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September 14 was the 160th anniversary of the death of the Duke of Wellington, who died of a stroke that date in 1852. Naturally at such a time I’ve been thinking of “Dear Artie,” as Kristine Hughes (my rival) and I fondly call him.

Not long ago I came across a book in the public domain called The Letters Of The Duke Of Wellington To Miss J. Remarkably, for 17 years the duke engaged in a correspondence with a young woman who was bent upon saving his soul.

Miss J was the daughter of member of the gentry who was left in fairly comfortable means after the early deaths of her parents. She received the finest schooling along with other young ladies of the aristocracy and lived with an elderly companion afterward.

At an early age she became a religious zealot, devoting her life to God and turning away from worldly matters. She rejected a suitor because he did not meet her exacting spiritual standards. Shortly after she and a friend managed to convert a condemned criminal, Miss J felt embolden to take on a new charge. She took the bold step to write to the Duke of Wellington, presumably to offer her services to convert him to a life of righteousness. At that time the duke, after having been Prime Minister, was Peel’s Foreign Secretary and was to continue to be very active in political life for several more years. Nevertheless, he answered this young woman’s letter. After she delivered the gift of a bible to him, he called upon her.

It is hard to imagine why this busy, important man might trouble himself with any involvement with a much younger woman bent on saving his soul. He was three years a widower and 64 years of age at that time and perhaps was looking back on parts of his life with some contrition. Or perhaps he was flattered that a young, beautiful woman was enamored of him.

He did appear to become infatuated with Miss J for a time, professing loving her, which seemed to have scared her enough to forbid him any more in-person visits. Her diary, though, seemed to convey her belief that God was calling her to eventually marry the Duke of Wellington. The duke, however, remained worldly enough that he would not risk being held up to ridicule for marrying a woman young enough “to be his granddaughter,” as he put it to her.

Their correspondence continued, but not without trouble. A year later, Miss J becomes affronted because a letter from the duke arrived with a plain seal, which she took as a deliberate slight to her consequence. She threatens never to write him again. When he doesn’t write her back fast enough, she fires off another letter.

Here is the duke’s reply

“My dear Miss J., — I always understood that the important parts of a Letter were its Contents. I never much considered the Signature; provided I knew the handwriting; or the Seal provided it effectually closed the letter…”

He goes on to explain that he often doesn’t personally seal his letters, that the task is often performed by s secretary, and because he writes many letters the seal becomes too hot to use and another seal is employed. He does promise not to repeat the slight should she wish him to continue writing her.

Shortly after, Miss J perceives herself called by God to continue writing to the duke and he accepts her letters and writes in return. The letters persist for years, weathering other times when Miss J again feels slighted.

In 1850, Miss J suffers from poor health and financial reverses. At the urging of her sister who had come from America to tend to her, she asks the duke for financial assistance. He immediately writes back that she is but to tell him the amount she needs and the bank to which it should be sent and he will happily assist her.

But Miss J does not deal in such worldly matters. She leaves it to the duke to figure out how much to send and how to get it to her. There are letters back and forth regarding this matter, until he finally devises a plan to send her the money. All she has to do is sign for the receipt of the package.

Miss J finds this too worldly for her and refuses to sign anything. At this point it appears the duke has had it with her. He writes several formal, terse letters to that effect and states that she should not trouble herself to write him again.

She persists in writing him, letters he only answers from time to time to send a terse message that she should not write him again.

She had a letter ready to post to him when her physician visited and told her of the Duke’s death. She feared he did not make it into the Kingdom of God.

Miss J’s finances forced to go to America to live with her sister, but her sister apparently could not abide what then had become Miss J’s even more religious extremes. Miss J lived alone in New York until her death in 1862.

I found this a fascinating part of “Dear Artie’s” life and I loved reading his letters when he employed a sarcastic tone. Poor Miss J! Her religious feelings seem to have begun in a great desire to live a good life, but ended in her being estranged from two people who were prepared to love her–her sister and The Duke of Wellington.

Come to my Diane Gaston Blog this Thursday Sept 20 when my guest will be my friend, Darlene Gardner, talking about her latest Superromance, The Truth About Tara. Darlene will be giving away a free copy of Twice the Chance, her Holt Medallion award of merit winner.

