Bernard Cornwell


Mist hung over the fields, mixed with smoke from the Allied cooking fires and those of the French on the opposite ridge. Steam rose from cheap tea brewed in iron kettles. The smell of clay pipes and officers’ cigars mingled with the stench of wool still sodden from the night’s rain. Shots split the air as soldiers fired their guns to clean them.
“Waste of ammunition,” Davenport said to Charles. “It’s going to be a long day.”
And it had yet to properly begin. A breeze gusted over what would be the battlefield, stirring the corn, cutting through the curtain of mist. Wellington had taken up a position before the small village of Mont-Saint-Jean. Fitzroy had said that the duke would have preferred the position across the field at the inn of La Belle Alliance, which Bonaparte occupied, but the Allied position had its advantages. Wellington had seen the ground when he was in Brussels the previous year. Charles remembered the duke mentioning the slope of the land to the north which would allow him to keep most of his troops out of sight of an enemy across the field.
To the left stood the fortified farm La Haye Sainte, with white-washed walls and a blue-tiled roof that gleamed where the sunlight broke the mist, and still farther to the left the twin farms of Papelotte and La Haye. To the right, in a small valley hidden by cornfields, was Hougoumont, a pretty, walled château surrounded by a wood and a hedged orchard. Both had been garrisoned with Allied soldiers.
The ground before them sloped down to a valley, through which the road to Charleroi ran, then rose to the ridge on which stood La Belle Alliance. On this ridge, the French army had begun to deploy. An elegant, masterful pageant. Charles lifted his spyglass. Lancers with white-plumed shapkas on their heads, Chasseurs with plumes of scarlet and green, Hussars, Dragoons, Cuirassiers, and Carabiniers, and the Imperial Guard in their scarlet-faced blue coats. Gunners adjusted the position of their weapons. Pennants snapped in the breeze and gold eagles caught the sun as it battled the mist.
“Sweet Jesus,” Davenport murmured.
“Bonaparte understands the value of theatre,” Charles said.
“Unless he’s also a master of illusion, there are a bloody lot of them. I hope to God the Prussians get here.”
Charles cast a glance along the Allied lines. “We happy few.”
“Shakespeare was a genius, but he’d never been on a battlefield. Do you know what you’re in for, Fraser?”
“I’ve seen battles before,” Charles said, scenes from the Peninsula fresh in his mind. “But I don’t think any of us has seen anything like what’s about to unfold.”

That’s an excerpt from Imperial Scandal (on which I’m finishing up revisions), which finds Charles/Malcom and Harry Davenport (estranged husband of Cordelia Davenport, whom you met in last month’s teaser) on the morning of the battle of Waterloo. Yesterday, 18 June, was the 196th anniversary of Waterloo. In June 1815 the British, the Dutch-Belgians, and the Prussians were spread out along the border between Belgium (part of the Netherlands after Napoleon’s downfall) and France, the British and their Dutch-Belgian allies to the west of the old Roman road from Bavay to Maastricht, the Prussians to the east. Eventually, when their Austrian allies were ready, they would advance into France to take on Napoleon, returned to power after his escape from Elba. But if Napoleon, as seemed likely, crossed the border first they would close in and trap him. Only of course it was a long border and there were any number of ways the master strategist Napoleon Bonaparte could move. Together, the Allies and the Prussians outnumbered the French. But if he could separate them, Napoleon would have the advantage.

Last Wednesday, 15 June, was the anniversary of the Duchess of Richmond’s ball, at which rumors were already rife that the French had crossed the border. Earlier in the day, the Duke of Wellington, commander of the Allied British and Dutch-Belgian army, knew there had been attacks on Prussians outposts and the French had been seen to the south around Charleroi. But he suspected the attacks were a feint and the real attack would come from the west, to separate the Allies from the sea and their supply routes. He’d ordered the army ready to march, but he was waiting for confirmation of where the French attack was coming from. Wellington let the ball (given by his good friends the Duke and Duchess of Richmond) go forward because to have canceled it would have led to panic in the city and encouraged the many Bonapartists among the Dutch-Belgian citizens. Also, most of officers of rank would be there, and it was a good chance to speak with them.

