Thursday, 16 April 2020

Why should Historical Romance be less educational than Historical Novels?

For some die-hard romance readers historical input is irrelevant in their little book of reference as to what constitutes a romance novel, the more fancifully romantic the better as far as they are concerned. Other more historically minded readers expect some historical relevance as the backdrop, in other words history adds to the setting, the time, the place in which the romance unfolds. What is a grand house or merely London, Paris, or other (landmark) without some aspect of the period as a true mark of who the characters are and what is going on around them. Some authors and readers will say yes but who wants to read about war, and poverty, give us a fairy tale romance and no historical facts please. They often put forth Jane Austen's works as fanciful and how romance should be written with no violence, no sex, and history itself has no part in HR. But just one moment, Ms Austen was writing "contemporary" to her time, escapist romance. She was not writing historical romances, because everyone who read her novels in her lifetime and shortly afterwards were well acquainted with the period and experiencing the shortages of imported goods, not that I will venture to that in depth here (tea coffee, brandy, wine, cloth etc). After all, war was raging across the channel in Europe, and England was at war with America 1812. Aside from that, all manner of things became costly, were in short supply, and all due to war! Even after Waterloo and the final defeat of Napoleon it took a great deal of effort to maintain peace across and between nations. Nothing was quite as it seemed - all rosy on the surface! Hence a little of underlying mistrust between the once allies at Waterloo began to emerge, and here's a taste of that underlying unrest from To Play for a King, in which the heroine ventures to Vienna!                     

“And if I say I have been a spy, and that my largesse as a maestro has been that of a convenient mask, would that heighten or lessen my esteem in your eyes?”
Quite taken aback and mindful of the enormity of what he had said, required sage thought.
“Aaaaaaaaaaah” exclaimed he. “I thought it would be safe to tell you my secret, and now you are wondering who I spied for and for what reason.”
“No, not especially curious, and I promise your secret is safe with me. Presumably your interest has and does remain with Austria. Although Austria allied with England and other armies against the French there have been differences and breaches in diplomacy at times. I believe several treaties between Napoleon and Austria within Italy infringed allied agreements, as father mentioned from time to time, though Napoleon reneged on those treaties and drove you out of Italy. But please understand— all those things are irrelevant to me, for we are all now at peace.”
He swung round to face her and gripped both her hands in his. “That is how it is meant to appear on the surface, that we are all allies, whilst beneath the diplomatic smiles and greetings no one fully trusts the other. Every country has its ambitions one way and another, as happened in who should decide the fate of France after the second defeat of Napoleon. Much argument arose as to what was best for neighbouring states and became of prime importance. Argument as to whether to reinstate the French monarchy or embrace the notion of France as a republic also arose. Austria’s main desire was to see the throne reinstated in France, and to regain Lombardy, Veneto, and surrounding regions in Italy. That very notion was met with disdain amidst the Italian aristocracy, to them rightly so. Many who survived the wars had prior despised us as Austrian overlords, almost as much as despising Napoleon when he declared himself King of Italy and his viceroy, his step-son Eugène de Beauharnais became as good as Prince of Italy.”
“But Austria regained the most northern territories, and are you saying there is threat of war simmering below the surface somewhere?”
We aristocrats in Austria now have to contend with Prussian German ambitions since General Blücher’s victory at Waterloo alongside the Duke of Wellington, all with our help of course. Never let it be said Prussians are magnanimous in victory, for they are annoyed by Austrian influence across the Continent in the aftermath of Napoleon’s defeat. The Dutch too, and many principalities and duchies are aware of active Prussian agents, not least here in Vienna, but from Venice to Rome and to Naples, and from France to England.”
“Beg pardon for asking, but why?”
“Empirical ambitions are underway to create a deeper alliance of which lesser Prussian houses will become equal to greater Germanic speaking duchies and neighbouring principalities. Naturally we Austrians are averse to other than close alliance during war against a greater enemy such as the French, whom we fought long before the allied Prussian army marched on France. For us Vienna is the nucleus of the Austrian Empire and the duchies of Königsberg nor Brandenburg, shall dictate terms. Damn it all, the French be-headed our grand duchess Marie Antoinette, therefore we had a greater axe to grind against that upstart Corsican General Bonaparte and his French cohorts than any other neighbouring state.”
He drew her hands to his chest and half chuckled: “See how angered I become when others seek to undermine us when we Austrians have regained sense of pride in peace and stability once more. Heavens to mercy, for here you are, a delightful and wondrous being, and I am spoiling your birthday.”
“Oh no, for all that you have put forth bears merit, and I am so very pleased you felt able to trust me and confide elements of your past and present. All of which I would never have envisaged a maestro capable of. Though I can now see how music is the perfect guise for a spy. Besides, I’ve had a wonderful birthday, but may I ask one topical question?”
A jolly chuckle ensued, and then: “Ah— will I be able to answer with absolute honesty?”
“Do you fear the Prince Regent seeks to usurp Austrian dominance in the Germanic speaking duchies and principalities? I had heard father talk of such and he was given to thoughts of a Germanic Federation not unlike the United Kingdom of Scotland and England along with the Principality of Wales. He said Austria would like as not fight tooth and nail to prevent such a federation if of a mind to.”
“It is not beyond possibility for allies one day to become enemies the next, and whilst many Austrians trust Count Metternich to see right by Austria, there are those who look on him as a collaborator to a greater alliance in which he mistakenly concedes more ground than is good for us. We of the old families do not want a Federation of Germanic states which could lessen Austrian influence, and enhance outside influence over Austrian territories?”
“Oh my goodness— and you say Austria is at peace?”
“For the moment, yes, and perhaps for many years to come with diplomacy and cunning, though I sense a weakening of Austrian aristocratic impulse to do more than enjoy life and leave politics to ministers of state who are ambitious in their own right, as are their minions. That is oft where revolutionary mindsets begin seeding discontent, and latterly seek ways to seize power from the upper elite with help from traitorous factions. It happened in England when Parliamentary forces seized power from the king. It happened in France, and it could happen almost anywhere, thus we must guard against corrupt mindsets who will seek support from citizens with false promises of equality.  Dear heaven, what starts as a peasant revolt can end with an emperor such as Napoleon, a common man who places a crown to his head and embraces all that he supposedly abhorred at the outset. Aside from which the English king and his regent are of the House of Hanover and keen to expand their Germanic reach far and wide, not least here on the Continent. Never underestimate the English, who will embrace revolution abroad if it is of benefit to the English. Austrians are of like mind and will not cede to another without a fight, whether in war or by diplomatic measures.”
“Are you then spying against the English? After all, I am English and such would be unsettling for me.”
“Precisely my angel, you are English, the Hanovarians are not.”
“Oh but the Prince Regent is as English as could be, and are you not a friend of his?”
“Indeed I am, and as I said, a friend one day can become an arch rival the next. The Prince Regent is far from blind to ministerial mischief though it seems he is easily persuaded with extremes in flattery. It is known he complies with notions when formerly averse to the very same, barring a sentence or two altered within papers. He peruses them with flair though with lack of due diligence and applies his signature in haste to vacate his duties and engage in pleasurable pursuits elsewhere.”
“Lady Constance once said his vanity masks a shrewd man beneath the finery, but feed the man well and ply him with cherry brandy and he will agree to almost anything one desires.”
Sebastian fell to laughter. “Ah yes, that is very true of the man. Though once crossed he will cut a person out of his circle and look upon them as a traitor, as he did with Brummell. I hasten to say— I pray he and I will remain friends.”