Greetings! I’m Susanna Fraser, and Elena Greene was kind enough to invite me to be a guest poster here with the Riskies on the third Friday of every month. So I suppose I should begin by telling y’all a little about myself.

It’s all Sean Bean’s fault.

Eleven years ago now, when I was busy writing my first, extremely rough draft of the book that eventually became my second published novel, A Marriage of Inconvenience, my dear Mr. Fraser and I went to see Fellowship of the Ring on its opening weekend at Seattle Cinerama. I loved everything about the movie, but above all I just couldn’t take my eyes off one character.

When I got home, I went straight to the Buffy board that was then my main internet community and said, “WHO is that actor who plays Boromir?”

One of my friends, knowing I was working on a Regency romance, said, “Oh, honey, are you ever in for a treat!” and pointed me straight at the Sharpe’s Rifles series. So I rented them, one by one–I think most of them were videotapes rather than DVDs, since this was Ye Olden Days. Once that was done, I read the Sharpe books and the Aubrey-Maturin series, and, as is my custom since I’m that much of a history geek, decided I needed to learn more about the real history behind my new favorite books.

I haven’t looked back. Every book I’ve written since has had a military hero, and for the second book I wrote (and the first to be published), The Sergeant’s Lady, I couldn’t resist the temptation to make my hero a rifleman. Next thing I knew, my research bookshelves started to look like this…

…and I found myself developing something of a historical crush on this gentleman:

That’s right, Diane Gaston and Kristine Hughes! Consider yourself put on notice that I will not allow you to monopolize my dear Artie’s affections.

I look forward to future posts, when I shall probably talk food, music, football, baseball, and my next book, among other things. But in the meantime, I’ll leave you with some Five Favorites lists. Please feel free to share your favorites in the comments so I can get to know you, too.

My Five Favorite Current TV Shows:
1) The Legend of Korra
2) Castle
3) Game of Thrones
4) The Daily Show
5) Chopped

My Five Favorite Romances Read (but not necessarily published) This Year
1) Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance (not out till November, but I bought the eARC)
2) Catching Jordan
3) Doukakis’s Apprentice
4) The Wives of Bowie Stone
5) My Fair Concubine

Five Authors I Love
1) Jane Austen
2) Lois McMaster Bujold
3) Dorothy Sayers
4) Julia Spencer-Fleming
5) Jacqueline Carey

Five Fictional Crushes
1) Aral Vorkosigan (from Bujold’s Vorkosigan saga)
2) Lord Peter Wimsey (from Dorothy Sayers’ mysteries)
3) Marcus Didius Falco (from Lindsey Davis’s mysteries)
4) Joscelin Verreuil (from Carey’s Kushiel series)
5) Tenzin (from Legend of Korra)

Finally, a warning that I may be a little slow on commenting. I have a day job with little non-work internet access, and my dear Mr. Fraser turns 40 tomorrow. Tonight Miss Fraser (age 8) and I are taking him to a Mariners game, and tomorrow is his party.

First, let me start with a grovelling apology to all the Riskies. This blog was meant to be posted on April 1st. You know; All Fools Day. Also my wedding anniversary, but let’s not go there! Anyway, when I flagged it to give me a reminder on the computer I must have been low on coffee or something because I flagged it for the wrong date. And of course when Diane emailed to remind me about it I was having a very virtuous off-line day keeping away from the evil distractions of the internet. Mea culpa. My bad.

Harlequin is celebrating its 60th Anniversary this year. As part of the celebrations they giving away 16 books for free download. ( ) His Lady Mistress is one of them.

I hadn’t thought about His Lady Mistress in quite a while and when Diane asked me if I’d like to blog I wondered what on earth I was going to say about it after all this time.

A day or so later someone asked me where I get my ideas from . . . If a dollar was donated every time an author is asked that question world hunger would be history! I’m always tempted to reply; “The ideas department of K-Mart – they’re on special this week!” Of course, the reason writers are tempted to sarcasm with this question is that we really have no clue where our ideas come from and feel stupid admitting as much. Anyway, being asked made me remember, if not where the spark for His Lady Mistress had come from, at least what that spark, or sparks, had been.