At the ball, Wellington received confirmation that Napoleon had crossed into Belgium through Charleroi to the south to separate the British and Dutch-Belgians from their Prussian allies. He famously exclaimed “Napoleon has humbugged me by God!” He then went into the Duke of Richmond’s study to look at a map of Belgium and said he had ordered the army to concentrate at the crossroads of Quatre-Bras, but they wouldn’t stop him there. “In which case,” Wellington is reported to have said, “I must fight him here,” pressing his thumb down on the mao. In Imperial Scandal, Malcolm/Charles is present for the scene. He moves to the duke’s side to see that Wellington’s thumbnail rests on a small village called Waterloo.

The Allies fought the French, under Marshall Ney, at Quatre-Bras on 16 June. The results were inconclusive, but on 17 June the the Allies had to fall back north toward Brussels to keep close to the Prussians, who had been driven back by Marshall Grouchy. The retreat took place in torrential rain, thunder, and lightning. Wellington and the other senior commanders and their staffs spent the night of the 17th in quartered in the village of Waterloo. The battle took place the next day, 18 June, on a nearby stretch of ground between two ridges on which each army assembled.

Waterloo was a particularly bloody battle with some 47,000 soldiers killed or wounded. At the end of the day, the field, a relatively confined stretch of ground, was strewn with dead or dying or wounded men and horses. The 5th division was reduced from four thousand to little more than four hundred. General Cavalié Mercer of the Royal Horse Artillery reported that “of the 200 fine horses with which we had entered the battle, upwards of 140 lay dead, dying, or severely wounded.”

The Waterloo scenes in Imperial Scandal are some of the most challenging I’ve ever written, both in terms of trying to get all the details right and trying to capture the characters’ experience. As with any action scene involving multiple people, it’s hard to give a sense of the sweep of the whole scene while being true to a character’s POV and their visceral reality (an individual probably doesn’t have a sense of how the full battle is unfolding). In An Infamous Army, Georgette Heyer uses an omniscient POV for much of her Waterloo description. Bernard Cornwell also moves into omniscient POV at times in his Sharpe novel Waterloo. Both use omniscient POV to great effect to convey the battle as a whole, while then moving back to their main characters to give immediaacy. I didn’t do that (my goal is less to describe the whole battle than to try to capture my characters’ experience of it), but I did use multiple POVs, both British and French, to try to capture different aspects of the battle and also different characters’ experience of it. I invented Harry Davenport initially because I knew I needed a major character who was a soldier (which Charles/Malcolm isn’t). And Harry is an aide-de-camp to Wellington so he moved about delivering messages. Malcolm/Charles also ends up delivering messages (apparently Wellington really did press civilians into service to carry messages, as so many of his aides-de-camp were killed). And then I also have Raoul to give a French perspective on the events (and he and Charles/Malcolm have an unexpected encounter on the battlefield).

Do you have a favorite fictional depiction of Waterloo or another battle? How do you feel about battle scenes in novels? What makes them work or not? Writers, what do you think are the particular challenges of writing battle scenes?

This week’s Fraser Correspondence addition is a letter from Mel/Suzanne to Raoul about the Carrousel and the plot Princess Tatiana uncovered.

Charles nodded and turned his horse. Men and horses littered the ground, wounded, dying, dead. Bullets sang through the air, shells exploded, cannons rumbled. Beneath his coat, his shirt was plastered to his skin. The smell of blood and powder, the screams of men and horses, the sight of gaping wounds and blown off limbs had become monotonous reality. He steered his horse round two dead dragoons sprawled over the body of a horse with the lower part of its face shot off.

