles. As uncommon as it was for a woman to acquire or inherit the title of Duchess in her own right, it did happen. However, the rarity of such events made them far from ordinary.
An ordinary (if you can apply the term to forty or less women at any given time) English, non-royal duchess is well described by Ms. Hatch.
As a duchess is so high in rank, she, too, was constantly in the limelight either for good or ill, whether or not she wanted to be. A duchess, or any wife of a peer, was expected to throw lavish balls, dinner parties, house parties as well as support charitable organizations and sponsor musicians. And Heaven help her if she wore the same gown in public or failed to have the best, most tasteful gowns, shoes, jewels, gloves, hats! Demands on her time, appearance, and favor probably led to a great deal of stress as she strove to uphold the ideal. The higher the rank, the higher the expectations, and the more subject she was to criticism from the bitter and jealous.
A duchess suo jure would also have to perform the duties of a duke. Attending on the king, running the duchy’s vast estates and managing its finances, arranging for someone to take her seat in the house of lords (which as a woman even a duchess in her own right could not do.) Of course, like most peers of power and privilege a regency era duchess would have managers and overseers to do the actual work, but the duchess’s involvement was essential and took its toll in time and stress added to the activities of a duchess by marriage.
The marriage of a duchess suo jure would have distinct issues. The permission of the crown might be required. During the regency, “Husbands of peeresses acquired an important right from their wives’ peerages. For example, in 1818 Lady Willoughby de Eresby’s husband fulfilled her role as Hereditary Great Chamberlain of England.” (http://laura.chinet.com/html/titles08.html, Laura A. Wallace, 1997). So, a Duchess suo jure did not of necessity lose all authority upon marriage, but she would be relieved of any hereditary duties associated with the title. Even more worrisome could be the selection of an appropriate spouse during the regency. The ideal for any woman would be to marry up, i.e. gain social status, wealth and power by marriage. With so few non-royal duchies, where was a duchess in her own right to find an eligible parti? A king or prince would be higher on the scale but even more scarce than dukes, if one wished to wed an Englishman. Dukes were few and far between. Marquesses and earls were more plentiful, but lower on the social rung. Anything lower, a viscount, a mere lord, a baron, or heaven forbid a commoner, would not be considered. Such were the dilemma’s facing an ordinary duchess.
Marielle Petersham aka Her Grace, Duchess of Stonegreave is not your ordinary English Duchess. She is the fictional heroine of my novel The French Duchess. She is a Duchess suo jure and thereby a member of a very select group of women, both fictional and non. She is a bit of a recluse, due to circumstances in her past not by preference. This reclusiveness sets her aside from the majority of duchesses whose lives were lived in the social spotlight of their day. She takes her ducal duties very seriously, as a suo jure duchess should, but despairs of ever marrying. Partly this despair exists because of who she is—duchess in her own right, and partly because of that circumstance in her past which isolates her and caused her reclusiveness. She is fierce in defense of her family and her nation, going to great lengths to keep both safe. Her determination leads her into some very un-duchess like behavior. Eventually, she weds a second son of a baron without seeking the crown’s permission. Initially, Marielle stands alone in her fight to save family and country against nearly insurmountable odds. That she succeeds is a testament to her strength of will and her willingness to recognize and accept the help that eventually comes her way. On every count, for her time in history, the Duchess of Stonegreave is an extraordinary woman,
I wonder how would you feel if you were elevated to high rank and responsibility?
The French Duchess
In this rollicking Regency novel, a breathless chase through England and France to stop an assassination attempt on Napoleon leads to love.
Like the Englishmen who faced down the French army, the men who love Marielle Petersham, Duchess of Stonegreave, usually die. Hence, the ton has dubbed her the French Duchess. After a particularly notorious indiscretion, Marielle retired from society, determined to immerse herself in good works to wash the stain from her family name for the next generations.
Captain Sir Richard Campion despises his childhood friend for the mess she made of her life, especially since it led to his best friend’s death. But now Richard has been tasked by the Crown to stop a plot to assassinate Napoleon Bonaparte that could plunge Europe back into war. Marielle is the one person who holds a clue to the plotters, and so he must seek her out and discover where her loyalties lie, even if it involves a bit of subterfuge.
As they dash through France, determined to head off disaster, old affections begin to reignite. But can they truly trust one another long enough to save the continent?
Genre Regency Era Romance
Book heat level (based on movie ratings): R (sensual)
Publisher Crimson Romance http://www.simonandschuster.com/books/The-French-Duchess/Rue-Allyn/9781507206485
Barnes and Noble https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-french-duchess-rue-allyn/1126839326?ean=9781507206485
Rue Allyn Social Media
When not writing, loving her spouse, or attending writers meetings, Rue travels the world and surfs the internet in search of background material and inspiration for her next heart melting romance. She loves to hear from readers. She can’t wait to hear from you.
Amazon Author Page https://www.amazon.com/Rue-Allyn/e/B00AUBF3NI/
Newsletter Subscribe to Rue Allyn’s Very Occasional Newsletter and get the free story before the story of the characters in The French Duchess: Sign Up Here.”