The historical background of the “Mistress of Rye”

The Novel is set in 19th century England, shortly after the end of the Napoleonic wars in which the French emperor dragged all of Europe into years of devastating upheaval. The heroin, Lady Kathrine, though a civilian, is indirectly a victim of war. Her father died in battle and her brother is missing in action, leaving her unprotected from dangerously conniving relatives.

     The Duke of Rye, is a national war hero just back from the Peninsula. He is acutely aware of the terrible cost of glory and is angered, upon his return, by the many victory celebrations and the glorification of war by London’s clueless society. He then withdraws into seclusion to fight his demons.  Our heroin, Lady Katherine, thinking she has killed her stepbrother in self-defense, seeks refuge from the gallows by joining the duke in his seclusion and offering to become his mistress.

   These events occur on the background of the Congress of Vienna in 1815 where peace negotiations re-draw the map of Europe. The representatives of the winning powers try to reinstate more conservative, less liberal, regimes on the continent and to put old monarchies back in power. Also, the four male characters, who may resurface in subsequent novels, form a group of Home Office operatives reporting to the Duke of Wellington. They discuss various aspects of the war, which, of course required me to research its history.

    Any historical novel requires research into the societal mores and the mentality of the period in order to create authenticity for the reader. I, therefore needed to be familiar with the customs, the language, the style of dress and the way of living of that era. In addition, I had to be familiar with the social structure of the period’s society in order to develop believable scenes and credible dialogues. 

   I have lived in England for several years for my graduate studies in European Romanticism. Therefore I felt quite familiar with the Regency setting.  However, for this particular novel, I needed to do additional research of the Napoleonic wars and their effects on England. In the novel, the congress of Vienna is the topic of conversation in London’s ballrooms and salons. Writing about those, required me to study several articles about the conflicting interests of nations, the diplomatic maneuvers between the powers and their historically famous representatives. I had to find articles about these difficult negotiations in order to present the various opinions expressed by the novel’s characters.  For example, the Duke of Rye, has a more conservative approach, while Lady Katherine is more liberal in her views.

   In the novel, Lady Katherine’s brother, Lord Montague, finds himself far away on the Russian front. He finds his way to France and across the channel back to England. I had to research both the history and the geography to make the plot credible.

     I also explored the conditions of the returning soldiers and how Britain turned its back on its military.  Common soldiers, would die of their injuries and of starvation begging on the streets of England’s cities.

    I had to alter the understanding of PTSD to avoid anachronism. There was no awareness of the phenomenon till much later. Therefore, I described the symptoms without giving them a name. 



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