That’s a quote from Imperial Scandal, which I’m currently in the midst of revising. Imperial Scandal begins in a world much like that of Vienna Waltz, at a ball given by the British ambassador (where you met Cordelia Davenport in last week’s excerpt). But that glittering world teeters in the brink of war as the Allied army waits in Brussels for Napoleon to march from Paris. The glamorous world of the British ex-patriates in Brussels is shattered at the Duchess of Richmond’s ball with the confirmation that the French have crossed the frontier. Soldiers march off to fight in ball dress. The last part of the book moves back and forth between the battlefield where Charles/Malcolm is pressed into delivering messages for Wellington and Brussels where Mélanie/Suzanne and Cordelia are nursing the wounded.

I’m currently in the midst of revising the battle scenes, which are some of the most challenging I’ve ever written. On my first draft I was preoccupied with getting down the logistics of the battle, weaving in the plot developments that needed to happen and getting my characters in the right place at the right time for the historical chronology. Not to mention making sure I had details of uniforms and weapons right. I was reasonably happy with how the battle sequence turned out in the preliminary version. But now I’m layering in more texture and emotion. And sheer horror. Waterloo was a particularly bloody battle with some 47,000 soldiers killed or wounded. At the end of the day, the field was strewn with dead or dying men and horses.

Earlier this week I heard a clip on NPR of Kurt Vonnegut talking about how he wanted to write about war in a way that didn’t glamorize it. That really resonated for me with the scenes I’m currently working on. It’s a challenge to capture the bravery and acts of courage and yet not lose sight of the horror and insanity. Which also means not pulling back in describing the violence and brutality.

It’s a grim world to live in as a writer. A couple of days ago I saw a fabulous final dress rehearsal of Götterdämmerung, the last opera in Wagner’s Ring at San Francisco Opera, which with its destruction and tragedy and wasted lives seemed very apropos of the scenes I’ve been writing. I drafted this post outdoors in the café at the California Shakespeare theater waiting for their production of Titus Andronicus to begin. A play rooted in war and definitely about violence, which also seems apropos. And having now seen, the production, which was brilliant and disturbing, these lines seems particularly to resonate with the scenes I’ve been writing, which moves back and forth between the Allies and the French:

But must my sons be slaughter’d in the streets,
For valiant doings in their country’s cause?
O, if to fight for king and commonweal
Were piety in thine, it is in these.

The battle of Waterloo has been dramatized brilliantly by a number of writers. Two of my favorite depictions, both brutal and heart-rending, are Georgette Heyer in An Infamous Army and Bernard Cornwell in Waterloo. I’m only hoping I manage to not disgrace myself in comparison.

Which battle scenes in fiction do you find particularly effective? Writers, if you’ve written battle scenes, what are the particular challenges you faced?

I’ve just posted a new Fraser Correspondence letter from Melanie to Raoul, where, among other things, she talks about Frederick Radley. Which brings up another question. What did you think of the revelations about Mel/Suzette’s relationship with Radley in Vienna Waltz, and did you think she was telling the full truth to Charles/Malcolm?


I blogged this week on History Hoydens about the Duchess of Richmond’s ball. The ball, in the midst of which British and Dutch-Belgian soldiers got the news that the French were on the march, is a key set piece in my Waterloo book (which I am currently buried in finishing). It occurs just as the mystery/spy plot and the various emotional dilemmas of the characters are coming to a head. I thought I’d repeat the post here, because I find the topic so interesting (and because I need to get back to revising my book :-).

I love parties. The picture above is from New Years Eve this year, when I spent a lovely evening drinking champagne and watching fireworks with some of my closest friends. But in my writing lately, I’ve been consumed with a much more more lavish party nearly two hundred years in the past. On 15 June 1815 the Duchess of Richmond gave a ball at the house in the Rue de Blanchisserie that she had her husband had taken in Brussels. Among the guests were many officers in the Allied Army, gathered in Belgium preparing for battle against Napoleon Bonaparte, recently escaped from exile on Elba and restored to power in France. A number of the aristocratic British ex-patriates who had taken up residence in Brussels that spring were present as well. So were a gilded assortment of diplomats, along with Belgian royals and dignitaries. Of course the Duke of Wellington, commander of the Allied Army, was on the guest list for the ball. He was an old friend of the Duke and Duchess of Richmond, looked on as a sort of indulgent uncle by their large family of children. Three of the Richmonds’ sons were in the army.

