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Historical Romance Writers Dishing the Dirt on Research

05 September 2007

Minority Report


The very merry monarch, Charles II

Some of you know that this spring I was tapped to write my first nonfiction book. Titled ROYAL AFFAIRS: A Lusty Romp through the Extramarital Adventures that Rocked the British Monarchy it will come out next August.

It’s been a wild ride, since they only gave me until November 1 to deliver the manuscript and I got the green light in mid-May, just a few days before my wedding. My husband has been extraordinarily understanding about the amount of time I’ve had to spend researching over 900 years of British history.

My “brief” from the publisher is to delve into the juicy sex scandals of various and sundry royals, while also providing a thumbnail sketch of each monarch’s reign, where applicable, which means, of course, that I’ve got to read entire biographies start-to-finish (distilling the info my editor wants me to glean into a page or two) and not skip to the parts about the lovers and mistresses.

What I’ve learned about some of these sovereigns has astounded me in certain respects. It’s really wonderful material, but unfortunately it has no place in ROYAL AFFAIRS. Even if I slip it in there, I can just hear my editor asking what it has to do with, well, the royal affair and she'll make me cut it. And yet I'm so excited about sharing some of the fascinating non-love-affair-related stuff that I've found. I won't be able to do that in this book, but as least I can blog about it.

A lot of these “wow!” moments have come from reading about a monarch’s view on certain issues involving minorities: people of other colors and religions (particularly the Jews) and on women.

The British tussle between Protestants and Catholics is more generally known by history buffs, and the reasons behind it, ridiculous as they may seem to many of us now, were always clearly stated.

Then there were kings who tried to buck the system but failed. Charles II (1630-1685; Ruled 1660-1685) was very much against the government’s Exclusionist policy that would deny any Catholic the throne. Although Charles was a Protestant, his younger brother, James, the Duke of York, was a closet Catholic (and later an outspoken one). Charles did not want to see the proper order of succession dispensed with by anti-Catholic prejudice. Things got so tense that the king sent his brother away for a while until tempers cooled. On Charles's death in 1685, James did accede the throne.


George I


George I (1660-1727; Ruled: 1714-1727) tried to ease the position of Jews in Britain, but met with substantial opposition. He could only achieve minimal concessions, which were that henceforth, individual Jews were allowed to apply for naturalization by submitting a private act to Parliament, a lengthy as well as costly process, which denied the freedom to a vast majority. How many of you knew that Jews at the time were not considered subjects? I didn’t!

Although Queen Victoria (1819-1901; Ruled: 1837-1901 [Great Britain and Ireland]; Empress of India: 1876-1901) was probably the most powerful woman in the world in her day, she saw no reason to support the idea of women’s suffrage. And yet she was rather advanced in her thinking in other ways. She felt very strongly that the English class system was a highly unnatural artifice that should be done away with and the lines of distinction ought to become blurred—although—within her own household, there was a very rigid hierarchy that could not be violated. Victoria also bristled at the brutality visited upon the Indian population by Englishmen because of the color of their skin.

Her son, when he became Edward VII (1841-1910; Ruled 1901-1910; King of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland and The British Dominions beyond the seas; Emperor of India), was of the same opinion as his mother on women’s suffrage, although he adored the company of intelligent and outspoken women.

Edward went even further than Victoria in the open deploring of the anti-Indian prejudice. He had a habit of treating all men equally regardless of their social standing or their color, and endeavored to have the N-word officially banned. “Because a man has a black face and a different religion from our own, there is no reason why he should be treated as a brute.” From an early age, Edward “discovered a special affinity with Jews” and numbered several financiers and speculators (such as Nathaniel Rothschild and Sir Ernest Cassel) as well as men of lesser social standing among his intimate circle of friends. And rather than follow centuries of royal tradition by ostracizing artists as moral degenerates, “Bertie” (no paragon of respectability himself when it came to a few of the commandments), welcomed them into his homes and was the first English monarch to officially recognize contributions to the arts with an Order of Merit.


