Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Smuggling in Late 18th-century England by Regan Walker

     In the course of my research for my Georgian romance, Echo in the Wind, I discovered much about smuggling in England in the 1780s. (The first scene in the story is set off the coast of Bognor, now Bognor Regis, where the hero and heroine meet as smugglers for the first time, neither knowing the other’s true identity.)

By the end of the eighteenth century, smuggling on the south coast of England had escalated to alarming rates. From the prosecutions at the Old Bailey during the 1780s, most of which did not result in a conviction, it appears many communities were more frequently the smugglers’ willing accomplices than their terrorized victims.

By 1784, the date of my story, the large organized smuggling gangs of the mid-century were a thing of the past, however, smuggling remained a widespread business. Out of a population of eight million, it is estimated that as many as twenty thousand people were full-time smugglers with twenty-one million pounds of tea smuggled into Britain each year.

Lady Holdernesse
Smuggling was not confined to the poor. Robert Walpole, the country’s first prime minister, used the Admiralty barge to smuggle in wine, lace and other goods. As mentioned in my story, Lady Holdernesse, whose husband was Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports from 1765-1778, used Walmer Castle as a base for her smuggling more than one hundred French silk gowns and fine French furniture.

No wonder the new prime minister, William Pitt, made smuggling one of his top issues.

Even during periods of war, English smugglers brazenly traded with France. Between 1763 and 1783, the number of customs vessels patrolling the coast increased from twenty-two to forty-two. But when one considers the miles of coastline these forty-two boats had to patrol, it is clear that the odds vastly favored the smugglers.

Commander James Ellis, a character in my story, was a real historic figure. Just as I portrayed him, he captained the HMS Orestes hunting smugglers off the Sussex coast.

Revenue cruiser chasing smugglers by Charles Dixon

Women might be involved in smuggling, but it was always from the land side. If they did not sell, transport or hide the smuggled goods, they provided protection, alibis and assistance to those who did. Thus, it is not out of the realm of possibility that my heroine, Lady Joanna West, could be “master of the beach” for the smugglers in Bognor (today called Bognor Regis).

While England's citizens might condone smuggling, they did not sanction violence by smugglers. During the period 1780 to 1800, smugglers tried at the Old Bailey were frequently charged with assaulting officers, punishable by imprisonment, rather than assembling or transporting smuggled goods, punishable by death. However, as in the trial of John Smalley, featured in my story, it was possible to be executed for beating a revenue officer. (The trial is taken from an actual record of the Old Bailey.)

In 1784, firing on a customs vessel after it had identified itself became a felony. However, as a French citizen, my hero, Jean Donet, would not have been subject to being dragged back to England for trial. England was the only country that did not have an agreement with France to trade criminals (what we would call today an extradition treaty). But Jean had cause to worry about Joanna, who was subject to English justice.

The Old Bailey Court

Among the most coveted of the smuggled goods was French brandy, cognac even more so. By the 1770s, London, home to the great connoisseurs, had become the largest consumer of the best brandy, creating a demand the smugglers were happy to meet.

In the Cognac region of France, located in the province of Saintonge in 1784, grapes were the most valuable crop. The clay soil was too impoverished for any other. As a result, the clergy and the nobility farmed the land themselves and did not lease it to others.

Vineyards in the Saintonge Province
In the 1780s, cognac became a profitable, prestigious product in demand throughout France and across Western Europe. Even though this was a good time for the region, the peasants still grumbled about tithes paid to priests and taxes to landlords. Their complaints were not without reason given the humble state of their living conditions. By the end of the decade, their unhappy state would lead to the French Revolution.

If you loved the dashing Jean Donet in To Tame the Wind, you are not alone. How could you not love a man who gave up all for the woman he loved? With his aristocratic manners, handsome dark looks and bold, privateer ways, he might be my favorite of all my heroes. When he first appeared on the deck of his ship, la Reine Noire, shouting orders to his men as guns blazed all around him, he quite stole my heart. I knew then he had to have his own story and a second chance at love. I was also aware it would take an unusual woman for Jean Donet to consider loving again. I believe I found her in Lady Joanna West.