The ballroom was a converted carriage house, where the Lennox children played battledore-and-shuttlecock and the youngest members of the family did their lessons. The duchess draped the rose trellis wallpaper with swags of crimson, gold, and black, the Royal colors of the Netherlands. Ribbons, wreaths, and flowers garlanded the pillars. It was a warm evening ,but the younger Lennoxes threw open the French windows that ran along one side of the room, letting in a welcome breeze. The duchess, a daughter of the Duke of Gordon, had engaged kilted sergeants and privates from the 92nd Foot and the 42nd Royal Highlanders to entertain the company with sword dances.

Rumors that the French were on the move swirled throughout the ballroom. Wellington was late, adding to the talk. By the time he arrived with a group of his aides-de-camp, as skilled at waltzing as they were at war, the duke had known for some hours that Napoleon has crossed the frontier from France. But he believed the reported attacks to the east were a feint. He thought the real attack would come from the west, to separate them from the sea and their supply lines. He needed confirmation before he could order the army to march. Meanwhile, he needed to forestall panic and also to confer with a number of his officers, who were conveniently gathered together at the ball.

Wellington confessed to the duchess’s daughter, Georgiana Lennox, that the army was off tomorrow, but he gave every appearance of sang-froid. As the company moved into the hall on the way to supper, a mud-spattered officer, Harry Webster, pushed his way through the crowd. He had a message for the Prince of Orange. The twenty-three-year-old prince, commander of the Dutch-Belgian army based on his birth not his experience, tucked the message away unread, but Wellington asked to see it. Wellington read the message and at once ordered Webster to summon four horses for the Prince of Orange’s carriage. The message, from Constant de Rebecque, whom the prince had left in charge at his headquarters, revealed that Bonaparte had crossed the Sambre river at Charleroi. He was attacking not from the west but on the Allies’ eastern flank, trying to separate them from their Prussian allies.

Wellington maintained a cheerful demeanor through supper, laughing with young Georgiana Lennox and his Brussels flirt, Lady Frances Webster. But after supper, he asked the Duke of Richmond if he had a map of Belgium in the house. In the duke’s study, Wellington stared down at the map spread on the desk and declared that Bonaparte had humbugged him. He had ordered the army to concentrate at the crossroads of Quatre Bras, but he feared he would not be able to hold the French there. He pressed his thumb against the small village near which he would then have to fight Napoleon. Waterloo.

Meanwhile in the hall and ballroom, the illusion that they were at an ordinary ball had well and truly broken. The front door banged open and shut. Soldiers called for their horses, girls darted across the floor shouting the names of their beloveds, parents scanned the crowd for sons. The musicians had begun to play again in the ballroom, but the strains of the waltz vied with the call of bugles from outside. Georgiana Lennox slipped off to help her eldest brother, Lord March, pack up his things. She thought the young ladies still waltzing were “heartless,” but for many of them it would be the last chance to dance with husbands, sweethearts, and brothers.

The Duchess of Richmond’s ball has been dramatized by many novelists, including Thackeray in Vanity Fair, Georgette Heyer in An Infamous Army, and Bernard Cornwell, in Waterloo, part of the Richard Sharpe series. I wrote about the ball myself in one of my historical romances, Shores of Desire, and as I said above, it’s a key event in my current WIP. Even though this is the second time I’ve approached the ball, I was a bit intimidated by such an iconic historical event. I’m currently on my third draft, and I’m starting to be fairly happy with how the scenes are shaping up. I had to write them in layers. The historical details, the physical setting–from the glitter of the ball to the chaos it dissolved into–the more intimate emotional landscape of my characters, real and fictional, saying farewell to loved ones. It was particularly interesting to have both Mélanie and Raoul there, with the complex emotions both are feeling. Charles surprised me by turning into something more of an action hero in this book that he’s been before. He ended up being at the battlefield much of the time.

