Historical Background to The Dangerous Viscount

Warning: contains mild spoilers

The Houses

One of the fun things about writing historical romance is giving ones characters gorgeous stately homes. I always have a particular house in mind, but I don’t get too exact because I don’t want plot requirements to be limited by geography or layout. 

The Dangerous Viscount begins with a house party at Mandeville House, a very grand Georgian mansion which is home to the Dukes of Hampton. Diana thinks she’d like to live here. It looks something like Keddleston Hall.

For Wallop Hall, the modest manor house belonging to Diana’s family, the Montroses, I had a small private house in mind.  Markely Chase Abbey, home of the Marquis of Chase (the hero of The Wild Marquis) was inspired by Longleat House, the famous Elizabethan seat of the Marquis of Bath (right).



 Sebastian’s house, Saxton Iverley was inspired by Seaton Delaval, an amazing Vanbrugh mansion in Northumberland.




The Dreaded Weighing Machine

Though things like counting calories and the science of nutrition were in the future, people of the Regency period did go on reducing diets. The most famous is probably Byron’s regime of vinegar and mashed potatoes. I invented Diana’s chicken breast and beetroot diet but I’m sure it would work. (Hey, just about any diet works as long you stick to it.)

The idea for Mr. Montrose’s weighing machine came from my own family history. When I was helping my father move out of my childhood home, he asked me to go through a box of old family papers. Along with my grandfather’s World War I diaries, I discovered a curious volume listing family members and friends and their weights. Investigation revealed that for seventy years, beginning in 1850, there had been a weighing scale in the hall of the family house in Norfolk, England. After reeling with gratitude that the practice of weighing visitors had ceased long before my time, I decided I needed to put this piece of lunacy in a book. 

I then had to find out what the scale would look like. The St. James’s Street wine merchant, Berry Brothers & Rudd, still exists from the Regency period. Gentlemen (including Byron, again) used to come to Berry’s  to be weighed. The scale is still there (left) but this is obviously a commercial machine. With clues drawn from various sources I put together a description of a contraption Mr. Montrose might have owned. Then, in one of those bits of serendipity that occurs in writing, I was researching Gentleman Jackson’s Boxing Saloon for a scene late in the book. One of my Beau Monde chapter colleagues, Anke Fontaine, produced an engraving which includes – a weighing machine! And it was pretty much as I had described it.

Dr. Denman and Regency Obstetrics

Google Books is a great boon to the historical writer. There are so many original volumes available on line without having to visit a rare book library. I spent a happy day reading Thomas Denman’s An Introduction to the Practice of Midwifery, learning a lot about late-eighteenth century theories on pregnant women, some scary and some quite sensible. When I did a little research about the man, I discovered his son-in-law was Croft, the royal physician who committed suicide after his famous patient, Princess Charlotte, died in childbirth. Poor Charlotte (right)  was the only legitimate grandchild of George III and after her death there was no heir to the throne of England in the next generation. So all these middle-aged royal dukes had to dump their mistresses and find themselves princesses. One of them, the Duke of Kent, managed to father a daughter who became Queen Victoria.

 Sebastian's Book Collecting

Sebastian collects bookbindings that belonged to royalty. Bindings could be very elaborate and precious and were often commissioned as gifts. A book he desperately wants to buy is a volume presented by Henry VIII to his sixth wife, Catherine Parr.