I hope you enjoy the story.

 England and France 1784

Cast out by his noble father for marrying the woman he loved, Jean Donet took to the sea, becoming a smuggler, delivering French brandy and tea to the south coast of England. When his young wife died, he nearly lost his sanity. In time, he became a pirate and then a privateer, vowing to never again risk his heart.

As Donet’s wealth grew, so grew his fame as a daring ship’s captain, the terror of the English Channel in the American War. When his father and older brother die in a carriage accident in France, Jean becomes the comte de Saintonge, a title he never wanted.

Lady Joanna West cares little for London Society, which considers her its darling. Marriage in the ton is either dull or disastrous. She wants no part of it. To help the poor in Sussex, she joins in their smuggling. Now she is the master of the beach, risking her reputation and her life. One night off the coast of Bognor, Joanna encounters the menacing captain of a smuggling ship, never realizing he is the mysterious comte de Saintonge.

Can Donet resist the English vixen who entices him as no other woman? Will Lady Joanna risk all for an uncertain chance at love in the arms of the dashing Jean Donet?

"Walker sweeps you away to a time and place you'll NEVER want to leave!"
   ~ NY Times Bestselling author Danelle Harmon

Buy on Amazon US, UK or Canada

An excerpt:
Bognor, West Sussex, England, April 1784

Except for the small waves rushing to shore, hissing as they raced over the shingles, Bognor’s coast was eerily bereft of sound. Lady Joanna West hated the disquiet she always experienced before a smuggling run. Tonight, the blood throbbed in her veins with the anxious pounding of her heart, for this time, she would be dealing with a total stranger.
Would he be fair, this new partner in free trade? Or might he be a feared revenue agent in disguise, ready to cinch a hangman’s noose around her slender neck?
The answer lay just offshore, silhouetted against a cobalt blue sky streaked with gold from the setting sun: a black-sided ship, her sails lifted like a lady gathering up her skirts, poised to flee, waited for a signal.
Crouched behind a rock with her younger brother, Joanna hesitated, studying the ship. Eight gun ports marched across the side of the brig, making her wonder at the battles the captain anticipated that he should carry sixteen guns.
She and her men were unarmed. They would be helpless should he decide to cheat them, his barrels full of water instead of brandy, his tea no more than dried weeds.
It had been tried before.
“You are certain Zack speaks for this captain?” she asked Freddie whose dark auburn curls beneath his slouched hat made his boyish face appear younger than his seventeen years. But to one who knew him well, the set of his jaw hinted at the man he would one day become.
“I’ll fetch him,” Freddie said in a hushed tone, “and you can ask him yourself.” He disappeared into the shadows where her men waited beneath the trees.
Zack appeared, squatting beside her, a giant of a man with a scar on the left side of his face from the war. Like the mastiffs that guarded the grounds of her family’s estate, he was big and ugly, fierce with enemies, but gentle with those he was charged to protect.
Young Frederick here says ye want to know about this ship, m’lady.” At her nod, Zack gazed toward the brig. “He used to come here regular with nary a con nor a cheat. He’s been gone awhile now. I heard he might have worked up some other business—royal business.” He rolled his massive shoulders in a shrug. “In my experience, a tiger don’t change his stripes. He’s a Frog, aye, but I trust the Frenchie’s one of us, a free trader still.”
She took in a deep breath of the salted air blowing onshore and let it out. “Good.” Zack’s assurance had been some comfort but not enough to end her concerns. What royal business? For tonight, she need not know. “Give the signal,” she directed her brother, “but I intend to see for myself if the cargo is what we ordered.”
Without seeking the position, Joanna had become the smugglers’ master of the beach, responsible for getting the cargo ashore and away to inland routes and London markets with no revenue man the wiser. She took seriously her role to assure the villagers got what they paid for. Their survival depended upon it.