Have you read fictional accounts of the Duchess of Richmond’s ball or seen it dramatized on film? What party scenes stand out in your memory from historical fiction? Writers, is there an historical entertainment you both want to dramatize and find yourself intimidated by?

I’ve just posted a new letter from Raoul to Lady Frances in the Fraser Correspondence, inspired by JMM’s suggestion that Raoul would entrust to Frances any letters he left for Charles.

A slightly later post this weekend, because I spent most of yesterday getting ready for and then attending the Merola Opera Program’s Spring Benefit (you can see a cell phone snapshot of me and my friend Michelle, Merola’s Director of Membership and Marketing, here). In the midst of a long, fun day of setting up auction items, scrambling into my evening dress, greeting friends and bidding on auction items, and then listening to a wonderful concert and dancing into the morning, I found myself thinking about parties and balls in novels. A number of memorable ones spring to mind, beginning with the assembly ball in Pride and Prejudice. In fact, Pride and Prejudice has a number of ball and party scenes, including the memorable the Netherfield ball. When the A&E adaptation first aired, my friend Penny commented on how often the characters went to parties. She said she could imagine Jane Austen as a writer thinking “how am I going to get these characters together? I have to have another party scene.”

In an era when characters can’t make cell phone calls or send texts and emails or tweets and where it’s difficult for unmarried men and women to interact unchaperoned, balls, receptions, and other social occasions provide rich opportunities for the characters to interact. There’s the chance for private conversation during a dance (Darcy and Elizabeth at the Netherfield ball) and the opportunity for one character to observe another (Darcy makes a disastrous impression on Lizzy at the assembly ball and the Netherfield ball confirms Darcy’s negatives of the entire Bennet family). The chance to advance multiple story lines in one scene (both the Darcy/Elizabeth and Jane/Bingley relationships move forward in these various party scenes). A ball can be the occasion of an unexpected meeting (Marianne encountering Willoughby and his wife in Sense and Sensibility). It can be spun-sugar covering for scenes of intrigue and drama (the Grenville ball in The Scarlet Pimpernel).

One of the more dramatic real historical entertainments is the Duchess of Richmond’s ball in Brussels at which Wellington learned that Napoleon had stolen a march on him. Soldiers left the dance floor to join their regiments. The duchess’s ball has been brought to vivid life in a number of novels–by Thackery in Vanity Fair, by Georgette Heyer in An Infamous Army, by Bernard Cornwell in Waterloo. I had the fun of writing about it myself in Shores of Desire (what could be a better setting for drama? all the characters together as they receive news that will change all their lives in myriad ways). I’d love to use the Duchess of Richmond’s ball in a Charles & Mélanie book some day, either in flashback or in another prequel.

Balls and parties an also be a way for a writer to introduce the reader to an array of characters and to their world. Edith Wharton does this brilliantly in the opening The Age of Innocence. You get a sense of the world of the Archers and Wellands in a way you wouldn’t in small scenes and the ripples in that world caused by Ellen’s return from the Continent come through vividly.

Secrets of a Lady opens with Charles and Mel returning from a ball, but after that has no scenes set at social gathering. I deliberately wanted to pull Charles and Mélanie out of the jewel box world represented by the Esterhazy ball they’ve attended before the book opens. Beneath a Silent Moon, on the other hand, opens with the Glenister House ball. Inspired by a number of memorable book openings (notably the one from The Age of Innocence) I wanted to set up the various characters and the world of the Glenister House set. And I wanted to show the difficulties both Charles and Mel are having adjusting to London society and the strain that that’s putting on their marriage.

Do you have some favorite scenes from balls or other parties in books? Writers, do you like writing scenes set at parties? What are some of the challenging of writing scenes in which one has to juggle a number of characters and plotlines?

