History Hoydens

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Historical Romance Writers Dishing the Dirt on Research

16 June 2008

Who's Who in Late Georgian England

Part of my celebration for the publication of LORD SCANDAL is a new page on my website that’s all about who’s who in late Georgian England. I assume that many fans of historical romance are at least passingly familiar with the notables of the Regency era (and if they aren’t, they can avail themselves of the information on Candice Hern’s wonderful site). But I’m guessing that the personalities of the pervious generation may be a bit hazier . . . so let me introduce you to a few of the faces you might encounter in one of my books.

At the end of the 1780s the future George IV is a handsome twenty-somthing, “the first gentleman of Europe”. Jane Austen is a tween, perhaps already working on her juvenilia. Nelson is newly married and living landlocked on half-pay. The man who will someday become the Duke of Wellington is a teenaged aide-de-camp to the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. Brummell, the future king of fashion, is just a little boy. Byron is a newborn (hard to imagine, isn’t it; Don Juan in nappies).

Here are just a few of the faces you’ll encounter on the much longer list on my site (for the purposes of the list I’ve chosen the year 1788):

Prince of Wales, Age 26


George Augustus Frederick seems to have taken strongly after his unmourned grandfather (Frederick, Prince of Wales). While most people remember him as an obese buffoon with a penchant for equally hefty—and often much older—women, at this point he is a tall, strapping young man. He is emotional, sensitive, and a great patron of the arts. Only a few years previously he has contracted a secret, illegal, marriage to the great love of his life, Maria Anne Fitzherbert.

Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, Age 34


She was the daughter of the first Earl Spencer, and a distant cousin of the Whig grandee, Charles James Fox. She was one of the great beauties of her day, and she gathered about her a large circle of notables from the political, literary, and art worlds. Her influence as a social leader extended even to Almack’s, where she was one of the early patronesses.

Emma Hart, Age 23

The future Lady Hamilton is mostly remembered as the mistress of Lord Nelson, but at the time of this telling Emma is in Naples, living with Sir William Hamilton, the British Envoy to Naples, as his mistress . . . the most shocking part of which is that she was sent there as something of a present by her former lover, Sir William’s nephew!


Henry Angelo, Age 28

Angelo’s father came from Italy in 1755. Angelo Senior was a fencing and riding instructor who made a name for himself by besting well known English and Irish fencers. He promptly opened his own salle, Angelo's School of Arms. He was the fencing master to the young princes, and in 1763 published an illustrated guide to fencing, L'Ecole d'Armes. Henry was a fencing master like his father, and he took over the Angelo salle in 1785. It was a fashionable meeting place, and often held exhibitions by visiting foreign champions (such as St. George and d'Eon).

Chevalier de Saint-Georges, Age 43

Joseph de Bologne was a true Renaissance man. He was the illegitimate, half-African son of a French planter, who raised him as a gentleman in Paris, and left him the incredible sum of fifty thousand pounds. Joseph was not only a champion fencer (who visited England in this capacity as a guest of the Prince of Wales), but a world-class violinist and composer, and Marie Antoinette’s personal music instructor! Henry Angelo said of St. George, "No man ever united so much suppleness with so much strength … his attacks were a perpetual series of hits and his parade was so close that it was in vain to attempt to touch him".

Chevaliere d’Eon, Age 78

Let us start with the facts: D'Eon was a Frenchman who lived the first half of his life as a man and the second half as a woman. He was a spy, a diplomat, and a captain of dragoons. He claimed that he disguised himself as a woman and became a maid of honor to the Empress of Russia. There was rife speculation that he was, in fact, a woman. After some very complicated goings on in the 1760s he was left exiled in London. He ignored this fact, returned to France, and demanded that the French government recognize him as a woman. The French King and court agreed, so long as d'Eon dressed like a woman. In 1785 he returned to England, where he lived the rest of his life (continuing to cross dress until his dying day). In 1787, he bested the much younger Chevalier Saint-Georges in an exhibition match. When he died, doctors examined his corpse and found it to be anatomically male.

Mary “Perditia” Robinson, Age 31

In1779 her performance as Perdita in Garrick’s Florizel and Perdita (his adaptation of Shakespeare's A Winter's Tale) she captured the attention of the Prince of Wales. Her previously published book of poems had already brought her the patronage of Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire. When her affair with the prince ended in 1781, she blackmailed the Crown into granting her an annuity. In 1783 she suffered a mysterious illness that left her partially paralyzed. By the late 1780s, she is a distinguished poetess, "the English Sappho."

Sarah Siddons, Age 33

Sarah was the best-known tragedienne of the 18th century. Her entire family were actors, and she grew up in her father's traveling company. In 1775, as a member of David Garrick's company, she made her disastrous debut at Drury Lane. Her contract was not renewed and she did not return to the London stage until 1782, when she appeared in the title role of Garrick's Isabella, or, The Fatal Marriage. This time she was a hit. By the 1780s she was the undisputed queen of the stage.

John Philip Kemble, Age 31

Tall, imposing, and attractive, Kemble was one of the great Shakespearean actors of the late Georgian era. He made is first appearance at Drury Lane in 1783, along with his more famous sister, Sarah Siddons. He was appointed manager at Drury Lane in 1788.


Frances Burney, Age 36

She published her first novel Evelina anonymously in 1778. It was a huge success, bringing her to the notice of influential friends ranging from Dr. Johnson to the Duchess of Devonshire. A second novel, Cecilia, followed in 1782. In 1786 she accepted a post as one of Queen Charlotte’s ladies in waiting. Though she had a warm relationship with the queen, she was not happy at court, as her duties deprived her of time to write (note that nothing was published during her years at court).