Copyright © 2017 Regan Walker

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Review: Elizabeth English’s THE BORDER BRIDE – Treachery, Betrayal and Love in 14th century Scotland

Set in 1375, mostly in Scotland, this is the story of Alyson Bowden, bastard half-sister to Lady Maude Darnley of the English Darleys. Alyson, a maid in the Darnley household, is forced by her father, to take her half-sister’s identity in order to satisfy a promise he made. The promise was to their enemies, the Kirallens—to give “his daughter” to them in marriage to end their long cross-border feud. He would never give them Maude, the daughter he values, but he will give them Alyson, who agrees only to save her young brother whose life Darnley has threatened.

I liked this story from the beginning, not only the concept, but the way the author drew me into Alyson’s predicament. The man she was forced to wed, Jemmy Kirallen, the disfavored son of his father, now the heir, believed her to be the haughty Maude, but he wondered at times when “Maude” would become more intelligent, inquisitive and passionate in his arms.

Alyson holds Jemmy at bay, believing she will soon be free and can return to her brother. And Jemmy believes he will soon be free of her. But he wants to leave her with child before he returns to his life at sea.

Alyson quickly comes to love her new husband (and given what a great guy he is, one can see why!) However, she fears telling him the truth—that Darnley plans an attack on the Kirallens—knowing Darnley has threatened the life of her young brother.

There isn’t much history in this story but there is certainly enough story to hold your interest, with many twists and turns, including a foster brother, the Kirallen ghost who haunts the keep and who was stabbed in the back by Darnley, and some endearing children.

It’s a picture of life in the Borderlands, of English and Scots warring for many years. And it’s the story of love that can heal many hurts. Lovers of Scottish historical romance will find depth here and enough story to keep them turning pages.

Friday, May 19, 2017

My Top 20 Historical Romances

I am frequently asked what are my favorite historical romances. That’s a long list, as you know from my “best lists.” There are currently over 100 5-Star romances on my "Favorite Keepers" shelf on Goodreads. But since you asked, I'm giving you my current top 20. It’s no accident that almost all are deeper historicals that include real history. And because I love Scotland as a setting, many are set in that land of lochs and glens.

These stories are the ones that have stayed with me, the ones I want to re-read, the ones I can’t forget. Their heroes and heroines grace my Favorite Heroes and Heroines list. And they are written by some of my favorite authors.

Bride of the MacHugh by Jan Cox Speas
Lady of the Glen by Jennifer Roberson
The Windflower by Laura London (aka Sharon & Tom Curtis)
The Silver Devil by Teresa Denys
The Dragon and the Jewel by Virginia Henley
Heartstorm by Elizabeth Stuart
Shanna by Kathleen Woodiwiss
Once in a Blue Moon by Penelope Williamson
The Passions of Emma by Penelope Williamson
Whispers of Heaven by Candice Proctor
The Wind Dancer by Iris Johansen
The Pride of Lions by Marsha Canham
Moonstruck Madness by Laurie McBain
On a Highland Shore by Kathleen Givens
Clandara by Evelyn Anthony
Stormfire by Christine Monson
Princess of Fire by Shannon Drake (aka Heather Graham)
The Captain of All Pleasures by Kresley Cole
Dancing On Coals by Ellen O’Connell
Mountain Mistress by Nadine Crenshaw

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Review: Evelyn Anthony’s CLANDARA – Enthralling Story of Star-crossed Love Amidst the Jacobite Uprising of 1745

Set in 1745, in the time of feuds between the clans and the Scottish support for Bonnie Prince Charlie, this is the story of Katherine Fraser who falls in love with the eldest son of her family’s enemy—the MacDonalds. James MacDonald had a horrible reputation of cattle stealing, killing and debauchery when he met the lovely, flame-haired Katherine Fraser. For love of her, he changed. Neither family wanted the marriage but agreed to a betrothal when they could see the pair was determined.

Then came Charles Stuart and the call to arms all over Scotland. Having lost all in the earlier rising in 1715, Katherine’s family declined to go. Their enemies, the MacDonalds, were in the forefront of the clans supporting the prince. In one horrible act, James tears asunder the love that bound him to Katherine and sealed forever the enmity between his clan and hers.