In keeping with the theme, in this week’s Fraser Correspondence addition, Mélanie gives Gisèle (newly married and in Scotland) an account of a ball Lady Frances has given.

Taryn had some wonderful comments on the Mask of Night page recently–wonderful both in the sense of making me as an author, very happy, but also very-thought provoking in terms of what draws us as readers to a novel. As Taryn pointed out, the Charles & Mélanie books are hard to categorize which can be “a bit hard a bit of a positioning problem – is it a murder mystery, a spy novel, a romance? Not that it can’t be and isn’t all of that, but although I’m not in publishing, just a passionate end-reader, often I think the marketing is an afterthought and they don’t always trust their audience, so they want to “dumb it down” to make it “one thought.” Your work is so textured that it isn’t easy to distill – for me this is what has me staying up way too late trying to find out what happens!”

Hearing that readers have stayed up too late reading one’s book is one of the nicest compliments a writer can receive. But Taryn’s comment also sums up why the Charles & Mel books can be tricky to market. I’ve always loved books that cross genres. Mysteries (Dorothy Sayers, Laurie King, Elizabeth George, C.S. Harris) and fantasy novels (Barbara Hambly, Steven Brust & Emma Bull) with strong romantic threads, romances with lots of plot and history and adventure (Penelope Williamson, Laura Kinsale), historical fiction with intrigue and adventure and romance (Dorothy Dunnett, Bernard Cornwell, Patrick O’Brien, Robert Goddard, Lauren Willig). But it can be hard for publishers and booksellers to figure out how to market these books. I don’t think it’s so much that readers don’t like books that cross genres as that marketing strategies are book store shelving tend to be based on slotting books into genres.

Which makes the cover copy for the books that much more important. I asked Taryn about this in the course of the discussion on the Mask page. What would make her pick up the books? (She bought Secrets of Lady based on recommendations not the copy.) Taryn said, “I’d like to think about the back-of-the-book question a bit more but my first thought (for Secrets of a Lady) is yes, you convey time (Regency) and place (seamy London), and secrets, which are always tempting. For Beneath a Silent Moon, it’s closer to making me want to buy, but…seems to focus on Charles and less about Melanie, who is one of the most interesting heroines since Scarlett O’Hara or even about them together and how complex they are. And also the theme of forgiveness – but not heavy-handed, maybe in the form of a question – could you find a way to forgive the love of your life after you’ve learned they have betrayed you? This seems like it might be a direction to consider…don’t know, maybe have a small focus group from visitors to your blog!”

Which gave me the idea of turning the discussion into this week’s blog. What themes or plot elements or phrases on a book cover grab your interest? Did you pick up Daughter/Secrets or Beneath based on the cover copy? If so, what was it in the copy that caught your attention? Are there other ways you think the books could be described that you’d find more compelling? In general, what makes you want to buy a book?

Taryn said, “What makes me buy – spies, tortured war veterans (male and female) as i am intrigued by the parallels to the 21st century version. Relationship is a big part of what makes me buy (cover art attracts (although I hate those men with no shirts, *where* did those shirts go, anyway??)). I picked Secrets up through romance so I was expecting relationship stuff – wow, those revelation scenes early on *blew my mind* – and that kind of inter-personal drama really delivered! Even if it was not a typical romance book, it delivered the best of romance – a strong set of characters with real problems that they need to solve together. Unusual that these are married, that also added to the “I’m intrigued – I think I’ll buy” moment.”

As I’ve mentioned before, anything to do with “spies” or “espionage” on a book cover grabs my interest. Doubly so if it’s historical. The same with politics, particularly historical politics. So do words or phrases implying there’s a complex plot–“twists and turns,” “plots and counterplots,” “maze of intrigue,” “secrets”, “unraveling,” etc… And anything that indicates lovers with a history–married couples, ex-lovers, enemies who’ve betrayed each other. And thematically, anything to do with ambiguity, the elusive nature of truth, loyalty and betrayal is pretty much guaranteed to draw me in.

