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Historical Romance Writers Dishing the Dirt on Research

02 July 2007

A (true) Proliferation of Peers

When Kalen wrote her April 9th blog on the proliferation of Dukes in our fiction , it reminded me of the first research book I read cover-to-cover. No, not a book on fashion, tiaras or country houses but David Cannadine’s Aspects of Aristocracy. This series of essays on the growth and change of the aristocracy of Great Britain is full of ideas and information. My blog today focuses a small part of one essay entitled “The Making of the British Upper Classes.”

The late Georgian and Regency period saw an unprecedented growth in “the extension, diversification and codification of the peerage.” Or as Michael Cahill names it: “peerage mania.”

This development can, by Cannadine’s reasoning, be attributed to five factors: recipients who became very rich during the period (Grosvenors), those who exerted influence through their political strength (Grenvilles), those who had given significant service to the state (Wellington and Nelson), the inclusion of the Scottish and Irish peerages (Elgin) and finally, the group with ancient but less impressive titles who wanted promotions in order to outrank the newcomers. (Salisbury).

FYI: This last group would also include my fictional character Marquis Straemore, the patriarch of the Braedons, the characters in my series for Kensington. He petitioned the king for a rise in rank from Earl based on his contributions to the improvements of roads and buildings in his part of Sussex. He also had the support of his wife’s father, Duke of Hale. Now there is a bit of backstory I thought I would never get to use!

By the 1820 the peerage had been massively adjusted and stood as a “status group. . . better matched to wealth, power and general consequence” Here are the numbers: In the first seventy-five years of the eighteenth century the creation of new peerages averaged two a year. In the next sixty years 209 peerages were created. Yes that is only about 3.5 a year but a more telling figure is the increase in the number of seats in the House of Lords – from 199 to 358.

To be specific: in 1784 there were only TWO marquesses, by 1809 there were nine and by 1837 there were TWENTY-THREE.

This element alone is filled with plot potential and I happily share it with those who have not yet used it. It seems to me Pam did a masterful job of reflecting social pressure in RITA nominated (yes!) The Slightest Provocation.

Given that my research interests are more social than political, why do Cannadine’s essays intrigue me? His essays gives the big picture from a unique perspective and an explanation for it with supporting details. It has been the basis for my characters' genealogy ever since I first read it.

Do you recall the first research book that fired your imagination?

15 Comments:

Anonymous Steve Blayney said...

Best. Post. Ever.

7:05 AM  
Blogger Elizabeth Kerri Mahon said...

God, Mary, there are so many. One of my favorites in terms of a general history is To Marry an English Lord. I'm fascinated by the Dollar Princesses as they were called during the Gilded Age. But I also read Thomas B. Costain's three volume history on The Plantagenets in high school. I've actually heard of David Cannadine before, but I've never read any of his books. I love reading this blog because I never know what I might learn!

7:32 AM  
Blogger Mary Blayney said...

Thanks, Elizabeth -- we do cover and amazing range of subjects, don't we? It is so much fun to share books, ideas and interests with like minded people.

Just last night a friend told me that she was reading a book set in the Regency -- when she described it I told her it was the Elizabethan period. She said "What's the diff? They all wear long dresses." Not every one cares. I am so glad this group does.

7:40 AM  
Blogger Mary Blayney said...

As for Steve's comment -- thanks son. And to the rest of you: can your child be president of your fan club? LOL.

7:43 AM  
Blogger Amanda Elyot said...

I'm such a history geek-sensualist that I love it when every sense and emotion is fired by an image, whether it's a written sentence or phrase that is so descriptive and atmospheric that at once I can envision the entire world it describes -- or else a visual image which creates an entire world that fires up my imagination.

When I was a very little girl my mother had an art book on Botticelli. I loved to look at all the prints of the beautiful women with their long flowing golden hair and imagine myself in their worlds. Many of the images were religious subjects, of course, but at the age of three (and Botticelli's religion not being my own) I was clueless as to what those mother and child paintings were all about. Yet I loved Botticelli's paintings so much I wanted to know all about the beautiful ladies in the flimsy flowing garments.

Our family made its first trip to Washington D.C. that summer and as we trapised through the National Gallery, a familiar image caught my eye, so I ran up to it on my three-year-old legs and shouted enthusiastically, "Mommy, we have that Botticelli at home!" I can still recall the stunned expression on the security guard's face.

Last weekend I was in D.C. with my husband and as we strolled through the galleries, I shared that childhood experience with him. When we found the gallery where "that Botticelli" (of a Madonna and Child) was hanging, I teared up nostalgically, and in fact am doing so again as I type this.

But my mom's Botticelli art book fostered in me a love of history, art, and beauty (and a soft spot for the Italian Renaissance as well, that has never deserted me).

8:07 AM  
Blogger Kathrynn Dennis said...

