Regency,  Research,  Risky Book Talk

Secret Betrothals

I received the author copies of A Not So Reputable Gentleman? last Friday, and there is nothing like seeing the book in its tangible form. Even ebook-Kindle-loving me savors holding the book in my hands and flipping through its pages.

I’ll do an “official” introduction to the book near its release date of July 24, but revisiting the book after several months reminded me of some of the essential elements of the story.

My hero and heroine were secretly betrothed before the book begins. Secret betrothals, while favored in fiction (e.g. Edward Ferrars and Lucy Steele in Sense and Sensibility; Frank Churchill and Jane Fairfax in Emma), were frowned upon in the real Regency world. In fact, it was considered a serious moral lapse.

Unmarried men and women in society were not permitted to be alone together and were expected to meet only in carefully chaperoned circumstances, like balls and other society parties.

Before a betrothal, young men and women were forbidden to use each other’s Christian names. They could not correspond by letters. They could not exchange gifts. They could not touch in any kind of intimate way and certainly could not kiss.

My hero and heroine had broken nearly all these taboos, although they, of course, considered themselves betrothed. In public, however, any show of particular attention or lapse of correct behavior would have given them away. Society was quick to assume a serious attachment on any sign of particular attention between a couple.

A secret engagement typically meant that there were reasons parents would not approve of the match. During the Regency a parent’s approval was expected if the child was under 21 years of age. Parents naturally wished for socially and financially secure marriages for their children. At the time of my book’s beginning, my hero was neither financially secure or socially acceptable.

By the 1800s a betrothal became more of a gentleman’s word than a contract between families. Even though suing for breach of contract was no longer the norm, a gentleman was expected to keep his word if he asked a woman to marry. A gentleman was disgraced if he broke an engagement and his fiancee was considered damaged goods. The lady was the only one who could “cry off” but then she was considered a jilt.

This, of course, makes great fodder for Regency Romance Novels. In reality, it is what led Wellington to marry Kitty Pakenham. When Kitty had been young and vivacious Wellington had courted her, but his suit was not accepted by her family. When he returned from India, Kitty had become pale and sickly, but Wellington realized that she had considered them betrothed all that time. He felt duty-bound to marry her as a result.

A secret betrothal held no such protections for the couple. By its secrecy, words–and hearts–could be broken without any social cost, although the emotional cost could be enormous.

In matters of marriage, the Regency was, like in so many areas, a time of change. In the 17th and 18th century society marriages were arranged by the parents and were secured for financial gain or rise in social status. By the Regency, couples wished to marry for love. Some blamed this foolish notion on the reading of novels.

Do you like secret betrothals in Regency romances? What about arranged marriages?

If you would like a chance to win a copy of A Not So Reputable Gentleman?, enter my part of the Harlequin Historical Authors Summer Beach Bag Giveaway. For more chances at other prizes and the grand prize of a Kindle Fire, enter daily. See details here.

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10 years ago

The Regency offers so much in the way of both secret and arranged marriages. I like both of them, just as long as the author gives me good story!

10 years ago

It depends on how the author treats the characters. If both the hero and heroine remain honorable, then I enjoy the game of cat and mouse, but some authors act like it gives the hero permission to act like an ally cat.

Diane Gaston
10 years ago

Good point, Artemis!!!

10 years ago

Secret betrothals bring in a Romeo and Juliet type element to the story. Growing up together as children and young adults allows a couple to get to know one another and form an attachment of sorts. That friendship is really more important in knowing who a person is than attending balls and seeing each other in sterile social settings. The secret betrothal is an acknowledgement of their caring for each other, acknowledging a problem with parental approval, and a promise to work on overcoming the barriers society may have to their marriage.

Preferably it is sincere and not an attempt on either one’s part to manipulate the other. Either way, I think it adds possibilities for a story’s development.

10 years ago

the Regency era so so full of ways to create real conflict. I love it, as long as it’s accurate that is. Nothing drives me crazier than when someone ignores the culture of the time.

10 years ago

Nice post. I like to read about secret betrothals and arranged marriages.

Charlotte Sannazzaro
10 years ago

I do like a secret engagement, as long as it’s portrayed with a degree of realism. It annoys me when couples with no engagement – secret or otherwise – get up to all kinds of things that were not permissible or realistic (like being left alone for extended periods). As long as the author is true to the period and the characters I don’t mind.

Diane Gaston
10 years ago

librarypat, you are describing my hero and heroine!

ellaquinn, I am right there with you about accuracy.

bn100, Thanks!

Charlotte, I agree with you! It is one of my pet peeves when Regency ladies act like modern emancipated women.

Elena Greene
10 years ago

Secret betrothals and arranged marriages both can work in Regency romances. Being a history geek I like it when the tension of social changes is mirrored in fiction. 🙂

Melody May
10 years ago

I think secret betrothals and arrange marriages are fun to read. However, I don’t think I would like them very much in real life. If a guy you like was in a secret betrothal I think that would be useful information that way your not wasting your time. Arrange marriages would suck, because what if you can’t stand the guy your just out of luck.

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