This is a poignant love story very well told. Anthony vividly portrays the emotions of the Scots at the time of the Jacobite Uprising of 1745 and her description of the English slaughter of the Scots on Culloden Moor was brilliant and detailed. She shows you why King George’s son the Duke of Cumberland earned his title “Butcher.” By the time you get to the battle, you are so invested in the characters and the clans, your heart is racing.

The romance is an unusual one as James and Katherine are separated for much of the story, yet ever in each other’s mind. I loved them both but Katherine really shined as a woman trying to do the right thing under dismal circumstances. The ending is a bit like jumping off a cliff and I found I wanted more of the two of them.

If you like well-researched, detailed history in your historical romance, and you can’t get enough of Scotland’s past, then you will love this one. It's a keeper and highly recommended.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Review: Heather Graham’s CONQUER THE NIGHT – Scottish Historical Rich in Scotland’s History of the 13th Century

Set in 1297, beginning near the forest of Selkirk, this is the story of a Scot and a patriot, Sir Arryn Graham, whose pregnant wife and his people were murdered by the English. Arryn lives for revenge and to serve William Wallace, Scotland’s great hope for freedom.

Arryn comes to Seacairn Castle to take both it and it’s lady, Kyra, betrothed to the English brute Kinsey Darrow. Arryn hates Darrow for his rape and murder of Arryn’s wife and the burning of his home and the Scottish people.

Despite fighting him at every turn, Kyra eventually gives in to his lovemaking. She is torn between her loyalty to the Edward, the English king, and her growing affection for the hard man who leads the Scots that have taken her castle. She is half-Scot, half-English, caught between two warring peoples. King Edward is determined to own all of Britain and he cares not what cruel tactics his men use against the Scots.
Paperback cover
This is the second in a series of Graham's historical novels of the Graham clan in Scotland. This one is set in the 13th century when Alexander III was King of Scotland (he dies in the prologue) and Edward reigns in England. I love Graham's writing and the fact she does deep research to bring the history to life. She does a great job of keeping the action going, drawing you in and keeping the sexual tension high.

Arryn is a man with a tortured soul who must overcome the hatred he feels for Kinsey to find love with Kyra. She is an honorable and courageous and gradually wins the hearts of Arryn's men. Eventually, she wins Arryn, too. A great read.

The Graham series:

Come The Morning
Conquer the Night
Seize the Dawn
Knight Triumphant
The Lion in Glory
When We Touch
The Queen's Lady

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Guest Author, Madeline Hunter, Shares her Inspiration

My guest today is Madeline Hunter, author of twenty-nine historical romances. Over six million copies of her books are in print. She is a seven-time RITA finalist, and two-time RITA winner. Twenty-three of her books have been on the USA Today bestseller list, and she has also had titles on the New York Times print list, Publishers Weekly list, and the Waldenbooks paperback fiction list. 

She has received two "starred reviews" in Publishers Weekly, and Romantic Times has awarded twenty-two of her books 4 1/2 stars. 

Madeline has a Ph.D. in Art History, and she teaches at the college level. She currently lives in Pennsylvania with her husband and two sons.

Today, Madeline brings us the story behind one of her Scottish historicals. And, just below this post, is my review of the book.

Be sure and comment and leave your email as Madeline is giving away a copy of her new release, The Most Dangerous Duke.
The Inspiration for Lord of a Thousand Nights

All kinds of things can inspire a story. It can be a character, a situation, even a setting seen while traveling. I have had all these things serve as the seeds of books. Only once, however, did I have a vision of a first scene come to me, so vividly that I had to write it down. I loved that scene after it was done, but I had no story to go with it! I then needed to invent a story that fit the scene. Here is how it happened. I saw a woman enter a medieval warrior’s tent, with the intention of killing him. By the time the scene is over, the tables have been turned and she is his captive. He then arranges for her to escape so he can follow her to the secret entrance to the castle he has under siege.

The basics of this scene derive the ancient story of Judith and Holofernes, from the ancient writings of the Apocrypha. Only in that story, she indeed kills him and saves her people. In mine, events take very different turns. She is Scottish widow, a scholar, and a virtuous woman who would die before she broke a promise or an oath. He is an English mercenary, a sensualist, and a rogue knight who can mesmerize women with his devastating smile.