Cool, Mary. The "peerage mania" in the 1800's really makes me want to know more about the social conditions that supported the shift. Seems a lot of it was driven by the peerage...how did the commoners react, wonder what they thought about it...surely they noticed?

Guess I'll have to read the book!

8:10 AM  
Blogger Kalen Hughes said...

Great post, Mary. I'm 99% sure I have this book somewhere in my piles . . . but I haven't yet read it cover to cover. I also have The British Aristocracy by Mark Bence-Jones which sounds like it gives very similar information.

I’m not sure I can remember back to the first research book I read cover to cover (growing up as a reenactor means this kind of info is lost to the mists of time) but I do know that the first one I ever reread was The Rise of the Egalitarian Family by Randolph Trumbach.

8:20 AM  
Blogger Mary Blayney said...

Amanda that is the most touching story -- amazing that art and history was so much a part of your three year old world.

Kalen, I read novels and very little non-fiction growing up. Loved visiting historical sites though and the first one that wowed me at about age 10 was Theodore Roosevel's home, Sagamore Hill, on Long Island. I still recall the hollowed out elephant's foot used as an umbrella stand.

It was the first time I wished I could time travel and get to know these people. There lives were so different from my conventional suburban upbringing.

Kathrynn, literacy being what it was (or wasn't) I wonder how many below the level of gentry knew or cared. I would think the more educated and ambitious would have seen it as an opportunity --

9:22 AM  
Blogger Pam Rosenthal said...

I'm fascinated by your post, Mary. And hi, Steve -- yeah, the post was pretty cool, and so are you, for reading your mom and showing taste and discrimination. And I loved the Botticelli story, Amanda.

I didn't know about the expansion of the peerage, but I must read about it -- it will fit on my bookshelf right beside Lawrence and Jeanne Stone's "An Open Elite?" about the possibilities and impossibilities for class mobility through modern British history. It was from the Stones that I learned that bankers and brewers were the middle-class groups most likely to make it into the country gentry -- hence Mary Penley's father in The Slightest Provocation -- oh, and also the real, historical Mr. Thrale. (Thanks for the mention of the RITA nomination, Mary -- and wouldn't you know that I got a disaster of a haircut last weekend?)

The history book that got me into romance writing was Robert Darnton's great and grand The Forbidden Best-Sellers of Pre-Revolutionary France which I read for the history of erotic writing and the history of bookselling -- to explain my own passions, in other words -- and which gave me characters for The Bookseller's Daughter.

10:01 AM  
Blogger Elizabeth Kerri Mahon said...

That's a fascinating fact about bankers and brewers, Pam. And congratulations on the RITA nomination. I'll be thinking of you next week in Dallas as I sweat here in New York! It's interesting that later on it was industrialists who also made it into the peerage as soon as they bought land and estates. I was thinking about North and South by Elizabeth Gaskill.

10:17 AM  
Anonymous Tracy Grant said...

Wonderful post, and the book sounds fascinating. I'd supsect that the rise of the industrial class made the aristrocracy (and those wanting to join the aristocracy) more eager to draw lines by creating more titles and higher titles.

I think my fascination with historical research goes back to watching "Elizabeth R" with my family when I was six and then going to Britain shortly after and visiting the Tower of London and Hampton Court and lots of places I'd seen in the series. When I was a teenager, I got fascinated with Richard III and read a bunch of non-ficiton, including the Thomas B. Costain book Kerri mentioned and Paul Murray Kendall's biography of Richard. And I second Kalen's recommendation of Trumbach's "The Rise of the Egalitarian Family" which I read in college and constantly refer back to.

Amanda, your Botticelli story is lovely! What a great childhood memory!

Pam, best wishes for the conference!

10:28 AM  
Blogger Kalen Hughes said...

OMG, Elizabeth R! I so remember watching that as a child. My mom and her friends loved it.

10:42 AM  
Blogger Elizabeth Kerri Mahon said...

I've only seen the series on video. I didn't start watching Masterpiece Theater until Poldark and I Claudius. Glenda Jackson was amazing as Elizabeth. Although Cate Blanchett was phenomenal in her own way in Elizabeth. Didn't care too much for the liberties they took with the history but it was a gorgeously filmed movie and the sequel has Clive Owens.

11:23 AM  
Blogger Mary Blayney said...

For those of you with an interest in the Victorian aristocracy Canndine has another book on the subject -- The Decline and Fall of the British Aristocracy -- it begins in about 1850 so I own it but have not read it. It won prizes which says something about its historicity and I do find Cannadine readable.

In a totally unrelated note, the dedication in it is particularly poignant -- to his infant daughter who was conceived, born and died within the span of the writing of the book. Besides making my heart ache it also made me consider doing a bit on dedications someday.

Pam, by RITA night your hair will have grown out and look wonderful.

1:12 PM  
Blogger aromagik said...

Fascinating! Now things make a lot more sense... :>]

~Lindy

6:10 AM  

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