The thing is we don’t know where the ideas come from, but if we think about it hard, we may actually come up with something that seems as though it has been there forever, just waiting to be used. It’s as though somewhere inside us there is a supply, a well if you like, of seemingly useless tidbits of information, that left to brew for long enough with the right ingredients will eventually bubble up with an idea.

Sometimes tossing in one extra vital ingredient at the right time is all that’s needed to bring forth . . . the premise. At least that’s how it worked with His Lady Mistress. I was reading a research book, Kristine Hughes’s Everyday Life in Regency and Victorian England. Near the end Ms Hughes very kindly reminded me of the details of something I’d forgotten; that until 1823 in England, a suicide was buried at the crossroads at night with a stake through the heart to prevent the ghost from walking. Until 1832 it was required that the burial could only take place between the hours of 9pm and midnight. Until 1870 all personal possessions were forfeited to the Crown.

Ouch. Barbaric.

At least that’s how any nice-minded person would react before turning the page quickly with a lady-like shudder. Not me. I’m a writer. My first thought was: ‘Oh, GROSS . . . but how would it be . . . ? What if . . . ?’ Several practice what-ifs slid through my mind and back into the brew before I had the real thing . . . what if my heroine, aged fifteen, was orphaned by her father’s suicide? Hmm. Potential there. But why did the guy commit suicide? Why does his death haunt Verity? Why does she feel responsible?

Still, I had my opening. Dark, wild night. Orphaned 15 year old creeping out to follow the cart to her father’s grave and being rescued by the hero. It’s the only time my original opening has EVER made it right through to the final draft. But I still didn’t know why the guy had committed suicide.

And this is the point where something I’d been interested in academically for years floated up from the depths: opium. At which point I realised that Verity’s father was addicted to opium. Okay, there were a few more, make that a lot more, questions that I had to answer before I had the whole thing worked out. (After that I still had to write it!) But those were the two snippets that bonded in my mind to provide the spark for His Lady Mistress.

Opium and suicide.

These days we are well aware of the dangers of opium and its derivatives. In the early 19th century the dangers were not so well understood. Opium acts on the brain, changing chemical balances to cause addiction. It could be bought over the counter with no questions asked and was widely used as a painkiller. Generally it was dissolved in alcohol and was known as laudanum. Mothers and nurses gave it to teething babies and plenty of people took it in small doses without ever becoming addicted. Yet for those who became dependent on it hell waited. But I still didn’t know why Verity’s father, William Scott, committed suicide over it, let alone why Verity blamed herself.

Opium and the Romantic Imagination by Alethea Hayter was an interesting source. Hayter gives a fascinating account of the English Romantic poets and their opium taking. Perhaps the most striking use of opium in literature, though, is the novel, The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins. Not only does the whole plot turn on the effects of the drug, but Collins, himself an addict, gives us the minor character of Ezra Jennings as both warning and plea for understanding. But I still needed a reason for William Scott’s suicide . . .

Finally I read a description of going “cold turkey”. The physical consequences for an addict in missing a dose sounded about as grim as a suicide’s burial. Excruciating abdominal pain as the bowels cramp causing extreme vomiting and diarrhoea, muscular cramps, constant discharge from nose and eyes, sweating and shivering all at once. The victim can neither eat nor sleep and this can go on for up to a week. After that the symptoms will abate of themselves, but very few people have the strength to go through all that. I’ve drawn these details from Martin Booth’s Opium: A History where he quotes Dr Robert S, de Ropp’s 1958 study Drugs and the Mind.

Suffice it to say that by the time I’d finished reading Booth and Hayter I had nothing but pity for William Scott and I knew why he committed suicide. If he ran out of laudanum the effects of being denied his dose would have been so physically and mentally agonising that suicide was perfectly believable. But why would Verity have blamed herself for what happened? If you’ve already read His Lady Mistress then you’ll know the answer. And if you haven’t, well, what are you waiting for? Harlequin has your free download waiting.



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