I don’t know much about the Battle of Waterloo (every Regency I’ve written has been set earlier, so I’ve never bothered to study it much). So as my part of the Risky Regencies Waterloo week, my post today will talk about the evolution of my cavalry hero in MY LADY GAMESTER — what choices I faced in creating him, and how I worked to weave my research into the story.
I decided early in the planning of this novel that my hero (Lord Stoke, once known as Captain Stanton) was to be an ex-military man. And yes, this concept is quite common in Regency romances — the hero a younger son, career military, who never expected to inherit the title — but this concept is used a lot because it works so well. Talk about conflict! You have a man who is not what he appears to be; you have a fish out of water; you have a man with different priorities, values and tastes than many of the folks now around him.
After deciding Lord Stoke had been an army man (as navy didn’t fit his backstory), I quickly decided he had to be cavalry, as horses would be one of the things that drew him and the heroine together (and also created major problems.)
So then it was: what kind of cavalry? I read a bunch of Haythornthwaite books (some pictured here) and talked to my Trusty Todd (patent pending), and concluded that light cavalry seemed to do more fun things and have a better reputation for usefulness at this point than heavy cavalry, and heavy horses wouldn’t work anyway — so light cavalry it was.
I needed the Napoleonic Wars to still be going on (poor Stoke, away from the fighting and feeling useless!), but I also needed for a cavalryman who had sold out a year before to have been in the field for several years, and taken part in a few major battles in which light cavalry were involved, and in which there had been a fair number of casualties.
I concluded that Talavera (July 1809, which used two light cavalry brigades) would work for the major battle in which Stoke’s best friend, the redheaded scamp Basty, was wounded…and Albuera (May 1811, one light cavalry battalion) would be suitable for the battle in which poor Basty finally died. So the year of my novel became 1812.
I then studied up on Talavera and Albuera, and also lots of general cavalry and army stuff (their weapons, their tactics, how they trained their men and horses — that sort of thing.)
And of course, all along, Trusty Todd was at hand to help clarify the differences between a musket, a carbine, and a pistol, to explain what exactly happened when a firearm “misfired” (and to remind me frequently that the Armies of Wellington were kept up the Sleevies of Wellington…)
The final hurdle, of course, was writing the scenes in which Stoke explained the battles and their personal significance to my heroine…trying to be clear and correct without boring the reader in the least. Ah, yes, the simple joys of authorhood.
And the end result? See what you think: here’s part of the section in which Stoke tells Atalanta what happened at Talavera:
The memories were perfectly clear. “We were in the middle of a charge, but something had gone wrong. I think the scouts had been misled as to the enemy’s strength. Hard to tell.”
He paused, seeing the smoke and mud all about. “Their artillery had taken a hard toll on us–we didn’t realize how much until after it was all over. But it was obvious that we were disorganized. Sebastian was to my right, on Minerva. We hit the French cavalry hard.”
He shook his head. “It’s impossible to describe what it’s like, being in the middle of a battle. You can rarely see more than what’s right in front of you. You have a saber slashing down at you, and if you’re lucky, you get there first, or deflect it. Then you strike back, fast. If you succeed, there’s already another horse upon you, another saber, or occasionally a pistol pointed at your chest.”
He stared up into the peaceful trees. “All you can hear is the shouting at a charge, the guns, the artillery. The screaming. And there’s smoke all over. It gets in your nose, in your eyes. Dirt, mud. Blood. Horses falling all around.”
But this wasn’t what he’d meant to say. “On top of everything, it was foggy that day. It looked like the plains of hell. Out of nowhere came a French dragoon, his sword covered with blood. He slashed Sebastian before I could shout a warning.”
She gave a distressed cry. “Was he all right?”
He rubbed at the tension in his forehead. “A saber in the face is never a pretty sight. God knows, we disfigured plenty of French, so it was no surprise. But he was all right, yes. Thanks to his mount.”
And…that’s my story!
So…what Regencies have you read where you thought the military stuff was done particularly well?
All answers welcome!
Cara King, author of MY LADY GAMESTER, a more poetic title than MY LORD DRAGOON