Grace Elliott, Age 34

In 1771 Grace Dalrymple made her debut in Edinburgh. She was an acknowledged beauty and married a rich physician. She fled her marriage in 1774, eventually receiving a divorce and a settlement of £12,000 in damages. It was only then that her real adventures began! Her brother kidnapped her and had her confined to a French convent. She was rescued by Lord Cholmondeley, and spent several years thereafter as his mistress. It was during this period that she became known as “Dally the Tall”. The Prince of Wales introduced her to the French Duke of Orleans in 1784 and by 1786 she had settled in Paris . . .



Do you enjoy stumbling across real people in novels? I love it when they appear for a quick guest appearance, so long as the character presented seems authentic and genuine. I think it adds verisimilitude to the work and grounds the novel in a way that things like clothing and food and carriages simply don’t equal.

10 Comments:

Blogger Mary Blayney said...

Delightful list, Kalen.

I find references to real people entertaining, but would prefer not to actually meet them in the pages of whatever I am reading and cannot think of an instance where I had one on page in a book I wrote. Must think about why....

D'Eon was not alone. Lord Cornbury, an early Governor of New York (colony) had his portrait painted dressed as a woman.

9:17 AM  
Blogger Elizabeth Kerri Mahon said...

I love finding either references to real people or actually meeting them in novels, if the occasion warrants, and not just thrown in willy-nilly. Carole Nelson Douglas is very good at this in her Irene Adler series.

Mary, I think the New York Historical Society actually has that portrait in its collection.

9:29 AM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

Great post! I love thinking about what ages real people were in a different year, how their lives parallel those of fictional characters. I love appearances by real people in novels, and I love including them in my own novels, whehter in significant roles or just cameos as guests at a ball or people encoutnered in the park. Lord Castlereagh appears in "Beneath a Silent Moon"--he's only in one scene, but he plays a significant role in the book. And for the letters I wrote for the A+ section in the new edition, I needed two characters who were a little removed from the story to comment on the events. I used Harriet Granville (the Duchess of Devonshire's daughter) and Emily Cowper (Lady Melbourne's daughter), both of whose real life letters I refer to a lot for research. Harriet happened to be traveling on the Continent at the time, which worked particularly well for them to be corresponding.

1:00 PM  
Blogger Mary Blayney said...

YES!!! Elizabeth -- I was trying to recall where I saw that portrait.

I think my hesitation stems from my lack of historical knowledge. If I was going to have a real person appear I would have to read some detailed biography and draw some sense of who they were -- sounds like that is exactly what you did, Tracy.

1:51 PM  
Blogger Kalen Hughes said...

I love reading biographies, maybe that's why I like using real people in cameos? I have sooooo many bios on my shelves (not all of which I’ve managed to read yet). I’m always buying new ones (in fact, I ordered three new ones just last week).

2:04 PM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

Great post! I love thinking about what ages real people were in a different year, how their lives parallel those of fictional characters. I love appearances by real people in novels, and I love including them in my own novels, whehter in significant roles or just cameos as guests at a ball or people encoutnered in the park. Lord Castlereagh appears in "Beneath a Silent Moon"--he's only in one scene, but he plays a significant role in the book. And for the letters I wrote for the A+ section in the new edition, I needed two characters who were a little removed from the story to comment on the events. I used Harriet Granville (the Duchess of Devonshire's daughter) and Emily Cowper (Lady Melbourne's daughter), both of whose real life letters I refer to a lot for research. Harriet happened to be traveling on the Continent at the time, which worked particularly well for them to be corresponding.

4:45 PM  
Blogger Pam Rosenthal said...

Great topic, Kalen.

Although I've used political figures, I tend toward the literary and I particularly like political figures who were also writers.

So I've had brief walk-ons by Percy Shelley, "Miss Godwin," "the stepsister" Claire Clairmont, and Lord Byron; Benjamin Disraeli(when he was a young novelist) and his parents; William Blake and his wife; the Marquis de Sade, Caron de Beaumarchais (who wrote The Marriage of Figaro), and Benjamin Franklin.

I guess because I've thought a lot about these people. And often about their near and dear as well.

7:44 PM  
Blogger Louisa Cornell said...

Fantastic list, Kalen. I am always amused and intrigued when real people show up in romance novels, especially when it is handled well. To me it just adds to the flavor of the story and it gives me some perspective.

7:57 PM  
Blogger La Belle Americaine said...

I can't help but sneak real people into my work. A upcoming WIP is heavy on the real people (Winston Churchill is a friend of my hero!) because the plot revolves around a fair bit of history.

Le Sigh...I think that's one thing I miss about traditional Regencies and Regency Historicals of yore--the appearance of Brummell, or Prinny, or Wellington, or the patronesses of Almack's, or other people of the time (if not at least a mention of them) never got old. I haven't seen any historical figures in a Regency in years.

7:36 AM  
Blogger Amanda Elyot said...

The answer to your question, Kalen, is a resounding YES! Not least of which is because my historical fiction is more populated by real people than by wholly fictional ones!

I love your list! Having written about Mary Robinson in fiction and nonfiction, I wouldn't quite say that she blackmailed the crown into an annuity. She made it very clear that she had given up a lucrative career, as well as her reputation as a married woman (the prince was her first-ever extramarital affair) and George had given her a promissory note or bond for 20,000 pounds, payable upon his reaching his majority. She was asking the crown to make good on that bond, and reminded them that what she requested (the granting of an aunnity) was no different from that granted to other discarded royal mistresses throughout British history.

Of course she didn't end up with nearly what she asked for, monetarily. She was exceptionally shabbily treated by the crown -- NOT the other way around.

10:03 AM  

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