Edward VII



Have you ever learned something about an English monarch that surprised you because it seemed out of character or out of step with their times—whether by being retrogressive or radically progressive?

10 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I read that when the Criminal Law Amendment Act 1885 which recriminalised male homosexuality was presented to Queen Victoria for her signature, she struck out any references to women, since she didn't believe that women were capable of such a vice.

8:35 AM  
Blogger Mary Blayney said...

I've thought about this all day, Amanda and cannot come up with any unknown royal tidbits. One story that fascinates me is the death of the Princess of Wales and her newborn infant son in 1817. What a disaster. It must have been like the death of Diana.

5:22 PM  
Blogger Amanda Elyot said...

I'm just reading about Dorothy Jordan, the mistress for 20 years of the Duke of Clarence, and it amazes me that she gave him 10 children in 20 years (and had 3 children before she met him) and managed to maintain an incredibly grueling schedule as an actress, touring the provinces and performing in back-to-back productions in London and on the road -- in repertory, so she had to have dozens of plays memorized. They rehearsed all morning and then the theatre opened at 4pm and the performances -- the play, followed by the farce, went on until about 10pm. Dora, as she liked to be called, really was a superwoman. And William, the duke, was a house-husband for many of their years together!

5:32 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Her children also abandoned her after the Duke of Clarence left her and married. They didn't even have the decency to pay her debts or even to have her properly buried after she died in France. They were too busy partying with their father. Apparently the Duke also borrowed 30,000 pounds from her which he never paid back!

5:11 AM  
Blogger Amanda Elyot said...

Dorothy Jordan's story was a real horror story. Anonymous is right about the desertion by her kids and the 30,000 pound loan (which in today's dollars -- not pounds --is about 3.5 million!, so the enormity of his debt is even more egregious). The palace worked together like a machine to cut her out of everything, kicking her out of her home (that was royal property, so it was understandable, but no provisions were made for her moving elsewhere) and pulling the rug out from under her, careerwise, by saying that she couldn't see her kids if she continued to be an actress. That was the profession that had earned her fame, fortune, and independence. She was 50 years old. What was she supposed to do? What the palace did to her reminds me so much of the way the Firm banded together against Princess Diana. The more things change the more they stay the same.

5:23 AM  
Blogger Pam Rosenthal said...

I'm assuming you're all referring to Claire Tomalin's wonderful biography, Mrs. Jordan's Profession (I just wanted to add a recommendation by title and author). What an astonishing story, what an awesome woman, what a cold-blooded royalty machine.

Rather in spite of myself, I became a Diana fan in the last years of her life -- one part liking to see her get the best of the Firm, one part rooting for her when she took on terrific causes like banning land mines, one part loving the clothes the clothes the clothes. Anybody here read Tina Brown's biography of her? It's one of the treats I'm promising myself when I finish my mss this fall.

7:15 AM  
Blogger Amanda Elyot said...

Yes, Pam, I'm reading Claire Tomalin's excellent bio of Dora Jordan now. Amazing that it's the only bio out there of such an amazing woman and such a compelling story. I read the Tina Brown bio of Diana this summer (sitting at a table in my local B&N, actually, so I didn't have to buy it). It's a good read, since it doesn't paint her as a saint. You get more of a sense of the real woman.

7:47 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've enjoyed Claire Tomalin's biography's of Jane Austen but haven't read the Dorothy Jordan book. Jean Plaidy wrote a wonderful historical novel about Dorothy Jordan many years ago in the 70's called Goddess of the Green Room that I remember reading as a teenager. She also wrote one about Mary Robinson as well called Perdita's Prince.

I splurged and bought Tina Brown's book (thank heavens for that B&N discount card.) I thought it was pretty even-handed, neither saint nor sinner.

8:05 AM  
Blogger Amanda Elyot said...

I have a copy of "Goddess of the Green Room," too. Of course I can't use novels for my research on ROYAL AFFAIRS, but reading the Tomalin bio of Mrs. Jordan makes me want to revisit the Plaidy novel.

8:24 AM  
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