I’d love to hear other readers’ thoughts on these questions. What makes you want to buy a book?

On another note, I’m now on Facebook. I’m still getting the knack of how it works, but if you’re on Facebook do friend me, and I’d love suggestions for reading and writing-related groups to join.

And be sure to check on this week’s Fraser Correspondence addition–it’s a letter from Mélanie to Isobel Lydgate about Twelfth Night at Dunmykel.

Update 14 January: I’m blogging on History Hoydens today on bringing an historical world to life, inspired by the movie Milk.

There are many different types and degrees of history in historical fiction. There are stories in which the setting is historical but the characters are wholly fictional and historical events don’t impinge on the book. There are novels like my fellow History Hoyden Amanda Elyot’s which center on a real historical person and real historical events. In between, there are an infinite variety of types of books. Novels in which the characters and plot are fictional, but real historical events impinge on the fringes of the story (such as Venetia Lanyon’s brother returning from the Napoleonic Wars in Heyer’s Venetia). Novels in which real historical figures make cameo appearances (such as the Countess Lieven in Heyer’s The Grand Sophy). Novels in which the central characters are fictional but the story is so intertwined with real historical figures and events that it is difficult to tell where fiction leaves off and history begins (Heyer’s An Infamous Army, Bernard Cornwell’s Sharpe books, Dorothy Dunnett’s Lymond Chronicles and House of Niccolò; reading Dunnett’s books, you wonder how history followed the path it did without Francis Crawford of Lymond and Nicholas de Fleury and reading Cornwell you wonder how the British could have won the Peninsular War without Richard Sharpe).

Since I tend to write about politicians, going back to when I wrote the Anthea Malcolm books with my mom, most of my books have at least walk-on appearances by real historical figures and some reference to historical events. Emily Cowper and Harriet Granville appear in several of my early books, Lord Castlereagh plays an important role in The Counterfeit Heart, Frivolous Pretence revolves round the divorce trial of Queen Caroline, A Touch of Scandal deals with the renewal of the East India Company’s charter. Dark Angel takes place largely in Spain and Portugal during the Peninsular War and not only Emily Cowper but her lover Lord Palmerston were secondary characters. Waterloo and its prologue and aftermath are crucial to Shores of Desire (and several real historical figures make appearances). The French Revolution and post-Waterloo industrial unrest drive the plot of Shadows of the Heart. Rightfully His deals with 1820s debates over emancipation of slaves in British colonies. Henry Brougham appears in several scenes as the hero’s friend and confidant.

The plot of Secrets of a Lady is inextricably intertwined with the events of the Napoleonic Wars, and several real people are mentioned (Castlereagh, Sir Charles Stuart, Wellington, the Prince Regent) but no real historical characters actually have “screen time.” Castlereagh does appear in Beneath a Silent Moon, however. He has a key scene with Charles, and his presence influence shadows the story.

The vogue in historical fiction these days is for stories that revolve round real people and events. Partly because of this, partly because of the direction my own interests and research have taken, real historical figures are playing more of a role in my books. Hortense de Beauharnais Bonaparte (Josephine’s daughter, Napoleon’s stepdaughter and sister-in-law) is a major character in The Mask of Night, as is her lover, the Comte de Flahaut, and Flahaut’s father, Talleyrand. Josephine appears in flashback and her presence hangs over the book. The younger generation of the Devonshire House set (Harriet Granville, Caroline Lamb) will be important characters in Charles & Mélanie Book #4, and I’d love to find a way to use Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire (who was a friend of Elizabeth Fraser’s), in flashbacks. I’m already pondering what real people and events to weave into subsequent Charles and Mélanie books.

What role do you like to see real historical figures play in historical fiction? Main characters, supporting characters, walk-ons? Favorite examples? What real life historical figures would you like to see Charles and Mélanie interact with?

Updated to add–this week’s addition to the Fraser Correspondence is a birthday letter from Charles to Mélanie.

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