The book that resulted is Lord of a Thousand Nights. That is the gorgeous hero’s nickname. The heroine finds that hilarious. Other knights are celebrated for their honor or bravery. This one is famous for his frequent fornication. Needless to say, there are many efforts on his part to make it one thousand and one nights after her.

Lord of a Thousand Nights is one of only two books I have written that are based in Scotland, and use Scottish characters and history (the other is Lord of Sin). It is set at the time of Edward III. It takes place on the southern border in the “contested lands”, where the heroine is “holding the fort” against the hero’s siege. 

He is in the employ of a lord fighting to reclaim his legacy from a Scottish laird who stole it. Ian, the hero, is indeed brave, almost reckless. He is also a bad boy and I had a wonderful time writing him. His history is less than stellar, and he believes he has done something in the past that is irredeemable.

This is one of my sexier stories. With that title I was sort of obligated to up the heat, right? I had forgotten how sexy until one of my friends reread it and emailed me a few questions regarding whether she was reading correctly that x and y had happened. Let us just say that Ian did not get his nickname for nothing.

The castle in question is not the main holding of the estate. It is an outlying property, and it is a tower house such as were built all over Scotland and northern England, especially in contested areas. 

Tall and stacked, they offered more security than a normal castle. The entrances at the time were up at least one level, making it harder to capture them. In times of war, the stairs to the entrance could be burned to offer more protection.

Tower castle

Ian is an inventor, without even knowing he is. He just solves problems. He hates that tower and all its stairs and inconveniences. As the story moves along, periodically he finds a way to make those multiple levels less of a burden with contraptions he builds. 

Scottish Borderlands

My medieval historicals remain among my favorite books. If you like action and intrigue along with hot romance, you may want to take a look at them on my Website.

Madeline’s next book, The Most Dangerous Duke in London, will be released on May 30. Comment to win a copy! And see the book on Madeline's website Here.

Name and title: Adam Penrose, Duke of Stratton. Affiliation: London’s elite Society of Decadent Dukes. Family history: Scandalous. Personality traits: Dark and brooding, with a thirst for revenge. Ideal romantic partner: A woman of means, with beauty and brains, willing to live with reckless abandon. Desire: Clara Cheswick, gorgeous daughter of his family’s sworn enemy.

Clara may be the woman Adam wants, but there’s one problem: she’s far more interested in publishing her women’s journal than getting married—especially to a man said to be dead-set on vengeance. Though, with her nose for a story, Clara wonders if his desire for justice is sincere—along with his incredibly unnerving intention to be her husband. If her weak-kneed response to his kiss is any indication, falling for Adam clearly comes with a cost. But who knew courting danger could be such exhilarating fun?

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Review: Madeline Hunter’s LORD OF A THOUSAND NIGHTS – Love and Adventure in the 14th century on the Scottish Border

Many of you may not know that Madeline Hunter has a Medieval series… but she does.

This one is set on the Scottish border in 1357. It tells the story of an English knight, Ian of Guilford, dubbed “Lord of a Thousand Nights” for his prowess with women, and Lady Reyna Graham, a widow who is desperate to save her people and her home, Black Lyne Keep, from Ian’s assault. One night, she sneaks out and into his tent, posing as a prostitute. She thinks to kill him, however, Ian knows women and he knows this one is not an experienced woman.

Following her retreat back into the keep, he finds the passage that allows his men to take the keep without a siege. Once captured, she and her people are under his control. There is a fair amount of suspense, witty banter, and sex, as well as some good secondary characters to keep you entertained.

Ian turns out to be nobler that one might think initially. And Reyna is a well-loved noble heroine of good intentions gone awry. There’s mystery in their backgrounds and Hunter does a great job of revealing those at the end.

This is the last of Hunter’s 14th Century London Medieval series and some of the couples in the other stories are characters in this one. All are highly recommended:

By Possession
By Design
Stealing Heaven
By Arrangement
The Protector
Lord of a Thousand Nights